6 Essential Practices for Hard-to-Reach Stressors

This summer we’ve decided not to go home. We’re here, in Tokyo, living out our sweltering summer amidst the asphalt and kakigoori (also known as the best thing made from ice ever invented).

My mom’s here visiting. That’s super nice. Occasionally she comes to see us and get a taste of our life between worlds. I’ve been talking to her quite a bit about the stress of this lifestyle. It feels particularly acute because we’re here and not in Austin. I always feel like the only place in the world I’m supposed to be in the summer is Austin. It makes the universe feel a bit off kilter to be here and not there.

I realize in talking with her that it’s not the everyday stressors of expat life that most get to me (although, of course, there are many), but rather what I think of as background stressors. The deeper, more intimate questions of – Will all this work out in the end? What does our retirement look like if we’ve never had a home? Will our kids wish they’d stayed in one place? Where will we be living this time next year? What does it mean to be an American overseas during times like these?

When we think about stress-management and self-care – we often think about the everyday skills and habits that help us deal with the surface stressors of life. Going for a nice long run, getting a massage or calling a friend largely helps us handle that sort of stress.

But background stress is different because it can be hard-to-reach and difficult to figure out what’s actually going on. It lurks under and behind everything we do. It nags – like losing your keys or forgetting the name of that girl you used to know in middle school, the one who moved to Hawaii. Those stressors are there whether we notice them or not and they pile up. Background stressors can leave us feeling unexpectedly down, lost, irritable or just plan weird.

While having positive self-care habits like exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy eating definitely help ease the intensity of background stressors, I’ve found that these stressors also take a separate and distinct type of engagement.

To deal with the challenges that hit at our egos, our values and our sense of purpose – it’s important to develop habits of self-reflection and insight. Taking the time to look more closely at who we are and how we fit in the world can be difficult. Sometimes the effort can feel daunting. We may not be sure we’ll like what we find there. On the other hand, deep down most of us know it’s important to do this type of inner work so that we can grow and develop into our full selves.

One way to cultivate a more reflective state is to develop practices that naturally foster paying attention to our experiences. These skills can help us turn towards what’s going on inside and around us, giving us more information about the source of background stress.

This can include practices like:

Attending to Judgment – Learning to become aware of our judgments and assumptions.

Attending to Emotions – Asking ourselves what we’re feeling.

Attending to Physical Sensation – Paying attention to our body and asking what it may be trying to tell us.

Cultivating Stillness – Spending time in “not doing” to see what insights might come.

Engaging Ambiguity – Learning to become more comfortable with what we don’t or can’t know.

Aligning with Vision – Asking, “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

These practices (from the Personal Leadership model for intercultural communication) are great for those moments when you feel that nagging sense of uncertainty. Those times when you sense something’s not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it or those times when you feel like you’re just floating along – neither completely engaged nor disengaged.

Sure, you’ll still go for a run, call a friend, write in your journal or enjoy a little “me time,” but for all the stress that just keeps on giving learning to turn your attention towards what’s going on, just might be the key.

To hear a bit more about these practices in detail, check out this blog post from my 7-Part Facebook Live video series – What Does It Take to Practice Mindfulness? To learn how you can apply these practices in your own life, consider joining the fall session of Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments.

Relocation Season

It’s May and that means a lot of things for those of us living between cultures.

If you have children, their school year is likely coming to an end.

If you’re an expat you may be planning travel or planning on staying put in your host country…both of which come with their unique challenges.

Or, perhaps you’re relocating. You may find yourself in that weird space of not yet leaving, but not quite still here either.

You may be (once again!) asking why you’ve chosen a globally mobile life. Perhaps you’re even wondering if you actually chose it. You might be feeling a little dragged along. You’re likely also reminding yourself of all the fabulous reasons you’ve chosen to do this.

It’s yo-yo mind and yo-yo heart.

This time of year is always a time in which I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to keep moving from place to place. For many years it felt like we moved almost as soon as we arrived in a new country. We would take six months to get settled, be comfortable for a year and then immediately move towards repacking and planning for our next assignment.

