Category Archives: Everyday mindfulness

Blessings of Being Sick

This is not what I ordered…


So how have you started off this new year?

Did you review last year and evaluate how things went, so you could make good progress this year?

Did you set lofty goals/resolutions indicating all the ways that you were going to change your life and therefore be happier?

Did you start off slowly and let yourself rest more and focus more on hibernating rather than hyper-acting?

Did you do some spiritual practice to get rest and renewal, time for meditation, connecting deeply with your intentions for living your best life?

Did you create a master plan so you can be more organized and productive with your time and energy?

One mentor of mine suggested as part of the year’s review process, to note all the wins and triumphs, even if very small; and then to list all of the obstacles or disappointments of the last year and to put a heart next to each one as a way of having compassion for one’s struggle (which is a huge component of any success that we have).

Did you vow to make changes in difficult mindset issues that always come up and get in your way?

Did you prioritize what is most important to you and resolve to focus primarily on those things?…

And NOW… How are you doing with all of that, a month or so into this new year?

Have you given up?

Are you feeling inspired?

Are you already exhausted?

Are you doing the same things you always do?

Are you being super critical with how hard it is to make and sustain meaningful changes?

Are you offering more compassion to yourself and those around you, as you work hard and still encounter frustrations?

Are you pleased with how much you’ve been able to sustain your resolutions?

I continue to be curious about how people enter the new year – with hopes, dreams, buckling down, intentions or resolutions, lists; and how they manage whatever feelings come up related to their experiences. I am interested in what works, or doesn’t work. What helps us to move forward or causes us to stall out.

I paid particular attention this year to my own New Year’s entry. My main intention was to do it with love and a little bit of grace. I had high hopes for a year of business filled with progress and growth. And getting my projects to actually come about.

I ended up however being super focused on planning holidays, gatherings and milestone parties for family members. I had a lovely experience of being able to hug and hold a cousin of mine, just a few weeks before she died from cancer – and tell her face-to-face, in person what she meant to me. I have been able to travel and spend time with faraway family members. I was a part of several significant celebrations.

All the while I was neglecting my online work or at least putting it aside and not really doing any work on it (that’s partly why you haven’t heard for me in all of January). The energy and ideas I had to hit the ground running at the start of the year, actually got pushed to the back burner. I was able to be trusting that I would get to it all eventually and I had the thought that in the new year I would be better – more focused, more productive.

Ultimately I got sick in the middle of January and was pretty ill for the last half of the month. I got slammed, could hardly breathe, had a void of energy or anything resembling life as I wanted it. I had to miss several days of work (which I think I’ve done only a couple of times in my nearly 30 years of being a therapist).

It hurt to breathe; it hurt to cough; my body ached from head to toe. It hurt to BE.

I put gobs of Vicks vapor rub on; tried to breathe in warm steam; sucked on lozenges 24-7. I slept 20 out of 24 hours in a day. One day I thought I could work but I really couldn’t pay attention and I had this terrible underbelly feeling of ‘I don’t really care’. My clients told me to go home – wanting to be safe from whatever I had I’m sure, but also caring about my well-being.

I went from chills (and feeling so raw and vulnerable) to fiery night sweats. I thought it might be pneumonia. My doctor said no, my lungs were clear, but my asthma had gotten totally flared up, and I suffered relapse after relapse.

I had no appetite, no strength, no will to carry on. I felt like a puddle of liquid and that could only move myself from one spot to another, drop by drop, with a teeny spoon.

I wanted to be connecting with my people, encouraging a meaningful start to the new year, providing compassionate and mindful attention and support to those who count on me. But I had nuthin’. No thoughts; no expression of anything I could muster; no energy to communicate in any way.

I tried to at least be mindful of my experience – simply note or name my experience. That required a huge effort. I had no energy in my batteries to just observe. Mostly I did not care…

Then, I miraculously started to feel better and I was flooded with what felt like blessings of being sick.

