mindfulness & peace

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How to Appreciate Life (Even During a Global Pandemic)

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” ~John Lennon

When I was in my late twenties I went on a trip with my mom and brother to Scotland.

Though I was a bit trepidatious about spending so much time with my family, I was excited for the trip too. When it finally arrived, I couldn’t wait to see the gorgeous Highlands, tour ancient castles, and eat endless amounts of shortbread. When we got there, I did exactly that, and it was incredible.

But though I loved my mom to the moon and back, like many parent-child relationships, she also got on my nerves a lot. As the trip progressed, I found myself annoyed at how many pictures she took, her repetition of the same stories, and how late she’d sleep (and snore) in the mornings while I itched to get out exploring.

Lack of contact with my friends and a lack of personal space from my family had me crawling out of my skin with impatience and frustration.

I’d listen to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now each morning as I drank my coffee; his reminders to stay present in the moment (the “now”) reminded me it was pointless to “argue with reality” and wish I wasn’t where I was. But inevitably, by the end of the day I found myself counting the sleeps until I got to fly home and sink back into normal life.

What I couldn’t have known on that trip was that my mom would die of a heart attack mere months after getting back to the states. The pictures she was so bent on taking every five minutes would be her last few captures of earth; the conversations we had over hotel breakfasts would be some of our last mother-daughter interactions. 

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I’d soon ache for her repetitive stories, miss shoving the pillow over my ears as she snored, and long for a “do over” of certain moments where I acted like a brat.

In the years since she’s been gone (and through a lot of self-work) I’ve forgiven myself for being human and wishing my time on that trip away—but that experience taught me that we can never take time, life, or the people in it for granted.

Though it’s easy to forget, life is always only happening in the present, and good old Eckhart Tolle is still right when he reminds me (repeatedly) of the power of now.

But however well I learned this lesson after my mom’s death, this feeling of wanting to fast forward into the future is one I’m noticing a lot lately, both in myself and the culture as a whole.

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused many normal parts of life to screech to a halt, and it sort of feels like life itself is actually halted too. After all, for those lucky enough to not be ill (or have ill loved ones), the changes to daily life seem like a giant “pause” button has been pressed on our world—like we’ve stepped into some dystopian movie.

When will I be able to go back to work?

When will we know that the curve has flattened?

When will I feel safe in a crowd again?

When will this be over?

When we watch those dystopian movies, we know that eventually we’ll be able to get up from the movie theater, throw our popcorn bucket away, and continue with regular life.

But this current version of the world isn’t a movie: it is real life, and though it feels anything but normal, there’s no one holding a giant remote keeping us on pause. Though the roads are empty and the grocery shelves bare, the calendar pages still fly by and each day that passes is one of a limited number we each have in life.

If losing my mom unexpectedly taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to wish life away, even when things feel bleak, overwhelming, or downright scary. Life is happening right now, and there are ways we can continue to live it while still holding space for the surrealness of it all.

In the spirit of being present with what is and making friends with even an uncomfortable reality, I offer you some tried and true steps for staying present with life—whatever it may be bringing.

1. Start your day intentionally

In the most normal of circumstances it’s tempting to start the day by grabbing our phones, and in the midst of a pandemic it can feel almost responsible to check the news at the crack of dawn. But unless we’re actually headed out the door at the very moment our feet hit the ground, there’s no reason to make a screen (or the news and opinions on it) the first thing that we see.

Starting our day with things outside our immediate reality can introduce panic, anxiety, and a frightening picture of what the future day or week might hold.

Before interfacing with the world, I’ve found that spending at least a half hour with just myself (and the family right in front of me) can ground me in the present and equip me with the foundation to face what’s going on elsewhere.

Within this time, I imagine how I want my day to go: How do I want to feel, respond, or show up to whatever happens? Yes, imagining the day ahead involves leaving the present—but in a way that lays a foundation of protection for each future moment that the day will bring.

2. Check in with what’s real

What’s actually real to me right now? Not what’s on the news, not what I wish were happening, but what is right in front of me?

I do this by asking myself: How am I feeling physically, emotionally, spiritually? I babble with my baby and “talk” to her about what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

Though it is responsible to stay informed about community guidelines and general advisories about the current pandemic, checking in with our senses and what is truly real in our world can keep us from zooming forward into the imagined dystopian future.

3. Take off the productivity pressure and slow down

Regular life is often filled with lots of rushing: rushing to work, dropping the kids off, walking the dog, or getting that “thing” accomplished and behind you. Being quarantined has abruptly cut off much of that “hustle” mentality, but we sneaky humans find ways to hold onto our comforting (if unhealthy) habits.

One of those habits is the tendency to stay busy. During this “stay at home order” I’ve seen a productivity push emerge: a pressure to take this time to learn, create, accomplish, perfectly schedule your children, organize community initiatives, and do it all without physical support from your regular village.

If you’ve got the bandwidth to use this time in a “productive” way that feels good, more power to you— there’s nothing wrong with accomplishing when it comes from a place of inspiration or power. But if, like many of us, you’re struggling to do even the smaller tasks in life right now, I encourage you to reject this push for productivity and lean into the slowness that this time has created.

If it’s tougher than usual to get ready for the day, practice noticing everything about what getting ready for the day entails: “Right now I’m combing my hair, now I’m feeding the dog, now I’m getting into the shower.”

As you notice (and say) what you’re actually doing, allow yourself to just be doing that thing—not shaming yourself over the language you’re not learning or wondering why working from home isn’t as smooth as you thought it might be.

Leaning into slowness, noticing and staying with every individual action taken, and giving yourself permission to be overwhelmed (and likely slower than usual) is a key to staying present with life exactly as it is right now.

4. Be a time traveler

During the Scotland trip, I wasn’t particularly grateful for my mom, because being with her felt so normal: after all, I’d never not lived in a world with her in it. Now, however, I’d be so grateful to wake up to her snoring or to hear her re-tell the same story about Buford the run-away cow.

