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Conscious Mental Clarity (or How to Regain Your Positive Outlook When You Misplace It)

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If you truly want to change your life, you must first change your mind. – Unknown

I hit a rough patch last week. I was in what seemed like an endless loop of conflict with my children. I was overcome by anger, self-pity, guilt, shame and powerlessness over my parenting decisions, my past behaviors, even the choices that have led me to where I am today. I found myself turning more and more to distractions – sweets, television, internet – to avoid dealing with everything that was swirling around in my head. And on top of it all, I was disgusted with myself for not being true to my desire to live more consciously. I was a mess.

In my state, I turned to supportive online parenting communities for help (sometimes it is easier to reveal your messy insides to people who can’t actually see you), and while they were tremendously supportive, I realized that by addressing one issue at a time, I was missing the bigger picture. I was feeling bad for actions from my past, feeling guilt over their repercussions in the present, and not knowing how to atone for them in the future. I was trying to clean up small messes, not realizing that my whole house was a disaster.

Luckily, I finally opened up to my husband about what was going on and having all my messy insides seen and accepted, helped me to realize that things really weren’t as bad as I’d been making them out to be. And if my partner could still love me despite how awful I felt, then maybe I could, too. Talking things out didn’t make everything better in an instant, but it allowed me to crawl out from under the massive pile of garbage I’d been piling on myself for the past week and breathe a little fresh air. Feel some sunshine on my face. And come up with a plan to throw out the trash.

I’ve always loved new beginnings, fresh slates, opportunities to wipe away the old mistakes and start anew. Usually, my new beginnings coincided with some other external beginning – a new year, a new home, a new term at school, a new job, or even the start of a new week – but it occurred to me that I don’t need an external beginning to start fresh. All I need to to recognize the need for change.

I have a program on my laptop, a cleaner, that periodically reminds me that I need to clean my computer. When I run it, it erases all my browsing history, it empties my recycle bin, cleans out temporary files, goes deep into those files I don’t even know how to access to clean out bits and pieces of code or fragments of files that impede optimal functioning; it even performs something called a memory dump. I love running this program because it helps me feel like I am taking good care of my computer, helping it run at its highest capacity.

It was this image that gave me the idea for how to clear out my own mental junk. And when I started research it, it turns out that I am not the first to think of something like this.

If you ever find, or have ever found, yourself in a deep hole, under a black cloud or buried under a pile of your own mental negativity, try the following techniques to help get you back to a better place.

Open Yourself to a Fresh Perspective

For me, the first step was to feel heard and accepted. I’m sure I would have eventually come out of my negative state one way or another, but reaching out and allowing myself to be vulnerable (which wasn’t easy – I actually had to make a bulleted list on a napkin and pass it across the table for him to read – such is my aversion to vulnerability and outside inspection), gave me a different, more accepting and realistic, perspective on my situation than the one I’d been feeding myself for days.

I don’t have any clinical training, but just knowing how good it feels to share feelings of guilt and shame with my best friends and hear that they have felt the same way or done the same things, or accept and love me regardless, proves to me that there is healing power in this type of vulnerability and connection. The most important part of this is that the person from whom you are seeking support, acceptance or a new perspective, is someone who will provide genuine support and acceptance, be it a friend, family member or mental health professional.

Perform a Mental Cleanse

Of the sources I read on this topic, the most common suggestion was to somehow get as much as you can out of your head and on to paper. Outstanding things to do; feelings of guilt, shame, anger, sadness; old memories; current anxieties; sources of frustration; even positive feelings that may be buried somewhere under everything else. This can be done through stream of consciousness writing in a journal, a notepad, a computer; over one session or multiple days. The important thing to get it out of your head. As the author in Quick Brain Detox and Mental Reboot, states, the first time you do this, there may be a lot to process, but once this becomes a regular habit (assuming you want it make it one), successive detoxification yields a bit less over time.

For some, this stream of consciousness writing (or typing) may come easy, but others, like me, may need more structure. A long time ago a friend of mine shared a therapeutic technique that she liked to use when she felt stuck and using a somewhat modified version of her method, helped me to detox in a more structured way.

To clean your mental closet, figuratively gather a list of empty boxes labeled with the most important facets of your life, e.g. Physical Health, Mental Health, Spiritual/Emotional Health, Family, Friends, Romantic Relationship(s), Children, Home, Work, Pets, Recreation, Outstanding Tasks, etc. (everyone’s boxes will be unique) and give each box a line, half a page, or a whole page, depending on how much room you need. Then write down whatever thoughts some up for you as you consider each facet of your life, one box at a time. Once you have considered each box, check to make sure there isn’t anything you have missed (or put whatever doesn’t fit into a Misc. box).

