All posts by Shannon Mayhew

Magic portal adventure

“Remember when, as a child, just the sight of a swing-set, or a pony or a hula hoop, would get your heart racing and your imagination somersaulting?  And without even thinking in words, you felt that surely, the world revolved around you?  That you were the most blessed creature ever to live, and that having fun was number one?

fun is number one photo by shannon mayhew

Well, I still wonder how, at such a tender age, you knew so much.”

— Mike Dooley

In this lecture, entitled “Dancing Life’s Dance,” Mike Dooley (author, Notes from the Universe) goes on to say “everything in your life has that kind of magic when you are in the now.  And you can put yourself there on purpose.”

If you are familiar with this blog, it’s not a stretch to see why Mike’s message resonates with me.  Presence does transform our lives, helping us to experience the magic that is available to us when we choose to let it in.

But as we’ve explored in earlier posts, sometimes it feels impossible to get there from here.  We have real life worries, responsibilities, and regrets that can make it difficult to access our joy at will.  There is no “magic portal” that we can jump into to tell our life situation, “hold on, I am going to enter the NOW so I can feel better….”

Actually, there are five such portals.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Too much Magic Tree House, Shannon.”  And it’s true that I tell my kids bedtime stories, where portals lead to the lands of pirates, mermaids, knights, and American Ninja Warriors.

K's rainbow portal

I guess that’s why this metaphor arose for me when I sat down to write.   Yes, each of us has five of our own built-in portals for accessing the now.   I am talking about our physical senses.   This is essentially the same practice I talked about in “Milk it.”   It’s about taking in through the senses what’s good at this particular moment, and allowing yourself some time to enjoy it.

In “Grateful Heart, Happy Brain,” I talked about the power of this practice to create a happier brain.  Current neuroscience tells us that, by noticing and allowing ourselves to experience and enjoy the good and beautiful things in our day, we actually create new brain structures that cause us to see more good and feel greater happiness.

I’m going to propose an adventure for you to take, to really experience this for yourself — a journey through the five magic portals over the next five days.   So, for today, we can pick sight, for example.   Create an intention to notice what you can see that looks good, or beautiful, or pleasing in some way, and then to take 15-20 seconds (or more, if you want) to allow yourself to really enjoy it.  Then, throughout the day, see what you can see as beautiful/good in some way, giving yourself time to appreciate it and take it in.

look with care photo by shannon mayhew

Just noticing and allowing are enough, but if you are inclined, you could even photograph, draw or journal to further enhance your trip.  It’s your portal adventure; might as well make it fun.

Then, pick a different sense tomorrow.  The others may be less obvious than sight, but they are there.  As you go through your day, listen.  Allow what is beautiful in the world to find you through sound.  Listen to the noises of friendliness at the grocery store, or to the rushing sounds of your pipes, bringing life-giving water right into your home.  The breathing-hum a person makes when you hug them, or that your dog makes when you rest your head on her scruff. Throughout the day, notice, appreciate, and allow.

Next day, maybe breathe in the morning moisture and let the smells of autumn remind you that this very moment is changing in color. All day, allow the clean cotton laundry smell to ground you in gratitude for warmth and clean clothing.  Draw in simmering food smells, the smell of possibility in fresh cut wood at Lowe’s (yeah, we spend a lot of time there), the scent of the top of a loved one’s head where you place a kiss.

Then, there is a day to appreciate touch.  The smoothness of sheets as you slide your feet out of bed in the morning. The heat of the steam lifting from your coffee mug.  The aliveness of your skin.  The silk of a dog’s ear, and the fuzz on the top of her nose.  The way a hug can  pour into you, filling  you up, or turn your stress into water that streams down your back.

Fuzziness photo by shannon mayhew

Tasting day is going to be fun — eating mindfully and savoring so many tastes offered within each meal.  Even a deep breath tastes good, when it is drawn in with appreciation.

Notice.  Appreciate.  Allow.  Focus on one sense each day for the next five days, and let me know how you like your adventure.  Come back and comment after a day or two, or five.  I want to know, did your portals lead you, or maybe catapult you, into the present?

Did you find magic?

magic photo by shannon mayhew

Ahhh….

The kids are back to school.  The house is quiet, and Casey and I have mixed feelings about that.

flat Casey photo by shannon mayhew

We miss them.

But, we have some time to write!

Casey perks up photo by shannon mayhew

The extra quiet around here gives me the chance to focus on the blog, and to let you know what you can expect to see here this fall.

In this re-focusing, I thought about all of the things that I do.   I teach yoga, work with kids on managing stress, write bedtime stories and poetry, and I take photos and write for you on this blog.  Why?  I asked myself, what is the common thread that weaves it all together?

