Tag Archives: Live in the Present

Hurry Up and Slow Down: How to Focus on what Matters in your Life

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The world is moving fast and it’s only getting faster. So much technology. So much information. So much to understand, to think about, to react to. A friend of mine recently took a new job as the head of learning and development at a mid-sized investment bank. When she came to work her first day on the job she turned on her computer, logged in with the password they had given her, and found 385 messages already waiting for her.

So we try to speed up to match the pace of the action around us. We stay up until 3 am trying to answer all our emails. We twitter, we facebook, and we link-in. We scan news websites wanting to make sure we stay up to date on the latest updates. And we salivate each time we hear the beep or vibration of a new text message.

But that’s a mistake. The speed with which information hurtles towards us is unavoidable (and it’s getting worse). But trying to catch it all is counterproductive. The faster the waves come, the more deliberately we need to navigate. Otherwise we’ll get tossed around like so many particles of sand, scattered to oblivion. Never before has it been so important to be grounded and intentional and to know what’s important.

Never before has it been so important to say “No.” No, I’m not going to read that article. No, I’m not going to read that email. No, I’m not going to take that phone call. No, I’m not going to sit through that meeting.

It’s hard to do because maybe, just maybe, that next piece of information will be the key to our success. But our success actually hinges on the opposite: on our willingness to risk missing some information. Because trying to focus on it all is a risk in itself. We’ll exhaust ourselves. We’ll get confused, nervous, and irritable.

A study of car accidents by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute put cameras in cars to see what happens right before an accident. They found that in 80% of crashes the driver was distracted during the three seconds preceding the incident. In other words, they lost focus — dialed their cell phones, changed the station on the radio, took a bite of a sandwich, maybe checked a text — and didn’t notice that something changed in the world around them. Then they crashed.

The world is changing fast and if we don’t stay focused on the road ahead, resisting the distractions that, while tempting, are, well, distracting, then we increase the chances of a crash.

Now is a good time to pause, prioritize, and focus. Make two lists:

List 1: Your Focus List (the road ahead). What are you trying to achieve? What makes you happy? What’s important to you? Design your time around those things. Because time is your one limited resource and no matter how hard you try you can’t work 25/8.

List 2: Your Ignore List (the distrations). To succeed in using your time wisely, you have to ask equally important but often avoided complementary questions: what are you willing not to achieve? What doesn’t make you happy? What’s not important to you? What gets in the way?

Some people already have the first list. Very few have the second. But given how easily we get distracted and how many distractions we have these days, the second is more important than ever. The leaders who will continue to thrive in the future know the answers to these questions and each time there’s a demand on their attention they ask whether it will further their focus or dilute it.                                                                                                                       

Excerpt by Peter Bregman via Harvard Business Review, to see his full article click here; Peter Bregman is a strategic advisor to CEOs and their leadership teams. His latest book is 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. To receive an email when he posts at HBR, click here)

The past three years, I spent my fair share of time searching for “what’s next” in life. At the same time, I invested a lot of effort in practicing presence and mindfulness and enjoying the unknown. Because I was always attached to figuring out my future, I was never able to fully ground myself or to focus on what was next, because I was trying to live in both worlds.  As noted in Peter’s article above, we can only look in one direction a time, otherwise we risk the crash, and we risk being counterproductive and scattered to oblivion–which is never fun.

I always thought once I figured out my work situation or “my future” that being grounded and focused would come easier. And luckily, a month ago I found a job that fulfills my basic needs for survival and life purpose, so now I can easily focus the remaining attention I have on grounding and being more intentional about life, right? Wrong. While I am definitely more sensitive in recognizing what I want to do in life, focusing on what I want to do has almost been harder, because remaining focused after a long day’s work is tough when you are exhausted–which brings me to why I connect with Peter’s message.

His excerpt brings up the importance of looking at the whole glass in life–not just whether it’s half empty or half full–and not just at what we want to look at. His words remind me of how being whole and approaching life with a holistic perspective can actually help develop those laser-focused beams that we often find ourselves seeking.

I spend a lot of time trying to focus on what I intend to do in life. But like Peter said, rarely do I pay attention to the things that I need to cut out or ignore. This article challenges me to to really look at the whole picture–both the positive and negative spaces of its form. We often forget that negative space contributes to and plays a vital part in the work of art we call life. I look forward to exploring the negative spaces of my own life’s composition to discover how I can impact myself and my communities in a positive way.

Another activity: Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle. Inside the circle write down the activities you do that take up the most of your time, outside the circle write down activities/people/things that are the most important to you in life. Then take an inventory of the whole picture. Are you spending time on what you aspire to do? Are many of the activities you find important in the center of your circle or are they only on the outside? Look hard at the inside the circle. Are you focusing on the right things? How you can you better use your time?


Food Sadhanas: 4 Practices to Keep Your Mind & Body Whole

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After prenatal yoga teacher training a few weekends ago, I was inspired to reacquaint myself with Ayurveda (India’s traditional healing system). As a person who associates my primary dosha as pitta (fire), I reviewed the list of foods and spices that I am supposed to avoid according to ayurvedic principles. I quickly remembered why I didn’t pay much attention to Ayurveda when we covered it in graduate school–as a pitta I am to avoid or limit many foods that I love–like garlic, onions, and spices to name a few. Messing with a pitta’s cherished food is not a fun or an easy matter. In fact, it might be dangerous. If you are part-pitta, you know what I’m talking about. With this one fact in mind, it’s no wonder I decided against adopting this healing system into my way of life.  And yet, here I am blogging about it and thinking about my views and practices around food.  Maybe it’s a sign I need to revisit Ayurveda.

For today, I did not come here to discuss the particular foods as they relate to my body type and Ayurveda, but I came more so with the intent to speak about food sadhanas. To keep it simple, a sadhana (sod-a-na) is a special practice. This practice is typically a wholesome/spiritual activity that is connected to nature, and it is a pattern that is based on the memory of the universe. It is an action that can lead to those “a-ha” moments that some of us seek out and some of us avoid. According to Maya Tiwari, sadhana awakens our cognitive memory and replenishes the lost art of beauty, grace, and accommodation. Through sadhana we can better connect to the earth and to our own internal and external environment.

The simple act of cooking and eating can inspire and rejuvenate our body’s cognitive memory. Food sadhanas are so important to “waking up” and connecting to nature and others, because food takes us through the complete cycle of life and elicits universal memories. From seed to waste to seed, this central practice helps our whole life come into balance. Special food practices help us reacquaint with nature and with our own nature. And yet, today, confusion about food is the norm. People consult with dieticians and nutritionists to navigate their relationship with food. And who can blame us? With the way most food is produced, there is no wonder why we have “experts” who exist to help us with it all. However, if we look at it from a very basic perspective–from the perspective of a food sadhana or food practice, we all can agree that we know more answers to our questions about food than we realize. And we also know that many of us are guilty of not engaging fully or honestly in our food practices.

Some food for thought today surrounds some basic and timeless concepts that connect the individual to the greater community/world through simple food practices. We often think about what we eat as being important to our health but not about the practice of how we eat.

Practice #1 Expressing Gratitude 

When it’s time to sit down for a meal or food, how often are you grateful? How often do you think about the farmer or person who made this food available to you? And how often do you send a thank you note either mentally or physically to that person? By being thankful and grateful while we eat, we have a peace of mind, which leads to a more peaceful digestion. How do you practice gratitude as it relates to your food practices? Do you offer to clean up after a meal? Or do you inhale the meal and move on to the next thing? Unsure about who to thank when you eat your food? Think about that for a minute. Investigate.

Practice #2 Emotional Eating–How do you feel?

A sweet meal can turn sour really easily if you are feeling in a dumpy mood. Never eat when you are upset. It is an insult to your body, the food, and the food-maker. How often do you eat when you are upset? Unfortunately, this practice is a habit many of us know too well or maybe even do without realizing. What would it look like if you did not eat when you were feeling down? How would your relationship with food change and how would your body change if you were not eating to fill a void?

Practice #3 Savoring the Flavor

Part of eating is for sustenance, but it’s also for enjoyment. Are you actually tasting what you are eating? Or are you checking your email? Or thinking about what you have to do or what you should have done? Are you chewing your food? Are you being present with your food and surroundings? Research has shown the importance of chewing food and being present. We all very well know that when we take our time eating, we usually feel better afterwards.

Practice #4 Eating in Community 

How often do you eat with your loved ones? Sharing is such a gift, and to share a meal with someone is a very healthy and necessary food practice. Through shared meals we cultivate friendships and make connections that are greater than ourselves to those around us which is important to our well-being. When we do not fulfill the human need to bond with others, we tend to try to bonding or attaching ourselves to other things, like the food itself, drugs, or possessions. When was the last time you shared a meal with someone? Were you fully present?

Main source: Ayurveda a Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari

Experiencing Winter’s Effects through Personal Illness

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If you live in Minnesota, then you know what I mean when I say, “Winter, what winter?”

While many people could get used to the mildness of this year’s season, I know plenty of others who are actually a little disappointed that there wasn’t a big snowstorm to lock people inside for a few days.  Personally, I fall into the latter camp. I definitely enjoy seeing people, bundled up, walking down the middle of city streets to the grocery store, because roads are too icy for driving. Yes, I enjoy cancelling plans due to bad weather conditions. Call me weird, or call me Minnesotan, I don’t know. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I think we all can agree that winter offers an invaluable time for humans and animals to slow down, be with each other or without each other and really carve out time for rest and reflection.

Well the MN snowstorm never came this year, and people continue to speed down the roads by my house. I, too, have been in super-speed mode, and I was super-proud of it, too, until recently. Right as I checked my “to-dos” into “to-dones,” my body decided to create its own time and space for R & R through illness.  Already two times this winter I have been stopped dead in my tracks by bad colds (the ones that never seem to really go away), which is very unusual for me. Instead of the bitter and harsh winter influencing my behavior and setting me straight, my body reminds me that I still need to take time to slow down, reflect and let go of the parts of my life and myself that no longer work for me.

As I sit in recovery-mode, my emotions take me on quite a ride. From angry, to sad, to lonely to happy to grateful to confused to anxious–the list goes on, but now I have finally relaxed and realized that it’s okay be sick and it’s okay to let my body and self recover on their own schedule. It’s okay to do nothing. I can be patient. I can sit still. I can listen to and receive the messages my body sends me, and I can experience the transformative healing that occurs when one pays attention.

How is the mild, MN winter affecting your health?

Sometimes we fall ill to receive a greater message from ourselves. Can you think of a time you were sick and your body was trying to tell you something? Did you listen?

How can you listen to your body’s needs without falling into illness? 

Can illness be a good thing? Why or why not?