Sharing the lessons along the way…

Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

With a smile and a nod…

Just Keep Smiling

In one brief snap shot of my morning, I had a fairly obtuse conversation about connecting with other human beings.

There was mention of being genuine, being real, being available, approachable and engaging others no matter where we are.  “All great leaders walked alongside the ones they were leading,” they said.

It is natural for me to engage others while standing in line at the grocery, walking around the campus at work or walking my dog, but what was suggested was that this could be taught.  Could it?  Can you teach someone how to be genuine and real?  Can you teach someone to be out there, available and engaging?

In spare moments throughout the day, I heard the questions echo in my mind.  What really goes into a real connection with another human?  For me it starts with the genuine concern and interest in others, so I wasn’t clear exactly how to teach that sort of thing.  So I tried to break it down further.

More often than not for me, initial connections with other humans involve eye contact and a smile.  Perhaps a nod, a hello, or a comment about something such as the weather will accompany them.  These are my in passing connections who I see as I am walking to or from one building or around the neighborhood.

What I notice is that these passing connections often open the door to a deeper level of connection that might involve introductions, a hand shake (still smiles and more eye contact) or directions to somewhere or to someone else.

I am mindful to never ask a question unless I actually have the time to hear the full response, so if I ask, I listen.  I am enough of an extrovert to do this and curious enough, by nature, to almost not be able to help myself.

Here is what I know for sure.  Communication skills can be taught.  Mindfulness can be taught.  We can present someone skillfully with information about a person that makes them seem more human and likable because of their story, which can sometimes initiate genuine concern or interest in what happens next in the story.

We can skillfully argue the “we are all human” card, and connected by that very fact, which might lead to an interest or genuine regard.  However, what if the story isn’t very great, doesn’t grab interest, or the story is deemed insignificant?  Does that mean that we are no longer connected to the human to whom the story belongs?  Does the capacity for empathy end when the story stops holding interest or feels threatening?

The connection doesn’t break for me there, as I am still genuinely interested in what happens next.  But can you teach that?  It seems the genuine interest and regard is the foundation of the connection with other humans—it is the key ingredient that makes the rest feel real to the other.  How can we teach someone to really care about another?   I feel confident we can, although the particulars are not clear (yet)!

It is Day Three of November’s writing challenge, so perhaps by the end of the month I might find a way!  In the meantime, feel free to chime in your thoughts on this stream of consciousness.






Be the Walk

Be the Walk

Each day starts with a walk with my dogs.  Many view this activity as a chore, but I see it more as an honor and a privilege to connect with my companions and teachers.  Yes, I do miss out on another 30-45 minutes of sleep, but I replace that sleep time with cardiovascular activity and just go to bed earlier to make up the difference.

It is hard to describe what happens when I walk my dogs.  It was a bit different with Duke and Amore than it is with Duke and Ruby.  Just the same, they are so happy to be out there walking that even if that is all that I could possibly explain about it that would be enough for me.

A syncing happens after the first block of sniffs and markings that far surpasses any amount of presence I have ever experienced.  It is as if both dogs are moving in sync as a pack, along with their pack leader.  Sometimes it feels like we are all in the zone together with the only goal being that we are moving forward as a unit.

While we are all hyper-aware of our environment during this sync experience, we are also able to communicate almost telepathically.  I move this way or that way, and my pack moves seamlessly with me at my left side.  We are as aware of each other as we are the world around us, but we are so present in our moments and in our movement that nothing else matters.  We are walking side by side by side all the way (walker allowing us to move faster).

This morning I saw the opposite of what I experience on a dog walk.  Two medium to large sized white dogs were pulling her as if she were on an Iditarod sled—they were the length of her extended arms out on their six foot lead, and it was no surprise that they behaved quite badly with each other as we passed on the other side of the street.  It looked like chaos, sounded like chaos, and felt like chaos, despite the order that my pack had and maintained as we moved in the opposite direction.

