Give Your Mind a Vacation

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

“Your body hears everything your mind says,” a Facebook post advised. “Stay positive.”

I would add “stay present,” because the negative messages our minds concoct usually consist of habitual thoughts rooted in the past acting as dire projections onto the future, and they simply don’t exist in the present. Presence is awareness, and awareness can literally determine life or death.

Regular readers know I work very hard at staying present. I got another up-close illustration of just how important it is.

It’s June in Arizona. It’s very hot. Rather than forego daily hikes with my beloved friends and dogs, we hit the trail at 4:45 in the morning, in order to avoid the sun and minimize the likelihood of meeting venomous snakes. The early start affords me a sort of walking meditation before beginning my day. Except yesterday.

I hike attached to my Husky, Kairos, by a skijoring line. While he’s young and still in training, he’s an amazing partner and, most of the time, I feel more steady on my feet because he’s there for balance should I trip. When I’m present (the only safe state of being attached to a powerful dog traversing treacherous desert terrain), I feel as stable as an old oak tree.

Yesterday morning, I was climbing up out of a canyon on a steep, rocky path when Kairos, walking ahead of me, did an about-face and proceeded back down the hill. I was jerked around as he passed me, and was forced into an out-of-control downhill run as his speed increased, screaming as I went.

I looked ahead and saw my friend, Beth, stopped at the bottom of the hill. She had trailed behind to reply to a text. Relieved, I reached to catch her shoulder, slowing my forward momentum just enough to gain control of my footsteps and my dog. We found our brakes and I took a breath.

“My body was stable enough, but my mind was terrified.” These were the first words out of my mouth. The minute I spoke them, I knew the truth. While dangerous, my body had managed the run but in those few seconds, my mind had imagined the worst possible accident, another dire projection into the future. My body knew the truth – one foot in front of the other will save the day. The scenario, from the moment Kairos turned until I gained control, represented the very real danger of being consumed by my thoughts, as well as the miracle of regaining awareness of my surroundings.

You might be wondering why my dog turned and ran uncharacteristically. There was a snake at the top of that hill. Kairos is trained to warn me and avoid them. I’d rather he not do so at Husky speed down a hill (and we will be working on that). While he learns to control his impulses, I’ll be working to model his keen awareness. For now I’m thankful he led me to safety, even though it was a harrowing run.

Back in the neighborhood, I remarked how important and yet how hard it is to stay aware, even in the pre-dawn hours before the stresses of the day pile on. Beth added that so many things we do, like driving cars and crossing busy streets require full awareness. Even so, we split our attention by indulging in thoughts or actions unrelated to the moment at hand. Our guardian angels must be very busy, because most of the time we get away with it.

What are you missing by indulging your mind over your senses? Consider giving your mind a vacation and letting your body guide you.

“When we are present, our bodies are the clearest indicators of our inner wisdom.”

–Sheppard Lake

Choose to…

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Last month in my post entitled Right Now, I talked about the critical importance of prioritizing what really matters and focusing on the task at hand. One’s health as well as success depends on it.

A reader emailed me with the following comment:

“Remembering to only focus on the one task at hand will certainly help me get all my tasks accomplished. And hopefully keep me out of the sick bay. Determining which task is the ‘task at hand’ is my biggest challenge.”

I can relate to his challenge and I bet you can too. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be pulled in multiple directions at once and become distracted by the ones that are the loudest or most compelling.

The next morning I reflected on the question of how to determine the task at hand as I began my day. I decided to let my experience inform me hour by hour.

I knew the first three hours of the day would be easy, as I had an extended session scheduled with a client. It was work I love to do, and work that requires the kind of focus that forces one to block out distractions, compartmentalize other pressing to-do’s, and be fully present. Plus, I had made a commitment to do it.

After that meeting, I got to work on the other items I had promised myself or someone else that I would complete. Not everything on the list was as fulfilling as the work with my client, though each seemed as though they “had” to be done. I was reminded of a principle called Have-To versus Choose-To. It’s infinitely more empowering to choose than to be obligated.

Commitments drive our calendars. Most of us follow through, at least eventually, on what we say we’ll do. The nagging question though (the real question the reader asked) is: What drives our commitments?  What drives what we choose to do?

When we’re fully conscious and aware, some greater strategic picture of life – purpose, values, potential – drives our choices. When we’re not, it’s dangerously easy to become distracted and rationalize “busy” as productive.

In their new course “The 5 Choices,” time and productivity management experts at Franklin Covey say our attention is under attack. Their research shows that now more than ever we are reacting to distractions vs. choosing to spend our time on what’s important. In their extensive survey, people reported spending an average of 40% of their time on unimportant tasks.

I’ve written before of the need to allow inspired, creative thinking to drive our deepest desires before jumping to action. I believe there’s never been a better time to ask and answer the question, “What’s important?

After a day of observing myself, I was satisfied with the choices I made. But my project was skewed by the study itself. Awareness of the choices I made, coupled with focus on why I was making those choices was, for me, the success formula. I might be onto something…try it if you wish.