We’re fortunate to now be coming up on three years in Japan. We had one small move after the first year, but fifteen miles from Yokohama to Tokyo hardly felt like anything. Even the fact that the kids changed schools seemed less critical since they were able to visit their new school ahead of time and our middle son had even played a few soccer tournaments there.

Right now we’re at the place of being “stayers,” but we also have lots of stayer friends. Next year we’ll be leavers again. And so it goes, the cycle of expat life. Something comes up, we see it. Something comes up again and we’re right back where we left off. Learning to be wherever we are…while also learning to move through is part of the process.

So, no matter where you are in your international adventure, be sure to check out the tips and ideas I offer in the articles below (recently published on InDependent and I Am a Triangle) – they provide some really important reminders for maintaining balance during relocation season and beyond.

I often find an uptick in individuals seeking out coaching during this time period. Transition is a surprisingly good time to have a coach – the touchstone of someone to keep you focused on your priorities is important when you’re going through change. If that’s you and you’re ready for some gentle, but unfailing support, a space for thoughtful reflection, an opportunity to sort through what is most important to you and someone to hold you accountable to your goals – I’d be honored to work with you. Click here to learn more about how we can work together.

Five Ways Mindfulness Helps Me Find Home

It’s no secret that I’ve found a daily mindfulness practice to be a key ingredient in my ability to manage the ups and downs of our international life.

Despite common misunderstandings about mindfulness practice, it’s really not all that complicated. Mindfulness is quite simply the practice of paying attention and seeing clearly what’s happening while it’s happening.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, in the unpredictability of expat life where pretty much everything can feel strange and unfamiliar, becoming more mindful can help us navigate our experiences with increased ease and resilience.

Here are just a few of the ways that’s played out for me.

Mindfulness allows me to practice feeling homesick…and also not homesick.

I make a point of reminding the people in both my personal and professional life that there are no “good” and “bad” emotions. Emotions are neither positive nor negative. Sure – some feel better than others, but ultimately, everything we feel comes from somewhere and serves a purpose in helping us navigate our experiences.

Mindfulness practice enables us to pay attention to what we’re feeling without trying to:

  • change it (what we often try to do when we’re feeling emotions we don’t like),
  • chase it (what we like to do when an emotion feels good) or
  • judge it (what we do when we feel our emotions don’t align with how we’re “supposed” to feel).

When it comes to living life around the world, practicing mindfulness by developing a more reflective and compassionate relationship with our emotions can support us in learning how to deal with whatever comes our way.

Mindfulness helps me see home as a state of being created in my own mind.

Another key element of mindfulness practice, is learning to see things as they really are, not simply as we want them to be. Mindfulness inspires us to ask questions about what we’re witnessing and examine what we find there. While this isn’t always easy, being able to tune in to life as it truly is is a huge benefit of mindfulness practice.

What does this mean practically speaking?

Imagine I’m telling myself, “I hate it here! I’m never going to fit in. There are no work opportunities. This is a disaster!” Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate our ability to feel lost or overwhelmed, but it does enable us to stop and examine our perceptions. I can then start to ask questions like:

  • How much of this is really true and how much of this is a story I’m telling myself?
  • Is there anything that is working right now?
  • What can I learn here?
  • Are there things that I don’t hate?
  • What previously unnoticed options do I have in this situation?

Now, that doesn’t mean you suddenly start loving a place that just isn’t working for you, but it does help you get more creative, offering you the opportunity to make decisions based on a clearer, more thoughtful way of seeing.

Mindfulness reminds me to notice the details.

One of my most treasured benefits of maintaining a daily mindfulness practice is the way in which it has deepened my ability to pay attention to the “small” things.

When we move from place to place, it’s so easy to think that we should be unfazed. It becomes common, I think, to feel that we’re able to adapt at a moments notice and that our unbelievable flexibility means we can make these shifts with little or no disruption to our body or our mental state.

When we develop basic, everyday mindfulness skills, we engage the practice of slowing down and seeing the little bumps in the road. Sometimes small disruptions – the noise outside your new apartment that causes you to sleep poorly, the times you spend hungry because you’ve yet to stock your pantry, the frustration of slow internet connection that means your calls to your best friend are mess of static, feedback and silence – can actually have a huge impact.

