Home Page

One Small Shyft At A Time

Learn More

Read

How To Meditate

Meditating might be easier said than done, but our goal is to make it easie... Read more.
See For Yourself

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius Last w... Read more.
Do One Thing at a Time

Last week I was standing at the Chicago airport and noticed a young woman i... Read more.

Join Our Book Club

Meditations/Videos

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/niosha/public_html/shyftmag.com/wp-content/plugins/post-grid/grid-items/variables.php on line 116

Test for Meditations
One Small Shyft At A Time
Why does it seem like the easiest things are actually the hardest? Like meditating for a few minutes in the morning, or writing a gratitude list, or exercising? We know that such activities only take a few minutes, and provide a profound return on our investment of time. We know we will feel so much better after than before. Yet somehow we never quite get into the rhythm we are looking for.

Before we know it, the “S” word starts to slowly creep in to our minds. We know we “should”…but somehow, we just don’t.

What I often discuss with my patients and in my writing, is that we can’t wait for our motivation in order to start. The motivation may well never come. Or it may come after weeks or months of maintaining our morning rituals or our nightly journaling before we see the true rewards, often leading to renewed motivation to continue.

So how do we start then? If we find ourselves struggling, it could be a sign that the task is still too big or overwhelming. What is the smallest possible action available to you that will allow you to take that very first step? It could seem ridiculously, microscopically small. But that is okay. No judgment here. Whatever takes you even a millimeter closer to your goals and dreams is worthwhile and worthy.

This is why we are excited to begin our “How To” series, and share in the power of small shyfts leading to massive change. This is our opportunity to suggest tiny ways to build positive forward motion into all of our lives. When we each individually make a more conscious decision, we each inhabit more conscious lives. And conscious lives lead to conscious communities.

Before we know it, we are transforming, individually and collectively.

So we welcome you with open arms to our “How To” series, and we look forward to all of your suggestions and ideas as well. Share with us what it is you know how to do. We are all students, learning how to live our best possible lives.

One small, shaky, imperfect step at a time.

Dear Dr. Shyft
Dear Dr. Shyft:  I am really irritated with myself.  I have been working hard at improving myself.  I have been trying to meditate daily, do yoga regularly, and be grateful.  I try to eat well and exercise. But lately my self care plan feels more like self punishment.  I keep falling off the wagon and then beating myself up for not being better at taking care of myself.  It is especially hard to keep up with my daily meditation practice, even though I feel so much better when I make it a priority.  Somehow life just always gets in the way.  Why is it so hard to stick with something that I know is good for me?  
 
Signed, Struggling to Sit
 
Dear Struggling:  I completely understand where you are coming from.  We all know we would feel better if we meditated daily and were mindful, compassionate, grateful, and healthy all around.  But sometimes it can be helpful to remember that meditation and mindfulness were not created to be yet another self improvement project to impose upon ourselves.  In fact, just the opposite.  We are not trying to “get” anywhere or achieve anything through meditation.  It is our time to practice simply being.  That’s it.  Even if we “be” for one breath or one minute, that is great!  Once we start puffing out our chest about how often or long we have meditated for, we know the ego has snuck in the back door, which means it is time to get back to the basics.  Gentle structure and accountability (like a timer, an app, a class, a friend, a routine) can always help.  But let’s not berate ourselves to be good to ourselves, because, well, then we miss the point altogether.  Do your best, be kind to yourself and others, and if that’s all you can do, well, that is just perfect.
How to Glow

Meditation shines your light from the inside out. The more you meditate, the more you glow! And the more you glow, the healthier your skin looks and becomes.

There is an emerging field of research called psychodermatology that studies the interaction between mind and skin.  We know that our emotions and stress levels affect our skin.   As a result, addressing skin issues begins from within.   Because meditation reduces stress, fear, worry and anxiety – conditions that are often the root causes of skin problems--time spent on the cushion can actually improve the quality of your skin.  

Here are five reasons why meditation is the new facial:    

  1. Meditation slows down the aging process.

Meditation increases telomerase activity. Telomeres are the caps that protect the ends of our chromosomes. Telomerase is a type of enzyme that prevent the age related shortening of telomeres.  Studies have shown that the increased telomerase activity may lead to increased longevity and better quality of life, especially as we age.

    2.  Meditation calms inflammation 

Numerous studies on meditation and meditation-like practices have shown anti-inflammatory effects.  Inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress.  Chronic inflammation can lead to changes in the skin, such as wrinkles, sagging, and acne.  Anything that helps combat inflammation can help our skin remain youthful and clear.  

    3.  Meditation addresses the underlying issues that cause skin problems

 Whether chronic or not, skin issues worsen with stress. Reduced stress equals healthier skin. Therefore, stress reduction is critical to successfully treating skin ailments and promoting healthy skin cell growth and regeneration.  What could be more anti-stress than meditation?

    4.  Meditation improves your mood

A regular meditation practice increases the brain’s ability to repair itself and grow new neural connections. Like a muscle, these neural pathways get stronger and more effective with practice.  As a result, people who meditate experience more inner peace and an overall sense of wellbeing. Meditation also increases your brain’s serotonin production, which literally makes you happier.  Indeed, the skin shows us that happiness comes from the inside out.

    5.  Meditation helps you make healthier choices

With a meditation practice comes more awareness of your breath, your body and your surroundings. This leads to an increased ability to pause, be present and consider your lifestyle choices.

This can manifest in several ways, including simply becoming more conscious of where and how your food, clothes and skin care products are created.  Also, that pause between stimulus and response may lead to less alcohol, smoking, and substance use, all of which impact the way our skin looks and feels.

So get your glow on by taking the time you need to take care of yourself.  Just as meditation helps us be grateful, your skin will thank you too. 

How To Be Kind
Being kind feels like the easiest thing ever until someone cuts you off on the highway or grabs your Starbucks mobile order.  When compassion is out of reach, here is how you can find it again.  
  1. Pause:  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—just stop.  Often our anger, thoughts and emotions can be a runaway train.  Sometimes we need to pause before any wise action can arise.
  2. Breathe:  Once you have stopped, take a deep cleansing breath.  Fully feel every aspect of the breath, from the initial inhale through to the very end of the exhale.
  3. Connect To Your Body:  Feel your feet on the ground.  Relax your shoulders away from your ears, and unclench your jaw.
  4. Find Your Compassion:  Take a moment to wish yourself peace and ease, as well as those in front of you and around you.  We don’t often know the pain of others, and can easily take circumstances and peoples’ actions very personally.  See if you can drop the stories and instead feel heart centered, good wishes for yourself and others.  Remember that everyone wants to be happy, just like you do.
  5. Take Wise Action:  From a place of still, deep compassion, determine the kindest action available to you.  It might be to walk away or lean in.  It might be to speak your truth or to listen with your whole heart.  You will know.
Acting out of anger can be the path of least resistance, and being kind can feel hard.  But if we set an intention to live our days as a kindness practice, many opportunities will present themselves.  It might be the only practice we need.
How To Meditate
Meditating might be easier said than done, but our goal is to make it easier done than said. Here are five steps to sitting pretty. Before you begin, find a quiet space. You might consider creating a beautiful space for yourself, or lighting a candle, or whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable. But any space will work, from a quiet office, to your walk-in closet or your car (real spaces we ourselves practice in).

Once you have found your space, begin with steps 1-5 and find your zen.

1. Set an intention for time. As mindfulness expert Joseph Goldstein has said about meditation, “Something quite extraordinary can happen in even five minutes.” His colleague Sharon Salzberg concurs, explaining: “Usually when people start sitting, we say that five minutes is enough. You don’t have to think, ‘I’ve got to sit here for six hours.’ You don’t have to get into some pretzel-like posture and suffer!” But it’s often said that the best practice is the one you can actually maintain. So start with a small, truly doable amount of time. You can always increase the length of your meditation later if you want to. Even one mindful breath a day is a good start!

2.  Find your seat. Sit cross-legged on a meditation cushion, on a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor, or lying down, if you are someone who struggles with back or neck pain. The important thing is to find a relaxed yet dignified position so that you don’t get sleepy. Palms of your hands can be upright or down on your thighs…just don’t wave them in the air. If you prefer your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you otherwise let your eyes close softly.

3.  Notice and follow your breath. Place your attention lightly on your out-breath, while remaining aware your environment. Be with each breath as the air goes out through your mouth and nostrils and dissolves into the space around you. At the end of each out-breath, simply rest until the next in-breath naturally begins.

4.  Note the thoughts and feelings that arise. Whenever you notice that a thought, feeling, or perception has taken your attention away from the breath, just say to yourself, “thinking,” and return to following the breath. No need to judge yourself when this happens; just gently note it and attend to your breath and posture.

5.  After the intended time, close your practice. Open your eyes and take your time to acclimate back to the environment. Notice the way you feel. There’s no need to give up any sense of calm, mindfulness, or openness you’ve experienced. See if you can consciously allow these to remain present through the rest of your day.

Remember that a little R & D is okay. There will be a process of exploring and learning what is best for you. Free yourself of any expectation of doing what’s right. What works for you at one time may later not work for you. We simply remain curious and inquire about our experience, and change according to what our bodies, minds, and spirits need.

To take the next step, click here.

How To Sleep
We have all been there.  Two am, scrolling through social media on your phone, unable to sleep yet unable to do anything else, thanks to our dear friend insomnia.  Why is sleep so elusive sometimes?  Here are five tried and true tips for when counting sheep just isn’t working:
  1. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  Yes, even on the weekends.  This trains your body and mind to feel sleepy around the same time every night and readies you for sleep.
  2. No devices for at least two to three hours before bed.  The blue light from screens suppresses your body’s melatonin release.  Not to mention all the FOMO and angst that gets kicked up comparing your life to others through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Maintain a relaxing routine prior to bedtime.  This could involve reading a book or magazine, writing in a journal, drinking decaf tea, taking an evening walk, or unwinding in a bath.  The idea is to do the same relaxing routine every evening, so that you are preparing yourself to relax and settle down for the night.
  4. Save your bed for sleep and sex.  Anything else like watching tv or reading should be done outside of bed.  You want your brain to associate your bed with getting a peaceful night’s rest, not binge watching Breaking Bad or tossing and turning.  If you can’t sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxing until you feel sleepy, and then try again.
  5. Allow your body and mind to let go.  Physical activity early in the day and minimizing caffeine and alcohol in the evening set the conditions for sleep.  A few minutes of quiet meditation or breathing just as you lay down allows you to release your worries and surrender to sleep.
The next time insomnia visits, trust that your body will always find a way to get the amount of rest it needs.  Try to release any catastrophic thoughts that involve never being able to sleep again, or envisioning weeks of bleary eyed dysfunction at work.  Instead give steps 1-5 above a go and repeat as often as needed.  If that feels like too much, feel free to start with one and go from there!  Sweet dreams are right around the corner.

 

How to Turn FOMO into JOMO
In this world of technology and social media, it is easy to let FOMO drive our decisions.  You check your Instagram feed only to discover that you weren’t invited to that pinterest worthy dinner party last night.  You log onto Facebook only to find your frenemy from high school on a ten day vacation in Bora Bora.
Before you know it, you notice your self esteem got lost along the way and is nowhere to be found.
But is FOMO all it is really cracked up to be?  If "Fear of Missing Out" is making us feel lonely and less than, maybe it is time for a different approach.  Read on for five easy ways to turn your FOMO into JOMO ("Joy of Missing Out"):
  1. Know Thyself:  It is easy to feel left out if you are constantly measuring yourself by other peoples’ standards.  What is it that you love and value?  If you love to read, then you didn’t miss a thing by skipping that dinner party for quality time with your latest novel and a glass of wine.
  2. Find Your Tribe:  Often FOMO sets in when we feel like we are being excluded.  It can feel like everyone is out there doing something amazing, having a great time, or climbing the ladder while we are somehow falling behind.   But when we have found our people, those who “get” us, all of a sudden FOMO can fall away.  The right community can mirror who you are and what makes you special, and can’t wait to spend time with you in all the ways you love and enjoy.
  3. Tune Inward:  We can all find ourselves driven by shoe-envy (or house-envy, boyfriend-envy, job-envy, you name it).  When we notice envy rising within us, that is a perfect time to pause and tune in.  What are we feeling and where is it coming from?  What do we really need and want?   Do we want to feel noticed, recognized, heard?  Perhaps there are better ways of getting our needs met.
  4. Consider a Detox:  Social media has allowed us to be connected 24/7 and worldwide in a way that is unprecedented.  And while it is amazing to see pictures of growing families and beautiful sunsets, sometimes it can all be a little overstimulating.  We can find ourselves spending so much energy on other peoples’ lives that we forget to live our own.  Every now and then, a social media or tech detox can help us refocus on what feels important to us.  What could be more joyful than that?
  5. Slow Down: FOMO can often lead to a frantic, busy attempt to keep up with the rat race.  When we slow down, we can finally enjoy the small, ordinary moments that were getting lost in the rush.  There is so much beauty in a delicious cup of coffee, a good cry with friends, or a weekend nap.  Maybe missing out is exactly what we need in order to discover a life we love again.
So next time you find yourself feeling left out and left behind, stop, drop your phone, and re-evaluate.  Perhaps there is a happy upside that we never noticed before now.  Consider trying steps 1-5 and repeat often when you need a way to turn your FOMO into JOMO.  You may never look back.
There is Enough

“Today in Geography we were talking about different types of jobs, and apparently there’s one where you can travel all around the world and write about different cultures. That’s what I want to do.”

My 14-year-old’s words gathered into a compact, virtual fist, then thrust themselves directly into my gut.

But that’s what I wanted to do, said a whiney voice in my head.

The voice surprised me with its appearance. It belonged to the fearful little girl inside of me, and she was jealous.

Of my own daughter, no less.

Over the past year, I’d been making a conscious effort to heal her wounds, and I thought we were making great progress.

Yet, here she was.

And she was competing with my daughter because we have similar interests.

Ever since childhood, two of my greatest loves in life have been writing and traveling. In college, I desperately wanted to participate in the Junior Year Abroad program, but I had a major obstacle to overcome: my overprotective parents.

Yes, my parents were the kind who imagine the worst-case scenarios in nearly every situation and, therefore, they limited the things that they allowed me to do. To be fair, I was born with a compliant personality, so I adjusted my dreams to fit within the framework for what they felt was safe.

There were some dangers in exercising such extreme people-pleasing, dangers which I didn’t identify until decades later. As I grew, I began to adopt my parents’ fears as my own (hey, I was compliant, remember?). I also felt powerless to do anything about my situation, and so I gave up my dreams to travel and write.

Now, here I was in the car, doing a quick mental analysis of my youthful decisions while my daughter talked excitedly about her potential future vocation. I didn’t like the queasy feeling in my belly that accompanied the voice of my wounded childhood self but, thankfully, it suddenly stopped speaking.

That’s when I heard the calm, reassuring voice of my sage. As soon as she had become aware of the presence of my petulant inner child’s appearance, she had rushed her off stage as quickly as she could.

Then my sage delivered a calm, rational, inspirational monologue.

There is enough.

There is enough room in this world – in this family – for two writers, for two travelers.

Look at this beautiful, talented creature across from you.

She’s curious.

She’s fearless.

Because you allow her to be that way.

Be grateful for your own upbringing; it was because of your overprotective and fearful childhood that you consciously raised your daughter to embrace her fearless nature, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

You encouraged her to read.

You encouraged her to speak her mind.

You encouraged her to be herself.

What an honor it is for you to now share a similar passion with your daughter.

Embrace that.

When the sage was finished, I mentally applauded her.

Then I took a deep breath.

I began to imagine how fun it would be to read my daughter’s insights about cultures from all over the globe.

And I even pictured myself traveling with her to some of those faraway places someday. Maybe we’ll both write about our journeys: two different perspectives about shared experiences.

Because each of us brings our own voice to everything that we create.

Because there is enough.

This post first appeared on ChristineSempetrean.com.

See For Yourself
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius

Last week I flew into New York and arrived just after 1 AM.

When I approached baggage claim, there was a gentleman holding a piece of paper with my name on it. His name was Armand. We made our way to his car, out of the airport, and onto the highway, chatting the entire way.

As we pulled in front of my hotel, he finished sharing a valuable lesson that I needed to hear and perhaps you need to hear, too.

Armand shared his journey of living in Albania, experiencing extreme hardships including being displaced due to war, enduring tragedies and leaving family. Eventually, he came to the US with no ability to speak the language, no money and no idea what to do next.

He worked hard, learned a new language, found love, married and had two children. He shared that perhaps it’s not been an easy one, but it’s most certainly been a good life.

We discussed his current job and past experiences ranging from a couple years in law school to spending almost a decade as a truck driver. In his 18-wheeler, he crisscrossed the nation. Through hundreds of interactions with dock workers, gas station attendants, freight managers, truck drivers, diner waitresses and fellow sojourners, he saw every corner of the country – and every spectrum of individual within it.

I asked how all those experiences shaped the way he sees the world today?

He thought for a moment, looked into the rear-view mirror at me, and responded: “The people here are better than they know.”

I thought about Armand and his statement while sitting 12 hours later in the same airport he’d picked me up from.

I was in the waiting area for my flight. The TVs were airing the news: The most recent terror attack in the UK, the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the retirement center nurse who murdered almost a dozen patients.

I was feeling absolutely beat down by the news, misery of life and certain doom we all face… and then I heard the whisper of hope.

It came not from the news but a new friend: Armand’s voice from the day before, “People are better than they know.”

While it is true that terrorists murdered, injured and attempted to sow fear, it’s also true that a transport officer with a simple baton, a Romanian baker with a basket and other unsung heroes raced toward the terrorists to halt the attacks. These heroes responded to an act of unconscionable cowardice with undaunted courage.

While it is true that the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s also true that the global movement to reduce greenhouse gasses continues and that executives from some of the most influential companies and mayors from cities around our country are committed to championing the cause.

While it is true that one nurse took the lives of her innocent patients, it’s also true that hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors, medical technicians and janitors passionately work each day to serve the sick and weak. What drives them isn’t fanfare or a spotlight, but instead a purpose to provide healing, kindness and love into the lives of their patients.

My friends, it turns out that everything has beauty, but not everyone chooses to see it. It also turns out that our friend Armand is right: The people here are better than they know.

Turn off the news and see for yourself.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

Full Body Decision Making
If you are anything like me, you typically depend on logic, reasoning, and thinking to make decisions. It seems I have created invisible barriers between aspects of my life and world, parsing out the aspects that “should” be governed by either thoughts or emotions. Though I identify as a primarily emotion-centered person, there is something about making a choice or decision, especially one that feels big or important, that immediately results in my brain gripping for control. It is as if I cannot possibly make the wrong choice if I have effectively reasoned it away; I cannot make a mistake if my brain is in control.

Even as I write this, I have an urge to roll my eyes and tell myself “that’s ridiculous and not how the world works.” Old patterns, however, are hard to break. Our culture holds a very thought-based value system, and throughout my entire life this has been taught to me, ingrained into my being, by all of the models in my world. Decisions and choices are just problems to be solved, right? Talk it out, make a pro/con list, think about which option will likely have the best outcome…whatever you do, just figure it out! Nobody ever taught me that I could make a decision with my body.

Treating the energy and movement of life like a math equation hasn’t really been working out for me. This lesson came to me, as they often do, with a challenging decision handed to me by life itself. In the face of what felt like a weighty decision with many possible outcomes, narrowing my options down to two was effortless. Taking it a step further, however, is where the disconnection between my head and the rest of my body began. My head took over without me even realizing. The logical decision seemed easy enough—I looked at the evidence available to me and assessed what seemed like minimal risk. My chest and stomach began to tighten, but I pushed them out of my awareness. I made my choice.

As you are probably anticipating, after I communicated my decision to the necessary parties, things started to shift. My head and my body reconnected and I was hit with an immediate sense of dread. I had an intense feeling of being on a roller coaster, my internal world filled with uneasy energy. The mistake I was so desperately trying to avoid was here.

I am not going to fill you in on the details of what came next, or whether or not I was able to rectify my mistake. That is not what matters here. The decision I made was not life changing, but my process around it has that potential. The intensity of my reaction, though unpleasant, brought my awareness to a pattern that I have been engaging with, and at this point in time is no longer serving me. For the first time, I felt the strength of my intuition. And I trust that it holds a knowing that I am ready to explore. Now, the work for me is in finding ways to call upon it before a decision is made rather than in hindsight.

