Sighs, Growls, and Yields

Sighs and Growls and Yields

Detours in Life

Pentecost 4

 

Most of us tend to either sigh or growl when our smooth path in life is certainly diverted to a detour.  Look up synonyms for the word “detour” and those sighs and growls are easily understood.  A detour is the long way around, a deviation, roundabout or indirect route,  a pain in the … well, you know.  Very few of us encounter a detour and go “Yippee!”  Maybe we should.

 

We like to begin our day with an agenda, a plan for getting done all that needs to be done.  We might have a to-do list; we certainly have obligations to meet.  We develop a course of action and then we proceed on it.  Life, however, has other ideas and turns our well-ordered day planning into chaos.  In short, we have to take a detour.

 

We all too often think of detours as stop signs.  We need to recognize that detours are really opportunities, diversions to look at life more fully.  When I began this series, I had it all planned out.  The series will encompass over one hundred and eighty articles but I had it all worked out.  Whew!  Then a family member’s surgery, the death of a close friend, some technical issues (Updates are really exercises in patience, I’ve decided!), and weather delays made mush out of my carefully calculated series.  In short, I found myself on a detour.  And I did not like it.

 

Detours are diversion, not stop signs and yet, we tend to treat them as if they were.  Stop signs are not the end of everything, either.  A stop sign means you got from point A to point B and need to take a moment to look around before proceeding to point C.  Nothing more, nothing less is indicated by a stop sign.  It is not failure but rather a sign of progression.  A dead end street does not need a stop sign; it simply ends.

 

Another sign one encounters on the road is a yield sign.  Usually we are happy when we come upon a yield sign because it means we don’t have to come to a complete stop every time.  We can simply merge into the traffic, providing the path is clear.  I live in a town with a great many yield signs and I cannot think of one that has not been the scene of at least one traffic accident. 

 

All too often we simply merge into the mainstream of flow without really looking at where we are going.  We “go with the flow” but do we really know or care where the flow is headed?  Life is too important to simply merge into the masses.  We need to take the time to stop and discover who we really are and what we really want.  My detour with this series did just that for me.

 

My first detour sign was realizing my own aggravation and frustration that was a bit excessive.  I needed to relax and take a break.  I decided to color, a long favorite activity that has become a great stress reliever.  However, IO began to pressure myself to create a perfect picture.  I copied a picture to color and, instead of trying to make it perfect, I attempted to make it creative.    Jeff and Joan Stanford run a retreat and Joan has some great thoughts about our need for taking a detour and exploring play.  “Connecting to creativity is essential to our health… Coloring within the lines is relaxing but the power lies in creating, in discovering and expressing inner imagery.”  In short, there is power when we take a detour.

 

Sylvia Boorstein was recently interviewed by Michael McConnell for an article entitled “What to Do When Your Mind Starts to Growl” in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.  I purchased the issue for a peace on praying, and then discovered an article on mindfulness.  Life interrupted my reading until my sudden detour for this series had me cleaning up.  In this article Boorstein comments:  “People can get tunnel vision and get very clear about what will or won’t work in a given situation…It’s actually good to have a mind that growls so you can figure out what needs to be done.”

 

My detour had me growling and sighing and then I began to think, ponder and relax.  Within that relaxation I found the beauty of my detour and began enjoying the diversion.  The detour sign was leading me to new experiences and new pathways.  It was not a sign of failure but one of change.  That is what detours are, after all.  They represent growth.  My growling and sighing are sign of growth, not failure. 

 

It important to remember is that our lives are too important to live them merging into the masses.  We are unique and wonderfully created individuals.  We need to explore and celebrate our detours for what they are – an opening for better living, necessary growth, and brighter prospects for the future.

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Detours in Life

Pentecost 3

 

At least three out of every four Sunday afternoons my family would pile into our car and we would drive.  Sometimes we’d take a picnic and eat along some scenic spot and other times we would go out to eat Sunday luncheon and then drive.  Occasionally we would be coming home from visiting relatives out of town.  Sunday afternoon, though, often found us in the car driving.