Once you have all of your boxes from your detox, you can now take the time to sort through them, label them, and decide whether they are still serving you or whether you can take steps to get rid of them.

Other Resources for a Regular Mental Cleanse

In A New Kind of Cleanse, author Karolyn Gazella lists five inspiring action steps to take at the end of each day to “clear away space to make room for the positive.”

In the post, Reboot Your Life: 20 Mental Barriers You Should Let Go Of, the author lists 20 labels of things that, should you find them swirling in your brain, it would best serve you to dispose of.

In his post 7 Tips for Renewal, Dr. David Simon, Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Free to Love, Free to Heal, provides seven tips to help when you feel you need some rejuvenation, from physical suggestions regarding diet and exercise, to meditation and journaling.

In Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche (one of a series of posts on the topic), Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides insight, advice and practical exercises for parents trapped in reactivity and negativity.

In Detox Your Mind in 5-Minutes: The Power of Quantum Cleansing, Dr. Alejandor Junger, provides instructions and a guided meditation for a quick five-minute mental cleanse.

In her post, Spring Cleaning for the Soul: Tidying Up Our Personal Closet, the author suggests creating a virtual vault for positive memories, because while a mental detox and rebook are important to clear out things that are holding you back, creating a store of positive memories (and their associated thoughts and feelings) can help keep the dark clouds at bay the next time they start gathering in your mind.

How about you? Have you ever felt stuck in negativity or reactivity? Have you found ways that help you break through and reclaim a more positive outlook? If so I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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A Practice of Mindful Eating

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“When walking,walk. When eating,eat.” – Zen Proverb

For the first month of my More Conscious Year, I have been focusing on becoming more present, or mindful, in my own life. I chose presence, or mindfulness, as my focus for the first month, because I believe that it is really the foundation for a more conscious life. If you aren’t aware of how you are feeling, what you are thinking or, sometimes, even what you are doing throughout your day, it is hard to make conscious choices because of the way our brains are wired for automatic processing.

When we aren’t aware of what we are feeling, it is easy for frustrations to build or for stress to adversely affect us, leading us to react strongly or negatively to situations, rather than to calmly choose our responses.

When we aren’t aware of what we are thinking, it is easy for our moods to be affected by our thoughts without our knowledge or understanding.

When we aren’t aware of what we are doing, it is easy to make mistakes, misplace things or waste time wouldn’t have had we been more focused.

Mindfulness practices works to avoid all of these by helping us be more aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking and what we are doing throughout the day.

In order to practice presence, or mindfulness, I committed to developing a new practice each week, each week adding a new task to the previous week’s task, with the intention of continuing each new practice throughout the year to form new positive habits:

Week 1 – “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating

For the first week of January, I worked on doing one thing mindfully each day. I had originally intended to try to do everything I did mindfully each day, but after reading this post, which suggest just choosing one thing to do mindfully, I scaled back my lofty aspirations and decided to just focus on eating, since it is something I am fortunate to do at least three times a day.

My practice of mindful eating consisted of taking three deep breathes after I sat down to a meal, before beginning to eat, putting my fork down between each bite and focusing my attention on the act of eating, while I was doing it. If I was talking or getting up to refill water glasses, I wasn’t eating. When I was eating, I just ate.

As simple as that sounds, the experience was incredible.

As I started to take more time to eat, just simply putting my fork down after each bite, I realized how often I just shovel in food, trying to get through the meal, before getting up to fill little cups, clean up spills or lecture about polite table manners.

It was so nice to slow down. It was like a mini break from the rush of the day. It also gave me more time to appreciate the food and to be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives.

Now after a little less than a month of mindful eating, I have noticed real changes in how I respond to the simple task of eating.

Whereas before, I could easily eat on the go, in the car or rushing out the door, I now notice almost a physical resistance to eating on the run, as if my body doesn’t want food it isn’t offered in a state of calm.

Before, I would often find myself at the end of a meal, after having spent time shopping for it and preparing it, not even haven taken the time to enjoy it; now I thoroughly enjoy each bite.

Before, I thought that I could enforce a state of calmness during mealtimes, but now, I find that I am able to create it within myself and am less agitated and more understanding of the countless ups and downs of meal times with small children.

I don’t always remember to eat mindfully. Sometimes I forget to breathe before taking that first bite. Sometimes I find myself getting up to get something mid-chew. Sometimes I’ll eat a snack in front of the computer when find myself needing to do both quickly. But when I don’t eat mindfully now, I notice it. And I return to my practice.

For me, and maybe a lot of you, new habits are easier to maintain when you see or feel a real benefit. For me, the practice of mindful eating feels good, and in just four weeks, it has become a positive habit that I am looking forward to continuing.

What about you? Do you find yourself rushing through meals or craving more peace and calm in your life? Is so, why not begin a practice of mindful eating today?

For more information on Mindful Eating, see The Center for Mindful Eating’s publication Food for Thought – What is Mindful Eating?

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Nutrition for Kids (and Adults)

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“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”Ann Wigmore

We recently moved abroad*, and moving from a home we had lived in for three years, in a country we were both raised in, to a country we knew very little about, made our basic needs a more immediate priority. Instead of worrying about finding fun places to go for weekend outings and finding time to schedule dinner with friends, we were back down to worrying about our basic needs for nutrition and sustenance. While three of our family of four are more adventurous eaters, open to new things, my 23-month-old son, a picky eater at home, began to refuse anything I offered him, even things he previously ate at home. Desperate to find ways to keep him healthy and thriving in our new environment, I pulled out a few of my Healthy Momma tricks and to my great relief, they worked. Tweaking a few of my recipes from home to the ingredients we could find here (and a few we packed for the move), I have been able to keep my son’s nutrient intake high, while we work to find more local (and imported) food that he will eat happily on his own.

Here are three of my nutrition packed recipes if you are concerned about your little one’s eating habits.

Nutrition Packed “Pop-Pops”

My go-to staple for easy nutrition for kids is what my daughter long ago christened a “pop-pop,” which is basically a frozen smoothie. The recipe may change from week to week depending on what I have on hand, but the result is always the same – a sweet, healthy treat that my kids ask for on a daily basis. For the base, I typically combine yogurt (or Greek yogurt), Almond/Soy/Milk, orange juice and a banana. I then throw in whatever fresh or frozen fruit I have on hand – berries, peaches, pears, plums, pineapple, mango, melon, etc. Once that is all blended, I throw in some previously blanched and frozen kale (prepared this way, they’ll never even notice it in the final product!). Finally, I add chia seeds (for their high nutritional content) and a few scoops of green super food powder. I mix everything in a blender and then pour it into plastic popsicle molds. An hour later, I have children clamoring for my super healthy “dessert” and I couldn’t be happier.

Healthy Banana Pancakes

Pancakes are often another favorite of childhood and are another great place to “hide” lots of healthy ingredients (unfortunately this one isn’t gluten free – but it could probably be made with gluten free ingredients). I typically put honey (or you could use Stevia) into our pancakes, so they don’t need an additional sweet topping, but again, this recipe is open to interpretation and can be made, and enjoyed, in a variety of ways. The pancake base is typically the same – whole wheat flour, wheat germ, flax seed, hemp hearts, oats and almond/soy/milk. Then I add thinly sliced bananas, crushed walnuts and a few squirts (or teaspoons) of honey. It takes some experimentation with the ingredients to ensure a firm, well-cooked pancake, but my rule of thumb is typically 1/2 flour to 1/2 (all other ingredients – with the exception of the bananas and walnuts). Once everything mixed together, you can cook them like regular pancakes and either enjoy them hot, or freeze them to re-heat later for a quick, healthy breakfast or snack.

Versatile Vegetable Broth

We used to have a big back yard with a small corner set aside for a compost pile and a small garden plot to use it in. When we moved to a neighborhood with communal green space, we lost our compost avenue and I found myself feeling wasteful every time I peeled a carrot. One day I decided to start saving all of the peels, ends and other veggie parts that we didn’t eat and cooking them up in a big pot of broth. From there, the broth went into my ice cube trays (a cup of broth makes seven cubes) and then into freezer bags for easy use. Once I realized how easy it was to make vegetable broth, I started throwing “veggie cubes” into everything. When I cooked beans, lentils, rice, quinoa or anything else that required water, I would throw in a few for a little added nutrition. And of course, they are great for making soups that call for broth as well.

If you are interested in reading more, here is another post on “sneaky” ways to add nutrition to your family’s diet.

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Do you have any healthy child-friendly recipes that are enjoyed in your family?

*I apologize for any confusion with recent posts. I am keeping a separate blog for family members about our life abroad and a few of those posts have been mistakenly posted here. Sorry for the confusion. I will be more conscious about where I publish my posts in the future!

