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  1. Inquiry: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

    March 10, 2019 by Diane

    Three weeks into the LIFE XT program. If you want to follow along from the beginning, start here.

    The first week, I meditated daily as instructed. Ditto for the second week. The third? Not so much. I skipped several days, choosing instead to nestle under the covers on those cold winter mornings.

    As instructed, I added exercise in the second week. Three sessions of aerobic, one session non-aerobic.

    The instructions for week three are:

    Question one stressful thought each day immediately before or after meditation.

    This is called “Inquiry.” The idea is to evaluate whether there’s any truth to the stressful thought, become aware of how crummy that thought makes your feel, and consider replacing it with a healthier thought.

    Since I had already mastered dysfunctional thinking, this week would be a breeze.

    Or so I thought.

    On my afternoon aerobic walk, I became aware of a voice in my head calling me stupid. And not just stupid. It called me stupid-stupid. Which is stupidity, doubled.

    What’s that all about?

    Ah, yes. The missing paragraph.

    In my last post, some editorial wackiness deleted a paragraph about The Sweet Shop (which is now intact, so feel free to zip over and read it). Therefore, my reference to The Sweet Shop made zero sense. At least, that’s what I believed. Further, I believed that anyone reading the post with the missing paragraph would think: What’s the deal with The Sweet Shop? It makes no sense. And probably go to sleep dwelling on the stupidity of that blog post and my writing abilities in general.

    Stressful thought.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    Is the thought true?


    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I lose five inches of height.

    What would you be without the thought?


    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    Nobody noticed.

    Nobody noticed!

    Which, upon further reflection, could qualify as a stressful thought, if nobody noticed because nobody follows my blog. But I chose not to go there, tempting as it may have been.

    As the week progressed, I became aware of other stressful thoughts.

    I’m overwhelmed!

    I don’t have enough time!

    I can’t get everything done I want to get done, and I don’t even know what I want to get done!

    And so on, circling around to some variation of:

    I’m a failure.

    Which, I know, isn’t true. But isn’t it interesting, the tricks the mind plays on us?

    And why is that? Can’t the mind think of better ways to keep us on our toes? Like, with riddles? I’d much rather inquire about why the chicken crossed the road than whether there’s any validity to the thought that I’m overwhelmed. Which, by the way, is true. I am overwhelmed.

    I ran it through the Inquiry process:

    What happens when you believe that thought?

    I feel more overwhelmed.

    What would you be without the thought?

    Less overwhelmed?

    What healthier thought could you think instead?

    I have the choice of how to spend my time.

    I could spend it like a tornado, accomplishing as many things on my to-do list as possible in one hour and then rewarding myself with a period of relaxation. Or I could spend it de-cluttering my physical and mental space so I had a better idea of what needed doing, and whether or not I wanted to do it in the first place. I could sit on the beach gazing at the ocean for hours and feel how time is endless (even though it’s far too cold to sit outside anywhere). Or I could set a deadline to complete ONE THING, then do that ONE THING to the best of my ability and consider it DONE.

    That was the key. Getting to DONE. Because my perfectionism wouldn’t allow me to let go.

    Another stressful thought.

    Those pesky thoughts kept popping up, like that game, Whac-A-Mole, where a mole pops up randomly from a hole and you whack it with a mallet.

    By the end of the week, I was using the Inquiry process to inquire about Inquiry, which made my head pulse. Yes, it’s useful to question my dysfunctional thoughts, view them through another lens and release them. But it’s also useful to remind myself that the reason I’m having stressful thoughts is because I’m stressed. It’s a symptom of being out of balance. The weather is cold, the wind is blowing, I have many tasks I’m paid to accomplish at work, I have many projects I wish to accomplish at home. These things unsettle my constitution. I need to resettle. Get to bed earlier. Wear a hat, scarf and gloves when walking in the cold. Eat warm, soothing foods. Be diligent in meditating. Massage my feet and palms with warm oil before sleep. Allow myself time to do nothing every day. These things bring my body and mind back into balance.

    And those stressful thoughts? As long as I’m aware of becoming unbalanced, and make corrections, those thoughts won’t need to pop up to alert me to the fact, like some random mole in a Japanese arcade game.

