Reconnecting with the Present Moment While Appreciating the Past

It’s been a while since I reflected on the relationships in my life and the value they bring to me and my wellbeing. And in my quest for mindfulness and conscious presence in the life laid before me, I think now is as good a time as any for some reflection. I grew up in Houston, moved to Fort Worth for my first year of college, then to Austin for the rest. I studied abroad in Italy for a semester, then moved to Baltimore, and now I’m here in the SF Bay Area.  While Houston remains my home base and the main hub where I see my family each year at Christmas, I’ve collected friendships in each of the places I’ve lived that contribute to my sweet, rich life on a very regular basis. I have friends I hold dear to my heart in every American time zone (and some abroad too!), and as I get older and life gets busier, maintaining these precious relationships gets harder and harder. 

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the Fab 5 – my grade school posse

 

Growing Up – Or Should I say “Grown Up”

In the last … I don’t know, 3 years? 4 years? … I’ve realized that I’m actually an adult. Yes, I know, I’m 33. I’m a late bloomer that way I guess. My point is that I’m realizing that the life I make here in my new home of California is my actual life — the one I’ve chosen and continue to choose every day I stay — and I only get one. This isn’t a trial run, it’s the real deal. I never felt like I’d stay in Houston, in Austin, in Baltimore forever, and as a result, part of me always felt a little disconnected from where I was — maybe not fully present is a good way to describe it.

I knew I’d move on to find my true home somewhere else, and now that I’ve found it, I’m realizing that I really was connected to those places I left behind. I left behind real, true friends that I carry with me every day in my new home, and I find myself wishing they were here with me. It’s hard to replace those kinds of relationships as an adult. As people get married, have kids, become immersed in their careers, their families, their homes, their pets (I never said I wasn’t immersed too!), the challenge of creating new relationships from scratch becomes greater and greater. At least that’s true for me. 

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Best friends from high school. Pics on the left from 1996 and 2000, pics on the right from 2013

Gratitude

Not everyone is lucky enough to have lifelong friends as I do — keeping in touch through moves across the country, relationships, having kids, break-ups, make-ups, life’s little disasters, and the joys of every day can be a big challenge. But I have been that lucky. I’ve been lucky enough to keep a friendship that started when I was 4 years old long enough and strong enough for us to have been in each other’s weddings in the past few years. I’ve been lucky enough to sustain strong, solid friendships after break ups with amazing people whom I still call my very best friends today. I’ve held on to people I wasn’t sure would want me to when I’ve moved across the country, who’ve surprised me with their consideration and loyalty to our relationship. I’m so impressed with the people in my life, but sometimes it’s easy to take for granted.

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Paige and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. We’ve kept in touch through moves all over the country, even childhood moves.

This post is meant to honor the ones I love in every time zone, whether we talk every week or once a year for hours to catch up. But it’s also meant to recognize that I’ve been chasing relationships in my adult life that mirror these lifelong connections, and maybe that’s not very realistic. Maybe attempting to recreate friendships like these is the wrong goal altogether, and I need to redirect my energy to appreciating the newness of what’s in front of me.

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My wedding day with great friends new and old

Connecting to the Present Moment

Lately, I’ve been focusing so much on the past and the future that I’m missing out on what’s in front of me today, right now. My quest is to appreciate the people around me in more deliberate ways, to appreciate what I have, all the blessings, all the gifts of the universe. It’s true that my friends in every time zone are with me in my heart, but I need to wake myself up to the tangible world in front of me, to the relationships in my life with unrealized potential to flourish and nourish me as a real, bona fide adult person. I need to try harder to build strong foundations here and now, where I am today. 

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the climbing crew

So my promise to myself and to friends new and old is to try harder. To apply myself to our relationships, to express gratitude to the people around me who enrich the life I’ve built. 

Thank you for being you; thank you for making my life a better, richer one; thank you for teaching me something, for learning from me, and for valuing us enough to keep in touch. 

Mindfulness and Wellbeing: My New Year’s Resolution

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start a mindful meditation practice. I have been talking about it on and off for the past 6 months, and though I’ve attempted to start a morning routine a few times, all attempts have been false starts — that snooze button is just too tempting! My sister has been getting into mindfulness lately, and for Christmas she asked me to get her a book that illustrates an 8-week plan for cultivating a mindfulness practice. I started reading it too, and I’m hoping it will help me stay on track, as trying on my own has barely gotten me anywhere. (Even coaches need guidance!)

Why Mindfulness Meditation?

