A different narrative

Do you ever talk to yourself? In case you are worried about feeling snubbed by people who might claim to never have so much as thought about talking to themselves, don’t. A few days ago, I listened to this podcast about the merits of talking to oneself in the third person, with reference to research that has shown that doing so can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety through compassionate awareness.

I remember a time in my teenage years when I sat on the bathroom counter in my parents’ home, gazing curiously at the tears that rolled down my cheeks. I believe I might have shed those tears over some boy, but that’s an insignificant detail. As I sat and stared at my reflection, the writer in my head started to draw a narrative to describe the situation, complete with an illustration of the warm droplets on my face and how delicate my wet eyelashes appeared at that moment. The narrator’s descriptions made my inner turmoil seem commonplace, banal, and I soon turned my attention to something more interesting, allowing time to heal the pain.

The writer / narrator in my head has saved me many times by plucking me out of perpetually swirling anxiety-ridden thoughts and casting me in the role of an observer looking in from the outside. Gosh, I realise how strange all this might sound to some. Yet, it works for me, and it appears that others also have had similar experiences.

The premise of the research to which Jonathan Fields refers in the podcast is that when a situation goes sour and we are tempted to turn to self-deprecating talk of ‘not good enough,’ we can instead describe the scenario from the point of view of an observer. It’s the difference between, “I’m an awful mother. I failed today as a mother when my child threw a tantrum at the shopping centre and I ended up yelling at her in front of crowds of people” and, “(Insert name here) is a mother who had a challenging day today. After a restless night of taking care of her toddler, who keeps waking several times throughout the night, and having not had enough coffee, she lost her patience while shopping with her daughter. It was not a pleasant situation, but it’s over. The mother and toddler both need an afternoon nap to recharge and reconnect.”

The latter approach of talking about ourselves as an observer allows us an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate a situation from a more compassionate place. I will continue to refer to this approach as listening to the voice of the mindful writer or narrator within. Care to try it? Have you tried it?

I’m curious to read about your experience with talking about yourself in the third person. Won’t you please leave a comment below to contribute to the conversation?

Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Photo by Christichka Photography.

Minimalism is a lifelong practice

We started to downsize our possessions well over two years ago, evaluating the items that we use on a frequent basis and discarding the ones that rested on an out-of-reach shelf at the back of the linen closet. We have been working to simplify our lifestyle while continuing to enjoy our adventure. One might assume that after two years, having sold a house and moved overseas, we would have pared down our possessions to our maximum benefit. At least, that’s what we thought. Three months in a small house allow plenty of opportunity for reflection on what one needs to live comfortably.

During those months, we rented a small two-bedroom beach bach (kiwi-speak for ‘cottage’) while waiting for our shipment container to arrive. Last week, upon moving into our house, we were reunited with some 90 boxes of various sizes, containing the items we had packed four and a half months ago to be shipped from Canada to NZ.

While staying in the beach house, we had not missed much of what we had shipped. We had everything we needed, and we were reminded of just how little one truly needs to live comfortably. Our clothes were stored inside individual suitcases, and for the first few days after moving into our house, I worked to become accustomed to walking into my closet to get dressed in the morning, instead of reaching for a suitcase. Shortly after we landed in NZ, I purchased an immersion blender in lieu of a larger standing blender. This small blender works perfectly for smoothies and soups, yet does not take up much room inside the kitchen cupboard. Several weeks ago, while baking a cake for the eldest Wanderlust Junior’s birthday, it occurred to me that I did not have a mixer to make frosting. I used the said immersion blender and the result was better than expected. These days, I choose multi-purpose tools and only spend money on what I know I will use frequently.

Although we were happy to be reunited with a few favourite items, we also understood that we had shipped certain items that we had outgrown within the past few months. Mr. Wanderlust and I understood, after looking at the too-many travel souvenirs that we had kept, that we no longer enjoy many of those items. They are sitting in a box that is to be donated to an op shop (thrift shop, for the non-kiwis). After drowning in the numerous photo albums we had brought with us, I made a decision to stop printing photos on a regular basis. This also applies to our wardrobe. I learned recently that I prefer to wear well-made black, grey, or dark blue tights for yoga, leading me to donate the colourful tights that had been sitting sadly in my closet, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Uncomfortable yoga tops accompanied them in the donations bin.

