Are You Stronger at the Stressed Places?

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Several years ago while I was going through a “stuck” time, a wise friend told me a story about how bamboo grows. Each of the rings, or fuschi, indicate an area of tremendous stress, withheld energy and exertion before the next level of upward growth bursts forth.

It also creates a thickness that adds strength to the structure.

Much as we all like to dream about a stress-free life, it is neither realistic nor a truly positive goal. We are natural beings, and in nature, stress adds strength to structure. It is an inevitable response to difficulties (and even happy events) in life, and allows us to grow, stretch and reach beyond our usual comfortable levels of growth — or maybe even stagnation.

How you actually deal with and respond to the natural stresses in life? That’s the fun and interesting part! When you feel something “negative” that you don’t want to be experiencing, what do you do? 

  • Do you imagine yourself in a bubble of white light and hope those energies won’t touch you?
  • Do you focus all of your attention on positive thoughts and feelings, hoping that will leave no room for the negative?
  • Do you hide in your room/Facebook/TV and hope that it will all blow over before you re-emerge?
One of the best ways — perhaps truly the ONLY WAY — to deal with stress and unwanted feelings is to do the opposite of what you think. It is to simply be with them. To feel them fully and let them wash through you. To trust that since everything changes, you won’t get stuck here.
To know that you won’t drown if you let yourself ride this wave.
To trust that the force of any stressful event is like fuschi — a momentary contraction of energy, a lull in the action that will naturally lead to your next phase of growth. Trying to push it away only slows nature’s process.
Feel like you could use some support and guidance in being a better surfer? Please join me for the nearly free teleclass described below. Together we will ride the waves of growth through the tight spots.

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Holiday Sanity Solutions — Thursday, November 21, 2013 

A Better Than Free* Teleclass!

Gift yourself with simple antidotes for holiday stress. This will be an hour filled with powerful tools and mindset shifts guaranteed to get you through the holiday season with sanity and grace.

  • Learn a simple meditation — even if you think you’re genetically not wired for it!
  • Practice one movement that will release stress from your nervous system instantly.
  • Clarify and embody your intention for the kind of holiday season you want, regardless of external obligations.
WHEN? Thursday, November 21st, 7:30-8:30 pm ET
WHERE? Via phone, from the comfort of your own home! Call-in details will arrive after you’ve helped to share the bounty of the season with some of our less fortunate neighbors.
 
HOW MUCH? Free with your donation of any size to Feeding America. Simply go to their site, make your donation, then email me to confirm at sharon@heartofselfcare.com. This will automatically register you, and the call-in info will follow.
*Why BETTER THAN FREE? This time of year is, more than any other, about caring and sharing. It can also be about busier schedules, greater distractions and emotional surfing on many levels. And in all of this, your natural desire to be generous and share your life’s bounty with others might fall to a back burner, a great idea you somehow never quite get around to (been there, done that).
I got this idea from a marketing coach and was very inspired by it — so much so that I made a more generous donation than I might have otherwise, and still haven’t gotten around to looking at his material! I hope that something in this inspires you too. One of the greatest gifts most of us have is the ability to pretty much eat whatever we want whenever we want it. I feel passionate about helping others to simply have enough food to end the day feeling nourished and satisfied.
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What Do You Say When You Talk to Yourself?

I used to call my Mom “potty mouth.” Not only did she like to use expletives when she dropped things (which she did a lot, bless her, due to incredibly arthritic hands), but she also said things like “how stupid of me!” or “Dumb, Barbara, really dumb” quite frequently. If things didn’t go as she planned or she found herself standing in a room not quite remembering why she walked in, the litany would begin.

So what? you might ask. I say stuff like that all the time and I know  I’m not really stupid. But words have power — our bodies believe every word we say, and our mind lives in every cell of our bodies.

“Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…”

The new science of neuroplasticity tells us “thinking, learning, and acting actually change both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization.” (from Wikipedia). Research shows that “repetition of the same information or experience may lead to more modifications in the connections that house it, or an increase in the number of connections that can access it…as a result of the amazing plasticity of our brains.”

Consider too the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto. He shows through vivid photographic images how simply placing a written word on a glass of water changes the structure of the water molecules. The structures become more coherent and symmetrical in the presence of words like “love” and “joy” and more fractured in the presence of words like “hate” or “intolerance.”

You are over 75% water – what words and energies do you want reverberating in
your body/mind? Knowing that they are malleable and changeable, how can you shift your train of thought when it starts heading down the path of least resistance?

You can start to call the shots

Thoughts are like bowling. There’s a pathway that you want to send the ball down, and sometimes it lands in the gutter. So you practice your throw and find that it starts staying more easily in the lane, knocking over pins at the end. And with even more practice and concentration, you are able to get that ball down the center and score more strikes with each game.

The mind isn’t that different, and there is a way to keep it out of the gutter – by training it with phrases of loving-kindness and mantras of wellbeing.

It’s clear to me that the more time I spend in meditation and mantra repetition, the more fluid my emotional world is and the less likely I am to stay engaged in negative self-talk when I find myself slipping up.

