Awareness – The catalyst for change & mindfulness

I spent some time yesterday thinking about awareness and what it brings. There are different places that awareness appears in our lives and how it affects us. I wrote before, but have considered even deeper how we are the most critical of the things in others that we are critical of in ourselves. It takes awareness that you’re being critical to be able to shine the spotlight on why it exists and let you become mindful of it. I love the idea of mindfulness but it can’t exist without awareness. Similarly, awareness is a powerful piece of information that has tremendous potential but if you never become mindful of the things you’re aware of then it may be little more than a daydream. The key to change in yourself and the world is to become aware, then become mindful of that awareness. There is a third component here, I’m only just becoming aware of the connection between these two so I’ll have to ponder more what that component of change or action is… allowing that maybe it’s just Will.

Yesterday, when pondering awareness, it was under the guise that “change can be invisible” and that we sometimes shift without really noticing. The anecdote that sparked it was as recent as the past few days, and here it is:

Over the weekend, my family participated in preparing and staffing a float for our local beekeeper’s association to present at the parade opening the county fair. My son, creative and hilarious, wanted me to be a flower so he could be dressed as a bee and smack me with a honey wand to pollinate me. He was excited about this, but we didn’t find a way to make that costume happen. However, one of the beekeepers had a box full of various costume parts and on Saturday pulled out a bee costume with a cap. This didn’t and doesn’t seem that odd to me and when he handed it to me as an option, I put it on and really didn’t think any more of it. I was with my family, we were having fun, the spirit of the event supported the idea of me in a bee costume. Well since then, as the pictures my wife shared with the world surfaced, family and friends (even one of the beekeepers) commented, asking “how she made me do it” or “they’re happy to see a man confident in his masculinity” and for some reason I was completely unaware there was anything remarkable about my costume wearing. I still find it unremarkable, but see this as a mindfulness and self-awareness shift in behavior.

In the last year, as I’ve become much more mindful of myself, others and myself-and-others. This is to say, I’m increasingly aware that the way I feel and react is all within myself, regardless of other’s opinions about me. When it came time to wear a costume, I was thinking first of my son who wanted me to wear a costume. Alternatively, as my mindfulness about myself has shifted, I realize that the way others see me is less important than the way I see myself. This all feels like common sense, or maybe it’s age talking, but it was a fresh perspective for me. I have changed, to some degree, in the last year (and every year really) because that’s just what happens, we get new information, we get different priorities and we change.

So, bringing this back to awareness, my thoughts yesterday were about change but I woke up this morning thinking about awareness and how that drives change and how that empowers us to make decisions or choices. Every thing you become aware of has the potential to be a thing you can make a choice about. If you’re aware of your critical behavior, you can change it. If you’re aware of how eating junk food makes you feel, you can change it. Awareness by itself is already a great thing, it lets you speak out on injustice, it lets you react to others feelings and needs. Mindfulness by itself, also amazing… and non-existent if you’re not aware in the first place. These two together are what leave you poised for change so the next step is translating it to action

 

Small Changes

A few months ago I had established myself into a routine of daily, if not every other day sitting down and writing for around half an hour. One day I got a puppy… and everything shifted. This small (arguably large I supposed) shift forced me to spend my morning routine within reach of the puppy in case it misbehaved. I could no longer seclude myself in the basement for daily yoga, I had a hard time being undisturbed for a full half hour and the routines I had been crafting so carefully were out the window… literally overnight.

Well now some time has passed, puppy has started to behave more like a family dog, and I’m still not back in that routine. As I look back at how I got started, it seems so hard to do now, so I’m looking at it strategically. The truth is that I didn’t just start writing and doing yoga every day. The truth is that I had been doing short yoga periodically, sometimes meditating and being thoughtful. Then I was making myself write at least once a week for as long as I could. It took baby steps with the biggest change being my desire. I would feel bad when I didn’t do things… I would think about when I could. It all started with the DESIRE to change and then one day I just pushed a little harder. That’s the case right now. I have a timer next to me that says I WILL type for at least 20 minutes. Even if this goes nowhere then I’ll have done this writing and will have started the process.

