What does it mean to be mindful – especially in this fast-paced world? We are being bombarded by messages from society, the media, and even our friends – what are the consequences if we don’t stop to tune in to our own thoughts?
This week I bring on guest Allie Cartwright to discuss the meaning of mindfulness. We will look at how a lack of mindfulness impacts us and ways in which capitalism, culture, and society in general distracts us – and deters us from being present in the moment. Together we will also share ways in which meditation can strengthen your mindfulness muscle… your brain.
About This Week’s Guest:
Allie Cartwright is a meditation and mindfulness expert passionate about helping others step into their best life. She had tried and failed at meditation many times in her life, but when she finally tapped into the true power it held, she knew she had to share it with the world.
[Jessica Karels]: Hey, Allie, welcome to our show! I'm so glad that you're here with us today.
[Allie Cartwright]: Hi, Jessica, thank you so much for having me.
[Allie Cartwright]: So to start off with - my listeners are curious - what has been your spiritual journey up to this point?
[Allie Cartwright]: You know, I was really lucky as a young child. My parents - one of the best things they ever did for me was - they told me as far as religion and spirituality went, watch the world around you, watch how things work, and decide what feels really right to you. That was a really liberating thing because I watched a lot of my friends struggle with their parents telling them what they had to think felt right. I was very, very lucky that I didn't have to put up with that.
[Allie Cartwright]: I always leaned towards earthy spirituality. I never really put a label on it. When I was a teenager, I started looking at Wicca and other established pagan-type religions, but I got really frustrated. I had a lot of experiences with people who were very doom and gloom, like, "You have to do these, this thing this way, or you're going to curse everybody for your entire life". That didn't sit well with me either.
[Allie Cartwright]: Then, I had some weird experiences with moving down to the deep south and into the Bible Belt and having some people actually get fairly violent with me for calling myself pagan. So, in my early adulthood, I just shut down. I decided I wasn't really anything. I wasn't going to do anything. I wasn't going to think about it.
[Allie Cartwright]: In my 30s, that all kind of came to a crashing halt when my parents both got ill on opposite sides of the country while I was living in Kansas. One was in Arizona, and one was in Minnesota. I was trying to take care of them. My mother was showing signs of dementia and my father was dying of cancer. This was in 2014; I spent the whole year divided between opposite ends of the country and trying to take care of them, and I honestly had a bit of a mental breakdown.
[Jessica Karels]: I can imagine that's, that must have been really, really stressful and hard. You said you were in your 30s?
[Allie Cartwright]: Yeah, I was 31 at that time, and I just, I shut down. I moved my mother to Kansas to be able to take care of her, and then right after that happens, my father passed away. I just mentally like everything just shut down. I had always struggled with depression and anxiety, and it just amped up massively. I couldn't function at all, barely at all. I was taking care of my mother, I was taking care of my husband and my son and that was it.
[Allie Cartwright]: I knew something had to change, and a friend of mine told me, "You need to read Ellen Dugan. She can help you". I was like, okay, so I ended up downloading this book that she had co-wrote with a woman named Tess Whitehurst. I don't know if you're familiar with her.
[Jessica Karels]: That name seems very familiar.
[Allie Cartwright]: She's a very prolific author. She's wonderful. I read the book that she wrote co-wrote with Ellen Dugan, which was called Every Which Way. They were comparing their belief systems, as both witches, but being very, very different. I found myself just drawn to Tess. I was like, "Oh my goodness, she, she believes everything I believe". I ended up actually - this is gonna sound crazy - but I ended up becoming friends with her. She became my mentor and taught me about meditation in a way that had never been explained to me before. For the first time, I actually really connected with it.
[Allie Cartwright]: When I started to really spend time tuning in through meditation, all of a sudden I was able to see what was going on with my depression. What was going on with my anxiety. What I needed to do. What I needed to fix. How I needed to help myself. I became a Reiki Master. And then, I just became addicted to studying all the different ways that our brain interacts with our body and with energy.
