Tag Archives: Mindfulness

On Mindfulness, Light Therapy Lamps, and Being a Human Houseplant

A desk lamp shining down on a houseplantMy name is Lydia, and I’m a human houseplant.

Or at least that’s what it feels like at this time of the year. You see, I get the winter blues. While other people are outside revelling in the snow, ice, and cold weather, I’m inside quietly counting down the days until spring.

If winter in Ontario included as many bright, sunny days as spring and summer did, this post might be quite different.

But our winters include months of long, dark nights that make me half-forget what it’s like to feel warm sunlight on my face.

And having access to enough bright light is important for my mental health. It boggles my mind that some people on this planet live in places that don’t see the sun for months on end. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that well at all unless someone invents a way for humans to go dormant for the winter like real plants do.

Luckily, there are light therapy lamps for wilted houseplants like myself. I’ve been basking in the glow of that artificial sunshine this winter.

Sometimes I sat there and surfed the Internet on my cell phone. It was an especially good way to pass the time when I first accepted the fact that I needed to use one of these lamps but was skeptical about if it would do any good.

If actual plants had opposable thumbs, they might look at cute animal pictures while soaking up light, too, so they didn’t have to count down how many weeks left until spring or how many weeks after that it will take the weather systems in Ontario to shift from cold, wet, and slushy to anything that bears the faintest resemblance to true spring weather.

Then it started to work.The sadness began to lessen. I could concentrate better, I felt less sluggish, my energy levels slowly began rising, and my quality of sleep improved.

Am I back to my old self yet? No, but I’m doing better. That’s something to celebrate, especially as we inch into the time of the year that is the most challenging for me to get through.

For now I sit next to my lamp and chuckle at the fact that I react so much to the lack or the presence of sufficiently strong light. I am entirely human-shaped, and yet somehow I still need to bask in light like a plant to function properly.

When that thought passes, others don’t take its place. In this moment, I am surrounded by light. I breathe in and out as it shines onto me, the desk, the chair, and the floor.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

It’s that simple.


Filed under Mindfulness and Meditation, Personal Life

Mindfulness and Difficult People

Five yellow, smiley faces are hanging down from little chains. A fifth red face with an angry expression is swinging down to hit them.
This is a topic I thought would make a great introduction to the beginning of December and the holiday season that looms before us, but the information in it is timeless.

I’m using the phrase difficult people as a shorthand term for anyone you find challenging to socialize with because of their behaviour.

Labels are useful but can’t possibly explain every nuance in a relationship. Your relationship with a friend will probably have features that aren’t present with a coworker, romantic partner, in-law, neighbour, or acquaintance. It was my intention to cast a wide, friendly net for this post and try to offer advice that can be used for as many different scenarios as possible.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s talk about how mindfulness can help before, during, and after the moments when you’re spending time with someone who you are not sure how to relate to.


A tree surrounded by perfectly still water at sunset. I’ll admit to being the sort of person who sometimes plays conversations out in my head before they happen.

The problem with this is that no one can predict the future.

That conversation might not ever actually happen. If it does happen, there’s no way to know in advance when it will pop up or if it will end the way you expect.

Spending as much time in the present moment as possible is a great way to avoid borrowing trouble.

One of the biggest benefits of mindfulness I’ve discovered for days like these is that it helps me to prepare for them without making assumptions about how they will go.

All you know for sure is that a certain event is on the horizon and that specific people are probably going to be there. Start with that.


Slow Down

There is something beautiful about intentionally moving slowly through these sorts of interactions.

Not every question or remark deserves an answer. If it does need to be answered, that could happen five minutes, or a week, or a month from now after you’ve had time to think it over.


I like looking at designs on silverware or counting lightbulbs in a room. There is always something to pay attention to that you might have otherwise ignored.

Reading body language is also a fascinating thing to do. You can learn so much about someone by quietly watching their posture, facial expressions, and gestures.

Breathe Deeply 

The beautiful thing about breathing deeply is how it encourages your mind to remain in the moment and what a calming influence it can be.

Focus on every breath as it enters and exits your body. Sometimes I’ll even count them silently in my mind.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It can be so relaxing to sit there and make small talk about the weather or some other innocuous subject when a tricky topic comes up.

There’s also the option of saying nothing at all. Silence is truly golden sometimes. As I mentioned earlier, not everything requires a response now or ever.

A well-placed dose of silence can give you a moment to think of how you want your words to come out before you say them.

This is a technique I’ve found especially helpful for people who have the urge to swoop in and fix the lives of those around them regardless of whether or not you actually wanted those things to be fixed. If they don’t know you adopted a new dog from the local animal shelter, chances are very good they’ll never tell you all of the things you’re doing wrong with that pet or why the breed you chose is the worst one ever.


Be honest with yourself. 

How did it go? What parts of this gathering did you enjoy? Which ones were not so helpful?


I know it’s tempting, but mentally going over what anyone said or did at tricky events like these probably won’t be helpful.

As Elsa sang, let it go. Find something to take your mind off of what just happened. Taking a long, brisk walk through the park is a nice distraction for me when the weather is nice. Sometimes I even use that  trick on stormy days! It’s hard to ruminate when you’re also trying to avoid slipping on a patch of ice or stepping into a large puddle.

Think Longterm. 

The strategies I mentioned today have been helpful for me in the short term, but it’s also important to think about what you want your life to look like months, years, or decades from now in my opinion.

I believe in meeting people where they’re at and being understanding, compassionate, and supportive when they’re going through a difficult time.

Smartie Painted to look like a smilie faceBut I also believe in natural consequences and in putting emotional energy into relationships that are healthy and reciprocal. The only person I can control is myself, so there have been times in my life when I’ve reduced or  eliminated the time I spent with someone based on their behaviours and current level of introspection.

There’s a huge difference between using mindfulness to get through a difficult conversation that must happen and repeatedly agreeing to spend time with someone who chooses to be unkind… or worse.

It’s not my place to tell anyone how to arrange their lives, but I think there’s something to be said for finding both short-term and long-term strategies for dealing with these things.


Filed under Mindfulness and Meditation

10 ASMR Videos I’d Recommend to Beginners

As I said in my first post on this topic:

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calm tingling sensation that some people feel at the back of their their scalp and down on other parts of their body after being exposed to certain types of auditory stimuli.

ASMR is used for relaxation purposes…it’s similar to many forms of meditation in that you remain with your eyes closed still during it.

Silhouette of a person with long hair standing in a meadow after sunset. The sky is barely still pink, and you can see birds and in the moon in the lighter parts of the sky. I haven’t blogged much about ASMR since I first mentioned it here, but it continues to be a part of my mindfulness and meditation toolbox.

Autonomous sensory meridian response videos cover a much wider range of sensory experiences than can be fit into a single post.

Today I’ll be sharing a list of the ten most common things that can trigger this response and recommending one video for each type of stimuli to check out.

As I mentioned earlier, not every type of ASMR works for everyone. Some people never feel this sensation at all. Feel free to explore multiple ASMR videos before deciding which style, if any, is best for you.

I purposefully chose videos that included little to no talking so that my readers could concentrate on the sounds themselves. There are plenty of other examples out there of videos that do include talking if that’s something you end up enjoying.


Close Whispering Just Talking

Whispering is one of the classic ASMR triggers. From what I’ve observed, it seems to be one of the most popular types of these videos online.

Head Massage and Hair Brushing

Ultra Relaxing Scalp Massage for Stress & Sleep, Hair Sounds & Brushing

The head massage and hair brushing ASMR videos are some of my favourite ones! They’re so relaxing.


ASMR Tapping 

This video explores fast, slow, hard, and soft taps.


Gentle Scratching You Will Fall Asleep to (No Talking)

It always amazes me to see what new sounds the ASMR community comes up with to add to the repertoires. This is something I’ve only started seeing around fairly recently.



Ear Cupping and Blowing

There is also some whispering in this video. Many of the ASMR creators will blend various sounds together to appeal to more than one audience.

Role Play

Haircut Role Play.

The most common role play videos seem to involve hair cuts, massages, dental visits, or medical appointments.

Methodical Work

Whispering and Coin Sorting

What do I mean by methodical work? Think sorting papers, tapping paper clips, or playing around with small and slightly noisy items like coins.


Plastic Crinkle Sounds/ Sleep & Tingles/ No Talking 

This is often combined with the whispering and/or methodical work types.


Layered ASMR Vibrations – Intense and Soothing (No Talking)

I’d never heard of this type before doing research for this post! It’s either brand new or I somehow missed it years ago.


Are you into ASMR? If so, what is your favourite type of it?




Filed under Mindfulness and Meditation

The Care and Feeding of Muses

Congratulations on being chosen by a muse! With a little forethought, the relationship you’ve begun with your source of inspiration will provide comfort and fresh ideas for your creative endeavours for the rest of your life.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of this relationship. Remember, every muse is unique. It may take some trial and error to figure out exactly what does and does not inspire you to start writing, singing, painting, or otherwise flexing your creative muscles.

The more often you practice, the better you’ll become at it. There is no better time to begin than today.

Caring for a Muse

Luckily, muses are hardy creatures. While mine has temporarily gone dormant when certain circumstances in my life didn’t leave enough time or energy for the creative process, it has always bounced back again once things improved for me.

Be gentle with yourself if you’re not currently able to create new content or if your progress is slower than you’d prefer to see. Think about the cycle of the seasons where you live. You may or may not know winter the way that us Canadians do, but every climate has its own unique pattern of growth, harvest, and rest.There is no such thing as a plant that blooms forever or a tree that creates bushels of fruit without ever needing a break from that process.

The same things happens with creative endeavours, too. Sometimes you will have an abundance of ideas and endless energy to make them come alive as a poem, sculpture, song, or any other number of things. Enjoy these times when they occur and make the most use out of them you can. In other seasons, your mind and muse may need to lay fallow for a short or long period of time before they’re ready to start creating again.

Feeding a Muse

The most important thing you can do for your muse is to feed it a varied diet. Just like a parent wouldn’t allow their child to eat nothing but candy and a pet owner wouldn’t feed Fido fistfuls treats for every meal of the day, your muse needs to be looked after in a similar way.

I can’t tell you what your muse will find useful, but I’d highly recommend giving it as many different types of stimuli  as you possibly can even if some of them might not be what you’d generally be drawn to in your free time. No, these experiences do not have to be expensive or involve travelling far away from home.

In fact, the vast majority of the things I do to feed my muse are free, and the rest often only require a few dollars for a subway fare if I remember to pack a lunch that day!

For example, you could:

  • Visit a local museum on a free or half-price day
  • Go for a walk in the woods or at the park
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Join a community group
  • Explore a new hobby or interest
  • Watch a local baseball game
  • Strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger
  • Go people-watching at a parade, festival, or other event
  • Browse in a store you’ve never visited before
  • Take a day trip to a nearby city, national park, or other imagination-ticking destination

The possibilities are endless. What matters is that you’re exposing yourself to things you might not normally spend any time thinking about during your regular routines.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Our job is to give our muses a chance to come up with ideas based on the interesting things you’ve done or learned lately and let them do the rest.

Taking Notes and Photographs

I used to carry around a trusty little notebook and write down all sorts of slices of life in it for future inspiration. Sometimes it was a memorable quote from a book and on other days it might have been a funny throwaway comment a stranger made on the bus.

I’ve since switched to taking notes on my smart phone, but the same basic principal remains. If I see something that piques the interest of my muse when I’m out and about, I’ll pause to take a photo or jot down a quick note of it before moving on with my day.

It’s easy to forget these little moments. By recording them for the future, you’ll have a long list of potential subjects to explore when you’re finally ready to write the outline of that book or start sketching.

Balancing Creative Productivity with Consuming Other People’s Work

I’ve found that spending too much or too little time consuming other people’s work has a negative effect on what I’m able to create as a writer.

As Thomas Merton once said, “no man is an island.” Humans are a social species, and this is especially true for us creative folks. The things that your muse comes up with often inspires my own if I strike an appropriate balance between creating and consuming!

Keeping it Useful

The important thing is to keep your consumption useful and to balance it with things that refill your creative tank.

For me this means spending as little time as I can on stuff that I find distracting like celebrity gossip or fear-mongering news stories. (Your mileage may vary on those topics). It also occassionally involves muting my phone and going off into nature for some quiet time.

