Fall Sensations: Scents

Autumn is the season of sense-based mindfulness. Okay, that may just be my opinion, but I intend to argue it fanatically. Everything, five senses-wise, is improved in the Fall. It’s the perfect time of year to really take some time to stop and just enjoy the now and pay special attention to the world and it’s beauty that’s all around you.

Oh hey, that sounds like a great topic for a series of five blog posts, one for each sense!

Let’s start with our olfactory faculties. The sense of smell is most associated with memory and nostalgia. Ergo, you can walk into some random building and BAM! you’re transported back to your kindergarten cafeteria. But Autumn has the best scents associated with it. Just go to the candle section of Walmart to prove this to yourself. Mulled cider, Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake, Cranberry compote – The smells that make a dwelling smell like a cozy, loving home.

The air itself smells different. While not an all together pleasant smell, go outside and into the woods. Take a big ol’ sniff and inhale the aroma of early fall decay. It’s a unique smell, a bit tangy, but oddly welcoming. It signals sunny, but cool days.

The dried leaves themselves have a earthy smell to them. This scent gets stirred up especially when you rake or blow the leaves. (And then promptly jump into the piles you make).

I love the smell of a freshly cut jack-o-lantern.

The smell of a pumpkin as you carve it.

The scent of mulling spices and apple cider warming on the stove.

The incense of a nearby campfire or the smell of burning leaves permeating the air.

The acrid odor of dust burning the first time you turn the heat pump on.

The smell of hay, whether in bales for feed or decoration, or spread on a freshly seeded lawn, or providing cushion in a large wagon pulled by a tractor through a field of pumpkins.

And so much more.

The scents of fall are so comforting, like a warm hug for your nose hairs.

The foods of Fall give some of the best aromas of all. Chili, stew, and other warm savory flavors floating in the air…

What a great segue into the next post on taste! Stay tuned for more.

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Zen and the Art of Landscaping

One of the most frustrating things about my mystery illness is my weakness and fatigue. I am a relatively active person. On a normal, healthy day, I get more that 12,000 steps in and at least one type of exercise in. On weekends, I’m hiking or kayaking or doing some major project around the house. I am no couch potato.

But when the fatigue strikes, my whole routine gets thrown for a loop. During my last flair up, I laid on the couch a lot. During this flair up, I’m trying to be better. Some days are harder than others. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m physically exhausted and sprawled out on my couch, but I feel like I’ve earned some relaxation and couch time.

You see, Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, an amazing fall day, and there was some landscape work around the Loebick cabin that needed doin’. We have a nice little flower garden area in our back yard – two in fact. They’re lined by piles of rocks. Previously, we had cleared one of them out, unburying and moving every single rock, and filled it with pinestraw. For weeks, our yard was out of balance. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to help finally finish this task.

Illness be damned.

I was able to do a lot of the work sitting down. Digging the rocks out and moving them about a foot out from the border line was exhausting, but Greg did most of the heavy lifting (though some of those bigger rocks required a team-lift. That was a bit rough on the weakened system). The second flowerbed was a bit more difficult than the first, because we had a large Japanese Maple and a shrub thingy to work around. That Japanese maple is one of my most favorite features about my yard.

As a kid, I hated yard work with a passion. I didn’t understand why my mom planted flowers and vegetables. I didn’t know why she and my dad spent so much time outside building and maintaining flower beds.

But now I get it. I take a certain pride and ownership in my home, my refuge from the world. I want it to look beautiful, and I want to do that work myself. There’s a certain zen I feel while doing work. It’s difficult. Rocks are heavy and dirt gets everywhere. My hair gets icky and my feet hurt. But I can fully engulf my mind into the work at hand. At the end of the day, that hard, honest work is worth it. I can sit back (after a hot shower) and allow myself to be overwhelmed at the prideful satisfaction of a job completed and well done. Of seeing the before and after, and knowing that I’ve improved that parcel significantly.

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I am grateful that I had enough energy to accomplish this task.

I am grateful for my beautiful home in the woods.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Gratitude Rituals

Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.

So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.

I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:

  • During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
  • I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
  • During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
  • I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I am grateful that this isn’t my sock.