And the answer has to do with the title of this post.  You know that feeling you get when you are just coming out of deep relaxation after a yoga class?  Or if  you haven’t been to yoga (what are  you waiting for?), it’s this feeling when you are moved by a poem or a photograph.

zinnea photo by shannon mayhew

Or when you breathe relief through your body, when a particular source of stress has been removed.  Or you have one of those nights where you go to sleep feeling safe, cozy and content.

The feeling of “ahhh…..”  That is what I want to offer, through all I do and create.  When you are feeling “ahhh,” you are in tune with your sense of wonder and passion; it’s your soul saying, “yes, this is you.”

The sound ahhh can be found in most of the names we give for the Divine.  It is the sound of the breath, which draws the force of life throughout our bodies.

And ahh can unite us with one another, when several of us are connected with something that feels true and intense and beautiful.  As we say in yoga, when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.

Namaste.

My first podcast!

We have a command center that gives us access to how the  brain interprets our feelings.  It’s called “the body.”  When you bring your awareness fully into your body, you are at the controls.

Welcome back!  Things look different around here.  That’s because the folks who host my website discontinued their blog services, so I moved over to WordPress.  I plan to bring back all the previous posts over time – probably not until after summer though!  I have been busy running through the sprinkler with the girls and collecting seashells, oh, and also reaching out with my message in some exciting new ways.

Last month I had the amazing opportunity to do an interview with Ari Meisel of lessdoing.com.  In the interview, we talk about depression, and how healing can occur when we create better feeling states via the body.  We also discuss gratitude, learning, nutrition, parenting, and even how to get to Sesame Street!

Ari is a parent,  yogi, Ironman, and productivity expert.  He wrote the book “Less Doing, More Living” and has also given a Ted Talk about his amazing journey in healing from Chron’s Disease.  Ari has had many exciting guests on his show, and I am honored to have had this opportunity!

During the first half-hour of the podcast, Ari talks with his co-host Felix Bird about methods and tools to improve productivity, health and wellbeing.  If you want to jump right to the interview with me, it is around 31 minutes into the podcast.  But you might find some useful information in the whole show if you have the time.

Enjoy.  And please share your comments or questions!

 

Bio

Last year I attended a great conference held by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.  I learned so much about both the craft and the industry of writing books for children, but the one piece of advice that resonated most strongly with me was offered by Jill Santopolo, author and executive editor at Philomel Books/Penguin Group.

“Connect with your readers emotionally, by drawing them in through the senses,” she offered.

snuggle morning photo by shannon mayhew

Yes!  I’ve been working with using the senses in yoga to help manage strong emotions (“Embracing Anger“), and to help people access the emotional state of gratitude (“Milk It“).  In fact, I’m so excited to let you know that this week I’ll be talking with “the James Bond of productivity,” Ari Meisel, about my method forBody Gratitude.  I will let you know when the podcast is available on Ari’s “Less Doing Radio.”

So it makes sense (I always intend the pun) that the senses create a pathway for us to access our emotions in writing as well as in yoga.

Another piece of advice that I seem to keep hearing everywhere, is to connect with adult readers by showing your vulnerability.  Hmm… this one is less easy for me, but here goes.

Since the statistics tell me that this spring there are many more of you finding my blog (welcome!), I’ll take this opportunity to put myself out there and share a kind of Bio.  No fancy schooling or job descriptions — just an experiment in connection.  Hope you like it…

Bio

1970’s
I’m from August alley wiffle ball games
I am up to bat,
graveldust sticking to scraped shins
Thick breezes carry garlic and soy
I’m from tiny houses, big cars
Roller skate to Pency’s to buy Dots
and cap-gun ammunition
I’m from race you home after school –
Wednesdays we run hurdles
Five garbage bags in one leap
Steer clear of the tough kids, so desperate for their own power
Fourth Street kids play board games on a splintered picnic table
Maria sits underneath and peeks at Clue cards
We laugh, and eat Doritos and egg rolls (made with urgency and gratitude)

1980’s
I’m from dusk cornfield hide-and-seek
Crunching footsteps, rustling stalks
reveal your position
Winds carry pine, cut grass, pungent fertilized fields
I’m from rooftop stargazing, boisterous crickets
Ripples, stone-skips, echoing toad-croaks
Three-legged skunk snacking on patio catfood
Climbing trees
Stinging bees
Mudpies, inchworms, cattails
Cats, miracle kittens, life emerging from life,
and settling to stillness in garden graves
with geode headstones
I’m from orange tabby sunsets
Ropeswings, tied to trees, creaking and swishing
As I swing into a creamsicle sky

Where I'm From photo by Don Beltz
photo by my dad
and first photography teacher, Don Beltz!

