Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Week 3 for Juliet: Filler Words

The mindfulness exercise for this week was to pay attention to “filler” words and work to eliminate them from your speech.  Filler words are defined as non-essential words such as “um”, “so”, and “like”.  Reading the description in the book, I immediately had flashbacks of my two years in Toastmasters.  For those of you not familiar with Toastmasters, it is a club designed to help you improve on your public speaking skills.  One criteria that your evaluators focus on is the number of filler words you use in prepared speeches and in table topic speeches.  In table topics, you are randomly selected to answer a question without any preparation on a topic the facilitator has chosen.  Can you, um, say pressure?  In hindsight I have to admit this training was pretty effective, I don’t catch myself saying ”um” or the more generally thought of filler words much anymore.  In doing this exercise, however, I did discover that that I have moved on to different filler words and phrases.
For my yoga teacher friends, especially those teaching Anusara style classes, you know how much emphasis is placed on precise speech.  So I decided that to aid me in this challenge I would use my netbook to record my voice teaching three classes this week.  As I contemplate working toward Anusara certification I thought this would also help me identify other things that I need to work on verbally.
It is funny to me how being recorded, even if no one is going to hear it but me, puts initial pressure on how I speak.  The first class I recorded I froze saying the announcements.  I was trying so hard not to use filler words that I couldn’t find the other words I wanted to say.  I just started to laugh at the absurdity of it, making everyone else laugh, and then the words flowed.  What was that all about? 
Listening to myself, I did realize that some of my teaching filler words and phrases are
·         “basically, this means” (Overused when I tell you my understanding of this yogic philosophy I am explaining or the definition of a Sanskrit word.)
·         “take a breath, soften”.(Used when I am not sure of my next cue and I want to think about it for a moment.)
·         “Please” (As in “please step your right foot back, please lift your arms up, please touch the floor.”  Can you please just stop saying please??)
Overall, I love this practice of working on speech.  I feel nothing but pure joy when I am teaching and I say the right words.  I can feel the shift of energy in the room and see the shift in bodies as each person works to find their own alignment based on what I am saying.  So I will keep practicing and refining, looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary words, to weave my language more seamlessly into my teaching and into my life.  And for those of you in my classes as I continue to record, um, basically this means take a breath and soften, and please pay no attention to the computer in the front of the room. 

Week 3, Zanna: Filler Words

The Exercise: Become aware of the use of "filler" words and phrases and try to eliminate them from your speech.  Fillers are words that do not add meaning to what you're saying, such as "um," "ah," "so," "well," "like," "you know," "kind of," and "sort of."  Additional filler words enter our vocabulary from time to time. Recent additions might include "basically" and "anyway."

As is typical for me, I had grand plans to make this one interesting (read: difficult). Those of you who read last week's blog and made it to the end may have noticed the "ask me about how you can help, it could be lucrative for you" sentence.  No one did.  That's OK, I tried to recruit some people to help, but mostly I forgot to ask.  I decided to add a monetary value to the filler word challenge, and charge myself a quarter for each.  At the end of the week, whoever helped me catch the words would be entered into a drawing to win the pot.  I guess I can just give the $23.75 for fillers that I caught myself to charity, or more likely, lunch.
"I, um, you know, like... have a dream... and stuff"
Catching your own filler words is notoriously difficult, but anyone who has ever been associated with Toastmasters has a bit of training with it.  Within Toastmasters, it is the job of the Grammarian to catch and log all of the filler words uttered during the meeting.  This is good because it makes you very aware of how frequently they are used.  On the other hand, this is bad because it makes you very aware of how frequently they are used.  The most compelling speakers don't use them at all. Everyone else uses them ALL THE TIME, to the point that even with monetary incentive, we can barely hear them. But we do feel them. Words have power. Filler words suck the life out of the important words so that the meaning gets diluted.  Fillers tend to make you sound less confident. Which to me, is part of their appeal. I was taught (by a team consisting of Midwestern Scandinavians, demure Southerners, and playground bullies) to not be a braggart; it is unseemly. Fillers let you live vaguely and free of commitment. Sadly, fillers are also lily-livered conversational crutches. 
"So, uh... well, basically, it was like
four score, and kinda like, I dunno,
like seven years ago...anyway..."
The other part of the assignment was to pay attention to why we were using these words. From what I could  tell, the filler-meter went up the quickest when I was less certain of what I was talking about, and had to think and speak at the same time....AND (used here as a filler) um... to... um... signal the listener that I wasn't done talking yet (conversational filibuster!)  
Interestingly, I've found it difficult to minimize my filler words whilst writing this blog. I like to write this thing as if I'm talking to you in person. Filler words make it seem more conversational, and less stuffy....and... um... stuff. Yeah. That's it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week 2, Zanna - Leave No Trace.

