Moving Into Balance
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
1 February 2021
“To keep the body in good health is a duty. Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
It turns out Moms everywhere were right: you are what you eat. Most of us are smart enough to have recognized the fundamental cause and effect of a bad diet, at least in terms of our appearance. We get it that eating fast food 3 meals a day will make us chubby and set us up for heart disease. But a less-than-optimal diet has mental consequences as well, and it can be eye-opening to recognize that our mental stuff isn’t all in our heads.
Aside from the obvious consequences to our physical health, diets high in sugars and processed foods are also linked to Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without hyperactivity), autism, anxiety and depression, behaviour disorders, irritability, aggression, schizophrenia, addiction, low performance on exams, and even high crime rates.
Just as our cars need good quality fuel to run properly, our bodies and minds do too. Our bodies are not designed to process synthetic foods and concentrates such as sugar. When we eat these things, rather than giving us necessary fuel they deplete our bodies of nutrients and become a source of stress in our systems. Our bodies respond to stress- whether we’re dealing with bad traffic, an upsetting emotional experience, a threat to our survival, or bad food- by releasing adrenaline, which surges through our system to catapult us into action- fight or flight- leaving us in a mental/emotional state of aggression or fear. When this chemical reaction takes place over and over, our adrenals get burned out; fatigue sets in, our immune systems struggle, and we have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, or remembering things. Stress is cumulative and comes in many forms. While we can’t control all of the stressors we are exposed to in life, we can control what we put into our own mouths.
“My body is the shape I live in,
and it shapes the way I live.”
~ Raquel Welch
Chemicals and sugars in our foods also distort our perceptions. I have a dear friend who is very self aware, and who shared with me her experience. The child of two alcoholic parents, she struggled with alcoholism herself before overcoming it; sugar addiction, however, has been very challenging, especially as it is so prevalent and is “socially acceptable.” When she has been able to eliminate sugar from her diet, my friend notices she is calmer and kinder, and that her perceptions are also brighter. On sugar, she finds she takes things personally and gets easily triggered into anger and reactivity; her perceptions of others’ actions, words, and motives is skewed and negative. It is only because she’s been able to attain some control over her diet that she’s been able to recognize this, by experiencing the contrast between being OFF sugar and being on it. But most people are not that self aware. Most people do not stray from their habitual diets long enough to experience what could be possible for them, never recognizing this may be at the very root of their unhappiness, reactivity, distorted perceptions, and broken relationships.
When our bodies are clean inside, they run like well-oiled efficient machines: aches and pains go away, we have more energy, and we sleep better. Inflammation decreases, including the inflammation of reactive mental patterns. Both physical and mental imbalances begin to ease back to a healthier state. We are able to think more clearly and calmly, our memory and outlook improve, our concentration is better, and we find we are more capable of handling the unavoidable stressors in Life as well.
Self Care Suggestion: Begin to increase your consumption of whole, natural foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. Try starting your day with a piece of fresh fruit before you eat anything else, or exchanging your usual breakfast for a fruit salad sprinkled with chopped nuts. Make it a point to have vegetables at lunch and dinner. Have some ready-prepped snacks on hand for when you get the urge to munch, so you make it easy to eat healthy: baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, grapes, bananas, a handful of nuts, and apple wedges are all excellent choices when you need a quick pick-me-up or something to grab on-the-go. Whatever your current diet is, even a little shift in the direction of cleaner foods will have big pay offs in both your body and your mind.
The Root of Happiness
The Root of Happiness
25 January 2021
"Happiness isn't caused by getting something you wanted.
It is experienced when you get something you wanted
because, for that moment, you stopped wanting."
The desire for happiness has surely been around as long as humans have. It often has us on a quest for "more:" something else, beyond our current situation, which we believe will bring us this desired state. Our feeling of unfulfillment is at the root of obesity, gluttony, debt, and dysfunction in our relationships- conditions that most assuredly do NOT contribute to happiness.
A lifetime of experience has shown me the truth of these teachings. I remember one particular incident many years ago, when I had gotten something very special I had wanted for a long time. Upon getting that situation, there was a lot of work and adjustment required, as is often the case when we've had a big change in our lives. A friend said to me, "You must be so happy now!" My honest reply, out of the awareness of my own mind was this: "Actually, it's strange to notice that my internal state is not much different than it was. I am just as happy and unhappy as before, I simply have different reasons for being happy/unhappy!" Once I'd gotten beyond the initial excitement of getting this long sought-after situation, my habitual default ratio of happy/unhappy was unchanged, leaving me with the reminder that happiness truly is an inside job.
There is a wonderful documentary on this topic, aptly named Happy. It includes research and interviews, talking with people from all over the world and a wide range of circumstances about happiness. In conducting this research, they discovered that "people's values are among the best predictors of their happiness. People who value money, power, fame, and good looks are les likely to be happy than people who value compassion, cooperation, and a willingness to make the world a better place...People who express their love - who rejoice in the health and happiness of others - are more likely to feel loved and happy themselves. Happy people have better relationships, are healthier, and have happier children. They have fewer conflicts and are less likely to commit crimes or pollute the environment. Happy people also tend to be socially responsible - they improve the communities in which they live." The documentary also showed that, once our basic needs and comforts are acquired, having more does not bring exponentially more happiness and often actually leads to more stress as we attempt to maintain and manage all those extraneous things in our lives.
Recognizing that the pursuit of external things is like the water of a mirage rather than the fountain of happiness, how then do we achieve happiness? By cultivating happiness right now, this moment, in whatever circumstances we are in. When we are happy, we feel complete, content, fulfilled. We feel that nothing is lacking. And here's a bonus: generating those feelings inside us takes far less time, energy, and money than chasing external things AND is far more successful in bringing us our desired results!
