Establishing a gratitude practice

I feel like it would be remiss if I didn’t begin this blog post by extending my appreciation to you, reader. Thank you for reading these words and visiting this random assortment of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and calls for action. While I can envision a scenario where my ruminations echo in a uninhabited universe of the Internet, I prefer to imagine a space full of individuals — like yourself — participating in the conversation.

On of this journey to be a more mindful and centered person, I kept stumbling on this notion of a ‘gratitude practice.’ Now, over the years, I’ve seen friends use the social media platform of Facebook to take on a “X number day” challenge to share appreciation for other people, special places, basic needs, etc. I would see those posts (when the Facebook algorithm decided that I should) and think: “Awww, that’s so nice!”

And then I was like: “Where are the cat photos?”

catmeme

Seeing other people publicly acknowledge their gratitude is inspiring. Showing thanks in our world can feel so perfunctory. Like many others, my parents made sure I said “thank you” after receiving a gift or being the recipient of something special. Does this sound familiar:

Did you say thank you to your Aunt?”

Public shaming can be an effective tool to form what should be a kind habit. As adults, how do we get back to the root of why we express gratitude? How do we turn those words into feelings that sit with us, in our hearts and minds, and fill us with joy and celebration?

One of the tools that could help, according to gratitude gurus, is to start keeping a gratitude journal (mindfulness folks love their journals!) I’m a notorious start-a-writing-outlet-and-lose-interest-in-three-weeks person. I always have been (minus sophomore year of high school where our English teacher required us to keep a journal for the year. Some hilarious entries, I assure you, including a recap of my first date with my “long” term high school boyfriend, who I treated poorly looking back. I’m sorry Eric.).

Back to gratitude: in concert with the Calm app’s “7 days of Gratitude” meditation series, I’ve been physically noting what I’m grateful for each morning. In most cases, I reflect on the prior day and the people and experiences that positively impacted me. I’ve also tried to step back and extend appreciation for the seemingly mundane in my life, but from the perspective of others, are enormous gifts: running water, a heating unit, access to the public library, the ability to own a car, living in a neighborhood where I can freely walk or run outside.

Sometimes acknowledging these pieces of my life make me feel weird — it forces me to stare at my privilege head-on. I need that reminder because it’s easy to let these gifts gloss over me — the entitlements and opportunities. When I pause to appreciate the electricity in my home and my ability to talk on a phone with my parents, I feel the flame of injustice flicker in me, as I don’t want these gifts to be exclusive. I want them to be universal. And that requires me to be a part of the fight.

The initial steps to establish a gratitude practice are more private and hidden. Whether through journaling or running through a list mentally, we keep these actions behind closed doors. The next iteration is extending our thanks outwards (hence, going back to friends on Facebook). For me, I am less interested in sweeping displays of gratitude; I want to ensure that people I interact with feel my appreciation in genuine ways for me and for them. That looks like me sending a quick text or email letting them know how grateful I am for their willingness to give advice or attend an event. Or leaving a voicemail that ends with me saying “I love you.”

Gratitude

Gratitude rocks! Get it? Yeah…

This is a work in process, like everything else in life. Some days I will excel in expressing gratitude; other days, I will lie in a dark pit and cover myself with self-pity and dark chocolate. Over time, I hope that I will become more in tune with the gifts the world offers me — in the form of adventure, friendships, convenience, comfort — and give myself the time to acknowledge and appreciate those gifts, both internally and externally.

I am thankful for the ability to have time and space to write this morning. I am grateful for the Wifi connection that bridges people and communities across the globe. I am appreciative of having access to a coffee maker and coffee that provides the fuel for mornings…and afternoons…and sometimes evenings.

What are you grateful for in your life today? How do you share your appreciation for these gifts?

 

Applying a ‘beginner’s mind’ to leadership

Do you consider yourself a goal-setter? Do you derive pleasure from crossing off items from your to-do list?

Gray brick wall with black painted soccer goal with "gol" written above

No matter the language, goals matter

Have you ever put an activity on your to-do list that you already did but wanted to release those oh-so-coveted endorphins as you drew a line through it?

Yeah, me too.

Here’s the good news for any of you who identify (even at times) as a Type-A person: we can still be mindful leaders. But, it’s not something that we can knock out of the park in one swing. It’s a process — at times, a painful one. It requires us to challenge our modus operandi and the behaviors deeply ingrained in our brains.

Fortunately, leaders like Robyn Ferhman are here to help. I had the opportunity to attend Robyn’s workshop last Saturday at Carolina Yoga Company entitled: “Attention to Intention: A Mindful Start to 2018.” You can see what was covered in this two-hour block of wonder and exploration here. Needless to say, I wasn’t ready to leave when time was up.

One of the key learnings that I took away from the workshop involved the concept of “beginner’s mind,” which is one of the core attitudes that make up a mindfulness practice. It is exactly like it sounds: approaching situations as if it were your first time ever experiencing it.

Imagine: how routine is brushing your teeth? How many of us spend that time up in our heads, running through memories or thinking about the events awaiting us tomorrow? What would happen if we approached brushing our teeth each morning and night like it was the first time? We would focus on making sure we addressed our gumlines; used circular motions to eliminate the plaque from those problem areas our dentist reminds us about every six months. How many fewer cavities would we have collectively? How much more in-tune would we feel with our bodies?

What does a “beginner’s mind” approach in leadership look like? Meetings are often a place where leaders are called upon to provide direction, make decisions, and build consensus. What if we approached the next meeting on our calendar as if it were our first ever meeting to run? What questions would we ask or anticipate others asking? How would we want to feel in the meeting? What baggage would we be able to leave outside of the door so we could fully participate, without judgment, in the space? How would a fresh perspective add value and contribute to your ideal workplace culture?

How about bringing a “beginner’s mind” to building relationships with others? Whether with our co-workers, fellow board members, or even our friends, we have a shared history, whether shallow or deep. This often results in us pre-judging outcomes or perhaps not investing our full attention into our time together. While our co-worker is sharing a new project idea, our mind drifts to: “How is this going to impact me and my time?”

A real hamster between two stuffed hampsters on a shelf

With a beginner’s mind, the impossible may appear a bit more real.

In my search for ways to incorporate a “beginner’s mind” into life, I stumbled upon this post from Amira Posner, a Mind-Body Fertility practitioner at Healing Infertility, featuring a well-known eating meditation credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Take a raisin and put it in your hand. Pretend you have dropped off from another planet, and you have never seen a raisin. With an inquisitive, open, non-judgmental perspective, examine the raisin. Explore it. Smell it, feel it, taste it. Engage your senses, in the moment, in a non-judgmental way. With all your attention, be one with the raisin.

Note: if you’re not a fan of raisins (or happen to be participating in a Whole 30 program), another food item can be easily substituted.

Upon first reading, it can sound and feel a bit silly. But, I would pose the question: hasn’t the way we’ve been operating — passively, automatically, re-actively — silly? We have kept ourselves from being fully present and engaged in our world; a world in which we only have so much time to be present.

How could a “beginner’s mind” alter your relationships with other people, with your career, and with yourself?

How I will re-think shopping this year

Do you have the Amazon app on your phone?

How often have you opened the app while waiting in line/hanging out with friends/out at an event/sitting on the toilet and ordered something?

These questions are asked without judgment as — confession time — I have been/am a habitual, knee-jerk reaction shopper became it is so convenient.

Oh, we’re out of cat food?

Click.

Gosh, I really want to read that book I just heard about on NPR.

Click.

Even better: options like Subscribe & Save take the effort of remembering to purchase a new bottle of shampoo or more coconut oil every other month!

My friend Cassie shared on Facebook Ann Patchett’s New York Times opinion piece “My Year of No Shopping“, and I read it with eyes wide open. I used to be a serial shopper. Hello, I was raised in the 90s! The mall was the place to see and be seen. At least, in my case, the only things I was looking for were the latest Babysitter’s Club paperbacks at Waldenbooks, a sassy shirt from the Rave, CDs from Sam Goody’s, and giggle-inducing adult toys at Spencer’s Gifts (those lava lamps were like a Siren’s Song).

Shopping — even just window — was a coveted weekend activity during my formative teenage years. So, it seems reasonable that I would continue such habits into adulthood. While I can attest to shedding much of my previous shopping identity (or even the desire to wander through the mall for hours….where malls still exist), online shopping quietly took the throne as the activity that doesn’t quite feel like shopping but absolutely is:

Image of woman sitting behind computer with text: "Why yes, I will spend $50 more to get free shipping to avoid paying $3 for shipping"

How quickly those seemingly one-off purchases add up! Not only financially but they take up physical space; they add weight to our consumer-driven lives. They may shape our identity, or our perception of reality. They project values and priorities. Do they project the values and priorities we want to reflect? That’s up to you.

