Category Archives: Mindfulness

3 Reasons Why You Should Meditate Outdoors

I’ve slowly been trying to incorporate more meditation into my routine after the long break I took from it earlier this spring.

This spring has been a chilly, wet one so far here in Toronto. We’re only now beginning to have a few days in a row where it hasn’t rained and the temperature has been above 10 degrees Celsius (or 50 Fahrenheit for those of you who live in the United States).

Along with continuing to meditate in noisy places, one of my goals for this summer is to sit and meditate outside once the weather warms up a few more degrees and it’s no longer quite so uncomfortable to sit still on a cold bench on a cloudy day.

I’ve been meditating during long walks in the meantime. It’s actually the first technique I used when I began meditating years ago, and it’s still something I find soothing when I’m having trouble staying focused while sitting down.

There are three basic reasons why I love outdoor meditation so much, and today we’re going to explore them.

Reason #1: Natural Background Noises Aren’t as Distracting

When I’m meditating at home, I might hear thumping music from the apartment next to mine, a distant argument from the other side of the hall, the thud of something heavy being dropped on an uncarpeted floor, the ding of an elevator door, or any other number of other miscellaneous noises. The building I l live in is wonderful in many other ways, but preventing sound from travelling is not one of them.

Can I filter these things out when necessary? Absolutely, but I find the rustle of leaves or a bird singing to be much less distracting than the sound of other humans living their lives. If I’m already struggling to focus on clearing my mind of all thoughts, it’s nice to remove that extra layer of stuff that is competing for my attention.

I don’t know about you, but I also find it easier to tune out the sounds of nature in general. My brain might register that birds are tweeting, but I don’t consciously think about them the same way I would if I heard a conversation happening in the background that I could almost – but not quite – make out.

Reason #2: Nature Is Soothing

Few things lift my mood faster than going somewhere where there aren’t any buildings, roads, shops, or billboards to be seen. I love taking a brisk walk on a shady path or watching squirrels run around looking for food.

There is something incredibly relaxing about being surrounded by so many different species of plants even if they have been planted, manicured, or kept up by humans in some way. Visiting a large national park where everything there looks more or less the same as it did a thousand years ago is exciting, but I also find joy in visiting parks that have sidewalks, benches, and large fields of recently-mowed grass.

This is one of the many reasons why I love trees. Other than trimming off the occasional dead branch, there aren’t a lot of things you can do to a tree to make it less wild. A mature oak is going to look roughly the same no matter where it’s growing or what has happened around it. There is something beautiful and soothing about that.

(I’ve joked about being a friend of the Ents in the past. Maybe there is a kernel of truth to that in the sense that i have a strong affinity for trees.)

Reason #3: It’s a Smart Idea to Practice Meditating Under Many Different Circumstances

The biggest reason why I began occasionally meditating in noisy places last winter is that I wanted to expand the number of places where I could meditate.

You will not always be able to meditate in a cool, clean, quiet room that is free from every distraction.

While no one in my family is currently ill, I want to be able to meditate in a hospital waiting room if necessary while we wait to hear word from the doctor.  I also want to be able to meditate in cramped airplane seats, hard park benches on warm summer days, dusty rooms, and anywhere else I could possibly need to slow down my thoughts and live in the moment.

Meditation isn’t something that’s only supposed to work when you’re having a good day. The benefits of it extend to every part of the human experience if you do it regularly.

Hopefully I won’t have to meditate when I’m feeling physical or emotional discomfort anytime soon, but I’d like to be well-accustomed to breathing through all kinds of different circumstances when that does happen again in the future. Think of it like practicing a speech over and over again before you present it to your audience. You’ll probably still feel nervous when the big day comes, but at least you’ll know the material inside and out.

If you haven’t tried outdoor meditation yet, I hope this post has encouraged you to give it a try. It is a wonderful addition to all of the other forms of meditation out there. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’ve only just begun to explore its possibilities!

