Category Archives: Mindful Living

Serendipity

I got a couple of wonderful reminders, actually from online today, about a couple of attitudes which I’ve been trying to shift and are therefore weighing on me:

1) Mindful computer usage: I listen to the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More while driving, and one that came on today was about “Focusing on the Computer.” It basically said what I had come up with as my goal: “plan ahead and don’t multitask!” Simple really. So why is it so hard? Day 2 of my plan went a bit better than Day 1, but I still didn’t write everything I did on the computer down before doing it… tomorrow I will begin again. Bit by bit. I was dissapointed in myself, and I can also recognize that my focus has improved, so that’s something to be proud of at least.

2) Planning European backpacking trip: I’ve been getting a bit nervous about my sister and I not knowing more about specifically where we’ll be going and staying while backpacking through Europe starting next week. While browsing a great independent travel magazine site, I came across a post about reasons to travel without a plan, which reminded me of the reasons why I deliberately did not want to plan this trip to the T. We have what I consider the essentials (flight tickets, student ID, Eurail pass, a general itinerary, pepperspray, a money belt, passports, money, cell phone, travel insurance, and backpacks), which I’ve slowly been organizing/buying over the last few weeks, and really the most essential thing  – an attitude of openness and curiosity to explore and experience all that we can – no amount of time or research or money will buy us anyway. So really I just have to breathe, relax, and get excited!

Day 1 of creating a mindful relationship with internet

I definitely focused more while online today, but I didn’t  follow my plan of writing down everything I do. I think it’s because everything on the computer at least seems very fast-paced, especially with my very engrained habits like checking email or Facebook every once and awhile and dealing with any new tasks that emerge from those communications. That said, many tasks pop-up within email and Facebook, so perhaps those shall just be broad task categories with time-limits. Any task that comes up from an email that would take longer than my alloted email time will go on the to-do list.

I also did things that could have been considered superfluous, or not, like making a color scheme for the NOC (the nonprofit I work for) business cards I’ve had on my list of things to do for weeks. I thought, oh yes, this could be used for the website! But do I have time to redesign the website with this new color theme? I think not. I think I need to be even more specific with some of my computer tasks. For example, instead of “make NOC business cards,” which as I said, has been on my list of things to do forever, tomorrow I shall “make two themes, based on pre-existing cards found on VistaPrint which I considered buying, using the color scheme I found this morning, all in an hour max.”

We’ll see how that goes. Tomorrow I shall actually have a notebook by my computer all the time so I really can write everything down. (This idea of writing everything down – capturing – is definitely not my own to claim – it’s a big deal within productivity philosophies such as Zen to Done and the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.)

Oh, and I almost forgot my reward! For sticking with this plan (or however I continue to revise it) for the next five days (until I leave for Europe next Wednesday), I shall buy myself a new album on iTunes 🙂

Connection, Intention, Manifestation

I have an internet addiction. So, the first step is admitting it right?

Problem is, I’ve admitted it many times before, but that alone hasn’t done much. Because changing habits takes conscious effort after the step of awareness. Like my running plan, I need to come up with a concrete program to follow, complete with a declaration and rewards. The internet definitely is not bad, and in fact it has been incredibly useful for tons of things, like reading about barefooting before buying my Vibram shoes… oh no, wait, that was probably time wasted. Because although now I feel like I know more about the benefits of barefooting, when my dad questioned me about the lack of arch support, I mumbled something about a New York Times article I had read about how shoes are ruining our feet, without actually knowing anything concrete about the matter. (And now, I spent ten minutes searching for the article and getting side tracked…. while writing about the evils of internet distractions… yes, it’s really time to set up a plan.)

On first thought, I had resistance to embarking upon a new challenge now since I’m leaving for my Europe backpacking trip in just a week. However, I think it’s actually worked out perfectly, because I have a much easier time following guidelines if it’s for a specific, predetermined amount of time. In this case it’s even better than that because I really can’t afford to waste time online in the next week as I tie up lose ends and prepare to leave.

So, what’s the challenge? I actually had an easy enough time doing a “digital detox” a month or two ago, but like most people, I can’t afford to completely cut the cord so close to my trip. I just felt my fingers itch to open up a tab and type “overcoming internet addiction” to find an idea. I’m so hard-wired to search online for everything now that I’m probably losing my creativity and capacity to think and read… so good, all the more reason to not to anything else, especially not online, until I come up with a challenge by myself, for myself.

I, Elizabeth Cooper, will practice mindfulness online during the next seven days by using a notebook to write down every task I am doing online, and only do that task. If I feel distracted (like I need to follow that link to that cool site to download that awesome podcast, for example) I will simply note, on paper, the desire, and come back to it in the future during a predetermined online “play time.” I will allow myself only a half hour of “play time” online each day for the next week – less if possible. This will include superfluous email, Facebook, blog reading, and surfing. Superfluous will be defined as anything not related to a specific task/question. I will use this method both at work and at home.

my altar

my altar, which I've set up to remind me of connection in various ways: painting on left - I made at SI - love and growth. candles - received from various important women in my life - sense of creating a sacred space. Mala beads - received during Kripalu yoga teacher training - yoga/meditation. Japanese postcard - received from a good friend - reminder of tranquility and my home. My best friend and I laughing - laughter and joy. A photo from my healing heart hands project, where I took photographs of SI students while leading them in a metta, or loving kindness meditation, for a good friend of mine - beauty and love.

Connection has kept coming up as something I’d like to create more of in my life – connection to life, spirit, others, self – and I have found that for me, that feeling of connection does not come from being online. In fact, being online drains me. Except right now, as I’m mindfully being online, completing this one task, using my brain to connect with my own thoughts, and hopefully others once this is posted.

To support myself in my intention of staying connected and calm this next week, I will renew my seven day meditation vow for the Hardcore Dharma Course:

I, Elizabeth Cooper, with confidence in the benefits of a regular practice of sitting meditation, do hereby commit, for myself and no one else, to practicing at least one session of sitting meditation, for as short or as long a period of time as I am willing and able, for each of the next seven days.

The homework and discussion about not multitasking, training our minds post-meditation, has been part of the inspiration for this post, as a reminder of what I already know. The folks taking the course over at the Interdpendence Project in New York just finished up about an hour and a half ago and some of them are probably hanging out right now. If you’re a Hardcore Dharma student, hi there! Can’t wait to listen to this week’s class. Which reminds me, I should go do the reading… (writing it down as my next task)…

Hobbit feet

This post has ulterior motives, which I am going to uncover so that they are not actually ulterior and rather… exterior? I am using this post to share about my life and a product I think is wonderful, and I am also trying to persuade Rose, a CouchSurfer extraordinaire in Amsterdam, to host my sister and me on our backpacking trip through Europe.

She wrote on her profile that to make a hosting request more enticing, one should put “Hobbit” in the subject line. (Now this is the kind of person who would make a good host.) I got my new Vibram “barefoot shoes” yesterday, and they remind me of Hobbit feet, if for no other reason than they’re quirky, so I told her as much. My P365 photo was of my new shoes yesterday, so I had wanted to post them anyway, so yay, a post that kills two birds with one stone (or some other nonviolent metaphor) – post about my new awesome shoes and try to convince a cool lady to host Caroline and me in Amsterdam!

Vibram Five Fingers - aren't they cool? (You also get to see my beloved, tattered PJ pants ;)

Vibram Five Fingers - aren't they cool? (You also get to see my beloved, tattered PJ pants 😉

More about the shoes – I saw somebody at Kripalu (the yoga center I was at most of this past year) wearing these in the fall and fell in love. I’ve wanted these shoes ever since. So after about nine months of wanting them, I finally bought them for myself (after too much researching figuring out what kind and convincing myself that they rock) as a reward for sticking with my running plan for a couple of months.

I’ve worn them around today and love them!! I’m used to being barefoot all the time inside (around the house and at yoga) anyway, so being as close to barefoot as possible outside as well is awesome.

P.S. I’ve categorized this as “Mindful Living” because of my conscious consumerism choice.

Are you crazy?

Why yes, I am. Thank you.

My sister inquired about my sanity when I got home from a run at 11:05 PM tonight. Maybe for serious runners, or even not-so serious runners, running at night is perfectly normal. For me though, it’s been a shift in my life to even start running, so running at night never really came up as an option for whatever reason.

Last night, however, the hostess at the restaurant I work at went for an impromptu run on the beach after work with a couple of the server assistants. On my last legs of a 12 hour day, I couldn’t fathom going, and plus, I was still working, but their enthusiasm and action instilled the idea in me. Then, today was the very last day and run of the nine-week “Couch to 5K” running program I’ve committed myself to, and I didn’t have time to go before work because I slept in so late. I very nearly gave up on the planned run, thinking that maybe I could push run three of the last week to the next week. And, at the same time I had doubts, the combination of my own determination to finish the program and remembering my friends’ run yesterday gave me renewed strength and courage to try something new.

When I headed out towards the beach tonight after work, listening to Michael Franti, I felt joy bubbling up inside me. Knowing I was alone on the beach, making a conscious choice to live as I chose, I started allowing the joy to emerge in giggles and laughter.

the beach in the daylight. (Imagine it without all the blue, basically all black. Ok, so it's really not the same at all, but at least you can imagine the ground on which I trod. And I just really wanted to have at least one image to brighten up the post.)

The beach in the daylight. (Imagine it without all the blue, basically all black. Ok, so it's really not the same at all, but at least you can imagine the ground on which I trod. And I just really wanted to have at least one image to brighten up the post.)

I felt so present, so alive, so proud, to be outside under the stars, listening to music and breaking some of my mindsets – the big one of “Elizabeth doesn’t run” and the smaller one of “Elizabeth doesn’t run at night,” which I didn’t even know I had in the first place until I was presented with the option.

Some background on my relationship with running

I still regard finishing the cross-country season in sixth grade as one of my greatest accomplishments, because although I’ve accomplished a lot, I like what I do… except with cross country. I hated running, and I still kept with it, as a challenge. And back then I hadn’t yet developed my willful, souless dedication which has taken over my life a few times since then, so it was still a gentle, loving determination.

