Make Yourself A Priority

How often do you rush home from work or an errand, walk into the house, and without stopping to take a moment for yourself, head to the kitchen to cook dinner, to the dining room table to help the kids with homework, to the laundry room to wash a load of clothes, to the bathroom to fix that leaky faucet, to the home office to finish that pile of work, or anyone of the endless tasks on our ‘must do” list. Most of us tend to put others first, and should there be any time left, (which there never is) we’ll throw ourselves a bone. Our society promotes this behavior.

If you watch television, how often do you get the message that taking care of your self takes a back seat to other obligations. In our society, for far too many of us, a hot bubble bath, a pick-up basketball game or a massage, is a luxury. For those old enough to remember, who can forget the tag line “Calgon, take me away.” Our lives are so consumed with work or caring for others, that the idea of a simple bubble bath is a luxury that we can’t afford the time to indulge. We are bombarded with the implication that caring for, and meeting the expectations of others is enough to satisfy our own physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs. Well, I am here to tell you, that is a lie.

If you’ve ever flown on a plane and bothered to listen to the flight attendant’s spiel about what you should do in an emergency (I know, I know, I usually tune them out, too.), you’d learn that those instructions offer some wisdom about the importance of  self-care.

At some point during the ‘presentation,’ they arrive at the topic of the oxygen masks. (I promise that this will make sense very soon.) They demonstrate what you should do, if the mask is released. As they demonstrate, they make it a point to say that if you are traveling with a child, someone “acting” like a child, or anyone who requires your help, it is important that the first thing you do, is to put on your own mask.

Now to some, this sounds down right counter-intuitive and wrong. They frown upon putting themselves first, and believe that one should place the mask on their loved one, before worrying about themselves. The thing is this, if you don’t take care of yourself first, by affixing your own mask, will you be in any condition to care for your loves or others to whom you are obligated? Who will be there to care for them in your absence, should you succumb to oxygen deprivation or worse? In order to care for others, you must first, care for yourself. This simple idea is applicable in so many areas of our lives, and applies to all of us.

Whether you are a parent, a care giver, single, married, or married to your job, the same applies. Engaging in self-care acknowledges your self-worth and compassion. More and more often, life requires us to care for a seriously ill child, parent, grandparent, another relative, or even a friend. In most cases, professional long-term care is cost prohibitive, so the burden falls on the family to assume that role. Committing to the care of our whole selves, is not a luxury, but a necessity. Instead of it being self-indulgent, it is plain common sense.

Moreover, self-care need not cost a dime, and it differs from person to person. It can come in many forms, such as, reading a chapter in a book, meditation, yoga, an hour at the gym, daydreaming at the nearby coffee shop, quiet time, or taking a stroll on the beach. The possibilities are endless. Granted, at first, it may take some effort to craft the time for yourself, but in the end, it is worth it, because you are worth it.

This is not meant to promote shirking your responsibilities and/or adopting the “me first” philosophy. No, there are times when we must cede our own needs to those of others. The idea is to carve out some time, no matter how much, during which, you can re-enervate yourself, by yourself. Thereafter, you can resume your other responsibilities, less harried, calmer and with a more positive attitude. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

Now, where did I put that number for the massage therapist?

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My Path to Meditation

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Please note that this post is longer than usual but I feel that the subject matter warrants it. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

For the umpteenth time, I’ve come home to sitting. I mean , I’ve returned to my meditation practice. In reality, I have a love/hate relationship with it. Of course, there are the proven health benefits, among them, lower stress and blood pressure levels, and it also has been found to treat depression as effectively as medication or talk therapy. Even as I prepare for my meditation session, I.e., pulling out my cushion, lighting candles and incense, deciding on music or no music and making the room as least distracting as possible, I always feel a tinge of excitement at the prospect of what is to come. As I take my seat and settle down, my back and neck elongates and my shoulders, usually high around my ears, relax back and down my back — all of this before beginning my real meditation practice. This is the easy part. The hard part and one that I say that I’ve come to hate (In all honesty, “hate” is much too harsh.), let’s just say that I am not ‘in like’ with this part.

First, I have to describe myself as, until my health forced me to stop, a hard-driving woman. I’d had children at a much too young age and was determined not to become what was the common fate of a girl who’d gotten pregnant and married at a young age — her life was over. I rode myself, and I mean relentlessly. Although I worked full-time for a Houston oil and exploration company, I spent my night’s attending college full-time, even during the Summer session. Lest not forget that I had three children who participated in childhood activities like soccer, basketball, Brownies, Girl Scouts and all the rest. Routinely, I could be found on the sidelines of one of my children’s games, books in tow, all the while cheering at the proper time. I never slowed down and once I’d graduated from undergrad, law school was the next hurdle in my path. I made it through law school, graduated, took the bar exam, passed the bar and was a licensed attorney by November 1991.

