Creating New Habits

I have been trying to live a more mindful life in the last year. It’s not something that I woke up one day and said to myself, “Self, you should be more mindful.” No, it was a way subtler shift than that. 

My mother died in February 2021. I had to double-check that since I am terrible with times and dates. The last two and half years are feeling like more like five. I have trouble sometimes remembering how old I am sometimes. But I blame my best friend partially for that since her birthday precedes mine by six months. For half a year, referring to us as whatever age she was, even if my birthday was still 4 or 5 months away.

Then there is how I think about birthdays in general: when you have a birthday, you have just completed that year. You just successfully finished living the 1st, 10th, 25th, 36th year…of your life and are about to embark on living the 2nd, 11th, 26th, 37th…When I explained this to Mark one day, he didn’t like my reasoning as sound and correct as it was. I just made him a year older. No, I didn’t – he and many others have been thinking about this all wrong.

New parents understand this initially as they watch their children go from hours to days to months old. “How old is your baby?” Three months becomes six months. But they don’t stop there. “How old is your baby? “Nineteen months old.” The answer is seldom “One and a half years old.” 

But all that has little to do with what I originally started talking about, which was trying to become more mindful. I was 56 when my mother died, and I felt very untethered. It was too much – my mind racing around with all sorts of things, too many things. Life had been so unsettling that I felt as if I was clinging to a boat on high seas, and the storm would not pass.

Mark is my anchor and my navigator. As an offshore sailor who has crewed on teams sailing from Newport to Bermuda, he understands life at sea and lived through calm waters that churned up in moments forcing him to hold on for dear life and try to navigate through the storms. His mind, too, races, and he also was looking for a way to be able to settle it.

Together we decided to try to create a new habit of meditating daily. Now we made a mindful decision right there but didn’t recognize it as our first step towards living a more conscious life. The app we use is Insight Timer. I’ve written about this app before, and I guess I just can’t say more about it since it has helped us so much. As well as the guided meditations, there are many talks and lecture series which you can also listen to.

Mark wanted to learn more about Taoism and Buddhism, so we listened to lectures like the Taoist Principles for a Prosperous Life and Practicing the Tao Te Ching by Solar Towler; Exploring the Basics of Buddhism and Exploring the Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism by Silas Day. We listened to The Power of Tao: Live a Life of Harmony & Balance by Olivia Rosewood, as well as Learning From The Masters by David Gendelman. Every morning before we sat for our meditation, Mark and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, eating breakfast, and listening to a session of one of the lecture series. For the most part, each session is no more than 10-25 minutes long but lasts 10 to 30 days. For 200 days, we listened and learned so much from these courses.

In my March 2022 post A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation, I talk more about Insight Timer and one of our favorite teachers, David Ji and the courses we took of his that we found to be so incredibly helpful. It was in his Forty Days to Transformation course which delivered a transformation in us – solidifying our new habit of mediation. I won’t repeat myself more than I have here in this post; just suffice it to say that I will forever be grateful that we took that course.

With mindfulness, I have discovered that I am consciously becoming a more grateful person. In the past, I took many things for granted. Perhaps age has something to do with that. We tend to be young and naive – we don’t know any better since we are newbies to experiencing life. Some people learn that lesson earlier than others, and some never learn the lesson. When choosing to live a mindful life, you don’t take things for granted. You live in the present moment, understanding that the past is done and the future isn’t something to waste your time worrying over in the present. You do that, and you miss what’s happening here and now.

Our cell phones and laptops have distracted us from being present. I have become increasingly aware of this and purposefully try to limit my time on these devices. Today’s children spend way too much time playing on their phones and devices – and our parents worried the TV would make us a bunch of couch potatoes! Which it did. No mindfulness is going on when you are staring into these electronic opiates. Which is precisely what they are and were designed to do.

I am glad I have adult-aged children who benefited from running around in the woods and spending time in the woods camping or on a mountain skiing. It’s not to say that my son didn’t have his video gaming phase. Call of Duty was his game of choice that he and the Cavemen played. The Cavemen are his friends and were so called when they dubbed my basement The Cave and spent as many nonschool nights overnight in the Cave as they did in their own houses. If I were raising a child in this day and age, it would be very different and challenging. Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be handing out video games, laptops and cell phones. I would probably also be homeschooling as well. But that’s for another blog post. I’d like to think that at this point, we would have a much more mindful approach than we did in the past.

