I usually like to listen to podcasts or audiobooks* to add some extra fun when I take Khalee for a walk. On challenging days, when my walk would be filled with unhelpful rumination, focusing on a different narrative is really helpful.
However, me being me, I end up overthinking everything, including the fact that I listen to stuff while I walk.
Would it be better to walk quietly and just observe?
**Well, headphone, singular, I don’t use two headphones while walking so I can stay aware of my surroundings. I only use two when I am wearing my hatphones – they don’t block out noise the way my regular headphones do.
Please note: Despite my whimsical title, this post is about grief. Proceed with caution.
A friend of mine jokingly refers to smart watches as ‘wrist spies.’ Since she says it without malice or judgement, I find it hilarious and I’ve started using the term on a regular basis.
As spies go, though, it has been failing this past week. It might end up having to come in from the cold.
On Sunday, I received a notification that my ‘Mindfulness’ minutes are down this week and I immediately said, aloud, “Shows what you know, Wrist Spy!”
(By the way, if me talking to an inanimate object makes you concerned for my state of mind, rest easy. I do it all the time and, so far, my wrist spy is the only object that talks back to me. And that only happens when I say her name…or, let’s be honest here, anything that sounds like her name.)
Seriously though, I thought it was pretty funny that my wrist spy was calling my attention to my mindfulness because this past week has been one of the most mindful times of my life.
I’ve spent the last week thinking about him, about his life, about our lives, and about what the world looks like without my Dad in it.
I had lots to do but I was never trying to keep busy to avoid thinking. Yet, I didn’t end up ruminating either. I just sat (or stood, or walked) with whatever came up.
I’m not trying to cast myself as a perfect model of emotional maturity and mindfulness here, this was more by fluke than by design.
And, it helped that the tasks I took on – writing the obituary, writing and delivering the eulogy – not only gave me some good structures for my thinking, they were also the types of practices I do to help me process big emotions.
I didn’t consciously choose those tasks to serve that purpose but my subconscious was clearly on the case this time.
So, instead of spending my time thinking about the fact that my Dad is gone, I could spend my time thinking about how he lived and who he was, and how his spirit lives on in his family and friends.
All of that thinking felt very mindful, very in-the-moment to me.
And when I started to cry, I just let myself cry until the worst of the feeling had passed.
When I felt overwhelmed, I breathed through it. Sometimes I did that on my own, sometimes because my husband said, “You’re breathing fast, try to slow it down.”
And, I found myself noticing everything so sharply and clearly.
I saw crocuses on a lawn when I was out for a walk with the dog. I looked at them closely – the petals, the colours, the leaves – and I had a flash thought that my Dad won’t ever see flowers like that again. He wasn’t big into flowers or anything but the thought still welled up. Instead of getting carried off into grief about the things he would miss, I, luckily, was able to choose to notice them for him. I paid close attention to the colours, the contrasts, the petals and leaves, and how they stood out against the dull grass.
And I drank my (many, many) cups of tea slowly, letting the mug warm my hands and letting the scent and taste wash over me.
I turned my face to the sun when it came out, feeling warmed and hopeful and bright, despite the circumstances.
I talked with so many people who knew Dad and I paid attention to the details they shared with me and leaned into the connection to him.
And, I did a hundred other small things that felt mindful and kept me present.
On Friday, as I was waiting before the memorial service began, I played some songs from a playlist that I created – Songs that make me think of Pete *- and I sat and breathed slowly and felt like things would be ok.
Ever since listening so carefully on Friday, a few lines from Itchycoo Park by Small Faces have been floating up over and over in my brain, reminding me of the good things in the world even during this challenging time.
(What did you feel there?) well, I cried (But why the tears there?) tell you why It’s all too beautiful, it’s all too beautiful It’s all too beautiful, it’s all too beautiful
Obviously, I’m having a very different kind experience than the main character in the song m. His ability to notice the beauty around him hinged on the substances he took. I am looking for and feeling the beauty around me because the intensity of my emotions is making everything very vivid right now.
While it isn’t always easy, this vivid sense of awareness means I have been very “present” from moment to moment for the past week or so.
I’m feeling all the difficult feelings, I am acutely aware of my experiences, and I am sharply attuned to the beautiful things around me like crocuses and hot cups of tea and my friends rallying to support me.
And all of that adds up to mindfulness even if it isn’t happening in a way that a wrist spy can track.
My watch may be spying on me but it doesn’t know everything.
*Please note, some of these songs are from my Dad’s youth and hence some of the lyrics are sketchy at best. Please don’t judge my Dad for the songs he liked then and please don’t assume that he held every value (or lack thereof) expressed in every song. I included them in my playlist because they make me think of Dad singing them.