So, that’s me.

Enough

It has been around a month since I’ve posted anything new here, and it’s nice to be back!

Last month I went on a week-long cruise with my family, and I experienced a kind of shift that has stayed with me, even as I returned home to my regular routines.  On the boat, there was no Internet, no cell phone service, no email.  For the first few days, I found myself looking at my phone from time to time, and then wondering what I was looking for.  But then this feeling of slightly nervous obligation gave way to a sense of quiet freedom.

Not being tethered to the phone and all of the expectations (mostly my own) that surround it seemed to release me from the “should’s” and “have to’s” that I think I use to try to get things done, but which carry a really damaging subtle message underneath it all — that I’m not enough.  That I have to do this and change that and try harder at this other thing.  THEN I can relax and fully allow the good that is all around me to be fully felt and enjoyed.

What I found was, when I had no choice but to fully tune in to what I was doing, who I was with, and my own feelings and connections with people, it was easy to “take in the good” that the particular moment offered.  Ease and joy were not some reward to give myself after hard work and accomplishment.  They’re natural parts of each fully attended moment.

A moment fully attended photo by Shannon Mayhew

Since I’ve been back in the “connected” world, it’s been a bit of a challenge not to fall back to the constant phone-checking habit.  Here’s what helped:  I removed all “push notifications” from my email, aps, Facebook, etc.  Don’t worry — it still rings when you call!  (But if my daughter is telling me about her day I will have to let the voicemail get it.)  There are no chimes or buzzes when email or notifications arrive.  I have to actively decide I’m ready to spend a little phone and e-connection time, rather than having it always dinging at me, slicing my attention and pulling on me like little children at the mall who are tired of shopping.

Somehow breaking this habit, and deciding when I want to do X and Y, has helped me to feel more in control, and to keep this sense of freedom from the nervous backdrop of constant responsiveness.  If I find myself slipping into the old ways of putting off happiness as a reward for getting things done, it helps me to remember to “take in the good” through my senses — letting happiness find a way in through the body, even when the brain is not in the mood.  Even when you’re not at the beach.

Try it.  I’d love to hear  your thoughts and experiences with this in the Leave a Comment section above.  Can you release yourself from phone tyranny?  Can you take in the good through your senses?

Let the you in this moment be enough.

Enough photo by Shannon Mayhew

“Enough” by David Whyte from Where Many Rivers Meet
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.

Dog-ma

Lessons from the Four-Legged Guru

On this blog, we have embraced the wisdom of a seven-year-old, explored the yoga of Disney’s Frozen, and trained in the Tao of Jimmy Fallon.  What’s next?

This week, we celebrate the spiritual teachings of Casey.  My dog.  Yes, I am being a little silly here, but it’s true that watching animals can teach us so much about living in the moment.  Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

When I look deeply, here is what Casey tells me about living fully, in each moment:

1.  When I rest, I rest completely.  I welcome peace into every strand of fur, and every cell of my body.

cozy casey photo by shannon mayhew

 

2.  I am patient with those who are trying to love me in the best way that they know.

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And I allow myself to fully feel that love.

Love is patient photo by shannon mayhew


3.  I boldly pursue my passions.

Casey looking around in awareness photo by shannon mayhew

 

4.  I look not back in regret, nor forward in fear, but around me in awareness.

Casey looks on photo by shannon mayhew

 

4.  When I am present, it is easier to notice all of the precious gifts around me in this wonderful, wonderful world.

 

Love, laughs, and wholehearted wags to you all!

If you are interested in delving deeper into the theme of “living fully,” you can join Dee Gold and me for a special workshop on Saturday, May 10th, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm at Inner Reaches Yoga & Health.  More information can be found here: I-AM: On the Path to Living Fully, or ask your questions in the comments section below.

Namaste,
Shannon

A Moment

The golden sun on my girl’s face as she leans back on the swing — she wants butterflies in her belly.

golden-sun-smile-photo-by-shannon-mayhew

Her smile, open-mouthed, shining with joy. “Swing with me, Mommy! Ready?” She was teaching me how to pump my legs, to go higher, faster, like her. “Watch me do this!” She twisted the chains around and around, until they were wound tightly. Then, letting go, she whirled around in a dizzying tornado of laughter and light.

“Try this, Mommy! Help me twist! Watch,” she called, ever waking me, teaching me, pulling me out of my head, and into this precious place, called here, now.

***

I wrote this at my last “Creative Yoga/Happy Hour” workshop at Opus Yoga.   It was that day last week, you know, that day that felt like spring.  I was inspired by this picture that I took, and by this moment, and by this seven-year-old teacher who calls me into presence.

