06 January 2014

Mindfulness Monday: Wise Mind

Back during the A to Z Challenge, I spoke briefly about DBT and about Mindfulness.

Today, I'm going to talk about a core component of Mindfulness that is also a core component of DBT.

In DBT, there are three states of mind that are referenced. These three states are descriptors of different ways we interact with the world.

The first is "reasonable mind." When we are in this state, we are able to think logically or rationally about what's going on, about our options, and about the steps we want to take. We are focused, we pay more attention to facts, and we tend to plan out our behaviors. We may even be somewhat detached from what's happening, because we're only focusing on observable facts. Examples of behaviors that would be characteristic of "reasonable mind" might include: measuring ingredients to bake a cake, going to the WMATA website to check the metro schedules before going into DC on the weekend, studying for a final.

In contrast, the second state of mind is "emotion mind." This is what is sounds like - our feelings are driving the bus. When we're in "emotion mind," our thoughts are controlled by our emotions. We tend to be reactive, facts are distorted, and we can't remain (or have a very hard time remaining) objective. Examples of behaviors that would be characteristic of "emotion mind" might include: having a fight with someone that you've disagreed with, curling up in your favorite chair with your kitten and cuddling, buying something with your credit card that you can't afford just because you decided you wanted it.

This leads us to today's topic, "wise mind." We are operating in "wise mind" when we have balanced "reasonable mind" and "emotion mind." We're able to acknowledge our feelings and still think clearly about what we want to do about them. "Emotion mind" and "reasonable mind" have blended to develop a deep intuition, or knowing, that some describe as a "gut feeling" about what's best for the person. Your intuition tells you, this is the best course of action, because your emotions and logic are working together beautifully. "Wise mind" is sometimes the "calm after the storm" you feel after a crisis has passed, when you can see everything crystal clear.

Unfortunately, we don't stay in "wise mind" all the time. Things would be so much easier if we could!

Breathing Exercise
A simple breathing exercise you can do to practice being in "wise mind" follows:
Focus on your breath, on inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Your breath should be soft and gentle. As you continue to focus your attention on you breath, let your attention settle so that it's deep in your breathing. The point where your attention is in the very bottom of your in-breath, at the center of your breathing, is "wise mind."

Drop into the Pauses
As you engage in mindful breathing, allowing yourself to notice the “pause” after each inhalation and each exhalation.  This pause is much like the still space that exists when leaping between trapeze bars. Notice the stillness within each pause.  Allow yourself to find awareness in the pauses at the top and bottom of each breath. Settle in to each pause and find stillness within.

Stone Flake on a Lake
To engage in this visualization exercise, imagine that you are seated next to a crystal clear lake on a beautiful sunny day.  Imagine that you are a small flake of stone, chipped from a much larger rock, that someone has gently thrown out into the center of the lake.  You are gently floating there on the placid surface of the still water. Now you begin to gently and slowly float downward in the cool water toward the smooth, sandy bottom of the lake.  Notice the look and feel of the water as you gently float to the bottom.  Notice the feel of the smooth sand as you lightly rest upon it.  Become aware of the peace and serenity at the bottom of the lake.  This deep stillness and serenity is the calm center of yourself.  Allow your attention to settle into this calm centered place within.

Breathe "Wise" In, Breathe "Mind" Out
This exercise is particularly helpful if you feel stuck in emotion mind and are feeling overwhelmed.  In these moments, it may be difficult to focus your attention on a longer visualization exercise.  At times like this, simply notice that you are feeling intense emotions and begin to direct your focus toward your breath.  As you pull the air into your lungs, say the word “wise” in your mind.  As the air leaves your lungs, say the word “mind” to yourself. The idea is to focus your attention entirely on these words as you breathe in and out to begin to settle yourself back into a place of calmness and wisdom.

Is This Wise Mind?
Many of us often know that we are doing or saying something that is not in our best interest, but for some reason we do it anyway.  This can happen for a wide variety of reasons, such as directing passive aggression towards yourself or choosing to self-sabotage.  If you find yourself experiencing even the slightest sense that you are about to do or are doing something that you will later regret, notice this and pause.  As you pause, take a slow breath in and ask yourself, “Is this (action, thought, etc.) wise mind?”  Listen for the answer… don’t tell yourself the answer.  Allow it to arise naturally within.  Pause, breathe, and notice what answer presents itself to you. Now, it is up to you whether or not to do what wise mind knows is best.

There are many other exercises, one of which involves journaling different thoughts from the different states of mind.

Try a few, see what works for you. Remember that it takes practice to be in our Wise Mind, so pick an exercise and practice it regularly.

01 November 2013

Hello, NaNoWriMo….

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal? 50,000 words in 30 days.

Am I crazy for doing this? Abso-freaking-lutely. And yet, every year, I willingly and intentionally subject myself to the insanity. It's time to dive in again, people. It might even get a little ugly.

Why, yes. This is a lovely NaNo badge, is it not?

Clearly, blogging and I have taken some time apart after the A to Z Challenge. Maybe documenting my NaNo experiences will help me get back on track? We'll see…

Here are two links about keeping yourself on track, if you decide you want to venture into the wild realm of NaNo:

Abby Annis wrote a great article and is sharing an awesome spreadsheet.
Over at The Writing Cafe, discussion is about avoiding some of those distractions, like the internet.

Happy writing!

01 October 2013

Book Release: Dakota Captive

Today is a very exciting day for author Alythia Brown. Her new book, Dakota Captive, is being released. I had the pleasure (although she may tell a different story, ha) of working with her as her editor for this book. In other words, yes. I am totally biased about how awesome this book is. (Hey, at least I'm honest about it!)

Dakota Captive is the first book in a trilogy. To give you an idea about the storyline, read the blurb below. In the meantime, allow me to explain to you why this is such an awesome story and why you need to go buy it as soon as you're done reading this blog. The story line is rich with vivid descriptions of both people and places. From the moment you first meet the Earth Spirits, you're captivated by who they are - their distinct personalities find a place within your heart quickly. Charli is thrown one curve after another and she handles each one with the combination of vulnerability and strength that comes from being a strong-willed and independent teenager. When she finds herself falling for the one man she shouldn't after trying to nurse a broken heart from the ex-boyfriend who just won't quite give up the fight for her, she does the only thing she can: survive all the chaos and find her way.

The process of working with Alythia to uncover the polish and shine of this amazing gem was truly enjoyable. She was enthusiastic, receptive to observations and suggestions, and most importantly, determined to present this book in the greatest shape she could. Go. Buy. This. Book.

Book Blurb
When the evil spirit of Jumlin returns with his army of Offspring, the Earth Spirits are summoned to protect the Lakota. Unbeknownst to Charli, these Earth Spirits are a sacred secret. So she probably shouldn’t have spied from behind a rock when they shifted from their animal forms, she shouldn’t have taken pictures, and she definitely shouldn’t have gotten caught. Now a hostile prisoner, Charli is forced to walk a long journey to reach the one man who can erase the knowledge of the Earth Spirits' existence from her mind.

Naturally, Charli thinks all she needs to do is keep her big mouth shut, get her memory erased, and go home. But Jumlin’s Offspring are stalking her. Since no one can explain this unusual behavior, it becomes imperative to enter the Other World--a place where the Lakota have lived traditionally and without foreign oppression (but not without menacing dragons). Aside from being kidnapped, whisked away to a foreign world, hunted, and forced to live amongst strangers, Charli must come to terms with a new nuisance: she's falling for one of her abductors.

Meet the Author
Alythia Brown was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she now lives with her husband and their three small children. She found her inspiration to write Dakota Captive after traveling to North Dakota to return an authentic peace pipe to the Lakota Natives. The artifact had been picked up after the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890, and eventually ended up in the hands of one of her ancestors—who, in turn, told everyone it was a wagon spoke. Alythia is the author of two short stories, published in the Mertales anthology, and she aspires to publish many more books for children, teens, and young adults.