I know, I know, everyone and their dog is tell you to be mindful these days.
Mindfulness is touted as a cure-all, the answer to everything and that can definitely get annoying.
It’s especially annoying when people get pushy and holier-than-thou about mindfulness, acting as if the only key to true living is to follow in their saintly footsteps.
And, of course, they either have no actual advice for how to be more mindful OR they have an extremely expensive program to sell you.
However, despite those jerks, finding ways to be more mindful in your day to day can actually be good for you.
It’s not a cure-all, it’s just helpful, and for most people it will provide a little well-being boost.
Note: I say ‘most people’ because I’m sure that I have read somewhere that meditation/mindfulness can be detrimental for people suffering from some mental health issues. So, I don’t want to be one of those pushy jerks and declare that everyone needs more mindfulness. Just be kind to yourself, whatever that looks like for you.
If you feel like mindfulness would boost your well-being, this month’s calendar from Action for Happiness is a good place to start. It’s not pushy and it’s not selling you anything.
And it’s definitely not holier-than-thou.
Their ‘Mindful March’ tips are all just small things to try each day to add a little mindful moment or two to your routine. Totally doable, at least most days!
As I have discussed in some of my other FIFI posts, learning to play sports in mid-life means slowly and awkwardly developing new skills as an adult. It also means managing my expectations because I lack some of the durable motor memory skills that other players may have already developed during their childhood play.
However, I’ve been thinking about how some “durable” learning from my own childhood sport, baseball, perhaps has not been entirely beneficial for me as an adult player today.
When I started to play softball at 9 years old, my coaches put me straight into right field for the season. I remember standing way, way outfield, watching the tiny players running around infield, and looking up at the sun shining down on me from the sky.
In following seasons I improved my catching and throwing skills. I was moved to other positions infield (eventually to pitcher). From this experience I took that infield position was where the power and glory was. Right field was where you put players with little skill or game know-how. You couldn’t mess up the game too much from way out there.
After changing up my playing positions in my two rec team sports over the past few months, I noticed that I have brought this childhood assumption—my “right fielder thinking”—that novices should play certain positions.
Now in my third year of curling, I tried skipping during a few “fun” nights. I have an interest in game strategy, but I realized I couldn’t easily adapt when rocks were thrown in ways I wasn’t expecting. I also tried playing the second position, thinking that because I was a better player than when I started I would contribute more. But without the rhythms I had established for myself in the lead position, as second I had the worst game in my 2.5 years!
In soccer, we’ve been short some players as the Christmas holiday season approaches, so I’ve tried playing midfield and striker. I still don’t have consistently strong cardio or ball-handling skills: I watch my own feet like a novice ballroom dancer. But overall, I have had more success shifting positions. It turns out I like running to get open and try to receive a ball rather than wait for opposing players to come to me, as I would in a defence position. My impatience helps me to want to find solutions to problems.
Playing in these new positions has allowed me to watch players in my old positions. In soccer, I see some defenders not as novices but as tough players and strong kickers. In curling, my skip tells me that while the least seasoned player is often put in the lead position, that position is critical for starting the ends, reading the ice, and calling the weights. I am slowly getting better at those key skills with practice.
New positions have brought into relief the errors of my old right-fielder thinking that tells me certain positions are my only option. That logic falls down in many ways. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Roberto Clemente were all right fielders, and they were some of the best players in the game ever!
Another small but clear memory surfaces of 9 year-old me standing in own home field outfield. I remember how, when a ball did come, I was the only outfielder who had to make the catch with the sun directly in my eyes. I still managed the catch once in awhile, and that was something.
Over the American Thanksgiving week, I was in Costa Rica on an 8-day retreat; an opportunity to radically slow down and look inward. As part of the retreat experience, I decided to challenge myself to not workout for the week either. 2022 has been an extremely challenging year for me, so far, up to and including my mother’s sudden and unexpected death a month ago. My body has been feeling the accumulation of exhaustion, even as my movement has also felt like my salvation at times. This retreat seemed like an opportune moment to make the choice to not elevate my heart rate.
A bit of background—I’m addicted to moving my body in a vigorous fashion. I generally workout 6 days a week, with one day of rest. And rest still involves walking or biking around town for 30+ minutes. In weeks when I know I’m absolutely not going to be able to get in any exercise on a particular day that’s not my preassigned rest day, I’ll re-engineer my schedule to extend the number of workout days in row, so that the day I can’t exercise becomes my rest day.
