Joy habit

Today I’m inspired by the lovely Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore. She inspires me in lots of ways, but today I want to talk about a little concept she’s been sharing that she calls the joy habit. It’s basically leaning into that state of gratitude for things in our lives, good and bad, and cultivating joy. So much so that it ultimately morphs into a way of BEING.

Living joy, if you will.

And it’s more than just happiness. Being happy is a great emotion to have, but it’s fleeting. I think this idea of being in a joy state couples nicely with learning to cultivate greater mindfulness in our daily lives. One of the things mindfulness teaches us is non-attachment and using our senses to simply be in the present moment more often than not.

That heightened level of cognizance can become a wonderful foundation for cultivating a joy habit. Lots of crappy things happen everyday too. So how do we keep our foundation of joy despite what Kerry Ann describes as our world being structurally oriented to separating ourselves from it?

Great question! Again, bringing back this aspect of mindfulness and growing that skill (it is a skill that we can learn + enhance) can help us to sit with all of the stuff less joyful in life. Daily stressors, hardships, serious issues in our local communities and on the other side of the globe.

Becoming more mindful teaches us to be with what is without trying to change it. We can acknowledge any less than ideal reality that might be swirling about in our face at the moment and still ground ourselves in joy.

It’s tricky and seems counterintuitive, right?

I’m no expert, but as I develop my own daily meditation practice and share insights with others doing the same, incorporating this idea of cultivating JOY as a way of being seems really cool. It must since I created this little graphic below a few months ago using a photo from my very first photoshoot!

stuffed animals from the kiddios galore! AKA “the guys”

So as I’m moving forward in my own journey of mindfulness and encouraging others to do the same (#mindfulscholar #356mindfuldays), I’m going to be further experimenting with cultivating JOY as my backdrop, my foundation, my inner compass pointing me toward all that is good, and not so good, in life.

Daily writing

I haven’t been doing my daily writing, so I’m going to write about it here. I’m not sure what the hang up is because I know that continuing to write and express my ideas will only bring more clarity. And I want that. Clarity of thought, of how I can serve, of what I have to offer.

I’m working on several presentations that I’m going to share with our McNair community in a few weeks and I’ve also been feeling blocked. It’s that autopilot in my head always second guessing my worth, what I have to say. So my intention is to simply keep writing through it.

It’s that shitty first draft that people talk about. Keep on writing those shitty first drafts because they can eventually shift into gold. Well, maybe not actual gold. But gold in the sense that words on the page will serve some greater purpose, if only to self-express and perhaps tickle another’s fancy, encourage a new perspective a new thought?

You never know when something you write will resonate with another person. I’m putting a bit more pressure on myself because I’m writing on my blog and simply posting. Not a ton of people actually read my blog (yet!) and so I feel okay about doing that. Something about having that reality of sharing makes it easier for me to put words on the page.

I do draft in Evernote sometimes, but I don’t like that as much because those drafts tend to sit and eventually mold over. I don’t like coming back to them for some reason. All kinds of resistance I know.

Besides the presentations, I want to redesign my website and so I need fresh copy for that. For both, I try not to attach great meaning so as to trick my brain into thinking that it’s no big deal, just write something.

Perhaps I’m thinking too much.

Perhaps what I need to do is shift more toward being mode. Allowing my intuition to guide me more. That is what we’re trying to do in meditation. Softening our thoughts to get to the root of what we have to say. Becoming less judgmental toward ourselves also serves us in the writing process.

I have been rather enjoying creating posts on Instagram, especially guest posting on Ph_Depression which focuses on mental health in graduate education. That’s one of the things I’m presenting on actually. It’s such an important topic and one that deserves more attention, especially within individual graduate programs and graduate schools as a whole on a national level.

So many students are struggling. Which makes it hard running a program that strives to encourage more students to pursue this life. Life of the mind. Life as an academic. A scholar. The resiliency factor for each student entering a Ph.D. program really needs to be up there that’s for sure. I hope our students can find their way to good people who will support them and help them flourish. But that’s not always the case. This is where pressure on graduate student mental health builds and spills over into some really serious realities students much face in order to achieve their degree. It feels good more open discussion is happening on this important topic.