Sharon, Author, “The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Living – Daily Consciousness Rituals

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“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Our family is in a period of transition. We are leaving our home of three years and moving overseas. In the month we have in between leaving our current home and settling in our new home, we are visiting friends and family in three different states, staying in three different “temporary homes.” As a mother, I am aware of the importance of routines for children during transitions, yet even as an adult I find myself craving a daily routine – something to give structure to the chaos and a reminder to be present. Something to help me to celebrate each day, rather than losing them all in a whirlwind of activity.

In their book Gifts of the Spirit, Philip Zalensi and Paul Kaufman, talk about the importance given to the day and the passage of time in various religious traditions. In early traditional cultures, the sun was often worshiped as a god that brought light and took it away at the end of each day. Quotes such as “Carpe Diem” and “Live each day as if it were your last” are well known in popular culture. Yet all too often, we find ourselves rushing through our days and wondering where they’ve gone or wishing them away until some future time. One way to prevent this is through Daily Consciousness Rituals. Daily Consciousness Rituals can help to give structure to your days and allow you to give priority and awareness to what matters most in your life.

In our often busy, over-scheduled lives, it can be hard to incorporate, or even fathom incorporating another “task” in our schedules. However, many consciousness rituals take 5 minutes or less, but can add so much more than they take away in terms of your perspective and feelings of peace and control over your day.

Following are some Daily Consciousness Ritual suggestions for various times throughout the day, although many routines can be done at any time that works best for you. Additionally, many daily consciousness routines can be done with children.

Morning Rituals

Afternoon Rituals

  • Mid-Day Check-In
  • Savoring Tea and a Healthy Snack
  • Walking or Stretching

Evening Rituals

  • A Gratitude Journal Entry
  • Journal Reflection of Your Day
  • Three Good Things Exercise
  • Conscious Preparation for the Next Day
  • Evening Self-Care Rituals
  • Un-Plugging 30 Minutes Before Bedtime
  • Family Connection Rituals
  • Meditation

Read more about daily consciousness routines at A Happy Simple Life,  Rachael Campbell‘s Personal Coaching Pages or at Healthy Living Rituals.

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Do you have any daily consciousness rituals that help you maintain consciousness throughout your day?

Conscious Meditation

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The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”Sogyal Rinpoche

I have wanted to cultivate a regular meditation practice for years. I have started and stopped, tried and failed, found inspiration and lost it. I even spent 10 days at a Buddhist Meditation retreat in Thailand. But I have never set aside enough time, fostered enough motivation or followed through with my desire to sustain a regular practice. Yet now, on my journey to live a more conscious, mindful, life, it seems all the more important to commit.

There are so many reasons to meditate. According to Belle Beth Cooper What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How It Benefits You), meditation quiets your mind; it helps you focus; it helps you to be more creative, compassionate and empathetic; it improves memory and reduces stress. In her Psychology Today Article, This is Your Brain on Meditation, Rebecca Gladding, M.D. explains, in detail, how a regular practice of meditation physically reshapes the connections in our brain, leading those with regular meditation practices to be calmer, less reactive, more empathetic and more balanced in their responses and perspectives.

Yet even with all of this scientifically based reasoning, I find it difficult to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes a day and just do nothing. I am a task-master. I worship at the temple of productivity. A day when I clean my house, cook a healthy dinner, write a blog post, spend quality time with my family and knock a few other things on my to-do list is a happy day for me. I am very conscious of this aspect of my personality. And yet it is just this aspect that I would like to soften through meditation. I would like to be able to sit for a moment without thinking of all of the things I should could be doing. I would like to be more focused and not thinking constantly. I would like to be able to relax and just be.

But it isn’t easy.

As a runner, if I don’t run every few days, I feel a physical pull to get outside, stretch my legs and put some distance between myself and the confines of my four walls. Running exercises my muscles and clears my head. I would love to have that feeling, as a “meditator;” that physical need for regular practice, for mental cleansing.

So I’m committing here, in this post, to finding at least 10 minutes each day to begin a regular meditation practice. Armed with Zen Habits’ Leo Babuta’s 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind and  Goodlife Zen’s Mary Jaksch’s guidance on what to do when things come up for you during your meditation practice, I’m ready to begin…

…doing nothing.

If you are interested in beginning or reinvigorating a regular meditation practice, there is so much going on right now to encourage people to meditate.

Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah have launched a 21-Day Experience called Finding Your Flow that began on April 14 and continues through May 4. Their site offers daily guided meditations on a theme with a free registration.

In May, Mindful Magazine is starting a Mindfulness in May campaign that offers a month of daily guided meditations and interviews with practitioners in the fields of meditation, science and health for a fee of $25 with proceeds going to clean water initiatives around the globe (You have to register by May 1).

America Meditating is an initiative by the Meditation Museum in the D.C. area to encourage people to pause at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day for a moment of peace and contemplation.

The Insight Meditation Center in California offers recorded talks, articles, newsletters and other meditation related resources. You can access the homework for their Six Week Mindfulness Meditation Course HERE.

Thanks for Reading!

What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? If so, do you have any tips or insights for beginners? Are you a beginner or interested in beginning a regular practice? If so, I’d love to start a conversation and share experiences.

Conscious Reminders

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We gain the strength of the temptation we resist. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have a serious sweet tooth. I would almost go so far as to call it debilitating. After I eat a meal, at any time of the day, I immediately begin craving something sweet. If I don’t give in to the craving, it gnaws on me, invading every thought, mentally darting around my kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, searching for something, anything to fill the void. Once satisfied, the urge gradually recedes, only to come up again a short while later. I’ve tried barring desserts from my kitchen, because if there is nothing sweet to eat, there’s nothing sweet to eat. However, my resourceful sweet tooth will often settle for a cereal bar, a bowl of cereal or a homemade banana pancake. Even after a “healthy” sweet, I still feel guilt at having given in, knowing the adverse effects of sugar on my body.

But finally today, I realized that it is more than a health issue – it is an issue of consciousness and of self-control. If I can’t resist the urge to eat something, how will I learn to resist the urge to yell when I’m angry, or say thoughtless things or realize any of the other myriad of ways I’m hoping to change for the better through conscious living?

So I decided to use my sugar cravings as a reminder.

A reminder that I have a choice to follow a craving or resist.

A reminder that I am seeking pleasure or distraction and removing myself from the present moment.

A reminder to return to the present moment and savor it.

Instead of caving to my sweet tooth, or becoming frustrated by the constant pull, I will try to welcome them as reminders to live more consciously. Wish me luck!

You can read more about mindfulness reminders here: Developing Mindfulness Triggers

What about you? Do you have any regular thoughts or cravings that you could turn into reminders to return to the present moment?

Conscoius Parenting: A Moment as the Mother I Want to Be (More Often)

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The best thing to spend on your children is your time. – Louise Hart

The morning started out a little shaky. Even though the weather channel said it wouldn’t rain until noon, the clouds outside had begun an early morning drizzle and my spirited, then two-year-old daughter, typically calm in the mornings, was already in late afternoon post-nap mode, bouncing off the walls. My mind, unconsciously headed to flight mode, sorting through all the places we could go to escape the confines of our apartment before things got out of hand. Realizing that I was beginning to panic, I slowed down and started to think more calmly about some possible rainy day activities. Once I had my son in bed, I picked my daughter up and we started to talk about some possibilities. Then I remembered our bread maker.

I had picked up a bread maker on Freecycle about six months before thinking it would be a fun stay-at-home date night activity (one only parents of multiple small children might appreciate, but fun nonetheless) but had never used. I asked her if she wanted to make bread, and with her typical enthusiastic response to anything new, she agreed. Not wanting to get my daughters hopes up, especially since, at two, she tended to get disappointed easily, I explained that since I’d never used the machine before it might not work. I told her that it might make bread, but it also might just make hot glop. I asked her how she would feel if it just made hot glop and she said laughed and said she would think it was funny. With that battle won, we headed for the kitchen.

We pulled out the bread maker and she wiped it down with a sponge while I looked up the manual online. I found a recipe with relatively few ingredients, and after a few Google searches for substitutions for the things I didn’t have (vital gluten (none) and powdered milk (almond milk)), we were ready to go.

We got all the ingredients out and put them on the counter: whole wheat flour, oats, flax meal, molasses, yeast, and salt. My daughter loves to pour and mix, so I held the bowl as she put each of the ingredients in and mixed them up. As we were mixing, Landslide came on our MP3 mix and my daughter looked up and me with a smile and said, “Listen!” I smiled back and we sang along as we mixed our bread and it hit me that in this moment, I was living my dream. Not my old dream of living abroad, working at a nonprofit, helping to make the world a better place, but my new dream, my dream to be a good mom, to spend quality time with my kids, doing fun, healthy things like baking bread and listening to good music on a rainy day.

I gave myself a little mental gold star for being able to keep my cool and turn the morning around into something positive. And as I sat and wrote this post, I looked forward to my daughters sleepy smile when she woke up from her nap and learned that our hot glop actually turned into a real, if not perfectly symmetrical, loaf of bread.

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Thanks for reading!

What about you? What are some of your “parent I want to be” moments? (Not “perfect parent” moments, but moments that feel perfect just as they are.)