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Halloween Haiku, and the path ahead

Samhain–Halloween, in its current incarnation–was regarded by some people as the end of the old year. I like the idea of choosing costumes that represent what you’d like to change and how you’d like to grow in the coming year.

It’s also a good time to take stock of the things that are hindering you from becoming the person you’d like to be.  Could be friends or family, but more likely, it’s a script–a belief or pattern of thought–that has been playing in your head for as long as you can remember.

Meditation: Methods and madness

Learning to meditate can be a long, slow process. As I’ve previously discussed, I have a bad case of squirrel brain, and it’s never easy to get my thoughts to sit down and shut up. But I keep at it, a little every morning, and it’s starting to get a bit easier.

When I’m feeling particularly scattered, one thing that helps is starting out with a home-brewed chakra meditation. This gives me several things to focus on. I silently repeat the name of the chakra point and the related color as I breathe in, and on the exhale I focus on two qualities associated with that point and color. Moving my attention down the body also helps me identify and eliminate tension. (I carry an enormous amount of tension in my neck and shoulders, which probably explains the herniated disk. Being mindful of this, if only for a few minutes a day, does seem to help.)

Here’s my personal routine:

Crown: purple.  Knowledge, understanding.
Third eye: indigo, Perception, intuition.
Throat: blue. Communication, song.
Heart: green.  Life, love.
Solar plexus: yellow.  Breath, optimism.
Core: orange.  Motivation, creativity.
Base: red.  Strength, energy.

This gives my mind a lot to do. It centers on a particular physical area and checks in for tension, it envisions a color and sometimes a scene that embodies that color (an October landscape, for example), and it takes a moment to acknowledge values that are important to me. It’s a lot, but it’s also focused and deliberate, and it slows down the squirrel brain from a multi-directional dash to a more sedate jog. A couple of times through this routine, and I’m usually ready to simply follow the breath.

I’m not doing this because I’m an aging hippy, although admittedly, that description isn’t too far off the mark. The ability to focus attention is pivotal to creativity and productivity, and I’m determined to get a whole lot more of that going on. Meditation is one of the tools I’m using to turn things up a notch.

Got allergies? Get habits.

Here’s a link to a blog post on GIGID, but I also want to provide some background info here, as this is one of those rare times when I feel that I have something truly useful to say.

I’ve probably had seasonal allergies all my life. When I was a kid, we called them “spring colds,” and a lot of them probably did segue into viral infections. As an adult, I had a few years that were pretty much end-to-end respiratory issues. Sinus infections were frequent, asthma episodes were scary, bronchitis was a twice-yearly event, and I’ve been diagnosed with pneumonia at least five times. Many of these episodes were triggered by seasonal allergies.

Three years ago, we started a serious exploration of habits–how they’re formed, how they change, why they matter. My primary focus was getting healthy, and to that end I’ve been working on building a habit system–a group of habits that work together to achieve goals. Allergies are a type of inflammation, and I found that when you address other sources of inflammation, these pollen-intensive days are less likely to put you over the top.

I can’t claim to be completely allergy-free, but other than a mild cold this winter, I haven’t had a respiratory infection in over three years. The only asthma attack I had during this time was during a choir rehearsal, courtesy of an alto who was drenched in fragrant-yet-toxic chemicals. And last year, I got through both spring and fall allergy seasons just fine without any allergy medication. An occasional sneeze, eyes a little itchy at times, but that’s it.

I’m still amazed at the difference a few small habits can make. If an occasional doubt arises, it disappears when I backslide a bit and feel the impact of that behavior. So now that the spring allergy season is in full swing, I’m doubling down on the habits that got me this far. A few of them are listed in the linked blog article.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stock up on green tea…

The Completion Habit

Here’s a link to a post on the GIDIG blog that addresses a key aspect of habit formation, which also happens to be one of my personal challenges: focus and simplification.

I’m currently going through the process of focusing and simplifying several areas of my life, including writing. One of my primary tasks for February is figuring out what I want to write going forward, and THAT includes breaking the habit of wanting to do All The Things, All The Time.


More adventures in meditation: Grapes in Jello

In addition to adding new, positive habits, I am working to revise or replace some that…aren’t so good. One of my detrimental habits is perseveration, the tendency to mentally rehash things again and again and again. (And again.) Like any other habit, perseveration has triggers–environmental or emotion cues that set the process in motion. For me, one of those cues is guided meditation.

There are many forms of guided meditation; for example, a leader guides participants through a scenario that’s meant to help them relax and focus. My first acquaintance with this method was way back in college, when I was a music education major focusing on vocal and choral music. Getting rid of physical tension is an important part of vocal technique, so my voice teacher at the time, Alexander Stephenson, would have a bunch of us lie down in the lucky-jellostudio while we focused on relaxing from head to toe, one body part at a time. After a few of these sessions, he had the students take turns leading the meditation.  When my turn came, I was fine until I got to the kneecaps. At a loss for words to describe the feeling of relaxed suspension, I suggested envisioning them as floating like…like… grapes in Jello.

I still cringe when I remember this. Just typing the words is painful. “Grapes in jello” is not only a  dreadful metaphor, it’s also appalling from a culinary standpoint.  And every time I try to do a guided meditation, a sadistic little Greek chorus in the back of my mind starts chanting “Grapes in Jello.”

Trigger activated…

…and suddenly I’m flooded with memories of the stupid things I’ve done and said over the past few decades.  And as it happens, I have an excellent memory, having started an a very early age to develop it by memorizing poetry, song lyrics, corny jokes, vast swaths of Biblical verses, and just about every stupid thing I’ve ever done and said.

This, as you might well expect, is not conducive to meditation.

So guided meditation is straight out for me.  I’m still experimenting with various approaches. Next up:  Chakra Meditation!

Adventures in meditation

I’m engaged in the on-going process of building a Habit System–a collection of habits designed to improve and change my life in several important areas. Some habits are building blocks for more than one area. Meditation, for example, addresses 1) focus and productivity and 2) blood pressure management, and 3) stress management.  Unlike most of my habits, however, this one is not going well.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried meditation. I know it’s a healthy and beneficial practice, something that can be truly transformative, but…  Okay, let’s cut to the chase here:  I just don’t like doing it.  My brain is too busy, and it fights like a honey badger when I try to shut it down or reign it in.

But!  This time I am determined.  I’ve scheduled a few minutes (a VERY few minutes, at this point…) every morning before work for a simple meditation of following the breath and letting thoughts pass without engaging in them.  This is a lot harder than it sounds.  Here’s an approximate transcripts of one of last week’s sessions:

Focus on the breath:  In 2 3 4….  

Hard to do when you have squirrel brain.  Out 2 3 4….

::image pops into mind of a wire cage in the middle of a field, filled with frenetic cartoon squirrels::   in 2 3 4…

Let the thought go. Open the door, let the squirrels out…2 3 4… 

Okay, THAT was a mistake. Now I know there are a half dozen hyper-caffeinated squirrels out there.  How am I supposed to concentrate when there are squirrels lurking in my peripheral vision?  In 2 3 4…

hammy::Sudden mental image of one of the squirrels yanking up my eyelid, peering into my eye, then scampering off, giggling maniacally….  Out 2 3 4… 

Banish the squirrels. Envision pure light filling the open cage.  In 2 3 4….

Okay, now it’s raining. That’s not a bad thing, I guess–it’ll wash the squirrel poop out 2 3 4…

Huh.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen squirrel poop. Wonder what it looks like. Acorns, probably. In 2 3 4…

frank-the-flying-squirrelTHAT could be problematic, seeing that squirrels are jerks.  There’s got to be one squirrel in every crowd that packs poop into empty acorn caps and hides the fake acorns in another squirrel’s stash. Out 2 3 4…

::image of two cartoon squirrels pops into mind::
“Ack!”  ::phooey::  “What the–  Oh, man, I am gonna KILL that Dave…”
“Dude, this is the THIRD TIME THIS WEEK you’ve fallen for the poop acorn.  Focus!”

Oh, right.  FOCUS.  In 2 3 4…

::The alarm on my iPhone ripples gently. I end the meditation and rise to face the day, refreshed and enlightened. Only not really.::

But I will keep at it, because meditation is also on my list of habits that foster grit and persistence.



2014 in review

In many ways, 2014 was like the second book of a trilogy.  The year had its own narrative arc, but its primary purpose was to move the story forward to the point where Important Stuff Happens.

Nevertheless, here’s a few highlights of 2014.

  • Walked over 2000 miles, approximately the length of the Appalachian Trail (minus the mountains and black bears…)
  • Started hiking the network of trails in southern New England. Climbed Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, walked part of the North South Trail in Rhode Island and part of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts.
  • Daily exercise has, for the first time, become a firmly entrenched habit.
  • Nonfiction:  Read stacks of books focusing on the the science of habit formation, wrote a considerable amount of web content.
  • Fiction:  Published 2 short stories, 3 poems, and the foreword to a poetry anthology.