The Magic of Blessing

Many spiritual paths use blessings and repetition of specific phrases as forms of mind training. Through the concentrated use of these phrases, it’s possible to override negative thought patterns and invoke feelings of peace, happiness and compassion for oneself and others.

Here is a lovely series of phrases from the Buddhist tradition. You invoke them first for yourself, because compassion for others must begin with compassion for oneself, and because we are often harder on ourselves than on anyone else.

After repeating them for a while, replace “I” with the name of someone who has helped you or been an inspiration; then the names of friends and loved ones; then someone who you don’t really know but see in the post office or behind your deli counter; then those who you find especially challenging; and then say the phrases ‘for all beings everywhere.’

May I dwell in the heart,
may I be free from suffering,
may I be healed
may I live with ease.

Stay with this as long as you’d like, and repeat as often as possible. You can even challenge yourself to use this practice in the midst of your busy day, silently sending blessings instead of curses to the slow cashier whose line you’re impatiently stuck in, or the person who honks if you don’t move the millisecond the light turns green. And see if you don’t begin to have more emotional strikes than gutter balls, no matter what is going on around you.

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Assume The Position

What is the most important part of a meditation practice? Most would say it is being present to your breath, focusing on a mantra, opening your heart to God, feeling connected to the Oneness that binds all of us together in the web of life.

But after years of dancing in, out and around having a consistent practice, I believe that the most important part is sitting down. First there is getting yourself to stop whatever you are doing and actually get your tush on the cushion. That part is huge, and one of the biggest obstacles most of us face.

And then there is the posture itself — relaxed yet upright, spine straight yet fluid, base firm and solid, hands resting lightly on the knees or thighs, eyes closed or half-closed with an unfocused gaze, shoulders down, face soft and jaw unclenched. It is a regal posture; you are saying with your body “Here I am, present and attentive to whatever shows up, whatever thoughts or sensations or emotions flash through my being.” It also says “Here I am, taking my place in the lineage of people who seek to know themselves and how their minds work, so we can relate to ourselves and others with more compassion, wisdom and grace.”

Assuming the position on a fairly regular basis allows your muscles, bones and nervous system to acclimate to what that posture means. It allows cellular memory to build, so that even in your most unruly, agitated meditations, bringing awareness to your body brings you back to the task at hand. If the mind is indeed a monkey, swinging from branches and grabbing at bananas, then lightly touching into the sensation of our body in the meditative posture can slow the movement down and offer it an anchor.

So if you want to meditate but think you can’t, or are having trouble staying with the practice because your mind just WON’T…STOP…WHIRRING, forget about trying to meditate. Instead, make an appointment with yourself to sit for a few minutes every day; relaxed yet upright, spine straight yet fluid, base firm and solid, hands resting lightly on the knees or thighs, eyes closed or half-closed with an unfocused gaze, shoulders down, face soft and jaw unclenched. Take a regal posture.

Feel yourself suspended in space, either on your cushion or on a chair, embodying the solid, compassionate posture of a meditator.  Pay attention to your breath as it moves in and out of your lungs, and let your awareness connect gently with the feel of your tush and legs as they contact the seat, or your hands as they rest on your thighs. Your body holds much wisdom and a huge capacity for sense memory. Train it to carry you to where you think you cannot go.

This Could be The Best Part of Your Day

So, what is the best part of YOUR day? Is it that first sip of coffee (or tea, as in my case)? The moment you hit “send” on that email you’re been putting off for almost a week? The unexpected smile and kiss you get from your teenager? Or is it the moment that you finally get to put your head on the pillow after getting through another overfull and mostly uninspired day?

For those on a path of mindful living, the best moment can be any moment we are fully awake to; it is the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. A cat lying in a patch of sun, a squirrel running frantically across the lawn with its cheeks full of seeds, even a spiderweb that we really look at before we knock it down or suck it into the vacuum cleaner; putting our mind chatter on hold and being fully present to any moment is an extraordinary gift and challenge.

There is so much emphasis in popular culture on being the best, the most amazing, the superstar!! Yet most of daily life is filled with boring or ordinary things, many of which need to get done, some of which we choose but are not quite thrilled by: it’s easier to love a clean sink than the act of dealing with grimy, greasy dishes.

What if this moment, this small, simple moment of taking time to read these words and pause a bit from what may be a chaotic day, could be the best part of your day? What would that mean for you? A smile. A memory of some silly, tender moment with your child, your dog, your best friend. A realization that whatever else is happening, whatever else needs to happen, can wait and the world will not fall apart. That presence trumps perfection, and you are running the control panel of your awareness.

So tell me…what is the best part of your day?

 

The short, the sweet, the essential

As an avid reader and less-avid writer, I often find myself swimming in a sea of words. I know that many blame TV and the Internet for decreasing the human attention span, but I wonder…how many words do we really need to get our point across? Are we truly saying something of interest and import (or amusement), or are we mostly filling a void or meeting a word count for arbitrary publishing purposes?

I’m sure you’ve found yourself reading a blog post or article or book and thinking “yeah, yeah, OK, you’re a good writer but just get to the point already?!?” Do we all really have ADD, or are there simply more words than there need to be in most writing? After all, how much more pithy and meaningful can you get than a well written haiku (three lines consisting of 5, 7 and 5 syllables), or the less known monostich, a one line poem such as “It was a huge small world in the court where our apartment dwelled.” You fill in the blanks yourself — at best, these short pieces open up a well of responses in us, rather than telling us how to respond.

So I commit myself to short posts that provoke thought through the less is more theory. I’m not even committing to once a week, or every other day or any other rhythm; I’m going to let the rhythms find their own way, syncopated and uneven as life tends to be. I invite you to write some haiku or monostichs yourself and see what can open through a commitment to brevity and succinctness.  In a “more is always better” world, take a stand for the beauty of simply this. And share that beauty with the weary, bloated, overflowing world.

Some Notes on Faith

Yesterday I bought myself a “transition gift,” a sparkly strand of small white/gold Swarovski crystals surrounding a gold bead etched with the word FAITH. It represents this poignant moment in time as I continue becoming a motherless daughter, finally leave a location and healing practice I’ve been associated with for 20+ years, publish my first book and step more fully away from the work of massage into a primarily spiritual and emotional healing realm.

For me, FAITH is a promise of good things to come and the ability to weather the rough spots with my sails intact. FAITH is the absence of cynicism and narcissism, both so rampant in modern culture. It is FAITH in something larger than myself weaving reality together, even when I’m not always sure of the weaver’s form or existence. And it is the ability to have FAITH in myself above all, in my own hard-won wisdom and innate goodness, in my need and right to take my seat fully at the table and share gifts of heart and soul that assist others in taking their place fully in a world that needs so many more healed souls.

In her book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, Sharon Salzberg writes:

“Faith does not require a belief system and is not necessarily connected to a deity or God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith is not a commodity we either have or don’t have — it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.

Such faith is not superficial or sentimental. It doesn’t say everything will turn out all right…Life is not likely to deliver only pleasant events. Faith entails the understanding that we don’t know how things will unfold. Even so, faith allows us to claim the possibility that we ourselves might change in ways that will allow us to recognize and trust the helping hands stretched towards us. It enables us to aspire to a better life than the one we have inherited.”

Yes, this is the FAITH I am reminded of when I look at the sparkly stones and word encircling my wrist. FAITH that I can go on without my mother’s love and guidance and inherited way of skewing towards the pain and negativity of life. FAITH that I have something valuable and necessary to offer besides what I can do with my hands (and I was blessed with really great hands, hands that find sore spots and know how to ease them). FAITH that as I step fully into the new and unknown, the path will open before me and my feet will always find a place to land.

Take a few moments to think about your own relationship to faith. What do you have faith in? Do you allow yourself to touch into your essential goodness on a daily basis? Can you reach a little higher, a little deeper, to connect with the faith you may have temporarily lost touch with? How does faith live in you? Please share…and check out the beautiful bracelet at sealedwithlove.com.

3 Simple Ways to Welcome Spring

1) As more light comes into our lives, think light in terms of your food intake. Not to eat so little you feel hungry or unsatisfied, but in terms of what foods you eat — when you eat clean, you can eat a lot and not feel heavy, congested or tired.

What does “clean food” mean?

  • Fill your plate at least half with salads and fresh cooked vegetables, then let the other half be mostly grains and beans, with whatever meat you’re having being more like a side dish or flavor boost.
  • Take in plenty of fluids and high water content foods (again, basically veggies) so there is less room for denser foods. I just made a quick, satisfying soup from prepared chicken broth in which I simmered onion, carrot, mushroom and zucchini, with a Gardenburger on the side for added protein and satiety. My favorite ready made broth is Rachel Ray’s brand — it actually has less sodium than most brands, including those marked “low sodium” and has a true chicken flavor.
  • Try homemade smoothies for a treat or a meal replacement. Freeze ripe bananas by peeling, breaking into small pieces and storing in a container. For one serving, mix about half a banana with some frozen berries or peach slices, add a scoop of whey protein powder (Designer Whey is a great brand), a tablespoon of flax or coconut oil, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a little sweetener to taste if needed. The combination of protein powder and healthy oil keeps you full and satisfied for hours.

2) Do some mental spring cleaning. Take an hour to meditate and journal on a habitual behavior you are wanting to let go of and what you want to replace it with. For example, if you’ve been beating yourself up about spending too much on non-essentials, think about what other resources you have to fill that need. What sets off the desire to acquire? State your intention to stop, breathe and contemplate the richness of your life the next time you feel the impulse to make a purchase. Then extend your gratitude by passing on clothing items, CDs and books that no longer fit your life.

3) Touch the earth. Find a place to take off your shoes and really feel the ground supporting you and the grass or moss that is coming back to life. Open all of your senses to the moment — the air on your skin, the wind in the still bare trees, the buds that are forming on the branches, the sounds of birds and other creatures becoming active again. Open your arms and breath deeply, knowing that you are part of this cycle of cold and warm, dark and light, dormant and fertile. Embrace your place in the natural order of life.

Happy spring! Wishing you light and warmth in all aspects of your being…

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