I divide my work into stages: move objects out of the yard, rake leaves, cut grass, etc. I move deliberately, fully focusing on each task. For example, while rewinding a hose, I look at it, feel its weight, notice where I experience the weight sensations in my body, how the hose looks as I loop it, etc.
When I mow the grass, I notice the scent of the lawn, the mower’s vibrations in my arms, the sound of the machine, the grass after it is cut. I know that I am in the process of cutting the grass or edging the driveway. I experience any and all sensations without thinking, interpreting or evaluating.
If my thoughts wander or an emotional reaction seizes my mind, I bring my awareness to my breath and then, when calmer, I focus back on each task.
Many decades ago a friend of mine asked to watch me tie my shoes. As I tied my shoes I watched her watching my fingers and laces so intently. The moment I finished she was all smiles and excitement, promptly asking me if I would teach her son to tie his shoes.
Apparently she had been very patient, showing him again and again. Frustrated that he couldn’t succeed, he threw his shoes in the trash, refusing to wear them.
She answered my wonder with, “He’s left-handed, I’m right-handed and I only know one way to tie shoes. You tie them backwards! He can learn from you!”
I showed him and then had him follow along. He got it quickly. He tied his other shoe by himself without hesitation. “Mom, I can tie my shoes!” and he bounced out the door to play.
My friend was in the midst of tearful joy and relief. That which had been so difficult and frustrating was changed in a moment…with good information, presented differently.
Each of our brains is wired a bit differently because each of us is a bit different. Rather than do without…if the information seems important to you or doesn’t make sense to you, seek out the same information presented differently. The view of the information that works best for you does exist.
Is there really any ‘backwards’? There is helpful to you and there is unhelpful to you…and a whole range in between. If you want different results in your life, perhaps good information presented differently can make all the difference. Shift your focus. Seek it out. Explore. It’s your life, your health, your struggle, your happiness, and your moments.
“What you focus on grows.” Of all the simple, direct, and life changing concepts Dr. Maria Hunt taught me…this one resonated so deeply, so easily, so effectively for me. Moving from hindering to helpful, stuck to free, same old, same old to authentically me is a real life changer.
A Beginner’s Mind
Years ago, after a long, tiring day of yard work, packing, and final visits with neighbors I sprawled out on the living room floor to catch a few hours of much needed sleep. After a few minutes I became aware that my autopilot brain was narrating “I’m cold…gosh, it’s cold in here…why is it so cold in here…it wasn’t cold outside today…how can it be cold in here?”
In my state of exhaustion I felt no energy to get up, turn on the furnace, or walk through the cold night air. Then I suddenly remembered ‘what I focus on grows’…I must be focused on ‘cold’ because I just heard that word numerous times in my thoughts.
I smiled through my exhaustion at the realization that I had all the tools within me to change my focus, thereby changing my outcome. I wouldn’t have to get up or even move! This was an exciting moment.
I ran my thoughts through a logical cycle. What I focus on grows. I’m focused on cold. What do I want? I want to be warm. I scanned my body to find the seeds of warmth…and located two small bits of warmth, my upper arm and my thigh, both snug on the floor with trapped body heat.
I focused on those spots, attentive to the sensation of that warmth, thinking of word pictures to grow that warmth. “I love warmth…this warmth feels like sunshine….thank you Lord for this warmth….”
It took all of about 30 seconds for the warmth to spread throughout my entire body and I dropped off to sleep instantly…without having to get up, turn the furnace on, or add another blanket.
A Simple Practice Evolves
Later, after moving further north, a bitter cold winter arrived. I had many, many, many moments to practice focusing on warmth to cut the chill from my body. I practiced so much that I achieved warmth in about 5 seconds without otherwise disrupting my current being and doing. My practice had evolved to key words and a focus on the warmth of my exhaling breath.
Recently I was in a restaurant, sleeveless, with the air conditioning blowing on me. I had a slight, yet, not uncomfortable chill. I suddenly experienced two things I had not done in years…drinking a slushy margarita and getting brain freeze.
