A Day In Silence

“Mom, there is no way you can stay quiet for an entire day!” – my 13-year-old daughter 

I like to talk. And day-to-day my life is full of words. Not only do I love chit-chatting, but I also use my voice to make a living as a narrator and voice over actress.

So when I found out that one component of my Mindfulness Meditation course was to participate in a silent retreat, I had mixed feelings. How would I handle a full day without saying one single word from 9am to 5pm? I mean without me- who would pepper my children’s day with gems of wisdom? Who would tell my husband what jobs need to be done around the house? Who would shriek at the dogs to stop barking?

I approached the retreat with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. As much as I relished the idea of not being responsible for anyone but myself for the day (a true luxury for a mom of 3), I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it and would blurt out something inappropriate. I had a vision of myself surrounded by serene people seated in lotus position with their eyes closed and me screaming out “I can’t freakin’ do this!” and bolting crazily from the room.

But despite my fears, on a beautiful sunny day in November, I joined 18 fellow meditators at a studio along the shores of Lake Ontario. We were equipped with yoga mats, pillows, blankets, water bottles and lunch bags to fortify us through the experience.

To my surprise, the day flew by and the hours unfolded in strange and wonderful ways. Our teachers had led many previous retreats and confidently steered us through the hours with ease. We transitioned through gentle yoga moves and guided and silent meditations with the soft “ding” of a bell. We sat in chairs and on the floor, reclined on our mats and wandered through the gardens surrounding the studio.

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Now don’t get me wrong- there were definitely some uncomfortable moments. My leg fell asleep during a cross-legged meditation and I kicked the man across from me when I stretched it out. A lady seated next to me ripped a fart part way through a “loving kindness” meditation and it took all of my strength not to burst into hysterical laughter. And a passerby asked me for directions as I sat on a bench eating my lunch and I had to gesture like a crazy person to try to help him out (despite my prowess at charades, the poor guy ended up shaking his head and storming off angrily. Sorry buddy!)

At the end of the day, our instructors had us break the silence and invited us to share our reflections. And as you can imagine, everyone had a different take on the experience. Some had really struggled and others said it was the best day they’d had in ages.

For me, the day shone a spotlight on how rarely I take the time to really pay attention to my thoughts, my body and my surroundings. What an opportunity to immerse myself in things that normally zoom past in a flurry of activity.

I noticed the feeling of my butt on the hardwood floor, and breath moving through my lungs. We were encouraged to pay attention to our steps as we wandered around outside and to savour each bite of food as we ate our lunch. I stopped to gaze at flowers in the garden and spider webs hung in rafters of an old art gallery on the property. I paid attention to my arms and legs as we stretched and contracted our muscles. And I watched as thoughts came and went – some old tapes that I’ve been noodling around in my brain for years and other new ideas that popped up unexpectedly.

I drove away from the retreat feeling renewed. I secretly wondered if my family would look at me differently when I returned home – if I’d radiate an ethereal glow from dwelling on a higher plane of existence for the day.

I burst through the front door and the dogs started barking, my youngest was fighting with his sister and the sink was piled with dirty dishes. “Mom-what are we going to do for dinner?” my oldest asked. Nope, apparently not hovering on a higher plane. But I took solace in the fact that I did it – eight hours and not one single word was uttered from my lips (in your face 13-year-old daughter!) Namaste. : )

 

 

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Animal Poison Control

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My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.

Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.

 The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”

I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)

Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”

But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”

My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.

But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.

Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs  – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.

In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.

Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.

That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)

That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.”  Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!

I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..

 

 

How You Can Be 10% Happier

“What a bunch of hippy dippy baloney!”

– Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from The Lego Movie

I have always been attracted to the self-help movement. I have gone to countless lectures and read tons of books promising to help me love myself, stop worrying, solve all of my physical and mental woes, find the career of my dreams, become an amazing parent and on and on and on. Although I’ve learned lots of valuable information….to be perfectly honest – sometimes I really struggle to wrap my head around the concepts. And often there is an underlying feeling that tugs at the back of my mind – could all of this just be a bunch of crap wrapped up in fancy language?

Case in point – I’ll never forget the frenzy surrounding Gary Zukav’s  book The Seat of the Soul” after his appearance on Oprah back in the 90’s. I pretty much ran to the bookstore to buy his book and after slogging through the first chapter I grimly realized that I wasn’t going to understand a single word. No matter how many times I tried to persevere – it simply didn’t make any sense to me. Same damn thing with Eckhart Tolle – and I even took Oprah’s online course to help me out. Nothing. All I felt was very jealous of the people around me who seemed transfixed and transformed by “A New Earth“.

More recently, based on glowing recommendations from good friends, I signed up for newsletters from a few new-age self-help gurus. And you know what? Over half of the stuff I receive makes me scratch my head in confusion. Gems of wisdom like: “Only the mind decides on what it would receive and give.” “You can’t fear your way into Love, only with trust does Love blossom” and “Enjoy the in between what was and what will be.” Say what?!

But I am excited to share that I have stumbled upon quite possibly the best “self-help” book I’ve ever read. It was a stroke of good luck that I just happened to watch a video of ABC news reporter Dan Harris talking about how his on air panic attack set in motion a series of events that led him to discovering a way to become “10% Happier”. I was immediately drawn to Dan’s down to earth manner, his irreverent and hilarious skepticism and his brutal honesty about his own journey. I could relate to his struggles understanding “spirituality” and “self-help” and I liked his humorous approach to a subject matter that often takes itself far too seriously.

Click link below to watch the video: (email subscribers you may need to go to my site at http://www.lorileighwilson.com to view)

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14350/why-i-embraced-meditation-after-having-a-panic-attack-on-live-tv-dan-harris.html

So just like my dash to the store for “Seat of the Soul“, after watching Dan’s video I made a beeline for Chapters to pick up his new book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story”    

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Honestly – I read the entire book in 2 days! And I can say as a person who has flown through more self-help tomes than you could shake a stick at – this is definitely worth the read. It’s like having a conversation with an intelligent and witty friend as Dan shares the story of his stressful and competitive career, his ensuing drug use and his struggles with depression and anxiety. He then goes on to interview and report on the top guns in the “spirituality” industry and starts untangling their confusing and often conflicting theories. I won’t give too much away but I will share that as a result of his research, he proposes a very easy and actionable plan that has been scientifically proven to make us less stressed and happier. And it takes 5 minutes a day.

So if you are interested in becoming 10 % happier (not a bad return on investment right?) – then grab a copy of Dan’s book. I would rate it a 10 out of 10. And I promise – there’s no frilly language, hard to understand theories….or hippy dippy baloney in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Fresh Ideas for Spring

Although its taking a long time coming in my neck of the woods, spring is definitely on the way! And what better time of year than spring to try something new? So in honour of the changing season, here are my 9 suggestions for embracing the season of renewal:

1. Try Some New Recipes  – my friend Sue actually inspired this article when she posted an idea on Facebook about handing cookbooks to her kids and telling them to each pick 2 new dinner recipes for the coming week. Brilliant! What a great way to change things up. Dust off your cookbooks and foodie magazines and hunt for a couple of yummy new dishes to experiment with (or check out the archives on my blog for some Lori Wilson classics ; ) Time to toss those same-old-same-old winter menus!

2. Switch up Your Pit Stick – as an all-natural deodorant devotee, I’ve found that it’s best to keep a few good brands in the vanity that I can keep rotating to maintain their effectiveness. They seem to work like gangbusters for a month or so and then I need to swap them out for a bit. Although I always keep Purely Great and Weleda on hand, my new fav is Penny Lane Organics Lavender Deodorant Stick – it’s chemical-free and works well even during my sweatiest workouts.

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3. Read SOAT – I have been a huge  fan of author Elizabeth Gilbert since she first published Eat, Pray, Love in 2007. I just adore the way her words jump off the page like she’s a close friend who is speaking directly to me (check out her blog and follow her on Facebook to see what I mean).  That’s why I couldn’t wait to dive into her latest fictional work “The Signature of All Things“. Now I’m going to be honest and admit that I started and stopped this book at least 5 times before I dug in and got hooked but you need to keep in mind that it’s an epic novel so don’t give up – trust me it’s well worth the read.

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4. Make A Small Change To Your Living Space– it doesn’t have to be anything big – perhaps you just grab a frame and hang up that picture you’ve been meaning to hang, shift the furniture around in the living room or paint one wall bright red. My hubby and I bought a new quilt for our bed for $60 while we were in the away on vacation in March and it makes me so happy every time I walk into my bedroom. Sometimes even a small shift can bring a fresh perspective.

5. Buy Something New for Your Wardrobe– To celebrate a good friend’s birthday, I went on a little shopping trip with a few pals a couple of weeks ago. We hit up one of my favourite local stores I purchased a bright pink short-sleeved shirt that I plan to wear the heck out of this spring. Grab a new scarf, a dangly pair of earrings or a funky new pair of jeans and see if you can add a bit of colour and energy to your wardrobe.

6. Start a Meditation Practice – Thanks to a great tip from my dad, I’ve recently rejuvenated my own meditation practice via a fantastic free app called Headspace on my mobile device. Meditation guru Andy Puddicombe guides you through 10 minutes a day of quiet contemplation and offers insights into the importance of this routine. I’ve also signed up for Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s free 21-day meditation session called “Finding Your Flow that will be starting in mid-April (I did their other free course back in the fall and loved it).

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7. Tend To Your Pearly Whites – Tea, coffee, red wine, chocolate, lemon juice….all things that I love and all things that can wreak havoc on my teeth. In an effort to keep them nice and white without undergoing a chemical bleaching, I am a big fan of daily Oil Pulling using pure coconut oil. I also read an article by author Kimberly Snyder about rubbing orange peels on the teeth a couple of times per week to amp up tooth whiteness and another post from one of my favorite bloggers – Wellness Mama–  about swishing activated charcoal in the mouth to remove stains. Yes these ideas might sound wacky but all of these options are natural, economical and definitely worth a try!

8. Drink Up Some Fresh Juice – According to nutritionist Meghan Telpner: “Juicing is the easiest way to get essential nutrients in- detoxifying your liver and other organs, increasing energy and your mood and helping to make other foods more digestible….For those trying to include more raw fruits and veggies into their diets, juice is the answer. For anyone looking to shed some junk from the trunk, clear up the skin, have shinier hair, and way more energy and vitality…guess what? You got it. Juice. is. the. answer.” If you own a juicer, it’s time to pull it out of the cupboard and get juicing. If you don’t, you can hit up a juice bar for a shot of wheat grass and a green juice chaser. And if by chance you live in the Burlington, Ontario area – my good friend Lisa has started a business providing beautiful and nourishing fresh juice- home delivery and full cleanses are also available.  Contact her via her at lisa@flowfit.ca for menus and more information. (photo below courtesy of Lisa Faley – www.flowfit.ca)

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9. Get Outside– Yes it’s cold (at least in Southern Ontario) but nothing makes me feel more clear-headed than a good brisk walk. Whatever your exercise of choice (walk, run, bike, skip, dance) – try to get outside every day even for a jaunt around the block and some deep breaths of fresh air. Guaranteed to give you a new outlook on life.

I hope these suggestions put some spring in your step! I for one am ready to bid goodbye to a long, cold and harsh winter. Yay spring!

5 Tips for Being More Present

My dad is a real estate agent and this has always afforded him a somewhat flexible schedule. When my sister and I were in high school we would often walk home for lunch and dad would join us if he wasn’t too busy. Sounds nice right? But here’s the thing – he was there with us but he wasn’t really there. He would be smack dab in the middle of a hectic work day and although he sat and shared our bologna sandwiches and sour cream and onion chips (our regular lunch staples) he would be lost in thoughts of meetings, transactions and sales. It actually got to a point where we told him not to bother coming home any more because we would talk to him and he wouldn’t even respond. And I don’t think he was intentionally being rude- he was just still working in his mind.

I’ll admit that it bugged the heck out of me as a child but now that I’m an adult I catch myself doing the same darn thing. I’ll be so focused on making dinner, getting the house clean, prepping my voice work, writing or even reading a book that I will completely ignore my family’s attempts to get my attention. This isn’t such a big deal when the topic revolves around a petty fight between siblings but it can be devastating if someone is endeavoring to share their feelings or an especially wonderful or painful experience and I brush them off in frustration (“can’t you see I’m doing the dishes!”) or ignore them completely.

This isn’t unique to my children – the same thing can happen with friends and family. Instead of taking the time to zoom in on a friend who wants to chat- their experience will trigger a memory of something that has happened in my own life and I’ll butt in with my own story. Or I’ll be watching my children in the background or thinking about an upcoming project and not be truly listening to what is being shared. And it’s only gotten worse with the advent of technology and obsessive email/cell phone/Facebook checking.

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Although I do think it’s necessary to focus on work and commitments, it’s equally important to practice being present in your own life and with the people you love. Here are a few things that have helped me keep myself in the moment:

1. Really Listen when someone is talking to you and focus on what they are saying. Try not to interject with an anecdote of your own – just pay attention to their words and give them your full and undivided attention. Try keeping quiet and simply listening.

2. Practice Active Listening. I took a course a few years ago with parenting expert Georgine Nash on Active Listening and the information I gained really helped me develop a skill for building rapport, understanding, and trust with the people in my life. Active Listening is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgement and advice. Essentially actively listening makes the speaker feel heard and encourages open conversation.

3. Set a Time. If you really just can’t focus on the person who desires your attention, set a time in the near future when you will be able to offer your ears. For example, with my kids I could say “I see you really want to talk to me about your new soccer moves and I want to hear all about them. It will take me 5 minutes to change your brother’s poopy bum and them I’m all yours!” or with a friend: “I can’t wait to hear all about your awesome new job but my children are currently beating each other senseless with the television remote. Can I call you back in half an hour once things calm down?”

4. Meditate. Honestly nothing has helped me more with staying present than my mediation practice. I’m only a few months into a regular routine and already I’ve noticed a greater awareness of myself, my stress triggers and my ability to stay more present and calm in day-to-day life. I started out with 5 minutes a day of just sitting quietly with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing and I’m up to 20 minutes now. I recommend downloading a meditation video to get started or attending a meditation class at a local yoga studio for inspiration.

5. Be Honest about your current state of mind. I attended a seminar with the brilliant educator and counselor Barry MacDonald a few years ago and he recommended coming home after work and announcing at the door a number value reflecting your current state of mind. For example, if you’ve had a particularly stressful day at the office, you might say “Hey everyone. Today I’m at a 10 on the stress scale. I had a tough day and I need 5 minutes or so to decompress and then I’ll be ready to help make supper.” This provides you with an opportunity to pull yourself together before anyone makes demands on your attention and it teaches your children that it’s ok to be open and honest about your needs and feelings.

Personally, I have a hard time relaxing when there are dishes in the sink or a bed is unmade but I have to remind myself that the dirty cups and messy sheets will get tidied up eventually, but the opportunity for a genuine connection with someone I love may pass me by if I’m not careful. Maybe it’s time to put down the iPhone, walk away from the kitchen, ignore the television and really engage with the people in my life.

How do you stay in the moment?

Summer Family Fun & Learning

Over the years as I’ve learned, read and taken courses on a variety of wellness related topics, I have often thought about how much I would love bring my children along to these classes or find age-appropriate ways to impart the valuable information I’ve received. I believe in general kids are much more open-minded when it comes to learning new things and although I appreciate the education they are getting at school, it would be awesome if they could also take courses in subjects like mindfulness, kindness, manifesting, self-acceptance, gratitude and health eating.

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Since no such program exists in my area (although my friend Leslie is working on something for the fall- woohoo!), I decided that I would take it upon myself to dream up a fun learning experience to undertake with my kids during some of my time with them this summer. I know, I know – “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!” I’ve already promised them that this won’t be like school and we will still have lots of time for chillin’ by the pool, playing crazy 8’s and hanging with friends. I’ll only list a theme for the week and together we will brainstorm ideas for a couple of things we can do to explore that topic (and yes, I am prepared for some sighing and eye rolling as we get started).
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A Happiness Challenge

Thank you so much to fellow blogger Cathy Laws who wrote to let me know she had also just completed a 21-day challenge and she is feeling amazing. Not a food cleanse however – but a Happiness Challenge! How cool is that?! She found this challenge courtesy of Shawn Achor- founder and CEO of Good Think Inc. Check out his TedX talk below and get ready to laugh and be inspired.

You can learn more about Shawn at his website (www.shawnachor.com) and by reading his book The Happiness Advantage.

This is one challenge I am definitely going to try. Thanks for the tip Cathy!