Slow Down

Mindfulness is a contemplative pursuit, you’re not seeing a mindful racecar driver or fireman, at least not while they’re on the clock. The truth of this is that mindfulness might not work in too fast-paced an activity, though once you’re done… No, mindfulness really shines when you can slow down enough to reflect. Mindfulness is a practice, the more you do it the faster you get, the more automatic it is, but more often than not it’s just a pause button that lets you consider your situation more fully.

If you’re finding it hard to be mindful in the middle of a conversation, while writing things down, while driving or working outside then try slowing down from the start. Enter your task with a slower mindset from the beginning; if it’s a conversation then talk slower or make your focus to listen to the other versus trying to come up with your response. If you’re writing, take a breath after a sentence or a paragraph or try doing the writing by hand instead of typed. If you’re driving, just stay in the right lane and observe the posted speed limit. Keep returning to these points as you proceed and try to stay on the slow path, try remembering or being aware of your breath as you go about your task.

I know it can be hard to be deliberately slow, it often takes some planning. If you’re in a hurried conversation then it might be because you’re trying to make a point, if you’re typing really fast then you might have more you need to type so you want it to be as fast as possible and if you’re speeding to work then you might be excited to get to work or maybe you’re just running late. Being slow and deliberate is a planned act, so you might enter a conversation to hear someone else and just connect, if you’re typing or writing then you might be slower while journaling and if you’re driving, just leave a little early. In any of these cases, you have to be prepared for the slowness. The more often you practice, the more instinctive it’ll become.

Slowness as a mindful habit is definitely easier said than done, remembering that you want to be slower goes against much of the automatic life that most of us live. To get started, rather than try to take a thing you already do and make it slower, you can instead create blocks of time where you’re going to work on it. Do something that isn’t automatic for you normally so that you’re being forced to be double mindful and concentrate on the task. Go for a walk, with the restriction that you’ll count your breath, or do a soft-focused gaze as you walk, this will force you to be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Do it for 1 minute, 5 minutes or as long as you’re comfortable. Make a point of noticing your surroundings, be where you’re walking rather than focused on the horizon, or your pace, or the meeting you need to get back to. As weather warms up and it’s nice outside, there are plenty of natural things you can do slowly.

Ideally, by starting with deliberate acts and then normal “mindless” tasks, you’ll reach a point where your first instinct is to slow your mind and body. I said at the beginning that a racecar driver or fireman can’t be mindful at work, but with a constant practice, that driver will be noticing all of the cars around them, that fireman will be aware of their dangers in their rooms. I may have even been wrong to suggest they were NOT mindful, as their tasks require a very deliberate presence of mind that seems like instinct at first. Feel free to explore tasks that might NOT be mindful, then challenge yourself to look at them from an “always present” mindset and consider that maybe the more intense the task, the more likely you’re forced to combine automatic behavior with spacial or personal awareness. Maybe mindfulness is possible in everything we do.

The Mindset is the key

As I’ve practised mindful habits and become more self-aware, I’ve noticed that my fundamental approach to life has changed… is continuing to change. I’m constantly moving towards some inner goal that is peace or happiness. I’m not necessarily trying to change that part, I’m just slowing down the things I do enough to be mindful and the result is that I’m feeling less hurried. Working for work’s sake, not so important. Pursuing money to “get rich” less relevant. Whether I work harder or not, I am still happy. Whether I have more money or not, I’m still content. The ends no longer justify the means and increasingly the rat race seems less compelling.

I’ll allow that much of this is perspective that comes with age, but when I look at what I want in the rest of my life (and I’ve still got more than a couple decades of “work” left in me) increasingly I see the merits of what I’ll call a Retirement Mindset. I’ve spent too many years looking at how to make more money for the sake of some illusion of wealth and not really any time truly looking at what that means. I’m still young, but moreso look at the benefits of retirement here lately. Now, when I say Retirement Mindset, I don’t mean no work, going fishing all the time. When I say Retirement Mindset I mean looking at what I’m doing each day, evaluating it against my values and my happiness. Realizing in your 40s that life is short and you should spend your time in pursuit of meaning can be a blessing, I’m happy to start to have this perspective now. To realize it sooner? Oh, what a joy that would have been.

