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Because I am such a visual person, my SLOW campaign (mentioned here with another link back to original 2009 posting) keys on having little signs posted all over in places that are obnoxiously in my line of sight. For example, I stick them on my computer monitors, my dashboard in the car, my medicine cabinet, and above the spot where I dump my purse every evening. I move them around to other annoying places as soon as I realize I’ve stopped looking at them.

The current signage was, literally, a slow sign such that you’d see in a construction zone on the highway: a yellow diamond with black type saying SLOW. These are getting pretty beat up, and I barely see them anymore so I’ve updated them:

I’ve added verbiage to this version as an extra reminder of when I should be doing something slowly. I don’t list every opportunity (the list would have gone on forever), but this is enough to jar me into mindfulness. These are now printed about 2″ x 3″ and I’ll be posting them right away.

LIVE SLOW in 2011!

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“Go over and over your beads, paint weird designs on your forehead, wear your hair matted, long, and ostentatious, but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?” ~ Kabir

We are nice to our coworkers – until that one jerk steals our idea. We patiently run our errands – until the woman with 20 items is ahead of us on the express line. We are courteous drivers – until the turkey in the giant SUV cuts us off. We go about our days following the usual childhood rules – until something pushes our buttons and compassion goes out the window. You can call that something Satan, or evil, or human nature, whatever. But that devil is us. We choose our behaviors, there is no way around that. We allow the fear and anger to take over for a little while, and after we mess up, we ask forgiveness. We are forgiven. Then we go right back to our usual patterns of thinking of ourselves as the center of the Universe.

With effort, we can break out of the cycle. Mindfulness is a difficult path to walk, but it works. All those self-help tricks: deep breaths, counting to ten, thinking of a STOP sign when you feel the emotions coming… they all help to snap you out of the moment, push that evil away and stay focused on the way you want to behave.

I just finished reading Immaculee Ilibagiza’s story Left to Tell, her awe-inspiring story of surviving Rwanda’s genocide through luck and prayer, silently hidden in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months. I read this book in four hours, couldn’t put it down, and recommend it highly whether you believe in the power of prayer or not.

So many murders, wars, genocides; so much hate and insanity in God’s name, it’s amazing. There is an email joke that goes around occasionally, an email from God and boy he’s pretty pissed at what he’s seeing go on in his name. “Truth in jest” at its finest.

I believe there is one omniscient Truth, and it’s wise enough to know that not every ignorant human is going to receive it in the same way. We enjoy going through life looking through our me-colored glasses. Me me me me me. It only goes to figure that we need that Truth to come to us in a package that will break through whatever filters we’re wearing and resonate with our hearts. Truth’s name is God, since we can’t resist sticking a label on everything we see, hear, touch, smell and taste.

God has a huge closet, with an outfit for every occasion and sensibility. Some people need God to wear flowing white robes and live in the clouds, while some need God to wear saffron robes. Some need God to wear a crown of thorns, and some see God – and Goddesses –  in all of nature’s splendor. Some see God wearing bejeweled turbans, while some don’t use the name God at all but still recognize the beauty of the Universe’s energy in its atomic and molecular building blocks, chemistry and physics.

All of these ways Truth comes to us, they are all legitimate. They all work. They all preach the same thing: compassion, balance, kindness. The words are a little different, the translations from ancient languages may not be perfect, but the lesson is there. The Golden Rule is the same no matter what book, scroll, or tablet you find it in.

I don’t know – to me it seems so simple. When I find a fact that is backed up by other vetted sources, I believe it until I find it to be untrue. We have at least seven, probably more like ten, major religions (or non-religions, as the case may be) on this planet and they all point in the same direction.

Truth wears many costumes to help us see it. But as it flows through us, it looks the same. It looks like love.

From Tom Peter’s website today:

The Awesome Act of Attention

“To be in the present with someone is a gift. The gift of attention is perhaps the most precious and envied of all….

“Think of someone who, while you are talking to him, is looking elsewhere, mentioning a subject that is irrelevant to what you are saying. Inattention has a disruptive, depressing aspect, which saps our vitality and robs us of our self-confidence.”
From: The Power of Kindness, by Piero Ferrucci.

