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Slowing Down, While Moving Fast

Prioritizing

slow down and relax

What elements do we really need in our life? What elements do we really love in our life? Are we saying yes to the things that matter? Or are we saying yes to just a bunch of things that keep us busy?

Part of slowing down is becoming mindful to what it is that you want. If we want things like spiritual growth, for example, are we saying yes to things that nurture and support that growth?

How bad do we want it? Can we say no to those other things in life when it comes time to make those choices? We can look at this with a lot of inquiry.

Creating Boundaries

It becomes an idea of quantity over quality. If we just have a few things in life, then we can go very deep with these few things. We do not have a lot of time, and the time we do have can be spread very thin. Out of all the things you do how many of them really matter?

Being selective in choosing the things that we really want to experience in this lifetime is very important. It’s very easy to get sidetracked with life. Go do this, go do that. Sometimes I work with patients that are dying and when death comes up, then we really look at how we spend our time. The lesson there is to live as we are dying, as the say, because well, we are.

This might mean creating boundaries. To create boundaries you have to know what you really want, to be able to say yes or no accordingly. What are your boundaries?

Attention Span

If you are like me I have seen my attention span being pulled away by more and more things in more frequent intervals. When I was a kid we did not  even have computers or cell phones. My attention was not pulled away as much. I think it’s obvious how life has sped up. Device addiction, it’s a very real thing. So how do we combat that? And why do we combat that?

For starters, if we sit down to meditate and our mind is used to being pulled away time and time again, then this is a tendency, a habit. We are cultivating a habit. Mindfulness is a habit too. 24-hours a day moment to moment each day, we have a choice. The choice is between distraction and mindful awareness. One trick is to use your distraction as a moment of mindfulness.

Trick: Use your distraction as your trigger for mindfulness.

If your phone or email, or whatever it is for you, is causing a distraction, that very thing can be your signal for a moment of mindfulness. Just like in meditation, we can tie that moment to our true nature.

Say your text message goes off as you are driving, you know you really shouldn’t check that. Just sit with that, what exactly is the craving? What exactly is the grasping? What do you feel you “need” by checking your phone? Is it connectedness? What is it exactly?

This turns the simply acknowledgement of a text message into a moment of mindfulness.

This is a conceptual. We all feel like we are filling up something, we are getting something out of this doing. If we look with openness we can find the “why” behind the doing. It takes courage and honesty, but we can find this why.

Food is another one. The mind is telling you that you need a snack. Maybe your body is not telling you this, but your mind is.

Sit with the thought, “I need something to eat”. Ask yourself, “What am I really getting out of that?” For example, I need a scoop of ice-cream. Is it the sweetness? The whole experience is from the lips to the back of the mouth, plus maybe a feeling of fullness. What about that is so gratifying exactly?

Take a look at it. Am I fulfilled with this?

Limiting Input

Chair on Dock at Alice Lake in Late Afternoon

In our regular daily habits, we can limit our input. What if you limited or reduced your input by 50% next week? When we get in the car, sometimes our habit is to just push the radio dial. Or even when we get home and we are around family, there is input of talking, there is so much input. TV input, music input, social media input.

With input we are looking outside ourselves, and for the most part in a very unconscious way. When the input ceases, then we get the opportunity to look inside. Take the opportunity!!

Slowing Down Happens Naturally

There is a “slowing down” of life when we look at this. Part of the slowing down is awakening to the speed at which we move, just bringing in the awareness of it. Slowing down does not mean physically slowing down. It means to slow down with the whole of our being. In fact we can be very calm inside while moving quickly.

During mindful eating exercises people say to me, “I cannot eat that slow!” But mindful eating does not have to be slow. It has to be mindful. It can be mindfulness of fast eating. It is easier to watch when we move slower, but it is not necessary.

We have to run alongside the movement of life with a sense of stillness. It is like jumping into the river and flowing with the current. When we are in stillness, and there is noise outside, there may be a feeling of dissonance if we let it. Sound is just bubbling up in that stillness, it can be beautiful, it can become the stillness.

Just being with what is, as it is. We are allowing the mind to settle in its natural state, but if the mind continues to be agitated by external phenomena, then it is difficult to allow it to settle. This allowing is training ground for a non-reactive mind. Once we are good at it, when things are chaotic, we can still rest in evenness.

Overcoming Caregiver Guilt

Love Yourself wooden sign with a beach on background

Every caregiver has been left with the sinking feeling that they could have done better, been more, or worse, should not have acted in a certain way. Whether it is a parent at wit’s end with their kids or an ER nurse 10 hours into their shift; a moment of fatigue and stress can evolve into a regrettable action. We have all been there.

In many instances we can move into a report card scenario adding up our good choices and pitting them against our not so noble actions. We keep an internal tally and grade ourselves appropriately. Sometimes we have a good day or a good week, maybe even build up some burnable karma, if you will, along the way. When we lose our patience we either slide deeper into a negative self-concept or try to buoy ourselves up by noting that none of us are perfect, and we cannot expect to be.

This is good advice to tell ourselves but overall this might not be the healthiest game to play. We may want to change the rules a bit. We too, as caregivers, are in need of kind attention.

Woman praying for the best, future, health, job, family

Keeping this ongoing tally can be exhausting. It puts us into a place of internal blame. The worst part is that we are going up against ourselves. We are our own worst critic, and that is on top of what life throws at us.

On the other end of the spectrum is treating ourselves like a best friend. The type of friend that will always say you are right when the rest of the world is against you. Yeah, that kind of friend. The type that believes in you, respects you and pulls for you even when you make a bad decision.

This type of supportive inner dialogue rarely shows up very often but that does not mean we cannot cultivate it. What we may be up against is the idea that we need to be hard on ourselves, that this is the way to betterment. In reality, studies have shown that self-compassion is a much better tool.

Here is an excerpt from self-compassion expert Kristen Neff, PhD

“Over the past decade, research that my colleagues and I have conducted shows that self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives, helping us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. More so than self-esteem, the nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.”
~ Kristen Neff

So how do we become our own best friend again? Here are a few tips:

Become Aware of Your Inner Critic:

Our inner critic can be so established as the norm that we can become blind to it even being there at all. The first step to change a habit is to wake up to what we are doing now. A cautionary note here is to look at this with kindness. We can easily fall into “judging the judging”. Simply note what you find. Allow it to be ok if you find something that you are not so proud of. This might be hard to look at but remember that it is here if you look at it or not. Uncovering it so that you can work with it, although difficult at first, will pay off huge in the end.

Stop Keeping Score:

Now that you are aware of the inner dialogue and are no longer operating on autopilot from former habitual patterns, you can begin to make different choices. The first one is to stop keeping score. This is “feeding” the negative dialogue. We liken this to the concept of the second arrow given by the Buddha. If we are shot with an arrow it is painful obviously. If we are shot with two that would be worse. Judging ourselves after a negative act is that second arrow. It is optional. The reminder here is that we are not condoning our own negative behavior; we are learning how to right it in more effective ways. It turns out self-compassion works better; this is what we are working with.

Practice Self-Care:

In the moment of regret, we are hurting. Pain is arising. This is a time to be there for ourselves, free from judgment, just being a comforting presence. If you care for someone and see that they are hurting due to a regrettable action you do not rub it in. You may conversely rest your hand on their back and remind them of their more virtuous times and qualities.
Happy smiling woman hugging herself

This practice begins to reinforce the positive instead of breaking ourselves down. Remind yourself that regardless of your past actions, the moment is the only opportunity to live. The past is not here, nor is the future. Being there with what is, with non-judgmental awareness leaves no room for enhancement. No room to feed the self-critical mind.

Taking this approach, things that no longer serve our greater good are not given attention. This in turn can open up space to be filled with positive supportive measures that lead us to outward actions that we can be proud of. The notion of guilt can be regulated to something of the past.

Myths and Truths on Happiness

Happiness comes from the inside. We hear that all the time, in fact it has become cliché. Yet at the same time we really do miss the point sometimes. We often go round and round in life trying to find that magic something that is going to bring us happiness and often miss opportunities for happiness that are right here for the taking.

Let’s explore a few myths and a few truths on happiness.

Myths:

Happiness is in the future: We can’t experience anything outside of the “now”. If we are not happy now, there is not much hope of stumbling upon it sometime in the future. In fact the opposite is true. Studies have shown that happiness is a habit and those that cultivate it can experience a steady level of happiness in almost any situation.

Happiness is in objects: Happiness is not in objects. Seriously! I know we have all heard that before but are we done clinging to them? There is no suitcase of happiness out there. Take the rich and famous. They have it all yet happiness often alludes them. So the dream home with the inside movie theater, the Porsche SUV, and that really cool chocolate fountain thing are great and all, yet sadly, they too will not lead to sustainable happiness.

Happiness is on your friends’ Facebook page: Ever take a peek into your favorite Social Media platform only to see everyone else is having a much better time than you are? Swimming with dolphins in Hawaii? What? Second trip to Paris this year… yay for them! The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence as they say. The thing is, is that without a healthy mindset no matter where we are or who we are with, life can be miserable. The same folks that may be looking like they are having a good time can very well be doing the same thing you are; looking for the next dangling carrot, looking for happiness right around the corner.

Truths:

Happiness is in you: Happiness is a response. Objects can be triggers for the happiness response but where happiness is ultimately, is within you. Neuroscience has already figured this out with research into neural pathways. They have shown that the more we are happy, the more we “wear in” the pathways to the happiness parts of our brains. Like a path through tall grass that has been walked over time and time again our capacity to find and experience more happiness gets easier the more we do it. Anger, sadness and the like share the same fate. The practice then is to develop the habit of happiness. The more we do so, the more happiness will become the default trigger to outside stimulus.

Happiness is in others: Just like you are a big ol’ bag of love, so are other people. Yeah, I know, sometimes we don’t not act like it and others don’t either but it’s true; deep down we all want love and happiness and we all feel better giving kindness rather than doing harm. Nurturing friendships are very important for our happiness levels. It doesn’t have to be just human friendship either. A pet can have a significant positive effect on our overall brightness.

Happiness is in your mind: Those that exhibit high levels of inner resilience think a bit differently about things than others more prone to a negative mindset. Consistently happy people have a knack of extracting the positives out of situations. They also see setbacks as challenges and focus on how to improve the things they can control instead of dwelling on aspects of a situation that they can do little about.

In conclusion:

Each moment of happiness lays the groundwork for another moment of happiness. Wherever you find yourself, no matter what obstacles you are facing or what you think you need for happiness to manifest, you can put those aside; just for a moment. Take the next few seconds and smile, open up to gratitude and be that glowing peace you long for. It does not need to come from outside yourself, and indeed that is impossible. You are a living, breathing well of happiness and sometimes you just have to remember to reach down and take a drink.

Family Caregivers

7 Compassion Fatigue Relief Tips for Family Caregivers

Being a family caregiver can be a very difficult job. The caregiver is usually not prepared for the onset of this new responsibility. Life may already be filled to the brim, and caregiving is added to the heap. A family caregiver may be working or going to school, and caregiving. This makes for a unique recipe for caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue. Below are some tips you can use to find the much needed stress relief and life balance.

  1. Be Kind to Yourself:  Sometimes it is easy to think you are not doing enough.  Someone you care for is suffering and you may feel like it’s your sole responsibility for that person to feel better. In addition you may find yourself feeling guilty over the instances of impatience or times when you are not on your best behavior. This is natural.Remember that you too are suffering, that you too have a burden to carry, and just like the person you are caregiving for, you need support and care. You can start by recognizing this and giving yourself self-care and self-compassion. Listen to what the inner critic has to say and replace this with some words of kindness and encouragement.
  1. Meditate: Contrary to popular belief meditation does not necessarily need to be done sitting cross legged on a cushion. Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can be done anytime, anywhere, by simply bringing conscious awareness to what it is that you are doing.  Just a few minutes a day can be extremely beneficial to combat compassion fatigue.
  1. Take Some Downtime: It may seem impossible to actually take downtime as a family caregiver. This makes it all more important to do so.  Can someone else take over for a day or two? Make sure to take breaks throughout the day that do not involve a screen. Looking at a screen does not allow for the mind to feel expanded. It is better to take a walk, meditate or even listen to some music.
  1. Get Social Support: Family caregivers often feel on an island. They are not in professional circles. They do not have co-workers to share their common challenges with. Often times they do not know of others in similar situations.  Therefore family caregivers need to make a conscious effort to seek social interaction. This can be via support groups or just some friendly hangout time with friends. Stress, in all its forms, is easy for others to relate too, even if it is not directly parallel.
  1. Replenish Compassion Reserves: Compassion is an inner commodity. Caregiver burnout happens when we run out! It is a good idea to cultivate the willingness to care for others and help to relieve their suffering. In a very real way this is what a caregiver delivers – compassion. The physical aspects of care are secondary to the emotion behind the care. This starts with tip #1, being kind and compassionate with ourselves, and can be deepened by contemplating the gratification that comes with helping others. We can think of ourselves in a similar situation and how we would enjoy such good care as well. It feels very good to give, it can be a beautiful gift, a blessing. Allowing ourselves to think in this way buoys up our reserves of compassion.
  1. Keep a Gratitude Journal: The mind has a built in negativity bias. It is all too easy to dwell on the negative and forget about all that there is to be grateful for. If you happen to have a nice visit with a friend in the morning over coffee, do you dwell on it all day? Thinking, wow, that was SO NICE! Probably not, however if you get a speeding ticket afterward this might consume the majority of your mental attention for the rest of the day. Both may be equal in their respective power yet the negative seems to win out and get the lion’s share of our rumination. This is why it so important to consciously cultivate positive thoughts of gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal has been found to increase will power and even boost the immune system.
  1. Exercise : Exercise releases powerful endorphins, increases a feeling of self worth and can be a meditation in and of itself. Exercise can be a very useful tool that combines self-compassion, meditation, and appreciation. Just by taking the time to dedicate a portion of your day to your well being is an act of self-compassion. It is also a break away from your caregiving commitments; it’s personal and rejuvenating. Sometimes when caregiving there is a feeling of being out of control.  Exercise is something we can do to bring back a sense of control, a sense of progress, a feeling of achievement, when there may be few other outlets.

To enjoy playing a sport, we need to be in shape. Caregiving is like that. With the right tools in place compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout can be eased. Family caregiving can instead be a beautiful path for growth and well being. For this to happen we need be on our game; emotionally fit for the task at hand.