5 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Everyday

Photo by  Eli DeFaria  on  Unsplash

We’ve all read the articles and heard our friends talk about mindfulness. Sometimes, it seems like a trend that will just pass. Hopefully, this is one trend that is here to stay. The benefits of a mindfulness practice are numerous - better sleep, reduced stress, increased positive emotions, improved attention, the list goes on. Who doesn’t want those benefits in their life?

So, what exactly is “mindfulness?” Brené Brown’s definition states mindfulness is “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not ‘over-identify’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.”  Zen master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Don’t those definitions sound lovely? Less attachment to negativity and less judgment… I’m in!

I often incorporate mindfulness practices with my clients to address anxiety and depression. However, I often hear clients reflect on how difficult it is to just sit and “be” in the present moment when they are feeling so low. Below are my recommendations for those of us who either struggle to sit still and empty our thoughts or those who have busy and/or hectic lives with constant distractions (anyone have a toddler at home??). Try incorporating one mindfulness practice each day. Even if it just takes 10 seconds, the consistency over time will have positive impacts, I promise!

  1. 5 Senses Pause: Take a moment and just name (silently in your mind) what each of your five senses is experiencing. This doesn’t take long and is a concrete way to check in with the moment. This is great for grounding when you are stressed or even solidifying a memory you wish to keep. I did this during my wedding ceremony (when my mind wanted to drift to the awkwardness of so many eyes on such an intimate moment), and to this day, I can remember how my husband’s hand felt in mine.

  2. Intentionally Brush Your Teeth:  The next time you brush your teeth, notice each sensation as you brush each tooth. Direct your thoughts only to the task at hand. If you mind drifts, be kind to yourself and simply bring your mind back to brushing. Notice the sensations you feel. Bonus benefit - a sparkling smile 😁

  3. Listen with Attention: Next time you step outside, pause and see if you can notice all the sounds around you, whether near or far. Try not to label the sounds but simply take in the sound.

  4. Box Breathing: This one is especially good when you feel your emotions rising to an unpleasant state. Take 5-10 box breaths. A box breath is simply inhaling for 4 seconds, holding that inhale for 4 seconds, exhaling slowly for 4 seconds and then holding the exhale for 4 seconds.

  5. Mindful transitions: On a busy day when you’re going from one task to another, take a couple of seconds to end one task and begin the next. Simply put, acknowledge to yourself where you’ve come from and where you’re going. An example might be to take mental note in between tasks, “Okay, email to my boss is sent;” take a pause and a deep breath to finalize the task, so to speak, and then give yourself permission to move on to the next task, leaving the last one behind, “…and now I will make dinner.” If you notice yourself ruminating on a task you’ve let go of, simply come back to the present moment with a gentle reminder: “I’ve finished that already, there is no more I can do; now I am ______.”

The most important thing to remember when beginning (or continuing) a mindfulness practice is to be kind to yourself. Even meditation teachers with decades of experience will tell you that their mind wanders. It is not an indication of your effort, your motivation, or your ability to have a wandering mind. That is simply your mind trying to take care of you and protect you from perceived danger. Though often unhelpful, the intention is good. We simply have to build the muscle of mindful attention to teach the mind we don’t need protection from danger most of the time.

LifeTip: The Dance of the Changing Seasons: A Meditation for the New Year

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For a few years I lived in a tiny town in the mountains of Northwest Montana. It is one of my favorite chapters of my life. It was a time of great stillness, hard work, adventure, and learning of a vast wilderness both inside and out. One lesson I learned while in Montana has met me every year since, at about this time of year and again in the beginning of spring.

The change of the seasons in Austin is hard to notice - some say we skip a couple of seasons all together. In Montana, though, the seasons can change back and forth with such wild fierceness (before making the full transition), you’d have to be void of all the senses not to notice. Perhaps the strangest and most beautiful thing about the changing of the seasons in Montana is that it is more like a dance than a turning of a page. It wasn’t suddenly 12 degrees or suddenly 98. It went back and forth. The change from fall to winter for instance started with the changing and falling leaves. You’d notice the tops of the mountains capped with snow for a day, then back to rock or trees the next. The snow would gradually stay at the top of the mountain, forming a line that slowly crept its way down the mountain and into the towns in the valleys. One day you’d see the sun shine so bright and warm you from within - it would melt any snow that had accumulated, giving you the hope that you’d have a little bit longer to frolic outside, drive on clear roads, and listen to the birds. Eventually though, the snow would stay on the ground, building up and up. The world around would be white and the wilderness that had bustled with the sounds of birds and wildlife, and bursted with berries and flowing rivers would grow silent. A silence and a stillness so perfect you didn’t notice it until spring started to dance with winter and you realized you heard a bird chirp for the first time in weeks or months. The sounds of spring arriving could be deafening after so many months of hibernation.

