Friday, May 25, 2012

Week 20 for Juliet: Say Yes

Exercise:  In this practice we say yes to everyone and everything that happens.  When you notice the impulse to disagree, consider whether it is really necessary.  Could you just nod, or even be silent but pleasant?  Whenever it is not dangerous to you or others agree with others and what is happening in your life.

This week when I read the mindfulness exercise what immediately rushed into my mind was:  “Say YES to the magical spectrum of life!”  This is practically the mantra of John Friend and Anusara yoga.  I have heard it so many times and taught it so many times, that honestly I am tired of it.  It would be OK with me, in fact preferable, if I never hear that exact phrase spoken again.  With all of the drama surrounding Anusara yoga, practicing saying YES is the last thing I want to do.  I mean I have spent years practicing YES.  What I think I need is more practice saying NO.  (For you lovely readers, bless you, who have no idea of what is going on in the Anusara community, can catch you up on the John Friend/Anusara scandal if you are interested.)

But here is a secret that I learned that I want you to learn too:  Saying yes to something is the same as saying no to something else.  For example, saying yes to the donut offered to you in the meeting, is equivalent to saying no to your commitment to feed yourself healthy food.  Saying yes to an invitation to go out for a beer after work, is really the same as saying no to coming home on time for dinner.  My point is that there is no real yes or no, there are only choices.  Rather than focus on saying yes all the time, the best plan is to weigh the options and make the best choice you can in each situation.  If you make a bad choice own it up to experience and learn to make a better decision next time, but please don't just say yes to everything that comes your way.

I also disagree with the assertion that I should nod in agreement or be silent when someone says something I disagree with.  As a southern girl, I know how to do that already, I have mastered being polite, nodding to things I didn’t agree with, not adding my voice to the conversation.  To this request that I should say yes more often and agree to avoid being disagreeable, even for a week, I offer you a resounding NO.

For your amusement, here is the trailer for the Jim Carey movie “Yes Man”.  As I remember, saying Yes to everything didn’t work out so well for him either.

Week 20, Zanna: Say Yes

The Exercise: In this practice we say yes to everyone and everything that happens. When you notice the impulse to disagree, consider whether it is really necessary. Could you just nod, or even be silent but pleasant? Whenever it is not dangerous to you or others, agree with others and with what is happening in your life.

I truly tend to do this anyway. I suppose I should have made it tougher on myself by telling people what I was doing, but it's been a tough week without the added burden of smart-ass friends and family taking advantage of this "condition" (of course, I do realize it would have all been in fun...I tend to surround myself with people who are really decent people who don't wish harm on me or others... but they are smart-asses, and well, hi-jinks could have ensued).  I'd say, this wasn't a resounding success for me. We went geocaching for the first time in a long time (excluding vacation caching), and we just didn't have fun this time. We've been talking about it for a while, and this weekend we finally said, "let's do it!"  I'm still itching from the red bug hive we managed to find in lieu of finding a cache.  After we said "yes" to giving up, my dear husband decided he wanted to eat at a German buffet which, while tasty, left me feeling bloated and horrible.  Sunday I said "yes" to being a lazy butt and playing Skyrim all day. Finally, even though neither of us have been feeling it lately, Juliet and I said "yes" to writing this blog.  Not sure if we're getting anywhere with it, but at least we're going.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Week 19 for Juliet: Rest Your Hands

Exercise:  Several times a day let your hands relax completely.  For at least a few seconds, let them be completely still.  One way to do this is to place them in your lap and then focus your awareness on the subtle sensations in the quiet hands.

I will confess up front that my mind was somewhat preoccupied during this exercise week and not really focused on the mindfulness task of resting my hands.  I know that my nature is to keep moving and that staying still is difficult for me.  That I can keep a job where I sit at a desk most of the day is pretty amazing.  If it were not for my yoga and meditation teachers, I don’t think I would have learned the importance of being still. 

Even if I don’t have a formal sitting practice during the day, I try to remember to make time for moments to be still and reflect.  I have found that doing this is the equivalent of throwing myself a life raft, something to keep me afloat and above the waves of stress and busyness that want to pull me under.  How did I ever manage without this practice?  So much growth happens for me in the stillness.

