Let’s Talk: Mindfulness

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11-12-13 mindfulness

Yesterday, I was on a track to have a very, very bad day. It was a Monday, which was already hard enough, but it was my first Monday at work while my boss is out of the country (meaning many of his responsibilities fall on me while he’s gone). I don’t mind the extra responsibility, but I have to say…it seems that every time my boss is in a halfway-around-the-world time zone, something (or many things) go wrong. Well, that was my Monday.

I had a situation on my hands that didn’t seem to have a solution. We needed 13,000 envelopes to mail a customer letter by the end of this week and, at most, we had 5,000 of our most-expensive-to-print envelopes on hand. It is not my responsibility to monitor how many envelopes we have or to order them when we run out, and here I was needing a lot of envelopes that we didn’t have. I was realized that this situation, which was wholly not my fault, was quickly becoming my problem and I was likely to be given the blame if the letter wasn’t out on deadline. If I really had to, I could contact my boss and explain the situation, but there wasn’t really anything he could do. It’s not like he was hoarding 13,000 envelopes over in Europe or something.

Then, something miraculous happened. I listened to some “hold” music while on the phone with one of our vendors.

It was some kind of steel drums Caribbean music, and for a moment, I allowed myself the chance to just breathe and listen. I wasn’t listening intently, but I decided to use these moments on the phone as a chance to collect my thoughts and mentally step away from my little cubicle in snow-covered northern Michigan.

I thought of the first time I traveled to Hawaii, and how entrancing it was to my fifth grade self. It was exotic, warm, lush, tropical…it was a tangible dream. The birds would wake us up every morning, the fruit was sweeter and fresher than anything I’d ever tasted, and the warmth soaked straight through to my bones. My brother and I would lay by the pool and sip chocolate smoothies that my parents bought for us when we got along with each other.

11-12-13 Key west

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From there, I mind-traveled to an equally impressionable place: Key West, Florida. Sam and I went there this past spring to visit our good friend Britni, and it was a mental cleanse for both of us. For a week we gorged on sunshine in the middle a cold, blustery winter up north.

The trip marked the halfway point to our wedding after being engaged, and Britni was kind enough to take some engagement photos for us on our trip. She took us all over the tiny island. We explored the canals in kayaks, rode bikes, body-surfed the waves, let our noses get sunburnt, and we read at the pool until we fell asleep. When the car rental place upgraded us (for free!) to a Cadillac 300 convertible, we drove the four hours to the Miami airport with the top down–even though it was 5 a.m., only about 45 degrees outside, and we were freezing the whole way there. It was one of those times we needed to fully embrace everything around us, and we don’t get free convertible upgrades every day.

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Then I thought about summer in northern Michigan, climbing the dunes and lounging near the water. Perhaps it’s because I robbed myself of a complete summer up here this past year because of a trip to Europe, a second job, renovating a house, and planning a wedding during those three precious months of magic in TC. I wouldn’t take back this summer for anything, but I wish I had felt the sunshine more than I did. So, I tried to imagine it from my little cubicle, still waiting on hold. 

Thinking of the summer made me think of my trip to Europe with my best friend Sarah. We explored Denmark and German with the help of our lovely Danish guide, Nanna, who took us all over and was the most fantastic host.

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I remembered how I felt arriving in Copenhagen, and feeling so truly engulfed by the city. I fell in love with Copenhagen. The streets, the parks, the buildings, the harbors…and the bikes. To see over half the city residents commute by bicycle every day, to see large bike lanes on every street, and even stoplights FOR BIKES…that is my heaven. I was totally captivated to see a culture work together and live so consciously, and to have it integrated into their lifestyle so seamlessly that it is abnormal to own a car. It inspired me more than any urban city I’ve ever visited.

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Nanna also took us to the small island of Fanø, where her family had a cottage. Talk about peace of mind! The beaches were long, the days were filled with sunshine, and the whole town was so quaint and quiet that my bones wanted to lay down and live there forever. Surrounded with two great friends and the ocean all around, my body and mind reset and I found a piece of myself there. 

Then the vendor came back on the line and saved my butt with a stash of 30,000 of our envelopes they had back in storage. I thanked them up and down and got back to work to finish what was left to do on the mailing. This time, though, I had a clearer sense of priorities and consequences, and my mind and heart felt less rushed.

I should explain that mindfulness isn’t the process of pretending to be a bunch of other places, but rather recognizing the moment you are in and trying to live it to the fullest. Obviously by mentally checking-out from reality and replaying memories in my head that soothed me isn’t the proper way to practice being mindful, but it did make it easier to come back to the present and start seeing things in a different light. If I couldn’t find these envelopes, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. I wouldn’t get fired, and people probably wouldn’t get that mad because everyone I work with is very understanding.

I was placing so much pressure on myself to succeed in a situation that was out of my control. Once I realized it was out of my control, it was a lot easier to accept and not stress out about it. I could calmly evaluate the scenario and see my options in front of me. If I could make something work, I would do everything in my power to make it work. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t let it bring me down for the rest of the day.

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If you’d like to practice mindfulness, here are a few tips I’ve found that work for me:

1. Take a few deep breaths with your eyes closed. Just take a second to clear your mind and clean your mental slate.

2. Mentally outline the situation in clear, simple terms. Tell yourself what you know, what you don’t know, what has happened, or what the problem is. Know your variables.

3. Understand what you can control, and what you can’t control. If something is out of your control, let it go. Mentally envision the problem leaving your brain: disappearing a poof of smoke, flying out on a paper airplane, detonated by a Bob-omb…whatever works. Remove variables that are no longer a factor in the equation because they don’t yield a solution.

4. Focus on what you can control, and figure out how to process these parts to help you get to where you want to be in the end. Once you know what you know and how you can work with the remaining pieces, do what you need to do in order to solve the parts of the puzzle that you can. You might not

5. Understand that no matter what the consequences are of a particular situation, it is highly unlikely that it will result in death (or something equally serious, if there is such a thing). Things happen, and that’s how it goes. Unless something can cause you physical pain or death, everything will pass in time. I’ve found I can make a big deal out of things that are so minuscule in the scheme of things; it’s practically an art form. The quicker I can tell myself to get over something and accept things the way they are, the quicker I reach the other side of my loathing and stress. That makes me–and hopefully you!–a happy person.

If you are having a hard time being happy, here is a picture of Sam being bit by a duck. It always makes me laugh!

11-12-13 sam and frankie

If you find it hard to jump right into these steps, do what I did and mentally transport yourself somewhere else for a few moments. Think of something that makes you undeniably happy, relive your favorite memory, or mentally revisit a place that you love. Visualize every detail that is stored up in your brain’s box of goodness until you can smell the fresh baked bread at your favorite bakery, see you dog’s smiling face, or feel the warmth of the summer sun on your skin. Sometimes the best way to face reality is to remind yourself how wonderful the world really is when it’s not blowing up in your face. After you remind yourself of all the great things you’ve experienced, remind yourself that this current moment is not the end of the world and it’s a bump you’ll soon get over.  

Do you have tricks or tips for facing bad days head-on? Share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you (and I’m sure others would, too!).

All photos taken by me, except the Key West photos were taken by Britni.

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