 

Car rides are not always enjoyable since children seldom take to confined spaces very well.  This was back in the days before portable cassette tape machines or DVD players.  Entertainment was found by counting the number of cars in a particular color or playing Car bingo – looking for specific models or houses of a certain color.  The occasional large truck would pass and sometimes blow its horn but mostly we would talk and enjoy nature that we passed.

 

These rides to nowhere are some of my most favorite memories of my father.  We always had a general idea of where we were going but we seldom got there by following a straight line or by going the most expedient route.  At least twice every Sunday we would need to turn around, often the three-point turn being done with no shoulder and the chance spectator in th3e form of an errant cow or squirrel.

 

Detours are usually accompanied with frustration but these Sunday detours we always ended up taking were characterized by laughter.  I never realized they would later serve as a metaphor of life for me.  Getting somewhere is very important, especially if you need to meet an airline’s schedule or set up for a meeting.  Often, though, we let our frustration with life’s detours blind us to the opportunities they offer us.

 

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, once said that “When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”  It is sage advice because, I can promise you, life will present a great many roadblocks in your living.  The important thing to remember when we encounter such is that detours can be fun and are always educational.

 

On this day that we honor fathers, it is important to remember that fatherhood is not a straight line either.  It is fraught with trials and errors, laughter and tears, accomplishments and frustrations.  No one is perfect; no life is perfect.  Remember to enjoy the detours you encounter and recognize that even in the unexpected deviations and diversions, there can be laughter.

Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.

Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.

Value versus Worth

Value versus Worth – Journaling

Easter 25-30

 

“The world seems to think I have no worth.  It seems to think that some people are worth more, that their substance means more, that their very being should give them certain privileges because they will contribute more.  The person who seems to be content is often overlooked.  If one feels one’s life is full enough, then one lacks value.  Living has become a race to the top of the mountain of possessions.  I quit.  I refuse to run that race.  My faith tells me I have value even if the world believes me to be insignificant.”

 

The above journal entry might seem to be an argument against mindfulness but actually, it is a great defense for being mindful.  Worth is often used as a synonym for the word value and sometimes, vice versa.  They are, however, two very different words, at least for our context of mindfulness.

 

The term value denotes importance while the word worth refers to the price or cost of an item or its usage.   “The word ‘value’ is used in the sense of ‘importance’. On the other hand, the word ‘worth’ is used in the sense of ‘the cost of production’ of a particular thing or the ‘greatness’ of a particular person. This is the main difference between value and worth.”  This quote from differencebetween.com, written by the author Aron, is an interesting explanation but I am not certain I agree.  Do you?  I would really like to hear your ideas on this.

 

For our purposes with this post and our series on mindfulness, value will be defined as the intrinsic amount of feeling an item/person brings to us while worth I’m defining as the effect it has on us, whether in terms of actual cost or perceived price.  Keeping a mindfulness journal helps us delineate between the two.

 

I have mentioned keeping a mindfulness journal before and someone asked I explain the difference between it and a diary or regular journal.  Just as the terms worth and value can be used interchangeably, journals can also serve various purposes.  A diary is both a calendar of events and a listing of hopes and desires.  A regular journal is often a tracking of a day’s events or thoughts.  The mindfulness journal helps us focus on specific moments and includes not only the event but our reactions, visceral and consequential.

 

The manner in which you keep your journal can be as varied as there are different riding a city bus.  In other words, you need to do what is best for you.  Before we discuss methods of journaling, though, let’s discuss why we would do such.  Keeping a daily log of your thoughts and feelings based on each event or creating lists that you can add to over time, such as the happiest moments of your life, the people that make you happiest, what motivates you, and what you love most about yourself will help you take action towards making your dreams a reality.  It can illustrate the difference in the worth of an activity and the value it holds in your life and help eliminate what is not productive in your living.

 

The best way to accomplish something is to set goals and a mindfulness journal will help you set achievable goals.  It can also verify that what you have set as a goal is rely something you want to accomplish.  Often we end up striving for something that someone else has decided we need.  Because our own heart is not in this quest, it will take forever and most likely not be successful.  A mindfulness journal can also help identify those things that are hindrances or annoyances.  By keeping track of such, they can be eliminated and dealt with before they become larger, more stressful issues.

 

Life is, as I have said before, messy.  No one lives without encountering frustrations and most of us face them on a daily basis.  Sometimes they seem to overwhelm us.  If you are constantly losing things, important things like bills to pay, a mindfulness journal can help identify this and with some forethought, help correct the problem.  Maybe you need to clear off a shelf and designate a certain basket or box for those bills.  By placing a table by the door I most often use and putting a bowl specifically for my keys, I stopped needing to search for them when I was leaving the house.  That one small thing saved me five minutes or more each morning.  That added up to me gaining over an hour each week and I left the house less hurried and harried.

 

A mindfulness journal is a great motivator and often can serve as the catalyst for necessary change.  Many think of mindfulness as a first cousin to meditation and I agree with that.  However, one of my favorite mindfulness writers is a financial analyst, not a yoga or spiritual teacher.  Andrea Cannon recommends mindfulness journal for this reason:  “Once you begin to realize a trend in your journal entries, you’ll want to make a list of the problems you’ve noticed and what actions you’re going to take to correct them. Fixing items around your home, workspace, and vehicle can help change your day-to-day life and can save you time and frustration. In most cases, people tend to wonder why they waited so long to make the repairs in the first place.  Procrastination is likely what made these small daily frustrations a larger problem over time. That’s why it’s so important to keep track of what needs to be changed and what steps you’re taking towards achieving these goals in a timely manner.”

 

When we journal, we put a spotlight on our day and become more aware of it.  yes it does take time but how we journal can help with just how much time.  As I said before, there are a variety of ways to journal.  One of my favorite is to get a family day planner, with columns for various family members.  Instead of using the column for each family member, though, use them for different categories.  For instance, one column is for the actual activity or scheduled event.  The next is for whether it was successful or not – no explanations, just a yes or no to the success of the incident.  The next column is for how I felt approaching it, the next for how I felt doing it, the next for the results and my feelings about that.  Then the next column is a quick, briefly worded assessment about hindrances and finally, a column for new goal(s). 

 

Here is an example of this type of journaling:

Column A/Event: Doctor’s appointment

Column B/Successful: Yes; kept the appointment

Column C/Feelings leading up to event: Bit of trepidation

Column D/Feelings during event: Informed

Column E/Feelings after event: Hopeful; positive

Column F/Hindrances: Diet changes bothersome

Column G/Goals: Eliminate eating an entire pizza, eating one slice and a small salad instead.

 

Your journal does not have to be formal.  If you would rather have an informal journal, then any blank or lined notebook will suffice.  There are a few brief formalities that precede any entry – the date, the name of the meditation practice, and how long you meditated for. Then you can write more generally about how the practice went – what distractions you had, what you did about them; what positive factors (like calmness, patience, concentration, etc.) that were present and what you did to strengthen them. You can write about factors in your life that had an effect on your practice – things like lack of sleep, or a particularly busy day, or that you felt refreshed after a day’s hiking with a friend. 

 

Mindfulness is about knowing where we are (being in the moment) and also about maintaining an awareness of where we have been (reflection) and where we are going (having goals).  A journal can help us with all of those areas of awareness, helping us to have a more unified awareness of ourselves.  An example of an informal journal might look like this: “Mindfulness of Breathing. 25 minutes. Had a hard time staying focused. Nodded off to sleep a few times — hadn’t had enough sleep. Felt a bit despondent. 

 

Psychotherapist Dr. Ronald Alexander offers these tips of journaling. 

• Schedule your time to write when you sit quietly in a peaceful, restful place, perhaps in a room surrounded by books and pictures that inspire you. You may also want to sit on a meditation chair or cushion with peaceful music playing, wrap yourself in a meditation shawl or blanket, and light a candle or incense.

• Categorize what your mind churns up. Our minds create a mix of emotions, thoughts, and sensations, all of which influence each other. The thought, “My boss is so insensitive; I can’t believe he was so abrupt with me today,” might not surface in your mind until you sit and begin meditating, and might appear not as a fully formed thought but as a headache or an overall sense of vulnerability and defensiveness.

