Tag Archive | Conscious Living

Conscious Meditation: What actually happens when you meditate?

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The quieter you become, the more you can hear – Ram Dass

I have thought about starting a meditation practice for as long as I can remember. I have read countless articles about the benefits  – lowered reactivity, more patience, less stress, improved physical health – have been completely convinced that it is the ideal practice for my often harried mind and over stimulated nervous system. I have started and maintained a regular daily practice for about a week, multiple times. I even attended a 10-Day meditation retreat. But I never made it a regular, lasting habit.

Until this year.

This year, I decided would meditate every day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

And so far, I have.

And I love it.

But I still have questions.

  • What is the best way to practice meditation?
  • What about when I was actually sitting there focusing on my breath? What was supposed to happen then?
  • Would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation? Would I be more peaceful? Would I be more patient? Would it be easier to pause and respond in the moment instead of reacting mindlessly?

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE?

 Just like there is no “best way” to breathe, there is no “best way” to practice meditation – there is only the best way for each individual – the method that feels right, that allows you to settle into your practice and that motivates you to keep coming back day after day.

Before I began, I downloaded numerous guided meditations. I downloaded meditations from Tara Brach, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and found numerous podcasts dedicated to regular meditation, such as A Quiet Mind, Meditation Oasis and Quiet…

…but I can’t speak to their efficacy because after two months, I have yet to open one. As an introverted mother of two – often rambunctious – young children, I found pleasure in retreating into meditation as a way to decompress and rejuvenate myself, preferring the silence and simplicity of just following my breath, to trying to concentrate on a guided mediation, in these moments.

And as in earlier attempts, I initially experienced some of the “monkey mind” often referred to in writings on meditation, when your mind jumps from one thought to the next, but I soon found myself settling into each practice and enjoying the peace, stillness and time to myself that meditation allowed.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING MEDITION?

Because meditation is such a personal experience, no one will experience the exact same sensations as anyone else, but initially it is common to feel:

  • feelings of frustration;
  • an inability to concentrate;
  • an increased awareness of repetitive thoughts; and
  • the need to continually refocus on the breathe, mantra, etc.

But as you persevere with your practice, the feelings become more pleasant, such as those mentioend by Light Watkins, in his post 5 Signs You Went into Deep Meditation, including:

  • a feeling of deep relaxation,
  • shallow breathing,

And from my own experiences:

  • a feeling of floating,
  • a feeling of vibrating energy
  • a feeling of heaviness as your body sinks into your meditation surface; and
  • an overall feeling of peace and well being.

WILL I SEE NOTICABLE CHANGES FROM A REGULAR MEDITATION PRACTICE?

I have always wondered how, or if, my life would really change with a regular meditation practice. I knew, that if I practiced regularly, my brain would change in positive ways. I know that I’d have moments of peace, as well as moments of frustration, when I was meditating, but would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation.

According to WildMind Buddhist Meditation, some of the outward signs of a progressing meditation practice include:

  • a greater ability to concentrate;
  • becoming more aware of the outside world;
  • becoming more aware of your posture;
  • becoming more aware of your actions;
  • become aware of more interesting and vivid dreams;
  • experiencing feelings of calmness and a reluctance to end a period of meditation;
  • other people noticing that you are changing – becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly;
  • having interesting experiences in meditation – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing;
  • noticing a gap between stimulus and response in your interactions, and realizing that you have a choice about how to respond; and
  • becoming more dissatisfied through more self-awareness – and finding things about yourself that you want to change.

And now, after over two months of daily (albeit short) practice – although I haven’t experienced any of the above signs of a progressing practice – I can feel a change when I sit down, legs crossed, eyes closed. While there is still that initial flurry of activity, my body seems to know that this is time to rest. My limbs grow heavy, my focus turns inward, and often when the bell rings to signal that my time is up, I don’t want to move, enjoying the bliss of this trance-like state I’ve fallen into.

I haven’t been any moments where I feel, as others have written, that I am outside myself, connected through a shared energy, to the rest of the earth and it’s population. I’m still in my house, listening to the birds chirp, the horns honk and the occasional rooster crow.

But right now, that is enough for me.

How about you? Have you recently started a regular meditation practice? Or are you a seasoned practitioner with insight to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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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

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – March 2015

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Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Theresa

This month was rough. The theme this month for my More Conscious Year was “Empathy” but I didn’t do so well. Mostly, we experienced a lot of struggles, conflicts and regression (my own…) and so this month’s inspirations are, perhaps, less inspiring, but more of a resource round-up – posts and advice that I found helpful in my parenting struggles this month. But the great thing about parenting struggles is that they are opportunities for learning and growth, as well as opportunities to find new resources for support (like this one on How to Be an Empathetic Parent Even When It Feels Hard).

