What Is Wrong With Contentment?

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled away by the stars.”
– Anais Nin

Lately, I’ve been feeling particularly restless. Unable to sit still, crawling out of my skin, buzzing, and jittery. I am an inherently impatient person. A self-professed fast-tracker in almost every aspect of life. And though it has served me well in many ways, it’s also been a source of frustration and contributor to my innate restlessness.

Thinking about the next thing and the next thing and what the future holds and when it’ll all come to fruition. I am uncomfortable in the present moment. Being raised as someone who always had to have an answer about where I was going next; or what I was planning on next; or what my next career move would be; or what date I’d be going on next. NEXT. NEXT. NEXT.

I found myself wanting to understand this feeling of restlessness more. I learned, that in Buddhism, restlessness is considered one of the five main hindrances to meditation. A mental block that can stand in the way of progress towards mindfulness and meditation practice. In other words, it’s an abhorrence to being content with where we are in this very moment of life.

Studies have shown it takes on average about 21 days to form a new habit and sometimes longer to break one. What about the habit of restlessness that’s been hard-wired into your brain for 30 years? Trying to re-learn how to live in the moment and be present is hard.

The glorification of being “busy” today is very real. There is a lot of content out in the universe on how we’re increasingly in competition with each other on how jam-packed, busy, and unavailable we are. What if we started glorifying the beauty of solitude, of taking things slowly, the inspiration of stillness, and breathing into each day?

What is so wrong with contentment?

Absolutely nothing.

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The Challenge: Start My Days Mindfully

In a previous blogpost, I wrote at length about the challenges of mindful consumption in an era of information overload and how hard it can be to resist the temptation of always being “connected.”

In an effort to start my days more mindfully and peacefully, I gave myself the following challenge: 7 days, 10 deep breaths each day, 3 sun salutations each day, and a smile in the morning. I wrote daily posts either on my phone or pieces of paper. Needless to say, it was more of a challenge than I anticipated.

DAY 1: I start by breathing deeply my 10 breaths and said to myself, “okay, Angela, you’re starting on the right foot this time.” I walk over to my yoga mat and stand in mountain pose to begin my sun salutations. Good GOD almighty, my body is STIFF. It’s crackling, tightly wound, I feel like a mummy wrapped in my own skin. Slow lower to the ground, up dog, down dog, step to the top of the mat, back extension, and back into mountain. Okay, that’s one.

Smiling is what’s left. I walk to my mirror to brush my teeth and attempt to smile. What is my face doing? This smile looks more like a grimace–deformed and disingenuine. Don’t they say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile?

DAY 2: Total failure. Can’t even begin to tell all of you how quickly I derailed today. Ugh.

DAY 3: Well, I did my 10 deep breaths and I think I smiled but I barely remember. I woke up from the most vivid dreams. Note to self: do not watch movies on extreme survival before bed; subsequent dreams of stitching up your own “extreme” paper cuts at work with nothing but sewing thread will happen. Also, sun salutations, you will be the death of me.

DAY 4: Deep breaths – check. Sun salutations – check. Smile – forget it.

DAY 5: Man, this deep breathing thing is great.  I feel like I can wake up more fully every morning and my first thought isn’t “I’m never getting out of bed ever.” Really don’t want to do these sun salutations, think I may have pulled my hip flexor doing them yesterday. At least smile woman, you can do that.

DAY 6: I should have changed my challenge to do these acts of mindfulness at any time of the day. Most mornings I can only get through the breathing and the smiling and maybe one sun salutation. WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

DAY 7: Well, I had to finish strong, right? Managed all three.

As much as my challenge had the right intention behind it–I found myself feeling very frustrated with how difficult it was to manage. And, maybe that is the lesson. Mindfulness takes practice and intention every day to make a difference. I can say this: I don’t wake up anymore reading my social media feeds and news articles. I wake up with my deep breaths, sometimes a sun salutation and sometimes a smile and a gentle reminder to be mindful.

The Art of Cleansing

There is a wealth of information surrounding the idea of “cleansing” the mind and body to get rid of toxins of all kinds.

 Juice cleanses have certainly gained popularity over the years in a continued attempt for quick fix dietary changes that help us feel better, lose weight, and get all the nutrients we are supposed to be getting every single day.
The “Master Cleanse” has been around forever and is still widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to really detox your body. So popular, in fact, that if you go into a whole foods store, you can find pre-made master cleanse drinks ready to clean you out at your heart’s content. Note: they are just as gross as if you were to make the cleanse on your own.
And then, there’s your more spiritual cleansing. Which, for example, can take the form of burning sage or “smudging” in your home to allow all of that negative energy to be whisked away through some swirling wisps of white smoke. Warning: avoid setting the smoke alarm off while doing this–it will  ruin the whole calming ritualistic piece that is apparently quite important.
But, I want to talk about a simpler act of cleansing. The act of washing your face.
As I was doing this, I realized how much more calm and refreshed I felt after wiping the day from my face. Think about it for a minute. Our faces are the first things to feel, express, touch, sense anything throughout our days. The whipping cold of a winter day; the stress of a meeting running too long; the ratchet smell of burned popcorn in the office; the heat of hot air drying your lips.
The simple act of cleansing your face at the end of the day is a powerful way to wipe the slate clean for the next day. For all the stresses that our faces receive every day to be washed away down the sink.
It is cleansing in its truest form. It is self care in its truest form. 
And you get great skin as a pay-off.
So cleanse away my friends!

My Inner Ninja

To say last week was a monsoon shitstorm is putting it lightly. I have this brilliant ability to power through a week, keep focused, and stick to a routine until the collapse inevitably happens on Friday evening.

I spent most of the weekend in what can only be described as a lot of physical and mental distress. It took most of the weekend to recover and try and re-center. “Re-center.” It’s a word I try and avoid using because it feels very…abstract. It’s also what I imagine all of the super zen-like yoga teachers chanting while simultaneously asking you to twist your body into a pretzel. Anyway, re-centering, in my lexicon, simply means…stop going down the death spiral of anxiety and distress. Pull yourself out.

The most effective way for me to re-center is to practice self-care in as many forms as I can. Eating well, retail therapy, sleeping deeply, working out, restorative yoga, etc.–you name it, I’m trying it, on repeat.

While working out tonight, a song came on my pre-determined workout playlist that’s supposed to make me forget that I’m sweating buckets and dying a slow death.

Inner Ninja.

A catchy, fun, upbeat tune it certainly pulled me through the next 3:28 of my cardio. But, then I replayed it and these lyrics caught my attention:

I’ve been beaten and broken but I healed though
So many ups and downs, roughed up and clowned
We all got problems, but we deal though
I’m tryin’ to do better now, find my inner peace
Learn my art form, and find my inner Chi
When my backs on the wall, I don’t freeze up
Nah, I find my inner strength and I re-up 

Nobody’s gonna see me comin’
Nobody’s gonna hear a sound
No matter how hard they’re tryin’
No stoppin’ me since I’ve found
My inner ninja 

A silly song really, but I LOVE the idea that we all are working out an inner ninja that’s making us stronger and more agile to judo chop life in the throat when we need to.

So, #$@&%*! last week. I’m going to ninja my way through this next one. Because being mindful also means being strong.

Also, stay tuned for a later post on my deep breaths, sun salutations, and smiling challenge. Sneak peek: It’s a challenge.