But I digress. Four minutes remaining of my 25 minute writing period and I admit I’m watching the clock. Since I’ve been avoiding writing, this is really my first day at it, so I’m going easy on myself. I’m allowing myself to dribble on here (judging myself, I know, noted) so that I can move forward and ultimately create a consistent habit that will lead to greater productivity and satisfaction. Won’t you join me?

365 Days

A friend of mine recently posed this question on Instagram: what can you do for 365 days? We talk a lot about habit formation at the gym and with our scholars. Rituals. Routines. Our daily flow.

My initial response, especially since Conner is a CrossFit and nutrition coach, was to think food-related. Could I give up sugar? Eat an apple a day? You know what they say … smile.

My next response was resistance and avoidance. I didn’t want to answer the question because I didn’t want to lock myself into anything. This isn’t the intent, but even speaking (softly to myself lol) I know from experience that I’m all too apt to make a declaration only to let it silently slip away soon thereafter.

So I hesitated. Then I thought, well, I’m all about striving for daily meditation, as well as encouraging others. Surely I could meditate for 365 days, right?

There’s actually a group on the Insight Timer called 365 Days Together and has over 97,000 members. It’s an active group, with folks posting daily, sharing their meditation journeys. I became part of this group when Amanda and I created our Mindful Scholar group; I’ve learned a ton and it’s definitely a community to model. People routinely post what day they’re on, when they fall off, what they are learning about themselves and this practice.

One of the biggest takeaways is compassion and kindness, even when you do miss a day. Just recently, I had nearly 30 consecutive days going, only to have to start again at Day One. I’m less consistent on the weekends, which is something I’m working toward. It’s okay to start on Day One.

As many times as it takes I say.

This idea of being intentional with our days is something I’m very interested in, despite my own resistance to routine. Daily actions. Daily intentions. Daily choices build upon themselves, in small increments, that eventually create meaningful change.

Thinking about them as small steps, that do add up, is a good way to go about it. And being kind to yourself when you do falter should be part of the process too.

With that in mind, I came up with this list of things I can do for 365 days.

  1. meditate
  2. consume things that make me feel good
  3. do one handstand
  4. kiss my kids + Kenny
  5. be kind
  6. notice the beauty around me
  7. write for 25 minutes

Is seven items too much? Maybe. I thought to make the list an even TEN, but then thought better. Seven feels good. And I like my items. It’s not that I’m approaching these things with extreme rigidity (that would suck!), but rather, more of a general mindset or approach to . . . life!

Specificity is good, so I know simply saying, “consume things that make me feel good,” might need some follow up and direct action to create greater health + fitness. Being kind and noticing beauty, I just want to carry those things with me . . . always.

The handstand? I think of my dear friend, Anna, who still does one handstand every day! And she’s got great arms to prove it (LOL). But seriously, we should all do inversions more, get that blood moving. I want to build strength and equanimity; doing a handstand a day will do just that.

Meditate. Already actively working toward that. And I kiss my fam a ton, but I could kiss them more. My intention here is to be more mindful with each of my special persons. It’s so easy to get carried away by the stressors of the day and not focus on the beauty, that are these hugely amazing + special people, I am so lucky to have.

More love!

Lastly, the “write for 25 minutes” is probably going to be most challenging. I want to creatively express myself and writing is definitely an integral part of that. I’ve been saying that I need to develop a daily writing practice for a long time now. Now is the time dammit. No excuses. I want to figure out what I have to say and writing will do that.

Writing, writing, more writing.

Thanks, Conner, for the inspiration with this. Must revisit as the New Year goes along!

Noticing

Becoming aware of. Being present to. Witnessing. Feeling. Being at home in my body. As I’ve been focusing on this concept of mindfulness, these things routinely come to mind. What does it actually mean to be mindful? It’s certainly a buzzword these days, but what does it actually mean? Probably something different for you and probably something different for me.

I consider myself a pretty mindful person. I definitely tend to notice things. My environment. What someone is wearing. Someone’s energy vibe. The light. I always find myself noticing the light. Or searching for it.

