Jenn Bruer

Chasing greatness

A couple of weeks ago I had my Book Launch Party, in celebration of my book that details my physical, mental, and spiritual recovery from Burnout. During the Q & A someone asked me what I have learned the most about myself in the process of writing Helping Effortlessly. This blog post comes from the spinning in my head from that question which resulted in answers about Greatness. If you are interested in catching some highlights of that night you can catch them on my Facebook page here.

What is greatness and how did I get in touch with a) my own greatness and b) the greatness of those around me? 

In the past, I truly had no idea how to tap into my own greatness, I always suspected it was there, but it always felt just out of my reach. 

In the years leading up to my transformation, I had been mistakenly striving instead for excellence, expecting that greatness would reveal itself there. I wanted to achieve excellence in friendships, in generosity, in being a good person, in being a good helper, in being smart and well spoken, in being financially stable, in having nice things, in weight loss, in being a good cook, in being kind etc.

I never actually felt my own greatness reveal itself in any of those things, let alone the greatness of others, because excellence is not greatness. Character is not greatness. Strong morality is not greatness. Accomplishment of any kind is also not greatness.

Have you ever entered a room you have been in 100 times, only to have someone point out some small detail that had been there the whole time, but you never quite noticed it? Because you never quite turned your awareness onto it? Greatness is like that- you were NEVER a moment without your own greatness, but you may not be aware of it.

If I look to the past I may be filled with regret, and it looks a little like this: “oh, I wish I had said…” or “oh, I wish I had done…” or “oh, there is pain here or there”. When we reflect on the past we can find pain, embarrassment (in the previous versions of ourselves who didn’t know better), regret or shame, and even if there are great experiences in the past, they can leave us feeling a sense of longing, longing for the good old days (before social media for example).

Alternatively, if I look to or live from the perspective of the future, it can be filled with pressure (I have to accomplish or achieve said goal), there can be overwhelm because of all of the steps associated with achieving certain goals, and fear and worry about how things might turn out (often with a lack of faith). In thoughts about the future, I lose all appreciation for the moment because the future isn’t here and it never will be, and so I am living and breathing in some kind of illusionary place.

Since my own greatness didn’t reveal itself in any form of excellence, in any form of deep moral compunction, in any crafting or upholding of character, and if it wasn’t in any past or future thought, where then did I find it?

Like me, I am willing to bet you think trees symbolize the epitome of greatness. A tree never compares itself to other trees, a tree is ultimately selfish and always takes care of its own needs first, a tree is a symbol of pure strength and rootedness.

Similar to a tree, I found my own greatness in my own stillness, it was inside of me and I only felt it in silence. Once I felt it, often it would disappear, “oh no, where did my greatness go, I had it just a moment ago” *tapping my back pocket, tapping my front pocket, opening my purse*. Where did it go? I even looked under my bed! But I assure you, you will not find your greatness there (but there is likely a lot of dust and maybe a crumpled Kleenex).

In stillness all expectations of accomplishments are lifted. The more I remain in stillness with my breath, AS my breath, I can hold on to the greatness that exists inside of me and hold steady with it, perhaps my greatness is my breath.

One thing I am certain of, greatness isn’t found in an external place. 

As you become aware of your own greatness you naturally become keenly aware of the greatness of those around you which in turn soothes them. 

If you can see (or rather feel or become aware of) another person’s greatness – even if you don’t say a word to them about it – you become a healing entity, for them but also for you.

In my experience of greatness, it feels light, loving, real, HUGE, and miraculous. It feels in that moment as though I AM Niagara Falls. I am one of the worlds natural wonders (I know it sounds like some kind of psychedelic trip!).

During the moments of my greatness revealing itself to me, I feel like pure purpose, I yearn for nothing, I am everything. 

But once I leave that meditative state do I continue to feel the greatness? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, more importantly, I have the memory of the greatness, more like a reminder that it is there. I am not sure that I will ever BECOME my greatness in wholeness, or maybe that will come with practice? The more I engage in meditation and prayer, being in touch with my truth, embracing my whole self, and proceed with the knowing that I have purpose and love to offer to the world, I can hold more steadily in my greatness.