When we take a moment to be still and really pay attention, we may notice the physical sensations, the emotions, or the discomfort of uncertainty that live in that space. We learn from seeing those places of unease and becoming mindful of them enables us to make much-needed adjustments.

Mindfulness encourages me to practice ritual.

Before we started our international life, I wasn’t really someone who stuck to a routine. Sure, I attempted to create positive habits (going for a run, reading before bed, etc.), but I never felt much pressure to really keep up with them.

Moving from place to place has made my healthy habits all the more important and my mindfulness practice supports me in staying awake to their significance in my life.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation inspire me to establish rituals and routines because the habits themselves (whether seated meditation or simply performing tasks with attention and care) foster dedication. In other words – by committing myself to being more mindful in my choices, actions, observations and interactions, I’m laying the foundation for commitment to other positive health habits as well.

Morning meditation, a daily jog, cooking healthy meals, taking frequent work breaks throughout the day and reading before bed are habits that I rely on during transition to create a sense of inner balance during upheaval. Additionally, when I notice these habits slipping, it’s my commitment to everyday mindfulness practice that helps me return to these supportive rituals.

Mindfulness supports me in building relationships.

A great deal of mindfulness practice is about developing an awareness of our inner dialogue – our thoughts, emotions, and judgments. However, it’s important in mindfulness practice to recognize the way in which our relationship with ourselves (and this internal dialogue) relates to how we connect with others.

Mindfulness helps me to take time with people. It supports me in active listening so that I can better understand how the moving experience affects my husband and children. It enables me to slow down and see better the ways in which those around me may be suffering or the ways in which they’re brought to life by something new in our world.

Moving is almost always a time of great stress. It’s a time when our tempers are short and we’re more likely to lash out at those around us. Mindfulness doesn’t always prevent that from happening (we’re all human after all!), but it can give us the skills to turn back to generosity and kindness when we realize we’ve behaved poorly towards others.

And, mindfulness helps us make friends. Research says that our ability to understand our own emotional experiences makes us better at understanding the experiences of others. That, in turn, makes us better friends – and that goes for the friends we’ve left behind and those we’ll make in our new home.

What about you?

Do you have an informal mindfulness, meditation, or spiritual practice or other ritual that supports you in practical ways as you move? If not, what would it take for you to start something like this?

Share with me in the comments what’s worked for you or what’s sparked your interest in reading this post. Click here to learn more about how I can help you bring these skills into your own life.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness?

This past week I had so much fun creating a series of Facebook live videos where I answered the question, “What does it take to practice mindfulness?”

This is such an important topic to me and I love to support people as the learn simple, easy-to-access skills to engage more fully, live more deeply and connect more authentically to themselves and the world around them.

Mindfulness can be an everyday practice – something we do throughout our day in small ways that can lead to big change. These skills take commitment and patience, but they’re actually quite simple and completely doable within your daily life.

Everyone can practice mindfulness!

Below you’ll find the entire Facebook live video series. Day One is an introduction to the concept of mindfulness and the subsequent videos outline the 6 mindfulness practices offered through the Personal Leadership model.

Heads-up: If the videos are muted when you click on them, simply right click to unmute.

If you’d like to learn more about what you see here and get support in putting these skills to work in your own life, here are some ways we can work together:

Day One: What does it take to practice mindfulness? Intro.

A couple of notes for this video: Here is the book I mention – 10% Happier by Dan Harris (ooops, I say Dan Brown in the video). Also, this video cuts a bit short – apologies, but nothing missed other than me signing off.

What does it take to practice mindfulness?

What does it take to practice mindfulness? *The first video of a 7 part Facebook live series. Join me over the next 7 days to learn about the 6 mindfulness practices I use in my coaching and mindfulness programs.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

 

Day Two: Attending to Judgment

Be sure to check out the book Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference.