Message: Pay attention to the way you pay attention today/this week.
Consider: “Paying attention” is “the most precious gift.”
Follow-up: Talk explicitly about the act of and power of paying attention. It is not only a “gift,” but it is a “tool” that pays enormous practical dividends.

Mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness! If you can remember only one thing, if you can focus on only one self-help nugget at a time: be mindful of every minute of every day. It’s hard, especially at the beginning, but the results are extraordinary. Time itself slows down, which is a wonderful feeling.

My meditation trees

I’ve seen many, many articles and stories about “How to Meditate” with different techniques for meditation. While they can be useful, you don’t really need any of them.

In fact, I’ll bet you money you’ve meditated many times in your life.

No? Have you ever been “in the zone”, so focused on what you were doing/reading/thinking that time flew by? Not daydreaming so much, but absorbed by what was in front of you? That is meditation. Totally focused concentration on an object. It’s not just hocus-pocus, either. Meditation has been studied by scientists for years. You can read two interesting articles about meditation and brainwaves here and here.

I have a hard time doing formal sitting meditation. I’ve tried incorporating it at various times during my day, but either it’s too early/late and I get sleepy, or it’s the middle of the day and I’m constantly interrupted (or at work – it’s too weird trying to meditate in a fabric box with no door, and I’ve seriously freaked people out when they walk in on me). Someday I’d like to establish a sitting meditation practice, but until then I have fit meditation into my day wherever I can. For example, if I’m walking to the ladies’ room at work I will choose to use the one that is farther away, and use the time to walk mindfully, breathing deep breaths and noting the various smells/sights/sounds I meet along the way. When I’m home washing dishes, I try to pay attention to each dish, feeling the smoothness of it under my sponge with the warm water tumbling over my hands. When I do have time to sit, I try to just sit and let my thoughts enter and exit my mind without letting them lead me off into some stream of consciousness that is no longer “just sitting”. You can even meditate watching your kids play in the yard… just leave them alone, stop thinking about how you have to pick up milk, and enjoy watching them being kids.

With this approach, anything can be a meditation – a practice most often associated with Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese monk, Zen master, peace activist, and poet. He’s written many books, one of my favorites being The Miracle of Mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves”  ~Thich Naht Hahn

The act of meditation, when done consistently, will help you master that “monkey mind” we all suffer from. The mind that jumps from one stream of thoughts to another, distracting us and allowing us those knee-jerk reactions that do nothing to serve us. Meditation teaches us to control our mind, put the monkey on a leash. Not only is it good for your mental state and your peace, but the act of deep concentration can have physical benefits as well.

Can you think of a time when you’ve been so deep into something, you were almost woozy when you finally looked up from it, and shocked to realize the day flew by? Leave your stories in the comments.

Parenting is tough for someone trying to live mindfully and make clear choices. Occasionally your goals conflict with what appears necessary for the moment.

My son and his friend were bouncing off the walls in his room, the consequence of this fun being the shattering of a ceramic bank on the floor. Being attached to this bank, it set off a small pity party in my son’s head and anger that came lashing out. This is never a good scene, as it usually kicks off a round of nasty bickering between the two friends.

Knowing how this particular path unwinds, and already frustrated with them, I head upstairs to nip this in the bud and get them back to cleaning up the mess of coins and ceramic shards. At first I tried reasoning, only to be out-shouted by an emotional pre-teen. Not with pride, I report to you that I lost it a bit; allowing myself to scream at the top of my lungs and let loose a few choice words that they wouldn’t be allowed to say.

Let me interject here that it took me a long time to realize I was a screamer (I’m not sure where it comes from, as I can’t remember either of  my parents screaming at me). It took me even longer to learn to see it coming, and be able to stop it in time so I could approach these kind of parenting issues with calmness instead of hair-raising shrieking.