Obviously, you’re not going to find too many caves or sprawling forests in downtown Toronto, but we still have plenty of quiet green spaces that are great for clearing one’s mind if you know where to look.

I love sitting on park benches and listening to the birds sing in the trees above me. There’s nothing as invigorating as having those experiences without translating them into words until long after I’ve come home again, if even then.

What do you all do to feed and care for your muses?


Filed under Personal Life, Writing

Mindfulness and Medical Procedures

In saying this, your mind is your biggest ally going into surgery. Your body and mind are very powerful machines–resilient and built for healing. Read on as we discuss the idea of “mindfulness” and share how you can pull the plug on negative thought patterns to set yourself up for success.


Without giving away any specific details, I know a few people who are currently going through various medical situations. Earlier this year I went through my own brief round of testing to rule out a potentially serious illness that turned out to be nothing worrisome at all.

Big WorldMy experience was a drop in the bucket when compared to people who were or are seriously ill. In no way am I trying to say that being tested for a specific ailment is anything at all like being treated for an actual disease or injury.

There’s still the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, though. It can easily become overwhelming, especially for those of us who already have a tendency to worry. Searching the internet doesn’t help. If anything, it can make the waiting process worse because of how easy it is to find the worst case scenario online. Somehow those sites even make the common cold or twisted ankle sound scary!

The link I shared above is about joint replacement surgeries, but the advice in it is universal. You could use the same techniques with a broken bone, chronic pain, depression, or any number of other health issues.

I’ve blogged about my complicated relationship with mindfulness and meditation before. Walking meditation works nicely, but it’s difficult for me to sit quietly and meditate for more than a few minutes. (Those of you who are good at it have my deepest admiration!)

With that being said, one of the biggest benefits of these practices shows up when you’re anxiously waiting for news. There is little anyone can do to speed up the healing process, and there’s nothing we can do to make medical test results come back faster. Sometimes you simply have to sit and wait  for days, weeks, or months until you know what the future holds for you.

In these moments, mindfulness and meditation would be worth their weight in gold if they had a physical mass. There is something soothing about living in the moment and accepting that you don’t have the answers and you can’t control what is going to happen.

Do you meditate or practice mindfulness? If so, I’d like to hear how they’ve affected your life.

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The Downside to Living in the Moment

Last weekend my better half and I visited a mall that I like to think of as Toddler Alley. As you might imagine, there are 4391* malls in Toronto. This particular one seems to specialize in giving young families a safe place to walk around in when the weather is uncooperative.

The first time I noticed the little boy was when he threw himself onto the floor with a loud wail. He was about two and clearly had hurtled past the outer rim of his patience.

“It’s frustrating to be that age,” I said quietly once we’d passed him. Drew nodded. The boy was so young that living in the moment was all he could do. The problem with that is sometimes the present moment is exasperating, painful, gruelling, or overwhelming. Without being able to see the big picture, all he could assume was that life was terrible and that things will never get better due to the developmental stage of life he’s currently experiencing.

It also made me think about the heavy focus on living in the moment in my meditation routine.

I understand the purpose of it. It’s a valuable tool.

Yet I wonder what makes it so hard for some adults to do it. I tend to struggle more with bridging the gap between what’s happening right now and how things might change in the future. It’s easy to assume that everything will stay the same, whether you’re currently experiencing the best or worst times of your life.

When things do change, I’m often surprised. Intellectually I know that life is full of change, but in this particular instance I empathized with that little boy. Living in the moment isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

*Or something like that.


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Wild Card Wednesday: The Healing Game

After a severe concussion left her suicidal and bedridden Jane McGonigal invented SuperBetter, a series of daily challenges that improve your physical, emotional, mental and social strength. Some challenges are as simple as drinking a glass of water or taking a walk around the block, others are more complex.

The iPhone app for this game is fun and easy to use although I do find the sound effects a little irritating. You can also play the game on the Super Better website itself.

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How to Celebrate the Holidays When You Don’t Have an Extended Family

A new reader recently found this blog by searching for this phrase. It’s a great question, one in which is just as applicable for people who live far away from or haven’t formed a close or healthy relationship with  their extended family.

My family moved several times when I was growing up. For four years we lived on the opposite side of the country as all of our extended family members. When I was a teenager we often ended up attending three or four dinners in order to visit everyone over the holidays.

As an adult I decided to move to another country in order to marry the man that I loved. His parents and siblings don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas so most of time we’re on our own. In other words, I have quite a bit of experience celebrating holidays with and without extended family.

It was a little lonely at first but now I’m perfectly content with our two-person holidays. As much as I love travelling to the U.S. every few years over Christmas there’s something to be said for a quiet day at home on the off years.

The trick is to figure out what makes you happiest. Do you want to be alone over the holidays? Is spending time with one or two other people your sweet spot? Or maybe you want to squeeze as many friends around your dining room table as possible?I can’t answer these questions for you but I can offer up a few concrete ideas as you make plans for the next six weeks:

Go commune with the trees. If the weather is nice go for a long walk. Even in the winter nature is full of surprises and there’s nothing I love more than disappearing into a quiet park, desert or forest for a little while to see what it has to offer me today.

Find people in the same circumstances. Trust me, you are not the only person who will be celebrating alone or only with your nuclear family this year. If you need someone or several someones with whom to spend the day pay attention to what your coworkers, neighbours, fellow volunteers or acquaintances say over the next several weeks.

Photo by Boby Dimitrov.

Start a new tradition. Make your favourite meal. Volunteer somewhere. Pop a fresh bowl of popcorn and rent the least (or most!) holiday-related movie you can imagine. Go see what restaurants are open in your city. Play board games. Stay in bed all day with your significant other – what you two do in there is no one’s business but your own. 😉

Try something new. This tip depends on where you live but here in Toronto there are people from so many different cultures and religions that most holidays are not actually universal. Some areas of the city shut down on Christmas. Others are so heavily populated by groups who don’t consider it holy or special that December 25 is treated just like any other day. Restaurants in these neighbourhoods remain open and provide a wonderful opportunity to try new dishes.


How are you planning to celebrate the holidays this year?


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Wind Up That Yarn

Many years ago I read a fable about a boy who discovered he could fast-forward through life by pulling on the edge of a magical ball of yarn.

School is boring? Let’s jump ahead to graduation. Can’t wait to have enough money to get married? Skip to the wedding. Tired of waking up with a cranky baby every night? *poof*, that baby is now a child.

Eventually he pulls out so much yarn that he leaps to his golden years. His children are grown, he’s too old to work, his wife grows frail and dies and he is left alone with a patchy memory of the last 60+ years.

Just as he is about to give up hope, though, the old – now young – man wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. He solemnly swears to savour every stage of life and goes off to visit his sweetheart. I was all of eight years old at the time and even I knew that was an exceedingly poor poor way to end the story. 😉

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It’s very easy to gloss over the difficulties in life, though. Would it be great to have the boundless energy of childhood again? Yes! Do I want my parents to tell me what to eat, which television shows I’m allowed to watch and when to go to bed? Not in the least.

That story should have ended with Thomas (the name I’ve assigned to the old man – I’ve forgotten what he was originally called) either figuring out a way to wind the ball of yarn up again or dying peacefully, the last scene of the story showing someone new stumbling across this  mysterious ball of yarn.


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Death and Winter

The middle of February is the deadest time of the year.

Most years those of us living in temperate continental climates have been slogging through cold and slush for two months and have four, six or more weeks left of it. Even the most stubborn trees have been stripped of their leaves and there are few signs of life – animal or plant –  on the land.

It’s difficult to stand in a forest or garden with the wind gnawing through your coat and remember that in a few months the sun will grow stronger and flowers will once again peek through the soil.

But it will.

This is the time of year when death is on my mind the most. Not in a depressed  or anxious sort of way, understand, but just the realization that all of us have a beginning, middle and end.

It also reminds me of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Low-Tide”:

 These wet rocks where the tide has been,
Barnacled white and weeded brown
And slimed beneath to a beautiful green,
These wet rocks where the tide went down
Will show again when the tide is high
Faint and perilous, far from shore,
No place to dream, but a place to die,–
The bottom of the sea once more.
There was a child that wandered through
A giant’s empty house all day,–
House full of wonderful things and new,
But no fit place for a child to play.

High tide, low tide, death, life, winter, summer. Nothing is constant but there is a pattern to it all.

Now to hunker down and wait for spring!


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