A Mindful Walk on Nature

The end of September is a tricky time of the year in the Washington DC area. It might rain, be cold or sunny. I guess it is all part of the magic of Fall.

I was blessed the last weekend of September. I had my kids with me and the weather was on the 70’s. Perfect weather to get out.

I usually engage them in an outdoor activity. I gave them several options: biking the Crescent Trail, hiking the Sugarloaf Mountain or hiking around Clopper Lake. I knew they were going to choose Clopper Lake because it is closer to our home, about 5 minutes away by car. It is an awesome place to hike if you live in the Gaithersburg area. You can walk around the lake, which is about 3.5 miles. You can breath nature, touch nature, smell nature, … reconnect. In other words enjoy a mindful walk.

I parked near the eastern part of the lake and we all walked down to meet the Lake Shore Trail. Immediately Titi took the lead. After few minutes he stopped and looked near a rock. He saw a small creature. I’m not sure about what he exactly was looking at. I was happy he was just exploring. I loved it. I didn’t need to say anything. Their attention became focussed on their surroundings. Their sensory system activated. There was nothing to do but walk and play with whatever they found on the path.

These were some conscious activities that arouse naturally from the two hour hike that I wanted to record, that I might used in future hikes, and that might inspire other parents. Here they are:

1) Look for animal saliva in trees

It sound gross, but is was fun. We looked at the trees cut by beavers and we dare to touch the saliva in the trunk. It was a great opportunity to talk about beavers. We discussed about where they might live, if they swim or not, and how stinky the saliva was compared to other salivas.

2) Estimate beaver bytes from diameter of trees

It was an interesting idea that came from my 7 year all daughter. We started looking at trees and imaging how many bites a beaver had to take to bring the tree down. We looked at a 40 inch tree, and she said: Well.. is like 100 bites. The we looked at a 10 inch tree and she said: I think is like 10 bites.

I was not sure about the efficiency of the beavers, but I think we were not that far away from reality. The point to be made is that it was fun and allowed us to talk about math concepts.

3) Challenge to remain silence

The rule was that nobody can talk. Just walk. We lasted like 10 minutes. It was an interesting exercise to control yourself. I know it is a common practice in mediation retreats where people can’t talk for days. I lost the challenge when I spoke to correct their direction. They were going the wrong way. They were 20 ft in from of me. I had to break the spell by saying Kids go the other way! Next time I will think about getting their attention in a different manner.

3) Try to bend a branch slowly without braking it

This action requires connecting the branch with your heart and feel when it is about to break and stop. It is a very mindful act since you need to concentrate on the pressure of your fingers and fill the branch folding in your hands. Your eyes connect to the branch and to your feelings foreseeing any possible rupture. We broke several of them. What worked best for us was bending and relaxing several times while each time bending a little bit more.

4) Talking, hugging and high fiving trees

This also sounds silly, but it was fun. Specially, my girl does it in a very natural way. For my boys it was a little bit harder. We said: Hi tree how are you? Thank you for being here and cleaning the air that we breath, for making shade, for making this place so beautiful. Then we hug the tree or just high five it. We also respectfully said Bye Tree.

5) Look for turtles or other cool animals

Walking trying to spot animals is great, because you center your attention in an idea. I think it helps thinking of a positive idea and projecting a specific outcome. Something that’s what we need to do more in our lives. Feel the outcome of what you desire. We are going to see a turtle, it is just a matter of time. Almost at the end of our trip, we spot some turtles and took a video of one of them swimming. If you have never seen turtle swimming, here you go:

I recently was in a yoga class, where the teacher was talking about abundance. And she mentioned one idea that made me ponder:

What do you have, that money can’t buy? What is so precious that it will be very hard to put a value on it?

I responded internally in my half lotus position:

Having three kids, hiking in a beautiful lake with them, living in such an awesome safe place like Gaithersburg, and all of us having the health condition to hike for two hours.

Maybe the acts of mindfulness lead to acts of gratitude!

