Spring Training for Your Brain

Spring Training for Your Brain

When you look around your house and see it full to the brim, what do you think?

Do you think, “Wow, I live an amazing, full life and my house is a perfect reflection of that!” Or do you think, “If only I could find “x” I could get on with things.” If you’re in the second camp then a bit of spring-cleaning might be in order.

Most often we think of spring-cleaning as de-cluttering our possessions. But did you ever think of doing some spring training for your brain with daily mindfulness?

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Mindfulness and the Sweetness of Life

Mindfulness and the Sweetness of Life

I sometimes think of standing in my childrens’ shoes as they head off for university. What would excite me enough to devote years of study to?

 

It would be neuroscience. 

I am fascinated by the workings of the mind and the brain and how they affect so much of our experience of life. More often than not the books stacking up in my reading pile are about the wild reaches in the mind-body connection.

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Don’t Resolve. Let Your Heart Leap Instead.

Don’t Resolve. Let Your Heart Leap Instead.

We’re at that time of year again when the world is full of people who want to help us fix ourselves.

Have you noticed that many New Years’ resolutions have a scolding tone of voice? No more desserts for you until you’ve cleaned up your exercise routine, young lady. I told you not to spend so much over the holidays, young man. Now go clean that mess up!

Let’s try a different approach, shall we? Let’s go carrot instead of stick.*

Something New for 2016

I am entering 2016 from a different angle and I invite you to come along for the ride. I’m going to frame out the year through a series of 25 questions that ponder some of life’s intriguing questions. With that 25 questions I’m going to create 100 things – blog posts, webinars, courses, doodles, photos, etc. Anything that helps me express my ideas and experiences about that question. A different question every two weeks. I’ll be diving into the questions with clients, posting on Facebook, tweeting, journalling, Instagramming, creating and checking in with people around me.

Where did this idea come from? Almost out of the blue. I casually joined a group called Quest2015 in early December. I thought it was a group business planning exercise, and it was. What caught my eye initially was a 10% discount for an erasable calendar. I thought it would be great for planning the year out. This makes me laugh now.

Open Wonder

My whole sense of what is possible in life was cracked open in December. I know, I know. That’s a pretty big statement. And we hear phrases like that all the time for some pretty mundane events. But it was a real game-changer, to quote the biz types.

Through small doors come life-changing experiences. Jeffrey Davis, of Tracking Wonder, put out the invitation to business artists to use 12 prompts from a group of innovative thinkers to dive deeper into the why of our businesses. I knew, and had an intellectual crush, on quite a few of them. How could I say no?

One of the early prompts was from Pam Houston. She is the author of four books, including novel Contents May Have Shifted and short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness. I haven’t read her work (soon to be fixed) but others call her beloved and insanely talented. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing by Writers, and teaches in the Pacific University low residency MFA program.

She asked us to sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?

My Leap

This thing made my heart leap when my husband hung it before Christmas.

Shiny Christmas Wreath_Deirdre Walsh

And it made my heart leap every time I stepped out the door and I’d forgotten that was there. Why?

Well, it’s shiny and pretty — and I love shiny things. I used to make things like this all the time but I stopped. Life got kind of serious and difficult and I forgot about making things. Then it got busy and making shiny things was frivolous. And often I was too tired to make things. More spiritually than physically.

And I finished it! I started with a hula hoop, some pool noodles, duct tape and a crapload of ornaments. Now it’s a circle of shininess. Sometimes there were balls on the ground and I knew that the squirrels had taken it for a spin. That makes my heart happy. I’d just put them back on for their next spin.

My heart leaps because I have a sense of getting a ‘next time’ to spin on the shiny circle again myself. Making that shiny circle of Christmas sparkliness seemed to herald a return to energy and possibility. Here’s what’s on my list . . .

Dive into sensual pleasures. Movement that nourishes. Joy in others. The beauty of nature. Giving love away like it’s a bottomless pool. Laughing with friends until you cry or spit or expel something. Pretty things that please the eye. Good music. Deeply connecting with others. Seeing people grow into their potential. Remembering warm times from the past. Making things. Writing things. Cooking things. 
 