In that split second when brain freeze hit, my brain suddenly blurted forth ‘warm, warm, warm, warm, warm, warm, warm’ and immediately both the brain freeze and the chill on my arms left me. Just like that. I didn’t even have to locate any warmth to focus on it, the word ‘warm’ came rushing forth repetitively from my brain, and poof, warm appeared, brain freeze and chill disappeared!
I laughed out loud in that moment at the realization that my practice had evolved into my autopilotreaction – my automatic way of being and doing! We are amazing creatures, people! We already have within us all the tools we need to live our best life…what you focus on grows…what are you growing?
P.S. If you can’t find warmth, you can use your body to create warmth to focus on….rub your palms together quickly…instant heat…hold it , focus on it and watch it grow! My cousin tells me this also works for cooling yourself if you are already too warm.
Mindfulness has helped me see that sometimes we look too hard and too directly for that which we seek…and often don’t find.
I had always believed it was most efficient to go directly to what I wanted, to seek exactly what I wanted, to identify what I wanted and look for exactly that.
In my early 20’s I moved to an area with lots of deer. I enjoyed spotting them as we drove past field after field, yet it seemed that everyone else could spot them faster than me. I wanted to spot deer faster, before the field and backdrop trees was blocked from view by a stand of evergreens…and then we were suddenly in front of another field…and I had to start looking all over again.
No one could tell me how they found deer so fast. Finally one kindly older gentleman told me, “It’s simple. Nature is generally vertical. Man-made and animal are generally horizontal. Scan the vertical to notice the horizontal.”
Huh??? OK. I turned my head and scanned a field. Boom. There was a deer. Just like that. I scanned another field. Wow. Another and another!
And all this time I thought that I had to look for deer quickly to find deer quickly .
Scan and notice helps us look efficiently and effectively rather than looking too hard or focusing too narrowly. With scan and notice we can see without looking.
Scan and notice illuminates many more options and opportunities than just the one thing we thought we were looking for…even something better!
Sometimes we are using our expectations, assumptions, or pre-conceived ideas of what that one thing would look like, act like, or be like…so much so that we don’t recognize it when it comes into our view…because it doesn’t fit our idea of what we want…yet, there it is…and we pass on by…still looking.
A skill that we develop as infants, scan and notice is still present within you. If you haven’t used it in a while, it may be dusty or even a bit rusty. That’s ok. It’ll still work. Take it out and dust it off.
Still looking for that diet or exercise that you can live with rather than struggle through? Still looking for that perfect relationship? Whatever you are looking for, scan and notice is available to you anytime, anywhere, to help you with anything, and everything that matters to you.
The more we use our scan and notice skills the more practiced we become and the more that scan and notice becomes second nature to us…part of our autopilot ways of being and doing.
Are you familiar with the game I Spy?While Scholastic® held a trademark for the printed puzzle, the children in our neighborhood created a version that didn’t require a subscription to their popular magazine.
Like most games, we learned and created the rules on the fly, adding features and nuances fed by pure curiosity. Reconstructing the guidelines we used then, I would portray the process like this:
Observe something in the environment that you believe is concealed or hidden. Proclaim the object of your focus and see how long it takes your comrades to detect (and build on) what you describe.
Our descriptions were concrete, like “I spy a squirrel eating pecans and leaving a pile of shells at his feet,” or “I spy someone whistling back and forth to a bird in the tree.” The person with the greatest WOW factor won, which seemed to be linked to becoming aware of something novel, fun or awesomethat was right before our eyes… yet not perceived.
I bring the game up now because, to my surprise, I caught myself playing it this morning! I heard a youthful inner voice start an I spy exercise… after decades of disuse. The activity seemed natural, as familiar as new, and it made me smile. I recognized the roles I assumed, The Observer and The Searcher, as they involved and tested each other. I also recognized a new twist as the descriptors nudged me to a new level of awareness.
My Observer said, “I spy BEAUTYin this dark brown bridge that spans this partially frozen creek as framed against this blue-and-white streaked sky.” My Searcher knewthe accuracy of the description even as it was spoken and was filled with gratitude… for my childhood game, for the ability to feel moved by BEAUTY, and for the GOODNESS in the hearts and souls of Boulder Colorado citizens who know the importance of funding practical and beautiful pathways.