 

Stop and Listen, the Path Will Show You the Way

On July 2018 I was in Tucson attending a meeting. Hot Tucson. Very hot. My flight comming back was at 11 AM on Saturday. I decided to go for a hike before my flight. There are lots of place to hike in Tucson. Tucson is in proximity to two national parks and is surrounded by five mountain ranges. It reminds me of the beautiful Bogota, where I grew up. In Bogota you can experience sunrises magically appearing behind the Cordillera of the Andes mountain range.

I head early to the hiking trail because of my early flight and the weather. At 9 AM it was supposed to be 97 °F. I woke up at 5 AM and arrived to Ventana Canyon Trailhead at sunrise. The Uber left me in the parking lot of the Lowes Hotel, a cool resort in the area. I had no map and no idea of where I was going. The night before my friend Michelle told me that Ventana Canyon Trailhead was the easiest to get in and the easiest to get an Uber to drive me back to the hotel. I just listened to what Michelle told me and I followed.

When I got off the Uber, another hiker was approaching at the end of the parking lot. A nice lady named Laura. We clicked and in seconds we became hiking partners. We both had two hours. She had a map and she was an experience hiker. I followed her. We had a nice conversation about our work, our kids and nature. I just followed.

I haven’t seen so many cactuses in my life. The climbs were steep. I think we went up 1000 ft. It had rained in the past days and the trail was not very clear.

We had to guess in several occasions the best path to take. We finally got to the top of the hill. We experienced beautiful views. The air cleared out. We felt the breeze clearing our thoughts and mind. A sense of bliss.

There are nature water pools in this trail but we never made it to the them. I think we were 5-10 min away from the first pool, where hikers can relax and can get a nice refreshing bath.

 

Getting lost took some of our time, We had to get back, but we had no idea how. We explored several possible paths but we continued getting stuck by a fence of cactus or deep cliffs.  After 10 minutes we saw another hiker coming. We went up and got on the path he was using to get towards us.

We had a brief chat. We told him how we have been trying to get back for a while, the steep conditions of the trail, the hot weather, the pools that we will not be able to meet…
In the middle of our conversation he said one thing that stuck with me:

If you are lost, stop and listen, the path will show you the way.

Sounds weird. Very weird. But if you think about it, it sort of makes a lot of sense. And, it is not a the trail issue, it is a life issue.

We followed his advice. After 10 minutes of heading back we got to another confusing path block. It was a very rocky place. We didn’t remember passing through this intersection. Huge rocks where in front of us inviting us to slide down over their rough surface.

We said, “OK, let’s practice”. We took a deep breath, closed our eyes for 20-30 seconds. Like breathing when doing mediation, but standing up. We opened our eyes again. We looked around and smiled. The trail was hidden behind some bushes. We continued our way back. I got on time for my flight coming back and Laura got on time to have breakfast with her husband. Happy Ending!

Finding our way with a mindful attitude is what I remember most of this trip. This goes back to the idea of being connected with our surroundings, specially when we are surrounded by nature, by the pure greatness of creation.

I think the practice of stopping an listening doesn’t only applies in a hiking path lost situation, but possibly in every situation in our life. We need to stop, reset our thoughts, our emotions, and what worries us more.

Let it go, breath it out, surrender and listen.

Hacking Negative Emotions

I previously wrote a blog about gratitude practices. In this blog I want to talk about the science behind why gratitude makes us happier and how to we can hack negative emotions.

What is Gratitude?

Before getting into the science let’s define Gratitude. I like the definition by Sansone & Sansone:

“Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”

thankyou

The  “what” in the definition, makes gratitude an event related emotion.  Gratitude is triggered.  Without the “what” (or an event) there is nothing to be grateful for. We, as humans need to be aware of the event, process it, and convert it to a feeling.  The feeling will take us to a state of thankfulness, which is a positive emotion.  

How de we assign feelings to events?