The Exercise:  "Choose one room of your house and for one week try leaving no trace that you've used that space.  The bathroom or kitchen works best for most people. If you've been doing something in that room, cooking a meal or taking a shower, clean up in such a way that you leave no signs that you've been there, except perhaps the odor of food or fragrance of soap."

See that? She missed a spot.  
I've seen CSI. This is impossible.  What with Macguffin Cells, and Spurious DNA, it's impossible to not leave something behind.  But in the spirit of entertainment or science or self discovery or something, I moved ahead. Being me, with my predisposition to make things infinitely more complicated than they need to be, my first thought was One room isn't enough...I'll do it everywhere!  Yeah. That lasted about five minutes. I'm not a complete slob, but it's extremely inefficient to put things away every time you leave the room. In addition to that, I have a husband and cats. Their ability to generate mess should not be underestimated, and I felt I needed to keep up with them as well... even though that wasn't the assignment. So I settled on the master bathroom.  The cats don't go in there, and I could safely ignore the spouse's sink area (huzzah for double sinks!)   At the start of the modified exercise, the first thing I noticed was that leaving no trace, leaves a trace on the environment. I was going through too many paper towels! So, early on, I switched to regular towels, which still generated extra laundry. I clean the bathroom at least once a week, it never gets super disgusting, so the cleaning every time I left the room seemed to be a waste of resources.  I did notice that, while men are nasty and leave big messes, I seem to blame my husband for more than his share of mess.  Because we do clean regularly, I know what to expect at the end of a week. The bathroom was about half as messy as it usually is at the end of the week. Apparently, we create equal quantities of mess. Perhaps I should ease up on the nagging.  Nah.
For me the lessons learned/verified are: Cleaning as you go makes for a smaller cleaning job later.  And, on a global scale, we always leave a trace. Being aware of that and all the ways we impact the world we live in is worth knowing.

I'm not going to give away anything on the blog about week three, but if you see me in person, ask me about how you can get involved. It could be lucrative for you!

BTW, if SOPA/PIPA goes through, using the picture I used could get this site banned. This is silly. Write your congress folk.

Week 2 for Juliet: Leave No Trace

When I read the challenge for this week was titled “Leave No Trace”, I immediately thought about the Boy Scouts.  My son Adam was in the Boy Scouts several years ago and my husband Tim was an adult leader.  In Boy Scouts, this term refers to the policy of leaving your camp ground as you found it or better.  Even after many years of Boy Scout training, this lesson doesn’t seem to have translated into my husband or son doing this in our actual house.  Maybe I would have better luck if I made them sleep in tents in the living room and offered neat and tidy badges as rewards.  But I digress ..
For me, this week’s exercise seemed liked a piece of cake.  I pick up all the time and have even been known to throw away papers that others really wanted to keep.  (Maybe this should be my next mindfulness challenge!)  The book asked me to pick a room to keep clean for a week, leaving no trace of my presence.  It said that most people choose the kitchen or bathroom.  I chose the master bathroom.
The master bathroom is a hub of activity in my house as all three of us require some time there each morning before going out the door.  I am usually the last person out.  As the last person out, I make sure that counter top items are put away and towels are hung up or put in the laundry bin.  This week I slowed down my process to remember to wipe down the sink and any splashes on the mirror.  I also straightened the rugs picking up after the dog who likes to rearrange them to his liking to lie on when keeping someone company in the bathroom.  (Unfortunately I don’t think obedience school covers mindfulness training.)
My learning for this week was not on becoming more of a neat freak, but on slowing down and taking time to put items away with care.  When I take time to do that, I notice that there is a beauty and simplicity in taking care of what the Universe has seen fit to give you.  I feel comfort in knowing where things are and sense the relation between a clean, uncluttered surface and a clean, uncluttered mind.  I remember to be grateful for all the many gifts in my life whether they take the form of a toothbrush, a husband, a son, or a furry dog.

(Picture of Said Offenders circa approximately 2005)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Week 1 for Juliet: Use Your Non-Dominant Hand

Let me just start my part of this blog by saying that I am excited to be embarking on this journey of a weekly mindfulness challenge and am glad to have Zanna on board to practice with me.  I am a believer in mindfulness training.  My eight years of meditation and yoga have changed me significantly and taught me how to become a much more mindful practitioner of life.  Both yoga and meditation have helped me to live life more fully in the moment, dealing with difficulty and experiencing joy from a place of equanimity.
So why do I want to do this?

Precisely because of my other practices I know that living in the present moment is so incredibly sweet.  Noticing all of the colors of a sunset or hearing what is being said to me instead of thinking of what I want to say, not clinging to the past or rushing on to something in the future.  I want to experience life from right where I am.  This is the true gift of human embodiment.  As Ram Dass says in the title of his iconic book to “Be Here Now”.