• In meditation, it’s important not to go wherever those sensations and feelings take you but to simply sit with them, allowing them to reveal themselves. Afterward, as you write in your journal about your experience, work with a therapist, or ponder where that feeling or sensation came from, you might discover that it has deeper roots.

• Recognizing that your experience bears a powerful emotional resemblance to a past experience can be a helpful and freeing insight, but in the end, the story of its origin is just a story that can distract you from healing. If you come to realize that your defensiveness around your gruff boss reminds you of the way you reacted to your highly critical father, the value in that insight is acknowledging how deeply your mind has been programmed to respond to criticism or abruptness with fear and defensiveness. It’s easier to be patient with yourself when you recognize that your mind has actually created an elaborate neural network to support this reaction, because clearly, it will take time, patience, and repetition to change that instantaneous response.

• Don’t give too much weight to such a revelation as you can reinforce that reality. You reinforce your habitual thinking and feeling patterns when you subscribe to a narrative of suffering such as, “I can’t help being the way I am. My defensiveness goes way back to my childhood.” I call this the “big story.” It has the potential to shut you off from the art of creative transformation.

• Once you’ve identified the big story, categorize it as “old stuff” and set it aside whenever it comes up. The major healing work most people need to do is to transform and move beyond their “big story” whether it deals with their parents, lack of abundance, insecurities or fears. There’s no benefit in retelling it to yourself over and over again.

• It’s also important to let go of the “new stuff”: each “small story,” or rationalization for why your present life is the way it is. The small stories are worth examining to discover what lessons they hold, but if you hang on to them, repeating them to yourself, they become “old stuff” and part of the big story as well.

“As long as you remain in these stories, you create suffering for yourself. To change your life, you have to see the story for what it is: a way of framing events that doesn’t contribute to your happiness and holds you back from positive change. Holding on to your story, big or small, giving it life in retelling and embellishing it endlessly, will cause you pain. The point isn’t whether or not you’re justified in telling that particular story, or its veracity, but whether you’re suffering because of it. This takes practice but the more you meditate the more it will feel as if you’re simply sorting the laundry as you observe what your mind generates.”

 

Andrea Cannon explains the benefits of a mindfulness journal.  “A mindfulness journal can help you focus on the things in life that make you happy so you live with an attitude of gratitude. Rather than focusing on a crowded train, you can instead focus on the song you’re listening to and how it makes you feel, your posture while you sit and wait for your next stop, and what you’re looking forward to in your day. Over time, this will become natural so you can turn negative moments into positive experiences no matter what the day may bring.”

 

With a mindfulness journal we can begin to understand the difference between value and worth.  The opening paragraph was taken from a journal of someone who had contemplated suicide.  Fortunately, the writer realized that their value exceeded the world’s perception of their worth.  We all are valuable to this planet and no one has the right to diminish your feelings of self-worth.  Mindfulness reminds us of our own purpose and right to a prosperous living.  Start journaling and find your joy!

 

 

 

Laughter is Good Medicine

Laughter is Good Medicine

Easter 21

 

“Being mindful is just pointing out all the bad stuff” someone wrote.  Being a firm believer of mindfulness, it might surprise you that I completely understand this reader’s sentiment.  Many of us go through our daily life in a fog so as to keep from having to recognize the reality.  Mindfulness brings a great deal of that to light but seeing and acknowledging our dismay is not all that mindfulness is.  It is only half of the practice.

 

Being able to see the humor in our situations in life is critical to living a healthy life.  Yesterday I remarked about the irony of a book about grace falling down in front of me.  The corner of the book had actually caught my arm and, being a new book, made a very slight nick in my skin.  Being able to see the humor in the situation, though, actually enabled the small cut to heal faster because I laughed.

 

You read that correctly.  Laughing, science tells us, can actually be the best medicine in some situations.  Ten years ago science revealed evidence that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it’s good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood. At a 2005 meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Michael Miller, M.D., of the University of Maryland reported that in a study of 20 healthy people, provoking laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. Dr. Miller did not recommend that you laugh and not exercise but he did advise that we should try to laugh on a regular basis. The endothelium, he explained, regulates blood flow and adjusts the propensity of blood to coagulate and clot. In addition, it secretes assorted chemicals in response to wounds, infection or irritation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.  “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said Dr. Miller. “So given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium. And reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

 

Dr. Miller also recommends laughter as a great tonic for other ailments.  “Laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”  The researcher can’t say for sure exactly how laughter delivers its heart benefit. It could come from the vigorous movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Alternatively, or additionally, laughter might trigger the release in the brain of such hormones as endorphins that have an effect on arteries.  It’s also possible that laughter boosts levels of nitric oxide in artery walls. Nitric oxide is known to play a role in the dilation of the endothelium. “Perhaps mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or inhibits a stimulus to produce nitric oxide that results in vasoconstriction.”

 

It has been known for some time that laughter reduced one’s perception of pain, thus enabling a person to tolerate discomfort better.  It also reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike.  Laughter can improve your job performance, especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems. Its role in intimate relationships is vastly underestimated and it really is the glue of good marriages. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.  Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together.

 

Life is messy.  That is a fact and no matter who we are, we will face the “bad stuff” at some point.  Being able to see the humor enables us to cope and move forward.  Dr. Miller advises people to do some sort of physical exercise thirty minutes a week and to laugh fifteen minutes every day.  This reminds us to not only be mindful of our physical health but also our emotional health. 

 

“I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might be healthier too.”  As weird as it might sound, laughter is really a physical exercise for our bodies and our spirits.  When we laugh we go through some physiological changes.  We stretch muscles throughout the face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises slightly and we tend to breathe faster.  This sends more oxygen to our tissues within the body which in turn creates a series of positive chain reactions.

 

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  Now do not get carried away and think you can laugh off excess weight.  After all, it would take about twelve hours of laughing to counteract the effect of eating one chocolate bar.  Still, laughing is beneficial.

 

The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Research does not verify Cousins’ belief that laughter was the tonic for his insomnia, however,  Many believe a drama could have done the same thing and that anything that takes one’s mind off the day’s worries would have been effective.  Does this disprove the benefits of mindfulness?  No.  It does emphasize that our reactions to life are very important.

 

One of the difficulties science has in determining just how effective laughter is as medicine is that the cause and effect are hard to narrow down.  Two things are known for certain.  Laughter brings us together and since human beings are social animals, this improves their quality of life.  Secondly, appropriate laughter is not a harmful thing and if you enjoy, one should keep laughing.  Enjoying life is the best medicine of all.

The Next Step

The Next Step

Easter 7

 

Okay so let’s say you have really thought about the last hour and fully been in the moments of each of those sixty minutes.  You fully experienced that sip of beverage and felt is as it entered and then followed its course through your throat.  You smelled that bite of food before partaking it and then thought about the texture and taste instead of gulping it down in a hurry.  You felt that air on your skin as you walked outside and heard the ambient sounds around you.  What comes next?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and human rights activist, who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. His books include “Being Peace”.  Nhat Hanh describes the process as being mindful as much more than just thinking about things.  “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.

 

“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.

 

“The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.

 

Nhat Hanh believes we are all entitled to being happy.  Many people do not.  They would rather wallow in their self-pity because it seems comfortable to them.  The next step after you have been mindful for an hour is to be brave and practice mindfulness for a day. 

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking – not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside. Real silence is the cessation of talking – of both the mouth and of the mind. This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.”

 

The next step is to believe you deserve the right to be happy and let the silence teach you.  Listen ot the advice of this monk.  “Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breathe in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it.  The same thing is true with your breath. Allow your breath to take place. Become aware of it and enjoy it. –  Effortlessness; Enjoyment. The same thing is true with walking mindfully. Every step you take is enjoyable. Every step helps you to touch the wonders of life, in yourself and around you. Every step is peace. Every step is joy. That is possible.”  When you achieve that, then your step will be one of joy.