I put my philosopher hat and came up with the following. Note: This helps me understand the process so I can hack it. I just want to share it.

framework

The process of assigning feeling to events  can be broken down into three parts. 1) An event occurs, 2) the event is perceived and 3)  a feeling is associated to that event. Let’s take an event that has a negative emotional outcome.

negative

Event

An event is just something that happens in a given location and at a given time. Example of events are: Someone said that you look great yesterday in the afternoon,  the morning was sunny, I drank a coffee today in the morning,  I hiked for 3 hours over the weekend, I got a bonus this year in December, someone passed me and almost hit my car during my morning commute, etc.

You can’t control some of the events, what people think, say or do. 

control

However, you can control how you react to events, what time you wake up, what you eat and how you spend your time.

Perception

Perception is the process of becoming aware with your senses of a particular event. For instance, if someone is saying that you are great, but you don’t perceive (hear) it, this event is like it never occured. And then later if someone tells you about it you might say in a clueless voice “Whaaaaat?”.

When we process an event, we use previous memories but we can also overwrite the feeling caused by similar events. In other words, we can perceive events (even if they don’t seem negative) to be a positive one, and create a positive emotion.

We process the event both in a conscious and unconscious way. The unconscious way taps into previous similar experiences (thanks to the amygdala).  

Feeling

The third component is feeling. After the event occurs and you perceive it, a feeling is associated to the event. If it is a strong feeling, we call it an emotion. In the perception process we initially and subconsciously assign a feeling.  The feeling take us to an emotional state. The thing is, we can change the outcome (emotional state), by hacking the event, or how we perceive the event.

How can we improve happiness with gratitude?

Here is my practical take on this. One of the ways to be happy is to practice gratitude. Gratitude can come easily with events that are positive and that we can easily find value from them. The difficult part is hacking events that take us to negative emotional states. And this is where I want to suggest some strategies.

  1. Create more events that can take us to positive emotional states. Try to do what you love everyday. Spend your time on stuff that you are passionate about, dance more, sing more, laugh more, have more sex, etc.
  2. Self talk by reframing the perception of the events that take you to negative emotional states and, be grateful about the new way you look at the event.  The trick is to take over your emotional brain. This is how:

 

 

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Our rational mind has the ability to rationalize and overwrite our belief systems. This is why we need to create in our minds a better story. Once we doubt or reframe our previous memories that shape our belief system, we can start looking at events in a different way. We can get so good at this that some people can almost get from an  insane “negative” event  something positive and be thankful for it. Just listen to the inspire story of Mo Gawdat or the JJ Virgin’s story about mindset and miracles both at Lewis Howes Podcast. Also, another good reference about how to get control if your brain is Mel Robbins’ 5 Second rule.

So let’s create positive stories and make this world better by improving our interaction with yourself and others.

 

Four Minute Journal in Evernote

Daily practicing of gratitude, affirmation and goals can help you be more happy and more focus on what you want to achieve in your life. One of the ways to do this is via a journal.

In the past I’ve been journaling in my notebook, in a word document and in Evernote. I felt disorganized. Over the christmas break I found a system that has been working for me only using Evernote mimicking the very successful five minute journal. I call it the four minute journal. I am enjoying it and I thought will be great to share.

ovearall-evernote

A great example journal is the Five Minute Journal from the Intelligent Change company. The journal contains all the sections I think are good to start the day with gratitude, affirmations and goals.

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The Five Minute Journal sections include:

  • A Grateful section
  • Daily Affirmation section
  • What would make your day great section
  • Other sections that are a reflection of the day

This journal is great, but I travel a lot and carrying a paper journal is sometimes impractical. I am also an avid user of Evernote. So, I thought, well maybe I can mimic this great paper journal so it can work in Evernote. Here is how I did it.

Preparation

  1. Create a notebook called Journal (Go to File / New Notebook).
  2. Add the Journal Notebook to shortcuts (Go to View / Notebooks and then right click on the notebook and select Add to Shortcuts).
  3. Create a template, called Template Journal Entry (check it out here to see it and download it).
  4. Copy it inside the Journal notebook.

