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meditation monday

From Multi-Tasking to Mindfulness

My Meditation Monday series (now Mindful Monday) has been popular since I began it. This post, How Cancer is Turning a Multi-Tasker into a Mindful Meditator, is one of my favorites. I won't say I'm there yet, but just being aware of mindfulness has been a huge help:

We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation. Raul Julia

I'm sure we all remember the days of cancer driven single-mindedness. Cancer was our only thought, our only question, our only focus. I went to bed at night and fought for sleep through a barrage of cancer thoughts.

Meditation Monday - Mindful Movement

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you. Deepak Chopra

The past four days were chock-full of family, travel, activities and holiday preparations. It was that weekend when Thanksgiving and Christmas converge, with Santa's arrival putting a giant exclamation point at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. And yes, once again, I heard the starter pistol go off in my head as soon as I saw him. 

In the midst of all that movement, I did my best to keep stillness inside of me. It wasn't easy, and I wasn't always successful, believe me. But I learned again that being aware puts me half-way there. The brevity of my post today is evidence of that awareness. I refused to touch my computer this weekend. I needed the break, so I did no writing and devoted my time to family.

If you celebrated Thanksgiving this weekend, how did it go for you? Are you approaching the holiday season with more stillness and mindful movement? 

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Meditation Monday - 10 Tips to Help You Get to Sleep

Sleep is the best meditation. Dalai Lama

Living the hectic, stressful lives that we live, we often forget how to push the "Off" button. We work, run from place to place, and are anxiety ridden to distraction. We're cancer survivors who power up each morning, because we have a lot to do and we're so grateful for the ability to do it. Yet, we might not be as good at powering down at night and getting the rest we need to support our full lives after cancer. 

A few months after my mastectomy, I went to a support group and met a woman who was an exercise instructor. She was extremely upset about not being able to exercise during her disability and gaining weight. When her doctor cleared her to exercise, she threw herself back into it with a vengeance, which caused a lot of pain. Now she was mad at the doctor and afraid she would never return to what she loved. As we talked, it became obvious she had the drive to return to exercising once she let herself heal. What she wasn't able to do was relax.

It's hard to relax when our minds are in turmoil. But without relaxation we can't get to sleep to recharge and focus productively. In my last Survivor's Nest post, I wrote about how to turn your bed into a refuge, a soft place to land. But what if you still can't get to sleep? 

Here are 10 tips to help you get the sleep you need:

1.  Set a regular bedtime and time to get up each morning. Follow through on the weekends. A regular sleep schedule will help ease you into the routine of good sleep.

2.  Have quiet time before bedtime. No television or computer screens, because the light they throw off is a stimulant. Plus, how many times have you watched a particularly violent episode of a TV show, or been disturbed by the news? Let only good thoughts come your way before going to bed.

3.  Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet.  

4.  Don't drink alcohol, caffeinated beverages, or eat or drink too much before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and, although alcohol may initially make you sleepy, it is also a stimulant and you will find yourself wide awake a few hours later. As for other liquids, no one likes to make frequent trips to the bathroom when they should be sleeping.

5.  If you still can't get to sleep after about 15 minutes of trying, focus on relaxation, rather than sleep. The more we focus on "not sleeping" the more likely we are to create insomnia.  

6.  One thing I like to do to relax is to listen to guided imagery or calming music on my iPod, while I am comfortably lying in bed. I started doing this before I had my mastectomy because my anxiety was keeping me up at night. It usually worked wonders.

7.  Journaling or writing is a calming activity when you can't sleep. Putting your anxieties and worries down on paper may be all you need to do at 3 a.m. to feel more in control of the situation. If you are awake because your head is full of ideas, write them down. Visualize the ideas out of your head and on the paper, where they can sit and wait for you to get back to them tomorrow.

8.  Drink herbal tea and honey and curl up in a blanket. A little bit of TLC in the middle of the night goes a long way to making you feel more relaxed and nurtured.

