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They’re Up! How About You?

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Credit: Millie Grenough

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Tons of snow atop them for weeks. And now these voluptuous velvets emerge.
Just like that. No bruises. No complaints. Here they are. Free. Right in my front yard.
Naive flirts, inviting me and all my neighbors: “Feast on us!”

Their simple magnificence entices me to offer you my Oasis in the Overwhelm Sanity Tip for today:
Give yourself some unscheduled minutes. Go outside.
Feel your left foot on the ground (not pavement). Now your right foot. Barefoot is best, but shoes are OK.
Let your weight drop to gravity. See if you trust Mother Earth to carry you.
Exhale. A long, deep exhale.
Inhale slowly. Invite your body to drink in the freshness.
Look to your right. Notice the multiplicity of colors.
Come back to center and look as far as you can to your left. More colors…
Scan the total horizon. See if you can spot three shades of green.
Choose one green. Focus on it.
Breathe in and out. Three luxurious inhales and exhales. Absorb the green.
Thank the Universe. What a miracle!
We are here for another April.

I Didn’t Keep My Promise

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credit: Millie Grenough

Remember way back when I promised that I’d lie in my hammock for 10 minutes at least three times a week?

Well, I didn’t.

What do now — beat myself up? Say what a slacker I am, especially since I’m the “expert” on self-care and re-wiring our brains towards healthy habits?

Nah, that’s a sure waste of energy and of my brain cells. Better to get real and ask myself:
OK, what’s the situation now and what can I do and want to do about it?

Situation now: two feet of snow in the backyard and on the streets.
What do? Funny thing. Just got an e-note from my coach colleague Jean Stetz-Puchalski:
“The snow is so deep here I can’t even get out my driveway. But the light is gorgeous, so I decided to go out and make a snow angel.”

Great idea. I haven’t done one of those angels since I was a kid. I went out and did it.

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Moral of the story?

Do what you can with what you’ve got. You know, lemons to lemonade.

As stress management researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn says,
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Translation for 2015 in Northeastern USA:
You can’t stop the snow, but you can flap your wings.

Thanks, Jean, for reminding me to “change my channel.
It took only a few seconds. Didn’t cost a cent. Gave me a true Oasis in the Overwhelm.
A super snowy thanks to you!

What Outlasts Chocolate and Roses?

Valentine’s Day pitches everywhere: on my street corner, online, in the drugstore. Makes me wonder: what is at the heart of this day?

When I came in from shopping, I glanced back at old mail, old photos, old cards, and found this photo of then two-year-old Mikhayla. She gave me the answer. Love is the heart: the simplicity of giving and receiving, the freshness of 2015-02-13-Mikhaylahappy.JPGa cowgirl hat and an open-hearted smile.

Corazon, coeur, cuore, coração: in the romance languages they all mean heart. And from that vital life-giving organ comes courage.

When the rose petals drop and the chocolate is eaten, what remains? Hopefully, the love that prompted the gifts. And even if you didn’t receive or give any of these, you still have your own heart.

On this Valentine weekend, do something heartfelt, something courageous. Stand up for something or someone you believe in, whether it’s a big act or a little gesture. Take action on something you’ve dreamt of doing. Make it real. Exercise your unique heart wisdom.

Our world is hungry for more than dark chocolate!

Take the Jangle Out of the Jingle Season

Finances tight? Overwhelmed by all the people you have to make happy? These days can escalate stress in all of us. They are especially difficult for people in military service or other dangerous occupations, and for their families.

A while back I did a workshop at our local Veterans Hospital. I remember Alicia especially. Her husband was a wounded Vietnam vet and her son was in Afghanistan. She said, “My whole family is stressed. Money is scarce, my husband is in the hospital and can’t work, my daughter-in-law is frantic because she is afraid her husband might not make it back in one piece.”

When I told Alicia she could shift her brain from the “stress channel” to the “calm channel” in only 60 seconds, she was skeptical but decided to give it a shot.

Here’s what Alicia did. It can work for you, too.

Step 1: Give your body a break
Right now, stand up and stretch. Shake out all your to-do items, all your sadness and worries. Reach up to the ceiling and shout “Peace!” Bend down to the floor and say “Joy!” Come back up and reach your arms way out to one side and yell “Health!” Now, really stretch those arms to the other side and shout so they hear you on the other side of the world, “Celebrate!” 60 seconds is up. Now you are ready for the second step.

Step 2: Give your mind a break
Get pen and paper. Write down your answer to this question. Don’t edit. Just write.
What is your fondest memory about the holidays when you were a kid? How old were you? Exactly where were you? Who else was there? What made it special for you? Take just 60 seconds to put down the smells, colors, the feelings, your memories.

Step 3: Change your brain
Move from the “I-have-to” stress channel to the “I-can-feel-good” channel. Right now, brainstorm for 60 seconds and write down your responses to this question:
For $5 or less, what can you give to: 1) someone you know, 2) someone you don’t know, 3) yourself?

Alicia finished the activities. Her face was clearly brighter and her whole body exuded energy. She told the group about her fondest memory:

I was making cookies with my grandmother in her tiny kitchen. I can still remember how good they smelled… I had forgotten how much those simple little things mean. When I think about how many folks in Afghanistan, and even in my own neighborhood, don’t have a safe house to live in or even an oven to make cookies in, I remember the big picture. All the rest is just stuff.

Then Alicia told us what she decided to do on her $5 “feel-good” channel:

I’m going to bake cookies with my granddaughter Rosa. We’ll send some to her Dad and we’ll bring some to the vets at the hospital. When we get back home, we’ll take turns giving each other a manicure, I think with bright red polish. That will be fun!

In three minutes, Alicia got rid of the jangle. She told her brain,

Let’s get off this stress channel and go to something that is more useful. Let’s go to the gratitude channel. Let’s be happy we are together and that we can make cookies for the people we love.

What can you do for $5 or less to make someone else, and you, happy?

Wherever you are, whomever you are with, warm wishes for the holidays.

Sanity Tips for Thanksgiving Menu

Crazed with last-minute preparations?
Dig into this Sanity Tip Menu for a pre-Thanksgiving shift.
No charge. No tax. No reservations needed.
Prep time? Two minutes.

MAIN DISH:
Choose someone in your family/social circle who sometimes acts like a turkey.
Think of an unexpected treat you could give to that person. It may be a shift in your attitude towards her/him, or a tangible act you do for or with that particular turkey.
They don’t even have to know about it to make it work.

SIDE DISHES:
Right now, look around you and find something the color of cranberries.
Drink in the richness and beauty of the color.
Let it give pleasure to your mind and your body as you breathe it in.

Cook up some gratitude gravy.
Take a pen/pencil and jot down three things that you are grateful for at this very moment.

ANYTHING ELSE NEEDED?
Stand up. Take a breath. Stretch.
Feel free to add any dishes of your own.

That’s it.
Hope it gave you a chance to ease off a bit, and widen your picture.

Warm wishes for a happy Thanksgiving!

Where Did My Hammock Time Go?

“Everybody I know is just flat-out overwhelmed. Me, too.”

Photo: Joy Bush

Photo: Joy Bush

It was my 30-something niece Suzy on her speaker phone. She was driving her 2-year-old son Gus and her Dad to a couple of errands outside of Indianapolis. The day before, I had e-mailed all my family members to ask their opinions on a title for my new Oasis book. Suzy had lots to say:

It’s crazy. Overwhelm is really the word. There’s never time for anything and there’s always something new you have to learn. At work I do data analysis. I like doing that, but there’s always pressure — a new program to learn, whatever. Even as a parent, I go on Twitter and find out I should be doing something different with my kid. I don’t know what’s happening, but I never have time to stop. Even to breathe…

Yeah, tell me! It’s true for all of us, folks older and younger than Suzy. Randall Beach, one of my favorite Connecticut columnists, wrote a piece in last week’s New Haven Register. He reviewed a new book by Mark C. Taylor, Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left. Taylor dedicates his book to his four children, now grown, and writes, “Their lives are trapped by speed.” He cites examples:

The average person today sends or receives 400 texts per month, four times the total in 2007.
The average teen today processes 3,700 texts per month.
Parents pop pills to keep up during the day and to sleep at night. They give their kids “speed” to get ahead in school.
The average American fails to take 20% of his or her paid vacation. And even when they are on vacation, they are afraid to disconnect and they remain on call 24/7/365.
From The Wall Street Journal: ‘As many as 80% of young New York City professionals work regularly from bed.’