Retirement Mindset, to me, means I get up without an alarm. I spend my morning in contemplation or exercising, or journaling or some combination of the three. When I’ve finished my morning meal or coffee then I look out the window, take a deep breath and consider what I might do today that has some value. As I consider that money doesn’t grow on trees and I have nothing coming in for free, I still spend my week going to work and doing my best to be mindful in this job for someone else to be my best, to try to learn from it in a way that helps me. Ultimately, one day I want to spend MY time in MY interests, whether it’s revenue generating or not.

Sadly I sometimes let the negative voice get too loud, he’s saying the same thing you might be saying. “Yah, that sounds great if you’re independently wealthy.” But I’m not, far from it. As I’ve grown older I realize that having more doesn’t bring more happiness. A bigger house is just more to clean, to heat, to cool. Having more “stuff” just means I have more clutter to deal with and be frustrated with. That being said, I still want stuff, new stuff (see my last post about buying a car) but when I catch myself getting too caught up in that then I can step back and try to re-acquire this mindset. Unfortunately, I don’t wake up with that mindset every day or even most days. Today, I’m feeling blessed as I look out at the world, as I look in at my world, and I feel that money and working more won’t fill me, so I wanted to take the time to consider that.

Mindful or Emotional Purchasing

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of cars & trucks. If left unchecked, I’d buy new cars constantly and be spending all of my money on car payments. That’s an easy thing to be aware of and to check, finances don’t allow me to be so frivolous. That being said, I’ve had a bug recently and keep exploring the idea of a new vehicle, taking test drives and passionately exploring the statistics of whatever is catching my eye. Now, without paying attention, I start to get direction from my emotional center… I start to WANT this expensive addition to my life. I’m fortunate to have a car (a Jeep Wrangler) for me and a car (Subaru Outback) for my wife, both in great condition, both relatively new and both paid off. Why would I even consider putting myself into debt to feel the rush of a new car? Great question, one that I keep exploring as I go hunting in my desire to be ever mindful.
This mindful pursuit of big purchases is kind of new, the Jeep I have now was a bit of an impulse buy. I didn’t warn my wife that it was happening, I didn’t discuss the feasibility with her. To be fair, I know why I “just did it”, I was sure her response would have a solid no. That being said, when I arrived at home with a brand new Jeep, she tried to say No and I laid out a list of reasons it was good. Unfortunately, I’m one of the world’s best arguers (debaters, a debatable term in this case) and can make a pretty decent sales pitch. If I’m emotionally attached then I can really dig down and justify almost anything. I gave her an emotional pitch and it worked. On the day I signed the paperwork on this new chunk of debt I had more first panic attack ever… that was neat. I spent the next 2 years driving the Jeep (it’s fun, I still love it) and also learning about anxiety & panic. It’s possible my Jeep was a mid-life crisis purchase. So, this vehicle purchase has arguably shaped my past 4 years dramatically… I’m reaping unexpected rewards from that purchase.
How is this debt possibly a good thing? Well, the anxiety attack and following regular anxiety forced me to turn the spotlight inward and really look at myself, to become mindful. I’m coming up on the 5th anniversary of that purchase and you see me writing a blog post about mindfulness. I’m not sure if I’d be here right now without that focus… though maybe it would have been a motorcycle or a boat. In any case, for me, that purchase was good because of the forced life changes it brought. I do NOT recommend this method of life changes, it’s been a rough road in many ways.
Anyway, buying a new vehicle (another, brand new Jeep) has somehow made it into my mind again. I was actually going to write this post a few days ago but the idea of looking at that decision mindfully eluded me. I made excuses to myself about why not to write it, mostly because I knew as soon as I started to be objective then I’d lose the desire. I knew, in my core, it wasn’t a good time for me or my family. I did evaluate all of the purchase options, the costs, the reasons it would be a good purchase for the family and the bad. I had my pro/con list, I had a very honest perspective on this path. But I was still letting my emotional center sit at the helm, and it knew that a mindful pause would be catastrophic.
I’m not going to say I just took a breath and everything was Ok. I took it a short test drive on Monday and liked what I saw/felt. I went home, thought a bit harder, got a bit more excited… being in a new vehicle felt real and fun and possible. By Wednesday I had started to talk myself back down, but on Monday they had suggested I borrow it for a few hours so I could let my wife see it, so on Thursday I took it out for a longer drive, we went to the city, got caught in a March snowstorm on the way home and it handled everything brilliantly… you’d think that would have sealed the deal. It didn’t instead I realized that what I already have would also handle it quite well, for significantly less $$$. I went home afterwards, and the bug was gone. Well sort of gone. I’d still go back and buy it if unlimited funds.
So, what’s the point of this story? Well, I did keep myself mindful through the journey, I did make sure to evaluate everything. I did make sure to communicate with my wife through the entire process. Most importantly, I never put myself in the position to be forced to decide right now. While emotions were driving me along the path, my “mindful self” was there making small adjustments to keep the emotional self at bay. I spent time considering the best and worst outcomes, I evaluated if I could meet the same emotional need with what I have, I also talked through the needs & desires with my wife. In the end, I’m keeping what I have. I have set aside a small space for my emotional self that said we could look again later, but no promises. I’m confident in my process, I’m more and more confident in my mindful self to keep me from becoming too invested in expensive choices. I swear I have the angel on one shoulder (my mindful self) and a devil on the other (my emotional self.) My job is to let them both talk, let myself enjoy the emotional highs and temper the emotional lows all while being mindful of my head in the center.

