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Back to the Well

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“It is not wrong to go back to that which you have forgotten.” — West African proverb

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted on A More Conscious Life.

Last June we left our “school year home” for our nomadic summer existence and with it, the predictable school year schedule – complete with early bedtimes and child-free nap-times. I had planned to cut down on the time I spent on the computer during our break, both because I knew I would have less uninterrupted time to myself and because I was beginning to feel that I was writing more about living consciously than actually living consciously. I loved researching, writing and learning as I wrote each post, but I wasn’t taking my practice off the page and really living what I wrote. Not to mention, that the very mindlessness I was trying to avoid was drawing me to my computer, my email, my blog, my research, and away from my life, again and again.

So I took a step back.

As we moved through June, I played, I visited, I watched, I ran, I stopped, I noticed, I lived each day without opening my computer. I went days without answering emails, I had evening long conversations with family and friends. I stopped rushing to check my email first thing in the morning, stopped spending hours lost in articles in the afternoons and stopped missing out on the pleasure of a quiet evening without obligation. It felt so freeing!

July passed in much the same way and although I felt guilty about not completing my monthly posts, I never quite worked up the motivation to get back to them. I was enjoying living unplugged, without analyzing it, and wanted to hold out just a little bit longer.

August came and with it our return home, the beginning of  a new school year and a resettling into a daily, weekly and monthly routine of schedules, obligations and the necessities of life to be attended to. I thought I would pick back up with the blog, but I didn’t.

That month we moved into a new house, in a new part of the city, where our internet connection was sporadic, if it appeared at all and when it did, we found ourselves, on our pay-as-you-surf plan, spending much more on internet than we had anticipated.

And so the blog was pushed back again.

When other obligations seemed to take up more of my time, I decided that maybe it was time to let it to for a while, physically and emotionally and come back to it at a time that was more practical, more convenient.

But as the months passed into fall, I realized that when I’m not writing about living consciously, I’m also not thinking about living consciously, which makes me less likely to actually live consciously.

And so, I decided to begin again. Maybe not as often, maybe not as regularly, but begin.

Because without the constant reminders, motivation, inspiration and community of others on this path, it is so easy to slip back into mindlessness, reactivity and regret.

And with them, it is much easier to remember that each moment is precious, each moment is a choice and each moment is another chance to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back to your practice of mindful living.

I’m looking forward to being back.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon

Living More Intentionally

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You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. – C.G.Jung

A good friend recently told us that she is proud of us for living out our dreams. After pausing to be grateful that we have such supportive friends, my next thought was, “Are we really living out our dreams?”

Last summer, my husband and I packed up our family and moved to Myanmar. Since then, we have been living abroad with our family, fulfilling a dream we have shared since we moved back to the US with our seven-month-old daughter in 2010. It was a difficult adjustment at first, but now we have built a routine, connections, happy memories and a sense of home, in a place that, just 10 months ago was “foreign” and unfamiliar.

But are we really living our dreams?

Living abroad was our dream, but not just living abroad. Living abroad and being involved in the community; giving back; connecting with local people; setting out on regular adventures; learning and growing from our experiences.

Yet living abroad – and living abroad with small children – we have learned over the past six months, are two different things.

Often when small children are involved, naptimes, bedtimes, familiar food, familiar places, and short attention spans take precedence over adventure and connecting with the community in real and meaningful ways. So we’ve fallen into a comfortable, somewhat lazy, kid-friendly routine and insulated ourselves a bit from the regular comfort-zone-stretching often involved in living abroad. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t go back and remember why we moved here in the first place; reassess our values and work to live more intentionally in the future.

And so, I have been inspired to live, or at least to try to begin to live, more intentionally in May, by minimizing distractions, creating an intentional morning routine, practicing mindful intentionality and creating an intentional life plan.

Week 1: Minimize Distractions

In modern society, there are a multitude of people and things bidding for our attention – family members, friends, work, cell phones, social media, radio, television, not to mention our own mental chatter. Living intentionally, doing what you intend to do when you intend to do it, can be difficult amid such a myriad of distractions. While a regular mindfulness practice can help us to resist these distractions, there are some proactive steps we can take to make it a little easier on ourselves to live more intentionally.

• If possible, refrain from checking email, social media or other electronic devices first thing in the morning. Allow yourself to wake up slow and prioritize yourself and the other people, if any, you see first thing in the morning.