[Allie Cartwright]: It's been so amazing. The last three years really been this total transformation of going from barely being able to leave my house because I was so panicky all the time, to just being the most happy and relaxed and aligned person that I can be. It's incredible.
[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, that is quite the transformation, and that is just whoa! It really does show that, in the thick of it, we think that the world is over. We think there's no light at the end of the tunnel, especially if we don't have those tools, but those types of things can bring about transformation.
[Jessica Karels]: Interesting that you mentioned Tess Whitehurst because I'm looking across my room to the book "You Are Magical", that I bought earlier this year. I'm like, "I know that name from somewhere...", and I'm looking around my office and like, "Oh, okay. I know someone who knows the author". God. Small world. This is kind of fun. All right. You mentioned that you are now a mindfulness expert. How would you define mindfulness?
[Allie Cartwright]: Mindfulness is all about really noticing what is going on in your head. Where your mind is. It's really, really important to actually know what's going on within you. but we don't generally get trained to pay attention to ourselves. We're supposed to learn how to do things in the outside world. We were supposed to get through tasks and do our to do lists and make a living and take care of our families and everything, but we're not really ever trained growing up to analyze how our personal mind works, and we're all different.
[Allie Cartwright]: Mindfulness is all about really being aware and teaching yourself to be in the present moment, rather than living in the future or in the past, because they don't actually exist. All that all that really exists is where you are right now.
[Jessica Karels]: At that point, it's more that self awareness and that present day, present moment awareness, versus a lot of the worry that we see either towards the future or fretting from and ruminating about the past.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes.
[Jessica Karels]: We live in such a fast-paced culture where there's a lot of distractions. As I said, people worrying about the future when it comes to climate change, or looking at past historical events, and also looking at the future and fretting about the various what-if's and what may possibly be. In what way is with a lack of mindfulness impact us when dealing with all these unknowns that are going on around us?
[Allie Cartwright]: You know, if we aren't trained, if we haven't trained ourselves to be mindful, then we are basically putting ourselves at the mercy of everything coming at us all day long. We live in a really fast-paced society. There's constant messages bombarding us from every angle - from the big topics of things that are going on with the planet, global warming, all of that stuff - to even just a little things like, you know, "you need to lose weight", or "you need to make sure that you are raising your kids this way, and if you're not providing this then you're a bad parent".
[Allie Cartwright]: It's a capitalistic society. I don't mean to sound down on capitalism, because capitalism in and of itself is not a bad thing, it just gets abused. With capitalism, we're all trying to market different things, and the way you market something is you point out the flaw. Because we're constantly having all of these flaws coming at us all the time, if you aren't actually paying attention to how you're taking that in and whether you are buying into it or not, then it's it's imprinting on your reality all the time.
[Allie Cartwright]: Subconsciously, you're teaching yourself all these different things without even realizing you're doing it because you're not bothering to say, "Well, no, that actually isn't true for me". You see this commercial about losing weight and you just kind of off-hand think, "Yeah, I know I need to lose 20 pounds", and you don't even think about that thought you're having. When you do that every time you see something about weight loss - and it's all over the place - and you're having that thought, you are bringing your energy levels down. You're doing real self-harm. It's just tiny bits at a time, but it adds up. If you aren't paying attention to how you're letting things settle into your mind, then you're at the mercy of everything.
[Jessica Karels]: Exactly. Our thoughts create our reality and how we respond to reality. There's been studies out there, like the placebo effect, just as an example. I forgot what book I read it in. I actually think it might have been Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo, where they went and they told these children that they're going to brush a leaf against their skin and that leaf is harmless. I think it was poison ivy or something like that where it would normally cause hives. The child who had been told, "All right, this is just a harmless leaf," almost all of them did not get a reaction. Then they went to this other set of kids and they said, "Okay, we are going to press your arm with poison ivy," and it was a benign leaf. Most, not all, but most of the kids experienced a reaction from that.
