Tag Archive | Conscious

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

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

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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

 

Conscious Parenting – Parenting with Presence

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“The greatest gift you can give (yourself or anyone else) is just being present.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru

For the past few days I have been listening to interviews on parenting as part of a free online parenting event called Parenting with Presence. Not only have I been inspired, but I have learned some techniques that I want to incorporate into my parenting immediately. Additionally, just by immersing myself in the world of conscious parenting for short amount of time each day, I find myself interacting more consciously and intentionally with my children.

The conference ends today, but the recordings of some of the interviews are still available for three days for free, or the whole conference is available for purchase. At the very least, the bios of the participants are a great resource for future reading and researching.

I would like to share a few highlights of the interviews I have listened to so far.

The first talk I listened to was Mindful Parenting with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Myla Kabat-Zinn. As a fan of their book Everyday Blessings on parenting mindfully, I was excited to hear them speak. 

One thing that really made an impact on me was about the importance of looking behind our reactions to our children’s behavior to find the emotion driving the reaction. When we can uncover this emotion, we can use it to inform the present moment. Typically for me, my reaction is so fast that the thought or feeling behind it is completely obstructed. This happens most often in situations involving my daughter’s aggression towards her younger, still toddling, brother. When I look back at my reactions, I see that there is a desire to protect him and to “punish” her for her aggression. As a more conscious parent, I don’t want to punish my children for their aggression. I want them to understand that aggression is often the result of a natural surge of energy stemming from anger or frustration, and that instead of suppressing it, they can find healthy outlets for that energy. I would love to be able to practice this, to help give me that pause that makes the difference between reaction and response, and help me to respond more kindly.

Myla Kabat-Zinn gave a great practical tip to use when that anger or frustration arises. When we start to feel angry or frustrated, one way to return to the present moment is to bring ourselves back into our body by noticing the feeling of our breath and the feeling of our feet on the floor. Another speaker suggested, noticing the color of the child’s eyes; something that anchors you to that moment with that child. Once we are back in the present moment, we can ask ourselves “What does my child need from me in this moment?” Or some other question that focuses our perspective on the situation at hand and not our interpretation of it.

She advised that, the more you practice being this returning to your body mindfulness in non-stressful moments, the more easily you’ll be able to return to the present moment in stressful moments.

The second talk I listened to was What Nobody Tells You: The Real Secret to Raising Successful Children by Jacqueline Green and Shelly Lefkoe. 

The “secret to being a successful parent” that they talked about is to be aware of what children are concluding about themselves from their interactions with us. When your child walks away from you, ask yourself, “What did they just conclude about themselves from that interaction?” Do they feel loved? Heard? Validated? Or unimportant? I liked this question. It helps return your perspective to one of discipline as teaching rather than discipline as punishment.

Another interesting comment from this interview was that often when we are angry, the anger is motivated by feelings of fear and powerlessness. And frustration is a milder form of anger, also fueled by powerlessness. Like the talk on mindfulness by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn, they also suggested looking for the fear or limiting belief behind our reaction. For example, when your child ignores you, your underlying belief might be “I’m not important” or “My Child SHOULD listen to me”. Instead of responding in anger to that feeling of fear or powerlessness, they advise parents to return to the present moment and respond without the fear, either making physical contact with your child to ensure they hear you, or if they are ignoring you, simply saying, “Honey, I don’t like to be ignored. I don’t ignore you.”

Jacqueline Green mentioned that one of her frequent pieces of advice is to aim for lower standards with your children and accept their mistakes. When your child hits another child, instead of thinking, “That’s not acceptable!” Think, “Okay, well that wasn’t very nice. How could we be nicer the next time?” She emphasized that it isn’t that we want less for our children, but by lowering our standards for their behavior, we give them room to make mistakes and learn from them, ultimately reaching a higher standard of behavior.

My favorite interview was Passionately Parenting with Alanis Morissette. I have to say that I wasn’t initially drawn to this interview because, although I like her music, I didn’t know what Alanis Morissette would have to offer in terms of parenting wisdom. It turns out that she has a lot. This interview was not only inspiring in terms of her views and her parenting, but now I just want to hang out with her. She is that cool!

In her interview, Alanis Morissette talked about the importance of staying connected and present with your child when they are upset, describing how she and her husband remind each other to, “Sit with it, sit with it, stay, stay, stay,” during difficult times with their son.

She talked about how important it is for parents to understand the stages of emotional development in children, so they can more consciously meet their children’s needs at those critical times. She described the stages mentioned in Harville Hendrix’s book Keeping the Love You Find, which is inexplicably, yet conveniently, available HERE.

She related the Five Stages of Grief from the KüblerRoss Model to a child’s reactions when they don’t get what they want. It was, at the same time, amusing and insightful.

