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Mindful : December 2018
life’s vast array of surprises and opportunities. Try this: Grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down some of the labels you hold tightly to as truth, starting with your early years. Most of us encounter labeling within our own dear families. Do you think your mother labeled you with the same labels your father used? How about your siblings, or your grand- parents, or your nieces and nephews? Now go beyond your home and consider your friends, teachers, romantic partners, employers—think about the various labels you’ve wound up with in all facets of life. How did these spoken or unspoken labels affect you? Did you try to live up or down to these labels? Did you fight them or embrace them, or even notice that you were letting yourself be typecast? And how about your present situation? Have you taken on new labels? Are there old ones still peeking out from the past? Imagine your life as a sitcom, with you as a central character. Who’s in your main cast? Who have you tagged as trusted friends? Nemeses? Love interests? As you move through your daily life, notice how quickly you label and are labeled. If you can, go a step further and consider: Which labels are you taking on yourself? Which labels are you im- posing—perhaps unfairly— on others? Then imagine all those labels falling down around you like rain. See if you can let yourself be present without any labels at all. Just here. Just now. Breath- ing. Being. Once you’ve spent some time getting to know your labels, having a little fun with them can be a great practice. For instance, if you’re the quiet one, see what happens if you label yourself outgoing and start a conversation. If you identify yourself as a “Type A” person, what happens if instead you label yourself as laid back, and slow down on the freeway? We don’t have to like how it feels. We can try on different hats, exploring as many experi- ences as we can. We aren’t likely to ever stop labeling. It’s so auto- matic, and it’s completely natural. But we can take time to notice, to see what we lose or gain when these labels remain unexam- ined, and through that we can gain an exciting new perspective on ourselves. We can break free from our personality prisons—even if just for a little while—and with that new freedom we can open up to a life of dis- covery, richness, and fresh possibilities. ● LABELS CAN HELP US BRING ORDER TO CHAOS IN AN INSTANT. THE CHALLENGE IS THAT EACH PERSON AND SIT- UATION IS MORE THAN ANY ONE LABEL YOU MIGHT GIVE IT. 28 mindful December 2018 inner wisdom