Pausing I rest my hands, palms turning upward.  This is the gesture of the Buddha, a being who is known for his qualities of being peaceful, loving, and full of gratitude.  Today and everyday I am grateful for all my teachers and these moments of quiet reflection.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Week 19, Zanna: Rest Your Hands

The Exercise: Several times a day let your hands relax completely. For at least a few seconds, let them be completely still. One way to do this is to place them in your lap and then focus your awareness on the subtle sensations in the quiet hands. 

One thing this exercise made abundantly clear to me, is that I do not know how to relax.  I feel like I am constantly on the edge of my seat, waiting to jump up and deal with stuff constantly.  I'm better than I used to be. Back when I worked for the bank, I had what seemed to be permanent half-moons etched into my palms from constantly clenching my fists.  I'm not really sure what the ultimate goal of this mindfulness blog should be. I guess pointing out my shortcomings (like my inability to get a blog post done by my own deadlines, and of course, my inability to relax) is part of it.  I didn't come up with any insight on how to solve this issue of mine, but I guess knowing is half the battle.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Week 18, Zanna: Notice Trees

Exercise:  During this week become aware of the trees around you.  There are many aspects you can attend to, for example, their different shapes (round or slim, neat or shaggy in outline), different heights, ways of branching, and colors and types of foliage.  Don't let the mind begin analyzing; just notice and appreciate trees. (If you live in a treeless area, you can change this to becoming aware of cacti, bushes, or grasses.)
A good time to notice trees is when you are driving or walking, or when you look out windows.  If you have a chance, walk among the trees in a park, forest, or tree-lined street.  Look at leaves and bark close up.  Be aware that trees are breathing. What they breathe out (oxygen), we breathe in.  What we breathe out (carbon dioxide), they breathe in.

OK.  This is annoying.  I wrote a fairly long post and it just disappeared.  It was rambly and didn't make a lot of sense, but it was done... and now it's gone. I could tell you it was brilliant and insightful, but it wasn't. So I leave you with just this:

No. 1: The Larch. The... Larch

Oh.  And there's nothing funny about trees.  Nothing at all.  Especially the Bansai... or the tall, hard, and mighty Sequoia. Nothing funny at all.  So don't laugh.

Week 18 for Juliet: Notice Trees

Exercise:  During this week become aware of the trees around you.  Don’t let the mind begin analyzing, just notice and appreciate the trees.

The neighborhood I live in is well known for its older homes and mature trees.  In good weather, I love to go for walks enjoying the wide streets and cool shade provided by the trees.  To help me better appreciate trees, I thought I would take a few pictures to share with you.

This first tree comes from my front yard.  When my mother gave me a tree face, the tree in my front yard seemed perfectly suited for it.  Almost like this part of itself had been missing, and it was so happy to finally have its features visible again.  Years ago, when my neighbor’s daughter was very young, she told me that when they went on walks, her daughter would toddle up into my yard and pat the tree and have conversations with it.  I like to imagine that this old tree is quite wise and has been privy to many a conversation.

One of my favorite trees is the Magnolia.  On this tree the flowers are blooming.  Some of the blossoms so large it would take two hands to hold them.  The Magnolia is a true Southern beauty.

My hairdresser/landscape consultant (doesn’t everyone’s hairdresser double as a landscaper?) has drawn up plans for my front yard with suggestions for putting in new plants.  One suggestion was to put in a Japanese Maple tree.  She told me many houses in my neighborhood had them.  She was right.  I just hadn’t really noticed.

These next two plants are trees that I liked.  One because the shape was like a well formed Christmas tree.  The other because I was surprised at how soft and delicate the leaves were.

The office that I work in is pretty large.  On my indoor walks, I noticed these two trees living the life of never having to worry about bugs or the weather.  If I were a tree, I think  would hate living inside all the time.  I know that I enjoy being outside.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Week 17 for Juliet: Entering New Spaces

Exercise:  Bring awareness to transitions between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another.  Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath.  Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.

I love the metaphor of the threshold being the place in the middle; the space between where you have been and where you are going.  That life is a constant movement from one threshold to another.

Spaces themselves hold a sense of energy.  When I walk through the door at City Yoga, I notice the beauty of the space, the colors of the room and the fresh flowers that are always at the desk.  It feels inviting to me, full of people inside chatting and laughing, just leaving class or waiting to go in.

