Effort and Mindfulness

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When people begin practicing mindfulness they often hear things that seem contradictory. Some common phrases someone might hear are:  “making the effort to practice every day,” “practice without effort or controlling anything,” “letting go,” “focus your attention,” “don’t control your breath,” “non-attachment,” and many more. A new practitioner may get confused. Am I trying to use effort and control or am I letting go and not being attached? The answer is, “Yes.” So, in reality, you can do all of the above at the same time- use effort, have some control, let go and practice non-attachment at the same time.

Effort

Using effort is absolutely necessary. Effort simply means “determined attempt.” Let’s be clear. I did not say, “Perfect attempt.” People have some messed up ideas about what mindfulness is, I know I did. Sitting down to practice the first time many of us leave the first session saying to ourselves, “I am freaking crazy. I had so many ideas. I am NEVER doing that again.” But what we find if we return again and again to the practice is that when we at least try to bring our attention to the present moment purposefully without judging ourselves we are practicing mindfulness. The problem is not that people cannot bring their awareness to the moment. The problem is that when people bring their awareness to the present moment they find something other than expected.  Judgement sets in. Mindfulness is lost. This is where most people leave mindfulness saying that it is crazy, they are crazy, or simply it “just won’t work for me.” The people who persevere simply recommit in their effort. Perhaps the biggest nuts are the ones who return to sit with the millions of thoughts and feelings to see what will happen. But those who do put in the effort find more beyond those initial findings.

Control Freak 

I am a member of at least 3 groups that are known to be control freaks- parent, teacher and recovering addict- I know control. When we approach mindfulness one thing we might find in that present moment is…..I am a control freak (among other things). Let me just reassure you- we all are. Some just hide it better than others.

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We may want to control how we feel, what we look like, how other people feel, the outcome of a situation, the weather (teachers suddenly become mystical creators and forecasters of snowy weather in winter), our children, and list continues. When we sit to practice mindfulness we might feel out of control. We notice how many thoughts we have, we become aware of emotions that have been buried in work or ice cream, we see clearly the reality of our minds- and it ain’t pretty and serene. It’s alright. If we continue to practice we may come to accept even these times when things just aren’t pretty.

When we begin focusing on the breath we might find we are controlling the rate. I once had someone tell me that the breath is not a good place to start with mindfulness because we try to control our breathing. I disagree. The breath is a wonderful place to start because mindfulness is about bringing awareness to whatever is happening without judgement. When I notice that I am controlling how I am breathing I used to say, “AAAAHHHH I am controlling my breath.” Now I notice it without judging it. So what, I am controlling how slowly I am breathing.

Letting Go and Non-attachment

I very much dislike that the movie “Frozen” ruined this saying for me. Every time I think, “Let It Go” I want to break out in song. But now that we have some applied some effort and found out how controlling we are, it is time to let it go. This is the part of mindfulness that I find the most rewarding and the most difficult.

Our identities are wrapped up in what we do and feel. What are the main questions ask you daily- How are you doing? What do you do (for work)? With feelings we can feel “bad” or “good.” We don’t want to feel “bad” because in some weird way that makes us “bad.” If we lose our job or it is a stressful day then our identities suffer. But here is the secret- we are not what we think, we are not what we feel, we are not what we say, we are not what we do. All of these things arise in our minds and are expressed but none of them are our true nature. Mindfulness, in my experience, is about realize this point.

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Our minds subtly convince us that we are the things we do, say, feel and think. When we can understand that “I had a thought” instead “I am that thought,” or “I am holding anger” instead of “I am anger,” or “I work at a job” rather than “I am my job” then we can create some distance. When we can bring those unconscious thoughts to our conscious awareness without judging them or ourselves then we experience non-attachment. When we are able to step back in this way then we can let go of our preconceived notions of what we “should” be thinking, the way the situation “should” be, or what someone else “should” be doing. Instead we can be aware of how something actually is, have a level of acceptance of the way is right now, and let it go with a level of compassion for ourselves, others and/or the situation at hand.

 

 

 

Make a Change- InterChange

On May 1 Possibilities Exist is taking this to a new level. The effects practicing mindfulness can be thought of like a drop of water in a bucket. Gradually the bucket will fill up.

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But as a Science teacher and a person who wants to maximize the benefits I wanted to figure out how to fill the bucket more. That is where InterChange comes in!

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Since mindfulness is interpersonal and can support the building of community I wanted to find a way to not only measure mindfulness on a personal level but also how the ripple effect of the positivity can affect others.

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InterChange is about maximizing the effects of our personal mindfulness practice to make a huge difference in the world. Stay tune for May 1 roll out!

Mindfulness for Children (and Parents)

The day usually comes when we see our children cry and we ask, “Why?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Emotions, stress and hormones are closely related. Each off these can in turn can greatly affect the others. Stress can cause hormone levels to rise and send a kid into a tailspin of emotions.

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Most of us know that stress from one person can have a domino effect reaction. Your child is stressed, you worry about your child, you go to work and perhaps take it out on someone else. Happiness, as well as stress, can travel up to 3 people removed from the original person who experiences it. The ripple effect happens whether we are happy or not. So, why don’t we choose happiness? 

Happiness is a huge topic being research at several universities throughout the world. Happiness seems to be as elusive as many concepts in Quantum physics- we know that it exists, we can experience but once we try to put into words exactly what it means we can be left speechless. However, even though researches have not found the ultimate reasoning behind happiness there have been some progress on finding certain aspects that may lead to happiness. One of those is self-regulation.

Self-regulation begins with “knowing thyself.” This can be challenging and be daunting. Most things that people do today is meant to do anything but know oneself- most things lead to running, hiding and distracting from knowing where we are emotionally, physically, and mentally. Even if we get close to know where we are we almost automatically want to change where we are. The motto of “working on oneself” can be a form of distraction as well. Making progress can be wonderful but if we are not aware of where we are in a given moment if is difficult to to know ourselves.

If parents struggle with this, children’s struggle is compounded by even less tools to deal with the stress of life. Self-regulation is a skill that can be learned. But it takes practice. Mindfulness is one way to begin the process of becoming more aware of where we are at any given moment. We don’t have to go on a retreat, we don’t have to close ourselves off to the world, or go to the top of a mountain. We can just begin by sitting and bringing awareness to our breath.

Many of us, myself included, freaked out and wanted more instruction. While there are many different ways of being mindful becoming aware of the breath is many times the beginning, middle and end of a practice- the one thing we can always go back to to ground ourselves in now. The main thing is to try to experience the breath, not just think about what it is like to breathe. I will some videos and resources in upcoming posts. But for now, just breathe. Before introducing it to your child try it every day for 3 minutes for a week. If your thoughts wander be kind to yourself. We train our brains constantly to jump to something else. Be gentle and bring your attention back to your breath.

 

 

Overachiever Extraordinaire

Recently I have had several people say that I am an overachiever and others have said that I am too happy and positive. Now this is an interesting situation. First of all, yes, I am busy and I am doing a lot. Second of all, I am just getting started!

 

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When preparing for the Olympics or trying to become professional sports players do people call them overachievers?

There have been times in my life when I did not achieve anything. For years I struggled to find my purpose. I grew up several years living in low-income housing and have been relatively poor my entirely life (no rags to riches here). My mom did a great job getting me involved in activities. However, I never felt good enough. I struggled with self-criticism, unhealthy patterns, and a general lack of ability to find solutions. That has drastically changed.

I want to find solutions. I want to help people not hurt. I want to connect with people (even though there is a part of me who wants to run). I want to have purpose in my life. I want to help others while also taking care of myself. I want to change the world for the better. I want to be somebody. And today, I am somebody whom most days I love, I respect and look forward to getting know more.

As a father, husband, teacher, friend, son, and person of the community I want people to feel safe, to be able to grow, and to feel that they matter in this world. I have dreams of  developing programs and ways to make things better. I am working toward teaching people how to nurture themselves, to learn skills they can take with them and possibly pass on to someone else.

The thing is- I have not even begun to tap into my potential! So the next time someone tells me I am overachiever I am just going to say, “Thank you! But you haven’t seen nothin’ yet!”

To help this overachiever reach his next vision of teaching students and families social/emotional well-being skills that will hopefully last a lifetime please donate

https://www.gofundme.com/social-emotional-well-being

(Note about funds: This money will help support a Parent Academy, get educators trained, get supplies for educators in implementing the program and provide me with training to be able to teach educators how to teach the program (this is for the long-term sustainability of the project). Sounds like a lot????? Yes, I am an overachiever with big plans to help people!)

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