9.  Listen to the silence, really hear it. The middle of the night is like no other time of the day (especially if you have a busy job, family life, etc.) Sometimes I realize I'm awake because I need the solitude. 

10.  Breathe and meditate during the day. If we practice mindful meditation during the day, we will be that much more adept at quieting the "what ifs?" at night. Anyone who has ever dealt with insomnia knows that the more upset you get about it, the more likely you are to stay awake. Mindful meditation keeps you from panicking, and that may be all you need to eventually get yourself to sleep.

Give yourself the gift of meditation and breathing during the day, and it will reward you with the best meditation during the night. I hope you get a good night's rest!

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Meditation Monday - How Cancer is Turning a Multi-Tasker into a Mindful Meditator

We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation. Raul Julia

I'm sure we all remember the days of cancer driven single-mindedness. Cancer was our only thought, our only question, our only focus. I went to bed at night and fought for sleep through a barrage of cancer thoughts. When I awoke, I resisted consciousness because it put cancer front and center again. Cancer, cancer, cancer. It was the sum total of my existence.

There is a big difference between single-minded anxiety and mindfulness. Once the days of cancer diagnosis and treatment waned, my ultimate goal was to return to “normal.” But since cancer, I’ve learned that my “normal” multi-tasking thoughts are no better for my psyche than single-minded anxiety. If I want to reduce stress in my “normal” life, I have to learn to be mindful.

It’s an uphill battle because I love to multi-task. Or maybe I should say I think I love it because I’ve trained myself so well over the years. My work as an attorney started my multi-tasking practice. I moved into hard-core multi-tasking with the birth of my first child. With children in the house, there is no ability to stick to a plan of action because there are always interruptions. I learned to start a project, interrupt it to start another project, and so on and so on. By the end of the day, I was surrounded by unfinished projects. Because they would all eventually get done, I deluded myself into thinking multi-tasking was the path to productivity.

Now my children are older, but I can’t stop multi-tasking. I’m still working on three things at a time, while thinking about the four other things I should be doing. The operative word in that sentence, I just realized, is “should.” It’s the pressure of thinking that productivity proves validity that makes it so hard to just be in the moment. Every "should" that grabs me, stacks on another task that adds to that pressure.

Enter the example of a child. How wonderful it is to watch a child explore the world, so engrossed and focused in the moment! I saw my children apply that exponential degree of attention and wonder to their worlds. I was also that mindful, once. Of course, I also had all my needs provided for by others. While we certainly can't live our adult lives as children, because we have jobs to do and others to nurture, there is a happy medium. It comes to us adults through meditation and breathing.

A few Meditation Mondays ago, I posted about tea meditation. While it's great to take break from work to stop and savor a cup of tea, mindfulness isn't limited to break time. In fact, I think it's just as important, if not more, to be mindful while doing the laundry, writing a post, working with a client, or talking with a friend. I'm learning to stop my multi-tasking "shoulds" by simply taking a long breath. It recenters me and returns me to the moment at hand. I find the more aware I am of my multi-tasking tendencies, the more often I find myself stopping them cold with a deep breath.

Whatever you are doing, if you are wholly present, then that is a meditation, a blessed moment of being. In that moment, your life becomes itself a meditation.

I'd love to hear from my fellow multi-taskers! Has being a cancer survivor affected how you approach your life as a multi-tasker? Has it made you more aware of the stress that multi-tasking puts on you?

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Meditation Monday - Being Present with 9/11

It’s ironic that I dedicated last week’s Meditation Monday post to living in the present. That hasn’t been easy this week. In fact, it’s been a week to relive, remember and reopen old wounds. Each time I turned on the television or picked up a magazine or newspaper, I was forced to confront the horrors of 9/11 yet again. While nothing compares to the shock and devastation of 9/11/01, each documentary, story, article and interview drew me deeper down into that gaping hole of loss and pain.

