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.

Week 10 for Juliet: Every Time the Phone Rings

The Exercise:  Each time the telephone rings, chimes, or buzzes, stop what you are doing and take three mindful breaths to settle the mind before answering.  If you get very few calls a day, set an alarm to ring several times to remind you to stop and breathe.

On the first day of the assignment following the directions, I put a big note on my phone at work that said “Three Rings”.  This strategy was effective as I did indeed wait the required three rings to pick up my phone.  However, I got a total two calls, both from my husband.  As I waited to pick up the phone, I wondered if he would notice.  He did not.  Even with the low number of calls, I have decided to count this as a success, because I did follow the directions.

At home, for reasons too boring to get into here, our phone only rings twice before it goes to the answering machine.  Pretty much no one calls that number unless they are trying to sell us something.  If you are selling me something, please leave a message at the tone so I can ignore your call.  Wait three rings.  No problem!  Success again!

The phone that I do most everything on but talk.

As for my cell phone, I will admit that when it rings mindful breathing is the last thing I am thinking about.  Instead of feeling calm and inviting in mindful breathing, what I am thinking is where the heck is my phone?  Can I extract it from the depths of my purse to answer it before it goes to voicemail?  Taking three deep breaths does not fit into that equation for me.

In summary, here is what I learned this week:

1.   I don’t really like forced mindfulness breaks.  I would rather take a mindfulness break when I need one during the day rather than waiting for a phone call or setting an alarm.  (OK, this is my lame excuse for not setting an alarm to do this exercise.  But you have to admit it sounds pretty reasonable.)

2.    That the phone on my office desk is largely for decoration.

3.   With the exception of obligatory calls to my mother, and quick check in calls to my husband and son, I don’t really talk on the phone much. 

4.   That my favorite way to communicate with my friends is face-to-face.  If that is not possible, you can reach me via Facebook, email, or a text message.  I promise to take three deep mindful breaths before pressing the send button.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Week 9 for Juliet: Listen to Sounds

The exercise for the week was to stop several times a day and listen for sounds as if your ears were giant radar dishes.  To listen for the obvious sounds as well as the subtle sounds as if they were being played as music just for me.

My main observation in doing this practice this week was on the contrast between the sounds of nature and the sounds of the busy human world.  I encountered this contrast at home, at work, and even in the yoga studio.  I suppose this contrast was more evident to me as here in my neck of the woods in South Carolina it is beginning to feel a lot like spring.  Especially if you are a bird, as everywhere I go outside this is the sound I notice.  Spring!  The promise of spring!

When I feel stressed, it is helpful for me to stop and listen for the sounds of nature.  This settles my mind and grounds me.  It reminds me that I am not a human doing, but a human being.  Just like the birds and turtles outside of my office I am a part of nature and I can choose not to be so caught up in the issues of the busy world. 

A few times this week when the weather was pleasant I left my desk to go for a walk.  I listened to the birds.  Layered behind the bird songs are the sounds of cars from the nearby interstate and an occasionally plane overhead.  I am lucky to have a job.  Lucky to have the contrast in my life; one part in the busy world and one part connected to nature.

Maybe my favorite contrast came in yoga class on Sunday morning.  As we finished class and sat for the final blessing, a bird right outside the garden door offered her serenade to us.  As if on cue, as soon as the bird finished his song, someone’s cell phone starting chiming in its’ response. 

In the past a phone ringing in class would have really annoyed me.  I realized when it happened this week that I no longer see it that way.  Instead I can see it as a reminder to hold the contrasts.  One part in the busy world, one part connected to nature.

Need a break from your busy world?  Click here to take a little nature break without leaving your desk.

Week 9, Zanna: Listen to Sounds

The Exercise:  Several times a day, stop and just listen.  Open your hearing 360 degrees, as if your ears were giant radar dishes.  Listen to the obvious sounds, and the subtle sounds – in your body, in the room, in the building, and outside.  Listen as if you had just landed from a foreign planet and didn’t know what was making these sounds. See if you can hear all sounds as music being played just for you.

This week was all about started out unseasonably warm.  Apparently, the nature didn't get the memo that spring isn't supposed to start until late March.  The temperatures were almost warm enough to turn on the air conditioning... but the South Dakotan in me finds it extremely difficult to do that the last week of February, first week of March.  It's just wrong.  So we had the windows open.  Which was fine, except for this constant peeping sound that I kept hearing.  Click the link and close your eyes for the full effect.  I try to listen to it as the music of nature, but honestly it's mostly just annoying.  At first I thought it was a bird in distress.
But no.  It's called a Spring Peeper and it's a cute little amphibian. Other froggy sounds (and we have a lot, with three ponds in the backyard and a backyard that is a National Wildlife Federation certified Backyard Habitat) are soothing, but this one-note frog is not a welcome sound.

Kitteh-pile.  From left to right: Noh-Face (the snorer), (Barfing) Banshee, Cinco (the Brave, but not very bright).
Another sound I heard this week is one that lures me into instant sleepiness.  We have five cats (because we don't want six) and one of them, Noh-Face,  has a snoring problem.  The cat in the video below is not my cat, but sounds just like him.  Close your eyes and try NOT to start drifting to sleep as you listen.  I can't do it.

Recently, I ordered a new pair of shoes from Alegria shoes, very much like these: 

I love how comfortable they are... but in this week of listening to sounds, I became painfully aware of how much they "fart".  Take a listen to what I mean:


But these are just a few of the noises I became more aware of this week.  The white noise machine pumping static sound into the air at work.  The early morning thunderstorms that made it close to impossible to get out of bed.  The faint sounds of sirens in the distance and jet planes overhead.  We live in a very noisy world.  It's amazing how much of it we're able to tune out.