Leave the work day behind

Putting on the work clothes in the morning is part of getting ready for the day; likewise, changing clothes at the end of the day tells me that I can put down the things of the day, walk away from the email, and pick up a book. Another part of the evening ritual is hanging up the jewelry and grabbing my comfy PJs. Sometimes that needs to be delayed until after dinner, if dinner is waiting for me when I get home, but sooner or later, it’s hot tub and shower, PJs and a nice cup of tea.

Then I can settle down on the couch and chat about news of the world with my sweetie. Recently, there was a great story in Scientific American about creative folks; we passed it around during the day, after a chum posted it to facebook, and I sent it along home as well. We got a big kick out of scientific study that shows we creative types are eccentric for a reason. Here is the link about the Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric.

Kicking back and chatting about the things we’ve discovered in the world that day renews that creativity, and encourages me to get out my creative tools and make jewelry, or create a blog entry or two.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Thankful Thursday

I cannot remember who suggested it first, back when our tribe connected on another social network, but the idea of Thankful Thursdays has stuck with me. The idea is that once a week, on a Thursday, we’d think about the things we’re grateful for in our lives. And then we’d post that for everyone to see. We didn’t do it every week, and it was likely once every month or so for each of us. It was a voluntary acknowledgement of what we were celebrating that week, something like this:

Thankful Thursday

The top 15 things I am grateful for this week

  1. being more in love with my spice/spouse every day
  2. friends who live around the world, and keep in touch by various means
  3. family who support each other, and who are demonstrative, affectionate, eccentric and opinionated
  4. that my sense of curiosity and wonder appears to be intact
  5. our wonderful kitties, Tempus Fugit and Morpheus
  6. a terrific house, with interesting objects and art everywhere I look
  7. flexibility – having a body and brain that are bendy
  8. the thousands of books that share our home
  9. my tribes, communities, extended family and kin
  10. having a great job where I can play with different ideas every week
  11. always having a plan b –  being prepared
  12. embracing happiness and writing about it
  13. making art, making love
  14. abandoning certainty
  15. knowing I am loved and cherished

Try your own list. Make it some random number of things like 3, 5, 7, 10 or some number that is personally meaningful. Go on. You know you want to.

 

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Introduction to meditation

Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them.That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

The general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Remember to breathe

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to forget to breathe when under stress? It is easy to take shallow breaths, too fast, or to hold your breath, all without noticing that’s what is going on. Taking a deep, deliberate breath before public speaking, or before going into a meeting, can make a world of difference.

Try it now. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in while counting to three. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in again for the count of three; and then do it a third time. Three times three seems to do the trick for a feeling of increased wellbeing. Before you know it, your shoulders will relax, and whatever is making you stressed will not seem nearly so important.

Your emotions impact your body, and working on your breathing can have a tremendous impact on your internal sense of ease in the world. A few years back, when I was having some health issues, my inner balance was out of whack. Part of the way back to myself, and to better health, was to focus on Chinese breathing exercises called Qiqong (pronounced chee-gung). Those exercises taught me just how powerful breath could be in returning energy and vitality to my whole body. The basics of Qiqong are in combining slow deliberate movements away from the body (breathing out) and than back towards the body (breathing in), the graceful movements flowing from one to the other.

To read more about Qiqong, try an easy introductory book by Suzanne Friedman.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Experiencing happiness

Experiencing happiness seems to be helped along by not being distracted from thinking about the past or planning for the future. It seems to help to slow down to notice what’s happening now, rather than looking ahead to the next set of tasks that need to be done.

I’ve noticed that when on vacation, or when intentionally in relaxation mode, small enjoyable things are magnified. When away from home, away from distraction into tasks of fixing this and that, I can be more present in each moment. In relaxation mode, it is easier to pay attention to things like sunsets and pretty flowers, or the guessing game of watching people and trying to imagine their story. I can enjoy good meals that are eaten without rushing, and can get immersed in great conversations that have no time limit.

On weekends, I can often be in a similar mood. It may seem odd to plan for unstructured time, yet that seems to be the trick to letting go of other planning topics. If I have half a dozen things that might be fun to do, and none of them are necessary things, then the meander from one to the other is an easy flow, and I can drop one or all of them in favor of a meal, a good book, or a chance meeting with friends.  Getting away from the clock, and into the flow of experiencing the moment, seems to attract unexpected delight.

I recall an evening on our last trip to Hawaii, where we sat on a stone wall at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and looked at the stars for a while after dinner. Soon enough, a parade of people on various bicycles came past, more than a hundred of them, dressed in celebratory garb, sporting lights and streamers on their conveyances, all of which was exhilarating, and it made us laugh out loud. They smiled and waved, and we waved right back. If we hadn’t been relaxing and taking each moment as it came, we wouldn’t have been sitting on the wall, and likely would have missed the bicycle parade altogether. It may have been as though that moment of surprise, leading to enjoyment and happiness, had never been there. The experience led to us exchanging stories with my mum about other spontaneous bits of fun. Before long, we were singing pieces of silly song lyrics on the meander back to our hotel rooms.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Lighten the load

Girl with arms raised in victoryRecently a friend pinged a bunch of us on a social site about spring cleaning. She offered a truck, a crew to help lift, and an opportunity do good. In exchange for doing spring cleaning and yard work, including hauling away stuff to the dump, we could make a donation to her favorite charity.

This appealed to me immediately. First, the children’s charity is a good cause, and would likely have chipped in dollars anyway, knowing my employer would do a match. And second, we had a shed to clean out, and stuff that had been quietly rotting under the deck, that we wanted gone.

