Cultivating Mindful Living

It’s been about a month since I resolved to stay off Social Media and avoid mindless internet browsing until after 12 pm.

Honestly, I felt the benefits of this from day 1. Mornings, especially mornings where I have to be somewhere by a particular time, are much less rushed. I feel calmer without all of the “noise” that accompanies social media posts (think politics) and the internet in general.

That being said, I still have moments where I am uncomfortable; moments when I instinctively reach for my phone as a distraction. I think I am still learning just how much this dumb rectangle has enslaved me.

If there’s a lull in conversation, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m waiting for someone to arrive, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m not ready to jump into the days activities and feel like lingering longer, keep occupied with the phone.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve cheated on some of my mindfulness goals a time or two. Like popping on HGTV with my Sling TV app during lunch this past weekend (which I haven’t done in WEEKS) because, in my own words, “It’s the weekend and I don’t care.” I’ve opened social media roughly 3-5 times before 12 pm; most times I caught myself and closed it. Other times I was actually looking for something specific (like testing how quickly WordPress publishes my  blogs on Facebook after I linked the two).

It’s definitely challenging to just BE in those blank spaces of life and that is the thing I want to work on the most. The truth is, learning to be mindful is not easy-it’s work. But I believe if I keep working at it, mindful living will become my habit rather than acquiescing to constantly available distractions and an inability to focus.

After several weeks of eating my breakfast in solitude at the little table off the kitchen by myself, it still feels weird to sit in silence and NOT be playing on my phone or iPad. It still feels like an effort sometimes. Yet I know it’s fostering more of a sense of calm in me as I start my days. It’s forcing me to be present, be in the now.

And that’s truly one of my big life goals: to live as much in the here and now as possible. We’ve all heard “take it one day at a time” so often that it hardly holds meaning anymore. But if most of us would stop and think about that, I think we’d realize that perhaps we spend a lot less time in the here and now than we should.

The Bible says that God gives us grace for each day; that we ought not to worry about the

enjoy the journey
Photo taken: Kennesaw Mountain, GA

future. To me, living mindfully and focusing on His presence through each part of my day is the ultimate freedom. Not worrying about tonight or tomorrow or next week/month/year. Not being so preoccupied by stuff or my to-do list or what I want to accomplish that I lose sight of what’s truly important in life.

I want my journeys to be as full of love and joy as my destinations. And it is in the seemingly mundane moments of life these past several weeks that I’ve seen the power of a daily focus on God’s presence and the present. I’ve seen more beautifully colored flowers and trees while driving to and from my normal weekly destinations. I’ve heard more bird songs as I’ve sat quietly with no distractions on the front porch. I’ve smiled at more strangers while I grocery shop.

The big moments of life are certainly great, but it is when I’m present enough today to notice the tiny ones that my heart explodes with joy, gratitude, and love for the journey itself.

Community = Love

There’s nothing quite like finding and joining communities of people. Whether it’s a sports team, a book club, a small group from church, or an online community of like-minded individuals, they foster a sense of belonging and encourage us to think outside of ourselves.

When you’re part of a community, you have the privilege of learning from people withcommunity love whom you share commonalities, but who may be very different from you. I love this because it challenges me to consider views and opinions that perhaps I’ve never thought of before. It is an invitation to connect with people who might be outside of your typical sphere.

For years, Husband and I did not really know anyone in our neighborhood. But we’ve met several couples that hang out pretty regularly and with whom we have quite a bit in common. At the same time, we are the only couple in the group without kids. But I love watching their sweet families grow and change, and learning from these fantastic mothers that I have met. I know that I can’t relate to the struggles of parenting, but it sure is nice to know there are a few doors I can knock on (and have knocked on!) when I lock myself out of the house.  Not to mention I will have no shortage of places to run for advice should I take the plunge into motherhood myself.

We have an amazing community group from church that we meet with and learn from regularly. While we share our faith, we differ broadly in occupations, gifts and life stages. We help each other move and throw each other baby showers. We have girls nights and we encourage each other through tough times.  Each one of these women and men are special and I am grateful.

The farther I get from my old self and the pursuit of “stuff”, the more clearly I see that these types of communities and my “communities” of other friends and family are to be cherished. It’s not that I didn’t know that before. It’s just that now I have more space for it, and I also have a clearer, less cluttered mind to fully appreciate it.

Just recently, I’ve discovered how large the community of folks searching for a simpler life is. It is a wonderful group of writers, experimenters and encouragers. People who come up with new ideas, new challenges, new ways to simplify and share the revelations they’ve had in their own lives.  While I’ve only just begun to “join” this community, I highly value these strangers. Their blogs, articles and books have inspired me in my own journey.