Some might think that simplifying one’s wardrobe means living with 10-30 items of clothing, and while I do have a seasonal capsule wardrobe, I admit to still having too many items in my closet and will continue to pare down. Some might think that minimalism means living in a tiny home. Others might expect a minimalist to have one nine-to-five job in the interest of simplifying the routine. I work multiple jobs with non-standard hours, and I enjoy this rhythm. Minimalism might be the latest fad word, but for me, it is a lifestyle practice that I am pursuing at my own pace as I continue to re-evaluate what works best for me and my family today.

Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. I’d like to know whether you have a bin into which you add items to donate to an op / thrift shop.

Self-care and intentional usage of social media

I have always had a conflicted relationship with social media. I opened a Facebook account in 2007, when the platform was in its early stages and the question at every social gathering was, “Are you on Facebook?” I was newly married at the time and spent my days in the corporate world while working toward a Master degree in the evenings. Facebook became a fun way to connect with current and past classmates. A year later, the initial excitement wore off and after an episode of social drama, I deleted my account.

Two years later, when I was pregnant with my first baby, I joined an online forum on which I made friends with other expecting mothers. Inevitably, our friendship migrated from the forum to Facebook, and I created a new account for myself to remain in touch with my new friends. Two years later, I completed my initial Yoga Teacher Training, started guiding classes, and used Facebook to maintain contact with the yoga community. I gave birth to my second baby and changed jobs. I’m certain that all this information is imprinted in a remote dusty corner of the platform’s memory bank. In time, like many others, I started to use Facebook as a distraction from the more serious activities that demanded my attention. I found myself scrolling mechanically instead of focusing on my work. The more I scrolled, the worse I felt. Instead of connecting with others, I felt more isolated.

I have deactivated and reactivated my account. Last year, for almost a year, I only used Facebook to update the Mindful Daydreamer page. I enjoyed my long-term social media detox and the freedom that came with the reminder that I could have dinner in a beautiful restaurant without feeling the need to take photos of the intricately presented main course. I baked muffins and didn’t snap a pic to share with my friends. We went on family trips and I didn’t announce it online. I joked about pretending to live in the lull of the early 2000s, before Facebook took over our lives. Several months ago, I created a new personal page in order to remain in touch with my friends and family who are geographically far from us. Yet, we use Skype for real conversations and again, I question the merits of the other ubiquitous platform.

I have accepted that for me, a casual attitude toward social media provokes anxiety and a sense of isolation. Call it FOMO or use the latest more popular term, but when I feel low, I find myself wondering about how to increase the number of my followers on Instagram and (almost) consider posting selfies with pseudo-inspirational comments below them. It’s an ugly downward spiral. And so, instead of deactivating my account, I have decided to use social media more responsibly.

With a focus on self-care, I have adopted the following practices to help me use social media more mindfully:

1. Never check email or social media updates first thing in the morning or within at least one hour before going to bed.

2. Check updates once or twice per day, for a limited amount of time, and with a clear purpose. I watch the clock to be sure to only use each platform for the amount of time I have allotted.

3. Refrain from posting live updates, unless with a specific purpose. From time to time, I record live Facebook talks, but I no longer post spontaneous content. I take many photos throughout the day, then share one of them if and when the timing is right. Before sharing anything, I ask myself what purpose it would serve, whether my audience would find the information useful, and whether the update is uplifting.

4. Intentionally choose to follow inspiring people and material on social media.

5. Refrain from paying attention to the numbers of followers.

6. Repeat to myself: Life is what happens when we are not staring at a screen, and most of it need not be shared online.

Do you have additional tips regarding self-care in relation to mindful usage of social media? Please share them in the comments below.