I also know that the mind, like the wild elephant analogy in the book, is a difficult creature to train.  And so it takes work, and practice, and more practice.  These exercises are designed to increase awareness so that I can continue to learn to be mindful in other situations.

I suggested to Zanna that we use the image of Ganesha on this site.  In Hindu mythology, one of the characteristics assigned to Ganesha is that he is the remover of obstacles.  In his elephant wisdom he helps us to see around that which blocks us.  May these exercises do the same for Zanna and me.  May they help us see around what blocks us so we can live each day more fully and joyfully.

Week 1:  Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
This week the challenge didn’t really start until Wednesday when Zanna challenged me to begin following the book.  (That is what happens when you give such a book to someone as a present!)  I had been doing my own variety of mindfulness practices with inconsistency, so here was the opportunity to try and be consistent.

This exercise was really a challenge for me because I have been dealing with an overuse injury in the tendon on my left elbow.  “Yoga Elbow”; if you will.  Because of that it has been painful to use my left hand to do anything that was weight bearing.  This made me maybe overly aware of my left arm and maybe in an off-handed (bad pun) way made me remember to use it more often.

I chose to use my non-dominant hand in the morning and evening to brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on lotion and/or makeup.  I expected to feel a little agitated doing this (I did) and noticed how much longer it took my left hand to perform the tasks required.  I also observed that my right hand would tighten while my left hand worked.  When that happened I tried to consciously relax both my hand and my thought processes.

In Anusara yoga there is a teaching of starting each practice with a beginner’s mind. Working on being patient with myself and having a beginner’s mind, not judging or becoming frustrated was certainly a lesson of this exercise for me.

Week 1 for Zanna: Use Your Nondominant Hand

For Christmas this year, my dear friend and work spouse, Juliet, gave me a book. Cool. I like books. Books are good. As I started looking at it I thought, Huh. Is this a self-help book? What is she trying to say?  She explained that she saw this book, and thought of me... um, great?  Then she said, it had an exercise in mindfulness for every week of the year.  Oh, well that's fine. Short reading fun for the bathroom.  And THEN she said she got a copy for herself and we should do these practices together throughout the year.  Greeeaaaat... well... maybe it'll get forgotten.  But as I thought some more and discussed it with another friend who said, "You NEED to do this. And blog it. So I can read it."  I started thinking, this could be fun.
So I talked to J. She agreed to blog with me from her perspective as well, as long as I gave it a real chance. So here I am. Giving it a real chance. We'll see how it goes.  The dual blogging aspect will give us some accountability for both updating this blog and for actually going through all 53 of the exercises. I haven't read ahead... OK, that's not true, I flipped to a section that was something about "Really look at your hand" and was afraid I'd have to figure out how to score some drugs... but other than that, I'll discover these challenges week by week.
Since this is the first post, I'm giving some background as well as the lessons learned from week one.  I'm a skeptic. And a cynic. I don't buy into things that can only be sensed and not verified by science (this is not to say that there aren't things science can't explain yet... there are more of those than we know, but I don't leap from: "I don't understand it" to "It must be mystical"). The mind will play tricks on you, so apply some logic and reason, and I'll take it under advisement. 

Exercise One: Use your nondominant hand for some ordinary tasks each day.

The book tells you you can choose something like brushing teeth, or combing hair... I got started late, because I'm slack and was still not completely on board, so I decided to go with something complicated. Juliet pointed out that that's typically my way anyway: pick the most complicated thing and go for it.  I chose to do my daily sudoku, jumble, and crossword puzzles in the newspaper (yes, I still get print newspaper, specifically because I like to do my daily puzzles, it helps me think).

My first thoughts on this task are #$)(*#$)_@*#()@)*#@)(()Q@#*%!!!!  (I think that's cartoon speak for something not altogether family friendly)  My husband laughed at me a lot during this week. A few years ago, he broke his right arm and was forced to do everything as a lefty... not just as a lefty, but a one armed lefty... so I should suck it up and work through it.

Patience? Yeah, yeah, yeah... How long does that take?
The book suggests that it has something to do with what Zen masters call "Beginner's Mind" that my right hand has 39 years of experience, whereas my left hand has 2-3... Whatever. As I continued working the puzzles, the second thing that I thought was I feel dumb.  And, no, not "I feel dumb" for doing this experiment... but I was having real difficulty solving the puzzles with my left hand.  I discovered that normally, there is almost no lag time between thinking something and being able to write it, but with my left hand I have to stop. Stop, think about the answer, if it's a word-how to spell it, figure out  if it works with the other words around it (painstakingly, because I couldn't hold each word in my head to check when my brain was trying to figure out how to write)... things I already did semi-consciously.  VERY frustrating.  Lots of puzzles didn't get done last week.

Yeah. I get it.