I hope the following resources – on proactive planning for stressful times, positive parenting alternatives to knee-jerk reactions and some motivation and inspiration for those times you find yourself acting in less-than-positive ways – will be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

Proactive Strategies for Strong Emotions (Yours and Theirs)

In this great post, 6 Peaceful Solutions for Hitting and Anger, the author provides a few novel (at least to me) ways for children to safely express their big emotions. A few times since we talked about these, my daughter has voluntarily gone to her safe place or worked out her emotions through angry art without any prompting from me.

In Positive Parenting Connection’s post Making A Win-Win Parenting Plan, the author provides steps for making a proactive plan for stressful times, but also reminds us that most conflicts between parents and children come down to a battle of needs, rather than a battle of wills, and sometimes simply seeing both of these needs and trying to find a way to compromise and meet them both, can help more easily resolve the conflict.

I also love the advice and the visual Calm Down plan in Yummy Mummy’s post Steps To Help Calm Yourself Down When Emotions Rise Up.

If you are looking for resources to help your children with anger, this video, Just Breathe, might resonate with young viewers. In it kindergarteners talk about their experiences with emotions, breathing and mindfulness.

Positive Discipline Alternatives

52 Positive Discipline Tools from Positive Discipline

22 Alternatives to Punishment from the Natural Child Project

Positive Parenting Websites and Blogs from Force Free Parenting

5 Tricks to Help Create a Positive Relationship with Your Child from Natural Parents Network

Motivation and Inspiration for Difficult Days

Positive Parenting Connection’s post, Positive Parenting Isn’t Perfect Parenting and That’s OK is a great reminder for those challenging days.

This one is a classic, but if you haven’t read it already, it is a great motivator – Orange Rhino’s post, 10 Things I Learned When I Stopped Yelling at My Kids and Started Loving More.

Or for a side of humor with your supportive post, check out the Actual Pastor’s post, To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud.

And for any of you who may be stay-at-home-parents, here is a great newsletter read from Heather Forbes of Beyond Consequences, for those days when you feel like throwing in the towel.

More Conscious Parenting Resources

Doctor Laura of Aha! Parenting is offering her audio course Peaceful Parenting: How to Stop Punishing, Start Connecting & Raise a High EQ Child free (normally $59) when you pre-order her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.

In, 4 Mindfulness Practices to Move from Surviving to Thriving in Parenting, the author gives us a nice reminder of how the practice of mindfulness can positively affect our parenting.

What about you? Do you have any go-to resources for conscious parenting in difficult times? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Consciously Connecting (with your partner)

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“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” —African proverb

My husband and I just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. In his card, I printed out a message from an email he had sent to me ten years ago, detailing his own personal vision for the marriage and family he wanted to have. Today, while we are not a mirror image of his vision, we are pretty close, and it was a wonderful thing to recognize and celebrate.

Over our 10 year relationship, we have had many ups and downs, like most couples, but when it finally came down to hitting our stride and learning what we need to keep our relationship healthy, we found it is all about connection.

When we take the time to connect with each other, we take the time

to listen,

to talk,

to share,

to problem solve,

to commiserate,

to plan,

to remember,

to laugh,

and to enjoy each other’s company.

When we make time to connect on a daily basis, we both feel more loved, supported and understood. We feel like a team, facing life together.

But it takes a conscious effort, and it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes, I’ll pause during the day and realize that I miss him. The feeling comes with a sensation of not having seen him in a while, when in reality, I saw him only that morning and all evening the evening before, but we were both busy with personal projects and didn’t take the time to consciously connect. And, if days go by like this, I feel a distinct sense of unease – less loving, more guarded – until we’re back on track.

But it takes work. It takes time. It takes prioritizing our relationship, over other things we may need to do. Something that isn’t always easy for busy couples, long-distance couples, parents of newborn or small children or couples who don’t understand the importance of regular, daily, conscious connection.

In her article, Five Hours to a Better Relationship (part of a four part series on improving relationships), Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center talks about the importance of regular connection with your partner. In the article, she introduces John and Julie Gottman’s “magic five hours a week, ” in which they recommend connecting for:

  • two minutes every weekday morning to share your plan for the day,
  • twenty minutes each day when you arrive home,
  • five minutes throughout the day to express gratitude for one another,
  • (at least) five minutes of daily physical affection;
  • and two hours a week to get to know each other better.

Putting this advice into practice as often as we can, my husband and I make sure to greet each other, mindfully, each morning as we pass in the kitchen. We take time to say hello and goodbye with eye-contact and a kiss. We connect during the day via email or text when we can.

And each evening, we have tea.

Having tea together, each evening, has become the cornerstone of our relationship, a wonderful way for us to consciously connect each day; something we both enjoy and prioritize.

Our evening “tea,” (which doesn’t always involve tea, although it typically does for other health benefits), involves a set time when we turn off the television and our computers and sit down for a cup of tea. We use this time to check-in with each other, talk about our days and look ahead to the week ahead.

The most important thing about tea is that all electronic devices are turned off and we focus on creating a conscious connection. And of course, taking time to connect doesn’t have to involve tea or be in the evenings. It should be a time, place and environment that work best for your relationship; one you are able to commit to on a daily basis (as much as possible).

Ideas for Creating Conscious Connection

Checking-in with each other, telling stories about your day and sharing anything you have on your mind, is important for daily connection, but if you still have time afterwards, or find you need ideas to spark conversation to create a stronger connection, the following links offer some ideas.

  •  A recent New York Times Article lists the 36 Questions that lead to love discussed in Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love Essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. While you have already be (or were once) in love with your partner, the questions might still spark some interesting conversation.

Resources for Building Conscious Connection

 If you aren’t feeling connected to your partner and feel that you need some intervention before beginning to build in daily time for connection, Love and Life Toolbox, offers some practical advice in 8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage (or long-term relationship).

Additionally, on February 12 and 13, Relationship Coach Monika Hoyt is hosting a free virtual Authentic Relationship Telesummit with interviews with experts in the field of relationship psychology covering topics on the science behind lasting love, tips for an authentic relationship, healthy communication tools, tips for enhanced connecting and intimacy and more. You have to call in to listen, but Monika shares an event schedule, so you can plan to call in to the topics you are most interested in.

What about you? Do you have any habits, rituals or advice for maintain a conscious connection in your relationship? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – January 2015

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All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” ― George Whitman

During the first month of my quest for a More Conscious Year, I’ve been steeped in knowledge and inspiration from a variety of sources. Since there is so much to share, I’ll keep this introduction short, only to say that I have learned lesson from my own experiences, from the experiences of others and from great conscious parenting resources available on-line.

Lessons Learned On My Own

This month I have been working a lot on practicing mindfulness and through the practice, I found that I have been more responsive, understanding and present with my children, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but had never really done consistently. The mindfulness practices have really helped me to be more conscious of my own feelings and to wait until I am calm to interact with my children. If you are familiar with mindfulness practices, or positive parenting practices, this probably isn’t news to you, but if not, it really works and it is wonderful to see the positive effects!

On one occasion, facing a situation in which I previously would have reacted in anger, I just sat with the feeling until it passed and when it did, I felt sad and helpless. The sadness and helplessness weren’t feelings I really want to feel when it comes to my children, but they were preferable to the anger, because I could simply accept that sometimes I don’t know what to do with my daughter’s behavior and that it brings up feelings of sadness that I can just acknowledge and let go. While, not really enjoyable, it was a much more positive experience than reacting in anger and suffering the consequences.

Lessons Learned from Others

This year, I have become a member of the Consciously Parenting Academy, a resource for parents run by Rebecca Thompson, Marriage and Family Therapist and Author of Consciously Parenting. As a member of the Academy, I am able to accesses monthly support calls with other members, whom Rebecca calls Tribe Members, and family and parenting e-course offered throughout the year. Tribe members also connect through a closed facebook group to offer support and ask for advice.

A thread on positive discipline recently struck me as being so powerful, that I wanted to share some of the responses as quotes here with you. While they are not in context, maybe one or more of them will resonate with something you are facing now or may face in the future (text out of quotes is paraphrased).

“Sometimes the moment we think we absolutely must do something is the precise moment where we need to stop ourselves. I struggle with this every day. I am often confused about what to do in that space between a behavior and my response to it. You are not alone.”

 When faced with difficult behaviors from your children “… it is okay to let (them) know that you need some time to process this but you will get back with (them). You can give yourself space to allow what has shown up to be felt fully so it can move to wisdom.”

As parents, we don’t always have to react to everything. When I was young…“…it was my thing and I didn’t need my parents knowing nor did I need their stress about it. I was investigating something on my own. That’s it. We are our own people after all.”

Lessons Learned On-Line

Carrie Contey, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Slow Family Living Movement, recently offered a free on-line Webinar on Intentional Parenting. It included a lot of information on her year-long coaching program, Evolve, but in it, she also talked about her understanding of today’s parenting in a way that was really eye opening for me.