Surely you’ve heard of this word, “mindfulness”? Possibly at a yoga class or in therapy? Maybe on talk radio or in a weight loss group? I’ve written a post on mindful eating, but a mindfulness practice extends far beyond eating behavior and into how we interface with the world (and all the wonderful things that lie within it). Becoming mindful isn’t something that just magically happens overnight. Rather we have to cultivate our awareness, and as such, having a teacher, a book to follow, a set of guidelines, or even an app can be helpful to get started.

Mindful meditation (a practice rooted in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown in scientific studies to be as effective as prescription antidepressants to reduce depression and anxiety — and with none of the side effects. In fact, it’s the preferred treatment in most cases. But importantly, even those without depression and anxiety can benefit from this modality. Whether we practice mindfulness for stress management or for a renewed sense of how we see ourselves, both in our bodies and in the world, it’s a useful tool to improve our emotional wellbeing every day.  

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Inner Gaze by Alice Pennes of Avenues of Artistry. Click to learn more about her work

What is Mindfulness?

“Trying to understand mindfulness by its definition is like trying to understand what it is like to fall in love by reading a textbook. You might get a general idea, but you’d be missing out on the best part: what it actually feels like. Mindfulness is all about experience, about the actual aliveness, of each moment. You learn to pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, not because someone said that it would be a good thing to do, but because that is where you find your life.”
             – Michael Baime, MD (creator of mindfulness-based programs at University of Pennsylvania)

This word mindfulness is elusive and intriguing to some, heavy and burdensome to others — the second attitude is often enhanced if the word “meditation” comes right after the word “mindfulness.” There can be some pretty heavy associations with meditation. I’ve even had a colleague tell me that she didn’t want to return to a yoga class (after her very first time ever) because she felt that the meditation conflicted with her religious beliefs. I was simultaneously surprised and not at all fazed. It’s just as easy to misunderstand meditation and the intentions of the practice as it is to be intimidated by the stillness and silence that often accompanies it.

The truth of the matter is that mindful meditation is a personal centering practice — not rooted in religion but in behavioral therapy — and while there are countless other forms of meditation, some of which include chanting, it’s possible to receive the benefits of meditation without contradicting any religious practices.

Starting Small

I’ve mentioned before that meditation doesn’t have to be this extreme, long, painstakingly silent process. Rather, it can just be the active experience of breathing — mindful breathing — for short periods of time. The book I’m reading even provides a 1-minute meditation in the first chapter. Noticing your body, noticing the details of how you feel, allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without judgement, and then letting them melt away — this practice is a brief mindful meditation, a tremendous tool for dealing with stress, appreciating life, and overall wellbeing.

My Personal Journey

To be perfectly candid, sitting still without some sort of stimulus is a challenge for me. I might not be theologically threatened by meditation, but I’ve spent a good bit of time working out my own preconceived notions about the practice, just because I’m not great at sitting still.

I’m actually not great at walking with a still mind either. I go through regular phases where I won’t get up from my desk to do anything at all (get a snack, go to the bathroom, walk to my car) without a book in my hand or a podcast in my ear; reading and walking, listening and walking. Why do I crave constant stimulation? Part of this mindfulness practice will be unpacking the stories I tell myself. Maybe one of them is that I don’t have time to read, so I fit it in minute by minute by never doing anything without text in front of my eyes or ear buds in my ears. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. I suppose I’ll find out.

When I envision a full picture of holistic wellbeing, I see food, movement, creativity, sleep, personal growth, and connection with nature, spirit, and community. I’m approaching this year’s resolution around mindfulness with the intention of touching on quite a few of these components in my own wellbeing. I mentioned mindful eating (food), but this practice will also provide me with tools to help turn off my mind when it’s time for sleep. Mindfulness is also crucial for personal growth and understanding how I affect those around me and in my community. It’s a way to acknowledge that my existence matters and that the decisions I make have an effect. By creating inner stillness and awakening my senses, I will interact with the world around me from a place of deep peace.  

Let’s do it together!mindfulness meditation

Have you been contemplating a mindfulness practice of your own? Why don’t you join me? The book I’m reading is called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Marc Williams and Danny Penman. Click the title for the paperback version.  Click here for the Kindle version. Using these links will help me out if you decide to get a copy. You can also get a sample through the kindle e-reader for free if you want to get a peak at the beginning of the book. As I move through the book, I’ll be posting about my experience and what I learn — knowing that you’re waiting to hear from me will help hold me accountable, in addition to (hopefully) shedding some more light on this topic.

 

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