Tired of Dating Disasters? 4 Clues to a Lasting Love Life

You don’t need another human being to make your life complete. But let’s be honest, having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world. ~Emery Allen IMG_1849

I’ve spoken with many a friend and client about the frustrations of “having it all” except “the one.” Or, conversely, not caring about cultivating one’s own garden due to a sense that the flowers aren’t as beautiful without someone to share them with. I’ve personally traversed relational terrain far more complicated than I ever could have imagined, with all the tears and heartache and self-doubt that comes with it. What is this phenomenon? This desire to connect with another that can drive us to utter rage and despair?

Your basic needs are met: food, clothing, shelter. After years of dedicated schooling and job performance, your career is stable, if not successful. You have friends and family with whom to celebrate life’s joys and sorrows. Even a furry friend to snuggle up with while catching up on American Idol. But there’s this sense that life is not complete.

I am the last person who will say you need a romantic partner in order to be fulfilled in this life. Many, many people are choosing to find joy and meaning by cultivating other areas of their lives than marriage or family. But there’s no denying the human pull toward partnership – the need for physical affection we never out grow, and the yearning for someone we can count on no matter what.

If you are one of these people who have it all, including a long history of dating pains and problems, let’s take a look at a few of the things that could be getting in your way.

IMG_1848Deep Sense of Unworthiness – we’ve all heard the platitude, “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love someone else.” I’m not necessarily endorsing this statement. Many women love very deeply despite feelings of unworthiness. But I do believe it is far more difficult to accept love when you don’t love yourself. We tend to color and interpret our world based on our personal narratives – if you don’t feel loveable, or have struggled with several painful rejections, you are less likely to seek or accept the type of love that would be fulfilling. Personal work in this area may be as straightforward as a renewed journey of self-love guided by your interests, wise friends, and new experiences. Or it may call for the professional attention of a psychotherapist.

Unfocused Energy – you’ve been on Match, forced yourself through awkward blind dates, and hit the bar scene with friends on a regular basis. But have you taken the time to really think about what you’re looking for? I mean, beyond the usual: sexual chemistry, honesty, and a good sense of humor. Most people want those things! So thinking in those terms does not necessarily help you separate the “men from the boys” or the “women from the girls”! And dating “boys” and “girls” zaps energy and time from being with someone with whom you more closely fit. I absolutely do not endorse the idea that anyone less than perfect is “settling!” No one’s perfect – all relationships involve disappointment, pain, and hard work to find acceptance and middle ground. But clarity in dating can be gold! Make a list of qualities you hope your future partner will possess (and how you’ll know he/she possesses them), how you hope to interact and build a life together, and which of those qualities you may need to be growing in yourself to create that beautiful future. Write whatever comes to mind at first, then separate out the deal-breakers from your preferences, and begin holding yourself accountable to who you spend time with based on this honest assessment of your romantic needs. Sound daunting? Consider the advice of friends whose relationships you respect, or seek some professional counseling or coaching. IMG_1809

Anxious Attachment Style – as children we all develop attachment styles based on those early experiences with our mothers and fathers. Whatever your attachment style, you had no control over its development. A combination of biological sensitivities, environmental “fit,” and potential trauma or loss can greatly color your attachment experience. Those with an anxious attachment may find themselves particularly wrecked by nerves and worthlessness in the dating process. You may have been accused of being “dramatic” or “needy,” or may have a constant sense of insecurity in love with deep fears of rejection if someone gets to know the “real” you. Many people with this attachment style struggle with how to effectively soothe themselves, communicate relational needs to their partners, or most painfully, frequently choose partners who are emotionally unavailable and thus further bruise those childhood wounds. If this is you, you may start with some bioliotherapy by reading the books Attached and Insecure in Love, and follow it up with the help of a counseling professional with expertise in adult attachment.

Avoidant Attachment Style – similarly to anxiously attached adults, avoidantly attached adults may have experienced a lack of attention to their emotional needs as children and now struggle to allow themselves to be vulnerable with others. If this is you, you may distance from partners or end relationships that are seemingly on a good course. You may idealize a past partner or struggle to emotionally and physically connect with the same person. You may find yourself repeating your past with patterns of attraction to those who can’t meet your needs in the present, such as those who are already in committed relationships, disinterested in commitment, or are avoidantly attached themselves. If this is the case, you may start by reading the above mentioned books, and consider psychotherapy with an expert on avoidant attachment to help you understand the historical wounds that fuel your distancing with others, and learn how to tear down those walls and accept closeness and vulnerability in relationships.