Self Care Suggestion: Take just 5 minutes to be fully present in the moment you're in. Feel your seat beneath you. Feel your body. Then bring your attention to your heart space, and feel your breath here. Silently say to yourself, "What would it be like to feel happy, content, at ease?" and feel the internal response. Sometimes just asking yourself this question is enough to generate the feelings within you. Bask in this feeling for 5 minutes or more. Realize that your happiness is available right here and now, and that - regardless of your current circumstances - it is within your power to experience it.
"When Momma Ain't Happy..."
"When Momma Ain't Happy..."
18 January 2021
I've recently had two experiences that exemplify how profoundly and directly we can be affected by the energies of those around us. While horses demonstrate this phenomenon quite clearly, we humans are often unconscious of it. This awareness points to the importance of keeping ourselves balanced, peaceful, and happy, as our our internal states have effects that carry far beyond ourselves. It also points to the importance of being selective about those you spend time with, as their energies will affect you.
My mare, Tiara, is a sensitive girl and gives me lots of learning opportunities. The stress of cold weather recently has brought an increase in her usual sensitivity, as well as suspected ulcers, and she has been more agitated, impatient, crabby, dominant and reactive than usual. Monica, my sweet mild-mannered mare, has always been "low man" in the herd, but this has become exaggerated in response to Tiara's increased intensity. Monica has been more wary and on guard, wisely distancing herself from Tiara and often positioning herself with a fence between them. Josh, my third herd member, isn't as strongly offended by Tiara's intense energy, but is clearly annoyed with Monica's insecurity and so drives her away.
The past 3 days, I began some dietary adjustments and supplements for Tiara, to soothe her stomach and calm her nerves. Additionally, I've been more diligent about using flower essences for each of my horses: Tiara currently gets Transform Anger, Calm Child, and Male Support (which contains Impatiens, excellent for easing impatience). Monica is on Courage and Athlete's Spirit (both help with confidence and a stronger sense of self, and Athlete's Spirit is particularly good for strength, energy, and a grounded, embodied physical presence). Josh gets Athlete's Spirit as well as Cleansing Fire (to help clear past patterns and engage him in a more grounded way with his body).
I am amazed at what I'm witnessing just 3 days into this. Not only is Tiara calmer and more content, but the whole herd dynamic has shifted. Tiara has stopped running Monica off the hay piles and they are actually nibbling hay side by side! Monica is engaging with the other two more than usual, hanging out or napping in a close knit group, sometimes even playing with obstacles together (normally Tiara would greedily possess these too, running Monica away). Instead of being insecure, wary, and hanging back, Monica now comes right up and confidently takes her place among the others. Even Josh seems more content and peaceful; his own dominant tendencies have settled and he is being friendly with Monica. The herd is more integrated and balanced, and each individual is more at ease.
"Make yourself so happy
that when others are near you they become happy too."
~ Yogi Bhajan
Now for my other recent experience. I was working with a horse at Horse Protection of Florida last week. This horse, I'll call M, had a history of abuse, ulcers, and a lot of things being forced on her that caused her pain. Morgan, who runs HPAF, says this horse has been harder to keep weight on than any horse she's ever dealt with (which is saying a lot, since Morgan has successfully rescued hundreds of horses from starvation and turned them into healthy, thriving individuals.) Morgan's goals for my sessions with M are to make her more comfortable and reduce stress, in hopes of helping her better maintain weight. I've worked with M a few times before, and she often prefers off-body work and Reiki to a more hands-on approach. She needs to know that her boundaries will be respected, and that she can be in control of her experience.
As I entered M's stall this time, she was napping in the back corner and immediately put her ears back at me, letting me know she did not want her peace disturbed by anyone “doing” anything to her. I decided to simply focus on centering myself and see where M wanted to take things from there. Staying at the opposite corner of her stall, I worked on myself, creating a space in which she could let her guard down, free to take from my internal workings whatever she wanted and apply them to herself if she chose.
This session was the ultimate “doing FOR the horse, vs. doing TO the horse," and she LOVED it! More valuable than engaging with her, was giving her the experience of a human honoring her boundaries, honoring her desire to have space and to NOT engage. As I began, she took a deep breath and began to relax. As I tuned inward and focused on grounding, M squared up (rebalanced her body posture), passed gas, and did lots of licking. A short while later, she repositioned herself to face me directly, deeply relaxing and licking some more. As I ran my spirals, she arched her entire spine into a huge “giraffe stretch," then squared up again, doing more licking, going into deeper relaxation.
Just as rewarding to me as M's response to my inner work was that the entire barn became peaceful, quiet and calm during the session. The horse in the next stall stayed close on the other side of the wall, deeply relaxing as well; the horse on M's other side who constantly wind-sucks (chronic habit associated with nervousness, stress, and pain) ceased doing so and became quiet; the horse across the aisle who had been incessantly and impatiently pawing, stopped and settled into stillness. Throughout the barn, I heard the sounds of relaxed, peaceful horses: lots of licking, blowing, and deep sighs.
Horses are very sensitive. They feel the internal states of those around them as if they were their own states. People, too, feel and respond to these things - albeit often unconsciously. Taking a lesson from what my herd and M demonstrated, we are reminded of the importance of tending to our own inner states - not only for the well-being of ourselves, but for everyone with whom we come in contact, and for the wider world as well. This is where our power lies. The shift we want to see in the outer world begins within each one of us. "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."
