Meditation and the Monkey Mind

I (Barclay) downloaded an app called “Insight Timer” which offers 400,000 meditations.  Where to begin?

Then I noticed they had a course called “Learn How to Meditate in Seven Days” which sounded doable.

Day 1: The timer is set for 10 minutes.  A woman’s voice, slow and monotoned, tells me to breathe in through my nose and exhale through my mouth.  Feel your tummy rise with each inhale. After a bit, I peek at the timer.  7 minutes left. My phone says enough-of-this and beeps a reminder to put the laundry in the dryer – which I do.

Day 2:  The woman suggests we “explore the mind”.  Let your thoughts drift past, she says. Watch them but don’t attend to them.  Wait! What’s that? An ant scurrying for cover. If I don’t nab it, word will spread to other ants.  Good-bye Ant.  And good-bye morning meditation.

On Day 7  I mute the voice.

So there’s this thing called the Monkey Mind that Psychology Today suggests is our inner critic.

“It’s the part of your brain most connected to the ego, which contends that you can’t do anything right. It’s also the part of you that stifles creativity and prevents you from moving forward with your passions. The monkey mind insists on being heard, and sometimes it takes a lot of self-control to shut it down. It is also the part of your brain that becomes easily distracted, so if you want to get anything done in life, your challenge will be to shut down the monkey mind.”

For some of us, this is near impossible.  I think my mind is more elephantine than monkey.  My thoughts are constantly racing-what medicare  plan should I take when I turn 65, what should I make for dinner, what if my children never get married, will I have enough money if I live to 90!!-just to be clear-Joy chiming in here.

They say that to tame our monkey mind we need to practice ……..wait for it……mindfulness.  A buzz word that’s lived its full 15 minutes of fame.  (Wouldn’t you just love to coin the next buzz word or phrase that means exactly the same thing??)

But that said, we should give mindfulness its due especially in tackling a monkey mind that’s bent on hijacking our meditation.

Author, Marelisa Fabrega, offers practical suggestions at her website, Daring to Live Fully.)

Let your monkey mind “run amok” for 10 minutes a day, she says.  Journal your thoughts.  Then if the MM starts up again, you tell it,

“Your session for today is over. Wait until tomorrow’s session. I’ll listen to you then.” Soon, your monkey mind will realize that it’s completely futile to make a fuss at any time other than during your journaling sessions.

We should also question our MM.  When it raises a grievance, ask why it’s upset.  Counter your MM’s points using the ABC method.

Day 8:  I am breathing to the count of 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4.  I have the sound of a babbling brook on my phone.  My Monkey Mind tells me that I am late in paying a bill, but I ignore it.  5 minutes passes.  Victory.

Clearly, I won’t be hosting a seminar on meditation any time soon.

But hey, it’s a start!

Today’s Takeaway:

-Set apart time for daily reflection and meditation – whatever duration and practice is right for you.

-Let’s put some serious thought into inventing the next buzz word to replace “mindfulness”.  Just think of the best sellers we will write and the talk shows we will grace!!

Enjoy the ride!

Ommmmmm…..

xox Barclay and Joy

Forget the Treadmill – Take a Bubble Bath!

You’ve heard that exercise alleviates depression.  Well, it turns out that taking a hot bath works even better!

A new study found that taking a hot bath twice a week can significantly lift your mood – more so than exercise. It has to do with altering the body’s temperature and circadian rhythm. Plus a hot bath is more appealing for some folks than an arduous sweat-filled workout. (Acupuncture, massages, and hot showers by the way also release endorphins – as does laughter!  So maybe laughing your head off while soaking in a hot bath might be the medicine for chasing away the blues!)

You can also read in the tub and thereby escape the grasp of that incessant cell phone.  No cable news. No email. No political ads. Just you in sudsy bliss in the company of a great book.

And speaking of books, C.S. Lewis famously said, “We read to know we are not alone.”    Reading is an additional antidote for depression whose best friend is isolation.

What are Joy and I reading these days, you ask?

We highly recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. It’s light reading and it makes you smile, even chuckle. It’s on Reese Witherspoon’s list and may soon be a movie. That gives us the opportunity to envision who might play the characters we have come to know. It’s an account of growth and courage;  reinforcement that we are not alone. Reading a book such as this is like being invited into someone’s home you don’t know and hiding behind the curtains as they tell their story.