A few sentences ago, when I used that word addiction, I decided to look it up and make sure I wasn’t being extravagant. Nope. The definition talks about occupying oneself with something habitually or compulsively. And workouts are, for me, always habitual and sometimes compulsive (which you may already be thinking from what I’ve said so far).
I didn’t 100% commit to the no-workout idea in advance. I wore my running shoes on the plane. Just in case I decided I wanted to hike or run or go for a walk that was longer or faster paced than my flip flops would support. Normally, even if I was planning on running somewhere, I would not wear my running shoes on the plane. I only wear running shoes when I’m actually running (or hiking) or on my way to or from the activity (I could go on for some time on this topic, but that’s a different rabbit hole). In this case, in the interests of packing as light as possible, I didn’t want to wear street shoes on the plane and add runners to my luggage. All to say that wearing my running shoes, as if they were street shoes, was my first opportunity of the retreat week to let go of my usual way of being.
As soon as I got to Sugar Beach and saw the setup, I understood that running was pretty much out of the question anyhow. We were asked not to leave the property (to maintain our inward focus and group container) and the beach is in a small cove, unconducive to a beach run. There was a gym with a treadmill. That didn’t appeal. And there was wifi, so I could have streamed workouts from my Peloton app. That didn’t appeal either. In the context of being onretreat, those options felt too much in the world. Whereas running outdoors has the potential to feel more unplugged. I have, for example, gone for runs at silent meditation retreats.
I put my running shoes at the back of my closet and didn’t touch them again until it came time to leave for my flight. 8 days later.
What did I do?
Short beach walks. Dips in the ocean. Playing in the waves. Walking from place to place on the relatively small property. And the 60-minute light movement class, which was offered to participants, on 7 of the 8 days. Plus, 5-10 sun salutations before three of those movement classes. The movement class focused on balance, posture, bilateral alignment, stretching, fluidity, and re-learning developmental movements (by which I mean things like learning to crawl). This video of a move called pinwheel (to increase fluidity in the hips, knees and ankles and strengthen the core), is an example of one of the more vigorous movements.
And this heel rocking (to relieve body tension, promote tranquility and activate the parasympathetic nervous system) is an example of the typical level of effort:
How did it go?
Well, the first few days my body felt great. Quiet. Rested. Limber. Easy. Alert. Dipping in the ocean and in movement class, I could feel the strength of my muscles in a new way, as if the noise of their usual fatigue and even soreness was out of the way, making it easier to hear their pleasure in the gentler exertions. By day 5, I was starting to feel restless. Caged. My physical energy didn’t quite know where to go.
I was in need of a steam valve.
And, well, I left out two blocks of movement (on days 6 and 7) in my list above. There was dancing. Once for about 20 minutes and a second time for 45 minutes. I danced my heart out, fueled by the steam energy of my days of rest.
The dancing was all I needed to feel free again.
I haven’t talked about food yet. To be sure, food has some bearing on my relationship with exercise. Part of the compulsivity that sneaks into my workouts, at times, is the feeling that I need to counter balance my appetite for food. On the rare other occasions, when the counter balance of exercise has been eliminated from the equation, I have cut back radically on my eating. This time, I didn’t do that. If anything, I ate more for breakfast and lunch than is my norm. I didn’t bring any snack food with me. And there was none available. Plus, in keeping with the spirit of the retreat, there was no sugar, dairy or gluten in any of the food that was served. I have no idea if I consumed more or less calories than I usually do. What I know is that my body felt stable. Neither heavier nor lighter. Or maybe that was just my mind. I ate until I felt satiated and then I stopped. A level of simplicity I seem to have difficulty with in the swirl of daily life, in which I’m often either forbidding myself a next bite or groaning and stuffed. The opposite of last week’s simplicity.
All to say, it was an interesting pause for self-investigation and reflection (and I haven’t even talked about the retreat program). I’m glad to be back in the swing of my regular life. I’m back at my workouts and grateful for the sweat. And I’m taking my reintegration as slow as possible, given work and other responsibilities. So that I can stay connected with what I learned and what will emerge as the dust settles on the experience.
A short list of things I learned (mostly again):
My body loves to move. My movement is not just habitual and compulsive. It’s a joy.
Be more mindful of where the balance lies between joy, habit and compulsion.
Take such rest breaks more often. Then they can be shorter.
No one but me noticed or cared that I was wearing running shoes on the plane.
As I write this (on Monday night) I am at Day 22 and I feel really good, really at ease.
Not every minute of every day but, at any given point, it’s a little easier to find that space, that breathing room, when I need it.
And, to be clear, I’m not saying that I am meditating here and there in search of that ease. I mean that, because of my short daily meditation sessions, there’s a little bit of extra room in between my thoughts – I just have to choose to look for it.