In contrast, I go to work.  Opening the door, I am greeted by a cold blast of air conditioning and walls and carpet of neutral grays and beiges.  The slight hum of the noise canceling sound machine is always present in the background.  The energy of this space feels very different.  My energy here feels very different.  My mood is quieter, more introspective, contemplating what I need to do for the day and how I will work through my task list.

I don’t want to paint the picture that one is good and one is bad.  There is a reason for the design of both spaces.  While a contrast, both have their place.  In both places, I stay present with the breath, watching what arises in me from the inside.

Week 17, Zanna: Entering New Spaces

The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is "mindfulness of doors," but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transitions between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.
Part of this practice is to pay careful attention to how you close the door when entering a new space.  We often move immediately into a new space without finishing up with the old one, forgetting to close the door or letting it slam shut.

We were halfway through our vacation when this exercise started, and it was really perfectly timed.  We spent the earlier part of the week primarily in national parks (Zion and Grand Canyon).  We woke Wednesday in the town of Williams, Arizona. We walked through the door of our room, into the lovely sitting room and then through the door to the kitchen where our hostess made us homemade buckwheat pancakes and poached eggs.  After a quiet and leisurely breakfast we walked back through the doorways we came through to come to breakfast, packed, and walked out the private door to our car.  (We had a great car on our trip.  I'd booked a full size car since it was just a few dollars more, and so that we would be comfortable on our long driving days.  They let us pick a car from several.  They had Nissan Altimas, Chevy Malibus, Altima, Altima, Malibu, Altima, Malibu, Malibu, Altima, Malibu... Dodge Charger.  When we got to the last car, Chris looked at me with a gleam in his eye I've rarely seen before... so I said, "what do you think? Altima?"  He stopped for a second and then said, "I want the Charger". )
We transitioned smoothly in our Charger from the natural splendor of the national park system, by way of Route 66.  Burma-Shave ads and geocaches paving our journey from heaven to hell. 
We were safe in our silver bubble until we exited the car, walked across the parking lot, and opened the door.  The air behind us was pleasant and breezy.  Through the door there were clouds of smoke and a cacophony of bells and sirens and electronoise. 
Miles and miles. Nothing to hit.
It was impossible to not notice the moving from one space in the casino to another.
The most dramatic transition from space to space came Friday.  After a full day of that Las Vegas nonsense, we decided we must get out of town.  Since it was National Park Week, we opted to go to Death Valley, the lowest and driest place in the US.  When we got back to Las Vegas, we quickly got ready and went out to see the Cirque du Soleil show "O" which is about, and takes place in excessive amounts of, water. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Week 16, Zanna: Just Three Breaths

The Exercise:  As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  Then open all your senses and just be aware – of color, sound, touch, and smell.

This was an interesting one for me this week (covering April 18-25) as first half of the week was spent in crying induced sinus infection (some very bad news received) and then crazed elation (previous very bad news tempered) and then frenzied packing and vacation.  I can't go into the specifics yet of the first part of the week, but if you're wildly curious, drop me a note and I'll explain as best I can.  The vacation was to the American west. 

Opening my senses.

The sinus infection made breathing at best annoying, at its worst close to impossible.  I love to travel, but I hate to fly, breathing in the pressurized air.  I had to make conscious efforts to forget about things that were happening outside vacation, so the three breaths meditation was helpful to remind myself to be present where I was.  My unconscious mind didn't get the memo, and I slept horribly, but during the day, I was completely present and able to breathe most of the time. 

It was a wonderful time in Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, but breathing became a bit of a problem.  Between the sinus crud and the elevation, I was frequently shorter of breath than I'd anticipated.  The same levels of effort at my normal elevation aren't a problem.  At 4500ft+ it was not debilitating, but annoying.  

Week 16 for Juliet: Just Three Breaths

Exercise:  As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  Then open all your senses and just be aware – of color, sound, touch, and smell.

In 2002 I was in my first yoga teacher training program when discovered the power of breathing through a book by Swami Rama called the “Science of Breath”. 

I was mesmerized by the story of this man who could control his breath to such a degree that when tested in a lab, he could stop and start his own heart.  I remember learning how closely the breath is linked to the mind.  When we are afraid, our breathing becomes very quiet and shallow; when we are sad and crying, our breath changes to reflect this.  When we are really angry or stressed we tend to hold our breath.  The breath reveals the state of mind.  Conversely doing something as simple as changing your breath pattern can alter your state of mind.  Who knew? 

I never really thought about breathing much until 2002.  I mean everyone breathes right?  How complicated is that?  There are many other books on the market on breathing techniques and the power of the breath, but this one was the game changer for me.  One reason is that it addressed the science behind practicing breathing techniques.  In yoga, the breath is related to prana, or our energetic life force.  These techniques are called pranayama and are key to a yoga practice.  In reading this blog if you only do one of the mindfulness practices we talk about, taking three deep breaths several times a day is the one to do.  Seriously, I think it is that important.

Without getting into the drama other than to say teenagers know how to press your buttons, and that yes, yoga teachers have tempers too, I have really needed this practice this week.  For me this practice gives me the ability to hit the pause button and come back to the present moment.  It has given me a much needed moment of clarity so that my words are not angry or hurtful but hopefully have the right impact.  So when in doubt, breathe, just breathe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week 15, Zanna: Secret Acts of Virtue

Exercise:  Each day for a week, engage in a secret act of virtue or kindness.  Do something nice or needed for others, but do so anonymously.  These acts can be simple, like washing someone else's dishes, picking up trash, making an anonymous donation, or leaving chocolate on a co-worker's desk.

As long as I can remember, Secret Acts of Virtue -- and the associated thrill -- have been part of my world.  It started quite innocently in early childhood with May Day baskets.  I would make baskets out of paper cups and pipe cleaners and put candy or whatever was lying around (maybe not so virtuous, I'm pretty sure I gave rocks some times... but they were PRETTY rocks and I meant them as gifts) and then go to the homes of my elderly neighbors, leave a basket, ring the door bell, and then run off.  I didn't want to be thanked for the basket or have attention called to it.  But it gave me a thrill to do something like that and then imagine the response.   I've left secret Valentines, Easter baskets, and Christmas stockings for friends (though, annoyingly, they usually figure it out pretty quickly). Now, it's entirely possible that these things were met with scorn and fear, but in my mind, they all loved everything I left for them. I suppose cats leaving dead birds for their beloved God-Food-Giver-Petting-Machine might feel similarly, but I try not to dwell on such things.
I do sometimes worry that these "Secret Acts" could someday be held as evidence in a stalking case, so I try to vary my targets as much as possible.
This one is tough to blog about.  If I mention the things that I did or tried to do, it takes away from the "secret act" thing. Maybe I should keep a list that can be declassified after I'm gone.  That's not really the point of the exercise though. 
I chalk it up to my mid-western "don't make a scene" upbringing.  "Be nice, but don't you dare think you deserve any credit for anything."
 I'll continue to do these sorts of things whenever the mood strikes. It was harder to think about it on a daily basis, mostly it just comes up... I see a need and I have the means or time to tend to it and so I do.

Week 15 for Juliet: Secret Acts of Virtue

Exercise:  Each day for a week, engage in a secret act of virtue or kindness.  Do something nice or needed for others, but do so anonymously.  These acts can be simple, like washing someone else’s dishes, picking up trash, making an anonymous donation, or leaving chocolate on a co-worker’s desk.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I have long held the belief that when we give something away, whether it is a material thing, or our time or energy, we are the ones that receive the greatest benefit.  When I give something away anonymously I usually feel a rush of pleasure.  For me, the key to this feeling is intention.  This feeling only happens when I make the giving from a place of offering rather than from a place of obligation.  For example, washing someone’s dishes does not feel like an act of virtue to me, but rather an unpleasant daily chore.  Maybe this is a place for some more spiritual growth!

While I did all of these suggested acts of virtue this week, (leaving soup rather than chocolate on a co-worker’s desk) and enjoyed the rush of pleasure of giving something away, what I more keenly noticed was how many of these acts of virtue were performed for me.  I noticed my husband washing the blender out for me after I made my morning smoothie so I have more time to get ready for work.  I noticed my son, helping me carry trash out without being asked to.  I said a silent thank you to the anonymous person who made space for me to pull out into busy traffic.  I felt a warm rush of connection to the woman at Trader Joe’s who stopped to give me a compliment.  All these many small kindnesses that I received over the week that made my heart burst open with gratitude and love.

This exercise reminds me that each of us are in this constant game of exchange with each other that we call relationship.  May we give as good as we get.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Week 14 for Juliet: Loving Eyes

Exercise:  This week, endeavor to look at things and people with loving eyes.  Notice any changes that occur in your eyes, face, body, heart/mind, visual field, and focus when you remember to look with loving eyes.

This week I endeavored first and foremost to remember to make better eye contact with people when I am talking and when I am listening to them.  I first became aware of my habit to converse to the ceiling when I was a Toastmaster.  In my nervousness, I found it easier to concentrate on what I was saying if I didn’t look into anyone’s eyes.  In the years since Toastmasters, I have improved but I still have to remember to make a conscious effort to look into someone’s eyes.

I started my exploration of this exercise this week by looking at myself in the mirror trying to make loving eyes to see what this really looked like.  How do I convey this feeling through the eyes?  Do they get wider or smaller with crinkles in the corner?  Is there a subtle smile involved or a big grin?  How do other people pick up on the non verbal cues of my loving intention?

I decided that there wasn’t really a right answer to these questions.  That to me looking at something with loving eyes wasn’t so much an outward action.  It was looking at someone or something and offering the inward blessing of my love.

It has been a rough week.  My stepfather, Rich has been in the hospital for several days and has had three heart catherazation procedures resulting in four stints being put in his heart to open up severely blocked arteries.  Rich came into my life in my late 20’s when he married my mother, so I have never had to live with him as my parent.  For a lot of reasons, he and I have had a bumpy relationship.  However, I know he loves my mother completely and is a good grandfather to my son.  This knowledge has helped me to see his good points.

So this week I practiced on him.  I gave him my best loving eyes listening to him talk from his hospital bed all week.  I also gave loving eyes to my mother, to the nurses, doctors, visitors, and other support people who came into the room to take care of him.  When my mother called me on Tuesday to tell me that they were finally going home, she paused and told me that Rich wanted to talk to me.  When he came on the phone he told me that he loved me.  I replied that I loved him too.  In my memory this is the first time we have ever said that to each other.

The eyes are windows to the souls.  Give someone the look of love. 

Week 14, Zanna: Loving Eyes.

The Exercise: This week, endeavor to look at things and people with loving eyes. Notice ant changes that occur in your eyes, face, body, heart/mind, visual field, and focus when you remember to look with loving eyes.
I am smiling. No, really. Seemingly
cold indifference means, "I love you"

Compared to the media fast of last week, this was a breeze... but it wasn't nearly so dramatic, so writing it up isn't all that easy.  I tend to look at folks this way anyway (shut up, no... I really do... unless I'm being snarky or sarcastic, but really how often does that happen?)

I didn't notice too much of a change, though, I felt I needed to be careful with "loving eyes" at work.  That can be a Corporate Compliance issue. I was a little more sensitive this week, and seeing sad child eyes on Easter just about sent me over the edge.

I have to be very aware of what my eye expressions are at home around my cats. I'm an honorary member of an indoor feral cat colony, so I've had to learn to communicate. Most of the time I'm at home I try to keep my face relaxed and my eyes slightly slit, because, in cat world, that's code for "We're cool. I won't eat you. Promise."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week 13, Zanna: A Media Fast

The Exercise: For one week, do not take in any media. This includes news media, social media, and entertainment.  Do not listen to the radio, iPod, or CDs; don't watch TV, films, or videos; don't read newspapers, books, or magazines (whether online or in print form); don't surf the Internet; don't check on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. 
You don't have to plug your ears if someone tells you about a news event, but do avoid being drawn into a conversation about the news.  If people insist, tell them about your unusual fast.  You may, of course, do reading that is necessary for work or school.
What to do instead?  Part of this mindfulness practice is discovering alternatives to consuming media.

As I confessed back in February, in a statement surprising absolutely no one who has ever met and/or heard of me:  Hi.  My name is Zanna, and I'm a mediaholic. This is the week that, when flipping through the book at the start of all this, I dreaded the most.  A whole week without TV.  A whole week without listening to music in the car (or anywhere else, the car is just the one that could be potentially life threatening).  A whole week without facebook!!  So, I removed my fb and Words with Friends and anything else tempting from my phone. I let my battery die on my iPod.  I shut down my netbook and put it away.
As expected, this was a good bit more difficult than any of the other things we've done so far. Happy to report it wasn't catastrophically bad, but you may notice that this is being published first thing in the morning rather than later in the day.  I'm done with it.  I want my MTV (OK, not really, MTV has sucked since they stopped playing music... and likely before that too, but I was young). 
The good things to report from the week:  I got a lot more sleep.  I went to bed around 9 most evenings.  Normally "just finish this show" or "let me check fb" keeps me up way past my bed time.  My house is clean. I took all the books off the bookshelves in the library and rearranged and dusted.  This is much easier to do when not distracted by the media... but I wished every second of it that I had music to listen to.  I didn't fall asleep on the interstate at 6:30 am on my way to work, but it was close.
The bad things to report from the week:  Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Unpleasant thought!!! AH! Don't leave me alone inside my head!! Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.  I almost fell asleep on the interstate every commuting morning because of the lack of anything but road and wind noise  to keep me company.
The ugly truth: I really technically failed to actually "fast".  I did pretty well at avoiding facebook, and that turned out to be not as traumatic as I thought it would be.  For a variety of reasons, I needed to keep email and texting available.  I caught myself surfing a number of times.  The little side bar headlines would catch my attention and before I consciously knew what was happening, I was clicking on news stories, and then the "you might also enjoy"s.   I watched my company's news videos... which I guess are technically "necessary" to do my job... but it was mostly just to see moving pictures and hear sound.  I couldn't make my husband fast with me, so he got two levels ahead of me on Skyrim... and I watched it happen.  I didn't play, but watching was technically entertainment (though, in my defense, watching other people play video games is not really usually all that exciting, especially when they're leveling up in blacksmithing). 
The "Final Words" of the exercise in the book were: "A steady diet of negative news makes the mind ill.  Give the mind the good medicine of silence, beauty, and loving friendship"

Maybe.  But I don't know that what I was receiving was a "steady diet of negative news".  More likely a steady diet of LOLCats and George Takei musings. 

Week 13 for Juliet: A Media Fast

The exercise:  For one week do not take in any media.  This includes news media, social media, and entertainment.  Do not listen to the radio, iPod, or CDs, don’t watch TV, films, or videos, don’t read books or magazines, and don’t check your Facebook or Twitter feed.  

When Zanna and I first looked through this book and decided to do the exercises, this was the week I dreaded the most.  I will tell you now that I tried my best to convince her to skip this week or to bend the rules.  I whined that I was at an ashram all last week for goodness sake and had not really had any access to the internet while I was there.  Surely that counted for something?  Being the rule stickler that she is, she insisted that we do it although I know deep down she didn’t want to do it either.  So we suffered together through the week of media fasting.

Since I work on a computer all day and live with a family who doesn’t want to media fast, I knew I would have to make some concessions.  I decided to list out what I thought I could commit to and what the exceptions were.  For example, I would not listen to music in the car, but would play it in my yoga classes; I could use the computer for work, to pay my bills, and to check my email, but no Facebook, no internet shopping, and no surfing of any kind.

For the most part, I did pretty well.  I found that I really missed Facebook the most.  Toward the end of this week, I confess that I did go to Facebook a few times to sneak a peek at the newsfeed.  I made myself do it mindfully and quickly, and felt a guilty afterward.  I missed hearing what was going on with my friends.  It is fascinating to me how social media has become so ingrained in my life and the life of others.

The second hardest thing was working out at the gym without my own entertainment to distract me.  The TV is always on in the gym, but personally I consider watching ESPN to be torture rather than entertainment.  It has been especially tortuous the last few days since I was forced to watch a golf tournament.  Please, can you play a commercial?  Anything but golf!

I also conceded that the TV would be on in my house and I didn’t want to isolate myself from my family to follow the media fast.  I don’t watch much TV, so this was pretty much business as usual.  Like usual, sometimes I got stuck watching American Pickers (Adam) and other times I luck out and get to watch Game of Thrones (Tim). 

During this media fast, I have also started my twice a year 21 Day Detox.  During this time I follow a non-processed diet, consisting mostly of fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains.  No caffeine, no sugar, no gluten, no alcohol.  There is a great similarity between this detox and my media fast.  Both fasts are a reminder that the food and media we consume have an impact on the health of our bodies and minds.  Both fasts have the end desire to nourish our bodies and minds with things that truly feed us; not numb us or block us from a full enjoyment of life. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Week 12, Zanna: Waiting

The Exercise: Any time you find yourself waiting -- when you're in line at the store, waiting for someone who's late, or waiting for the "please wait" icon on your computer screen to go away -- take this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, meditation, or prayer.

I realized this week that because of modern technology, I don't really ever do much waiting. I'm hardly ever bored anymore. If I have to wait in line, or for food, or for anything, I distract myself with something else like email or texts or facebook or Words with Friends. I don't really ever pause.

I tried to be mindful this week. I tried to take deep breaths and be present in the moment, but then I'd notice my hand reaching involuntarily for my smartphone. If my computer is slow or asking me to wait, I wander off and do something else, or I'd reboot.

I am having trouble remembering what life was like before all this technology to keep me amused was so readily available. I didn't walk around with a book all the time like my husband did/does, I mean, I read... but to this day, he never goes anywhere without a book. He lives constantly in two universes... and I guess now I do as well.

I guess I should get this blog published. I don't want to keep you...

Week 12 for Juliet: Waiting

The exercise:  Any time you find yourself waiting – whether in line at a store, waiting for someone who is late, or waiting for the “please wait” icon on your computer screen to go away, take this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, meditation, or prayer.

For the majority of time that I was doing this exercise, I was pretty good.  It helped a lot that I was staying at the Integral Yoga ashram in Yogaville Virginia, a mecca of mindfulness.  I was there taking a training class in Yoga for Scoliosis with Elise Browning Miller, a senior Iyengar style yoga teacher.  The ashram was actually an excellent place to practice this mindfulness exercise since there were many times I was required to wait.

Most notably you have to wait in line to get your food at mealtimes.  Before the dining hall officially opens and you can go through the buffet line, there is also a Sanskrit prayer that has to be chanted.  My one big mindfulness faux pas occurred on Friday night.

Up until Friday night, I remembered to chant and patiently wait in line.  I offer the following facts in my defense:

1.    Ashram food (especially in the winter months) at Yogaville is pretty basic.  And I had been there for several days, faithfully eating my spinach, beets, and brussel sprouts.
2.    The number of visitors to the ashram doubled over the weekend so there were a lot of people there.  The lobby to the dining hall was packed with people waiting to eat.  I later found out that most of the visitors were there cashing in a groupon that was run in the Washington D.C. area.  Who buys a groupon to an ashram?  But that is another story.
3.    Dinner was pizza.  PIZZA I say!  With real cheese!

So on Friday night, when the doors opened, my caffeine deprived brain saw the pizza and I picked up a plate.  Spatula in hand, poised to nab a piece, the prayer leader reminded everyone that we had to pray before we eat.  Oops, I knew that.  Caught, I put the spatula back down and hoped others would think I was one of the groupon visitors unfamiliar with the ashram procedures.  Major mindfulness fail.

The up side of making a mistake is that you learn from it.  For the rest of my Yogaville stay, I made sure to be very gracious and took my time getting my food.  As the cliché goes, patience is a virtue.
To read more about the ashram, click here.

Lotus Meditation Center at Yogaville

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Week 11 for Juliet: Loving Touch

I could give the world for you to hold and you know I could
Everything I’d touch would turn to gold and you know it would
But I need something else that’s only yours for the giving
I need something else to make my life worth living
You’ve got the loving touch that I need so much
You’ve got the loving touch that I need so much
No matter how I try your love I couldn’t buy
‘Cause I need so much of your love

--“Loving Touch” sung by Roy Orbison

The exercise:  Use loving hands and a loving touch, even with inanimate objects.