You can find Alythia at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@alyconnorbrown). If you'd like to learn more about her other books, you can go here.

Finally, here is the link to the first stop in her book release blog tour. Go check it out!

30 September 2013

Mindfulness Monday: 7 Pillars of Mindfulness

Today's Mindfulness topic is the 7 Pillars of Mindfulness.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduces us to the 7 Pillars of Mindfulness, which are foundations of a sort for developing a mindful practice. Some people refer to them as the 7 Attitudinal Factors for a Mindfulness Practice.

The Pillars are:
1. Non-judgment                              2. Patience                              3. Beginner's mind
4. Trust                                           5. Non-striving                         6. Acceptance
7. Letting go

The first, non-judgment, is (in my opinion) the biggest hurdle for most people. The idea behind non-judgment is to be impartial to your own thoughts and feelings. It's hard! Our minds are so used to categorizing and labeling and judging (good, bad, blah, etc.) that it feels almost impossible to be impartial. In mindfulness, the goal is to observe the thoughts without judging them or acting on them, and then return our focus to our breath.

Patience is mostly understanding that we can't rush things. Some things have to unfold in their own way and in their own time. Sometimes we just have to wait. In an age of instant gratification, most of you are thinking, "Seriously? I don't have time to wait....!" Take a breath, and allow things to play out.

Beginner's mind is actually one of my favorite pillars. We get into trouble when we allow our thoughts and beliefs about what "we know" to prevent us from seeing fresh options and possibilities. I bet most of you can think of a time when you took a harder road than maybe you needed to, all because you couldn't see that shortcut right in front of you. With beginner's mind, you try to see things as if you were seeing them for the first time, fresh and shiny and new. It means letting go of expectations created by past experiences.

With the pillar of trust, we're allowing ourselves to trust who we are, our experiences, our feelings, and our intuition. We've all had that little voice that said, ummmm, maybe I shouldn't do this... and then we do it anyway. And we regret it! Honor that little voice, especially if it's telling you to think something through before doing it.

Non-striving is an interesting pillar, especially for those of us raised in a Western society. We're always working towards the next thing, right? Well, in mindfulness, especially mindfulness meditation, we're not doing anything but paying attention to the experience. With non-striving, we're not forcing or pushing for a result. Non-striving allows us to enjoy the moment to moment.

Acceptance. The best summation for this one is the saying, "It is what it is." Acceptance means seeing and coming to terms with things as they are right now, in this moment. Mindfulness says that suffering is when we fight the things we cannot change; we waste a lot of time and energy fighting and denying facts, by trying to make things be the way we want them to be. Acceptance gives us the chance to be open to what we're thinking, feelng, or seeing, and accepting that experience because it's what is happening right now.

The final pillar is letting go. The idea behind this one is that we tend to hold on to the things we like or are pleasant while rejecting the things we don't like. Instead, the aim of this pillar is to try to neither hold onto nor reject our experiences; we should just acknowledge them.

05 July 2013

FAF: Traveling again!

I'm sitting at gate B-70 at Dulles International Airport, waiting for time to speed up so I can board my flight.

Today, I am *that* passenger. You know the one - sniffly, coughing, the "oh please don't get me sick" passenger. I am not contagious. That was days ago. No, I am in the lingering phase of mild congestion and coughing that just will not go away. I have done Zicam, water, tissues, echinacea, cold medicine, steam, and sleep. Still it lingers!

I suddenly have such sympathy for past *those* passengers. Perhaps I could have been more compassionate? Perhaps I could have suppressed the murderous glares? Now I am receiving them.

It's truly a pity that we aren't able to extend greater kindnesses to our fellow traveling companions. We don't know their stories - hell, that's half the fun (cause then you can make up stories in your head about the people sitting around you). Would it kill us to spare a little goodwill?

I won't get you sick, fellow passengers, I assure you. So stop looking at me like that, I can't help the cough.