Many people talk about life as being in balance or, more commonly, “out of balance”, and yet, I’m curious, how many of those same people have defined what balance is, or means, to them? Have you? Are you happy, fulfilled, “living your best life?” Would you consider yourself successful, or “living a life of purpose?” These are very popular questions in an age where more people than ever before have food, shelter, time, and money; enough of each to consider the finer points and purpose of life. And, whether acknowledged or not, the answers to these questions are likely fueling your goals and resolutions for 2020.So, before you dive into creating your goals, resolutions, and intentions for the new year, I hope you will consider the following things I’ve learned about happiness, fulfillment, success, life purpose, and balance (aka “these states of being”).
These states of being are all subjective. They are based on personal desires, interests, expectations, habits, beliefs, and each individual’s unique way of experiencing the world. You may think this is obvious, and yet it is easy to forget this very important point when reading and learning from experts who are charismatic, articulate, and learned. Always “check it at the door” as I say to my clients and students. Check everything the experts tell you (and I tell you) with your own heart and gut. You’ll know when a particular piece of advice is right for you by how you feel when you begin to incorporate it into your life. If it doesn’t increase your joy or contribute to your sense of purpose, it probably isn’t right for you.
“Everyone walks their own Camino.” This is a phrase spoken over and over again while hiking the Camino de Santiago; a 400 plus mile hike that my husband and I walked from France through Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Another way of putting this is, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” a well-known quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Your best life can’t and won’t look like anyone else’s best life. In fact, your best life today is different than your best life yesterday and tomorrow.
These states of being are dependent on whatever is happening in your world at any given moment. Your ability to manage the things life throws at you will change based on factors you CAN CONTROL (nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindset, self-talk, how you treat others, and your choices) and things you CAN’T CONTROL (past, future, weather, change, other people’s minds, other people’s happiness, and traffic). One of the keys to finding joy and fulfillment is to invest your energy and time on things you can influence; make the effort to control the things you CAN CONTROL and let go of the things you can’t.
I’m a big fan of the Peter Drucker quote, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” If you have never defined what a fulfilled, happy, successful, and balanced life is to you, how do you know how to navigate and when to recalibrate? Use tools like vision boarding and Wheel of Life to create personal understanding and support you in living your best life.
Gratitude! Really, appreciate it, all of it – even the yucky stuff! This is the essence of life.
Socrates or Plato (both are credited) said, “The unexamined life is not worth living?” I disagree. I do believe, however, that the examined life 1) makes it possible to understand your unique self, 2) provides you with information you need to set fulfilling and purposeful goals, 3) allows for compassion when life gets tough, 4) offers structure in order to recalibrate and learn, and 5) encourages gratitude and a joyful approach to everything life offers you. One morning when I encountered an acquaintance on the street, I said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day to be alive?” His answer still resonates with me, “every day I wake up is a beautiful day to be alive.” Welcome to one more beautiful day friends!!!Sending you love and a great big new years hug!Annamarie
When I was a child, I had two sanctuaries. One was under a huge tree in the woods visible from my house. The leaves of this tree were thick and the ground beneath was soft with leaves and moss. The branches hung low to the ground so that I felt invisible to the world outside (although my house was safely close by and could be seen and heard). My second sanctuary was my bedroom. I had a room at the front of the house with two windows overlooking the yard, neighborhood, and the woods beyond. I pushed my bed under those two windows and sat there reading for hours, immersed in the authors’ story while watching the world outside my windows.
As I look back in time and remember these spaces, I recall the sense of safety and contentment I felt. I’m also noticing the elements that characterize these spaces. What can I learn about creating my modern sanctuary from these childhood spaces?
How comfortable are you being alone with yourself?
My safe space has an element of alone, invisibility, quiet, and yet it must have eyes on the world. For me, watching the movement of the world allows my brain to soften and my mind to wander. I work while watching cars going by from the windows of The Butterfly House. My meditations are eyes open, where I can calm mind and body by regulating my rhythm with the chorus of the world around me.
What arrangements and elements create, for you, a sense of safety?
I prefer to sit with my back against a wall. As a child, I would tuck my body into the corner of my bedroom. When I was under the tree, my back was resting against the security of the trunk. And I realize I need something on which to place my feet. I either place a footstool or a table directly in front of my meditation chair. If I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor, I often place another cushion in front of me. Sometimes I place the cushion or a blanket on my lap. Notice how your body feels when you arrange your space. If you close your eyes and listen to your body in harmony with the space around you, what do you notice?
What colors and textures bring softness to your body and mind?