This is especially true when it comes to fully understanding what was lost. As I watched the towers fall in real time, from the safety of my home, my mind focused only on the destruction of the buildings. It wasn’t until later in the day that I grasped I was watching as people died right before my eyes. Over the past ten years, I've learned more about them and the loved ones who mourn their loss. A few of the lost were people I knew. My husband worked with a woman who lost her daughter, my daughter’s friend, who was seven at the time, lost her aunt. Our neighbor up the street didn’t come home to his wife and children. The bank teller I chatted with once a week at our neighborhood bank lost her son. 

We learned on the evening of 9/11 that we lost my husband’s friend Bob. Bob and my husband were high school friends, who ran track together, grew up together and loved each other like brothers. Just two days before, Bob joined my husband at the Jets season home opener football game. They tailgated, talked and reconnected. When the game was over, my husband called and asked if I minded if he stayed out a bit later than planned, because Bob was dealing with his recent separation from his wife and my husband wasn't ready to leave him alone just yet. 

I’ve lived through miscarriages, years of infertility, 9/11 and being diagnosed and treated for cancer. Once I had my first child, the pain of infertility and miscarriages seemed extremely distant. That is not the way it is with 9/11 and having cancer. Am I failing at “being” when I relive the loss of 9/11 or the fear of receiving another cancer diagnosis? I don’t think so. I think we are complex emotional creatures with powerful memories. When those memories create pain, the bravest thing I can do is sit with it and allow it to be. If I allow the pain to exist without judging it, I am present and eventually I will feel it leave me. And when it returns, which I know it will, I can be present to it again and that's how I know I will survive it.  

Now when I see the towers falling, the only thing I can think is that I am watching Bob die. That is the reality I didn’t understand those first few moments of this horror. But I also didn’t know, until much later, how important it would be to my husband that he spent those extra moments with Bob that last Sunday of his life. And how important it would be to me that I said I didn't mind and understood. By being present to a friend in need, we gave ourselves the gift of avoiding life long regret. 

We spent the morning of 9/11 watching the memorial ceremony, as we have for the past 10 years. We waited for the reading of Bob’s name and we cried and remembered. At that moment, it was a time to grieve and we were present to it:   

For everything there is a season,

A time for every activity under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to build up.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to quit searching.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

Survival > Existence,

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Meditation Monday - No Work Today, It's Labor Day

If life beyond cancer and meditation has taught me anything, it's the importance of living in the present moment. I'm not always there, believe me. I am often reliving the past or planning the future, but I'm working on it.  

As this moment is the third day of a three-day weekend, I have to ask myself, "What am I doing on the computer?" This is officially a weekend day to be with my husband and children, who are going back to school in just two more days. I should be relaxing, but I have a problem making myself do that. I definitely need to take time to stop and smell the flowers, yet here I sit.  

So, I'm going to make this Meditation Monday post short and sweet. Setting an intention really helps place yourself in the moment. One of my favorites is the chant: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.  Loosely translated, it means, “May the entire Universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light.”   

I will be meditating today by simply being.  I will plug in to the people around me.  For today, I will forego virtual social contact for actual contact. I will be present and unrushed. I will laugh and share and I will connect.  I will consider work a four letter word to be avoided until tomorrow, when it all begins again. And I will be glad for the opportunity to live in the present with the people I love the most. If I can do that, then the Universe, or at least my little piece of it, will truly be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light.

To all my American friends, Happy Labor Day!  To all of my many friends throughout the world, have a wonderful day and talk with you tomorrow.

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Meditation Monday - Reliving the Fear of Cancer as Hurricane Irene Approaches

 

Talk about an uninvited knock at the door!  Last week, while I was trying to practice the “Gracious Declining” meditation practice of visualizing a rambling thought as an “uninvited salesperson, knocking on your door,” we had an earthquake, hurricane and a few small tornados here on the East Coast. 

