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Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing my cancer story compelled me to found WWGN. I'm an inspirational speaker, blogger at The Huffington Post, support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.
I wear and don't wear glasses. What I mean is that I have them off as often as I have them on. When they're not perched on my nose, I usually have no idea where they are. That's because I mindlessly put them down and, when I want to perch them on my nose again, have no memory of where I put them.
Mindfulness is the opposite of "mind fullness." It's the ability to focus on exactly what is happening at the moment - even something so little as taking off my glasses. Although multi-tasking seems productive in theory, it has repercussions. Like losing your glasses again and again and again. Lose them often enough and it's a short leap from losing your glasses to losing your mind.
I have an idea. Why don't you join me this week in trying to be more mindfully aware of the little things. I'd love it if you let me know either here in the comments or over at my Facebook page how you are doing. To get us started, here are some "little" things to be more mindfully aware:
1. Glasses - We all know it's not about the glasses. It's about juggling 20 things at a time. By slowing down and concentrating on one activity we instill calmness and focus. When I let myself single task, I actually get more done with less downtime, because I don't do silly things like constantly losing my glasses.
2. Yoga and Exercise - I hit the yoga mat after running out of the house, driving through traffic and running up to class. Sometimes (okay, most times) it's not easy to leave the fury of the day behind and settle into yoga. But when I do, even for a few minutes, I am richly rewarded. That's why I keep going back.
3. Cooking - At the end of a busy day, cooking can be a chore, but when you "throw it on the table," you're missing an opportunity for mindfulness. Slow down and really look at your ingredients. Focus on the smell, taste and feel of the food in your hands. Bringing together even a simple dish is a work of creation. Mindfully enjoy it and cooking becomes a relaxing focal point to the day.
4. Eating - Once you've mindfully created dinner, why not mindfully eat it? The secret to filling your life with simple pleasures (and food has to be right up there) is to actually pay attention to them. Eat slowly and really taste your food. Your body deserves to be fed and your consciousness deserves to savor it.
5. Conversation - Whether it's dinnertime with the family or throughout the day, good conversation requires mindfulness. Do you know that flow that comes when you're talking with a friend and time flies by? That's mindfulness and it's amazing. Resolve to get more of it by mindfully focusing on whoever you're talking to at the moment.
6. Simple Tasks - When I was a young lawyer, I lived in an apartment by myself for a few years. At the end of my very long, crazy days, I'd find myself washing the dishes and really enjoying it. It was quiet, the soap and warm water relaxed me and I was able to start and finish a project. (If you've ever had a job where nothing ever seems to resolve or be finished, you know what I mean.) I didn't know what mindfulness was at the time, but that's what I was experiencing and it was very satisfying.
7. Relaxation - It's probably no secret by now that I'm a multi-tasking workaholic. That's why relaxing doesn't come easily to me, but I know I need to refresh and rejuvenate more often. Being mindfully connected to the moment of relaxation (and not running unending to-do lists through my head) is my only hope. I'm working on it.
10. Silence - How can we be mindfully aware of any one thing with so many distractions constantly swirling around us? With all of our 24/7 gadgetry, we've forgotten that moments of silence are necessities. Resolve to turn off the unnecessary noise in your day and seek out silence (or as close to silence as you can get.) Making moments of silence a priority makes mindfulness a possibility.
Remember, I want to hear from you! Let me know here and on Facebook what you're doing to bring little moments of mindfulness into your day!
(No Internet connection yesterday, so I'm posting yesterday's Survivor's Nest post today.) Tuesday's post on coping with cancer anger opened up a wonderful discussion about constructively expressing our anger. Thank you to the many readers who shared their thoughts, comments and emails. You really made me think and you've inspired me to take the conversation one step further in today's Survivor's Nest post.
As much as expressing our cancer anger constructively is important, I don't think it's always the entire answer to making ourselves feel better. I'm sure we've all been in the situation of trying to express our anger, only to get back a blank or completely disinterested look on the other person's face. Or worse, you are subjected to an argument over whether you have a right to your anger in the first place. My point is that we can't expect that expressing our anger is always going to make us feel better. Although we should still say our piece, sometimes, no matter how much we vent, no one is listening.