Several months ago, when I first had the idea to start this blog, I stumbled across a site called No Sidebar, which is a collection of articles meant to help people “Design a Simple

screen-time
Photo Credit: NoSidebar.com

Life”.  I noticed a link at the top of the page that said “Write for us.” I clicked it, read about being a contributor and bookmarked the page. “I’m gonna beef up my blog and someday, I am going to submit something to this site,” I thought to myself. Today, an article that I submitted to No Sidebar was published. (The photo on the right is what they created to go with my article!) In just a few weeks time, I realized that writing is what I want to do in life and a stranger liked something I wrote enough to publish it on his website. It’s humbling and incredible and amazing. Perhaps, just as I’ve suspected, writing for a living could be what God is calling me to do.

Ultimately, I believe each one of the communities I belong to is helping me become the person I’m meant to be. I am so thankful for each of them. My dream is that someday, God will use my words to inspire and encourage people in a big way. As I continue to let go and let Him flow through me, who knows what the coming weeks, months and years will hold. Through it all, my eyes are on Him.

The Power of Noticing Things

People are busy these days.  Busy and distracted.  If you pause and look around at any given point in your day, I bet you’ll see a lot of people staring down at their phones, oblivious to the life that’s parading right in front of them.

Sometimes, I am that person.  But I don’t want to be that person. Because life is too short to miss out on the beauty and wonder that’s around us every day.  There is nothing quite like taking a breath, looking up, looking around and simply noticing things.  No matter where you are, there are beautiful things to notice.  The powerful act of noticing can lead to a thankful heart, which can lead to love, surprise, joy, selflessness and ultimately, contentment. Remember that we can’t appreciate or be thankful for something that we are too distracted to see!

Challenge yourself to slow down in small ways.  Eat meals with your loved ones without

the power of noticing
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

any distractions from phones, computers or the TV.  Go outside for a walk, long or short, each day. Take 10 seconds to write a little note for someone you love.  Notice other people in your path and smile.

Perhaps there is a place or space that particularly speaks to your soul.  Go there sometimes. I have a particular affinity for the ocean and fields of flowers. Alas, I cannot be by the ocean or in a field of flowers at all times.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not surrounded by beauty; that I can’t seek it and find it.

If I slow down and look for it, I always find it.  It incites a childlike whimsy in me that I quite love.  If am intent on noticing things, looking for beauty, I find it in a perfect spring breeze blowing through my hair as I take my dog for a walk in the morning.  I see it in the little buds that have suddenly popped into bright pink spring flowers outside my dining room window.  I see it in the faces of my loved ones, in kindness from strangers, in kitty purrs.

What types of things are you most likely to notice?  What speaks to your soul?  The stars, the way a bridge is constructed, the changing of the leaves in the fall or smiles from a stranger on the street? I bet if you take even a few minutes each day to look up from whatever is distracting you, you can find a little piece of refreshment for your soul. Better yet, perhaps you will pause long enough to notice that you could offer a bit of refreshment to someone else’s soul.

Want to simplify your life?  Look up from your phone, look away from yourself and start looking for the beauty all around you-I promise you will find it.

Be Intentional & Live More

One of the things I have constantly struggled to do is to be present in the moment and live each day calmly and intentionally. I have a tendency to over-book, always say yes, figure things out, and control things. Unchecked, these tendencies result in stress, anxiety and worry. While some thought must be directed beyond the here and now, excessive planning and fretting over the future robs us of enjoying the present.

When our to-do lists are too long to appreciate beauty in the present moment, we are missing out on some of the greatest things life has to offer. It’s hard to focus on a conversation with a loved one when your mind is racing to the next thing on your list (and the next thing after that).  You’ll never see that bright red robin with a fat belly skip across the front porch in the morning if your nose is buried in e-mails while you inhale your breakfast so you can rush out the door.

Between our busy, busy lives and countless forms of “entertainment” at our fingertips, we’ve become a rather distracted society. And as I seek simplicity in life, I’m finding that minimizing distractions is perhaps the most efficient road to a more intentional life.

Many, many things cause us to be distracted. Over-stuffed schedules and to-do lists, minimize distractionsclutter and closets and drawers stuffed to capacity, pings and clings coming from our computers, phones and tablets, advertisements screaming at us from the radio, TV, internet and now, even screens in elevators on our way to the doctor’s office.

I’m not sure it matters exactly where you begin to reduce distractions in your life, as long as you start somewhere.  Start looking at your life through a different lense.  What are the things that you value the most?  Would someone looking in on your life from the outside be able to see those things clearly?  Are you spending the majority of your time on those things? If not, what needs to change? If yes, are you still feeling overwhelmed or stressed? What distractions can you eliminate?

I believe that God has a plan for my life (and yours!).  I also believe that we have free will. That means that God is not going to shove His plan or Himself down our throats.  We have to make a choice.  Sometimes, we have to take a step toward His outstretched hand. Sometimes it feels terrifying to take that step, even if it’s small.  Sometimes, taking the first step isn’t that tough but somewhere after that, we start to question and doubt and panic.

In the past year or so, I’ve probably given away close to 50% of our stuff.  Most of it was shoved in storage bins, forgotten, unopened and un-enjoyed for years. Other things we gave away or sold were more difficult to let go of.  I made the difficult decision to leave my job last June.  We cancelled our subscription to cable TV.  I’m staying off of social media sites for the first half of each day.  I have less material things to keep up with, clean and organize.  I have less on my to-do list.  I spend less time watching TV and less time on the internet.  I’ve re-discovered my passion for writing and creativity.  I’m spending more time with the Lord and my family, friends and pets.

This is my journey thus-far and the power of LESS in my life is making room for MORE of what really matters to me.  Your journey begins wherever makes the most sense for you, or wherever you feel God leading you.  But you must find time to slow down and listen and look.  Listen to God, to what He’s placed in your heart.  Look for the blessings and beauty that surround you in the present moment.

Because I eliminated the distraction of social media and mindless internet browsing from my morning routine, I had time to play fetch with my dog yesterday morning before my training session at the gym. Because I decided to eat each meal without distraction, I saw a beautiful, fat, red robin skip across my porch this morning. Because I decided to give things away, I found a desire to own less instead of get more.  Because I took a year off to seek the Lord’s will for my life, I’m writing every day.

Being intentional about life and how you spend your time matters.  It might even matter in ways you’d never imagined!

Digital Challenge: Limiting Social Media

Up until now, the biggest focus of my journey to simplify life has been paring down our possessions.  I believe we still have some work to be done there and it will require a constant vigilance about what possessions we allow into our home moving forward.  In other words, that journey may never be fully “complete” but that’s OK.

Life itself is a journey, and we may never come to a place where we’ve “arrived” fully. There was a time when I would have been reluctant to accept that, but I’m learning that regular growth and change are good for us.  Challenging ourselves to new things keeps life exciting!  Even if it’s scary or takes a lot of effort sometimes.

One of the things I struggle with is feeling overwhelmed with plans and obligations and places to be and things I want to do.  There never seems to be enough TIME.

Last summer, I made the difficult decision to leave my job and take a year off to let God lead me wherever He chooses.  Yet somehow, I still find myself feeling overwhelmed with everything that I need or want to do.

For whatever reason, one of my biggest struggles is getting myself together in the morning.  In my ideal world, I’d be up and at ’em at 7am, bed made, exercise clothes on by 7:15, breakfast and quiet time and caring for my menagerie of animals finished no later than 8am.  I’d spring out the door, work out, and be ready to charge into the rest of my day well before lunch time.  It never works this way.

spend time on what is important
Photo taken in San Diego, CA

So, I’ve been more carefully examining my morning habits.  I cherish the quiet times I spend before launching into any of the day’s activities, and that is always a priority for me. I do not and will not put a time limit on that. Sometimes a cat throws up, or my dog forgets how to pee in the yard and just stands there looking at me.  Those things will happen from time to time.  But I’ve determined that the biggest time-sucking culprit in my morning routine is social media.

 

You guys, sometimes I don’t even THINK before reaching for my phone and popping Facebook open to mindlessly scroll.  That can mean I lay in bed for who knows how long instead of getting up because it is an evil time-suck.

During or after my quiet times, I can usually be found, iPad in hand, with distractions begging for my attention.  A Pinterest notification, or an interesting sounding article I saw earlier on Facebook and now want to read.

And of course, even though I know better, I am guilty of clicking on idiotic articles with extreme titles like: “The ONE thing you should NEVER eat!!!” or “Guy visits [insert political candidate here] Rally and is Stunned When He Sees THIS!!”  You know what I mean.  Sometimes, your curiosity gets the better of you.  Other times, you know you’re entering into a war zone of horrible comments from internet trolls but you scroll through them anyways.

While there are many edifying and worthwhile websites that Facebook or Twitter might link me to (Becoming Minimalist, No Sidebar and Be More With Less to name a few), most of what clamors for my attention on Social Media is just not worth the time it takes up.

In fact, I believe that we have allowed smart phones and social media to distract us to the point that we live half our lives with screens rather than other human beings.  Our attention spans are suffering.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about our habits.  How much time are you spending each day on things that aren’t even important to you?  What are the top 5 (or 20!) most important things to you?  In life?  Each day?  I’m willing to bet if you wrote such a list, scrolling through social media wouldn’t be on it.

It’s not on mine, either.  So, I am proposing a challenge.  To myself and anyone else who wants to reclaim time lost chasing the unimportant.  Here’s what I’m planning to do for the next 30 days:

  1. Disable social media notifications on my phone and ipad.
  2. No time spent on social media sites until after 12pm.

You may want to tweak or change these goals so they make sense for you personally.  But I want my mornings back, free from social media.  If I want to read an article from Becoming Minimalist, I can visit the website and read it intentionally.  Not just because I stumbled across it while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed.

Cheers to simplifying the morning routine!