Because I’ve lost her, I realize how precious the time I had with my mom was—and the sobering but truest fact about life (in even the best of times) is that we will eventually lose everything.

Everything will someday be rendered precious, because the nature of our lives is impermanence. Though I doubt any of us will miss the fear or heartbreak of this pandemic, we just might miss the extra time with our family, the unique ways people have been kind to each other, or the incredible global connection we’ve experienced by going through the same thing at the same time as every other human on the planet.

Kind of like how we might be envious of our former selves that (mere months ago) were going to basketball games and brushing up against people in sweaty yoga classes, our future selves might someday miss these strange times, if only because we hunkered down and spent them with people who are no longer in our lives, or parenting children who are now grown and out of the house.

***

Though the experiences are decidedly different, I see some parallels between the sudden death of my mother and the current moment in time.

After my mom died, I kept trying to gather pieces of myself and fit them back together: I was waiting for the day that things would feel normal again. But my relationships, goals, and every thought going forward felt different…because I was.

Similarly, when the world, our communities, and individual lives return to what one might call normal, these things likely won’t feel the same. Our world will now be different because we are.

But rather than grasping at the familiar of yesterday or projecting into an imagined tomorrow—I hope you’ll join me in holding space for the mourning, destruction, and transformation that’s happening both collectively and within each one of us.

Yes, things are difficult at present, but as the great Ram Dass said, let’s be here now.

This—right now—is our life, and while we still have the choice, let’s decide each day how we’d like to live it.

About Melissa Pennel

Melissa Pennel is a life coach, writer, speaker, and podcaster living in Northern California. When she’s not making faces at her baby or playing laser with her cats, you can find her writing on her blog or talking about living with meaning on her podcast “Follow Your Fire: Life, Work, and Purpose” (available on her website, iTunes, Spotify, or Soundcloud.)

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How to Tame a Worrying Mind During Difficult Times

“Mental health is just as important as physical health.” ~Unknown

Our main focus during this challenging time is quite rightly on our physical well-being. But we shouldn’t forget about our mental health considering these are stressful times for all of us.

Will we get sick?

Will our loved ones die?

Will we have enough food to feed the family?

How will we pay the bills?

How long do we have to stay in?

Will things ever get back to normal?

So many questions, so many worries.

Worrying used to keep me awake at night. It occupied every space of my mind during every waking minute. I always felt on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t feel like I could handle life at all.

My life was like this for many years until I began to understand myself better. I healed my past traumas and learned to respond to myself in effective and compassionate ways.

Some of what I’ve learned has helped a great deal during this time of uncertainty and unpredictability. This has resulted in me experiencing great mental health with well-balanced moods, resilience in the face of challenge, and solid emotional regulation skills.

And let me tell you, I was pretty much the opposite extreme before, so these mental health secrets really do work. I want to share them with you so you too can benefit, because emotional well-being can help see us through the challenges that lie ahead.

Mental Health Booster #1: Be Present

When I used to worry and cripple myself with anxiety, I was caught up in my head. I followed every thought like a puppy chases a squirrel. It was too tempting, and I couldn’t resist it. One fearful thought led to another, and down the slippery slope of worry I went. I never landed anywhere pleasant.

Being caught up in my mind meant that I wasn’t present enough to pay attention to myself, so I didn’t know how I felt or what I wanted. I was just stressed out of my mind while staying stagnant in my life.

Being caught up in your head right now probably looks like worrying about your health or someone else’s, watching the news and feeding your mind with more and more scary updates. Maybe you can feel that you’re spiraling and your anxiety is increasing. Maybe you’re obsessively following the media coverage and forgetting about everything else.

These are examples of not being present.

Being present means being fully in the moment. It’s not being distracted but engaging with what is.

So instead of filling my mind with worrisome news, I tend to what is going on right in front of me. I may play with my baby, cook for my children, or take a warm bath. In this way, I am there both physically and emotionally, which helps me to stay out of my head.

During challenging times, I pay particular attention to any distress signals like shallow breathing, feeling shaky, or having a tight chest. I no longer see them as something additional to worry me but rather as signs that alert me to take a break.

I pause and get still. I start to be there for myself.

I reconnect with what is going on around me. I ground myself in my body. I focus on my breath.

I slow down. I get present.

Then the anxious voices in my heads, my little worry warts, begin to fade away.

Mental Health Booster #2: Feel and Validate Your Feelings

We all experience an increase in uncomfortable feelings during challenging times. If we have to stay at home, there are fewer distractions to take our mind off fearful thoughts and difficult emotions.

We can easily find ourselves overwhelmed by our feelings.

I remember many times in my life when it felt like the walls were closing in on me while something horrifically painful inside me was trying to break out. I felt hot and panicked. I didn’t know what to do and worried that I was losing my mind.

I had been avoiding and fighting my feelings for so long that I didn’t understand them. I feared them. I used all my energy and effort to suppress them, but every now and then, during challenging times, I couldn’t keep it up

The additional stress was simply too much.

One day I read that we were meant to feel our feelings. Wait, WHAT!?

Mind. Blown.

I had been fighting my feelings and running away from them all my life, and now I was being told that if I ever wanted to get better, I had to feel my feelings.

So I started letting them happen. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it because I realized resisting my feelings was what actually made it all so painful.

I learned that I had to stop telling myself that I shouldn’t feel how I was feeling, that I was being ridiculous, that I was too sensitive, and so on. I was invalidating myself. I was shaming myself for feeling whatever I was feeling.

I was making myself wrong for feeling all the time. No wonder I felt overwhelmed when experiencing something I had judged as shameful!

Invalidating our feelings is harmful to our mental well-being. It erodes our self-esteem and leaves us feeling broken and defective. It makes us disconnect from ourselves, and we begin to make all the wrong choices because we no longer know how we feel and what we want.

Staying mentally healthy during difficult times requires you feel your feelings and allow yourself to process them, which means not fighting or avoiding them.

It also means that you have to learn to validate your feelings. This involves you normalizing and empathizing.

You do this by telling yourself that it’s okay to have this feeling, and that any human with the kinds of thoughts you’re thinking or the kind of experience you are having would feel how you’re feeling. Tell yourself that it’s okay. That in itself is reassuring.

For example, most recently I have been experiencing fearful thoughts about the health of my loved ones. I worry that they’ll get sick, or worse. Instead of fighting my worry,  I validate my fears and soothe myself.

I can see that it’s perfectly natural to worry about losing those you love and that the anxiety I experience is a result of these kinds of thoughts. My anxiety is therefore perfectly normal considering the circumstances, and I don’t have to see it as a problem, which in itself is reassuring and decreases my anxiety.

Mental Health Booster #3: Engage with Something Meaningful

When we learn not to make our feelings problems, it creates the space we need to engage with something meaningful, something that matters to us, something that brings us joy.

And what is really important for our mental well-being during difficult times is to engage in something meaningful for us.

We can choose something fun, something silly, something creative, something lighthearted. We can come up with new projects or can focus on being productive in some way. We can improve our relationships by having some fun or being caring toward each other. We can play with our kids.

Whatever it is, choose something. Get present and engage with it.

It will take your mind off things. It will give you a break.

Don’t let a difficult situation confine and restrict you.

This isn’t about denying or avoiding the realities of a difficult situation. It’s about preserving the mental energy needed to deal with it in the most effective and compassionate way possible.

And a big part of preserving our mental energy and health is maintaining a sense of purpose in the face of a crisis.

This is something most of us have in common: We all want to feel that we are useful in some way, that we have a purpose, that we’re doing something valuable.

And there are so many different things we can do to have that experience. But in order to do so, we need to have space in our minds, which requires us to practice being present, to feel our feelings and to validate them.

I hope that these three mental health boosters help you as much as they have helped me. I am grateful to you for reading this, as this is my meaningful contribution that allows my mind to focus on something I find valuable and enjoyable.

About Marlena Tillhon

Marlena helps people who struggle in relationships, due to codependency, insecure attachment, and unresolved trauma, develop and change in ways that allow them to finally get the love they need. She works as a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and clinical director and loves to connect on Instagram or via her Love with Clarity Facebook group and page. She is an expert in human relationships and sees them as the lifeblood of a meaningful existence.

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The post How to Tame a Worrying Mind During Difficult Times appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

Autoimmune & Coronavirus: Beating the Panic & Fear in All of Us

“The problem is not the existence of stressors, which cannot be avoided; stress is simply the brain’s way of signaling that something is important. The problem–or perhaps the opportunity–is how we respond to this stress.” ~The Book of Joy

For the past few weeks, I took pride in being able to keep fear at a distance.

My motto was “Don’t let the fear in. The fear makes you a vulnerable host to coronavirus.”

Since I have Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune condition, I know about stress and how it harms my immune system. Stress steals energy from the necessary functions my body performs to keep me alive. Fear adds stress to the body.

As I drove up to the parking lot of my favorite grocery store, people were gathered outside—and the store wasn’t open, yet. My sensitive nervous system scanned the environment and registered that something was wrong.

This wasn’t normal. I came here daily, and I had never seen this before.

People weren’t talking, they weren’t smiling, and they gripped the handles of shopping carts like they were ready to claim a Black Friday deal.

Approaching the store, I squeezed my way through to the last remaining shopping carts. People frowned at me as if I was trying to cut in line. I smiled from behind my face mask, hoping my eyes communicated that “I am here with you—not in competition with you.”

As the door opened to the store, people stampeded in. It was like a race: ready, on your mark, get set—GO! People scattered across the store to retrieve items like their lives depended on them.

Standing at the entrance in shock, I barely noticed the nice employee standing there. Smiling, he offered me a disinfectant wipe as if to say, “It is okay. We will keep you safe.” For a moment, his smile calmed my senses.

As I made my way to the meat aisle, I felt my adrenaline surge. Will they have my ground meat? What if they don’t have my gluten-free staples? What will I eat with my restricted diet if they are out of my life sustaining products? What about prunes?

In a brief second, I went from smiling at a kind man to fearing I would be unable to go to the bathroom and eventually starve to death. In the moment, this situation seemed more life-threatening than the Crohn’s disease I battled daily.

My motto, “Don’t let the fear in,” was submerged in the chaos around me.

After securing my groceries, minus some of my favorite items, I took a deep breath and made my way outside and to my car. Sitting in the car for a few minutes, I noticed my heart pounding and my hands were shaking.

The fear and stress were already registering in my body as physical symptoms.

“Oh no,” I said to myself. “My immune system is already compromised, and now I am stressing it even more. This is placing me at greater risk for illness!”

Thump thump, my heart rate called for my attention.

Noticing my heart rate, I felt warm and sweaty as I panicked about the panic.

I was stressing about the stress.

When I got home, as I opened my front door, I was greeted by my new kittens, Pawso and Samba. Just weeks ago, I was their foster mama and now I am their forever family. These kittens weren’t “my plan,” but they are teaching me to accept that life can have a plan of its own.

I watched them pounce and tumble together. I could hear their purrs. Relaxing my tight grip on the front door, I observed them playing and acting as they normally do.

My house was normal; it was safe. I had nothing to fear in this present moment.

There are many times in my life I adapted to changes that didn’t go according to my plan.

Coronavirus certainly isn’t to be compared to kitten adoption, but how I adapt to changes in my routine and monitor my stress levels are the same. Change always brings some degree of stress.

I wouldn’t be human if fear didn’t affect me. As soon as I entered the grocery store, it filled my senses like the overflowing shopping carts.

Just like coronavirus, fear is contagious too.

But there is a difference. Only a percentage of us will contract coronavirus. Nearly everyone seems afflicted with fear.

My history of trauma makes me primed for fear and stress. My body’s warning system is primed to react to any indication of danger in my environment. It doesn’t know the difference between a traumatic event that happened twenty years ago and a present trigger.

Simple things like people gathered outside the grocery store, a deviation from the normal routine, triggered my body’s familiar response to trauma. To me, this was a traumatic event.

As I settled back into my routine at home, I realized that even though fear and stress were around me, in the space of my own home and in the respite of my own body, I was in total control.

The days that followed I developed a plan to feel empowered over coronavirus and fear.

1. Make my priorities clear

My plan is changing minute by minute, so I need to be flexible, but I am clear about my priorities.

My health comes first, and during times of crisis, stress reduction is critical. Normal day-to-day stress can strain my immune system, but now stress levels are at their peak, so I must be more vigilant than ever with my self-care.

Life as I know it is going to change.

Today I must find my new normal and trust that I have adapted to a broad range of changes in my life—from new kittens to the potentially life-threatening diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.

I am still here and alive to share about it.

I have to forego some of my passions—ballroom dancing at the studio—but I can and will replace this with other passions.

Maybe now is the time to rekindle some of my past passions, such as playing my piano.

I need to make a plan. This includes taking extra supplements to boost my immune system and monitoring my overall health in conjunction with my healthcare team.

2. Orient to my present surroundings

When I returned from the grocery store, my stress level was elevated. As soon as I saw Pawso and Samba, I was reminded that I was not at the grocery store. I was home.

Pawso and Samba instinctively know when there is danger. When I got home, they were playful and content.

When I oriented myself to their clear demonstration that “It is safe, let’s play,” it brought me into the present moment. I, too, was safe.

I learned at a young age to view my environment as unsafe

My history of trauma naturally alerts me to the potentially scary things in my surroundings.

My history of trauma doesn’t draw my attention to the safe cues around me.

Knowing this, I have to be mindful and identify the things in my environment that are safe because this calms my body’s stress response.

What we focus on changes how we feel.

During my trip to the grocery store, I recalled only one indication of safety—the employee’s warm smile. There were other indicators of safety, but I was too stressed to notice. Instead I became a part of the shopping cart frenzy. In reality, all of us went home with enough food.

Realigning with signs of safety is essential because when I focus on danger, this elevates my body’s stress response. This is not healthy for my already compromised immune system.

3. Remember my resiliency

Many of us with histories of autoimmune disease and trauma have already survived a lot. Our complex histories have taught us how to prioritize and adapt.

These universal life skills can help us cope with change whether it is adjusting to two furry friends in the home or developing a plan to reduce coronavirus risks.

Health crises like coronavirus are traumatic not only because of the real present threats but because they remind us of what we have already endured with past health crises.

I don’t want to “go back there,” and cannot imagine having more symptoms “stacked” on my preexisting ones.

The mere thought of hospitalization terrifies me, and I don’t want to die.

I check in with my thoughts regularly.

I try not to describe myself as “high-risk,” because I want to feel strong.

I want mental immunity in addition to physical immunity.

My thoughts have significant influence over my health.

For some people, coronavirus has introduced new lifestyle restrictions. Living with autoimmune disease, I feel like my routine is mostly the same.

I am always hypervigilant about washing my hands, wear a mask in crowded public places, and restrict my travel and social engagements during busy times like holidays. I have a balance of working from home and in the field.

Taking precautions feels normal to me.  I don’t want any virus, regardless of origin.

The biggest obstacle is my mind and my perceptions of what is going on around me. The fears I carry about the “what ifs” and the events I imagine might take place in the future can wreak havoc on my well-being—far worse than any day-to-day adjustments.

My mind is my greatest inconvenience right now.

4. Adhere to restrictions beyond sheltering at home

I have to restrict my intake of the news and social media, because I am sensitive to the fear and stress. This is good self-care—a balance of being informed without getting overly focused on content that weakens my mental immunity.

For me, just one hour of late-night television is enough exposure, because at the bottom of the screen I can see the scrolling updates about coronavirus.

One to three social media check-ins per day and I get my dosage of updates on current events.

Sometimes I have to tell my friends I don’t want to talk about the coronavirus and instead suggest we share memories and laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine” might be cliché, but laughing increases happy chemicals that result in positive mood and well-being.

5. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation

“No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love.” ~Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Our society has become increasingly disconnected as face-to-face communication is replaced with screens. We need human contact. It is necessary for survival. Right now, we need our social connections more than anything.

Yesterday I walked outside and had a delightful conversation with my neighbor across the street. We may have been yelling, but there was no question we respected social distancing. It felt great to have human connection.

I hold in my heart how much better I felt when I noticed the man smiling at me in the grocery store. It calmed me instantly.

This is my focus—the healing power of relationships—the greatest boost we can offer to our immune systems.

6. Be kind

When we remember that we are all in this together, suddenly we focus our attention on the positive events taking place around us. This orients our brain and body to safety and calms our stress response.

Making a difference is empowering. It reminds us how much influence we still have over our lives even when scary things are happening around us. Helping others has a positive effect on our immune systems.

Now is the time to find creative ways to give back to our communities. For example, consider fostering for your local animal rescue organizations. Not only do animals offer stress relief, companionship, and the healing power of relationship, but they are one way to give back while sheltering at home.

When I smile at the people in my community providing services to those of us sheltering at home and I say, “Thank you for your services,” I feel at peace because kindness reminds my body and mind what is most important.

7. Find the sparkle in every situation

Even though I have been mandated to stay home, I can see a sparkle of light that is always there if I open my eyes. Sitting at my desk, I look around…

Among the confines of these walls from which I am told I should not venture far, is the home that I helped build. This home is a reflection of my values, my beliefs, and is abundant with intangibles to comfort me.

My home is abundant with love from my family and pets and offers me a sanctuary to be my true and uninhibited self. In my home, I have the space to truly be with me.