The guilt of unbusyness

When Mr. Wanderlust and I were considering a move to NZ, one of the major deciding factors was our quest toward a quieter life. We had become used to working full-time in the corporate world, rushing every morning to prepare breakfast and pack lunches before taking the Wanderlust Juniors to school, then rush again to the school at 5 p.m. to pick them up from an after-school program, then rush to an evening class. Yes, I did just use the word ‘rush’ and its derivative thrice in one sentence. Our children used to spend more time at their school than we did at our workplaces. Every family must make its own decisions about how to bring up children, based on individual values, and this lifestyle never sat comfortably with me. Although we both enjoyed our work, we sought a schedule that would allow us more leeway to truly enjoy life without needing to race toward the weekend at breakneck speed. That was why we moved to NZ.

Mr. Wanderlust continues to work full-time in our new setting, and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead several yoga classes per week. I am continuing to search for additional opportunities, but I do so at a more relaxed pace. After leading classes for three evenings in a row, I felt tired on Thursday last week and decided to dedicate the day to myself, to read, enjoy a leisurely walk, and do some knitting.

I would love to say that I felt gloriously relaxed while sitting on the cosy couch. Instead, I felt guilt at sitting on the couch on a weekday afternoon when many others, including my partner, were immersed in their work. I felt guilt at dedicating some time to my well-being when I could have invested that time in more lucrative pursuits. I could have spent that time preparing dinner for our family. Have you ever felt that pang of guilt? It tends to visit at the worst of times, often after we had been running off our feet and the much awaited downtime has finally arrived. That’s when it sneaks up on us.

We chose the slower life and are continuing to work toward it. I remind myself daily that there is no need to rush, or to spend every waking minute working or planning ahead for the work that is yet to be done. We do not need to schedule every minute of the day. Instead, we should carve out time to focus on self-care. We should carve out time to enjoy a walk in the park or on the beach. We should slow down to say ‘hello’ to a neighbour. We should prioritise leisure time on the couch or in bed with a great book and — in my case — yarn and needles. We should spend more time gardening, practising yoga, or enjoying a delicious cup of coffee at a favourite cafe. It’s also about becoming comfortable with the pangs of guilt that sometimes sneak up on us, then giving ourselves permission to simply sit back without adhering to a packed timetable.

Having spent the afternoon on the couch, I felt recharged as I drove to pick up the Wanderlust Juniors from school, then helped them with their homework and prepared our dinner. Here’s a little known fact of adulthood: Becoming less busy helps us to put our lives in perspective, fine-tuning our focus for the work that matters most; in turn, we end up wasting less time on what is inconsequential. 

It’s a radical decision, to work toward becoming less busy and to enjoy life at a slower pace, and I am embracing my quiet rebellious side. It’s okay to do less and be more.

How do you practise becoming less busy? Please leave a comment below.

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Beautiful Waihi Beach

Favourites from around the web:

The Kind Gesture that Helps Elizabeth Gilbert Find the Light on Her Worst Days

Creative Ways to Inspire Your Yoga Practice this Summer

The Life-Changing Habit of Journaling

How to Retain More from the Books You Read

How to Read an Entire Book in a Single Day

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Waihi Beach in late June

What’s an introvert to do?

Two conversations, 14 hours apart, have served as a reminder for me to a) stop overthinking everything, b) get out of my cosy, comfortable, safe shell, and c) drop the labels.

The first exchange was with a woman whom I met on Monday evening. Having lived in several places before settling in NZ, she discreetly snuck in a peace of advice for me to work harder at making friends with the locals, many of whom, in her opinion, are more reserved than North Americans. She must have sensed a whisper-thin trace of loneliness that rested, unspoken, between the lines. Immediately, a sarcastic voice somewhere at the back of my head jeered, “Oh, lovely news for an introvert like me, who has often dreaded the mere idea of having to make the first step toward meeting people.”

On Tuesday morning, as I walked back to my car after taking the Wanderlust Juniors to school, a friendly voice brought me to the present moment, dissipating thoughts of a not-so-distant past. I turned my head and was met with the beautiful smile of a fellow yoga mum who beamed warmly at me as she invited me to attend a class at her studio. More reserved, my foot, I smiled to myself.

I have often hid behind the ‘introvert’ label, using it as a shield from the outside world and as an excuse to stay at home with my books, living vicariously through literary characters and their adventures instead of creating my own. Classifying myself as an introvert is akin to making a sweeping generalisation about the characteristics of a certain group of people. Besides, even extroverts enjoy a cosy evening at home from time to time.

So, what is an introvert to do in a new town, in a new country? She shall be compassionate toward herself and others. She shall ever so gently nudge herself out of her comfy shell, reminding herself of her past triumphs and hiccups that have served as incredible lessons. She shall leave behind any previous labels that have been assigned to her before and which she had assigned to herself, that have served to educate her about herself and the world around her but which, at times, can feel divisive. She shall keep an open mind and an open heart. She shall brush aside traces of doubt before they threaten to disturb her peace. She shall give herself room for introspection, but remind herself that here, in this moment, is where the potential for magic dwells.

I suspect that these reminders might also be timely for others.

Thank you for reading and sharing this blog with a friend.

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*** Both photographs used in today’s story are courtesy of the incredible Christa Pauwels of Christichka Photography. ***

Favourites from around the web:

10 Literary Romances, Put to the Happily-Ever-After Test — The perfect amount of entertainment to accompany my mid-morning tea.

Making a Marriage Magically Tidy

Integrating Yoga into Daily Life — A great podcast with Canadian yoga teachers Natalie Rousseau and Melanie Phillips

How to Care Deeply without Burning Out

How to parent like a minimalist

Mindful Motherhood

This week’s blog post arrives one day early. The reason for that is simple. It is Mother’s Day in NZ, Australia, Canada, the U.S., and numerous other countries in the world (yes, I looked it up).

In preparation for this week’s blog post, I brainstormed a few ideas. I could tell you about how my children, Mr. Wanderlust, and I have been adapting to our new environment, what with the Wanderlust Juniors starting school in a new place. I could also tell you about recent mistakes I have made as a mother. I could follow those mistakes with stories of celebratory moments after which I wanted to give myself the proverbial pat on the back. In truth, this has never been a parenting blog because I do not have an interest in writing detailed stories about my family. The information I share via this blog and social media is carefully edited.

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Exploring the beach near Devonport, Auckland.

I will confidently say, however, that as with various big moves and transformations, there are inevitable challenges, disappointments, and triumphs, and in most cases we hope that the magical moments will by far outnumber the ones we often wish we could sweep clean from our memories. I can also confess that although I am continuing to work to remain a mindful, present mama, some days and scenarios create hurdles in this practice. As my children continue to grow with each new experience, so do I. My role as a mother is forever changing and evolving, and it keeps me curious. The great days remind me to acknowledge and praise the work I do; the not-so-good days inform my future steps. And so the ebb and flow continues, keeping me humble yet empowered, tentative yet self-assured. I’d bet many of the parents reading this will relate; we walk this road together.

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A beloved moment from our cottage getaway to Sauble Beach, Ontario in August 2015.

Today, I celebrate my Mama, as well as my mother-in-law and my grandmother, the beautiful mother figures whom I am fortunate to have in my life. I bow to them in deep gratitude. I also celebrate myself, and express gratitude for all those triumphant and not-so-pretty moments on this incredible journey. May those experiences continue to remind me to stay present and be the best mum I can be, every day. This morning, I raise my mug of peppermint tea to all the other mothers who walk this brilliantly crooked path.

When opportunity knocks

We had just returned home following a wonderful day of adventure and sightseeing in Rotorua on our eighth day in NZ. On my way to the kitchen to prepare dinner, I sat for a moment at the dining room table and opened my laptop to look up a recipe for salad dressing. Facebook was open in another tab, letting me know of a new private message waiting for me, from a local fellow yoga instructor whom I met on Instagram. Her daughter was feeling unwell and she was desperately looking for a teacher to cover her 5:30 p.m. class at the local gym.

Before I had finished reading the message, a voice somewhere in my head protested, “I’m not ready!” and “I have never led a class at a gym before, let alone in NZ!” It continued with, “What will everyone think of me? I speak with a North American accent and they will immediately think that I’m an outsider who doesn’t belong at the gym. They will surely miss Melissa and might feel annoyed that I came in to take over her class.”

