Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit

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A Year of Mindfulness-Overlooking Something?

Namaste dear mindfulness friends. How did your practice of noticing dislike turn out? For me it was a time to notice the small triggers, such as grumbling about the morning alarm, the ache in my lower back, or my resistance to exercise (ugh, do I have to do that exercise again?)

Most often, for me, becoming aware of dislike makes me realize that many of my dislikes are pretty insignificant in the bigger picture of life. I try to find the positive in what I’m grumbling about-like realizing that half way through my exercise routine I actually start to feel better. (I’m still working on the positive about the alarm clock.)

This Week’s Practice: Are You Overlooking Something?

This practice dovetails nicely with last week’s practice about dislike. Why? Because often when we’re complaining about something that we don’t like, we end up missing the good stuff. In other words, we fail to notice what else is around us.

As we have learned through many of our mindfulness practices, we tend to have a narrow focus as we move through our day. We only pay attention to what is directly in front of us. The items on our to-do list, whatever is on the TV or computer. Often, we only widen our attention when we are jolted out of our narrow focus by some unusual occurrence, such as a loud bang.

When something unusual occurs, we become alert. We stop what we’re doing and look around or look up. Maybe we get up and move around.

So why don’t we spontaneously stop what we’re doing and enlarge our sphere of listening and seeing? Must we be forced to notice our surroundings by some outside occurrence?

Take a moment to stop reading this blog post. It’s okay. It will still be here when you return.

Turn off the music or TV in the background.

Sit a few minutes in silence.

What do you hear? Are you missing something?

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t focus on the task at hand. Maybe you’re working on a term paper. You’ve got a deadline coming up for a project at work. Certainly we all have situations where we need to intensely focus.

But much like knowing you should turn your eyes away from your computer monitor to give them a break, so should you give your mind a break.  Notice what is around you without any internal dialogue, criticism, or judgement. In Zen practice this is called “not knowing.” A very wise kind of ignorance. Because when we rest in not knowing, many possibilities open up.

Reflection: For a pause that refreshes, at least once a day, stop trying to know and do. Open your awareness and simply sit in “not knowing.” -Jan Chozen Bays

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A Year of Mindfulness: Just Eat

Each week I am sharing a mindfulness practice based on the book How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays. To learn more about mindfulness, please read the introductory post here.

Last week we practiced mindfulness by appreciating our hands. Are you appreciating your hands more?

I found this practice difficult. I found it hard to observe my hands while doing another task. My focus was on the task at hand (ha, ha) not on how my hands moved in unison, in partnership or individually.

Wait, I must have noticed something if I knew they were working in unison, in partnership, or individually. Okay, so maybe my subconscious was paying attention on some level. I think the point here is that, once again, we often move so quickly through our day that we don’t notice what we’re doing. What we’re REALLY doing.

I will continue with this particular practice but focus on a smaller task, such as putting lotion on my hands.

This Week’s Practice: When you eat, just eat

Oh this is a good one. This week we are asked to remove all distractions when we eat. That means no watching TV when eating. No reading a book or newpaper or magazine while eating. No iPad, No computer, No nothing when eating.

Why? Because when we eat we often multi-task. We sit at our desk at work, eat lunch, and surf the Internet or catch up on email. We eat and talk on the phone. We go through a drive-through, pick up a meal, and scarf it down in the car.

Not the best way to enjoy our food is it?

So this week when you eat. Just eat. Remove all distractions. Start with one meal, slow down, and enjoy your food.

Reflection: When eating, just eat. When drinking, just drink. Mindfulness is the very best seasoning. -Jan Chozen Bays


Single Task vs Multi-Task

In the Great Big Dreams seminar we recently discussed blocks and remedies.  You know those things that keep us from moving forward; sometimes they’re physical, sometimes they’re psychological.

Several blocks and remedies really resonated with me: too much stuff on the brain, multi-tasking and unfocused attention, overwhelm, perfectionism.

I decided to focus this week on the “too much stuff on the brain” and “multi-task and unfocused attention.”  This seems to be a big issue for me, especially when returning from a vacation.  You’re probably familiar with the feeling.  You come home rested and relaxed from vacation only to face all the stuff that you missed while away and now need to get up to speed on.

No wonder people say they need a vacation from their vacation.

One remedy to this feeling of overwhelm is what Christine calls a “brain drain list.”  That is, you write down all the stuff that is bouncing around in your head.  By writing it down you clear it from your brain which may bring a sense of relief.  At least all that stuff isn’t bouncing around in your head, causing stress and worry and making you wonder how in the world you’ll get it all done.

Now, how do you tackle all that stuff you’ve just drained from your brain?

You can create a to-do list.  You can prioritize your to-do list.  You can multi-task.

Or you can choose 1-3 items to accomplish and single-task.  That is the approach I’m taking.

I’ve made to-do lists and inevitably I put too many items on the list and never complete half of them during my day.  That doesn’t lend itself to a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve prioritized my to-do lists and that provided some success.  However, some items always remained and, over time, I again lost that sense of accomplishment.

On Sunday night I write down all the stuff that I have to deal with during the coming week.  From that list, I decide which three items I need to accomplish each day.  I chose three items per day beginning with Monday.  On Monday night, I chose three items for Tuesday, and so forth.

And the question I ask throughout all of this is if I do nothing else that day, which three items can I tackle and feel happy that I accomplished them.

How is this different from multi-tasking?  A sense of accomplishment.

When we multi-task, we often move through a series of items (do a little something here, do a little something there) yet we never fully accomplish any of the items because we don’t focus our attention on them.

With a single-task approach, you determine what you can accomplish and set aside or designate a time frame in which to accomplish it.  Writing this blog entry was on my list for Monday.  I set aside one hour in the evening to write it.  If I know I only have 60 minutes to get a task done, I’m going to devote my full attention to it.  And when that hour is done, I know the task is complete and then I move on to the next item.

I’ve even found that by limiting myself to 3 items I may actually accomplish more.  I tick those three items off my list and may take on another small task.  Or, maybe I reward myself with some quiet time to read or take a walk.

Granted, this approach may not work for everyone.  If you try it, it may feel odd at first.  We expect our days to be busy-busy, running in circles, doing this or doing that, and then collapsing at the end of the day wondering where the time went and asking ourselves what exactly did we get done.

Yet when you give your attention to one task at a time, you achieve so much more.  You complete the task and you give yourself a sense of accomplishment.

And what about those large tasks, like clearing your closet or the garage or those 20 bottle stoppers someone ordered?  Break it down into small chunks of time over the week.  And at the end of the week check it off your list.  Done!

Do I allow for “bleed” time?  Of course.  If I’m on a roll with lots of momentum while working on a task, I’ll keep working on it.  There is no tape that will self-destruct or bells that ring with black holes sucking away whatever it was I was working on.

With this approach, you gain control over what you need to get done.  You decide what you can accomplish when and of those items which ones will make you happy to complete them.