A word about book clubs… I (Joy) am finding that if I have to convince myself to read the book, perhaps I should come up with my own selection! On the other hand, book clubs force us to read something outside our usual genre.  If it’s a good discussion group, maybe a probing question or two might be raised and debated.

 

So run that bath, grab a book, pour a glass of vino, light a candle. Bubbles add another dimension to the overall experience.  Now that we know the heat of the bath is key, make sure it’s hot before you get in.  I hate tepid anything!  Turn on music.  Music soothes the soul and it puts us in the mood to relax. Think of it as water therapy.    Close your eyes and indulge.

Who had time for a bath pre retirement?!!

And in the immortal words of L’Oreal, “You’re worth it!”

Today’s Takeaway…

. Be open to exploring new ways to relieve stress, anxiety, depression. If all it takes is a dunk in a hot tub and the world’s problems melt away, why not?  What’s the worst that can happen?  Shriveled toes and fingers! No prescription needed!

Enjoy the ride!

xox Barclay & Joy

 

Check out The Great American Read for more bathtub books!

 

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Warding off Depression in Retirement

It can sneak up on you.  Especially if your self-image has centered around your career.  Especially if you don’t have an established routine. Especially if your mind has time on its hands.

You used to have that go-to identity.  I am a _____.   

Now when asked what you do, there’s a caveat.  I used to be a _______ .  Or   I am a retired-_________.

Then there’s the auspicious question,  So now that you’re retired, what do you do all day??

Self-doubt can creep in, especially after the euphoria passes.  And with that self-doubt, depression can make a surprise appearance.  You may feel that no one can relate.  After all, you are the lucky one.

It may be a case of expectations being derailed.  This is supposed to be the best time of your life.  The time you’ve saved for, planned for.  Upon its arrival, you’ve traveled, you’ve mastered the strudel recipe, you’ve taken the dancing class.  Now too much leisure coupled with too little structure leaves an emptiness not anticipated.

You are not alone.

According to the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, “The likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up by about 40% after retiring.”   Work-life has provided the ingredients to life satisfaction — social connections, a steady routine and a sense of purpose.   When work is taken away – even by design and desire, depression can ensue.

So what to do?

Investopedia cites 6 ways to overcome depression in retirement.

Staying in shape. Being social. Developing a schedule. Giving back.  And maybe hitting the classroom or finding part-time work.

The bottom line, they say, is to get a plan.

If the depression becomes too much to handle, this plan may involve medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both.  And that’s not something to be embarrassed about.

So be aware that an abundance of leisure has to be balanced with purpose and routine — a plan to be occupied mentally,  physically, and spiritually.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much time to worry as it does to plan.”

What’s my plan?

First, when I feel anxiety creeping in, I do SOMEthing productive and tangible — cleaning a bathroom, getting on the elliptical, taking Codie for a walk, calling a friend.  Then I make sure my calendar has a pre-planned activity each day — this, alongside exercise, Bible reading, the occasional book club, the strategic getaway – and usually depression/anxiety is held at bay .

When someone asks, “What do you do all day?”  I can say, “I’m enjoying my one an only life!”

Today’s Takeaway –

-Depression is sneaky.  And it’s the last thing you expect during this long awaited time of freedom from traditional work.  Don’t be surprised by its appearance.

– Seek help if needed.  You are not alone.

-Codie thinks that you should definitely get a pet – preferably, a golden retriever.  Codie is a therapist on the side.

Enjoy the ride!

xox Barclay and Joy

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Roots…it’s who we are

Joy’s tribute to her father, Ben.

Not to be outdone by my quirky, but lovable mother, Ben was a character unto himself. How I grew up halfway sane (debatable by some) is a miracle! Ben was the Jewish mother that Muriel was not.  He hovered, obsessed, worried enough for two, and was always fast forwarding his age.  He wasn’t ashamed of the actual number, but actually relished in telling everyone how old he was, that he had worked since the time he was 16 and that he would be retiring at 65.

His life was very different from that of Muriel, coming from an Orthodox Jewish family that spoke only Yiddish in the house, immigrants who had come from either Austria or Poland. No one’s quite sure and one census said one country, another a different one.  Regardless, you get the picture.  An upper west side Jew from Riverside Drive he was not! He was, however very handsome and had a great physique having lifted barbells in the house every morning over his head.They must have weighed 200 lbs, or at least that’s the way I remembered them. Jack LaLane was very popular at this time and the concept of regular exercise was new and not practiced by everyone.

Ben’s father Morris worked for Jack, Muriel’s father as a piece goods cutter.  My grandfather on my mother’s side had a clothing company and actually made uniforms for New York’s police as well.  In his day he was a businessman who provided his family with a comfortable lifestyle.  Morris having a playboy son (not married until almost 40!) and Muriel not being married at almost 34 saw a potential match and so the two were introduced to each other.  According to Muriel, she didn’t like him very much and thought he was very cocky.  Nevertheless, they did in fact fall in love and marry in 1948, a marriage that would be one of the good ones.  Mutual respect for each other, a quiet togetherness, enjoyment of each other’s company.  

My grandmother wanted grandchildren so after suggesting to my mother that she was selfish for not wanting to have them, Muriel succumbed to the idea.  What 1950’s wife didn’t want children? Highly unusual indeed!

Ben was a worry wart from the moment I was born.  He was always tightening the caps on medicine bottles certain I would take an overdose out of curiosity and die. He wouldn’t let me pet dogs and the thought of having one was totally out of the question. He watched me like a hawk and in later life was the worrisome parent who stayed up to make sure I got home safely, while my mother went to sleep oblivious to the hour I might return home. As I said, he was the Jewish mother I didn’t have.

The anxiety I later had in life, about literally everything came from papa.  If there was the slightest possibility that something could go wrong, I thought of it. If someone was late, they were most definitely hit by a car on their way home.  If I saw a spot on my arm, it was most likely cancerous, and my happy exterior belied a person filled with neuroses and idiosyncrasies.  I was raised in a state of constant worrying.  We are who we are because we are by products of the people that are closest to us.

My father would have benefited greatly from the drugs they have today, that have helped people live more balanced lives. I loved him dearly and miss him very much.  With all his nuttiness and crazy thoughts, he was strong and smart and always there to lean on. The confident, albeit neurotic woman I became was largely due to the warm nurturing upbringing he gave me.

We could all do with a little Lexapro!

 

Today’s Takeaway—

. We are the first role models our children have. Our behavior affects them greatly.

. Now that we have drugs which improve the quality of people’s lives, accept them.  Be it depression or anxiety, no one needs to live with the constant stress and tension of life the way they used to.  The labelling of these often crippling disorders can be lessened.  

 

Enjoy the ride!

xox, Barclay and Joy

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

I (Joy) can hear my mother’s voice utter the phrase above. She must have said it a million times. The words of someone’s mother when you are young and know more than they do, is meaningless. I now understand what she meant. It’s only taken me a lifetime to figure it out!

We can always look back, conjecture as to how something might have turned out differently.  We second guess ourselves, doubt our choices, hesitate to move forward beyond what’s comfortable.  We are creatures of habit and even though we might protest and complain, that is the way most of us like it.

Me, being a true Cancer, astrologically speaking, cling to life the way it has been.  I want to hold on to the special memories that made me smile, gave me pleasure, solace.

My father on the other hand was just the opposite.  He was a crepe hanger, a Dr. Doom before Nouriel Roubini! He was the chicken little the sky is falling to my mother’s passivity. He panicked and sold all his stocks the day President Kennedy was assassinated, saw the world on the verge of nuclear annihilation.  Truly, it is a wonder that I am halfway normal!

I am trying in this new chapter of life to not think “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” to not think disaster, but to take one day at a time.  I am not the person who embraces the unknown with open arms; I never will be. I hate roller coasters and am a dud at an amusement park. I am me and if it takes me a little longer to get the hang of this new state, that’s okay. There is no race, no time clock.  It’s getting your head and emotions to be on the same page and to accept, “Wow, I made it this far, now enjoy!”

Today’s Takeaway…

. Don’t dwell on things you have no control over.  It’s a waste of time. As my compadre Barclay says, move forward, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

. You indeed are a product of your upbringing, but can make changes to the person you are and have been until you breathe that last breath.  How wonderful is that!

Enjoy the ride!

x0x Barclay and Joy