After reading Ann’s narrative on her year of not shopping (inspired by her friend Elissa’s commitment to negate purchasing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purchases), I took a little self-inventory on my own shopping predilections and where I could make change. One of my goals in 2018 is to save more money — and I realized that I spend money on things that I don’t really need anymore.

As Ann works on following her self-determined shopping rules and begins to run out of certain items, she writes that she makes “gleeful discoveries” of lip balms, lotions, soaps, and other tucked away products that have consumed space under the sink for years.

Y’all: I have four boxes of shampoo + conditioner in the bathroom closet now. How did that happen?

For me, shopping — the act of acquiring new items based on a sense of need or want — had become a non-mindful activity. Even at the grocery store, which is one of my favorite places to spend money, I move through each aisle with my list in my hand…but always with a swift justification ready in case I want to pick up a few additional items not written on the aforementioned list. (Oh, my favorite Kombucha is only $3.25, not $3.50 — I can totally put it in the cart now!)

I want to make it clear: there is zero judgment regarding feelings of joy connected to shopping. In fact, shouldn’t shopping be joyful in some ways? If we’re able to shop, that means we have economic resources to make choices. Many people in this world do not. What a privilege for me to wander around the Kroger, the Whole Foods — wherever — and have essentially limitless options.

This is what I want to work on moving forward this year:  I want to be mindful of the act of purchasing products. I want to think about the impact it has on my own budget; on my life with Aaron; on my ability to make other financial choices down the road. I want to be mindful about the impact my shopping choices have on my community; on the people who produced the product; on the people who will benefit from the purchase of this product. I want to think about the impact my purchases have on the environment; on labor; on the health and well-being of people that I may or may not know. I want to be present during the act of shopping — whether it is online, offline, local, or international. I want to shop less and give more. I want to find more opportunities to shop in places that bring positive change to the lives of others.

The one item — the onnnnnnnnnnnnnne item — that is going to be the hardest for me to let go of purchasing at whim:

Me reading a book on a train

No, not ridiculously large plastic waterbottles (but no, I won’t be buying those in 2018 or ever again). It’s books. I love books. I love them so much. I like the way they feel, the way they make me feel. I like the way they draw me in, sometimes slowly, sometimes from the start. They rarely let me down; they comfort me when I’m sick or stuck on an airplane.

But, I have so many books. SO MANY BOOKS. And so many unread books.

This is it, my dear readers. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true right.

Sigh.

I will not purchase a book in 2018.

My intention for this year is to become more mindful throughout all aspects of my life. More to come on mindfulness in my next post after having the pleasure of attending a workshop this weekend with mindfulness/yoga/Type-A/leadership guru Robyn Fehrman.

Do you practice mindful shopping? After reading Ann Patchett’s piece, are you inspired to re-evaluate how you shop and what you buy? How can you free up space in your mind in 2018?

It’s not all about me, as much I as try to think otherwise

As much as I’d like to believe – and make you believe – that I live for others, if I really sit back and put myself under a microscope, I spend a lot of time worrying about me. I fret over my workout plans; having a quiet space to read; accomplishing the lists of self-generated tasks. I want people and things to fit into my boxes of time and space.

Originally, I drafted a line in this post that I was selfish. Perhaps that statement was the most accurate, and erasing it was my feeble attempt of reframing my own narrative.

I think there’s another quality at play: inflexibility.

I live for structure, order, and efficiency. Some of my fellow YNPN Triangle NC board members have teased me for using such nonprofit colloquialisms as “respect the agenda’ (and rightfully so at times). There comes a point where the desire to have boundaries butts up against…well, you know..other peoples’ feelings, lives, cultures, norms, etc. It becomes an agent of paralysis. It becomes a tool of power that I wield, losing the opportunity to stretch and grow because of my own: “my way or the highway” approach.

During my mindfulness journey, I am actively reflecting on what drives this need. Both of my parents adhere to similar structures in their lives. I recognize, too, that inflexibility is a value of white supremacy tool. It’s much easier to maintain control and privilege when you get to call the shots based on your life, rather than taking into account the experiences and values of others.

This isn’t a complete cast-off of structure. Instead, it’s my hope to de-emphasize how much I allow my inflexibility to impact my decisions, my relationships, and my happiness. Because that’s a huge part of it. As I force myself to adhere to my deeply-entrenched systems, I slowly erode my ability to take risks, be adaptable, and, most importantly to me, be open for something new and awesome and wonderful to enter my life – WITHOUT ME HAVING ANY CONTROL.

Terrifying and exhilarating.

I feel like Aaron faces the brunt of my inflexibility the most, and it saddens me as I reflect on how my hardheadedness to prioritize me may have closed the door on our chance to share a special moment in our relationship. Responses like “not now” and “in a few minutes” shut doors of opportunity that I can’t get back. I’m not saying that anytime Aaron or anyone else says jump, my immediate response will be “how high?” Instead, I will continue to improve on strengthening my own internal check of asking “why?”and more importantly:

Why not?

Routines will still be a part of who I am. Yes, I like to work out in the morning because this is when I’m most awake and eager.

I will still strive to respect the agenda and ensure that there is adequate space given to foster collaboration and curiosity.

I need quiet spaces to get lost in a book and I won’t use this as an excuse to justify not spending time sharing stories with my partner.

I will remain excited about the countless options to fill my weekends and I will allow the weekend to approach before filling my calendar to the brim.

I like to be a part of meetings that have a clear, defined purpose and I will laugh along with my colleagues even if it means a slight derailment.

I’m naming this challenge that is woven into me. I’m calling it out on the Internet (and, as you all know, everything is true on the Internet).

After spending the past few days in Portland for our national Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference, I have been off-schedule with my mindfulness practice. But, I know that’s ok. It can start anew tomorrow, without guilt.

At 5:05am of course (I’m kidding…I hope).

Cheers.

Recap: Wanderlust 108 – Charlotte 2016

Wanderlust 2016 - Charlotte

Where it began

Run. Yoga. Mediate.

The trifecta of health and balance for one’s mind, body, and spirit. Back in April, I had the opportunity to engage in these trio activities with two incredible friends. We hopped on the Amtrak in Durham after work on a Friday, heading to the Queen City (Charlotte).

Sheila, Michelle and I outside the Charlotte Amtrak station

A group of 3? Talk about synergy!

Wanderlust, known for its enormous yoga festivals, often in exotic locations, created day-long spin-offs dubbed Wanderlust 108.  Under “what to expect” the site notes:

lots of high fives, a little sweat, and a deep chill.

Wanderlust 108: Ready to start the 5k

The chill factor was in full effect – brr!

If I could offer some additional “what to expect” thoughts, I would include: an incredibly array of multicolored yoga pants; patchouli; and

Kombucha

Kombucha, of course.

As this Saturday neared, we kept a close eye on the weather. North Carolina had plunged into a cold snap, and Saturday’s temperatures were not looking ideal for outdoor recreation. It was windy – several yoga mats attempted flight. And it was cold – at least at the start. Fortunately, the sun provided respite and made the experience much more bearable.

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Queen City Yoga

The day began with a 5k run followed by a group dance party with MC Yogi (I kid you not), a Vinyasa flow, and a guided mediation (more on the last part below).

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Michelle is in to win

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Sheila gives peace and… brackets?

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Look ma! I’m sitting on a slackline.

A mindfulness triathalon. How zen. How challenging.

Never before had I meditated. I certainly had read my fair share of articles on the importance of mediation and centering and breathing exercises…blah blah blah. Yes, I shut those out because – let’s be real: we’ve got to get physical.


This is where the reader (that’s you) should leap from your chair and say:

 

YouLie

Ugh. I’m a bit ashamed I included such an image in this blog post. But, back to the subject at hand: my pursuits of strength have resided solely in the physical. I’m all about doing. I make to-do lists. I complete projects. I’ve got a plan. I’m constantly moving and moving and moving.

Not only does this lead to energy depletion, but it denies me from living fully. I don’t allow myself the space to turn inward and be still. For too long, I viewed that as a weakness. Diving headfirst by mediating in an open field among hundreds of strangers allowed me the first taste of meditation’s power.

I wish I could report that since attending Wanderlust 108, I’ve walked down a more enlightened path, prioritizing a time for quiet reflection each day. For the first two days after Charlotte, I tried to establish a morning routine. And then…oh, you know. Life happened.

Still, I had the opportunity of knowing what could be and now I can practice the intentional time-out.

As soon as I finish that run…

One of the other best takeaways from the 24 hour Charlotte adventure:

Vegan pimento cheese

Yes, that is VEGAN pimento cheese!

Do you meditate or engage in intentional mindfulness? If so, how did you end up making the practice part of your life?