However, it seems that sometimes there are situations where screaming at them somehow resets their pre-teen brains a bit, cutting through the emotional monkey in their heads so they can hear the message I’m trying to impart. They both shut up and stared at me, eyes wide. An interesting revelation: Sometimes calm speech isn’t the best tool; sometimes I have to knock their heads together. They both got back to cleaning up the mess, and apologized to each other.

A dilemma, indeed! Even though yelling worked this time, I think I’ll stick with the calm me, rather than the freak-out me. <sigh> Back to the path….

The root of the word “emotion” comes from the Latin “emotere”, which means “to disturb”. I find this very interesting, because in my experience emotions are incredibly disturbing. I find clarity is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, when I’m emotional. Not only is the monkey mind bouncing off the walls as usual, but the monkey is high on hormones and adrenaline! There are as many ways of  taming our emotions as there are people. We can breathe, count to ten, close our eyes, walk away, recite our mantra. One person I know envisions a giant stop sign in her head, which I think is just fantastic. All of these tricks are ways of slowing down time, it gives you precious minutes to stuff the monkey into a cage. When the emotions are back in check, it’s easier to see clearly again. Has there been an experience where you couldn’t find the right words, and as soon as it’s too late to speak you find the perfect comeback? Slowing down in the moment cures that. I can feel my brain engage again and suddenly I’m able to find the perfect words for the occasion.

The Latin root for “crisis” is “krisis”, which means “turning point”. This is just perfect. So often in our lives, we find ourselves at a crossroads, a crisis. Maybe there has been a death, a birth, a health issue, a work problem. It could be a positive situation or a negative one.  Either way, it is time for change of some kind. Several people have told me stories of getting kicked in the pants by the universe, the suffering it created, and the wonderful outcome that finally arose from the ashes. New businesses, careers, relationships, self-discovery. Everything life throws at us is to teach us a lesson. When we can learn and grow, we won’t have to face that particular lesson again. It’s when we delude ourselves, hide from crisis, live in denial and turn away from life’s lessons that we’re doomed to repeat them over and over.

Do you have a story of a situation where emotions played a major role? What happened, and what did you learn from it? What about a turning point? What’s your story of crisis and how it changed you?

I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions. I never understood waiting for the calendar to tell me when to change. If I’m not ready, it’s a sure recipe for failure. I can feel when my energy is building towards a shot of self-improvement and habit-building, and that’s my best chance to get it to stick. However, I can sometimes use the magical “New Year” energy to boost me into a positive state of mind.

In 2008 I tried some mindfulness work, which was actually pretty successful. I printed out little “SLOW” signs – like you’d see on the highway – and taped them up in my car, in my office, on my bathroom mirror. It was a reminder to slow my life down: slow eating, slow speaking, slow driving, slow moving, slow thinking. Just generally being more mindful in every way. It worked very well. Whenever I stressed out, got pissed off, or was rushing around, I had a little reminder to take a deep breath and take a break. A reminder that if I’m stuck behind a cement mixer for half my commute, it’s the Universe telling me I’m supposed to be a little bit late that day and don’t question why. And can you guess what I learned? When you slow down, it’s easier to make decisions, to focus on tasks, to not mumble some nasty words to the person who cut ahead in line. People wish they could slow down time, but I’m here to tell you that you can.

My efforts in 2009 weren’t as successful. The goal was to learn to keep my mouth shut. If you listen objectively to the conversations going on around you, you’ll learn that an awful lot of what we all talk about is nothing but useless blather, gossip, or stories about ourselves. I was doing pretty well for a while. However, when things started getting busy at work I fell right back into, ahem, “venting”. Which is pretty much a nice way of saying you’re back-talking about whomever is making you lose your cool. I will admit to slipping a little at home, but the workplace did me in.

The theme for 2010 is Be the Buddha! A nice, short, easy-off-the-tongue mantra that is in the same vein as that What Would Jesus Do? mode of thinking. Building on the “SLOW” and “QUIET” campaigns, this is just my way of refocusing what I’ve tried to do all along, giving those habits more time to establish themselves and adding another element or two. I find this kind of resolution the easiest to succeed at: keep on doing the same, but nudge it to the next level.

What are your resolutions for 2010?

Wishing you a new year full of peace and love….

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