Category Archives: Mindfulness

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?)

5 Unexpected Things that Can Make You More Mindful

I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a lot lately. It’s a habit that needs to be built up and reinforced over a long period of time. Mindfulness is not the sort of thing that you can achieve in an hour, a day, or a week.

With that being said, there are certain experiences in life that can give you valuable opportunities to become more mindful.

Waiting in Line

One of the easiest but also most surprising changes that came into my life when I started trying to be more mindful happened the next time I stood in a line.

Rather than impatiently wondering how much longer I’d be waiting or why some shoppers wait to begin to search for their wallet until every single item has been bagged and scanned, I started framing this as an opportunity to observe how people behave when they have nothing to do.

Some folks become so engrossed in their smart phones that they don’t notice anything going on around them. Others try to strike up a conversation with the first person to catch their eye. (The jokester in me wonders if the first group is always desperately trying to avoid the second one!)

You will overhear interesting snatches of conversation as well. People will talk about all sorts of things if they get bored and restless enough. The conversation I found most thought-provoking, believe it or not, had to do with whether or not a child truly needed more socks. One of the adults who was buying clothing for her thought she did. I can’t remember what the other one said, but it was fascinating to listen to them quietly discuss how many socks a child truly requires.

These days I enjoy watching the crowd move so much that I’m actually a little sorry when I reach the front of the queue and can no longer quietly pay attention to people who are standing so close to me.

Not Getting What You Want

Many years ago I interviewed for a job that I desperately wanted. It was with an organization that shared some of my biggest ideals, and so I began dreaming about what it would be like to be paid to pursue them. The hours, location, responsibilities, and salary were also exactly what I was looking for.

I thought I had a good shot at being offered it, so I was crushed when that didn’t happen.

It took me a long time to get over that dream I’d imagined. One of the things that helped the most was focusing on what I could do in that exact moment to feel better.

I couldn’t have the experiences I’d fantasized about, but there were a lot of other things I could do to cheer myself up as well as to prepare for future opportunities that were sure to come my way.

Government Bureaucracy 

Is there anything more annoying than waiting for a government agency to process your paperwork or make a decision?

I’ve had a lot of experience with this one. Becoming a Canadian citizen is a opportunity to live in the moment that literally lasts for years. There are so many steps along the way that you have no control over whatsoever.

Once you file all of the appropriate paperwork, it’s up to government employees that you’ll never meet to decide whether to approve, delay, or reject your application. They are impervious to how long it might take to process your application or how anxious you are to know the results.

If I could go through the process again, I’d be much more relaxed this time around. Waiting for the government make a decision would give anyone the patience of a saint.

There are so many other examples I could give of how dealing with bureaucracy can actually be a good mindfulness tool, but I think I’ll save them for a future blog post.

Injuries, Pain, and Illnesses

Whether you’re waiting for possibly scary test results from your family doctor or figuring out how to go grocery shopping when you’re having trouble walking, injuries and illnesses provide a wonderful opportunity to live in the moment.

There is nothing anyone can do to speed up the amount of time it takes to find out if you have a life-threatening disease or for a broken limb to fully heal. In the meantime, you are left with a body that isn’t behaving the way you’d like it to.

My experiences with this have been mild and transitory so far, but there still have been a few times when I lived in limbo for a while. I’d be lying to you if I said that I was always peaceful during those long waits. It’s frightening not to know what the future holds, and I am definitely not a mindfulness guru.

With that being said, keeping my attention on what was happening in the present moment did help me to worry less about what might or might not happen to me in the future.

Grief

Someone I knew died years ago before they had a chance to tie up all of the loose ends in their life. Our relationship had been  complex and sometimes difficult for many different reasons, so I was surprised by the grief I felt after they were buried.

There had always been a small part of me that held onto a faint hope that our relationship would eventually improve. Having that sliver of hope snatched away for good was sad.

You can’t change the past, though. It is what it is, and remaining mindful as I adjusted to this change in life helped me to accept the finality of this person’s death. Not everyone gets the chance to fix the things they could or should have tried to fix much earlier on in their story.

 

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 say.

Sitting and not thinking is going feel really weird and confusing in the beginning, though. This isn’t normally how people behave. Our minds really aren’t used to it, so they need some time to figure out what is happening. While they adjust, you might feel confused or like you’re not meditating the right way.