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I had worked for years to silence those old insecurities that once kept me tightly bound, holding me back from everything I wanted to do. When an exciting offer would arise, the timid girl would step back into the shadow, keeping her gaze at her feet, afraid to make eye contact with someone who might see her for what she truly is, yet at once also wishing so desperately to be seen, to be recognized. Let it be clear that I have always enjoyed leading yoga classes and have every intention to continue doing so in NZ. I simply did not expect an offer to arrive so soon following our move.

With a deep breath, before I could change my mind, I agreed to guide the class. Mr. Wanderlust happily treated the Wanderlust Juniors to fish and chips for dinner. During the drive to the gym, in a bubbling emotional cocktail of excitement and nervousness, I smiled in gratitude for an opportunity that found me so soon in my new home.

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One of the benefits of being a yoga instructor is that I am able to remind myself to breathe deeply as I guide the class to do just that. As I invite the group to move with awareness, I speak slower, more calmly. I chose to teach yoga to share its gifts with others, to allow them to enjoy the magical effect born from the synergy of the breath and controlled movement. In paying attention to the physical alignment of the clients in the room, I forgot about any insecurities I might have felt earlier. How silly I was to think about perceptions when it was never about me. Instead, I was there to create an enjoyable and rewarding experience for my clients, as I intend to do each time I step onto my mat to face those who have arrived to dedicate a special hour to themselves.

It might not have been the most successful class I have ever led. Later, I laughed at the memory of having cued the group to shift their right foot a few inches to the right-hand side of their mats in low lunge, or to keep their gaze a couple of feet to the front of their mats in Warrior III. I made a note to myself to use metric measurements next time.

Oh yes, there most certainly was a ‘next time’ the following week. Due to circumstances that benefit both Melissa and me, the Wednesday evening class is now a regular on my schedule. I am glad that I silenced the old doubts and fears and said ‘yes’ when presented with a special opportunity. I am also grateful for an accepting group with a great sense of humour, which I can confidently attribute to all the kiwis I have met here to date.

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When was the last time you said ‘yes’ to life while feeling unsure of yourself? How did you feel in the process? What was the outcome? Please share your story in the comments below. 

Thank you for reading.

Those pesky fluctuations

Yoga chitta vritti nirodha. – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

NOTE: My family and I will be on a wee break until the week of April 24th, when I will next update this blog. I will continue to check in on Facebook and Instagram, so please follow me there.


Antelope Canyon Katia

The weather patterns in my part of the world have been erratic, with rain and 5°C one day, then sun and 19°C a few days later. Spring tends to be lazy in Ontario. In Ayurveda, it is believed that nature and its elements greatly influence our inner state. If you have been feeling tired and your thoughts and emotions have been running in myriad directions as of late, you are in good company. These days, I vacillate between wanting to start ten different projects and craving a long nap, and that is okay. Nature is curious and we are curious beings, though in our quest to create some semblance of stability we, in effect, sometimes end up with enormous frustration.

Yoga teaches us that changes are inevitable. Sutra 1.2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states that ‘Yoga chitta vritti nirodha,’ or ‘Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.’ In fact, it is not only the mind that we attempt to still, and try as we might, activity will always continue to occur in some manner. So, what exactly is the point of attempting to still those fluctuations, and how can we bring about a state of stillness?

When I first started practising and studying yoga and meditation, I expected to experience that often advertised stillness and was looking forward to the transformation toward complete clarity in everything I do on a daily basis. As miraculous as yoga and meditation might be — and they truly are magical — I soon learned that to continue to enjoy their benefits, I must continue to practise. Just as nature is in a perpetual state of flux, so are our minds, emotions, and physical bodies. Nothing in this world is constant. We continue to grow, learn, and evolve, as do others around us. Yoga and awareness practices help us to understand these changing states and accept their ebb and flow, and in so doing, we practise merely staying afloat and learning to become more adaptable, more agile, as we learn to surf with reverence on the surface of the vast ocean of wisdom. 

If changes are inevitable, then the only way to the other side is by accepting what is. Yoga and awareness practices might not cease our thoughts from occurring altogether, but perhaps, slowly, we might learn to ignore the constant chatter and listen only to what is most important here and now. Over time, the volume of the chatter might become reduced to a mere whisper somewhere at the back of the mind. As we learn to be compassionate with our thoughts, accepting that they are there but choosing to give up attempts to chase them down the rabbit hole, we start to also become more compassionate toward others around us and their opinions and personality types. To me, acceptance and compassion are the definition of living in harmony with ourselves and the world around us. And truly, life is much more pleasant when we make the choice to accept its changeable ways.

Many of us come to yoga and meditation in an attempt to find that elusive sense of stability and grounding, and that is precisely what we should be doing, but perhaps it might be beneficial to slightly tone down our expectations. As a person of Vata dosha (air element), I constantly strive to find my footing. Instead of seeking solid ground, I have learned to think of the surface beneath my feet as a surfboard that sometimes washes ashore for short periods of time, allowing a reprieve. Soon enough, the tide will rise again and I will be adrift. I remind myself to continue practising, to dig deeper to find my balance and allow my heard to open to possibilities. That is how we learn to enjoy the current.DSCN6735Comments? Questions? Please leave a note below. If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please click ‘share’ to tell others about it.

Renewal

Oh, Spring! I want to go out and feel you and get inspiration. My old things seem dead. I want fresh contacts, more vital searching. – Emily Carr

A few captures from the past week:

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As we welcome Spring in the northern hemisphere, we are invited to reflect on what, in our personal lives, is waiting to be reawakened. What has been dormant throughout a winter of hibernation and a lazy pace?

Last week was the annual spring break for the Wanderlust Juniors, though the weather made it feel more like mid-January with a windy, cold start to the week. We could be found at home, nursing ourselves to good health; I’m still waiting for my voice to return after a bout of laryngitis. In seeking comfort, we turned to the typical old-fashioned — or maybe the currently trendy hygge-esque — wool blankets and mugs of tea with honey, made forts, watched movies while munching popcorn, and crafted. Today, however, I feel ready to return to my routine and renew my intention to create magic.

I am renewing my commitment to sit in meditation for 10-15 minutes in the morning, following my physical practice. Although I love meditation for its soothing quality and as a disciplinary practice, my practice has lately become sporadic. I am ready to reignite the spark of inspiration.

Is there an intention that you are ready to renew? Please tell me about it in the commends below. 

Favourites from around the web:

I am made of equal parts wanderlust and homebody fibres, as is this writer.

Guided meditation from Tara Brach.

Inspiring podcasts.

More on decluttering.

Wisdom from Mary Oliver.

From the archives:

Feeling yoga.

What meditation is really like.

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“Hibernation.”

Wishing you a week of gentle awakenings and inspiration! Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Three relationships

treatfortI opened my email inbox this afternoon to find the Daily JOMO newsletter from Christina Crook. In today’s quest toward a slower, more mindful life, Christina invites us to focus on three important people and to dedicate some time to them. When I first heard of the idea of choosing merely three people toward whom to direct my attention, I felt limited, immediately retorting that I am fortunate to have more than three people in my life about whom I care deeply and whom I wish to honour. Yet, I don’t believe that we are meant to think of the invitation in absolute terms. The choice can be turned into a daily ritual of intention-setting. The people we choose might be different every day or might remain the same for a week at a time. It does not undermine our relationship with anyone else who is dear to us.

I considered my day today, at home with the Wanderlust Juniors, feeling tired due to the new adjustment to daylight saving time and having been awakened too early to tend to a boy with a — thankfully — mild case of food poisoning. My attention was required here, ready to assist with the construction of play forts; entertaining two little artists by sharing the pages of a colouring book; making raw chocolate treats; and slicing apples at snack time. Here were two relationships that demanded my undivided attention. The third person was my mum, who brought along treats for teatime and with whom I enjoyed a couple of lovely — albeit short — hours.

The three people often choose us. All that is required of us is to accept the invitation to remain present.

Please remember to click ‘share’ to tell your friends about Mindful Daydreamer.