100 Morning Walks

The Challenge

I took on a challenge a bit more than 60 days ago to go for 100 consecutive morning walks, and to post a picture from each one on my social media accounts facebook and Instagram. Initially the purpose of this challenge for me was to dip my toes into being more consistently visible in the online world, the introvert’s nightmare! I wanted to become more comfortable there, so that I could begin to be able to connect with, and hopefully help, more than just the few local folks who can come in for appointments.

Interestingly, and gratifyingly, it has grown into much more. What I notice happening is that it isn’t just the walking that has grown into a true “practice,” but the noticing has too. I would say that my intention and ability to see, to be aware, and to find some pleasure in the seeing and awareness, have grown exponentially over the past two months.

I’m not sure that I was aware of my need to find pleasure when I started,

but I can tell you, that to do anything every single day for that long (with more than a month yet to go) it’s absolutely vital to be genuinely interested in it!

It hasn’t been completely delightful every day. Some days it’s been cold and wet and I’ve been grumpy and tired, so “pleasure” wasn’t really part of the story. But even those days, there was something happening, or something to see, or focus on through the camera lens, that engaged me, and pulled me out from underneath my dripping hood.

I recently co-hosted a webinar with Jann Dodd, PhD, a psychologist from Houston, Texas, on the subject of Positive Psychology. Her community is still pulling itself back together after Hurricane Harvey, and before we talked, I wondered if it was a bit of a stretch that she could so wholeheartedly be coming from a place of positivity.

One of the things she really brought home to me during the webinar was that the real definition of “happiness” in the research and science of Positive Psychology, is NOT rainbows and fluffy kitten unicorns, but a combination of three factors.

Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning

Pleasure is the one we usually think of, and it’s certainly part of happiness, but only one facet. The other two, and far more predictive of a “happy” life, are engagement and meaning.

To consider ourselves happy, in other words, research has found that people need to be actively interested and engaged with life around them – friends, family, hobbies – whatever it is that keeps us attentive and involved. And that we need to be using our skills, strengths, and character for something that has meaning to us. Often that means a larger purpose. It doesn’t have to mean an earth-shattering Nobel Prize winning purpose, just something that has greater meaning to us, like giving our customer great service and a smile, to make their day better. Pleasure is part of the recipe too: we need to know how to feel it, but it needn’t be present in huge quantities or all the time, for us to live happy lives.

When I started it, I had no idea that my #100MorningWalks had anything to do with happiness – with pleasure or engagement or meaning. Yet two months into the process, I had the wonderful synchronistic experience of learning that what I was doing was something perfectly calculated to increase my happiness! Having a solid practice in place (my public promise to show up every day!) has given me engagement, meaning, and enough pleasure to make it a reasonable gamble to keep going outside for that walk every day.

I will keep you posted, but I think it’s working.

Even with the downpour, and even though I absolutely reserve the right to be cranky once in a while, I do feel lighter.

For those of you who have joined me visibly in the #100MorningWalks posts, thanks for the company! And I sincerely hope that it has begun to work its magic in you. If you haven’t tried it, you might find it “enlightening!”

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Mindfulness: Reflections on an Emerging Practice

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has emerged over the past couple of years as a major buzzword in both mental health and spirituality. Various forms of meditation have existed for centuries as a vital element in just about every form of spiritual and religious life across all cultures. Jon Kabat-Zinn was probably the first westerner to introduce us to the physical and mental health benefits of attuning our attention to the present moment, without judgment. In his words:

 Mindfulness is never about doing something perfectly, because it is not about doing or accomplishing at all. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments — not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves. Out of that awareness, trustworthy skillful responses and actions can arise naturally, and surprise us with their creativity and clarity.  (From this website: https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/pages/faq)

Meditation and mindfulness have taken a greater and greater place in my life as I have matured. I first encountered meditation in my studies of world religions in university in the 80’s. I embraced it at the time as a way to reduce some of the stress of my perfectionism. It didn’t hurt that many of the guided meditations I participated in were also meant to evoke pleasant visions and experiences of spiritual connectedness.

My mindfulness practice began with curiosity.

Through the years I continued to explore. I have practiced the body-centered mindfulness of yoga, the centering prayer of the ancient Christian tradition, and attempted to empty my mind according to some branches of Buddhism. I was searching for a way to feel whole, free, and deeply connected.

As a young counsellor, I found myself teaching my clients meditation as a way to lessen their anxiety or stress. When I became a parent, mindfulness showed up in my preparations for childbirth and guided meditation became a part of bedtime rituals for my young children when they had a hard time falling asleep. I wasn’t disciplined in a daily way, but it was always there in the background.

 And then, somewhere along the way, my eclectic practice dried up completely. I can’t place exactly when it happened. I just find, looking back over the tapestry of my history, that there is a hole in the weave, a place where the mindfulness thread broke.

Suffering brought mindfulness back to me.

For a number of years my family went through a period of deep disconnection – from our own selves and from each other. Our marriage broke down. We, and our children, suffered the confusion, despair, and anxiety that such a rupture can create. In our individual and family healing work, each of their stories is their own. The story that is mine to tell is that my healing came largely from observing my son as he took on a dedicated practice of compassionate mindfulness.

 I sometimes say mindfulness saved his life.

While that over-simplifies the story, on a feeling-level, for me, it is absolutely true. I watched him gradually transform from someone I no longer recognized to a more peaceful, loving, and happy person as he went from learning the basics to studying the deeper philosophy of Zen Buddhism. That process reawakened my own desire to engage in the practice again, and in the process, brought me back to my life too.

 My longing for a deeper wholeness and connection to the true Self that lies behind and beyond my habits of personality has returned more strongly than ever. I am assured that this is an entirely “age-appropriate” development! In our second half of life we look beyond the concerns that preoccupied us during our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Meaning eclipses success in our hierarchy of needs. And where else can we find meaning, joy, life, and connection other than in the present moment? Our past is gone and unchangeable. The future is not yet, and is far, far less controllable than we thought when we were younger.

 While I’ll probably never give up my eclectic tendency to explore the many avenues and traditions of mindfulness, I have seen first-hand how powerful a regular practice is, and this knowledge supports me in setting down roots in a morning routine of sitting meditation. Not to mention, it gives me lots to talk about with my kids!

 This winter I invite you to join me in an exploration of several mindfulness paths that intersect with the world of art. You never know, one of them might just fit you perfectly! On Saturday February 3rd I am offering Slow Threads, a workshop on meditative stitching. And on Monday, February 26th there will be an evening workshop on making and using prayer beads from several traditions: To Hold A Prayer In My Hand. See the Workshops page for information on all Open Hearth Studio group offerings. I hope also to have an online Basics of Mindfulness course up and running by the fall!