While none of the information was really new to me, the way she explained it, in such simple terms really resonated with me. In the video, still available to watch for free now, but only for a day or so (depending on when you read this), she talks about children’s behaviors in terms of brain states.

She explained that when children “misbehave,” they are simply reacting from a less developed area of their brain. And what they need from their parents at that time is not lectures or punishments, but connection to enable them to calm down enough to access areas of higher level thinking in which they can be more receptive to what we have to say.

She explained that we have three main brain centers: our brain stem (or reptilian/lizard brain), our limbic system (or emotional/mammalian brain) and our neocortex (or human/higher level thinking brain).

As Carrie explained it:

When our children are relaxed and happy, they are function from their neocortex. This part of the brain is driven to learn and in this state, what they most need from us is positive reinforcement and verbal communication.

When our children begin to whine or cling, or their behavior otherwise changes from their happy, learning state, they are operating from their limbic system, or emotional/mammalian brain. Their behavior is a way of telling us that they need something from us – food, rest, acknowledgment, connection – to regulate themselves and return to a state of calm. In this state, what they need most from us is connection, what Carrie termed, “eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart.” She suggested parents slow down, get down to the child’s level and reflect, “Wow, you’re having a really hard time right now,” and take the time to help them regain balance. She emphasizes that in this state, children are not receptive to language, so it is best to limit speech.

When our children reach a state where they are kicking, screaming, biting (fight) or running (flight), they are operating out of their brain stem, or lizard brain. She states that children typically only act this way when they are really stressed (which can be quite often, inserts the mother of an intense child….), and in this state, what children most need from us is help with regulation. They need us to calm ourselves first, as this behavior often brings up similar fight or flight reactions in us, and then to help them calm themselves. Again, language doesn’t compute when children are in this state, and threatening behavior only escalates their feelings of fear, so they need help to return to a calm, higher-level of brain function.

The take away message for me was, when children act in ways that are distressful, it is not intentional “misbehavior,” but rather their reactions to stress from a lower level of braining functioning; necessitating, not correction, but a calming presence to get back to a higher level of brain functioning where learning can take place.

In the video Carrie, gave an assignment of starting to view your children through this New Paradigm lens and asking, “What does my little one look like in each of these three states? What do I look like in these three states?” And then noticing what helps each of you to stay, or return, to a regulated state.

Conscious Parenting Resources

In this beautiful post, Joy or Just Wait, Katie Wetherbee, contributing author at Power of Moms, shares a story of a conversation with parents of a newborn and the messages they often receive from other parents.

A Fine Parent, another site I discovered recently, described as a Life-Skills Blog for Parents, encourages readers to sign a Positive Parenting Pledge and follows up with blog posts and articles on Positive Parenting topics.

What about you? Have you read or learned any thing new lately that has helped you become a more conscious parent? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Mindful January

Boat Peace

The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

To begin A More Conscious Year, I thought I would start with the goal of being more mindful, or present, during the month of January. Many of you reading this may be well aware of the definition of mindfulness, but for any who are not, The Greater Good Science center’s Definition of Mindfulness reads, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.” Or as Wildmind Buddhist Meditation puts it in the post What is Mindfulness, we don’t judge experiences as good or bad, or if we do make judgements, we simply notice them and let them go. “We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist. Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.”

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so difficult. But in the midst of a stressful situation, it can be quite difficult to maintain that sort of non-judgemental awareness. And that is where the importance of practice comes in. The more you practice being mindful, the more natural a state it will become, even in times of stress.

The benefits of mindfulness are many:

  • greater ability to concentrate;
  • lowered stress levels;
  • improved immune function;
  • growth in the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy;
  • improved relationships;
  • increased ability to parent responsively, and
  • a greater sense of joy.

In her Huffington Post article, Thirteen Things Mindful People Do Differently Everyday, Carolyn Gregoire describes how mindful people meditate, pay attention to their breathing, turn daily tasks into mindful moments, take long walks, feel their feelings rather than trying to run from them or drown them in chocolate or alcohol, pay attention to what they put into their bodies and minds, and consequently, are more likely to seek out new experiences, appreciate nature, take themselves less seriously and experience more joy.

I would like to be one of those people!

But practicing mindfulness is not easy, especially in Western, multi-tasking, productivity driven societies. Practicing mindfulness involves a conscious effort to slow down, to pay attention to what is in front of you, to push aside all of the planning, worrying, ruminating that many of us do on a regular basis as we go about our daily lives. Practicing mindfulness involves changing neural pathways in our brains that have served us for years, if not decades, of automatic responses.

But it can be done.

Mindfulness, a practice that arose out of Buddhist tradition, is now being practiced in homes, schools, hospitals and offices around the world. The internet abounds with scientific findings on the proven benefits of being more mindful.

So how can we become more mindful?

In his post The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta suggests a 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge and lists eleven tips for practice during the month, including:

  • doing one thing at a time, slowly and deliberately;
  • doing less, with breaks in-between;
  • taking five minutes for a daily meditation;
  • practicing conscious listening; and
  • turning meals and daily chores into opportunities to practice mindfulness.

For the month of January, I have chosen the following practices to help me have a more mindful month:

1. Week 1: “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating and Daily Chores

Because I’ve found it difficult to stay mindful for long periods of time in the past, I want to start this month out with something that will be easy to practice anywhere and that will provide me with regular reminders of my intention. Throughout our days, we are almost always doing something and many of us typically eat three meals a day. Making a conscious effort to eat mindfully and do whatever it is I’m doing at the time, more mindfully, will allow for countless opportunities throughout my days. In the post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, on Daring to Life Fully, Marelisa Febrega suggests starting small by choosing one thing you do every day and practice doing it mindfully. She also recommends pausing before starting a new activity and taking a few breaths before beginning. Eating mindfully would be a good start. For more on mindful eating see Tiny Buddha’s 5 Tips for Mindful Eating and Summer Tomato’s 9 Tricks to Eat More Mindfully.

2. Week 2: Awareness of Mindfulness Cues

Mindfulness cues, or reminders, can be helpful to bring your mind back to the present moment. Mindfulness cues can be internal or external. Internal mindfulness cues include things like rapid breathing, a sense of frustration, or negative thoughts. External mindfulness cues could be entering and exiting through a door (each time pausing to return to the present moment), hearing a phone ring, beginning a conversation, sitting down to eat, starting a car, etc. For the second week of January, I will make a list of mindfulness cues to bring myself back to the present moment and add them to my practice.

2. Week 2: Practice Mindful Body / Sensory Awareness

As many writings on mindfulness state, while our mind can wander, our body is always in the present. By returning to our body through body and sensory awareness, we can connect the two and return to the present moment. Additionally, our body often reacts the same way when we are confronted with a real stressor or are simply thinking about something stressful. Awareness of these stress responses, rapid breathing or tightened muscles allows us to conscious return our bodies to a state of calm. For the third week of January, in addition to continuing my practice of “single tasking” and awareness of mindfulness cues when I notice my mind wandering or my body tensing, I will work to return my attention to the feeling of my feet on the ground or an object against my skin; noticing the sights, sounds, smells and textures around me. to bring myself calmly back to the present.

4. Week 4: Practice Regular Meditation (Twice a Day)

Meditation, it is said, is not essential for mindfulness, but it helps a great deal. And the benefits of meditation both mirror and increase those of a mindfulness practice. So for the third week of January, I am going to add a second 15 minute afternoon meditation practice to my regular evening meditation. For more see GAIAM Life’s Meditation 101 and Goodlife Zen’s How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips.

Throughout the month, I will also use the mantra, “Be Here Now,” to bring my attention back to the present moment whenever I notice it wandering. This mantra has worked for me in the past.

While strategies listed above may work for me, I realize that they may not work for everyone. In her Psychology Today article 10 Best Practices for Being Present, Nancy Colier, LMSW, she acknowledges that all practices for cultivating mindful will not work for everyone because we all respond uniquely to different stimuli. She recommends trying different practices and selecting the ones that resonate most with you (The post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, mentioned above, lists some more varied and creative mindfulness exercises).

Cultivating a mindfulness practice isn’t easy. It takes concentration, dedication and a genuine desire to be more mindful. For every time I have been able to focus mindfully, there are at least 100 times I’ve simply been mindful of the fact that I haven’t been mindful. Additionally, in her post Seven Obstacles to Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them, Tiny Buddha recognizes that “sometimes you want to be anywhere but in the now.” As a parent of two small children, I can recall many instances when I’ve wanted to escape the present moment by any means possible. Yet, again, hopefully, with practice, staying in the moment won’t be so difficult, or unappealing. Tiny Buddha states, that “when you realize that the challenging times are there to help you grow, you will automatically feel more peaceful and relaxed.”

Here’s to automatically feeling more peaceful and relaxed!

Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year! I hope this is a year filled with joy, peace, happiness and countless moments of consciousness!

What about you? Do you have mindfulness practices that work for you that you’d like to share? Are you interested in your own More Mindful Year? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook