Fail and be a loser…it’s not so bad afterall.

Two months ago I started a 30-day meditation challenge to help me cultivate the skills required to experience more gratitude. So, how’d I do? Well that depends on how you measure success I suppose. I did not make time to intentionally meditate everyday, but I did gain some valuable insight. From the outset, I had a suspicion that setting a meditation-related “goal” might be a little paradoxical since meditation is all about acceptance, forgiveness, and non-striving.

One of the coolest aspects of this challenge was experiencing myself making choices that meant I would not meet a goal that mattered to me. Despite the irony, I highly recommend this experience. If you’re anything like me (i.e., put lots of pressure on yourself to achieve), you might learn that life goes on and people still love you even when you fail.

Another point of irony, there were days when I knew I wasn’t going to meditate where I actually felt proud of myself for honouring what I felt in that moment. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m even writing these words because my fundamental fear in life is being average and I most definitely associate not achieving goals with being average.

So, what now? Well meditation is still exceptionally important to me and the days I don’t make time for it are probably the days I need it the most. However, there’s no point beating myself up over it, just accept, don’t judge, and try again tomorrow.

Here’s an article that every high-stress, high-achieving person out there needs to read: http://www.theonion.com/articles/unambitious-loser-with-happy-fulfilling-life-still,33233/?ref=auto It might just bring you the perspective you need to make more room in your life for love and peace, two things that don’t fit when there’s too much striving, and self-judgment.

Happy Meditating my friends…whenever you get around to it 😉

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Overwhelming gratitude? Yes, please!

I heard once that expressing gratitude everyday would change my life (thank you Oprah) but to be honest, I was underwhelmed by the results of my gratitude journal. At that point in my life I was impatient and looking for instant gratification in pretty much everything I did. Thankfully (pardon the pun), I stuck with my gratitude practice and now I credit it for most of the happiness in my life.

During my time in Asia, I experienced many “firsts” including intense feelings of overwhelming gratitude – the kind of emotion that makes you tear up. I experienced this nearly everyday on my trip and when I came back to Canada, I vowed to do whatever I could to have that feeling as much as possible.

So, how am I doing? Not bad. Definitely room for improvement though so I starting thinking about what makes intense gratitude possible for me. Number one, it takes conscious awareness of the present moment. I’ve learned that moments to be grateful for are happening all the time, the work is really in noticing them. So that brought me back to the power of meditation. All the skills I need to experience appreciation for the present moment can be cultivated through meditation. And there’s another area I could stand to improve… my meditation practice.

So here goes. I’m making a commitment to meditate every day for 30 days, starting today, Saturday, June 1, 2013. That could be 5 minutes or 50 minutes, silently or with music, in my living room or on the bus. I’m doing this because I know that only I am responsible for creating the best possible life for myself. If you have accepted that too then join me, and we will feel grateful and proud together. meditate_20 a day

With love?

 

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With all the decisions we make in a day, wouldn’t it be nice to have one simple question that steered us to the best choice? (And by best, I mean the choice with the most positive impact on the world.) Or better yet, what if we had some standard to measure ourselves with that worked in any situation?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we do. If you can’t do it with love, don’t do it. Love is the most fulfilling standard I’ve come up with to measure my own success. Yes, I’m quite achievement-oriented and that gets out of hand sometimes. What I’ve learned is to productively harness the consequences of being type A by redefining what success looks like. How do I know if I should have a certain conversation or if I should go to the gym or if I should attend the party? I ask myself if I’m doing it out of love or fear. For example, am I going to yoga because I’m scared my arms will be a little less defined tomorrow if I don’t or because I love how it feels?

I’m chuckling as I write this because I’m making it sound like I’ve mastered this when in fact, this is exactly where I need to focus right now.

The consequence of using love as our guide is simply an elevated world where we approach one another with kindness and compassion, not jealousy and hostility. That’s a world I want to live in.

So, my personal challenge is to figure out whether my actions are done out of love for myself or someone else. If not, I’ll know it’s time to either cut that activity out or change my mindset so I can do it with love. Feel free to join me…but only if you can pursue this challenge with love 😉

 

 

 

Oh fear…take my hand, let’s go.

climbing kid 2This is what I saw when I walked into the climbing gym yesterday…a little kid scaling the wall like falling just wasn’t an option for her. I was thoroughly impressed. Then, it occurred to me that maybe fear of objectively safe things is something we learn in adulthood. Lucky us.

But wait, it’s not all bad news. One of the major benefits of being an adult is the power of choice. Why not apply that to your relationship with fear? You can choose to run away from your fear or choose to stare at it stunned…but what if you choose to become friends with your fear? Friends (ideally) accept you for what you are; they don’t try to change you. They guide you toward paths that allow you to grow and they’re loyal through it all.

At one point, the job I used to have was my dream job so leaving it was definitely scary. So scary in fact that I had to take a macro-perspective of the fear itself to get a handle on it all. That’s when I realized that I could decide that my fear wasn’t going to stop me from doing the things my heart wanted to do. Instead, I chose to use that fear as a guide. I let the presence of fear be an indicator that I was facing the potential for some important personal growth.

That shift in perspective is what makes me appreciate my fear, tuck it in my pocket and take it along with me on whatever proverbial mountain I happen to be climbing. And like any trusted friend, fear is always there for me. Of course after scaling one mountain, it takes a bigger one to bring on the fear next time. And thank god for that because otherwise, I wouldn’t know if I was evolving or not.

If you’re not convinced that you and fear can buddy up, try this mantra that I learned from Swamiji, a man who I visited at his wall-less house in a Balinese rice paddy (seriously).

“Oh fear, I’m not afraid of you. Take my hand, let’s go.” 

How to meditate…yes, it’s really that simple.

An old psychologist named Albert Bandura figured out that when people don’t believe they can do something, they’re not very motivated to do it. I’d say the reason why people don’t meditate, even the ones that know it’s good for them, is that they don’t believe they can “sit still, empty their minds, and reach mystical states of consciousness.” Well, good news…that’s not what meditation is! Trust me, if you’re reading this, you have the attentional powers to meditate.

Our brains are designed to think about things, that’s what industrialized our world. What we can stand to improve however, is our ability to choose what we think about and when we think about it. Meditation is the cross-training that will allow us to do that.

If you want to meditate, try watching the activity in your mind the same way you watch a movie. Rather than getting attached to your thoughts by thinking about the what if’s of the past and making mental to-do lists for the future, simply notice that you’re thinking and then bring your attention to something in the present moment. I suggest your breath since we all have it, all the time. Breathing provides lots of different sensations to attend to e.g., air passing through your nostirls, ribs expanding, white noise, etc.

As for logistics…somewhere quiet without distractions is a good start. Being comfortable will go a long way too. Personally, I like the classic cross-legged on a pillow position. Sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor works too. Remember, our physical position influences our state of mind. Be at ease and alert in your body, and your mind will follow.

My final and most important point..let go of achieving anything. Meditating with expectations and goals will only lead to self-judgment. There is no perfect way to meditate, there is only your way. That might mean five minutes breathing in your car before you drive to work or sitting in silence on a silk pillow imported from India. It doesn’t matter how long you sit or how many times you bring your attention to the present. Just begin and be open to whatever happens or doesn’t happen.

STOP here and take one breath right now, noticing the expansion of your body on the inhale and the relaxing of your body on the exhale.

Congrats my friend, you just meditated.

Why athletes should meditate

I’ve never met a high performance athlete who didn’t cross train. Why do they do it? Because it allows individual skills to be easily isolated and improved. Practicing meditation is the same as a hockey player doing off-ice balance drills. But instead of better balance, you get an improved ability to manage your inner dialogue and to focus your attention. And, those skills can give athletes the edge they need to outperform their competitors.

Let’s use another sport…running. No matter how beautiful your route, at some point you will have a negative thought. Maybe your knee hurts, or you’re thirsty, or you just don’t want to go on anymore. Meditation teaches you to detach from your thoughts. Just watch them come and go without getting involved with them. How helpful would it be to simply notice an uncomfortable sensation in your body without needing to label or judge it?

Meditation also builds your capacity to stay present. Bye bye worries of the past and future. A seasoned meditator can sustain their attention on the sensations in their body, rather than getting caught up with self-doubt. If you’re wondering, “what about focusing on the race strategy?” Touché. Not a bad place for an athlete’s focus to be. But still, athletes need to have the skills to tune out the distractions from competitors and from their own inner critic.

I remember when I first started racing as a sprint kayaker, I looked around a lot and it made me panic to see my competitors closeby. The physiological reactions of panic are no good for maximal physical performance. Once I learned to focus on myself, my race, my body…well that’s when I started winning.

So, to all athletes out there, consider adding meditation to your training plan. You’ll improve your ability to handle negative thoughts, to visualize success, and to simply enjoy every delicious moment of your race.

Coming next How to meditate…yes, it’s really that simple.