As a native Texan, I impatiently awaited spring and would become frustrated when I thought we were moving in the direction of warmth, only to have to put on my snow boots, zip up my 300-fill coat, and scrape my windshield, yet again. My dear friend and colleague gently and lovingly observed just how beautiful it was that the seasons danced with each other - neither was in a rush to take over or in a rush to let go. Neither demanded the other end so it could begin. There was no harshness to the changes. It was gradual, it was forgiving, and it was in appreciation for the work the other had just done so that there was room for this new seasons’ gifts. We could not have the rare and fragile flowers of the tundra at the tops of the mountains in summer without the fertilization of the compost fallen in autumn packed in by the intense cold of the winter, which very slowly gave way to the waters of spring, eventually welcoming the heat of summer, allowing their blossoms.

As we are in the midst of the chaos of the holiday season, and beginning to think about New Year's resolutions and intentions, I am especially reminded of this dance. It is so tempting this time of year to set our sights to the future, dismissing the journey we’ve taken thus far. We set intentions or goals to make major changes, forgetting to honor the process, the foundation, the failures, and successes. We forget, at times, that we are human. While none of us are perfect at being human, that never needs to be the goal. I am not suggesting it is a bad thing to set goals - quite the contrary. I’m suggesting that before we set ambitious goals aiming to change something about ourselves or how we live our lives, we allow the change to be a dance. That we honor where we’ve come from as we move toward where we are going. That we give ourselves permission to dance with the past as we create our future. So, I offer you this meditation - maybe you’ll keep it at your bedside or in your journal next to your list of resolutions. Maybe not. Nevertheless, it is my offering to you, in honor of you and your brilliance.

May you set your intentions with gentleness over eagerness.

May you honor the foundation and roots you’ve set in place for new growth to arise.

May you practice forgiveness and appreciation for your faults and failings when things take longer than you wish.

And may you always honor and love the greatness you have become and continue to grow into.

You are ever-blooming.

LifeTip: Learning to Trust and Be Trusted

Photo by  Perry Grone  on  Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

“Trust me” is a phrase we hear in all types of relationship dyads. From intimate partners, to parents and their children, friends, and even work colleagues and acquaintances, we all want to feel trusted and know if we can trust the other person. If we look closely, we might even wonder if we can trust ourselves. It begs the questions - “Why is trust so important?” and “How do we know if we have trust?” The challenge is that like most things in life (dare I say ALL), it isn’t black or white. It’s not as simple as “Yes, I trust you” or “No, I don’t” in most situations...

As I reflect on my 10+ years of experience as a therapist, I can safely say that every one of my clients have struggled with the question: How can I know if I trust him/her/them? I can easily recall the pain in the eyes of a 16 year old client who had worked for months to mend their relationship with their parents after a period of greatly deceptive behavior, as they asked, “Can’t you trust me now? What more can I possibly do?” And the simultaneous confusion, grief, doubt, hope, and uncertainty in the eyes of the parent who responds, “I don’t know; part of me says ‘yes’ while another part says ‘no way!’”  There’s also the employee who can’t quite pinpoint why he feels so uneasy in interactions with his boss. Or the woman who sits in my office wondering out loud if her boyfriend can truly be trusted, despite her deep love for him. Most of the time, it’s painful to examine trust in our relationships and yet, it’s completely necessary.

If we want to be seen and valued in our relationships, trust is essential. Trust is the foundation upon which we can engage in and build authentic relationships with one another. It determines if we feel safe enough to be vulnerable or if we feel the need to put on our armor and self-protect with another person. Trust is not something that we can expect to have with other people instantly. Rather, it is much like a flower - it requires patience, attention, nurturance, and flexibility in order to thrive. When we see warning signs that things aren’t going well, we must take a look at the components of trust to know what is getting in the way and whether it can be salvaged. So what are the components of trust?

Researcher, author, and storyteller, Brené Brown has identified 7 elements of trust which are incredibly helpful when evaluating and examining where there are challenges and strengths in a relationship. Quoting from her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution (pgs 199-200), she defines these elements with the acronym BRAVING:

B - Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s

okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

R - Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your

competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on

commitments andbalance competing priorities.

A - Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V - Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need

to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any

information about other people that should be confidential.

I - Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun,

fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N - Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can

talk about how we feel without judgment.

G - Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions,

words, and actions of others.

This is one of the most useful measuring sticks for trust that I’ve found. It takes something that is very murky and hard to define, and makes it just a little clearer. The reason the parent may struggle to say whether she trusts her teen is because their child may be incredibly reliable but struggles greatly with accountability. The employee may feel uneasy around their boss because the same boss they are supposed to have rapport and safety with is the same person who revealed deeply personal information to him about another colleague. The newly formed romantic relationship may be strong in generosity but weak in boundaries.

This stuff is complex. The good news is that if we take a look at each of these components we will likely find strengths to acknowledge and praise, as well as new language to explain the reasons we’re struggling with trust in our relationships. Similarly, it can help us to identify our own areas of weakness that may cause others to mistrust us or to mistrust ourselves.

So, the next time you feel uneasy or uncertain about your level of trust in an important relationship, take some time to get quiet, take a deep breath, and evaluate your strengths/weaknesses according to the BRAVING model and the strengths/weaknesses of your counterpart. Keep in mind, the point is not to blame the other, but to make this murky concept of trust a little clearer, which means looking within as well. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” We have to be willing to look at our part in building and maintaining trust, as well as the other’s part.