I thought about the difference between my walk and hers this morning.  My day started with a presence of mind, with a sense of total connection with my pack, and hers had to have been starting with chaos from the obvious disconnect.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she viewed the walk as a chore and whether or not that played a part in the experience for her.  I also couldn’t help but think about the extreme differences in terms of how our respective days might play out.

How I am and how the dog walk goes in my morning very much reflects my state of mind.  If I am grounded and appreciating the experience, then my mind is clear and I am in the walk.  If not, then I am frustrated that one dog is going one way and the other another and there is no sync.  It is usually indicative of my thoughts doing just what they are doing, and my lack of presence.

It is just an interesting thing to note and another reason to appreciate just how grounding and centering my dogs are in my world.  I have the opportunity to re-center and return to the present every morning before I leave my house because of walking my dogs.  I may or may not choose to, but I certainly have the opportunity to self-correct (or have a chaotic walk and chaotic day).

How do you start your day? Is it chaotic from alarm to shower to car?

Down and Dirty Truth?


The concept of mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in the last decade in both professional, spiritual, and self-help verbiage.  I am not sure whether it has become overused as a concept, but I feel certain it is not used enough in our day-to-day lives.  I don’t mean the word itself.  I mean the practice of it.  Our lives are too busy and we feel too hurried most of the time.

The way I see it, mindfulness is a combination of skill sets.  There are a variety of skills (for lack of another word) necessary to practice it, and most of those we have heard of, but find ourselves struggling with in our quest for genuine mindfulness.

One of the first things required is personal awareness.  This means that we have awareness of our hopes, our fears, our triggers, our thought patterns, our feelings, our bodies, our needs, our limitations and whatever else that makes us an individual.

While many of us think we are fully aware of these things, we often don’t take into account those programmed behavioral patterns and defense mechanisms that automatically create a reaction in response to them.  These triggers trip us up, cause conflict with others, create defensiveness and generate all around ick in our lives.  We create these dramas repeatedly because we don’t fully believe we are creating them or contributing to them.

Until we can have enough awareness and enough honesty with ourselves (dropping our defensiveness and denial that we are indeed humans that are imperfect), we aren’t going to be able to see these dramas unfold as part of our pattern of relating.  Instead, we perpetuate the dramas over and over again.

I watch myself create and take part in others’ dramas the most when I am not taking care of my basic needs of self-care.  Chronic, progressive illness aside, we are all going to find ourselves doing this at home, at work, at the grocery store, in the parking lot, etc. if we aren’t taking care of those needs.

In addition to down and dirty honesty with ourselves and awareness of our patterns, we aren’t likely to have mindfulness.  We also aren’t likely to respond and not react either, which definitely requires some degree of mindfulness.

If you look up definitions of mindfulness, you will find a variety of different versions of the same basic concept (in addition to hundreds of pages of people advertising they can teach you how for a fee).  Mindfulness is being aware, accepting, and non-judgmental about what we are seeing about ourselves.  It is being aware of what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing in our bodies, in our environments and everywhere.

I often feel the potential for reacting on a physical level first before I even realize there was a trigger.  Viscerally, I feel nauseated, tearful and angry at the same time, and know that something is definitely not ok with the interaction or environment I am experiencing.  I stop to search my memories for things that might be similar to see if it is my stuff or not first, so that I know better whether I am triggered and reacting to an experience or if it truly is something going on right now.

When we practice mindfulness, we are not reacting to the past.  We might be triggered in the present moment to react, but we stop short of that and mindfully process our experience so that we can respond in a thoughtful and considerate way that is actually appropriate to the situation at hand.  Because mindfulness is a practice, we are practicing it so that we can get better at it.

See Where You Look

look when you see

Thrilled to have my permission to climb the stairs to see his friend, he pranced upward.  After getting some love there, he looked through the railings down to meet my gaze.  His tail wagged and he danced around a bit more.  After a few more pets from his human friend, he looked at me once more as if asking me what he should do now.

I gave him a smile (how could I not) and a nod.  With those, he pranced his way back down the stairs and ran around the courtyard back to me.  When he got to me, he jumped up, kissed my face and stood there in front of me wagging his entire behind.

It was quite a little show from this nearly 13-year-old therapy dog.  He wasn’t slowed down by his arthritis and seemed to be as happy as he could be.  The laughing and smiling by his small audience seemed to match.

When given an opportunity to be in a contained space, and off leash, Duke goes where he is needed.  He seems to know who needs him the most and spends most of his time with them.  He seems to know just how to distribute his attention so that everyone who needs a little lift, feels his genuine excitement to see them again.

After three years of watching how Duke does what he does at the Homeless Emergency Project, I almost feel like I have gained a new sense of others.  He is teaching me how to tune into postures and the more subtle nonverbal cues.  It is fascinating really.

I didn’t quite realize he was teaching me this until today.  Well, I guess I didn’t realize I was learning it until today.

I knew I was learning more about his postures and body language, as he and I have gotten better at communicating silently as a result of our work together.  I guess it is a natural progression that I would also be tuning into what he is tuning into in the process as well.

What an amazing opportunity this is for me to better develop this awareness while I still have my favorite teacher around.

My dogs have helped me to have a better level of mindfulness than anything else ever has.  It seems that I can do even better with the help of my Buddha dog.

buddha dog

Tawny’s Gratitude Tree

Tawny's gratitude tree

A few days ago, I got this idea in my head that I wanted to make a Gratitude Tree.  I haven’t quite figured out the particulars, but I spent a great deal of time thinking of things and people I am grateful for that would go on my tree.

I imagine myself in my mind’s eye using a black Sharpie marker to write down what it is on the back of a colorful looking ornament.  I only really see the back of the one-dimensional ornament—where I am writing.

The idea has actually spiraled so out of control in my head, that all I can think about are lists of things and people for which I am grateful.  As I go through my day, I am imagining writing with my Sharpie the people in front of me, and hanging it on the tree.

I think I am going to need a mighty big tree.

I got the idea from a Christmas tree, of course, but the ornaments would signify the something’s or someone’s.  I imagine it to be one of the mightiest of pines in the forest.

The more I have thought about it, the bigger the tree has grown in my mind’s eye.  After day three, the top of the branches are reaching the clouds in the sky.  I am on a tall ladder hanging the ornaments.

Since having my idea, I have noticed a shift in my perception of my world.  It seems that the blue filter has been lifted.  I am too busy going through my days picking out ornaments for my tree.

I knew I was grateful before this unintentional exercise in mindfulness.  I knew that I had many blessings to count.  I didn’t know that it would be a challenge to count them because they are constantly being added into my world.

Because of the drastic shift in such a short period, I am going to continue to play around with this idea.  Perhaps I will really create a Gratitude Tree, or maybe I will suggest it to others to simply imagine.

Wednesday Presence

These shots epitomize being present to me.  Amore needed a spot to lay, and he found one.  It just happened to be on top of Duke.

These shots epitomize being present to me. Amore needed a spot to lay, and he found one. It just happened to be on top of Duke.

About half-way through my productive morning yesterday, I had a thought.

It is amazing how productive I can be when I am actually operating in the day of the week it actually is.  I was in the moment, completing tasks that needed to be completed for Tuesday.

Not for Wednesday, not for next Tuesday, but for Tuesday.  I wasn’t concerned about whether I would get it all done.  I was just doing one thing after another that I knew needed to get done.

I marveled about it for a few minutes before getting back to business, but wanted to share it with you.

In all the posts I have written about being present, and in all the times in my life when I have been able to do it consistently, I am not sure it ever occurred to me.

Perhaps I was too busy getting things done and enjoying the moments to notice the difference.  Surgery recovery certainly got me out of the practice of so many things.

It only takes a few months of being in a mindset outside of what is now, to appreciate being in the moment that much more.

In those moments or hours I have spent fretting over how I would get X or Y done, I could have been getting several somethings done.

Well, that doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it?  It is very simple.  If you need to get something done, then you figure out how to do it when it needs done.

How did you do on your Tuesday?  Will you join me in experiencing Wednesday as a productive and present human?

Kitt O'Malley

Bipolar Writer and Mental Health Advocate


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