You might start by asking yourself, What vistas allow your mind to relax and wander? Do you love to overlook fields and valleys, rivers and trees, sparkling lights of office towers, or the ebb and flow of ocean waves? Consider these things when selecting colors and textures. If your favorite place is a beach on the Caribbean, then choose colors that remind you of sand, sun, and Caribbean waters. You may put a hammock or a hanging chair in your sanctuary along with a happy light or a full spectrum light box. If you like rivers and trees, you might collect river stones and place them in a bowl and burn candles to represent bonfires. Your colors may be shades of brown and green with touches of grey.
What words and phrases encourage you to explore your beliefs and values?
Surround yourself with words that open your mind to new ideas and possibilities. If you love to read, place books in your sanctuary that encourage thoughtfulness. I am surrounded by books that I can read a paragraph or chapter that will set my mind down new roads of thought. Poets such as Rumi and Mary Oliver. Authors such as Tara Brach, Roland Merullo, and Robert Wright. Be intentional about the words and thoughts that may penetrate or influence your thinking and allow the wisdom of others to invite you to explore new ways of being.
What sounds resonate with you and make your body hum?
I love to meditate with the free app called Insight Timer. This app has a feature making it possible to choose a chime and set it to repeat at designated intervals. I can create a 20-minute meditation with three repeating chimes, each chime, for me, a reminder that I’m meditating. If my mind has been captured by a story, the chime encourages me to return to my breath, and if I’m deeply in the meditation, the chime invites me to sink deeper. Wind chimes have the same effect (if they are the correct tone). When the wind kicks up and activates the gong in the trees at The Butterfly House, I immediately sense my body moving toward the sound. It’s an immediate call to quiet; my body softens and my mind calms. For you, it may be the sounds of the waves and the seagulls or the wind in the trees and bird song. My suggestion is that you choose sounds, or choose music that doesn’t have words or lyrics, and notice how your body and mind responds. Continue to move toward sounds and music that connect you to the energy of the world around you.
What smells bring you comfort and joy?
This can be a tricky one. Do you know that fragrances, all fragrances, including pure essential oils, are hormone disruptors? 70% of synthetic fragrances contain a chemical called phthalates which disrupt the body’s normal hormone function and have been linked to things like birth defects, breast cancer, and obesity. Any label that says “fragrance” is likely to contain phthalates. If you’re reading this and think, “hogwash,” consider this. Most people will agree that lavender helps you relax. Why do you think lavender has that effect on the body? My research indicates that lavender interacts with the neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which regulates anxiety. It has also been proven to be an endocrine disruptor having a mild effect on the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. My advice to you is to choose wisely, do your homework, avoid scented candles, and less is more. Be intentional about the fragrances with which you surround yourself.
There is no “one size fits all” when creating your sanctuary. Consider gently activating all your senses, stimulating your thoughts, and nourishing healthy emotions. So, Let’s recap:
Know yourself. Create your space in a location where you will use it (a corner of your family room, an empty bedroom away from the rest of the world, or a treehouse in the backyard).
What elements help you feel safe (a locked door, your back against the wall, a weighted blanket)?
What colors and textures calm your body and mind?
What words and phrases motivate you to grow and evolve?
What sounds activate your parasympathetic nervous system (binaural beats, Marconi Union, Enya)?
What smells calm you and bring you joy?
If you’re interested in creating your sacred space and would like additional guidance and coaching, we are offering, in our sacred space (The Butterfly House), the workshop, “Creating Your Sacred Space” on March 18th. Click here for more information.
The Mind Body Align topic for the month is Starting Over, Beginning Anew. The topic isn’t about wiping the slate of your life clean but allowing you to discover your life from a new perspective. What would you see if you could remove from your awareness the habits, beliefs and unrequited dreams that keep you stuck? I mean really, who would you be and what would you know about yourself? Perhaps there is a way to actively move forward in creating your best life by subtly shifting your focus.
Here is one way to begin: First – with colored pens and paper or chalkboard and colored chalks (I use lots of colors to make it visually fun), sit quietly in contemplation or listen to your favorite “feel good” music. Write everything you love about yourself. “I love my nose, toes, ability to relate to people, health, strong voice, etc.” Remember to focus on things you love about yourself”; listing things related to your mind, body, and spirit.
Second – on another sheet of paper or a different section of the chalkboard, note everything that you love about your life. “I love my spouse, children, time that I have to read, time and money that I have to travel, that people trust me, etc.” The key to being authentic in this list is that you feel love as you recall these people and life experiences.
Third – on the third sheet of paper or area of the chalkboard, select one person you love – again, you must feel the love as you recall this person – and list everything you love about them. Now, you have three different lists: love of self, love of life, love of an individual. Finally, ask yourself this question. What is one thing I can do that will bring even more love to this area of my life? Just one thing.
Now, here is a crucial part. This “one thing,” the one action you can create to bring even more love, must come from the heart or gut brain and not the brain in our head. Our thinking mind will look first, to what it doesn’t want and where you “aren’t good enough,” and second, to providing an answer for “improvement.” Are you following me? For this exercise to be authentic, you will want to allow the answer to unfold; to arrive in your mind while being immersed in the sense of loving and being loved. You will know the best action when the contemplation of it brings you joy.
So, let’s review:
What is one thing you can do to enhance what you already love about yourself?
What is one thing you can do to enhance what you already love about your life?
What is one thing you can do to enhance what you already love about your special person?
So much of who we are at this moment is a collection of habits and beliefs gathered throughout the years and decades of our life. I have found, through my own experience, that wiping the slate clean is extraordinarily hard. It’s too much work to make a change that rarely sticks. Real growth doesn’t have to be difficult, and living your best life can be achieved by shifting your focus, and actively moving forward toward love.
Are you willing to take a journey to discover yourself anew? I look forward to hearing about your experience.
The Mind Body Align topic for this month is “infinite possibilities.” Do you live as if anything is possible or, in other words, without limitations? Can I live as if I can achieve or experience anything of which I desire or dream?
What’s your dream?
I invite you to take a moment to bring into your mind a big dream or desire.
I remember my dream to live overseas. I have always wanted to experience life as part of a different culture and fluently learn to speak a second language. I read everything I can find about restoring old villa’s in Italy and the life of an expat.
I dream about the morning ritual of going to the corner café for an espresso and casually bantering in Italian with the bel giovanotto (handsome young man) at the meat market. I imagine walking home through cobbled streets with my baguette di pane (long, thin loaf of French bread) rising gracefully out of my cloth bag.
The moment this dream comes into my mind, however, I am mentally listing all the responsibilities that make this vision impossible.
Each perceived responsibility sounds like the voice of my GPS app – “turn right in 500 feet on Aging Parents Drive” – leading me to a destination that doesn’t include a morning walk along cobbled streets.
I invite you to contemplate the beliefs, limitations or obligations that might eliminate the possibility of realizing your dream?
And yet, there are tens of thousands of people that manage to live overseas. Presumably many of those people have the same obligations; responsibilities such as family, work, and community. What makes it possible for them to live their dream? In asking myself this question, I get the sense that the difference between those that have no impossible dreams, and those that allow their dreams to become impossible, is a choice. So, what’s happening that I have chosen to make my responsibilities a barrier to living overseas?
My mind keeps returning to the fact that my dream looks a certain way. I have my life in Italy completely mapped out in my head. I have so clearly drawn the vision, I have given myself no choice in how my life in Italy would be; I have given myself two possibilities from which to choose. 1) My Italian dream and 2) my family, work, and community obligations.
What might it look, feel, sound and be like for you to honor your obligations AND continue to hold the possibility of living your dream?
Behind the wheel
The first time I visited Italy, I had no plan. My husband and I arrived in the country with a rental car, two backpacks, and a Rick Steve’s travel guide. Every day we woke up, looked at the guidebook, assessed the distance, stopped at a neighborhood café and drove into the countryside with a general direction in mind. Every evening we looked to the nearest town, consulted the travel guide and found an Albergo (hotel) for the night. It was fabulous!
We spent much of our time lost. I butchered the language; once creating a cacophony of laughter from the owner of the neighborhood produce stand by asking for a fish, pesce, when I meant to say peach, pesca.
This memory has triggered a realization. I have allowed, “it’s my way or the highway” tendencies to drive this dream. What if I put “no big deal” behind the wheel? What’s possible if I didn’t set a particular course, and I allowed the route to remain unclear; following the streets and highways that seemed the most desirable and navigable at the moment?
And… living a life of infinite possibility
1) Notice a dream or desire that you eliminated based on beliefs, limitations, and obligations.
2) Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Do the work and be introspective; inquire into the nature of your choice – possibly you are “being” a perfectionist or a victim.
3) Ask yourself the following questions:
What about this dream is important to me?
What about my beliefs, limitations and obligations are important to me?
Both the desire and the expectations and responsibilities are essential in discovering and understanding your values. Get to know your values so that you can make choices that best honor them.
4) Begin to listen to your bazillion “I cant’s.” “I can’t” usually sounds like, “living in Italy has been a dream of mine, but…” and, open your perspective to allow for more possibilities. A first step is to substitute the “but” in your language for the word “and” instead.
5) Be authentic! You are given your dreams and desires for a reason; allow you to be you.
Living in Italy has been a dream of mine, and…
In this moment, I am contemplating the task of writing about living at the edge of my comfort zone which is the Mind Body Align topic for August. As my mind is revving up; touching on words, topics, and memories, I begin to feel overwhelmed. Where do I begin? Which of these words, phrases, and memories feel essential to my own experience; what is my message?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in this moment with a deep awareness of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, felt sensations, thoughts, intuitions, with acceptance and no resistance. In this moment…
Tuning-in and noticing sights, sounds, smells, and the felt sensations in the body
I am contemplating the task of writing about living at the edge of my comfort zone… My eyes are focused out my window and I notice a group of turkey vultures riding the air currents above the field and woods in front of me. The vultures are not flapping their wings, they are simply dipping and turning, circling in and out of each other, seemingly riding the air as they gently ascend and descend, turn and circle creating a rhythmic dance that is hypnotic.
Noticing thoughts and being curious
Then I remember, I had a dream last night that I was flying. I recall the feeling of my body being cradled by the wind and the air; the sensation of my outstretched arms and the whole width of my body tipping slightly left and then right as my body glides above the landscape. The memory that remains is the felt sensation of flying. The ease. The weightlessness. The joy!
I ask myself, “how does this action playing out before me, the gentle gliding dance of the birds and the felt sensation of flying, relate to living at the edge of my comfort zone? How does ease, weightlessness and joy relate to the topic?”
My mind immediately visits my current challenge. This fall I am scheduled to do a 5 week, 500 plus mile hike through France and Spain. It’s a commitment to walk 15 miles a day for 35 days on many different types of terrain.
Noticing how thoughts give rise to emotions
I notice a sense of apprehension and fear. I hear my mind talk about my “bad” feet, blisters, and permanent foot problems, concerns about Mind Body Align and The Butterfly House, questions about the reasoning behind booking this adventure, self-criticisms that I don’t have the strength and stamina to complete this walk, and ultimately the sense that I will fail.
AND, I notice a sense of spaciousness, excitement, and curiosity. I hear my mind talk about my love of meeting new people and visiting new places, curiosity about my potential to walk the distances every day, desire to “let go” at The Butterfly House giving others in the community the opportunity to challenge themselves, and allowing for the company of Mind Body Align to grow and develop organically with the community.
Noticing judgments, beliefs and habits
I remember a conversation I had a few days ago with my sister-in-law as we were hiking a challenging uphill trail in the mountains of North Carolina. My words, “I want to be mentally and physically prepared for the worst that can happen.” Susan’s words, (paraphrased, and based on memory) “There is nothing wrong with knowing where your anxieties lie and moving to calm them.”
Living at the Edge of my comfort Zone
And finally, my mind shifts to the question, “How does ease and joy relate to the topic?”
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in this moment, with a deep awareness of physical sensations, emotional reactions, thoughts, intuitions, and with acceptance or no resistance. What I attempted to illustrate above is how mindfulness works as a practice.
This practice gives me the ability to notice the full scope of my experience in any given moment; an experience of fear- helplessness- doubt, AND, curiosity- excitement- joy. My noticing is that both the challenging and the joyous emotions and thoughts coexist.
Discovering new truths
The mindfulness practice is about embracing the whole self. It is about noticing and accepting the experience as it is. It is the practice to accept, without resistance, challenging emotions. And if you notice resistance, you accept that as well. When I use the word “challenging” in this context, I am pointing to emotions that we typically push away or wish to avoid. It is not intended to be good vs. bad or positive vs. negative. Challenging emotions have a lot to tell us and much to teach us. For me, it is reminding me to purchase good quality gear and make sure my body and shoes are trail tested with lots of hours hiking on varied terrain.
“How does ease and joy relate to the topic?” If I pause long enough to notice their presence, ease and joy become part of the experience. When I think about living at the edge of my comfort zone, it is inevitably an internal conversation about fear and self-doubt. I’m realizing that my habit is to go through fear and self-doubt first. Is that your habit?
Cultivating a balanced perspective
So, which will it be; Ease and joy, or fear and self-doubt? There is an old native American saying, “It’s the one you feed.” Here is a great animated video that tells the native American story of the wolf that you feed. It’s only 2 minutes long, and I hope you will consider watching it.
In mindfulness, the practice is to embrace and allow all that is happening. For some, this video may be viewed as suggesting that you suppress what you don’t want, and encourage what you want. This is not my point. For me, it’s about noticing the variety of emotions that are present so that I have a choice to feed both; to encourage a balanced perspective and to gather the knowledge I need from all the emotions in order that I may live authentically and fully alive.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I’m sending you love and a huge hug!!!