Let me explain…

  • Knowing clearly what my limits were and being able to articulate them.
  • Sleeping with abandon – not trying to do just one more thing before I went to bed.
  • Easily saying no to people without feeling guilty or that I had let them down.
  • So acutely aware of my body and energy that I could pinpoint the moment I turned the corner and started to feel better.
  • Hearing peoples’ urgings to take care of myself because they cared about my well-being, and was grateful for how I had encouraged them before to take care of themselves.
  • Being so present in each moment that I was not distracted by anything else going on. No worries about the future, no regrets or sorrows about the past, no negative dialogue about myself.
  • Losing six pounds of sweat and shivers without even trying.
  • Having clear boundaries that were not offensive or capitulating to others.
  • Being ok with not taking care of anyone else.
  • Feeling very uncritical of myself.
  • Feeling fully what it felt like to be helpless, lifeless, a puddle, and then living through that.
  • Feeling deep acceptance about the state of my world, knowing I couldn’t rush things along, or try to force fix things in any way.
  • Feeling complete liberation and full of life, as I began to feel better. And such gratitude and appreciation for coming through the depths of it.

I wanted to imprint these experiences on my body and soul, so I wouldn’t forget what it felt like to be so present and so clear even about an uncomfortable time.

I feel as if these blessings of being sick have been integrated and internalized and now are a part of me, creating templates to rely upon when the next struggle – physical or emotional- finds me and alters my path.

How have you been? What helps to make your way a little gentler? What blessings have you experienced in the midst of illness or set back? I’d love to hear from you…

If you or someone you love is struggling to notice the blessings of life and hardship, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

How to Face Unpleasant Tasks

Bringing mindfulness to every day suckiness

How to manage with drudgery and frustration.

So you’ve got unpleasant tasks you have to do? Things that you procrastinate about and put off as long as possible?

Maybe it’s grocery shopping; or cleaning out the garage; or writing that report; or having to de-lice your kids’ hair yet again. For me, the current unpleasant task that has to be done is Taxes.

Usually I gripe, gripe, gripe, or sometimes I moan, moan, moan. But always I procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. You know – all not-so-healthy ways of facing the unpleasant that has to be done – spending more time begrudging it and avoiding it than it would actually take to just do it.

Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog article about doing my taxes mindfully, and wisely I had put a reminder in my calendar to read it again in March of this year. (I love how we can set reminders a year ahead on our phones!)

So I did read it again before I got to work on my taxes this year. It reminded me of how to approach it all mindfully, and to have a better experience with it as a result.

I thought I would share it with you again, in case it helps when you’re facing your own taxes (Even taxes can be done mindfully) – or any other unpleasant task you have to do, but have no motivation for or interest in.

Mindfulness is especially helpful for those times when things suck – either, the not fun or unpleasant things that we have to do, or feeling demotivated about them, or they’re uncomfortable and resisted, or we treat ourselves badly because of them.

You know, like dealing with car repair, or unfriendly neighbors, or looking for a job, or broken appliances, major home cleanup, or having to work overtime (not to mention job loss; or medical or car insurance issues; or loss of a loved one and having to clean out their belongings, etc.)

The one thing I love when I do my taxes each year, is the opportunity to review the last year and reflect upon what I went through. This year, when I reviewed my calendar, I was grateful for sharing in a significant life‘s transition ceremony for someone close to me; for family members reconnected; for travel and new experiences, I’d had. I was sad for loved ones lost; for the ongoing terrible political climate and the pain it’s caused many.

Mostly I was reminded of my gratefulness to be able to do the work I do, and with the people I do it with. I am grateful that I can share mindfulness with folks as a meaningful way to deal with life‘s joys and sorrows, and grateful for how mindfulness directly helps me to face the dreadful and unpleasant.

What better way to get through life?

If you could use some reminders about how to get through the sucky stuff with mindful presence, here’s my last year’s blog again…

Even taxes can be done mindfully

Also, when I heard myself complaining and griping again about taxes (like every other year before) I happened to catch Rudy Francisco’s spoken word poetry on TV. I was quite moved by his work titled “The Complainers“ (here’s the link  Complainers ). I realized there’s really no room for the  complaint about taxes in my life. In fact I am so privileged to be able to have taxes to gripe about…

May you be freed from your complaints too, and may being mindful help you to get through unpleasant things a little more gently.

If you or someone you care about needs help to see things more brightly, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Taming the Tyranny of the To Do List

How to soften (and strengthen) your To Do List

dealing with overwhelm & doing too much, with self compassionMy sister gave me the sweetest “To Do List” pad. It has an image of a woman meditating on it. It gives me the illusion of always being mindful, no matter what I have to do. The more I looked at it though, the more I realized it was mis-named. It says “To Do List” in big letters at the top. It should say “To Be List”…

Here’s a photo of my ideal To Do List. Look at all of that open space, sense of peace, and freedom to breathe…

If you are a busy professional, or parent, or just someone with lots of responsibilities on your plate, or if you care about keeping track of what you need to do, or trying to be organized, or just getting things done, then you probably have kept a To Do list or two. You probably live by your list(s). I know I do.

But you might also be overwhelmed by your lists, or be beholden to them. You might not remember anything if it weren’t for your lists. You might feel confined by their length, their deadlines, their interminability, the way they measure you, never seem to get completed, and then leave you feeling incomplete.

Of course, there are many good things that can come from making or utilizing a To Do List. We might rely on our lists as an extension of ourselves.

Our To Do Lists: 

  • Keep us organized
  • Point us in a direction; act as a guide to what direction we want to go.
  • Remind us of what we have yet to do
  • Keep us accountable
  • Can indicate our wishes, dreams, desires for self
  • Make concrete the ways we show our love for family and people we care about
  • Are a way of marking our ideas – getting them down, making them tangible
  • Help us to not forget. Help us to remember.
  • Help us move forward with our plans
  • Can be a source of creativity
  • Can remind us of all the good in the world we want to do
  • Let us see how much we’ve accomplished
  • Give us a sense and feeling of being productive
  • Break larger tasks down to manageable smaller doable items
  • Let us know we are alive and still have things to do
  • Give us a sense of being in control in our world
  • We feel good when we check off our list

But sometimes our lists get out of balance and become overbearing and restrictive, even tyrannical. We end up having negative limiting beliefs about ourselves when we can’t get through our To Do Lists. We inadvertently let our lists control or define us. We become slaves to the Master List. We forego our pleasures and simple joys, in order to deal with the list. We prioritize having to DO, rather than BEing who we are and trusting we will be loved for that.

Some people feel demoralized when they look at their list and feel there is so much to do. And that they’ll never get it all done.

At these times, our lists:

  • Let us bargain with time and imagine it is endlessly available to us
  • Let us see how busy we are
  • Represent our wish to be immortal or our defense against mortality, limits, endings, disappointments
  • Let us believe we have ultimate control of our lives and what happens to us, if only we can tackle that list
  • Remind us of all the unimportant things we have to do
  • Become a way to measure our value or worth by what we accomplish – or don’t
  • Overwhelm us with demands on our time, energy, focus
  • Can give us a sense of failure and powerlessness just by their presence
  • Become our task master rather than a tool in service of
  • Never end til we die
  • Are always hanging over our head
  • Represent the “shoulds” in our lives that we can be lead to feel shame or inadequacy about when we can’t fulfill them
  • Sometimes drive us rather than letting us drive our own lives
  • Distract us from what it feels like to be present in the moment by always putting us in the future of “To Do”
  • Become ways to procrastinate and never live in the moment because we are always creating lists and planning for perfection
  • Become a marker of our worthiness or sense of value, or more often, a sense of lacking
  • Let us hold on to that idea that one day, when everything on our list is done, we’ll finally be enough, whole, worthy
  • And far too infrequently we create “To Be” lists…

If your To Do List has gotten unwieldy, or you’re feeling more shame and overwhelm about it, you can shift your relationship to your List, to one of kindness, support, mindfulness.

What to do about your To Do List:


  • Have compassion for yourself living under the tyranny of a To Do List
  • Take a few deep breaths before each task
  • Create a To Be list, or a Joy list, or a Gratitude list, or a Personal Resource list, or a Daily Personal Bucket list, or a Passion list of things you love but may have put aside or neglected
  • Have gratitude to have a full life that allows you to make a list
  • Have gratitude for each item on your list – try to find the hidden gifts of having things to do
  • Prioritize your list with items that give you space, and quiet moments to check in with yourself – Moments where you can BE rather than Do
  • Cushion or book-end each item on your To Do List with three long deep breaths
  • Consider each item on your list to see if it matches your values or intentions
  • DO more of those items that are aligned with meaning in your life
  • Become aware of your body and emotions when you know you still have things to complete on your To Do List
  • When you check off your list, savor the good feeling (or whatever feeling is there) for a few seconds longer
  • Don’t let your To Do List be the boss of you, or define you, or be a source of self-punishment

Like Sylvia Boorstein says, “Don’t just Do something, Sit there.”!

I’d love to hear from you…By reading this post, did you discover anything new about how you use your To Do lists? Is your relationship with them kind, values-driven, thoughtful of you; or in the service of criticism, demand and harshness? Respond to this post and share your ideas.

If you or someone you love is challenged by a critical relationship you have with your lists (or yourself) and would like to feel better, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445