Tag Archives: Meditation

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner.

In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of the holiday season; I miss the sun when sunset begins to happen before 5 pm in November and December.

Whether you love the extra hours of darkness and the festivities of this portion of the year or, like me, are not a big fan of them, they’ll be here before we know it.

This will the first holiday season I will have ever been through as someone who meditates and practices mindfulness regularly. I have already seen positive changes in my life as a result of these new habits. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they make the end of the year more enjoyable for me. My best guess is that they will be!

If you haven’t started practicing mindfulness yet, now is the perfect time to begin. Let’s talk about why this is so and what to expect if you decide to add this habit to your daily routine.

Mindfulness Isn’t a Quick Fix

No, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that promises to improve every part of your life in five easy steps. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of that writing style or of the idea that reading a single article is all someone needs to make big changes in their life. Few people are that simple or that easily swayed.

There is also the fact that learning how to stop and focus on the present moment takes time. While I am gradually getting better at brushing away unhelpful thoughts and keeping my mind focused on what is currently going on, I still have a long way to go.

This is by far the biggest reason why I strongly recommend getting started with this habit as soon as possible if it’s something you’re hoping to get benefits from over the next few months.

If you want to be able to live in the moment at the end of the year when you’re at an event that you find stressful or over-stimulating, practicing now will make that day easier than it might have otherwise been because you will have already gotten into the habit of quietly focusing on the moment instead of thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Mindfulness Is a Lifestyle Change

Think about practicing mindfulness the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new language, strengthen your muscles, or play a new instrument.

All of these skills take time and effort to master. I’ve never heard of anyone becoming fluent in a new language in a day or a week. The same can be said for learning to play the piano or swing a kettlebell.

While the basics can be figured out fairly quickly if you’re motivated, it will take sustained effort over much longer periods of time to really reap the rewards of your hard work.

Mindfulness requires that same attention to detail. When I first began meditating and doing my best to remain in the present moment when I wasn’t meditating, I didn’t notice any major changes in how I thought or felt.

It took a while for me to fall into the habit of doing it regularly, and even longer for me to learn how to use it to relax consistently.

Mindfulness Is Worth It

I wish I’d started practicing mindfulness regularly many years ago. There were several false starts over the years as I slowly figured out what did and didn’t work for me.

While I understand why it took me a while to where I am today, I sure wish I could have had a cheat sheet to both warn me about the techniques my brain would not find helpful well as to tantalize me with all of the positive effects of mindfulness if I kept plugging away at it.

If there were a way for me to give you a tour of my mind and show you all of the small but still wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of this habit, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Since that isn’t currently possible, I’ll tell you that my mind wanders a little less now than it used to. It’s easier to return to the present moment when it does go scampering off into the furthest recesses of my brain.

I’ve also come to love my daily meditation sessions and mindful moments. They are such a nice way to pause and immerse myself in the moment before moving on with my regular routines. It’s going to be interesting to see what other benefits I discover over the next few months as I become even better at the skills i’m currently practicing.

In short, mindfulness is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

4 Things I’m Going to Miss About Summer

A few weeks ago I began meditating every day. I even went so far as to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to meditate at a specific time each day.

One of the most interesting side effects of this new routine has been how I approached summer. Between my seasonal allergies and my strong dislike of humidity, this is not my favourite time of the year. I’m normally counting down the days until autumn by the end of August. The mild temperatures of spring and fall are far more my cup of tea.

With that being said, there are still things about summer that I enjoy, and my meditation habits have helped me to uncover more of them than I would have originally thought possible.

1. Produce Is in Season

I have loved nearly every kind of fruit and vegetable I’ve ever tasted, from berries to green beans and everything in-between.

The wonderful thing about summer is that almost every kind of fruit and vegetable is in season between May and early September. There have been multiple times when I’ve made entire meals out of a big plate of fruit and vegetables because they were on sale or I wasn’t sure what else to eat.

While it’s possible to do the same thing in the winter thanks all of the produce that’s grown in other countries and then shipped to Canada, locally-grown food is cheaper in-season and often tastes much better, too.

So every year I look forward to a summer filled with fresh, healthy dinners that generally don’t require me to turn on the stove or do much preparation at all other than to wash and maybe chop up what I want to eat.

2. Everything Gets a Festival or Parade

No, I’m not exaggerating here.

While this obviously depends on where you live, Toronto has multiple events going on every single day of the summer that celebrate everything from the LGBT community to food festivals for every kind of cuisine you can imagine and a few you might not have any idea exists at all.

When I first moved up here, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. The small, midwestern town I spent most of my childhood in had less going on there in an entire year than Toronto has on even its quietest weekend.

I still get excited when I see a random parade marching down the street, but I also know there are far more festivities going on in this city than I can ever hope to keep up with. They’re everywhere, and it’s wonderful.

3. No Jackets, Hats, or Gloves Required

At the end of every spring, I turn to my spouse at some point and happily tell him that we don’t have to wear jackets anymore when we go outside.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have some very cool jackets, and I am looking forward to having extra pockets again in a month or two. There is also something to be said for being able to go on a spontaneous walk without needing to grab a jacket or make sure that I’m dressed warmly enough for the temperatures outside.

Since I’ve forgotten a jacket somewhere once or twice as well, it’s also nice not to have to go back to retrieve anything during this time of the year. Everything I need is already on my body or in my purse.

4. Extra Hours of Sunlight

By the time November hits, I really begin to miss the long, sunny days of June.

While it’s nice to have extra hours of darkness for sleeping purposes, it also feels good to go for a walk at 8 pm and still see plenty of light in the sky.

If only there were a way to bottle some of that sunshine up and sprinkle it throughout November and December.

Since there currently isn’t away to do that, I must enjoy it while it’s still here.

I’m still looking forward to the cool, crisp days of autumn, but I’ll be enjoying the last few weeks of summer in the meantime. How do you feel about this time of the year? How has meditation or mindfulness in general changed the way you thought about something you’re not a big fan of in general? I’ll be around on Twitter all day to talk about this.

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Mindfulness and Meditation

A few weeks ago I started a new series of posts on this blog about Twitter accounts that share the same theme. This week I’m going to be recommending accounts that are about mindfulness and meditation.

There aren’t as many mindfulness and meditation suggestions as there were for the science fiction and fantasy version of this series, but I’m tentatively hoping to eventually write a part two for this once I’ve found more high-quality accounts that talk about it.

If you have suggestions for specific accounts to recommend or topics for a future post in this series, I’d be quite interested in hearing about them.

@bunnybuddhism‬.

The cute rabbit pictures were what first drew me into following this account, of course, but one of the reasons why I enjoy the tweets from the woman who runs it so much is how insightful she is about topics like grief, death, and truly living in the moment.

‪@tinybuddha‬.

This is the official account for a Buddhist website by the same name. They tweet a lot, but their articles are well-written and full of helpful advice for people from many different walks of life.

‪@yogainspiresyou‬.

Ntathu teaches yoga and meditation. I love the positivity of her tweets, especially when it comes to the short quotes she shares regularly.

@SatyaRobyn‬

Satya is a Buddhist priest I’ve known online for years. She has a lot of interesting things to say about mindfulness and her belief system in general.

‪@calm‬

This is a meditation app I’ve used off and on for years. The guided body scans in the app itself are fantastic, and their Twitter account is full of good information as well.

Previous posts in this series:

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Science Fiction and Fantasy 

Meditating During a Heatwave

August in Toronto is a hot and humid affair. While this month did start out chiller than usual, we’re currently in the middle of a heatwave that’s been going on for a few days now.

I’m lucky enough to have fairly decent air conditioning in my apartment, but I’m still counting down the days until the heat of August fades away and the beauty of autumn begins because of how easy it is for the heat to sneak into my place on unusually hot days and how many places in this city don’t have good air conditioning.

One of the things I enjoy the most about meditating during a heatwave is what a fantastic tool it is for dealing with the weather as I step outside of my home and feel that first puff of hot, stale air.

There are several different lessons I’ve taken from my meditation sessions and applied to experiences like those at this time of the year. I hope all of you are feeling milder temperatures than I am, but I thought this would make a good idea for a blog post for anyone else who feels like they’re walking through an oven right now.

Breathe

Now that I’m meditating again more regularly after my break from it last spring, I’m sometimes surprised by how calming it is to breathe deeply and focus on nothing in particular at all.

My brain is slowly being trained to focus on my breathing when I step outside and inhale steamy August air. I do my best not to think about the temperature, the future, or anything else at all. All I need to do in that moment is breathe in and out again.

It is such a simple yet helpful reminded to stay in the present and focus on those things you actually do have control over.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Live in the Moment

Autumn is still seven weeks away, and even the fall solstice isn’t a guarantee of cooler weather immediately. Last year we had hot, summery weather all the way through until the beginning of October.

It’s tempting to wish away the end of a season. I know I often give into this temptation at the end of winter when it feels like warmer weather will never arrive, but this summer I’ve been making a genuine effort to live in the moment instead of fantasizing about what the weather will be like a month or two from now.

There are positive and negative sides to any season – literal or metaphorical –  we find ourselves in, and I’m telling you this as someone who doesn’t always grok this right away. It’s easy for me to imagine the worst or to spend so much time thinking about what could or might happen in the future that I forget to live in the now.

Notice Sensations Without Judging Them

Confession: I am not always very patient when dealing with months of humidity. There comes a time nearly every summer when the humidity has been so high for so many weeks that I honestly want to go jump into Lake Ontario, grow some gills, and spend the last month of summer swimming around with the fish to stay cool.

Noticing and acknowledging sensations without immediately deciding what I think about them is definitely something I’ve had to work to do during my sessions.

To give you an example that isn’t weather-related,  I had a sore muscle in my neck and shoulder last week. It was the first thing my mind jumped to every time I sat down to meditate because of how it was affecting the way I moved and the kinds of things I wanted to do. (No worries, though – it is all better now).

Figuring out how to acknowledge that part of my body without immediately jumping to thoughts about why it was sore or when it would heal wasn’t easy. Relaxing helped, and so did focusing my attention on it for a brief moment before returning my mind to a state of rest.

It’s been interesting to transfer this mindset to something like standing on an overcrowded subway car or walking down a street that doesn’t have much shade at all.

Unless someone suddenly gives me the power to control the weather, there isn’t a single thing I can do to change the temperature or the humidity outside. It is what it is.

There is definitely something to be said for noticing perspiration forming on your skin or a hot breeze skimming your hair without immediately judging those sensations.

How does summer affect your meditation? How has meditating affected how you handle uncomfortable weather?

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!

 

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