780 pounds later, for the first load, and our yard was clearer than it had been for months. Another thing that lightened the load for me, personally, was letting go of boxes of papers that I hadn’t really looked at in 7 years, most of them things that had been transferred from closet to closet. It felt good to let go.

In the process I found a few treasures. Still-mint-in-box action figures from Babylon5 (and yes, I know that calls me out as a geek), and a signed script for the Babylon5 pilot, still pristine in plastic.

Yet one of the best things was the gift of the stuff going away. It was almost as simple as point-and-click; we’d point, and snap, those things went away. And in the end I got to donate to the charity, help a friend reach her fund-raising goal, and feel good about that too. Win.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Nothing but blue skies


It can be tricky to remember, in Seattle, that blue skies will return. Even in the middle of June and summer, we can have more grey days and rain than most places. We have even coined a weather term “sun breaks” to capture the moments when the sun comes out to play. We rush outside, take a break, and relax in the sunshine. This all got me to thinking about how much joy there is in the simple pleasure of enjoying the summer sunshine. Perhaps we can extend memories of summer further into the year, with the notion that somewhere in the world, there are blue skies and sunshine, right now. The metaphor of happiness and the image of sunshine are linked symbols in large parts of modern culture. Add an image of a child playing, banners or kites flying, and we have the visual representations that blend the concepts of pleasure, summer and happiness.

So where am I going with this? I guess this particular musing is about celebrating the possible, enjoying the blue skies when we have them, and reaching for images of summer and blue skies, or whatever metaphor coincides with happiness for you, when they are not immediately present in the moment. It’s also a bit about the connectedness of things, about life being a spectrum of experiences.

Most of the time, I am aware of the opposite side of the planet, and that they enjoy an opposite season; that’s part of growing up in Australia, falling in love, and coming to live in Seattle. When it is summer in Seattle, winter coats are the order of business in Sydney, and vice versa. It isn’t hard to think of this as a real world example of the doctrine of opposites, or as an example of polarity. It is almost like there’s a big yin/yang symbol swirling its way through the center of the earth, connecting us to the opposite side of the globe. Neither side of the balance is entirely one thing or the other; one side of the pivot is not better than the other; the poles are just the far ends of a spectrum. I think happiness can be thought of that way as well. The spectrum of happiness could be said to move all the way from the pleasure of a good yawn, through to the quiet hum of breathing, and at the far end is the dazzling glow of our favorite things.

As I’m looking out at blue skies now, am taking myself out with a blanket to enjoy it.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

15 minute vacation

From Metten (Morguefile.com)

A mini vacation practice is to take 15 minutes a day to reflect and be still. Leave the phone behind, take a walk away from the desk, and find somewhere with a view. Look at nature, take deep breaths, and allow the world to pass by.

While not everyone likes to meditate formally, the art of mindful day-dreaming is a great way to relax and renew your spirit. For me, I like to let the eye wander, rather than focusing on any one thing.

I like to look at rocks and tree formations, and notice the patterns, whorls, and imperfections that create variation in form and texture. This is something I can do near my office; there is a garden with rocks and trees in a somewhat random pattern. Across from the office, there’s a water feature as well, and I often watch the sky reflected in the water, together with the breeze making tiny ripples. You may prefer to look at flowers, or watch people as they wander past. Try it and see how much more relaxed you feel.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Whimsical hats

I don’t know quite when I started enjoying hats so much. It may even go back as far as watching movies with my parents, things like Singing in the Rain or Yanky Doodle Dandy, Mary Poppins with her very proper pinned hat, or the battered fedora on Humphrey Bogart. Hat-ness seemed to indicate a certain kind of coolness.

steampunk hat

Steampunk hat from
Exotic Design Studio

It takes some attitude to wear a hat well. Some part of you needs to embrace the message of the hat, the whimsy of it. I like to use hats to get into character. When on vacation, I like to wear movie star hats, ones with large brims, so I can flirt with the sun while remaining safe from its rays. With casual beach clothing, the casual elegance of a scarf wrapped around the hat reminds me of Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn. It’s an accent to the clothing and accessories that adds some polish, some elan.

In the past ten years or so, I’ve thought of the metaphor of hats, of changing hats, deliberately putting on a different mood, persona or attitude. It gives me happiness to try on different looks, especially ones that are a little off kilter, just a little absurd.

I admit to a fondnes for a casual layered look with a formal hat; or a slouchy beret with a big shirt and formal jacket. To a certain extent, hats are a way of juxtaposing views, playing with creativity, getting some more whimsy into my life.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Reciting silly poetry

Umbrella with bamboo

Where the rain gets in

Sometimes reading silly poetry is enough to bring a smile to my face, yet the best thing of all is to memorize it, and recite it out loud with friends. Watching their faces is a delight. Sometimes these are also song lyrics, and the best ones have a good bit of rhythm, along with places to add silly voices.  Here’s one of my favorites from Spike Milligan; it’s particularly appropriate for Seattle:

 

There are itty bitty holes in the sky

Where the rain gets in

But they’re very, very small

That’s why rain is thin

Most of the poems of Ogden Nash are fun for this game, as are Rudyard Kipling’s poetry. A childhood verse I learned has lingered in my mind. I was reminded of it when a chum mentioned on facebook that people sometimes swallow baby spiders, accidentally. It gets just a little faster and more breathless as you recide it.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird.
How absurd to swallow a bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that, she swallowed a cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog.
My what a hog, to swallow a dog.
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat, to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow.
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow.
She swallowed the cow to catch the dog.
She swallowed the dog, to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly
Perhaps she’ll die.

I know an old lady who swallowed a horse…
She died, of course!

I think I’ll go hunt down some Kipling to share. Send me your favorite links to other silly poetry. I love finding new sources.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved