What Lights You?

Abstract sun illustration

It is just a few days now till we experience the shortest amount of daylight, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. And this year, it will occur within about two-and-a-half hours of a new moon — talk about dark!

Solstice coincides with holy days that inspire us to kindle lights — Hanukkah menorahs; Christmas lights on trees, houses or in windows; Kwanzaa candles; wood burning stoves and fireplaces lit for warmth, both literal and communal.

There is also a drive to be lit from within. To know what really lights us up and then act on that. It can be as simple as a cup of your favorite tea and a book, or as complex as creating packages and delivering them to shelters and food banks as you move through overly full days.

This season can be harsh, even in its directives to be merry and happy. Some feel the loss of loved ones more acutely as gatherings are planned. Some don’t have large gatherings to attend and wish they did — others feel pushed to attend parties and celebrations when they’d rather be home hibernating.

It’s rarely as straightforward as it seems.

This week, I urge you to be the light that you seek. Let the prompts below become a beam that will lead you through this darkest, most sacred time.

Prompt #3 — What lights you from within? How can you cultivate and spread more of that light, in even the smallest ways? Are you happiest offering it to others, or is there a deep comfort that comes from holding it and basking in the glow of your own sweet fullness?

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3 Ways To Feel Better Now

Action Changes Things Acronym

 

This morning I read a great blog post about upgrading your life via something called biohacking. The lingo was a sometimes a bit scientific but the overall message was great — how to take action and make changes that make a difference in how you feel, think and respond.

It inspired me to get on the floor and stretch out some tight muscles. I even got out some of my (rarely used these days) self-care tools — footsie roller, small balls for self-massage, still point inducer. Worth Googling if you’re not familiar…

There is often a gap between what we know and what we do. It’s easier to take in information than to implement it, especially in the realm of health and wellness.

As I was rolling around on the floor, listening to gorgeous instrumental guitar music (one of their featured biohacking tools), I came up with these three things that are, in essence, simple. And yet they are awfully easy to forget to do.

1} Get Up

​Get out of your chair and move around. Take a little walk around the room or down the hall. Shake out your hands, rotate your pelvis, jump up and down. Make like a rag doll and simply hang forward, stretching out those poor hamstrings (chronically shortened from sitting) and giving your spine a rest from holding you up.

2} Get Down

Follow my lead and get down on the floor. Stretch out like a starfish. Get on your hands and knees and do Cat/Cow pose, alternatively rounding and arching your back. If there’s a firm pillow, bolster or exercise ball available, lay back onto it and open your arms, bringing a much needed extension into your upper body — we spend most of our time in forward flexion and rarely take our spine and shoulder girdle in the opposite direction.

3} Get Out

Even if all you can do is stick your head out the door for a minute, breathe some real air. Step onto a patch of earth and feel it’s energy supporting you (there is scientific research showing that we need to connect to the earth’s energy for vibrant health — some even suggest sleeping outside on the ground to align with it fully). Walk around the house or office building. Better yet, get to a nearby park or hiking trail and revitalize your relationship to trees, grass and rocks.
It’s so easy to careen through our days attached to screens and staying cozily inside when it’s cold. We reach for comforts, but they don’t always provide the truer comfort of what enlivens and brings out the best in us.

Those are my three things. I’m sure you have some of your own, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Are You Cultivating Kindness — For You?

Tree of knowledge growing out of book
The more I spend time teaching lovingkindness meditation, the more awed I am at human beings. How we think, how essentially good we are, how hard we can be on ourselves, how many difficulties life throws in our path.And still we show up. We persevere. We help, we heal, we nurture. We strive to be better people.

What’s really amazing to me is how kindness grows and spreads when it is cultivated. It lives within us, and yet it sometimes is hard to access — especially for ourselves.

Imagine a garden where the ground got tilled, seeds got planted, and then…nothing. No watering, no weeding, no pruning or deadheading occurred. Sure, you’d get some tomatoes and cucumbers, and the zinnias would still bloom.

But your garden would not thrive. Your harvest would not reach its full capacity. There would be a lack of fullness, lushness and thriving.

We Really Are Not So Different

There’s a lot that we can live with and endure, but that’s not the same as thriving. You can be a basically good, kind, warm person and still beat up on yourself, still take things hard and suffer “the slings and arrows” of life.