I immediately became a litigation attorney, so, unlike the sedate office job, I had a very active defense practice. I represented the State of Texas throughout the state and I loved my job. I strived on the fast pace, constant deadlines and the large caseload of a government attorney. I travelled constantly and was never in one place for too long. It suited one who was never comfortable relaxing and really did not know how.

Now, to the part that I hate. For a long time, I was totally uninterested in a meditation practice, I thought, “I can’t possibly be still and quiet for that long. At a particularly stressful time, I finally relented and gave it a try. It was sheer torture. After about a minute, I couldn’t breathe and the only thing on my mind was getting the hell out of that room with the walls appearing to be closing in on me. Let’s just say that my introduction to meditation was far from auspicious. I decided that I’d given it a try, it wasn’t for me, and I had no intention of returning.

At around the same time, I’d begun yoga classes and after several false starts, I found a teacher and hatha yoga class that appealed to me and I was hooked. At first, my type A personality reared its’ ugly head and threatened to ruin everything but I stuck with it and it became an antidote to my ‘always on the go’ personality. I grew to crave it for its’ unhurried nature. As I attended more and more classes, I found that my favorite part of the practice was savasana (a.k.a., Corpse pose). The pose required us to lie down, silently allowing the practice to integrate into our bodies. At first, I became anxious sitting with myself that quietly for 5-10 minutes and after a minute I was ready for the torture to end. This time, I stuck with it. Somewhere along the way, I came to yearn the peace and stillness that the pose brought me. I wanted more of it. This search led me back to my meditation practice.

At first, I’d sit and after a minute, I decided that I couldn’t do it and I’d stop. In the meantime, I began to research and read about meditation. What I learned is that “meditation” is not easily defined and one text to the next attaches different ideologies to meditation. Moreover, there are scores of meditation methods, including, but not limited to, insight meditation, walking meditation, laughing meditation, mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation and on and on. As I mentioned earlier, based on past research, as well as ongoing research, there is evidence that there are health benefits to a consistent meditation practice.

In my case, I sought something to help me achieve stillness and relaxation, which was still foreign most of the time. I also looked to it as a way to quiet the non-stop chatter in my mind. In that state, it is almost impossible to focus on any one thing because the mind moves, without pause, from one thought to another. It is exhausting. With that in mind, I choose mindfulness or shamatha meditation, because of its’ intent “to achieve a mind that is stable and calm,” a state that I longed to possess, and one diametrically opposed to the Type A nature of my personality. Besides, the process was easy.

So, I began sitting, at first for brief periods of time and then for longer periods. For me, there is no doubt that it is beneficial to me. This is what works for me. Believe me when I say that I am not claiming to be a meditation guru or expert, because I find that laughable. I consider myself a beginner and the more that I sit, the more that I feel I have to learn. I simply offer to you, what has worked for me. You may find that this method does not work for you, but I urge you to do your own research to find a style that does.

This is my meditation routine:

  • Create a ritual that is a signal to your body and mind that it is time for meditation. In my case, I put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on my door, or tell anyone in the house that I am about to meditate. As of late, I’ve chosen a specific time within which to meditate. I find the scent of incense or an essential oil blend pleasing to me as it aids in achieving that “meditation” state of mind. Also, there is the question of music or no music. To some, music is an anathema or distraction to a true meditation session, but for me, I find that it can add to the overall environment. So, I play it by ear, sometimes, I meditate with music and at other times, I use no music. It is a personal preference that only you can choose. Try it with and without and so which you prefer.
  • Find a quiet place to sit. In my experience, this is of utmost importance because your goal is to create an environment where you can meditate with the least amount of distraction. Your focus should be on your meditation and not the football game on the television in the next room, or the sound of the dishes in the kitchen.
  • Sit as comfortably as possible, either on the floor or on a chair. Whichever you choose, find a comfortable seated position. Again, your focus should be on your meditation and not the pain in your knee, thigh, foot, butt, or what have you. If you experience pain, change positions. Perhaps, you usually meditate on the floor, but if you cannot find a comfortable seat, try sitting on a chair. Your goal is to minimize any distractions that may lead to discomfort so that you can stay still while meditating.
  • Sit with your pelvis tilted slightly forward, your spine straight and tall, shoulders, down and back, and the head rests comfortably on the top of the spine. Once again, be mindful of comfort and sitting in any way that distracts you from your session.
  • Determine how long you wish to sit and set a timer. You don’t want to be ‘clock watching’ during your meditation. I use a neat application called “Insight Timer” on my iPhone for that purpose. It is a cool app with a timer that allows you to choose from a variety of bell tones to start and end your meditation. You can also set it to sound at certain intervals during your meditation. (I find that distracting.) The truly cool aspect of the app is that it allows you to see how many other people from around the world are meditating along with you, and to friend fellow meditators. In addition, it keeps a record of your meditation activity. so that you don’t need to.
  • Open or close your eyes, it’s your preference. I close mine, but if you choose to keep them open, the goal is not to look at anything in particular. Your gaze should be soft and unfocused and it is recommended that it be on a spot a couple of feet in front of you. Again, it is simply a place upon which to rest your eyes.
  • Choose hand placement. A mudra is a symbolic hand gesture in Hindu or Buddhist traditions. There are various mudras and if it interests you, read this article. Personally, I prefer keeping it simple so I use the “chin mudra” wherein my palms are facing up, with my fingers out stretched, and my thumb and fore finger touch creating an “O.” Then, I  rest my hands on my thighs or knees. Again, it is your preference and the use of certain mudras create varying energetic links.
  • Take a few long, deep cleansing breaths. As you breathe, allow the stress and tension to drain away as you become more and more relaxed.
  • Allow your breath to return to normal and focus your attention on your breath as it moves in and out. When I am really wound up, I think “ease” on the in breath and “dis-ease” on the out breath. In my mind, I am breathing in ‘ease,” and breathing out, ‘dis-ease.’ The focus on the breath is a crucial aspect of the meditation, because, in spite of your best intentions, your mind will wander. We all do it. Our heads are filled with a plethora of thoughts and ideas and when, not if, your mind takes a detour away from the breath, you use the breath to bring your attention right back — again and again. I like the analogy of a clear blue sky with puffs of white clouds rushing across it. The blue sky is our mind, and the clouds are our thoughts. The key is to allow our thoughts to rush by without attaching to them. For example, you think, “I have to go to the grocery store.” Acknowledge the thought and let it float on by. The problem arises when you grasp upon the thought and think, “Oh yeah, we need milk, eggs, butter, etcetera.” When this happens, do not beat yourself up and give up. Use the breath to ‘begin again.’ When you realize what you are doing, calmly bring your attention back to the breath and ‘begin again.’ ‘Begin again’ as many times as it is necessary. There are times when my entire meditation is ‘begin again.’ Stay with it and don’t give up. The longer that you meditate and concentrate on your breath, the mind will become quieter and calmer.
  • Timer dings and you’ve completed your session feeling a bit calmer and more grounded.

And so, I sit because it soothes my savage mind, it grounds me, it eases my stress and pain level, brings peace and clarity and because it makes me feel better overall. I don’t expect that this one post will make everyone jump on the meditation band wagon. Like everything, it comes to us when we are ready. However, I would be elated if this post, encourages just one person to consider or begin meditating. There are many ways to meditate and my way, may not be your path toward meditation. I only hope that I’ve led you to consider it as part of your journey. I promise you that it is worth it, and should I stop again, I know that I will always ‘begin again.’

If you meditate already, please share what works for you. Do you have any tips for those of us who are not as far along the meditation path? How do you remain committed to your meditation practice? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Thanks for reading.

Blessings, Lydia

All Will Be Well. ~ St. Julian of Norwich 

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The Missing Pieces

Pieces of a puzzle

Pieces of a puzzle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. ~Rumi

For some time now, I haven’t posted regularly to this blog. It is not that I’ve lost interest in it. In fact, I realize that I need it more than ever, but I’ll get back to that later. Anyway, for months, my head has been stuffed with so many complex thoughts that it has been impossible to separate the wheat from the chafe. If I am to be honest, more often than not, my thoughts are not happy, happy thoughts, but those that I like to pretend don’t exist.

I mean, who wants to admit that, more often than not, their head bombarded with negative self-talk. Who wants to acknowledge that they are oftentimes overwhelmed with sadness and depressing thoughts that they can’t seem to shake. More importantly, I convinced myself that no one wanted to read about my particular bouts with my own ‘darkness of the soul.’ No, that would certainly fall into the category of t.m.i. (too much information).