So what else can we do to cope? l always return to my "soft place to land" theory. It's a tough world out there, especially for the cancer survivor. Your home should envelope and calm you after a hard day at the office, be it your own or your oncologist's. Here are five tips to make that a reality in your own home:
1. Family and/or really good friends: Nothing beats a shoulder to cry on or a nod that says, "I get it and, yes, that guy is a real jerk." Empathy, sincerely given, is one of the greatest gifts of love. I can't tell you how much I needed it during my worst days and still do. If your home is dysfunctional and not a loving and supportive place, ask yourself what you need to do about it. Peace in your home is pivotal to your good mental and emotional health.
3. Pump up the creature comforts: Soothe yourself with the comforts of home. Having a hot cup of tea warms your insides and reduces tension. Spend some down time in a comfortable bed, curled up with a book or watching a favorite holiday movie. The key is to distract yourself from the irritations of the day by luxuriating in your nest.
4. Build in quiet time: I can't tell you how many times I've gotten into arguments that I didn't even know how I got into them. When you (or your loved ones) are irritable, it's not easy to talk calmly about even ordinary things. If you're feeling cancer anger, take a "time out." One of the comments to Tuesday's post was from Erika, who makes "a conscience effort to leave a room to collect myself and come back to talk with a clear head" when she is experiencing cancer anger. Erika is smart to find a quiet spot to take a few minutes to consciously collect herself.
5. Have fun: The bananas sitting on our kitchen counter for several days were beginning to show their age. My husband mentioned banana bread more than once, and I nodded, but I doubted I had the time. Yesterday, I made myself take a work break and I was so glad I did. In addition to not feeling guilty about throwing away food, I enjoy baking and the smell was incredible. It was a small diversion from my working day, but it made all the difference in my mood. Try a family pajama night or take a yoga break. Just an afternoon or a few minutes of fun can diffuse anger's sharp effects.
My biggest challenge at home is finding a balance between down time and work, without which I end up feeling angry and resentful. If you are experiencing cancer anger, I hope your home is a haven of comfort and security and I'd love to hear more about how you make that happen.
And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total? Tillie Olsen
I don't know about you, but almost everyone I know, including me, is perennially "busy." We all have jobs and lives that demand a huge amount of our time. As we devote so much attention to juggling our responsibilities, when do we find the time to breathe and recharge?
If you can master being mindful of each moment, you can actually slow down time. Try it today! Get into the flow of what you are doing. By refusing to multi-task and fret over the other items waiting for you on your to-do list, time actually becomes a non-issue.
In addition to focusing on one task at a time, you also have to take some time to sit back and relax. Especially during the holiday season, enjoy watching a holiday movie, spending time with children, or redevoting yourself to yoga or any other "me time" activity that calms you. If you only have a few minutes, try tea meditation. Whatever you do during your down time, remember that you need to recharge. No one is productive 24/7 and it's a fallacy to think that you are the one exception to the rule.
I've found myself contemplating how I spend my time a lot lately and I want to do better with how I manage it in the coming year. For now, I'm going take the time to consider some inspirational quotes about time:
Finding some quiet time in your life, I think, is hugely important. Mariel Hemingway
I took some time out for life. James L. Brooks
Lose not your self in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine. Friedrich Schiller
The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked. Tillie Olsen
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream. Khalil Gibran
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. Henry David Thoreau
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts and join me on this journey. I hope you find the time this week to be mindful and recharge your soul. If you're struggling with finding the time, know that you're not alone. Leave me comments here so we can work on being more mindful together.
My meditation practice has been getting a little more “practiced.” I’ve been using the fallow field visualization and it’s really helping me understand my need to stop and sit quietly. The more I do it, the more I realize how important a few minutes to myself are. I’m glad I’m making the effort. Now, I’m also trying to devote a few more minutes throughout my busy day to “awareness.” One of my favorite ways to do this is called “tea meditation.”
The process of tea meditation is really nothing more than letting yourself concentrate on one thing at a time. While you make the tea, think only of what you are doing, really hear the pot sing to you and be aware of each motion you make. Then, take a comfortable seat and hold onto the cup with both hands. As you drink in the tea, savor the taste and smell. How does it feel as it warms your mouth and travels down your throat? Can you feel your entire body warming and relaxing?
It’s mid-August, I know. Maybe a hot cup of tea isn’t your passion. If not, make sure to find something that is and take time to really experience and savor it. By taking quiet moments for yourself, you are creating the space you need to recharge.
Let me know what you do to find your quiet place. It’s not hard to do and it doesn’t take a long time. What it takes is the ability to stop for a while and concentrate on one thing only. We can get back to multi-tasking later.
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