A Holiday Meditation

A Holiday Meditation

Each week our team at Mind Body Align gathers on Tuesday afternoons for a brief group mindfulness meditation. It’s a chance to connect not just as colleagues but as humans “being”.  This was my week to lead and I really felt pulled toward this fabulous meditation from Jack Kornfield as our monthly topic of gratitude was coming to a close plus we are all about to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I love the way it reminds us to begin our gratitude meditation by recognizing the way we feel and how we have cared for ourselves, then we express gratitude for all things and finally we move to express gratitude for others and wish them joy.

We were so moved by the words that we began our Coffee Talk with the meditation and now we want for you to be able to access it throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy by Jack Kornfield

Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.

With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.

I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.

Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, for their happiness and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.

May your happiness increase.

May you not be separated from great happiness.

May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart.

You can read the original post on Jack Kornfield’s website here

Open yourself to gratitude

Open yourself to gratitude

We all know that Gratitude is something that we “should” practice in order to live a happier life. But, why? What happens in the body and mind when we practice gratitude and the act of being grateful?

I’ve realized a lot of “being grateful” comes from being without. It might sound like a cliché question, but do you truly know what you have until it’s gone? Once you miss something and realize its importance in your life, you become grateful for it. That feeling of gratitude helps to ground you,  especially when you are always moving on with your busy life.

A personal example of gratitude in my life is our first pregnancy. After 15 weeks of being pregnant, my husband and I found out we miscarried. I remember gratitude was not even a word in my vocabulary. I went to the extreme of not being grateful for a thing: focusing on only the negative. This, not surprisingly, made my life more negative than before. I was envious of all the women I saw just being happy. What I realized was that my focus was only on myself. Our miscarriage did not just happen to me, it happened to our family. The situation affected everyone. When I took a step back and became grateful for my life, and everything I have- my relationships with my husband, family, and friends- it helped to strengthen all of my positive emotions. My body and mind became more open to all that I have in my life to be grateful for. 

Something I learned after this was that both positivity and negativity feed off each other. In every situation, you choose the energy you put into the world. For example, once I started not being consumed with the negativity in my life, the storm blew away. After the storm, we were blessed with our rainbow baby, a boy we named Asher. Keeping in mind for every negative there is a positive, you just have to open your mind and be grateful for what you have. Don’t wait until you are without those precious things to recognize their importance to you. 

 Here are 3 ways to be more grateful and have gratitude in your everyday life:

  • Start with being present. 
  • Make the time to be grateful – This might sound like the easiest, but when and how much time do you actually take to do this? 
  • Be social about your joy and sharing those moments!
Grateful for the Gift

Grateful for the Gift

As I write this, the late evening sunlight is shining through purple-gray clouds.  It is the golden hour – that time before dark when everything is bathed in a soft yellow light.  Autumn in Ohio is in full bloom – bright oranges and reds and yellows, and I can hear the sound of the wind blowing through trees.

For me, it is easy to be grateful in the fall.  I love the cool air and crisp colors. I love cooking soups and stews and baking treats laced with cinnamon.  I am a pastor, and when I step outside and see the canvas that for me is God’s creation, I thank God. 

The first prayer my husband and I taught our sons was “Thank you, God.”  When my boys were toddlers this was our prayer before meals – and still is.  I will always remember their first prayers: “Thank you God for Daddy. Thank you, God, for the backhoe loader.  Thank you, God, for grapes.” We thank God before meals and at the end of the day after we read our books and sing our songs and before I pray a blessing over each boy, we say thank you to God for the day.

I try to teach my children to live gratefully, but I’m not always good at saying thank you myself.  While I was packing for my family’s move from Crestline to Mansfield last year I stumbled upon a box containing a few thank you notes I wrote after my wedding – 11 years ago. Somehow this stack had never been mailed, and I felt the guilt of the thing I should have done but never did. You know those thoughtful people who are always sending cards– thank yous and birthdays and thinking of you notes?  I am not one of them.  

I want to get better at thanking the people in my life.  I want them to know I am thankful for them. I want to be more grateful.  I have read about the research saying people who practice gratitude are happier.  So I try to be thankful but it’s easy to forget. My spiritual director advised me to begin each day with a list of things I’m grateful for.  Sometimes I remember, but most days the alarm clock goes off, and I immediately begin thinking of all that I need to do. Maybe my checklist could become a prayer of thanksgiving as I look ahead to the opportunities I will be given each and every day.

Practicing gratitude has helped me get through the most difficult seasons of my life.  When I’m frustrated with my job, I think of the things I have because of it: clothing and food and a home.  When I reach out to friends or colleagues, I feel grateful for the support they provide. When I face conflict I practice thanking God for the person with whom I’m in conflict.  This helps me to see them as a human being – a person with unique strengths and weaknesses; a person who I believe is, like every person in the world, created in the image of God.  Being grateful simply makes life better.

For me, gratitude is about saying thank you – and it’s also about seeing life as a gift.  My grateful response is to offer myself in service to the one who I believe is the giver, and also to the people around me: my family, my colleagues, my parishioners, and the people I encounter wherever I go.  

How does your perspective change when you begin to think of life as a gift?  How does that sense of giftedness color the people and the world around you?

When I forget that my life is a gift, I am called back by the simplest things: a sunrise, a yoga class, the sound of my children’s giggles.  So as autumn turns to winter and the colors change to brown and gray, I will remember the life that’s waiting beneath the frost. And I will keep saying thank you.

 

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Remembering

Close your eyes and imagine the food of your childhood, deeply breathe in that remembered scent, more importantly that feeling. Perhaps it’s the sweet smell of an apple pie baking or the slow cooking of a marinara sauce.

Picture the moment when you throw open the door on a cold crisp day to be blasted by the warm scent of a turkey roasting. For some of us it may be the smell of chicken soup being heated up from a can, the feeling is no different; your loved one caring for you and nourishing you with food is such a beautiful, meaningful act.

Reflecting

Bringing it all to the table is such a fitting topic for this time of year, as we gather around with our loved ones and reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded by the beautiful bounty of the season.

What an important ritual of reflection and gratitude. I have so very much to be grateful for; I’ve been welcomed to sit at many lively kitchen tables in my life, and as luck would have it, all over the globe. I’ve gobbled down steaming piles of dumplings on the streets of Taiwan, dined on delicious kangaroo in Australia, and sat down to a feast of pork and veggies I helped harvest in Costa Rica.

Often times I did not speak the same language as the host, and I am so grateful to those folks who welcomed me to their table as a weary, and at times confused, traveler.

Sharing

One misty humid day in Taiwan a group of us decided to hop on our motorcycles and journey up into the crisp mountains for a day of hiking to waterfalls. The further and higher we hiked into the mist, the harder the rain began to fall, and soon we transitioned from sweaty to shivery. I was downright miserable, hungry, and tired. We finally reached our destination where I laid down on a rock in total exhaustion and stared at this unbelievable waterfall surrounded by slippery green rocks and lush tropical foliage.

I sat up and as I did, an old man under a tent caught my eye, he was waving me over to him. His radiant smile was welcoming, and I sat under his tent on a log he had gathered from the forest. He was boiling a pot of tea, the warmth instantly seeped into my body. He attempted to chat with me in Mandarin Chinese, and I could simply thank him and tell him where I was from; my Mandarin isn’t great. I’m sure he quickly realized from my accent and horrible pronunciation that our conversation wouldn’t go much further. He simply smiled and proceeded to pour me a small cup of tea, I held the tiny warm cup in my hand smelling the scents of a completely new and fascinating liquid; hints of pine and grassy sweetness with a complex roasted flavor.

As I gulped it down I felt my whole body warm. I looked over to the man and saw him gingerly sipping his tea, I looked down at my cup, and together we laughed as I realized my mistake in gulping it down. He poured me another and we had a wonderful conversation that did not involve words, just the beautiful act of sharing.

Growing

I’ve had the good fortune to work for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, I spent the summer growing fresh organic vegetables for those in need. My job was to run a pay-what-you-can farm stand; and what an honor it was to spend a day in the sun and fresh air picking and tending to vegetables and giving away fresh food in the evenings.

Those who came to the farm stand told me their stories, days spent with little to no fresh food on the table or no food at all. One young participant in particular stands out to me, this person had come to work days on the farm as a volunteer. He had brought his whole family back to the farm for the evening farm stand and proudly named each vegetable and how we had harvested it.  He shared recipes he had learned and some he himself had created, all while helping me to pass out items to elderly participants that need help moving things to their cars.

His mom then spoke to me of their families’ hardships and how the farm had changed this young person’s life. He had started drying herbs from the farm to make dried basil to put on top of their spaghetti and eagerly wanted to plant a garden at their home. With tears in her eyes she told me we had changed her son’s life, and hers.

Cooking

The world is full of generous souls who have welcomed me to their countries, kitchens, and warm tents; I am forever grateful to those who have supported me on my journey.

This holiday season I encourage you to open your heart in your own way: cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, donate or volunteer at a Foodbank, or simply pay it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee.

Sit still in a quiet place and reflect on your own personal bounty, practice gratitude. Food brings us all to the table, it crosses all borders and languages; food is tradition, art, and love in its own way timeless.

Embracing the new you

Embracing the new you

 

2018 is going to be an AMAZING YEAR! “8” is the number of new beginnings and there’s no better time to envision a fresh start than at the start of a new year. You might say that New Year’s Day represents a big Monday on steroids. Everyone knows that Monday is “the” day for starting new projects and that January 1st is “the” day to start becoming the “new” you. Perhaps it isn’t a “new” you that’s needed, but rather the unveiling of an “evolved” you.

Until your soul is quieted, it’s actually quite difficult to drill deeply enough to identify what’s holding the “real” you hostage. Every one of us is full of the genius necessary to live out our purpose on the earth and do so quite gloriously. Getting there is the issue. It’s a process of stepping into higher and higher dimensions of ourselves. We’re not ready day one, so our lives have a way of helping us if we’re paying attention. I must not have been paying attention.

It was a cold day in January

January 19, 2017, to be exact. One moment I was in motion and the next I was not. It was a hard and brutal stop. When the squad arrived, I was still “thinking” in slow motion. “What on earth just happened? How bad is it? I’m afraid to move. I hope the others are alright. I’ve got to call my office. This is bad. This is really, really bad.” Sirens fade in and out. Surrounded by comforting voices, I just couldn’t catch up with reality.

After doing all they could, the hospital released me into my parent’s care. “I don’t have time for this. Just give me a few days to rest, and I’ll be good as new.” After being bed-ridden for the 1st three weeks, I realized “this” is happening. By the end of the 2nd, I had to surrender to “it” or lose my mind. By the end of the 3rd three weeks, I found a way to embrace it. I had been given a gift; one that came swiftly, violently, and unapologetically. Although it took some time for me to embrace it, the “stillness” was exactly what I needed. I had several months of uninterrupted time to do some work, some real work.

I had increase on my mind

When our souls are quiet, we can reflect, reconsider and re-evaluate our lives. I thought I was “on track”, whatever that means. I thought I was doing okay. But in the stillness, I began to see truths that had eluded me. I began to see what was driving me each day. I connected with the knots in my stomach and the fatigue in my bones. I leaned into the weariness I’d been avoiding. I decided to face the truth behind these manifestations of misalignment. We cannot expect to grow, to expand, or to increase when we’re disconnected from ourselves? It was clearly time for a “newer” me to emerge from the rubble.

When I considered all that I wanted to accomplish, I knew I’d never make it if something didn’t change. I decided to drill down beneath every thought, attitude, and behavior that clearly wasn’t serving me. I focused on anything based in fear, doubt, or unbelief. I probed beneath anger and unforgiveness. I examined deeply held beliefs about life, love, and living in order to pinpoint why I wasn’t manifesting the life I really wanted. I challenged myself to adopt new ways of thinking. I looked at everything I was involved in and asked myself “how does this align with my values, my purpose, and my passions?”

Becoming new

By the time I returned to Mansfield, I knew it wouldn’t be business as usual for me ever again. I had to maintain my new mind-body connection. I learned to honor the limits of my humanity. I eliminated things that I secretly dreaded. I decide to let go of what I thought “had” to be and opened myself up to what “was.” I decided to live a life of infinite possibilities; to approach each day with gratitude for what would unfold, believing that I had all that I needed to live each day fully.

To walk in each new dimension of life, we must become a higher version of ourselves. Who we are is sufficient for today. Who we are becoming is necessary for our tomorrows. Transformation flows from the inside out. When you embrace a new “view” of you, you unleash the power to become a “new” you or, should I say “unveil” the next higher version of yourself. She’s already in you. Isn’t it about time for “her” to show up?

Cherish the gifts of gratitude

Cherish the gifts of gratitude

I pulled in the driveway late, the dog was waiting to be walked, my shoulders ached from sitting in front of the computer or in meetings all day, and I had just had a short, clipped conversation with a family member that had further darkened my mood. I trudged through the rest of the evening grumbling under my breath about the whole conversation and just how stressed out I was about life. Each day had ended similarly in the recent weeks and I just felt like there was no end in sight.

As I went to bed that night I thought, “There has to be more than this.” I wasn’t questioning life, I love God and feel comfortable with my faith. I was questioning how I was spending my time. I felt like my life was controlling me rather than the other way around.

It would make a neat story if I could tell you I solved it that night, but that’s not how things happened. However, not long after I had another revelation. We’re going to have far more ‘mundane’ days than ‘banner’ days.  How could I learn to be thankful for even the repetition of daily life?

I decided to start a thankfulness journal

At the end of each day I started writing 3 things I was thankful for that day. Three things soon grew into four or five. Were there tough days? Sure, some days I was thankful for big broad things (my dog, my health, my job) but some days ended up being incredibly specific (kind words someone had shared, a special treat, puppy snuggles).

Little did I know but the rest of 2016 was going to be filled with a lot of challenges and stress and my thankfulness journal kept me grounded in the midst of it all. I enjoyed rereading older pages and just remembering the little mundane things. It affected my mood, too. I can’t tell you I never got frustrated or mad, but I did see a decline in the amount of times that happened.

Even bigger, remember that family member I was grumbling about? Well things came to a head and we ended up talking through our issues. Of course, we both had things that we needed to change, and we did and the relationship has been great ever since. The funny thing is that I don’t think I would have been willing to change had I not reset my priorities to focus on gratitude. I wouldn’t have even gotten past my own ego. So I was thankful for that.

Cherish the unseen gifts of gratitude

A few months after that my beloved dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Knowing what lay ahead, I was so thankful that I had taken the time to be consciously appreciative of her and her love and affection throughout the year. It made our final months together special and I said goodbye knowing that I had shown her so much love.

Now, to be honest with you, I fell off the gratitude wagon after Ginger passed, but I just reread my journal not long ago. I found my attitude needed some adjustment again. Life is hard, no doubt about it. We all have days (or weeks or years) when we just want to cry “Uncle!” But we have to keep going. I believe that if we find a way to be thankful for each day we will find ourselves in a much better mindset to handle the trials that will come our way. Whatever you’re facing, I encourage you to find a way to be thankful and watch and see the changes that start happening! Gratitude is a choice…

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