Morning Routine

After I mediate, take a shower and do my coffee, I sit down and do the following:

  1. Duplicate the template note (right click on the Template Journal Entry note and select duplicate note). duplicate
  2. Open the new note with name: Template Journal Entry copy. 
  3. Rename it to today’s date. I use the convention yyyy-mm-dd, since it will allow me to order the nodes by Title.
  4. Insert an inspirational quote. I have a link in the template which helps me finding an inspiring quote that I can related at that moment. When I found it, I copy it in my note.copy-quote.jpg
  5. Add three things you are grateful for.  This don’t need to be the usual things (e.g. kids, job, home). I try to think about small things.
  6. Write your daily affirmation. I write this from scratch not looking at my vision statement or previous affirmations. It helps me reorganized and tweak my vision.
  7. Write 3 things that will make your day great. I think about this as three achievements that can get closer to my most  important goals.
  8. Move excitedly to your other daily tasks.

This is an Example of yesterday’s note

great-04

I hope you  find this post useful and will help you with your morning routine. Happy New Year 2018!

Happy and Wise Christmas

Christmas is a special time of the year to be with family and friends, remember  Jesus’ birth,  be kind to each other,  exchange presents, eat, dance, hug and laugh. This is the first Christmas in 13 years that I will not be with my kids. This is the bad side of a separation.  Anyway, I  will be with my kids on New Year’s Eve and we will celebrate a late Christmas. I will go to Church, volunteer, and take time to reflect about how to give more and become wiser (especially with my kids).

 

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Practicing Gratitude

I ask my kids every night before they go to sleep to tell me one thing they are grateful for. They respond “Thank you God for …”. They go to bed with the most memorable experience of the day in their minds. This practice is one of the things I put a lot of effort in and is one of the things I would like them to remember for the rest of their lives. Maybe it will be so hardwired in their brain that it will pass to their children. But,  sometimes, let me tell you, it is not that easy.

bedtime

I meditate in the mornings for many reasons. However, one reason is to help me practice my gratitude.  In the morning after meditating and with my hands on my heart I think about various things I’m grateful for.  I think about three to five things. Some I repeat every day (I can never stop being thankful for my kids) but I always try to find one or two new little things.

sunful

On some occasions I use a journal to log my thoughts of gratitude.  Sometimes a jot down my thoughts digitally in Evernote (I will do a post about this in the future) and other times in my moleskin notebook. But, I am more consistent with my thoughts after meditation.

Gratitude has tons of benefits. Just read this post “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude” that compiles more than 40 studies that shows how gratitude improves happiness. Even though I’m not in the place where I want to be, I’m very grateful for where I am and how I got here.

I’m not sure when I started to consciously practice gratitude. Maybe it was my mom, that taught me to be appreciative at the half full glass, one of the podcasts I heard, or a message at church. The fact is, I have stuck with this practice for more than a year.

Here are my two favorite gratitude practices from successful people (Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss) which I consider my mentors.

Tony Robbins practices gratitude in the middle of his 10 minute daily priming routine. I do a similar practice.  I give thanks after my 20-30 minutes of morning mediation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXbUFgqjMdk&w=500]

Tim Ferriss uses the Five Minute Journal in which the first section is about gratitude. I sometimes do something similar. I’m just not as good with paper any more, even though I like my moleskin notebook and have thought about buying the Five Minute Journal. I most of the times prefer Evernote.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glFMpyx_oU4&w=500]


I’m planing to do more posts related to this topic in the next weeks. Stay tuned.

great-hear-from-you

 

Using meditation to visualize your goals

I was listening to the Tim Ferris Podcast interviewing Dr. Michael Gervais, who is a high performance psychologist.  About 50 min into it they started talking about visualization, which Dr. Gervais refers to it as imagery with goes beyond visualizing.  He talks about creating an electric charging moment where we not only see what we want to achieve in full color, but feel it, hear it and smell it. How to do that? Minimizing distraction and training  to improve creating those imageries. Mediation, I think is the way to do it.

I personally like Sadhguru mediation practice  (Chit Shakti) that helps you visualize your goals in the short, medium and long term. I've being doing this mediation for almost 2 months.  He talks about sensing  joy when you feel your dreams being accomplished. He also mentions, as part of your visualization,  experiencing the well being that is spread around including everyone as part of your goals. It seems to me like a great focussed life purpose, which is ultimately serving others.

For example, one of my short term goals is to improve my mother's well being. I  envisioned she saying thank you to me because I found her a nicer place to live with a pleasent view with tall big trees in a place where she can walk peacefully. I imagined she is hugging me while we are sitting together in the living room looking at the branches playing with the wind. I feel her closeness, gratitude and peacefulness.

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This is what I do:

  • I wake up and drink 1/2 litter of water.
  • I go to my living room and place a yoga matt or sleeping bag on the floor.
  • I place a small cushion on top of the mat and put myself  looking east doing a half lotus position, putting my back straight and lifting my head a little bit to the sky.
  • I put my hands looking up resting in my tights and do a Gyan Mudra. The tips of my  index and thumb are slightly touching while the other 3 fingers are bended and closed together like making a container form.
  • I do deep breathing for 5 minutes. I inhale feeling my lungs and counting 10, then hold for 3 seconds, and exhale for 10 counts all through my nose.
  • I do 3-5 minutes of gratitude about big things and little things. For example, God thank you for the house that I live,  thank you because someone help me at the metro, thank you because I found a parking lot near the entrance of the gym, etc.
  • I chant OM 7 times,
  • I do the Sadhguru guided mediation to visualize, feel, touch my goals for 2, 5 and 10 years.
  • At the end, I think about what I will accomplished on my day and how I can improve (e.g. forgiving somebody that hurt me).

This practice takes me 30-40 minutes. I feel great and experience that  I'm more aware and conscious about my dreams during the day than when I  visualize them on my phone, a paper or board sporadically.  It also helps me start my day connecting to God and experiencing gratitude.

Namaste!

 

 

Successfully practicing life like a delicious kiss

If you remember a delicious kiss (maybe your first one) you might recall your heart beating faster, your eyes closed increasing the sensation of your feelings, a sense of warm filling your body, your skin smiling. You were hugged, wrapped in cage of a rare energy where you never want to leave. Your eyes might have closed again losing  your thoughts in a colorful mysterious rhythm.

What happened is that you were living that moment fully aware, fully present, engaging your senses, your mind your soul. Your purpose became making fill the other person good as well as hanging to that precious moment like nothing else mattered.

What if we did everything like a delicious kiss? What if we were able to engage fully in the present, avoiding multi tasking, multi thinking and multi others?

I work from home, have five calls in average per day,  have several projects, currently lead two program and teach. I need to keep myself focus on the important task at hand.

This is how I organized myself:

  • I don’t use a single system to track all my todos. Too many project all with their own tracker make this impossible. I allow multi todos systems and trackers to exist: Trello, GitHub, OmniFocus, list of action items from a meeting, etc.
  • I use the Pomodoro Technique to book my calendar and focus on a particular theme or project. I set aside between 20 min to 3 hours  for each theme.
  • When I’m working in that project, Im fully focused and present. I concentrate in one task at a time.  I fully engage. I do not interrupt myself  by emails or other non-related tasks.
  • In my meetings, I’m listening, putting all my energy, trying to grasp the important ideas, trying to help and finding a best solution to a problem in hand. I imagine the other people on the other side and I consciously care.  This has made my meetings much better.

If we book in our calendar important time to advance our projects to achieve the goals in our lives, they should deserve that attention and concentration like a kiss. So I invite you to live your life engaging in the present, connecting with the people, listening, observing and feeling.  In other words, let’s all practice more kissing the moment. 