So where does it begin? 

Well, for starters be aware that you are aware! 

Read that again

Imagine that! We are so incredible that we can be aware of awareness itself! This concept was first taught to me by the amazing Eckhart Tolle back in the day before he was even known, when Oprah had first discovered him, and it seemed everyone was trying to understand his teaching. Some got it and some didn’t, some got it in theory but not in practice (that was me at the time) and some simply didn’t get it at all and felt it was all gibberish. 

As I delved deeper into unexplored territories within myself, I realized that these teachings (about awareness) weren’t academic teachings but rather experiential ones. I never delved in at the time because I hadn’t grasped that. The only way I ever tapped into my own greatness or the greatness of those around me was to simply experiment by trying, with meditation, with delving deep within myself and with truly standing before any human being and challenging myself to see their greatness. I would try and fail 100 times or more before seeds of growth began and I could make connections within my body, my mind, and my energy field, to feel and sense what this even meant. 

I used to obsessively scan the landscape of eyes around me, looking for approval, looking for my worth to be reflected back to me in the eyes of others like it was my job. 

So what have I learned? I have learned that my job is to BE the concert of all that I am, to sing the song of my truth and not concern myself with what anyone thinks about me or how they receive me or my “music”, because just as if my music was a grand opera, some people will nevertheless hear it and merely hear noise, some people will hear it and think it sounds awful. My job is not to worry about my music so much as it is to merely sing it and own it with a deep knowing that it is truly good enough.

How do I stop worrying what others think? With the mantra, “allow” – I allow everyone around me to have their thoughts and feelings, about me or about anything, without feeling like I have to alter it or control it in any way. 

Allow.

Excerpt from Helping Effortlessly: a Book of Inspiration and Healing

This book details my personal physical, mental, and spiritual transformation after recovering from burnout.

 “If human emotions largely result from thinking, then one may appreciably control one’s feelings by controlling one’s thoughts —  or by changing the internalized sentences, or self-talk, with which one largely created the feeling in the first place.”  Albert Ellis

If language holds the power to deeply affect the experience of others, then language must also hold power over those who speak it. Our very own language defines our personal experience, not just the language that slips past our lips, but at times even more importantly, the language in our head. That language is the stories we tell ourselves repeatedly, until we begin to feel the wrath of them, and the thoughts that we have been having over and over, until we seemingly have no control over them.   

Vanessa Patrick, a professor of marketing at the University of Houston, discovered that people who merely replaced the words “I can’t” with “I don’t” fared better with behavioural changes. SayingI can’t”denotes a sense of limitation or constraint. Saying “I don’t,”on the other hand, asserts that you are in charge, and that is a powerful shift. 

Try it for yourself and feel the difference.

I can’t buy these shoes because I have no money. I don’t buy shoes until I have money.
I can’t eat sugar because I am on a diet.I don’t eat sugar. 

When you replace inner negative thoughts with encouragement you will be better able to overcome challenges. Small subtle changes always bring life changes. After all, you cannot keep doing what you are doing or you will get the same results. This subtle change allows you to feel less threatened and more inspired and interested in changing.

Chances are, if you feel a sense of disappointment, it’s because your thoughts and expectations about a certain situation have set you up and let you down.  

I have worked hard on this to find peace. I am a deep visionary who often lives in fantasy about how life will look, feel and be. To fulfil my fantasies of a certain situation, I often added expectation and pressure: for example, the many times I have fallen into Pinterest rabbit holes. In the past I would Pinterest “things to do for 14-year old’s birthday,”and envision myself as Martha Stewart. Without working up a sweat, I would easily transform my kitchen into something glorious. The cake would be homemade, there’d be balloons, birthday “cheer,” and everything would match the colour theme.

After years of throwing parties for children, the most important thing I learned was that they didn’t know or appreciate how much work, effort and money went into making those events happen. My efforts rarely, if ever, turned out like the vision. What made the party fun and successful was togetherness. My kids just wanted to be noticed on their birthday, and the vision was less about them than it was about me wanting to be a good mom. I was using those moments to confirm my place in their lives, to affirm my greatness, my love and my worth, especially as it pertained to my role as a mom.  

Another one of my fantasies or expectations as a young mother was to sit by the fire on Christmas Eve and read to my lovely children “T ’was the Night Before Christmas.” As I read to them, they would look up at me, all merry and bright, and we would be sipping eggnog. But that never happened even once. When I attempted to sit by the fire and read, they would fight, poke at me and say, “This book isn’t fun, can we read another book?” I felt mad and upset thinking they didn’t know really wanted this. Quickly I changed my vision, nice as it was. We have seen this in the movies repeatedly: a twinkly, gorgeous vision of Christmas Eve which, of course, isn’t real. 

The media and the movies paint pictures that almost brainwash us into thinking that our marriages must be filled with lust from beginning to end, or it must signal an issue. We’ve been led to believe our birthday parties must be filled with shiny, plastic matching things to celebrate in togetherness, and we must go into debt to really celebrate holidays as a family. These are all lies, but there are more lies in your internal dialogue and your expectations if you look closely enough.  

We all have expectations: what we want out of life and who we want to become. If you could reach a point where you were devoid of expectations, you would never be disappointed.  

Having lower expectations about upcoming experiences allows us to accept the imperfections each situation inevitably has. Having fewer expectations of others allows us to embrace each person’s imperfection. Having fewer expectations of ourselves allows us to embrace that we, too, are flawed.  

Once I became willing to accept people for who they truly are and accept myself for who Itruly am, once I became willing to accept the incoming experiences for what they truly were, I was handed a freedom like I have never known. 

Acceptance is an amazing state of mind. When things do not work out the way we planned, it is so freeing to remember that this is how life works, rather than remaining in a place of frustration. 

So if you want to avoid feeling disappointed, change your expectations. 

A shift always begins with questions. Asking questions allows me to think differently and begs the mind to search for answers. A question begs you to look for solutions and reminds you that you are always learning with every passing day. How can you get answers to anything without first asking questions? 

When you feel your peace of mind disturbed, ask these questions:

Why am I not at peace?

Can I look at this situation differently?  

Can I look at this person differently?

Consider saying “you” instead of “I” because it is easier to ask yourself deep questions in the second person, and it beckons the helper in you to help yourself. It also provides a sense of autonomy and separation from the answers in a less threatening way.

This is the first step on the staircase leading you to your personal power. If you allow this, you’ll be incredibly amazed at the shifts in perception that occur when you become willing to release expectation and see love and possibilities that reside in these shifts. When you focus on giving up the thoughts about how you imagined your life to be, you invite the most loving, truthful you to come forward.  

Picture for a moment the idea of a child being raised without praise, never being told she is doing a good job, only being told she can do better. A child who is only corrected, yelled at and told he isn’t good enough. It’s a chilling thought; it’s dark when you stop and picture it.  

When was the last time you practiced self-praise? That too can be a chilling thought.   

When we were in school learning to be various helpers, many of us were taught about “I messages,” which help our remarks sound less demanding and blaming towards those with whom we are communicating. Of course,I messages”have their place and do a pretty good job at helping identify feelings, but using them too much can fuel the ego and sometimes make us perseverate on our feelings and our entitlements.   

Instead, using the words “we” and “us” will strengthen our teams, our relationships and our sense of belonging. They remind us that our feelings aren’t the only important thing. Using those pronouns will remind us of our significant relationships and can increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They can remind us that we are needed as part of a system – small systems like families and large systems like organizations.  

“Our experiences, our stress, our food, even our thoughts eventually become our biology.” – Caroline Myss

Language has the power to oppress entire minority groups. Words that speak negatively about the colour of skin, disability, religion, sexuality – words that are often used in jokes – can have powerful and lasting effects. They can be hurtful though sometimes not intentionally. But we recognize this power of language as being oppressive.  

Why, then, do we deny this same degree of importance on our own slurs? “OMG, how could I be so stupid? This is going to take all day. I am never going to get this done! This is so hard, what if I don’t finish on time?” Anger, sadness or frustration ensue.   