My mind also goes a gazillion miles an hour sometimes and I easily become distracted and disjointed if I allow myself to follow the spiral of these fleeting but ever present thoughts. I also notice less when I have too much to do, when I feel like I’m running from one thing to the next. Or when I’m worried about something or avoiding doing something, for whatever “you name it” reasoning I conjure up, most often times not even based in reality.

The more I do yoga and meditate, the more I find myself using my breath without me even knowing it. Instead of racing to get kids (or drop them off), I notice my breath as I’m driving. I have to get kids either way you slice it, so I might as well enjoy the ride, right? Noticing the bare trees now, the afternoon light (when it’s sunny!), using my breath to simply settle into what is . . . at hand.

If I compare how I feel when I’m rushing from thing to thing and not noticing versus when I’m operating at a more slowed, mindful pace, it’s a no brainer as to which I prefer. It’s funny though too, again, as I develop this practice, I think I’m even getting better at being mindful when I’m rushing around too. I’m going to have to ponder that a bit more.

This is all to say that I think we would all benefit from noticing . . . more. However that might play out for you. Taking time to be more present in your life. Noticing the beauty. Or chaos. Or calamity. Whatever it may be.

I’ve been sharing some pictures from our summer trip out west to Canyonlands National Park. I’m drawn to these snapshots because of their beauty, yes, but also for the feelings they invoke in me right here, right now, today sitting at my desk in middle Michigan. In the cold.

Why can’t we always live and feel like we do when we’re on vacation? Now there’s another item to ponder! We probably can’t, darn it. But we can probably move closer into ourselves, who we are, what we create on a daily basis, who we come in contact with, what we experience in our environment, by leaning into our breath more often and simply . . .

. . . noticing what is at hand.  

Mindful Way Through Depression

I share a lot of resources with my students, and this book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, is one of them. Given to me by my therapist well over ten years ago now, it’s probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Having completed graduate work myself (as a first generation college student nonetheless) and now working in higher education, I’m acutely aware of many of the challenges students face in completing their degrees. As a McNair director, the central charge of my work is to encourage low income, first generation and underrepresented students to pursue Ph.D.’s. This path is not for the faint of heart, nor is it the best path for a lot of people, but for those who feel called to be a creator of knowledge, it’s the only way to go. As such, I’ve grown even more interested in learning more about what these journeys are like for our students, as well as questioning the very nature of academia and the extreme stress and hardship that many endure.

Just google “graduate students and mental health” and you’ll find various articles on the topic, highlighting recent studies pointing to higher rates of anxiety and depression among the graduate student population. The experience of graduate school is a complex one, and certainly one that is unique to each individual given their program, area of study, quality of mentors and advisors, peers and support networks. It’s complicated and many factors impact the process, but my bottomline question is: does it have to be this way and what can we do to alleviate some of the suffering?

Suffering is a strong word, I know. But having recently witnessed about forty or so Ph.D. graduates of color share their experiences achieving their degree, I would say suffering is an accurate term. These students persevered, and we should be thankful because we need their voices, but at the same time, should the process really have to entail traveling to the darkest depths of one’s soul in order to persevere?

I’m typing off the top of my head here, but I think this to be a legitimate question. I also realize this isn’t necessarily the case for all students; however, it seems to be a legitimate concern for many.

Coming back to the topic at hand then, addressing the issue of mental health in graduate education and using all resources and approaches available, this notion of mindfulness and how it can help students maintain greater health and wellness is a useful one. I personally suffered from my most significant bout of depression post-grad school; I also utilized many different tools in dealing with it, including medication and exercise, as well as experimenting with mindfulness meditation.

More Ph.D. students are talking about this important topic and I’m really happy about that. As a matter of fact, part of my writing along this topic area is an opportunity to contribute to this conversation through The PhDepression. I’ve always been interested in helping our students explore the benefits of mindfulness, through yoga and more recently, through meditation. And so I’m really excited to be able to reach an even greater number of students, to provide support and encouragement in their graduate journeys, and help pass along resources + tools that I’ve personally found absolutely transformative in my own journey.

I welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to email me at lynn.curry.619@gmail.com or use the contact form on this site. I’ll be sharing more experiences and conversations as I revisit this important text, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and perhaps go even deeper into my own continuing struggles.