Spectacular structures to tell a story about your vision

IMG_0225I visited two weeks ago the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the biggest Mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the 8th biggest one on the world. The Mosque is an incredible symbol of modern art that can accommodate more than 40,000 people at the time of prayer. It clicked with me why visionaries build structures like this one to keep alive a message of their vision.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, united in 1971-1972  the Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Kalba, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain) into one federation the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Twenty years later the Mosque construction began as a symbol that would represent the unity and the cultural diversity of the Islamic world. Now every time tourists go to the Mosque, they learn the story of Sheikh Zayed and how the United Arab Emirates came to be.

IMG_0221After visiting the Mosque, I went back to my hotel and did some work. At sunset, while I was mediating siting at the shore of the Fairmont Bab al Bahr hotel, listening to the waves from the  Khor Al Maqta waterway, and looking at the other end the Mosque lightening up, a question came to me:  What structure would I like to build so others can tell a story about my vision?

I have never thought about building a physical structure. I have always dreamed on creating a huge impact on the world by technology, innovation, and inspiration. How can I help save more lives, increase live longevity, make people happier, etc.

Two topics I like very much are technology and health. I believe sharing of and analyzing   (e.g. applying machine learning) data to understand better medical illness, pandemics and environmental impacts on health can improve the world we lived in. What will the structure for me look like?  I don't know. I will say that at the moment  I'm having good conversations with other like-minded architects.

Hopefully soon I wil have a structure like the Mosque to help tell my story.

 

What to do if life doesn’t go the way you want?

What do you do if your life doesn’t go the way you want? You have 3 choices: 1) complain about it, suffer and make yourself miserable (probably in the way creating pain for others close to you), 2) acknowledge and accept the situation, or 3) if you can, do something about it.

I was talking yesterday by phone with Rocio, a very special soul, from Venezuela. Hearing how she takes life is inspirational. In the middle of a country that is passing through one of the toughest times I heard positive and laughter. I can see her smile shine in her face. Hearing her stories with her ex-husband and her attitude to not engage in discussion enforces in me the idea about avoiding fights that will not take anywhere.

Why do we like to complain and suffer?

When I was thinking about writing this blog earlier today, I heard two podcasts by Lewis Howes that helped me understand the root of the problem: 1) BioHacking with Dave Asprey, 2) Making the Equation for Happiness with Mo Gawdat.

Dave mentions three behaviors that every living thing needs to do to stay alive: run away from scary things, eat everything, and reproduce as much as possible. Suffering, as I see it, is a way to run away from reality, to run away to face the problem and not doing something about it.

Mo says that when our expectations are not met, the right brain signals disappointment and suffering is a response of that pain. Mo’s story about his approach to the death of his son is a great example of not getting stuck in the suffering but doing something positive about it. Mo wrote a book that is inspiring thousands and will probably inspire millions.

What can you do?

If you are disappointed about something, ask this question: Can I do something about it? If you can’t, then accept it and move on. If you can do something, then do something positive about it. Most of the times there is a lesson to be learned. Disappointments make us grow if we understand how to process the information.

In a bio-physical level, Dave provides hints about how to hack the mitochondria to make us better at responding to disappointments.  Some of them are: walk at least 20 minutes per day, get a cold few seconds shower, and push your body to the maximum at least once per week. Pushing the body might be interval sprinting or lifting weights. More about this in his book Head Strong.

In my conversation with Rocio, she told me that she was with my Mom when one of my aunts died. My Mom saw her family crying. She said: “please I don’t want anybody to cry when I die,  I want people to remember me happy and not be sad”. I like the idea of celebrating with good memories. Mo’s story is similar.  In the podcast he said his son’s funeral seemed more like a birthday celebration.

Today is also Easter Sunday, one of the happiest days for Christian followers. Suffering got converted into faith and joy. It has changed the life of billions. I just hope we can all learn to put the suffering on the past and decide to be happy.