I believe that how we use our hands is an expression of our heart.  As a yoga teacher, I have a unique opportunity to touch many people, some of whom I know very well and others that I don’t know at all.  This is a great responsibility that I take very seriously.  Touch is a conduit for energy.  Because I am sharing my energy, I do my best to ensure that I touch in a way that is sensitive to my students needs and that my touch comes from a place of love in my heart; a true desire to provide a safe and supportive environment for their own growth.

That said I wish I could tell you tell you that I operate with the same sensitivity and compassion to all inanimate objects as I do to my animated students.  I observed this week that there are certain objects that I always touch lovingly and others that don’t fare as well.  For example, the shawl that I wear when I meditate is one object that I handle with care.  I have used this same shawl in meditation for the past 10 years.  A part of me feels woven into the fabric:  my thoughts and dreams and hopes and intentions, held together in these threads.  On the other end of the spectrum I noticed my passive aggressive behavior toward the dishes as I was cleaning up the kitchen this week.  Washing them roughly and dumping them loudly into the sink.  It seems unfair for them to have to bear the brunt of my unhappiness for them not making their way to the dishwasher.  A reminder to myself, take three breaths, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Week 11, Zanna: Loving Touch

The Exercise: Use loving hands and a loving touch, even with inanimate objects.

I usually try not to touch people with hateful hands, mostly because it might result in fisticuffs... and I'm much too civilized for that. No, really. OK, not really, I'm just better at verbal sparing than physical sparing.  At any rate, using loving hands with people wasn't too difficult. Of course, at work, putting my hands on anyone always makes me feel like the corporate compliance police will come and wag their fingers at me (though, not too close).  So that was an easy battle just through lack of engagement.

The tough part of this was to use the loving hands with inanimate objects.  Some things were easier than others. Cradling the toilet brush, for example, was not really in my nurturing abilities, but I could gently fold t-shirts. Putting things away was gentle... except when the objects were out of reach of my short self and I had to (gently) toss things to a top shelf.  I tried to be equitable, but the tupperware (not the brand, the general name for plastic containers) cabinet earns the hot hatred of a thousand suns. Occasionally, I'd completely forget as I lazily tossed flatware into the drawer, and then a creepy voice would sound inside my head, "Do the spoons still scream, Clarice?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Week 10, Zanna: Every Time the Phone Rings

Does anyone under the age of... I dunno
30?... have any idea what this is?
The Exercise: Each time you hear a telephone ring. chime, or buzz, stop what you are doing and take three mindful breaths to settle the mind before answering. If you get very few calls a day on your telephone, set an alarm to ring several times a day, using a long but unusual interval, such as every fifty-three minutes.  When the alarm rings, stop and breathe.

I have to confess I completely failed this exercise.  I got a grand total of 3 phone calls during the week, and each one I picked up right after the first ring.  I can't help it.  Even in the name of blogging, I can't help it. It is so much part of how I was raised that I can't stop myself even though I know I should.  I was always taught that it was rude to leave someone hanging on the line... even when it severely inconveniences me or causes me to put myself in harm's way.
Back in college, about 20 years ago now (ugh), I was rooming with my friend Anita and living one door over from my friend Corinne.  One afternoon, Anita and I were completely wiped out and taking naps, she in her lower bunk, me in my loft bed.  Corinne called to see what we were doing. The phone rang once. Anita didn't stir. It rang again. Anita was still sleeping. I panicked that it would ring again and so I started down from my loft bed, but missed a step and landed flat on my back... and STILL managed to pick it up during the third ring. I was annoyed at the whole situation... but Anita and Corinne were mad at me for hurting myself to not inconvenience them.  Intellectually, I get that most people are decent and kind... and really don't want to see anyone get hurt... but I can't help it.
Since this, and all the exercises in the book, are more about mindfulness than about successfully meeting challenges, I guess it's not fair to say "I failed".  I was mindful... as I picked up the phone. The one time it was Chris and not some other person with whom I had to be professional, I answered the phone, "Oh crap, I was supposed to let it ring".  "Um... nice to hear your voice too, love" he responded.  *sigh*
Five Ringy-dingies. No wonder I'm not a star like Cher.

But it's not just about the phone. It's about taking time to stop and breathe.  I didn't set an alarm.  Mostly it was my panicked, "Oh no, I'm forgetting to stop and breathe" thoughts that acted as an alarm, but I suppose panicking about not relaxing enough is a bit of a looping issue.