This is the only moment in my lifetime where I have been given permission to stay home, take care of myself, and am not asked to give reasons why. This is the only moment in my life where my health and safety have been deemed most important by the entire world.

Maybe I needed a mandate to stay home and notice that I am exactly where I always wished I could be—and here I am.

About Casey Hersch

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of www.lightyoursparkle.life. She specializes in integrative treatment models for chronic illness by bringing awareness to the connection between our physical and emotional bodies. Our passions are at the center of health and ballroom dance and pet companionship are vivid examples. Inspired by her own struggles with autoimmune illnesses and trauma, she educates about empowerment and how to build individualized healing plans.

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14-Day Meditation Challenge: Put Down Your Phone and Be

“Meditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively.” ~Sharon Salzberg

I came home from my doctor’s appointment last week and rambled off three to four different things that were happening in the world as a result of the coronavirus. By the fourth item my wife asked me to stop. She said please tell me something good.

I told her that my doctor said my pathology report came back negative. That the procedure on my neck had removed all cancerous cells. (A very good thing!) We shared a hug and a smile, and then I was back on my phone looking to see if anything else had changed in the world.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to your phone the past couple of weeks, mesmerized by what’s going on. I’ve been swiping right (to get to the news) thirty to forty times per day, probably more, and it’s been making me crazy.

Many of us are now in isolation from a virus that is changing the world as we know it at incredible speed. That’s why I think it’s important to spend less time on our phones. 

Yep, you heard me correct. Less time. Even if it’s just ten minutes less per day.

Now more than ever it’s important to spend time doing something that’s grounded in reality rather than fear and panic. I’m not saying that what’s happening isn’t real, it’s very real, but a lot of us are getting over amplified by the ridiculous amount of information at our fingertips, and it’s taking us to a place of panic and fear.

That’s why I want to challenge everyone to fourteen days of meditation. Why? Because meditation is grounded in reality.

It’s just breathing. Breathing in and out like the waves of the ocean.

It’s you experiencing your thoughts for what they are—just thoughts—and then coming back to your breath. It’s you taking a break from the craziness of what’s going on and getting centered.

I present this challenge to you gently because I know a lot of us have been affected in one way or another. Heck, I just found out that a job I was supposed to start today has been pushed back for a month and a half. That’s money that my family was counting on.

I can get angry and I can scream and shout, but what good is that going to do me.? It is what it is. Instead, I can meditate. However scary it may be out there, we all have this beautiful opportunity to check in with ourselves and rise.

I’m not saying don’t inform yourself, but at the same time you don’t need to be glued to your phone. We have to remember to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Then others. Hence this challenge.

Take this time for you. Ten minutes a day.

Put down your phone. Don’t swipe right and get sucked up into the news like I’ve been doing. Don’t turn on the TV and check out for an hour or two. Use this time, which we all have, to check in with yourself.

And who knows? Fourteen days might lead to a long-term habit—one that will make you a better person and make those around you better.

Imagine a world where all of us do this. Where we ground ourselves in reality, checking in with our bodies, and we breathe and let our bodies send safety messages to our minds rather than our minds hijacking our bodies with fear. This is the vision that kept me up most of last night.

Meditate and let your body remind you that everything is okay. Breathe in and breathe out knowing that right here, right now, just for this moment, everything is okay.

Remember, we are full organisms. Everything that we are thinking and think we are feeling has an associated physiological response. Sit with the knowing that despite whatever your mind is trying to tell you or whatever life stresses are coming your way you are completely safe in this moment right here in your body.

I’ve never asked this before but I’m asking it now. Please send this on to someone you know or share it on social media. I believe this is important to all of us right now.

Take this challenge. Give yourself this gift.

About Zachary Goodson

Zachary is a writer, a coach, and a heart-centered entrepreneur who loves helping others. His writing focuses on his experiences around holistic health, inner child work, addiction, recovery, spirituality, and fatherhood. His coaching is devoted to helping people experience deep fulfillment in relationships, career, and life.  You can connect with him at zacharygoodson.com.

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How to Stay Mindful and Safe Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

“We cannot always control everything that happens to us in this life, but we can control how we respond.” ~Lionel Kendrick

The coronavirus is no longer isolated to just China. It’s here, affecting over ninety countries, and it continues to spread worldwide with new cases popping up daily. It’s all over the news and there is an inescapable sense of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.

Just within the last week, there were over fifty confirmed cases in the Bay Area, where I live. Am I scared? Yeah, especially for my elderly parents who are already immune-compromised. Anxiety thrives on uncertainty. And these are some very uncertain times.

But then I am reminded to be mindful, not swept away by the constant news stories, office chatter, and Facebook stories bombarding my external environment. Being mindful doesn’t mean ignoring or avoiding the situation at hand. It means being present, aware, and discerning with all that is going on with the spread of the coronavirus.

Here are some things that help me stay grounded and mindful:

1. Be prepared for the things that you can control.

We don’t have control over what happens in life, but we do have control over how we choose to respond. So how can you choose to respond to this outbreak? You can choose to react to the news, be driven by fear, causing anxiety and stress—or you can choose to be better prepared. Here are some examples:

Physical Precautions: You might have trouble finding hand sanitizer, clorox wipes, masks, and other such supplies, but you can still wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. You can also make your own hand sanitizer using two parts aloe, one part alcohol.

Social precautions:  You might want to avoid or limit huge social gatherings. Switch to phone calls and video calls, to stay connected with friends and keep your sense of community.

Relationship/Family: Discuss with family members extra precautions needed for their safety. Talking to your parents, older relatives, and children about the importance of handwashing and some (or all) of the other precautions listed here.

I (with the tag team effort of my brother) finally convinced my elderly parents to cancel their upcoming international trip. When we were able to communicate our concern from a place of  love, not control, my (stubborn) parents were more receptive.

Work: Discuss with your boss the possibility of work-from-home options, and make sure you have the necessary equipment and tools to work remotely.