[Jessica Karels]: There's skeptics out there that will say, "Okay, well this type of stuff can't cure things like cancer." It can or can't; we don't know yet. We don't have that level of information. We're not going that far, but minor things, even being told, "This food is bad for you," and then having stress as you eat it. Your body's going to respond and say, "Okay, this is bad," and all of a sudden you have a stomach ache and everything is irritable on the inside because of what you believe. Our bodies respond so deeply to our thoughts and our feelings. It's amazing and terrifying.
[Allie Cartwright]: One thing that really amazed me with the whole the power of the mind over the body - I mentioned my mother has memory issues. She had cataract surgery awhile back, and she's needed glasses her entire life. After this cataract surgery, all she needs is reading glasses, just cheaters, and she doesn't need glasses to see regularly. Now, she still wears her glasses all the time because she's used to it, but it's really, really funny.
[Allie Cartwright]: There have been several times when she has misplaced her glasses, and been freaking out because she's blind. She's just been stumbling around and going, "I can't see anything. I can't see anything. I need to find my glasses," and I go, "Mom, you had cataract surgery. You can see just fine without your glasses, remember?" Then she'll stop, and she'll kind of shake her head and go, "Oh, yeah, I can see".
[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, that is amazing. Another case - let me know if this is too sensitive topic, given what you've experienced - when people pass on. That's another one.
[Allie Cartwright]: Oh, ok.
[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, I just wanted to make sure. My dad passed away about two years ago, so I got to see this firsthand. Sometimes a person will linger on up to a point until they feel like they've either said their goodbyes or others have had that chance to to say goodbye. Then, when they mentally and emotionally let go, the body responds quickly to that.
[Jessica Karels]: I also saw recently, in one of the local papers this couple - they have been married for 68 years - and they died 30 hours apart. One passed away. They were in the hospital or hospice or wherever it was. Their beds were side by side, and then one passed away. They closed the drapery as they were dealing with everything, and then the other person's health decreased rapidly, and they were gone within 30 hours. That's another way where there's this huge connection in this power between the body and the emotions, or basically the heart and the mind, and it's difficult to ignore when you have that happen so many times.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes. Well, and I mean, when you think about it, you mentioned the placebo effect. Every single medical trial we have on done on humans includes a placebo group, which is literally just saying, "yes the mind can overpower what's supposed to happen here, and we have to take that into account", you know? It makes me laugh when people are like, "Oh, energy healing and stuff like that, that's all bogus here". What? No, no, no, no. If you believe in the placebo effect, you believe in the power of the mind over the body. You really do.
[Jessica Karels]: Placebo effect is science-based, and yet they look and they're like, "Yeah. Energy. Vibrations. All science-based". That plus mind equals body healing? At that point, they can't make sense of it. I think it's because it's challenging their own beliefs and their own systems as well. Sometimes when someone's challenged, their response is to shrink and put up a wall.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes.
[Jessica Karels]: Since we talked about like capitalism, society, culture, so on and so forth, how does society and culture detract us from mindfulness?
[Allie Cartwright]: Well, like I said, we have a lot of marketing coming at us all the time, and those messages imprint on us. Also as a society, we've really gotten into this whole thing of coping with how difficult things are by being really snarky and sarcastic about our lives.
[Jessica Karels]: Oh god, social media...
[Allie Cartwright]: I can be very sarcastic. I'm not putting down sarcasm in general, but when you live in that space of constantly demeaning yourself and your life and everything around you, you're creating that reality. It's all over the place. Social media can be a very beautiful thing, and it can be such a harmful thing. People get on there and they sit and they trade snark and they trade sarcasm and they post all of these memes about why they need to do all these things, because they're just trying to make it through their day and get back to bed. When you actually pay attention to it, that's so sad. Your life is so short. You should not be looking to just make it to bed every day. There's no reason why people have to live like that.
[Jessica Karels]: The other way that I'm seeing it, I saw it back in late 2016-2017, and it's been coming in waves since then based on whatever the news cycle is within the United States - people using social media to express their anger about the current situation, and their almost this expectation that others get angry with them. There's almost a sense of judgment that comes up when people don't.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes. Yes. I have been on the receiving end of people saying that I don't express my outrage enough on different political things. Like, "you should really make a stand on things," and I'm like, "well, I do, but I don't obsess over it," you know? It's this thing of people are living on the surface. It's such an interesting thing energetically.
[Allie Cartwright]: When we don't actually pay attention to what we're feeling, and we're just trying to get through it and get on to the next thing, what we do is we're stuffing those emotions down inside of ourselves. Energetically, we're creating these pockets of stuck, stagnant energy that can't move, and it's just trapped inside your field because you refused to process it. That really builds up in your system and that actually. Those things can manifest physically as physical illness. There's a lot of studies being done on that sort of thing can cause cancer. These pockets of stagnant energy gets. This gets so scientific. In a general term, it just ends up becoming so stagnant that it literally just ends up growing into a tumor.
[Jessica Karels]: You're going to have to share with me links to that information so I can include them in the show notes, because that is definitely fascinating.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yeah, yeah, I will definitely look those up for you.
[Jessica Karels]: I'm surprised, yet not surprised, that you had a reaction when others were reaching out to you to express a view on topics, and you either waited or didn't (respond). I've had similar happen as well. Why do you think that is that people reach out to those of us with influence, nudging us to be the ones that take action?
[Allie Cartwright]: I think, in my personal case, it's more been they take the attitude that if you're not screaming against something, then you're allowing it. I can see the point in that. At the same time, there's the time, there's a place where you can actually do good, and when you're just beating your head against the wall. I feel like a lot of times what people are doing on social media is beating their head against a wall, and I have no interest in doing that.
[Jessica Karels]: I've heard the slogan, "Silence is violence". Yes, if someone feels inspired to reach out and speak up, that's important, but it's a matter of getting to that point where it feels right to you, versus going based on someone else's timeframe or someone else's expectation. If we flip it around with the expectation on other people to respond to various things, I don't think that they would be that happy with being on the receiving end of such criticism. I think that again speaks to a lack of mindfulness that's been cultivated.
[Jessica Karels]: We are basically being trained to respond and echo, versus go through, take a moment to sit, reflect, look inward, and see where we are inspired to move forward and how we are inspired to move forward. Maybe going through and replying or sharing something on Facebook is not the best path at all for that. Maybe it is gathering support and doing a more concerted effort, but not blasting it on Facebook because we don't need the recognition. We may not want it if there's people that we're connected to who are not supportive and may take that information to heart. There's factors people don't understand when it comes to this outright, this outrage culture that's going on. It doesn't always make sense to respond with more anger and more stress.
[Allie Cartwright]: I think one thing that people forget is every single one of us is different, and there's such a divide that we've gotten really really scared of differences. There can be someone who has a political belief that you think is awful but that doesn't necessarily mean that individual is an evil person and I've seen a lot of just black-and-white wanting to just lately not look at nuance at all. You know, just, "if someone believes this then they are horrible person and they don't deserve to live". I'm like, what? Wait, no, that doesn't work.
[Jessica Karels]: Granted, someone who goes through and is blatantly espousing racism, Nazism, genocide - that there's no real new nuance. Or even saying women should not have bodily autonomy, or that they should die if they have a pregnancy that's life-threatening. Those sorts of things. I think most reasonable people can say, "All right, that is a hard line", but when it comes to things like, "How do we fund education? How do we handle issues of racial inequality to give others a step up? How do we handle the disparity in the American health-care system to make sure that health care is accessible? How do we handle the housing crisis where people will have to use up almost their entire income from a minimum wage job to afford a small apartment?" Those are things have a lot of nuance, depending on a person's background. I have seen people calling others Nazis and fascists for not towing a specific line on that, and it is shocking.
[Allie Cartwright]: We also, I think, we forget that everybody's had a different experience. They've been raised around different things, and they've been shown different things. I find a lot of times people are wanting to attack someone for a belief instead of trying to deconstruct why they have that belief. When you take the time to look at why someone has a belief, it becomes a lot more understandable.
[Allie Cartwright]: Not that you'd necessarily would agree with them, but you know, you can actually see, "Oh, okay, I see how you came to that, and now I can show you a perspective, and hopefully you can see where I came from." People don't do that because they're just caught up in this rat race of everything all at once, and it's all overwhelming. We're just trying to make it from one moment to the next.
[Jessica Karels]: I think there's this aversion to reaching out and trying to deconstruct what's basically non-hard topics because by opening up, by examining, by exploring not only other person's beliefs but your own, there is that possibility of being wrong.
[Jessica Karels]: If someone - I know, lightbulb goes off - and if you're the one who's wrong, especially for those of us who put so much stock and worth in our knowledge or in our approval, that can be a little bit jarring. I think that's, again, that's why there's this dependency almost on that outrage and that lack of mindfulness, because sitting and thinking puts a lot of stuff at risk.
[Allie Cartwright]: (GASP)
[Allie Cartwright]: Yeah, it really does, and boy, we attach so much fear around being wrong. It's interesting. When you start to pay attention to where fear arises within yourself and why, you learn so much! Things become so much easier when you can actually go, "Oh, look at that. I didn't realize that about myself".
[Jessica Karels]: That's actually something I've been working on the past year after being diagnosed with anxiety on multiple levels, both general and social, has been deconstructing my thought patterns that have been affecting me to this point. Getting that level of mindfulness where I have to basically break down the thoughts and how those thoughts are shaping my feelings and my avoidance behaviors, that was intimidating. That in itself was pretty emotionally shaking, but you know what? It empowered me to be able to be more conscious with my decisions and my actions going forward.
[Jessica Karels]: Also, seeing how those same thought patterns impact more than just one or two things in my life. It's seeing that entire network of stuff. It's like, "Why is it that I hang out with people who are a bad fit for me?" It's like, "Why is it that I over-volunteer?" All these different things stemming from feelings of anxiety, stemming from all these underlying beliefs. It's having that mindfulness to sit with it, and be in that moment, that has helped me really be able to take a look at it on a different level.
[Allie Cartwright]: That is such a beautiful thing.
[Jessica Karels]: So, one of the things you mentioned when you were talking about your own spiritual journey, and how you re-grounded yourself, was meditation. For those of our listeners who are brand new to a lot of these topics, can you share how meditation can help them build mindfulness in their day-to-day lives?
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes, meditation. There's so much confusion around how to meditate well. A lot of people think that they're supposed to shut down their thoughts and sit without thinking for periods of time. The thing is, our brains like to think. That's what they do. It might be possible for some monk who has been training their entire life to shut off their thoughts, but we as modern society people, it's really unlikely you're going to achieve that.
[Allie Cartwright]: The thing is that people say that they're not good at meditation because their mind wanders, but that's the whole point. When you sit down to meditate, you to tune in by paying attention to your breath. That's something that all of us do all day long without thinking about it. You take, and you watch the breath as it enters your body, and you watch the breath as it leaves your body. If you can sit and do that for - just in the beginning, two to five minutes - then what's going to happen is you'll be sitting there, and all of a sudden you'll realize your mind is off on your to-do list and you're not even watching your breath. Then you bring it back as soon as you notice.
[Allie Cartwright]: This is where people think they're screwed up. They think, "Oh, my mind wandered I messed up". No, you succeeded by bringing your mind back. Every single time that your mind wanders and you bring it back to your focus, you're strengthening your ability to focus. That's what it's all about. It's almost like, you can think of, you know, weight training. You have to keep lifting that way. In the beginning, it has to be a light weight. In the beginning your mind is going to wonder every few seconds, maybe, but the more you do it, the stronger you're going to be, and the less your mind will wander overall.
[Allie Cartwright]: Once you really settle into that place of not judging the mind wandering, then you enter this place of just really being able to relax. When you do that, then you start noticing where your mind wanders when it does. What is it that my brain is obsessing over? It becomes so much clearer in your day-to-day life how to bring yourself more joy and more happiness, because you realize what is impacting your thoughts.
[Jessica Karels]: A lot of it is more building awareness of your thoughts, and your thought patterns, and learning the ability to shake them off or shrug them off, not discount the but say, "Okay, this is not going to be in the driver's seat," as it were, in the conscious mind.
[Allie Cartwright]: You're sitting there you're breathing, and it's like, "Oh, I have to go to the store and pick up potatoes to make dinner tonight". Well, I'm not going to the store right now. I'm watching my breath.
[Jessica Karels]: There's a couple of practices that are very - not necessarily not thinking, but more the acknowledgement of the thought and setting it aside. When I first started my own spiritual journey, I did candle gazing. It was sitting upright, which I realized how my back muscles were weak. And I was like, okay, we need to figure out how to fix this. As I'm sitting there watching a candle, and yeah, I had to really quickly fix that, because after about two minutes, all of a sudden my mind went to my back hurting.
[Jessica Karels]: Then, I had a different teacher recently who does what's called wall gazing and encourages her students to engage in wall gazing, which is, as the name says: you sit and you scooch up, and you stare at a wall. The idea is, much like the candle, you are aware of your thoughts, but you don't engage with them. You let them move around like they're people in a mall or people in an airport, and you are just sitting there with yourself. I think that the whole "thinking of nothing" is a bit of a stereotype. I think it's more "not actively engaging with the thoughts as they pop up", or basically much like in The Mandalorian when little baby Yoda is going up towards the dashboard, it's like you pick them up, move them off to the side, set them in the little crib, and then you go back to focusing on just being, just like driving the ship as it were.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yes, yes, exactly.
[Jessica Karels]: That is a lot of great advice. If someone is just starting out with all of this - you already gave some advice of, "All right, this is like weight training. I can't do it all at once. Do things bit by bit and you'll grow into this over time," - what other advice would you give them?
[Allie Cartwright]: The best piece of advice I can give people, honestly, is to make a meditation practice a daily habit. Think of it like brushing your teeth. You don't want to miss brushing your teeth; your dental hygiene is going to get really funky if you do. Meditation is the same way. It's energetic hygiene. It doesn't have to take long. Sit down for five minutes in the morning. When you're lying in bed at night, put yourself to sleep doing the meditation. This is such a vital thing because it builds on itself. Every little bit strengthens. That strengthens your mind strengthens your awareness. It really just builds over and over and over. It's like you can't just go to the gym once, you can't just eat a salad once, you know you can't just meditate once, but it doesn't have to be sitting and meditating for an hour every morning. No. Give yourself five minutes. Make it a habit.
[Jessica Karels]: Just like the gym, there are "personal trainers" out there. There are apps out there that can help with meditation. There are guided meditations out there, since there's multiple ways people can meditate, that either you sound or mixture of sound and vocal instruction to walk you through that meditation practice.
[Allie Cartwright]: Yeah, I actually have a lot of free resources in that vein available on my website for people as well. I do a featured guided meditation on my website, that's a free mp3, people can go and download. If they visit my website regularly, they can come up with quite the collection of guided meditations.
[Jessica Karels]: Nice. Allie, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your knowledge about mindfulness with my listeners.
[Allie Cartwright]: Absolutely. My pleasure.
[Jessica Karels]: You did mention your website. If there was someone wanted to connect with you, how else can they get in touch?
[Allie Cartwright]: My website is really fantastic. Lots of free resources that they can take advantage of on there. That's just alliecartwright.com, and then another really fun thing that people can get into is every Wednesday evening at 7pm Central time I do a live guided meditation on my Facebook page. They're called Live Meditation Moments. Those are really fun. People can go and check out the past ones. They're all there on the video tab on the Facebook page. Just tons and tons of these meditation moments. We do them every week. They're just a blast.
[Jessica Karels]: All right. I will make sure those are in the show notes. Thank you very much.
[Allie Cartwright]: You are so welcome.
- Allie Cartwright: Live Fully, Laugh Lots, & Love Yourself
- Allie’s meditation videos on Facebook
- Follow Allie on Instagram
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