Nature and Intelligence

chipmunkNature and intelligence. How smart we humans think we are compared to other animals. With our technology, houses, cars, and adornments. And yet we are ignorant with intelligence compared to even the smallest animals. Take this chipmunk. His/her keen intellect warns of a coming storm, bad weather, danger, and safety. This little animal does not need a weather alert system to warn of a tornado, severe rain, or dangerous threat. It simply knows. I did an experiment with this chipmunk. My walking on a path caused it to retreat in a tree. I stood on the path and talked to it  using my regular voice. The chipmunk came out and I kept talking and I saw a man was watching than called out his young son. The dad and son looked on as I talked to the chipmunk. When I said to it, “I’m not going to harm you”…this little chipmunk moved closer, then stopped, then moved closer and was close that I could have pet it. Yes. I am no threat. We humans can learn a lot from even the smallest animal. We humans are a speck in this vast universe and not of highest intelligence. This chipmunk taught me Awareness of possibilities. A re-check of ego. And a lesson to this dad and son who couldn’t believe what they saw.

The next time we think we know so much, consider a chipmunk and nature knows more then us humans.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts below.

The Messy Meaning of Mindfulness

Mindfulness. The word is getting attention.  The meaning of the word is getting attention.  Take Mindful Magazine’s recent response to New York Times’ “The Muddied Meaning of Mindfulness.” I read both articles.  I will admit that my first learning of the two articles came as an email from Mindful Magazine landing in my inbox; I’m a subscriber.  However, as a stress expert, mindfulness trainer, practical mindfulness research-practitioner and Founder at Mindful Effect, the great debate regarding the word ‘mindfulness’ and its meaning is in the forefront of everything I do at Mindful Effect as the meaning – both formally and socially constructed means are more than the 10,000+ lakes in Minnesota.  Maybe that’s a bit embellished but one cannot argue that too many definitions of one word exists.  And that in itself causes a lot of confusion, misconception, tension, and stress.

TheMessyMeaningofMindfulness-1

Reading both articles, I found myself not siding with one powerful position over the other.  Instead, I found myself siding with both; agreeing on points from Ms. Virginia Heffernan’s as mindfulness has become an “American Brand” and whose cynicism is appreciated as she calls our attention to the shadowed elephant of mindfulness. In as much, Mindful Magazine’s Publisher, James Gimian, and Editor-in-Chief, Barry Boyce, point out the many benefits and social contributions of mindfulness yet, they do not answer their own question: “Does it mean its meaning is muddied?”

I believe the meaning of mindfulness is more than muddied.  I believe it’s gotten messy. Regardless of what I believe, the proof is in the pudding.  Just Google the words “mindful” and “mindfulness” and see the number of hits related to definitions.  Better yet, for folks with access to peer-review journal articles (yes, I know…my doc side had to include this in here) such as any within the American Psychological Association, conduct a search within any academic database and again, many articles appear with authors positioning a crafted definition.

However, is this really the best use of our time – to engage in an infinite loop of definition positioning? Or should our awareness and attention be directed to the field and practice of mindfulness?

Mindfulness as a field, practice, and industry is unregulated.  Anyone can pick up a book and read works from Drs. Kabat-Zinn or Langer, conduct a Google Search, and the next day put out a shingle and claim they are a mindfulness coach, trainer, expert, consultant…you get the idea.

Where I tend to error on the side of caution is linking everything back to the moral obligation and ethics of “do no harm.” Yes.  As with any field of study and practice, moral and ethical practices exist.  However, mindfulness is a young mainstream modern concept. I am not saying that it hasn’t existed for many years.  I am saying that the term and practice is more in the forefront today than in previous years. Which begs me to ask fellow practitioners, researchers, teachers, and the media these questions:

  1. What and who will establish the ground rules of mindfulness to ensure science and practice upholds “do no harm?”
  2. Will mindfulness become muddied, inconsistent, and lack consensus similar to other professions such as Organization Development?
  3. Will the hording and positioning of “who came up with it first” continue to cloud progress?
  4. How will continued studies, formal and informal, maintain sound methodologies and methods standards to make valid claims and call to attention ad hoc?
  5. Will Cosmopolitan-like (sorry, Cosmo) magazine quizzes pose as valid when in reality make false claims which then readers take as truths and factual information; and then show to their primary care physician/psychotherapist (gasp!)?
  6. What, if anything, will be done to prevent preying “practitioner” behavior as this industry is directly linked to people who may be vulnerable due to mental health challenges such as depression, PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, and addiction? What about working with children, the elderly, veterans, and people with special needs?

While I can see both sides of Mindful Magazine and New York Times’ articles, I would like to point out, while the great debate continues, perhaps our awareness needs to focus less on the disparities of what mindfulness is and is not and focus more on how we can create a structure to an industry and practice, develop what the structure would look like along with its components, implement standards of practice housed similarly to the American Medical Association, integrate these standards into education and academic institutional programs such as with UMASS, all the while providing a lot of help to people around the globe.

I believe it’s time to become mindful of where our awareness and attention is targeted, identify and understand our triggers which create an auto-pilot of continued confusion and debate, identify the overall purpose of mindfulness, and continue to let our awareness guide us with an ethical practice of service to others.  I mean…what could be wrong with that?

 

Mindful Listening

ear

Through mindfulness I am a better listener.  I don’t mean some kind of Zen-like hear the sounds of waves, the rumbling of my stomach pre-lunch, or what the air feels like against my ears.  I mean listening as in to pay attention to someone or something and different than before; better than before.  I’d add to this the element of understanding; so, through mindful listening I hear someone or something, am aware of the message, understand the message, and possess the ability to mindfully respond; I experience a new level of listening through mindfulness.

So, what?  Right?  When could this really matter, make a difference, provide value….One practical usage is being caught off guard and asked a question (ever been caught off guard and have someone ask you to volunteer at the kids school that day and you say YES?! – yeah, we’ve all been there and done that!).  Mindful listening helps prepare us with responding…mindfully.  Another practical usage is when someone is trying to sell you something.

Take for example the guy who just called about selling me home improvement services.  I was deep in concentration when the phone rang. I answered the phone and it’s a telemarketer.  Yes, we have caller ID and sometimes when our kids call from school, it’s from an unknown number in a local area code – so, I answer knowing it could be them.   However, this time it was Jim.  Jim was nice and I’ve been there many times myself making cold calls.  I know how difficult this is and figured I’d hear him out.  Jim shared that his company XYZ is doing work in our neighborhood and wondered if we had any projects.  I asked, “Oh, which neighbor?”

Now mind you, before mindfulness it would not even have occurred to me to even think of let alone ask, “which neighbor?”.  I would have thought, “Cool, you’re doing stuff in our neighborhood…yeah, let’s talk.”  But now is different.  I am changed. I am better equipped with tools and skills – that work for me everyday, anywhere, anytime.  I am a better listener because of using my mindfulness techniques; they’ve become a part of me – reflexively.  I don’t even have to think  “Oh, use your mindful listening skills” because I’ve done it so many times it comes naturally.  And I’m fully aware.  Fully present.  Even though I got caught off guard.

Jim’s response though was taken aback.  He stumbled.  He fumbled.  He couldn’t find the words.  And what did come out was his company, XYZ, were not doing work in our neighborhood.

OH SNAP!

Houston, we have a problem.  Yes, a significant problem.  Integrity and trust are gone.  Not only for Jim but also for XYZ Company.  A lost sale – for sure.  It’s too bad and very unfortunate.

Calls like this happen all of the time, however, because of mindfulness I am better listener.  I ask questions that wouldn’t even have occurred to me (autopilot, zombie…distracted/not present) but I do now.

A value of mindfulness is being fully present and aware; beyond hearing someone’s words, thorough mindful listening I was able to uncover a common sales tactic that was dishonest and protect myself, my family, and my home – and my money!

Many telemarketers and scam artists call preying on people.  Some may argue and say, “use common sense.” I’d argue that we don’t know what we don’t know AND we don’t know HOW to do something different unless we’re shown and something changes. For example, saying to people “don’t give personal information over the phone” has no meaning unless we are fully aware and fully present –regardless of distractions.  And con artists are masters at distraction. Now I’m not saying that Jim and XYZ Company are con artists.  I am saying they use a sales tactic that is dishonest – and because of mindful listening – was exposed.

So, invest in mindful listening.  See what does it does for you. We can help; we offer a variety of in person workshops and online classes.

Share your thoughts – let us know what you think of this post and how we can be of service!

Mindful Eating on Fat Tuesday

paczki

It’s just about lunchtime and I’m wondering about how people are fairing on their fare this Fat Tuesday.  Traditionally, Fat Tuesday is the day of feasting before the fast.  Days before Fat Tuesday, food establishments such as restaurants and even grocery stores market to consumers with slogans of indulging in great feasts.  Usually these attempts slide off of me…that is until this year.  Yesterday while perusing my Facebook page, I saw a Fat Tuesday posting from my local Whole Foods; it was a photo of a once familiar Fat Tuesday indulgence…the paczki.

Paczki and Fat Tuesday have special meaning…a special place in my heart…a memory bringing up good feelings.  My father was Polish and every Fat Tuesday he and I would drive to Hamtramck, wait in the long line outside of the Polish Bakery on Joseph Campau, get our box of dozens of paczki with custard, prune, and raspberry fillings, and then eat several at his kitchen table drinking coffee.  We’d talk about which one was our favorite but mostly it was about spending time together…just talking.

Since living in the Twin Cities, I’ve never had a paczki.  I’ve never even seen them here so, to see the Whole Foods picture got me thinking about getting some.  Then the awareness moment occurred.  How was the potential of eating paczki inline with my mindful eating for wellness?  I’ve been eating mindfully for quite some time.  For me, mindful eating includes how I feel while eating, what I’m eating, and why am I eating…I have removed some foods because I don’t feel well after eating them.  I’ve also become aware of eating because of tradition as well as eating a particular food for a few days in a row and then step on the scale and Yowza!  I’m also getting back into running after an injury so, I’m very conscientious about what I eat.

Yet, those round filled delicacies still tugged at me. Buy me, Buy me, just BUY ME! I had an internal dialogue going on, “Deb, you haven’t had one of these in 17 years…come on…just have one!”  But I struggled.  Again, it was all about the why am I wanting to eat one of these?  Did I miss being part of the Fat Tuesday-Everyone-is-Doing-It craze?  No.  Then what was it?  Was it, eating because I’m bored?  No.  Did I want to on some covert level sabotage my fitness program?  No.  Honestly, blowing my eating is inhaling a bag of Finnish or Australian red licorice.  That’s the truth.  Even my kids know this! My awareness…which is being truthful, honest, and accepting in the present moment was all about missing my dad.  True.  So, I decided to buy 2 paczki; one filled with custard, and a second filled with raspberry.  I still wanted to be mindful of my mindful eating and wellness progress, so I cut each into quarters and told myself that if while eating if I didn’t feel well, I’d stop eating and eat no more.

Mindful eating has many components; one is being aware of food immediately after it’s in your mouth.  This paczki had a familiar smell but the texture was off.  As I chewed, the flavors were the same and yes, a flood of memories came to mind.  All happy.  As I ate my second quarter, my stomach started feeling funny.  Whenever I eat something that disagrees with me, my stomach feels strange.  I cannot describe but I recognize the sensation.  So, I stopped eating.  I didn’t finish that last piece.  Another component of mindful eating is being aware of satisfaction; this is the moment of “I’ve had just enough or enough.” It’s the “our amount” that says, I’ve eaten to the point of being satisfied.  Going over this point, people feel “full” or “busting at the seams” when eating. Taking it even further is the awareness moment when a person realizes, “Oh my gosh!  I ate the entire box/bag/thing!” Even further, people can feel physically ill and even have critical thoughts.

It’s been over an hour since I’ve had my pieces of packi and my stomach still feels funny.  I’ve drunk a lot of warm water and in another hour will have lunch.  So, what did I learn from today’s Fat Tuesday mindful eating of a paczki? I learned that tradition, memories, and love have a lot to do with what we eat, why we eat, and how we eat.  It’s the awareness – the authentic awareness of the answers of the what, why and how to ourselves that will keep us on our path of mindful eating and living, or create a detour.  I experienced both.  And what I want to point out is that a detour is temporary.  I know this time next year when seeing paczki, I’ll still think of my dad and those fond memories of Fat Tuesday, but this time I’ll skip eating a paczki as mindful eating is now a way of life.  I’m still exploring what that means but for now, I know it means “no paczki.”  Instead, I’ll stick with what I know makes me feel good – both physically and mentally.

So, on this Fat Tuesday while folks indulge in the feast – give mindful eating a try.  Pay attention and be aware of your what, why, and how.  Authentically answer these questions to yourself.  See what happens.  And remember, you can still enjoy and participate – mindfully!

What do you think about this?  Does mindfully eating make a difference for you – if so, how?  As always, I welcome your comments!

Commitment

During this time of flux, commitment is in the forefront. The question to ponder, reflect, and ultimately answer is: Are we willing to do whatever it takes?

This is different than hooking on details, history, past decisions, mistakes, goals, etc. When making this decision, we can no longer hold on to what prevents us from moving forward. It doesn’t mean we forget, it means we keep the memory without being bound and stuck in the emotion.

It is about the present. Right now. This moment.

The choice is the answer. And the answer will manifest the future.

8 Ways to Live Mindfully

Mindful or Mind Full?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (1990) states, “mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness” (p. 11) where we pay attention to the things of ordinary life giving us new insights to our lives through relaxation, awareness, being present, and through insight.

Perhaps your mind is full with endless to-do lists, resolutions, and other stuff like shown in the drawing.  How would your life be different if you stopped living with a full mind and instead lived mindfully?  Today, make a stand to mindfully live moment-to-moment.  Don’t worry about getting off track.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994) says, “If the mind wanders 1,000 times, you simply bring it back 1,000 times.”

Here are 8 ways to live mindfully:

  1. Be present.  Have you ever driven your car only to not remember actually driving to wherever you were going?  This happens to a lot of people and it’s called living a life on auto-pilot. Our minds are so filled with stuff, the to-do’s and obligations of life that we go through the motions and sometimes zone out.  Living in the present means to be fully aware; mind and thoughts, physical and body – so, how we feel, how we think, and respond – moment-to-moment.  Sure, we will experience distractions and with regular practice, we are aware of living in the presence of each moment, each experience; all experiences one moment at a time.
  2. Wisely choose words.  Living mindfully also involves cultivating an ability to pay attention in the present moment.  What words do we use as a means of communicating? Words are powerful; they have vibrations of positive and negative energies, and combine emotion with information.  So, living mindfully – what words do we choose to use in our daily lives?  Do we tend to lean toward negative or positive words?  For example, do you workout or exercise?  The word “workout” denotes working our bodies and has 3 definitions; one of which is about resolving a problem.  On the other hand, “exercise” has 5 definitions ranging from the act of carrying out an agreement to regular use.  The two words by social definitions mean the same; however, they are very different when living mindfully.  So, be mindful of the words you choose and aware of the differences you experience.
  3. Just breathe.  Ah….breathing.  If we don’t breathe, well – we’re not alive.  Yet when we experience stress or in conflict situations, one thing people tend to do is hold their breath.  Holding the breath or breathing in short, shallow breaths only adds to the stress.  Living mindfully means paying attention to our breath, experiencing the air flowing through the nose, filling up our belly and releasing; to sit with the breath, observe it, and stay with it…moment-to-moment.
  4. Unplug.  Moments of non-doing? Yes!  In today’s world we are connected like the Borg.  Think about it.  Our cell phones, computers, social media outlets; we’re connected to the world 24/7.  Our whole lives are driven by doing and doing many things at the same time.  How can a multitasking person be present, aware, and mindful?  Recent studies show that multitasking is a performance hindrance.  In moments when we are aware that we are not being our best, simply unplug.  The act of non-doing restores some balance and perspective; by returning our attention to being present and focusing on the breath, we allow ourselves to return to the familiar place of being mindful.
  5. Stretch and rest.  Exercise the mind, the body, the energetic self.  Examples of stretch and rest come in many forms.  Whether this is through meditation, yoga, or a combination of both. For some, it may mean taking a walk, sitting in a park on a bench, or doing the hokey pokey with kids.  Stretch and rest is a way for your mind, body, and energetic self to switch from the doing to the being mode.  By giving ourselves permission to be, we learn to practice awareness with patience; cultivating a level of gentleness toward oneself.
  6. Consume nourishment.  The old saying “you are what you eat” is taking on a meaning today associated with our relationship to food.  The practice of mindfulness comes naturally when we start paying attention to the domain of food, our preparation of food, and our eating of food.  Great efforts go into buying food, preparing food, serving food, eating food, the environment where we eat, and the cleanup afterward.  Being mindful about food involves being aware of how much we eat, how frequently we eat, the quality of the food we are eating, when, where, and how we feel after we eat.  Do we feel well after a meal or eating certain foods?  How do we feel when eating rushed as compared to a leisurely meal?  What are our eating habits?  What are our family’s eating habits? All of these variables come into focus when bringing mindfulness to the foods we eat. Eating mindfully means being present and being aware of what your food looks like, tastes like, and makes you feel as you are eating it as well as afterward.
  7. Do a do-over.  Practicing mindfulness requires us to be aware of our own experiences, paying attention to the constant stream of reactions and judgments of life.  A wonderful gift mindfulness brings is do-overs as we transform from the habitual categorizing or labeling things  “good” or “bad” or “neutral” and move to acceptance, patience,  non-judging, and letting go.  Living mindfully, we pay attention to our intention, awareness, and our purpose.  For example, living mindfully we may become aware of our reactions to life and through awareness we identify our patience, understanding, and purpose.  Practicing mindfulness allows us to recognize our intention for being and purpose for doing.
  8. Make a commitment.  Living mindfully won’t happen by itself or because a person decides it’s a good idea.  Living mindfully requires a strong commitment to working on self and enough self-discipline to persevere in developing practices.  Through regular practice, the momentum of practice helps a person to live mindfully.

References:

Kabat-Zinn. J. (1994). Sitting mediations. Series 2. [CD]: Louisville, CO: Sounds True Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn. J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Dell.