• If possible, limit the times you check email, social media or other electronic devices to a few, specified times a day (in this post from Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, she explains how multi-tasking – even when checking email – leads to a loss of productivity and less ability to focus; so when checking email, just check email).

• If you often find your evenings lost to television or computers, before turning on the television or computer in the evening, choose one intentional task or activity to complete before getting turning on or logging on.

Week 2: Create (and Follow) an Intentional Morning Routine

In his post, The Helpful Guide to Living an Intentional Life, becoming minimalist blogger reminds us that life is made up of choices. He says, “Every morning is a new day full of decisions and opportunity. You get to pick your attitude and your decisions. You don’t have to let the circumstances of your past negatively determine the pattern of your life in the future. You have a choice in the matter. You do not need to be stuck in the same pattern of living that you have been for years… realize that every morning is a new opportunity.”

In many religious, spiritual and cultural traditions, the dawn of a new day is significant. It is a new beginning, a chance to start again with a renewed spirit. The beginning of your day can be a sacred space in which you intentionally set the tone for your days or it can be a whirlwind of action and reaction. The importance of an intentional morning routine is not that it involves a specific agenda of practices, but rather that it is something that works for you, something that replenishes you and gives you what you need to start your day intentionally (check back for a follow-up post on Intentional Morning Routines).

Some examples of ideas for intentional mornings are:

Journaling;

Mindfully Drinking a Cup or Coffee or Tea;

Creating Time for “Your Bliss;” or simply

Setting an Intention for the day.

Week 3: Practice Mindfulness and Mindful Intentionality

Practicing an intentional morning routine is a wonderful way to start your day, but what happens when life gets in the way of your intention to be kind to yourself and others, or otherwise throws off your plans? That is when the practice of mindful intentionality can help.

In his post, An Intentional Life, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes this practice of intentionally: “Before you do the next action online or at work, pause a moment, close your eyes, and mentally say your intention. Why are you doing this? Is it out of compassion for others, or yourself? Is it to make someone happier? To improve the world? Out of gratitude for the work and kindness of others? And then, as you do the action, be mindful of your intention. This is a small step, but in those few moments, you will be living an Intentional Life.”

Week 4: Create an Intentional Life Plan

In her post, What Does It Mean to Live Intentionally, Mandi Ehman, blogger at Life Your Way explains that “Living intentionally means defining your values and making choices that reflect those values. …(and) being willing to evaluate those decisions as you go rather than just making a decision once and sticking to it no matter what.

Living intentionally and living consciously may seem to be one in the same, but for me, intentionality adds an even greater dimension of purpose to everything you do. Having, and regularly reviewing a “strategic” plan for your life can be a great way to make sure that the life you are living is in line with your values and, if it isn’t, allow you a space to plan incremental changes to move in that direction.

To create an intentional life plan:

Take an opportunity when you have a block of time to yourself (or with your partner) and make a list of the values you most hold dear. If this initial list doesn’t come easily, simply begin listing all of the people, places, activities that are important to you. Then from this list, glean more values to add to your list (e.g. if your favorite activities are hiking, swimming and camping with friends; you may place a strong value on communing with nature, physical exercise, a healthy lifestyle and close friendships).

Once you have your list of values, take time to consider each one, and whether or not the life you are living today is true to that value. If it is, take a moment to appreciate yourself for living this value intentionally; if it isn’t, brainstorm some ways that you can make small or incremental changes (toward a larger change) to live more inline with each value. Or, if your current life circumstances make it impossible, simply make a note to re-evaluate in the future. For example, both my husband and I value community service, but in our current life circumstances, it isn’t feasible for us to volunteer either as individuals or as a family, but it is something we want to prioritize when our children are older.

If you find, like us, that your current life situation isn’t as in line with your values (or life dreams) as you would like, write a detailed vision of your ideal future, and an action list of things you can begin to do, to move in that direction*. (*Note – An important piece of this future planning is to acknowledge the importance of including it in your Intentional Life Plan, but to continue to be mindful of, and grateful, for the life you are currently living, as continuously daydreaming about your Tiki Bar on the beach in paradise can seriously derail your attempts to live more conscoiusly in the present!)

For this month, my goal in trying to live more intentionally is to train myself, and my brain, to slow down and focus more on the things that matter, ultimately, as the author of 5 Ways to Live Intentionally Today writes, to live authentically and celebrate life.

For a fun guide to living more intentionally, check out Abundant Mama’s Project 52.

What about you? Do you have any tips or ideas on how to live more intentionally? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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