“Running on Ramen” in Tokyo…

When Olivia told me their team name “Running on Ramen”, I actually chuckled. She is part of this team of high schoolers who decided to enter a TechUnder20 competition with an idea of developing a health app for teens.

I’m not quite sure if they really knew what they were doing but hey, these kids are fearless.  They pitched their app to a cranky old judge and although they did not win the $15,000 price, they walked away thinking they gave it all they’ve got along with some fond memories of coming in at 6th place… and of course, coming up with such a catchy cheesy name.

I remember picking up Olivia after the results came and as she recounted how they did, I marvelled at how these kids shift gears and take risks and have no fear trying something new.

In my mind’s eye, I saw this to be their team’s greatest achievement–do something different, take a risk, and see where it goes–aka “Running on Ramen” motto.

When I think of ramen, I immediately think of those fat traditional Japanese noodles in chicken stock and topped with vegetables and pork slices. Coincidentally, I am in Tokyo this week for Spring break!

Tokyo is definitely not for the faint-hearted…Best place to try “Running on Ramen”!

My ROR journey has been the following so far:

1. Carry-on only:

I have always been in awe of people who just have a carry on for when they travel. My brother Jonah does it all the time and he told me just pack the necessities… so I guess my favourite shampoo and conditioner stay at home. I made sure to book a hotel that provides these little luxuries 😂.

At any rate, my Osprey carryon backpack seemed smaller than when I bought it😢.

2. Onsen:

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do…”

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring…and it is a must try when you visit Japan.

We went to one onsen/spa in Enoshima (about an hour away from downtown Tokyo) which allowed for swimsuits…

It was so nice, peaceful and relaxing ….until we realized the last train back to Tokyo was at 8pm and we had to go on full sprint back to the train station…

Oh well, so much for peaceful and relaxing!

We plan to go to another one in Hakone ( about 3 hours away from Tokyo). This time, I’m allowing 3 hours to make sure I get my f*^%~ peace and relaxation! 🤯

3. Instagram worthy:

I really have to be more understanding about the importance of the perfect “Instagram pic”.

Olivia also did the minimalist carryon route and so did not pack a lot of clothes as she lamented to her best friend Shayla 😂.

Enough said. We still have a few more days in Tokyo so I’m sure Olivia will get at least one Instagram worthy pic…and I just might cave and let her buy one cheap shirt…

I must admit I’m not that good of a photographer either, like Shayla’s grandma!

Well, that is it for now. If you have ever had an ROR experience leave me a comment!

Signing off from Tokyo!

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!!

Debbie.

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S.T.O.P. –A refresher…

 

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I had a little argument with Olivia on our way to school this morning.

I didn’t have time to make her lunch and I was a feeling a little vulnerable since I knew I have not been a model parent these past few days. I was on a training course and we were off our usual routine.  Although I get home earlier than usual, I do not seem to have enough time to do laundry, put away the dishes, or go for a run.

Although…I seem to have time for two glasses of wine and cheese, check the Raptors game, do some Amazon surfing for some retail therapy, sleep later than usual, etc…

At any rate, some consequences have certainly been felt the mornings after….I’ve been oversleeping, Olivia scrambling for clean jeans, no time to sit down and have breakfast (or even packing lunch), and both of us grumpy and testy in the morning.

I knew she was going through a rough patch too…she was worried she didn’t study enough for her Spanish test, she has a history project to work on, a finance test for DECA Ontario (an extracurricular finance club for young and upcoming junior executives), a math test to study for  (trigonometry, as I recall) and she was having some trouble prioritizing which one to deal with first….

Anyway, she said, “I’m hungry.”

For some reason, I took this negatively.  I immediately responded that we should really do better at planning our mornings or even consider laying out our clothes the night before and she should give me some ideas on what she would want for breakfast or lunch instead of relying on me to read her mind…and how late did she stay up last night that maybe she should be waking up earlier in the morning?