Stages When Someone Says No:

  • Denial – She can’t really mean no. I’m going to whine until she changes her mind.
  • Anger – You are a terrible mother. I hate you!
  • Bargaining – I just want a treat now. I haven’t had one today. I won’t ask for one tomorrow.
  • Disappointment – Crying (this is when we allow space for our children to feel their feelings).
  • Acceptance – Acceptance that there is not treat forthcoming and if their feelings were heard they can move on.

I really appreciated her take on non-judgement of behavior. She advised to “separate the behavior from the little person.” She sees the behavior as neutral as in that it may or may not work given the context – hitting your siblings isn’t okay, but if you are in boxing match, hitting is expected. She says to her son, “That behavior is NOT awesome, but YOU’RE awesome. Now lets look at that behavior. I really liked this one and have started to use it with my daughter to remember to parent more kindly. I have been saying, “I love you, but I didn’t love that behavior. Can we talk about that?” or “How could you do that more kindly?”

And another gem that I will definitely put into practice was her mantra of “Do no harm.” She advised on those days when you just don’t have anything left to give, just being there and giving your quiet presence is often good enough. Instead of yelling or otherwise giving into frustration when you are worn out, simply be with your children and don’t expect more from yourself. “Do no harm.”

The last interview I will mention in this post is Mindful Motherhood with Cassandra Vieten. Cassandara Vieten had a wealth of practical parenting tools.

She also talked about the importance of being with your child in the moment of their upset and suggested the following inner monologue: My child is crying. What is she trying to tell me? I’m going to figure this out and try to help her. I’m going to let go of what I think should be happening and accept what is. I’m going to let go of my ideas of who I am as a mother, what this all means and just be here 100% present in this moment.

She also compared a child’s emotions to waves or a storm on the seas. When an actual storm happens, we cannot stop the storm, we can just hold our children and keep them safe until it passes. It is the same with emotional storms. Instead of trying to make the feelings go away, just sit with your child and keep them safe until the storm passes.

She acknowledged that it can be difficult to be mindful and present with our children when they are experiencing strong emotions and suggested that, when something happens with your child (outburst, tantrum, etc). Think, “Okay here we are. My child is doing _______ or feeling _________ . I am feeling ___________. What can we do?” And make a decision based on the situation as you see it in that moment without external or internal input. She advised to make eye contact, voice contact, skin contact with your child to connect to them.

She noted that there are times that this rational thought is not immediately accessible when we are wrapped up in strong emotions, we have the choice to go into “survival mode.” To do this, she said, focus on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet and breathe, and just stay present with your child until the moment passes.

That is all I have for now, but my hope is that some of what resonated with, might also resonate with others who didn’t have a chance to listen to the talks. More interviews have become available now and I look forward to learning, and sharing, more.

Have you listened to any inspiring talks on parenting lately? Do you have any bits of inspiration to share?

My Paths to Conscious Living

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When walking, walk. When eating, eat. -Zen Proverb

Like many people who have chosen to live a more conscious life, my path to conscious living had several different beginnings, in several different places. In my early 20s, a developing consciousness of politics and a voracious appetite for documentaries provided me with awareness of the reality behind many situations I would have previously accepted as truth. In my mid-20s, a change in eating habits led to more awareness, and conscious choice, of what I was putting in my body. In my late-20s, an extended trip abroad opened my eyes to the different lives, values and rituals, leading me to question some of my own. In my 30s, the transformation from individual to mother, revealed many of my faults and how they would adversely impact my children if I didn’t work to consciously change them.

All of these paths have led me to a place where I am more aware of the effect people, food, “things,” media and past life events have on my current life.This path has helped shape my values and cultivate habits that reflect these values – leading me to a life I am proud of.

But although, I am proud of where I am and the choices I have made (that are right for me and may not be right for others), I feel that I am ready for the next step, and that is not just a conscious life, but a more mindful existence.

The most difficult part of beginning a more conscious life, I am finding, is remembering to stay conscious. So often I will find myself at the end of the day, thinking, “Did I remember to live consciously?” And more often than not, I find that I lived the day in a typical mix of consciousness and autopilot, rarely conscious of my desire to be so.

And so I started repeating variations of a Zen Proverb – when walking, walk. When eating, eat. – throughout my day. And I started to live more consciously. Typically when I walk into my messy kitchen, I immediately begin thinking, What can I do while I wash the dishes to avoid being aware of the fact that I am washing dishes? Who can I call? What can I listen to? But instead of acting on my thoughts, I started to repeat, When washing dishes, wash dishes. And it worked. I just washed the dishes.

And it when on throughout the day:

When cleaning up the toys, clean up the toys.

When cooking, cook.

When playing with my son, play.

When driving, drive.

I didn’t remember to stay conscious the whole day, but it did help to remind me of my intention to stay conscious more than a typical day. And for me, a little progress is enough to celebrate right now!

Read more about Mindfulness here: What Is Mindfulness?  Or here What is Mindfulness? Or here: Wake Up! A Guide to Living Your Life Consciously

What about you? What draws you to a more conscious existence? Are there any mantras, routines or rituals that you use to remind yourself to stay conscious throughout your day?