Don’t worry, though. This is all part of the process.

The desire to move your mind or your body is strongest when you first start out. I know that I still get the urge to open my eyes or wiggle a limb when I’m meditating. In fact, I just wiggled my left foot as I was writing that last line. The mere thought of sitting perfectly still was enough to make me want to move.

This is why I recommend guided meditation for beginners. It is so much easier to stay still and stick with a routine if you have someone telling you how to breathe or which parts of your body you should focus on relaxing at a particular point in the process.

That outside guidance also reduces confusion. You don’t have to worry about where you are or when you’ll be finished if someone else is gently nudging you along.

I’m not going to be recommending any one particular guide here because I haven’t found one that is well-rounded enough to meet my expectations. I jump among a few different products depending on how I’m feeling on a particular day and what I can find online for free.

These things work well for my purposes, but you might want to take a different approach to the question. If one single program meets most or all of your needs, that’s great!

Stage 2: Boredom

This is so boring. Why aren’t I getting anything out of it?

One of the biggest reasons why I had so much trouble getting into the habit of meditating when I first tried it out is that it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. I’d sit in mental and physical silence for X amount of time without feeling any different at the end of a session than I did beforehand.

Like losing weight, learning a new language, or beginning the long journey home after completing some kind of sacred mission, though, this isn’t the sort of thing that you’ll see quick results for.

Don’t concentrate on the end goal. Focus on your task at hand especially if nothing seems to be changing. This is how it is supposed to be. You will get better at it as you go along.

Yes, it’s going to feel repetitive and mundane some days. This is completely normal and not anything to be concerned about in the least. Boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. Your brain will adjust and so will you if you give it some time.

I also think that our technology-obsessed society would really benefit from learning how to handle being bored again in general. I know that I get restless more quickly than I used to because my smartphone is so accessible whenever I need a distraction.

The nice thing about meditation is that it will give you the opportunity to sit with those feelings without trying to find a solution for it. Sometimes boredom can’t and shouldn’t be fixed.

Keep plugging along at it.

Stage 3: Thoughtlessness

There will eventually come a time when you clear all of the thoughts out of your mind and no new ones will rush in to fill their place.

It’s hard to describe what this kind of experience is like because there are no words or thoughts at all when you’re in the middle of it.

Have you ever woken up just as your final dream of the night was leaving your memory for good?

It feels like a calm version of that.

You’re dimly aware of your own existence and of the fact that something special is happening, but you don’t have any conscious feelings about any of it.

The other metaphor I like to use to describe it is that it is similar to floating around in a little bubble. All of your needs are being taken care of, and there is nothing you need to do, say, or think at the moment.

It is peaceful and invigorating all at once, although neither of those words come to mind when I’m in this state.

Even now this isn’t something that happens to me every single time I meditate. Some days I can’t clear my mind out fully for whatever reason, and that is okay. The nice thing about meditation is that there is no punishment for doing it “incorrectly.” The simple act of trying is enough, and there will always be another day to sit down and see if your mind is more relaxed.

One of the things that made me stick with meditation over the long haul was the fact that there’s no such thing as failure here. It is what it is.

This leads me to the last stage…

 Stage 4: Peace

Meditation can have some nice benefits for people who practice it regularly.

I recently took a break from meditating while healing from an accident. The (thankfully mild) injury I sustained during it prevented me from moving in certain ways, and the discomfort of it was also enough to cause a distraction when I attempted to quiet down my thoughts for those first few days.

There is peace to be found once you settle into a regular rhythm of meditation, though.

The first time I saw the picture on the right, I giggled.

The second time I wondered about how long the subject might have been meditating before she was captured in this precise moment.

Look at how relaxed the muscles in her face are. A small part of me wonders if someone could have gently placed the hat of leaves on her head while she was meditating without her necessarily noticing or caring what was happening.

I still see the humour in this shot, but it also reminds me of how I feel after some mediation sessions these days. It is so relaxing to open your eyes after 15 minutes of perfect stillness and slowly grow accustomed to the sights and sounds of our world again.

It will be fascinating to see how this develops the longer I practice meditation.

If you haven’t given it a try yet, I highly recommend doing so. This is one of the most positive things I’ve ever done for my mental health. I can’t praise it enough.

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