Being Mindful of the Past and the Future

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and doing so in a way that is open to, and accepting of, whatever is the reality of our lives.  It means not resisting our lives but approaching our lives with curiosity and a willingness to be with the present moment.

We often hear in the context of mindfulness that it is important not to be lost in the past (which leads to depression) or in the future (which leads to anxiety).  However, the past and the future have a positive role to play in our lives.

Mindful of the past

The opposite to being mindful of the past is to be always living in the past – obsessing about what might have been, what we could have done.  It is replaying in our head the negative things we have done or experienced – going over and over them so that the past controls us.  We can become obsessed about the past and stuck on what happened, unable to let go.  This inevitably leads to disappointment, frustration, sadness, resentment and depression.

Being mindful of the past can involve a positive approach to life.  If we reflect on our actions and the outcomes, intended and unintended, we can learn from this process, if it is done in a non-judgmental way.   Through reflection, we can really grow in self-awareness and self-management, because we can recognise the negative triggers, our responses and alternative ways of acting and being-in-the-world.

When we engage in gratitude meditation we can revisit in a positive way what has happened for us in the past.  We can appreciate the skills we have developed, the opportunities to acquire qualifications, the support of our parents/siblings/friends, the synchronicity that flowed from our focus, and the opportunities that opened up for us because of our life circumstances.

Mindful of the future

Approaching the future mindlessly can involve obsessing about the negative things that can potentially happen in our lives.  The word “potentially” is used consciously here- much of what we imagine will never happen.  We can easily get into a spiral of negative thoughts that leads to catastrophising- envisaging the worst possible outcome.  Unfortunately, our minds have a negative bias but we can train our minds to be positive in outlook and open to opportunities that may come our way.  A morbid fixation on the future can only lead to fear, worry and anxiety and destroy our potential for happiness in the present.

We need to attend to the future and this can be healthy and positive.  We have to plan ahead for many things such as getting to work, what to wear, what to focus on for the day, what we will have for dinner, what social events we will engage in on the weekend and our upcoming holiday.   Such planning and thoughts about the future are natural.   However, if we become overly concerned about what might happen or how our life will turn out in the future, we can enter a negative anxiety spiral.

Being mindful of the future requires a healthy approach to planning (not planning obsessively) and a willingness to accept what arises in our lives despite our very best plans.  It also means not being controlled by the expectations of others or our own expectations of how things might work out.

A meditation on the past and the future

Tara Brach provides a meditation podcast on exploring the past and the future. In the meditation she encourages you to notice any tension in your body arising from thoughts about the past or the future.  She suggests that you do not entertain these thoughts but let them pass by like the train as you wait at the station.  Her advice is to continuously come back to the focus of your meditation, such as your breathing or sounds that surround you, whenever your mind wanders into the past or the present.

Tara suggests too that if you are focusing on sounds, you could try to tune into the furthest sound you can hear and to rest in the sense of expansiveness that results.  The primary goal, however, is to rest fully in the present.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can become mindful of the past and the future and avoid being captured by either.  We can extract from the past and the future positive thoughts and avoid dwelling on the negative which can lead to sadness and unhappiness.  We can learn to happily appreciate the present moment – the summation of our past and the positive potentiality of our future.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindful Leadership: Being Present

One of the core skills of leadership is the ability to be fully present when interacting with others – whether with managers, non-managerial employees or other stakeholders.  Being present underpins the capacity to influence.  It is the precondition for effective listening, providing feedback and generating the engagement of employees.

Effective listening

To actively listen, you have to be really present to the person you are attempting to engage with.  It means being able to focus on the person speaking and tuning in to their words, nonverbal behaviour and the emotions underlying their communication.  It also requires the ability to reflect back to the other person not only what they are saying but also the emotions behind the words and the intensity of those emotions.  This enables the speaker to feel truly heard.  Being present in such interactions means effectively that you are open to the influence of the speaker – not shut off from their desire to engender some change in what is happening.

To tune into another person requires you to tune out of your own thoughts and to control your own preconceptions and assumptions.  Reflection following an interaction can help you to identify what got in the road of effective listening.

Providing feedback

Being present is an essential requirement for providing effective feedback – whether positive feedback or corrective feedback.  To be able to give positive feedback that is specific, genuine and timely, you need to be able to observe behaviour that should be acknowledged and rewarded with praise.  You need to be present to notice the desired behaviour in the first place.

Providing corrective feedback for inappropriate behaviour or inadequate performance also requires you to be fully present and to manage your own feelings in the situation.  Once you have spelt out the core behavioural or performance issue, you need to be able to actively listen to understand what is going on for the other person – what is impacting their behaviour/performance.  You may even find, in the process, that you have contributed to the problem through lack of clarity of instructions/expectations or inadequate training.   Openness to these possibilities requires being present and attentive to the person you are providing corrective feedback to.

Engagement of employees

Employees, whether managers or non-managerial employees, respect a leader who can actively listen and provided accurate feedback, whether positive or corrective.  They understand and appreciate that by your being present and attentive, you are demonstrating respect for them, their skills and their contributions – the foundation for true employee engagement.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we are better able to be fully present to provide effective listening and feedback to engender commitment and contribution of our followers, whether managers or non-managerial employees.  Being present is the outcome of continuous meditation practice and reflection undertaken on a regular basis.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Insights from Mindfulness

Matthew Brensilver teaches about the relationship between mindfulness and mental health based on his many years of research into treatments for addiction and resultant behaviours.  In one MARC meditation podcast he offers two key insights that derive from mindfulness.

In the podcast, he suggests that meditation practice itself is a form of training that opens us up to the potentiality of mindfulness.  It enables us to pay attention to our everyday experiences, getting in touch with our sensations and thoughts.  Matthew describes mindfulness as accepting our human condition in all its facets with openness and equanimity.  He maintains that this mindful stance generates two key insights.

Insight 1 – the difficulty of being human

If we learn through meditation to accept whatever comes our way, taking things as they are, we come to realise how difficult it is to be truly human.  This openness to experience from one moment to the next means accepting what is with equanimity – even if this involves challenges to our sense of self, career disappointment, interpersonal conflict or ill health.

It takes real courage to face the reality of our lives with full awareness, not hiding in denial or diverted by resentment.  Life often turns out to be very different to what we imagined or hoped for. Matthew states that mindfulness demands that we “make peace with the human condition” and live our lives with genuine acceptance moment to moment.  This is hard to do, even if we are able in the midst of things to express gratitude for what we do have or for the positive experiences we have had in our lives.

Insight 2 – we underestimate the capacity of our hearts and minds

Matthew suggests that our innate capacity is often obscured by aversion to difficulties, striving for “success” or the negative emotions generated by the everyday challenges of work and life.  Fear, for instance, can stop us from being creative and pursuing opportunities for personal growth and development.

Matthew argues that “sustained intention and attention” that develops with mindfulness enables us to tap into our real potential, including the ability to offer unconditional love and appreciation.  If we are able to maintain “continuity of awareness” we are able to access our full potentiality.

For Matthew, mindfulness involves not only being aware of our thoughts and emotions from moment to moment but also the ability to “pour awareness into our body” so that we are in touch with our bodily sensations as well.  He suggests that meditation helps to build this awareness because it offers the opportunity to “experience the dignity of upright posture” while, at the same time, feeling “the pull of gravity” on the rest of our body.

As we grow in mindfulness, we come to realise the difficulty of facing our human condition with equanimity, while at the same time experiencing the depth and breadth of our human potentiality.  Meditation practice helps us to accept what is and to more readily realise our full potential.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness for Self-Regulation

Over the past few months, I have been conducting manager development workshops with my colleague as part of an action learning program for public sector managers.  The program, called Confident People Management (CPM), is skill-based and focuses on developing skills to enable managers to build a productive, mentally healthy workplace culture.

In a recent workshop, two of the participating managers identified issues in their approach to management that related to the need to develop self-regulation.   I will describe each of these issues in turn and discuss how mindfulness could help each manager to develop self-regulation to deal with their particular managerial issue.  The names will be changed to respect the privacy of the individuals involved.

Self-regulation for a racing mind

An integral part of the four-month, manager development program is the workplace practice of skills learned in the monthly workshops.  Each workshop begins with a shared reflection on this workplace practice – what was attempted and what outcomes, intended and unintended, were realised.

John reported that he had been practising active listening in the workplace.  However, the biggest impediment to his effective listening was his racing mind.  Each time someone he was talking to mentioned an issue, John’s mind would automatically start racing, filling his head with ideas and solutions.  He found that he could not stop this mental activity and it got in the road of his active listening.

John could learn to still his racing mind by practising a form of narrow awareness such as mindful breathing.  There are two key elements of mindful breathing that would help John with self-regulation, the focus on breath and the practice of continuously returning to this focus when thoughts arise.

With mindful breathing, awareness of breath becomes the anchor of the meditation practice. Each time a thought arises, it is allowed to float to the surface like a bubble that eventually bursts.  Each thought is noticed but not entertained, and during the meditation the participant develops the discipline of continuously returning to the primary focus of breathing.  This anchoring, through focused awareness of breath, builds the capacity for self-regulation for a racing mind.

Self-regulation for the management of triggers

Another participant, Mary, expressed the issue of being constantly triggered in the workplace and finding herself becoming irritated and angry.  The management of negative triggers is an important skill for a manager in the workplace because they need to model appropriate behaviour and not become the victim of their uncontrolled impulses.

Mary explained that certain triggers led to physical signs of agitation such as tightness in her chest and shoulders and overall tension in her body.  She was able to identify the bodily manifestation of her heightened, negative emotions as well as the inappropriate behaviour that this led to, such as angry words and an aggressive stance.

What would help Mary to manage her response to these negative triggers would be the practice described as S.B.N.R.R. in a previous post.  This practice would enable Mary to develop more appropriate responses to the negative triggers.  The process involves stopping (delaying a response), breathing deeply (to gain control), noticing tension points in the body (to release the tension), reflecting on any pattern in the triggers (to better understand why she is triggered by particular words and/or actions) and responding in a more appropriate way (to gradually increase her response ability).

As managers grow in mindfulness through appropriate meditation practice (such as narrow awareness and S.B.N.R.R.), they can develop self-regulation to deal with issues that would otherwise derail their management of people and the development of a productive and mentally healthy workplace.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of ernestoeslava on Pixabay

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Driving with Mindfulness

Often when you are driving you can become agitated, annoyed or frustrated by the traffic holdups caused by others.  Sharon Salzberg provides a timely reminder that “you are traffic too“.   We focus so much on our own needs in the heavy traffic situation that we lose sight of the needs of others.  Sharon puts this down to the “centrality of ourselves” – where the world revolves around our self-centredness, rather than other-centredness.

Diana Watson too in one of her MARC weekly meditation podcasts, provides us with a meditation that enables us to bring mindfulness on the road.  She describes one of her own experiences when she was running late to conduct a meditation and found her irritation and agitation rising.

Diana found that she was swamped with thoughts and emotions.  The thoughts reflected the negative bias of the brain – “I’m not going to make it on time”, “What will happen if I am late?”, “People may never come again if they are new to the meditation practice!   So, our minds can catastrophize any situation and unsettle us as we are driving.

Another source of emotional disturbance occurs if we then engage in self-recrimination or negative self-evaluation – “If only I had planned for traffic delays!”, “Why was I rushing out the door when I know that I need to have a strong presence of mind to conduct this mindfulness session?’

Bringing mindfulness to driving – noticing thoughts and emotions

What Diana found that she ended up doing was to start noticing, not entertaining, thoughts and emotions as they arose, e.g. “I am feeling anxious (or irritated)”, “I keep thinking that I will be late, and this causes me to become agitated”.   If we start naming our emotions, we can begin to control them.

She also suggests that we can focus on what is going on in our body as these emotions and precipitating thoughts arise.  We can notice the tightness in our chest, the pain in our neck or the onset of a worry headache.  If we can notice the thoughts and name the emotions, we can wind back our habituated response and calm ourselves.

Without this calming mindfulness on the road, we can end up taking more risks while driving, act out our anger and frustration through “road rage” or find ourselves making poor decisions about what choices to make to get to our destination.  Our growing agitation and impatience can frustrate our attempts to arrive on time.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice that grounds us in the present moment, we can more readily deal with situations such as driving in heavy traffic when our needs for timeliness are being frustrated.  We can also bring to the situation self-awareness and self-regulation so that we are not captive to  our negative thoughts and emotions – we can begin to drive mindfully.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of pixaoppa on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Choiceless Awareness

In the previous post, I discussed three dimensions of awareness in meditation – the narrow, broad and “choiceless awareness”.   In this post, I want to focus on the latter form of awareness that, to some degree, requires foundational skills in narrow awareness or focused awareness.

Choiceless awareness is a recognised form of meditation that has developed over time to increase self-awareness and self-regulation.  For example, Tara Brach offers a free, guided meditation on choiceless awareness which incorporates the use of the mantra “OM“.

Choiceless awareness is not directed to a specific focus as in narrow awareness focused on breath or sounds; it is open to whatever enters your inner awareness.  You might become aware of bodily sensations – pain, tightness, tingling or warmth – in your arms, legs, back, shoulders, feet or chest.

You could become aware of your thoughts as they enter your mind and notice whether they relate to analysing, planning, critiquing, estimating, organising or summarising.  You could ascertain whether your thoughts relate to the past or the future – whether they are concerned with past situations/events or anticipated situations/events.  The main thing is not to entertain the thoughts but to let them pass you by, like bubbles floating to the surface and bursting.