…all in my “pissed off” and “accusing” tone.

Silence on the passenger side.

Then I realized that with all the mindfulness practice and mantras I have in my arsenal, there are still times when I fall off the wagon and I revert back to old habits of mindlessness.

Anyway, I dropped her off and said, “Have a good day, honey”.  At this point, I was hoping that she had forgiven me for my outburst.  As I was waiting for the train heading downtown, I remembered one of the simplest techniques in my arsenal that I should have done:

S.T.O.P.

S–stop and take a time out; pause

T–take a slow breath in and out. Take another one, for good measure.

O-observe what is happening inside you. Were you holding your breath? How about your shoulders–were they tense and up? Just notice. No judging.

P-proceed; having checked into what is happening, continue with whatever you were doing.  Maybe, just maybe…you are feeling calmer and clearer to deal with the present situation.

Anyway, as I write this blog on the train on the way home (the course finished early! yay!), I remind myself that there will be times when I will fall off the wagon, but it is okay.

I can always begin again.

Next time, I hope that I remember to STOP… before I blow things out of proportion.

Hopefully, you will too….

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

Debbie.

 

 

 

It’s a nice sunny morning…

I missed my 8:17 am train to work today….

As I climbed the stairs to the platform, I thought “It’s okay if I miss the train. It’s a nice sunny morning and I will find a sunny spot on the platform and drink the coffee I made at home.”

As I felt a blur of people rushing past me, I thought “It’s okay to miss the train. It’s a nice sunny morning and I wouldn’t want to be stumbling on the stairs…”

As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw some people were not as fortunate as the sprinters…

As I caught the eye of a lady who seemed out of place with such a heavy coat on such a nice morning, I said out loud “It’s okay, it’s a nice sunny morning and…the next train is in 10 minutes.”

As I saw her pause, I realized that somehow she didn’t realize how rare these mornings are after our brutal ice storm just last week. She replied happily “You are right! It IS a nice sunny morning! It’s okay to miss this train. There is always the next train.”

As I walked away to find my sunny spot and enjoy my coffee, I thought “What a beautiful sunny day….maybe tomorrow, I’ll miss my train again…”

Have a wonderful sunny day, everyone!!

Debbie.

Meditation 101: Meditation for Beginners

images-3.jpgHave you always wanted to meditate and did not know where to start?  If so, then you are certainly not alone.

Before my mindfulness journey, I believed that meditation was just for Buddhists and monks in monasteries in some mysterious far away mountain.  I also held this misconception that people who meditate generally exude this aura of unshakable calmness and serenity and at any moment, they are going to say something transcendental like…”Do or Do Not.  There is no try” (Yoda).

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In reality, meditation is not as complicated as I made it out to be.  In fact, meditation can be done with just a mat/chair, an attitude of openness, and your breath. Meditation is actually a simple yet life changing practice that can reduce stress, increase the feeling of calmness and promote happiness.  Anyone can do it and the benefits are endless.

In this blog, I offer you simple steps to start a meditation practice that hopefully will serve you during the good times…and more especially, the more turbulent moments.  I have also included some tips I call “Get Real” based on my experiences since I can’t be perfect all the time…..

The Basics:

1.  A quiet time and place

If possible, have a dedicated space exclusively for your daily sitting.  It also helps if you set a regular time to practice.

Get real:  However, if you are like me and you set an intention to always meditate in the morning but somehow end up sleeping in or got busy preparing lunch for Olivia and getting her ready for school…don’t worry about it.  I learned to just “chill” and just meditate at night or on the train on my way to work.  The important part is actually realistically committing to meditate at some point during the day.

2.  Posture

Sit cross legged on a meditation cushion or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.  Don’t lean back.  Instead, sit with a dignified yet relaxed pose.  Place your hands, palms facing down on your thighs.  Let your eyes close, or if you prefer,  keep your eyes open, softening your gaze.

