Peace is just a few breaths away.

Lots has been said lately about mindfulness, meditation, presence, being “in the moment”…and if you are anything like I have been for most of my life, you are confused. I had a roommate who set her alarm so she could wake up early and meditate. WTF. Not a chance. I’ll sleep, thank you. Twelve step recovery programs tell us to take “quiet time” daily. I basically fell asleep or used the time to think about things. It was good, it was something, but it still made no sense. I never saw the impact that so many were fawning over. Over the last 30 years, I’ve amassed a distinguished record of failed attempts at meditating by way of studying meditation, buying apps, doing 30 day challenges, taking action on it, reading as much as I could, listening to podcasts, and whatever else. I finally chalked it up to a biological incapability to quiet my mind. Yes, that’s all I wanted. A quiet mind where the list of things to do wasn’t flowing freely and often causing panic.

I remember coming home from an early morning meeting one Saturday and finding my husband asleep. It was 8:30 am. I immediately reacted to the fact that he didn’t have time to sleep because there were curtains to be hung and a lawn to mow. I’m so grateful that he didn’t divorce me right then and there. 

So fast forward to 2018, four kids later, when I was introduced to a spiritual mentor who simply said this: get comfortable, breathe, and focus on your breath without judgement. That’s it. What I loved about this is that she added, “don’t change the way you breathe, just breathe.” You mean I don’t have to count to 8 at every inhale and count to 9 at every exhale? And if a thought comes into my mind, let alone whole conversations with people against whom I hold resentments or need to speak with about any number of things, just notice it without judgement and refocus on the breath? Really? Over time, I learned that when I’m focusing on the breath, I have no thoughts, other than the up and down of my belly or chest. As I did it more, I noticed other sensations in my body; I noticed what was painful or where I felt the bottoms of my feet in my socks and my socks on the ground. I felt my butt in the chair, usually sinking into the chair in my office, and the tightness of my forehead or my neck or my shoulders. This time gave me the opportunity to shift and to stretch and to crack the bones and shift the muscles around. Sometimes, I even imagine myself connected to the earth or the sky and whatever else is outside of the sky. Generally, I keep it simple and just breathe. 

When I started thinking about this 30 years ago, I had no idea what I was longing for other than a chance to give my brain a break. It needed to rest. Having practiced this way consistently for almost a year now, I notice the impact outside of those moments of quiet. Over time I have seen that when someone pisses me off, I feel a nudge in my body – usually in my back – and it is like an early warning signal to the rest of me. It reminds me to check in and and ask myself a question. Sometimes, it’s “What is true for me now?” The question allows me pause. It allows me to notice that I’m about to lose my shit and so I put space between my feelings, thoughts and reactions. Other times, it is more immediate – but checking in always tells me that my reaction is not about the other person despite how hard I’m trying to make it about them. Almost always, I feel an emotion: sadness or fear. And my sadness is usually about fear. Or loss. Which is also about fear. It’s all about fear. That moment of checking in allows me to pull away from that reaction I was about to have and notice that the fear or sadness have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with me. Tara Brach says something like “an emotion felt all the way through lasts about 90 seconds.” I have also heard that anger not reacted upon lasts about 8 minutes. It is when we resist the feelings by acting on them and not acknowledging them and letting them just pass through the energy of our body that they last for hours, or days, or years. Really, it’s our resistance that lasts for hours, or days, or years. When practicing this breathing, or presence as I refer to it, for a few minutes a day, I yell less, I listen more, and I relax into my skin in a different way because it brings presence into my day in those moments when I most need to be an outside observer of myself. More often than I’d like to admit, my outside observer says, “What the hell are you doing? Stop making everyone cray cray and just feel what you feel!”

My fears about whether or not things will ever get done if I spend 5 minutes a day practicing this presence are assuaged by the fact that I am happier, calmer, and have pause. I’m more curious and less convicted. I’m more empathic and less a victim. My kids haven’t told me that I have no chill in at least a couple of months. 

So what is this? Meditation? Mindfulness? Presence? Who cares? I refer to it as my presence practice because it takes me out of the future, away from the past, and gives me the moment I’m in and then the next moment and the next one and the next one. It’s all a form of mindfulness which is a form of meditation, but my presence practice has no chanting or mantra. I will add that at some point, I assume, but for now, I’m happy with what I have. 

I am grateful to have a work life that allows me to practice this with my clients which is good for me, too. It allows me to just release all that I have with me and show up fully, 100% with them and what they have brought to the session. I am a better coach because of it. Teenagers love it. Executives love it. My college aged clients really love it. I never would have understood it at that age. I really didn’t and I tried so hard. Resisting the fact that I had a quiet mind is actually what perpetuated the busy mind. The occupied mind. The frenetic mind. Coming out of the present and into the future is what causes my distress. I wonder what you’ll notice when you try it. I’d love to hear. 

I can share some resources from others who practice. I’ll add a recording to my facebook page so you, too, can experience it. I am not great at it outside of doing it with another person, but that’s ok for now. I don’t suck. I am not a failure. I am just a girl on a journey to increase the positivity in the energetic field that I take with me wherever I go, one breath at a time. 

There are only two things you need to know before deciding to open a home office.

As I walked into my office this morning, I spied something out of the corner of my eye that looked out of place. The only way to get into my home office, where I see coaching clients 4-6 days a week, is to walk through my dining room. I also have some comfortable chairs set up for those occasions when I hold groups in my home. So here I am, about 45 minutes before my first client of the day arrives, and I see that my dog has brought a pair of my husband’s underwear downstairs and left it in the chair directly outside of my office. I quickly grab it and throw it down the basement stairs, and head into my office. 

  1. Can you manage the necessary upkeep that supports whatever image it is that you are trying to convey to those who come to meet you professionally? 

After throwing the underwear down the basement stairs, I sat down to put together some paperwork that I wanted ready for the client who was coming to my home for our discovery session. I was deep in thought, typing away, and heard all sorts of noise from the other room. I looked at my watch and decided I had time before they arrived to investigate. Not only had the dogs moved the chairs barricading the pull out trash can in my kitchen, but they had successfully pulled open the drawer, extricated the entire hefty bag from the barrel, dragged it to a more comfortable carpeted space, and dug right in. Apparently one likes his meat and the other likes sugar so they hadn’t been fighting over the contents of the previously well tied and secured bag. I threw the bag on the porch (where I’m sure the squirrels are chowing on it now) and left them with their meat containers and banana muffin cups.

2. Do you have a space that is free of distraction that allows you to separate professional duties from personal duties?

I have had many, many clients come to my home whom I have never met before and do think about the safety and security of my family and my home. Have I ever felt unsafe with a client? No. Have I ever wondered if I should? Not really. Do I have what I need in place to allow me to do the work every day without asking myself those questions on a regular basis? Absolutely. 

3. Are you putting yourself or your home at risk of harm by having clients enter your personal space?

The answers to the above questions are something like: 

(1) Sort of?; 

(2) On good days, with a lot of discipline and sound machines on, yes; and

3) I suppose one never really knows. 

Are the answers to those three questions really important at all?

Probably not. They keep me on my toes, but they are not deal-breakers. As I continue to shape this blob of metaphorical clay that sits in front of me (that is, continue to create what I want with this life I have), I realize that only two things matter:

  1. My personal values; and
  2. My professional “why”.

Working with someone to get clear on those two things is the best predictor of success for any life decision. What is important to you? My answer to that question includes the following: flexibility and efficiency with regard to time and scheduling, being available to my children in ways that meet our needs for accountability to each other and our emotional connection as a family community, and finally, creating joy throughout my day, every single day. If I can fulfill my mission, my professional “why”, while making sure these values are being honored, I can successfully manage a home office. Frankly, I can do anything. 

So today, while I was throwing the underwear down the basement stairs, I laughed out loud at the story I could have shared with a client had they encountered tighty whities  during our first appointment. When I discovered the dogs with their sweet and savory treats in front of them, I snapped a picture, threw the bag on the porch, and returned to my office, allowing the mess to stay there until my work hours are over. And finally, I have scheduled blocks in this week to prepare meals, do some household chores, and spend time with my kids, both being and doing with them. What is good for my clients, is good for me.

Knowing and honoring my values and staying in touch with my “why” are the only touchstones I need as I continue to mold my clay with this one, fabulous life I have.