The result of all this? We know from Suzy’s and my and your experience – increased anxiety, depression, distraction, cardiovascular stress, poor vision, strained relationships and plain old fatigue.

So how does my hammock play into this? In late April, when spring finally reached Connecticut, I took the hammock out of the tool shed and lovingly re-hung it. I made a promise to myself to lie in the hammock at least half an hour three times a week.

Why this promise? Let me explain. My hammock is sacred to me: it is my chosen place of refuge, rest, relaxation. It was my hammock that helped me heal after my bicycle accident. For weeks, during my recuperation, I trusted my body to its embrace. My skin soaked up the sun. My eyes drank in the slow flowering of the rhododendron fifteen inches from my face. My ears delighted in the bird sounds and the dancing of the tree branches. Those hours in the hammock helped restore my injured body and wounded spirit to pulsing, vibrant health. My hammock was indeed my oasis in the overwhelm.

Even last week, when I was at a conference at Omega Institute, I lay in my hammock, mentally. When we received the invitation in a guided visualization to “Go to a place of beauty and safety… a place that gives you solace and rest…,” many people went to the sea, or to a mountain lake. I went to my backyard hammock.

Back to my springtime promise. Did I keep it? Not really. Maybe a total of ten times in the 150 days since then. What happened? I was so busy writing and giving workshops about the importance of self-care that I boxed myself out of the equation. Well, as they say, we teach best what we need to learn.

Guess it’s not too late. The phone conversation with Suzy shocked me into the realization that I could both make time to write this post and take time for just me. That meant I could get my physical body — not just my mental imaginings — into the hammock. Maybe not thirty minutes, but at least ten. Winter weather is coming soon, so I have precious few days left before I put the hammock back into the tool shed.

It’s raining now, so today is a no go, but they’re predicting sun for tomorrow. I have a very busy schedule tomorrow, but I promise — to you and to myself — that I will go out and lie in that beloved old hammock before I drive to New York. My body, my mind, my spirit need to soak up that sun while I can. Ten minutes will be a delight. I’m already savoring it…

In my next blog, I’ll let you know if I kept my promise. Please send me your support — and your suggestions. Thanks!

What Do Steve, Arianna, Millie and Karen Have in Common?

Common element in Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Millie Grenough, Karen Gomez:
a) creativity
b) crazy-busy schedules
c) meditation practice
d) all the above

steve jobsIf you answered d, you got it right.

Steve? Here’s what he told his biographer Walter Isaacson:

If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.

Arianna confesses that she didn’t recognize the craziness of her lifestyle till she woke up in in a pool of blood in her own office. Cause? Exhaustion and lack of sleep. Result? Arianna radically redefined her work schedule — and her definition of success. The queen of social media now unplugs and builds mindfulness practice into her everyday schedule.

Millie — that’s hard-headed me — didn’t get it till a near-death bicycle accident cracked my head open. During months of recuperation I realized that unless I made changes in my frantic pace I wouldn’t be around much longer. As I lay in my hammock to heal, the seeds of Oasis in the Overwhelm: 60-second strategies for Balance in a Busy World sprouted. Doing those simple strategies on a daily basis now helps me stay relatively sane in this crazy world.

Who is Karen Gomez? A Holistic Life & Wellness Coach and graduate of my Oasis Training Program. Karen teaches practical mindfulness to all kinds of people, from troubled teenagers and hard-driving entrepreneurs to elders with Alzheimer’s.

And you? If meditation is not yet part of your daily routine, you can get a good start by following these tips offered by Karen:

  1. Select a place where you can sit, uninterrupted.
  2. Practice meditation for at least five to ten minutes in the morning and five to ten minutes at night.
  3. Sit in an erect and upright position on a chair or on a meditation cushion.
  4. Either close your eyes, or softly focus them on a spot on the floor about three to four feet in front of you.
  5. Heighten attention particularly to the out-breath, as you practice letting go of all thoughts and feelings.
  6. Repeat the process of maintaining attention on the breath, as it naturally comes in and goes out.
  7. Set aside time each day to develop a personal meditation practice. When undertaken with discipline, meditation can lead to clarity and peace of mind.

When you do this, you’ll join the ranks of creative powerhouses like Steve, Arianna, Oprah, Soledad O’Brien, Jeff Weiner, and multiple others.

Don’t have time even for five minutes?

No problem. You can pause anytime during a frantic day to do a 60-second strategy. As Rick Hanson says, a moment of awakening in the midst of overwhelm can ease you out of agita and open you to the big picture.

Unplug chaos. Plug in calm.
Give it a shot. Right now. Exhale…
Do it. You’ll want more —

The Most Beautiful Outhouse Ever

Well, it’s over. August is gone. Back at the usual.

Savoring tangible souvenirs of my two weeks in the backcountry of Maine: multiple multi-color bruises on legs and hips from tumbles into the raging Wassataquoik Stream north of Katahdin, scratches on my arms from Saddle Ridge boulders on our darkened 8 p.m. descent, a few pounds lighter in my body.

14 days away. No external world news, no “have-to” lists intruding.

Only what was right in front of me, around me, under me: rocky paths, cedar aroma, turbulent stream-crosses, sun, moon, day, night, exhaustion, sleep, black breakfast tea, energy, next trek, bird song, an occasional moose.

Just what I needed. To quote my colleague Lindy Gold, “I had to unplug before I got unglued.”

I’m back in New Haven now. 1,000+ emails waiting, multiple phone calls, appointments to reschedule, home chores — forgot to water the house plants before I left — family happenings. Nothing terrible, just interminable.

How can I, in my “real life” here, keep some of that simple spaciousness and honest fatigue that was mine in Maine?

One tangible memory shoots up: the outhouse when we reached Russell Pond, described as “the most remote campground in Baxter State Park,” 8 miles north of Mt. Katahdin, a 7.6-mile hike from our Roaring Brook campsite.

We spotted it after a strenuous 10-hour hike; that’s the day I dumped into the stream twice. The outhouse was truly regal: solidly built of good old Maine wood, superbly situated, spiffy clean, and — get this — when I sat down, I had a 360-degree view of the terrain. The outhouse architect had left open-air “windows” on all four sides. When Brendan, the ranger, visited our campsite a half-hour later, I told him, “I’ve been in outhouses on five continents, and this is truly the most beautiful outhouse I’ve ever seen.” He smiled and said quietly, “Yeah, I like it, too. I built it eight years ago.”

Brendan’s outhouse: simple, beautiful, functional. Does exactly what it is supposed to do. With grace.

That night I remembered a quote I have on my home bulletin board from the English designer, William Morris:

If you want one golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Now that I am home, I’m inviting myself to clear my decks, little by little, as much as possible. Those summer clothes that are perfectly good and I haven’t worn in five years? Give them away.

And my cluttered mind? Now that’s the huge challenge. But really, not all that different from taking the next necessary step on that trail near Katahdin to reach a safe campsite.

In Thrive, Arianna Huffington writes, “Happiness and well-being are not just magical traits that some are blessed with and others not.” She notes that the researcher Richard Davidson has come to view “happiness not as a trait but as a skill, like tennis…

If you want to be a good tennis player, you can’t just pick up a racket — you have to practice … It’s no different than learning to play the violin or play golf. When you practice, you get better at it.”

Hike. Meditate.

I didn’t do either of them seriously until I hit my 40s. Still not “perfect” at either, but much less afraid of them now than I was decades ago. Yes, more skillful.

My coming-back-to-“civilization” message?
Be patient with myself. One step at a time…
Remember that outhouse.

Grumble or Grin? The Choice Is Yours

The other day my buddy Joe and I walked down the street bemoaning all the tragedies that are happening in the world. And yes, we grumbled about the oppressive heat.

