Creating Your Sanctuary

Creating Your Sanctuary

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:

  1. 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).
  2. What elements help you feel safe (a locked door, your back against the wall, a weighted blanket)?
  3. What colors and textures calm your body and mind?
  4. What words and phrases motivate you to grow and evolve?
  5. What sounds activate your parasympathetic nervous system (binaural beats, Marconi Union, Enya)?
  6. 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.

Sending you love and a deep breath!!!

Mindfully,

Annamarie

Creating Your Sanctuary

Creating Your Sanctuary

My first thought when approached with the subject of Creating Your Sanctuary was “easy peasy, I’m a designer at McCready Interiors, I do that for clients and customers every day”. I ask many questions to find what they want their environment to reflect, then select styles and fabrics or leathers that will be successful in creating that feeling.

A sanctuary is a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place to retreat, it should reflect whatever brings you a sense of peace and tranquility.

In reflecting and researching for my blog, I considered that my personal sanctuary actually changes quite often. My home is obviously a sanctuary where I retreat at the end of the day, but I soon realized I have many opportunities for a sanctuary; a walk in the woods, my gardens, a yoga class, even a visit to the home of my best friend since high school to enjoy the hot tub and catch up.

Your sanctuary may be the beach, an exercise class, a girls night out, or a space in your home you can make your own. It could be those moments when you have the opportunity for “no boys (or kids) allowed”, a big comfy reading chair or a place you can have quiet time to reflect, meditate, or just slow down to recharge.

As women, many of our lives are centered around taking care of others;  we are nurturers, caregivers, helpmates. We tend to do for others before taking care of ourselves. When we give our all to everyone else, there is little left for ourselves.  The importance of self-care is critical to our well-being. We must take the time to regard ourselves highly enough to carve out time and space to enjoy a sanctuary of our own.

Creating your sanctuary is simply making a space that gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with an area to take a breath and unwind.

If you are able to start with a blank slate space, select a wall color that reflects calm to you. Select pieces that avoid clutter and chaos, keep the space simple. This is an area you want to be able to completely relax in.

Carefully edit what you place in your sacred space, less is usually more when you are looking for a place for quiet or meditation. If nature brings you calm and joy, place greenery or nature-inspired artwork there. Position your comfy reading chair facing a window so you can enjoy the view. If the beach is your sanctum, use colors that reflect the sand, sea, and sky. Surround yourself with beauty and an atmosphere of calm. Turn off the TV and turn on your favorite music if you don’t want silence. I have many Pandora stations I can select from to enhance whatever mood or feeling I want to focus on. I choose Motown if I want to escape and maybe dance a little (when no one is watching), Glenn Miller if I’m feeling nostalgic, Eric Clapton or the Beatles for a variety of reasons, and slow smooth jazz or classical choices to for a quieter environment.

Candles whether real or the real-looking battery powered styles can set the mood with soft lighting. Many of us have essential oils and diffusers to provide soothing scents to help create the perfect environment.

When we make time to devote to ourselves and nurture ourselves, we become our better selves. A sacred space is a perfect place to let our best selves shine through. Creating a sanctuary isn’t difficult. Just remember to keep it reflective of who you are and what kind of energy you want it to invoke.

You’re More Amazing Than You Think

You’re More Amazing Than You Think

Once upon a time, there was a woman who thought only the best things about herself. She embraced who she was, valued herself, and knew that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.

Here’s where you might think to yourself: Okay! Okay! Cut the crap… this is CLEARLY a fairy tale.

I mean, who really thinks the best of themselves? Especially when you are behind closed doors and the makeup is off, you didn’t finish a project on time, you burnt your dinner and forgot to buy milk again.

It’s true: you are your own worst critic

Maybe you’re like me, who, upon hearing “you are more amazing than you think”, instead hears that little voice inside your head that scoffs and whispers “No I’m not!”

We argue with our best friends when they doubt themselves…“Yes, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL”, and “you ARE SMART, don’t say that about yourself!” But, do we give ourselves the same chance?

Too often, when someone compliments us we blush and deny it, thinking they’re “just saying that to be nice”, or maybe we don’t speak up for fear that someone else will think what we have to say is silly.

On many days I catch myself playing the comparison game. I compare myself against the accomplishments of others. “That fit mom with the stock-photo-posed children on Instagram surely has her life together! And, “wow that person over there is so successful and talented, I could never compare to that.”

We make running lists in our head of our shortcomings, and things we aren’t, without acknowledging the good in ourselves and what we do!

Own Your Successes

I’m not saying we should become super prideful and arrogant but we should own our successes, no matter how small. We should own our flaws and our attributes. I may not be the concert pianist I decided I would be when I was nine years old (long story!), and I know I certainly am not the tidiest or most orderly person in the world (condolences to my very organized husband…). I may feel silly for my lack of knowledge in conversation about politics, law or history, and God forbid you ask me to do a math problem on the spot. But I know I am strong. I endured a painful pregnancy and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. I’ve moved across the country twice. I earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors. Oh, and I can bake a terrific loaf of bread. Now please understand that I am not trying to brag. In fact, it really makes me squirm to type all that.

Which makes me ask, why is that? I think it’s because I forget these things, or I choose to dismiss them to look the other direction. I look at myself and see someone who I wish wasn’t as messy, was more educated, would procrastinate less, looked better (whatever that even means!) and was bits and pieces of other people more successful than myself. But I am ME. Not someone else. And I want to be more than okay with that.

You are amazing

Your value isn’t assigned by the approval of others, but it also isn’t determined by your own negative self-judgment. We are lying to ourselves! You are amazing, no matter what that little negative voice – or anyone else – says. Today as you stand in front of your reflection, or pause for a moment of introspection, I encourage you to think of your accomplishments, skills, and strengths. Then look inward and say, “you are amazing”. It might be difficult, but my hope for each and every one of you is that you’ll believe those words. You are more amazing than you could possibly know.

How I Am Living My Most Vibrant Life

How I Am Living My Most Vibrant Life

Many people see me as lively, animated, and energetic so writing on the topic of vibrant living seems a natural fit. Those adjectives are synonyms for vibrant, sure, and yet, I think sometimes the most accurate description of me is a Type A person who needs to learn how to relax! I think living vibrantly may be viewed differently by different people but to me, it is a practice in mindfulness; noticing what gives us joy, purpose and embracing those things with enthusiasm. Taking the time to truly feel what life gives us in the moment is key. And, for someone like me, a bit of forcing myself to slow down from time to time to smell the roses and see the joy in the slower pace.

I’ve always felt that life is too short to fit in all of the things I’d like to try, taste, and see; places to visit, people to meet, experiences to savor. I long ago realized the only possible way to approach my life would be to pay close attention to each opportunity that comes along and take full advantage. It’s a necessity for me. A few ideas to help with that:

  • Eat right and exercise. Vibrant Living isn’t possible if we’re overloaded with sugar and alcohol, sitting on a couch in front of the TV. Mindful eating and moving make it possible to better enjoy life’s opportunities. And yes, sometimes that enjoyment means a great dessert, an awesome cocktail, and a Netflix binge!
  • Stay positive. When we focus on what bugs us, especially if we give it voice, it becomes who we are. If you’re annoyed about the snow, you’re not noticing the opportunity to learn to ski.
  • Keep tabs on your spending. If a big house gives you joy, by all means, buy the biggest house you can afford. But if what you want is travel, you might rethink how you divide your disposable income. I don’t have the biggest house or best car by any stretch, but I have awesome photographs from my travels and interesting stories to tell about being in plays in New York or raising my children in France. It’s all about making the spending choices that are right for you.
  • Appreciate what you have. If you don’t count your blessings, you’ll be unhappy with your lot in life. It’s impossible to live a vibrant, meaningful life when focused on what you don’t have.
  • Keep a record of your experiences. Something as simple as taking a minute each evening to think back on your day; acknowledging what you enjoyed and, this is very important, what you did well can make a huge difference in your attitude toward life.

Recently, Yale University began offering a class on happiness called “Psychology and the Good Life”, a course teaching how to be happier; how to live a better life. Enrollment exploded with 1200 students signing up. They didn’t have a classroom large enough so the course was simulcast around campus. Their tips include spending less time on social media and more time on real experiences, expressing gratitude, performing random acts of kindness, etc. It sounds obvious yet it’s not how many of us live. While I’m not sure that happiness necessarily equates to vibrant living, the similarities outweigh the differences and we benefit.

Learning to retrain where I focus my energies is one of my more recent life lessons. I’m not from Richland County and my main focus upon moving here was my kids. The people I met were largely other parents. It was a lot of fun working with these parents on school-related projects; organizing a school party, sewing costumes for drama club and chaperoning kids on marching band trips. However, our interactions stopped there and I never gave it much thought. Now my kids are grown and I see I’ve neglected to form my own personal relationships over the years. Shifting my prior focus toward my own needs by better-recognizing opportunities to make friends through shared experiences and connecting in meaningful ways is helping me live my new, best, most vibrant life.

Recognize the good – Hakarat ha’Tov

Recognize the good – Hakarat ha’Tov

Choosing to be grateful is just a shift in thinking. For some, it is a significant shift. For others more subtle. To me, the key word in our topic for November is choice.

Our thoughts naturally seem to turn to thankfulness and gratitude as we approach Thanksgiving. We are inundated with commercials meant to tug at both our heart and purse strings to remind us to appreciate the little things, not to mention those Hallmark movies that I love so much.

Social media is full of folks proclaiming their gratitude for things both big and small. Recently I even jumped into the pool. I committed to posting three things each day for which I’m grateful. I was going to make a conscious effort and demonstrate it for the whole world to see. Do you want to know how many times I did this? Once. Let me repeat: I did it once.

I set the intention wholeheartedly. I put it out there and dropped the proverbial ball. I publicly said that I was going to do this every day for November. It happened once!

Beating myself up

The reason I’m sharing this with you is that I want to focus for a minute on choosing gratitude and self-compassion.

One of the benefits of the mindfulness practice is that one learns to experience life in the present moment. Recognizing it for what it is, not resisting and then making a choice – rather than reacting.

Before I started practicing mindfulness, the dialog in my head would have been something like this:

What are people going to think? I only posted once. Am I a truly selfish person?

Couldn’t I even list three things a day?

Am I so important or busy that I couldn’t take time out of my day to post?

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Letting myself off the hook

Luckily, along with living mindfully and choosing gratitude comes a little thing called compassion. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, it took me years to learn about compassion. I could be overly compassionate toward others but rarely toward myself. This current situation was a time when I needed to choose to pull out the self-compassion card.

Does anyone remember my announcement on Facebook? Answer: Most likely, no. Technically, I could go into my timeline and delete it (going there now. click, delete and gone). Does it mean that I am ungrateful because I didn’t send a press release to Richland Source every time I had a moment of gratitude? NO. I needed to let myself off of the hook. It doesn’t even matter what the reasons were for not sticking to my plan. I felt guilt and shame.

By writing this post, I have the opportunity to reflect on this recent situation. The truth is that I feel gratitude in a million little moments in every single day. Just like most of you. We need to choose to recognize those times, but it doesn’t always require demonstrating through a grand gesture. A quiet acknowledgment does the job.

Recognize the good

As usual, I’ve taken the long road, but my point is that we can choose to appreciate things around us that are good. In Hebrew, it is called “Hakarat ha’Tov.” (pronounced HA-car-ott, HA-tove)

The literal translation is recognizing the good. When we are not experiencing gratitude, and we suddenly recognize it, we can choose to show compassion to ourselves. Choosing gratitude can be just this little shift in our thinking and remembering this short phrase: Hakarat ha’Tov.

So here it is ladies. It’s another thing that we can add to our list of things to not over-think. Gratitude. It’s not about forcing a feeling, keeping to a schedule of Facebook posts or feeling obligated to do something. It is a simple thing, Hakarat ha’Tov, or recognizing the good.

Thanksgiving is on Thursday so my call to action for each of you, a “no pressure” call to action, is to recognize the good.

Infinite possibilities and real life abundance

Infinite possibilities and real life abundance

Recently, my husband and I discovered what it’s like to have an empty nest. My youngest is away at college, and my oldest is “adulting”.  Our parents health has stabilized and life is good. It’s just me and the ‘ole Goat. (Said with love and affection, FYI – my hubs name is Todd.) We’ve recently celebrated our birthdays: Donna v5.2, and Todd v5.6.  We enjoy being alone together more. It’s almost as if we’ve rediscovered each other. We text more often, plan supper for two, watch Jeopardy and an episode of Game of Thrones every night – because we love it.

I looked at him the other day and said, “Dude, where have we been the last 24 years?” It was so nice to just be in the moment, together. We had nowhere to be, no crisis, no drama, and the house was STAYING clean! Suddenly, the realization of infinite possibilities came upon us.  Wintering in Tucson, traveling, and being more artsy came to mind.

Soon after, I found myself freely volunteering my time, working more, and playing more. It felt glorious to jump in my car and go anywhere I wanted, anytime I wanted, and not be responsible for anyone but me.  As Annamarie wrote in her blog post, her dream was a real possibility.  All I had to do was show up for mine.

Becoming reacquainted with change and chaos

A month later, my oldest called to tell me great news – she was transferring back to Mansfield with her company.

“That’s Great news, Honey!”, I said.

“But wait, there’s more!” She said.

I’m moving back home! “Sure, no problem!, I said.”

…and, my fiance is coming too! “Oh? Ok, that’s cool…”

…and our dog!  “I’M ALLERGIC TO DOGS!”

…AND, you’re going to be a grandma!

And here is where I imagine a cloudy speech bubble above my head go :::: KA-BOOM! :::

The above may seem like no big deal to some, or that I’m whining or complaining – but really, I’m not.  I was just startled my dream of infinite possibilities shifted in thirty seconds.  I fully understand now how my own mother feels about her dreams of retirement and travel because her dream has shifted too.

Come to see how perfect your life is today, even if it doesn’t look or feel that way

So, now I’m posting nursery and mobility stuff on my Pinterest board.  The mini-van has been well maintained for transporting parents and grand babies to doctor appointments.  Carpet and flooring have been replaced for wheelchair access.  I am grateful for flexibility and that I can care for aging parents, and new grandchildren.

Stepping back, I am so grateful for my life, health, and family.  I now understand my gifts are to build on my strengths, which include loving and caring for people. And, now that I’ve spent time with my thoughts, perhaps my “me” time was in my twenties? My life’s time-line is flip-flopped… maybe? I didn’t have my first child until I was twenty-nine. I am grateful I survived my twenties.

Thank you for listening while I pondered this.  Sometimes, writing your thoughts down evokes a new perspective.  My life is happy.  I want for nothing.  I need nothing. I am able to love. I am able to serve with joyful abundance. The time is now, and the possibilities are still endless.