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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Find Your GPS for Success

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

GPS has become part of our lives. We find it in our cars, our phones, and even in watches (I got one as a gift over the holidays). In any moment, we can know where we are and also communicate that information to others. GPS can be helpful for getting to a destination and lends itself as a metaphor for guiding a journey.

G. P. S. is also an acronym for a series of steps that you can take to help insure the success of your journey. These are: “Get some rest; Persist in what you are doing; Start again tomorrow (or in the next moment).”

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Get some rest refers to the obvious need for adequate sleep. It also refers to resting from our ceaseless to do lists to enjoy this moment or to play. It means getting out of our heads from time to time to appreciate life as it is unfolding within and without. Resting may also require unplugging from our technologies (even the GPS!).

Relative to other cultures, I think we do a poor job at recognizing the need for rest. We put in longer hours at work, we work on vacation, and we eat on the run. Our weekends are spent catching up on laundry and fighting crowds at the super market. We are collectively drained by this lack of repose.

Persist in what you are doing is an antidote to the discouragement that can arise when you don’t get enough rest. The entirety of that to-do list can feel daunting when you look at it through tired eyes. At these times, it is best to keep your focus on the narrow band in front of  you and leave off considerations of the big picture. Don’t worry how much you haven’t accomplished, with some rest, you will begin again tomorrow (or in the next moment after the rest).

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Start again tomorrow (or in the next moment) is the rhythm of our lives. Starting again is both metaphor and actual. We are always starting again in the next moment when we breathe. We have to let go of the past (the CO2) in our lungs to greet the new (the O2). With sufficient rest and a commitment to persist, we can always start again tomorrow. We give ourselves a vote of confidence that our energy will renew and that the time spent “doing nothing” (aka not grinding on your to-do list) will pay dividends.

I recently moved after being in one place for over sixteen years. Moving is always a stressful event no matter how organized you are. There is always too much stuff even after two dumpster’s full of junk and several trips to Good Will (our relationship to material may be a topic for another entry). Moving in winter in Northern Vermont adds to that stress.

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All went well with the move and much energy went into setting up the new home. Sleep was elusive and I had a few nights of early morning awakening. It’s cold and very quiet at 3, 4, and 5 AM, times of the morning that I became well acquainted with. By Sunday, I was just done. I didn’t have the energy to power through my to do list and I decided to cut myself some slack. I watched some football and cooked dinner (an activity that is rest for me because it feels like play).

My energy was restored on Monday morning and I resumed work on my to-do list or as I prefer to call it, my GOIL (get-on-it-list). The acronym of GPS came to me just after my morning meditation, which is also key to restfulness. Mindfulness meditation practice is a practice of resting into this moment with little in the way of an agenda and a relinquishment of the internal dialogues generated by the default mode network of our brains.

Think about your GPS and where you can introduce rest into your life and how this may help you to persist and refresh your energies in all that you want to do in your life.

 

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Getting Past the Tyranny of Should: A Timely Message for the Holiday Season

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

4.1.1There are many things we “should” be doing around the holidays. We should be happy, merry, and jolly. We should be with family. We should be the consummate hosts.

In the course of the day, we might impose expectations, rules, and agendas on ourselves tirelessly. This is the tyranny of should.

Cognitive behavioral therapists like me are fond to say: “Don’t should on yourself.”The author Anne Lammott said that when the word should is spoken a lie is in the neighborhood.

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Instead of the tyranny of should, consider an alternative phraseology. In any situation where you accuse yourself of “I should have” you could say, “I could have …” or “I might have.” These phrases are statements of fact and don’t carry the implied judgment of “should.” Could have and might have suggest that something was possible and that the possibility was not realized for whatever reason (and there are always reasons). There is no tyranny in could/might. There is no condemnation.

Should implies contingency: “I should have and since I didn’t, I am deficient in some way.” I should have implies am omniscient perspective usually constructed in hindsight and forced on a situation without proper context. We are neither omniscient nor perfect.

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Looking at the role of shoulds in our mental life is a prerequisite for a self-compassionate approach and one that could be very useful during the holiday season.

There is no shortage of opportunities to beat up on ourselves for perceived transgressions against the hidden agendas we live by. By examining our internal conversations, we can uncover the shoulds and convert them to coulds and learn from our mistakes, miscues, and missed opportunities.