Get real: 
I started my meditation practice sitting on a chair.  I initially thought “aren’t I supposed to be sitting on the floor in a lotus position?” and “should I go out and buy a meditation cushion (zafu)?”  Nope.  Basically, you have to throw out all the misconceptions you may have heard or read about meditation.  Go with what works for you.   If you don’t have those pretty zafus and zabutons, or you are not able to do a full lotus (or a half lotus, for that matter), or if you want to close your eyes rather than keep them open (my eyes feel really dry so I keep mine closed)…it’s ok.  Work with what you’ve got and what you are comfortable with.  There is no right or wrong way to meditating.
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3.  Notice your breath…AND FOLLOW THEM.

Place your attention on your breath as you breathe in and out.

Get real:  “Wait, what? How do you do that? “–that was the question exploding inside my head when I first started.  It had to be explained to me that if you pay close attention, you will notice how cold the air is as you breath it in or how your belly goes up and down.  You don’t have to force anything or think about how you are breathing.  Just notice……

Did you also notice the smallest of pauses between the in-breath and the out-breath?

4. Notice your thoughts….and DON’T FOLLOW THEM!!!

At some point, you will notice that your mind will wander and your attention is taken away from the breath.  Just acknowledge that you are “thinking” and congratulate yourself that you have caught yourself ….and once again begin on focusing on your breath.  No need to judge or belittle yourself.  Just say ” Oh, I’m thinking.”..and begin again.

Get real:  I congratulated myself a lot.  I still do.  I find that in the first few minutes, my mind is really on overdrive and there is a lot of chatter.  Sometimes, on really stressful days when there are so many thoughts that are clamouring for my attention, I scream inside my head… “SETTLE DOWN!!!”.  Interestingly enough, this works for me.  Figure out what works for you.

Remember….be kind to yourself.  No need for be so hard or angry with yourself when your mind starts to wander.  You can always begin again.
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5.  End your session

After your allotted time, you can consider your meditation period complete!  Congratulations!

Get real: I started with a 20 minute meditation practice.  However you can start with just 5 minutes a day and you can increase as you get more comfortable.  I also chose a little gesture that gave me closure…I take a deep breath, put my hands together in front of my heart and say “Namaste” quietly.  Find one that resonates with you.

Congratulations, you just finished meditating!

In future blogs, I will cover other aspects of how to improve your meditation practice using helpful tools like what apps and meditation accessories I found useful (and those I did not!) and questions that I had such as “how long should I be sitting?” or ” am I doing this right?”.  I’m thinking you would probably have the same questions I did!

As always, thanks for stopping by and if you would like to join me in my journey of healthy and mindful living….don’t forget to click on the link and follow me!!!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Debbie.

Being taken for granted …

I let someone into my lane this morning. It was 7:30 am and I was trying to catch my train to work. But traffic was unusually bad this morning and everyone seemed on edge.

I see a car signal go off on my right and I thought to myself:

“Self, someone wants to go into our lane.  Do we let them in or not?”

“Perhaps we can just ignore it and let the car behind us deal with it…”

“But, good deed for the day, you know? What do we have to lose?  A few seconds? A minute?”

“Fine. Just one car.”

So I slowed down to let the little white Honda Fit in…and waited…

….and waited…

…for the obligatory wave.

No wave.

“That’s gratitude for you”, I mumbled.

Was it selfish of me to expect a little wave of thanks or even a small acknowledgment?

At 7:31 am, I was already in a terrible mood.

The good thing about my mindfulness journey is that I am getting better at not getting carried away.

I knew I had to pause and take stock of what I was feeling.

I noticed that my shoulders were tense and had started to hunch up…so, I took a deep breath and at the exhale, relaxed my shoulders.

I noticed that even my face felt tense…deep breath and massaged my brows a bit.

I noticed my hands were clenched almost into fists…deep breath and shook my hands and fingers.

When I got to the parking lot, I put on my headphones and put on Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”.

By the time I got on the train, my internal grey sky was starting to clear….and my day was back in balance.

It is really unnerving that one little thing such as a wave for letting one into my lane can matter so much…but for me, it just does.

It is probably because I always give a little wave when someone actually lets me in because it shows that I am not taking them for granted and that I really appreciate the gesture, however small.

I’m hoping tomorrow starts off better and if someone wants to go into my lane again, I get that small little wave…

…or maybe I should leave the house by 7 am…

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

Debbie.

A Lesson on “Distribution Lists”…

Yes, I have gone back to work. I have been back for two weeks, in fact.

“How am I?” you must be wondering ….

It is good to be part of the working population again.

Yet…

Also not so good to be back with the working population again.

I was telling a good friend and colleague of mine that this time, I came back a little more  jaded compared to when I first went offline a few years ago.  I was reminded that when I came back after being diagnosed with anxiety back in 2012, I came back to work full of enthusiasm and energy.  I had all these ideas on how to make work more enjoyable, less stressful, more fun.  I looked forward to going to work; I was quicker to forgive and make concessions and excuses when something or someone pushes too hard.  I felt connected and optimistic that things will be ok.  It’s all uphill from here on in, I used to say….

“It’s ok, she is just having a bad morning”…or “he does that to everyone so don’t feel too bad..” or ” Let it go, it’s not such a big deal…”

However, I realize now that these little things, these little concessions here and there, were  silently and relentlessly chipping away at my enthusiasm.  It’s like waves crashing on the shore…mental and emotional erosion.

In my first week, I resolved to integrate slowly and stick to the plan.  Come in, turn on my computer, change my shoes, walk to the washroom and wash my hands, say hello to everyone I see, and come back and start my work day, taking little breaks here and there.  Good safe plan.

Catching up was easy as I was not gone that long and all the issues that may have come my way had already been dealt with.  The team I work with is comprised with very smart people…our little world continues even when you go offline.

I thought I was doing okay…well, until someone from another team came to my cubicle and “scolded” me sending out an innocuous email and including someone who he thought did not need to be copied.  “Scolded” does not seem to capture the moment.  I knew he was upset as his posh corner office was on the other side of the building and he actually took the time to walk to where I was sitting.

My brain was reeling.  “Upset over the distribution list?!!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!”

He talked to me through gritted teeth…a passerby would have mistaken it for a smile but the tone was clear “Don’t mess with me, I’m more senior than you.”  However, with an open concept office, voices travel and people hear.  They knew that something was off and were curious.

At any rate, I recall that my cheeks started to burn for holding up my forced sunny smile while my lesson in choosing my distribution list continued.  All I could say was “Noted”. It took a Herculean effort not to add “JERK”.

He was gone as quickly as he had come.  I had to shake the negativity off.  I felt dirty to have seen such rage over such a petty thing.  Good thing it happened on a Friday afternoon and the idea of going home was like a lifeline.  I had to tell my boss what happened as some people heard and may have been drawing their own conclusions.  I sent a quick email saying I had to leave before I do anything stupid…like copying his boss. Shock-horror!!

On the train home, the concessions started….my practice on compassion and loving kindness came to the fore as I searched my brain for my mantra when people irritate me (although, it did have a rocky start)…

“May this JERK be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease”.

Ok, try again.

“May this silly person be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Again?

“May he be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Better….

I repeated this mantra several times and by the end of my train ride, I was feeling ok.  It was the weekend, anyway.

What stayed with me throughout the weekend was not that I should be mindful of who I copy (that’s garbage…I’m smart, I know who I should or should not copy to get things moving!), but rather that I felt I had given a small concession once again.  My boss used to tell me if someone was rude to me, to be rude back.  Dish it all back.  Sigh.  Perhaps I need a lesson on Confrontation.  I just find it so hard.

No.  Can’t quite bring myself to be like that.  I would probably botch the confrontation anyway and end up in more of a mess than when it started….