If you’d like to join me for some inspiration, yoga, creating and socializing with like-minded folks, the next workshop is Friday, April 4th, 7-8:30 pm.  You can register through Opus Yoga, or you can just “swing” on in.

XO

The Tao of Jimmy Fallon

Wisdom clothed in silliness 
Have you been watching The Tonight Show since Jimmy Fallon started hosting the show?  Or have you seen Late Night?  I have to admit that it’s hard for me to stay up that late, but I’ve seen enough to make a fun observation — each episode, Jimmy Fallon lays out a roadmap for happiness that reflects the best wisdom from both ancient traditions and current neuroscience.

Jimmy-Fallon-Men-Health-Magazine-March-2014

Photo from Men’s Health Magazine

Channel your Inner Jimmy
The word Tao comes from the Tao Te Ching, a collection of verses by the Chinese prophet Lao-tzu.  Tao refers to the underlying nature of the universe, and is translated as “the path,” or “the way.”

So what is The Way of Jimmy Fallon, and how does it lead to happiness?  I propose that channeling your own “Inner Jimmy” can lead to greater happiness in your life, based on four principles that Jimmy lives in each of his shows:  Appreciate, Give Thanks, Give Love, and Laugh.

1. Appreciate
Justin Timberlake did this hilarious impression of Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago.  A big part of the shtick was that everything was “so great!”  The reason the audience (and lots of us at home) laughed so hard at this imitation was because this is just what Jimmy does.  He has this childlike wonder and appreciation for the simple goodnesses he encounters.  He stays in that place and even takes us there with him.

timberlake so great

Photo from “Hot News Gator.”

Last month in The Science Behind Milking It, I wrote about the work of neuroscientist Rick Hanson.  Dr. Hanson explains that we tend to remember more bad events and feelings than good ones because of our brain’s “negativity bias.”  This bias evolved so that we would store potentially dangerous circumstances in our long term memory, and helped our species to survive during times when there were many more life-threatening situations in our day.

Today’s lack of imminent saber-toothed tiger attacks means that this bias now perhaps does us more harm than good.  But by actively appreciating the good in our days, Dr. Hanson says, we can actually build new brain structures that enable happiness to be remembered and deemed as valuable. He calls this practice, “taking in the good.”

So I’m suggesting that, throughout your day, you look for simple good things and “take them in.”  Notice the good experiences, savor them, and allow yourself to keep enjoying them for 12-24 seconds, to activate this positive process in the brain.  Since that SNL episode, I’ve been having fun doing this the Jimmy (via Justin) way: “Birds singing! So great!”  “The girls are building things with sticks. So fun! SO GREAT!”

2. Give Thanks
There is a segment of the show where Jimmy writes his famous Thank You Notes.  These can be sarcastic, which is not really the kind of thanks I’m talking about.  But there are other times where he uses this segment to celebrate the wonder in the mundane.  Like, “Thank  you, pita bread, for being a great combination of wheat and envelopes.”  Really, he does have a point.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon - Season 5Photo from philly.com

I have been trying to say more “thank-you’s” for everyday things, to people and just inwardly.  It feels good to actively give thanks in novel ways.  It creates happiness for both the thanker and the one being thanked!

3. Give Love
On his first episode hosting The Tonight Show, Jimmy interviewed Will Smith.  When Jimmy asked for advice for handling the new adventure that this show would be, Will Smith said, “You just keep loving people.”  He reminded Jimmy that his being chosen as the new host for this enduring TV success was due to his love for people and the fact that people feel that.

Alan Cohen,  author of the story Carpe Diem, from Chicken Soup for the Soul put it this way: “We believe that we are hurt when we don’t receive love. But that is not what hurts us. Our pain comes when we do not give love. We were born to love.  We function most powerfully when we are giving love… our well-being is dependent on our giving love!”

One small change I have been working on, along these lines, is to try to activelylisten to others.  It is a simple way to give of yourself, to give love — making eye contact with someone each day, while listening as if they are telling you the only thing there is for you to know in that moment.  Simple, but it doesn’t come so naturally on a busy day, when we’ve become so accustomed to multi-tasking.
OK, maybe not quite this active…

late_night_with_jimmy_fallon_intense_interview_will_ferrell_season_1

Photo from metacafe.com

I have been trying to give each of my daughters at least ten minutes of locked-in, rapt attention every day.  It’s really different from the kind of talking you do when you are also engaging in something else (or in another room!).  It’s actually harder than I thought it would be.  Sure, we play, we talk, we tell stories at bed time.  But for me, this kind of active listening, with complete attention, is taking some practice.  But it’s so worth it when I focus and remember to do it!