We might even be able to laugh at ourselves and that is the best kind of holiday cheer.

All my best for the holiday season.

Peace,

Arnie.

 

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Finding the Fall Line: The Technique of Practice

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Stowe_1As I was meditating this morning, I came up with a new practice metaphor. There were times when I was clearly in the flow of my body, very attuned the myriad body sensations and there were other moments where I was somewhere else or trying to manage some aspect of the moment, almost as if I was trying to push the clock forward to be finished.

That in-flow feeling reminded me of being in the fall line while snowboarding. The image works for skiers too. When you are in the fall line, you are flowing with gravity and heading in a parallel fashion down the mountain. It’s exhilarating and requires skill to maintain a sense of control. This control can feel effortless and preconscious. In fact, it is best done without narrative self-consciousness. This starts to sound like meditation.

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That fall line experience is always present since the body never stops generating rich sensations. It gets obscured by the activity of the mind. I notice there are two types of obscuration: micromanagement and macromanagement.

Macromanagement are obvious gestures of resistance: shifts in postures (for me it is usually cracking my neck), checking the clock, or some other outer action. Micromanagement happens with attention. Instead of enjoying the fall line, I am rehearsing some future scenario or reviewing some past one. I am trying to get everything just right and this effort gets in the way of that flow.

Recognizing the similarity between practice and riding helped to keep me in the fall line. I know from snowboarding that fear or a lack confidence keep me from the fall line. I am braking excessively and sometimes instead of having more control, I have less, perhaps even falling as I linger too long on my heel-side edge. Physics is begging me to let go but sometimes the mind does not want to release. Sound familiar?

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When you are in the fall line either on the mountain or on the cushion, time passes more quickly since there is no self-consciousness marking time. You are in a natural state unencumbered internal dialogues and their incessant wish to control things. Releasing into the fall line requires confidence that relinquishing the micro and macro attempts to manage are not required.

It is a spiritual experience because we have transcended our individual narratives for at least a few moments. Chance are, things will be okay if you relinquish thinking for the moments that comprise a practice session and just enjoy the subtle thrill of the fall line.

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Prime Time, All the Time

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

378An add for television streaming service Hulu states, “Every minute of every day should be considered prime time.” This clever quip has a double meaning. On the one hand, it reflects the tyrannical notion that every experience that we have should be exciting, entertaining, and novel. On the other hand, it embodies the wisdom that all we have is the present moment, therefore it is prime time.

Mindfulness is an essential tool for living our lives in prime time. As I have discussed before, holidays such as Thanksgiving mark that particular day as “prime time.” It’s the day to be thankful, express gratitude, and be with loved ones. My observations, however, see it more as a sanctioned opportunity for gluttony (guilty of this myself).

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There is a paradox here. Each moment is precious and at the same time it is no big deal. No one moment is any more valuable than another (although something significant may happen) and when we can set aside our expectation that the moment should be special, extraordinary, or exceptional in some way, we can enjoy it more.

It’s a worn cliché that live must be lived now and not at some distant point in the future, like when the kids are grown or when you retire. Each second that passes is a second closer to our eventual demise. We know we should try to make the most of each moment but life often conspires against this. Life is impossibly busy. We are stressed, overwhelmed, and tired.  We know we should slow down but have you looked at the kids’ hockey schedule?

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Now often feels squeezed, pressured by relentless to do lists. As the holidays approach, these demands ratchet up. Can we even remember to savor the moment? How can we make more of our life prime time?

Mindfulness practice can help. If you can, practice daily: 20, 30 minutes or more. These formal practice sessions will spill over into the rest of your life.

If you don’t have big chunks of time, take smaller chunks. Do a one to three minute practice. You might find cracks in your day that you otherwise fill with interacting with your smartphone. Instead, do some breathing meditation.

When the day does not permit even brief practices (and even when it does) piggyback your practice onto activities that you are already doing like walking and driving. Instead of going over your to-do lists and rehearsing real and imagined conversations, attend to the sensations of the moment while walking.

When minutes aren’t available you can also practice in seconds. You will get benefit from punctuating your internal dialogues with moments of presence. These moments may not eradicate the busyness of your mind but they can help to keep you from going off the rails.

Each moment of mindfulness throughout the day is a bit of prime time.

 

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