So, I resolve to build thicker and higher walls so I can slow the erosion.  I will have to.  My field of expertise is full of people like that…full of overinflated egos and insecurities and I have to learn how to walk through the minefield, taking care not to blow myself up.   I think it is the same in all other professions.  We just have different ways of dealing with our own erosions…. That’s just how it is, I guess.  My first mindfulness teacher would say, “Accept.  It is what it is.”

But, this episode has hardened me.  I feel it.  I came out jaded.  I broke my rose coloured glasses.  It was probably a good thing.  A good reality check that however hard you try, you cannot control everything…people, most of all.

Anyway, I had a good break from the stresses of the world.  I am grateful for this little respite.  I wish everyone had this opportunity….I guess that is what vacations are for….of course, without visits to the doctors office.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Debbie.

Paintings over the years…

I finished a painting yesterday and I realized as I cleaned my brushes that I seem to always come up with a painting when I have one of my major anxiety attacks and relapses.  I reset.  I paint.

So, here are some of my paintings that I have accumulated over the years (yes…YEARS…sad but true).

2012

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“Blue”

30×30 Acrylic on canvas

This is one of my favourite pieces.  I remember agonizing over whether I had too much blue…it seemed so cold, so sad.  I was planning to paint a daisy…something with yellow, something that whispers of sunshine and happy days ahead…instead, my hand seemed to gravitate toward BLUE.  So, here is it…no yellow in sight.

2013

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“Eyes Closed”

30×40 Acrylic on canvas

2013 also had a relapse…and a painting.  So, back I went to the art store and purchased a bigger canvas.  I was determined to have something that I could look at and say, “Yes, that brightens up my day and everything is going to be OK.” Instead, I again seemed to gravitate to darker colors and darker moods.  I remember it was the middle of summer and I just wanted to crawl into my proverbial cave and close my eyes and hoped I would feel better when I do open them.  I wished it was winter.  At any rate, here it is.  Eyes closed and a scarf to keep me warm.  Still no yellow in sight.

2014

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“A Million Suns”

60×60 acrylic paint on canvas

This is the biggest piece I have ever done. My husband actually had to make this canvas for me since they don’t sell this size in your normal art store. This was a painting inspired by an accountant turned artist, Jonah Calinawan ( incidentally, also my brother!).  His work discovers the endless possibilities of choice, destiny, and identity using a 19th century printing process called cyanotype–which gives his images a deep blue color.   You can check out his work at  amillionsuns.com.  As I was doing this piece, I was thinking that life is not really black and white, that we have a choice in making our lives happier, that our outlook in life can be more positive… if we want it to be. I used to scoff at these sayings like “choose happiness”. Very cliche and I roll my eyes. But you know what, there was something to be said for making that choice that “Hey, I can do this.  I choose to be happy, I choose to have a more positive perspective.”  Of course, there were days when it just seemed so hard to get out of bed when I felt storm clouds in my head and I did not want to move a muscle for fear of letting all my inner demons come out and dance in the rain. (Laugh).  I found this was when my mindfulness practice helped me the most. In this painting, I finally had to courage to use Yellow!

So, perhaps, this is why this recent setback has really shaken my resolve.  I was on a roll and I was doing fine (or so I thought), then boom!  Episode in the stairway (see my previous post “May 21, 2015“).

2015

 image“A Reminder”

24 x 36 acrylic on canvas

This is my most recent painting and from  looks of it, I am getting more comfortable with using more “happier” colors.  This set back has been brief ….maybe because I just needed a quick little reminder  to “pause”.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have gone back to work this past week…slowly integrating back…a few hours a day.

I will leave that story for another time.

At any rate, I look at my paintings over the years and while they were made during difficult times,  I am glad I made something beautiful out of it (or so I think anyway!) .

 I am also realizing that at the rate I’m going, I will be running out of wall space pretty soon!

Debbie.