Granted, this is a personal journey blog. With that said, it touches upon the inevitable thoughts, feelings and challenges that I experience on my journey towards self-discovery, mindfulness, and inner awareness. I created this blog, not to sell or market any product or service. I did not create it with the intention of attracting scores of readers; although I welcome and treasure each person who happens by. I created it as a forum upon which I could be a witness to my thoughts, feelings and impressions, and where I could confront my ego self and come to know my real self. In other words and without the woo-woo words and phrases, I wanted to tell my story, and more importantly, uncover my truths and expose the lies that I tell myself.

The thing is that I’ve come to realize is that from the beginning, I’ve censored my story. Except in passing, I choose not to write about fibromyalgia and the way it has a firm grip on me and every facet of my life. I didn’t write about the feelings arising from the loss of a hard-fought for career as an attorney, and the resulting loss of self-esteem. I didn’t write about the effect of constant pain on the body. I didn’t write about my loss of independence, which having grown up poor, was essential to me. I didn’t write about the irony of the yearned for ‘clean slate’ at the very time that my health prevents me from acting upon it. I didn’t write about the grief that etched itself into my being, and I certainly didn’t write about the depression that sometimes overwhelms me and brings with it a blanket of loneliness, darkness and at times, hopelessness. I’ve created a blog that embraces the positive, while denying the more difficult and undesirable truths about myself.

Yet, these missing pieces are, like those of a puzzle, integral to my story, to who I am and to who I am meant to be. Without exploring and integrating them, my story is incomplete and in some cases, prone to inaccurate conclusions. Without experiencing life’s lows, we cannot fully appreciate its’ highs. Similarly, to know and appreciate the light, it is necessary to welcome the darkness. I intend to begin doing just that.

I’ve learned that blogging, like journaling, is an invaluable tool that allows me to piece together things about myself that were previously unnoticed. In my case, I writing has always given me the opportunity to be open and honest about my thoughts and feelings, while, at the same time, forcing me to acknowledge and accept them in a new and different way.  It is through writing that I’ve uncovered valuable details about, for instance, why I believe and do the things that I do.

Granted, I am not turning this blog into a litany of ‘poor me’ posts. Instead, I will strive for balance, and as Rumi writes, I will meet the darkness, depression and other negative thoughts, and invite them in. Yet, I can assure you that I won’t be laughing as they waltz on in. Instead, I will begin with a grudging respect, for they are an undeniable part of who I am. 

Blessings, Lydia

With Gratitude For All

Cover of "Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gra...

Cover of Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude

This is a post that I wrote a couple years ago. Today, I was preparing to write a Thanksgiving post, when I happened upon it. After reading it through, I realized that it perfectly expressed my present feelings. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I offer it to you as my way of showing gratitude for you, whether your country celebrates the holiday or not. Gratitude is not a once a year day, it is meant to be practiced every day. So, with this post, I say “thank you’ for being such a blessing to me. Thank you for joining me on my journey. Have a blessed day.

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As I rush to and fro in preparation for this week’s holiday feast, I stop and consider the meaning of giving thanks, that is, the meaning of gratitude. According to wikipedia, “Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.” For most of us, it is quite easy to give thanks for the good things that happen in our lives. No, the difficulty arises when we consider our thoughts and feelings about those things that we deem “bad,” for instance, illness, a lost job, or the death of a child, spouse or close friend.Granted, these are no zippity do dah moments, but they too have undoubtedly  left us with some underlying “benefit” that may or may not have manifested itself as of yet.

For years, I have dealt with the  scourge of fibromyalgia– constant pain, depression, insomnia and more. I resigned from my 14 year job as a State’s defense attorney because my fibro symptoms adversely affected my work. It was impossible to concentrate on the case at hand while in excruciating, unrelenting pain.  There were too many days when I made it to work, only to lay writhing on my office floor. So for me, fibromyalgia is my nemesis, that one thing that I find it difficult to give thanks for. Yet, in most of clarity, I can see that the benefits are there.

Not too long after I went on disability, my mother had a stroke. She has always been in perfect health, so it was quite a shock. After she left the hospital, the options were a nursing home or our house. There was no question that  she would stay with me and my husband.  The thing is that had I still been working as an attorney, it would have been impossible for me to welcome my Mom into our home. I travelled constantly and was always trying cases in one Texas city or another. I was out-of-town more often than not. My disability became a benefit, because it allowed me to be there for my mother when she needed me. I am grateful for that.

We can’t pick and choose those things that we are grateful for. When we begin giving thanks, it is for everything that has gotten you to where you are today. As Oprah Winfrey writes, ” Gratitude for the whole journey of my life–not just everything that had gone right, but the things that had not.” I have to remind myself of this every single day.

I wish you and your loveds a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Blessings, Lydia