My Mindfulness Recipe for Smoothie Shakes-While-Unshaken

Banana Smoothie image from thespruceeats.com

Observe that large container of (expensive) vanilla protein powder (roughly 1/3 full) used to make smoothies to keep weight up has been tossed by spouse in error

Spend twenty minutes attempting to open new large container of vanilla protein powder

Pour 1-1/2 cups almond milk into blender

Reach into newly opened protein powder for scoop

Drop entire container of (expensive) protein powder onto kitchen floor; watch contents spreading over wide area of ceramic tile, missing no grouting whatsoever

Release profanity, repeatedly and loudly, into otherwise unoccupied kitchen

Dust off protein powder residue from sweatpants, sandals, and feet

Sweep protein powder from tile, grout, nooks, crannies, corners, spider webs

Standing closer to countertop, reach into container and successfully add 1-1/2 scoops of protein powder to blender

Add other ingredients: 1 ripe banana; 1 large tablespoon Trader Joe’s peanut butter

Add new ingredient for extra calories: several slices frozen avocado, as Avocado Growers of America have been persuasive that serious dislike for avocados in any form is insufficient reason to avoid this nourishing, highly caloric food choice

Place torn tissue wads into ears to minimize hearing damage from high-decibel whirr of blender

Start blender, press “Smoothie,”  step away

When blender stops, press “Smoothie” once again

Remove blender vessel from mechanism, carry oh-so-carefully to counter top

Remove torn tissue wads from ears and discard

Pour smoothie into glass pitcher; murmur “May I be filled with lovingkindness…”

Place pitcher into refrigerator, using two hands and careful concentration

Wash and dry all parts and reassemble blender

Take stock of oneself. Realize self resumed calm immediately after profanities and told self (while extracting protein powder residue from between toes) that all is OK, breathing’s been progressing, self is quite in possession of self. 

Notice with considerable surprise that Inner Critic has said nothing about the clumsiness and oafishness of dropping entire container of (expensive) protein powder onto floor. 

Ponder whether profanity frightened Inner Critic into silence.

Discard that conjecture: Inner Critic is not normally known for her timidity.

Spouse enters; is asked to assess level of calmness.

Spouse is puzzled but says “Fine.”

Spouse is then informed of the tossed-out perfectly good (expensive) protein powder in explanatory tone free of accusation or the slightest hint of negativity.

Spouse is reassured that the act of accidentally tossing out perfectly good (expensive) protein powder is not worthy of self-recriminations.

Told of the subsequent series of events, spouse confirms that mindfulness has indeed noticeably succeeded as guide through one of life’s trivial events to which one might grossly overreact.

Self mentally thanks all those virtual gurus who have explained over the past several years that the practice of mindfulness won’t ensure one always remains calm despite the circumstances, but may well help one quickly return to equanimity. 

Self breathes deeply and smiles contentedly.

Image courtesy of mindfulness.org

Namaste,

Annie

Continue reading “My Mindfulness Recipe for Smoothie Shakes-While-Unshaken”

Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…

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Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

In the world of the lovingly kind
I’ve found myself caught in a bind:
Consumed by my hate
It made my gut ache
’Twas a matter far over my mind.

Of course I can always deep breathe
Whenever I’m starting to seethe
But hate’s the wrong path;
There’s just too much wrath,
So my ideals I tried to retrieve.

This effort is surely ongoing
The seeds of contempt could keep growing
As malevolent eyes
Ignore COVID’s new highs
And the pain in the streets’ overflowing.

But one thing I’ve learned is that thoughts
If dwelt on can leave one distraught;
Accept that they’re there,
Make space for more air,
And allow them to flutter aloft.

Thus I’ve moved beyond being whiny
And reduced trump so he’s quite tiny
He’s gone from my head,
I don’t hear what he’s said…
My plan, on Day Two’s, working finely!

_______________

And, because my inner critic suggests this reflection is self-indulgent when there’s so much grief in the world, I’m adding a delightful, gently philosophical video that I hope you haven’t seen before and I think is guaranteed to make you smile.

Its title: “Amazingly simple theory for a happy life.”

Namaste!

Annie

Continue reading “Mindfulness and Trumpiness–plus a little something extra…”

Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic

Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”

“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”

“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”

In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

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Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us. 

(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)

Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.

What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment. 

“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.” 

I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.

These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes. 

It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.” 

That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.

Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection. 

These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)

.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.

But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts. 

Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.”  That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:

How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?

Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said. 

Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.

When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.

I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire. 

Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury. 

The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)

Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.

But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.

(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)

So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity. 

The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.

Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net. 

We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.

It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

Annie

Continue reading “Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic”

“My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” (Anne Lamott, Novelist)

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Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

These are times that are creating great and widespread anxiety, to be sure. Many people report experiencing nightmares. Few of us can remain fully unscathed as we’re forced to change our routines and cut ourselves off from the people and places that have offered comfortable reassurance.

And being alone with our thoughts does not, as Anne Lamott cleverly suggests, always provide us with the best company. We can be hard on ourselves by ruminating on our plights and getting stuck in a cycle of worries. 

For me, mindfulness meditation has a very calming effect, and I’ll share with you below one particular resource I find helpful—whether or not you are a meditator, and even if you’re a “fidgety skeptic.”

I also love these wise words from the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield, which underscore so much about being human:

“If you can sit quietly after difficult news,

If in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm,

If you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; 

If you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; 

If you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;

If you can always find contentment just where you are…

…..You are probably a dog.”

It’s a tough time for the two-leggeds, as Internet sensation Pluto the Dog refers to us. (She seems to be having the time of her life; so far there’s been no interruption in her treat supply chain…) And if you haven’t seen her and need an instant lift, I encourage you to look for her repeat performances on YouTube.

Fortunately, there’s also a treasure trove of free material on the Internet to help us get through this terribly difficult time.

I don’t want to oversimplify this issue. Andrew Solomon, a professor of medical clinical psychology at Columbia University who has written about his struggles with serious mental illness, observed in The New York Times that nearly everyone he knows “has been thrust in varying degrees into grief, panic, hopelessness, and paralyzing fear. If you say, ‘I’m so terrified I can barely sleep,’ people may reply, ‘What sensible person isn’t?”

If you’re feeling the way Sullivan describes, you may need professional help. Even if you’re  just seeking some reinforcement, I won’t pretend the resource I’m recommending will banish your psychological or physical pain—or make it easier for you to ignore your sudden or worsening economic problems. 

But I hope if you’re looking for some way to help you better adapt to our truly bizarre situation, you’ll give it a look.

And you needn’t be a meditator to appreciate its offerings and to find these common sense approaches helpful.

The source is Ten Percent Happier: tenpercenthappier.com. I actually paid a discounted price for a phone app last year.

Now, and for the duration of the quarantine at least, the content is available for free on YouTube. 

Live sessions featuring some of the most prominent teachers in the world are aired at 3 pm weekdays and are subsequently available on video. I listen to them (I don’t always watch) each morning before I get out of bed.

Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, is the founder. Harris has explained that he turned to meditation after suffering a paralyzing panic attack on the air. He’s since become immersed in mindfulness and has developed strong friendships with a number of the leaders in the field. 

But he remains ever the “fidgety skeptic” (his words) and is clear when he’s asked to recite or act in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him.

He will repeatedly interject about the scientific grounding of certain practices. I think this approach makes him a perfect host for a program that is far more universal than it might otherwise be.

Each session begins with Harris talking with the guest speaker, who briefly describes her/his background. The speaker then gives an explanation preceding meditation lasting about five-minutes—suitable for those who’ve never meditated before as well as more practiced folks. 

And then the speaker answers viewers’ questions—often my favorite part of the session, as the questions, while unique, underscore so many similarities in what we’re all experiencing. And the answers are invariably helpful. In their entirety, the sessions run for about 20 minutes.

The goal, Harris says, is to bring some sanity into this rocky time, and to build a community, realizing the loneliness experienced even by those of us who are not quarantined alone—because we’re cut off from so many whom we care about. 

Today I heard Rev. angel Kyodo williams (sic), trained as a Zen priest, describe ways to recognize the importance of being in the present moment by trying to look at things in a different way. 

She used the acronym SKY, suggesting boundless spaciousness, to counter the constraints of both being so isolated and experiencing fear in these unprecedented times.

S is for Self-care: We should radically protect our own health and well-being, assess our own situation and take steps to protect ourselves, such as practicing social distancing. She noted that since her health situation puts her at risk, she has become considerably more aware of the need for self-care.

K is for Kindness: That means being kind to both ourselves and others—for example, accepting the annoyance we may feel toward people who seem oblivious to the 6-feet distancing advisory, but not being rude to them.

Y is for Yearning: We tend to contract with suffering, but if we acknowledge that we wish things could be different and are hopeful people take care, we can move out of that mindset. She suggests writing down our yearnings in order to breathe space into our perspectives.

Here is a video of Rev. williams’s presentation.

I have been so pleased with the sessions to date that I’m doing what Harris suggests: spreading the word to help build a community when many people are feeling cut off. I hope if you think you may need something like it—or just want to investigate—you’ll give it a try. 

Annie

Continue reading ““My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” (Anne Lamott, Novelist)”

My Fraught Relationship With The Man-In-The-Box

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Jack in box vector image Courtesy of freesvg.org

I reallyreallyreally do not like inanimate objects talking to me. I avoid Siri, preferring to do my own research than to hear her voice—or to have her record my every Internet search (though I hold no illusions about privacy anymore…). I am not tempted to invite Alexa into my home to find that old Sinatra record for me, thank you very much. 

And back in the day when we actually got into cars and drove places, I always resented the high-pitched voice of that GPS woman, who on occasion directed us to dead-end streets and once recommended that we exit sharply to the right when we were in the middle of a bridge.

I’m not accusing her of malicious intent, but her satellite-guided bumbling was not a confidence-builder. I am perfectly capable of bumbling on my own.

Why then, do I invite the man-in-the-box into my life practically every day? It’s because he’s integral to The Device, which shall go nameless so that I’m not guilty of unintended promotion—or worse. 

Let me sidepedal a bit here and note that I am very receptive to integrative medicine, which brings together the best from East and West. My daily meditation, linking me to the Buddhism of 2500 years ago, has been a great help.

I do try to stick with practices that are evidence-based, and to maintain a healthy skepticism about things that sound extreme to me—Eastern or Western.

When several people whose opinions I respect raved about a physician who practices integrative medicine, I made an appointment.

I wanted to see whether she would offer me new, preferably non-pharmacologic approaches for handling my chronic conditions: specifically migraines that I know have an anxiety component, and mild hypertension.

Well, some of what she suggested made no sense to me. But she recommended The Device, which she felt might help alleviate these issues. And it turned out that she was right.

It wasn’t inexpensive—costing several hundred dollars—but it involved deep breathing, so I felt it was sufficiently safe and akin to the meditation that’s a valued part of my life.

The beloved neurologist who treats me for migraines thought it was a good idea, as it’s a form of biofeedback, which is an evidence-based method to alleviate migraines.

A description: An elastic belt holding a sensor is attached to a computerish small box, as is a pair of earbuds. I snap the belt around my torso and insert the earbuds. Then I listen to the instructions that the little man-in-the-box provides. Note: I am substituting The Device for its brand name. 

Here’s how a session begins:

“Lean back and relax and listen to the music as The Device detects your individual breathing patterns,” he tells me.

If I perform that difficult task to his satisfaction for several seconds/minutes, he says, “The Device has detected your individual breathing patterns. Now breathe according to the guiding tones.” I hear sounds—bom, bom—and I match my breath to the tones. 

Sometimes, as in this morning, he immediately tells me I’ve reached the “therapeutic breathing rate,” which means I’m really cookin’. More often, seconds/minutes pass as he goads me with that familiar refrain: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out” before I reach that coveted goal.

Once there, I continue breathing in and out in sequence with the tones for another 14 “therapeutic” minutes (not sure why it’s that time length, but it always is) until he says, “The Device is turning off. Bye for now.” Let me tell you, I’m never sorry to part with him at that point.

And then I get to see how well I’ve performed by clicking on the box’s levers. Here’s where I realize my slight touch of OCD kicks in. I’m back in school, and I really want to do well. 

In fact, I usually do. The range deemed acceptable for the initial breathing rate is between 6 and 30 breaths per minute—the lower the better. I’ve never gone above 7.2; this morning’s readout was 5.2, which I guess means I had a pretty restful night’s sleep. 

The recommended final breathing range is 5-10 breaths per minute, and I’m nearly always below that—usually 4.8-4.9. Occasionally, I’ve gotten to 4.3, which is nearly Yogi territory, I think. More about that shortly. 

The Device also reports my synchronization rate (how well I synchronize my breathing with the tones) and my breath detection rate (how well the sensor can recognize my in-and-out breaths).

I’m usually right where I should be with those as well. Except if I cough or sneeze. Or hiccup. Then all bets are off.

But I’ve learned one especially bitter lesson. If my initial inhalations are too long while the sensor is assessing my pattern, once the tones begin, I wind up struggling to match them. And the man-in-the-box knows it. He chides me: “Don’t hold your breath!” 

Try breathing in for longer than you possibly can—and continue for 14 minutes—and you’ll see what it’s like. (Actually, just take my word for it; it’s not something a sensible person would do.) 

The lesson I learned: When using The Device, never-ever breathe in for long, lest the sensor monster constantly remind me of my failure.

In such instances, my synchronization rate would ensure a “needs additional work” message on my school report card.

He (my electronic tormenter) has also on more than one occasion said: “Try to breathe more evenly.” I make an effort not to take offense that he’s dissatisfied with my performance.

And he is oh-so picky about that sensor. “Tighten the sensor,”  he’ll command. Or  “loosen the sensor.”  Even “reposition the sensor.” His standards are high. I scramble to do his bidding. 

I used to strap on The Device just before bedtime, but I found all kinds of reasons not to go through the process then. So it’s now the first thing I do upon awakening—after taking a long drink of water to prepare my dry mouth for the routine.

Sometimes I wonder, as you may well, why I subject myself to this regimen-with-verbal-abuse on a daily basis. Of course, I always have the option of shutting the darn thing off.

But, while The Device hasn’t totally replaced medication, it really has done what the doctor said it might: migraine frequency diminished, blood pressure low-normal, anxiety lessened.

So I’m locked in to this challenge. Plus, in these pandem-icky days, I figure it’s not so bad to give my lungs a bit of a regular workout.

And then I meditate and express lovingkindness for all the nasty thoughts I’ve had about the bossy little man-in-the-box.

Annie