Given my galloping ADHD brain, sometimes it is a bit tricky to remember to make that choice but I am definitely making it more often than I ever have before.
I know that I have tried to develop a meditation practice several times before and my results were mixed, to say the least.
This time, though, doing the easy thing, not making a plan, just taking it a day at a time has worked out marvellously for me.
It has become easy and straightforward to include meditation at the end of my day – sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for 2 minutes – and I feel great about it.
In case you were wondering, Khalee is also a fan of my quiet practice…
During her Move program in January, Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene) emphasized how important it can be to think about how you move.
She invited us to consider the actual movements we made when relocating our hands to move between poses, the way we moved our legs into downward dog, the process of how we unrolled our spines to stand up.
This wasn’t about making us self-conscious, it was about grounding us in our bodies, about considering the movement habits that serve us and those that hinder us. It was about figuring out where we find ease and what parts of our bodies need more attention. It was about figuring out how to work with or work around the unique abilities of our individual bodies.
Even though this process made for a tricky line to walk between being mindful and overthinking, it really set me up well for practicing for my recent TKD belt test.
In the course of learning and practicing my patterns and other movements, I had to think about how I was moving. After all, it’s not just that my foot has to end up in a specific spot but I have to move it in a certain way to maximize my power, to increase my balance, to ensure that I can reach the target that I need to reach.
Even though my TKD skills are a work in progress (and always will be), concentrating a bit more on the specifics of my movements did help me a lot. Recognizing that in one of my patterns, I always place my foot down at the wrong angle gave me the opportunity to correct it and execute my pattern more accurately.
(Sidenote: I actually learned DURING MY TEST that I was getting another movement wrong and the correction from my instruction made a huge, immediate difference in the effectiveness of that technique. Another victory for the ‘how’ of movement.)
My latest stop for this train of thought is a video I did on Sunday. I felt like doing some yoga but I also wanted to do something a bit different so I had my metaphorical cake and ate it too by doing this video from Liv in Leggings.
I really enjoyed it. She’s an engaging instructor and I found her ‘how’ explanations very clear even when I couldn’t quite execute the movements yet.
Considering the question of how – her explanations and my personal experience – helped me to be curious about even the most challenging movements.
That curiosity meant that I was intrigued rather than frustrated by the difference between the strength of my right arm and the strength in my left arm during a wheelish/bridge-ish pose where we had to support ourselves first on one arm and then on the other.
(I mean, I know that my right arm is stronger than my left and I know that I can be more precise with my right. But the difference was especially apparent on that one movement – and I could feel that I was moving differently as I was getting into the pose and I couldn’t hold myself steady in the same way while I was in it. I could support myself on my right arm for quite some time but my left arm started shaking almost right away.)
And it let me pay attention to my movements when doing twists so I could tell exactly which ones made the tight spot on the left side of my back protest. And I could see how small adjustments could bring some ease.
And, of course, overall focusing on the ‘how’ helped me to be more mindful and present while I was trying this new approach. That just seems like a good thing doesn’t it?
How much time do you spend thinking about the how of your movements?
Do you find it helpful? Does it make you more mindful?
PS- While all that shaking was going on I was really grateful for the various online yoga videos I’ve done from Adriene and Joelle Because they always refer to those kinds of shaking movements in a positive light. In their framework, it’s not about weakness in the shaking body part. It’s about energy flowing and about knowing that you’re alive and about putting the effort in. I think that’s a really encouraging way to look at it.
I hope today finds you with the space you need to take good care of yourself.
And I hope that you can recognize your own efforts to make that space, even if you didn’t always succeed.
You matter, your needs matter and your efforts matter.
And here’s a gold star for those efforts:
Now, onto our movement and meditation for making space. (As always, feel free to do these or to do your own thing.)
One of my favourite ways to get moving is to join my friend Elaine Dunphy in either an ageless grace or a Nia dance class. Since I can’t bring all of you to one of her classes (what with Covid restrictions and the laws of physics and all), I asked her to create a short video for today’s post.
Here’s Elaine, in full positivity and joy, with a New Year’s Eve message and a short and fun movement practice for you to try as you create a little space for yourself today.
And as for a meditation, I am offering two today.
The first one is for people with a lot of space in their day, the second is for people with just a sliver of time for themselves.
And if you just have a minute, here’s a meditation for you.
I hope that these posts have helped you find space for yourself during the month of December when time seems to telescope, dragging on or collapsing without any relationship to the clock or to the calendar.
As we move into 2022, may you have the space you need in your mind, in your heart, in your days, in your schedules, and in the places where you spend your time.