January is a tricky time of year. There’s a natural settling in that comes from the lead of winter. Many of our animal brethren are hibernating and the song of cozy sings. For those who are internal and introspective there can be too much burrowing in and losing contact with the pleasures and joys of nature and connection. To much disconnection from the beauty that life offers if we can see it.

I find my body gets so out of synch over Christmas that a sense of depression falls on it by the end of the month. And with my body goes my mind. Adopting the “New Year’s resolutions” of healthy eating and exercise is more about restoring mental and physical balance than losing weight or changing a size. I want to restore the connection to my nourishing inner life.

Nourish Yourself

Sometimes I have trouble recognizing the things that make my heart leap, even with the return of healthy kindness to my body. Then I turn to another two of my intellectual crushes — Rick Hanson and Barbara Fredericton. I’ve been very lucky to meet both of them and was dweeby when I did.

Rick Hanson wrote Hardwiring Happiness, which is filled with practical mindfulness practices that help your brain balance it’s tendency to see the negative. Barbara Frederickson is a researcher and professor of psychology at UNC at Chapel Hill.  Her research reveals how positive emotions, fleeting as they are, can tip the scales toward a life of flourishing. Her Positivity website is a good place to start and has a handy app that helps you see where your emotions are at.

Barbara Frederickson

This is a perfect time for journalling and visiting with yourself. Ask — where does your heart leap? Pull out your pictures from last year. As you leaf or page through, remember the moments that your heart leapt. As you have a few moments of quiet let your mind wander to the times of pleasure, happiness and joy. Make a list of the important people in your life and write down those heart leaping experiences with them. Then do the same for those times you shared with strangers. Anything that brings you back to the joys of 2014. Let your mind and heart take you from there.

Joy_Deirdre WalshI divide my experiences into pleasure, happiness, and joy. For me, pleasure is a personal experience. Some delicious chocolate, a good meal, a nice glass of wine. Happiness is a harmony thing. The moments with family and friends of warmth, successes, connection, brightness and order make me happy. Joy comes from a larger place, a place where I can witness the unfolding of what is beautiful and right in the world.

*Not to say that stick doesn’t have it’s place. Sometimes the stick of a deadline or a promise is just what will keep you chugging along. But it’s a heavy-handed tool and you’re much more treasured than that.

Photo:  Love joy_ Dave Parker CC 2.0

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How Mindfulness Saved the Day in Peru

Even in the middle of a dream-come-true things can get dicey.

The trip to Peru with my cousin had been in the works for five years. We had a big-ish birthday coming up and we wanted to celebrate with something memorable. The last time we were together her daughter was hiking the Inca Trail. That dream caught our imaginations and trekking through the Andes became the goal.

And what a dream it was. If Peru isn’t on your bucket list I’d suggest that you seriously consider putting it there. The people are warm and friendly (perhaps not taxi drivers), the scenery is breathtaking, the food is world-class and the whole country has a vibe of being fully and completely ALIVE.

Much like life, even within the wonderfulness there were a few times where things went “sideways” or fell into the “not so much” camp. In those moments my days and years of practicing mindfulness made all the difference in living peacefully through moments (rather than hours) of discomfort.

Really Living the Dream

One of the secret superpowers of mindfulness is that it delivers “emotional control” when you practice on a regular basis. Now that’s not a very sexy term. And it certainly isn’t going to stop you in your tracks to say “I need to get me some of that.” But in the face of unexpected difficulties it’s the difference between living the dream or creating a nightmare.

The best part is that it shows up without even really trying. It’s just part of the package. A fancier term for it is mindful acceptance. Instead of whipping up a storm of drama in our minds based on what we “deserve” we can drop the drama and deal with the reality of the situation.

How Awful Could It Be?

There were a couple of times when this feeling of acceptance made all the difference. First up was camping. Now, I don’t like camping at all. But there was really no way around it on the trek. How awful could it be?

Well, there was a splendour of shades of awful. Cold awful. Ice on the tent awful. Hard to breathe at the altitude awful. Awake all night listening to the dogs and pigs fight outside the tent awful. But, you know what? Time passes a lot more quickly when you let it float by. Morning seemed to come quicker and the night was forgotten at the first sight of the truly gorgeous day that was ahead of us.

 

Lesson learned:

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you have to be awful.

There was an easy opportunity to spin into a nightmare during our trip home. Our flight in Cusco was cancelled and that cascaded into a whole stinking mess since there were shutdowns at O’Hare and backlog through the system. Oh, and the earthquake. We were looking at a 24 – 36 delay on top of the 18 hour trip home.

There were a lot of people on the flight who were threatening and melting down right from the beginning. 12 hours in most of them looked like they’d been on a bad bender. Hunched over – big dark circles – embattled. Their being upset was exhausting for everyone.

 As I stood in line for the sixth hour, trying to get a boarding pass (not consecutive, thank heavens), my route appeared — 16 hours in Lima, then a 5-hour flight; 8 hours in Miami and then a 3-hour flight. And that was a good deal! I started practicing my breathing, calling for acceptance and generally trying not to tear up. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my cool with the same degree of sleep deprivation and turmoil before starting mindfulness.

 

Lesson learned – part two:

Being awful is as hard on you as it is on everyone around you.

Mindfulness is a skill and a tool that can help you lower the impact of “awful” on you. You have stronger relationships by letting the “awful” float by. You stop letting your discomfort and pain spill out on top of everyone else. You laugh off the challenges. Or, at least, you just feel better after a challenging time — you look better and you get back to the fun stuff a lot quicker.

Posted by Deirdre Walsh

The Promise of Integrative Medicine

The Promise of Integrative Medicine

After taking a few turns through the healthcare system with family young and old, I found myself more and more disheartened with the whole process.  We didn’t see the positive results we hoped for from the rounds of doctor visits, hospitalizations and changes in meds.  This wasn’t because of poor care or lack of commitment, though.  We met a lot of incredibly dedicated and caring doctors and nurses, and for that we will always be profoundly grateful.

It’s just that none of the medical teams we met ever worked like a team.  We could see glimmers of coordination from time to time, but more often individuals made significant medical decisions without even thinking about what might be going on elsewhere.  We considered ourselves very lucky on the few occasions when we, as family, were included in the discussions.

We were on our own.

There was no central resource, no single person who had an overall plan.  There was so much pointless discomfort and suffering because things fell through the cracks of different specialties.  I’ve heard from others who have had close encounters with the health care system that our experience is sadly familiar.

It left me longing for a better experience, and for a guide who could help us navigate these confusing waters. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered a new approach to medicine.

One that gave me hope.

Integrative medicine takes the best of Western medicine – diagnostic imaging, surgery, drug therapy, radiation, and physical and psychological therapies – and combines it with complementary healing therapies – like naturopathy, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, meditation – but only when the benefits are scientifically proven. The elder statesman is Dr. Andrew Weil at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. More and more teaching hospitals in the U.S. are getting on board with integrative options for patients.

One of the best ideas behind IM is that you – the patient – are at the centre of your care.  Most people have a primary care doc, but they also consult with a range of other health professionals who have their own advice and treatments – naturopaths, pharmacists, chiropractors, counsellors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, etc.  What the IM approach does is create a way for all those practitioners to work together and integrate their individual treatments into one overall plan.

Holistic Approach

It’s a new idea and it may be a while before your doctor gets onboard. There are a few MDs in Ontario who are open to complementary medicine but they usually operate outside the government-funded system. The physicians who object to IM claim that it’s diluting the scientific rigour of the Western medical system. The very valid point they’re making is that, as a healthcare consumer, you need to be very discerning about the kind of healthcare you are receiving.

Perhaps it’s time to create a different kind of relationship with your doctor. You can use the principles of IM in your relationship with your doctor, even if the funding and coordination isn’t there. Be open about all the kinds of therapies you are using to maintain your health. Start a conversation about your diet, exercise, sleep and other health habits to get their input.

Be a partner in your health

Look for this kind of approach from everyone who influences your health:

    • A partnership between you  and the practitioner that emphasizes the healing process
    • An openness to use of conventional and complementary methods to stimulate the body’s innate healing response
    • Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness and disease, including mind, spirit and community as well as body
    • Recognition that good medicine should be based in the best possible science
    • Use of natural, effective, less-invasive interventions whenever possible

Photo:  In 30 Minutes guides