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Why Lite?

I have a long-standing joke/challenge with my close friends - give me any topic, and within 2 sentences, I can shift the subject over to smut. I decided to use this talent in a slightly different way, and make a journal that shifts any subject over into a positive, appreciative essay. It's so easy to write about (and report) bad news; everybody can find something to complain about. It's harder to think of positive things, so 1) a positive journal is a good writing exercise, and 2) a positive journal forces you to find the good in all things, which is a healthy outlook. I plan to have two sorts of entries in this journal: Mindfulness essays and Ponderings.

Mindfulness is the state of simply "being," in the moment, without thinking. Being mindful allows you to appreciate what is going on around you, without experiencing the negative thoughts that so often spoil our enjoyment of life. There are many exercises and meditations to help you learn how to be mindful, and once you learn, you never forget. The key point of each exercise is to stop thinking about everything. If you are aware of your thoughts, then you are not practicing mindfulness. It's sometimes difficult to silence your thoughts, especially when you are new to meditation. You spend a lot of time your first few attempts saying "Stop," to your thoughts and re-focusing. Then, it becomes second nature, and you begin to become mindful without having to do the meditation exercise. This is the point where mindfulness becomes a healthy way of life.

The state of mindfulness is one step on the Buddhist Eightfold Path to enlightenment. The steps, in order, are Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration - the word "right" refers to the concept of perfection or completeness rather than the concept of right vs. wrong. These steps are also sometimes grouped into the categories of Wisdom, Ethical Conduct, and Concentration. Mindfulness is simply one part of a healthy life.

Ponderings will be shorter essays on things that make me think, or things that I have learned to help me think in more healthy ways.

Ponderings: Obliviousness

I had an epiphany the other day while watching other drivers do crazy things like try to turn left from the right-hand lane of the highway. Most people have no idea where they are

What I mean by this is that most people seem to go about their lives in a fog. They aren't connected to the world. They don't look around them. They aren't mindful.

This is the reason why people do irritating and stupid things. They are focused on their tiny space in the universe without understanding that they have an infinite amount of room to spread out. The rest of the universe doesn't even exist to them.

Living this way is like looking at the world through a paper towel tube: you see such a tiny bit of everything that's out there. You can't tell what else is going on, or if you're about to step into a dangerous situation. People who don't know where they are will not only drive crazily, but they will do other stupid things that -- at best -- annoy everyone around them and -- at worst -- might actually endanger them. These are the people who fall for scams, ignore their body's signs of illness, take drugs just because they saw an advert on the telly, and find themselves on their deathbeds wondering why they didn't do more with their lives. These are the people who can't handle stress and develop anxiety disorders; the people who confuse money and power with happiness; the people who start wars.

Not knowing who you are seems like a horrible life to me. I can't understand how these people blunder through their time here without ever being mindful of the world around them. How can they not know their own bodies, to begin with -- yet so many people have no idea when their brains try to tell them a situation is dangerous, when their organs try to tell them there is something wrong inside, when their senses tell them anything about the outside world. How can people not even notice the other people around them? How can they even get so focused on their cellphones, MP3 players, computers, televisions -- that they can tune out everything and everyone except themselves? Why would they even want to do that?

I am hoping that the people who follow this blog are learning how to be more mindful of the universe. That you can appreciate everything around you, and not be focused on the tiny space occupied by your body. I hope that you know where you are.

The Horizon

This is more of an "internal" mindfulness exercise. Sit where you can see the horizon -- preferably a good, straight strip of it, but if you live in a hilly or tree-covered area, you can take whatever slice of the horizon you can see.

Gaze at the horizon and just let your mind drift off. What can you see at the edge of Earth and Sky? What colors are there? Really look at them -- don't just say Earth is green and Sky is blue! Observe the edges of the world and see them for what they really are.

Look down at the Earth and feel its solidity. Feel how deep beneath you it goes. Let yourself feel the hugeness of the planet you're sitting on. Look at the edge of the Earth as it touches the Sky. What shape is it? Is the sun shining onto the horizon, or is it sinking below it? What does the light look like touching the edge of the world?

Look up at the Sky. Feel how far above you it reaches. Let yourself feel the hugeness of our atmosphere. Can you see any clouds? Look how they tower above you, reaching miles upwards. Look at the way the light shines through the air.

Can you see another horizon above you?

Think about horizons. What is a horizon? What does one look like and feel like? What does the edge of things mean to you? Don't censor your mind. Whatever thoughts come into your head are good thoughts. Imagine that you could travel instantaneously to the horizon you can see. What would you do there? Would you stop, or would you keep traveling? What would it feel like to see every horizon on the planet? Would you feel excited or afraid? Would you be homesick? Would you long for the next place on your journey?

Think about how horizons affect our lives. Think about all of the explorers and adventurers who have sought the horizon and discovered new parts of our planet. Think of what it must be like to explore a place that no human has ever seen before? Think of the fact that there are still such places on Earth, even now.

Pull your mind back from the horizon. Settle into your body and appreciate your experience. The horizon will always be there, waiting for you.

Fireworks

This is a Fourth of July exercise for all of the American readers.

Get some fireworks -- or attend a display if you'd rather leave the explosions to the professionals! Those who don't like setting them off can just look at the packages in a store for the first part of this exercise.

Look at the containers for the different fireworks. Notice the bright wrappings and shiny paper. They're almost like presents. Observe the different colors on the packaging. What do the containers feel like? Can you tell what's underneath the shiny paper? What does that feel like? Do the fireworks packages have any sort of smell that you can notice? Appreciate the overall design of a firework. Even if you don't know exactly what's inside, you know that someone worked hard to invent just the right mix of ingredients to produce the colors and sounds without causing any harm (so long as they're used properly, that is). Be mindful of the fireworks packages.

Now, either set off your fireworks -- safely, please! -- or attend your display. Sit back and just watch for a moment. Enjoy the bright colors and the way the sparks fall through the air back to the ground. Fireworks are a three-dimensional show. What colors do you see? Can you see different colors in one explosion, or is each firework one color? Is there any color as they shoot up from the ground? Look up and appreciate the beauty.

If you bought any "sparklers" try to write or draw in the air with one. How does that work? Think about it as you have fun.

Do you see any smoke or flame during the display? What color is the smoke? Does it stay in one spot or spread out? Where is the smoke: close to the ground or high in the air? Watch the smoke for a few minutes and be mindful of it.

Now, listen to the explosions. You may cover your ears if you don't really like loud noises! Do you hear the bang just as you see the colors, or is there a delay? Can you hear the sound of the fireworks launching into the air? What does it sound like? Do all the explosions sound the same, or does each type of firework have an individual bang? Are some of them louder than others? Do the louder explosions have larger displays, or are they just louder? What does it sound like when just one explodes? When a lot of them go off together? If you bought firecrackers, you can set those off to see what they sound like, too. Be aware of the noise and appreciate its loudness.

What do you smell as the fireworks explode? Can you tell where the explosions are just by smelling? Inhale the tangy scent and appreciate the fireworks.

As you finish this exercise, be sure to dispose of your fireworks safely and not leave them littering the ground. Being mindful of the environment is also important.

Windows

People tend to take windows for granted. They're just something to look through ... to look past. For this exercise, we're going to look at the window.

Locate a window -- in your house, office, wherever it is convenient to get up close and personal with one.

First, just spend some time looking at the window. Notice what size it is, how it fits into the wall. How many panes does it have? Are they all whole or are there cracks? What color is your window? Look at the paint -- is it smooth and glossy or matte? Are their cracks or chips? What does the putty holding the panes in place look like? Is the window squeaky clean or is the glass smudged and streaked? Really observe the window until you can truly see it for what it is.

Now reach out and touch the window. Run your hands over the various parts. Is the window framed with wood, metal, or plastic? What does the frame feel like? Is it smooth or rough? What does the section where frame meets pane feel like? Slide your hand across the glass and feel its smoothness. Feel the temperature of the glass. Is it warm or cold? How does the temperature of the glass let you know what the temperature outside is?

Do you notice any smells associated with your window? Can you smell the paint or the putty? Does the frame have a scent? Do you smell any window cleaner?

Now think about your window and appreciate it. Windows let you see into another place. They're almost magical things, showing you things that are going on somewhere else. Think how nice it is to have a window here in this spot. Think how nice it is to be behind that window if the weather outside is bad!

When you can truly be mindful of your window, you can let go and allow it to become "just" a window again -- but as with all of our exercises, you'll probably find that you keep your appreciation after this.

Trimming Hedges

I enjoy pruning my plants. I don't like the overly sculptured look, with square or totally round bushes, but I do like to make the plants more artistically pleasing instead of just growing willy-nilly.

To do this activity, you need to own some plants - or volunteer to trim a friend's yard for them! Please do not visit random houses in your neighborhood with pruning shears.

Gather your tools - I recommend small pruning shears for the thin branches, larger ones for rough outlines, and a saw if you find a really large branch that needs trimming.

First, go outside and look at the plants. Just appreciate the beauty of nature for a few minutes. Observe the way the different plants grow. Some are low bushes, while others are tall and spindly. Some, if not trimmed, would explode into total chaos; others would remain about the same as they are now. Look carefully at each plant in your yard, and value it for it's unique qualities.

Study the plants to see the natural growth patterns of each one. In order to produce a pleasing effect, you need to work with this pattern, not against it. To see what I mean, find a yard where the owners just whack the bushes into squares or spheres - see how the ends of the plant's branches are raw and ugly? You don't want that. Try to see the way the plant "wants" to grow, and follow that pathway.

Pick one plant. Use the rough shears to trim back the shaggy growth and get a general shape. Go slowly, and look at the overall effect after each trim. You can always trim more off, but you can't put more back! As you work, feel the texture of the plant. What does the bark feel like? Is it smooth or prickly? Are there thorns on your plant, or just soft leaves? Notice the shapes of the leaves. Are they rounded or pointed? Do they grow opposite each other on the branch, or are they staggered? How many leaves grow in one section?

After you have the basic shape you want, use the smaller shears. Trim individual branches so that the plant will follow that pattern. Here's a tip -- trim the branch so that the bud or leaf on the very end points in the direction you want the branch to turn! As you work, appreciate the scent of the cut branches. How is the smell of the sap different from the normal smell of the plant? Can you tell the difference between one plant and another just by the smell of the cut wood?

Again, stop after each trim to check the overall pattern. After each cut, pause to appreciate the beauty of the plant. Once you've gotten the effect you want, gather up the cut branches and place them wherever you dispose of such things. You might leave some of the smaller ones around the base of the plants as mulch and fertilizer. What do the cut branches look like in cross section? Can you see growth rings, or is the branch solid throughout? What color is the cut part of the branch compared to the outside? What color is the bark? What about the leaves? Are they all the same shade of green, or are there differences?

You can really learn to appreciate nature when you try to work with it in order to beautify your yard. I think a natural garden, with plants which are trimmed instead of hacked off, is a true asset to a neighborhood.

A Few of My Favourite Things: Cowboy Songs


 I like old songs and ballads, and I've been in a Western mood lately, so here are some of the cowboy songs I like to sing. Sometimes I even sing them to my horse!


Cowboy SongsCollapse )

Icons!

I've got a whole slew of mindfulness icons over on my writing blog - click HERE to see them!

Snow

 Snow is not the same as rain, though it is the same element. When appreciating precipitation, you must take the temperature into account! Where I live, a snowfall is an unexpected and welcome event; on other areas, it is an annoyance.

Let it snow ...Collapse )

If the snow is deep enough, you can make a snowman, or a snow angel. Appreciation often involves a return to childhood!

Gifts

I like buying and wrapping presents nearly as much as I like giving them! Once you have picked the perfect gift for all your friends and family, then wrapping makes a really good mindfulness exercise.  Of course, choosing the perfect gift is, in and of itself, a mindfulness exercise!

By the way, for those who are interested, there is a short tutorial at the end of this piece on wrapping your boxes so that they look like those "professionally" wrapped gifts that you get when you allow the store to wrap them for you!

Look at your choices for wrapping paper - you may be the sort of person who likes a lot of different kinds of designs and colors, or you may prefer to use one style for all your presents. Some people enjoy silly, cartoonish papers that are just fun to look at. Some people like shiny, sparkly foils.  Some people like to use modern symbols of the holiday, such as Santa or snowmen, while others prefer more religious symbols, such as the Nativity or angels. Some enjoy traditional colors and textures, while others opt for eclectic colors and styles. And still others like to choose a different sort of paper for each person receiving a gift, and pick a style of paper that matches each personality!  It doesn't matter what sort of papers you choose, so long as you can become aware of how fun and interesting gift wrap can be.

Spend a few moments enjoying the different colors of the paper. Christmas is a time when bright, pretty colors are all around, and festive packages are always easy to appreciate. Before you begin analyzing the papers individually, observe them as a group and appreciate their beauty.  Arrange your papers next to each other, and enjoy the contrasts between them. Look for ways that the papers are similar to one another.  Try out different arrangements to please your eye - sort them based on different colors, or by patterns vs. solids, or line them up by texture. Just take a bit of time and simply enjoy the paper as it is.

Now, look at the paper choices and analyze them.  Do you have many different colors, or just a few? Have you chosen papers of a similar shade or texture, or do you have several different sorts?  Is there a design such as Christmas ornaments or angels, or a pattern such as stripes or plaid?  Are the designs abstract, modern, retro, or old-fashioned? Is the paper a "serious" design or a cartoon? Is the paper shiny, metallic, or matte? Have you chosen an old-fashioned color such as Victorian gold, traditional red or green, or have you picked a totally modern color such as neon green?

Observe the artistry of the designs, and take a moment to appreciate the work that someone put into making this paper. Think about the gift wrap industry, and about how many people do nothing except design and create wrapping papers to beautify gifts!  Many designs are quite intricate, and you could easily imagine them in a frame on your wall.  Some are less serious, and you can take a moment to chuckle over those. Even a simple line drawing is made more appealing by festive colors. Are there any embellishments on your paper, such as foil, embossed designs, or different textures in different areas?

Look at the overall wrapping paper. See it as a whole, not as a series of images or designs.  Notice how the colors of your paper combine into one pattern; for example, a series of stripes, or colored shapes. If you have several images repeated over and over, notice how each set makes a certain pattern together. For example, you might have a snowman and a package and an ornament; or you could have several different styles of angel. Seen as a whole, you can appreciate the overall design and become mindful of the way everything combines to become one lovely paper.


Run your hands over the paper. Does it have an embossed pattern or is it smooth? Does it feel slick like the pages of a magazine or more like the pages of an old book? Pick up the edge of the paper and hold it between your finger and thumb. Is it thick paper or thin? Does it feel flimsy, or is it sturdy? Experiment with folding and crinkling a piece of your paper.  Does it fold crisply, leaving nice straight lines; or does it bounce back into its original shape when you fold it? When crumpled, does it stay in a ball, or does it relax outwards once you let go? As you feel the different papers, think about the feelings each sort of paper awakens in you. Do they remind you of childhood holidays? Do you feel excitement thinking about each paper being unwrapped to reveal a gift? Try closing your eyes as you experiment with the different ways that your papers feel to you. Do you notice more sensation when you do this?

Listen to the sounds as you fold and crumple the paper.  Does your paper crinkle loudly, or rustle softly?  Are you reminded more of the sounds of pages turning in a newspaper, or does the paper remind you more of the crinkle of a plastic package being opened?  Cut a piece of your paper, and listen to the way it sounds as the scissors (or wrapping-cutter) slice through.  Can you run your scissors easily from one edge of the paper to the other, effortlessly making straight lines; or does the paper curl and twist, forcing you to make choppy slices in order to cut straight? Notice the difference in sound between the former - one long tearing noise - and the latter - many short chops, plus the sound of the paper curling or tearing or crinkling.  Do the paper's sounds bring up any emotions? Do you remember your parents cutting the paper to wrap gifts when you were a small child, or do you think about the first time you wrapped a gift?

Take a deep breath and notice how your paper smells. Some papers are actually scented, but most will simply smell like different sorts of paper. Does yours smell more like a magazine page, with the scent of ink overlaid on the scent of the paper; or does it smell clean and crisp, like freshly laundered sheets? Can you tell the difference between your papers just by smelling of them? Think about the wood which went into the making of your paper. What sorts of smells do you think different kinds of wood might impart to different papers? Can you smell the chemicals used to bleach or color the papers?

Now that you have become more mindful of the paper itself, you can go on to experience wrapping your gifts in a mindful way. You can enjoy wrapping gifts a great deal more if you let yourself really experience the activity instead of thinking about how many packages you have, the hassle of mailing them, or how much each one costs.  Select a gift and place it onto your  paper.  As you follow the steps to wrap this gift, focus your thought upon the person to whom you are giving it - imagine how much they will enjoy unwrapping this present, and how happy they will be when they see what you have selected for them. Think about how much you like this person (or, if it is an "obligatory" gift to a distant relative or work collegue, think about any positive memories you have about that person).  Try to wrap your good feelings about this person into the package along with your gift.

Cut the correct size of paper to cover the gift, paying attention to the crisp sound of the scissors slicing through the paper. Fold the paper over your gift, and notice how the paper feels as you fold and crease it. Pull out a piece of tape to fasten the paper together; pay attention to how the tape feels, sounds, and smells as you do this. Smooth the tape down over the edges of the paper, and appreciate the textures of paper and tape under your hands Take a moment to observe the finished wrapping, and appreciate how nice your final effort looks.  Select a gift tag and bow for this gift, and pay attention to how each looks alone, and how they look together once you combine them with the wrapping paper. Feel the texture of the bow's ribbon - if you wrap extra ribbons around the gift, notice how it feels as it curves around the package.  If you use curling ribbons, feel the tension as you run the edge of your scissors along the ribbon to curl it.

Now look at your finished gift. Imagine how it will look beneath the Christmas tree. See how it looks beside the other gifts you wrap; take a moment before you pack them all away just to appreciate the festive colors.  Picture your friends and family unwrapping the gifts and enjoying your presents. Finish your mindfulness exercise in a Christmas mood, and enjoy the holidays!

*Special bonus feature:
How To Wrap a GiftCollapse )

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