Getting Out of my Head: Why I Meditate *not quite* Daily (#25)


aquatic bloom blooming blossom

Number 25 on my list was to meditate daily.  It was a good thought.  But truthfully, I have not been able to keep up with this practice every day.  Interestingly, it is precisely because of my meditation practice that I can admit publicly that I have not been able to do something perfectly.  And that is okay.  It is the attempt that matters.

When I began my meditation practice, I was stuck in my head, overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, and weighed down with emotional armour.  I didn’t want anyone to know I had weaknesses and I was convinced I could deal with whatever life threw at me on my own.  I didn’t need anyone else.  And there was no way I was going to share my feelings with another person.

In September of 2017, I returned to a regular yoga practice after a twenty year hiatus, and I slowly learned to get out of my head and into my body.  Meditation followed, and I learned that I could observe my thoughts and let them go, without having to attach too much meaning to them.

A year later, my reasons to meditate have changed, but my appreciation of this practice has not.  I love that we refer to meditation as a practice.  I have a bit of a tendency toward perfectionism, which probably adds to my anxiety…or maybe is the root of it.  So to refer to something as a practice gives me the freedom and permission to learn, to make mistakes, to change my understanding of what it means to work toward a goal.  A year ago, my meditation practice was awkward and frustrating.  I couldn’t control the thoughts and feelings and I was trying to adhere to a set of instructions.  A year ago, I had three main reasons to start a meditation practice.  Those reasons were: to get out of my head, to learn to be present (and stop spending all my energy in the past or the future) and to simply slow down.

Getting out of my Head

When I began talk therapy, I was under the impression that I could just share what I was thinking about things going on in my life, and the therapist would tell me some simple yet profound advice and once I put it into action, all my fears and anxieties would disappear.

Yes, I know that is not how therapy works.

What happened instead was a profound new understanding for me.  Feelings and thoughts are not the same thing.  I remember my therapist asking me how I felt about a situation I was dealing with.  I told her I thought I was angry…and proceeded to tell her all the angry thoughts I was experiencing.  Then she asked me to tell her where in my body I felt anger.  WHAT?  What was she talking about?  That was the beginning of me beginning to understand why I needed to get out of my head.

Meditation helped me to get in touch with how I experience emotions in my body.  Where do I feel them?  What colour are they? How does my body feel as I experience different emotions.  It took some time, but as I observed my thoughts through meditation, and released them, I could more clearly see and feel my emotional landscape.

Learn to be Present (not living in the past or the future)

I used to spend far too much time either ruminating on the past, replaying conversations as they happened and as I wished they had happened or projecting into the future, setting up expectations for what my life should look like, and how disappointed I would be if it looked any different.  I spent very little time in the present, experiencing what was happening around me NOW, appreciating the people in my life, valuing the life I am privileged to lead.

The problem with living in the past is that you can’t change it.  There is no way to go back and change the events, the conversations, the choices we made.  And to continue to wish things were different robs us of seeing how our past has shaped the present.

The problem with living in the future is that it hasn’t happened yet.  When we live expecting the future to look a certain way, we set ourselves up for disappointment.  Yes, we can work toward a future we want, but if we spend our time in the future, we miss the present work we need to do to create that future we hope for.

Living in the present has allowed me to just be, to see my life as it is, not as I wish it could be or how I hope it might look one day.  Meditation, and mindfulness in particular, is a practice which helps me be here now.

To Slow Down

Sometimes I feel like my life is just rushing by.  Being a parent, a partner, a teacher, principal and leader can keep me moving at a quick pace all the time.  Part of my motivation for beginning to meditate was to give myself a moment, two or five or twenty minutes of just slowing down, really breathing, and getting grounded.  In the busyness of our lives, how many times do we just stop for a few minutes to breathe, to taste the food we are eating, to fully engage in a conversation.  Meditation helped me slow down my mind and body long enough to recognize where I was in the world around me.

The reasons I continue to meditate have changed a little.  While I still strive to be present, to get out of my head and to slow down, I have found more benefits to meditation.  And while I don’t meditate every day, despite my best intentions, the practice continues to improve my mental and spiritual well being.  I continue meditating (and to continue working toward a daily practice as part of my 45 things project) to understand how I feel my emotions (without my thoughts getting in the way), to have more self-awareness and to calm my thoughts and my physical reactions to anxiety.

Feeling all the Emotions

Emotions are uncomfortable for me.  And not just the ones like sadness or vulnerability or embarrassment.  I am talking about all emotions.  I prefer to think rather than to feel.  When I discovered that emotions are felt in the body, and opened myself up to feeling without numbing, I found all emotion, even the ones we aspire to feel, like joy and pride and love, to be overwhelming.  I will talk about numbing in another post, but for this one, it is enough to say that meditation has taught me that I can sit with emotion, feel the discomfort, let it wash over me and retreat like a wave.  I know that there is no emotion that lasts forever and that feelings are information, not facts.  Meditation lets me get curious about how I am feeling and what my intuitive body wants me to know and do.  It’s still super uncomfortable, but I am working on it.

Being More Self Aware

Meditation has this wonderful benefit of allowing me to be an observer – of my thoughts, of my feelings and of how I show up in the world.  As an observer, I can (in theory) recognize my experiences as neutral – neither good nor bad – and can become more aware of the judgement I attach to those experiences, making them good or bad.   Learning to be aware of the emotional triggers I feel, the thought patterns that can colour my day and seeing myself as others see me gives me a sense of freedom.  At this point, I am pretty self aware…I am just not great at expressing what I am feeling or thinking yet.

Calm Thoughts and Physical Reactions to Anxiety

One of the truly practical gifts of meditation is having a tool to deal with stressful situations or times when the brain’s amygdala takes over and takes control.  When I find myself having racing thoughts, bizarre physical reactions like an inability to breathe, sweating for no reason, or sudden headache or when my thoughts send me into fight or flight mode and I NEED to find a way out of a room NOW (for example), meditation and mindfulness are tools I use to remind my brain that I am safe, to calm my sympathetic nervous system and to engage my parasympathetic, rest and digest system.  When my thoughts begin to race, and I can only see the worst case scenario (and am no longer in the present), a minute of mindful breathing or repeating a mantra can bring me back to a calm state.  I am not really great at recognizing when I need to do this, though, so part of my practice will be to apply these skills more regularly, and preferably before I spiral.

Tomorrow I will share some of the specific meditation tools I use.  Some are apps for guided meditation.  Some are structured practices.  And some just require quieting the mind and taking a breath.

Photo by Pixabay on


Magic Happens Outside of Your Comfort Zone – my treetop adventure (#6 and #45)

Image result for treetop adventure boler

I have a confession to make.  I am not afraid of heights.  For about 25 years I have been telling people that I am afraid of heights to get out of certain activities.  Specifically, to get out of activities that involve heights and which could result in me plunging to my death.  But heights – nope.  That is not the problem.  The problem is the potential plunging.

My fear is not unfounded or irrational. Years ago while on a trip to Colorado, I was climbing with some friends.  There was a short section of a narrow pathway where we were moving from one section of the climb to another.  I do not remember exactly what happened next, but somehow I slipped.  What I do remember is that suddenly I was sliding, quickly approaching a cliff, a sheer drop and a rapidly rushing river.  The next few seconds are burned into my memory.  Time slowed. I heard my friends yelling for me.  I saw the river below.  And then…I stopped.  I just stopped.  My foot hit a small rock, just a couple of inches out of the ground.  Somehow, as I was staring my demise in the face, my foot hit a tiny rock and my life would continue.  I was in shock.  I was grateful to be alive.  And I was terrified.

That day marked the last time I would climb.  It was the last time I would do anything that required me to put my safety into the hands of another.  It was the last time I would trust that no matter what, I would be okay.  It was the day I stopped taking risks.  People who know me well know that I really like to be in control of – well – of everything.  The problem with that is that it is impossible to be in control of everything.

When my wife got really sick last year, I recognized just how little control I have in my life.  And through that experience, and the year since, I have come to understand that the best parts of life happen outside the box of our control. They happen when we learn to appreciate the fragility of life, and the people we love.

Friday was a Professional Learning day for the Thames Valley District School Board.  At my school, we are working on the Global Competency of Learning to Learn.  Through our work, we are striving to understand how we and our students give and receive meaningful feedback, how we use that feedback to gain a better understanding of what we need to learn, and how we determine our next best learning move.  As a way of engaging in some experiential learning, I joined my staff at Boler Mountain to take part in the Treetop Adventure.  This event brought our team together, gave us insight into how we ask for help and support one another, and how we learn and make our next best learning moves.

The treetop adventure takes place up in the trees, as the name implies.  It requires one to harness up, walk across ropes and wires and bridges and to fly on ziplines.  When I put “complete a ropes course” and “zipline” on my list of 45 things, I wasn’t sure if I would ever actually go through with it.  No matter how many people told me it was safe, who reminded me that I was harnessed in, or that I needed to trust myself and others, I just couldn’t get the image of sliding toward the steep cliff and river out of my mind.

So the day arrived.  Friday we showed up at Boler Mountain and after a morning of working together learning how to support students with medical conditions, having conversations about what Learning to Learn looks like in our classrooms, and engaging in some team building activities, we were ready to get into the trees.  My hands were shaking as I got into the harness.  As the principal, I felt like I needed to be fearless – and I wasn’t.  But I was courageous.  Courage – the ability to feel fear and do the thing anyway.

I am so glad I faced my fear.  I am so glad I was courageous.  And I would not have been able to do it without the encouragement of the people I was with – my colleagues and friends who cheered me on, who used what they had learned to give me feedback and who I truly believe had my back.  Overcoming this fear makes me wonder if I need to let go in other areas of my life.  Maybe the real magic of life lies in living just outside of our comfort zone.  My comfort zone has served me for a lot of years.  It has kept me safe.  It has let me feel more in control.  But it has also acted like a prison, keeping me from taking risks and engaging in all the wonderful adventures life has to offer.

And while it isn’t on my list of 45 things, I think I may make a stop at a climbing gym in the near future.

Where have you allowed fear to keep you from living?  What adventures are you missing out on?  What conversations are you not having that could change everything?  This project has reminded me that every day is a wonderful gift and gifts are meant to be opened and enjoyed!

Opening Up – My List of 45 Things

After lots of inner debate, and after sharing my list with a few people, I have made the decision to share my list of 45 things.  Originally, my intention was to roll it out as I completed each item, and maybe put the entire list out at the end of the project.  But, some things have changed…

I have been overwhelmed with the level of love and support I have received from people I know in all areas of my life – family, friends, colleagues.  To hear people tell me that they admire the journey, that they want to walk with me through it, that my story has somehow given them hope and reminded them that they are not alone warms my heart. This outpouring over only a few days has started me thinking about one of my great challenges.  Asking for help.  Those who know me will know that asking for help is something I do not like to do.  Mostly it is because I like to believe I can do everything on my own, with no help from anyone else.  Also, I don’t want to burden others.  That line of thinking has not served me well.  Someone who is very important to me has reminded me multiple times that humans are social animals.  We need one another.  We are not meant to do this life alone.  In fact, she often has to remind me that one of the worst punishments we can inflict on one another is isolation.  So, friends, readers, supporters, I am requesting your help.

Here is my list of 45 things:

45 things

45 things while 45

And here is where I need your help.  As you read through this list, if you have any ideas to help me reach my goal, could you please share with me?  For example, if you know a great book I should read to complete #28 – read a book every month just for fun – please share with me.  Or if you know how to knit (#21) and would like to teach me, I would love to spend time with you, learning.  And hey, if you happen to be a personal friend of Brené Brown (or if you, Brené, are reading this) and you can help with that meeting (#26), please let me know.  And if you would like to come to my home for the dinner party I intend to host (#17), please send me your name.  I want it to be a great celebration of friendship.

Asking for help is not one of the items on my list, but it is something I am learning to do more of.  Maybe, just maybe, part of the beauty of life is found in the struggles.  More specifically, maybe it’s found in knowing that when we struggle, there are others who come along to support us.  When we don’t have the answers, we can ask others for help.  And maybe that connection, the kind that only comes when we learn to rely on one another, is what reminds us of our common humanity.

Thank you all for your support.  And thank you for helping me reach my goal!

The Adventure Begins…

Yesterday was my birthday.  My 45th birthday.  While some may lament the loss of their youth with each passing year, I am celebrating turning 45.  And to celebrate, I created a list of 45 things I want to do this year.

Why?  That sounds a little “bucket-list”ish, right?  I suppose it does. But this is not about things to accomplish before I die.  This is about celebrating that I am alive! It is recognizing that I will never again have the opportunities I have today, right now. It is about embracing all the things, doing all the things, loving big, experiencing joy, and appreciating the people who have supported me getting here.

selective focus photography of person holding the adventure begins mug

44 was not such a great year for me.  I struggled with serious anxiety, stress and feelings of hopelessness.  Not too many people know the depth of struggle I faced over the year.  For months I fought daily with my brain just to survive.  I managed to keep most of my suffering to myself, but there are some with whom I was able to share that pain – the pain of feeling unworthy of love or of feeling not good enough.  It was a year of feeling surrounded by darkness, and believing the world would be better off without me. But thankfully, those who could see my struggle did not sweep it under the rug.  They called it out, shone light on it, and encouraged me to find support.

So now, after nearly a year, I can honestly say that all the therapy, the medication, doing the hard work every day, looking inward and learning how to express emotion instead of pushing it down, has been worth it.  I no longer feel hopeless.  I know I have a purpose, that I belong, that I am worthy of love and that I am enough.  My healing journey has often felt like one step forward and two back, and I know that I still have work to do.  And this is why Forty-Five things is so important to me.

So what is Forty-Five things?  Over the past few months I have put together a list of things I want to accomplish, experiences I want to have, moments I want to make into memories.  Some of these are simple.  Some are really scary.  And I believe all have something to teach me about life.  This blog (Item #7) is the place I will share what I have done and what I am learning through my experiences.

I hope that a year from now, I will look back and see how rich and beautiful this life is.  I hope I will see stronger relationships, a better understanding of who I am, and will be less concerned about how others see me.  This list is very personal.  I feel very vulnerable sharing it publicly. Some who read it will see me.  Some will not.  Some may laugh or mock this project.  Somehow, I will need to be ok with that.

Thanks for following me on this journey.  May it inspire you to ask how you want to spend your next journey around the sun.

Photo by Simon Migaj


Letting Go and Having Fun – Go Axe Throwing (#12)

Number 12 on my list of forty-five things was to go axe throwing.  It is something I have wanted to do for a while, but I hadn’t because I was afraid I would look stupid, or I would cut off my knee cap or something equally embarrassing.

But, this is the year of trying all the things.  So, last night, on my birthday, my wife Nancee, our friend Bonnie and I went to BATL London where we met Cameron, our amazing coach.  Nancee was incredible right from the start.  She was throwing bulls-eye after bulls-eye.  I am a bit of a slower start. After a few super close, but not quite ANYWHERE near the target throws, I finally got my rhythm and figured out when to let go of the axe.  It’s quite an important part of the whole “throwing” part of axe throwing.  And soon…this:

axe throwingYup!  That’s my first bulls-eye.  I was so proud. In the end, I won the tournament.  I am pretty sure everyone was letting me win because it was my birthday.  But whether I won or lost, I had so much fun.

That is the lesson in this experience for me.  I need more fun in my life.  I need to just go out and laugh and know that my kids are fine, and I don’t have to always be concerned about my responsibilities.  And for me, throwing the axe was a very tangible way for me to remember that sometimes, you just have to let things go. It is impossible to hit the target if you don’t let go of the axe.  In the same way, I will never reach my goals or be the person I am meant to be if I continue to hold on to past pain, anger, resentment or limiting beliefs about myself.  I need to just let go, let out the energy, the frustration, the stress…in this case, I did it by literally throwing out all my stored up energy.  I don’t remember the last time Nancee and I went out just to do something fun.  And it was so much fun that I suspect we will go again.  I realize that I deserve to laugh.  I know I looked pretty silly…check out my face in that selfie…but it didn’t matter.

Part of my healing journey has been recognizing that I take myself far too seriously sometimes. You really can’t take yourself too seriously when hurling hatchets at a wall.

How often do we allow ourselves to really unwind, to really laugh, to really let go and truly enjoy and have fun?  This year, I intend to have a lot more!



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