Self Care Suggestion: Spend 5 minutes each day in meditation. Set a timer, find a comfortable place to sit, and focus on your breath. Breathing in, imagine peace and happiness filling your entire being. Breathing out, relax, let go, and make space for the next inbreath.
Structure Governs Function
Structure Governs Function
11 January 2021
The phrase "Structure governs function" is a basic principle of chiropractic and osteopathic medicine. It refers to the understanding that our skeletal system, our structure, is the foundation for proper functioning of the entire body. Without our skeletal system, we wouldn't be able to stand, much less walk across the floor. Additionally, all the nerves which regulate our glands, muscles, and organs- indeed, every aspect of our functioning- originate at the spine; misalignment of the spine/structure can cause compromised functioning of our vital systems. Having our structure in order is necessary for function of any kind.
And so it is with our lives as well. Structure helps us function and makes life feel at least somewhat predictable and reliable- though we know that "the only constant is change," having some sense of order allows us to adapt more easily to those changes. The structures of routines, organization, boundaries, and so on, make it possible for us to function at our best. We get into a rhythm with the days of the week, the times of day, the cycles of the year- our relationship with this rhythm becomes self-sustaining and sustains us.
We each have different needs when it comes to structure and routine, and those needs can vary at different times of our lives. During times of stress, uncertainty or upheaval, there is often a greater need for consistency and structure. When we feel more at ease, grounded, and balanced overall, we may need less routine and crave more variety. Structure can give us a sense of control, which is an important aspect of stress management. Jon Kabat Zinn, in his book "Full Catastrophe Living," says "If you can give a person a sense of control in a situation that feels out of control for them, you will help them, you will reduce their stress and pain." Having structure in at least some aspects of our lives helps life feel a little more predictable, reliable, and certain so that we can be at ease. Then we are able to adapt more readily to the things that do shift and change.
In our current world situation, our normal routines and structures have been dismantled, and many of us have struggled to establish a "new normal." There is a lot of uncertainty and flux. In contrast, there are also new and unfamiliar limitations which can have us feeling uncomfortably restricted. It is a strange paradox. But by taking some steps to create a structure for ourselves within the context of our own individual lives, we can better adapt to the outer restrictions and uncertainties. In this way, we can take control of the things we can do something about, accept the things that are beyond our control, support ourselves in functioning better on a daily basis, and support one another in reducing stress and fear while staying healthy during this challenging time.
"Sometimes reeling in your line and taking stock
is all that is needed to realign yourself to a more stable platform...
Limitations can be reframed to be seen as a functional boundary
that needs to be in place for added support."
Self Care Suggestion: Determine for yourself some ways to create structure in your life to help you feel supported in functioning. Even something small, such as organizing a drawer can reduce stress and provide a sense of order and control. Some other ideas: rearrange your workspace or a room in your home to feel more supportive for you; set time boundaries around work and home activities and stick to them as closely as possible; establish consistent times for eating meals, going to bed, or getting up each day. It can be helpful for those working from home to divide your life into "main categories" and devote at least a little time each day to each one so work doesn't take over every waking moment (for example: work, self-care, kids, marriage, friendships, household, hobbies). If you feel overwhelmed with too much to do and can't seem to get anything done, or feel unable to stay focused on one task at a time, try setting a timer to create a time block as you begin one task; commit to sticking to that one thing during the allotted time, and when the timer goes off wrap it up or bring it to a good stopping point and "bookmark" it to continue another time. These are just examples, but the point is to exercise your power of choice to create some positive, supportive structure in your life. When you do, it will give you a sense of ease and help you function at your best.
4 January 2021
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Happy New Year!
I love this time of year... a time to reflect on the year that's just passed, recognize where we are now, and look forward with positive expectancy. It always feels like a fresh start... a clean slate or canvas, on which we are free to create as we choose.
My husband and I have a tradition each New Year's Eve. Throughout the year, we jot down things to be grateful for each month and put these notes in a special box. On New Year's Eve, we make a cozy fire and pull out our "gratitude box" then read what we've written month by month and review the year that is coming to a close. Sometimes we are amazed to recognize, in hind sight, all that the year has brought. We are reminded of things that we may have forgotten or taken for granted as the year went on and other things took a more prominent role in our awareness. We get a chance to reflect together on our experiences, seeing how they played out over time, and we often feel a sense of awe at the beautiful unfolding of it all. We remember challenges we faced and how big those may have felt at the time, as well as the silver lining we discovered within them and the opportunities for growth. As we complete this ritual, we are filled with deeper gratitude and a recognition that all is truly well, that we are indeed divinely guided, protected, and provided for - which, admittedly, is often hard to recognize in the midst of a difficult time. After reviewing our year month by month, we throw our little notes into the fire, releasing what has been to make room for what is to come.
We then each write privately on a sheet of paper things we are ready to release from our lives. This could be patterns of behaviour, limiting beliefs, or attitudes which we've recognized don't serve our highest intentions; or it might include situations or experiences that used to be a good fit for us but aren't any longer. The important thing to keep in mind is that there should be no sense of "good riddance!" or resistance or judgment about any of these things. As Louise Hay says, it should be like "throwing away yesterday's newspaper." If there's a trigger or a charge around something we want to release, we can be sure we aren't ready to let it go, there's more to learn from the experience first. In this case, asking "What can I learn from this experience/situation?" shifts our mindset to finding value and even appreciation in the experience- with true acceptance, we're better able to set it free. After my husband and I write these things down, we throw this paper too into the fire, symbolically letting the fire burn up and transform what we've surrendered.
"When you let go of the past, you open up to unlimited possibilities in the future...miracles can happen now because you've made room for them."