My next association with running was a few years later when I ran for supposed “health,” but really more to lose weight. That was unhealthy mentally, emotionally and physically, and so when I eased into a healthier relationship with myself and dropped my masochistic habits, running was among the first to go.

“Couch to 5K”

Now that I am in a much better relationship with myself, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to try running again for few years, but the time was never quite right. Then, suddenly, the time was right, and nine weeks ago I started the “Couch to 5K” running program, designed to ease “non-runners” into running. I like programs because they give me structure, and in addition to the structure that the program provided, which was wonderful, I set up rewards for myself, one every three weeks, and signed myself up for a 5K race – all to keep me motivated.

It worked, and despite all the self-doubt and mind blabber, I ran (and walked, as per the program) three times per week for the last nine weeks. It’s even started to be a time of joy, as I felt today (granted that joy is usually at the beginning, as I’m just leaving the house and going into nature, but still, it’s a start, and I’ve felt joy during the run too 😉

Sangha online?

Sangha = a) a spiritual community and b) something I’ve been missing dearly.

Could I find something as intimate as a spiritual community… online?

I’ve been listening to the Interdependence Project’s weekly podcasts, and hearing people talk about Buddhism in the 21st century mentally brings me back to SI and all the wonderful, stimulating conversations we had about the meaning of life – sprinkled with humour and vivacity. I’ve learned a lot about “contemplative practice” over the past year, but as you might be able to tell from that vague description, I don’t atually know that much intellecutally. So, being the nerd that I am, I signed up for the ID Project’s “Hardcore Dharma Summer Series” as a homelistener.

Today, an email from the teacher with the syllabus and expectations of the course excited me. (Actually, come to think of it, much like when I received information about SI, about a year ago.) Yes, homework excited me. Reading! Meditating! Being held accountable! … even if just by the fact that somebody other than myself expects me to read, meditate, and take this course seriously.

More than any of that, I feel encouraged and reinspired to practice because I know that others are in it with me. Community is so, so important to me, and how excited I was about the email to the class list confirmed that for me. Even if I’m not even sharing physical space or even conversation with the people in the class in New York, I feel connected, on some level.

And now, I repeat my seven day meditation vow, which they will repeat each Wednesday in class and I will repeat each Wednesday to myself, outloud, and right now, online for the world to see:

I, Elizabeth Cooper, with confidence in the benefits of a regular practice of sitting meditation, do hereby commit, for myself and no one else [my emphasis], to practicing at least one session of sitting meditation, for as short or as long a period of time as I am willing and able, for each of the next seven days.

I really like what Ethan, the teacher, writes about why we take the vow:

The taking of this vow creates a tangible memory in the mind of the person speaking it. The mind of the vow-taker is tethered to the flagpole of her commitment, bound only by an elastic cord of awareness. Whenever we stray from our vow, may that cord of awareness snap us back—with gentleness and humor—into the space of our practice.

Nuggets of wisdom at graduation

We are bombarded by nuggets of wisdom daily. Or unwanted advice, depending on your relationship to the context, speaker and message.  Regardless of whether you soak up information or reject it, most likely this process is subconscious, unbeknown to you.  Thankfully, with a bit of mindfulness, you can start to become aware of the axioms you chose to guide your life.

Yesterday, my sister’s high school graduation ceremony reminded me about my recent shift in what underlying beliefs I chose to let guide my life. In my high school career, I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to values instilled in me from my American education. Without ever taking a step back to examine what drove me, I unconsciously led my life by the “sheer will and determination” that the keynote speaker espoused last night. The principal, among other speakers, also nailed the point home by telling graduates that “you gotta make it happen, you can’t wait for things to come to you.” (paraphrased)

Hilton Head Island High School Graduation 2009

Hilton Head Island High School Graduation 2009

I felt uncomfortable and a bit angry that these were the main values advocated for graduates, without mention of the flip side of will and determination – surrender and grace. Of course that reaction comes from my personal experience, when I acted from a place of feeling of “not enough,” applying my will and determination in an extreme and unhealthy way. I learned at SI (Semester Intensive) that for most people, the muscles of will and determination can be developed more, so perhaps they’re good values to be emphasized at a graduation.

At SI, many teachers introduced me to the idea that anger at something outside yourself is a sign that you haven’t quite accepted that part of yourself. My anger at the graduation was slight, but nonetheless, it was a sign that I still haven’t fully accepted my animal will and all its cronies. Don’t get me wrong, will can also be a very good value and tool. After all, we need it to get stuff done. For me, the problem is when getting stuff done becomes my entire life, my entire focus, my entire identity – goal goal goal – without allowing myself to just be and life to just unfold.

Since I know my own tendencies and therefore what messages drive me and what messages I want to drive me, I could let go of my desire to control the graduation speeches.

(and go back to my role as proud sister, letting a few tears well up...)

(and go back to my role as proud sister, letting a few tears well up...)

People (and companies) tell us what we “should” think, feel, say and do all the time – it’s up to you to chose what you want to think, feel, say and do.

P.S. On the back of the program it said “Balloons are eco-friendly.” What??

eco-friendly balloons?

eco-friendly balloons?