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 2 – Attending to Judgment

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

 

Day Three: Attending to Emotion

This is the resource I mention for expanding your emotional vocabulary.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Thursday, January 25, 2018

 

Day Four: Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Friday, January 26, 2018

 

Day Five: Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Saturday, January 27, 2018

 

Day Six: Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Day Seven: Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Monday, January 29, 2018

Coaching Opportunities in 2018

In the past two days I’ve had the incredible pleasure to conduct “get-to-know-you” sessions with the participants in the beta-test of my Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments program. This 12-week mindfulness skills program will support clients in learning the practical, accessible mindfulness skills offered through the Personal Leadership framework and provide coaching support as the participants implement these skills into their daily lives.

It has been so fun to engage in these conversations! Each of the participants is coming to the program from their own unique desire to live more engaged and more connected with the world around them. I have loved sharing with them the details of how we’re going to be talking about real world skills, actual day-to-day practices and ideas that they’ll be able to implement not just in times of balance, but in times of upheaval.

Please stay-tuned for updates (by liking the World Tree Coaching Facebook page or by joining my email mailing list if you haven’t already). I’m hoping to have completed the beta phase and to begin accepting clients for the program in late-April 2018.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m now booking individual coaching clients for 2018. After some time off for the holidays (and to get my beta-testers moving through their program), I’ll begin seeing new individual coaching clients in mid-January.

If you’ve thought about coaching before, but aren’t sure it’s the right fit for you, please click here and schedule a time for us to talk more. This no-obligation session is a great way to see how coaching could support you in reaching your goals, managing transition, gaining clarity and maintaining (or regaining) balance as you enter a new year. Coaching is a true gift to yourself. There’s nothing quite like it!

As a special offer, all new clients who register between now and December 18, 2017, will receive a free copy of my book The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are (a $20 value) along with a voucher for $25 off the coaching program of her or his choice.

Click here to learn more about how we can work together to make 2018 the year you get moving where you want to go!

My Take on Mindfulness

I first started learning about mindfulness about 10 years ago when my oldest child was a toddler. My initial response was – “No way!” I couldn’t imagine how slowing down and paying attention to what I was thinking and feeling would really make that much of a difference.

I kind of liked being a hotheaded, quick-thinker and gut-action sort of person. I wasn’t sure I wanted to change. And yet, I also had the nagging sense that I couldn’t continue along the path I was on…especially once I had children.

I found myself frequently overwhelmed and exhausted, playing the same stories and insecurities in my head over and over again. It just didn’t feel like that was sustainable either.

So, with the encouragement of a dear friend, I decided to take a mindfulness meditation class. It’s an understatement to say it changed my life. But, while I came to very much value the sense of calm and insight I gained from mindfulness meditation – it was the daily practice of mindfulness – of paying attention to what was real, of creating a less judgmental awareness to what was happening around me – that gave me the greatest sense of my ability to stay balanced and get through challenging situations, especially as we began living a life overseas.

The basic definition of mindfulness is: non-judgmental, in-the-moment awareness. The truth is though, I don’t think that really helps most people gain that much understanding. If you’re considering working with me – either individually or in a group or workshop – reading these common questions and my responses can help you get a sense of my perspective on mindfulness.

Professionally, I find the greatest joy in supporting people in understanding how they can practice everyday mindfulness (what is often referred to as “informal practice”). I help people bring mindfulness out of the clouds and into their real lives. I’m not a meditation teacher or affiliated with a particular faith or religious practice.

Here are some of the most common things I hear about mindfulness:

“Mindfulness? I could never do that!”

I think what people are saying here is that it feels too overwhelming to learn another thing. And I get that – I was once there too. It can feel like there is no way we could possibly grasp what can seem like a pretty esoteric concept.

I believe, however, that we are all born with the skills of mindfulness – to pay curious, deeply engaged attention to our experiences and to the world around us. Just look at babies! Our natural inclination is to look closer. By learning simple, accessible mindfulness skills to tune in to our emotions, thoughts, physical sensations and more – we’re simply reconnecting with abilities that have faded with time.

And sometimes what people are saying is that it seems impossible to find a way to fit this into their daily lives. I’ll get to that in a minute…keep reading.

 “I can’t meditate.

I’ll be honest, anyone can meditate. But, let’s say you don’t want to, or it turns you off, or it feels somehow counter to your spiritual or religious views. That’s okay. Really. Meditation is an incredible tool for connecting in the moment and becoming more mindful. It’s a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. But, from my perspective, it’s not the only way. Meditation is about creating stillness in the mind (not completely clearing the mind) and there are certainly other ways to do that – running, yoga, knitting, cooking, even brushing your teeth(!) – can all be ways to practice becoming more mindful.

“I don’t think it’s normal to be happy all the time.”

This is such a common and unfortunate misconception about mindfulness. Mindfulness is not about being happy all the time. It’s about seeing all emotions as the come, being able to observe them for what they are. It’s true that the practice of mindfulness can help people become less bogged down in feelings like sadness, anger or envy, but that’s not really the goal. Learning everyday mindfulness skills can help you better connect to whatever it is you’re feeling.

“I really need that!”

I hear this a lot. So many people say that they’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, but they’re not sure where to start. Check out some of my favorite resources here. Or join one of my upcoming workshops.

“I’ve been reading about mindfulness, but it’s hard for me to practice. I keep forgetting.”

This is so common! I’ve definitely had periods of time when I felt really distant from my mindfulness practice. This is why I am so passionate about teaching everyday mindfulness skills through the Personal Leadership model.

I fundamentally do not believe that mindfulness has to be an all or nothing experience or that it has to be something lofty or vague. I would like to see mindfulness become less about Instagram photos in Bali (#mindfulness) and more about “Shit! I just spilled coffee all over my shirt and my kid doesn’t have her shoes on and we’re going to miss the bus.”

To me – that’s what it’s really about and whether we sit down for 30 minutes on a cushion or practice taking 10 deep breaths through tears, mindfulness is something we all need more of. It doesn’t mean it’s easy…but it can be more simple.

I’d love to hear from you and learn how I can support you in bringing more mindfulness into your daily life. Please consider joining me in an upcoming workshop or click here to learn how we can work together one-on-one.

Little Bits of Light in the Woods

A couple of nights ago we faced a life-threatening health emergency with one of our children. Our middle son has Type 1 Diabetes. It’s well controlled and even though it’s a big part of our lives, it mostly now feels like a background fact. It’s been almost 4 years and, except for his initial diagnosis, he hasn’t faced a single emergency or hospitalization…until the other night.

One of the most upsetting things about what happened is that it was a simple mistake – picking up the wrong insulin and injecting him with fast-acting instead of short-acting insulin. He was fine in the end, but the whole thing was really scary. I won’t mince words here – it was potentially fatal.

I hesitate in some ways to make this statement – it seems so cliché – but mindfulness totally saves me in moments like this. In looking back, I can see how having spent years practicing more mindful responses to stress (as opposed to my old way which was full-freak-out) has helped me even in the most critical of moments.

When things like this happen, the definition of mindfulness comes into vivid focus. And I’m reminded that this is why we practice, practice, practice at tuning in…even when we don’t always feel like we’re “succeeding.”

I’m in no way different from anyone else. Next time I might lose it. But the practice comes to you when you need it. It’s like running a marathon. Even if you haven’t trained, you’ll probably be more prepared if you’re running a few miles every day than if you’re sitting on the couch watching movies.

Everyday mindfulness is about seeing life as it is. It is about paying attention to what is really happening, taking in what we witness there and moving through that experience to the next place. It helps us to live more in tune with ourselves and with those around us. It helps us move closer to being the people we really want to be in the world and it supports us in getting back on track when we’ve lost our way.

It does not mean avoiding stress. It is not about pretending everything is okay when it’s not. It’s not about making yourself feel calm or relaxed all the time. It’s not about being perfectly happy with every moment. It’s about living fully aware of the way things really are and responding from that place so that we live more fully.

Mindfulness also helps me to recognize that my natural tendency is to chase worst-case scenarios, to imagine endless what-ifs. It helps me get up close and personal with that fact of my personality. There were certainly moments the other night when I thought – “What if…!”. I know I’ll mess up and fail and feel overwhelmed a million times in my life. Sometimes I worry that the next big “catastrophe” will be the final straw to stability. We all do…right…just me? When I’m mindful, I’m freed to see that that’s only one part of the story.

When things are well, mindfulness helps me notice and be grateful. When things are tough, it provides the little bits of light in the woods.

The good news is, none of this is rocket science. We can all practice becoming more mindful. These are skills we all have – listening to what our bodies are telling us, naming and honoring all of the emotions we feel, seeing the ways in which our assumptions get in the way of more creative solutions to the problems we face each day.

Often, we’ve simply unlearned these abilities. Moments like this really remind me of why it’s important to keep relearning. It’s like going from black and white to full color again and again and again.

What if you could face all sorts of challenges and still hold yourself together enough to come out the other side wiser, stronger and still laughing? Maybe not every time, but at least some times…or even just a bit more than you are now.

It sounds impossible and yet these skills exist. Mindfulness is not the cure-all for all of the things that we face in life and certainly, many life events are so painful we can’t even bear to consider them. Trust me, my brain has gone there.

But what if you have an entire toolbox of abilities that you’re not accessing? What if you could rediscover those tools, learn when and how to access them and put into place the habit of using them every day?

You know, it might even be simpler than you think.

Want to learn how you can bring more mindfulness into your life?

Join me for my upcoming Mindfulness Skills for Parenting Workshop. We’ll be using the very practical and totally accessible methods outlined in the Personal Leadership program. Read more about PL here and check out my reflections on becoming a PL facilitator here.

Or, check out these resources below. Note – this list is far from exhaustive. These are some of my favorites.

Websites/Apps

Headspace (website and app)

Insight Timer (app)

Soundstrue.com

UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center

University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness

Mindfulness/Meditation Teachers to trust:

Tara Brach

Jon Kabat-Zinn (Google him for more info)

Jonathan Froust

Jack Kornfield

Sharon Salzberg

Pema Chodron

Books

Making a World of Difference: Personal Leadership a Methodology of Two Principles and Six Practices – Schaetti, Ramsey and Watanabe

Wherever You Go There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living – both by Jon Kabat-Zinn

10% Happier – Dan Harris (This is a great, easy to read book for people who find themselves somewhat skeptical about how to go about living more mindfully.)

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (not specifically mindfulness, but still a good resource)

Back to School and Back to YOU!

Let’s face it – you love your kids, but you might…just might…be happy they’re all back at school. Right now it’s possible you look like the lady in that photo…right?

If there’s one thing I hear from friends, clients and colleagues alike right now it’s that a return to the school year means a return to regular schedules, normal bedtimes and a better sense that you can come out from under everyone else’s stuff. It’s heavy under there!

And that means it’s the perfect time for you to turn the focus back in your direction for a bit.

I want you to do that! I love more than anything supporting people in reaching their goals, finding their sense of self and moving forward one step at a time in connecting with what matters most in their lives.

Join me in celebrating this newest transition by taking advantage of my latest coaching program offer.

From now until the end of September 2017, take 20% off your coaching program fees. Click here to see if you’re eligible for additional discounts. Installment plans are available for my 8- and 12-week programs.

If you’re ready to get started – simply email me at jodi at worldtreecoaching dot com.

Have you been thinking about coaching, but you’re still not sure if it’s right for you? Never considered coaching, but now you’re kinda’ curious?

Read what past clients have said here. Or click here to schedule a time to chat with a FREE, 45-minute consult session!

Expat Lessons from my Unexpected Garden

I’ve always loved to be in gardens, but I’ve never really been a fan of actual gardening. This is because my mom used to make us pull weeds in the Texas heat with all those sticker-burrs and fire ants.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate gardening a little bit more. It’s fun to plant seeds and see things grow. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing your part for the world of the globally mobile by putting down some roots, even if they become the victim of forgetful watering.

A few weeks ago, I found myself the reluctant recipient of a community garden plot. I say reluctant because, to be honest, I wanted the plot when I applied for it a year ago, but then realized it was a good thing I didn’t win that lottery because there’s no way I had time to tend a garden. As the year passed, so did my gardening ambitions.

But there it was in my inbox – Congratulations! Welcome to the Community Garden!

Great.

Surprisingly, my reluctance turned, quicker than I had expected, into enthusiasm. Maybe I could turn this little plot into something. Maybe. After a few days of indecision, I went and bought some dirt and some seeds. Then I dragged myself over to the weedy patch of neglected earth and started working….and learning.

And who would have guessed – when you dig in the dirt and think about, “How’d we get here?” you end up with an all new opportunity to reflect on life overseas. Here are few of the lessons that have come to me between rocks and ants and mystery sprouts.

Don’t overthink past decisions.

You’ll do all sorts of weird things in the midst of transition (like apply for a garden plot) that will later seem ill advised. That’s okay. Maybe they will indeed turn out to be questionable or maybe they’ll turn out just right. Either way – it’s how you choose to handle them in the moment and going forward that really matters.

Remember you have choices.

Nobody says you have to do anything forever. What freed me up to finally say yes to the garden plot was the realization that I could say yes now and if it didn’t suit me – turn it over to someone else later. This is a good reminder for this lifestyle. While it’s not always easy (or even possible) to bailout entirely, remembering that we have choices is a nice reminder that we keep moving because we choose to, not because someone’s making us.

Nobody knows what you like except you.

Plant whatever you want to. I knew we would be traveling a lot this summer and I dreaded the idea of a bunch of herbs and vegetables growing wild and crazy so I just bought some flower seeds. This is an important point to remember when we’re setting up home somewhere else. There’s value in listening to the advice of those who’ve gone before us, but ultimately our responsibility is to creating a home that feels right for us, not for the Jane-expat next door.

Mistakes are part of the process.

Accept a certain degree of “failure.” Something’s eating the leaves of my sunflowers. Part of being a gardening novice is not-knowing. I really have no idea what I’m going to end up with or, frankly, what I’m doing at all! As expats, we benefit from accepting that we’ll make mistakes along the way, learn from them and grow to do better next time.

Surprises can be the biggest delight!

Getting this garden plot was not on my list of things I wanted to do this year. Last year it sounded great, but now I am in a completely different frame of mind and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to care for it. But in saying yes, I found the little moments that make the garden worth it a million times over – watching over the growing flowers with my daughter, picking weeds and getting dirt under my nails, watering in the quiet space of the late afternoon as people wander home from work or school. The surprise is that it’s become my thing. Totally my thing that I care for and nurture – an unexpected gift hidden in plain sight.

And that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? We think we’ve got this thing all figured out, but then right in front of us are more lessons hiding in the weeds of the everyday experience of living around and around the world.

How are you weathering this latest transition or planning for the emotional ups and downs of the one just around the corner? Check out my coaching programs here and latest seasonal offers here.

My Top 10 Mindfulness-Saved-Me Moments in Parenting

Thinking about joining my upcoming Mindfulness Skills for Parenting Workshop in Tokyo? Wondering how you might put the skills you gain to use?

Here are a few highlights of how becoming more mindful has made a difference in my life with kids.

Top 10 Mindfulness-Saved-Me Moments in Parenting

  1. When shopping for 2 hours in the same store while trying to breast feed, change diapers and keep my 3 month old from crying.
  2. While straddling my kicking and screaming toddler so that I could brush his teeth.
  3. When sitting in a chair rocking and rocking and rocking for hours hoping the baby would fall asleep.
  4. When they have a really bad day. When I have a really bad day.
  5. When my child says, “Let’s run!” “Let’s race!” “Let’s play cars!” for the one hundredth time that day.
  6. When my child says, “You’re my favorite person in the world mommy. Will you be with me forever?”
  7. When my son almost died in a foreign country.
  8. When my husband doesn’t do it the “right” way…or when I don’t.
  9. When they say, “I wish we just stayed in one place,” and when they say, “I hope we do this forever.”
  10. When the Internet tells me something I do (or do not) need to know about raising children…always.

Click on the link at top to register today! Also be sure to check out this free download of my chapter on mindfulness and parenting from Raising Kids in the Foreign Service.