Finances: There is a possibility that you could be asked to stay home and not work for an extended amount of time. If you are not financially prepared for this, it is important to start thinking about it now. Some questions you may ask yourself are: Where are some areas I could cut unnecessary spending? How can I save more in the case of an emergency? Who could I reach out for financial support if I exhaust my resources?

Fitness: Instead of going to the gym, you might think about taking a run in nature, or doing your workout at home.

Disruptions such as school, work, and business closures can cause anxiety and stress. But these things are out of your control. The best thing you can do is be prepared for these disruptions to the extent that you can.

2. What you choose to focus on, grows.

Are you constantly watching the news, on top of every new case of the coronavirus, talking about the outbreak with every colleague, friend, or family member? Are you thinking, “Oh my God, what happens if I get it and spread it to my children? The whole world will be soon infected!” How are your anxiety and stress levels? I bet you believe you are at high risk.

You can choose to grow your fear by being constantly inundated with this type of information, or you can choose to anchor yourself in a belief that is true for you. An example may be: “I am taking the necessary precautions to be as safe as possible.”

If you are feeling anxious, a loving-kindness mantra may be helpful: “May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I live with ease.” My friend Dave Potter has a thirteen-minute loving-kindness meditation available here.

Personally, I choose to limit my exposure to the news and refer to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/) or World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/) for unbiased facts.

I am not being ignorant by avoiding the news, I am being discerning of what information I expose myself to. I educate myself about the type of precautions I need to take—not out of fear, but out of discernment so that I can take the necessary precautions from an intelligent, clear, centered place. 

3. Take care of your health (mind, body, spirit).

This goes without saying, but taking care of your health should always be top priority. Especially during times like these, it is even more important to care for our health and build a strong immune system.

Sleep well. Sleep affects your immune system. You are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus if not getting enough sleep (and quality sleep!). 

Eat well and exercise. Healthy eating habits and exercise are vital to optimal health. Exercise and eating healthy promotes feelings of well-being and boosts immunity.

Self-care/self-love. You can sleep well, eat well, and be in good physical shape but be running around frantically, mind racing a million miles per minute, trying to serve everyone else’s needs. Stop and do something for you. Whether that’s taking five minutes to soak in the warm sun, enjoying a hot bath, or taking a walk in nature. Do something (no matter how small) every day, just for you.

Meditation/mindfulness practice. Breathe, sit in silence, observe your thoughts without judgment, be still. You know that meditating or practicing mindfulness has immense benefits to your health. Make it a priority.

The coronavirus is a real outbreak and deserves appropriate attention. However, the more you stress, the more you decrease your immune functioning, the more susceptible you are to viruses.

You can take the necessary precautions to be safe and decrease your chances of exposure, be discerning of what you choose to focus on, and keep your mind, body, and spirit in optimal health.

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.

About Yurika Vu

Yurika Vu is a mindfulness and empowerment life coach who works with high-level professionals to make sustainable change through mindfulness techniques. She helps her clients gain clarity and vision so they can stand in their power to create a life of fulfillment and happiness. She is a teacher, cat lover, and dancer whose life mission is to spread love and kindness to all living beings. Find out more at www.yurikavu.com.

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I Want to Be Rich in Memories

“My life isn’t perfect, but it does have perfect moments.” ~Unknown

Practice was over, the hot Florida sun was settling in behind the tall bleachers, casting golden rays onto the track. Behind me was my dear school, engulfed in beautiful palm trees. “California Girls” was playing through the speakers, and I was laughing with friends at something a teammate said. There, I realized how truly alive I felt in that moment. It was seemingly picture perfect in every way.

A couple years ago I could only imagine being on this team, going to such a great school, and living in such a beautiful place as sunny Florida.

Growing up as an immigrant child in the United States comes with a lot of uncertainty and oftentimes, worries, as you never know what lies ahead.

But through all the uncertainties stood my beautiful family, always my rock through every situation. And now, standing on the crimson-red track, I understood why my family had sacrificed so much to be here. I maybe would have never gotten to attend an American high school and to participate in a sport I love so much, or to feel as free anywhere else.

After fearing political persecution back in my home country of Kazakhstan, we were blessed to have a new beginning in America.

I realized in that moment how wonderful it is to be living this life and how a seemingly ordinary moment can be taken for granted.

Life is composed of countless moments worth living for, strung together by the seemingly mundane stretches in between.

The moments, when all the chaos freezes, the outside noises die down, and you realize that you are living the dream you could once only pray for, it’s much like a cinematic fragment of a Hollywood movie—everything is still but the beat of your own heart and you feel nothing less than alive.

Could it be that these glimpses often pass by us unnoticed, while we’re busy living in the thresholds of our complex minds and endless woes? As soon as we deal with one of life’s issues, it seems another is ready to spring into our mind leaving us in a rat race for happiness.

We’re always chasing happiness, as if it’s something complicated and hard to find. Just Google books on happiness or success and I guarantee you’ll be occupied for a while.

But happiness isn’t something we can permanently attain. It’s much like a fleeting wind—one moment it’s here, and another, it’s far gone.

It seems to me that everything we do is driven by the desire to be happy. But what are we really looking for?

Does his wish for a new car stem from the desire to have autocracy over a heap of metal, or the desire to feel free as he cruises along the coast reminiscing on his youthful years?

Does she really wish for a new phone, or does she simply desire to feel respected by her peers and a new piece of technology will allow this?

Recently, happiness appears to have been put on a pedestal, as if it is a prize reserved for the chosen ones. But happiness isn’t as elusive as we may think; it’s available to everyone. It’s about the simplest of life’s pleasures. It’s about the moments we live for—of warmth, friendship, and kindness. We just have to recognize and appreciate them.

When I am old and withered, I want to be rich in memories—to have gone out, seen the world, and lived every moment that this life could give.

I want to be rich in memories of sunrises on beaches, long hikes, family dinners, passport stamps, sunsets in New York, beat up sneakers, midnight fireworks, genuine love, endless laugher, sunshine on rainy days, and close friends. This is pure happiness, and these are the moments we live for. Let’s start collecting them now.