IMG_1811
If any of these concepts hit too close to home, please don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends or professionals to help you build the romantic life you seek and deserve. Growing old with someone you both love and trust doesn’t have to be a fantasy. It could very well be your future.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Advertisements

Relationship in a Rut? Tap Your Inner Child!

Has the spark been waning from your relationship, or have you found yourself knowing your significant other less and less? Wishing you could reconnect in a deep or vital way? Your Inner Child can help tap the energy you need to get out of a relational rut!

When we tap our Inner Child on the shoulder, we can have the best of both worlds – the fresh energy of childhood and the wisdom and sensuality of adult experience. Your Inner Child can help you re-learn the affection, creativity, spontaneity, and vulnerability necessary to maintain a powerful love connection!

IMG_0407

1) Affection – One of our primary sources of affection in adulthood is through our romantic partnerships. If you are missing affection in your current relationship, chances are your partner is missing it, too. The best way to receive is to give. This does not mean initiating sex and then feeling angry or defeated if it doesn’t go your way! Think of the affection that freely flows from your Inner Child. The part of you that easily gives hugs, holds hands, or needs to snuggle to forget about the “boogeyman” under the bed (ie: the overdue bills, unnerving lab results, etc.). As adults we never stop needing comfort and affection – give and receive freely! Nurturing affection can lead to passionate affection – and both are essential to feeling special and loved.

2) Creativity – In the beginning there are fun dates, love letters, and spontaneous sex. Later on … not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revive the spark through following the example of your Inner Child! (Secret: We often show a lot of our Inner Child when we’re falling in love!) Think of the artwork you offered up and displayed proudly on the refrigerator, or the way you chased butterflies and lightning bugs in your backyard as a child. Now you can make a homemade Valentine or birthday card for your partner, surprise him/her with a spring picnic or a snowman-making contest, or watch the sunset at a local place of beauty (and arrange the baby-sitter, too, if necessary). Now you have a soul mate for a playmate – enjoy it!

3) Spontaneity – Why is it that the unplanned parts of life usually stand out in our memories the most? Because spontaneity has a way of inspiring mindfulness and bringing a spark of energy that elates our moods and calms our nerves. Spontaneity is a magical way to create an experience together that will increase connection. And no one is more spontaneous and inspiring than our Inner Child! Think of the joys of following your curiosity down a new bike path as a child, or of sinking your teeth into a candy sprinkled dessert! Sharing your spontaneity and offering yourself as an encouraging partner in your significant others’ impulsive urges will give your relationship a needed jolt. Make yourself a promise that next time you feel a twinge to stop off at a carnival or go to that often seen but never frequented hole-in-the-wall restaurant, follow it toward the chance to make a memory together! Even if it turns out to be sub-par, it’s something to bond over and laugh about for years to come.

4) Vulnerability – Over time we can begin to feel we already know everything important about our partner; or conversely, we can assume our partner will never understand an important dream or wound of ours. Maybe you’ve known each other for years or decades, but continued engagement is necessary to continue knowing someone. If you feel as if your partner doesn’t know or understand you anymore (or that you don’t know/understand him or her), reach out from a place of vulnerability. Think of the unabashed way you used to talk about the cool new thing you learned in school, the super scary spider you saw on the playground, or how you were going to be an astronaut when you grew up! Only now you’re old enough to know how to say, “This is what I think and feel … what about you?” Share a hard moment from your workday, a bad dream you can’t shake off, or fun idea for a long-weekend away. If you lead with your own vulnerabilities while also offering your partner the chance to reciprocate, intimacy and passion are sure to follow.

Of note: Sometimes our Inner Child no longer feels safe in the company of our significant others. Or sometimes our Inner Child is still quite wounded from the traumas of childhood.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition … or if you can’t even imagine how to tap your Inner Child or how to receive a good response for putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek a couples therapist to help break apart defenses and rebuild intimacy.

If your Inner Child is wounded due to physical or emotional traumas in childhood, please take these wounds seriously and seek care and support for yourself. There are many qualified therapists who can assist with healing the lifelong pain of childhood trauma to help you reclaim vitality in adulthood.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

 

Falling in the Hole, and How to Get Out

My close friends and I have taken to calling it, “falling in the hole.” That feeling of walking along in your life and then, whoops, finding yourself unexpectedly in the hole of depression or anxiety complete with confusion about how you got there or how to get out. Falling in the hole can look like difficulty getting out of bed and completing anything other than necessary tasks, cancelling social plans due to feelings of insecurity, avoiding the very elements of your life that give you more meaning, and finding yourself unexplainably irritable or sensitive toward friends and partners. Falling in the hole is a bit different falling from falling of the horse, as I discussed in my last post. Falling in the hole is a less profound experience that lasts for a few hours or a few days at most.

Having fallen in the hole countless times in my life, as well as helping many others – both friends and clients out of their respective holes – I have a few ideas about how to gain the most from these experiences while having them impact your life the least.

Try to Pin-Point What You Slipped On – the very nature of falling in the hole means there’s likely some confusion about how you got there. What on earth happened? Just yesterday you were glowing with stability. But if you look more closely, there are usually clues. Despite what some people think, emotions do not materialize out of thin air. Neither are emotions facts – they don’t always make sense, and aren’t always helpful. But they do always have a cause, and they do have the function of communicating something potentially important to use. Take time to listen. Think back over the past hours or days and see if you can notice a moment that in hindsight, caused you unease. It could be an upcoming work deadline, the success of a friend that has you thinking about failures, or an unusually disturbing nightmare. Still unsure? Journaling is a great way to help. Just write whatever comes to mind. Even if it seems unrelated at first, something may pop up.IMG_0419

Accept That It Could Be Biological or Historical – emotions always have causes, but sometimes the causes are very chemical in nature. After all, our beautifully complex brains are an electric circuit of synapses firing at will. Pre-menstrual Syndrome is a very real experience for many women caused by the plummet of estrogen and rise of progesterone in the days leading up to a period. Or maybe you’ve been exercise-deprived, eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, or not getting enough sleep. Sometimes our circuitry gets re-fired by a historical trigger – something that happens in our present reminds us, even on an unconscious level, of something that happened in our past. It could be as simple as an anniversary of important events, or even watching a mother scold her child the way you were scolded such that shame rises to your face and yet you can’t connect the dots as to why.

Problem Solve It If You Can – if you can figure out the likely culprits to your situation, then take some time to problem-solve. That’s one reason we have emotions – to spring us into action! To set boundaries, escape dangers, take steps to creating more fulfilling lives. This could be a quick fix in some instances – such as letting a partner know it is important to celebrate your birthday after all, or setting aside some extra time to get ahead on that work project.

Try “Opposite Action” If You Can’t – in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment for mood dysregulation championed by Marsha Linehan, there is a skill called Opposite Action. It’s one of my favorite skills. In brief, it goes a little something like this: feeling depressed with urges to isolate? Act the opposite – get out of bed, get active, get social. Feeling anxious with urges to avoid people or situations that you know will not bring you harm? Approach those people and situations anyway, with as much confidence as you can muster. Feeling really angry at your partner for minor irritations? Rather than attack, gently avoid until you can calm down or even act kindly toward him/her. The idea is not to suppress your emotion, but to still act opposite to it, such that the actions themselves help you regulate again. This only works in situations where your emotion doesn’t fit the facts (your friends aren’t likely to reject you) or where the intensity of your emotion is a little extreme (your partner hurt your feelings but didn’t mean to).IMG_0420

It’s Okay To Take a Day Off – don’t be too hard on yourself if you just can’t get out of the hole immediately. Sometimes our minds or bodies need a break, and falling in the hole is a way to get that break. Allow for some down time, some tears, some worries, some self-care, and some sleep. Just don’t stay stuck for too long. If you find you repeatedly can’t get out of the hole day after day, that’s a good indication that you may need some assistance from others – either professionals or those wise ones in your tribe.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Getting Back on the Horse

I’ve been through my fair share of troubles. There was a span of time in my early thirties where I experienced many tremendous losses in quick succession. When I say I spent months hibernating except for work, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Being asleep where I could either not feel my pain, or could reconnect with a better life through dreamland was far preferable to facing the reality that I had to rebuild my life. And yet I did wake up and slowly but surely rebuilt it. I don’t assume that my personal journey of healing is the one and only way to get back on the horse. I also know sometimes we get knocked down in smaller ways that still feel deeply impacting and strangle us from moving forward. From a personal and professional place, I’ll share some ideas about how to get your feet back under you.

Honor the Pain

In mindfulness there is the concept of neither ignoring nor clinging to thoughts, emotions, or experiences. You let them come and go as ripples in the water of your life. Sometimes this is a really difficult thing to do. You either want to completely push down your upset feelings, or you wallow in them, soaking in the tub of despair until your fingers get pruney. In the most mindful way you can muster, it is imperative to honor your pain. This may mean powerful crying jags, brutally honest journaling, speaking your truth to others, delving into artistic expression, or even allowing time alone to just sit with the sadness or anxiety or anger of your situation and notice it rise and fall again and again. It’s ok to feel bad. Allowing yourself to feel it is the only way to heal it.

Enlist Support

Whether it’s in gaining a wiser perspective of your situation, or in simply having someone to acknowledge your pain with you – enlisting support is essential. Support comes in many forms: friends, family, professionals. Choose carefully! Don’t expect that well intended but emotionally stunted sibling or friend to suddenly know how to validate and encourage you. Instead, seek the guidance of those you know to be supportive, or even from professionals, such as therapists, life coaches, or other healing artists. Allow those offering their support to do so. Accepting a dinner date with your best friend may be tremendously soothing to your bruised ego or aching soul, even if it won’t “fix” it.

Nurture Your Body and Soul

This seems obvious, but it’s often during our most difficult times that we forget the basics, such as sleep, nutritious food, moving our bodies, and engaging in spiritual practice. These basics are essential to your recovery and to making the wisest decisions about how to proceed. I’m not suggesting that you put pressure on yourself to dramatically change your diet or exercise routine in a moment of high stress – but do at least eat, clear your head on a walk around the block, and read an inspiring poem or trusted scripture. Allow yourself to be grateful for the smallest things, knowing that gratitude is not a way to discount your pain – you can hold both in your heart at the same time.

Begin Re-imagining Your Life

When you’ve had a bit of recovery time under your belt, get real about who you are and where you want to be headed. If you’re not sure about your goals and are feeling rather directionless, then check in with personal values, passions, and curiosities. Do you value community? Then begin considering ways to be helpful to others, maybe volunteer work or a change in careers. Are you passionate about decorating and crafts? Then maybe it’s time to figure out new or bigger projects to inspire you. Keep to the promises you’ve made to yourself to be healthier, more authentic, and more engaged with life. Don’t get bogged down imagining a life that can’t be (such as with someone who has broken up with you). But DO allow yourself to dream big – there’s no telling the brilliant, beautiful life you can create!

Start with Teeny Weeny Baby Steps

We’ve all heard the famous Lao-tzu quote, “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s true! But don’t worry so much about the miles, just take a step. A teeny weeny one. I can’t emphasize the teeny weeny enough. Whether you have a detailed life plan, or just a glimmer of something that could provide you hope, start moving in that direction. Be both structured and spontaneous. Don’t get too caught up in all the planning. This step is mostly about ACTION. Pick at least one thing to do differently, and then DO it … just one tiny little bit at a time.

I promise no matter what curve balls life has thrown you, the heartache and bitterness can fade into gratitude and vitality again, or you may even feel those things for the first time because of the important lessons you’ve learned.

IMG_0617All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

5 Tips for Effective Boundaries

IMG_0727What does someone mean when they say “good boundaries”? It’s a phrase that’s tossed around a lot, and yet most people assume their boundaries are “good” and others’ are “bad.” Who gets to be the expert here? If you back up and consider how boundaries are used in other contexts, it will help you understand how to use them relationally as well. Sometimes a boundary is something very rigid, such as an egg-shell. It clearly protects that which is inside and makes a firm demarcation between the inside and outside that is not easily crossed without destroying the boundary. Other times, boundaries are more diffuse. Think of a picket fence around a home – the fence clarifies property, but you can still see beyond it, and even open the gate to enter without harming the fence. Relational boundaries are no different. In some situations, more rigid boundaries are required to keep your stability, integrity, and safety in tact, while other times it makes sense to loosen your boundaries in order to allow for the vulnerability required to form deep connections with others.

What happens, though, is that many people find themselves interacting with the world from only one or the other vantage point without showing flexibility depending on the given relationship or situation at hand. We’ve all met those people who after knowing you for all of 5 minutes will share about their medical problems, their money woes, and ask you personal questions that would make a reality star blush. And then there are others who keep people at an emotional arm’s length, even those who they are supposedly close to, not knowing how to admit to all the complexities and flaws of being human.

This post will speak more to the former. If you are one of those people who often finds yourself in the thick of relational drama, whose to-do list for others is a mile long, who repeatedly puts yourself in positions where you are taken advantage of, and who sometimes can’t even distinguish which emotions belong to you or others, then this post is for you. Let’s look at some tips for firming up your boundaries!

1) It’s ok to say no. For many people, especially women, the idea of saying no feels terrible. However, “no” is actually a primary purpose of a boundary. “No” says you can’t cross this line, because what’s on the other side belongs to me (be it my space, my time, even my body). Thus, it is incredibly important to practice saying no. Some tips for doing so:
a) Don’t be pushed to give an answer immediately
b) Remind yourself that saying yes to this means saying no to something else – check in with yourself about what you’re giving up to say yes (is it your exercise or creative time, time with your children or spouse, your sense of self-respect, etc.)
c) Be short and sweet with your reply. “No, I can’t do that” is sufficient, it doesn’t require a laundry list of reasons, or any apologies
d) Be open to compromise. Maybe this is something you really want to say yes to or it’s your turn to return a favor – see if there are ways to meet in the middle with someone rather than giving of yourself entirely on someone else’s terms

IMG_07542) Choose your inner circles wisely. It feels so good to meet a new friend or colleague and form a super quick bond. There’s that magical sense of this person just gets me. And those types of quick, lasting relationships do exist! If you have one or more of them, be grateful. But don’t forget that time is also a teller of all secrets. And that it’s over time, with ever-deepening disclosures and need for support, that you come to know you can trust someone. That co-worker you spoke with so openly at lunch the other day may not guard your confidence as closely as his/her own desires to advance. And your new neighbor may pull away when he learns you’re under water on your mortgage. Or conversely, that neat person who was so open and interesting to talk with at first, may now be calling you daily with her “crisis du jour” and you didn’t mean to sign on to be her confidant. I’m not asking you to have people jump through unreasonable hoops, but it is important to make sure those closest to you have earned, not just been given, your trust. And earned trust takes time.

3) Helping versus needing to be needed. We all love people who are naturally compassionate and helpful, who step in to offer a word of kindness or support without immediate expectation for reciprocation. These are the people in our lives who appear to enjoy being kind. These are our saints. However, it’s really important to distinguish for yourself if you like to be helpful or need to be needed. Some people don’t know who they are or what to do with themselves if they are not always in a helping role – if this is you, watch out! There is a fine line between being a saint and a martyr. You may be on the fast track for emptiness and sky-rocketing resentment. If you find yourself constantly in the middle of other people’s crises, being called on in excess to the point that you are angry, or noting to yourself that you are the only one who can do something or the only one who gives of yourself, then it may be time to take a hard look at how you can do more for yourself and let others do more for themselves. If this is a deeply ingrained pattern, the help of a therapist may be valuable.

 4) Two halves don’t make a whole, but two wholes make a great life. Many of us have bought into the romantic notion that another person can “complete” us (thanks, Jerry McGuire!). That where you are strong, he/she is weak, where you are practical, he/she is adventurous, etc. That you are somehow empty and less real without the constant attention and affection of another person. This is such a compelling story because it is basically the story of a newborn and a mother – and we never stop yearning to recreate it. However, between two adults, this story can be very dangerous. By depending on each other too much, by feeling ill at ease when apart even for short periods of time, by cutting off from other parts of yourself and your life, you and your partner risk losing the deep connection, passion, and vitality that makes a couple relationship so worthwhile. Challenge yourself to be a whole all on your own! Develop your personal hobbies, passions, and goals. Some of these you may do together, but some of them should be yours alone. This keeps you both going out into the world and coming back to share what you’ve learned and get excited about it together, rather than closing off the world into the little bubble you both live in that eventually either becomes stagnant or pops. IMG_0750

5) Kids need parents to be parents not friends. As a therapist I’ve worked with a lot of families, and one of the common problems that leads a family into my office is that the parents – albeit well-meaning – do not know how to let their kids be upset or dislike them. They are intent on seeming “cool” and being a kid’s friend. I’m certainly not advocating running your home like a military compound without the warmth and nurture and play that kids need to thrive! But kids also need limits. And they need to test your limits and know those limits are real. I often speak of the 3 C’s to parenting: clear expectations, clear rewards/consequences, and consistency in enforcement. I promise if your kid gets mad at you, it’s won’t last. And once an adult, your child will be so grateful to have grown up in a home where he/she learned that gentle and firm are not mutually exclusive concepts.

If some of these tips seem daunting, don’t be too hard on yourself! One could probably write a whole blog post (or book!) about each topic. Just take a deep breath, connect to your present moment, and ask yourself how you can embrace this moment with the balance the moment calls for. If you find it overwhelming to consider, you may seek the advice of a mental health professional.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Gratitude: The Cure for What Ails You

I come to the page this morning to share something that’s been on my heart and mind, a practice that is my no. 1 go-to for moments of frustration, anxiety, inertia, and even hopelessness. Even when mindfulness seems like too much energy to muster and I am stuck in a place where my mind refuses to grant me a moment’s peace, I can always count on gratitude to help me take that next step forward in a healthy direction.

I practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with kids and teens, teaching the skills of mindfulness and coping on a near-daily basis to those whose brains can barely grasp much less practice the concepts, and to those whose hearts and minds have been harmed in ways unfathomable. Yet I keep teaching it, because at the heart of this behavioral treatment, there is a depth of wisdom, a philosophy even, that can powerfully change lives. One aspect of this treatment is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing concepts at the same time – “I am doing the best I can and I can do better.” As well as shifting perspective, back and forth between the forest (life goals) and trees (mindfulness). Gratitude is an excellent way to quickly shift perspective. In the midst of feeling there’s too much of this and not enough of that, you stop and recognize what already is and how absolutely perfect the present moment can be.IMG_1785

For some, taking a moment to reflect on gratitude may come quite easy. You stop and think, “My family, my job, my health.” For others, perhaps those in great pain and loneliness, it may be more difficult. Yet I am here to tell you that one doesn’t have to search far to find something or someone to be grateful for. Even with my most pained clients, all it takes is some gentle nudging to get them on their feet and smelling the roses of gratitude. It doesn’t cure a problem. It is not an ever-lasting happiness pill to pop. But in that moment, it can give you the oomph you need to take the next step toward your healthy life.

I invite you to take a few moments right now and consider at least 10 things you are grateful for in this present moment. Things that do not need to come to fruition in order for you to be grateful, but what you are grateful for right now. If you’re having a difficult time getting started, start with the basics: you have met enough of your basic needs to be here right now (food, shelter), you can read, you at least have the desire to desire more for yourself (you want to want, which is a start). As you gain in ability to open your heart in this way, consider even more specific and “simpler” things: the exact gift of the bird song outside your morning window, the freedom of feeling the earth beneath your bare feet, sipping your favorite tea from your favorite mug, and as I always say, the sweet summer perfection of strawberry rhubarb pie.

My 10 Things

1. getting to sleep late right in the middle of the bed, surrounded by pillows and the dabbling of morning light
2. looking back and seeing how I always get back on the horse, no matter how hopeless that may have seemed at times
3. fresh berries – blue, black, rasp, or straw
4. in the midst of summer, everything is gorgeous green – and the flowers!
5. these clothes that cover me, often softly
6. these feet that take me where I ask, usually without complaint
7. the Internet – seriously. So much knowledge, so many connections right at my fingertips
8. just how often I remember my dreams, the glimpses into my deeper struggles and knowing
9. human touch on a daily basis, hugs are profound
10. the cardinals, blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks who make it worth being outside despite the mosquitoes

IMG_1794

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

From Do to Be: 12 Mindfulness Activities

After writing about mindfulness recently and suggesting 3 steps to create a more mindful life, it occurred to me that sometimes we need something more concrete in order to learn new skills. In this post I offer 12 simple mindfulness exercises to jump-start your mindful life!

1. Sitting at Your Desk: Take a few moments at your desk to pause and really experience the moment. How does your chair feel against your skin or fit against your bones? What smells can you detect? Is there music playing? What can you see without getting up to move? The point of this exercise is not to relax or even necessarily enjoy your surroundings (though that may be the outcome!). It’s to become aware of this place where you probably spend large amounts of time. What is this place – your desk? How does it feel to be sitting here?

