Burke Toastmasters

Since I joined  Burke Toastmasters in September 2016, I have reaped innumerable benefits.  I have become a more resourceful and confident speaker, my creativity has been enhanced, and my leadership skills have been strengthened. I recommend the organization to anyone wishing to approach or deepen the understanding and practice of public-speaking and leadership. At Toastmasters you will find a non-threatening, supportive, and inspiring environment in which to grow and cultivate meaningful relationships. Please, go to Burke Toastmasters for info on our club. I hope to see you at one or more of our meetings! We gather on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Thursday of each month from 7:30-9:00 pm.

“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” -D. H. Lawrence 

Monica Mulholland
Vice-President of Education
Pathways Base-Camp Manager
Burke Toastmasters

Toastmasters International, where leaders are made.

Toastmasters 2016

November 2, 2017
Not all of the Toastmasters’ speeches make use of technology such as Power Point presentations (for some examples of these, see two below). In fact, whereas the use of visual aids is encouraged, most speeches are given without slides. That was the case of my speech # 9: “Stop and Smell the Roses”, a persuasive speech. The transcript is as follows:

Zen-rocks-copy

In spite of individual characteristics that attest to the opposite, the United States is a nation that loves to plan months, sometimes years, in advance. That obviously has many advantages: people tend to be organized, and they usually get things done. However, this is achieved at a high cost.

One of the problems with so much planning is that we tend to live in the future without embracing the present moment as much as we should. We are constantly on the go, on our way somewhere, or crossing things off a to-do list (Byrne, 2016). This can cause stress, anxiety and depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (18 % of the population) every year. That’s a staggering amount of people! There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and those disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. As we know, anxiety can be reinforced by our daily habits.

I’m going to focus on our daily habits to propose that we might be able to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression if slow down, if we “stop and smell the roses” every now and then. “Stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché, but new research suggests it is sound advice for finding satisfaction in life. A study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences suggests that appreciating the meaningful things and people in our lives may play an even larger role in our overall happiness than previously thought. Obviously, we can appreciate what’s around us if we stop momentarily our auto pilot, the do do do machine, the go go go machine. Sometimes, we are not even aware we are riding the go go go machine.

Let me give you a personal example, when I moved from Argentina, I was shocked when, soon after being admitted to grad school at George Mason university in 2005, I realized I had to start the spring semester right away, in January, in the middle of winter! I innocently expected to start it in the spring, in late March or early April.

I quickly got used to this habit of anticipating the seasons two or three months earlier, but when we stop and think about it, by living in the future at the rate we are doing right now, we are wasting precious moments in the present, we’re wishing our hours, days, months, and even years away. And here’s another example, I’m sure you’ve been exposed to some Christmas commercials already. I certainly have, since mid-October! Believe it or not, some TV shows are about the Holiday Season already.  Please, don’t show me another Santa or reindeer; we haven’t made it to Thanksgiving, yet!

Many people in their fifties, I’ve noticed, can’t wait to retire… and the list goes on and on full of examples that just erase the “here and now”. I’m exactly in my mid-fifties, so I decided I wanted to do something about it before it was too late. Three years ago, I started to get involved in Mindfulness meditation practice, which is meant to train you to appreciate the present with whatever it brings.

In fact, my relationship with meditation goes back to my childhood. I was 7 or 8 years old when my parents took me to a doctor specialized in asthma. They had consulted a great number of doctors since I was diagnosed with the disease at the age of three. I was put through many different treatments, but none of them worked, until one of the doctors, Dr. Koziak, prescribed meditation, which he called relaxation. He also prescribed nebulizer therapy with natural herbs. This was the year 1969. Thanks to that treatment, even though my asthma never fully disappeared, I have gone through many years without any symptoms. When they flare up, I know how to treat them myself. This type of treatment, the same as talk therapy, takes time; it’s not the magic pill that solves all problems overnight. It requires patience and commitment.

Like most of you here, I also live a hectic life, of course. My husband blames it on the east coast, but that’s another story. I’ve lived like this since way before I moved to the east coast. Anyway, lately, I have been experiencing muscular pain and fatigue, so, now, I’m at a point in my life in which I want to make meditation an integral part of my day. With this in mind, last month I enrolled in an intensive 8 week course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program that focuses on one of the books by John Kabat Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  Book

This course is led by a knowledgeable and loving couple, Rebecca Hines and Hugh Byrne, at the Mindfulness Training Institute in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Mindfulness is defined as “the ability to pay attention to the present moment with intention, with purpose and without judgement as if your life depended on it” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). It is the art of non-doing; just being. It is our capacity to nourish ourselves for a few minutes per day to be able to approach reality as it is for each of us. This is achieved mainly by meditation practice, during which you usually sit quietly paying attention to your breath. It is to be done every day during approximately 20 minutes. Several times a week, it is advisable to add stretching and core exercises to engage the body as well. Mindfulness allows you to get in touch with yourself, and to find peace within yourself.

This reminds me of a story of a fish, more precisely an ocean fish. He approached an older fish and asked, excuse me, can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?

The ocean, said the older fish, is the thing you are in now.

Oh, this? But this is water. What I’m looking for is the ocean, said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere.

Fish

If you feel you’re constantly running around searching for answers out there; if you can admit at least to yourself the absurdity of rushing non-stop; if your life is often filled to the brim causing you stress, you might want to start to practice meditation.  Take a few minutes each day sit back by yourself, relax, and smell the roses.

References
Byrne, H. (2016). The Here and Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and for All. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Kabat-Zinn, J.  (2013). Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. NY, NY: Bantam Books.

October 5, 2017
Toastmasters allows me to share with a friendly audience my feelings and thoughts about my family, friends, work, trips, dreams, outlook on life… the list is endless! Here’s an example. My speech #8, Unconditional Love, took the audience on a journey through the last five years of my life in the company of Abby, a yellow Lab that has touched my heart forever:

 

September 7, 2017
As a Toastmaster, I had the opportunity to share my experience in Cuba briefly (in 7 minutes) with my fellow Burke Toastmasters in my neighborhood. As is customary, I got formal feedback from my evaluator (a knowledgeable and supportive peer), and lots of feedback slips from other participants (12 total). One of those touched me deeply: “It was great to hear about Cuba in a way that is different from that in the media.” To what I humbly say, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Here are the slides I used to support my speech on :

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