Seemingly random, irrational over-reaction. We don’t realize how negative thoughts can impact our mood, become obstacles in our path, and often lead to procrastination. Think of how many times you have put off chores you dread because they are going to take so long. You build up the idea of tackling the laundry to be more than it is, turning persistent thoughts into obstacles.  

Our thoughts are closely connected with our emotions. What you think you can and cannot do is influenced more by you and your thoughts than the outside world.  

MINDFULNESS: There’s an app for that!

“If you truly want to change your life you must first change your mind.” ~Donald Altman

If you’ve been following me and my personal story, you know that in 2011 I woke up feeling like a cliché victim of burnout.

It was then that I began the long journey of burnout recovery. Years later after overhauling my entire diet and lifestyle I realized I had undergone a truly miraculous and amazing transformation. Much of that transformation I owe to partaking in a consistent daily mindfulness practice. If you don’t know what mindfulness is this quote from James Baraz sums it up nicely.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – Mindfulness and meditation teacher James Baraz

Early on in my path of self-discovery, I held onto a bit of weirdness associated with new age themes such as mindfulness, consciousness, and awakening. These themes evoked images of Buddhist monks living a life of celibacy and silence – people I didn’t resonate with. Truthfully, I didn’t even know if Buddhist monks were celibate or silent; that was just a deep seated stereotype that wanted to hold me back from personal growth. Don’t be that person. Push beyond any fear to see if Mindfulness might be for you. It might help you find your centre. Unless you are a donut.

After pushing through some of those stereotypes, I have now become a passionate advocate for the use of mindfulness as a key strategy to fighting stress and in the recovery of burnout. Especially among people in helping professions who I believe need it now more than ever.

I believe making mindfulness mainstream and not something that is just done at high end yoga studios is vital to the health and wellbeing of our community.

The web is crawling with all kinds of studies and research completed over decades with various types of people, this is a pretty great indication that mindfulness works.

Here is what some of the research is telling us about mindfulness for stress reduction if you aren’t yet convinced:

Mindfulness facilitates an adaptive response to daily stressors and that mindfulness produced less avoidance and more approach coping as a response to stress than relaxation. (Donald, Atkins, Parker, Christie, & Ryan, 2016).

Mindfulness can improve emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle and improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. (Remmers, Topolinski, & Koole, 2016).

Mindfulness can improve restless legs syndrome (Bablas, Yap, Cunnington, Swieca, & Greenwood, 2016).

Mindfulness in parenting is “associated with lower levels of parenting stress, higher levels of authoritative parenting style, and lower levels of authoritarian and permissive parenting styles.” (Gouveia, Carona, Canavarro, & Moreira, 2016).

Mindfulness for healthcare professionals “showed significant improvements were also found in physician empathy, serenity, burnout, sense of self” (Bazarko et al., 2013)

Veterans with depression and/or PTSD showed “there were clinically significant reductions in PTSD and depression symptoms…”(Felleman, Stewart, Simpson, & Heppner, 2016).

Mindfulness for Police officers“demonstrated that discrete facets of mindfulness accounted for significant differential variance in the reduction of organizational stress, operational stress, and anger” (Bergman, Christopher, & Bowen, 2016).

Other touted benefits have included…

  • Increased attention and focus
  • Increased clarity in thinking and perception
  • Increased memory function
  • Increased relationship satisfaction
  • Lowered anxiety levels
  • Experience of calm and internal stillness
  • Experience of feeling connected
  • Higher brain functioning
  • Increased empathic response
  • Increased immune function
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Increased awareness

Mindfulness is as simple as carving out a few minutes each day to breathe, focus on the moment without judgement, and be silent. When your mind wanders (and it will) simply bring it back to the present moment and focus back on the breath. This is such a simple idea that even 5 year olds can learn this. Although the act won’t feel easy at first, keep at it and you will begin to understand the benefits in no time.

Whether you want to begin your mindfulness journey or increase your practice, you can consider downloading one of the many apps available to assist in your mindfulness practice. Here are a few suggestions…

MEDITATION & SOUNDS

Meditation & Sounds by Verv includes offering goal-based meditation courses, 5-minutes “911” single meditations, relaxing sounds, and how-to essentials. They also offer personalized meditation courses based on your goal (productivity, self-esteem, sleep, anxiety, relationship, weight loss and other programs) They offer 50+ sounds up to your mood and a special KIDS SLEEP pack, as well as a relaxing music packs for satisfying different needs.They have meditations available to help with: anxiety, creativity, happiness, stress management, productivity, relationship, self-Love, sleep, sport motivation, and even weight Loss

CALM

Calm offers guided meditations to help you become more relaxed. This app offers meditations, a sleep function to help you get more restful sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, a calming music function, video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching, an audio masterclasses function taught by world renowned mindfulness experts, and a nature scenes function which includes sounds to encourage relaxation. The meditations range from 3-minute to 25-minute sessions. This app is great for encouraging a routine of mindfulness practice. Within the app offerings there are also breathing exercises, unguided meditations, sleep stories, and a number of soothing sounds to help you improve and induce sleep.

BUDDHIFY

Besides having one of the coolest names, this app get your serious about maintaining a mindfulness practice! Buddhify allows users access to more than 11 hours of meditation programs. They offer meditations to help you sleep, ones to take a break from work. This app also has a check-in system allowing you to see your progress over time.

INSIGHT TIMER

This app offers over 4,500 free guided meditations from over 1,000 meditation guides. There is also some cool music tracks. There are options to customize your meditation using background sounds and meditation tool to create an experience unique to you.

SMILING MIND

I love this one for kids especially. It can be tailored to different age, you are never too young to begin mindfulness training. This app allows you to create accounts for various family members. Teachers and youth care practitioners can also use the app to bring mindfulness into their children’s experience.

MEDITATION PRO TIMER

Meditation Timer Pro features simple exercises to help you enhance your mindfulness practice. This app allows you to focus on mediating without thinking or worrying about the time. Like many of the others, this app also allows you to keep track of your progress. With Meditation Timer Pro, you can practice meditation anywhere and anytime.

SATTVA MEDITATIONS & MANTRAS

This app motivates you to practice mindfulness every day. There are lots of exercises including timers and chants which some people find a soothing experience. This also encourages you to check your heart rate via the app and participate in challenges with other users. The app also has information on the benefits of mindfulness.

STOP, BREATHE & THINK

This app has a ton of options for guided meditation, so if you’re looking for variety in your practice, this one is for you. This has options for guided meditations for areas of sleep, compassion, depression, and anxiety. You can adjust sounds to your liking, and record your progress throughout the year.

CITATIONS:

Remmers, C., Topolinski, S., & Koole, S. L. (2016). Why being mindful may have more benefits than you realize: Mindfulness improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. Mindfulness, 7(4), 829-837.

Remmers, C., Topolinski, S., & Koole, S. L. (2016). Why being mindful may have more benefits than you realize: Mindfulness improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. Mindfulness, 7(4), 829-837.

Bablas, V., Yap, K., Cunnington, D., Swieca, J. & Greenwood, KM. (2016). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for restless legs syndrome: A proof of concept trial. Mindfulness,7(2), 396-408. United States of America: Springer New York LLC.

Gouveia, M. J., Carona, C., Canavarro, M. C., & Moreira, H. (2016). Self-compassion and dispositional mindfulness are associated with parenting styles and parenting stress: The mediating role of mindful parenting. Mindfulness, 7(3), 700-712.

Dawn Bazarko, Rebecca A. Cate, Francisca Azocar & Mary Jo Kreitzer (2013) The Impact of an Innovative Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program on the Health and Well-Being of Nurses Employed in a Corporate Setting, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 28:2, 107-133, DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2013.779518

Felleman, B. I., Stewart, D. G., Simpson, T. L., Heppner, P. S., & Kearney, D. J. (2016). Predictors of depression and PTSD treatment response among veterans participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness, 7(4), 886-895.

Bergman, Aaron & Christopher, Michael & Bowen, Sarah. (2016). Changes in Facets of Mindfulness Predict Stress and Anger Outcomes for Police Officers. Mindfulness. 7. 10.1007/s12671-016-0522-z.