Mindfulness Challenge: Week 3

I forgot to post on Friday because I started a new job last week and I am beat! I took my time off of work to relax with my wife instead. 

So, to recap last week: 

I made friends at my new job by leading a three minute guided meditation before we clocked on, to help us all deal with the stress of the project we’re working on. So far it seems to really be helping to take just a couple minutes and relax before heading back in.

I found mindful eating really hard. I found that it takes an incredible amount of focus to eat mindfully instead of eating mindlessly while I’m doing something else. I did manage to find at least once each day to create a few minutes in which I ate something with my full attention, and I did fairly well at eating things that make me feel better instead of things that will make me feel worse. And I am slowly–very slowly– learning to recognize both “hunger,” and “satiety.” I’ll keep practicing over the next few weeks as I adjust to my new schedule and the demands I’m now putting on my body. 

I did come out of this week with a deeper appreciation of everyone who is involved with making sure I have fuel for my body. 

This week, we are focusing on moving mindfully. This can look like: 

  • Exercise as a way to love our bodies, not change them
  • Full attention paid to how we move, the press of our feet on the ground, the swing of our hips, the way our muscles feel contracting and expanding
  • Recognizing and honoring when we are tired, sore, or injured and not pushing ourselves when we need to rest.

Because my job currently consists of getting a new department store ready to open, I know I’ll be moving fast and hard this week. I will be focusing on both honoring my body’s need for rest and recuperation, and on loving the way I can move, be strong, and use my body to help other people do things that are necessary.

Regardless of your level of mobility, spoons, or other physical barrier, I hope you’ll join me in reveling in the feel of motion when you can this week 

Further Reading: 

Mindful Movement Primer and Cautions
Exercise For Those With Limited Mobility
Deepak Chopra’s 6 Tips For Mindful Exercise
comment below and tell me what you thought about last week’s challenge, what you think about this week’s challenge, and what you’re doing to honor your body today/this week! your body is amazing, friend. no matter what your level of physical ability, you’re invited to honor and enjoy it. 

Mindfulness Challenge: Week 2 

I want to begin by stressing that the intent of thinking about our relationship to food is not to buy into the cultural mythos surrounding food and weight. This is not and will never be a weightloss challenge or blog. 

As always if you find that this week triggers unhealthy behavior, anxiety, distress or depression, please practice self care and walk away. Your health is important. 

Last week we started practicing taking space for ourselves. This week begins by focusing on intentionally moving through the world. Eating is one of the things we have to do every day, and it is laden with cultural and psychological significance. 

This week there are a couple options to begin eating mindfully. 

  • Choose one meal a day. Eat that meal without doing anything else. No phone, tv, book, conversation. Focus on the tastes, textures, sounds, emotions you feel as you eat. 
  • Before eating, take three minutes to sit mindfully and ask yourself if you are hungry and what you are wanting to eat. Pay attention to why you are wanting to eat if you are not hungry. Are you thirsty? Emotional? Feeling like it’s meal time? Habit-driven? 
  • Choose a piece of fruit and eat it slowly, chewing each piece thoroughly and paying attention to the layers of flavor. As you eat, focus on the process that brought you this fruit. The water cycle, farmers, fruit pickers, grocer, etc etc. Give thanks for each step in the process as you enjoy the fruit. 

Thich Nhat Hahn, in his book Savor, describes mindful eating as a way of connecting ourselves to the world around us and honoring the interconnection of all things. Following his example, this week the focus is on rooting ourselves in gratitude and self-love, so we can begin to connect in a more authentic way with ourselves and our communities. 

Further reading: 

Six Ways To Practice Mindful Eating

What Is Mindful Eating?

Savor by Thich Nhat Hahn and Dr. Lilian Cheung

comment below and tell me what you will be trying to incorporate mindful eating into your meditation practice! feel free to share links, examples, and thoughts! an apple a day, right? 

Mindfulness Challenge: Week 1 Conclusion

Week 1 can be found here. This week we focused on classic mindfulness meditation, using a variety of techniques.

I’m up to 10 minutes twice a day, having steadily titrated up. This week I also:

  • got really sick. Like, fever, nausea, congestion, sore throat, etc
  • got turned down for a job I desperately wanted
  • had my car die on me for the second time in three months

 

And you know what? I’m doing okay. Part of me (the negative part) wants to be like “well, because when it rains– it pours, and I’m just out of capacity to CARE anymore.”