About Aida Sarsenova

Aída’s family immigrated to America from Kazakhstan when she was six years old, and she grew up as a first generation American. Today, she attends high school in sunny Florida and dreams of becoming a journalist one day. She’s also a lifeguard at the YMCA, runs cross country and track, and volunteers with the clubs at her school.

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Simple Ways to Deepen Your Connection with the Natural World

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~John Muir

Somewhere, stashed away in my collection of childhood memories, I recall having this small deck of cards with random, uplifting activities on them. I don’t remember how they journeyed my way, and I don’t remember them staying around for long, but I do remember that just reading through them was uplifting.

It’s interesting, the things that our minds choose to file away—and while I’m a little intrigued that these cards earned a spot, I’m not surprised, at all, that memories of entire days spent out in the woods near our home, as a child, are firmly rooted.

It felt as though there were magical secrets hanging from every tree branch and tucked away, at every step, along the forest floor.

Throughout the years, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as content as I do when I’m muddying up a pair of hiking boots.

Tuning in to the natural world around us and feeling at ease go hand-in-hand. This is a simple truth that most of us are intrinsically aware of and are intuitively pulled toward, yet as more and more of our natural landscape is forced to concede to concrete, pavement, and buildings, our stretches of mingling with untouched fields and forests become fewer.

The natural world offers a quick and reliable way to effectively manage anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions. In a world that seems increasingly focused on technological routine and gadgetry, basking in the gentle and balancing support that radiates from and within our natural world might seem too simple—and, as a result, may not always be taken seriously as an effective stress-managing solution.

Even if we don’t step outside our back door to acres of countryside, we can integrate the benefits that time with nature offers through seeking out pockets of less-cultivated ground during our daily routines. A stroll through a park on the way to work or eating lunch outside can quickly instill a worthwhile sense of peace and tranquility.

Aside from our own intuitive awareness, there is much research pointing to the restorative effects of nature—for both our minds and our bodies. It has a quick way of moving through busy, ongoing internal chatter and shape-shifting our thoughts and perspectives.

Watching animals collect food along the ground or listening to the rain or birds can immediately shift us into a meditative space. These experiences offer us a chance to connect, in a whole-body way, to the ebb and flow of our entire natural world—to simultaneously become aware of our presence and lose ourselves within this same energetic rhythm.

The natural world is in a constant state of change. It brings light to our own dynamic life happenings and gifts the opportunity, regardless of our individual struggles or situations, to just be. Calm and connected.

Thinking back to that deck of cards from my childhood…

If I were to make a new deck of cards, to help inspire connection with our natural world, the below are a few of the activities that would be included in it.

Step away from electronics.

Spend some quality time, each day, away from the television, computer, and phone. Spend time doing things that you love outdoors—read a book, take a walk, or sit on the porch and quietly connect with your surroundings. See if you notice a difference in the way you feel.

Grow a plant.

While plants are typically easier to care for (requiring less time spent with them), and less communicative than animals, we can still cultivate meaningful connections with these living, aware beings. Aside from the feel-good energy that plants bring to a space, they also have the ability to measurably remove unwanted material from indoor air and increase oxygen levels.

Get to know a tree.

Similar to indoor plants, trees have a wise and knowing presence about them. There is so much going on in the plant community that plays out beneath our radar. While I appreciate all living things, during outdoor strolls, there are certain trees that I, for various reasons, notice more, and feel as though I’ve grown to know better.

Choose a tree (or several), along your daily path, to observe a bit more deeply. If you’re able, maybe sit with it for a few minutes, feeling gratitude for its majestic life force and rooted way of living.

Eat wild food.

Incorporate something from your yard or a nearby area—dandelion, chickweed, maybe a few mulberries—into a meal, and feel an appreciation for having a rich supply of nutrients from deep within the soil.

Observe micro-worlds.

While teaching, we did this fun activity that involved groups of students taking several minutes to look really closely at a section of the ground, and then taking the rest of the class on a tour of that area. They pointed out ants busy at work, worms nourishing the soil, and other small creatures and plants. There is a vast and busy world beneath our feet that is exciting to occasionally tune in to.

Moving in the other direction, observe more expansive worlds.

Stretch out on a blanket, beneath the sky, and watch the movement—of trees, of clouds, of birds. Notice the endless stretch of stars at night. Allow yourself to daydream about what is out there, beyond our simultaneously small and large existence.

Walk.

Try to include an outdoor stroll in your daily routine. Even a short walk can be hugely relaxing. Feel the warmth of the sustaining sun. Let the wind dance its way around your body and being. For a natural reflexology session, try slipping off your shoes and walking barefoot on the uneven ground.

Sleep outside.

Breathing in the fresh, outdoor air, for an entire night, is a rejuvenating treat that many of us only experience during the occasional camping trip. Yet, weather and area permitting, we have the ability to do this without packing up or leaving home. If your home has a backyard, plan some outdoor nights. Set up your tent, or just lay out a sleeping bag, and drift off beneath a sky full of stars…and endless dreamtime possibilities.

One of my favorite things about the balancing ways of the natural world is that it’s available to us all! Even if you’re not drawn to packing up your camping gear for a few open-sky nights, you can still step outside your door and enjoy a few remedial moments of connection.

About Carrie Ciula

Carrie Ciula is the author of The Little Book of Big Life Change, which explores nine key elements of well-being and offers a wide-spanning, complete approach to regaining balance in our lives. Visit her at carrieciula.com, or connect with her through Facebook or Instagram.

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Become a Certified Meditation Teacher – Train with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach

Hi friends!

Since I know many of you are passionate about mindfulness and meditation and creating a more peaceful world, I’m excited to share that Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach are accepting applications for their next two-year Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certificate Program.

Though it’s primarily an online learning experience—which means you can participate from anywhere in the world—you’ll have the option to attend two in-person, three-day workshops in the Washington, DC area. And for those who can’t attend, they’ll be livestreaming the sessions and will also make a replay available.

Space is limited due to mentorship availability and the live events, and the last certification program sold out quickly, so if you’re interested, you may want to get your application in soon.

In addition to sessions with special guest teachers including Eckart Tolle, Kristin Neff, Dan Siegel, and many others, the upcoming program brings you a complete curriculum that covers the transformational principles underlying meditation and an exploration of the interface of meditation with Western psychology and cutting-edge science.

Through this in-depth, groundbreaking program, you will:

  • Learn how to teach meditation with tools for body, heart, mind, and community
  • Receive guidelines on how to establish classes and workshops
  • Gain skills that apply mindfulness and self-compassion to relationships, conflict, trauma, organizational wisdom, and societal change
  • Join a vibrant international community of mindfulness teachers around the world

With successful completion of this teacher training program, you will receive a certificate from the Awareness Training Institute, and their partner, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. This credential will support you in establishing meditation classes, workshops, and trainings in communities, organizations, and institutions throughout the world.

If you’re excited by the idea of making a living supporting others in their healing and personal growth, click here to learn more. Early admissions applications (for discounted tuition) are due March 23rd, and the program starts on February 18th, 2021.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She’s also the author of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal and other books and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. For daily wisdom, join the Tiny Buddha list here. You can also follow Tiny Buddha on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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When You Focus on Yourself, Don’t Forget Everyone Else

“Time and good friends are two things that get more valuable the older you get.” ~Unknown

In recent years, we’ve collectively been talking a lot about creating boundaries and letting go of things that no longer serve us. Many of us have gotten better at permitting ourselves to say no and to escape old habits and routines. We’re also more open about our choices to reject people and places that exude bad vibrations or bad energy.

I love that we’re becoming more conscious of the universe that’s always changing all around us. Together, we’re acknowledging the power we have to make mindful decisions that resonate with our higher selves. That’s what it’s all been about, right?

Maybe not quite.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how this evolution on the focus of “self” is affecting everyone and everything else.

While we’re busy setting boundaries against the world, are we forgetting to establish boundaries with ourselves? And when we are actively avoiding places with bad vibes, are we considering the energy we bring into spaces?

While we’re working on finding inner balance, are we leaving behind the people that depend on us for stability? And while we’re off becoming who we’re meant to be, are we selectively excluding parts of our reality?

Think about it.

You can love the vibes of your favorite studio, but if you show up five minutes late, after frantically running in from the subway, you shift the energy of the entire room.

Or, in another example, you may feel empowered by a boundary you set with someone, but what if the person on the other end doesn’t understand why?

You can be in the process of becoming your best self, but are you also still honoring your relationships and responsibilities? Are you still honoring the world that gives you the space to breathe?

What we need to avoid, quite frankly, is becoming spiritually selfish.

True, when we show up for ourselves, we’re better at showing up for others, but we can’t forget to notice how we show up in the meantime.

Of course, we must have an understanding of how we feel through developing self-awareness. It’s also vital we retain an awareness of how we make others feel.

Yes, we must focus on what’s happening in our inner world with more compassion, but that doesn’t mean dismissing what’s happening in the world around us. We must learn how to find stillness in our chaos, but it’s just as imperative that we are not causing any chaos ourselves.

I’ve loved my spiritual journey, and I’ve found a lot of value in exploring the confines of what I didn’t think was possible while keeping an open mind to what more there could be.

I’ve become more grounded by taking the time to get to know the edges of myself. And I’ve learned to alchemize my vulnerability to help me move toward my potential. Even still, I’ll admit I’ve probably been selfish in the process of my enlightenment.

While I’ve been working on self-care, self-love, and self-awareness, I’ve probably ignored a few calls I should’ve made, plans I shouldn’t have changed, and relationships I should’ve maintained better.

I’ve heard from many spiritually minded folks that the journey toward becoming your highest self does often get lonely. Relationships dwindle. Priorities change.

The idea is that, once you become more aware of yourself, you’ll attract more of what truly resonates with you into your life. Be it friends, jobs, romantic partners—the more connected you are with yourself, the more connected you’ll be to the magnetic pull of destiny.

And yet there’s something to be said of living too deeply in our heads.

Yes, we should prioritize our well-being and align our actions with the truth inside of us. Yes, we should take the time to get to know ourselves and extract barriers. Yes, we should commit to our purpose and reject experiences that hinder us.

But there’s a balance to be found between awakening spiritually and living in reality. We can’t use spirituality as an excuse to avoid things that we can’t face. We can’t use spirituality as a reason to dismiss people without compassion.

We can’t use spirituality to justify falling off the face of the earth because we’re discovering our inner world. We can’t use spirituality to rationalize ignoring everything that helped up arrive at this turning point.

I am all about balancing our chakras, but I am also all for balancing our lives. And all I mean by this is, we can’t become so absorbed as seekers that we forget to see what and who has been there for us before our search began.

I’ve been told this road gets lonely, but I refuse to believe that’s the only truth.

If this resonates with you, then I ask you: bring others with you. Show others your way while listening to theirs. Build a community around what people believe. Honor those who don’t see the way you do, but still see them as who they are to you. Share, engage, and let the world in while you try to figure out what world you want to live in.

Start to notice how you show up. Become aware of how your presence impacts the spaces you enter. Be mindful of the connection outside of the one you have with the universe. There’s no reason that our spiritual awakening should be a one-lane road. Let’s build bridges so others can follow or at least visit if they want to.

Above all else, remember that while we focus on the self, we can’t just forget about everyone else.

About Sonya Matejko

Sonya Matejko is a writer, yoga teacher, and communications consultant living in New York City. She’s on a mission to help people express and empower themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. By embracing vulnerability, Sonya hopes to move people toward their highest potential. Learn more about her work: www.sonyamatejko.com or follow her on Instagram @aforceofnurture.

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