At around midnight on Saturday, the cycle of life marked another milestone with the birth of my newest grandchild.
It’s so easy right now, and no one could blame us, to focus on the constant news cycle chewing on our thoughts, but life going on in an infinite and beautiful way is what we are meant to experience.
See, right now, mindset, or at least managing our mindset is everything.
I’ve also spent the last three action-packed days rolling in the dirt experiencing joy, only joy, through the eyes of the two-year-old grandchild my wife and I are hanging out with as my daughter and partner go through the process of childbirth at this amazing moment.
Let me just say, If you ever need a shot of what’s important in the moment just watch a child pick up some sand, turn it magically into soup, and then laugh uncontrollably about the fact that it is, of course, just sand. That mind, that mindset could serve us all right now.
Yes, what we are experiencing is real, scary, and potentially costly and painful, but maybe, just maybe, everything we are experiencing right now is here to teach us that holding on to our expectations of what normal is might be robbing us of who we are meant to be.
I know, a tad philosophical today, but that’s just how I’m feeling.
For many years meditation has been a potent tool for helping me manage my mindset, stress levels, and even my overall health. If you’ve never tried it, tried it and thought, “I’m no good at this,” then I would suggest you go pick it up right now.
The studies and science behind the benefits are now overwhelming and if you are currently experiencing additional stress, loss of sleep, inability to focus, or other anxiety-related pressures, meditation is just good medicine.
Here are a few suggestions for starting a practice.
Mindset in these times is either a powerful tool for seeing the way forward or a prison that makes us live in fear – the good news is we get to choose which it is.
I wrote the pages in The Self-Reliant Entrepreneur over a year ago and they are ringing so hauntingly relevant right now I thought I would share today’s entry in full.
I was but too conscious of a vagrant fiber in myself, which too often thrilled me in my solitary walks with the temptation to wander on into infinite space, and by a single spasm of resolution to emancipate myself from the drudgery of prosaic serfdom to respectability and the regular course of things. This prompting has been at times my familiar demon, and I could not but feel a kind of respectful sympathy for those who had dared what I had only sketched out to myself as a splendid possibility.
James Russell Lowell – On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners (1871)
What does letting go mean to you?
To achieve any form of freedom sometimes, we have to let go of our attachment to an ideal and trust that we’re not in complete control of everything. That’s not the same as giving up – it’s an acceptance of the fact that something grander perhaps is waiting for us.
Everyone is weighed down by an attachment to one thing or another and it’s these things, these attachments, that keep us from getting what we want most.
It’s not easy to identify what’s holding us back but it might be the drudgery of prosaic serfdom to respectability – or something like that.
Challenge Question: What are you gripping tightly to right now?
Here’s the thing about core values – we all have them.
The question is do we understand what they are, define what they mean, and (here’s the hard part) mindfully live them.
I’m pretty sure you’ve been given this advice before, but let’s get serious about it.
Give yourself the time and space to think deeply about this idea. You need to be present and honest and sometimes that means choosing when you do this kind of work. For me, that’s almost always in the morning.
After you have your list of 5 it’s time to test them out. Make sure you print the list big and bold and place it where you can see it often both at home and at work. Now, pay attention throughout the day to how you live or don’t live these values. It’s very easy to add things to your list that “should be” there or that you are “working on” but that’s not the point. The point is to discover who you really are and live that more fully.
I don’t think that means that you simply conclude you aren’t living the values you’ve been told are important, it means, perhaps for the first time in your life that you’ve tapped into something meaningful about yourself.
Now the hard part – some values just show up and would never be violated – you don’t lie, you don’t steal, you don’t put others down – that kind of thing. But what about curiosity, simplicity, adventure? How do values like that show up?
Here are ways to keep your values front and center
Of course, it’s more than a day at a time. It starts by planning your week and setting your goals based on living your core values and focusing on what brings your joy and happiness as a tool to be far more productive every day.
This is my list and I try to live them every day. I have a page printed and hanging in my office. Sometimes they feel like aspirations (particularly that kindness one) but are who I am whether I’m living them fully or not.
This is simply my list and how I choose to live it is personal to my journey. There are no right values or set of values you can copy – it’s totally up to living your truth.
Now it’s your turn.
So, there’s little we can actually control.
Here’s the very short list:
And yet, we spend most of our time obsessing about what happened or what might happen. You know, in a constant state of fear, worry and stress. (Probably not you, but some people.)
There’s an amazing line from Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning that sums this idea up nicely.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a moment, and in that moment lies our freedom.”
Between something happening, something not happening, someone saying something hurtful or even helpful, and in how we respond in that precious moment, lies our freedom. Ah, but it also potentially contains our jailer if we allow. It’s just a choice that’s become a habitual reaction.
Gratitude is the secret to letting go.
The first practical thing to know about expressing gratitude is that it’s impossible to be thankful without being mindful. So that’s that.
For me, it’s the tonic or kick in the pants that snaps me back to a state of peace or at least something like calm. It helps me to stop feeling sorry for myself, to let go of irrational fears, to remember how amazing it is that I’m alive.
It’s not that pain, grief, guilt, and doubt aren’t real. It’s just that when we feed them, they become unreal and damage our focus, our relationships, and our health.
Gratitude introduces perspective. Nothing is as bad or as good as we might imagine.
Practicing gratitude has become trendy in business circles. Just Google it and you’ll find articles in Yoga and Mindfulness blogs, but you’ll also find them in Inc and Forbes.
So, how do you practice gratitude?
Most people are aware of the everyday practice of saying grace before a meal, well there you go. You might take that idea for granted because it became a habit in your household, but it’s not any more complicated than that. (Ooh, and it might invite more mindful eating.)
I practice gratitude in 3 ways
Here’s a weird thing about gratitude. It helps me make better choices.
Breathing is perhaps the most mindless act we take and yet if we stopped doing it we would die. It’s something that people do somewhere between 15,000-30,000 times every day.
Intentional focus on the breath is one of the simplest mindfulness practices you can do and you can do it anywhere, anytime.
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and start by taking a big, perhaps exaggerated breath and exhale. Then just tune in to the air coming in and going out. You may notice differences in your inhale and exhale. Some find it helpful to count their breaths.
After a bit, what you’ll probably also notice is how much your mind wants to wander. It’s a good reminder of how much we need to practice mindfulness to develop the habit of quieting the mind.
There are countless breathing techniques and ever apps designed to help guide and keep you focused on your counts. Experiment with a few and see if you can develop a breathing technique you can tap in your morning routine and anytime you need to relax and reduce your level of stress.
If you really get into this idea, you might want to study a little about a breath control method referred to as Pranayama breathing. You can find a beginner’s guide here
As breathing is essential to life, intentional focus on your breathing is a great tool for practicing mindfulness.