Be Kind to Your Mind
“We’re moving into plank.”
I’ve never been a fan of the plank. The minute my yoga teacher, Johanna McClain, says those words, “we’re moving into plank,” my mind and body freeze with a preconceived notion that it’s going to be hard - body stretched flat like a plank, arms strong, abs, and core stitched tight. Breathe.
But, after many months of practicing yoga and meditation consistently, an interesting thing happened. A click.
Recently, we were in a sequence of flowing between the plank and downward dog, back and forth, plank and downward dog, moving with the breath, plank, down dog. My mind and body started down the same pattern of oh-no-this-is-going-to-be-hard, when Johanna said, “find the place between effort and ease.” and something clicked. It wasn't the first time she used the phrase, but it was the first time it clicked into my mind and then my body.
Find the place between effort and ease. I swear I floated, it became effortless ease. As soon as my mind stopped fighting, things fell into that space.
It got me thinking about incorporating that same shift into everything, about working, writing, relating, and living in that place, the space between effort and ease. To my way of thinking it’s the perfect definition of balance.
The next day, in meditation, the guide said, “Be kind to your mind.” A direction that caused my mind to exhale, if that’s possible. It felt possible.
We overload our minds, we pack a lot in there and have high expectations for what our minds can hold. And, our minds also need that balance, the place between effort and ease, mind kindness, to function best.
And, we are the ones in control of our minds, which at times we forget. What a profound honor and responsibility that is, to mine our own minds. To be kind to our mind.
It got me noodling about what that means, to be kind to your mind:
Where is your attention? - notice where your attention is directed. You are your attention owner. No person or thing gets your mind's attention unless you give it to them.
Create thought boundaries - just like personal boundaries, we can set boundaries around the thoughts we allow in our mind field. A negative or judgmental thought can be asked to leave. A positive or loving thought can be invited to enter. When a thought comes in that makes us feel bad or causes discord, ask the question: Is this thought for my best and highest good? If it’s not, the question becomes: what is a better and higher thought?
Quiet and rest - the mind gets tired just like the body. Pull back from screens for a while. Meditate. Sleep.
Food for thought - read and write nourishing words. Listen to beautiful music.
Roam Freely - it’s healthy to allow your thoughts to roam freely, imagination at play. Research shows this leads to relaxation and exploring fresh ideas.
One of the most useful tools that I've used over and over again this past year is to ask: what will give me ease right now? It nourishes the spirit, breathes the body, and yes, is kind to the mind.
Photo by Michael Martinelli on Unsplash
A Year in Motion
My word and theme for 2020 was Connection. Ironic, considering. I went back over my intentions from a year ago and laughed out loud at what was at the top of the list: more mingling, less isolation. It almost feels like a cosmic joke after spending most of the last few months in more isolation than ever.
But, the wisdom that rose up while reflecting on it is that it was a gift rather than a joke. The connecting that did take place, virtually and in small pods, was profound and real and set the stage for more, deeper, lasting relationships. It just looked different than what I'd visualized.
The stagnancy that permeated for me during the pandemic was also very real, often stuck in place in a perpetual pause while wondering, like everyone else, when things are going to get moving again, when projects can go into production, when jobs are back at the office, when kids are back in school, when dinner parties and game nights can occur without worry again. Certainly, I was fortunate, living alone and blessed with good health, to be able to take advantage of some of that time, to go deep and explore the inner workings of what makes me tick. The connection to self has been off the charts.
So, in rolling into 2021, it got me thinking about the best way to emerge from 2020 that feels elevating and evolving, which brought me to the word and theme for this year.
It’s a great one to unpack.
I find an annual theme is such a useful tool. It’s a constant reminder, a touchstone, a mantra running in the background, a way to start and end each day.
The word motion is both a noun - an act, process, instance or body part in motion; an active condition; a proposal for action; a mechanism the moves from one place to another - and, a verb - to signal by a movement or gesture.
I’m making a motion for more motion.
It’s not simply forward momentum. It’s energetic. Kinetic.
And, music to my entire system, it's non-stagnant.
Motion is a stirring.
Motion is a shift, a relocation, a blur.
Motion can be infinitesimal and massive. It can be a tortoise or a hare.
Motion is leaning into what feels good.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Rumi
It hit me that a commitment to motion involves the multi-faceted self. A life in motion is fed when the facets all work together, like a well-tuned machine.
Here's how I'm doing it. Perhaps it will spark something in you too.
Body & Breath in Motion – it's deep breathing (how often do you find yourself holding your breath), yoga, walking, food as fuel rather than therapy. Research shows that motion and movement augment brain function too: supplying brain cells with oxygen thus promoting the production of new brain cells and synapses.
Thoughts in Motion – release mental clutter, choose elevating thoughts, 8-hours of sleep, read good books, pay attention to the thoughts I allow to move in and out.
Faith in Motion – pray, read inspiring literature, meditate, journal, be of service.