I have to admit that the prospect of Hurricane Irene bearing down really freaked me out.  Heeding all the warnings and preparing for the worst (days stuck in the house without electricity, a tree falling through my roof) didn’t quell my fears.  If anything, all the constant news coverage and discussion made it worse.  

In reality, we experienced a lot of water and heavy wind, but didn't lose power.  The winds were heaviest after the rains, and caused a large limb from one of our trees to come crashing down onto the front yard.  (It missed the house, but crushed my poor purple plum tree.)  Given all the flooding and damage to so many neighboring communities and throughout the East Coast, we were very lucky and grateful we escaped with so little damage.  

I’ve learned there are two types of people in the world: those who expect the best, and those who expect the worst.  I am a member of the latter group.  Some people I know are amazingly optimistic despite a personal history that would suggest otherwise.  The rest of us take our personal history and create an expectation:  if something bad happened to me before, it can happen again. 

I guess that’s why my breast cancer diagnosis created cold, naked fear, but not a hint of “Why me?” Years of miscarriages and infertility taught me that, despite today’s good health, you never know about tomorrow.  All that “awareness” wasn’t lost on me.  Each yearly mammogram was an act of preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.

What does this have to do with meditation?  Between vacation and the natural disasters of last week, my daily meditation practice has been sporadic at best.  Vacation was filled with happy distractions, but last week was filled with fear.  As my fear increased, I finally managed enough mindfulness to ask myself, "Why are you so emotional?"  Just asking the question brought the answer: The uncertainty of a hurricane is not unlike the uncertainty of going through cancer. I'm getting sucked again into a world of unknown conditions, with no way of knowing how well I will fare.  Making it worse, not only am I afraid of losing control, but my fear is exacerbated by the familiarity of losing it again.  I'm right back in that place, riding that emotional rollercoaster.

My oncology therapist told me that I have the emotional memory of an elephant. What I remember, I feel.  I am still like that elephant and always will be.  But now, because of therapy and meditation, I am a more mindful elephant.  I still re-experience the emotions of what I remember, but I am getting better at mindfully looking at what I am doing.  That mindfulness creates the moment of calm I need to break the cycle and the fear diminishes.  Not to say it disappears, because it doesn't, but there is relief.

I keep remembering that man I saw in the shoe department peacefully meditating, while shopping women swirled around him.  I am not that able a meditator.  I am, however, able to recognize the rambling, emotional mind when it seizes me by the throat. Ironically, having cancer both increased my fears and gave me the tools to deal with them.  I've learned various techniques, such as Watching Your Breath,  Naked Sound MeditationNoting Body SensationsThis Magic Moment, and Gracious Declining.  More importantly, I've learned to keep at it, because even a far from perfect meditation practice is better than no practice at all and serves me well when I need it most.

This week, because of all the interruptions, I'm going to stick with Gracious Declining, rather than moving on to the next technique. Here's a repeat of the process, because I know I could sure use a refresher:

1.     Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.

2.     Set your timer to eight minutes.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Allow your body to relax and rest your attention on your breath.

5.     When a thought wafts through your mind, visualize it as an “uninvited salesperson, knocking on your door.” 

6.     Be aware that the thought is demanding your attention, but you can graciously decline to grant it that attention and send it on its way.

7.     Return your attention to your breath.  When another thought comes knocking, recognize it as uninvited and again, graciously decline and send it on its way.

I'm hoping for a little more peace this week, but I will be thinking and sending blessings to all of the people dealing with Hurricane Irene's aftermath.   Please let me know how you're doing with your meditation practice and, if you are one of the millions of people Irene dropped in on this weekend, please let me know how you are coping.  Namaste!

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Meditation Monday - Taking my Meditation Practice on the Road

If you ever want to put your meditation practice to the test, take it on the road for a family vacation.  Make sure you plan an eight to nine hour car ride through heavy traffic areas.  Oh, and make sure at least two teenagers are in the backseat squabbling over boundary lines every few minutes.  Then, when you get to your destination, put same teenagers, yourself and your spouse into one hotel room for a week.  At mealtime, try to find agreement as to where and what to eat. 

My vacation week coincided with week four of 8 Minute Meditation - Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich.   (Amazon associates link)  I was practicing the “This Magic Moment” meditation technique.  For each unwanted thought that wandered across my mind while I was meditating, I labeled it “past” or “future” and released it so as to be in the present moment. 

Now, when you’re on vacation with three other people in a hotel room and on the go most of the day, it’s hard to find a quiet place to meditate in the traditional sense.  I’m not comfortable assuming the lotus position, hands resting on my knees and maintaining blissful obliviousness while chaos reigns around me.  (I saw a man doing this once in the women’s shoe department of Lord & Taylor.  I was impressed and amused.  How the heck did he maintain such amazing focus? More importantly, if he could teach that focus to other men stuck in the shoe department with their significant others, he’d be revered as a guru.)

Because I was on the go and had little to no privacy, I meditated wherever and whenever I could.  At the pool, when I put down my magazine and closed my eyes, I focused on the sounds around me.  In the car, when I could have lost it and made tensions worse, I was silent and breathed.  While I was getting a facial, I focused on the smells and sensations.  When a thought tried to intrude, it was quickly labeled “past” or “future” and sent on its way.   

Each meditation technique I’ve practiced over the past four weeks, Watching Your Breath,  Naked Sound Meditation, Noting Body Sensations, and This Magic Moment, came to my rescue when I needed it. At first, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t meditate the same way I did at home. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that my meditation practice isn’t meant to be rigid – I’m not training with the Olympic meditation team here.  Using the technique that worked, at the moment it was needed, reduced my stress and kept me calm.  Once I was calm, relaxation was a short step away and I was able to really enjoy the rough and tumble of all that togetherness.  We had a great time!

Week five in the book is dedicated to “Gracious Declining” meditation.  The focus is on easily recognizing and stopping rambling thought streams.  This is a quick outline of the process: 

1.     Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.

2.     Set your timer to eight minutes.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Allow your body to relax and rest your attention on your breath.

5.     When a thought wafts through your mind, visualize it as an “uninvited salesperson, knocking on your door.” 

6.     Be aware that the thought is demanding your attention, but you can graciously decline to grant it that attention and send it on its way.

7.     Return your attention to your breath.  When another thought comes knocking, recognize it as uninvited and again, graciously decline and send it on its way.

I’m finding as the weeks go on that I’m falling into whatever technique works for me at the moment.  I feel I’ve learned a lot and the program is only half completed!  Please let me know how it’s been going for you and specifically how you’ve applied what you’ve learned to the reality of your everyday life.

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Meditation Monday – Why Resist Quiet Moments?

It’s been an interesting ride through the weekly sessions of 8 Minute Meditation - Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich.   (Amazon associates link)  I thought adopting the eight minute a day, eight week program wouldn’t be that difficult, given the small time commitment.  Why have I resisted doing it to the degree that I have?  I accept completely the benefits of meditation and quieting my mind, but for some reason, my mind just doesn’t want to be quieted.  What’s going on here?

I’ve really enjoyed each of the meditation practices when I’ve done them.  I’ve tried Watching Your Breath,  Naked Sound Meditation, and Noting Body Sensations.  I also made up my own visualization technique, “fallow field meditation.”  I had some real successes, like when the phone rang and I kept meditating and breathing.  I’ve felt the peace and awareness of letting my mind empty.  I just haven’t let myself experience it enough. 

I’m realizing that meditation is not just about technique.  It’s about value.  Do I value myself when I am still?  Do I value myself when I’m not “producing?”  Do I value quiet, rest and healing?  Can I value these things and still be a productive person?  Just asking myself these questions, reveals a lot.  That's funny, because even not meditating is teaching me about myself.

This is week four in the book.  It’s time for “This Magic Moment" meditation.  The focus is on maintaining consciousness in the present moment.  This is a quick outline of the process: 

1.     Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.

2.     Set your timer to eight minutes.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Allow your body to relax.

5.     When a thought wafts through your mind, label it as either “past” or “future.” 

6.     As the thought floats away, notice the space around them - that's the silence you need.

7.     Don't fret if your mind attaches itself to a thought.  Just gently release it and allow, allow, allow.

I like this meditation, because most thoughts are nothing more than "past" or "present," despite the fact that the only real moment is the here and now.  Please join me in meditation and let me know how your practice is going.    

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Meditation Monday – Visualizing My Mind as a Fallow Field

I grew sunflowers every summer in the garden behind my parents’ house when I was younger.  I’ve always loved them.  Last summer, while on a cross-country train trip with my family, we passed fields and fields of them growing in Montana.  This is just one of the many pictures I took from the train.  If you look closely, you’ll see a field lying fallow next to the field of flowers.  That’s the field speaking to me right now.

I have to confess I’m having a problem keeping up with Meditation Mondays.  It appears from my behavior that I have an inability to meditate.  Actually, it’s not the meditation that’s the problem.  It’s the stopping and making time to do it.  Without a doubt, the operative word here is “stopping.”  What I have is an inability to stop.  I get up in the morning and hit the ground running.   I’m great at starting and going, but very bad at stopping. 

This is just plain crazy, I know, because I have experienced the benefits of meditation and know it is good for me.  I get in my own way because I turn on the computer before I put on the tea pot. I have been known to eat breakfast for lunch, because I started working and let the time pass without feeding myself.  (That’s what happened today.) 

I started meditating when I was on disability after my mastectomy.  My doctors, husband, and everything I read told me you need to rest to heal.  At first it was easy.  There’s not much you can do when you can barely stand up straight.  Then, as the weeks went on, it was harder and harder to rest.  I wanted to get going again.   Well, I got going alright.  As Rachel Pappas said in her recent blog post, " ... studies show we actually have 3,000 to 4,000 thoughts a day and another 50,000 impressions. Our minds are flooded!"  How do I learn to stop and heal my mind from all the wear and tear of its very busy day?  

I was thinking about this problem the other day (anyone else see the irony in that?)  I suddenly remembered the concept of letting a field lie fallow to allow it time to restore nutrients depleted by crops.  I visualized my mind as that field.  Most of the time my mind is pumping out thoughts, ideas, memories, plans, worries, and just plain noise. Not to say that it doesn’t produce at a pretty high level, because it does.  I can grow some amazingly creative ideas.  I also produce a lot of mundane but necessary thoughts like what I’m doing tomorrow and what’s for dinner.   But, if my brain is producing all of the time, when does it recharge? 

This week, I decided to throw in an exercise of my own.  Instead of moving on to week four of 8 Minute Meditation - Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich  (Amazon associates link), I’m going to meditate by visualizing my mind as that field lying fallow.  I’ve done Watching Your Breath, Naked Sound and Noting Body Sensations Meditation.  Now I think I need a week to glimpse pure nothingness. 

These are my instructions for “fallow field” meditation (I just made that up.)  What the heck, it’s my mind and my meditation practice: 

1.     Find a comfortable position, upright, but not tense.

2.     Set your timer to eight minutes.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Allow your body to relax and notice your breathing.

5.     Visualize your mind as a fallow field, lying in the sun, receiving all of the glorious energy brought to it by the sun and the rain and not being asked for anything in return, except to simply be.

6.     If your thoughts roam, and they will, just gently bring them back to the fallow field visualization

7.     Do not judge or be concerned with how long you maintain the visualization, every second is precious.

Okay, I’m taking the next eight minutes off to practice what I preach.  I’m committing to giving my mind some fallow field time and not turning on my computer until I’ve done my meditation each morning.  If you think this approach makes any sense, give it a try and please let me know how it went.

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