The last part of our New Year's ritual consists of setting intentions for the next leg of our life journey. We write these out privately as well, then seal them in an envelope and save them to read the next New Year's Eve. I cannot speak for my husband on this, but personally I steer clear of "New Year's resolutions"- with my personality those just don't work, and I end up feeling pressured and set up for failure rather than inspired! I might note a few things I'd like to make time for, like attending a continuing education course or spending more time with my horses. I've found that if there is something I really want to manifest, writing that down helps focus my energy and bring in the support I need to make that come about; this can be lovely and productive, but doesn't necessarily bring the happiness one might expect would come along with that desired experience. Most importantly, though, I like to focus my intention on how I want to BE... happy and at peace... grateful... more forgiving and patient, less critical... more loving... more Present more of the time. When I put my attention on states of being rather than on form, I am happy NOW - the only moment we truly have anyway - and acknowledge that my inner state is not dependent on outer things being any particular way. When I do this, I'm often amazed at the unimagined blessings I experience, as whatever comes in the way of outer form usually matches our inner state. These blessings throughout the year become fodder for our monthly notes of gratitude, and the cycle continues.
Self Care Suggestion: Take a little time to reflect on the year you've just been through: the challenges you navigated, fears you faced and overcame, blessings you've experienced. Having integrated the lessons from those experiences into your being, you can let go of any attachment to them and make space for the new. Next, write out some intentions for the coming year: these might include something you'd like to create or manifest, things you want to give more priority to, or whatever you'd like. It's a clean slate, and you get to fill it however you choose! Be sure to include how you want to BE, how you want to FEEL... Then let this intention be your guiding light, bringing it to mind often, so that more and more of the time you are living in alignment with what you value most.
28 December 2020
"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves, but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
~ Pema Chodron
Compassion is the basis for healthy relationships and a healthy society. As we tend to our own inner well-being and heal what needs to be healed, compassion for others naturally arises. We may have insights into our own minds, our own suffering or struggles, and recognize that others share these same challenges. We can even appreciate our difficulties, knowing that they help us better understand what others may be going through. With this awareness, we can take our struggles less personally, and use what we learn in our own process to help others on the path.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in our little separate lives, that our narrow personal experience can feel all-consuming. At these times, our minds and hearts become constricted, and we forget our connection with others. Focusing on uplifting someone else can help both of us, expanding our perspective beyond ourselves, and opening our hearts and minds. Extending our hands and hearts out to others, we too are blessed, as the channel is blessed by what flows through it.
There are a few cautions. First, like anything, even our loving care of others can be used as a form of avoiding facing our own stuff or taking responsibility for our own needs. No one but us can determine our underlying motivation for acting, but it is useful to look deeply for that answer. Second, many of us have been conditioned to tend to the needs of others before our own, and feel guilty making our own needs a priority; this is a win/lose scenario, and the imbalance won't ultimately serve anyone. To truly serve others in our actions, we must honor ourselves as well. If we overextend ourselves in our efforts to help another, we will end up resentful or angry, and that will damage the relationship rather than strengthen it. Lastly, it's important that our helpful efforts not prevent others from doing things they need to do for their own growth; when we do, we take away an opportunity for them to be empowered, and create codependency instead.
Jesus taught to "love others AS yourself." Notice that he didn't say "love others INSTEAD of yourself"- this would be win/lose mentality, separation consciousness rather than unity, which cannot bring lasting peace to anyone. He was pointing to the interconnectedness of us all, living from a place of compassion, an attitude of win/win, the joy we feel when others have good fortune, and ultimately the recognition that on the deepest level "self" and "other" are one.
May we recognize our shared humanity, and live with compassion for ourselves and others.
Self Care Suggestion: When you find yourself stressed, constricted, or caught up in your own story, think of others. Extend the wish that you, and they, enjoy peace of mind, serenity, ease. Take time to notice others around you, and extend a silent wish for their happiness. Feel the expansion of your heart as you do so, and recognize that when we bless another we too are blessed.
Self-Care Benefits Those Around You Too
Self-Care Benefits Those Around You Too
21 December 2020
“The well-being of the herd is dependent on
the well-being of every individual within it,
and the well-being of every individual is dependent on
the well-being of the herd.”
~ Jackie Lowe Stevenson
Caring for yourself is not selfish. It is, in fact, what allows you to make a positive contribution to the world around you. When we ourselves are happy and balanced, we are a joy to be around, and a positive force for those we come into contact with. And of course, the opposite is also true. We’ve all been on both ends of those experiences.
Self Care is not necessarily an “act,” so much as an “attitude.” Certainly, it can include acts, but it is the attitude or intentions behind our actions - rather than the actions themselves - that determines the results. This is as true in our relationships with ourselves as it is in our relationships with others. If I’m coming from an attitude of lack, limitation, or opposition, then I’m coming from separation consciousness, win/lose mentality, and the results of my actions will appear accordingly. Win/lose always ends up being lose/lose, regardless of which side of that equation I’m on. If instead I’m coming from an inner place of harmony, honoring, and peace, win/win mentality, my actions will manifest results that bring more harmony for myself and others.
For example, most of us think of exercise as an important part of self care, and indeed it can be, if we engage in exercise that’s appropriate for our bodies and that we truly enjoy. In my years of doing bodywork I’ve had many clients who are runners. The people who took up running for the sheer enjoyment of it, who truly loved doing it, never got injured. But the people who ran because they thought they had to in order to lose weight, get in shape, or be “good enough,” etc., always ended up hurting themselves and needing to quit- the underlying intention of self-rejection rather than self-love eventually brought results that required them to honor themselves. The body never lies, and we cannot live out of alignment with our authentic truth for long.