Love in Motion – connect consistently with my people and receive new love. Look for ways to give. Gathering and giving is love in motion. Self-care is love in motion.
Words in Motion – write every day. Focus on the process, not results. Write every day. Surrender to the stories. Communicate thoughtfully and clearly, in spoken and written word. Pay attention to the words I tell myself too.
Home in Motion – declutter and release all that it’s inessential. Move the household often to shift energy. I've devoted the month of January to an overhaul decluttering and already, as I say goodbye to carloads of donations and bags of trash, I have so much more space and energy in my home, which opens up energetic space everywhere else.
Money in Motion – save, invest, tithe and plan for what’s next.
Pleasure in Motion – look for the joy every day, in the small events as well as planning and dreaming in motion for when we’re able to travel and play more freely.
As I set each day in motion, I intend to seek where I can improve, to be better, kinder, more generous, inquisitive, focused, faithful, insightful and present.
That’s a life in motion.
What's your theme for 2021?
Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash
What To Leave Behind In 2020? Here's Mine
I’ve been thinking of putting 2020 in a box and storing it in the attic. I know so many others feel the same way. With all the year's suffering, fear, angst and frustration I was going to say 'let's burn it' but I found myself asking: what if I need something from that box?
Well, what would be in that box that you would possibly need?
Hmm. Good question… Deep breathing. I did that a lot, through stress and angst, all year long.
Okay, deep breathing. take it out of the box now.
I guess when I think about it there were things in 2020 that I appreciated and want to keep: I focused on getting healthier, got into yoga, lost 30 pounds, relished deeper connections with people, tried to help where I could, prayed and meditated a lot, loved on my fur family, and wrote some pretty rich words that strung together as parts of stories in progress.
Sounds like maybe the question is, what's in the box to leave behind with 2020? What has haunted you the most these last months? Personal haunts.
Okay. I didn’t realize how hard I am on myself. I discovered, with so much me-time, I’m kind of a master at it. Can you relate to that?
Um, probably. Although hard to admit.
Spending so much alone, living alone, my critic/prosecutor, judge and jury took up permanent residence. I mean, maybe they’ve been semi-regular guests in the past where I would open up the guest room and have time to change the sheets between visits.
Somewhere along the line, they became permanent: inconsiderate, smelly, destructive roommates, with their disarray spilling out all over the place so I couldn’t maneuver around it until their badgering served to stop me in my tracks at times, questioning every move. Hours were wasted in front of my persecutors, all eager to find fault, flaw and failing.
That sounds bad, yes, but who let them in, in the first place?
Okay, whatever. I did. But, in my defense, I would say, "but it’s a pandemic, it’s so hard to focus, my brain is fogged with bad news, everyday work is intense, I’ll do it tomorrow." On and on.
Didn’t that feed right into their hands? To their case?
Oh, so you can relate. Yes, they juried up and doled out their sentence. The same one. Every time. The same sentence.
What was it?
Ah, man. That’s like a punch in the gut. A familiar punch.
A sentence of regret. It imprisons you like nothing else. Stops forward motion. Keeps you stuck. It’s got me thinking, all of the stuck-ness, stagnation, inertia I experienced for so much of 2020, all stemmed from that sentence handed down by my own inner judge. Regret.
What do you regret?
Little things, like not crossing off the to-do list, sticking to a writing habit, following up with someone, making a call, having a conversation, not completing a goal. Whatever I could find to beat myself up about.
It honestly doesn’t matter, does it? Then, yesterday, this quote by Ben Horowitz floated into my inbox: “Spend zero time on what you could have done and devote all your time on what you might do.”
So, regret vs presence. Regret vs acceptance. Regret vs ease.
Regret vs joy. It’s a pretty easy choice when you see it side by side.
Indeed. However, it's not like it was a new thing in 2020, regret.
True. Although not many, some have been around a while, aging with wrinkles and gray hair around the temples. They were just really loud this year. Time to let them all go.
The key, moving forward is to focus on what’s in the present. Set goals, yes of course. But the key is to keep moving forward and not beat ourselves up for what didn’t happen, yet. Yet. Good word. For what we can control and for what we still desire, it hasn’t happened yet. Or, maybe it won't happen. So, what's next? No more beating ourselves up. No regrets. Really, I think it's the only thing I feel the need to leave behind in 2020.
No regrets. And, the inhabitants in the guest room?
They’ve been evicted and moved into the 2020 box, in the attic.
And, if they come around knocking on the door again?
We can have a dialog, but only if it serves the moment.
Otherwise, no clean sheets for an extended stay?
Nope. I’m turning their room into a yoga studio.
Photo by Luku Muffin on Unsplash
When Hands of Time Make You Cry
I looked down at my hand which was draped palm-down on the book I was reading.
What I saw was crepe-like skin gathered at the base of my thumb and soft wrinkles pooling around my knuckles.