Mindless vs. Mindful Consumption

We live in a day and age of constant consumption–beyond what we put into our bodies–and I will be the first to admit that I am a mindless scroller of social media, news articles, and buzzfeed lists
I started my morning in this way, immediately asking my mind and body to consume content and information that I probably wasn’t even ready for. 
Scrolling through statuses, pictures, and articles, finally, one that grabbed my attention “16 Uncomfortable Feelings That Actually Indicate You’re on the Right Path.” 
CLICK
As I’m reading, I find myself nodding along with some of the “feelings” and relating. I finish the article and go on getting ready for my day. But, as I continued to digest the article, I found myself feeling some kind of way about the fact that this article was espousing and equating “right path” with discomfort, difficulty, and at times emotional turmoil. Though, there is absolutely some truth in that, I noticed a shift in my mood. I started to feel uncomfortable.

Thich Nhat Hanh (one of the great Buddhist spiritual guides) often speaks about the mindfulness training concepts. 
The fifth mindfulness training concept is mindful consumption. And, in a nutshell it’s about being mindful of what you consume so that you can lead a peaceful life.

After reading that article this morning, I was feeling everything but peaceful. I was anxious, confused, and rather upset that “finding the right path,” is apparently tumultuous.

Ultimately, my mindlessness in what I was consuming first thing in the mornings, set the tone for a large part of how I continued my day. 

So, in light of all this, I begin a challenge. For the next 7 days, I will start my mornings with the following: 10 deep breaths, 3 sun salutations, and a smile. I will breathe deeply, fully, and into the day before me. And any news, posts, articles begging to be read will wait until I am mindful enough to read them. 

Gosh darnit!

The Vast and Wild Universe

I believe in the universe. And by that, I don’t just mean that I believe in space, galaxies, stars, and all that, but I believe that the universe is undoubtedly bigger than me. And, because of its utter vastness and its mysteriousness, I have found that it can work in truly wondrous ways.

But…

You have to be willing to listen. You have to be open to receiving the messages that are being sent to you in any number of ways.

I recently read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Because, like most people in my demographic, I am still trying to eat, pray, love my way through life. And, I am desperately trying to become my fully formed creative self.

I loved the book. Encouraging, inspiring, and straight-shooting, I appreciated Gilbert’s attitude: get it together and create whatever it is you want and keep doing that.

Nearing the end of the book where I felt like I had generally been inspired enough and my creativity had gotten the green juice boost (apparently my creativity is a juicer) that it needed, I read this:

“My favorite meditation teacher, Pema Chödrön, once said that the biggest problem she sees with people’s meditation practice is that they quit just when things are starting to get interesting. Which is to say, they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part–the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.” 

Well, I’ll be damned. I stopped meditating months ago because it felt stale and it was getting harder. And, I’ve been feeling guilty about stopping ever since. I read the passage two or three times. It felt as if it was written to me. For me. And though relevant to the overall theme of the book, it wasn’t exactly completely related–after all this wasn’t a book about meditation.

There were many interesting takeaways from the book, but that quote has not left my mind. I keep coming back to it. Thinking, turning it over, re-reading it, and realizing that I just read a book about encouraging your creative self and somehow…I found encouragement for my mindful self when I wasn’t even looking for it. 

Live Magnificently

New Year’s has always been an underwhelming holiday for me.  I know some of you will agree with me when I say that when you wake up the next morning (or, if you’re not doped up on Benadryl and passed out by 11 pm and somehow make it to the magic stroke of midnight)–it all kind of feels like the day before.

What’s all the hullabaloo about?

There is a lot of pressure, I find, around New Year’s and the impending future that the year could bring. If only we all had a handy fortune teller to read us that crystal ball.

I found myself the next morning seeing and reading fitness ads, announcements of resolutions, 21-day, month-long challenges, goals of all sorts. And mine started to formulate: be more mindful, write more, blog consistently, shop less (ha), practice yoga every day, meditate as much as possible, practice self-compassion, do more art, practice self-care (aka treat yo self regularly), etc., etc.

And then I stopped. And I remembered this:

“I have the ability to make my life magnificent every day and in every situation.”

So, that’s my resolution. To live, magnificently.

Happy New Year.