The positive part of me, which is winning tonight, attributes the equanimity with which I am accepting that I probably need to go back to riding the bus, sell my car, and buy something else later, to the fact that I have intentionally created space for myself to be calm in the midst of the maelstrom.

This afternoon, when my car coasted itself to a pretty stop (on the side of the road! I was safe the whole time!) I was together enough to call AAA and joke with the lady on the phone, then calmly enjoy my quiet time to myself for an hour and a half. I even took a nature selfie beside the road while the tow-truck driver was hooking my car up, because I live in the Pacific Northwest and even our highways are pretty here.

natureselfie.jpg

Then I had energy left to go hang out with a friend, get the last few groceries my plague stricken household needed, and write a blog post as promised. I’m feeling pretty good about this.

I find it most helpful to do breathing-focused meditation during the day, and then visualization meditation right before I’m falling asleep, so that is likely what I will continue to do as time goes on.

Here’s to healthy habits! In week 2, starting Monday, we’ll be focusing on mindful eating, so I’m reading a lot about that just now. Thanks to everyone who recommended Savor, by Thich Nhat Hahn, as it’s blowing my mind right now.

comment below and tell me: did you successfully meditate more days than not this week? did you like, dislike, loathe, or not have any strong feelings one way or the other about it? what type of meditative practice worked/works for you? 

Mindfulness Challenge: Week 1

If you are just tuning in, read here and here first. Go ahead, we’ll wait. 

This week we are going to focus on traditional mindfulness meditation. Dr. Sameet Kamur, in his book the mindful way through worry and rumination states that a “therapeutic dose” of meditation is 15 minutes, 2x a day. 

I don’t know about you, but I know I can’t start there. I literally can’t sit still for 15 minutes in a row. 

So I am starting with 5 minutes, three times a day, and I will be working up to 30 minutes a day over the course of this challenge. 

To Do The Thing: 

  • Sit in a comfortable position, with your spine relaxed, but not slouching
  • Begin by taking deep breaths, feeling the breath enter your belly
  • Set a timer on your phone for the length of time that is right for you
  • Breathe quietly, focusing on counting your exhalations
  • Accept that you will get distracted. When you do, shrug and return to counting your breaths.

Variations On A Theme: 

  • Find a guided meditation on youtube, and follow along.
  • Set a timer on your phone and spend the time with your eyes closed, visualizing the most peaceful scene that you can. 
  • Light a candle, and use the flame as a gentle focus while you sit quietly, returning your attention to the candle when you get distracted. 
  • As you sit quietly, focus on the total awareness of your present state. What do you see? Smell? Hear? What are you touching? What is happening in your body? Can you relax the spots of tension you’re finding? 

I will be using each of the variations at different times over the course of the next few days, to see what I like best. 

I encourage you to try different things as well. I also want to remind you that some people who struggle with PTSD or anxiety disorders can be triggered by meditation, so please please please be careful and stop immediately if you find yourself triggered, escalating, or just uncomfortably anxious. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means this is going to do more harm than good today and your self care comes first. 

Further Reading: 

How To Meditate

23 Types of Meditation

What Is Mindfulness? (from wildmind Buddhist meditation practices)

comment below and tell me: are you a regular practicioner, or just getting started? which variation are you using? are you using something I didn’t write down? (totally valid if you do). what more research and reading would you like to see, or do you have to share? 

Mindfulness Challenge: Roots

The more I research mindfulness, in preparation for building each week’s challenge opportunities, the more I feel like it’s equally important to talk about where the study of mindfulness comes from.

I’m just a white guy with a blog. Mindfulness meditation, most often represented by “meditation on a candle,” has its roots in Buddhist thought. Like a lot of pan-Asian religious tradition, it has been co-opted and used in multiple different ways by a colonial West. (See: yoga). I am not a Buddhist, and I want to make sure during this process that I am paying attention and not appropriating from a religion and culture:

  • To which I don’t belong
  • Which has historically been colonized
  • Which has vibrant, active followers
  • Which is traditionally viewed as “exotic,” or “transcendental” by white people

 

I would like to still move forward with practicing mindfulness, because I think the benefits it promises are strong enough to do so. However, I want to make very sure that I am doing so in a way that is not appropriative. Part of that is by ensuring that I’m open about the fact that this practice has its roots in Buddhism, which is not a religion I follow or wish to follow. Part of that is by ensuring that each week will include readings from and recommendations of authors who do practice Buddhism, or who are ethnically East Asian, because it turns out white people don’t have a monopoly on peace (if you’re not giggling, you’re not hearing the sarcasm).