Which is why cultivating a practice of lovingkindness, self-love and self-care is so important. Not as shoulds, but as acts of deep connection, witnessing, support and love. And there’s no better place to start than with you, for as one of my favorite teachers puts it, “Life is so difficult, how can we be anything but kind?”

After all, you watch the cooking channel to pick up tips on technique and bring them into the kitchen, then share the yumminess with family and friends. You play lots of games of Words With Friends and begin to see ways to make more points using less letters. You pick up five pound weights to strengthen your biceps and feel greater ease in carrying groceries.

So too, the active practice of compassion and lovingkindness will strengthen the muscles of your heart and soul, allowing you to offer even more of your essential goodness to the world.

How will you cultivate kindness for yourself today?

Can You Feel It?

Painted Colorful Hands
Layers are becoming necessary. Socks too. Foliage is beginning to brighten and transform from deep green to golds and reds and oranges.
 
Tonight begins the turning of a new year for me and my fellow Jews. {L’shanah Tovah if that includes you!} We usher in a sweet year by sharing apples dipped in honey, gather for the warmth of traditional foods and each others’ company.
 
I am hearing from so many people that there is also an internal shift, a quickening toward deeper levels of purpose and meaning. This coincides with a sense of weariness generated by the unending busy-ness of modern life.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this glorified, almost cult-like status of busy that permeates our culture.
You see, it is both true and not true. Yes, there is lots to do all the time for most of us. And no, we are not without the power to shift how we respond to it, or how much we honestly need to show up for. What pieces are truly necessary so you can end your day and put head to pillow with a feeling of satisfaction?
This is one of the things I addressed in last week’s “I’m Too Busy To Meditate!” teleclass. Time happens on two levels at once — there is the literal, 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour level, which as they say “waits for no one.”
And then there is the ephemeral, internal passing of time, which expands and contracts based on a variety of factors. How is it that the same amount of minutes can pass snail slowly one time, and whoosh by in a flash another?
We have so many ways of relating to time: we lose track of it, we kill it, we waste it, we treasure it, we measure it.
Want to expand your sense of time?
Take time to stop and feel it. Sounds simple, I know, but how long has it been since you did just that? Relate to the next moment with all of your senses open and alive — not hyper vigilant, simply alert, like an animal responding to the sound of your approach on a quiet path.
Every moment you can do that is a moment of healing. It’s a moment of being awake to reality. It’s an opportunity to begin again and disconnect from the cult of “too busy.” Practice stepping in and out of that flow to liberate yourself from getting caught in the rapids!

Look Up!

glass ball
Look Up!
That’s what my dad always encouraged me to do when I was in Manhattan. He grew up there and we lived close by, so of course we felt and acted like natives.
 
“Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist awed by the tall buildings,” he’d say. “You miss seeing the most amazing architecture if you only focus on the street level.”
 
I think of those words a lot lately, with everyone’s eyes trained on their phone screens. And yes, guilty as charged myself, of course. The World Wide Web might open a lot of things to us, but it also has a way of narrowing our view — down and away from what is in our immediate world.
 
A large part of living in the now and being present to what is requires exactly that: opening to a broader perspective. Such as:
  • Looking up to see what treasures you might find…or what ugliness, like peeling paint, graffiti or neglect. All part of reality too. I could curse the power lines or be grateful for the light and warmth they generate.
  • Truly seeing and engaging with the trees, the bricks, the stones, every part of the landscape you are driving or walking through.
  • Remembering that everything that exists contains a spark of life, which shares the same Creative Force as the spark of life in you.
Mindfulness is built one small action at a time. Any moment in which you wake from your reverie of busy, distracted, or consumed is an opportunity to look up and take note of the ways in which you are always connected — no wi-fi needed.
 
Look up more often. Look around and truly see what can be so easy to miss: the squirrel darting from limb to limb. The way your teacup is resting perfectly in its saucer. The affirmation that you tacked up above your desk last month that has blended into the wall, no longer noticed.
 
Revel in all that you see, and the fact that you are able to see it. Revel in all that you feel, and rejoice in the skin and nerves that receive it. Revel in all that you taste, the tongue and tastebuds that allow you to, in the words of the late, great Warren Zevon, “enjoy every sandwich.” 

Every Moment Matters

lighttree
 
Last week I wrote about the beauty of melancholy…this week, the world is trying to come to grips with the unbearably sad manifestation of depression in Robin Williams’ suicide.
 
It may not seem so in the busy flow of daily life, but every moment we are making choices. Even if we’re simply staring into space lost in our own thoughts, we are not doing something else.
 
It isn’t always easy to see the forest for the trees, even for those who have never experienced any gradation of this illness. And yet, every moment we have a choice. What helps you to remember that in your darkest moments?
 
I know a thing or two about clinical depression. I have struggled with it myself, and have close friends who do as well. I sprang from a family history fraught with it, including a grandfather who received electro-shock treatments back in the days when it was not nearly as nuanced as it is now
 
And yet I am far from an expert. There are many shades of blue, some much darker and more menacing, more all-encompassing, than others. Either way, the forest can feel awfully dense and dark on any given day.

We live in incredible times. There are huge advancements in science and technology; at the same time, there are huge regressions in human compassion and connection. Yet touchstone moments like these tend to shine a high beam on our shared humanity.

I’m not trying to bum you out…
 
…I am, however clumsily, trying to make a point about self-care. It is not negotiable. It is not simply a little nicety you add on at the end of a busy day, in the form of a bubble bath or a glass of wine. Those things might relax you, but they barely scratch the surface of a deeper calling.
 
Self-care is an act of faith. It is a choice that needs to be made day by day. It is different things for different people with one common thread — that it connect you to your breath, to your soul, to the part of you that exists beyond this three dimensional world.
 
You needn’t believe in a particular religion to tap into the sacred. Yet it is a necessary ingredient for basic human nourishment, balance, and support. It is a muscle that needs to be strengthened, because our world and culture offer so many things to weaken it.
 
Every moment you are making a decision — do I believe this heavy, mean thought or replace it with a better one? Do I stay stuck on this couch or get up and do the dishes, just to get moving? Do I reach for the belt (or the pills or the gun), or reach for the doorknob and take one step out of this room? {I don’t in any way mean to belittle Mr. Williams’ clearly consuming pain; and I imagine many of us have at least once thought that it would be easier to simply check out.}
 
There are two sides to every story, every rough moment, every sense of “it will never get better.” The world exists in pairs of seeming opposites — my prayer is that you always find a middle way.

The Beauty of Melancholy

thumb_Young-Woman-in-a-Shawl

 
Why talk about melancholy at the height of the summer? Isn’t this a time for endless barbecues, vacation plans and bicycle rides, for the joys of fresh peaches and cherries?
 
It is all of the above and more. What I love about melancholy is that it is equated with being pensive, as opposed to depressed. 
 
We feel a bit blue because we are allowing ourselves to feel everything — the joy of a gorgeous summer day mixed with sadness at the loss of a parent or the pain of a dear friend. Both of my parents died in summertime, and it has given this season a bittersweet blend of uplift mixed with wistfulness. And I know I’m not the only one who experiences this.
 
But What About Positive Thinking and the Law of Attraction?
 
Ah yes…that old “what you focus on is what you create!” conundrum! How does that fit in? Aren’t we supposed to always be putting our attention on what we are grateful for, what we want to draw into our lives, what is light and bright and inspired by a higher energy?
 
There’s a difference between being positive and being real.
 
Yes, you can be sad and content at the same time. When you don’t push away honest feelings of sadness, anger or fear, they don’t pull you out of flow, they are part of it. Being with is not the same as wallowing in.
  • Being with allows space for those feelings to not get stuck, but move through and out.
  • Being with keeps us honest and gives us valuable information about what is working in our lives and what is not.
  • Being with is the internal equivalent of a sudden summer storm. Emotions can blow through, leaving us calm, clear and cool in their wake.
Peace of mind comes not from latching desperately on to the high points of the season. It comes from letting all of the seasons of your life breathe fully in every moment, rising and falling like the swells in the ocean. 
 
The way out is always through. Trust in your melancholy moments; relish the wisdom inherent in letting joy marry sorrow. The wheel always keeps turning; remember that and you’ll never get stuck in one place.

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