I look at this across everything I want to be different in my life, no and in the past. Small changes are still changes, the only place shame and pride exist are in my own mind, so why not just do it. YOU might be judging me, but I don’t know that and once I do know, it again is up to me to care about your opinion. The only thing holding me back is my own story, which is a topic for a future post I’m sure!

Years ago I was interested in new age things which led me to look into things that are pseudo-science and widely practiced. On the edge of that was handwriting analysis. It was suggested that someone skilled in this analysis could tell many things about me… and I don’t refute that at all. That being said, I also tried, years ago, to change my handwriting because I thought it was too sloppy. When I look at those two pieces of reality, I’ve always wondered… if I change my handwriting, does that change my personality? At some level, I believe so. At some level, I feel that by becoming more aware of myself, it pushes me to change another part of myself. Changing my handwriting meant I was becoming slower and more deliberate in how I communicated, this change in speed and intent made me more mindful but also more structured and more organized. I still see it when I journal by hand, some days I feel very “put together” and my handwriting is smaller and tighter. Other days I feel rushed and just want to get thoughts down or get the journaling over with and my handwriting becomes wild and erratic.

While I’m not saying that writing differently will change who I am fundamentally, taking the time to affect a certain change has a broader effect across my outlook however temporarily. I liken it to the chaos theory which most will have heard of in Jurassic Park. When a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, it could be a tsunami on the opposite side. Small changes, however chaotic, start a chain of events that have a larger impact. You might have also seen the less critically acclaimed “Butterfly Effect” which revolves entirely around how one small change in your life may affect many unexpected things.

I go into this theoretical physics tangent to just point out that change is always change, however small. If you want to see a difference in your life then it’s important to start, anywhere, in any way possible. Me writing this today will ripple, it might mean I write again tomorrow, it might just mean I pull out my journal and do some handwritten journaling again. By at least starting this, and more importantly by me putting this out into the world, I am back on a path of change… hopefully with the intent in which it is being written. We’ll see, but change is CHANGE.

Craft your own rituals

I keep seeing posts giving me a glimpse into the morning/evening/breakfast/dinner routines of the Internet cognoscenti with a promise that if I adopt the same, my life will expand dramatically. I have now also seen a few posts saying to ignore those other posts because we’re all different. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of a “Do these 10 things” or “Buy this 7 items” type lists as the list length is arbitrary and the items are typically things I already do, or can’t do, or won’t do. I’m here to say that the things you do are your own to choose, but the real value is to create your own rituals or routines. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ll expand.

I grew up in a non-religious household with periodic trips to church to stay good with God, I don’t remember a whole lot of the experience and don’t feel it shaped me too much. When I was dating my now-wife I attended Catholic Mass with her a few times and realized how much different it truly was from my churchgoing experience. There was a flow to the process, something I would see at the time as potentially comforting to those in attendance. You might be paying attention to the actual sermon, you might not, but you knew when it was time to stand, to kneel, to sing, to pray. The entirety of the Mass was its own ritual which eased the minds of the congregation. I wasn’t for me, but I could see there was a benefit.

Flash forward to this past month in my life. I was finding a flow with a morning ritual that worked for me and which helped bring peace into my life, then one day, we got a puppy. While this new addition to the family has been surprisingly drama-free, it has brought with it a change in my morning. Previously I had a pattern of getting up, tending to our other critters (chickens & older dog), making coffee, doing yoga, journaling, and blogging. Now, I had a puppy which sort of fit in there, but I had to be vigilant that I didn’t allow him to pee in the house, or chew things up… and he always needed to be near me. For the past few weeks, I always get my coffee, but yoga is intermittent, journaling and blogging is non-existent. My ritual was broken and my mental state has been sliding all the while. I feel guilty for not doing these things which were a priority in my life. I can now see how a devout Catholic could feel distraught if they miss their weekly mass, that departure of habitual comfort is rough.

In religion and in the podcast/blog world, ritual gives us comfort without the necessity of thought. Now, this can quickly fly in the face of my mantra, Be Mindful in All Things, but it doesn’t have to. I can’t speak for religious ritual, but I can talk all day about my daily habits and those of the productivity masters across the web. Ritual, on its own, gives you one (or more) less decision to make on any given day. For me, I’ve started a routine of a “Bulletproof” Coffee in the morning and then an intermittent fast until early afternoon. I no longer spend time deciding on breakfast and my morning is a tiny bit simpler. When I was doing all of the things mentioned in my previous paragraph I felt like I was taking action in my life without trying to decide what to do. Journaling is just automatic word writing, blogging does take more thought… so it was the toughest decision in my morning routine. Morning (or any time) routines are just an antidote to Decision Fatigue.