Expectation vs Reality

Everything in our life, for most people, is based on expectations. We expect people to behave in certain ways. We expect results from specific actions. We expect our life to turn out the way we planned. Unfortunately, these expectations are often wrong or worse, they’re wreaking havoc on our mental health. Sometimes our expectations cause discomfort while they’re still expectations, and sometimes the results are what cause the pain. In either case, these are completely states of mind causing grief in your life.

This whole battle with expectations really strikes me as I consider my place in life, my family and how I’m spending my time with them or with my work. While I’m not in the throes of a mid-life crisis, I can definitely identify with reaching a point in life where I consider what I’ve done, what I thought I’d be doing and what I can reasonably expect to still do. It wasn’t long ago that I WAS properly battling with what I expected of my life and being disappointed, depressed even, that my plans of 20 years didn’t all bear fruit. With a bit of perspective and introspection since that realization, I’m actually quite happy with the results.

In my youth, I had 2 goals really, to have a family and to be a millionaire. I’m happy to say I’ve achieved one of them and honestly pretty happy that I failed on the other. While I’m not saying that to be a millionaire is a bad thing, I’m not sure what my path through life would have been or if I’d have managed to be who I am today. I’ll never know for sure, but I think my finances have left me good footing for growth.

Expectations about my life are one thing, but it’s big, overarching and hard to really see whilst in the thick of it. Expectations vs Reality on a day to day basis can be easier to spot and definitely easier to use as a mindful practice. As I was contemplating this post, I was driving to work and dealing with the stress or non-stress of a 30-minute commute. I took the opportunity to observe my drive, the other drivers and my reaction to them, and the various uncontrollable conditions which I was dealing with. As one driver moved into the right lane to pass me, I was irritated that he was “driving carelessly” to gain 3 seconds on me in the race to work. Of course, I sped up so he couldn’t get back over in front of me. As I accelerated I realized what I was doing and chuckled. While the other driver might be driving dangerously, they also may have an emergency to deal with… or maybe they were already angry and I was just adding to that by trying to block them. I eased up on the pedal, even changed lanes, and let the whole thing go. A little less stress for me AND probably for them as well (I’ll never know.)

Driving a car is full of expectations and our chance to be irritated by what we expect to happen and what we don’t expect to happen. I often find driving to be one of my best mindful times, there is so much happening and so many different ways I’m handling life summed up in a simple drive. That’s probably an entire blog all by itself.

 

Anxiety and Depression

Mindfulness at it’s best is bring awareness of the present moment, removing the rumination on the past or dreading the future. Also known as Depression and Anxiety respectively. When we let our monkey brain run wild we run the risk of falling into those two mental diseases, among others. This is much more easily said than done, I’ll state that to begin with, but it is possible and with practice, it becomes easier.

 

In the beginning, it’s helpful to form a habit of checking your mindfulness throughout the day. If you make a habit of seeing if you’re focusing on the past or future too much then you’ll start to see yourself at the beginning of an episode you don’t wish to participate in. Maybe this is a reminder on your computer that pops up or an alarm on your phone or watch. Maybe you have a string tied around your wrist and when you see it, you stop and check where your awareness lies. As you get better at this then you can start use behaviours or thought patterns as the trigger to see where your mindfulness is. I’ve found I’m good at testing this when I start to drive or when I’m walking outside.

 

When you find the time, just take a deep breath or three and ask yourself some questions; How am I feeling? What am I feeling? Can I stop this pattern? Is this healthy? Anything that gets you to step outside of the emotion can help, this is mostly about changing the pattern before it’s too late. I’ve had the greatest success, when answering, to answer the question out loud if possible. I have a hard time doing it, but when I’m brave enough, a primal yell can really release that energy that’s built up.

 

As I continue to focus on the questions I will try to also observe my breath, take as deep a breath as possible and exhale for as long as possible as well. I will also, if safety permits, relax my focus so that I’m not looking at anything. Often this relaxed gaze manifests physically as me relaxing my neck and face and staring straight ahead. I keep breathing and gazing in this manner until I’m not feeling a strong, undesired emotion anymore. While there is definitely some mental dialogue happening in my head as well, mostly observing these behaviours.

 

The real trick for these suggestions is to be ahead of the heavy, strong emotions. If I’m already anxious or depressed it can take a while to turn that off, presuming I’m even able to. For me, these have been most effective when used early and when I can silence the monkey brain who wants to mention how absurd these techniques are… sometimes he likes to call me a hippy or a wacko for trying to use behavior instead of medication to resolve issues, but I’m getting better at turning down his volume if not muting him altogether. If I can turn off the chatterbox then you can too.

Mindfulness and Purpose

Mindfulness is your friend when you get lost, emotional or pulled away from your true nature. It can be there to help if you feel the pull of any negative emotion, giving you the chance to pull yourself back into your vision of what you wish to do in your life. Don’t be confident that it will give you purpose, though it’s certainly possible that it can, rather it’s there as a waypoint to bring you back into focus. This is often the case for me.
In the past few years, I’ve found myself more anxious, worrying about me and my family’s future. At my worst, I’ve become depressed, frustrated and apathetic, generally unmotivated to do more than browse the internet. Consumed by distraction, it’s very easy to just float along without purpose and the further you float, the harder it can seem to get back on track.
Years ago, we’ll say about 20 of them, I was fascinated by, and constantly studying philosophy and religion. I read regularly and had high minded thoughts of making the world a better place. As time passed, I let myself get wrapped up in my 9-5 job and eventually got married, had kids, and didn’t spend much time thinking of those things. It wasn’t until my 40s that I start to look at the future again, but this time with a more concerned eye. I had kids that needed to be educated and fed, the world seemed to be going downhill and I was left employed in a position that didn’t give me purpose. These conditions introduced me to a new feeling, anxiety. (Or it seemed new to me anyway.)
The blessing of anxiety, for me, was that it threw me back into my youthful attempts at meditation, minimalism, mindfulness and generally finding peace in the “right now.” I was reminded that I didn’t need to own more things or take on more bills to accomplish happiness. Anxiety brought into sharp focus the truth that my happiness was always by my own choice and my own actions. This isn’t to say that if I wanted to I could just “get that dream job” but rather that I had the choice to be happy right now. If I couldn’t find joy in myself while working this job, why would it be different with another. If I wasn’t motivated to do things in my free time, how would retirement change that? Rather than dread the future, Mindfulness is teaching me to enjoy right now and remember that it’s my choice to be happy.
As I spend more time being mindful it reminds me of those days in my youth when I wanted to help myself and others to live a more peaceful, blessed life. Oddly enough, getting married and having kids is the BEST reason for me to find peace and learn to encourage it in others so that I could share it with my family. Beyond that, I strongly believe that everyone will stand to benefit from it and use it to strengthen their own purpose. With Mindfulness, it’s easier to step back and remind ourselves WHY we’re doing the things we do, for better or worse.
DISCLAIMER:  My anxiety was definitely a by-product of my lifestyle choices and was very treatable with meditation and mindfulness, that isn’t the case for everyone and I encourage you to do what’s right for YOU. I firmly believe that becoming more mindful can help everyone, but don’t want you to do anything that makes your life harder than it may already be as you struggle with Anxiety. Be an active part of your healing and you’re already well on your way.