2. Eating Breakfast: Instead of rushing out the door with a granola bar and a smoothie, set your alarm 10-15 minutes earlier and take time to eat breakfast before you leave for your day. Sit down with your meal, and focus your attention on the colors, tastes, and textures – even the life behind your food. Such as, this is an orange, but it is also of the sun, earth, rain, the farmers who nurtured the tree, etc. If you are able, you can experience the oneness of life and death in the eating – even for vegetarians, something had to die to nurture the soil that grows your food. And yet this food is life, sustenance.

3. Walking Around Your Block: Some evening this week after dinner or before breakfast, take the time to mosey around your block. Do this with the purpose of really seeing your neighborhood, maybe for the first time. Again, focus on your 5 senses. What can you see in gardens, architecture, wildlife? What do you smell? Taste in the air? How does the ground crunch or remain solid beneath you? Take time to smell the roses.

IMG_0351

4. Lover’s Eyes: You’ll have to gain your partner’s cooperation for this one. Maybe even invite him/her to join! Take a full 3-5 minutes to stare into your lover’s eyes. No kissing, talking, or anything other than noticing the exact shapes and colors, the mix of golden and stormy hues. How do his/her eyes look in the light, in the shadows? Can you see yourself reflected in the pupils?

5. Notice Your Breath: Tried but true, when needing an immediate anchor for mindlessness, return to the breath. Focus on how it feels coming in through your nose, cold perhaps down the back of your throat, shoulders rising or belly expanding, and then hot back out, warming you up. If your mind wanders (and it will!), there is no need for judgment. Just notice the wandering and then bring your attention back to your breath. Try this for just 5 minutes at first.

6. Read Your Favorite Poem: If you have a beloved poem, passage, or even song, take a moment and read it aloud. Really feel the rhythm and the words as they take shape on your lips. Notice what emotions rise for you as you read, how your body changes in tension or relaxation, in ache or weightlessness.

7. Just Listen: Turn off the TV and iPod, and just listen. Listen to the silence. The empty space. Listen to the train passing in the distance. Your children playing in the backyard. Listen to the electric hum of lights and machines. The creak of old wood. A bird calling just outside the window. Listen to the sound of your own breathing. Open your ears … what do you hear?

8. Notice A Certain Color: This is a fun exercise for the whole day. Pick a color (any color!) and every time you see it, take a moment to be mindful of your surroundings. “There’s orange!,” for instance, and then take a breath and really notice where you are. This is a double mindfulness, because you are remaining mindful of noticing this color (I bet you’ll see it more than you think), and then the promise of further connection to the present moment when you encounter that color.

9. Play with Kids (or Animals): Kids have amazing aptitudes for mindfulness. The world has not yet taught them to be self-conscious, running a to-do list in their heads, or how to worry incessantly about the past or future. This is a mindfulness practice of participation. Can you open yourself to the moment? The sand castle, the tea party, the made up game of cops and robbers with the rules changing at every turn? Can you be fully present to the excitement and joy of imagination? Let go of your conscientiousness, your worries, your need to be in control or productive. Just play.

IMG_0378

10. In the Shower: This is an activity that is often done in haste and without thought. Instead of running your shower routine mindlessly,  pay attention to the feel of the water on your back and face, the smell of your shampoo and soap, the way your razor or washcloth feels over your skin. Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to just be naked and tender and alive with yourself.

11. Dancing: The idea is to actually lose yourself in the music, and let your body express what it wants to express. If you’re a little hesitant to do this at the club or in front of others, close the door to your bedroom and crank up the volume on your favorite song. Turn off the critic, and see what your body might enjoy sharing about this specific beat or those catchy lyrics.

12. Waiting in Line: Next time you’re waiting in line at the post office or for a table at a restaurant, rather than pulling out your smart phone, take a moment to take in your surroundings. Allow yourself to really breathe, and notice the people, the chatter, the white noise, the music, the art on the walls, the smells of food. Take a moment to notice where you really are, and who you’re sharing this space with for a short time.

I cannot iterate enough that the purpose of mindfulness is not to relax or even to feel content. The purpose of mindfulness is to be alive in the present moment as it is – to notice what is and enter into what is with a purpose that focuses your attention and strengthens your anchor to vitality. The purpose of mindfulness is to slow down and experience. To be alive in the moment you have, which is always and ever, only this one. The past is gone. The future may or may not happen in any certain way, or at all. Live this moment. Don’t let it pass you by in a string of missed opportunities. There is beauty all around you. Heartache, too. It all deserves your attention.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers