The Art of Attentiveness (Wellness Wednesday)

This week, for Wellness Wednesday, I’m focusing on attentiveness. Charlotte Mason, my homeschooling mentor, called it “The Habit of Attention”. Many call it mindfulness. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with wellness?”, that’s a great question because it means you are paying attention and letting curiosity get the better of you!

What started me thinking about paying attention is this online class for HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) that I’ve been taking. I’m learning lots about how to thrive rather than simply survive as a person who processes life differently than most. I’m discovering what my strengths and weaknesses are as a person with this trait and how I can navigate the high levels of emotion that come with it, how I can conserve and replenish my energy, and how to ask for what I need. 

It’s kind of crazy that it’s taken me this long in my life journey to begin learning these things, but as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And one thing that stands out from this class is that in order to implement my newly acquired tools and techniques, I need to learn to pay more attention.

It Starts With Me

First, I need to pay attention to myself. This is a bit of a challenge for me because I lived most of my life in a culture that was all about service to others. I still absolutely believe in service to others, just not in a way that leaves me completely out of the equation. Even Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which implies self-love. 

I need to ask myself, “What do I need?” when I’m starting to get tired, upset, overwhelmed, etc., rather than to just keep going until I get to meltdown mode. And “Do I have this to give?” when someone asks something of me. If I’m already in a depleted state, I’ll be giving from a negative, resentful place. If I can live from a place of love and compassion toward myself, I’ll be much more loving and compassionate toward others.

Focusing on the Good in Others

Second, I need to pay attention to others. And by this I mean to focus on the positive qualities that each person has. HSPs can nitpick, obsess, and tend to focus on negative things, especially when tired and emotionally overwhelmed, which is a lot of the time if we aren’t paying attention to our needs. I need to make lists of the good things about those I love and know and repeat those things to myself and say them out loud to them. 

By sharing the things I admire and appreciate about others with them, it will encourage them and reinforce the truths about who they are in my own brain. When I’m with my husband, my kids, or my friends, I need to focus on their words, on their faces and gestures, and savor the moments we have together.

Nature

Third, I need to pay attention and connect with nature. Put on my shoes, step out the door, look, listen, breathe, feel, and notice. What do I see? What sounds can I hear? Does the sun feel hot on my back or the wind feel like it’s pushing me while I walk? What kind of bird is singing in the apple tree? Where is that tang in the air coming from?

Slow Down

And this is the kicker for me: In order to cultivate the art of attentiveness to myself, others, and to the world, I NEED TO SLOW DOWN!!! My smart husband is always telling me this and until I started this class, I inwardly resisted. “But I have so much to do! I’ll never get things done if I move around like a snail.”

During week one, the teacher said, “HSPs need slow mornings”. She said if you start the day off at a clip, your emotional brain revs up, is on high alert, and you quickly lose “energy points”. That explains why I’ve been tired within a few hours of waking up for most of my adult life.

At my teacher’s suggestion, I’ve begun a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. Waking up and meditating first thing in the morning has been a huge help to me this past month. I used to jump out of bed and start on my to-do list, but now I take a few minutes to pay attention to my breath and that sets the tone for the rest of my day. It’s training me to notice my needs so that I don’t overextend myself emotionally and physically. I can give to my family, work better, and still have energy left to enjoy life. And this is living well.

Books

Want to read more about slowing down and paying attention? Here are two non-fiction books on the subject plus a book of poetry that you might be interested in.

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

Lost In Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness by Esther de Waal

Thirst by Mary Oliver

Blend

And here’s an aromatherapy blend that will help you focus and cultivate attentiveness. Place drops in diffuser, fill with distilled water, and diffuse for 1-2 hours at a time. Best during the daytime hours.

1 drop Cardamom

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

If you would like to tell us how you’re learning to be more attentive, please share in the comments!

Moving Toward Morning

We just finished the first week of September and I feel all the things: a little melancholy that summer is waning, excitement for the start of a new season, and the sense that I am myself as this is my birthday month. Transitions–endings and beginnings blurring together–are always difficult, even when you are looking forward to the new.

I don’t know how the weather is where you live, but here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, we are experiencing pleasant weather in the high 60s to mid- 70s (Fahrenheit). Although it still is warm, there is a tinge of a chill, and the nights fall a little earlier with each passing day. My daughter began eleventh grade this week, my stepson twelfth grade, and I am in my second month of Ayurveda school.

How I start my day determines how successful the rest of it will be, so I wanted to talk about morning routines. What does yours look like? Mine varies quite a lot. On Sunday, my wake-up time depends on whether my husband and I have a music gig or not, but most of the time I can sleep in.

Monday through Wednesday during the school year, I get up to drive my daughter to school. My choice is to either get up at 7 and launch directly into making breakfast/coffee/tea, and then drive her to school, or I can get up early at 5:30ish and meditate, journal, practice visualization and affirmations, exercise or do yoga, shower, and then start making breakfast, etc. The latter is my ideal.

Even the rest of the week–Thursday through Saturday–if I get up early and get all of those important soul-nourishing pieces of the morning done before the rest of the house wakes up, I feel amazing! I have a positive outlook, feel confident, and am ready to face the day. This way I can begin work, meet the needs of my family ,etc., without resentment or trying to figure out how to squeeze in a workout.

It might seem crazy to contemplate getting up an hour or two before everyone else. That obviously means going to bed earlier. As a certified lifelong night owl, it is challenging for me to stick to this. And I am not religious about it. If I don’t have a good night’s sleep, am not feeling well, or if I go to bed late because of work or a special occasion, I don’t get up super early and I don’t beat myself up about it. But as soon as I can realistically get back into my morning routine, I will.

So my hat is off to you if you’re already an early bird and rise before the sun to do what you need to in order to make your day a success. But if you’re like me and are still moving toward your ideal morning, that’s great too! The best thing is to ask yourself why would you want to do this and then write down a good long list of reasons why. The more reasons you have, the more likely you will continue working toward your goal. If you can display your list of reasons somewhere visible to motivate you, all the better!

Design the morning that works for you, at this stage in your life. And like I said in my Facebook and Instagram Lives on this topic, please, if you’re a young mom with a baby or toddler, or you’ve got an elderly parent or sick family member you are caring for, or anything else that is super demanding, this is not the time to begin a new routine, to get up early, etc. Be extra gentle and kind to yourself and take time for yourself when you can.

This particular advice comes from this episode of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happier Podcast: In order to get your family on board when you are starting new habits, be consistent! They will get used to it sooner if you stick to your routine.

And since I am always looking for ways to share what I learn about aromatherapy with you, here are two diffuser blends that are great for mornings. They are motivating, positive, promote confidence, perseverance, and a bright outlook.

Morning Blend 1:

1 drop Basil

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

Morning Blend 2:

1 drop Tulsi

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Orange

Alright, I’d love to hear about your morning routines: what works, what doesn’t, and what new habits you’re incorporating into your life this September.

Girl, Stop Apologizing! (Book Review)

Have you read anything by Rachel Hollis yet? Have you listened to her Rise podcast? If you’re an entrepreneur–particularly a woman entrepreneur, you need to read this book. If you’re someone who dreams of something more, but is afraid to try, this book is for you. If you have goals, but are in “the dip”, as Seth Godin so aptly named the space and time in between starting and finishing, you need to grab a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

What I love about Rachel Hollis is that she has been at the bottom, but she had dreams and goals like a lot of us do, but she didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. This woman has drive and she knows how to focus on what she wants and does not give up though all the disappointments, all the setbacks, all the negativity that would crush most people. She’s not superhuman, she’s just dedicated, and she shows us how to go after our goals.

There is practical, usable advice in every single chapter of this book, but not one word is dry or boring. You won’t find your mind wandering or read it just because you know you should. Rachel is a great writer! She is hilarious, outrageous, and unexpected.

Another thing I love about her is her honesty. She shares deeply personal, even humiliating stories from her life experience because she wants us to know who she is, where she’s come from, and how she got to where she is now. She does not hold back and because she’s so real, she builds trust with her audience, and makes us listen to what she has to say.

Rachel comes against the patriarchal ways of thinking that have held women back for thousands of years. She addresses downright lies about what women are for, how women should behave or what we should want out of life. It is very liberating, life-giving language that, even in 2019, women (and men!) need to hear.

