Cultivating Compassion

We spoke Monday about LOVE and how important it is to first be kind and compassionate to ourselves. To me, love is really the inherent spirit that lives inside each of us. We are all born with an immense capacity to love and be loved. It is this driving force that fuels all relationships. Oftentimes, our experiences will dictate how we view ourselves and others. Perhaps, we gave our heart to someone once and got hurt. Maybe we were taught as a child to “be tough”. Possibly, we didn’t have loving behavior modeled to us. Whatever reasons we have had for building up our defenses against love, research now shows that we can change our brain circuitry by our thoughts and emotions.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that positive emotions, such as love, compassion, and kindness could be developed much like developing the skill to play an instrument. They found that brain circuitry was markedly changed after individuals engaged in compassion meditation, as Tibetan monks had done for years. It reaffirms that our thoughts and, more importantly, the emotions that go along with them, create physical responses in our bodies. And, if you think about it, these become the beliefs and perceptions we have of the world. We create our lives out of these perceptions.

How can we harness and practice loving-kindness in our lives? Although, I think silencing our minds and spending a few minutes each day to meditate creates astounding benefits, there are other simple tactics you can utilize.

Be still. Appreciate your uniqueness. Pause to take in the beauty of nature. Laugh. Eliminate self-criticism. Know that each person in your life is doing their best. Forgive those who have wronged you. Feed your soul. Be grateful for your trials and tribulations. Pray. Surrender to the Higher Power that lives within you.

How can you radiate love today?

Broadening Your Perspective

I recently watched an interview with Oprah and Mark Nepo, author of the best-seller, “The Book of Awakening“.  For anyone looking for a book full of small vignettes of inspiration, this is your book. 

As we finish our discussion on navigating through the pain and struggles of life, I wanted to share an excerpt from Nepo’s book, as he puts the concept of pain in perspective.

How Does it Taste?

An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt.  When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. 

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” said the young man.

Peyto Lake

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake.  The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake”. 

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” 

“Fresh”, remarked the apprentice. 

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. 

“No”, said the young man. 

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt;  no more, no less.  The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same.  But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in.  So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things….Stop being a glass.  Become a lake”.

Each of us, at different times in our lives, will experience some pain and struggles.  As raw and real as the experiences are, Nepo teaches us that when we broaden the space in our minds to house the pain, we start to taste the sweetness of life that still exists.

Living In Between the Answers

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. 

Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything. 

Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”   -Ranier Maria Rilke

I first heard this quote read by my yoga instructor at the end of one of our sessions.  It got me thinking about how much we try to make sense of things that happen around us – especially, when they involve pain and suffering. 

We spoke Monday about learning how to ride the wave of our lives.  How do we navigate through the inevitable turmoil, stress, and pain that are part of the natural wave?  What can we do to nurture ourselves as we move through the challenges?  I came up with a few strategies.

1.  Take a moment.  Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling.  If emotions arise, let them come to the surface, instead of pushing them down.  Take time out of your day to be still – even if it’s only for a few minutes.  Too often, we try to fill our days so we don’t have to feel, when in reality, giving our emotions the space they need, will help cleanse the mind. 

2.  Move your Body.  We all know how closely linked our minds and bodies are.  During times of high stress, exercising is a great remedy.  Maybe you take a walk outdoors and breathe in some fresh air.  Perhaps, you sign up for a yoga class.  Maybe you recruit a good friend to be a running buddy.  Make some form of exercise a priority.

3.  Find Support.  Remember, we can’t go through life alone.  Lean on the people in your life that you trust and who have your best interest at heart.  Share your feelings, and allow them to be your safety net.  Often, we will find that those closest to us have gone through similar circumstances and give us solace that we are not alone.  Sometimes, that’s enough.

4.  Focus on Gratitude.  This is such a powerful tool to help us through any tough time.  Remind yourself of the things that are going right in your life (and, I guarantee, there are MANY).  I have a gratitude journal that I keep.  You may want to start by writing 5 things you are grateful for when you first start your day or before you go to bed.  There will soon be a shift in your perception.

5.  Feed your Soul.  There are many different ways to do this.  Give your soul the love it needs.  What are the simple things that give you pleasure?  Maybe it’s taking a warm bath or booking a massage for yourself.  Maybe you relish reading a good book on your couch.  Perhaps, you spend some quality time with your spouse or kids cooking a meal together.  How about that painting class you’ve been meaning to sign up for?  Whatever it is that brings you some small level of joy, provide it to yourself. 

6.  Accept Where You Are.  This is challenging for many of us.  We want so badly to be out of our circumstance.  But when we can fully embrace this time as just part of our journey, we realize that the wave never stands still.  It is always moving forward, as we will, too.    

Can you create some space to live between the answers?  Can you live and love the questions that arise? 

The Power of Gratitude

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
—  Maya Angelou
 
 
Each Thanksgiving, my family (and oftentimes, friends of mine and my brothers’) would go around the table and state one thing we were thankful for that year.  Although, we only did this ONCE in a year, it always filled me with such love and warmth.  It brought inside me a feeling of abundance and a knowing that all is okay.  It’s not because everything in our lives was perfect, but it was because we brought our focus and attention to what was going right in that moment.  It shifted our perceptions of ourselves and of each other. 
 
The truth is that gratitude has the power to change our lives.  We all have things in our lives that don’t go as planned.  We all have things we wish and hope we had or didn’t have.  It’s hard to feel gratitude at times when we’ve lost loved ones, when we’re in financial turmoil, or when our health falters.  It is okay to grieve those losses.  It’s ok if we don’t have all the answers.  But know this:  When you choose to focus on gratitude, you open the channels for all good to flow toward you and through you.  It changes how you see yourself, your surroundings, and your circumstances.  Instead of focusing on the lack, appreciate the small things in your life that you already have now.  How have they added to the myriad of blessings that exist for you in this moment?
 
I hope your Thanksgiving day was full of warmth, love, family, and friends.  And through the holiday season, and hopefully beyond, I hope that you choose to invite gratitude into your heart and allow the power of it to grace your wellness quotient.  I am grateful to each one of you that visits this site.  Its success has been fueled by you!    
 
Many blessings to you and to your families!

A Sense of Wonderment

 “You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.” — Sarah Ban Breathnach

We are all born with a sense of wonderment as we explore our surroundings.  Children look at the world with awe, excitement, and curiosity.  They relish in the simple day-to-day aspects of living.  As you start your weekend, look through the eyes of that inner child, noticing the gifts that surround you.  Make it a point to feel gratitude for the little wonders of your day.  It will fuel your wellness tank!

Have a great weekend!

A Book of Blessings – Tips to Writing a Gratitude Journal

I have been writing in a journal for almost 10 years now.  I remember starting out wondering exactly how to write down my thoughts.  I fought back the initial urge to start with “Dear Diary…..”! My first instinct was to write about all the things I was unhappy about (and I think I did)  – how I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life, how I  didn’t love my job, how I thought the Universe was plotting against me, and on and on and on.  As I began to write more, and perhaps after seeing my sad, raw thoughts written down, I began to slowly transition into writing about the experiences for which I was grateful.  Sound too simple?  It actually is. 

We spoke Monday about finding an outlet during the inevitable rocky times in our lives.  When we find an outlet for our negative thoughts and feelings, we almost always feel better.  Think about the times you just needed to vent to someone, or how you felt after having a challenging work-out, or after meditating for 20 min or even 2 minutes!  Writing in a journal is another vessel to pour your thoughts into.  What we find is that once the negativity is let out, we allow space for gratitude to come in.  As I continued to write over the years, my journal became a book of blessings.  It became a great tool to release stress and focus on what was good – and there was A LOT of good!   Here are some tips to starting your own book of blessings, or gratitude journal:

1.  Decide on the type of journal book.  Does it have an inspirational cover or is it a specific color?  Is it blank inside or have lines?  Are you better at writing on your computer or ipad?  Keep the book/laptop some place in your house where you can see it (I keep my journal book next to my bed with a pen). 

2.  Commit to a writing schedule.  It doesn’t have to be every day and it doesn’t have to elaborate, but having a schedule will keep you motivated and focused on the positive experiences of your day.

3.  Include experiences, not just things Think about how certain moments of your day make you feel.  You may feel grateful for having the money to buy a new outfit, but how does putting it on make you feel? Confident, poised, successful?  When you’re thankful for your baby’s smile, what feelings does that invoke in you – love, warmth, happiness?

4.  Write out 3-5 moments you are thankful for.  Either write out a list or write out your day as a story.  Often, I will re-read what I’ve written in the past, and it will always bring a smile to my face and shift my focus.

5.  Keep it real.  Write in a way that is personal and authentic to you.  It’s not about making your entries flowery or poetic.  Remember, you are not being judged by the style of your writing.  Just write your truth.

Journaling is a great way to recount your blessings.  You will find they are all around you and come in ways you didn’t imagine.  Remember to have gratitude for the hard lessons. Your rocky times may have blessings written all over them!

A Grateful Loss

I just finished watching one of my favorite shows on the FOOD NETWORK – The Next Food Network Star.  I watched as one of the contestants, Mary Beth Albright (a food writer from Washington DC), was voted off by the selection committee.  She made a statement through her tears as she left the studio that made me think.  She said, “A lot of people…….don’t get an opportunity like the one I’ve had.  How can I be anything but grateful?“. 

I thought about gratitude, as I neared the end of a tough week.  It was one of those weeks where I felt a general sense of uneasiness and tension about little things that weren’t going as planned.  As a result, my body felt weak and exhausted.  (Remember the effects of feeding the Mind-Body loop?  You can feed it in a positive, as well as negative way!)  The negative cycle can literally drown you unless you swim hard to the top, or, in my case, have someone that pulls you out .  Today, that person was my mother.  She reminded me to feel grateful.  She reminded me of all the little things were going right.  There were hundreds of them.  The most amazing thing was that, after I got off the phone with her, I had a complete change in attitude.  All of a sudden, my energy shifted and the world looked brighter.  Just like Mary Beth, I thought, “How could I be anything but grateful?” 

As I fed my mind positive thoughts, my body ate them up and I felt energized.  I went for a long run and felt gratitude for my health.  I caught up with friends and felt gratitude for the people in my life.  I cooked a delicious meal and felt gratitude for the beautiful food on my plate.  As I continued to focus on what was good, I found more things to be grateful for.  That’s the gift we receive when we feed our minds with appreciation.   

Yes, we all have issues in our lives that stump us and slow us down, and they are REAL.  But also remember that what we focus on, multiplies.  Problems escalate when we keep hitting the RE-PLAY button in our brains – the negative feedback loop.   Though we may intuitively recognize the importance of feeling gratitude in our day to day lives, sometimes it’s just too hard to hit the STOP button.  In those cases, create an outlet or lean on the  people that can remind you of your strengths.  Even a little dose of positivity can create a shift in vibration.  

So maybe Mary Beth Albright won’t be the Next Food Network Star.  And perhaps some might think she lost the competition.  But I think that in her own heart she feels she has won.  Now that’s something to be grateful for! 

Deepali’s Piece of Wellness:  What can you do to create a feeling of gratitude during rocky times?  Are there books, rituals, or people you can lean on to remind you to focus on what is good?