I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment.  So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.

I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.

In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.

There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.

So tell me, what are you grateful for today?

 

On Meditation: Part One

Meditation is the art of reaching a state where you are free from thoughts, emotions, and stresses —

Yeah, right.

That, my friends, is not meditation. That is nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call the ultimate phase of the human soul. Very few have ever reached this state.

No, meditation is a journey or an exercise. Meditation is simply acknowledging that for a few moments, you can let go of all the stressors in your life. You can detach yourself, and in doing so, can allow yourself to observe the now. We spend so much of our lives worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel the present.

Meditation has great benefits, both mental and physical, that I won’t go into here. Just know that every once in a while, you need to stop and just be. It’s kind of like when you work out–you don’t actually build muscle until you allow yourself to rest. It’s the healing of those torn muscle fibers that allow your to gain form and strength. The same is true for your emotional well-being. We can’t learn or grow as a person unless we give ourselves time to rest and and heal from the little tears that happen everyday to our non-physical being.

Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Stop, take a few moments to observe your breath, observe how your body feels right now. Allow yourself to be quiet. And if your brain or your heart starts screwing with you, tell those pesky organs to calm down. Label the intrusions as thoughts or emotions – or be more descriptive. The more specific you can be with your labeling, the easier it is to push those interruptions aside and you can refocus on the here and now.

My meditation hammock

You can meditate anywhere at anytime. There’s no strict rules. Personally, my favorite time to meditate is in the evenings around dusk. I love to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature – crickets, treefrogs, the distant ducks and geese. I meditate in my hammock, on my porch swing (which is where I am now), or on the deck adjoining my bedroom while I sit on a pillow. I meditation anywhere from 5-15 minutes usually. From the time I close my eyes until I take that last deep breath and reopen them, the change in the sky and my surroundings is drastic and inspiring.

So I encourage you, find a place where you are peaceful and comfortable – a room in your house, on the bus on your commute, on a cushy bed of moss under a willow tree (beware of chiggers!)-and give meditation a shot.

My Happy Place

It’s a cliche that when you’re angry, you should try to find your “Happy Place.” But a tired joke this sentiment is not. Recognizing and defining your happy place is essential to resetting and realigning yourself when necessary.

Being able to stop yourself, to take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deep, and  to visual yourself in a place where you find calm and peace is a powerful technique. But before you can do this, you first have to identify where and what makes you content.

This could be the ocean on your last beach vacation, the lapping waves, the breeze, the gulls calling, the smell of the salty air. Or maybe it’s sitting on top of a tall mountain, overlooking a vast range, the sounds of song birds in the air, a patch of summer sweet blackberries behind you where hummingbirds take a break from their long summer sojourns. Or maybe it’s lounging in a big comfy chair in front of a roaring fireplace, snuggling in your quilt with a steaming hot cup of mulled apple cider in you hands.

Personally, I have a couple of visualization that I consider my happy places. The main one that I visualize when I need to check my emotions or thoughts, however, is my home. Specifically, I close my eyes and think about the wooded view I have from my back porch and of Mount Yonah  the lonely mountain, lording over the towns below, my husbands arms wrapped around me in a warm embrace, birds chattering in the forest that surrounds us, and the light scent of butterfly bushes in the air.

The Loebick Lodge
My happy place

A good happy place visualization should include all the senses, or as many as possible. Focus on the visual part of the visualization,  yes, but also the sounds, the smells, the tactile sensations, and yes, you should include taste if your happy place calls for it.

So why does this work? It’s thought to be a type of placebo effect. You brain reacts the same way to both experience and memory. So simply recalling the effects of a certain event can release the same hormones, endorphins, and  cause all sorts of chemical reactions (this can also be a bad thing, like when you remember traumatic events, but that’s a different topic all together).

Practice make perfect. The more that you take you mind to your happy place, the more reflexive the technique becomes, so that the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing an anxiety spiral, can can call up your happy place to help pull you out of the darkness.

*Disclaimer: The happy place technique is a supplement and not a substitute for proper medical advice or medications. Chemical imbalances are real. Please treat yourself accordingly.