You could become aware of your emotions generated by your thoughts or sensations and become conscious of anxiety, fear, joy, peace, disappointment, hope or any other positive or negative emotion.  You could name the emotion and acknowledge it, e.g. I am feeling sad, and then move your awareness to what else is happening for you.

With choiceless awareness, the focus shifts constantly, and this can become disorientating.  What is recommended if this happens is to turn to focused awareness of your breathing to ground yourself again.  This is why it is suggested that even with choiceless awareness, the starting point should be some form of focused/narrow awareness so that you can return to the grounding offered by the narrower form of meditation.

As we grow in mindfulness by engaging in different forms of meditation, including choiceless awareness, we can increase our self-awareness and self-regulation and be better able to manage situations that are stressful.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Three Dimensions of Awareness

In one of her many meditation podcasts, Diana Winston discusses three different dimensions of awareness and leads a meditation that explores each dimension.

Diana suggests that no one dimension is better than the others – each is appropriate for a particular time.  It is also possible and desirable to be able to move from one dimension of awareness to another – this may help when you are encountering the obstacle of restlessness or boredom in your meditation.  Sometimes, too, when you are tired you might find that an open, less exacting form of awareness is useful to help you to pay attention in the present moment with openness and curiosity.

  1. Narrow awareness – Diana likens this form of awareness to taking a photo with a telephoto lens where minute details are captured.  The image for this post by MabelAmber illustrates this focus – providing a close-up view of drops of water on the leaves of a plant.  Focusing on our breathing is an example of narrow awareness – and it can be hard work as we keep trying to return to our focus when our mind wanders, and thoughts interrupt the flow of our attention.
  2. Broad awareness – is like taking a panoramic picture of a landscape or seascape with a camera.  Here you are not focusing on detail but breadth and impact.  Open awareness is a good example of this as you are opening your awareness to multiple senses – sight, sounds, smells, taste and touch. Compared to narrow awareness, this can be a more restful meditation, like coasting on your bike after expending much effort peddling.
  3. Choiceless Awareness – as we are meditating, we can notice things happening in our awareness, e.g. change in our breathing, tension release in our body or strong emotions.  The nature of our awareness can shift over a single period of meditation.  We could begin with a narrow focus, open up to a broader focus by listening to the sounds that are coming to us from different directions and then attend to the emotions that those sounds elicit in us.  This ability to consciously shift the focus of our awareness can enhance our capacity to be present to whatever is occurring in our world.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice that employs the different dimensions of awareness we can build the skill to be really present in the moment of practice as well as in future situations involving interactions with others or undertaking a challenging and stressful task.  The capacity to be in the moment with openness and curiosity stays with us as we engage in our daily activities at work or at home.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Caring through Mindfulness

Caring is integral to mindfulness – we pay attention in the moment with care and curiosity.  We can learn to care for others through  loving kindness meditation as well as learn to care for ourselves through self-compassion.

Diana Winston provides a meditation podcast on the subject of mindfulness and care and stresses the need to care for ourselves as well as for others.  She suggests that people often discount or devalue their inner experience or feelings and yet be consumed by care for others.

Diana asks an important question to enable us to be mindful about caring – her question is, “What or whom do you care for”.  For whom do you express care and concern – a son or daughter, partner, friend or people suffering adversity.  How wide is your circle of care and how deeply do you care?

These are challenging questions because they raise the issue of how often we express care and concern for others – how generous and expansive is our caring?  How many people do we let into our lives through concern, considerateness and thoughtfulness?

Caring through mindfulness

Caring can be the focus of our meditation once we have become grounded through placing our feet on the ground, adopting a restful position with our body (and especially our hands) and taking a few deep breaths.

Our concern and care of our body can then be expressed through a progressive body scan and relaxation of points of tension.  Focus on our breathing will assist us to pay attention to the theme of caring as mindful breathing steadies our mind and enables us to concentrate.

We can focus on an individual and express care for that person and tap into what it feels like to express this care – is the feeling one of warmth, love or genuine concern for their welfare?  How is this care manifested in our body?

We can also express appreciation for the fact that we do care for others and take the time to express that care in words and actions.  We can acknowledge that it is a gift to be able to be sensitive to others and their needs – to move beyond self-absorption to concern for others.

As we grow in mindfulness through caring meditation our circle of care and concern widens and deepens, and we are able to more readily extend care to ourselves.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

 

What Is You Unique Purpose in Life?

In the previous post on Finding Your True Purpose, I drew on the interview podcast by Stephen Cope.  In that post, I explored what Stephen refers to as the “four-stage path of action”.  The first stage, however, discerning your true purpose, is where people often become stuck and unable to move forward, for multiple reasons (including doubts).

Stephen suggests several ways to help you progress in deciding what is your unique purpose in life – what best utilises your knowledge, skills and personality for the greater good.  This can be a challenging task and may take some time to discern – it could involve immersing yourself in an area of interest to establish the needs that are present in that arena.  Research may precede action.

What is your unique purpose in life?

Some of Stephen’s suggestions may help with gaining clarity about your unique purpose.   He suggests that you can focus on three areas to gain further insight into any “unconscious obstacles”.

  1. What lights you up? – what in your life generates positive energy, captures your commitment or engages you over lengthy periods?  The way to access this is to write a list of things that light you up, without censoring the list.  Look for themes or connections amongst items on your list, and you may find a pointer to your unique purpose.
  2. What is your deepest duty right now? – you will have duties as an employee, friend, colleague, parent, citizen, partner.  What duty flowing from any of these roles is felt so deeply that if you do not fulfil it, “you will feel a profound sense of self-betrayal”?
  3. What personal challenges do you face? – do you have a health issue, relationship challenge, a problem involving your child or children or a workplace issue?  What do these challenges inspire you to do? It may mean helping others to show self-care or establishing a support group for parents who have lost a child or for people experiencing work stress.  Some people have established a foundation or committee to enable them to engage others in supporting them in their endeavours to do something for the common good.

Famous people such as Gandhi and Robert Frost found their unique purpose and proceeded  to develop what Stephen calls “unified action” – where you increase your focus on the area of interest and peel away anything that is not contributing to your unique  purpose.     Extraordinary people have achieved extraordinary outcomes but there are many more “ordinary people” who have excelled at what they do because they have realised a singular focus and a commitment to act in accord with that focus.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection (particularly on our interests, our duties and our challenges), we can gain clarity about our unique purpose, find creative ways to fine tune our actions and increase the integration of that purpose into our daily lives.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Finding Your True Purpose

Tami Simon recently interviewed Stephen Cope, author of the book, The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.  Stephen has also produced an eight-week course, Your True Calling, which is available online at Sounds True.

In the interview podcast, Stephen addressed the question, “How do I find my true calling and make a difference in the world?”  This question can be phrased in action terms, “How can I work out how to act in the world in line with my true purpose?”

At the outset, Stephen addresses the very real issue of what he calls, “doubt paralysis”.  We can be frozen in doubt, unable to take a step forward and uncertain that what we are doing is the right thing for us to do.  This can lead to “paralysed action” – where we are not taking up the numerous opportunities to move forward, but standing still.

Determining a path of action in line with your true purpose

Stephen draws on the famous book, Bhagavad Gita, to provide some guidelines on how to find your true calling and head off on an action path that aligns with it.  In the process, he discusses the “four-stage path of action” described in the Bhagavad Gita.  I discuss these four stages below in terms of discernment, alignment, release and elevation.

  1. Discernment – ascertaining your true purpose by identifying what is unique about you, your past life and experience and your special skills and talents.  An associated question is, “What are you uniquely equipped to do?”  The present stage of your life, your location and conditions in your external environment, can point the way for your unique contribution in the world.  Meditation practice can help you clarify your true purpose.
  2. Alignment – focusing all your energies on your identified life purpose.  Stephen calls this stage “unified action”.  It is about aligning all your activities behind your unique calling – letting go of some things you currently do and intensifying your commitment to others that are more aligned to what you want to contribute to the world.  Integration or unification of action brings with it a focus and concentration of effort which, in turn, attracts support and resources.  You begin to see things that can support your endeavours – things that you did not notice before.
  3. Release – Stephen describes this stage as “letting go of outcomes”.  This requires being free of specific goals and avoiding measuring yourself against them.  It entails not judging your success by whether or not you achieve specific outcomes.  Outcome focus can feed your doubts, particularly if you make a mistake at some point.  The release comes from letting go of fixation with outcomes and moving forward in line with your purpose.  Desired outcomes will be achieved if you realise alignment with your discerned purpose.
  4. Elevation – Stephen suggests that this stage involves turning everything over to the divine, however you define divinity.  If you are not spiritually orientated, it means finding a higher purpose beyond yourself and your activity that you can relate to.  This may mean linking into a individual or group that has a purpose aligned to yours but are taking action on a more global basis.

As you grow in mindfulness through different forms of meditation practice, you will gain clarity about your life’s purpose and attract support and resources to enable you to achieve alignment of your activities and release from the shackles of doubt and an outcome focus.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of cocoparisienne on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.