“It’s never been this hot!”  “Yeah, and it’s never lasted this long…” 
Suddenly, a sprinkle of water hit us. We looked up out of our grumbledness to see the neighbor kid and his dog Cuie blissfully jumping in the fire hydrant spray. Now that’s the life!

Charlie and Cuie, so un-stressed, so innocent. Shot me back to words of the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living

Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, the very purpose of our life is happiness, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.

Simple. Nothing like running through a sprinkler to give yourself a dose of happiness in this heat.

In the spirit of dog and kid frolicking, this blog is simple. Just two of my favorite quotes and two Oasis in the Overwhelm Sanity Tips.

“If you can’t make love, make lunch.” — from my volleyball buddy Roger Uihlein.

From my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:   “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.”

The two Oasis Sanity Tips:

Be a Kid — Sprinkle and Stretch
Look at that photo of Charlie and Cuie.
Take a few seconds to remember a time when you were a kid and you dashed through a sprinkler. Get the feel of it — the cool air, the freedom of running and getting thoroughly drenched — no worry about clothes or hair…  Soak that coolness into your cells.

Change your channel: shift from seated-blog-reader to Charlie-and-Cuie full-body stretch.

Enjoy the incredible ability of your body to extend north. Then south… east… west…

Shake yourself out. Wave your fingers. Wag your tail.
As Bobby McFerrin says, “Don’t worry. Be happy!”

Replay + Recharge:
Set your computer, your iPhone, whatever, to ring one hour from now.
When it rings, wherever you are, STOP what you are doing and ease into a deep exhale.

Now, with a fresh inhale, replay your sprinkler-water-full-body stretch. 
Stretch in all four directions — toss out anything you want to get rid of — feel how much lighter your body and mind are —

Now you have room to invite in anything you want to come in. Breathe. Drink it in.

Do these simple Oasis 60-second Strategies a couple of times a day, and you will begin to notice a shift in your being — especially on sticky hot days when the world is a mess and nothing seems to go right for you personally.

You’ll begin to experience more compassion for yourself, and for those around you.

The Dalai Lama reminds us:

Happiness is not a fixed characteristic, a biological set point that will never change. Instead, the brain is plastic, and our quota of happiness can be enhanced through mental training

You can change your channel. You can train your brain to move away from gripe and grumble to appreciating the big picture of your life right this minute.

What’s your choice: bake — or shake?

You can shift from Eeek! to ease, from grumble to grin, in an instant. Give it a play now.

 

Stressed or Blessed? 60 Seconds or Less Can Be the Dealbreaker

You know how it goes. Something hits you wrong and you fly off the handle. Just like that.

Yesterday morning I was absorbed in to-do details yakking at me. I thought I was managing the clamor fairly well. But then one e-note, in the midst of a ton of others, grabbed me.

Can we change the time and place of our meeting today?

Normally a request like this wouldn’t throw me. But I had carefully choreographed this gathering to suit five people with incredibly busy schedules and who were coming in from various geographic regions.

Mil stressedI could feel my agitation surging. “The nerve! Letting me know at the last minute. I sent out these details last week!” And then anger, “This is not the first time that this person has bailed on me.”

Just like that, within a matter of seconds, my whole being changed: mind racing, heart pumping wildly, indigestion brewing, snappy responses crackling.

How quickly it can happen. And over the slightest thing.

I caught myself. Meltdown immanent. Time for an Emergency Three-Breath-Countdown.

Stop. Right now. Exhale. Let it go. Now inhale. Invite in fresh air. Do it again. Exhale. Really let it all sail out. Now bring in freshness. One more time. Exhale. Inhale. Ah, better.

After I cooled, I returned to emails with a clearer mind and a less stressed body. The fifth e-note pulled me in. My dear friend Kay had just returned from Asia and was shocked to find that her husband of 14 years was departing. “I am pouring out my heart to heartfelt women friends — the best remedy there is.” She included a link to a commercial from Thailand that she said made her think of us.

I decided to watch. It helped me remember that yes, sometimes you don’t even need 60 seconds.

In a few seconds, I can fly off the handle, or I can choose to do something tiny. It can make a huge difference for someone else. And for me.

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