In being more mindful, I have been able to set more goals for myself and achieve them. For the last few years, I have been active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which has you set a reading goal for yourself. I always wanted to be a reader. I was a very slow reader in school and didn’t enjoy reading then. They always told me I needed to practice, practice, practice. I just wish there had been audiobooks around then. If it weren’t for the audiobooks, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my lofty reading goal, which I set for the age I will be at the end of the year – 58 this year. So far, I am thirty-seven books in, three of which were physical hardback books!

The other goal that I set for myself was to write and publish a book. I am happy to say that in the last two years I have been working very purposefully on achieving this goal and seeing it through fruition. I would not have been able to do this without all that I have learned about mindfulness in this last year and half. In many of the guided mediations I have listen to in the last 446 days, many of the instructors have you plant a seed of intention. At first when I listened and was instructed to do this, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish I didn’t know what to focus on. I have many seeds in my bag to plant. I settled on one of the seeds that I had been holding onto the longest. And that was to write and publish my book.

Currently my book is in the hands of a publisher and it will be published. Thanks to the seed of intention that I planted, focused on and fertilized. I don’t know where this mindfulness and meditation will ultimately lead me. I am just focusing on the present moment, and presently I must start the laundry and get back to selecting photos that are going into the book. Namaste.

The Only Constant is Change

It’s mid June and the summer will be officially beginning next week. It’s one of the subtler shifts of seasons. Spring to summer is not as dramatic as the other shifts in seasons. Summer’s shift into fall greets us with crisp cooling winds and the leaves shift from greens to reds, oranges, yellows and browns. We switch our wardrobes, putting away the spring/summer clothes and start bringing out the leather boots and suede jackets. From fall to winter the landscape features changes even more dramatically as the trees shed their leaves and we are left with their mere silhouettes. Our heavier wardrobe comes front and center – coats, gloves, hats and scarves. Mother Nature gessoes her canvas with snow and ice. Winter into spring is one of the most dramatic shifts as we all thaw and watch with amazement Mother Nature begin to paint the barren landscape with fresh colors of a new season.

As the days fly by, my body seems to constantly change. An old ache here, a new ache there. Last summer I dropped 20 pounds, only to gain it all back by the end of the year. I made the mistake of buying myself smaller pants as I was losing the weight, vowing that this would be the last time I was a size 14. I’m back in my size 14 pants. Buying the 12s was fine but I tempted the weighty gods too much when I bought myself the 10s.

I’m 57 and my body continues to change as I age. I’m not yet in menopause but I have been experiencing night sweats since July 2011. I remember it well since I away with my kids looking at colleges. I had borrowed a t-shirt from my then new boyfriend (we are still together 11 years later) to have with me while I was traveling that I used as a night shirt. I remember at first thinking it might be the shirt because it had a Bob Marley graphic on it and the plastic stuff that made of the graphic I thought might be causing me to sweat. No such luck, it wasn’t the shirt. Just the first of what would eventually be many nights I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold from the soaking wet front of the my nightshirt.

I understand that it maybe easier to regulate my body temperature if I slept in the nude. According to WellandGood.com “Sleeping naked can also be beneficial for women experiencing menopause. “Hot flashes and night sweats can [wake] women up several times a night,” says Jodie Horton, MD, chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness, a women’s wellness and personal care products brand. Sleeping naked can help alleviate the not-so-fun symptoms of hot flashes.”

I slept naked for a while (although Mark would say it was for just a little bit). When the kids would come to visit I would wear a nightshirt. I raised two kids by myself, a single mom doesn’t sleep naked. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of sleeping naked in winter when it’s freezing cold. It seemed ridiculous so I fell out of the habit. Now from time to to I think maybe I should try to give it another shot.

One of the big changes that I was able to make for myself was in creating a new habit. I am trying to be more mindful in every aspect of my life. To make something a habit, I have read that you need to do whatever it is that you are trying to make that new habit for three weeks straight, And then keep going. I have been mediating daily for over a year now. I has helped give me tools to use when I get anxious. That’s another change I have been facing more recently – increased anxiety.

