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.

Ease and Joy through Mindfulness

Ease and Joy through Mindfulness

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?

Practicing Mindfulness

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!!!

Why Meditate?

Why Meditate?

The ancient practice of meditation has made a home in our modern culture for good reason. Learning to sit still and calm the mind can be a powerful antidote to the speed, stress and strain of our modern lives.

In ancient times, meditation was seen as a potent tool for liberation and enlightenment. Today’s practitioners have discovered that meditation also offers more earthly and pragmatic benefits, helping us stay happy and balanced amid the busy-ness of our lives.

Perhaps you have read about the manifold benefits of the practice. Maybe you have friends or family who have taken it up. Or maybe you’ve even tried it yourself, but are scratching your head over how sitting still and paying attention can be such a balm in our busy world.

Though the practice is simple, its benefits can be vast. I’ve been practicing meditation for more than 20 years, and I am still discovering new and rich benefits of this potent practice. But over and over I return to three of meditation’s most profound gifts, which can help us live in happiness, wisdom and peace, even among the craziness of our world.

Meditation is a Powerful Form of Brain Training

Left to its own devices, the mind tends to act like a monkey in the jungle, swinging from thought to thought, hooting and howling, picking up ideas and then spitting them out, tangling with other wild beasts, and generally stirring up trouble. (If you don’t believe me, try this: Set a timer for five minutes, close your eyes, and during that time watch what happens to your thoughts. I’m willing to wager that you will quickly discover that you, too, have a “monkey mind” within.)

Meditation is a potent method of training the mind to behave better. Just as we head to the gym to exercise our muscles, we slip into a meditation chair to train our brains. We teach our minds to focus, we guide ourselves away from unproductive thoughts, and we learn to act more skillfully and wisely. We can train those monkeys within us to behave in ways that support our lives rather than throw us off balance in sneaky and destructive ways.

Over time, with patience and persistence, we sharpen our ability to settle with ease into the present moment, the only place where life can be truly lived.  We train the muscles in our minds to act skillfully and wisely, in ways that support our deepest loves and values, and in ways that help not just ourselves but also the entire world.

Meditation Helps Us See Clearly

Have you ever been to the beach just after a torrential storm? The waves churn, the sand darkens the water, and debris bobs all about. Sometimes it’s impossible to see your toes as you wade along the shore. When the weather clears, though, the ocean quiets, the sand settles and the water once again grows clear enough to see all the marvels that swim amid the vast blue sea.

This settling and clarifying process is just what meditation does inside of us. As our brains quiet, our stirred up thoughts settle. Life comes into cleaner and clearer focus. Delusions slip away. Wisdom bubbles up. We begin to see more clearly what our lives are all about and we are inspired to act in ways that support these fundamental values.

As the lens of our awareness clears, we grow cleaner and more balanced. We learn how to respond with wisdom and care to both the delights and challenges that life throws our way. We develop skills that allow us to live in greater balance and harmony within, even amid the turbulence of the outer world.

Meditation Helps Us Fall in Love with the World

As we grow more adept at stilling the mind and seeing clearly the truth of what is, wonderful epiphanies arise. We fall into a more direct, intimate and keenly felt experience of life as it passes through us. We wake up to the sheer wonder of being here, now, participating in all the glorious joys and sorrows of the world.

Birdsong sounds brighter. Water tastes cleaner. Chocolate tastes sweeter. A single smile warms our spirit all day. And the blue sky fills our hearts with a profound yet simple happiness. We fall wildly and wonderfully in love with all of life.

Over time, our minds and our hearts grow more expansive and more whole. We sense a deeper connection between ourselves and every other creature in the world. We grow kinder and more tender-hearted. We begin acting not just on behalf of our selves but on behalf of all of life. And we understand more deeply that love is what matters most, in the beginning and in the end.

Maybe you, too, would like to give this profound practice a try? Although a simple practice, meditation can be challenging to learn. Befriending those monkeys in the mind can take some time, and finding ways to train them toward wholeness takes patience and skill.

Fortunately, resources abound in the form of teachers, books, videos and courses for those hoping to get started. My advice is to find a teacher who speaks to you, who inspires and comforts you, and then study every book, audio, video or talk that guide offers. (You can find my favorite meditation resources on my website here.)

Practicing with a friend or meditation group that meets regularly can be helpful, too. In the Mansfield area, both Mind Body Align and the Mansfield Art Center offer on-going meditation classes.

Over time you may find, as I have, that meditation will become an ally and a good friend, saving your life every single day. Meditation will help you stay calm and centered. It will keep you in tune with your deepest loves and values. It will help you act wisely and with a tender heart. And it will return you both to your deepest self and to the widest world, in clarity, happiness and peace.

One Track Mind

One Track Mind

Have you heard the research that 98% of the thoughts we had today, we had yesterday?  It turns out that we have 65,000 – 90,000 thoughts each day and most of those thoughts are recycled.  The same thoughts again and again, day after day.  When I tried to verify this, I could not, and yet, when I notice my own thoughts, I am inclined to believe that most of our thoughts are recycled.  During challenging times, the same thought may be repeated for hours or days or longer at a time.

If you are like me, you are setting intentions and writing resolutions.  What are the chances that we will recycle the very same goals and intentions, that were set last year?

Let’s try for something new. Here are 3 methods I use to create new thoughts and ideas.  Before you practice any of these three methods, I encourage you to grab writing or drawing tools, a journal, piece of paper, or create a blank document on your computer.

Listen to the Sounds

I invite you to put on your headphones, turn the volume up and listen.  Close your eyes and listen all the way to the end. 

Notice how the sounds vibrate in your body.

Notice the lyrics on which your mind rests.

Notice emotions that arise.  Allow yourself to simply be present to the music.

Music has the power to transport you. The power to hold you in the present moment with complete attention and connection to physical sensation and emotion.  Find music that moves you.  Your choice may be Mozart, Fleetwood Mac, Vedic chanting or gospel.  Allow the music to move you out of your regular thought patterns and into the silent sounds of your body/spirit connection.  Write, draw, or doodle whatever comes to you.

Ask Questions

“The questions you ask shape the story you live”, Jennifer Louden from her book The Life Organizer.

Let’s get curious.  Here are some deep inquiry questions that can help you create your best story.

Before you begin, take a deep breath.  Feel the breath as it fills your chest and belly.  Take another deep breath.  Place your attention on the sounds in the room.  Take another deep breath.  Notice the places where your body touches your clothes, or a surface (hands on the keyboard or arm touching the chair), or the air (on your cheeks, the back of your hands).  Allow yourself to become very present in your body at this moment and in this space and time.  Take another deep breath.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.  Write, draw, or doodle whatever comes to you.

What am I most passionate about?

What can I do to my physical environment to have it nurture/relax/empower me?

What is it to be awed?

What am I unwilling to change?

Do Something New

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”, Mark Twain.  Forging a new road and creating new thoughts takes opening your life to new experiences.

What do you intend to create for yourself in 2017?

Happy New Year!

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