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? 

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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!

Cultivating Gratitude

We talked Monday about the reasons it’s important to adopt an attitude of gratitude.  The question now is, “how do we do it”?    Although we are all born with certain tendencies toward viewing the glass as half-full or half-empty, we can strengthen our brain circuits toward optimism if we practice.  I would suggest trying a few of these suggestions over the next several weeks and see how you feel.  I’m pretty sure it’ll be better than when you started.  Some of these ideas have been recommended by Hans Rippel, a writer for Optimal Functioning. 

1.  Keep a Gratitude Journal.  Keep a log of the things/people for which you are grateful.  It could be as easy as writing down 5 things each day.   Having a record to reflect back upon is a way to lift your spirits, especially at times when you’re feeling down on yourself. 

2.  Make the Right Kind of Comparisons.  There are two ways you can do this.  You can compare yourself and your current life situation to those that are less fortunate, thereby reminding you of your abundance.  You can also feel gratitude toward those that inspire and motivate you, thereby turning around the feeling of envy.

3.  Come to your Senses.  Remember the gifts of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  These are part of being grateful for your health.

4.  Use Visual Reminders.  Place positive words, quotes, cards on your desk, bathroom mirrors, fridge, car – wherever you go on a day to day basis. 

5.  Go Through the Motions.  Do things that make you feel grateful and express your gratitude to others.  While going through the motions, remember to be grateful to those that may have hurt you, for they have also had something to teach you.  

These ideas will help you get started.  I’m sure we have all utilized our own techniques that have helped flex the gratitude muscle.  Feel free to share what has worked for you!