My anxiety increased yesterday when we discovered Mark has COVID. SO now after being so cautious and careful for the last two years, it’s here in our house. I feel like I now waiting for it to be my turn. He arrived home from a weekend away for a family funeral which required him to have to fly to Chicago. Who knows if it was the plane rides, was it on the way out? on the way back? Was it while he was with his family? I will never know the answer to these questions and it doesn’t really matter at this point. If I am going to get it, I am going to get it. He came home Sunday and today is Friday and he just started feeling shitty yesterday. So if I am going to get it I guess I may present symptoms this weekend? Breathe and stay in the present moment Xine ! Don’t let your mind go wildly off into tangents that may freak you the fuck out but never happen. Breathe.

Thankfully he is feeling better today than he was yesterday. He never gets sick so seeing not feel well is tough. I pray each day he gets stronger and we can continue on with our summer. We don’t have any plans to speak of really. We just want to enjoy working in our gardens, playing with the dogs, puttering around on the boat and enjoying one another’s company. I am so thankful for his presence in my life and the life that we share together. I am truly blessed. Which is probably why I feel like something is going to go wrong, something is going to change.

The summer solstice is approaching, sunset is now as late as 8:31pm here where I live. The irises are all in bloom, the wind is blowing in from the south right now. It’s 79ºF at 6:18pm and the barometer is dropping like a stone. The weather is changing – again. What is they say about New England? If you don’t like the weather just wait 5 minutes. I think they say this about everywhere.

When it comes to changes I try to remind myself that change can be good. Things can get stale and stagnant when there is no change at all. We change as people, not just outwardly in our physical appearance as we age – although that’s a biggie. I find I am in a minority when it comes to women my age. Many people just assume that I have already gone into menopause and are shocked if they find out otherwise. My mother was 60, she told me when she finally had her final period. It caught her off guard since she hadn’t been bleeding regularly and it had been some time, enough time that she thought she was done. Of course she was out when it decided to show up for the party one last time. She had been wearing a yellow dress and was at my brother’s graduation. Ironically she had been wearing a yellow dress the first day she got her period too. A terrifying day for her since – she had literally no idea what had just happened. She was at school and had to wear a sweater tied around her waist for the rest of the day.

At the graduation, my mother had a backup of sorts. It was my skirt that I was wearing. We had driven up for the day so we had no luggage to dive into for spare clothing. So I had to wear a pair of my brother’s pants which I literally had to hold up with my hand because his belt didn’t fit me either. What can you do? You just have to go with the flow?

One last change: Mark’s fever is back up

A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation

A little over a year ago my mother died and about a year ago I started a new habit of daily meditation. After my mother’s death, I felt untethered and my mind was overwhelmed with emotions, feeling, questions and thoughts. I needed to regain some control. There are so many things in life that we can’t control. When I get upset, I clean. It’s the one thing I can control when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

I write in a journal on a daily basis and have for well over a decade and have diaries that date back to 1980! Writing is a form of meditation for me – a download of thoughts and emotions. I found this to be incredibly helpful for me to proceed with my days having dumped out whatever was on my mind earlier that morning on paper. Unlike right now where I am typing this article directly into my computer; my diary is handwritten. I love the feeling of pen to paper. I find that therapeutic in of itself. However, I needed some tools in my tool belt to be able to help calm me down sometimes for when sitting down with pen and paper is not an option.

Many years ago when my life was spiraling out of control, I started having panic attacks. So I turned to meditation. I started a little each morning here and there. That was about 7 years ago now. I had been meditating on and off for many years but never every day as I have in the last 346 consecutive days (and counting). I have meditated 577 days using my Insight Timer app over the course of all those years.

I like the Insight Timer app since you can learn to meditate through the app which offers a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths and focuses. I have listened to a number of talks and lectures about Buddhism, Taoism and more. I have used their app at bedtime at times when I need a guided meditation to help me drop off to sleep. They even have bedtime tales you can choose from – one night I fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit read to me. By the way, I don’t get anything from them to talk about them. I just really have enjoyed using their app.

I enjoy the way Insight Timer is set up allowing for searching by topics such as Affirmations, Chakras, Mantra, Mindfulness, Pranayama, Vipassana, Walking Mediations and Zen. Both Zazen and Kōan. If you want to use their timer feature to create your own customized meditation timer with the ability to use starting, interim and ending bells, chimes, gongs, or nothing at all. You can set background music or sounds or mediate in silence. You set the time and can save your presets. They make everything quite easy for you.

You can also save your favorites and can follow teachers that you like. They encourage you to donate to the teachers and make that easy for you to do charging it to your Apple Pay account. The teachers are from all over the world.