  2. Exercise: Movement on Meth

    March 3, 2019 by Diane

    Having survived week one of the LIFE XT program, I was eager to embark on week two. Given that I have the attention span of a gnat, and hadn’t yet thrown in the towel on the whole program, I considered myself successful. If you missed my account of week one, you’ll find it here. And you’ll find my review of the book this program is based on here.

    The instructions for week two are:

    Exercise aerobically three times a week for at least thirty minutes and do one nonaerobic workout.

    Nonaerobic? Piece of cake. I can recline in front of the television like an expert.

    It was the aerobic part that had me worried.

    My idea of a cardio workout is a panic attack. Nothing gets the heart pumping faster than a jolt of adrenaline.

    But panic was not forthcoming, so I needed to pursue other options.

    Other options? Hmm.

    I don’t belong to a gym. When I did belong to a gym, my routine consisted of sitting on an exercise apparatus, towel slung around my neck so it appeared sweat was involved. Nobody noticed I wasn’t actually moving, because they were preoccupied with their own workouts and their reflections in the mirror. I proceeded to sit in this manner until I had parked myself on every apparatus. Then I showered.

    I don’t jog. I’m more of plodder. Not a plodder in the sense of an old grey mare. More like: let’s take a lovely stroll through nature, preferably with a good book.

    I don’t ride a bike. The seats are too hard for someone who, according to my physical therapist, has no ass. Plus, they’re infinitesimal. Finding a perch is nearly impossible.

    But…I do swim.

    For several years, I swam in an outdoor pool with a buddy. My approach to swimming was similar to my approach to working out at a gym. As my buddy swam toward me, I passed him, immediately turned around, and passed him again. He was astounded at how quickly I navigated from end to end. I also wore flippers.

    But it’s winter, and, like…chilly. So, swimming was out.

    Which left brisk walking. Maybe a combination walk/sprint.

    On your mark, get set…

    Monday morning, after fueling up on crackers and peanut butter and a banana (because I’m also a grazer), I set off on my first aerobic workout. The only problem: a shin splint in my right leg. Which bumped me down from plodder to hobbler. Did that deter me? Nay. I plodded briskly, broke into a trot, backed it down to a plod, up to a gallop (maybe old grey mare isn’t that far off), and attempted to jog on the balls of my feet which I’ve seen other joggers do, until my calf seized up and I was back to hobbling. Did that deter me? Neigh! I proceeded in this fashion until a mile down, when I arrived at The Sweet Shop.

    Picture a quaint shop that offers coffee, pastries, and bins and bins of candy. I had the brilliant idea that I could barge into The Sweet Shop, eat fistfuls of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, M&Ms, Gummy Bears and Skittles, down a blueberry muffin, chug a gallon of espresso, and consider it an aerobic workout. Because barring a panic attack, nothing gets the ticker revved up like huge quantities of sugar and caffeine.

    But the Sweet Shop was closed.

    On I hobbled/cantered until I had completed two miles, returned home, and earned the right to graze on dates stuffed with peanut butter. (If you haven’t tried this deliciousness, I urge you to run, not plod, to the nearest store that sells whole pitted dates, grab a jar of peanut butter and a knife, and indulge.)

    My second aerobic workout was an indoor affair as the day brewed windy and cold for California, meaning: non-shorts weather. I considered tap dancing in the garage on a sheet of plywood, but submitting my joints, not to mention my shins, through heavy pounding on what amounted to plywood on concrete didn’t seem wise. So I opted for a cardio workout of pushups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, planks, jumping jacks, and a dozen of those movements where you drop to your hands, kick your legs out, kick them back in, and shoot upright with an energetic hop. Not easy to do when you live in a cottage the size of a cat box. I was only able to endure what I call Movement on Meth because at the same time I was watching the all-stars battle it out on Jeopardy. Note: do not attempt this without proper preparation and ability. Those all-stars are pros.

    For my third aerobic workout, I prepared for the rain. I suited up with a salmon-colored rain jacket (what was I thinking when I bought it?) boots and rain pants, the lining which had melted into hard blobs when I threw them in the dryer. With umbrella in hand, I proceeded at a brisk pace in the direction of the library.

    Suffice it to say, I did more browsing of the New Books section than anything resembling an aerobic workout. But I did come home with a five-DVD set of a Canadian television show so I’d be ready for my nonaerobic workout.

    Which, by the way, I aced.

  3. Meditation: Easier Said than Done

    February 24, 2019 by Diane

    As I mentioned in my previous post (go ahead, read it, I’ll wait), I’m a self-improvement junkie. So naturally, after reading Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing, I eagerly embarked on week one of the LIFE XT Program as described in the book.

    The instructions for the week are:

    Step 1. Complete the LIFE XT Assessment. Review your dashboard results.

    Assessment? Dashboard? I couldn’t find either, so I mentally assessed my current state of wellbeing.

    On a scale of one-to-ten, I hovered around a seven. Not bad. The sun was out. That was worth two points right there.

    I pinned that starting point to my mental dashboard.

    Step 2. Add Meditation. Begin practicing breath-centered meditation for ten minutes per day.

    I set my timer for 20, pulled out my meditation bench and tucked my legs beneath the seat.

    Allow me to pay tribute to my meditation bench. It’s a smooth, pinewood chunk of wood with folding legs, shaped and sanded by Dave. Who is Dave? Dave is the most unselfish, loving, funny, wise, and exasperating man I have ever had the good fortune to latch onto; a sort of non-family member of my family. This unselfish, wise and loving man wrote a message on yellow legal paper and taped it to the underside of the meditation bench which reads:

    For: Peace of Mind,
    Body, and Spirit

    And below that, he drew a heart.

    When he gifted me the bench, he said he planned to carve the message, and the heart, in that very spot.

    That was 20 years ago.

    It really is the thought that counts.

    So, on the first day of the LIFE XT program* as I sat to meditate, my mind dwelled on that scrap of legal paper, and meandered to See’s candies, airplanes, Dale Carnegie, and the smell of the feet of 100 second-graders. And what was it I needed in the garage?

    I considered it a successful meditation, in that I didn’t immediately untuck my legs and scramble upright to root around in the garage.**

    I’ll spare you my mental ramblings over the remaining six days of meditating. Suffice it to say, science proves we have 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day; I used my quota in 20 minutes of meditating.

    But at least I was aware of the mental chatter. That’s the first step.

    Things to ponder:

    Did our ancestors have 60,000 thoughts a day? Or have the numbers climbed astronomically because of all the mental stimulation we encounter?

    Did cavemen have 60,000 thoughts a day? Or did they have one thought, 60,000 times? (Grunt, grunt, grunt…)

    There’s a Buddhist term, “monkey mind,” which describes how the mind swings from thought to thought. My mind is more like a locomotive, barreling past candy stores and second-grade classrooms, through airports and over the grave of Dale Carnegie. I need to apply the brakes, slow my mind doooooown, and observe the images drifting by. This I accomplished over the week, after much mental arm-wrestling with the conductor of my mind.

    We did, however, make a pit-stop to thoroughly ponder my new bathroom floor. My landlady hired two guys from Home Depot to rip out the carpet and replace it with material that looks like hardwood, but is really something quite different. Now when I step into the bathroom, my shoes make clicking noises on the floor which I find extremely satisfying (I also enjoy clicking my ballpoint pen during staff meetings, which my co-workers do not find at all satisfying). While meditating, I had the urge to dig out my tap shoes and dance on this unmarred surface, making it look less like faux hardwood and more like real scuff marks, which, come to think of it, would be a visual representation of my mind during a not-so-successful meditation.

    *I’m only blogging about this because one of my followers suggested it. So if you don’t want to read about my nutty progress through the LIFE XT program, you can visit her at mydangblog and tell her to let me off the hook. I suggest you do this posthaste.

    **I’m reading the book Writing Without Rules, wherein the author, Jeff Somers, adds hilarious footnotes to every single page. After thirty minutes of reading this book, I start thinking in footnotes. This insanity, I trust, will pass when I finish the book.