I am also open to more discussion, because again I don’t get to choose what is appropriative and what is not.

 

comment and tell me: how do we move forward together in a way that honors traditions that aren’t our own? if you are East Asian, or a practicing Buddhist, and you have the time and emotional energy, are there things you’d like to share? i am open to being called out (or called in) and i want to be sure i’m respectful. do you see ways i could do better at that? 

Mindfulness Challenge: Introduction

candle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness is a specific type of meditative practice that is supposed to be great for everything in your life– from your blood pressure to your sense of peace– and is supposed to be a lot easier to cultivate than traditional meditative practices.

I don’t know. I don’t find “being completely present in the moment,” “noticing thoughts without judging them,” or “sitting quietly” to be easy, personally. I am always moving, thinking, listening to something, talking, figuring out what happens in my next six moments– doing something that means a little bit of me is future focused, and a little bit of me is past-focused and processing, and only a bit of me is in this moment, having this experience, which I will then process in the next moment (or the one after, or…).

But it’s supposed to be good for your health. And, this blog is about my journey toward health and wellness. So I’m going to try and practice it and see if I can get better at the practice of being mindful in my everyday life.

You are welcome to join me, starting next Monday, April 24th, for a weekly mindfulness challenge. This initial challenge will run until May 29th, 2017, and will include a new skill to practice each week. I will post a new week’s challenge each Monday, with links to further reading, options for participation, and which option I am picking to start my week off. I will write a reflection post each Friday detailing how I felt participating each week. I welcome hearing about your responses to increasing mindfulness in your daily life.

*** IMPORTANT CAVEAT***

SOME PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY THOSE WITH ANXIETY DISORDERS OR POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO EXPERIENCE WORSENING DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, OR PANIC ATTACKS WHEN ENGAGING IN MEDITATION. PLEASE CHOOSE TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE, AND IMMEDIATELY STOP PRACTICING MEDITATION IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY NEGATIVE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS

***IMPORTANT CAVEAT***

Week 1, Starting Monday April 24th, 2017, will focus on “traditional” mindful meditation.
This is the “sitting quietly, clear mind” type of meditation most people think of when they think of meditation. We will start with 1 minute in the morning, and work our way up from there, to 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes before bed. Again, please read the IMPORTANT CAVEAT.

Week 2, Starting Monday, May 1st, 2017, will focus on mindful eating. This topic will include several options such as:

  • Choose one meal a day and spend a long time savoring every bite. Don’t do anything else except experience your food, while you’re eating. (I’m terrible at that, I’m always reading/watching something/ on my phone)

OR

  • Identify hunger cues, thirst cues, and sated cues. For one whole day, eat only when you are actually hungry, and stop as soon as you feel sated. Notice the things you crave. Feel the cues, including localizing them in your body, and respond to only those cues– not time, social pressure, etc.

Week 3, Starting Monday May 8th, 2017, will focus on mindful self-care. You will be invited to identify and participate in your normal self care routines, mindfully. You will be invited to consider what self-care routines you have been neglecting, and pay attention to what your body is asking you to do for it.

Week 4, Starting Monday May 15th, 2017, will focus on mindful moving. You will be invited to identify how your body would like to move; how your body tells you that you don’t need to be moving, and how you feel before, during, and after physical activities such as walking, working out, climbing stairs, etc.

Week 5, Starting Monday May 22nd, 2017, will be focused on mindful relationships. You will be invited to spend mindful listening/communication time with other people, practicing the skill of mindful listening and emotional reflection. You will be encouraged to spend time with someone without any electronic distractions.

Monday, May 29th, I will write a recap blog post detailing what I learned, what I’m keeping, and what I’m discarding, and inviting you to share the same. I hope you will join me each week as we challenge ourselves to become ever more present in our lives and with ourselves.

This isn’t a competition. There’s no buy-in, weigh-in, cash prize, or dream vacation. There are no right or wrong answers as we move through this together. There is only me, you, and the knowledge that we can practice being more fully present in our lives if we wish to.

Will you join me?

 

 

 

 

comment below if you’re joining the Mindfulness Challenge, or if you want to share links, or tell me what your experience has been with mindfulness, meditation or online challenges. Or just tell me about your day!

Let’s Talk Autism

I am autistic. I’m an autistic person. Like most people on the autism spectrum, I prefer identity-first language to describe myself. Because I don’t “have” autism, I am autistic. It’s as much a part of my nature as being transgender or being queer or being white.

I didn’t know this for a long time. I first learned about Sensory Processing Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, both specific variants of experience that are under the umbrella of “Autism Spectrum Disorders,” when I was 18. I was certain that those labels described me, and the way terry cloth, in particular, has always made me have a panic attack. (Just one symptom, there are more).

I also presented female, at the time, and am highly verbal,  able to be social, hyper empathetic and reasonably able to adapt and/or mask symptoms of Autism in order to survive in a world designed for people who are not autistic (the proper term for that is allistic, btw). So I was told there was no way I could be autistic. And I believed it, because I was 18 and sheltered and not sure how to advocate for myself and not sure I could trust my own perceptions because I’m autistic and that’s literally how it works.

A decade of anxiety, oddness, ruined relationships, learning to be clarion-clear in emotional communication, always getting it wrong even when I was doing everything right according to the books, stress that destroyed my body, depression, job hopping, unresolved panic and unhealthy coping mechanisms later, I was in a job that was intentionally making my life harder trying to convince me to quit before they fired me.

The problem was that I was great at the job, I just wasn’t great at playing political games and hiding my upsettedness with the backhanded, unethical, amoral games they were playing with our clients and the staff (bitter? me? neeeeveeer). So they took every single thing I said was bothering me, and made it worse. It was bothering me not to have a set work location, even though everyone else did? Cool, I now have four locations and am on-call for any one of them at any time, even on a day I’m usually somewhere else. It was bothering me to be the only one without a set schedule? Cool, my schedule is getting switched every week now. I’m upset at the fact that they’re literally playing semantic games to pretend they’re ethical and legal? Cool, they’re not letting me discuss my thoughts on the “collaborative change,” either in open forums or in one-on-ones with my supervisor. I was miserable. And because I didn’t know that there was an actual reason I couldn’t handle that much transition and ambiguity the way everyone else was, I thought it was just my fault. I believed them when they said I just needed to try harder.

And then I sat through a training on positive behavior support, where I was accommodated (with fidget toys, being able to stand instead of sit for 8 hours, etc) and Oh. My. Sweet. Jesus. THAT IS MY PROBLEM. I’m AUTISTIC! I have “typically female” symptoms of being autistic because I was raised and socialised female. I made a five page annotated list of the DSM criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder and how it applied to my life, took it to two doctors and a therapist, and started pressing for a diagnosis. And I went to my boss, who is potentially the only good person in leadership at this particular place, and started working on accommodations.

That employment didn’t work out… because they weren’t willing to accommodate, and they weren’t willing to explain to me why what they were doing was actually ethical in the face of my belief that it wasn’t (hmmmmmmmmmm). But every employer since then, I have told “I’m autistic. These are the accommodations I need.” And when those accommodations are respected (and they’re easy to respect, I promise), I shine. In the yearish since I’ve left that employer I’ve worked for three other employers, increasing my responsibility each time (having more than one job is the new black). And I’m thriving. I’m doing work that is creative, enjoyable, and designed to leverage the autistic brain that I have instead of force me to be neurotypical. It’s wonderful. I’m seeking work again through no fault of my own (no firing! Just a lack of work!) and I’m sure that I’ll find another position that works with me because I no longer accept no as an answer to accommodations.

And still, every day, I am asked to “prove” I’m autistic by listing symptoms, proving impairment, etc. And I just wanted to say: This is my story. That I now have the information I need to help manage having an autistic spectrum disorder in a world designed for allistic folks, that I’m skilled in environmental accommodation for neurodivergence and have created a home and relationship in which I am relaxed and therefore better able to mask in a business setting, that the accommodations I ask for are things like “have my full attention and make sure I’m taking notes before you give me task lists, or email me my tasks” and “please don’t yell, raise your voice, gesticulate wildly, etc” rather than “please get me a special chair,” none of these things invalidate that I am autistic.

Rather, they are the signs of being my specific type of autistic, self-aware, and properly accommodated. Autism isn’t always being unable to hold a conversation or eye contact. It certainly isn’t always or even usually being non-verbal. It doesn’t always mean “lacking in empathy,” (and frankly it’s really hurtful that you assume that).

Sometimes, Autism looks like me. It looks like “I can’t wear socks that are a certain weight because it makes me anxious.” It looks like, “I can’t hear you if you’re raising your voice above a certain pitch because I can’t process your words.” It looks like “If I don’t see something in written format, I can’t process it.”

And many, many more variations, some of which apply to me and some of which don’t. All Autistic people are valid. All Autistic people deserve support. All Autistic people deserve being believed when they say they are Autistic. And every single person deserves to be heeded.

 

When you’re sharing things on Facebook, or instagram, or on blogs, or whatever, remember that Autistic people can speak for themselves (and the ones that can’t, usually have another way to communicate if you look for it). Listen to us. Let us lead the conversation. Ignore hate groups like Autism Speaks (who think it’s fine that parents abuse their autistic kids because “just so hard to handle,” don’t allow Autistic people to have a voice in their advocacy, etc) and Light It Up Blue (because, not just boys have autism and  ignoring female-presenting autism is a thing that makes people like me suffer for decades instead of getting help). Listen to your autistic friends when they tell you what they need. Listen to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), and use #RedInstead as the hashtag to share the words of actually autistic people. We’re here. We’re talking. We need you to use your platform to amplify our actual voices instead of those who would try to silence us. And we need you to know that sometimes your picture of autism doesn’t include us– but that just means you need to widen your frame.

On Cleaning, Minimalism, and Order

I’ll just come right out and say it:

I don’t like housekeeping. I prefer not to wash dishes if there are still clean dishes to use. Actually, I prefer not to wash dishes all the time, but if there are no clean dishes, my desire to have a dish that isn’t dirty outweighs my desire not to wash dishes, so I do the damn dishes. I don’t like to make beds, or clean windows, or sweep the floor, or vacuum the couches or any of it.

I am fortunate enough to have a wife who enjoys housekeeping and so we’re able to divide our responsibilities such that I do what I am good at and enjoy and she does what she is good at and enjoys. We help each other out with our respective responsibilities, but in general she cleans the house and I do the finances. She does the laundry, and I cook dinner. Etc.

The one thing I like to do is get rid of stuff. I’m not talking about Kon-Mari or any other specific type of minimalist/organizing maven/system. I just like to feel like I only have the essentials. I like to know that there is space in my house for me to have more things if I need them. And I like to be able to hang all my clothes in one spot and then not have to worry about it again.

“The Essentials” has changed as my life has expanded. 5 years ago it was a duffel bag containing an expensive vibrator, a week’s worth of clothing, my laptop and some books. I was alone in the world and I liked it that way. 3 years ago it was some dishes and cookware, a table and chairs, a bed, a week’s worth of clothing, my laptop and some books. I had a partner I loved, who likes creature comforts, and the essential thing was to ensure that we weren’t overwhelmed with stuff but she had everything she wanted or needed.

Today, my house is full of furniture. I’m married to that partner. I have more than one week’s worth of clothing. We have dishes and cookware and I like to expand my kitchen set up when I have some spare change because I love to cook. I never feel like I have enough office supplies, or too many books. The computer I’m typing this on is a tablet hooked up to a desktop monitor so I can see it more easily.

And today, I’m going to go through every closet in my house, then every room in my house, and winnow. I’m not going to worry about if it “sparks joy,” I’m going to ask myself if it’s something we use, or will use in the next year (ie, Christmas stuff stays even though we aren’t using it currently. The pants I haven’t worn in three months go.) And at the end, I will feel light. The anticipation alone makes me feel better.

Oh, and along the way I’ll probably clean the house– because that just seems like the thing to do if you’re taking everything out of the cupboards and closets anyway.

I’m not going to limit to 150 items or whatever the current minimalist trend is. But I am going to limit what is in our house to things we find beautiful and/or useful. That way, I can own my stuff instead of having my stuff own me.

Tell me: Do you like cleaning? Do you like organizing? Are you a minimalist, or a magpie, or somewhere in between? What’s your favorite way to make your space feel fresh and comfortable? 

24 Hours 

For Try Something Thursday I tried a day with no nicotine. 

This is proof that I’ve made it 24 hours with no nicotine. 
I feel like dogshit. But they say it gets better and lord knows I don’t want to do this day over. 

24 hours down. Roughly a quarter of the time it takes for nicotine to leave the body.
Here’s to making my wife happy.