After so long by far one of our favorite teachers has become DavidJi from Los Angeles, CA. He offers a number of courses and we have taken three of the four of them that he offers on the Insight Timer. Mark and I dove into The 40 Days of Transformation where he guided us through meditations, intention setting, yoga philosophy, pranayama and so much more.

We were hooked after completing the forty days and followed it up with his course 30 Day Journey to Rebirth. We have also done his Awaken The Sacred Power of Shakti this year and plan on taking The Healing Sessions: Freeing Your Soul Through The Second Meditation of the Day.

Early on, we took the Masterclass –Mindfulness and Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn. This was an extremely helpful class to take which broke down a lot of questions that we had about mediation and ways to do it, what it was all about, etc… Soon after finishing that class I bought Mark and I both proper mediation cushions and pillows to ensure that, as David Ji says “Comfort is Queen and feather your nest” so that you can be still during your mediation practice. It’s amazing the difference the right set up can make which will allow me to sit still and “drop in” to meditation for 30 minutes or more. Sometimes without moving at all. Other times, I may have to stretch a leg to regain circulation.

I have found that this new habit is addictive and I will do what I need to protect my precious time to sit on the cushion, although sometimes I will be laying down, using on my acupressure mat or on some ice packs for the time. It has opened a door up to so many other doors. Mark and I find ourselves exploring Buddhism, Taoism, Collective Consciousness just to begin with.

I have learned a few things about myself and what I am capable of. I have found that I have a calmness within that I am able to tap into when things around me start to get crazy. Mark and I have started to introduce Tai Chi into our lives. Although it is not a daily practice yet but that is our goal to incorporate it into our daily practice. I look forward to this continued journey of discovery.

Namaste.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

It’s been unseasonably warm these last few weeks and some of the dandelions have popped up in the yard. Boomer took time out to join me to stop and smell the flowers; something our busy, hectic lives can make difficult at times. This week, I made an effort to get outside and enjoy the nice warm temperatures. I sat out and sunned myself while listening to one of my audiobooks. I sat outside and groomed the dogs, so I wouldn’t have to vacuum the fur up in the house. Besides it’s been in the mid 70s for the last 6 days, record breaking temperatures for Central New Hampshire. I unbelievably was stung by a bald faced hornet on November 9th – my left index finger has been inchy ever since and I have had to pop Benadryl every 4 to 6 hours. But it’s been a glorious few days of weather which I know will end very soon and we will be in for our long, cold, winter.

Meditation

For the last five years or so, we have been trying to get in the habit of mediating. We’d be on a roll for a while and then something would interrupt our flow and we wouldn’t mediate, then we’d try again but never been able to make it stick.

This year has been different, in more ways than one. We’ve been meditating on a fairly regular basis this year. The quarantine kicked it into high gear, and we are on a regular roll. I found mediating particularly helpful in early March when the shit was hitting the fan for our family in more ways than the lockdown and COVID19. Our family was dealing with some personal stuff which highlighted to me how life continued despite the quarantine. I found that there were more moments where I started to feel panicky, the anxiety levels were entering uncharted territory. Mark and I weren’t able to be together for three weeks (one week away, two weeks in quarantine) – away from me and the kids. He’d been out in the Petri dish, we had to be cautious.

It was during this time that I clung to my meditation sessions although I had altered when I did them. Mark and I always start our day out with mediation but during that time we were separated I needed to mediate at night when I was alone in our bed. I never have trouble sleeping – it drives Mark insane since I can fall asleep in the midsentence while talking to him in bed at night. He needs to read and unwind. My head hits the pillow and I’m out cold. By 8pm. I wake anytime between 4am and 5am usually though.

But in mid-March when everything was so uncertain, I needed help falling asleep as my mind would race with all sorts of thoughts. I turned to my mediation app which I knew had nighttime, help you fall asleep mediations. I need guidance to help settle my mind.

The app we use, Insight Timer has all sorts of meditations that you can easily filter the length of time, whether you want background music or not, whether you prefer a male or a female voice, the benefits you seek, etc…They also offer courses and after over a year of using the app, we have decided to give a try. Later this morning we will do Day 8 of our 10-day course, each day has been building upon the next; teaching us how to body scan and different visualization techniques. It also keeps track of how much we’ve mediated and rewards us with milestones that help encourage you on your progress. Since using the app, I’ve meditated for a total of 2.5k minutes and reached 7 milestones. One of which is 128 days with at least one session and another being that I have meditated 23 consecutive days. I believe that is a record for me. As I said doing it everyday in the beginning was the challenge as we worked towards working it into our routine.

Since Mark has been out of quarantine, we have gone back to our usual morning sessions. My daughter would join us in the mornings when she was here – sometimes coming downstairs to sit with us in the family room while we meditated, other times simply joining in from her bedroom upstairs as she would sometimes wake up to our sessions. I’d love to get my son more involved as I know it would be a good habit for him to get into. He was usually sound asleep when we meditated. We have found our sweet spot to be around 7am before 8am when the phone starts to ring and we start off our work day. We work from home, so we have control over the schedule but have found it best to get things started earlier than latter here in the homestead.

Life is always about having to deal with unknowns, they just aren’t usually on the intensity level that they have been recently. Life will always throw you curve balls and you just try to deal with them a pitch at a time. The mediation sessions have helped me deal with each pitch, by helping me to take a step back, take a deep breath and calm my mind and my body which has allowed me to take on the challenges of life a little more effectively.

Looking for the Silver Lining

What is the one thing in life that you are most excited about right now? Why?

That is Fandango’s Provocative Question for the day. Interesting that I read this right question right now since I’ve been a little sad today so it’s a good time to be looking for things to get excited about.

I have much to be excited about as I look around. I have my garden which I planted alongside my daughter who I got to spend time with for ten weeks during quarantine. Sorry for the reason, but so thankful for the time with her. The garden should provide plenty of healthy, fresh produce for me and my family if we have a good season. I need it too since having my two adult children live under the same roof again depleted our rations of canned tomato sauce and salsa a little more than twice as much if it had been just Mark and I. But it made me smile each and every time they opened a jar of our homegrown goodness and raved about how good it taste.

I’m excited to work in the garden and be outside with the sun shining and even if it’s not. After a number of months being cooped up inside because the weather was too miserable to enjoy being outside for any given time, I’m not too picky about when is a good time to spend out in the garden. Just as long as there aren’t too many bugs and it’s not too hot. My garden has fantastic sunlight so I have to pick and choose my hours which tend to be early in the morning and after 5pm.

I’m excited about the new chickens we have now! Khaleesi, Gertrude, Ethel and Lucy have joined our homestead. It’s always a thrill to walk into the hen house and see the daily deposit of freshly laid eggs. Which in turn has made us excited about breakfast and any recipe that has eggs in it. I get excited now to do the weeding since the hens love the dandelions and eat them right up, it no longer feels like weeding and more like harvesting. I know human enjoy eating dandelion leaves in salads and making tea or wine but until now they were just weeds. So I’m excited about that – it goes for all weeds pretty much too. Plus the chickens are so much fun to watch they make me excited to just come out to the yard and sit and watch.

Finally I am excited about the flowers which are beginning to bloom and I know will blooming throughout the summer and into the fall. I have a short season up here on the mountain, so I am grateful for the time we are given and excited to see it all unfold.

It can be difficult to get excited about the future when we are dealing with so many unknowns. But it’s in times like these where you need to take a deep breath, take a step back and look for the good things, they don’t have to be big things, just small positives. It’s easy to see the negative, especially when you are looking for it. When you are looking for it – that it all you will see. It’s harder to look for the positives, the good things – not matter how big or small they may be. But once you start to look for the positives, I thik they become easier to see.

Distractions

Head’s Up!

How many times have you been talking to someone and they are distracted by their cellphones, checking their mail or some all important thing that can’t wait until you finish your conversation? Or you were late to do something because you’re cell phone distracted you? Have you ever bumped into someone or something or took a misstep because you were too busy looking at your phone? You wouldn’t be alone if you have, although some people’s misfortunes end up on You Tube or the national evening news, such as the man who fell down a manhole because he was distracted by his cell phone. It’s a world-wide problem apparently and a quick Google search turned up a slew of videos of people too distracted to pay attention to their surroundings because they were looking at their phones.

The cellphone is one of the biggest distractions that people face on a daily basis, whether it’s at home, work and unfortunately in the car while driving. Businesses have had to make rules about their employees having their cell phones out because it interferes with how well they do their jobs. In 2008 over 1,000 people were sent to the ER with an injury that resulted from texting and walking; doubling from what it had been the two previous years. [I could not find a more recent stat for texting and walking but if it had been doubling two years running ten years ago, it certainly doesn’t bode well for today’s numbers I imagine.] Distracted driving accounted for 25% of all motor vehicle fatalities in 2018, and in 2015 , cell phones alone accounted for 14% of distracted driving resulting in motor vehicle fatalities. Somewhere along the line people began to be so consumed with checking in on their virtual lives rather than paying attention to their real ones, risking personal injury, even death to themselves and others. Common risks associated with distracted walking include: everything from minor sprains and scrapes to more serious injuries such as broken bones, concussions, spinal cord injury even death – not just to yourself but possibly another person(s) as well.

Inattentive Blindness

Scientist have been doing an increasing amount of studies into the human’s ability to visually perceive things. They once believed what the human eye took in was more like a video tape, but studies have demonstrated it is something far less precise when people are not paying attention. The term ‘inattentional blindness’ was coined in 1998 by Arien Mack, PhD of New School of Social research and the late Irvin Rock, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley when published the book, “Inattentional Blindness,” describing a series of experiments on the phenomenon. Mack came to the conclusion that there is no conscious perception without attention. To me this is similar to the difference between hearing and listening which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Listen. Barring any medical issues, similar to the way hearing is an automatic physical process so is seeing – they are two of the five human senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. However, similar to the way one must pay attention in order to effectively listen, so one must also do so to effectively be able to visually perceive what’s going on around them.

Constantly having your head in your phone or staring at your computer screen endlessly for hours on end is not healthy. It doesn’t take a medical degree to know that. Perhaps, it takes a little common sense, which in that case – society may be in trouble.

Are we really capturing the moment when we take photos?

I saw a headline flash across my Alexa EchoShow the other day while working at my desk. It said that a recent study concluded that taking pictures detracts from a person’s overall experience. Kind of hard for a photographer to read but as someone who has been behind the camera for over 40 years now, I completely agree.

A number of years ago when my children were actively playing on their lacrosse, hockey and football teams, I would watch them through the lens of my camera. My daughter was goalie and as the mother of a goalie let me tell you – watching your kid get pelted with missiles that are aimed at them traveling upwards of 30-50mph is very difficult. A mother’s instinct it to defend their young when they are under attack and having to watch and do nothing wasn’t an option for me, so I hid behind my camera, narrowed my focus just on her and not the players on attack.

Many times, hours after the game when the house was quiet I would go over the game photos and find that I relived the game all over again. I would have whole different perspective on the game simply because I had narrowed my focus so much. But did this detract from my overall experience of the game at that time? Absolutely, I wasn’t “present” for the whole game experience. I wasn’t sitting in the stands with the other parents, talking about our kids and cheering them on together; choosing instead to sit on the sidelines by myself with my face in the camera. I wasn’t taking in the entire scene – stepping back and taking in the bigger picture of my environment.

Pay Attention

I remember listening to a security expert who was talking on the news shortly after one of the school shootings who was advising kids and adult alike not to get their cell phones out during these intensely dangerous situations because you are not entirely taking in the situation when you are doing that – even if you are just holding your phone up and not looking through the lens.

“Using phones can distract people from the actions they need to be taking in the moment, such as running, hiding and listening to directions from first responders.”

– Ken Trump, Security Expert with 30+yrs experience

The power of observation can be a very effective tool in our life skills and one that should be given a little bit more attention these days. It may be the difference between life and death. If you think you are more observant than the next person, check out a few of these videos to see how well you do.

The Monkey Business Illusion

Brain Games – Inattentional Blindness and Smooth Pursuit

Selective Attention Test

How’d you do? Next time you take out your cellphone while your walking, think twice about it and remember that you are missing a lot of what is going on around you.

Sources:

Distracted Walking – Safety.com

Sights Unseen – American Psychological Association

Takes Steps to Avoid Injury – National Safety Council

Heads Up, Phones Down – National Safety Council

Texting and Walking Injuries – Reader’s Digest

100 Distracted Driving Facts & Statistics for 2018 – Teensafe.org

Listen

Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

Do you ever feel like when you are talking to people – whether it’s in person or on the phone that they are not listening? I was chatting on the phone with my daughter earlier, she had called me; when after telling her a little tidbit of info, I was met with complete silence. Hello? Hello? I knew the line hadn’t dropped out because I could still hear something on the other end of the line.