What I saw was my mother’s hand.
What I saw was the merging of my mother’s and father’s hand.
What I saw was my grandmother’s hand.
My nose stung and my eyes watered. I blinked back a tear.
What I saw was, again, my own hand.
What are the tears? I asked.
Yeah, that surprised me too, I said.
Are you sad when look at your hand?
I looked again at my hand. My strong, long, lined, graceful, feminine, aging hand. I perused the corrugated map of lines on my palm and marveled at the deep life there.
The tears are acknowledgment, I said. Appreciation. Love.
All of that from looking at your hand?
So it would seem.
I recently had a milestone birthday, rolling into a new decade. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and what it all means. For the past several years, I’ve written a birthday post capturing what I’d gleaned from the previous year, lists of nuggets and gems, soundbites and quotables, how I’ve grown, what I’ve let go.
I didn’t do it this year. I couldn’t seem to find my entry point, the doorway to the story, so I let it lie.
Celebrating was, of course, different this year, and in some ways, deeper and richer, more meaningful, taking place in smaller celebrations that I was blessed with throughout the month.
And, simpler, which is also how this big birthday feels. Simple, like turning the page.
It got me thinking about this new page I've entered, as well as all of the previous pages beforehand. My first thought was to explore what I was leaving behind, releasing, and not taking with me going forward. Then, some wisdom bubbled up. Love it when that happens.
It was the simple knowledge that all of the previous pages were necessary and must be kept. They were not to be released. They’re all still in there. Whatever happened in the past – the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful – doesn’t need to be burned or trashed or forgotten. Or let go. They’re all a part of the story, this life story.
I recently heard someone say, “Don’t let your past be your prologue.” And, I get that. But, to my way of thinking, simply, is that it kind of is. The prologue. Our past is what is on the previous pages, they are the prologue to the current page in our life story. Right?
But, here’s the rest of that wisdom that bubbled up: Detach from the attachment to it. To all of it.
Stay with me.
In other words, the work is not to stay stuck in the prologue. The work is to not be attached to any part of our story. To my way of thinking, the work is to instead acknowledge the prologue and the previous pages and stories, give them the nod they’re due and then plant ourselves firmly into the present chapter, page, paragraph, sentence, word.
The gift of the detachment is that it doesn’t allow the previous pages or chapters to dictate the current one. Some may say detaching is the same as letting go. Okay, then it's letting go of the attachment to the story, not letting go of the story. The idea of detachment clicked in for me a bit deeper somehow. Sometimes you just have to hear things in a different way in order for it to click in.
Just turning the page. Simply. To here and now. I own my story; it doesn’t own me.
It turns out my own gloriously aging hand that holds all of that wisdom was the entry point that opened the door to this next page of my story.
So, what were the tears about? I ask.
I see now. The tears over my hand of time are about a pride of ownership, I say.
And, love for its owner.
Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash
Barrier or Boundary? It Starts With a Thought
Energy is pretty intense these days. I've been thinking a lot about how the energy of others effects our own and vise versa. I find it interesting how external waves of energy, both positive and negative, seep inside us and can become part of our personal reality.
And, taking it more internal, how negative thoughts and energies can either fuel us upward or completely derail us from our path. I know I can go down the self-fulfilling path of self-criticism and judgment.
Then, while deep in meditation as I asked for guidance, a message floated through:
You were born with all of the power and energy of the universe within you. It is innate, positive, and always surging.
Then, came two questions:
Why would you give any of that substantial power away to critical talk and thought about yourself or others?
Why would you direct any of your deep well of energy and power toward fear or shame or guilt or resentment or any of the low vibrations that keep you small?
It got me thinking about how, as an individual and as part of the collective, it is our profound responsibility how we utilize and direct our energy. We are doing a disservice to ourselves and others when we waste our energies on negativity, toward ourselves or others.
Those negative thoughts and energies act as barriers, keeping you small, holding you back. There's way too much good to be done with what you've been given. The world needs your gifts.
To my way of thinking, one key to help remove the barriers is to create power boundaries.
Barriers hinder and impair us; boundaries aid and set us free.
I got to thinking about how effective personal boundaries can be when you set them for yourself in your work and relationships; they foster a space for free and open communication, where you set requirements for what works for you. Why not do the same thing with our thoughts?
You can create thought boundaries where only thoughts that serve and feed the higher good and the best intentions are allowed. I've been playing with this. When a thought comes in that makes me feel bad or causes discord, I ask:
Is this thought for my highest good and intention, or the highest good and intention of others? If not, can I sit in the possibility of a new, better thought?
It's a practice, one that is creating a shift, a movement I can really feel, that's redirecting my inner power toward the positive. I can say it feels good to have more space to expand and grow and to do the work I was born to do.
I mean, just this morning a subject line appeared in my inbox about 'activating the power of the universe within.' Kinda feels like a confirmation to me.
~ Cindy Yantis
Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash