Perfect Stillness

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -Confucius

How very true! Life is indeed simple, and it amazes me how complicated we make it- how we consciously choose to make it. We can come up with a dozen excuses for doing so, but they are just that… excuses.

So then what happens? Over the years, and as we grow in wisdom and insight, we start to pare down, we eliminate clutter, clear out the things that weigh us down as well as the people who drain our energy, we schedule priorities and guard our energies, and we find ourselves keeping things simple.

This holds true for our practices too. We don’t need 3 hours at the gym nor a schedule so packed with social activities that we are running around like a chicken without a head and without true quality time spent with those we love. We find ourselves pausing to breathe… really breathe. And I don’t mean shallow breathing, I mean revitalizing and grounding breaths. Above all, we crave perfect stillness, quiet, tranquility and the peace we feel inside when we allow ourselves to be still.

As I mentioned in a blog this time last year, December can really mess with people’s emotions and energies for a myriad of reasons. I’m sure you can make up your own list that will attest to it. Oftentimes, the end result this time of year is that we are left swirling, spiraling, depleted and perhaps even sad, frustrated or angry.

Last year’s blog, Hold the Vision… Trust the Process included a guided meditation that enhanced our sense of support and stability. I thought I would share yet another lovely guided meditation called Statue of Stillness. It truly is very grounding because it directs breath and awareness to the base of the body, helping to release tension from this area. It enhances a sense of of inner stability and slows down the breath and lengthens the exhalation.

Before getting started, you may want to light a candle, maybe clear your space, put your phone on airplane mode and maybe even burn some incense. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair with your feet touching the floor.

If you would like, you can also add a hand gesture which is called a Mudra. For this particular meditation/Mudra, tuck your thumbs into the palms of your hands and curl your fingers loosely around the thumbs, forming soft fists with both hands. You can then rest the hands on to your thighs or your knees, with the palms facing down. Be sure to relax your shoulders… bring them up to your ears then back and down. You will feel your spine naturally aligned and sitting straight.

The other thing you can do is to have someone read this meditation to you, or you can voice record it so you can listen to your own voice. I just glance down at it, and sit with the vision and the feelings for however long I feel like it. After a few times and with practice, it comes rather naturally, or I practice my own version of it.

The benefit of this meditation, as with most forms of meditations, is that it activates our parasympathetic nervous system thereby initializing the relaxation response. Darlings, there’s nothing like a relaxed nervous system!!!

If you’re new to meditation, you WILL feel it’s benefits almost immediately. And remember, don’t stress yourself… just go with the flow. Nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. Don’t put added stress on yourself wondering if you’re “doing it right.” Be still and trust the process. Ready? Here goes:

  1. As you hold this Mudra, take several natural breaths to attune to all the feelings and sensations evoked by this gesture.
  2. Notice how your breath is gently directed downward, toward the base of your body, instilling a sense of stability and grounding.
  3. Take some time to sense the natural pause at the end of each exhaling breath, cultivating a space of silence in which your body and mind can deeply rest.
  4. For your next few breaths, attune to these pauses even more deeply, experiencing a sense of serenity that allows you to become completely still, like a statue softly breathing.
  5. As stillness and compasses each area of your body, you experience the absolute peace and harmony that is a reflection of your true being.
  6. Begin by taking several breaths to allow stillness to permeate your pelvis, legs and feet, creating a firm foundation for your statue of serenity.
  7. Now, allow your abdomen solar plexus, low and mid back to enter into stillness and completely relax.
  8. With your lower body still and serene, takes several breaths to sense your heart, lungs, chest and upper back merging with your statue of stillness.
  9. Serenity now fills your shoulders, arms and hands, all the way to your fingertips, integrating these areas into your statue of stillness.
  10. Finally, stillness permeates your neck and head, inviting all of your senses to naturally turn inward and gently rest.
  11. Now, take some time to sense your entire being as a statue of stillness.
  12. Affirm your essential stillness, repeating the following three times, aloud or silently: “In absolute stillness of being, I experience complete peace and serenity.”
  13. Now, slowly release the gesture, taking several breaths to rest an absolute stillness.
  14. When you are ready, open your eyes, returning slowly and gently, while remaining aligned with the stillness of your true being.
  • This meditation comes from the book Mudras for Healing and Transformation, by Joseph and Leslie Le Page. This treasure trove of a book is a wonderful one to add to your self-care “toolbox. ” You will learn more about mudras, guided meditations, energy centers (chakras), doshas (constitution), balance and health conditions in the warm comfort of your own home sanctuary.
  • Like a statue softly breathing, may you rest in the perfect stillness of your being throughout the next few days, weeks, and months!
  • Inhale Love & Light… Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC
  • Seeing the Jewel Inside

    “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” Pema Chodron

    Why is it that self-care and self-love are so easy for some and difficult and challenging for others? Why is it that we can easily see and name it when we look at other people’s regimen and practices, regardless of how much they have on their plates, yet can’t muster up the courage and honesty to treat our Selves gently and lovingly?

    Where do you fall in the scheme of things, my darling? Are you busy pondering the “how,” “when,” and “why” to the point of mental exhaustion, or are you proactive and loving to yourself and dedicated to your self-care / self-love practices?

    Do you realize you are a jewel that needs the polishing and care that only YOU can bestow upon your Self? Are you giving your Self away? Are you fatigued? Frustrated? Angry? Lethargic? If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then allow me to ask you, “Why?” And spare me the excuses…wink, wink! Let’s just keep it real.

    Speaking of excuses, as I enter this new decade, one of my new favorite quotes is by Daryl McDaniels (you may remember him for his hip-hop legacy and group Run-DMC). I read the quote in his memoir, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide, and it says, “Excuses don’t explain and explanations don’t excuse.”  How freakin’ GREAT is that???? I am applying it to so many areas of my life these days! First and foremost, I am done with giving excuses and, secondly, I don’t care to listen to other people’s BS excuses any longer. Why ? As the quote says, excuses don’t explain and explanations don’t excuse. It’s plain and simple! Essentially, where there is a will, there is a way. More importantly, love will find the way…..as in self-love!

    So, back you…the precious jewel that you are. The one who gives, nurtures and takes care of everyone, and the one who makes sure everyone’s needs are met. The one who will go above and beyond…yes, to the point of exhaustion, fatigue and then some. You are precious! You are needed! You have special gifts to share with the world! You have a responsibility to honor, cherish, and protect the gift of life you have been given! You can put down the heavy lifting. Be done with the struggle. Let go of whatever is weighing you down. Release what / who is not serving your highest good. Forget about who thinks what of you. Be you. Do you!

    We need to take all that energy, angst, stress, and discomfort and throw it all away. Let it go, release it, acknowledge we are not perfect AND yet perfectly flawed. We are all unique and precious and must courageously, honestly, gently and lovingly treat our Selves that way. We need to hold our Selves in our loving arms and live…..live joyously, peacefully, and happily without the unnecessary demands we put on our lives. It’s a movement we must all be part of and support each other on. Furthermore, we need to hold ourselves, and each other, accountable in doing so. It’s really quite simple when you think about it.

    Currently, there is a Spirit Voyage Global Sadhana going on, and Jai Jagdeesh (love her music by the way) is the featured person who posts daily messages and leads the participants in chanting, movement, meditation and stillness. Her message the other day,  which one of my beloved teachers shared in class, speaks to the topic of self-love and self-care perfectly. Her words are so eloquent, that I must share them with you in hopes of inspiring you to look inside and reassess You, your motives, habits, practices, priorities, needs and desires. I can plant a seed of intention, but YOU must do the watering! First though, please take a moment to center yourself BEFORE reading the following:

    They say, “With love all things are possible.” I would add the words “self” and “sweet” to make it: With Self-love, all Sweet things are possible.” When we cherish ourselves, taking the time to treasure all that we are and carve space for all that we are becoming, there is no limit to the sweetness we can create. When rested, our minds are limitless. When heeded, our hearts flood us with courage. When loved, TRULY loved by WE OURSELVES, our bodies can rise to any occasion. We can do the work we were born to do easily, joyfully, sweetly. Limitless luminosity, all available to bless the earth.

    Beautiful, or what? Inspiring? Motivating? Affirming? Is your heart open? Is your soul speaking to you? Is it crying out to you? How’s your breathing? Are you breathing, or are you holding your breath? How is your posture? Are you relaxed, or are your shoulders scrunched up by your ears? Is your heart open, or is it closed?

    You may want to take a few moments to just sit and be still, re-read the words, and connect with the emotions it brings up and the sensations you feel in your body. Breathe into all of it. Inhale and exhale deeply. Hold it all. No judgement….just be the witness to whatever arises without engaging in it. Know you are being held, supported, and loved. When you feel the need to move, do so. You may even want to take a few moments to journal about your experience.  The important thing is that you were courageous and took a moment to look inside. And remember, it’s all good!

    My wish for us all is that we always make the time to listen to the whispers of our souls in order to better see the valuable and luminous jewel inside AND live our brilliance!

    Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

     

     

     

    The Issues Are in the Tissues

    “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

    Stored way down deep on a cellular level is the history of past traumas, life experiences, all types of loss, grief and family and cultural belief systems. Welcome to the pain body. My guest blogger Blondie, spoke about this in one of her essays, Red Lipstick is My Armor. If you missed it, be sure to check out the blog titled My Guest Blogger Returns.

    These unresolved traumas, life experiences, losses, family and cultural belief systems are so deeply stored in our bodies that, unless we muster up the courage and consciously work at dislodging them, we risk all sorts of illnesses as well inability to fearlessly move forward in life. We have all experienced what happens to our minds, bodies and emotions when we are trapped in a state of fear. Fear paralyzes us…both physically and emotionally. Fear eats away at us and keeps us stuck in a cycle much like that of a hamster wheel. The good news is that we can liberate ourselves and free ourselves from this prison that we’ve been in for way too long.

    Once we know our individual demons and where they stem from, we are better able to look at why we have allowed fear to hold us hostage. We can identify the triggers that set off alarm bells. We can examine how these fears came to be, the damage they have/are causing us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We can see how fear has played out in our personal and professional lives and in all our relationships. Once we do so, we come to a place where we no longer allow fear to run the “semblance” of a life we are living. Let’s face it, when fear is the master, we aren’t living. We’re barely surviving. When we gain the courage we need to face our fears head on, WE learn to BE the Master of our fears. Welcome to Fearless Living!

    Fearless Living, by Rhonda Britten, is the book I am reading in my book club as I write this essay. I’m only about half way through (because it also requires work, exercises, journaling, etc) and have already recommended it to numerous friends and acquaintances. It also has a wonderful study guide that can be found at the back of the book. As a matter of fact, one of my yoga teachers even did a workshop on it, which I missed, so I was glad when our Goddess Book Club chose it as our next selection.

    Whatever issues we are dealing with, have dealt with and have yet to deal with, absolutely get stored in our tissues. Hence, the discomfort, dis-ease, disease, self-destructive behaviors and poor choices we make that do not serve us. They only serve at keeping us stuck in our “stories” and threatening our immune system and overly taxed nervous system. Rhonda Britten refers to this state as our Wheel of Fear. While we each have our individual fears, the “mechanisms” that keep us spinning in our individual wheel of fear is identical for everyone.

    Essentially, the wheel of fear has 4 components: The trigger, fear response, core-neagtive feelings and the self-destructive behavior. So, I want to give you a glimpse of what the “mechanism” that keeps us on our wheel of fear looks like. And if it speaks to you (which I am certain it will), then I strongly recommend you read the book and do the work. Maybe even start your own little book club or get together with a couple of friends to do the work. It always helps to have a support team to keep us accountable. Oh, and if you’re getting together with friends, don’t forget the snacks!

    The following “mechanisms” are found in the second chapter in the book:

    “First, something happens that triggers your fear of being thought of by yourself or anybody else as having what you believe to be, a serious character flaw. You urgently want to avoid that outcome, so your body prepares to handle the emergency.

    Second, your fear response makes you do something, usually unconsciously, that is meant to ensure that you avoid the dreaded outcome. Just as you would run away from an object you perceive to be a snake, you try to run away in the figurative sense from the thought that terrifies you. Ironically, your response – for example, trying harder to succeed or making promises you can’t possibly keep- almost certainly guarantees that the outcome will in fact happen. In a cruel trick of nature, we unerringly choose behavior that only serves to confirm our worst fear about ourselves.

    Third, as you realize you haven’t avoided what you fear, the consequence is that you experience the gut-wrenching, negative feelings of not being good enough – whatever your particular version of that is. And that is what you are truly afraid of. The thought you are trying to avoid is a cover for the feelings that you can’t bear to face. That feeling is always underneath your thoughts and responses, both of which keep you distracted, helping you to avoid the very thing you must confront; your version of not being good enough. Self-loathing is next, You globalize from this one instance, and you fear that you can’t do anything right.

    Fourth, you find some way to numb the emotional pain, almost invariably through self-destructive behavior such as drinking, gambling, eating unhealthy food, or shutting yourself off from the very people who could support you. And you use these behaviors as evidence that you’re not good enough. The wheel keeps spinning.”

    As we know all too well, because we have all been there, these mechanisms are indeed the same for all of us. While our own hamster wheel, carousel or, like Rhonda Britten calls it, The Wheel of Fear, is different of for each of us, the book helps us to identify what keeps us on that wheel and gives us tools and skills to identify the negative feelings we attach to us “not being good enough.” The common fear responses and self-destructive behaviors listed in the book are really an eye opener, as are the “symptoms” that help us to see when we are operating from a place of fear. These symptoms cause us to feel: impatient, exhausted, self-righteous, misunderstood, paralyzed, shamed, defeated, out of control, confused, over-whelmed and victimized.

    I am big into self-inquiry and inner-ivestigation practices, so I think it is key for us to look each of these symptoms and see how they all play / have played a part in our life. How have they shown up? When? Under what circumstances? If we take the time to do so, we can better understand the roles they’ve assumed throughout the different stages of our life. These are the issues that are in the tissues. Unless we deal with them and show them who the Master is, we will continue to suffer inside a prison we have created for ourselves.  It takes some courage, but it’s worth it. It’s liberating!

    And speaking of liberation, the book also provides self-affirming behaviors for us to choose from that will kick us off our wheel of fear and place us on our Wheel of Freedom. Yes, there is such a thing! Along with what are called “Fear Buster Exercises,” the chapters on Fear Junkies, Expectations, Excuses and Complaining will definitely catapult us to another level and put us on the path to living fearlessly.

    The irony is, not only will we be able to identify the “fear junkies” in our lives that help to keep us stuck, but we will also see how we, too, have unknowingly played the role of fear junkie in the lives of others. It’s the whole duality thing at its best.

    As of this writing, I still have much reading and work to complete in the book. However, I am fascinated by the unexpected “aha” moments that I am experiencing each time I peel away a layer, and another layer revels itself. And if anyone out there has the audacity to think “I have no issues,” just you wait and see…..wink, wink! That’s just a story you are telling your Self….the question is why?

    Much like our journey through life, each decade brings with it opportunities for digging deeper and applying the meaningful lessons we’ve learned along the way – just in a more significant and grander scale. Each year of life on earth will invariably always bring us traumas, life experiences, losses, and ingrained belief systems to question – maybe even dismantle. The key is to ask yourself, “Do I want to live on the path of Fear or the path of Fearlessness?” As always, you have the free will to choose.

    Choose wisely darlings!

    Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

     

     

     

     

    My Guest Blogger Returns

    Red Lipstick is My Armor

    by Shannon Green

    I was never a very confident person growing up. 

    I was constantly teased by my brother for my “witch-nose,” teased by the public school kids for having to attend Catholic School, mocked for getting good grades, and called anti-social by my 5th Grade teacher because I enjoyed reading books during recess. I’ve had glasses and braces simultaneously, been called too sensitive, too emotional, and too nice.  I’ve been asked “why do you smile so much” like it was a bad thing. 

    Over the years, I’ve struggled with trying to figure out who I am and how to love myself despite of all of the criticism.  I’ve tried on a few different masks over the years to try to fit in, but none of them really felt comfortable –  until I decided to take them off completely and just see what being me felt like. 

    After returning from Maui and adjusting back to reality, I knew that if I wanted to continue feeling the bliss I had experience while I was there, I needed to do some serious self-work. I needed to overcome the things that were feeding my insecurities and fears. I needed to admit that I was stressed out, which literally took a case of Shingles to make me come that realization. Not kidding.  Five years ago, just a few weeks after returning from my amazing Maui Yoga Retreat, I came down with Shingles. Luckily for me it wasn’t a severe outbreak, but it was enough for me to FINALLY admit that I was stressed out. Years of denial, both to me and my friends, had finally culminated in my body retaliating against me; as if to say,“You aren’t listening to me so I am going to make you listen to me!”

    Let me set the stress stage for you. At this time, my husband and I were living with my in-laws while he finished up yet another Bachelor’s Degree (this time in Mechanical Engineering) in hopes of getting a better job than his previous Master of Fine Arts afforded him.  I was terrified we would never have enough money to move to our own place and that we would have to live with my in-laws forever. My work was ok. I wasn’t unhappy at work, but I also wouldn’t say I was happy.  Additionally, I had been hoping to start a family by now, but that wasn’t happening. Because of this, I was seeing various doctors and trying everything I could to figure out the problem.  

    After returning from Maui, I realized that I needed to make the “Maui-State-of Mind” a permanent thing. I had a glimpse of how good life could be, and I needed to figure out how to sustain that feeling back home.  So, like everything I do, I tackled this with full force, as if it were a college class I needed to ace. I started reading “May Cause Miracles” by Gabrielle Bernstein. The book promised change in 40 Days, and I worked each chapter religiously.  I bought more books and more journals, and I became devoted to figuring out how to “let go” and “surrender” and how this differed from just “giving-up.” I read about love and forgiveness. 

    I became a junky for all things Hay House, which is funny because I don’t think I even knew what Hay House Publishing was at the time.  I became obsessed with Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love,” which has become one of my absolute favorites. I was downloading Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21 Day Meditation Challenges onto my phone every time a new series came out. I just kept following any signs I could find. If a name was mentioned in a book I was currently reading, I wrote it down and I researched it later. Who was the author?  What was the book?  I took the list Yaya gave me,  went to the library, and I checked out as many books as I could find. Little did I know at the time but, bit by bit, things started to change.  I had started to change, and life had started to change along with it. 

    My husband eventually graduated in December 2013 and, about 10 months later, we found our beautiful home. By 2015 we were living in our house, and he was working at a good job. I realized that the fear and insecurities I had surrounding money had disappeared. Additionally, my job was starting to change too. At one point in 2015, I was working for 6 different people. Wow! That is a lot of personalities, but there was change on the horizon and, by 2016, I was working for the one person I had wanted to work for. 

    I had also come to a huge decision about having a family. We were just in the final stretch of closing on our new home, and I was at yet another doctor appointment.  Unfortunately for me, I was meeting with a doctor who had a terrible bedside manner.  I was already on the verge of tears when I realized I didn’t need to keep doing this. I could stop at any time. It was my decision to make. I decided I needed to stop seeing these doctors. I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to continue with the stress of the multiple doctors’ appointments and the disappointment I felt each month when nothing I was doing was working. Once I realized that I could stop going to see these doctors, I had this amazing feeling of peace wash over me. I knew what I had to do. I had to stop going. I had the power to stop. So, I stopped. And I felt free. With this stress now lifted form my heart, I felt a huge relief wash over me. I could now concentrate on living in Maui-Bliss!

    With all of those stress creators out of the way, I realized that one of my biggest insecurities still needed to be addressed: how I felt when I looked in the mirror. I believe we are always our harshest critics, and every time I looked in the mirror I heard those voices from my childhood. I knew I had to face this fear – this insecurity head on, and I thought to myself, “What is one thing I have always wanted to try but was always too scared to look foolish?”  The answer was “red lipstick.”

    Now, up until this point in my life, I was fairly neutral about my lipstick colors. I tended to wear more natural colors and focused my makeup on eyeshadow and black mascara because I have always liked my eyes. My lips are naturally thin on top. Truthfully, I hardly have an upper lip. I have always been afraid to try red lipstick because I have such a fair complexion spattered with freckles, and I was terrified I would pick the wrong shade… and then end up looking like Bozo the Clown. I was determined to do it though. Face the fear of the red lipstick. So I did what I always do, and I researched the best red lipsticks. Truly I did! I went to my computer and Googled it. 

    Once I had purchased the “perfect” red I rushed to the bathroom mirror to try it on. The first day I wore it, I felt a little self-conscious. Like I was trying too hard but, as the days passed by and I wore it more and more, I realized that it was boosting my confidence. In fact, applying my red lips each morning became like adorning my armor to face the world! I had on my war-paint! Once applied, I was ready for battle! I could face anything! Who knew that a little red smear on my lips would give me such confidence?? Just the littlest thing like wearing red lipstick gave me the boost I needed to make other changes in my life. 

    After reading Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,”  I revamped my entire wardrobe and only kept those items that “sparked joy” and made me feel beautiful, powerful, and confident. I realized, as I went through my clothing, that so many items had been bought to make me “fit-in” and “blend” with the crowd so people would accept me as one of them.  My childhood drama of wanting to be liked was still replaying itself because I was afraid to just be me. Enough! I said goodbye to anything that I did not love. 

    Fast forward to the present: 2018. I have been back a month from the most amazing Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica and, yes, this past week I was experiencing such inner turmoil that seemed to come from no-where. All of a sudden I felt those old insecurities bubble up to the surface again. I felt like that teenage girl who just couldn’t believe that she was anyone special. The old voices were getting louder and louder each day. Luckily for me, I was able to talk to some very amazing friends of mine who helped me realize this as old drama and not truth. Then, as often seems to happen in my life, the signs started to appear. I am currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s book ,“A New Earth” and have just got to the chapter titled “The Pain-Body” which he describes as follows: 

    Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissolve. It leaves behind a remnant of pain….. The remnants of pain left behind by every strong negative emotion that is not fully faced, accepted, and then let go of join together to form an energy field that lives in  every cell of your body. It consists not just of childhood pain, but also painful emotions that were added to it later in adolescence and during your adult life, much of it created by the voice of the ego. It is the emotional pain that is your unavoidable companion when a false sense of self is the basis of your life.  

    The energy of old but still very-much-alive emotion that lives in almost every human being is the pain-body.”

    Wow! That was it, exactly what I was experiencing. I read on to the following: 

    The pain-body awakens from its dormancy when it gets hungry, when it is time to replenish itself. Alternatively, it may get triggered by an event at any time. The pain-body that is ready to feed can use the most insignificant event as a trigger, something somebody says or does, or even a thought.”

    As I was reading this and sharing these passages with my friends, I started to wonder why this was coming up. Hadn’t I already dealt with this issue?  I re-read some of my journal entries from last year and saw I had written about these same insecurities back then, but I had forgotten. I realize now that I had never fully dealt with the issues. I had skimmed the surface but never dug deeper. Now I knew why it was coming up again. Now I could put a name on it. The pain-body. 

    “Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?” ~ Echkart Tolle, “A New Earth”

    There is no benefit to me by replaying these old negative stories in my head. They do not serve me. They no longer existed; yet, I carried them inside of me where they were eating holes trying to escape back into reality. I was giving them power.  

    I believe that this was resurfacing because of the amazing experience in Costa Rica. I had recharged myself. My armor was now more than just on the surface. It was more than just red lipstick giving me confidence.  It was positive energy that was radiating from inside of me and surrounding me. I believe that this old story has come back to me at this time because I am now able to face it completely and finally slay this dragon. I believe that just being able to recognize this has already started me down the path. I know it will probably come back around to test me, but I feel confident that I will be successful in recognizing it for what it is and stop the pain-body from feeding.

    During the week, as I was talking to Yaya and other friends about this issue, I thought about how often we try to suppress our true authentic-self in order to appease others and make them feel more comfortable- which in turns leaves us feeling badly because we are stifling ourselves. We end up feeling uncomfortable and unhappy. Why do we do this? Why do we change our behavior? We want to fit in. We want to be liked. We are not often encouraged as children to be confident in ourselves and celebrate our uniquenesses.  So we adorn these masks to fit in, to blend in; until ultimately, we fade away, and we become scared to be ourselves because “what if no one will like me?”…. and we wonder why we aren’t happy??? 

    But then we meet people we can take our masks off with…. People who love and accept us for our quirks and differences, and we realize when we are around them we feel like the sun is brighter, the sky is bluer, jokes are funnier, food tastes better, and life is just grand! I know I have been fortunate enough to find these people in my life and seeing that this way of life is possible. The hard part is being able to remember this when I don’t have them around me 24/7. It is work, and it isn’t always easy. According to Yaya, that is why they call it “a practice.”  Luckily, I know that support is only a phone call away. 

    I realize now that those people who don’t understand the true-me are the same ones who tell me I am “too sensitive, too emotional, and too nice,” but I have realized that I don’t’ want to change those things about me in order to make them feel more comfortable. In fact, those are all things I love about myself!    

    I have a huge heart and want to be friendly to everyone. I love to give hugs. I love to smile. I love to cry especially when I am happy. I will be your cheerleader and champion routing you on whenever you need me. I don’t want to change. If I make you feel uncomfortable with my behavior, I am sorry you feel that way; but, I am NOT going to change! I am going to wear red lipstick to yoga class because that is what I love to do.

    So I leave you asking this:

    • What old stories do you replay in your head that you have adopted as “truth”? 
    • What are your pain-bodies? Can you recognize them when they appear?
    • What masks do you wear?  Why do you wear them?
    • Are there people you remove your mask for? How does it feel when you are around them?
    • How do you live your authentic self?
    • Is there something you stopped doing that you really liked because someone told you it was “stupid?”
    • Is there something you want to stop doing because it does not serve you, but you are too afraid to stop? This could be a behavior or activity. 
    • What brings you joy?
    • If there something that you always wanted to try but were too scared? Maybe a new hobby or hairstyle?

    Sometimes, something as trivial as red-lipstick can make you feel like you have adorned your Knight’s Armor and gives you just enough confidence to slay your dragons. I know for me it surely has. Wishing you the best on your journey! 

     

    Thank you, “Blondie,” for digging deep, digging even deeper with each re-write while you were “on assignment,” and for the journey you shared with us. I’m sure it was cathartic and a long time coming! Personally speaking, we can all relate!  I’m certain you have touched many hearts with this blog. I’m honored, blessed and grateful to be part of your life! Love you! Mama Yaya xoxo

    PS- Looking forward to your next one!

    Taking Charge of Our Own Healing

    “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls you.” -Akshay Dubey

    I came across this quote today which is so on point given the conversations some girlfriends and I have been engaging in recently. They have been revolving around the work we’ve been doing and bumps, craters, landmines and struggles we encounter when we are committed to spiritual work and personal growth.

    There’s nothing like those deep, soulful and soul-bearing conversations that are almost healing sessions themselves. The endless, meaningful, and stirring talks my girlfriends and I have are extremely therapeutic to say the least! They are enlightening, encouraging and sometimes even revealing. At times they serve as a compass, a lighthouse or  guideposts as to where we are in need of getting to but are lost in the murky and, oftentimes, rough waters. They may also reveal for us the waters we have yet to chart as we continue our journey to healing and come to a place where damage done to our inner child no longer controls us. Yep, it takes work! It takes patience, perseverance, and  practice…..and our commitment and dedication to do the necessary and life-altering work.

    As we all continue to embrace the work we have yet to do, it’s important we take the time to honor how far we have come – acknowledge we’ve done the best we can with the tools we have been given. And, as we acquire more and more tools, we gain more and more resources to continue forging ahead on our path to healing, awakening and enlightenment.

    Where do we start? Well, we must connect with our true Self, our pure essence: Love. That pretty much lays the foundation and charts the onset of our course. If you missed my blog, Choosing Love at All Times, you may want to check it out. It wil serve as a lovely blueprint for doing the healing work that will allow you to operate from a space of love.

    Next, comes the art of forgiveness. Oh, I know what you may be thinking, “That “F” word”…wink, wink. Sadly, it’s word that tends to get a bad rap. Yet the art of forgiving truly keeps us in a stuck state…unable to make a move. Being unable / unwilling to forgive is the biggest barrier and obstacle keeping us from being able to operate from a space of love at all times.

    Rather than being able to expand our heart and dissolve all the contractions that keep us from operating from a place of love, being unwilling or unable to forgive just constricts us even further…it constricts our mind, body and spirit. It clogs up our energy centers and keeps us unable to experience higher emotions such as love, joy, acceptance, understanding, compassion, empathy, tolerance, and peace. The peace that resides deep within us that allows us to brave whatever storm we encounter.

    And where do these obstacles that keep us from forgiving come from? Well, as you can probably guess, they come from our childhood and have been stored in our subconscious memory, our cells and in our body. They are the programming we have experienced throughout our lives as far back as our infancy stage. If we do not address, accept, process, and release the emotions, betrayals and hurt our bodies have been holding onto, we essentially are allowing the damage we have experienced to control us…to hijack our capacity to love and our ability to heal.

    There’s a section I came across when reading the chapter on forgiveness and betrayal in the book I’m reading (which I mentioned in Choosing Love at All Times) that is so on point and relevant for the crisis humanity is experiencing: “Victim consciousness and its opposite, the tyrant, are holding the whole world from ascending into the new paradigm of heart-centered consciousness. As we unlock the betrayal knot associated with the victim consciousness, we take a giant step forward in moving beyond the polarities of victim-tyrant, of power-powerlessness, of win-lose, and into the paradigm of love and of win-win consciousness.” Holy Cow!

    Yep, so simple yet so difficult for some to do. As long as we come from a mindset of self-importance, of wanting to be right, seek revenge, and let the Ego-mind do the talking, we will be unable to get to the root cause of the problem, to let go and move on. We will get so clouded in grievance, resentment, revenge, regrets, anger, hate and who knows how many other self-destructive and self-sabotaging feelings, that we will forever be “lost at sea.” And this my darlings, is the ultimate betrayal…a betrayal to ourselves!

    I mentioned earlier that the word forgiveness gets a bad rap. It is still often misunderstood. Some hold on to a belief that forgiving means condoning the actions or grievance that was done. However, it’s quite the opposite. It’s choosing to let go of our self-importance, letting go of the victim consciousness, leaving our ego at the door and releasing ourselves from the notion that we are separate from the “other.”

    In choosing to look at things through a different lens, we are often able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and better understand the unresolved hurt and pain they must be experiencing. It takes a certain amount of humility and generosity of spirit to let go of stories we have created for ourselves. When we do so, when we change the narrative, shift the energy, unclog those energy centers, actively participant in our own healing, and experience the freedom in letting feelings of hurt and betrayals go, we experience our true Self.

    It is then that we re-establish our connection to our Self – that unbounded, vast energy and essence of Love. It is then that we experience a spiritual and divine awakening. Rather than allowing our hurts, illusions and fabricated stories to control us, we are taking charge of our own healing.

    I find prayer very helpful in the healing process. Sometimes, I write my own and other times I reference some that I’ve come across. Sometimes I keep them, and other times I release and burn them. I especially love Marianne Williamson’s prayers from her book, Illuminata- Return to Prayer. The book I am currently reading, Returning to Oneness- The Seven Keys of Ascension, contains beautiful prayers to assist us along the journey. The following prayer is from the chapter on forgiveness and betrayals:

    A PRAYER

    Oh eternity, please take all of these states of mind which are unbalanced, and balance and clear them. Do this so that I may see more clearly and find my way home more easily. I offer up these feelings of betrayal, and I ask to be able to forgive and to live more in my heart. I give thanks, knowing it will be done.

    Inhale Love & Light… Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

     

     

    Driven to Distraction No More

    “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.”

    Do you find yourself constantly distracted? How about constantly “connected” to your electronics? Do you find yourself constantly checking your social media and emails 24/7? Are you fearful of missing out? Is your phone always within reach? Do you sleep with it?  Is your phone on the table when you eat? Do you go to the bathroom with it? Do you shower with it?  Do you find your memory lapsing? Are you unable to have a meaningful, uninterrupted conversation when in the company of friends or loved ones? Do you respond to every single text and phone call regardless of where you are, what you’re doing and with whom? If you find yourself shaking your head yes to these questions, then perhaps it’s time for you to break up with your phone or, at best, dial back your phone use.

    Doesn’t it seem increasingly more difficult to obtain someone’s undivided attention these days? In my world, and perhaps in yours too, there’s nothing more distracting, disturbing and disrespectful that being with someone who is in a haze of electronic / phone addiction. An addiction? Yep, that’s exactly what it is. Just think of all the dopamine and oxytocin our brain releases, leaving us wanting more, more, more!

    In all honesty, it takes the joy out of an encounter or time supposed to be spent with someone. It turns a would-be meaningful and significant gathering into a meaningless, annoying and perhaps even an empty one. Here’s a powerful visual: If you can imagine trying to converse with someone, and having an intruder constantly tap you on your shoulder, interrupting you incessantly and trying to get your attention…well this is what it’s like being with a person who is addicted to their phone and every alert, notification and various rings. This is what it is like being with a person who has been driven to distraction.

    The other thing I find very disturbing and so frightening these days is still seeing people texting while driving, walking, or at a light – oblivious of the potential danger that may be coming their way. Distracted driving is truly an epidemic. Accident statistics for distracted driving and distracted pedestrians have been on the rise over the years, yet we “don’t get it.” What’s not to get? Why do we willingly put our lives, or the lives of our children, grandchildren and loved ones on the line? The audacity…how dare we!!! How about we engage in  conversation with whomever is in the car with us? How about we give our undivided attention to driving in the first place and being accountable for the lives for which we are responsible?

    If we want to own the privilege of being alive, truly blossom into our “humanness” and capture moments, we desperately need to pay attention. We need to be present. We need more face to face contact. Interacting with others, looking into each other’s eyes, listening deeply, reading each other’s body language, and connecting on deeper levels cannot, and must not, become a lost art!

    How disturbing is it to see the lack of face to face contact among family members and even couples out in public? I swear sometimes I feel like we are going to start seeing a generation who will be selectively mute. Can we all agree there is definitely a difference in our intellectual and social skills when we are present and face to face with someone vs. when we rely on electronic forms of communications (which is often mis-communication)? I’d like to think so!

    Our mental health and physical safety are really on the line these days. If we know the pitfalls of being driven to distraction, why is it so difficult to attain a healthy relationship with our electronics?

    Here are a few tips for doing just that:

    • Notice what the first thing you do is upon opening your eyes in the morning 
    • Start your morning in gratitude, meditation or prayer 
    • Do not bring your phone into the bathroom other than perhaps to listen to music 
    • Refrain from answering the phone when you’re in the shower or on the toilet 
    • Pay more attention to when and how often you scroll through social media and check emails
    • Just for one day, take note of every time you scroll through social media and  length of time you were consumed in that task…physically write it down add up the time (guaranteed you will be blown away)
    • Try it for a week (you’ll be shocked)
    • Designate specific times of the day to check in 
    • Look up more often – especially when someone is talking 
    • Take notice of your posture whenever you’re engaged with your electronics
    • Set a timer throughout the day where you just stop and breathe (and if at work, walk away from your computer)
    • Challenge yourself to waiting 10-15 minutes before checking your phone each time you have the urge to look at it 
    • Disable unnecessary alerts and reduce notifications (news, pop-ups, posts, emails, etc)
    • Unsubscribe to unecessary emails
    • Put your phone on airplane mode when in a meeting, having meals, at the movies, in class or spending quality / intimate time with friends, family and lovers
    • Shut off your phone more often for an extended time – an hour or two or perhaps longer 
    • Place your phone in a drawer, another room or out of sight when you are reading, writing, meditating, having sex, etc. (out of sight-out of mind)
    • Put your phone on Do Not Disturb while driving and encourage your children to do the same (key here is to lead by example)
    • Keep your phone in your pocket or bag when walking anywhere and be aware of your surroundings
    • Look people in the eyes and smile more – acknowledge their presence
    • Give yourself a curfew, unplug a couple of hours before going to bed and, as Arianna Huffington encourages in her book, Thrive, “Politely escort your electronics out of your bedroom”
    • Take a digital detox and spend valuable time doing the things you say you never have time to do 

    The idea here is to set some healthy boundaries for ourselves. In doing so, we remove unnecessary distractions, alter our brain chemistry and feel more relaxed and at ease. When we take the time to assess how we are utilizing our time for needless activities, we come to appreciate how precious time really is. We start looking up more,  we come to realize that all we have is time, and what we choose to do with it is the game changer. As Wayne Dyer was known for saying, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” 

    And on this note, have you ever seen the YouTube video, Look Up, by Gary Turk? The official video is about three years old, and it’s billed as a “spoken word film for an online generation.” How about the one by Max Stossel called This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent? It speaks to the “architects of the digital world” and is pretty cool and so on point. Check it out, check it out, check it out!!!

    It is my sincere  hope that you take away from Driven to Distraction No More whatever it is you needed. As always, feel free to share and pass on! Oh, and remember to find ways to inspire, love, serve AND lead from the heart…right from the start!

    Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

     

     

    The Art of Disconnecting to Reconnect

    “In a world full of doing, doing doing, it is important to take some time to just breathe and be.”

    Have you mastered the art of disconnecting? Have you noticed the alignment to Source and the creativity that’s unleashed when you take the time to do so?  Do you make it a habit of regularly and intentionally taking the time to disconnect? Do you find yourself more patient and at ease when you disconnect? If so, you’re ahead of the game.

    We can all use time to hit “Pause” and relax, refresh, recharge, regroup, recalibrate and even rejoice. Not only can we all use the time, but it is imperative that we make the time to do so. In my humble opinion, taking the time to disconnect is one of the best self-care gifts we can give ourselves. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again….having self-care practices is not selfish. It’s actually self-preservation!

    We live in sensory overload times. Don’t you sometimes feel like a pin-ball machine with things and people coming at you from all directions? With distractions of all kinds? How about all the social media feeds than can consume hours on end? For some people, it consumes a great part of their day; yet, these are the same people who claim they have “no time” and are “too busy.” I’d like to ban those two phrases, but that’s for another blog…wink, wink!

    Taking the time to disconnect rewards our minds, bodies and souls with precious gifts. Let’s start with the gifts of being, breath, presence, and awareness. Then there’s the silence, tranquility, focus, discernment, grounding, connection, creativity, openness, patience, grace, alignment, and truth…..just to name a few. Disconnecting for brief periods frees us up to actually use all our senses. It’s like seeing, breathing, listening, feeling, smelling and touching things in new ways. We are gifted with opportunities to uncover layers upon layers of distractions in need of peeling away. These opportunities allow us to shed whatever it is that is heavy and weighing us down. No doubt about it!

    Nothing or no one can provide this experience of the senses for us other than ourselves. Taking time for ourselves is something we can do at home. We do not have to travel across the world, go to a spa, ashram, or spend a ton of money on. Disconnecting is something we can do from the comfort of our own private sanctuary. It just requires a willingness and desire to do so. In today’s fast-paced times, we can all stand to reap the benefits of jumping off the carousel or removing ourselves from the perpetual hamster wheel, and BE STILL.

    When we give ourselves permission to disconnect and practice be-ing, we emerge a totally different person. We are less burdened, there’s an air of lightness in us, and we are better equipped to show up for ourselves and for the people in our lives:

    • We learn to be more mindful of our actions and reactions.
    • We get to see and examine our shortcomings and look though a different lens.
    • We can better identify our needs, desire and wants.
    • We know what it takes for us to be our best Self and are no longer willing to compromise anything less.
    • We learn to schedule our priorities and keep our non-negotiables close to the vest.
    • We learn to guard and protect our energy like the peaceful warriors / goddesses that we are. And guess what?
    • We learn not to care about what others have to say about our self-care practices and our mastery of the art of disconnecting. Because, when we do re-connect, we can bet it will be at another level of awareness and awakening. It’s a beautiful thing!

    Think about this for a moment…..all electronic equipment needs charging in order for it to work. Well, human beings are no different….surprise, surprise!?!?!?! Just sayin’ my darlings!

    Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC

     

     

     

    Let Your Love Shine

    “Do not chase love, choose love. Do not need love, share love. Do not fear love, embrace love. Do not seek love, become love.” -Creig Crippen

    Darlings, this will be the last blog for the month of February, and it brings us to the conclusion of Ten Thoughts for Whole Living. I hope that, over the course of these past several weeks, you’ve found Ten Thoughts useful in some way, shape or form. I am a firm believer in that whatever we need shows up at precisely the time we need it most. Like the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” This is one of my favorite quotes that I’ve learned to love and embrace over the years!

    Don’t be fooled though, the teacher isn’t always a person. Many times the teacher could be horrible working conditions, unimaginable horrors, tragedies, world events, social injustices, atrocities,….and the list goes on. And, unless we are behind closed doors with someone, we never know exactly what they are going through at that particular moment in time. As a matter of fact, I am still blown away when someone shares how a particular blog was exactly what they needed on a given day. It’s serves as a reminder that everyone is fighting their own battle. Most times, we would not know that from looking at someone, especially if they are faking it until they make it. Sometimes, all we can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one breath and one moment at a time…..and let our love shine!

    That is why it is so important to nurture ourselves with love. Stressful times call for stressful measures. Measures that soothe our soul, excite our spirits and give us hope. Hope that we will come out the other end standing taller than before. When we love and nurture ourselves, we can handle the tough times a little easier. It’s a skill we’ve cultivated along the way. We’ve learned to laugh out loud, with others and at ourselves. It brings a little fun into our lives, and we can all use more fun and laughter!

    So on this last day in February, I leave you with the last of Ten Thoughts on Whole Living. I hope they’ve enriched the quality of your life and your love of Self!

    • Stress can push your internal resources to the breaking point. Make time to unwind.
    • Your core supports the whole body. Explore ways to keep it strong.
    • Just because a task is important doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
    • Missteps are part of any process. Stay focused on where you’re headed.
    • Cultivate the art of knowing when to move on.
    • Don’t shrug off compliments; honor and remember them.
    • Resist the urge to overanalyze every experience. Live each moment instead.
    • Generous acts are more than simple gestures. They’re a way of life.
    • Let pleasure expand your perspective.
    • Make this the day you stop dreaming and start doing.

    Darlings, remember to choose, share, and embrace love… and let your love shine!

    Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC

    Just Linger

    “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” – Oscar Wilde

    “Just linger”…..these are words we often hear in yoga class when we are in the middle of a pose or exploring our edge. The word linger has also been showing up a lot for me ever since I read Sheryl Sandberg’s last book, Option B. So when I heard my teacher say it this morning in class, a light bulb went on, and I thought it would make a good topic to write about. My friend Kat and I talked a little about it while we were having breakfast after class (there are great conversations to be had after a good yoga class).

    Lingering in a moment – whether it be pleasant, unpleasant, difficult, easy, chaotic, calm, exasperating or enthralling (you get the gist) can be a wonderful teachable moment. We have much to learn from our own awareness and observation when we take a some time to linger in a moment just as it is unfolding. Bearing witness to the thoughts and feelings, the sights and the sounds, the comfortable and uncomfortable holds much wisdom and it’s all free….there for the taking, should we want to venture into unchartered terrain.

    The beauty of yoga is that thoughts, feelings and sensations always arise and give us the opportunity to dissect them. At times, things that come up are repressed situations that we buried long ago and are in need of healing and releasing. Other times it may be traumatic emotions stored on a cellular level and one’s we’ve been suppressing –  for way too long – that are no longer serving us and causing dis-ease in our physical and emotional bodies. That’s just what lingering in a moment does…..it gives us the space to process the energy, feel, release, let go and surrender. These are all blessings! Just like when you’re in a yoga pose, each part of the process allows us to go deeper, delve into another layer, explore how that feels, dig deeper, yet delve even further through more layers and, ultimately, let go, surrender and feel at ease.

    Other moments that I see as blessings are those “inconvenient” moments (which really end up not being inconvenient after all). They include, but are not limited to, being stuck in traffic, taking a wrong turn, thinking you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, a change in plans, asking for something and having it show up (just NOT the way we thought it would). I’m sure you can add to the list. However, for me personally, something wonderful and beautiful always comes of these moments when I choose to “linger” in them. I may experience new sights, a neighborhood I never knew existed or was unfamiliar with, meeting someone I was meant to meet, or seeing someone I haven’t seen in years and it happened because I looked out the car window while stuck in traffic All these little blessings would have escaped me had I not chosen to linger, be aware and be present.

    When we linger in the present, we also have the opportunity to breathe, inhale deeply and exhale slowly, and realize that all we have is that precise moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “It’s where we have an appointment with life.”  The past doesn’t exist nor does the future. We can view them as figments of our imagination. When we take the time to inhale and exhale deeply, we feel grounded. There is deep satisfaction in taking refuge in our grounding breath as we observe, but do not get swept up in, the chaos that is around us. We rise above it as we become more aware of our surroundings and the beauty and magic that is all around. Typically, the anxiety, angst, frustration or inconvenience we were feeling just tends to wash away when we just linger.

    We can also linger in the moments that are pleasurable to all our senses. So often, people are just scurrying around, dashing from one place to another, devoid of all awareness and pleasure. We all need to balance all that “do-ing” with “linger-ing.” We can linger in bed instead of making a mad dash out of it, during our morning routine, and our self-care practices. Other ways of lingering: enjoying a movie, spending quality time with a friend, walking / playing with our beloved pet, putting down the phone, stopping the incessant scrolling, disconnecting from electronics, practicing silence, restoring cleanliness and order to our sacred spaces, resting whenever we need it, sipping our tea reverently, luxuriating in the tub, cooking with love and intention, feeling the soil while gardening, sipping delicious wine, reading for pleasure, basking in the warm sun, expressing gratitude, enjoying the sounds of birds chirping or building a nest, watching our cats/dogs and their antics, being mesmerized by a colorful sunrise/sunset, expressing your creativity by painting, drawing, journaling or crafting, making passionate love, kissing tenderly, eating sumptuously, singing in the shower, journeying down a new path….and on and on and on.

    Blessings in disguise show up in all ways, at unexpected times and often when we need them the most. The key is to be open and explore them. “Just Linger” might become my phrase for 2018. In addition to having a new word for the year, why not also have a phrase?

    Enjoy your lingering, darlings!

    Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC

    Special Edition… ‘Tis the Season

    ‘Joy is Prayer. Joy is Strength. Joy is love.” -Mother Teresa

    Season’s Greetings darlings! I read a most beautiful article written by Elizabeth Lesser  yesterday, featured in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, and I felt compelled to share it with you. I love, love, love Elizabeth Lesser and her style of writing! Her messages are always so deep, profound and life-altering! So, here it is:

    10 Ways To Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday

    by 

    It’s that time of year again: the modern miracle known as “The Holidays,” when into the dark little months of late November and December, we squeeze Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years Eve, and a myriad of other celebrations, from ancient Solstice rituals to the more contemporary rites of school plays, office parties, and community gatherings. Throw into that mix a generous dose of unrealistic expectations, dysfunctional family feasts complete with political disagreements, airplane flights and long drives, darker days, colder weather, budget-busting shopping, excess eating and drinking, and no wonder that along with “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” come seasonal stress for most, and for some, real depression and loneliness.

    Some greet the season with excitement and joyful expectation. Others dread the whole thing. Personally, I harbor both excitement AND dread. So I’ve come up with some ways for all of us to stay healthy and sane, to celebrate and enjoy, and to dig into the real meaning of the holidays. Of course, another option is just to ignore the madness completely (good luck with that) or to knock yourself out trying to live up to all of your holiday expectations (good luck with that, too).

    Here are my ten ways to approach the season with reasonable expectations and good cheer.

    1) Be Kind: Stress doesn’t bring out the best in us, so remember to take a few breaks during a busy day or at a family gathering or whenever you feel overwhelmed. Find a quiet spot—even if you have to go into the bathroom and lock the door—and just sit still for a minute or two. Put your hand on your chest and pat your heart gently. Then take a nice deep breath into that spot and flood yourself with warm feelings of kindness toward yourself first. Breathe in acceptance and forgiveness and appreciation. If you only have time to do that, it’s enough. You can add this to the practice, too: As you exhale, let the breath of kindness move back out and feel it all around you—as if you were wrapped in a cloak of light. Now inhale again, and breathe kindness into your belly, your organs, your bloodstream. Exhale, and feel that cloak of light expanding. Inhale again, all the way down to your fingers and toes and deep into the center of your bones, flushing every cell with warmth and vibrancy. On each inhale, bring kindness into your body. On each exhale, extend the cloak of healing light further and further—embracing the people in your life, those in the world with whom you disagree, and finally our whole big, amazing, hurting, evolving world. This is a wonderful practice to do when you wake up, when you go to sleep, or whenever you like during the day. 

    2) Simplify: We live in an excessive culture. There’s just too much going on. But there’s one thing we seem to have too little of: time. We fill each day with too much activity, too much stuff, too much media, and too many responsibilities pulling on us in too many directions, and time races away. We go to bed at night and wonder where the heck the day went. We wake up and do it again. And now at the holidays, we’re supposed to add more excess to the excess. More food, more socializing, more presents that require more money. I think it’s a revolutionary act to resist the more-more-more culture and, instead, to simplify. Purchase fewer gifts and put more thought and meaning into the ones you do give. Say ‘no’ to engagements that will only add more stress to your week. Say ‘yes’ to gatherings that fill your soul and make you and others happy. Unplug from the 24/7 news and social media. Spend time in nature. Look at the stars. Find a little kid and hitch your wagon to their wonder.

    3) Roll With the Changes: As families change and grow, traditions change as well.  For example, if you are a working woman who had a stay-at-home mother, instead of knocking yourself out trying to reproduce the exact old-fashioned holiday of your childhood, relax your standards. Do what fits YOUR life and infuse it with meaning, humor, and love. Or if you are a divorced dad or mom, share the holidays with your ex with as much generosity and harmony as you can conjure up. It will be the best gift you give to your kids this year. If you are far away from your family (or choose not to be with them), invite others into your home and give the words “extended family” new meaning. 

    4) Help Others: not because you SHOULD but because it feeds everyone—the giver and the receiver. Find someone who is struggling financially or emotionally or physically, and lend them a helping hand, soothe their loneliness or hunger or confusion or pain. Check out the stories of every holiday tradition—from Thanksgiving to Hanukah to Christmas. If you celebrate any of these holidays, you might as well get down to what they are really about: generosity, connection, the promise of light-in-the-darkness. Be that light for someone else.

    5) Drop In: to a church or mosque or synagogue or temple or . . . you get the idea. Even if you have no religious affiliation or belief—even if you have deep-seated problems with religion in general—these kinds of spaces have a mysterious quality that can bring peace to a visitor. They carry within their walls the prayers and songs of our human family. Most places of worship welcome all people, even those just looking for a touch of grace. Instead of hurrying by that church you have passed a hundred times on the way to work, take a moment to enter its doors and sit quietly, imbibing the beauty.

    6) Take Care: Eat well, drink water, exercise, and then be merry. Instead of making one more feeble New Year’s resolution to join a gym or cut back on the drink or sugar or Twitter, do it right now. You will be amazed at how just the littlest bit of movement and healthful habits will lift your spirits and reduce your stress. And sleep for goodness sakes, do whatever it takes to get enough of it. Sleep deprivation is at the root of so many of our mental and physical problems.

    7) Love Everything: Even the hard times; even the cranky and crooked people of the world; even yourself, with all of your embarrassing shortcomings. If loving everything seems impossible, start with forgiveness. Forgive all sorts of people—those from your past, your work, your family, even those abhorrent jerks and so-called enemies in the news. Bitterness towards others is like drinking poison. Put down the bitter cup and take up… 

    8) Tenderness: See what happens if you keep your heart open and soft. When you feel fear, or anger, or judgment clutching at your chest, put your hand on your heart and pat lightly. Instead of shutting down, stay open. Stay tender. Just try this and see what happens. Your mind will tell you it’s not safe to be open, that you don’t want to soften, that you’ll tenderize only if the other person changes first. But those strategies haven’t really worked, have they? Try something new.

    9) Connect: When you practice love, forgiveness, and tenderness sincerely and consistently, you begin to feel so connected to other people and to life itself that your sense of “me” frays at the edges, loosens, merges. I heard a man at a retreat with the teacher, Eckhart Tolle, say that he’d been practicing compassion meditation and a weird thing was happening to him. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” the concerned man said. And Eckhart replied, “Congratulations.” When you let go of that firm sense of who you are, and what you must protect, and why you are better or worse than anyone else, you are free. There’s less fear, less striving, less of the need to prove your case. There’s more room to let others in, more comfort with the world just as it is, and at the same time, more courage to speak up for truth and beauty.     

    10) Joy to the World: How strange that we have everything we need to cheer up right this minute, but so often, joy alludes us. You may recoil at this idea. You may think, “She has NO idea what I am going through; cheering up is not possible.” But I have met some of the most joyful people in the most unlikely, difficult places, including jails and hospitals. And some of the gloomiest, most aggrieved people in luxurious homes and privileged situations. Albert Einstein said that the most important thing to pursue is “sacred awe.” If you think about it, how awe-some—preposterous really—that we are here at all. That YOU showed up here on this little blue marble floating in space. Each one of us has a joyful core that is truer than the worry, the sadness, the blame, the fear. Find your joyful core. Trust it. Be it. Share it.

    ELIZABETH LESSER is the author of several bestselling books, including Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. She is the co-founder of Omega Institute, recognized internationally for its workshops and conferences in wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change. She has given two popular TED talks, and is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a collection of a hundred leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.

     

    Together we can all inspire, love, serve. And if you choose to Lead from the heart…right from the start, you will see a big shift in your life and the lives of the people around you. Now go out and Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday!

    See you all back here on Wednesday for my own little holiday to-do list.

    Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC