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Posts Tagged ‘present’

9:51 pm - Posted by Gregg

Stress is something we’re all familiar with. And like many, I subconsciously encourage mine with that little voice in my head that urges me to run around like Chicken Little, screaming, “The sky is falling” (whether it is or isn’t).

This kind of negative self-talk can lead me to all sorts of unsavory places. In fact, it was this pesky inner voice that kept me gaining excess weight for years and years. Stress and turmoil were the excuses I would use to overeat to the point of threatening my health, which led to my tipping the scales at over 450 pounds upon college graduation.

As loyal readers of this blog know, I eventually tempered the voice in my head and lost over 250 pounds of excess weight (and have kept it off for almost two decades). But every now and then that “Everything is wrong” voice tries to make a triumphant return. Just turning on the news, discussing diverse political views or simply pulling into rush hour traffic can amplify the voice, which ultimately encourages self-sabotage of one kind or another.

So after following animal advocates including Beth Stern on Instagram for years, I decided I was going to help the world in a small, small way… By fostering kittens that had been separated from their mothers and, otherwise, might not have a chance of survival. As some may know, with warmer weather being more prevalent, “kitten season” is lasting longer and longer. And if cats (feral or domesticated) aren’t spayed or neutered, the kitten population explodes. Not only do these little beings fill up the shelters (creating havoc for older animals waiting to be adopted), but without fosters to care for, feed and socialize them, they’re often euthanized (even at their very early ages).

This proposed good deed involved three precious kittens (each just 3-weeks old). Although my local city shelter didn’t know why, these babies had been separated from their mother and abandoned. So now I was going to be their “foster mom” (so to speak).

Looking back, I realize the kittens were as nervous as I was when I first brought them home. Thankfully they weren’t put off by Latte (my 7-pound dog), but they also weren’t ready to eat or sleep just yet. We all just kind of stared at one another… Until the grey boy (who I named “Gus”) promptly plopped onto his back and indicated he wanted a belly rub. This elicited what I’m pretty sure was Gus’s very first purr. And it was this purr that told his brother (a black boy I named “Bear”) and sister (a grey and white striped girl I named “Gwen”) that everything was going to be okay.

There were certainly hurdles involved. The kittens were so young that around-the-clock feeding was necessary. And none of them wanted to suck on the bottle or eat out of the dish. They wanted to be hand fed. So what did I do? Hand feed them, of course. (Latte had probably let them know I was a pushover.) Before I knew it, I was making sure they had a heat source at night (since they were too young to regulate their own body heat), teaching them to use a litter box (which, because of their small size, was initially a shallow cardboard box lid), putting out plates of fresh cat food (leftovers from the fridge were never tolerated) and constantly re-filling their water dish (which they had decided was just as much fun to topple as it was to drink from).

As days turned into weeks, I got to watch these little creatures grow and discover all that life has to offer. Each was very curious from an early age—quickly outgrowing the small pen I’d purchased, which required purchasing a bigger pen (and then a third pen after that, which I could continually expand). This exercise eventually lead to to them having run of the entire front half of the house. Again… Pushover.

Along with being a foster “mom,” I found myself rushing around, trying to live my “normal life” and still honor all the commitments I had both in regard to career and to personal life. Despite starting this good deed thinking it might calm my inner being, I was actually becoming more manic—living life in a more harried fashion. Until one morning when I was running late and made the “mistake” of sitting on the couch to catch my breath. All three foster kittens (still just weeks old), piled onto my lap and stared up at me—and then each started purring. It was a Zen-like chorus of purrs that instantly made me realize the one gift they’d embraced but that I wasn’t allowing myself to: Being present.

That’s right. Despite a rough start at life, these kittens were anything but bitter or scared. They were ready to roll with whatever the world had to offer. And thankfully for them, it offered me—a somewhat goofy guy who didn’t mind being referred to as a foster mom. And now these kittens were reminding me that during the quieter moments of life, acceptance could happen.

This was the very lesson I’d been struggling to remind myself of in order to quell the recurring negative voice in my head. I was retaught by Gus, Bear and Gwen that only within a peaceful mind could healthy decisions be made. And bonus! Sometimes decisions don’t even have to be made. The mind can just be quiet (in other words, just be). Even if that quiet is sometimes permeated by a chorus of purrs.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that when it came time to send Gus, Bear and Gwen onto their forever homes (and trust me, I found amazing families for them to join—all of whom recognized how special these little souls were) that I cried like a baby. Even in that painful moment of having to say goodbye to three little creatures I’d come to love with every fiber of my being, I reminded myself to reach for quiet, to reach for stillness, to reach for inner peace.

When I’m present, that voice in my head shuts up. And then? All is right with the world. Literally. And I’ll be forever grateful to the three little fur balls who reminded me not only that every moment matters, but that every moment can also be filled with joy (even when “accidentally” toppling our water dishes).

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March 18, 2018

The gift of presence

2:22 pm - Posted by Gregg

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself” has been coming to mind a lot lately. And not because I’m a doctor. I am, however, a person who advocates being present and living in the moment. As someone who weighed over 450 pounds when graduating from college and who eventually took off the excess weight through healthy eating and exercise (no fad diets, pills or surgery required), I learned that being present (mentally) was key to any life goal—physical or otherwise.

Yet recently, I’ve developed a tic that’s come to symbolize my newish pesky habit of mentally replaying things from the past (as if I had a time machine and could somehow “go back” and undo what’s already transpired) or fretting about the future (imagining scenarios that might never take place, but worrying about them anyway).

This tic (AKA idiosyncratic habit) is hitting the “next track” button when virtually any song starts to play while in the car or when I’m exercising on the treadmill. It seems I only need to hear the first couple notes of a tune to know I don’t want to hear the entire thing and, therefore, choose to skip ahead to the next track (even though it turns out I don’t really want to hear that particular ditty either).

Here’s where I must admit that I’m old enough to remember buying “albums” on cassette tape and having no choice but to listen to an entire “side” of the cassette in order to reach and listen to a favorite song. Sure, they eventually came out with tape players that could skip ahead. But that technology usually resulted in a warped tape and often would skip several songs at a time. Ironically, having to sit through an entire side of a tape was, in a way, helping me to be present (while patiently waiting for a favorite song on an album).

But cut to several years later—now—when technology allows us to skip over songs with reckless abandon and I don’t seem to possess the capability of listening to any song with patience. At first I didn’t realize how often I was reaching over to hit the “next track” button (or asking Siri—or whomever—to do it for me). But recently while tooling around town with a friend, she pointed out that just when she was ready to sing along with a song, I’d hit “skip” and the tune would be over in an instant (thereby usurping what was about to be her big number).

Upon realizing that I do this as often as I do, I soon recognized what it symbolized. Mainly my penchant for not being present. Not being here, in the now—always wanting to get to “What’s next.” Even though I recognize that there are a lot of good reasons to stay mentally present in our lives.

Again, as someone who worked hard to achieve wellness (in all its definitions), presence is always something I’d relied on for inner peace. Yet here I was, thinking about the past or future—even sometimes while actively meditating. And outside of meditation, this lack of mental presence was now being symbolized by not having the presence of mind to listen to an entire 3- or 4-minute song.

For others—perhaps even some of you reading this, this non-present mind might be symbolized by always looking at your smartphone, turning to social media during any downtime (or even during social times), seeking out a show on some cable news network in order to become “outraged” or simply getting so caught up in thought that you’re missing out on the here and now—the only time and space we really have the opportunity to live and interact in.

These days, while doing my best to listen to any music track that starts playing from any my playlists, I do my best to recall the quote attributed to Tao Te Ching author Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

The good news is that we can exercise our mental muscle for staying present simply by focusing on our breath. Whenever you find yourself stuck in the past or the future (mentally), bring yourself back to the present moment by taking three deep breaths (and yes, you should put down your smartphone or turn off the cable news first). As you breathe in, think “In.” As you breathe out, think “Out.” Do this slowly and methodically for at least three intervals. In other words, stop yourself from going back to the past or jumping into the future—two places we don’t need to be. These three simple breaths offer the potential to bring our minds and bodies back into sync—and our overall awareness back to the present moment.

Advanced students might want to try walking into an elevator and watching most everyone else turn to their phones, while you stand there proudly aware of the elevator itself, the people you’re riding with and perhaps even the muzak playing over the loudspeaker (no skipping those tracks after all). For extra credit, next time you arrive early when meeting someone at a restaurant, just sit at the table without turning to your phone. Try the 3-breaths exercise. Or simply offer a smile to a passing server. Sure, you’ll likely freak everyone out (“Why did that person just make eye contact with me and smile? Don’t they have a smartphone?!”). But you’ll be there in your fullest capacity. And by turning this all into a game, you’ll reap the rewards by living a more present, and, hopefully, more satisfying life.

As for me, along with recommitting to staying mentally present as often as possible, I’ve also taken a vow to not skip tracks when in the car or working out. No matter what song comes my way, I’m determined to listen to it and enjoy it fully—even if it’s a random remix that goes on and on and on. Much like life goes on and on (if we’re lucky enough). And why not be as mindful of this life—and these present moments—as we possibly can be?

Image source: The Graphic Recorder

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9:36 am - Posted by Gregg

I have to admit that one of the best therapies I’ve ever encountered is one that has never cost me a single cent. And good news—this free therapy is available to everyone reading this. One need only visit their nearest shopping mall and find the mall map. Then locate the portion of the display that says, “You are here.” Because guess what? You are here. Period.

Often, we linger in the past (at least mentally)—replaying past decisions, past circumstances and even past failures (or at least incidents that we classify as failures). But spending too much time looking into the rearview mirror can inhibit not only our present state, but also our state of mind.

It all comes down to clear thinking. And that often starts with accepting what was—along with accepting that there’s no going backwards and changing it. So to debate or belabor what happened is really a mute exercise.

Sounds simple, right? But many of us (myself included) spend too much time wondering why things happened the way they did… And why we responded or reacted certain ways (often wanting to change everything that’s already transpired—and, therefore, cannot be altered). Even though there’s no time machine that we know of, we often live life as if we’ve lost the keys to one—as if we might have the capability to un-do something or somehow make it right.

But no matter how many times we replay past events or decisions in our heads, they are never going to be undone. So the sooner we swallow hard and move on, the better. And yes, this theory can apply when we’re the (so-called) victims of circumstance as well.

Recently my spouse was laid off for no apparent reason (other than the new go-to word for being laid off, “rightsizing”)—despite being one of the company’s top performers. Boy, have I wrestled with this situation in my head… Wanting to know why it happened—or if there was someway we could have played things differently so that it wouldn’t have happened. But guess what? None of this mental clutter changes anything. Time to look for a new job. And any kind of “Woe is me” or refusal to let go (AKA “accept”) simply hurts our family and us. We are here. Like it or not.

And speaking of the “like it” part, you don’t necessarily have to like it. But still, you are here. You’re not anywhere but here. So no matter what you’re facing (whether a medical issue, breakup, job-related or financial issue or the 1,000th time you might be committing to losing some excess weight and getting healthier), the sooner you accept that you are here, the sooner you can take the first step into what can be the next great chapter of your life.

Again, I know this all sounds very simple. Some might suggest it’s even trite. But I promise that carrying around this mental reminder that the past is in the past and the future is in the future and that staying present offers us the clearest mindset (and, therefore, the clearest decision making capabilities) can be helpful. No matter what’s transpired… No matter what you’re facing… No matter how unfair… No matter if it was self-sabotage… Repeat after me: We. Are. Here.

And with a mental state of acceptance, here can be full of as many opportunities and possibilities as we allow it to be.

Image Source: jfj.org
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June 10, 2015

On staying present

12:22 pm - Posted by Gregg

I recently caught a repeat viewing of Oprah Winfrey‘s Super Soul Sunday featuring Ali MacGraw, who at age 75 radiates beauty from the inside out. While I found so many of her life lessons (shared generously and modestly from her heart) resonated with me, I was especially moved by this quote:

“Living In the present and finding what’s good about it is how I want to be alive. I do not want to sit in some rewrite of the past or invent the what’s going to happen story. And it’s a big discipline. I think everything that I do is tryouts by to make that be the way I live and sometimes I actually succeed.”
Ali MacGraw

I especially love how Ms. MacGraw keeps her sense of humor about all of it — and owns every life lesson she’s learned (even the ones learned the “hard way”). I love that Ms. Winfrey and OWN are bringing us these nuggets of wisdom. And I especially love being able to pass along some of these gems to you. After all, we’re all in this journey called “life” together.

To see a clip from the episode, click here.

Do you have any favorite quotes or ideas about staying present and living in the moment? If so, I’d for you to share in the comments section or via the contact page. (Thanks!)

Photo Source: OWN

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9:25 am - Posted by Gregg

A special guest post from Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RD, LD

Recently, I read a story by Gregg about his struggle to tame his desire for one of my favorite foods, peanut butter.  As is his style, he shared with great honesty the challenge it was for him to control his eating of the sticky delicious spread.  It made me want to share some ideas for controlling portions and tips on how reframing how we think about a food can change how we treat it.  I hope these tips will provide you with some tools for your toolbox in maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy life.

It’s just food. Remember, food isn’t “good” or “bad.”  You may feel like they are out to get you, but the truth is that feelings aren’t facts.  You are in charge and have the ability to control what you put in your body.  Yet, there’s no need to carry around shame about what you’ve already eaten.  Take each eating opportunity as a fresh start to do it right-er.

Know how to spot a single-serve portion. If you buy tempting foods in larger containers, separate them into smaller ones.  Measure or weigh out the portions, since sometimes what we think is a serving, really isn’t.  Alternatively, buy single-serve or pre-packaged foods that can help make it easier to control the amount you eat.  For instance, peanut butter can be purchased in single-serve to-go style squeeze packets – perfect for tossing in your bag with some rice cakes for an afternoon snack, squeezing right onto an apple, or making that perfectly portioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Save that food for eating out or special occasions and get the smallest size offered. My treat food is fried potatoes.  Seriously. I love really good French fries, crispy hashbrowns and potato chips.  I almost never have these at home, where I eat >70% of my meals.  Instead, these are a treat food that I have occasionally when I eat out with friends or for date night.  By enjoying this food outside the house, I’m not tempted to eat it more often than I should.

Do distraction. When you’re feeling the tug, it’s time to do something else.  Try drinking a glass of water, taking a walk, or calling a friend.  Taking your mind off of the food and nourishing some other part of you – thirst, physical activity, or connection – may be just enough space to reduce the temptation or eliminate it completely.

Pay attention. When you do eat the foods you love, be present.  Usually, the first few bites are the best.  Take time to savor them and enjoy them.  Don’t eat (at all if possible, but especially special foods) when you’re doing something else, such as typing at your desk, driving your car, or anything else that requires most of your attention.  When you are more mindful of the food you eat, you eat much less.

Now, as far as the peanut butter goes, I can’t leave you without some thoughts on that one.  Peanut butter is a wonderfully versatile and flavorful food.  It’s also nutritious!  Unlike my fried potatoes, which have far less to offer in that area, peanut butter provides protein, fiber, mostly good fats, and 30 vitamins and nutrients.  It can be used in everything from my favorite PB&B (banana) sandwich to homemade breakfast peanut crunch bars, or a spicy peanut dipping sauce for lean grilled chicken skewers.  Peanuts have more protein than any nut and are a deliciously satisfying food to enjoy.  Check out our website at www.nationalpeanutboard.org for more ideas.

About the Author: Sherry Coleman Collins is a registered and licensed dietitian practicing in the Atlanta, GA area.  Her love of food and nutrition has allowed her to work with individuals and groups, children and adults of all ages, and in a variety of settings from clinical to foodservice to communications.  She currently serves as senior manager, marketing and communications for the National Peanut Board. Connect with America’s peanut farmers via Facebook and Twitter. Follow Sherry on Twitter at @PeanutRD.

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