Her chapter “Choose One Dream and Go All In” or “Ten Years, Ten Dreams, One Goal” is worth the price of the book alone. In this chapter, Rachel explains exactly how to go after your dreams. This is priceless information! Her chapter “Planning”, about reverse engineering your goal, or starting with the end in mind, was another chapter I found extremely practical and helpful.

So, yep, it’s another highly recommended, “You Need This Book in Your Life”, book review. Get it on Amazon or your local bookstore or public library, but definitely put this in your TBR pile for this year!

Starting Over with Habits

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I know when I’m productive. I love the rhythm of daily practice once I’m steadily engaged in healthy habits. I thrive with the structure as well as the encouragement I feel from the momentum as I build on a skill day by day.

You know how life tends to derail us all at one time or another. And for me, when one habit falls by the wayside, I feel so much like a failure I tend to let others slip out of focus as well. Before I realize it, I let weeks go by without doing the things I know keep me sharp and challenge me to greater things.

Here is a list of some habits I have made my own:

Morning Pages

Bullet Journaling

Practicing Piano

Blogging

Gratitude Journaling/Being Thankful

Exercise

Reading

Taking supplements

Walking

Taking Photos

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After a season of upside down, I am returning to a sort-of normal and incorporating these back into my daily life. It makes me feel like I’m a worthy and useful human. Getting up early, going to the gym, doing Morning Pages and updating my bullet journal, and generally accomplishing good and healthy things help me function well throughout my day.

If I know I exercised, I can check it off my list, plus my body is less likely to feel stiff or sore if I got my heart rate up and body warm with cardio, did some resistance training and stretched afterward. If I took my supplements, particularly my B vitamins and my probiotics, I’ll have more energy and digest my food better. Practicing piano relaxes me when I’ve been writing or working at some other task for too long. Getting outside for a walk when I’m stressed or just to think a little brings me new perspective and reminds me how small my problems are when think about the vastness of our planet and space. Making time to read, fills my mind with other people’s voices, points of view, stories and ideas, so I get out of my head and learn. Practicing gratitude helps me rise above the melancholy I tend to fall into as an INFJ.

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Do you have a list of habits that help you live better? I’d love to hear from you!

Day 26: The Hurrier I Go

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I’m sure you’ve heard this Lewis Carroll quote,

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

There’s a certain point at which that becomes true. Not that I am encouraging dawdling or procrastination, but hurrying hurts and usually winds up hindering our progress. Oops! I spilled something in my haste. Or, now I need to apologize for snapping at my loved one because I’ve made myself miserable trying to live at this breakneck pace.

We weren’t meant to flit and speed from one place and activity to another with no rest, no time for reflection. Here is a definition of the phrase “hurry sickness” coined by doctors Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman:

“a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

This article on how to overcome hurry sickness takes a good look at the problem. We need help! As a culture, many of us don’t know how to relax or slow down, even if we only have a few pockets of time every day.

We have forgotten how to love stillness and silence, how to sit with ourselves alone and just be, how to fully enjoy a walk, appreciate the preciousness of a loved one’s smile, drink in the exquisiteness of a sunset, how to be silly and laugh long and hard, and how to look for joy in the ordinary. But we can slow down and become full of wonder again.

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This time of year, you’re probably looking ahead at the next two months wondering how you’ll get through all the activities associated with the holidays. I used to just square my shoulders and tell myself to hustle more.

And I would go through it all feeling panicky, breaking down into crying jags, yelling and being sharp with my words. And then apologizing for my unacceptable behavior. I just couldn’t handle the constant go-go-go, combined with baking like mad, lots of entertaining, the purchasing and wrapping of gifts and trying to make it all magical and perfect for my kids and anyone who came to our home.

I wanted the peace I attempted to give everyone else. I craved space, simplicity, and the beauty of delighting in small things.

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After a bunch of years doing it the hard way, with the help of books or articles I read and voices on slowing down, like Ann Voskamp’s, I am learning to change my holiday style.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself before plunging into the season:

If I could arrange my holiday season any way I chose, what would it look like?

If I wasn’t concerned about anyone’s judgement about how I did the holidays, what would I say yes to and what would I say no to?

Who is most important to me and how can I focus on showing them love this season?

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Here is an old book that I love called Unplug the Christmas machine: How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted. It touches on typical roles that women and men take on during the holiday, four things children really want for Christmas, a simple Christmas, Christmas revival, the gift of joy, and it includes a handy resource section with recipes and alternative gift ideas. Of course, it feels dated, but it also feels wise and warm and cozy. Some of the resources may be outdated, but use the internet to find something comparable. This version is out-of-print, but amazon Marketplace has copies available.

And if you’d rather have the in-print version, that’s Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season:

The other book I’ve read over and over is: To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. Although I’m not a Catholic, I incorporated several of the traditions listed in this book to enrich my own and my kids’ holiday season. This book actually takes the reader through the entire church calendar, but I’ve used it for Advent and Christmas, primarily.

And finally, a sweet out-of-print old-fashioned book called The Child’s Christmas. I’m not sure how I stumbled across this one, but it follows a fictional Victorian family from Advent through Epiphany. It tells of all their traditions, what they ate and played and did, what gifts they gave and received, how they celebrated. I read it to my kids when they were seven and three.

I hope we can all find comfort and joy this year!

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Day 19: Flow and NaNoWriMo

 

1CBABC93-BDCF-4020-B2F9-85382DB7E6CEAccording to Wikipedia, “In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.” ( Read more at wikipedia about Flow. )

And that’s what I got into today. Four or five solid, uninterrupted hours of totally absorbing, fulfilling and satisfying work throughout the afternoon gave me such a sense of accomplishment. Mostly because I haven’t had this lately and have felt frustrated about it, it felt particularly great. I sewed continuously and everything worked. or once, no stitches to pick out, no epic fails. I just made lots of cute things and cut out shapes for more.

Although I haven’t read his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World yet, I’ve heard Cal Newport interviewed on Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative Podcast and know I struggle with focus and steering clear of distractions. This book is on my Kindle and I need to read it ASAP.

Here is a blog post by Srini Rao about Flow and Deep Work and ways he has oriented his own life toward this way of working.

Speaking of Flow and Deep Work, I am gearing up for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I need to announce my novel on their site soon and am petrified. Has anyone ever participated in this or attempted it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on flow and deep work experiences and anything you know about NaNoWriMo.

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Day 14: Order and Beauty

9c50a14f-319f-453f-a8ae-7a94fd42fc4e.jpegEver since I moved here, I’ve been wanting to tackle the tiny back room off the kitchen. It’s kind of like a screened-in porch because it isn’t heated, but it has four windows and a large closet, wooden floors and cute wooden steps leading up to it.

It was filled up with boxes and packing material Alan saves for when he has to ship his paintings somewhere. And it had random things his kids had outgrown or he no longer had use for.

I’ve always thought it would be great to have a writing desk, chair and an arm chair or two with a few lamps, a small table and a stack of books. Oh, and an area rug as well.

Sometimes when Alan’s working in his office, which is the room next to the library, with his music on, and his son is in his room overhead with his music on, the library feels sandwiched between cacophony. If I’m trying to think, I need a quiet place to do that in.

So today, we pulled everything out of the room and closet. Alan decided what needed to be saved, what could go up into the attic, what was junk, what should be recycled and what could go to goodwill. I dusted, sprayed, wiped, swept, vacuumed and mopped. Most likely, that was just the first few layers that I removed because he hasn’t used the room all the years he’s lived there. (Over 13.) But it is much cleaner now.

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I set up a diffuser with lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils to freshen up the room, sprayed the chair with an essential oil spray I made and tacked up some fairy lights around the windows. Sage from the garden is drying on the window sill, a stack of books sits on the side table and the change is amazing. Every time I walk by I can’t believe how inviting it feels already.

 

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I still need to paint the room, the steps and railing in the spring, pull all the weeds around the steps, plant some tulips and daffodils and some perennials, etc. But we did it! We made it a space that fosters relaxation and creativity. I’ll be sure to show the progress here on the blog as it happens.

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