So there, that’s my point in all of this. Oddly, in this streamlined world, we have MORE decisions to make on any given day than we used to. I have more choices, more opportunities than my parents did at my age and it adds up to be a bit more stress as I try to decide if I’m doing the right thing. Creating a ritual that you follow, or a routine that happens daily, you have a little less stress and hopefully a little easier day. But wait, “What about Mindfulness,” you say? Well, by now you know that Mindfulness is really about being present in the moment. If you have a routine or ritual you’re following, just be present in that process. I grind my coffee beans in the morning, so I’m considering that process while I do it. I take the time to smell the coffee as it brews, I am deliberate in my measurements for butter, coconut oil, protein powder, whatever. While it’s a thing I do every day, automatically, I’m still present every time I do it.

When you’re ready to simplify your morning, your lunch, your midday break, see if you can create an automatic behavior (what I keep calling ritual) that you can be mindful while doing, but that you don’t have to think about before you do it. I’m sure I’ll come up with a 10 things list at some point, but right now I encourage you to make your own 10 (or 7 or 4) item list of morning behaviors and commit to repeating them daily. With these things lumped into a routine, you’re slightly more free to explore other more pressing decisions!

Be Considerate

I happened to utter that phrase this morning. I was thinking about where to place things and said that I needed to “be considerate” of the things that were already there and where they would go, specifically these were tools that had a purpose for their positioning. As I said it, those two words struck me as a parental phrase offered when trying to teach our kids to be decent human beings. Of course, I was talking about considering the environment, a totally different use of the words, but it still struck me. To “be considerate” is a very mindful thing to do.

To consider something is to think about it, to weigh the outcome. “Consider the consequences” when you are about to make some rash decision. This is very focused on you and the outcome of your actions. “Consider” in this case is to think about and weigh the results of an action. In the case of this adage, mindfulness is necessary to stop and think before you act. If you can “consider the consequences” every time you make a decision then you’ll be living mindfully with regards to yourself and how the choices you make will affect your immediate or even long-term future.

Being considerate of others, that’s still considering an outcome, but in this case, it’s more about walking a mile in their shoes. If you can be considerate of someone else, you can awaken your own empathy and start hopefully save someone else from their negative emotions. By being considerate of someone’s feelings, you’re stopping before being mean. By being considerate of someone else’s actions, you’re allowing that there might be some decision or purpose behind what they’ve done. Again, these are mindful acts. Empathy is one of the most mindful traits you can really embrace and luckily one begets the other. The more you consider how someone else will react to your actions, you give yourself a reason to continue to do that for other people. Especially when you see that your consideration has a positive effect. When you’re considering why someone did something, you can head down the rabbit hole of how it affects YOU or you can see that maybe there’s another side to the story that is completely based on them. By letting THEM have their own reasons, and accepting them at face value, you can save yourself from stress and anger.

There are so many things to consider about consideration. To my original thought, considering where you place thing is an art form? a science? a practice when it comes to interior design. The Chinese concept of Feng Shui is all about considering where things are placed for optimal flow of chi in your house. In my example, where I place a drill press may get in the way of placing boards when I want to use my miter saw. There is a flow, be it something as ephemeral as Chi or as literal as a board, and consideration is again a mindfulness when planning and when doing.

The big consideration, one that I’ve spent much more time considering in my 40s than in any previous decade, Death. Considering that you, your loved ones, your enemies all face that inevitability can sometimes bring consideration for how you treat them now, and how you continue to treat them. Either by considering that someday you may lose them or one day you’ll be gone, either is a heavy weight to let sit. I know it’s a hard one to think about but I’ve found tremendous strength in remembering that ultimate end. Some folks will do anything to avoid thinking about it, leading to different mindless pursuits as a result. By knowing that it’s always out there can hopefully give you some peace instead.

I’m adding some footnotes, a new thing for me, as I thought of examples through my writing and wanted to give some bonus reading.

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.

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.