I’m not bad at mindfulness, I just have my own approach

I’ve tried several times over the years to get myself into mindfulness and meditation through classes and workshops, and I always felt like a failure.

My best experience was last year through the Kaiser Behavioral Health department in Oakland. The class, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, is an 8-week program and includes a day-long silent retreat. What, a day of silence? How is that possible? Could I stand it? Would I go nuts? It was actually pretty awesome! Our instructor was a lovely gentleman named Charlie Johnson, and just the sound of his voice leading us through our practices soothed my nerves. Being in the old Julia Morgan building that used to be the ominously named The King’s Daughters Home for Incurables on Broadway in Oakland lent a certain je ne sais quoi.

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The King’s Daughters Home for Incurables, now part of Kaiser in Oakland.

But I don’t practice at home. At least not deliberately. I’ve found that I achieve mindfulness in my own ways, not from sitting quietly with my eyes closed. When I do that, I end up with a dog in my face, a cat on my head, and a fit of the giggles.

This is about yoga, but you get the idea.

 

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Now that I am in my post-retirement second career (I love saying that) working at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation I am not nearly as stressed out as I used to be. And part of the reason is oddly enough, given my yoga and meditation animal interference references, because I work with animals. Animals reduce my stress. Since I’ve been fostering cats and kittens, I find myself at the end of every day just sitting on the floor in the room with the fosters, usually in my pajamas, letting kittens crawl all over me. It’s the best!

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The key to total relaxation.

I often think of our kitchen as my happy place, cooking as a way to decompress. It’s a form of mindfulness for me. I found out that there is a term for it: culinary therapy. According to one article in Psychology Today:

“Now culinary therapy is the treatment du jour at a growing number of mental health clinics and therapists’ offices. It’s being used as part of the treatment for a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.”

Even the Wall Street Journal is on board:

“Many cooks know what a sanctuary the kitchen can be.

Now, some health-care clinics and counselors are using cooking or baking as therapy tools for people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental-health problems.”

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Sure, this is how I look in the kitchen.
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Hell’s Kitten, that’s me. Look out Gordon Ramsay!
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It’s magic!
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Even if I need a stepstool, like in Norway, it’s something I love to do.

This got me thinking about other things that are forms of mindfulness for me. Reading, definitely. Not the “oh my god I have to read this for school NOW” kind of reading, but curled up with a good book and being immersed in a story reading.

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Yes please!
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I understand what Salinger was getting at here.

I love my coloring books and sketch pads and various craft and sewing projects (see The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™). Maybe the reason I never finish any of them is that I enjoy the process more than the finishing.

Another wonderful class I took at Kaiser, in Vallejo (I lived in Napa at the time), was one called Phobease, taught by Dr. Fear, aka Dr. Howard Liebgold (see Falling in love with frogs). He describes cortical shifting as a way to alleviate anxiety. A great example is singing while driving; I hate driving but singing while driving keeps me calmer. As long as I get to choose the music.  And I keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.

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If you are interested, check out his book Freedom from Fear: Overcoming Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic.

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Book blurb:

“In Freedom from Fear, Dr. Howard Liebgold, M.D., a psychiatrist who overcame a claustrophobic condition that lasted 31 years, reveals the techniques that he has used to help thousands of patients to conquer their fears. In the course of just a few weeks, everyone suffering from acute phobias will learn simple but powerful methods for the cure of their symptoms and how to stop panic attacks. Finally, even the most anxiety-ridden will learn the strategies and coping mechanisms to gently and safely overcome devastating, constricting fears or obsessive compulsive behaviors. By following this ten-week, step-by-step program, readers will learn to: – Understand the nature of phobias- Design a personalized strategy to conquer their fears- Understand and practice non-avoidance- Develop a mutual support system- Follow sound nutrition and exercise practices- Master relaxation techniques- Freedom from Fear is the first book on phobias written by a physician who suffered and recovered from crippling phobias.”

Now I have to go cook up something (I also like cooking while listening to audiobooks, combining two of my go-to therapies). But first I have to go to the store. And if someone can figure out mindfulness through grocery shopping, let me know!

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Falling in love with frogs

Maybe it started with Kermit the Frog, the iconic Muppet with a heart of green-gold.

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How can you not love that face?

As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-esteem, Kermit singing Bein’ Green, written by Joe Raposo, on Sesame Street in 1970 (maybe I was a little old for Sesame Street at 9 but then again, is anyone ever too old for Sesame Street?) touched my soul and still does.

 

I still watch The Muppet Show when I have a chance. 

Or maybe it was our grandfather Papa, singing the folk song A Frog Went A-Courting to us when we were children. Although this wouldn’t explain my sister Ellen’s fear of frogs. Maybe that’s from Mom supposedly cooking frogs’ legs for Daddy and the legs jumping out of the pan. Mom swore this was true.

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From the children’s book by Janet Kay Jensen.

On You Tube I found versions by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and a bunch of guys with guitars who I never heard of. But I think Pete Seeger is the closest I’m going to get to Papa.

There are some seriously stupid jokes about frogs. I like stupid jokes. Unfortunately, in many of them things don’t go well for the frog (you know, the word croak being the punchline).

Waiter, waiter, do you have frog legs?

No, I always walk this way.

What do stylish frogs wear?

Jumpsuits!

A few years ago, I took a class called Phobease on dealing with phobias and anxieties. No, frogs weren’t on my list, though they are on Ellen’s. One of Dr. Fear’s (aka Dr. Howard Liebgold) sayings was “If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” I never liked this saying. I get it. If you have to do something that makes you anxious, just do it and get it over with, and do the hardest first. But I felt bad for that poor so-called ugly frog. At the end of the class, Dr. Fear handed out little plastic frogs to all of us. I still have mine.

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I recently spent a week in Maine at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry with a group of my fellow Humane Education students. It was there that my love for frogs was finally made clear. I don’t sleep well away from home, especially if I get in the habit of drinking coffee during the day. And if I’m anxious. Which I was.

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Sleepless in Surry.

Not wanting to wake my cabin mates (did I mention we all stayed in a bunkhouse together? I’m finally headed to summer camp…) I found myself out of doors in the early hours of the morning down at the pond.

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The Pond.
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Girl meets pond.

I am not particularly an outdoorsy person, and going barefoot is one of my phobias. But there I’d be at 5 a.m. in the damp, on the dock, watching and listening at the pond.

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Pond and feet at sunrise.

I don’t mediatate either; I always feel like my hyperactive brain sabotages me. But I could easily spend an hour or more in the early morning sitting on the dock listening to the frogs. 

(I don’t know how to embed the videos I took, so this sound clip from You Tube will suffice.)

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I was curious if there were any poems about frogs, particularly American, New-Englandy style ones. And lo’ and behold, Robert Frost wrote a poem called Hyla Brook. (Hyla is the genus of the small green tree frog.)

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I also decided to search for frog sounds on iTunes. I am not the only one who loves the sound of frogs!

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I’m considering forking over $9.99 for this one.

frog sounds search album

I can play the sounds while I do the next best thing to pond meditating, which is spending time with the animals who share a home with me.

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Our version of the frog pond.

Of course, I have no idea how Einstein and Misty will react to the frog sounds. It might not be as calming for them as it is for me.

Maybe they’ll prefer this selection: Hair of the Frog by Three Weird Sisters. And don’t get me started again on the whole “three sisters” thing! A Tale of Three Sisters

Hair of the Frog