Your relationship with yourself is the basis for your relationships with others, and it will be reflected in all your other relationships. "Compassion for others begins with kindness towards ourselves" (Pema Chodron). If you want to be kinder and more loving to others, be kinder to yourself. If you want to be less judgmental and more accepting of others, start with yourself. Ultimately, recognize that at our deepest level we are all One... how you treat others, you will treat yourself and vice versa; how you think of others, you will think towards yourself and vice versa. Peace and harmony in the world begin within each one of us, in the depths of our own minds and hearts.
Self Care Suggestion: Pay attention to your attitudes and inner talk, and be kind. Know that it is enough to do your best in any given moment, and that your best will be different on a day that you’ve had sufficient rest, healthy food, and nurturing experiences vs. a day that you’ve been pushed to your limits trying to do too much, haven’t slept, or are under stress. Take care of you, and you will benefit everyone around you and all that you do.
Thought: the Basis of Manifestation
Thought: the Basis of Manifestation
14 December 2020
“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from Love,
Born out of concern for all beings.”
The creation of anything begins with thought: thought, word, then action, resulting in manifestation. Our thoughts are creating our reality all the time, but most of our thoughts are unconscious. These unconscious thoughts are stored in our subconscious as old programming based on our perceptions of past experiences. When something in the present feels similar to a past experience, its as if an internal button has been pushed, pulling up the old program like a record on a juke box.
Even our conscious thoughts are usually oriented around past and future- rarely are they focused on the now. Meditation is an opportunity to quiet the surface level turbulence of our minds, and deep dive into the stillness of the present moment. There, the subconscious becomes conscious, and we can literally rewrite our old programming.
Getting the mind still can sometimes be a bit like getting a two year old still, or a Labrador puppy still. It is said that the mind is the hardest muscle in the body to control. One of my massage teachers often said, “Muscles are like children- if you don’t give them something different to do, they keep doing what they’ve always done.” Likewise with the muscle of the mind: sometimes it can be useful to give the mind something constructive to do, rather than trying to get it to stop doing what it’s habitually done.
Affirmations give the mind something constructive to do and let us direct our minds rather than be subject to them. Choose words that feel authentic for you. More importantly, focus on the feeling state they generate within you, as this is the direct route to the subconscious. Combining affirmations with body movement additionally helps cross the barrier between the conscious and subconscious, as physical positions have direct psychological affects and the body itself is always fully in the present moment.
Here is a short series of movements with corresponding affirmations to try:
Forward bend: “I am present. I am here, now.”
Reach up: “I open my mind to the many possibilities available to me.”
Side bend: “I am willing to stretch beyond my past conditioning.”
Clasp hands behind back: “My heart is open. I am filled with joy in the now.”
Twist: “I am willing to see things from other perspectives.”
Forward bend: “I release all cares, worries, and concerns. I am safe.”
Reach up: “I am open to receiving all the good that is available to me.”
Side bend: “Strength and courage flow through me.”
Clasp hands behind back: “I face life’s challenges with an open heart.”
Twist: “My perception is expanding. I’m aware of multiple possibilities.”
Forward bend: “All that I need, I possess in this moment. I am complete.”
Self Care Suggestion: Return to your chosen phrase or word frequently throughout the day, like mini-installments of your chosen programming. Really feel the feeling state evoked by your words. Especially when triggered by experiences or internal thoughts, recognize that you have a choice. The point of power is always in the present moment, and it is the thought program we are running in this moment that determines our future, individually and collectively.
The Power of Stories
The Power of Stories
7 December 2020
As humans, stories are one of the ways we share experiences and understanding. Stories help us learn, grow, expand our minds, and develop empathy for others by experiencing things from another’s point of view. Much of our entertainment, too, is based on stories- whether TV sitcoms, movies, the books we read, or even the news.
But there’s a “flip side to every coin.” Just as a knife can be used to prepare a life nourishing meal or to take a life, stories have their downside. We can become so attached to and identified with stories that we close our minds to any other possibility. We limit ourselves and others to those roles and personas portrayed in the stories, forgetting that we - and they - are so much more than that. When this happens, stories limit and divide us rather than expand and unite us.
Wisdom requires wholeness, which includes being able to see things from all sides. When our perception is limited or stuck in preferential bias, we experience pain mentally or emotionally; we lose connection to our authentic self, and create division and separation between ourselves and others. Our bodies reflect this same principle: when we have physical pain, it is often because an area of our body has become stuck in one or more directional planes; we’ve lost our normal range of motion, our “ability to see things from all sides.”
“The truth is, when the mind is still and at peace,
we have access to everything, simultaneously.”
~ Christine Clemmer
An old story (yes! One example of the value of stories!) tells of several blind men assigned the task of describing an elephant. Each man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only that one part, such as an ear, tusk, foot, etc. They describe the elephant based on their limited experience, and of course each description is completely true but entirely different from the others, and none of the descriptions can provide a complete understanding of the elephant. The men argue, each defending the rightness of his perception and accusing the others of being dishonest or wrong. The moral of the story is that humans tend to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience, and fail to see the whole picture.
In any experience, there's always more to the story than what is apparent. Every so-called "reality" involves so many threads of things overlapping and interwoven with one another. No story can possibly be complete. Being aware of this, we can appreciate each perspective while staying open to the fact that we don't know all that we think we do. We can recognize that our limited viewpoints are the source of our inner turmoil, and seek to open our minds and hearts. We can become more comfortable with not knowing it all. We can open our minds to hearing other points of view, and take down the barriers of prejudice and division.
Ultimately, we can recognize what we all have in common- despite our different backgrounds, lifestyles, cultures, colors, etc. we can we begin to see the underlying unity. We can recognize each person we meet is "just like me" in some way..."just like me" that person just wants to be loved and feel safe..."just like me" that person may be facing challenges, confusion, or loss..."just like me" that person is doing the best they can at this time. That knowing has the capacity to soften our hearts with compassion for ourselves and others.
May we all enjoy the freedom of an open mind. :-)
Self Care suggestion: Recognize stories as stories, and keep some perspective. Like watching a movie, you can enjoy the story and take from it anything that might be of constructive value, but don’t get lost in identifying with it. Try these tips from Brene Brown and Byron Katie:
When you recognize an internal story is causing you pain or making you contract into ego identification, say “The story I’m telling myself is......” (fill in the blank with whatever the current belief/assumption/projection is). This helps to make some space around it, loosens its solid identity, and acknowledges that this is, indeed, a story and therefore a limited perception that may be entirely inaccurate, opening your mind to other possibilities and a fuller perception of the situation.
4 key questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?
30 November 2020
“Intention is one with cause and effect.“
~ Gary Zukav
Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul, teaches a lot about Intention and Authenticity. He describes Intention as the ‘why’ beneath the ‘what’ of anything we do, and says it is the intention behind our actions, more so than the actions themselves, that determines the results.
When we are motivated by things such as Compassion, Gratitude, Acceptance, Appreciation, Generosity, Benevolence, Collaboration and Cooperation, we are in touch with our Authentic Self, our true nature; our actions contribute to peace and ultimately bring positive results for ourselves and others. In contrast, when our underlying (and often unconscious) motivation is based in feeling superior or inferior, needing to prove ourselves, judging or rejecting, resisting, resenting or seeking revenge, we are operating from our lower self, or ego; our actions ultimately lead to division, separation, and suffering for ourselves and others - no matter what short term benefits might be gained.
Take a moment to read those lists of qualities again, and really FEEL them...
notice how your body feels... Your body is always giving you authentic and honest feedback, moment to moment. Notice the expansive feeling of the Authentic Self... and the closing down, contracting feeling when we are in Ego.
These qualities, or intentions, of the Authentic Self and Ego could be boiled down to one word each: Love and Fear. When we operate from our Authentic Self, our actions are motivated by Love, by positive intentions- they bring positive results with the power to unify and uplift ourselves and others. On the other hand, when our deepest underlying intention is rooted in fear, we contribute an energy that leads to negative results and more division and separation between ourselves and others.
When what we’re doing inwardly (our “why”) is aligned with our Authentic Self, our outer actions (our “what”) are most effective and benefit all.
Self-Care Suggestion: First, remember the intention behind your self-care practice itself. Set your intention to treat yourself with kindness, so you can be a force for kindness in the world. Next, with great acceptance and compassion for yourself, start to recognize the deeper underlying intentions beneath your choices and actions. Ask yourself, “Am I being motivated by Love, or Fear?” Check in with your body- does it feel open and expansive, or closed and contracted?
Being human isn’t easy, and living from Love 24/7 is a tall order. Don’t be hard on yourself (more ego) when you notice yourself contracting. Sometimes just to notice and honor our limitations, without added resistance, is all it takes for a little more softening and opening to occur, and little by little we can be a positive force for Love in the world.
Qualities of the Authentic Self: Gratitude
Qualities of the Authentic Self: Gratitude
23 November 2020
Continuing on the topic of Authenticity, some qualities of our Authentic Self are: Love, Gratitude, Joy, Appreciation, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Compassion, Honoring, Presence, Bliss, Openness and Wonder. Though external things can help us access these qualities, they are not dependent on externals. When you connect to your Authentic Self, such as in meditation or other activities in which you are fully present, these qualities or feelings may arise spontaneously. It works in reverse as well: whenever you access or generate these qualities, you touch into your True Nature, your Authentic Self. Today we’ll focus on Gratitude.
One way of accessing the state of gratitude is to think of and acknowledge things in your life that you are thankful for. Even in the most difficult situations, if we can look for something to be grateful for in it, we can transform our experience. Many years ago, one of my friends was having trouble in her marriage and went to a counselor for help. The counselor suggested that every day my friend think of 3 things about her spouse to be grateful for. This was not an easy task at first, but my friend consistently looked for something to be thankful for, especially in moments when she found herself frustrated or upset with him. This practice transformed not only my friend’s state of mind and level of happiness, but also transformed their marriage.
The true value of a gratitude practice lies in the INTERNAL STATE cultivated in doing it- the itemized list of things to be grateful for is simply a doorway into the internal state. As we more frequently live from our Authentic Self, we recognize that the feeling of gratitude is not dependent on external things going our way, but rather is something that we generate from within, regardless of what’s happening outside us. As a bonus, when we focus on generating our desired internal state, the externals often shift to match that, but our happiness is no longer dependent on this happening.
What matters most in any situation is the state of our own consciousness. This is the only thing within our control, and is also what we ourselves contribute to any situation we find ourselves in. It is our state of consciousness- our relationship to experience, not the experiences themselves- that determines our level of happiness and the quality of our lives. Read again the list of qualities of the Authentic Self from the first paragraph, and really FEEL each of them; notice that you can access these feeling states independent of any external cause.
“Gratitude always creates more to be grateful for.” ~Louise Hay
Dr. Tanmeet Sethi, doctor of Integrative Medicine, gave a wonderful TED talk: “Two words that can change your life.” The two words are THANK YOU. Dr. Sethi shares what she calls “the world’s simplest medicine.” You can watch this short 16 min talk here:
Self-Care Suggestion: Practice accessing the state of Gratitude daily. You could journal about things in your life you’re thankful for, or simply pause for a few moments at regular intervals throughout the day to generate the feeling of gratitude. There doesn’t need to be any specific thing you feel grateful for; what’s important is the feeling state. You might do this at mealtimes, or while doing everyday mundane tasks such as brushing your teeth or taking out the trash- this can create built-in reminders to practice gratitude and doesn’t require making extra time in your schedule or adding one more thing to your “to do” list. For instance, while washing dishes I could think "I am thankful to have food to eat and clean water to wash these dishes," or "I am thankful for these dishes which remind me of my Grandmother who I loved."
May we all recognize and receive the many blessings we have to be grateful for. I am thankful for each one of you.
Authenticity: Be Who You Are
Authenticity: Be Who You Are
16 November 2020
“Be who you are. Not who others think you are, not who you think you are, not who others want you to be, not even who you want to be.
Just Be who you ARE.”
~Arthur Lincoln Pauls
Easier said than done, right?
Authenticity, as I understand it, has to do with coming home to our truest, deepest self and living from that place. Authenticity is something that is on one hand very simple, straightforward, direct...but on the other hand, not necessarily easy. Meditation, too, is a simple thing, but you have probably noticed that doing nothing is not as easy as it looks! The true purpose, in fact, of meditation or any other spiritual discipline is to help us access our authentic self, our true nature. Only in the present moment is that possible; only in the present moment can you be in touch with your authentic self.
Sometimes in order to recognize what something IS it can be helpful to point out what it is NOT. We are not in our true self any time we are identified with the thoughts in our head, which predominantly orient around “the story of me,” in the past or future. It’s probably not possible to talk about authenticity without addressing ego. Eckhart Tolle says,
“The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. NONE OF THESE IS YOU.... Give up defining yourself, to yourself or others. You won’t die. You will come to life."
Small children, animals, and anything in nature are embodiments of authenticity. There is no pretense, no attempt to impress or be anything other than they are, and they are fully present in the now. We all start out this way, but as we grow up we are conditioned to conform to the expectations of others and to society, and we start to identify more and more with this outer persona while losing touch with our true self. If you are from a Christian background, you are likely familiar with the passage saying we must “become like little children” in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and also “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”- this is what’s being pointed to here. When we are living from our authentic self, there is harmony (Heaven) within us and we create Heaven on Earth by living in harmony with all that is around us, happily making our unique contribution in the grand scheme of things.
Self-care: There are many ways to practice accessing your deeper, authentic self, so that you can more frequently live from that place which is in harmony with all. Focusing on the breath is one such practice that helps us to disengage from the narrative in the mind, by which you can access your deeper authentic self. Experience the breath directly, just as it is, without trying to control it or make it be any particular way. Let the breath become a portal that takes you out of the "story of me" to something deeper, your authentic self - in this very moment. Be fully present- feeling, hearing, noticing the breath... let it come and go naturally. Let other sensory input and even the thoughts just come in and move through you in the same way, noticing without reaction, without grasping onto pleasant sensations or shutting down to unpleasant ones.
If you are interested in going deeper with this topic, or want more support for your exploration of it, I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth. Or listen to Oprah’s fantastic 10 part podcast with Eckhart on A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Chapter 1) from Oprah and Eckhart Tolle: A NEW EARTH on Apple Podcasts. Here is a link to the first of this series: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/oprah-and-eckhart-tolle-a-new-earth/id1458654443?i=1000434071830
May you be strengthened in living as your Authentic Self.
What Are You Feeding?
What Are You Feeding?
9 November 2020
"Nothing can survive without food. This is not only true for physical beings, but also for states of mind. Love needs to be nurtured and fed to survive, and our suffering also survives because we enable and feed it."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
My compost pile was the recent source of inspiration, bringing to mind this quote. I had looked forward to living in the country again for many reasons, one of which being to live more in harmony with nature. I enjoy gardening and composting- there's something so beautiful about the cyclical process of letting go of what isn't useful and seeing it transformed into nutrient-rich soil, becoming the perfect base for new plants to grow. We pick the plants, nourish our bodies with their life-giving nutrition, let go of the "waste" and the cycle begins again. As the saying goes, "junk" to one is "treasure" to another.
Well, it turns out our compost pile was "treasure" to more than just my garden plants. Unfortunately, we had placed it too near our barn, and soon we were finding evidence of some rodent who had found our hospitality much to his liking. He gnawed through plastic bottles and tarps, and left droppings everywhere (including in my horses' hay, which must have seemed an inviting nest!) Disgusted, I realized I had two options: the usual human solution of destroying things we don't like (i.e. putting out traps or poison), or "removing the causative factor" as we'd say in bodywork. I decided to stop putting scraps in the compost pile and see what happened, knowing I could resort to the other option if absolutely necessary. Well, I'm happy to say that within a few days the unwanted visitor had disappeared completely and has not returned. No "anti-rodent" strategies necessary. I simply had to stop feeding what I didn't want.
The same is true of our thoughts and how they impact our experience - both personally and collectively. If we have a situation in our lives we don't like, for example, it is common to focus on it, talk about how bad it is, and invest a lot of our emotional energy into it. We think the problem is the "other guy"- there's always some enemy or another for us to be against. We don't realize that our very focus on the situation continues to feed it energy and make it more powerful. But we do have a choice. We can get clear about what IS wanted, and shift our minds from feeding the "problem" to feeding the "solution." If you want an end to war, don't be anti-war, be pro-peace. Stop wasting your energy fighting and reinforcing the negative, and put your efforts into focusing on what you want most. Cultivate the feelings of peace, fulfillment, harmony inside your own mind and heart - that will make a bigger contribution to bringing peace to the planet than any anti-war activism, and it will improve your quality of life on the personal level as well. Positive change on the global level starts within each one of us. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
At any moment, we have many options available to us in terms of which aspects of reality we invest our energy in. The ones that thrive are the ones we feed.
Self-Care Suggestion: Whenever you find yourself upset or unhappy about something, pause and ask yourself "What am I feeding?" It's possible that your focus on the problem is keeping it active. There is value in recognizing something you don't want, certainly, but not so you can stay stuck there, feeling like a victim of Life; acknowledging the problem is only of value if it gives you clarity about what you DO want. Focus more on that- it will transform both the way you feel and what you manifest in your life.
Obstacles on the Road of Life:
A Turtle Story
Obstacles on the Road of Life:
A Turtle Story
28 October 2020
“The obstacles on the road of Life don’t take us off track, they put us on it.”
~ Yvonne Adams
Life is teaching us all the time, and communicates through many different “teachers.” Recently I had an encounter with just such a teacher, in the form of a Turtle. As I drove down a long, straight stretch of country road, I saw this turtle up ahead. Rather than meandering slowly across the road as they usually do, this guy was walking with great determination (and dare I say, speed!) straight towards me down the middle of my lane. Even with my car approaching, he had no hesitation and was not deterred in the slightest from his path. I stopped my car in the lane and put on my hazard lights, to protect him from oncoming cars and to warn other drivers; then I got out and attempted to encourage the turtle towards the shoulder of the road where he’d be safe in the tall grass and wooded area. He did not appreciate my intervention. Not the least bit afraid, he was simply annoyed and frustrated with me, expressing himself in little grunts before retreating into his shell momentarily as if to say “Leave me alone! Let me get on with what I’m doing!” Then he'd burst back out of his shell and into full forward motion again. We went through this repeatedly, as I directed cars around us while continuing my attempts to steer him to safety. As he refused to go to the nearest side of the road, I then tried encouraging him to the other side where there was mowed lawn and a driveway, and finally he conceded. From there, he could at least travel safely to wherever he was trying to get to. Phew!
Sometimes we are just like that turtle- stubbornly determined to continue on our familiar or chosen path, unaware that to do so may not be in our best interest. Life keeps trying to look out for us, to redirect us, but we misperceive those redirects as “getting us off course” or being lead into a dense thicket where we fear we’ll be lost. We charge ahead, resenting and resisting the helpful guidance Life attempts to offer.
One might think that moving forward with speed and determination on a straight open road would be the quickest way to your destination- the shortest distance between two points is, after all, a straight line. But sometimes that straight path is a certain “death”- as it would surely have been for this turtle. Going “off course” can actually get us to our metaphorical destination faster and with all aspects of our Self intact. Many times, we arrive at an even better destination than we ever could have imagined when we began our quest.
If we can surrender our own need to be in control and have it all figured out, if we can trust that Life does, in fact, have our back and is always working towards our highest good, then we can start to align our own internal compass with that higher guidance that is always available, always trying to support us. We can cooperate and co-create with Life in a way that ultimately brings harmony not only to ourselves, but to everyone affected by our choices and actions.
Self Care suggestion: Reset your internal compass by connecting to your own “center” several times a day, even if only for a moment, so that it’s easier to do so when you really need to. When you are calm and centered, you come into right alignment with your Self, and can more easily receive the guidance Life offers. When in doubt, get still, go within...feel your breath, feel your body...mentally try on different options, imagining what it would feel like to go this way or that, and move in the direction that feels harmonious, expansive, peaceful.
Slow down, you'll get there faster...
Slow down, you'll get there faster...
21 October 2020
“Slow down and enjoy life.
It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast;
you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
~ Eddie Canter
It can be easy to get caught up in the fast pace of life and the ever-increasing pressures and demands. Sometimes I find myself rushing around in attempt to get everything done, and recognize I am literally getting "a-head" of myself. I have to laugh when I realize my posture is reflecting my mental attitude: my head out in front of me, my body lagging behind trying to keep up! The truth is, our minds can think much faster than our bodies can act. In order to do things well, we need to slow down and bring all parts of ourselves - body, heart, and mind - into whatever it is we’re doing.
One night many years ago, I was driving home in a blizzard. The road had many sharp turns and hills, and the visibility was such that I could only see a few feet in front of me. A little voice in my head said “Slow down, you’ll get there faster!” Though the uncomfortable situation made me want to rush to get it behind me as quickly as possible, I knew that the only way to get to my destination safely and in one piece was to slow down. I recognized this was a metaphor for life as well, one I really needed to be reminded of just then. In Life, too, it can sometimes feel like there’s so much coming at us at once that we can’t see clearly or get traction under our feet. We may want to speed up to get it behind us, or think we have to rush to get it all done, but in doing so we sacrifice the quality of whatever it is we’re doing, as well as the quality of our own lives.
Slowing down and getting present, handling one thing at a time, we do a better job at the things we’re doing, and we “arrive at our destination” with all aspects of ourselves in “one piece" - in unity.
Self Care suggestion: Slow down. Recognize when you are feeling rushed, and give yourself permission to go at a pace that is comfortable for you. Posturally align your head over your heart, your heart over your foundation (seat/feet). Set the intention that whatever you do, you do it as a unified whole: body, heart, and mind in harmony.
“The only way to gain control in a world that’s going too fast, is to learn to slow down. The only way to spread one’s influence wide, is to go deep.
The world we want for ourselves and our children will not emerge from electronic speed, but from a spiritual stillness that takes root in our souls. Then, and only then, will we create a world that
reflects the heart instead of shattering it.”
~ Marianne Williamson