In 2016, I plan to resurrect the I Spy childhood game as an intentional MeWe mindfulness practice. I welcome you to join me.
Our lab came into existence in 2007 thanks to a generous grant from the Menorah Legacy Foundation of Kansas City. Since that time, we’ve been busy searching for the active ingredients in both Eastern and Western approaches to mindfulness practices, thanks to additional grants from the George H. Nettleton Foundation and the Missouri Medical Association Alliance.
A Brief History
2007-2008: Menorah Legacy Foundation of Kansas City funded construction of The Mindfulness Room in Foyle Hall on the Avila University campus. In the fall, psychologist Delany Dean developed an 8-week Mindfulness-based Wellness course that married Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with health practices, a course taken by 34 Avila employees and graduate and undergraduate students. When MBSR-trained Dr. Dean left the university in the Spring, Maria Hunt began the search for “the active ingredients” in MBSR while adding empirically-based positive psychology practices. Twenty-four Avila employees and students completed the 1.2 version of the Mindful Wellness course. Lab members consisted of Avila University faculty and staff: Dave Armstrong, Martha Blackman, Amy Bucher, Delany Dean, Carol Frevert, Maria Hunt, and Lindee Peterson-Wilson.
2008-2009: With continued funding from the Menorah Legacy Foundation, the Mindful Wellness course was brought to an independent-living community of 15 senior adults 10 residents and staff in an assisted-living facility. The course was also taught at Turning Point to roughly 60 individuals who lived with or took care of someone with chronic illness or a significant medical condition. Lab members included Avila alumni and members of the Kansas City community: Regina Adams, Nancy Bean, Jeanette Brockman, Shirlene Hess, Joann Hinnerichs, Mariko Prigel, Yulonda Swanson-Moten, and Deb Wood-Fowler.
2009-2010: With final funding from the Menorah Legacy Foundation, the course was redesigned and taught to a group of 94 high school students enrolled in a Freshman Seminar in the inner city. The 2008-2009 year’s lab members were the first group of mindfulness instructors to be certified.
2010-2011: This was a building year with internal funding from Avila University, who freed Maria Hunt’s time to establish a biometric lab that could measure variables such as heart rate variability. Lab members included Avila undergraduate students Anthony Kinnard and graduate students Jason Pan and Samira Zaman. The second group of mindfulness instructors graduated! The course was taught to an additional 14 Avila employees and students.
2011-2012: With new biometric equipment provided thanks to a grant from the George H. Nettleton Foundation, a Focus & Fitness 55+ (i.e., mindfulness and physical exercise) course was designed and taught to a group of 103 sedentary and low-income adults aged 55 and older. Lab members included undergraduate student, Elise Cretel, and graduate students Linda Deese and Lesli Hill. Alumna and new Mindfulness Instructor, Samira Zaman served as Lab Director.
2012-2013: This was another building year as Avila University freed Maria Hunt’s time to investigate whether we might develop a course that we could market in the corporate world. An LLC, Momentivity, was born as the lab developed and assessed the efficacy of an on-site and online version. Lab members included undergraduates Elise Cretel and Shawnalee Criss and graduate students, Lesli Hill, Julie Romano, Robin Todd, and Maria Wright. The course was taught to a group of 24 members of the Kansas City community. Lesli Hill became a Mindfulness Instructor and developed a special version of the course for women with chronic pelvic pain as part of her Master’s Thesis.
Avila-Trained Mindful Wellness Instructors
Regina Adams, MEd
Dave Armstrong, MA
Mary Bartnik, LPC
Nancy Bean, LCSW
Jeannette Brockman, MBA
Kevin Burns, CPT
Shirlene Hess, LPC
Lesli Hill, MS
Joann Hinnerichs, DC
Ralph Hunt, MD
Nyakio Kaniu, LPC
Jason Pan, LPC
Mariko Prigel, LPC
Linda Robinson, CPT
Yulonda Swanson-Moten, MFT
Robin Todd, MS
Rachel Willoughby, LPC
Deb Wood-Fowler, CPT
Maria Wright, LPC
Susan Wulff, LPC
Samira Zaman, LPC
Publications and Presentations:
Hunt, M., Bowlin, S., Zaman, S., Patel, J., & Bassett, S. (2013, March). Heart Health of low-income older adults in a mindfulness and physical health intervention. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, Miami, FL.
Hunt, M., Pressman, S., Khan, C. & Burks, L. (2012, May). Limited evidence of a mindfulness intervention affecting anxiety in a population of high-risk, low SES adolescents. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, Chicago, IL.
Hunt, M. (2011, April). Mindful wellness. Paper session presented atthe annual meeting of the Missouri Medical Association in Kansas City, MO.
Hunt, M. (2010, August). The effects of integrating mindfulness training into a first year seminar for high school students. Postersession presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago IL.
Hunt, M. (2009, June). The effects of mindfulness interventions on well-being and personal goals. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the World Congress of Positive Psychology, Philadelphia, PA.
Dean, D., Butterbaugh, I., & Hunt, M. (2008, August). Mindfulness-based wellness: A pilot program on a university campus. Postersession presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, IL.
Well… And sigh. I think I may finally see (and truly feel) that I cannot fool the laws of physics, myself, or any interaction between body and mind. I mean I know this. It has been my passion and my study. Yet somehow I felt I could skip the “taking care of myself” part and get right to “helping others” and this neglect move right through unnoticed.
I don’t need any more lessons in this nature. My body and mind are screaming for some attention and what seems so obvious now has been just something I “got through” on a daily basis so I could do what I needed “to get done” all the while thinking I was somehow rising above self care.
Well…and sigh. I am not sure any one can convince us to “take care of ourselves” until the idea awakens within. I mean, I was not even sure what that meant or how to do it and how to know if it was right.
And then this morning it sort of emerged…at least on this level – and I’m going to trust it, that is trust myself. So I may not get as much “done” for a little while in order to find this balance.
But the good thing… Is that I’m going honor a self I have ignored. And what is truly AWESOME is that at any given moment we can choose to move another way – nothing lost, just insight gained.
I recently returned from a trip to Taiwan where I taught AAA-Mindfulness at an International “Focus on Theory and Practice Exchange” workshop sponsored by National Taipei University School of Nursing and Health Sciences. The following is an email that I received from one of the participants, a counseling student completing her internship. She knew I was interested in hiking and gave me permission to publish it on my Web site.
Thank you for the lovely comment you posted on my LinkedIn profile. Seriously I looked at it several times this week, especially when I felt frustrated at work. And of course reminding myself of my aim is VERY useful.
I’d like to share with you a picture of me in a hiking trail last weekend. The very end of the trail is covered by asian perennial grass. As you can see in the picture it can grow so tall that the trail is hardly seen. I remembered myself feeling really annoyed by it and complained to my husband of it. Then I thought of mindfulness and tried to accept the current situation. I paid attention only to my steps and found this tall and strong grass was actually very helpful. I grabbed it behind me while going down the trail to keep the balance. The situation became easier and at the end I found myself in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.
This was an amazing experience I wanted to share with you.
My two year old daughter, Stella, just saw something she didn’t like on the Disney Channel and said “It scares my eyes.”
I find that so fascinating but it reminds me of the AAA approach to mindfulness. If we could be as aware as kids. So simple and pure. Such a direct connection between the absorption of the stimuli and the experience of it…
Have you ever noticed how “We” is a mirror reflection of “Me”? I involuntarily gasped when psychologist, Rick Snyder, first introduced the concept. It was on one of his PowerPoint slides at an undergraduate psychology conference in Kansas City in 2007: Me and We reflected to each other in a pool of water. Though I had never seen or thought about it before, I instinctively knew that it told the story behind three psychological truths:
Me and We are distinct, yet inseparable.
Me and We impact each other… positively, negatively, neutrally or, most likely, some combination of the three.
Me and We contribute to personal and global well-being when we are aware of our essential selves and make choices about the impact we want to have… on ourselves and others.
I dedicate this blog to individuals who offer mindful contributions to personal and global well-being. My own blogs will focus on the many ways that psychological science can translate into healthy capacity-building action.
Let’s connect to encourage, nourish and support wise, strong and beautiful well-BEINGs everywhere on our planet!