 

Confessions of a Meditation Dropout

I have a confession to make: I haven’t meditated in weeks.

It took me a while to figure out why I’d stopped. The slowdown in my routine was so gradual that I didn’t realize it was happening at first, but there have been some changes in my life recently that have lead to me feeling less of a need to meditate regularly.

Change #1: No Caffeine

I never drink coffee or caffeinated tea, but for a while there I wasn’t eating or drinking anything caffeinated at all. Even small amount of caffeine have been known to make me feel anxious, so I’ll often go several weeks or even longer without having any chocolate at all.

When my mind is calm, I don’t think about meditation as often as I do when I need to consciously clear out my thoughts.

Now that I’ve started to occasionally eat chocolate again as a delicious result of post-holiday sales and my local grocery store suddenly carrying a whole bunch of new chocolate bars that I’ve only begun to start tasting, I’m expecting to mediate again more regularly in the near future.

Change #2: Nice Weather

Spring has arrived in Toronto, so there have been some beautiful days here over the last few weeks. Meditation is a tool I’m more likely to use during times of the year when it’s too hot or cold to spend much time outdoors at all. When the weather is warm and dry, I tend to take a long walk outside instead of sitting at home.

Nothing clears my mind more quickly than being outdoors. There are many quiet, shady streets in Toronto to explore, and I love walking up and down them with no particular destination in mind. Not only do you meet the most interesting people and places  this way, it’ll show you a side of the city that is rarely seen elsewhere. Some of the buildings here have been around since the city was in its infancy, and they have stories to share about that time period in history if you know how to listen and who to speak to about them.

The peacefulness of these walks is wonderful as well. When you don’t have to think about crossing busy streets or dodging folks who stand on the street corner and try to talk you into something, it’s easy to let your legs carry you down the street and soak in all of the beauty around you.

This leads me to a question that has been rolling around in my mind for a long time. Can walking be thought of as a non-traditional form of mediation? I’ve read articles that agree that it can, and others that don’t think this habit is disciplined enough to count as a meditation session. What I can say is that both meditation and walking give me similar benefits.

  • They clear my mind.
  • If my mind can’t be cleared, they help me to accept the thoughts that stubbornly stick around.
  • They help me to live in the present instead of the past or the future.

I’ll leave it up to the experts to decide if long walks can be a form of mediation. For now, I’ll accept the peace that I find in these activities and leave it at that.

Change #3: Boredom

There’s a fine line between falling into a comfortable routine and beginning to feel bored when you do the same things over and over again.

As much as I enjoy the benefits of meditation, sometimes I honestly do need a break from it. Doing it daily would be like doing the same exercise routine every single day. Some people may be perfectly capable of doing that without ever growing bored or wanting a chance to rest, but I need to switch up my routines sometimes.

Taking a break from something – even if it’s something I deeply love that I know is good for me – makes me feel more committed to going back to it after I’ve had a chance to try other forms of relaxation.

Try, Try Again

Now that I’ve had the chance to mull over it, I don’t think of my breaks from meditation as a failure. I’ve had an on-and-off again relationship with this practice for years, and I’ve more or less come to accept the fact that I will occasionally stop doing it for a while.

My meditation breaks are gradually growing shorter and less frequent, though, and that makes me happy. I’d like to imagine that this means my meditation practices are changing my brain for the better.

Think of it like training yourself to eat a healthy diet or exercise regularly. There will be times when you fall off the wagon, so to speak, for any number of reasons. You might become sick or injured and be physically unable to exercise for days, weeks, or months.  Other things going on in your life might demand so much attention that you don’t have the energy to juggle it all for a while. You might be travelling and have trouble finding healthy food while you’re out of your element.

All of that is perfectly normal. Such a routine might not work for everyone, but it does work for some of us. Rather than focusing on what happened yesterday, think about what you’re going to do today.  The nice thing about meditation is that no one is keeping track of how often you do it, and there’s no reward or punishment for doing it a specific number of times a week.

There is always another chance to try again. This is why I’ve returned to this practice so many times after taking a break.

Can You Be Mindful and Angry at the Same Time?

One of the things I find most challenging about practicing mindfulness is doing it when I’m angry. While I’m not the kind of person who loses their temper easily, I do have a tendency to ruminate on whatever is making me mad beyond the point where such an act still remains useful.

There was a time when I felt guilty about this. I wished I didn’t feel angry in those situations and that I could find  it easier to brush those feelings aside when they did pop up.  Even though I’m pretty good at responding to those things calmly when they are happening, I saw others looking far calmer than I felt when they were in the same kind of situation.

You see, I was comparing how I felt on the inside to how other people were acting. The interesting thing about this is that I had no idea what those other people were thinking about when they responded so calmly.

How someone behaves doesn’t always match up with how they’re feeling inside. For all I know, they could have been looking at my response and wondering the same thing about me. The first time I realized this, I literally laughed out loud.

The cool thing about practicing mindfulness is that it doesn’t require you to change how you feel. In fact, changing how you feel isn’t the point of it at all.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Bad” Emotion

Anger in and of itself isn’t helpful or harmful. Everything depends on what you do with that emotion and what thoughts you entertain when you feel it.

Do you jump to conclusions about what will happen in the future because you’re mad right now? Do you try to suppress it? Do you look for someone to blame for it? Do you assume it will last forever?

On the positive side, can you embrace the fact that this is how you’re feeling right now? Do you think back to other times in your life when you felt this way and remember how you dealt with them? Does your anger prompt you to do something to improve the situation if that’s possible?

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to handle every negative emotion that exists.

Mindfulness Isn’t About Always Being Zen

If the only people in this world who were allowed to practice mindfulness were the ones who are always patient and understanding when they were irritated by the people, places, or circumstances in their lives, there would only be about three of them on the entire planet…and I wouldn’t be one of them.

When I’m angry, I do my best to stop and experience that emotion without judging it or making any assumptions about what it means, whether it’s justified, how I’ll feel in the future, or how I think I should be feeling about it instead.

This is a much easier thing to talk about than it is to actually practice. I’m not going to tell you that I always succeed at simply feeling my emotions without assigning value to them or wishing they were different. Like you, I’m a human being. I have days when I live in the moment really well, and other days when I feel much more like this cat:

(I don’t normally include gifs in my posts, but this one was the perfect illustration for this point. It’s fun to imagine that this cat is a master of mindfulness when she’s not pushing everything off of the desk she’s sitting on. Who knows? Maybe she’s even figured out how to live in the moment while being mischievous!)

You’re in Control of the Process

There have been times when I’ve brushed an emotion aside not because I’m trying to avoid feeling it but because I’ve sat with it long enough.

Just because you’re mad right now doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way five minutes, two days, or a month from now.

This is by far one of my favourite things about remembering to be mindful when I’m pissed off about something.

There is no handbook that says you can’t change your mind or that you’re only allowed to feel mad for X number of minutes at a time. The freedom of knowing I can sit with my anger for as long as is necessary actually makes me less likely to hold onto it.

It’s like telling a child that they’re only ever allowed to have one cookie regardless of how old they’ve become versus slowly allowing them to decide for themselves what they do and don’t eat.

By letting go of all expectations of what you’re support to do, it becomes much easier to stop after one cookie (or one wave of ire, in this case).

What Mindful Anger Looks Like

Mindful anger is…

  • Non-judgemental
  • Not attached to any one particular outcome
  • Open to change
  • Focused on what has already happened, not what might happen in the future
  • Honest
  • Aware and accepting of other emotions like fear or envy that could be the cause of it
  • Not vengeful

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have anything to add to this post, please let me know!

What Twitter Can Teach You About Mindfulness

Something fascinating has been happening to me recently on Twitter. Social media definitely isn’t the first place I’d expect to grow more mindful, but I’ve been learning more about what it means to live in the moment when I use this particular site for several different reasons.

Reason #1: The Case of the Missing Tweets

Every once in a while, my Twitter stream grows quiet for a few hours during the day for reasons that I’ve never been able to tease out.

There’s no pattern to it that I can find. It doesn’t happen at the same time or on the same day of the week. The small number of people that continue to tweet during those quiet periods shifts as well, so it’s not that everyone in a certain time zone or geographic region has suddenly been distracted by something.

The first time I noticed this, I thought I had missed out on a big section of my timeline. I scrolled back through my timeline to find the tweets I thought I’d lost only to come up empty-handed and more confused than ever. It took me a few rounds of this to stop searching for the tweets that never existed in the first place. The people I follow simply grow quiet at the same time every once in a while, and I actually look forward to those moments these days.

There is something relaxing and surprising about spending time on social media when barely anyone else is around. It’s kind of like being the last person to leave a party. The room that was so full of energy a few hours ago has quieted down. You can almost hear the final note of the song or the sound of two people saying goodnight as your eyes sweep the room before you turn off the lights.

I’m always glad to see my timeline fill up again, but I’m learning to enjoy these pauses in the conversation as well.

Reason #2: Everything Has a Season

There are memes that last for a day or a week before suddenly disappearing forever. Other jokes can come back when you least expect them to.  Your timeline might be full of depressing political news one day and cute puppy pictures or a hilarious conversation between friends the next. People you once had long conversations with might stop logging tweeting tomorrow. Other people sometimes show up again after being away for six months. In short, Twitter is in constant flux.

When I first began using this site, stuff like this bothered me occasionally. I worried about the people who disappeared and wished that the collective mood there would somehow become more consistent. It was strange to log in every day and have no idea who or what I was going to find.

The interesting thing about accepting all of these sudden shifts on Twitter was how it changed the way I think about the non-digital world as well. While there are things I can have an influence one, some experiences aren’t ever going to be predictable or controllable.

Everything has a season. You can’t make it begin early or stop it from ending. All you can do is enjoy the ride and see where the stream takes you next.

Reason #3: Every Tweep Can Teach You Something

The best part about following people from so many different walks of life is that my timeline has become a beautiful mishmash of ideas.

An angry political tweet from one tweep is often immediately followed by a Haiku poem, a picture of someone’s naughty cat, a link to a news article about a new scientific discovery, or the announcement of a different tweep’s brand new book or website.

I can’t count the number of times that someone has tweeted something that was exactly what I needed to hear or see that day, whether it was a joke or a serious essay. If you sit quietly and wait, all kinds of wonderful and meaningful things will come your way.

The picture on the right reminds me of what this process feels like. The best thing to do as the tweets flutter by is to sit quietly and see what they’ll teach you.

Reason #4: Tweets Are (Usually) Temporary

This reason is similar to reason #2, but there were just enough differences between the two for me to separate them into different points.

A tweet’s shelf life is short but also unpredictable. It’s rare for me to see anything retweeted on my timeline that’s older than a day or two, so I have to live in the moment when I’m on Twitter. What is relevant today might be forgotten tomorrow.

On the other hand, I have had a few of my own tweets travel much further and for much longer than I ever would have expected them to. These aren’t things that I was expecting to happen. What grabs people’s attention isn’t always easy to predict, so I try not to have any expectations when it comes to what kind of reception my tweets will get. Sometimes they are ignored, and other times they are the beginning of a long conversation.

There’s something to be said for throwing yourself so fully into the moment that you don’t think about what might happen tomorrow. No one can predict the future. Just pay attention to the present without any expectations about what might happen an hour, a week, or a month from now.

Reason #5: People Don’t Always Tweet the Full Story

The strange and fascinating thing about social media in general is that it only shows the highlight reel of most people’s lives for reasons that are far too complicated to get into in this post.

One of the nicest things about fully realizing this is that I don’t assume I know everything about someone because I’ve read their tweets for X number of months or years. This isn’t to say that I think people are lying about their lives online. Being careful about what you share for privacy or other reasons is something a lot of folks do, including me! It’s not a bad thing at all.

You can accept what someone shares without making any judgements about how your life compares to theirs or what the hidden parts of their life are like. This isn’t something any of us can know anyway, and making assumptions about it doesn’t do anyone any good.

If you’re not already on Twitter, I hope this post has given you some food for thought. If we hang out together over there, I’d love to know what you think of this post. Has social media changed how you approach mindfulness? What has Twitter taught you about life?

What Is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation?

Both of these terms regularly get tossed around on this blog. I recently realized that I’ve never defined them or talked about the subtle differences between them. It’s high time to change that!

Meditation Is an Action

Meditation requires you to arrange your body in a certain position and actively clear all of the thoughts from your head.

It is a deliberate pause in your day that has a specific beginning, middle, and end. Think of it like brushing your teeth or doing some other routine

This isn’t something that can be multi-tasked. When you meditate, it is the only thing you’re doing at that precise moment in time. There’s no room for distractions or breaks during it.

Sometimes it even requires you to willfully continue to keep your mind clear of thoughts and focus on your breathing if you’re having a lot of trouble.

Mindfulness Is a State of Mind

Mindfulness, on the other hand, does not require this level of focus. It is about remaining aware of what’s happening to you at this precise point in time without living in the past, worrying about the future, or passing judgement on what I’ve observing.

I can and have practiced mindfulness while standing in line, listening to the rain patter against my window, waiting to hear the results of medical tests, feeling annoyed by a careless stranger who wasn’t paying attention to where he or she was walking, and watching a dog chase squirrels at the park.

There are usually other thoughts floating around in my head when I practice mindfulness. As long as I remain focused on whatever is happening in the present moment and aren’t making judgements, I allow my brain to think whatever it wants to think.

Often it begins to focus on the details of the room, park, store, or other place where I happen to be that day. I like the thrill of noticing little things in those settings that many people overlook like the color of a pet’s leash or how many pigeons were wandering around while they waited for someone else to feed them. I usually tend to rush past those things myself, so slowing down enough to pay attention to them is a wonderfully healthy thing for me to do.

You Can’t Have Meditation without Mindfulness

The biggest reason why I file the meditation posts under mindfulness here is that you can’t meditate without first learning how to be mindful. Every time I pause and pay close attention to my surroundings, I get just a little better at meditating as a result.

There is something so joyful about seeing how mindfulness affects my meditation practices. As I’ve mentioned in the past, meditation is something I struggled a lot with when I first began practicing it.

My mind really hated the idea of sitting quietly and doing “nothing” for any length of time. Learning how to quiet it without physically sitting down and participating in traditional forms of meditation was eventually how I learned to slide into this practice.

Mindfulness became a habit for me long before meditation did.

(Incidentally, I’ve also pick up some fabulous ideas for poems and stories as well by watching people! You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about writing dialogue as well as human nature in by quietly observing how they interact with each other in public. Perhaps this should be the topic of a future post? What do you think?)

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

There are certain stages people seem to go through when they first begin meditating. Today I’m going to walk through them with you, so buckle your seat belts and prepare for a fun ride. Stage 1: Confusion A lot of guides make meditation sound so easy. Sit down somewhere comfortable, close your eyes, and clear your mind, they… Read More

How to Meditate in a Noisy, Crowded Place

Over the last few weeks I’ve been practicing something that doesn’t come easily to me at all. My spouse enjoys the energy of the crowds at the mall. He likes wandering around during the busier parts of the day and year. Here in Toronto we often have special giveaways, promotional booths, or other events put on by various… Read More