Jennifer Kolari, author of Connected Parenting, says that active, empathetic listening releases reward chemicals in the brain that stimulate positive emotions and create order and balance in the nervous system.  These benefits occur in both the talker and the listener.  From my own experience, I can say that there is a sweet feeling of connection that happens, and I can see this being registered in the girls’ eyes as we talk.

active listening photo by shannon mayhew

4. Laugh
This one will not come as a surprise to anyone, but it’s worth a look because it’s so important!  Laughter boosts the immune system, it stretches muscles, increases oxygen intake, promotes relaxation, and relieves pain.  It feels good.  We all know this.

Jimmy and Shaq

Photo from washingtonpost.com

I recently read an amazing book by Anita Moorjani, called Dying to be Me.  In the book, Moorjani describes her near death experience, and her rapid healing from stage 4B cancer after the experience.  While her organs were shutting down, Moorjani went into a coma, when she had the realization of her own inherent worth and “the true magnificence of each and every human being.”  She regained consciousness and was released from the hospital within weeks, cancer-free.

At the end of her book, she takes care to leave us with this wisdom:

“Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to enjoy yourself and not take yourself or life too seriously. One of the biggest flaws with many traditional spiritual systems is that they give you such a somber outlook. Although you know that I abhor creating doctrines, if I ever had to create a set of tenets for a spiritual path to healing, number one on my list would be to make sure to laugh as often as possible throughout every single day–and preferably laugh at myself. This would be hands down over and above any form of prayer, meditation, chanting, or diet reform. Day-to-day problems never seem as big when viewed through a veil of humor and love.”

Love and fun2

The Tao of Jimmy Fallon!  A simple, yet profound way to happiness.

SO GREAT!

Grateful heart, happy brain

The science behind “milking it”

Happy New Year!  Really, truly, happy.

We have more power to create our happiness that we may have realized.  Once again, current neuroscience is illuminating the mechanics of ancient wisdom, as we discover why and how gratitude makes us happier in a meaningful, lasting way.

Earlier in December I wrote “Milk It,” about activating gratitude in the moment, even when you are not feeling especially cheerful or grateful.  I talked about how to use your senses to hold yourself in presence.  This can open you to noticing something that you can enjoy in the current moment, even when you are not feeling happy.

Maybe it’s the warmth or softness that your clothing is providing you, or the rich colors in a painting on the wall.  Maybe you’ll notice the soothing sound of your breathing, or a streak of sunlight shining across the floor.

take in the good photo by shannon mayhew

When you notice something appealing or comforting, you can transform simply noticing into a lasting sense of gratitude, by “milking it.”  This means, allow yourself to truly experience what feels good about what you notice.  Be with it, feel it, take in the nourishment that this act of allowing makes possible.

Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwired for Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence” calls this process “taking in the good.”   Dr. Hanson’s research shows that taking in and feeling the good of your experience, for at least 15 seconds, can change the “wiring” of your brain, making it possible for you to experience more happiness.

You know those days when you mess up, and, despite all the things you did right that day, you dwell on the one thing you did wrong?  Or, when you are trying to sleep at night, and that one “bad” experience in your day still weighs heavily on the mind — why don’t we tend to doze off, basking in all the things that went right instead?

Rick Hanson explains that our brains have what’s called a “negativity bias.”  In other words, they are wired to remember and learn from the “bad,” because this vigilance was what helped our ancestors to survive as we evolved.  The brain adapted to store into our long-term memory those experiences that threatened our survival, whereas other, more pleasant experiences were of less use and discarded.  In our current society, the negativity bias is not so helpful, and in fact it causes us to hold on to the negative experiences — and to see less value in the good ones.

By feeling and “taking in” the good, and intentionally allowing yourself to enjoy it for at least 15 seconds, your brain has enough time to begin to store this experience into your long-term memory, Dr. Hanson tells us.  By doing this more and more often, we create structures in our brains that cause us to notice more good and feel greater happiness.

You can see Dr. Hanson explain this process in greater detail in this video:

I think this is why it works when we choose to “flip the switch” — when we choose to look at our experiences through the lens of gratitude and compassion, we process differently.  We create love rather than fear.  And when we truly allow the good we notice to sink in, and to feel as good as it can feel, we change our brains in a way that creates lasting changes to our habits of thought and emotion.

look with love photo by shannon mayhew

Carlos Castaneda said, “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”  It seems a third choice is “we make ourselves happy,” with presence, sustained allowing, and gratitude.

Blessings, love, magic and happiness to you in 2014 and always!

Love,
Shannon