“What? What did you say again? Sorry, I got distracted by something on my screen.”

Communication comes from the Latin word communicare, meaning “to share”. Thanks to my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Frank Smith, I always look at the root word when trying to fully understand words. Communication is a two way street, although I find that these days more and more people seem to think it’s a one-way street. People are more concerned with making sure their points are heard than actually giving the effort to actually listen to someone else’s thoughts or ideas. The key to all effective communication is listening.

Listening is a huge part of the communication process and should not be confused with hearing. Hearing is defined as “the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived.” So as long as you don’t have a medical hearing impairment – hearing is an automatic physical process. Listening on the other hand is completely different. Listening requires focus and concentration. It’s the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. It’s not a passive process and a good listener is as engaged in the communication process as the speaker.

Group Of Business People Actively Listening To Speaker Giving Presentation

Today, sadly, too many people don’t know the difference between hearing and listening. “I hear you” is not the same as “I’m listening to you.” I’m sure many people think that they are indeed listening, but they actually are not. In some cases, people are simply thinking about what their response will be once you’re done talking – that is, if they are polite enough not to interrupt you in order to get their point across. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the average person’s speaking rate is 125-175 words per minute compared to the average processing rate which is 400-800 words per minute. So that leaves plenty of time to daydream and get distracted by your own thoughts or something completely not related. FOCUS PEOPLE. This is one of the biggest barriers to effective listening.

Too many times while visiting with friends or family who we don’t see all that often, I notice everyone has their phones in their hands while they are talking. “I’m listening – I’m just multitasking”. “I have to check my email – don’t worry I’m listening.” “I’m just playing a word game, keep talking – I’m listening.” how many times have we all heard this. The listener isn’t being an active participant in the conversation if their phone is in their hand. I’m equally guilty of this when hanging out at times. I’ve been accused of “not being present” because I had my head in my phone while claiming “I’m just looking at my Instagram feed!” Guilty as charged.

Listening serves a number of purposes given the situation and the nature of the communication. According to the website skillsyouneed.com one of the eight purposes to listening is to: “to specifically focus on the message being communicated, avoid distractions and preconceptions.” (I think we need to teach this specifically in schools because no one out there gets the second part of this statement.)

Let’s break this down, I think most people would agree that when you listen its for the purpose to hear someone ‘s message being communicated. But its the rest of the statement which people don’t heed: “avoid distraction and preconceptions”. Wow! Where to begin… I already mentioned the cellphone being a major distraction which I think most people would agree is an obvious barrier to effective listening in all of our lives. But let’s focus on this other part, the “preconceptions”. I don’t think very many people actually listen with an open mind. People have their beliefs and that’s that – my way or the high way. Or so it seems more and more these days.

The second and third purposes of listening is “gain a full and accurate understanding into the speakers point of view and ideas and to critically assess what is being said.” Wait a minute, this is particularly where for me listening deviates from hearing since when you hear something it’s just automatic, when you are listening you have to know take that information and actually processes what is being said.

The fourth purpose of listening includes the power of observation. When you listen to someone you should be looking at them, observing the non-verbal signals accompanying what is being said. This enhances your understanding of what’s going on.

Fifth on the list of purposes of listening, is to show interest, concern and concentration. If you have ever been a public speaker and stood before an audience – big or small, or even if you are talking to your best friend – there is nothing worse than talking to the top of someone’s head because their attention is more on their phone than what you are saying. which leads to the sixth reason which is to encourage the speaker to communicate fully, openly and honestly. Something which can be difficult if you think the people you are trying to talk to are not fully present.

When you are “multi-tasking” while listening to someone else, you are being selfish, rather than taking a selfless approach, in putting the speaker first. Lastly, one of the biggest reasons for listening is to be able to arrive at a shared and agreed understanding and acceptance of both sides’ views. This last reason proves to me that no one in politics actually listens to one another.

This year I am trying much harder to put my phone down particularly when I am around my family and friends. Emails can wait and certainly word games can be played in quiet moments when I’m alone. When I go out I may have my phone with me in my pocket or purse, but I keep it put away so I’m not distracted nor tempted by it. It’s really the only way to fully listen and pay attention to what’s going on around us. So next time you are talking with a friend and you notice that you are looking more at the top of their head than their eyes, you’ll know they aren’t really listening to you.

“Listening is art that requires

attention over talent,

spirit over ego

and others before self. “

– Dean Jackson