Spring in North Georgia

My heart is alive again, for I can be outdoors once more.

I start my mornings meditating outside on my deck, listening to the world waking up around me – the frogs, the crickets, the stream in my backyard, the lazy morning moos from distant cows, and even the hum of 6am traffic from ghe highway beyond even that. It’s a mindful peace that I can find without having to delve into mysic. I prefer to meditate to the sounds of my backyard and forest. It feels more honest to me.

I spend my lunch breaks outside, walking laps around an oh-so-familiar graveyard, now accompanied by the caws of crows and the calls of hawks, the atmospheric tumbling whirl of a lopsided wind ornament. My spirits rise as i can now truly take it all in, instead of retreating into layers of clothing and protection from the bone chilling wind that leaves me exhausted after only a few minutes. Now. My walks are once again uplifting. Soon, the my seasonal companions, the graveyard grasshoppers, will be wildly bouncing about.

My backporch view

And when I get home in the evenings, I can spend hours on my back porch, enjoying the symphony of color and sounds that accompanies twilight in the woods. I may be reading, writing (like I am at this moment), or just being at peace with myself and my surroundings.

I am so grateful for the return of Spring in North Georgia.

 

My Morning Meditation

Meditation is one of the first things I do after I get out of bed. After taking care of the basic necessities and of my dogs’ needs, I typically head down to my basement or outside (depending on the weather). I’ve posted before about my meditation setup, so there’s no need to get into that.

I do have a meditation routine that I go through that I discovered after trying many different things. I complete this routine most mornings, though sometimes I do allow myself to freestyle my meditation.

First I get settled, then I set up my Insight meditation timer – sometimes with music, sometimes with silence. This is what works for me. It won’t work for everyone you have to find your own comfortable routine.

I begin by taking ten slow, deep breaths. Then, I inhale and then on the exhale begin saying my mantra. With each exhale, I whisper a sentence of my mantra. Inhale, “I am Fit.” Inhale, “I am Flexible,” and so on and so forth.

Then I reanchor myself, usually by wiggling my toes or maybe rolling my shoulders. Once again, I take ten slow, deep, cleansing breaths.

Next I focus on gratitude. I think on three to five things in my personal life that I am thankful for. Repeating each time, in my mind, “I am grateful for this…” sometimes with a “Because” clause, sometimes just general gratitude.

Ten more deep breaths.

Still focusing on gratitude, I think on three to five things that I am thankful for in my professional life.

Ten more deep breaths (seeing a pattern here?)

The next part can be the most unnerving. I list out three things that I love about myself. I love my sense of wonder and adventure. I love my shoulder muscles. I love my ability to speed read. I love the life I’ve built for myself. You can love anything about yourself that you have a modicum of control over. Love your choices.

Ten deep breaths.

Finally, I repeat my mantra, focusing on each phrase and the variety of connotations each word means to me.

To end my meditation, I take a few deep breaths and then go into a series of gentle stretches to reawaken my muscles – usually some side bends and twists, neck rolls, and should rolls.

All-in-all, this meditation typically takes me about 12-17 minutes, depending on how focused I am.

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Find me on Insight Timer – April Loebick

Forgetfulness and Forgiveness

I’ve written before about how I am a numbers and metrics person.  I like data, spreadsheets, charts, but mostly, I like what these things represent to me. Progress. I you can measure it, you can improve it, and I’m all about self-improvement. I love tracking things. I track my calorie intake and burn (MyFitnessPal), I track my weight and fat percentage (Renpho), and I track my meditation length and frequency (Insight Timer).

It’s with this last one that I hit a snag. Because I committed myself to a 30-day meditation challenge, I really got into the groove of meditating for 15 minutes every morning – or at least every weekday morning. On the weekends, I typically mix things up and meditate in the afternoon when, during this time of year, there’s a chance I can go outside and enjoy nature while getting down with mindful self.

Things were going great. Every day I had timed and logged my meditation. I felt a small bit of elation every time I earned another little milestone star on the Insight timer app. 10 days consecutive, 20 days consecutive, 50 days total logged, and so on and so forth.

Last Sunday, just a few days before the 30-day mark hit, I woke up with a start. I had forgotten to meditate the day before. My 40+day streak of meditating had come to an end. I began feeling the rising disappointment that I had failed. That next star, that next milestone was grabbed from my grasp and put further down the road.

Balls.

Beans, My meditation companion most mornings.

But before flying off the handle and getting angry with myself, I stopped. This is what this challenge, or meditation in general is all about. It’s not just something I do to tick off a to do item on a task list. I don’t meditate to win or beat the numbers. I meditate to digest, to grow, to stop and allow myself to enjoy the present. I meditate to suck every last morsel of joy out of the marrow of life and let it nourish me and fill me with contentment and well-being.

I forgave myself the small slight and moved on.

 

 

My Meditation Setup

When meditating, it is important to be comfortable. Being present in your body goes from being pleasant and relaxing to near torturous when your focus centers on the sensation of your spine being compressed or the ache you feel in your joints.

When I first started meditating, I would sit on my basement floor, crossed-legged, with my butt directly on the floor – which happens to be thin carpet with little padding over concrete. This was fine for shorter 5 minute meditation, but when I began challenging myself to do at least 15 minutes, something had to change. My spine ached with the stress and pressure and I found myself focusing on that pain and discomfort.

Many people use a zabuton and zafu, a round pillow and a pad, to meditate. It gives your body a bit of padding and allows you to better relax and settle into a solid meditative position. You sit on the round pillow, with your legs crossed, but somewhat dangling loose in front of you. This takes loads of stress off your spine.

Believing that you don’t have to spend money to seek wellness, I improvised. I took a plushy blanket and folded it into a nice rectangle to give it a bit more thickness. And then I took a throw pillow that, while cute (It has a corgi face on it, of course), didn’t really do anything else for me – until now.

My typical setup

This set up has greatly increased my comfort and helps me focus on more pleasant or neutral sensations while meditating.

Which brings me do another point. If at anytime while you’re meditating and you feel stressed or tense in any part of your body and simple releasing doesn’t seem to help, take a breath or two to stretch. I find that rolling my neck or shoulders help release tension that sometimes builds up over a longer session.

Find your mind wandering to things beyond the here and now? Wiggle your toes a bit, and focus your thought on them. It’s a great little trick for bringing you back and breaking a rumination cycle.

A little bit of movement as needed is okay. What’s the point of meditating if it causes you suffering?

What set up do you use when you’re meditating?

70 in February

February is typically the coldest month we suffer here in North Georgia. It’s when we have the best chance of our yearly snowfall, and it’s when we have the biggest heating bills.

The polar vortex thing that was happening touched us only a little bit. While certain places up north were experiencing wind chills of -60, we were balmy down here in the teens and 20s.

But that took a dramatic turn this past weekend and even through today. It’s been an early spring, with temperatures in the mid-60s and even hitting the 70s yesterday.

Holy crap, it’s been amazing.

And it is most definitely fleeting.

And so while it’s decently warm and sunny (for the most part), I’ve been enjoying the time outside as much as possible. We went for a hike on Saturday (write-up to come), and on both Saturday and Sunday, I did my meditation outside. Yesterday, we even had the windows open at work, letting the fresh air and warmth in the building.

My meditation set-up on my porch

And though by next week, the temperatures will return to a more frigid normal,  and I will remember this refreshing sneak peak of spring, and know that warmer days are on the horizon.

I am grateful for these glorious 70 degree days in February.

My Mantra

My mantra changes as I need it. As I’ve posted before, I’ve had multiple mantras, some to help me feel empowered during my most despairing times, some to just keep me motivated.

I am Fit

I am Flexible

I am Focused

I have momentum

I make good, healthy choices

And I don’t let the small things get in my way.

I want to point out that my mantra is 100% in the present tense. It’s amazing the power a verb tense holds. I don’t say anything in future tenses. I will make good, healthy choices means I’m not making them right here and now. I DO make good, healthy choices.

See how much more powerful that sounds?

I repeat my mantra to myself multiple times during my morning meditations. It’s typically how I start my routine and how I end it. Several times in the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself in certain situations where I’ve subconsciously called on my mantra to help guide me through the particulars of the day. Just this past weekend, I faced my wickedest frenemy – Krispy Kreme donuts, but I told myself that I do indeed make good, healthy choices and I moved on. I was rewarded this morning by finally breaking my weight/body fat plateau that I’ve been stuck at since before Christmas.

 

 

30 Day Meditation Challenge

Along with one of my bosses, I organize our mindset training group at work. Mindset training is one of my favorite job perks, and helping form and run it is an extremely fullfilling duty. I love this group of folks and the self-improvement work that we do, together.

This month, we decided to do a meditation challenge, but unlike other challenges, each person made up their own goal to accomplish over the next 30 days.

Mine is to meditate at least 15 minutes once a day over the next 30 days.

Though the challenge officially started yesterday, I knew about it ahead of time (one of the perks of being a leader), so I’ve been gearing myself up and figuring out the best way to adjust my morning routine to fit.

This morning, I hit a personal milestone. I’ve meditated for 10 days straight. Woohoo! It’s a nice little win for myself.

Writing a goal or intention down, pen to paper, makes it more real. You have a tanglible reminder of what you wanted to accomplish. So everyone who is taking part,  wrote down their personal challenge.

There is no winners or losers in this challenge, no competition, just a pledge to improve yourself.

What mindfulness practice do you challenge yourself to do over the next month?

I’m excited, and I hope everyone does well.

Taking a Rest

Growth comes from rest. When you work out a muscle, the fibers tear. These tears are where the growth occurs. But if you just keep tearing, day after day, without giving you body time to repair itself, you risk serious injury.

Which is why I decided to forgo a workout session tonight. My legs hurt something fierce. I’m not sure if it was from my regular workout rourine, or from the two games of bowling yesterday,  but as the day has gone on, I’ve found myself in increasing pain.

My gear shall remain untouched tonight

I welcome a bit of soreness, because it means I accomplished something. But sometimes, I over do it. If I don’t take the time to heal, I’ll only make things worse. So tonight, I’m taking a break from my normal Monday night workout session.

The same is also true for your mental health. If you don’t take the time to stop and allow you mind and soul to repair itself from those little tears they experience everyday, instead going on and on, with no stress relief, the pain will debilitate you.  Overwhelm will set in. Meditation is a great way to rest your mind. Being mindful and grateful is another way. However you chose to stop and relax your mind, it doesn’t matter. Just remember to allow yourself time to rest and heal.

So this is a reminder to stop. Be present. Focus on you, your surroundings, what’s happening right now. Is there any part of you–mind, body, or soul–that needs a rest?

Privilege

I’ve been pondering lately on privilege. I am grateful for the level of needs I have met on Maslow’s hierarchy in order to be free enough to explore things like mindfulness and contentment.

That’s the one big problem that I see with so many of the self-help and mindfulness gurus that are out there. They spout their beliefs and say that ANYONE can be happy with what they have and where they are. They just have to chose to be happy.

But that simply isn’t true.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

There are other, more basic needs that must be met before we can stop and truly focus on our happiness. Who wants to be mindful of the sensations of their body, when their body is starving and in desperate need of food? Or when their body is shivering from wont of proper clothing and shelter? Should I person who must live in an environment of violence and hate be content with not being hurt or killed everyday?

Can you tell these people who are homeless, sick, famished, or fearful that they should look at all they have to be grateful for? Sure, they have things in their lives that I’m sure that give them some source of pleasure, but their focus must be on fulfilling those more basic needs of food, shelter, and safety before they can start fathoming a journey towards love, belonging, and esteem? not to mention gaining the privilege that is mindfulness.

Some people can check off those basic needs so easily, and for others it’s a constant struggle. Through struggle, there is growth, of course, but it’s never as simple as “stop to smell the roses” or “meditate daily.”

And my argument here doesn’t even begin to brush the surface of serious mental health issues like depression.

So yes, I do encourage folks to be mindful and focus on their self-care as much as possible, but I also understand that not everyone can accomplish that at any given time in their lives. I am white, financially stable, and relatively healthy (… relatively). I come at the practice of mindfulness with all that my upbringing and environment allows me, and I strive for more growth all the time. But that’s just it. It’s a journey, and people start at so many different beginnings and there is no set destination. You just keep moving forward, fulfulling each level of need until your time on this earth ends.

So take care of yourselves, my friends, whatever that means to you, wherever you’re starting from. Never stop striving for better.

My (Current) Mantra

Mantras are statements that you say to yourself to focus and empower yourself. Mantras can be simple “I am…” statements (I am important, I am valued, I am strong, etc), or can be multiple sentences — whatever you need, personally, to fill empowered.

I’ve posted my current mantra on here before, in my Fighting an Unknown Enemy post.

I am strong.

I am wise.

I know my body.

I will overcome.

I will persevere.

And I will be better for it.

I repeat this to myself several times while I’m meditating. I breath in deep and then say each short piece on the out breath. I also write these words down every morning into my journal when I first get to work.

And I mentally repeat it as I sit in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.

This is not a mantra that applies to my life as a whole. Right now, it’s something that I find strength and focus in while I’m struggling with this mystery illness. It’s what I need right now. When my body is well again, I will change my mantra to something more appropriate.

In fact, one of my mantras that I constantly find myself reverting back to in times of health and happiness is:

Think Lean. I am fit and productive.

I repeat this one to myself all the time, especially at work. It’s a constant reminder to stay on task and to avoid the snack stand. Cut the fluff, cut the fat. And for goodness’ sake, stay off Facebook.