Tag Archives: mindfulness

We’re all watching the world go by. We absentmindedly read the news, scroll through Facebook, eat lunch with one eye on our laptops and drive home without even remembering how we got there.

To be fair, it’s a little bit harder to become fully zoned out when you’re living outside of your home culture. Not paying attention could land you eating some bizarre, new food or telling the cashier, “I don’t need a bath,” instead of “I don’t need a bag” (true story). So naturally expats tend to be a bit more observant.

But, no matter where we are, we get into habits in our daily routines. We take our feelings, our thoughts and our actions for granted. Much of the time we don’t even notice that the strain in our neck came after the disagreement with our spouse or that the third cup of coffee fuels the sloppy emails or late night media binge.

I believe there’s an additional layer to this for people who are living away from home. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are complicated by the unpredictable and unusual way in which we live. There are more distractions...and simultaneously more ways in which to pay attention.

Often, people who thrive in this lifestyle do so by learning to pay better attention and by adopting a level of intentionality in their daily lives despite all of the spinning around them.

When I talk with people about this, no one ever disagrees. Yes, of course, we should pay attention to what we’re feeling and thinking. But, how? Should I journal? Talk with a friend? What about going for long walks…listening to woodwind instruments over the sounds of the sea…drinking one less gin and tonic?

Sure. But really, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

There are surprisingly easy ways to adopt a higher degree of intentionality in the things we do. And, contrary to what you might think, it can start in small and specific ways at any point in the day.

When we’re able to pick a couple of things to do on purpose, we’re strengthening the part of our brain that pays attention. At first we simply pay attention to a couple of seemingly innocuous events, but before we know it, that heightened sense of awareness has come to support us in noticing the more significant ups and downs of our daily experience.

But pay attention to what?

I like to say, "Think of yourself as a scientist."

In that vein, paying attention can be anything from really noticing the sensations of washing your hands to making a head-to-toe scan of your body when you sit down at your desk each day. It can include actually observing yourself making your coffee or sitting on the train, noticing the world around you (not reading your phone).

Brainstorming a list of ideas is a great way to start. And there’s nothing that says you have to choose everything you write down. Maybe just one to start and then add two or three as the weeks progress.

What you’ll notice is that the noticing, instead of the brushing-aside, becomes the habit. The paying attention starts to feel normal. It’s an exceptional way to tune in to your daily experience. And that, in turn, creates greater insight and can improve decision-making and relationship building.

None of this happens over night. It’s like doing push-ups. You get stronger and more skilled, little by little, until (before you know it) you’re aware of things you never noticed before.

If you’re stuck - this exercise might give you some insight into how to try out paying attention.

I also love this TED talk about developing habits. I watched it as part of a Personal Leadership program I’m participating in. While he’s not exactly talking about paying attention, the presenter's ideas for micro-practice could help you establish a regular routine for paying attention.

And, if you want to get a better sense of how to observe your thought and emotional patterns, check out this activity from my book, The Expat Activity Book, here.

In 2015, I had the honor and privilege to write a chapter in the Foreign Service parents’ support guide – Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.

Written by FS parents for FS parents, the book is a must-have and includes tons of great ideas, along with first-hand knowledge and information. You can purchase a copy here.

I am pleased to share that I now have my chapter – The Oxygen Mask: Mindfulness for Expat Parents – available here for download.

This chapter offers my insights and experiences as a typical parent attempting to not lose my mind with three kids and 8 moves in under 10 years. Thank you for reading! And be sure to check out the additional bonus offer mentioned at the end of the chapter.

curiosity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about curiosity.

We're born to explore and question and discover. In fact, it's through curiosity, along with a healthy dose of trial and error, that we become the people we are.

Unfortunately, we all get a bit freaked out by the trial and error part. Curiosity is awesome until we realize it can get us in trouble. Curiosity killed the cat.

And so, with time and the ups and downs of life we start to silence our curiosity. We fear what we will find on the other side if we question what we see before us. Who are we if we really examine how we feel about ourselves, if we analyze the judgments we make about others and if we peel away the layers of the world around us to reveal what’s underneath? We don’t like it. It scares us.

True curiosity requires the ability to be shocked, saddened, found wrong, and dismayed. It also means you’re ready to be forgiving, dedicated, thoughtful and kind.

Curiosity settles once and for all that life is not this or that, but rather that…and maybe that too…and also that. Curiosity says – I’ll take all that! Sign me up! Join me?

It shows us the awe-inspiring nature of the given moment.

It reminds us we're one of many, while providing the gift of bringing us together.

Curiosity means more reading, more talking, more connecting, more watching, more thinking, more feeling, more wandering. More growing.

Curiosity takes guts, but you’ve got them. I just know it.

upcoming-workshops-from-world-tree-coaching

As I mentioned in my last post, I am super excited to finally be getting moved in and into a permanent home after what feels like three long, international years of transition. It doesn't even seem possible that we've lived in 5 places (overlapping 3 countries, 2 Japanese cities and 2 US states) since we first found out we were moving to Japan 3 years ago. NOT. NORMAL.

This makes it all the more exciting to announce my workshop line-up for October!

I will be offering the following two workshops/programs:

UNDERSTANDING THE HABITS OF HEART AND MIND - A WORKSHOP ON EVERYDAY MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES 
TUES, OCT. 4, 10-11:30
Learn basic mindfulness skills to reduce stress and improve decision-making in a supportive, interactive and fun workshop. LIMIT 15 PARTICIPANTS. Read more and register here.

3-SESSION MANTRA BUILDER GROUP
NOTE DATE/TIME CHANGE FOR FIRST MEETING!

#1 - FRI. OCT. 7 11:00- 12:30; #2 - THURS. OCT. 13 10:00-11:30; #3 - THURS. OCT. 20; 10-11:30
Learn more about what makes you tick, focus in on your priorities, develop strategies to maintain stability even in the face of change and create a personal mantra to take with you wherever you go. LIMIT 5 PARTICIPANTS. Read more and register here.

Thank you for your interest! I look forward to seeing you there!

IMG_8286

Today I saw mindfulness in action in a way I never could have imagined!

I met a girlfriend (pictured above) in Tokyo for brunch. We hadn’t seen each other in several weeks and we were so happy to catch up. We grabbed a cup of coffee and then ate…and had another cup of coffee. We were talking a mile a minute – around and about and over each other. It was a delightful early morning buzz of caffeine and friendship.

After our brunch we decided to walk over to the Mori Art Museum and look out over the city from the 6o-something floor. We were surprised to find a technology exhibit going on. It wasn’t really what we’d come for, so we sat and talked on the benches for a bit, looking out with a birds-eye view of the urban blanket below and marveling at what it’s like to be living in the biggest city in the world.

Eventually, my friend suggested we check out the exhibit. The first one we came upon was a giant box with a seat in the middle facing the windows that look out below to the city. Surrounding the window on all four sides were triangle-shaped mirrors that could close in, thus blocking the view out the window.

The docent explained that we could sit in the chair and wear a headset that reads brain waves (this probably has some technical name, but I don’t know what it is). When we were “relaxed” and not focusing on our thoughts, the mirrors would remain open and our view would be of the city below. However, if we focused on something – a particular thought or image – the mirrors would close.

The most interesting thing to me initially was my own thought process in approaching this experiment. I felt genuinely “relaxed” and happy to be with my friend, but I knew I had a lot on my mind. I found myself really “wanting” the window to stay open. I wanted to be calm and at peace and meditative. I recognized myself setting this up as some sort of mindfulness challenge. Would I be able to be present? Could I allow my thoughts to pass without grasping on to them, over analyzing them or making them into a friend or enemy?

You can guess where this is going.

Once my headset was on and I was into position, the mirrors immediately started closing. My mind was racing around saying, “Be calm! Just breathe! Meditate!”

It makes me laugh now because it was so hilariously NOT what was going to make the mirrors remain open.

I was annoyed at myself a bit, but also completely fascinated to see this whole thing working in this way. And it was so consistent with what I’ve come to know about my mind already – it’s almost always whirring away. Usually the first ten minutes of my meditation practice are a blur thinking and bouncing all over the place. I come to a quieter mind after much, much mental movement.

So after a minute or so, I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Within seconds I could tell that the mirror was opening. I cracked my eyes, stayed focused on the breath coming in and out and I could see the mirror stop, open, close a bit. It was as if this experiment was the visual of my meditation practice. I even at one point found that I was really still mentally, but as soon as I began to strive to stay there – the mirror began to close.

Honestly, I could have stayed in this experiment for so much longer – observing the ins and outs of my thought patterns and my awareness of the world around me.

I found the visual imagery of the closed mirror (of the racing mind) versus the world below through the window (of the soft, open mind) incredibly beautiful.

And even home now, hours later, I feel so many emotions about this - excited, thoughtful, reflective, giddy at the cool science-ness of it and also so at peace with the ins and outs of cultivating a more mindful existence. Doing this experiment was an incredible reminder that the journey’s always going on inside whether we see it or not. We’re a little bit mindful here, a little less there, a little more there – but we’re mindful when we can be and how we can be. The key, as always, remains simply remembering to pay attention.

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Sweet sadness

Sweet sadness.

This may be the most quintessential expat emotion.

It’s the simultaneous desire to go and to stay. It’s loneliness wrapped in joy, blanketed in longing, softened by comfort.

Going somewhere can be so sweet - the new adventure, the new friends, the new food and culture. But staying is so sweet too – all those nooks and crannies you’ve come to love, your friends, the strange things that are now familiar. It’s nice to make a home some place.

And going somewhere is sadness too. Saying goodbye to what’s behind is sad. Saying hello to something new – being the stranger, the language-mangler, the wrong-way-doer – is sad sometimes too.

Sweet sadness.

And what’s to be done about it?

Perhaps the only thing is to feel it. Really feel it. Cry and smile at the same time. Admit that this up and down is both good and bad. Know that the coming and the going both matter. Recognize that you are the person you were and the person you’re going to be. You’re both people…even right now. That’s sweet sadness.

Sometimes we’ll say, “This life is so awesome! I’ll do this forever!”

Sometimes we’ll say, “It’s just too much. I am alone. I can’t do this forever!”

But maybe most of the time we say both. It’s okay. Let’s just admit it’s complicated.

Today I had sweetness in a café lunch overlooking the quiet bustle of a Japanese shopping street with my beautiful three-year-old daughter who says smart and funny things and is right before my eyes becoming my very best friend in the world.

And in her I see my mother’s dimples. And then there’s the sadness. I am here in this new and sparkling world of an often-mysterious culture and an unforgiving language that is the backdrop of cute things made of paper and incense and she, my mother, is back there newly widowed, returned briefly to her hometown to care for my grandparents as they enter what is likely the final months of their lives. And maybe part of me knows that part of me should be there. Sadness.

And the two things are mirrored – mother and daughter and daughter and mother. And it is sweet to be here. And it is sadness not to be there. Those things are both happening. There’s no other way to look at it. It is sweet. It is sadness. Sweet sadness.

So I say – I’ll have both – the sweet and the sad. Because in the end, I think, it must be so much deeper and bigger and fuller than simply having it all just one way.

Seychelles Mama

I don’t usually review books here, but increasingly I feel drawn to create an archive of book reviews. I read a lot. Maybe it’s a good idea. People often ask me if I can recommend books about the expat experience or about mindfulness. It dawned on me while reading Tracy Slater’s memoir The Good Shufu that it encompasses both of these elements. So, book recommendation it is.

Slater’s memoir is many things – a beautiful love story, a recounting of deep loss, a journey of someone who must surrender to losing parts of her identity and open to gaining others, a detailed account of her culture shock experience and a tale of friendship and family in unlikely places – but at it’s heart and in each of these different stories, it is a story of waking up.

Here are some lines that capture what I most love about The Good Shufu. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Slater writes,

“But I was learning that in real, messy life, sometimes you can’t fully smooth down the future before it arrives.”

“Perhaps utter vulnerability and pure peace really could coexist, surrender sometimes culminate in quiet joy, not destruction.”

“Now, the friction was between everything being the same and different at the same time. But wasn’t that life? To hold two contradicting truths at one time and to keep on holding them?”

“I spent so much of my early adulthood terrified of losing myself, grasping on to some illusion of having firm control over life, an unshakable plot. But I’m starting to realize that you can’t properly find yourself if you haven’t let yourself get lost in the first place.”

I think one of the reasons these lines speak to me is that Slater is so able to say what so many expats feel and she says it so well. The expat experience is one of constant contradiction – the feeling of not wanting things to change, but knowing we have no option, the desire to be both “home” and “away from home” at the same time, the sense that we’re making a huge mistake and yet somehow feeling that all this mobility just feels right.

It’s nice to read about someone else’s journey and feel we have common ground, to know that we’re not alone in what we experience. However, I think the true gift that we gain in reading The Good Shufu is that Slater teaches us, by sharing her own journey, that it’s not enough to simply recognize this duality – we must wake up to it, get up close and personal with it, and listen to what it may be teaching us.

Slater experiences this herself. It begins to happen when she falls in love with a Japanese man while teaching English to Japanese businessmen for a summer. And she doesn’t just fall. This is real love. The sort of thing that you know is real in some deep-down, never-noticed-before place in your heart even though you can’t figure out why it’s real because…were you even looking for this?

The journey continues when month after month and then year after year she begins to see herself accepting a life that she never envisioned – a life that most definitely wasn’t part of her plan. What she experiences is not all bad or difficult, much of it is better than she ever could have dreamed, but it remains in almost every way, not what she had planned for.

And she sees all that. She reflects on it. It’s not always easy, but she wakes up to it. The contrast, the duality of existence that we feel as expats, provides her with a gift – a new awareness that the storyline can be written, loved and accepted without judgment, as she sees fit.

And this is what Slater shows us over the course of The Good Shufu – that you can have a plan and be laid flat by unpredicted circumstances, that you can feel tremendous depths of sadness while being wrapped in the arms of the person with whom you feel the most joyful, you can be convinced you know the right way while simultaneously being shown you have absolutely no idea. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s not only okay – it’s a chance to live more deeply, more authentically and more in-tune with what’s happening around you.

So why should you read The Good Shufu?

In this funny, conversational and completely down-to-earth memoir, we learn one woman’s story of finding love in and acceptance of the inherent duality of the expat experience. We learn that true contentment can be found in ourselves and in others even when we, or they, stray from our original story line. The Good Shufu is about seeing and learning to accept all the ups and downs and pure confusion that come with real life and knowing that somewhere in there there’s a story worth coming home to.

But above all else, The Good Shufu teaches us the importance of remembering to take a long hard look in the mirror and out the window because there are answers all around us…if we can just let go long enough to truly see.

Get the book here.

My Beloved Emotional Roller Coaster

So we made it! We’re back in Japan after fifteen years away and we’re back abroad after about 18 months in the States. There’s no other way to say it – YAY!! It feels so good to be back to our typical way of living.

I think in some sort of way I didn’t know it would feel this way. Maybe I didn’t even know how much I was missing our international life. Somehow I’m not sure I realized how being back abroad would feel more like home than “home” really did.

But you know what? The most awesome part of all of this is that despite feeling so good about being back – I don’t actually feel perfect! I don’t feel good all the time! I haven’t slipped peacefully back into life here oblivious to the ups and downs of culture shock. What I am doing is feeling all up close and personal with the whole range of thoughts and emotions that come from living life as an expat. Most of them are actually really nice and happy and welcoming, but some of them are, naturally, not sweet and cozy emotions.

Like anyone who is going through a major transition sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed, turned around, confused and exhausted. I’ve been doing this long enough that these feelings aren’t plaguing me all the time, but they’re there – sometimes really big and loud and sometimes just quietly in the background.

As strange as it may sound, I’m finding old friends in the whole host of emotions that live inside me when we’ve moved to a new place. These emotions are so familiar to me during transition. Even when they don’t feel so nice, I’m finding now more than ever I’m able to say, “Oh, it’s you again Anxiety-About-Getting-Lost-Down-Unfamiliar-Streets? Welcome home!”

What surprises me this time around (this is my sixth international move), is that these emotions don’t scare me anymore. I know they’re here. I know they’ll likely be gone soon and I know they may reappear from time to time. They are actually a part of me and a part of my expat experience that feel completely familiar. With all the new stuff, there’s something really nice about experiencing something I’ve known before, even if it is a handful of emotions most people would try to avoid.

And so, with the ups and downs and all the in-betweens, I think I can officially say – we made it! I’m home.

Just ask...

I love the New York Times Modern Love column. If you’re also a fan, you may have seen Mandy Len Catron’s piece – To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This. In the essay, she talks about a study in which strangers ask each other 36 questions. The New York Times reports that the study, by psychologist Arthur Aron, is designed to see if feelings of love can be accelerated.

The original piece was so popular that the New York Times published the list of questions and now is offering a free app to help people answer the questions with a partner.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows how much I love lists of questions. So, you can imagine, when I first saw the article I thought, “How fun! Maybe we should do that.” Despite the fact that I’m already in love with my husband (going on 17 years!) I thought it could be kind of cool to go through the questions together. But then I forgot about it.

However, last weekend, after wrapping up the dinner portion of our date night and deciding to head over to our favorite coffee house for a little dessert and decaf, I remembered the questions. We decided to give it a go.

We started off rather casually. We already know each other so well. But as we got deeper and deeper into the list, something happened. We started to answer the questions in a whole new way. Often we started off saying, “Well, you already know this but…” Then we found ourselves adding layers of thought and emotion to the stories that maybe we hadn’t previously considered.

Having each other’s undivided attention, we began to tease out the hidden feelings behind some of our responses. Our respective “worst memory ever” and “most embarrassing moment ever” became almost like new stories. More than just facts now, they were filled with new insight and new reflections.

It really was an incredible experience. We feel like we share everything and yet I know we both completed the questions feeling like we expressed thoughts, ideas and emotions that we hadn’t previously voiced. More than once we teared up. More than once we told each other something we hadn’t said before.

What we did most of all was listen, reflect, respond and reach out to each other. We don’t technically need a list of 36 questions to do that, but somehow the questions provided an additional layer of focused task and permission. Our life is full – with work and 3 kids and moving all over the world. The questions removed us a bit from the day to day. They were about us and they enabled us to focus completely on each other.

Most of the time it feels impossible to give our undivided attention to our friends and loved ones. Even those of us who truly try to, still fall short. But what a nice reminder these questions were. When we ask and then wait for a response, we have the power to deepen our relationships tremendously.

I highly recommend checking out the article and spending some time with the questions and someone you want to know better...or someone you already love. You may find you learn something you never knew about him or her...or even about yourself.

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childhood memories blog post

Today I hosted a play date for my two oldest children. In addition to my boys, there were three other TCKs. For much of the afternoon they played a game that was one part good guys/bad guys, one part chase and one part hide-and-seek. They laughed and screamed and beat a path from bedroom to bedroom in our tiny apartment.

This got me thinking about the fact that sometimes, despite all of the amazing things my children have seen and are seeing because of our international life, I really wish they could do some of the things I did as a kid.

Things like:

  • Lying in the driveway looking at stars and counting the falling ones.
  • Building forts in the cedar trees and collecting juniper berries and leaves and twigs and making magic potions out of them.
  • Walking late at night through ranch land to a friend’s house only fearing coyotes and snakes and stray barbed wire.
  • Reading in a hammock, listening to wind chimes.
  • Passing notes and staying up late with the same friends since kindergarten.

I’ve shared this feeling with my husband off and on over the years. He laughs because his childhood was nothing like mine. He, of course, has completely different memories that fuel his understanding of what childhood should be like.

He’s good at reminding me that what I really want them to have is good memories – memories of laughter and security and adventure.

Today I had this moment in the kitchen, making popcorn and listening to the laughter of this silly bunch of kids who’ve lived all over the world, that they have exactly what I had and exactly what my husband had. They have now and are creating every day memories that are tailored exactly for and by their own experiences.

And that’s what makes childhood memories so special. It’s not the place or the time or the exact activity, it’s the fact that you were there. You were fully engaged. You lived in that moment. In all your perfect kid-ness you just lived…without comparison or envy or the feeling that the grass was greener on the other side.

Come to think of it, that’s not too shabby of a lesson for each and every one of us…no matter how old.

 

Expat Life with a Double Buggy