What is Mindfulness? What is Mindfullish?

Mindfulness, it’s a term that gets mentioned regularly across all media these days. Generally, it’s a word that goes arm in arm with “Meditation” to the point that one might even think that “Mindfulness” means “Meditation.” While the two are well paired together, mindfulness is a more usable word in your daily vocabulary. You can be mindful of just about everything you do, and if you’re being mindful through your day then it will be very complimentary to your meditation practice if you have one.

At it’s simplest, “mindfulness” is being present and aware of the current moment, the thing you’re doing, the place you’re doing it and the experience of that moment. It can be as simple as noticing your breathing and simply paying attention to that breath, but it can also be your attention to actions like walking, exercising or driving. “Being present in the moment” is a new age sounding term that can be confusing if you’re not actually practising it, and it can be difficult to establish a habit doing. It takes an effort to distance yourself from looking at your cell phone, or your watch or your fidget spinner. Being mindful means being deliberate in your avoidance of distraction and actively seeking to be aware of your environment.

“Mindfullish” is the recognition that this isn’t easy to do all the time, heck it isn’t easy to do it some of the time. We’re actively conditioning ourselves to seek distraction and to step away from thoughtful time. We feel we need to be DOING things and even if that action is taken to stave off boredom. In truth, “boredom” can lead to discoveries about oneself or inspire insights into problems you’re dealing with, so avoiding it could be more harmful than helpful. The goal of being “Mindfullish” is to move past the esoteric and see how mindful behaviour is something everyone can pursue and from which everyone can benefit. It might lead you to meditation, and that’s great, but it might just mean that your day is slightly less stressed, your slightly faster coming or your temper is slightly lengthened. Regardless, it can benefit and shape your life.

While I’ve been focusing on being deliberately mindful for a while now, I keep seeing little incremental improvements in my quality of life. Yesterday morning, I dropped my favorite coffee mug and saw it shatter. I had a moment of frustrated anger where I let out my initial exclamation (which may have contained some choice words), but that was fleeting. As I took a breath, stepped back and appraised the situation the negative emotion dissipated and I chuckled. I was still frustrated to lose that item but realized what’s done is done, getting angry or sad help no one and that I could always replace the mug. It was a small moment, but one that could easily be a turning point in my morning where “everything was going wrong” or “it’s going to be one of those days” and set myself up mentally for a day of struggle.

I’m hopeful that being Mindfullish can spread to everyone and that when we’re flipping through Facebook, Instagram or Imgur that we can realize the moment and periodically step to the side and reflect on how much that matters or how it should affect the rest of your life choices at that moment. Being Mindfullish is fully attainable by every human, whether you’re taking distraction medication, anti-anxiety medication or just “too busy to think about it.” For now, just stand up, walk to a window and reflect on right now and breathe.