The steps that I will use to strengthen my ability to listen intuitively, I offer here to you as well. My experience has been profoundly body-based, rooted in the sensations of my stomach and chest—so that is where I begin. Building awareness is the first step to any self-exploration, so I will invite body awareness whenever a decision presents itself. I have seen the power of my brain to take control, so it may be a struggle to quiet my mind and bring attention to my sensations. I must find a way that works for me to allow for more balance and breathing room to my decision-making process. I also don’t want to cut out the thinking brain entirely, as it does offer it’s own value. Ultimately, this is a practice in choosing mindfully, and trusting what feels right.

Intuition lies below the conscious brain, but it does have ways of communicating with us—we only have to be willing to listen. Almost all of us have had an experience of knowing without thinking, yet it is a sensation that can be hard to have faith in or to give control to. Maybe it is not a matter of one aspect having control over another. The human body has both the ability to know cognitively and to know intuitively because both are valuable. What decisions would you make in your life if you could balance what feels right with what makes sense? At this moment in time I believe that it takes the whole body to make a whole decision. I, for one, want to live my wholeness. And it starts with allowing my intuition a little more power in my life. 

Do One Thing at a Time
Last week I was standing at the Chicago airport and noticed a young woman in front of me in the security line. She looked as though she was traveling on business, perhaps returning home after a meeting. She was eating her lunch sandwich while at the same time typing something on her iPad. And as the line inched forward she kept her place, pushing her bag forward with her feet.

Suddenly her cell phone rang. She answered the phone and cradled it between her shoulder and neck, still holding her sandwich in one hand and doing one-finger typing on her iPad with the other hand and propelling her bag forward with her legs. By now she had reached the desk where the officer was checking identification and boarding pass. She placed her iPad on the counter and retrieved her driver’s license from her handbag, all the while still cradling the phone between her shoulder and neck and continuing the conversation. She was now doing five things simultaneously. And I thought, How did we reach here as a civilization? How did we survive as a species?

The one thing I have learned to do over the years, using trial and error and some hard knocks, is to practice doing one thing at a time. It sounds simple—almost pedestrian. It’s on the same level as someone saying that if you eat vegetables and exercise regularly, you will feel better. But underneath this very simplistic-sounding wisdom there is a profound secret that people from heart surgeons to professional athletes to world-class musicians have discovered, adopted, and mastered.

In today’s hyperconnected, fast-charging lifestyles, there is a tendency to do too much at the same time and get very distracted in the process—a tendency that blogger Linda Stone has called continuous partial attention. “To be busy and connected is to feel alive,” Stone writes. “But the consequence is that we’re over-stimulated, over-wound, unfulfilled.” Our productivity suffers too. At work, for example, I have caught myself in meetings being tempted to check and respond to e-mail even as one of my colleagues is presenting something. And simultaneously I’m likely to have a few chat windows open in parallel conversations and be trying to inhale my lunch as well.

I’m getting everything done at once, or so it seems. However, when I look back I see that my time was actually not that productive. I’m not really sure of anything I “got done.” I can’t recall any details of what was presented. I can’t remember the flavors of my food or even tell you what I ate. Except that there is food spilled on my keyboard that gives me some clues. And I have sent an embarrassing message in the wrong chat window.

This technology that is our brain is exceptionally good at focusing on one thing at a time—not more. There must be a reason why you never see an accomplished violinist practicing the violin while watching a game on television. Our brain also takes time to switch from one task to another, and the incessant back-and-forth required by doing too many things at once drains our energy. The brain takes time to exit one task and gather itself around the next task. Whichever Zen master told us, “Eat when hungry, sleep when tired” had something profound on his mind beyond just a witty one-liner.

What works for me is a simple system. I pick the most important and urgent single task in front of me. I set a timer and power through the single task in a focused manner. When I am done or the timer goes off, I stop—or work a few extra minutes until I reach a stopping point—then take a short break of a few minutes, get some water, or take a short walk on the floor or outdoors. Then I tackle the next most important single task.

Sometimes, if I need to work on a large task, such as drafting a presentation I’m giving at a meeting in Toronto, I’ll alternate tasks. I might work on my presentation for 30 minutes, attend to e-mails for another 30, and then switch back to my presentation. In contrast, if I’m working toward a tight deadline, then I might stay with that task until I’m finished. The system allows for flexibility; the choice is yours.

The second thing I do is make appointments with myself. I block out chunks of time in my calendar that read, “Work block to finish [the specific project].” For example, instead of responding to e-mails as they come, I will block out two hours just for e-mail and process hundreds of messages in one sitting. When it is a formal appointment—even though it’s with myself—I am more likely to commit myself to doing that task. And if you are in a corporate setting, no one else is going to spot an open window on your calendar that they can hijack to draw your attention to something else.

According to Tony Schwartz, who wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog in 2013 about the cost of multitasking, “The biggest cost is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 percent. But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”

A simple suggestion that Tony makes is to do the most important thing first in the morning, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. Resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take a few minutes to recharge. “When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time,” he writes. “When you’re renewing, truly renew. . . . Stop living your life in the gray zone.”

I tried hard for years to be the first person in the history of humankind to prove that multitasking really works—that we can be effective in the “gray zone.” Paradoxically, I have found that doing one thing at a time actually helps me get more things done and do them better. Here is the dirty little secret. Our brain is one of the most complex, sophisticated working systems we know of. Give it one task to focus on and it can perform brilliantly. Give it five tasks to do at once and it crumbles. Why mess with it?

 

Unplug
For better or worse, we live in a 24/7 world. At any time of the day or night, we can flip on our television or open our tablet or phone and be immersed in information. On one hand, this exposure to such a vast amount of knowledge and data can be enlightening and liberating: at no point in human history has the collection of information been so vast and so accessible. On the other hand, sifting through all of the noise that this causes can be nearly impossible and finding the golden nuggets of truth in the rushing river of 21st century media can seem like it is just too much.

If you are already prone to feeling stress or anxiety, our “always on” world isn’t doing you any favors. The human mind is a powerful, powerful creation, but one that is simultaneously fragile. With a 24 hour news cycle and social media platforms, our minds are constantly inundated with unnecessary junk.

You may not realize it, but when you hear a news story about how the world may come to an end at any moment or watch a show about a house hunter with a budget larger than anything you could imagine, your mind continues to process that information long after you’ve changed the channel. In the news example, your mind is subconsciously trying to cope with the possibility of certain doom! That’s a tall order, don’t you think? And in the example of the house hunter with an astronomical amount of disposable income, your mind may start to wonder “Why can’t I have that? Am I not good enough?” We needlessly put our mind through the ringer when we are constantly exposing it to these stimuli.

Now, compound all of that with the “normal” stress and anxiety you feel on a day-to-day basis: juggling demands from work; needs around the house; time spent with friends and loved ones fostering important relationships. By themselves, these are already a lot to deal with! Throw in the barrage of media from the TV and our phones, and we’re in hyperdrive but don’t know who is flying this rocket ship! What can we do? How do we make it stop?

Unplug. Step back. Breathe. Focus on what is important to you.

When it all seems too much to handle and your stress level is reaching its peak, just unplug. Even if just for 15 minutes at the beginning. Find time in your day where you don’t have a TV on and where you’re not looking at your phone. Just be present in the moment.

Find someplace comfortable. Someplace where you feel safe and away from distractions. Focus on your breathing. When you focus on your breathing, you’re telling your mind that it is okay to slow down and take a break from processing of all that “stuff.” Like any good exercise, this takes practice. But just like any type of practice, the more you do it, the better you become. Finding 15 minutes is no longer a chore, but part of your daily routine, and a routine that will leave you feeling alive, powerful, and in control of your life, even in this chaotic world!

The mind is a beautiful thing, but we must take the time to care for it. When you step back and focus your energy inward, your mind can take a break. When you’re done, you’ve done yourself and your mind an incredible favor.

The Other Side of Fear
Fear…most of us have it.  We all face it at some time or another.  Fear of the unknown, fear of a new experience, you name it.  Some fears are irrational.  Some are healthy and rational, I suppose.

But what I have found is that since I became a mother, my fears and worries have grown exponentially.

It’s been fear of change, fear of my kids growing up too fast, fear of aging, fear of what others may think, fear of pain, fear my kids will get sick or hurt, worry, fear, and more fear.  It’s a continual practice I work through in therapy and processing my thoughts while also connecting the dots back to childhood.

But I’ve also realized it’s more than that.  It is having the tools and self-discipline to keep my thoughts positive.  Because I tend to expand the thoughts behind my fears into bigger, all-consuming problems than if I had simply let them go.  I recently attended an inspiring conference with my husband affiliated with his practice, and this one sentence from that morning has stuck with me (among many others):

Thoughts are not facts.

A thought is simply a thought.  If you’re dwelling on the same negative thought, ask yourself, is it true?  Then, (because the brain’s initial reaction may be “yes”), is it absolutely true?  How does this thought make me feel?  And then, what would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief?

9 times out of 10 it is pretty clear to me the thought is just that:  a thought.

Listen instead for the voice that fuels you.  What thoughts are life-giving, build you up, and prove to take you down a different mental path?

Over the past year I have worked on changing my thought process, so it was fitting that this conference paralleled where I am on my own journey.

Life has been, and will continue to be, different.  I am learning to choose joy.  I am learning to sway the thoughts behind my fears to an entirely different realm of thinking.

I choose the thoughts that make me passionate about my calling.  I choose the thoughts that make me appreciate my life and all that God has blessed me with.  I choose the thoughts that make me feel strong and capable and ready to tackle any challenge.  These thoughts will never let me down.  They will not take me down the slippery slope of pity or despair. Because the truth is, life is pretty darn good.

This whole process is still relatively new for me.  I am a work in progress and probably always will be.  But I’m grateful for these changes and for the words of wisdom spoken into my life.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. - Henry David Thoreau

Eight Ways for Staying Happy
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. Many of us are still trying to pursue that last bit. But what defines the achievement of happiness? Money? Love? Children? And, more importantly, can we stay happy while we’re in its pursuit?

Even more, once we have it, how do we maintain it?

Aristotle famously once said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” It’s such a short and simple phrase, but it means so much.

It really is dependent on yourself. The happiest people in the world are not necessarily the richest, or most famous. They can be found in all walks of life. It starts from within. It starts with yourself.

Want to know the top eight things I live by to help me reach this goal?

Now, I’m not perfect. Not even close. But I gathered some ideas I felt made a difference in keeping me happy.

Listed below are eight of these ideas. I take each of them on lightly and don’t pressure myself into having to get them all done at once.

After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I know the ideas look great on paper, but they’ll feel even better once implemented into your own outlook and life. Remember: we are human. Sometimes life can throw its occasional curve ball and push you offtrack. That’s ok. The key here is to get up, dust yourself off, and get back to it. Back to your own pursuit (and maintenance) of happiness.

Eight Ideas to Keep You Happy

1. Make lists, lists, lists.

Take notes on projects you’d like to start. Vacation spots, places you’d like to eat at, people you need to call.

I have a ‘notes’ app on my phone and have an appropriate category set up for each of these lists. A hand jots down a note in a list within a notebook. When someone gives me a personal recommendation or I read about something that sounds great, or even remember something that I’d like done, I jot that down. This helps to keep me engaged in the things I’d like to experience, and to have things that I look forward to doing.

Along these lines, studies have found that people show happiness in the planning stages of their vacation, when they look forward to going away, much more than upon returning from the trip. Read on the results in the Huffington Post article, The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think.

I found a few notepad favorites to get you started, if you need. Check out this Kate Spade notebook or these small handmade notebooks with cream paper that come in different varieties of sets of 5.

2. Raise money for someone.

Do this outside of a charity organization so that you can hand them the entire amount you raise.  Not a percentage or a portion, but the entire amount. Make a difference in that person’s life. It will feel so good.

Helping someone without any agenda,and without a need for something in return has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Of course, check with the person or family to ensure that there is a need and that they agree to the fund raising in their name. Also make sure to ask whether they’d like their name included or excluded. Anonymous works just as well. I recently did this at a party where my friends and I raised money for a fellow mom battling breast cancer. More on this to come.

If you don’t feel comfortable raising for a specific person, you can alternately raise money for your local hospital or children’s school.

3. Add plants.

I did just that, after a recent trip to Aruba. I noticed all the greenery, and all the plants that were at the hotel, and I took in the beauty and decided to add this to my own household and work. Plants give off life (that’s the nerd in me speaking, as they do actually give off the oxygen that we breathe), and plants make people happy. A wonderful article covering this topic and listing many of the health benefits of plants in the home is The Perks of Being a Plant Lover.

4. Think about your children and your spouse when they are not with you.

Though it’s wonderful being with them, sometimes they can drive us crazy. But what better time to think positive thoughts than when you’re away? Take a few minutes out of your day to think of the good things they bring to your life, no matter what your situation is.

5. Do something nice for friends.

Randomly spew off three names of friends and send each a text saying something nice. You could tell them you love them, or just that you’re happy that they’re your friends. But something nice to make their day. Do this once a week.

Here’s an example I’ve picked out, to make it simple for those who want to have it one-click away: a fantastic gift for your friend that they’ll surely love: bath bombs, with easy purchasing and delivery from Amazon, or a book of 500 Reasons to Appreciate Friends, titled, Friendship Is.

They’ll get your point. And love it.

6. Carve out a few weekend hours to purge.

Every month, purge a little. Old letters, unwanted clothes, parts of your life you no longer need. Let them go. Donate them to a charity, if possible. It’s like a cleanse, except it’s external, yet it still helps you feel cleaner and healthier.

7. Put aside ‘me’ time.

Whatever makes you happy and keeps you grounded, do that. Set aside specific time during the week to do it. Working moms, we have it hard, but it’s so important for us to take a break from both motherhood and work responsibilities on a regular basis to decompress. Take part in yoga, go for a hike, listen to tunes, go to the mall (but of course, spend what you have).

8. Take a vacation and disconnect.

That means leaving the phone or other electronic devices home. No phone means no work or friends taken with you on your trip. It means quality (and I mean quality) time with your little and loved ones. Even if there’s fighting here and there, these are still bonding moments. You’ll be surprised with just how much the kids will appreciate it.

 

Get Unstuck
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Change or die.

If those were your only choices, would you embrace the necessary, potentially difficult transformation required to live? Or, would you persist with status quo, assume your fate and accept death?

That was the question posed in a book I enjoyed a decade ago by author Alan Deutschman. The book’s daring title is, by the way, Change or Die.

The answer seems so obvious.

In theory, if we were presented with the choice as dramatic as life or death, of course we’d make required changes, right?

Contrarily, Change or Die shares research analyzing everything from diets and relationships to corporate structures and prison recidivism, sharing that the reality is very different. Patterns in our relationships, diet, work and life are so ingrained that the vast majority of us are more willing to quietly slip into the night, than to boldly change and live.

Ah, but there is hope!

This book shares three keys that empower people and organizations to accept change, avoid death and thrive forward.

  1. Relationships: Changing by yourself is almost impossible. Research revealed that having an accountability partner, workout buddy, coach, or support group helped in sustaining change. Those who made real change first formed community, then became responsible to one another and finally became accountable for their own actions.
  2. Habit: We become what we repeatedly do. The individuals and organizations that sustained change built it into their days. With the community providing accountability, different choices were being made so frequently that the brain itself was being rewired. What once seemed impossible, became difficult, then simply irritating and eventually second nature.
  3. Hope. The final piece that allowed individuals and groups to move forward and sustain change was a compelling purpose. Knowing their purpose and believing in the worthy goal they were pursuing, they were empowered to endure repeated difficulties on the journey forward.

Surprisingly, what we’d think would be the most likely catalyst for causing change, fear, doesn’t work. Fear may create short term tweaks in behavior, but it has little bearing on long-term decisions or sustainable results.

(I was reminded of the difficulty of forming new habits during my most recent Live Inspired podcast interview with Christine Hassler, bestselling author and counselor. She spent much of her life chasing someone else’s dream until she made up her mind to change her path and today: She empowers thousands of others to do the same. Check it out here.)

So, change or die?

The choice between the two extremes is simple. It’s just not easy.

Choose today to lean into others and create an accountability system for each other. Together, you can choose to replace life-depleting habits with those that spark creativity, health, vibrancy and life. (I’m launching Live Inspired Studio for this very purpose soon. Sign up to learn more and get updates.)

Because, ultimately, the secret of change is not in fighting the old, but in focusing your energy on building the new.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

5 Keys to Enlightenment
Mindfulness is the topic du jour, and it doesn’t look like it’s going out of style any time soon.

You can’t turn around without hearing a word or phrase related to it — meditation, acceptance, letting go, enlightenment…

In some ways, each term has been endowed with mythical characteristics. But, enlightenment may take the cake for being the most difficult to pin down and most rife with misconceptions.

I’m not going to give you a definition of enlightenment, instead I’ll present my own perspective. What I will offer are ideas for you to consider if you’re exploring a path of mindfulness and have enlightenment as a goal.

If you find yourself intrigued, I’ve met my goal.  Because enlightenment can’t be ‘logicked’ or intellectualized or explained.  From what I understand, it is an experience.  Hoping this will kick-start an exploration or be a boot in the pants if you find yourself stalled.

#1  Drop your idea of enlightenment.

If you’ve experienced it, great.  If not, you’re in for an exciting adventure discovering that it’s not what you thought it was.

#2  Forget about arriving.

If you think you’ve arrived, you haven’t.  Notice the next time someone pisses you off.  It becomes clear that not only have you not arrived, you have only just begun.

#3  Make friends with ambiguity.

See # 2 above.  We want black and white.  The further along the path you go the blurrier the edges around black and white will become.

#4  Lighten up!

The road can be joyful and daunting.  Meet all the stages with equal measures of interest, openness, willingness and curiosity, and you’ll make the trip a lot more satisfying.

#5  Make the term ‘I don’t know” your new best friend.

If you think you know, it’s over.  I’ve wondered if having the ability to embrace ‘I don’t know’ may be the most straightforward pathway to real enlightenment.

Pema Chodron says, “enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.”  If you’re interested, here is one of her perspectives on enlightenment.

Full disclosure.  I have not arrived.  I am not enlightened.  I’m tremendously enjoying the experience of exploring it.  I hope I’ve peaked your interest.

Meditation Misconceptions
This weekend, I attended a meditation event and once again found it magical how so many people can come together to learn and share such a life-altering, yet deeply personal experience like meditation. However, the more you learn, the more you might see certain patterns. These are some of the myths I come across frequently, which perhaps raise the stigma attached to meditation. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions I have encountered:

20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. If you’re gonna remember ONE thing from this article, let it be this. You don’t have to meditate for 20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. Just like you wouldn’t tell someone who just started working out to do so for an hour a day, 5 days a week.  Similarly, we shouldn’t tell people who are trying to get into meditation the equivalent of that. Or anyone, for that matter. Start with 1 minute. Then try 2, then 3, then 4. Decide what works for you. Do that. As my favorite therapist says: “It’s a process, not perfection.”

Regular meditators don’t get sick. Meditation lowers stress hormones therefore making us less susceptible to illness. However, this study shows us that while non-meditators call in sick more often(missing 67 days from work), meditators still occasionally call in sick (they missed 16).

All regular meditators have a strict food regimen. Actually, meditating makes you more mindful of your surroundings and choices in general and food choices are no exception. However, eating "unhealthy" doesn’t make you more or less of a meditator. Especially now, where it’s not just monks in Asia (cliché, I know) who practice meditation, but people of all ages, professions, descents, skepticism and cynicism levels. You can meditate regularly your entire life without ever having to change your eating habits. You can have all the cake and the mindfulness too.

There is a difference between thinking and meditating. We're still, our eyes closed, just us and our brains...so why aren't the thoughts that cross our mind before we fall asleep considered meditative? Or when we're brushing our teeth? According to the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California, we think 48.6 thoughts per minute, or 70,000 thoughts per day. Meditation, on the other hand, is cultivating an awareness of our thoughts, or learning how to not engage with our thoughts.  In other words, meditation helps with that brain noise. Which brings me to...

Meditation = eliminating our thoughts. This is a pretty common one.  However, eliminating our thoughts isn't an attainable goal (nor one we should be striving for). Our thoughts become the elephant in the room and the more you try not to think, the more you do. Meditation is about being mindful and non-judgmental of your thoughts, and not labeling them as good or bad.  Your meditation practice isn't ruined if you find yourself thinking of what you're gonna have for breakfast. You just kindly return to your breath/ mantra/ visualization...

There’s literally nothing bad about meditation. If used excessively, even elixir can turn into poison. In 1992, Shapiro, a professor at UCLA, conducted a study and found some people experienced bad side effects like anxiety, panic, confusion when meditating. Eastern practitioners suggest that these issues might arise when beginning meditators try to go too far too soon.   As with any new practice, starting slow and easy is the way to begin, and then building from there.

There's only one (right) way to do it.  Some family, friends, or teachers might praise their way as the best and only one that "really works" while diminishing the importance of other types of meditation. However, there are many ways to meditate.  For example, When I was in Sri Lanka I meditated with a monk who taught every kind of meditation to beginners so they could compare and contrast their experiences. For example, mantra meditation doesn't work for me, and that's okay. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to meditation.

You need a teacher/retreat/book/… To me, the most wonderful thing about meditation is that to do it, all you need is you. Being mindful of your breath and thoughts is only up to you. Of course, teachers and books help, but they’re not necessary nor essential. What it all comes down to is how willing you are to deepen your relationship with your quietest, truest, most authentic self.

Keep calm and meditate on.

Waking Up
This winter was very difficult for a lot of us. The cultural climate of constant conflict and discord has left many of us feeling emotionally, spiritually, and even physically, drained. It is so important that we take the time to invite this new Spring season into our lives, and welcome a much needed, and refreshing, change.

Over these past few months, I have observed many of my clients going through a big shift, and they can feel themselves coming out of a life-hibernation. Many are sharing that they feel as though they are suddenly acutely aware of their potential, power and worth. Wonderful right? Except for many people, this time of inner revolution can feel a bit overwhelming and scary. Often, as we begin to move into our highest selves, there are multiple layers of complex narratives that bubble to the surface. It’s a process, a tapestry of tales and experiences, stitched together to form a renewed sense of Self. There are things we can do along each step of the way to empower our fierce truths, enliven our bravery and decrease any discomfort that may come up. You will absolutely come out of the process feeling stronger and better than ever before, you just may need support along the way. Here are some tips and tools for when you feel yourself, bravely, waking-up:

1. Often times, when we recognize things that we hadn’t before, we initially wish we could go back to a time when we didn’t know. I think a lot of this is rooted in fear of the unknown. We mistakenly believe that this new awareness will diminish our sense of safety, security and predictability, so, rather than cradle our newfound truth, we try to throw it away and ignore it. If you find yourself in this place, I invite you to write it down. Write down the new calling/dream/truth/goal in a journal or a place that feels safe to you. Even if you don’t want to do anything about it, just give it a space to live outside of your body/mind/spirit. “Ok, truth. I hear you. I see you. I acknowledge you. I might not do anything about it right now, and I might wish you were never here, but I thank you for stopping by.” As you allow yourself to write about it you will begin to notice an evolution of your feelings. Set aside 5-10 minutes of you day to ask yourself important questions like, “What if I allow this truth to be true? What if I don’t have to do anything about it just yet, but I can just try it on for size? What would it look like if I leaned in to this newness? What am I, actually, afraid of?” To use a favorite analogy from Sue Monk Kidd, once we are stung by a symbolic bee, we cannot be unstung. Write it out and you’ll find your way.

2. As you begin to stand in your new sense of power, you may feel an unexpected guest arrive: Anger (with a capital A). I’ve seen this so much lately, especially after the election. While we are very often told that anger is a foe, I believe it is actually a friend, trying to tell us very important information. As we wake-up we may start to feel less tolerant of people mistreating us; we may begin to question the motives of those we’d previously accepted without question; we may start to feel a deep, primal rage simmering while we re-examine our society and our history. This is when I highly recommend seeking the help and guidance of others. Perhaps you schedule an extra appointment with a therapist, or maybe you have a trusted mentor in your life to turn to. Either way, it is so important that you talk through the anger and explore its messages, before quickly reacting and potentially doing things you might regret. Anger is trying to deliver messages to us, but if we make rash decisions in its grasp, we very possibly miss the incredible gifts it has buried within. It’s not about making the anger go away, it’s about embracing it and then excavating for important artifacts. Using it as a tool rather than a weapon. We must take the time to work with our rage, knowing you owned it, not the other way around.

3. Right after the election, I found myself with numerous clients struggling with sudden severed relationships. Many experienced breaks in family ties and shared about dissolved friendships. The first thing I want to ensure everyone is that they are not alone. While we may feel temporarily isolated or displaced, and begin to blame ourselves entirely, it is so critical that we grant ourselves some serious self-compassion. As we leave the shores of the familiar and chart a course for new, unknown, lands, we can sometimes lose our bearings for a bit. We feel proud of our new strength and knowledge, but, at the same exact time, we might be met with unexpected longings for our previous routines, patterns, and relationships, even if they were toxic. When we are in these in-between spaces, it is important to start seeking out supportive friends and relationships that nurture your transformation. It is also critical to practice massive amounts of self care. Some examples that always help: Going for long walks, finding a good book at the library, taking a bubble bath each night, getting a massage, practicing yoga a few times a week, sitting alone in nature, repeating positive affirmations, getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of grounding vegetables and fresh fruits, drinking plenty of water, and taking time to journal. You are not alone, and you will feel whole once again.

As you enter Spring this year, remember that it may not always be easy, just like the butterfly struggling to emerge from her cocoon or a new flower pushing mightily through the thick winter mud, but it is, without question, always worth it. As you hear the song birds begin to sing outside again, remember to use these tools to keep yourself centered and courageous. There is big work to be done in this world, and we need you to be your best self, now, more than ever before.

Savoring the Small Moments
As parents, at the end of a long day we want nothing more than for our kids to just go to sleep easily. We may sometimes hit a breaking point and it isn’t pretty. Well, last night thankfully wasn’t one of those times. But I was definitely ready for my daughter to go to bed. My son has been waking really early for a couple weeks, and I’m just not a morning person. I had let my daughter stay up later than her brother, and she and I were watching a show on my iPad together before her bedtime.

When I told her it was time to go to bed, she sat up, and in the process the iPad banged into her forehead. The poor thing burst into tears. I immediately pulled her onto me and held her close. Part of me wanted to hurry the process along to get her to bed, but then I also found myself savoring this rather ordinary (turned sacred) moment.

“Remember when she was a baby? She’s still your baby.” With her face buried in my neck, I thought back to the memories that sometimes feel impossible to bring to the surface: my little girl as a tiny newborn in those first weeks of her life. I thought of her as a chubby, babbling baby filling my days with joy. I remembered her as a toddler saying the cutest things out of nowhere. Why is time so tricky? When I try and think of these memories, they’re so hard to recall sometimes. But tonight, they came back one by one,  as I held my sweet girl.

It’s interesting the moments that came flooding to the surface were not the trips we have taken as a family. They weren’t her first birthday party or even her first steps. Not the pumpkin patch visits or sitting on Santa’s lap. Not the “girl dates” we take here and there. They were the ordinary moments that I take for granted day after day. The regular, daily routines that seem so long, but are changing in the blink of an eye.

The days are long and the months are short, just as the saying goes. I want to freeze time in many ways, but forge ahead simultaneously. Because the struggle we feel in the present always seems like the one we can’t handle. But there is beauty in passing phases and a rainbow at the end of each little storm.

I think when we have raised our children, it will be the smallest, simplest moments that we savor. Holding their sweet hands to cross the street. Baking cookies together after school. Trips to the grocery store. The endless string of boo-boos we comforted. The most mundane moments will be our most cherished ones.

There is indeed beauty in the long days, and I am finding it. Even in the extra-long, beginning at 5 am days.

One Headstand Away From Imperfection
Practice: often defined as doing one activity or another with some semblance of frequency and consistency in an attempt to improve said practice. 

“Practice makes perfect.”

In any mindfulness class–whether it be meditation, or yoga, or any variation thereof your attendance will often be called “your practice.” One of the most fundamental and foundational principles of yoga is accepting that you come to the mat with an understanding that there is always something to learn and improve on in your practice. Therefore, never really reaching a state of “perfection.”

But, there’s the rub:

When you first start writing your name, you practice and practice so you learn your letters and and the right curvature of each one.

When you play a sport, you practice diligently, consistently, frequently in an attempt to perfect (or at the very least significantly improve it).

Most of our lives, we have been told that if we just keep at it that our practice will pay off and we will–in a sense–get to the point of perfecting the craft, the art, the sport, etc.

I have been practicing a headstand now for the better part of a year.

I still can’t do it.

I have broken several things attempting to do the damn thing.  And, it’s driving me insane. There are probably hundreds of gifs that could be made of flailing and yelping as I tumble back to gravity as quickly as I get to that final toe off the ground.

“You’re so close!” my yoga teacher tells me… every single week.

I have struggled with the concept that I may never actually be able to do this and that I must continue to practice with an acceptance of possibly never getting there, and that acceptance doesn’t mean I’m giving up.

Hell, I knew I was never going to be good at math and I accepted that real quick and haven’t looked back since!

Perhaps practice could take on the new meaning that practice is well…just that. Practice, is something you do with intentionality and at the end of it, know that you did your best and your body saved you the perfection you think you needed to achieve.

Alright, headstand you win, but I’ll always win when it comes to corpse pose.

The Power of Gratitude
There is one thing that we all want, one thing that we strive for - happiness.  Happiness however is a journey, not a destination. Research by Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage, as well as other psychologists attest to this principle that if we equate our happiness with an end result, such as the goal of obtaining something, like a house for example, we will inevitably change the benchmark once we have obtained that goal.

We will push the benchmark of happiness further and further in order to again grasp something more, maybe furniture for the new house. As such, we miss out on experiencing happiness fully and are always searching for the next thing of desire. 

Positive psychology and neuroscience give us some solid backing on how to practice the process of happiness.  Just like building muscles at the gym, our happiness “muscles” need to be attuned to and employed. The “muscles” of happiness are thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Paying attention to these “muscles” and being intentional with them is fundamental to the process. The concept of neuroplasticity informs us that we have the potential to change the way our brain is wired with intentional actions that re-wire old habits, be they behavior or thinking patterns.

One sure way to increase our happiness is through gratitude. Gratitude is expressed in various ways in our world, all of which lend an appreciation and graciousness to someone or towards something. With a shift in focusing on what we are grateful for we begin to see the positives, even during the hard or challenging times. Intentionally being grateful will, slowly but surely, re-wire our brains from a negative (or lack perspective) to a more positive (or abundant perspective). The latter being a perspective that lends us to greater overall happiness.

When we are short on money, our negative brain may naturally go to thoughts of lack about how much we don't have and how terrible our life circumstances are, leading us down a spiral path. On the other hand, a brain that has been wired towards gratefulness may naturally find appreciation for other things, like sunshine, close relationships and a hot cup of tea.

Being grateful or simply thinking about things that make us feel appreciative have a natural effect on our brain releasing neurotransmitters that aid in mood improvement and connection (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin).

Quiet daily reflection, making a gratitude list, sending someone a text or an email just to tell them you appreciate them, or taking photos of things you are grateful for can all contribute towards this positive outlook.

Another way to create a daily gratitude practice is through photography and social media.  For example,  Dr. Lauren Tober created a global movement called Capturing Gratitude, which aims to increase worldwide happiness, one photograph at a time. Capturing Gratitude encourages you to take time out of your day to notice things that you are grateful for, those that you can think about and more importantly, those that you can feel.

Remember:  the key to maximizing the benefits of gratitude is to be consistent in your practice, which in turn, re-wires the brain for happiness.  

 

 

Come and join the worldwide happiness and gratitude movement at www.capturinggratitude.com. You can also join the Capturing Gratitude revolution by using @CapturingGratitude or #CapturingGratitude on your gratitude photos on your preferred social media site: Facebook or Instagram.

Just 90 Seconds
Being human means that we’re attracted to what feels good, and resistant to what doesn’t.  That’s the ground of our humanness, and a primary cause of our fear and suffering.

Aware of it or not, we bounce between those two states all day, every day, throughout our lives.  Always with the intention of getting back to feelings of happiness and contentment.

Which of course is futile.  Talk about anxiety producing!

There is a way out.

We can develop a different relationship with our emotional life.  And it begins with the awareness that our emotions are manageable once we understand how they operate.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who, after recovering from a massive stroke, wrote a best-seller entitled: My Stroke of Insight.  In it, she explains how emotions work.

All emotions — anger, sadness, joy, longing — are responses to a stimuli.  They are automatic.  Something happens.  Something is said, or done, or thought, that triggers an emotional response in us.

Sometimes we can’t figure out the cause.  Usually that means we had a thought or saw something or felt a sensation so fleeting we didn’t even notice it.

Taylor says the length of an emotion, if left to simply live its natural organic life, is one and one-half minutes, just 90 seconds!

When it lasts longer than that, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve rekindled it, over and over, with our thoughts about it.  "Oh no, here it is again!"   "What if this??" "What if that?"  "I hate this!"  "Why me??"

Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort and letting it take its natural 90 second course, we jack it up by recycling our thoughts around it over and over.

In our misguided attempt to get rid of of it, we extend and intensify it.  So an emotion that naturally lasts 90 seconds can be dragged out, sometimes for years!

I’ve been struggling with some persistent and annoying hives.  They come unexpectedly, seemingly without rhyme or reason or discernible cause.  One morning I woke up at 4 am with a large hive on my tongue!  Totally freaked me out!  Adrenaline rushed through my body and my thoughts went crazy.  What if this?  What if that?

And then I remembered the 90 second rule.  I knew that making friends with the emotion I was feeling wouldn’t necessarily make the hive disappear, but it could help me reduce the intensity of my emotional reaction so that I could come up with a plan instead of running from mirror to mirror hoping that I wasn’t seeing what I was seeing, and further scaring the crap out of myself!

So I sat down, softened my body, focused on my out breath, letting all the air out of my lungs, and immediately realized I needed to take a Benadryl.  I also remembered that I have an Epi-pen, which in my fear, I had forgotten.  So I breathed into the tightness in my body, softening over and over.  And then I took a Benadryl.

I went about my business and noticed that periodically the fear returned.  Each time I breathed all the way out and softened around it, it seemed to have its life and leave.  The hive got smaller, so I didn’t need the Epi-pen.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that if my throat had been swollen shut this ‘take a pause and rely on the 90 second rule’ approach would have made sense.  The story line in that situation would have been different.  I haven’t experienced the kind of life-threatening allergic reaction that some people deal with on a regular basis.

With a little bit of hindsight I can see that each time fear returned, as I continued to soften when it showed up, instead of resisting it, it seemed to wreak less havoc on my body.  I had the sense that fewer stress hormones were being released the softer and more relaxed I kept my body.

That can only be good news.  The fewer stress hormones we’re dumping on ourselves the better!!

So the next time you’re confronted with something that makes you feel unsettled, like the ground beneath your feet isn’t as solid as you’d like it to be, consider doing the 90 second thing:

Soften, lean in, drop the story line, breathe all the way out, and put your attention on relaxing around the physical sensations with openness and compassion for yourself and for the feelings.  See what, if anything, you discover.

P.S.  The 90 second rule also works with anger.  When you notice you’re ready to rip someone’s face off, give yourself 90 seconds.  You won’t regret it.

Be Uncommonly Honest
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” ― William Faulkner

“If you don’t have anything nice to say…..”

We know how to finish this sentence, don’t we?

We’ve been taught by our parents, family members, coaches and teachers this mantra from a young age: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Any word or conversation that might be hurtful, divisive or unkind should remain unsaid.

And yet, today there seems to be no shortage of people who never received this advice. Examples are easily found in the conversations had by panels on television, political leaders in front of cameras or online contributors in your social feeds. The tone is so often ripe with pessimism, negativity and opinions shared with clenched fists.

At times it almost feels there must be a (false!) belief that in saying something negative about others, we somehow benefit ourselves.

Kim Scott’s life’s work is to help us see that this is not wise and, that the opposite – what she calls “ruinous empathy” or being nice to a literal fault – is not effective either. Her book Radical Candor came out last week and in it she shares the four categories of communication, and how to balance your communication to ensure progress, mutual understanding and collective growth… All of which cannot be had with ruinous empathy or undue negativity.

Kim has worked with and learned from unusual and significant leaders including expert diamond cutters in Russia and Steve Jobs at Apple. She’s also learned what is most effective in communicating with others so that they can do their best work and so their team can best meet their collective goal.

We spent time together on my recent Live Inspired Podcast episode discussing flaws within common communication styles, how they are impacting relationships and teams and most important: Solutions to improve them. (Listen here to Kim’s story and learn simple strategies to connect more effectively.)

Kim Scott refers to the most effective way to manage, lead and connect with others as “radical candor.”

Practicing radical candor includes being uncommonly honest while coming from a place of great love and respect. When practiced, it reminds us to keep the conversation about idea, not ego. It creates an environment where disagreement is encouraged, because in expressing ourselves and truly listening to others express themselves, we are able to find real truth.

It’s been said that truth without love is brutality, but that love without truth is hypocrisy. Using radical candor provides us the ability to care personally and challenge directly in order to encourage those around us to achieve extraordinary results.

Our opportunity as inspired leaders is to never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice, lying and greed. If we do this, we will change the world. Starting with our own.

I challenge you today to be uncommonly honest and come from a place of great love and respect.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

The Most Damaging Word We Use All the Time
Everywhere I go, I hear the same phrase over and over again: “I’m sorry.” Or, the shorter version, “sorry.” I myself used to be guilty of repeating this phrase, as well, but decided to train myself out of it when I really looked at what it was I was communicating to myself and to those around me.

The definition of sorry is twofold. First, there is the definition that has come to signify an apology in our culture. The difficulty with this definition is that “sorry” does not mean to express regret for something one has done, or to take responsibility for it. In fact, sorry just means to express regret, sympathy or pity. Without an action to take responsibility for, sorry simply expresses a feeling of regret. If the action you are attempting to take responsibility for wasn’t necessarily yours to begin with, the regret is misplaced. The other definition is: dismal, wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful. Bleh.

When you begin to pay attention to something, you begin to see it more clearly and more often. Paying attention to “sorry” rearing it’s head in conversation gave me the opportunity to learn more about it by asking questions to those who were giving life to the word. The responses that I received about why people had used the word were pretty uniform: it was just an automatic response. They weren’t doing anything to harm another person. They weren’t holding any malintent. They were talking, moving…simply being themselves. Simply being.

What does it say about our culture that it is customary, expected even, that people should constantly be apologizing for being?

When I sat down with myself and looked at how I was using the word sorry, it became clear that I did not feel regret or responsibility for something I had done to another person. The truth was much deeper than that. I authentically felt that there was something inherently wrong with me. I believed that I was not good enough. I bought in to the ridiculous standards put forth by both media and social media, and according to those standards, I really was dismal, wretched, poor, useless, and pitiful. I felt inherent regret for being lesser in a world that rewards only greatness.

So, I walked around all the time owning my sorry. I am dismal. I am useless. I am pitiful. I regret being me. I regret being. When I was late for a meeting due to traffic I couldn’t possibly have control over, I shamed myself. When I was so passionate about something that I spoke loudly in a conversation, I shamed myself. When I accidently bumped into someone’s chair and stubbed my toe, I shamed myself. I told the world and myself that I was bad, wrong, and not good enough over and over again.

The worst part of this entire story is that this is an epidemic in our world right now. I am not the only one reflexively saying that I’m sorry. I am certainly not the only one actually feeling a visceral level of regret. There are so many sources telling us that we are not okay the way that we are, and we believe it! How can we ever fulfill our dreams, engage in meaningful relationships, or feel gratitude for the magic that is all around us, if we are constantly reaffirming that we are not worthy?

I decided to take my self-worth into my own hands. I cut the word “sorry” out of my vocabulary. There is immense power in not feeling regret every day. Now, if I am late for a meeting, I simply state the truth: there was a lot of traffic today that I did not anticipate. I could not have controlled that, and I do not feel inherently responsible for it. I get to move on with my day!

In addition, I have learned to scale way back on any form of apology. In reality, I can only provide an apology when I honestly feel regret for something that was my responsibility. There is unbelievable freedom in not taking responsibility for something I am not responsible for. Apologizing to someone who is grieving is like saying you somehow contributed to that grief, again shaming yourself for something that has nothing to do with you. Not getting caught up in the shame, on the other hand, opens you up to feel and react with compassion.

Through this process I have come to a new truth: I am in charge of myself. I set my own expectation. I am responsible for me. I am powerful. I am beautiful according to my own standards. I am capable.

I am not sorry.

And you don’t have to be, either.

Habits of Perpetually Happy People

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been captive to negative thoughts.

I wasn’t necessarily aware of it, but I was definitely not a “glass half full” person if you were to ask me. I knew that I longed for joy – but I really believed my circumstances just weren’t allowing for it. Whether it was cranky kids, sheer exhaustion, or a season of sickness, I always felt the odds were stacked against me in my search for happiness.

I so badly wanted to find this ‘paradise’ in my life – that time and place where everything would finally go my way. I was so caught up in the “if/then” game: “If only the kids were a little bit older, then things would be easier.” Or: “If I could just get a solid night of sleep, then I wouldn’t be so irritable all the time.”

In my quest for this personal paradise, I continually fell short, of course.

If anything in my day went wrong, I would immediately start in with grumbling and complaining. One thought would lead to another and soon I found myself back down that slippery slope of self-pity.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became conscious of how my thoughts were dictating the course of my day. I started to see that happiness was actually a choice, and I was definitely not choosing it.

I decided I was in need of a serious life change. I researched the habits of perpetually happy people and the overwhelming theme that came up was gratitude. So I started to keep a thankful journal and wrote down all of the blessings I’ve been given, big and small. Soon after, things started to change for me. It was really hard to feel sorry for myself when my heart was so full of gratitude.

Another trait that habitually positive people possess is keeping their minds focused on uplifting thoughts. It took some time, but I trained my mind to literally re-route itself each time a negative thought came creeping in. I would replace it with something positive and life-giving instead. And slowly but surely I noticed my perspective began to shift.

The end result has been a completely new way of thinking, and an unexplainable joy I haven’t known before. I feel like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, eager to explore all this world has to offer. I’m seeing the world in color for the first time after knowing only black and white.

With this newfound gratitude, I’m noticing beauty everywhere.

And I’m realizing it’s truly the smallest, simplest moments that make for an extraordinary life. Lattes with a friend, a pedicure, my daughter’s eyes, the sound of rain, a certain smile of my son’s, my favorite cozy socks, clean sheets, sunsets, a beautiful tree. I am in constant awe of it all.

I hope I never lose this new sense of wonder. I want the ocean to take my breath away every time I see it. I pray my senses are always shocked when I arrive to the mountains, taking in that crisp, fresh air. I hope I always notice the white, budding flowers in Spring and the deepest purple violets blooming.

I’d been searching high and low for joy-filled days all of these years. Could it really be this simple? Was paradise here the whole time, right in front of me?

I have new eyes to see and a fresh outlook on life. I want to be a sunshine seeker, a kindness spreader, and a beauty finder.

Paradise, I think I finally found you. And I couldn’t be happier.

Overthinking: Death by Analysis Paralysis
"I have no idea how not to think."

In my line of work, we often joke about “death by PowerPoint.” You know what I’m talking about–we’ve all been there! Someone walks you through 50 to 100 slides of PowerPoint slides chock full of data, white background, and no color to speak of. Everything blurs together and you learn nothing except for vowing that you’ll never sit through another one of these presentations for as long as you live.

I propose that there’s a similar death when you are working to climb the mountain of mindfulness: death by “analysis paralysis,” or “what if’s.” 

Here’s what happens to me when the grim reaper of analysis paralysis knocks on my door: the mind races and a seemingly incessant stream of “what if” scenarios, bordering on the irrational and unrealistic start to unfurl behind my eyes. It’s like watching a bad b-movie where I’m the main star and I can’t seem to get my shit together, over and over again.  To add on to the joy of the mindless spiral, physical symptoms of jittery impatience start to manifest: legs jiggling, shallow breathing, shifty-eyed, giving each task or conversation before me approximately 2% of my attention.

Ideas / worries / disappointments / potential failures surface and bleed into more uncertainties that rip me away from my ability to stay present in the moment because I’m busy starring in my own movie of All The Things That Could Possibly Happen in the Future – Ever.

There are few things that can pull me out of that death spiral, but one thing in specific has yet to fail me. And, that is, the importance of body work. By body work, I mean physical activity of any kind, physical touch of any kind (massage, a simple hug from a friend or a loved one), my personal favorite: placing my hand on my heart center, and most recently acupuncture.

There is nothing more grounding than using the strength, movement, and physical presence of this beautiful and imperfect body that I’ve been given. Acupuncture has provided me a forced stillness when I’ve needed it the most. There is no where to go when I’ve got a bunch of needles stuck in random places all over my body. My limbs become heavy on the table. I am forced to face the ugly demons of over thinking, to quiet them, put them in a corner. I am in my own stillness breathing in quiet serenity and breathing out every thought as it slowly loses it’s tenuous grip on the edges of my mind. 

My mind elopes frequently with all of the possibilities and uncertainties of life. But my body is always here. Present and in the moment. Rooted and grounded to this earth. 

For it carries all of me, mind and spirit. 

More Than Just A Question
A question becomes more than just a question when it’s transformed from a superficial or challenging statement into an expression of love.

The image above is the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked.  Read on to see what they represent–the most fundamental components of your relationship toolbox.

In Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett suggests there are three types of questions she deals with most often – simplistic, combative and generous.

Riffing off that idea, here’s what I came up with:

Simplistic questions can be a problem because they tend to generate simplistic and superficial answers.

By simplistic I’m not referring to the mundane, everyday questions we ask, like:  “How’s the weather?” or “What do you want to drink?”.

I’m talking about narrow and loaded questions that suggest one already knows the answer.  They imply that if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot!  They’re not combative in that they assume agreement and compliance.  Questions like: “Don’t you just hate that?”, “Isnt she an idiot?”, and “Come on now, where’s that pretty smile?”

Combative questions tend to be black and white, generate divisiveness, and create a strangle hold on existing positions and opinions.

“So you’re saying I should just give up and let the bad guys win?!”, and “How can you think that?!” are combative, defensive questions that will serve to either end a conversation or keep someone mired in a position they may be unable to defend but will surely be unwilling to explore further with you.

Generous questions are expressed in a vein of openness and curiosity.  They generate wonder and excitement, and sometimes, suggest a connection between two people that may reflect a love that bears no resemblance to the romantic notions we hold about love.

“Help me understand how you arrived at your understanding of that”, and “Please tell me more”, are both generous questions hidden within statements that express my deep desire to more fully understand you and the topic we’re discussing.

A question becomes more than a question when it tells you that I want to learn, understand and grow with you and from you.  And that will never happen if I think I already know the answer.

Personally, I wonder about everything.  But mostly I wonder: “What do you really think about things?”

Once I started paying attention to the way I phrase questions, it didn’t take long to see that my questions don’t always reflect my sincere curiosity.  Often they evoke responses that tend to be as incomplete or misguided as my questions!

Words matter.  When I’m not careful, when I’m on automatic pilot, my questions fall into the first two camps – simplistic and/or combative.

To ask generous questions that will result in a more meaningful connection between us, I need to go into our interaction with an openness and curiosity that doesn’t always come naturally.

I suspect that generous questions are impossible without deep and patient listening skills.  And I think the converse is also true — we can’t experience true and generous listening without generous questioning skills.  They are inextricably linked.

Generous listening results in our ability to ask generous questions, and is perhaps the primary gateway to real love.  Because it allows us to connect.  And we are hard-wired to want to connect with each other.

After all, isn’t that fleeting butterfly experience of two souls meeting, seeing and connecting with each other, what love is all about?

I think we have it all wrong when we take for granted that once we’re ‘in love’ it’s forever.  I think it happens intermittently, and must be nurtured again and again.  And I’m not just talking about romantic love.  I’m talking about the love between parents and children and siblings, and the love we sometimes feel for friends and clients and even relative strangers.

I suspect that it’s humanly impossible to remain in a state of perpetual love. But if we meet each other with the intention to ask more generous questions and to practice generous listening, it seems likely that our ability to experience true love more often can be powerfully increased.

These are the tools that allow me to see you with no strings, no need for you to be anything other than who and what you are, a unique spirit with whom I’m trying to make a momentary connection.

As a reminder, I carry a visual in my head of the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked – representing generous listening and generous questions.

My intention is to listen with presence, openness, curiosity and humility.  My desire is to abandon certainty.  I think I’ll be putting less weight on reaching agreement and more weight on understanding you.  Join me?

A Better Way to Run the Race
“Leaders are frequently limited by their vision, rather than by their abilities.” R.T. Bennett

Are you driven by what’s pursuing you or by what you’re pursuing?

It’s an important distinction. When we’re motivated by what pursues us, we have fear: of failing, of losing what we’ve achieved or that someone may take what’s ours. It’s like running an entire race with your head turned to see who is behind you.

But, my friends, there is a better way to run the race of life.

We’re invited to be inspired leaders sprinting forward, fueled by love of what we do, driven by what’s possible and motivated by the lives we can impact.

I was reminded of this truth during a recent conversation. Let me explain.

By all measures, Mike Matheny is a successful man. He is happily married, delights in his five children and enjoys an active faith life. He flourished during 19 years as a Major League Baseball player, was an All Star player, won gold gloves and made a financial fortune from baseball.

Mike recently joined me on the Live Inspired podcast to share his story, mistakes made, lessons learned and what they mean for us. He shared that the highlight of his career was the night he was called to the Big Leagues.

After incalculable hours playing catch, practicing, playing for his high school team and then for Michigan, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. After being drafted, Mike spent years playing in the minors, away from home, missing his wife, enduring overnight bus rides, before he got “the call.”

The evening he made his Major League debut, Mike walked onto the field and looked into the crowd. Among the tens of thousands of fans, he saw his brothers (who played catch with him even when they didn’t want to), parents (who invested countless hours and dollars guiding him) and wife (who believed in him through the months of absence and lean financial years).

And yet, as magnificent as the evening was, there was a voice whispering to Mike that he didn’t belong; suggesting he might not be good enough; there might be someone better for the job.

The voice stayed with him that first game, season and several seasons after. It was so powerful that he feels he missed out on the full experience, the real joy of playing baseball out of fear he might lose it.

As Mike grew as a player and man, he shifted from looking behind him for who might be taking his place and started looking forward, embracing the joy of being a Major League ballplayer.

It was a critical shift that permitted him to fully enjoy his success and – years later – to not be devastated when it was all taken from him. Upon retirement, Mike invested in real estate and, during the downturn, lost everything. Rather than look back at all he’d lost, he grew in his faith, leaned into his family and remained unwavering in his hope for tomorrow and running the good race today.

Mike’s pursuit led him to write on authentic leadership, mentorship and coaching. That opened a door to him becoming a roving instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals, which led to an unlikely interview for the role of manager of the club. Today, he’s had one of the most successful five-year runs for any manager beginning their career in the history of baseball.

As head coach and manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike offers encouragement to his young players. He implores them to work tirelessly, believe in themselves and be outstanding teammates. He also reminds them – and each of us – that looking backwards is not an effective way to move forward.

As you take the field today at your office, school or home, remember that leaders are frequently limited by their vision, not their abilities. Pursue your goals with dogged persistence and do so with your eyes, heart and dreams looking forward, celebrating this moment. You’ll never again have this view.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

The Weight of Silence

Why have I been silent all of these years?

A quiet, sterile surface,

afraid of not having answers,

afraid of my own ignorance and privilege,

afraid of ruffling feathers.

I have been silent.

Silent like tears falling at night,

silent like a flower wilting to powder,

silent like storm clouds brewing.

Silent.

But now, the truth is, I no longer know

the sound of my own voice,

and I can feel the shame of my ancestors’ ancestors,

as they wonder how their hearts got

lost in translation somehow.

The truth is, my silence is a breeding ground

for injustice and fear, a vacuum of sorts

for someone else’s words to fill.

No more, no longer.

The weight of my silence has

buried me into the ground.

The weight of my silence has oppressed

more than aggression and hate and prejudice.

The weight of my silence has taken away

freedoms and health and choices and lives

from those who were counting on

people like me to stand up.

No more, no longer.

I will speak.

I will ask.

I will love.

I will write.

I will protect.

Be it a whisper or a roar,

Be it a bad poem or a wrong answer,

One word of compassion weighs more

than silence ever will.

Mindful Dialogue: Politics and Kids
In recent weeks, I have had some difficult conversations with my two sons, who are eight and five years old.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I had secretly hoped that a social studies teacher, or a clever Disney movie with an underlying message on immigration and women’s' rights would get to them before I ever needed to.  In my fantasy, I could simply follow up with some nice words and inspirational quotes and tie it all up in a neat little package.  Done!  Isn't mom the wisest person around?

Unfortunately, life and parenting just doesn’t work that way.

Today, information is reaching our kids faster than we can, perhaps even more than they as kids, or we are parents, consciously realize.  Children are absorbing current events from the internet, social media, television, radio, friends, teachers, chatter at the park, and conversations “in code” with our spouses.  Furthermore, they are picking up on our moods, demeanor and even energetic changes in the world around them.

So where do we begin?  How do we open a dialogue with our children about abortion, women rights, immigration, refugees, and national security without stripping away their innocence, introducing bias, or asking them to pick sides?   

We as parents might feel unprepared ourselves to deal with such issues, much less discuss them with our children.  We are trying to filter, position, and even dilute some of the controversial news around us, without saying too much or too little.

Perhaps one gift of this election is an opportunity to practice mindful dialogue with our children.  Here are some ideas that have helped me in starting such conversations with my own little ones, and hopefully might help you too:

1. You Know Them Best: You know your children better than anyone else, including me, the experts out there, and other friends and family.  Consider your child’s age, developmental level, temperament, and ability to handle difficult topics and emotions.  Think about what a safe space and time for challenging conversations might look like in your particular family.  Make sure your spouse or partner is on board.  Begin by eliciting what your child already knows, and what questions they might already have, and use that as a starting point for conversation

2. Model Calm: Children are highly attuned to the emotions that their parents experience, especially fear, sadness, anxiety, and anger.  As parents, we know that there are many unprecedented changes occurring in this history defining time.  Yet we owe it to our children to find the balance of not over-reacting emotionally, nor under-reacting intellectually.  Do your best to be honest with your children about how you feel, while maintaining a safe and calming demeanor.

3. Educate.  Share the issues that you feel your children are ready to hear and absorb.  Use age-appropriate language and neutral words.  Do your best to not create a sense of fear or alarm, but let them know you are always here to help them understand what is going on in the world, and will always do your best to inform and protect them.  Share that it is important for us to do our best to stay informed as part of being citizens of the country and the world.  Help them understand and filter the available information, including discerning reliable sources.

4. Lean into Your Values.  We have been instilling and modeling values in our kids from the day they were born. We have done our best to model kindness, compassion, empathy, honesty and gratitude.  We have also tried to teach assertiveness, appropriate ways to share and ask questions, and how to be respectful to others, including those with whom we disagree. When talking with your kids, give them permission to use the lens of their values and moral sense of right and wrong, and help them do so. Many of the political issues we are facing today are beyond bipartisan. They are human issues. Let’s discuss them in a human way with our children.

5. Model Non-Judgment:  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and we may disagree with many of the people we know, and don’t know.  Given yourself permission to feel passionate about your own beliefs, without judging or belittling those who espouse different views.  We can share with our children that non-judgment is a trait we practice throughout our lives.  Remind them that our words have the power to heal or harm, whether used face-to-face, or via technology or social media.

6. Give Space and Reassurance.  Children and adolescents might be worried about their safety whenever big changes occur in their lives.  One of the most important things we can do is maintain a sense of safety and routine within our homes.  Provide space to voice their concerns and questions, and reassure them frequently that you will do your best as a parent to protect them.  As children, they have not yet experienced repeated political election cycles and cannot draw upon prior experience of such transitions of power. To adults, uncertainty and change are familiar, and we have had some practice managing the associated anxiety.  Uncertainty is a new and difficult feeling for our children, and therefore may need a little extra love and support.

Above all, difficult times and difficult conversations become an opportunity for sharing compassion with our children.  Consider practicing a simple compassion exercise with your child as something to “do” when feeling helpless, or overwhelmed.

Sitting on the floor with your child, open your arms out to the side and breathe in deeply. Breathe in peace. Bring your hands back to your heart, breathing out love to everyone in the world.  Do this several times. Breathe in peace all the way to the toes, and breathe out love to every child and adult in the world.

Difficult conversations and practices, however challenging, are perfect chances to teach our children, and ourselves perhaps the most important lesson of all.  No matter what is going on in the world around us, we all have the ability to pause and connect to a deep sense of our own internal compassion.  It is from this peaceful place that we can then manifest the change we wish to see in the world.

 

Breaking the rules?
How many of your decisions are really your decisions?

I’ve been looking back at my life and taking inventory. I’m wondering how many of my decisions have been decisions that: others wanted me to make; or that my younger, less experienced self would make; or that I think I ‘should’ make because of some unspoken rule that I’ve been following without even knowing it?

As an experiment, 2017 is the year I’ve tagged “letting go of all the rules that no longer work for me”.

Rules are sets of understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. Some are written and some are understood.

I have no argument with speed limits, The Golden Rule, no texting while driving, or planting seeds at a specific time of year to get an abundant crop. These rules are guidelines that have proven to support the best interests of a healthy society.

I’m all in for certain rules of etiquette: keep your mouth closed while you chew; let people off the elevator before you get in; be quiet when people are sleeping; on a busy train or bus don’t take up two seats with your ‘stuff’. These rules indicate that you have a brain and a heart.

I’m not talking about overthrowing the government (although recently the thought has crossed my mind).

The vast majority of the decisions I’ve made over my lifetime have been made because of rules, shoulds, and ideas I actually didn’t see dragging in the dirt behind me … the ones that didn’t add to me or to the health of society. In hindsight I suspect I used them as an anchor to hold myself together. Maybe my fear was that if I wasn’t attached to a bunch of beliefs and ideas and rules I would run totally amuck?!

The rules I want to let go of are the ideas and unspoken dictates that are keeping me in line with someone else’s idea of how I ‘should’ act. Rules like "boys don’t cry"; "don’t gather undue attention"; "boys play sports"; "girls do the housework"; "men bring home the bacon"; "children should be seen and not heard"; "children should be allowed to do or say whatever they want"; "don’t rock the boat"; "keep everybody happy"; "don’t leave a high-paying job for a more satisfying one"; "you can only be happy if you have children"; "don’t waste your time on an art or music degree"; "get married" … and on and on and on …

I want to do things differently. Can I actually trust my own judgment? I’m not kidding myself. It won’t be easy.

Unspoken rules come from our families, our workplaces, our churches and our society in general. They’re everywhere. So how does one even begin to sort them out?

It’s also difficult because most everybody follows most of the rules, whether they know it or not. We’re hardwired to want to be part of everybody. Most of us way deep down want to be accepted. And for sure, there’s safety in numbers.

WHERE DO YOU START?

So if you want to use more discretion in which rules you follow, where do you start? What do you use to guide your decision-making?

SHOW UP

First of all, you need to show up. That means you notice when you’re on automatic pilot. When you’re on automatic pilot you’re going to do what you’ve always done. On automatic pilot you can hurt yourself and you can hurt others, and you may never know it. You want to do something different this time.

USE ALL OF YOU

Second, use all of you. By that I mean you have amazing resources to make healthy and reasonable decisions when you pool all your resources. When you bring in the wisdom inherent in your intellect, your heart, and your body and they’re working together, you know what to do! Literally.

Pause, breathe, notice the story (i.e. notice that you’re creating chaos or scaring the crap out of yourself with your thoughts), and then soften your body, You will come back to yourself. Every time.

TRUST

If you allow yourself to trust in your own basic wisdom, you will find it easier to follow the rules and laws that make sense, and enjoy the freedom of ignoring the ones that are insane. I don’t think there’s ever been a time that would benefit more from that approach. Maybe we can look back on this century as the beginning of the wisdom revolution.

As I keep practicing what I preach – pausing, breathing, noticing the story in my head, and softening my body – I’m experiencing fewer regrets and also more open-hearted moments.

I’m not expecting a complete overthrow of the rule police in my head. I am seeing myself slowly developing greater trust in my own wisdom.

Is there something that you’re doing that you know isn’t in your best interest? Is there a rule you’re following that sucks the life out of you? Have you ever asked yourself what feels ‘right’ to you? Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you? That one shift, from asking what ‘is’ right, to what feels ‘right’ to me in this moment, has changed the course of my life several times.

Think of a decision or a choice you need to make. It could be as simple as whether or not you want to let your daughter stay out after curfew. You get that it’s important to her and you know she’ll be mad at you if she has to leave the party early. You know that all her friends are being allowed to stay. But you also know the curfew is in place for a variety of reasons.

Put your hand on your belly, breathe out, soften your body, and then ask yourself what feels ‘right’, to you, in this moment. Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you?

A Movement Begins With A Single Step
When I took my two young sons with me to the Women’s March, I wasn't fully sure what to expect, or how to explain to them why it was important that we walk together.  Personally, I wanted to show them what could happen when we showed up for what we believed in and to find healing and strength through tolerance, civility, and compassion for fellow human beings – recognizing that diverse communities are the strength of our country.  That we could unite to harness our voices, and our ability to peacefully protest, as a radical tool for social transformation.

Learn more at Shyft.What my sons witnessed were women, men, and children from all across the world standing up in solidarity.  Being a part of a global movement felt like a moment of true empowerment, one I don't think I can ever forget.  Together, we made history.  Together, we were walking forward towards kindness, compassion, and equality.  Its endearing to see them perk up when the Women’s March is shown on TV and try and find themselves amongst the sea of people.

The positive energy and love amongst the marchers was palpable. Strangers were holding hands and taking pictures with one another.  They were smiling, laughing, and enjoying the movement that was unfolding in front of their eyes.  We were all in it together.  Truthfully, I hadn't felt a moment of such connection with friends, family, and strangers alike in many years.

My young son videotaped the entire march.  He was greeted by encouraging and loving adults who willingly agreed to be interviewed on camera and explain their personal reasons for marching.  The overwhelming response that he received was “for a kinder America” - one that is inclusive, just, and loving to all.

I didn't walk away having any more answers than when I arrived.  I still feel the same struggle within me:  how do I fight for what I personally believe in, while seeking understanding and compassion for those who espouse different views?  Perhaps the ability to see through another's lens, even when we don't agree, is the hallmark of compassion.  At the same time, I must reconcile that with standing for my own beliefs and values.

The march was also an unexpected reminder that we can find gratitude in the most challenging circumstances.  I discovered that this election, and the march, was an opportunity to be grateful.  Thankful for women uniting all across the world.  Thankful for the opportunity to teach my children about democracy.  Thankful for the reminder to continue checking my own unconscious biases.  And, even thankful for having the activist fire lit within me.

I seek to understand, I seek to be understood, and I continue to seek guidance in asking the right questions from all of those around me who have experienced battles that I have not fought. It is not easy.  For me, perhaps enlightenment may not be found on the cushion, but in facing these very real struggles while maintaining my core values, moment by moment. And yes, step by step.  

 

Reciprocity of Writing & Motherhood
Many women enjoy reading and writing about their experiences as a mother. I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, research essays, and especially journaling. I always found comfort in writing my thoughts and feelings on paper. It was almost as though I was solving my own questions, putting pieces of puzzles together with each written word. Since becoming a mother I found that being a part of a community that shares in the experience of motherhood is not only therapeutic, but informative. It’s allowed mothers all over the world to know that they are not alone in their challenges, feelings, and moments of amazement. There is a beautiful give and take in writing about one’s role as a mother- a reciprocity I’d never realized until I found myself immersed in the writing experience.

The story that brings any mother to begin writing is certainly different for everyone, but I’m sure much of it has to do with an urge to reach out to the world and find some sort of guidance. It was for me. As an English major in college, I always enjoyed journaling when I wasn’t working on a thesis essay. Once I completed school and joined the workforce, I continued to journal until I moved in with my husband. Between my job, wedding and pregnancy, I no longer had time to write.  During the duration of my pregnancy, only twice did I pick up my pen for the purpose of writing something significant. The first time was to write my wedding vows to my new husband; the second was to write a eulogy for my father’s service when he unexpectedly passed during my fifth month of pregnancy.

For the two years I didn’t write or feel any urge to journal. My entire focus was absorbed by the many faceted duties of motherhood; however, over the course of those two years I felt myself becoming undone emotionally. I was plagued with anxiety, and depression. I had mood swings that made me feel as though I were going insane. I couldn’t find escape in the laundry, cooking, vacuuming, and diaper changing. I needed to put a voice to what was happening within. Though life was hectic, the call to write was eventually heard through the dull rumblings of the constant traffic. One day, exhausted and hurting, I turned on the laptop that had been sitting dormant in my bedroom closet, and began to write. Once again I began to find a solace I’d nearly forgotten about.

The words on the screen spoke of a woman who buried her grief over losing her father in order to maintain a healthy, safe pregnancy and an outwardly positive environment for her young child. I wrote about how my unhealthy mindset was keeping me from being the parent I wanted to be. I admitted to being plagued by terrifying thoughts, and images of pending harm which caused onsets of panic whenever I ventured out in public with my child. I unburdened myself of all the fearfulness bottled up in my attempts to maintain an air of poise, and motherly perfection. With the terrifying click of a button, I submitted my essay titled ‘Parenting Through Anxiety Fueled by Grief’ to a website called The Mighty, and just a few short days later watched as a piece of myself was revealed to the world.

From that moment on I’d not only found passion, and support in writing again, but I found confidence in being a mother that had previously escaped me. I realized I was not alone, and that my writing also aided others who were unable to share their own experience. Writing has proved extremely therapeutic in my role as a parent. In very much the way I wrote through prior emotional turmoil, I’m writing my way through the motherhood journey. I’ve ranted about the times that seem most arduous in hopes of discovering answers. I’ve reveled in so many magical moments one is only able to experience as a mother, painting pictures of memories I never wish to forget: describing my daughter in her doll like sleep, and remembering the evening she asked why she couldn’t catch the moon between her small fingers.

It’s also given me a new sense of purpose. Though I know my job as a mother is important, it’s wonderful being able to have a few minutes set aside to write, stretch my brain, and not let everything be about diapers and housework. Though I’m discussing motherhood in most of what I write, it’s still a time for me; a time for myself, entirely uninterrupted.

While motherhood has fueled my zest for writing, it has also fueled my desire to be the best mother possible through honesty and self-exploration. I’ve written about my fear of negatively influencing the young mind I’m raising, and found relief hashing through the confusions. In each sentence I’m finding deeper meaning and clarity in my role as a parent. Somehow seeing my thoughts and feelings on paper allows me to be more critical and honest about the part I’m playing as a mother. One cannot escape or confuse the knowledge imparted onto paper. Those paragraphs stare back at me and tell me, “This is what you are feeling. This is what you are doing. Now how are you going to address it?” Of course I can delete, erase the thoughts I’ve chosen to convey, but I truly believe that to be a good mother, and a good writer, one must be nothing short of authentic.

I’d never expected to find so much wealth in writing, and it’s now difficult to imagine my life without this creative outlet. Writing meaningful accounts about my role as a parent has given me a sense of purpose that goes beyond the day to day activities of child rearing. It’s allowed me to cross boundaries, revealing many things I used to keep hidden. Reading other mother writer’s stories has helped me understand the kind of mother I am, and realize that I don’t need to hold myself to impossible standards. Everyone has their own struggles, hurdles, expectations, and none of us is perfect. Mostly, it’s allowed me to appreciate and cultivate my current station in life through honestly, exploration and creative expression. Though I know I have a long way to go in terms of perfecting my voice, nearly every day I’m working, thinking, questioning, and creating. Writing has made me a better mother, while motherhood has made me a more thoughtful individual, and developed writer.  Those feeling lost, or that have a unique story to tell should not be afraid to pick up that pen and put it out there. I promise there is a wealth of support, self-discovery, and love waiting just beyond.

Tracing Life
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius

When I was a little boy, I loved to sit on my dad’s lap when he got home from work. We’d talk, watch television together or I’d sit while he read the paper after a long day.

Regardless of what we were doing, I often traced the veins on the top of his hands with my fingers, too.

Because he was an athlete in school and served in the military, Dad had strong hands with protruding veins. Sitting with him, held in that embrace, I always felt safe, protected, secure, loved.

One particular and peculiar concern of mine after being burned as a child was related to my acute awareness of the brokenness of my hands. All of my fingers were amputated; my hands were left with thick, red scarring. I knew the experience I relished with my dad would never be one my future children could have with me.

I had not thought about that memory or childhood concern in years. But a recent experience rekindled those thoughts.

My youngest child, Grace, just four, was sitting on my lap. As she sat on my lap her little index finger began tracing me. No, she wasn’t tracing veins, but scars.

Grace started focusing on one in particular. She kept going around and around. It felt like she was making a little circle.

Then she said, “Out of all of them, I love this one the most. It looks just like a heart. You’re lucky, Daddy.”

I looked down at her finger, then at the scar.

And for the first time I noticed this specific scar on my right arm. Sometimes things become such a part of us, we don’t realize they are there. But alas, there, on my right arm – where a collection of scars came together as one – was the unmistakable shape of a heart.

I looked away from it, back at her, and acknowledged, “You’re right, Grace. I sure am lucky.”

My friends, Grace thinks I am lucky because I have scars that cover my body and one that actually forms the shape of a heart on my arm.

But the real reason I’m fortunate is that, not only do I have the wholesome vision of children in my life to call out the beauty in my scars, but I have finally grown to accept and celebrate the beauty of them myself.

In life, it’s easy to see wrinkles, challenges, difficulties and scars as ugly. It’s common to consider them reminders of all we went through in the past and wish we didn’t have to endure in the present.

Today, my friends, I challenge you to choose to see them through a different lens. Today, be aware of where you’ve been, grateful for where you are, and convinced that the best is yet to come.

We are lucky.

For everything has beauty. And everyone who wishes can choose to see it.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

3 Ways to Avoid the Comparison Trap
Multiple times each year, there is a buzz about parent-teacher conferences and the emotions that come up around them. This can be a stressful time of year for parents and children alike. It brings up questions like, “Is my child okay?” and stories about what it means to be above, below, or on par with whatever is “average.”

It is important that we keep in mind the purpose of parent-teacher conferences: to communicate where your child is currently functioning on any given subject in order to assess what they need to achieve the standard goals for their grade level. Ideally, this is a growth-based model that includes the parents to ensure optimal support for the child, thus providing them with the maximum potential for success. So…why all the anxiety?

My assumption would be that the anxiety experienced around the conferences is not actually related to the conferences themselves, but to our personal stories and beliefs about our inadequacies. Our culture is filled with pressures about how each one of us is “supposed” to be. The standards of our society demand that we look a certain way, engage in a certain way, and experience life in a certain way.

You should have a good job, but always be available for your family. You should be skinny, but not too skinny. You should be a good partner/parent/sibling/friend/etc. You should probably not have feelings, especially if you are a male…but if you do, you should definitely deal with them in private. And it doesn’t just stop with what you should do or be, but extends also to your family members. Your child should go to a certain school, have a certain number of friends, be able to spell a certain number of words!

Is this starting to sound like that nagging voice in the back of your head? When you walk into a parent-teacher conference, you are bringing all of this with you. You are carrying cultural baggage from every role model, commercial, or interaction that has somehow implied that you are inadequate. You may even be awaiting confirmation that the nagging voice has been right all along and you really aren’t good enough, and neither is your child!

Maybe this doesn’t resonate with you at all. Not feeling the stress of the first semester evaluations? Is there perhaps another place in your life where the experience I am describing does exist? I have yet to meet a single person who never experiences the stomach-dropping dread of “I’m not good enough,” or it’s siblings “I’m not enough” and “I’m too much.” Parent-teacher conferences are just one of the many ways that we can end up tangled in a story about our worthiness and capability. They are simply a topical entry point to a much larger challenge.

This discussion may also feel incongruent because your child is doing very well, and the teacher does not have much to report...perfect student, well behaved. Awesome! Right? With children who aren’t outwardly demonstrating some challenges, who are achieving while simultaneously mastering their emotions and demonstrating positive social skills, I would inquire about their internal state. That is a lot to have seemingly gotten under control for anyone, let alone a still-developing child. Are they excelling because they are simply experiencing ease in their current life and world, or are they putting pressure on themselves to do well at everything? These are two very different internal experiences, which require different levels of care and support.

At this point, you may be wondering, “How does this help me?” or “What now?” Here are 3 tips and tricks to work with your own beliefs, and to best support your child in the face of those beliefs. 

1. Develop Awareness

Did you go into the parent-teacher conference awake and ready, but then find that you zoned out while the teacher was talking? Did you find yourself disagreeing with everything the teacher said? What about in your own experiences with evaluations—or any other situations that bring up self-doubt or self-worth? If you can bring awareness to how you react when “not good enough” is brewing, you can start to learn more about what triggers it, what it feels like in your body, and how to work with it.

2. Balance the Perception

When the story of “not good enough” has control, it is so easy to find evidence that it is true. You can list a hundred and five reasons why you are a lousy employee, parent, spouse, grocery shopper, whatever! Your brain is primed for self-insults. To balance the perception, you will need to also list the things that you are actually doing quite well. It may take extra effort to find the positives. Write down the list to get clear about the successes happening in your life—both big and small.

This tool is easily applied to your child, as well. Okay, so your child is struggling in math and is experiencing some difficulties in peer relationships, but what are they excelling at? What area have they improved the most in since school began? What are they really enjoying?

3. Reframe the Challenge

Your child had a hard time in math class last year, so this year they refuse to even pay attention in their math class. What a great way for them to learn to ask for support and develop self-esteem!

You get mad in every weekly staff meeting because your coworker is constantly interrupting you. What a great time to practice asserting yourself and setting a boundary!

Okay, okay, you get it. Every challenge can be seen as an opportunity for growth. The challenge is not your enemy, nor is it the only challenge you (or your child) will ever face. So, what do you need to do for yourself to not only get through it, but to benefit from it? What supports does your child need to succeed?

 

The Magic of New Beginnings
2016 was certainly a year of new beginnings for Shyft.  And as I look back over the year, I realize that, in fact, new beginnings is exactly what Shyft stands for.  Whether it is January 1 or May 1, whether it is 11:59 pm or the ball just counted down to midnight, we always, always have the opportunity to begin again.  To start over.  To take a small step or a giant leap in the direction of our dreams.  That is the magical opportunity that every moment brings—to make a choice for ourselves that brings us just a little closer to a life that is aligned with our true values and desires.

In our first year, we accomplished more than we could have imagined.  We started Literal Shyft, our digital magazine focused on conscious living, forging relationships with readers and contributors from all over the world.  We hosted our first retreat with Pernille Spiers-Lopez and Good Life Designed, bringing together women from all different backgrounds to lovely Coronado Island, for a weekend of cultivating mindfulness and meaning.  We launched our corporate well being program, providing mindfulness based meditations in a variety of conference rooms across Orange County and Los Angeles.  And we hosted a number of private events in homes and yoga studios, creating opportunities for connection and conversation around how we can all live more meaningful lives.

We couldn’t be more proud of how we started, and perhaps more importantly, our “why”…we believe that, more than ever, we all need ways to slow down, discover what is important, and reach out to one another.

Shyft began as a vision deep in the hearts of three women.  But it came to life because of the community that believed in that vision, and participated wholeheartedly in its continued manifestation.  We realize that, in every beginning and ending, we have an opportunity to be grateful for the people who walk alongside us in this journey of life.  Thank you, each and every one of you—whether you have contributed an article to Literal Shyft, read one of our posts, joined us in meditation, or simply encouraged us to keep going.  We started because of you, and we keep going because of you.

So what shyfts lie ahead for you in 2017?  What new beginnings are whispering to you in a way that won’t let you go?  Just as you supported Shyft, we hold an unwavering belief in your ability to bring your passion to life.  Sign up to receive our latest free guided meditation on new beginnings, straight from our hearts to your inboxes.  It is our way to reach out to you in this vast world, and show you that we can’t wait to watch your unique and powerful gifts come to fruition in the year ahead.

From all us of at Shyft, we hope the year ahead is full of joy, health, and abundance.  Thank you for being a part of our tribe.  Let’s make 2017 our year to shine.  We’ll see you at the start line.

With gratitude,

Monisha Vasa

Monisha Vasa, M.D.
Editor In Chief
Literal Shyft Digital Magazine

A Daughter’s Response
A few weeks ago, Michele Fried, published an article on LiteralShyft.com titled “Why I’ll Never be a Perfect Parent”.

I took particular interest in the article, given that the author is my mother.

Here is my response to my mother’s words that she’ll never be a perfect parent:

Dear Mom,

It’s probably not the first time that I’ve said the words, “You’re wrong”, to your face, but I have to believe that this time is different.

Why?

Because this time, I really do believe that you’re wrong and, truth be told, that hasn’t always been the case.

You ARE the perfect parent, mom.

Now, before you get all “But Eden, you missed the point” on me, let me clarify.

I fully recognize that the purpose of your article was to emphasize that it’s okay not to be a “perfect” parent, and that the focus instead should be on being the best parent you can be.  But here’s the thing – not only are you the “best you can be”, you’re also perfect in my eyes (and probably in the eyes of your 9 other children, even if they don’t always say it out loud).

So, here’s why you’re wrong about not being perfect. Here’s why you are the perfect parent, and why I consider myself lucky knowing that I have you as my mom.

You provide unconditional support.

2016 was a challenging year for me.  Early in the year I sat you down to let you know I was applying to law school.  I remember seeing the shock in your face as we ate our hummus and falafel.

Yet, despite any confusion or shock you may have experienced at the time, you remained incredibly supportive.

You told me you’d support me no matter what. So, if I wanted to go to law school, you’d be there with bells on.

That’s perfection.

As a mom, your kids don’t always do what you’d like or expect them to do. The important thing is to be supportive, no matter what.

You do that, Mom, and you’re perfect for it.

You ask the tough questions.

You’re often the voice of reason.

Though you remain 100% supportive of all my endeavors, you help me navigate through those tough decisions by asking the questions no one else would ask.

When I told you I was applying to law school, you sat through the entire conversation, fully supportive, but you ended it by saying, “We’ve been sitting here for over an hour and you never once said the words ‘I want to be a lawyer. Do you really want to be a lawyer?”

You wanted to make sure I was pursuing law school for all the right reasons not for all the wrong ones.

You’re always there to be the voice of reason, Mom, and you’re perfect for them.

You’re actively involved and happy to be.

Despite your worry that perhaps law school wasn’t the right route for me, you remained involved throughout the application process helping me every step of the way.

But it was no surprise how active you were; that’s how you’ve been throughout my entire childhood.

You’ve always been there, Mom, and you’re perfect for it.

You don’t care what the neighbors think.

When my mind started to shift and I decided not to go to law school, to start a blog and begin freelancing instead, you didn’t give a second thought to what anyone else would think. You reminded me that the only opinions that count are my own.

You’ve never given a second thought to what “the neighbors” think.  You’re quirky, crazy, unique, and there’s really no one else quite like you.

You’re un-apologetically you despite anyone else’s thoughts, Mom, and you’re perfect for it. 

You’re not only a mom, you’re also a friend.

You’ve always been my friend. As friendship goes, we do quibble and fight on occasion but Mother-Daughter friendships are enduring, and you’ve proven that.

You’re always one of my very first phone calls to deliver good news or bad news and I certainly don’t see that changing anytime soon.

You’re an amazing friend, Mom, and you’re perfect for it. 

So, Mom, lucky for me and for all your children, we don’t have an almost perfect parent, we have you – the most perfect mom we could ever ask for – and I just wanted to make that perfectly clear to you.

Love,

Your daughter Eden

 

 

 

Thrown Out of The Nest
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”  - Pema Chodron

We’re thrown out of the nest when we don’t get something we want, or when we do get something we don’t want.

I get surprised every time.  I have a string of sunny days and it seems that literally everything is magically going my way.  Then it rains, and rains, and rains…  At the end of the string of rainy days it feels like something’s wrong.  And of course there is – I’m not getting what I want — endless strings of sunny days.

Your thing might be the 5 pounds you gained while dieting, or wanting your partner to load the dishwasher the ‘right’ way, not wanting a Dear John email or text (not even a phone call!), a partner or child you think is drinking too much, or getting critical feedback at work for something that ‘wasn’t your fault’.

Whatever it is that throws you out of the nest, it will be because you didn’t get something you wanted or you got something you didn’t want.

What to do?

After the initial shock and resistance wear off, we almost always face the challenge of how to manage yourself and communicate with others about our discomfort.  There are very few disappointments that in one way or another don’t involve other people.

Obviously there are countless ways to take care of ourselves. Each has its pros and cons.

Let the experience resolve itself.

Before you do anything you can take a chill pill and Pause, Breathe, Notice your story, Soften your body.

Ask yourself what is it that you need?  Give it a moment.  Clarify and state the facts as you know them, with no intention to have someone do anything to take away your discomfort.  You’re not asking anything of the other person.  You’re stating your concern and expressing awareness that you’re responsible for managing your disappointment.

Sometimes all you need is time, reassurance, or more information, or a combination of the three to deal with your disappointment.  For example, “I feel worried when I see that you’ve been drinking — and I want to find a healthy way to handle my feelings.”  Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can provide both reassurance and information.

The moment you take responsibility for managing yourself when you’re thrown out of the nest is the moment you are no longer at the mercy of getting thrown out of the nest.

Make a request.

If it becomes clear that you need more than time, reassurance or information, a request is another way to meet your needs.  Figure out exactly what you want and then ask for it, understanding that the other person has every right to say no, yes, maybe or I’ll think about it.  Because it’s a request, not a demand.

A request has little or no attachment to the answer.  “I wonder if you might be willing to make an appointment with your doctor for a check up, to make sure that drinking isn’t affecting your physical well being?”

A request is usually accompanied by some degree of curiosity around what will happen, which is different from attachment to a specific outcome.  It doesn’t carry a hidden ultimatum.

Non-attachment to an outcome can be tricky.  What looks like a request on the surface can be perceived as a demand if your tone of voice and facial expression communicate that there is only one ‘right’ answer to the request.

In an article by Parker Palmer in Daily Good, he used two words to summarize how he thinks Americans can stay grounded during this time of political upheaval.  I am borrowing his words because I think they define the heart of a request.

The words are chutzpah and humility. Chutzpah says my voice is important, it needs to be heard, and I have the right to speak.  Humility means I accept that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all, so I need to listen with openness and respect to ‘the other’, as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.

Make a demand.

Your third option is to make a demand.

Demands are made with the expectation that the other person must change their behavior.  When we’re thrown out of the nest we make demands because we want somebody or something to save us from this awful, heavy feeling.

Most of us are familiar with demands, either through giving or getting them.  Somebody’s not getting what they want, so whoever is unfortunate enough to cross their path first may be the likely recipient of a demand.  ‘I’m not getting what I want so you better give it to me, or I’m going to make your life a living hell.’

The boss criticized you, you’re still feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and before you can stop yourself you get home, walk in the door, and scream at the kids to pick up all their crap.  What happened?!  You went on automatic pilot, and that’s what we do when we’re on automatic pilot.  We make demands.

A demand can be direct, as in “I need you to stop drinking right now!”.  But often it’s indirect, as in “I can’t stand your drinking any more but it’s your decision if you want this family to implode”.  Both demands.

Sometimes a demand seems like a reasonable response to bad behavior.  But what really happens?  A demand forces you both to take a polarized position and stick to it.  And no matter how slick someone is at disguising a demand to sound like a request, you know it’s a demand because you feel an internal pressure to comply.

The primary pro of a demand is that it gives us short-term gratification – and there’s nothing I like better!  The cons, however, are pretty daunting.

Some of us are habituated to jumping right to demands.  The good news is that it’s a habit, not a characterological defect.  A habit is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be replaced with another behavior.

For the next two weeks I’m going to notice how I handle myself when I get thrown out of the nest.  Join me?

Rolling Out of Bed
Waking up this morning, I smile,
Twenty four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you wake up in the morning? Do you eject out of bed like a canon ball the minute your eyes open, or do you take a moment or two to connect to your inner core, you know, the center of your being that thinks that shooting out of bed is for less mindful people?

It’s not that rushing out of bed makes you a less conscious person, it just makes you less connected and aware of every moment of your day, especially the ones that begin your morning, which are important moments to acknowledge.

How we start our day really does set the foundation for the rest of it, and if you have to jump out of bed instead of calmly “rolling” out of it for reasons that are justifiable or necessary for you, then here are some ways to make up for it at other times in your day:

1. Meditate at one point for 20 minutes.

2. Try not to rush during your meals, and mindfully eat your food.

3. If you’re at work, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths in and out.

4. Say a mantra quietly to yourself during the day when you can’t meditate. It can be something like “I’m in gratitude,” or “world peace,” or “self love,” etc.

5. Talk to people without thinking about what you have to do next.

6. Don’t drink a lot of caffeine. We all know how easy it is to keep your adrenals pumped up, but try not to overdo it, and if you can, substitute it with decaf or herb tea.

7. Do something nice for someone. Ask them if they need anything, or just offer to do what you think they would like.

8. Don’t forget the “I love you.” You can always squeeze in one of those to someone you care about even if you’re rushed, but what’s better is if you say it not rushed, which will sound more meaningful.

9. Simply connect. Look someone in the eye and communicate what you’re feeling. Take a moment or two to relate mindfully rather than distractedly.

10. Shower or bathe slowly at the end of your day. Surrender to allowing yourself to wash your body with appreciation.

11. Get into bed and be thankful for your life.

Whether you get out of bed like a canon ball, or you roll, try and catch yourself in the midst of your pace and calibrate yourself to be more mindful. There can never be enough mindfulness in your day.

 

Things I Must Teach My Teenager
My wife recently asked me to teach our teenage son that “no means no” when it comes time for sexual activity. I wasn’t surprised by her request because like so many, she’d been following high-profile rape cases at high school and college campuses across the country. It was clear to both of us that there’s a terrible problem in our nation regarding sexual assault and we needed to do what we could to ensure that our son, a great kid, wouldn’t somehow inadvertently contribute to the problem.

I quickly realized that my own knowledge of the subject matter was dated and  what we needed to be teaching our son was now called “affirmative consent” or “yes means yes.”

That exercise got me thinking about what other essential 21st Century life lessons my son needed to learn, not only to keep himself safe, but also to ensure that he didn’t accidently cause harm to others. My list grew quickly and since high school wouldn’t be teaching him any of these things, I knew it fell upon my wife and me to carry this water.

The 21st Century life safety lessons I felt he needed to learn included: the seriousness of teen dating violence; the devastating impact of cyber-bullying; safely interfacing with the police and, if necessary, asserting one’s constitutional rights; navigating the dangers and permanency of social media; surviving a mass shooter incident; and so much more, including, of course, sexual consent.

As I started my research on these topics, I discovered some sickening statistics which only confirmed why it was so important for us to discuss these issues with our son. For example:

  • Twenty four percent of sexual offenders against women are age twenty or under1
  • Over thirty five percent of all sexual assaults occur when a victim is between the ages of twelve and seventeen2
  • Over twenty percent of white youth will be arrested by age eighteen (with higher numbers for people of color)3
  • One in three teens is a victim of abuse from a dating partner4 
  • Every day, forty-seven children and teens are shot5
  • Seven out of ten mass shootings take place at school or work6
  • One out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying and one out of six teens has done it to others7

 

These statistics, and many others like them, resonated with me beyond simply being concerned for the well-being of my own child. Perhaps it was because of my ongoing work as a leading gang prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles. Or, and more likely, it was because it brought me back to my own teenage years when I was unsupervised and terribly reckless.

Unlike today’s teens, I benefited from countless “do-overs” to make it through. Those are largely a thing of the past and the margin for error that our adolescent children face is smaller than ever. While making mistakes can be a great way for my son to learn, when it comes to the seriousness of the subjects at hand, it’d be best if he didn’t.

As I continued to delve into these topics, I became curious if other parents were as concerned about these issues as I was and I wondered if my background as a troubled teen and work as a prosecutor skewed my perspective. While I realized it was difficult to imagine that our own children might become a victim or victimize others, the statistics that kept running through my head clearly indicated to me that even good kids sometimes made bad mistakes.

The reactions I got from other parents run the gamut. Most parents shared my concerns but, interestingly, admitted they had no clue as to where to start, especially when it came to the issues related to sexual consent, technology or those dealing with the 4th and 5th Amendment. A refrain I heard time and time again was “I can’t teach what I don’t know.” Other parents, sadly, simply did not want to think about these terrible topics in relation to their children or somehow felt that their race or monetary status somehow exempted their children from these dangers.

Granted, the issues on my list are complex and nuanced, but so is raising children. As my son quickly transitions out of our house, we’ve got an opportunity to help him learn these things that’ll be of benefit to him now and for the rest of his life. I may not get to all of the topics on my list, but I’m going to try—starting with sexual consent.

Perhaps, one day, our schools will create a class that helps us teach these skills, but, until that time, it’s on us as their parents to seek out this invaluable information and impart it as best we can. Doing so will help prepare our kids for the inevitable—when the unexpected things happen in life. At those moments, we want them to do the right thing, respond smartly and stay safe for their sake and that of others.

This post was originally published on The Good Men Project.

It’s Only Coffee…
“Never wish that life was easier. Wish that you were better.” – Jim Rohn

Have you ever witnessed an event that should have ruined someone’s day, but instead became a moment of uncommon grace inspiring all who witnessed it?

Well, on a recent early morning Southwest Airlines flight I had such an experience.

After reaching our cruising altitude, the flight attendants took the drink orders, passed out the peanuts, and then the requested drinks to the passengers. The lady sitting directly behind me was handed a Bloody Mary. (Hey, it was already 6:30 AM… and most certainly it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Don’t judge!)

Unfortunately, the passenger lost her grip and the drink spilled all over the lap of the gal sitting to her right. It was not a pretty scene; there was a lot of commotion and a lot of words needing to be beeped out.

Another passenger came to the rescue, trying to help clean up the mess that was now seeping into the aisle. Unfortunately, she accidentally lifted the tray of the gentleman on the other side of the aisle.

Sending his freshly brewed cup of coffee into his lap.

And as if things could get no worse, concerned that he might get burned, the lady with the bloody mary actually took what was let of her tomato juice and poured it on his pants! It was a mess.

As the carnage eventually began to subside, I watched this unlucky victim wipe at his hopelessly drenched pants. And then witnessed a most unexpected expression on his face: a smile.

A flight attendant was apologizing profusely to him as he looked up from his pants, into her eyes, smiled again, and shared a quote I’ll never forget:

“It’s only coffee… and tomato juice.”

My friends, things will happen this morning and this week completely out of your control. It will be hot…or cold. It will rain…or the drought will continue. She’ll be late, or he won’t show. The kids will whine, or the silence will be deafening.

But because of my new friend, we now have a simple reminder on how to respond. Not to wish that life becomes less messy, but to become wise enough to remember that it’s all only coffee… and tomato juice.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

Grace Over Perfection
The most wonderful time of year is upon us. Holiday meals shared with family and friends, hot chocolate, mistletoe, cozy sweater and boot weather. It’s what I look forward to all year long. However, there’s just one problem. Every year around this time, my kids suddenly forget how to sleep in to a decent hour (in this household “decent” means 6 am). I have tried everything, and I mean everything, to get my 3 and 5-year-old to sleep in later - to no avail. For whatever reason, these are the cards I've been dealt in this season of life. I have found some of my most challenging parenting moments to be in these long days. I’m certainly not at my best when waking in the 4 or 5 am hour…and neither are my kids.

When I find myself comforting the 20th boo-boo of the day, I'm often forcing an obligatory consolation to my wailing little one. While inside my head thinking, “Are you kidding me?!” Because it's the fourth time I've tried boiling that pot of water for dinner. And it's the 10th lego I've stepped on that day and the bags under my eyes are becoming permanent. Moods are already hit or miss at witching hour, and when you add to it a 4:30 am wake-up, they often tip to full-blown meltdown mode.

And it’s not just the kids who have a hard time. I’ve definitely been known to lose my cool a time or two on these never-ending days. I may yell and act like a pouting baby myself once in awhile. Am I proud of these moments? Not in the slightest. But I’m human and imperfect and do not operate well on little sleep. (Did I mention that?)

As you can imagine, bedtime routines start around 6:30 pm during this season. We’re all fragile by day’s end and ready for a fresh start.

When my head finally hits the pillow, I look back at the whirlwind of survival that took place. And I sometimes wonder if I’m failing at this parenting thing. Did I love on them enough? Were my words too harsh? Was I uplifting and encouraging or mostly harping on them all day?

The days are long, as the saying goes, yet somehow the years manage to fly by. When I’ve raised my kids, I don't want to look back questioning if I was loving or nurturing enough. But deep down inside, I already know the answer.

I am more than enough. 

It dawns on me that my children are probably clueless that I’m not 100% into comforting every bump and scratch they’ve ever had. What I’m betting they remember someday is that Mom always showed up with a hug and kiss to make it all better.

I’m hoping they’ll have fond memories of us playing board games and coloring together on the floor. They’ll likely remember our family’s holiday traditions instead of how early we all woke during these Winter months.

They may recall how I was not always patient. And that sometimes I raised my voice and showed my frustration. But I hope they’ll see we’re all allowed to be messy and scattered and have challenging days. Being present does not mean being perfect.

So tonight when I make my way to bed, I’m going to rest assured that I’m doing a pretty great job at this parenting gig. Every day is not meant to be sunshine and roses. I’m learning in this season that a little grace goes a long way. And come Spring, we’ll all be sleeping in a little bit later.

6 am, you have never looked so good.

How to Handle Your Emotions with 3 Words
In the English language, there are a multitude of words to describe feelings states. Each word offers a unique twist that allows us to describe with finite detail exactly what is happening in our experience. I could say that I am feeling exasperated, which would paint a slightly different picture than if I said I am feeling resentful. Each, it would seem, allows others to gain insight into our internal world and promote compassion. How wonderful that our language provides us with such opportunities for self-expression! Except I don’t think that this is true, at all…

Stay with me for a moment. 

To me, all of these words—forlorn, nervous, unhappy, annoyed—separate us from the truth of our experience. These descriptors are filler that disconnect our feelings from ourselves. Some imply blame, others simply allow us to go about our lives without taking ownership over, let alone attempting to process, our experiences. Mad, happy, sad, and scared are the essence of every feeling state that we attempt to describe with this ongoing list of adjectives; they are what truly lie under our descriptions and our strategies.

Let’s talk about “anxiety” for a moment. Anxiety is a concept that has spread through our culture like wildfire. To be anxious is normalized and reinforced regularly. To say that I am anxious allows me to go on and on about why I am anxious; “I am having anxiety because I have to do a, b, and c at work, all while my family is counting on me to do x, y, and z.” After going through these motions I am no longer even feeling, I am thinking and listing as a method of avoiding my experience. I have made the anxiety separate. It is not mine, but something outside of me to be avoided or exterminated. Besides all that, my lengthy description is not even the truth of my experience.

What am I really feeling? Scared. What am I scared of? Failing.

“I am scared to fail.”

This feels pricklier, right? Why is that, if, essentially, it is a simplified explanation of the same experience? To let someone else see you this authentically is very vulnerable. It is unnervingly real. To be able to say this congruently is to be embodied in your experience, remaining connected to yourself and your feelings. And just as it promotes self-connection, it also allows others to connect with you on a deeper level.

I challenge you to try this on for yourself. It may feel silly or awkward the first time, but can be very powerful when put into practice. Try to pair down your experience in an honest way. Use “scared,” “sad,” or “mad” as your primary feeling words. If you would like to take it a step further to understand what is contributing to your feeling state, zoom out your focus from the specifics of the lived experience, and focus instead on the real and deeper reason for your emotional reaction.

What is the essence of this current challenge, rather than the details of it? Are you hooked into an old story that is no longer serving you? Is a core value being threatened? What is that little nagging voice in your head telling you? Getting clear about the what or the why will enhance your self-understanding, and with time can illuminate patterns in your internal life that are impacting your external life. In addition, sharing the truth of your experience and getting vulnerable with someone else will create space for them to do the same, and ultimately create depth and honesty in the relationship.

I offer this to you simply as a way of becoming more congruent in your experience, but it is up to you to determine if and how this feels authentic to you. There is no shame in utilizing your well-established emotional vocabulary, with yourself or with others. There are no rules for how to feel emotions, or how to share them.

May this approach help you find your own way, whatever that may be.

United We Stand
It’s been a rocky year.  I felt afraid before the election, and I feel afraid after the election.  Much of the world seems afraid.  Regardless of which side we’re on, we want things to change…for the better…whatever our personal ‘better’ may be.

So what to do?

My experience is that fear begs for one or more of three things:  more information, more reassurance, more time.  I’m adding a fourth element because of the nature of the current unrest in the world:  A sense of personal power.  For many of us, the first three are achievable but the fourth element is harder to come by.

Here are a few things I’m exploring to reduce my own fear.

INFORMATION

I have all the information in the world at my fingertips.  I can educate myself.  I need to know what I’m talking about before I shoot my mouth off or scream that the sky is falling.  It may actually be falling, but I need to understand why and how that’s happening, so that I can make reasonable and effective choices in how I handle it.

The last thing I want to do is add ignorance to ignorance.  That’s a cycle that’s almost impossible to interrupt.

REASSURANCE

I can reassure myself by standing up for what I believe in, without denigrating someone else for believing something different.  Challenging, to say the least.  I’m sitting with this one.

I’m not sure what standing up for what I believe in looks like for me personally.  I’m a word person, so I can talk about it, and write about it; but like I said, I’m sitting with it.  It occurs to me that something more may be required of me.  Maybe it’s as simple as offering reassurance to those who may not experience the same degree of privilege and freedom that I enjoy.  I can reassure them that I will support them and not turn my back.  And in reassuring them, I’m reassuring myself that I haven’t lost myself and what matters to me.

TIME

I can respect and take advantage of the wisdom that time offers.  Giving it time, sleeping on it, giving myself a time out, taking a break – all have served me well over the last few months.  There is a time for action and if I allow myself to be present, to pause, take a breath and soften my body, I know intuitively when it’s time to move or act.

My challenge is the tendency to act on impulse, to react immediately.  But when I give whatever is frightening me even a little bit of space and time to come back into perspective, I seldom regret it.  A great ‘give yourself a moment’ tool is to use the THINK acronym before speaking or acting:

T is it true?

H is it helpful?

I is it inspiring?

N is it necessary?

K is it kind?

PERSONAL POWER

Sometimes information, reassurance and time aren’t enough.  Sometimes what’s happening is so frightening that I need to call on my deepest self for the strength to push past my fear and continue to behave in ways that are in line with my integrity and values.  That’s when I remind myself that no one individual, no group, and no rule or law can change who I am on the inside, unless I let them.

We are in this together.  And we’re all going to need to dig deep to bring out our best selves to address the problems we’re facing.  United we stand… divided we fall.  Trite.  Every truism becomes trite because it’s used over and over.  When it’s the only thing that really says what needs to be said.  It applies to every area of our lives — at home, at work, at play.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.

Parenting as a Practice
What if I asked you to consider something that is not often asked of us as parents: What if instead of asking you to share your best parenting advice or to share your child's latest milestone — I asked you to tell me your last parenting failure?

When was the last time you felt like your were completely unprepared for this job?

If you were to ask me that question, I'd have to look no further than last night. In a flurry of frustration, I was insensitive to the needs of my child. Intellectually, I knew she needed focused attention, mommy hugs, soothing words. However, in the moment of multi-tasking and exhaustion, I was unable to meet her needs. It didn't take long for my inner critic to belittle my parenting skills, taking me down with the simple and familiar "you should be better at this".

As a mother who prepared diligently for parenthood, and as an educational specialist who has studied psychology, development and learning for over a decade— I could have only learned through experience that parenting is messy, unpredictable, and so very humbling.

There are many "how-to" books on parenting but no custom manual addressing our children's particular gifts and needs. This is the ultimate ‘on the job’ training — the most valuable learning coming from our mistakes. Yet, many of us hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, either self-imposed or as an attempt to meet familial or societal expectations.

In the learning of lesser stakes endeavors — baking a pie or learning a musical instrument —most of us would not expect to gain expertise right away. We would aim to learn, yet expect to perfect nothing. If our child was baking a pie or learning a musical instrument, we'd encourage them to be patient and try, try again. We would expect that these activities require practice.

What if we reframed parenting as a practice?

Practicing, or having a "practice" means to perform a set of regular or daily actions— and if we want to approach mastery, a long-term investment in those actions. Practice helps to facilitate growth in one’s self through skill development. In parenting we can go one step further — we help to facilitate growth in another human being, and quite literally are growing alongside one another. Parenting becomes a sacred practice.

Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practice are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life’s difficulties. — Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

 Parenting may never be a stress-free experience, but could the perspective of practice bring more joy and calm to each day?

Here are a few ideas to begin to shift your perspective:

First, become aware of your internal dialogue. Our internal voice is constantly commenting on everything we do, and determines how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. If we pay attention to it, we can choose what we tell ourselves. If we let it run wild, it has the potential to drag us down. What is your inner voice telling you about your abilities as a parent? Are the conversations happening around you contributing to a helpful or harmful inner dialogue?

Forgive yourself. The next step is to let yourself off the hook. With any given “failed” parenting moment, we can choose to feel guilty or we can choose to feel curious. If we choose the latter, it can lead to solution-oriented inquiry such as “what can I do differently next time?” Know that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection and try to retain what you have learned from the experience. Practice releasing all else.

Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Beginner’s Mind is a Zen Buddhism concept which means a mind that is open to possibilities, a mind that is ready to ask questions. If we presume to know it all, we see fewer possibilities. This concept applies to how we perceive our kids, and ourselves. As we grow and change with our children, each of us deserve to be seen as who we are now, in the moment.

Commit to one new action. Consider what skills you would like to work on as a parent. Do you want to be more patient? More playful? What is one small habit you could commit to each day to put you on the path toward your goal? If you would like to be more playful with your child but an hour of imaginary play feels unrealistic, boring or aggravating to you — start with 5 minutes a day of uninterrupted focused play. This daily five-minute play session compounded over time could equal a big payoff in your sense of playfulness and connection with your child. You can increase the time incrementally or change your focus as you see fit.

One of my favorite parenting internet memes goes like this: “Once upon a time I was a perfect parent. Then I had children. The End.” As I practice parenting, I realize that while practice does not make perfect, it does make me more present. To practice is to trust the process of learning, to allow vulnerability and accept the uncertainty. Of course, a part of me longs to be that idealized parent I thought I was preparing to be, but for now, I am satisfied to look to her as my benevolent guide, rather than my destination.

This article was originally posted on the Growing Humans site: www.growinghumans.net.

6 Reasons to Meditate
“So what is a good meditator? The one who meditates.” – Allan Lokos

Mediation is an ancient practice, but it’s gained massive popularity in recent pop-culture. Everyone from Madonna, Arianna Huffington, Katy Perry, and Oprah all tout the benefits. Even so, getting started can be a daunting task, which is why it’s a great idea to remind yourself of the wonderful benefits of meditation.

1. Creates a Sense of Inner Peace

Modern life is full of distractions, to-do lists, and mental clutter. Meditation helps us to weed through our thoughts and move into a state of peace. In this state we are able to access our inner wisdom or knowing. Meditation is one of the best tools to balance one’s emotions, thoughts, and even the physical body.

2. Makes You Present

Many of us spend a lot of time in future fantasy or worrying about the past. When you meditate you bring yourself into the moment, which is incredibly powerful. Regular meditation can help focus your mind and attention, so one spends more and more waking and working time in the present. When one is fully living the present moment they are able to maximize life’s experience and lessons.

3. Gives You Clarity

We all get confused or feel uncertain at times. Meditation is an amazing tool to provide clarity and receive messages from your higher self or inner wisdom. Sometimes the simple act of bringing yourself into the present can create an “a-ha” moment. While in a meditative state, you can ask your inner guide to assist you in clarifying something in your life that’s of concern. Many find that meditation is one of the simplest (and least expensive) methods of connecting to their inner knowing.

4. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

There are millions of reasons for us to feel stressed or anxious, from getting on a plane to finding a way to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Meditation helps focus our attention and connect to our larger selves. When we move into this space, we see ourselves as a small drop of water in a very large ocean. In this state, our stress levels reduce and our problems move into perspective. Before opting to self-medicate to relieve anxiety, try to meditate.

5. Better Sleep

Meditation has been scientifically proven to create a better night’s sleep. One of the major reasons people suffer from insomnia is that their minds are bombarded by (often negative) thoughts. Meditation helps to clear and focus the mind, thus creating a much more peaceful rest.

6. Increases Spiritual Connection

A regular meditation practice naturally leads to spiritual attunement and a state of higher consciousness. Regular meditators tend to increase their intuition and sense of well-being as well as insight. Through meditation. your mind is able to bypass the ego and make decisions from a much higher altitude.

All and all, the different benefits of meditation come together to make life more enjoyable. Who doesn’t want that?

The Staying in Bed Meditation
“Sleep is the best meditation.” - Dalai Lama

Some of my clients have sleep issues, and they come to me to teach them how to meditate so they can fall asleep, or go back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.

When someone tells me they have a problem sleeping, whether it’s going to sleep or staying asleep, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What do you do when that happens?’

What they tell me is exactly what I expect to hear, not because I know their sleep patterns so well, but because most people do the same thing when they can’t sleep; they surrender to doing things that are actually anti-sleep, and what that means is they will resort to stimulating the mind rather than calming it, which is what is needed for sleep.


Here is what to avoid before sleep, followed by a “Staying in bed” meditation to help you fall asleep:

1. Don’t drink coffee or any highly caffeinated drinks after 5:00pm.

2. Don’t drink excessive alcohol. It reduces REM sleep.

3. Don’t eat sugar. It’s a stimulant.

4. Don’t eat a heavy meal after 7:00. Your digestive system should be resting until 5:am.

5. Don’t watch TV with disturbing subject matter or violence. That includes the 11:00 news.

6. Don’t use your computer or any other devices. The backlit screen affects melatonin levels.

7. Don’t go to sleep angry. Kissing and making up is a good idea before you go to bed.

Try and make those your seven sleep principles, and follow them as often as you can.


Sleep Meditation:

1. Lie down in bed with your eyes closed.

2. Take a few deep breaths in and out.

3. Imagine yourself floating on a cloud or a serene river.

4. When you inhale say to yourself, “I’m falling asleep” or “I desire sleep” or “I am sleepy.”

5. When you exhale say to yourself, “Letting go” or “Surrender” or “Falling away.”

6. Follow your breath as your chest or stomach rises up and down.

7. Keep visualizing yourself floating gently, your body getting lighter and lighter.

Repeat these steps until you fall asleep, and if waking up in the middle of the night is your problem, don’t get out of bed, but instead do this meditation. The minute you get out of bed, or go on your computer or devices, you’re telling yourself, “I’m awake,” which is sending a message to your subconscious that you’ve accepted it. Instead, stay in bed, and tell yourself, “I will fall asleep again,” which is telling your subconscious what your clear intention is. You’re in charge of where you want your mind to go, so if it’s staying awake, you will allow your mind to be active, and if it’s going to sleep, you will direct your mind towards calming down and relaxing.

When you surrender to sleep, you allow for a blissful state of mind where thoughts no longer control you, and you are free of the strains and stresses of daily life. Don’t you want to treat yourself to that?

Close your eyes....
Breathe....
Float...
Sleep...

 

Taking the First Leap
You don't have to take a giant leap to cross over the raging river and get to the peaceful bank on the other side. You just have to work out how to build a bridge."

Anyone who has voluntarily pursued any kind of significant change in life has probably noticed, with the beauty of hindsight, that the anticipation of the first step you take into the unknown feels ridiculously scary.

It warrants much pondering, sleepless nights, endless conversations with friends and a few grey hairs, which just add to the trauma of the whole situation.

However, once we've taken that very first step and change is underway, we suddenly become quite blasé about it all and, rather than continuing to obsess over all the if's, but's and maybe's, we develop some kind of magical power to cope with all the uncertainty and just roll with the punches.

It's occurred to me that, as modern day humans, we seem to have two pretty amazing abilities on this subject:

1) to worry endlessly about changes which are yet to happen and over which we may have little control

and, conversely;

2) to cope remarkably well when we're actually face to face with the reality of being up to our eyeballs in it.

Many of us, occasionally or regularly, either expend far too much precious energy on worrying about the unknowns that come with change, OR let those concerns get the better of us and inhibit us from changing anything, no matter how unhappy the current situation might make us.

Having experienced this myself, most notably taking 6 months (or the best part of 5 years, depending on which way you look at it) to decide to leave the corporate world, and now having worked with many clients who feel "stuck" in various aspects of their lives, I thought I'd pull together some of my thoughts about positively approaching change in the hope that it might help someone out there take that first little leap forwards.

How to take that first little leap:

Go small on the overhaul

The things that tend to occupy a lot of our brain time, the things we think we really want or the things we'd ideally like to change, tend to be pretty big. They loom large in our heads, they overwhelm us with their options and implications and spin round and round in the washing machines of our minds until we haven't got a clue what to do next.

But, often, it isn't the really big change that we actually need. It can actually be quite easy to totally change how we feel about a situation by making some quite small tweaks and by choosing to adopt a slightly different mindset or lens through which to view the situation.

The very best thing you can do is work on breaking down any change into small moves and from there down into the very tiniest parts which can, relatively easily, be turned into actions and hence quite quickly give you the sense that you're moving forwards.

So, what can we do to help ourselves break down these seemingly monolithic changes

100 steps

Like I've already said, significant change is unlikely to happen overnight in one fell swoop. There are going to be a number of stages, and within those stages a number of steps, and within those steps a number of actions, that you're going to have to work through in order to get there.

Let's imagine, arbitrarily, that there are 100 steps that you're going to have to take to achieve this big change.

Do you need to know, right now, what step 67 needs to be?

Nope, you only really need to know that pretty soon after you've done step 66 and shortly before you tackle step 68.

Here's a suggestion for how you can approach the 100 steps scenario:

  • Break it down to 3-6 chunks and label each of those chunks - there should be a chronological flow across the sections so you can be confident things will get done in the right order
  • Within chunk #1, decide what the 6 most impactful actions are that you can take right now
  • Kick off one of those actions each day for the next week
  • On the 7th day take stock, consider where you've got to, revisit chunk #1 and determine what the next 6 most impactful actions are that you can get on with over the next week and, if relevant, may be start to ponder what chunk #2 needs to look like

(Remember, don't let yourself get distracted by that horrible step 67 ahead of it's time. Trust that you'll work out what to do with it when you get there.)

Turn on your headlights

Here’s a great metaphor from one of my clients looking to move forward with his business:

I feel like I’m driving a really nice car, that I’m taking it on quite a long journey - the weather conditions and visibility aren’t very good right now and I don’t actually know the destination that I’m ultimately headed for. I know that that in itself could be a valid reason to not even start the car and get on the road but, instead, I want to turn on the headlights so that I can at least clearly see the bit of road right in front of me.

He had faith that as he went on the journey each bit of the road would appear, he'd be able to work out which turns to take and, although he might end up taking a bit of a scenic route, that he'd get to the right destination in the end.

You only need to have complete clarity about the next few steps you're going to take towards something new and the rest will work itself out as and when it needs to.

Final thoughts

“You cannot do everything but you can do something. So don't let what you can't do, get in the way of what you can.’

Despite the fact that this post is all about change, it's also important to remember that life doesn't always need to be moving. It's really nice to stand still sometimes, to enjoy what we have, what's going on right now and everything just the way it is.

But change is nonetheless inevitable. Sometimes it will happen to us. Sometimes we'll want to go after it, so that we can grow, rebalance or move to find more fulfillment and contentment in our lives.

So, since we're going to have to face it anyway, why not embrace it for all the opportunities and new experiences it brings. Why not try to work with it and minimize the amount of energy that we expend on worrying about what is yet to come.

And the best way that we can do that is by taking that first little leap.

Why I’ll Never Be a Perfect Parent
My children have more than one complaint about me. That's a lot of complaints when you have 10 children. I mean, each child probably has at least two complaints, if I'm lucky! It’s understandable. I am forgetful and should possibly get my hearing checked. Apparently they say, "mom, Mom, MOM!" a lot before I respond.

I often forget to adhere to the fact that there should be consequences if chores are not done.  For proof, there are always dishes in the kitchen sink. I buy paper plates all the time.

The dogs are happier to see me then my children.  Though a long time ago, my kids used to come running while shouting, "Mommy's home!!!!" Now on a good day, I may get an audible response to my hello.

I’m really funny and my own mother agrees. My children, however, don’t appreciate my humor as much.

I haven’t slept much in the past 29 years of parenting.  Maybe if I got more sleep, my parenthood would be closer to perfection.

These are just some of my examples that somewhere along the parenting journey, I realized I would never be a perfect parent.

 I Don’t Aim For Perfection

I never really desired to be the perfect parent, but I do strive to be a positive and successful parent.  I love learning and seeking out the silver lining of even the most overwhelming parenting moments.  I am not afraid of challenges and can tackle many ups and downs.

I sometimes wonder if my children expect a perfect parent.

I believe my children realize that parenthood has been, and always will be, my biggest passion, my love, and my joy. I don’t know if they realize that it is the thing I know how to do best – even without being perfect.  This is why I don’t beat myself up about not reaching perfection. It’s not possible in the parenting occupation.  But if perfection equals how much love and passion I have for being a mom – then I am indeed perfect.

Give Up Being a Perfectionist

Aiming for success is different then being a perfectionist.  Sometimes there will be dishes in the sink, dogs that eat the sofa cushions, and you’ll run out of toilet paper.  I am not whining here nor am I looking for praise. This is my attempt to honestly share that most of us parents work hard to be awesome at what we do, but we also tend to beat ourselves up about not achieving some higher level of awesomeness. If you are a laundry folder or an ironer - or both - I applaud you! But if your folded sheets and ironed clothes are taking away your quality time with your children or partner, then tell the kids to stuff their pajamas in a drawer and don’t worry about matching socks.  Really, it’s okay.

I feel it starts pre-parenthood. You must really want to be a parent, not just for the title of mom or dad or because it is the next step in your life, but really want it more than anything in the world.  It also starts with loving and forgiving ourselves.  Because making a forever commitment to loving someone more than you have ever loved someone before requires us to good to ourselves. It also requires us to be dedicated to thinking always of our children first and to be prepared to be their cheerleader, teacher, and advocate. It isn’t about perfection it is about being a parent – a good one.

You will do a great job when you realize you will have tough days. Aim not for perfection but for being the best parent you know how to be, and when you feel that you don’t know how anymore, then be the parent who will seek out the support, resources, and tools to assist you.

Find Joy in Parenting

Be ready for a journey filled with surprises that are amazing and others that aren’t so great – and no matter where it takes you, remember this is what you signed up, this is what you wanted, this is what you love.

Stop over analyzing how your children and others view you and truly find joy in parenthood.  If we can find joy in parenting and sprinkle in a healthy dose of humor and flexibility, we will become the best we can be.  We will teach our children that we may not be perfect, but we are real, we laugh, cry, and make mistakes, but love who we are and who they are.

So while I will never be a perfect parent, I revel in the fact that my parenthood journey has been awesome and I am dedicated to this job forever.  Lucky for me though, I have almost perfect children. Okay, truth be told, I have perfect children.

 

 

The Art of Healing
The idea that art can directly influence a person’s healing journey evolved out of my own healing process. It became the driving force that persuaded me to share my heart with the world.  In 2011, my yoga practice collided with my personal healing, as I began to creatively express the powerful emotions that I experienced during yoga through art.

Around the same time, a friend of mine underwent a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy to battle breast cancer.  After a year of intense treatment, she received the wonderful news that the cancer was gone.  About a month later, she sent me an email requesting prints of art that I had shared on Facebook during her treatment.

She told me that she had been looking at that artwork during her treatment. She knew in her heart that it played a significant part in helping her through those challenging times.  She wanted to put the prints on her mantle as an official reminder of her survival.

Ever since then, I have been a true believer that art, rooted in hope and healing, can truly make a difference in someone’s journey through illness.

Displaying art in hospitals and other medical facilities can have numerous benefits, both to the patients and to the staff.  Here are just six of them.

1)  Artwork creates a positive point of focus.  Anxiety, worry and fear often accompany patients when they visit a hospital or clinic.  Eye-catching artwork can shift the focus away from illness.

I know from experience that I tense up when visiting a doctor’s office, even for a regular check-up.  One of the first things I do to soothe myself is look around the waiting room.  Heightened levels of stress and anxiety will only exacerbate any illness for which I’m being tested or checked for.  Creating an atmosphere of tranquility, peacefulness, and healing can ease this unnecessary discomfort.

2)  Artwork that exhibits hope and healing becomes a platform for healthy conversation between patients, staff, and visitors. 

Healthy conversation uplifts the energy of everyone involved, and can contribute to an outward rippling of positive vibrations throughout the healthcare facility.

3)  Art, in general, is therapeutic by study and by nature. 

Having the ability and access to look at art is an extension of the therapeutic process.

4)  Creativity provides inspiration and can bring forth calming effects that improve the overall condition of our bodies.  

The damaging effects of stress on our bodies have long been documented.  By reducing the stress in such settings, health care providers can attend to the complete and overall well-being of their patients with greater efficacy.

5)  Artwork can evoke unique and individual emotions from the viewer.  

Connection is a way of surviving and living.  Viewers naturally try to connect themselves with the subject of the artwork.  The emotions that are evoked from this are a way of becoming engaged, and this can help inspire them in the present moment.

6)  Specifically selected artwork in a healthcare facility exhibits a “caring nature” on their behalf for their patients’ well-being.  

Art contributes to the emotional health of the patients, as well as allows them to feel cared for, thereby contributing to their physical healing and recovery.

I believe our environment can heal us. In return, our healed energies and positive outlook allow us to help heal other people in our environment.  It is my hope to contribute to this dynamic exchange of therapeutic energy.

When I asked my friend what it was about my artwork that helped her recover, she simply said, “It moves me, and I feel the LIFE in it."

To me, there is nothing grander, nor more humbling, than being able to take part in helping someone through their illness and recovery journey. If my art can generate emotional responses, then other art forms can also make a positive difference in others’  healing paths.

What is hanging on your walls? What do these pieces evoke for you? Who are the users of your space, and what can you do to support their healing through the art you choose to share?

The Power of Morning
Every morning, I’m gently woken at 5:30 a.m. by soft, zen sounds—quiet humming from my alarm that sets a peaceful tone for the day. It’s dark outside, proof that fall is finally starting to settle in. If I’m lucky, as I draw my curtains, I’ll see the moon beaming, and soak in her energy for a few seconds before I get excited for the day ahead. All three of my boys are sound asleep in their beds (pure bliss), oblivious to the quietness of my world.

I head to my bathroom mirror, looking over the loving messages I’ve posted all along the corners. My favorite is this one: It’s your time to shine. I receive the note with gratitude, smile back at my reflection, and move right along. First, I work at removing the toxins I’ve accumulated from the day before (probably a glass of red too many paired with takeout Thai food), using my Ayurvedic tongue scraping ritual that I swear by. As I cleanse myself, I make sure to visualize the toxins being released from my body.

My bare feet pad into the kitchen, my second favourite spot in the entire house (second only to my bedroom haven). There, I engage in the comforting rituals that bring me peace and rhythm while I work in a trance-like state. First call to action: warm lemon water with a pinch of turmeric. It blows me away how such a teeny tiny act of love can be so supremely powerful. Nourishing my body and soul with this simple tonic sends me the signal that I matter, and in taking care of myself, I’m taking care of others, too.

Still in my body state of mind, it’s time for greens, greens (and even more greens). Now, let’s take a second and get real here. I can’t always make up a fresh batch of juice, so I’ll supplement with my high-quality, handy dandy greens powder, with some fish oil and E3 live to get my body into the alkaline state it so desperately craves. As much I try to eat clean all the time, I’m obviously not perfect and have been known to indulge from time to time. That said, my promise to my body is this: I’ll be aware and sensitive to the signals she sends me about her needs, and then I’ll respond accordingly. So far, so good. (And to be fair, sometimes she needs a chocolate martini.)

What’s next? My dirty little secret, that’s what. (Wink.) After I’ve had my lemon water and greens, I get in my car—even when it’s snowy and stormy out there—and head on over to my local Starbucks for my cup of pour-over-reserve coffee that I bring home for savouring. For awhile, I spent a lot of time questioning my obsession with this ritual until I realized what these morning drives are all about. Ultimately, they’re about connecting with the other regular early risers, my group of friends who I fondly refer to as the Starbucks Breakfast Club. Plus, being greeted early in the morning with massive amounts of warmth from the baristas sets a bright, positive light for the entire day.

Back home and feeling charged, I either read an inspirational book, peruse a few blogs, create content for my creative business, or use this time for online education—whatever I choose to do since it’s completely my time. Some days, I just need to head out for a walk with my coffee and music. Other days, I dance like a mad woman to Bollywood tunes.

But in the winters, I tend to hibernate a bit more. Snuggling up with a shawl next to my fireplace with a good book is the way I like to put myself in the mindset of positivity so I can start my day off right. I’m a Virgo, and we tend to be, you know, a bit anal. So creating a calm state is typically what I need most. I end my morning ritual with a 20 minute meditation (game changer), and follow up with some journaling. After that, it’s game on! I feel energized and ready to face the mayhem of waking up three boys for their day (you can only imagine).

I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have my morning rituals to anchor my day.

All of that said, my mornings didn’t always start off like this.  I used to hate waking up in the mornings—especially when it was cold, wet and dark outside.  Most mornings started off with me dragging my feet out of bed and wondering what the point of it all was. I’d wake up with this sense of heaviness. Have you ever felt that way?  I knew I had to get up because I had kids, a 9-5 job and a house to manage. But if I had it my way, I’d be back in bed, trying to escape from my worries. Honestly, it just felt like the easiest thing to do.

Somewhere, something shifted. For the life of me, I can’t remember when I fell in love with my mornings, but I do know that once I had a small taste of what it was like to just soak in all that early morning goodness, I wanted more. I could hear myself in the stillness and that was inexplicably healing.

By harnessing the power of my mornings, I’ve been able to start my days off on the right foot. I am way more focused that I ever used to be, but the best part of it all is that I can’t wait to get up each and every day with excitement (my secret to looking young, and the reason for that “glow”). Living in that positive mindset means I can now handle the unexpected curveballs that life so lovingly throws our way from time to time, which is my biggest gift from honoring and committing to my morning practice. Morning rituals are cultivated.  Most people are amazed that I get up so early in the morning just so I can be. I get a lot of people saying, “I wish I could do that!” and my answer is that you so, SO can.

Just 10 minutes every morning is life altering.

While at first you might be tantalizingly tempted to return to your old habits, if you stick with your morning practice, you can trust that there is everything to be gained and literally nothing to lose—other than 10 measly minutes of sleep.

To learn more about how to start a morning ritual that works for you, or to join Dimple's FREE 10 day Morning Rituals Challenge, visit www.wholeselfconsulting.com.  Just in time to birth that sweet sense of calm and inner peace you need before the holiday mayhem gets going in full swing.

 

The Communication Crapshoot
The fact that we occasionally connect in a meaningful way through communication is a miracle.

It’s lovely when that connection – a meeting of the minds and hearts – happens.  But more often than not, it’s a crap shoot.  How often have you left an interaction feeling pretty good about yourself, only to find out later that you had inadvertently offended or hurt someone?  You’re shocked, because you have a completely different perspective on what happened!

I bet you have an example from your own life right at the forefront of your mind this very moment.

Here’s how it works. In a shared moment, I intend to express amusement and creativity.  You, on the other hand, feel confused and uncomfortable with what I thought was sophisticated, wry humor.  And it happens both ways — you throw out an off-the-cuff remark that seems appropriate to the moment, unknowing that you just cut my heart out.

How and what I communicate is a complex interaction between my thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, psychosocial history, and genetics.  Toss in the fact that it’s expressed and received through my particular unique personality, physiology and neurology, the likes of which will never be duplicated... Of course communication can be a crap shoot!

When I’m not fully present in the moment, I can be remarkably unaware that I’m sending messages I do not want to be sending.

There is a growing body of evidence that facial expression, tone, and body language give us the bulk of the message. 
The actual words we use tend to have far less significance.

That’s a problem if I’m on automatic pilot and oblivious to anything except the words.  What might sound like an innocent opinion, when accompanied by a sneer or withdrawal of eye contact, can be devastating.

I suspect that our words likely represent the intention of which we’re aware.  We intend to be funny, or express interest, or offer information, or simply start or end a conversation.

But facial expression, body language, and tone often represent what’s really going on — what’s going on below the surface.  Sometimes the discrepancy between my thoughts and my body language can be pretty simple.  Although my posture, droopy eyes and yawns might suggest to you that I’m bored, I’m actually sleep-deprived and ready to nod off.  I simply can’t give you my full attention.  A few words of reassurance are in order so that I don’t inadvertently offend you.

What’s going on behind the scenes can sometimes be more complex.  I want more attention.  You want more attention.  I’m tired of listening to you drone on and on.  I’m feeling insecure so I’m droning on and on because hearing myself talk makes me feel important.  You’re falling asleep while I’m offering unsolicited advice.  Or in my head, I’m having a rant about what an idiot you are while offering a smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes.

Point being, when I’m mindless — on automatic pilot — I’m not fully in charge of the messages I’m sending.

More importantly, I don’t notice the outcome I’m creating until it’s too late.  I don’t see the look on your face before I embellish and exacerbate my first thoughtless miscommunication.  I don’t notice that my body is tight as though it’s on high alert. Way deep down, I may know something just happened and feel a twinge of discomfort.   But it takes a bit longer for me to notice that the temperature in the room just dropped by 20 degrees.  If I notice at all.

It’s bizarre — on automatic pilot, I can leave an interaction never knowing that I may have permanently damaged our relationship.

Returning to the moment, the simple act of noticing what’s going on both inside and outside ourselves, can radically change our relationships.  If we can come back to ourselves many times a day, we may experience a gradual increase in our ability to grab that foot before it gets inserted in the mouth.

Can we reduce the in-head/out-mouth discourse that can turn even the best-intentioned conversation into a big crap shoot?  Is it crazy to think that if we change even one relationship by being more aware of the messages we’re sending, it might be possible to change many of them?  And could that, if it spread, change the world?

3 Simple Steps to Crush Conflict
“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” – Wayne Dyer

I recently read an article encouraging readers to be bolder and brasher. To be more focused on ourselves and less worried about others. It implored us to be less polite and to be courageous enough to talk over others. And it challenged us to unabashedly and unapologetically speak, act, do and live in the manner WE want.

While this message definitely makes for passionate debate and “sharing” online, what I’m convinced we need is not a blanketed statement about being MORE selfish and brash. But rather, especially at this historic point where there seem to be more tensions than ever before between races, countries and political parties, what I am calling for is a blanketed message of humility and patience. Let me explain.

I saw firsthand the consequences of the former – and the mighty need for the latter – while walking into a Coldplay concert with my wife, Beth, last Thursday.

Nearing the entrance out of the summer heat and into the soon-to-be rocking arena, we waddled in a series of long lines.

To our left, we saw two individuals bump into each other, seemingly accidentally and innocently.  One looked at the other, scowled and barked loudly, “Watch where you are going!”

With a look of utter disbelief the other responded even louder, “Watch where I am going? You watch where you are going!”

It was on.

The small incident quickly elevated into shouting, then name-calling, then finger pointing, then pushing. It was eventually broken up, but could have been avoided entirely, as most conflicts can, with three simple steps.

Pause.  In the rush to respond, we frequently react first, think later. The better approach is to pause and show patience. Don’t be driven by the rush to judge or fix or respond or prove or win. Instead, take a breath. Reflect for a moment. Pause thoughtfully. Then considerately respond. In that silence you may even find the courage and humility to utter the beautiful word, “Sorry.”

Love.  Several years ago I began implementing a simple practice that transformed my relationships. It’s an expression I say to myself before speaking. It’s made me a better husband, father, son, friend, and leader. In every interaction I remind myself of the words and the truth: “I love you. And there is nothing you can do about.” It has avoided unnecessary arguments in my marriage, softened my response to mistakes others make, lead to incredible opportunities professionally, and diminished feelings of animosity while waiting in lines to go through TSA … or to enter a concert hall.

Space.  Frequently in the midst of elevating conflict, though, it’s hard to stay focused on pausing.  When someone disrespects us, it’s difficult to remind ourselves we love them…and that there is nothing they can do about it! And so the final solution is to simply walk away. It’s amazing how the things that set us off, given just a little time AND a little space, are much less significant than we thought in the heat of the moment.

My friends, we don’t need to be more infatuated with ourselves, take more selfies, speak louder, or push back harder.

No, what we actually need is to listen, not with a desire to respond, but with a heart to understand.

What we should aspire to is to meet anger and resentment with forgiveness and love.

What we ought to strive for is not to yell louder, but to walk away taller.

And in a global community as fractured, negative, and fear-based as ours, what we must remind others is that real courage whispers, true boldness apologizes, and love still wins.

As Coldplay might sing, “Nobody said it was easy!”

But it is needed, it is longed for, it is rare, it is right, it is the one way forward.

And it is time.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

No Time Like The Present
Yoga, Mindfulness, and Mental Health.

The perfect triad.

And also, quite honestly, three of my favorite subjects! As a Psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher in Orange County, California, I am fascinated by the intersection of these treatment modalities within a therapy practice.

Anyone who practices yoga regularly is probably aware of the benefits yoga has on mental health. They each compliment one another on so many levels and the integration of yoga with mental health is becoming more popular by the minute.

Yoga and mindfulness especially, are all the rage these days. It seems everywhere I look, there’s a new study on how yoga can help with depression, anxiety and ease stress or relationship tension. How slowing down to become more ‘mindful’ can help us to make healthier choices and teach us new ways of coping to unpleasant, unpredictable life events.

The benefits are written about everywhere, yet people remain challenged in starting a regular yoga practice. I see this struggle in my patients as they come in session after session, reporting back to me with reasons why this week {yet, again} they could not make it to their mat.

I get it. Starting something new is difficult. Especially when it involves slowing down, getting centered and becoming grounded in your body. Emotions, fears and anxieties are bound to come up. However, yoga can be extremely healing and having a consistent yoga practice can be so supportive to emotional well-being.

SO… for all the curious newbies who are aspiring to start and keep a consistent home yoga practice, but are a little unsure of where to begin- I will outline a few simple steps to get you going.

Number one.  Intention.

I suggest you become aware of why it is you want to start a yoga practice in the first place. Is it to help with your insomnia or anxiety? Do you want to lose weight? Perhaps you want to get to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. Whatever it is, it’s okay. Intention is key to so many things in life, which is why I think it is essential to any yoga practice.

An example may be, “My intention to start a yoga practice is to slow down my racing thoughts so that when my children/partner/life become irritable/frustrating/demanding, I have the necessary tools to help me deal with the situation at hand.”

Number two. Time.

I suggest practicing yoga in the morning. A morning yoga practice is my preference for many reasons, but mostly because this is when the mind is most clear. Plus, it’s the perfect time to get grounded and start your day with that intention you set! A morning practice can also help keep your energy lifted throughout the day. If that’s not a possibility for you, it’s perfectly okay. Practicing yoga around the lunch hour or in the evening can work well too, to refresh the mind, help release tension and counter afternoon fatigue.

Number three. Space.

A small, private room in your home or office is ideal for a daily yoga practice, although any quiet space that is large enough to roll out your yoga mat is perfectly doable. A balcony or grassy, quiet area in your yard can be a lovely place to practice if the weather permits. Just make sure your phone is off and you are not likely to be disturbed for a while.

I like to put on either a mellow or upbeat playlist and depending on my mood, will light a few scented candles. This is completely optional and really depends on you and what you’re feeling on that particular day. I always encourage my students to listen to their intuition and to trust it. Once your yoga practice becomes more consistent, your ability to tap into your intuition with more regularity will also strengthen.

That’s it! That’s all you need to start. Intention, time and space. These three things, in conjunction with the most critical piece {your breath} can provide you with the opportunity to develop a consistent, fulfilling yoga practice within your own home. Keep in mind too, that if you’re able to make it to a local yoga class, that’s a great way to build connection and be a part of your community.

Most importantly, go easy on yourself, have fun with it and enjoy the process. Learning something new can be challenging! Give yourself permission to fully experience whatever comes up.

To Breathe or Not to Breathe…
Time to take a minute to breathe. Exhale. Now breathe again. Today you’ve breathed for five minutes, taken 35 breaths, with an average heart rate of 66 BPM. Congratulations!

Breathe again?

That’s mindfulness, at least according to Breathe, a new app for the Apple Watch. Users are prompted, on a schedule, to take deep breaths for 1 to 5 minutes. Version 1.9.2 now features “suggested Breathers to use in your notifications.” Short, pithy, Zen-ish statements like “If life is a passage, let’s plant flowers” pop up on screen—complete with matching emojis. And hey, you can share your breathing with your friends on social media! Just copy the “Breather of the Day” and hit the share button. Stats and summary results report your daily progress!

Toward what, exactly? Are we really at the point where we need an app to tell us to breathe? To perform a fundamental requirement of life itself?

True, breathing is the foundation of mindful meditation. And we could all probably use some support in our pursuit of wellbeing. But how is it possible for technology to tell us—actual living, breathing humans—how to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings?

It’s not. Being told what to do, when, by a watch or a phone or a screen of any size is actually the opposite of mindfulness.

Mindfulness can’t come from a device that doesn’t think, can’t feel. Pre-programmed “breathers of the day” and pre-set notifications only bind us to a pre-determined schedule oblivious to our real needs. We end up ever more ruled by the clock—our actions and reactions, our thoughts, feelings, and now even our breathing dictated to us by the Apple Watch, the iPhone, Google calendar, Swipes, or whatever else might come out of Silicon Valley promising some peace of mind for the price of some in-app purchases.

Why are we outsourcing ourselves to our watches and phones, to devices and apps?

Looking at a screen means we aren’t looking within. Technology can’t cultivate a consciousness of, and sympathy toward, our restless hearts and minds, because it has no consciousness. Real mindfulness means paying attention to ourselves and others.

When we return to the breath at our own bidding, not the ding of an app, we learn to respond to our own needs. Instead of simply satisfying another external demand, we connect to our own sense of self, in flesh and blood, in person.

Now that’s mindfulness.

Who Is Really Hurting?

Life is a series of choices.

As a parent you want to guide your child to make the best choices when inevitable challenges and uncomfortable emotions arise.

As much as you may want to, you cannot protect your child from everything. Your best bet is to equip them with healthy coping habits. The two most common challenges your child will experience or witness, are bullying and discovering her own Inner Bully.

The Inner Bully is a voice that exists within all of us.  

This is the tone our inner voice takes when we hold ourselves back. It is an extreme way of coping, a perspective of all-or-nothing … win-or-lose. It is a narrow way of thinking that comes from being scared, perhaps seeing yourself as weaker-than, or even damaged.

Ultimately the Inner Bully is trying to protect you, but goes about it in a demeaning way.

The Inner Bully is a  voice that is especially strong for your tween and teenager as she is trying to discover who she is.  She is busy figuring out her worth amidst navigating her place in society - both in person, and in the virtual world.

Your child is growing up in a time unlike any other.  

Our children are so connected they are disconnected.

Their relationship with social media is depleting their ability for deep connection.

Our children may not understand how to start a relationship with their true selves.

Our children might struggle to sit with their thoughts or emotions, looking for an easy way out, or a distraction.

Our children are disconnected from their voices by using social media and images to communicate.

They are being subjected to more, while being depleted of the ability to cope with mean things being said by her peers in person, and online.

CyberBullying and Bullying are everyday experiences for 45% of our young people before they are 18.  This means at least one friend, or a group of peers, witness and absorb this demeaning behavior inflicted on the other 45%.

We are all in this together.  

The negative messages your child is taking in from bullies, cyberbullies, media and society are potent.  I don’t write this to add to our fear. I write this because I want our children to live a healthy, safe, confident life.

It’s time to start the conversation about the Inner Bully above all else.

Keeping this perspective in check will help your tween and teenager deal with growing up in a connected world.

All of these children - the bullied, the bully, and the bystanders -  are going through something emotionally that feels beyond their control.  What they do have control over, like you, is how they respond to it.

Here are some helpful tips to get your family talking and conquering the Inner Bully.

How your Inner Bully can show up...

  • “Are you kidding me? You will never be able to do that.”

  • “What she said about you is right.  I am weird and fat.”

Here are Inner Bully conversation starters...

  • List one thing you don’t like about yourself.

  • Why do you that is true?

  • Are you being hard on yourself?

Pump up your child’s Inner Advocate so she can debate the Inner Bully….

  • What are the top three things you admire about your child?

  • What is the earliest memory you have of your child when she showed you these unique characteristics?

  • Describe a time your child faced a challenge. How did she overcome it?

 

NOTE TO READER:

Although I write to “her” or “she” these are  issues and coping mechanisms for both boys and girls. Growing up I could not find the “she” in the “he.” By referring to all from the feminine, I am giving respect to the birthplace of every human. After all, you can find “he” in every “she” and “her.”

In Search of Your Soul
“Somewhere on the journey to progress, we seem to have lost our soul.”

Kerplunk!  Buzz kill!

I remembered that sentence from an article by Homaira Kabir about the need for awe in the workplace.  I don’t remember much else, but that line continues to echo in my head.

It begs questions.

What is a soul?  What does awe have to do with soul, if anything?  Have we lost ours?  So what?  Have I lost mine?

When I asked how I define soul, an answer came pretty quickly.  Soul is the part of me that is more familiar to me than my body but beyond my ability to articulate.  It’s the part that isn’t altered as my body alters.  It is the essence of me that I suppose if I’m honest, I hope is immortal.  (This definition pretty much covers the awe factor for me.)

My soul is what gives breadth and depth and meaning to every area of my life, including my work.

When I remember to check in with my soul–actually when I remember that I have one because oddly I’ve discovered I can forget–no matter what trouble I’m in, I’m ok.

When I’m not connected to my soul, I’m untethered.  It’s easy for that to happen.  Throw me a curve ball and I forget who I am.  It’s that quick.  That’s why ‘who do I want to be in this situation?’ is one of the most important questions in my self-intervention repertoire.  Somehow it seems to reel me in and reconnect me with the essence, the best, of who I am.  With my soul.

This is why I make room for meditation.  This is why I continue to work on becoming more and more honest with myself about myself.  My strengths and my limitations.  My joys and sadnesses.  My dreams and wonderings and bone-deep desires and longings.  I meditate and try to mindfully meet as many moments as possible so that there is less and less between me and my soul and that sense of being home, regardless of the chaos around me.

Maybe this is what it’s all about, recognizing that home is a place that we can’t articulate with words.  We can only meet our soul–come home–when we slow down enough to experience it.

Maybe that’s what that author meant when he said we’re losing our souls to progress.  That we’ve become so preoccupied, caught up in keeping our minds so full and our bodies so active, that it’s almost impossible to interrupt the cycle and spend time with our souls.

So this week I will meditate for just a few moments each morning, because a commitment to anything more will likely result in me finding a way to avoid or forget the intention.  After I get my coffee, I’ll sit down with a dignified posture and lower my gaze.  I’ll tuck my chin under slightly and relax my shoulders, soften my front body (my jaw and chest and belly), and bring my attention to my breath. And then I’ll simply rest in the present moment.  And I’ll allow myself to meet up again with my soul.

On Being Brave
We all have that one defining moment in our lives, the moment where we must choose between remaining fearful or taking a risk. We may not even remember when it happened, because we were so young. But we all learned to stand, walk, and ride a bike so we all faced and overcame a fear at some point.

For some, that defining moment may have been an agonizing decision such as quitting a stable job to start a dream business or not following peers in a pressure-filled situation. For others, their moment may have been a series of small decisions that carried significant weight in the light of future endeavors.

I have to say I have experienced both of these in pivotal ways. I’ve made big decisions that were scary – a move across the country and a called-off wedding just 3 months before the big day. These were clearly life-altering choices that changed my path significantly. But sometimes I think those smaller moments make an even greater impact.
Because who we are is ultimately the summation of all the decisions we made along the way.

Sometimes as parents we have to sit back and watch our kids make choices too. As much as we want to intervene, it is often better to let them face their fear. I had one of these moments come up a few weeks ago with my daughter. For the past several months, she’s been in a really fearful state which is new in some ways, but not so new at the same time. She’s started questioning things that used to be second nature – something as simple as going upstairs alone.

So on this particular day I had told her to grab her school clothes before we headed downstairs. She was doing a million other things besides choosing to listen to me. I headed downstairs anyway. She followed, but did not grab the items of clothing that had been laid out for her. What followed was a huge meltdown. She asked me to go get them, but I refused to give in and told her it was her responsibility.

What I was asking of her was a small decision in my mind, but to her, it was huge. We had a solid 20 minutes left til we had to leave for school. I saw a teachable moment and knew I had to go with it. We sat on the steps as she cried and cried, saying, “I just can’t do it.” I said over and over to her, “I believe you can. I believe in you.”

She gave me every reason why she couldn’t do it. But I knew if she did this one little thing, it would carry over to other areas of her life where she also feels fear. I told her to tell herself that she can do this. Our conversation went on for probably ten minutes.

Finally, the impossible happened: she took a deep breath, we counted down from ten and she ran up the steps as fast as she could. She quickly grabbed her clothes and ran down the stairs straight into my arms at the bottom. As I held her close, I felt her little heart beating so fast.  Both our eyes filled with tears of both relief and pride. I was proud of her, but she was even more proud of herself.

That moment ended up being a defining moment for her. In just a few short weeks, she’s been able to really let go of some fears at both school and home. I’m still watching and waiting for even bigger ‘brave moments’ to arise, but in the meantime I love seeing her grow.

And I’m taking cues from her – telling myself that in the same way, if I just do this one thing, each step will get easier. Each piece of writing I submit will bring me one step closer to my dream. Each time I extend grace to myself and my kids, I am realizing I’m the mother I was made to be.

Each time I try a new thing, I see the confidence building in myself.

The choices we make day after day really do add up. And over time, I am finding myself braver too.

 

Colleen Waterston – Big Shared World
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down over Skype with Colleen Waterston of Big Shared World. Over the course of 15 months, Colleen traveled to 40 countries, and met with over 700 people, in order to ask them all the same three questions about their values, thoughts on global threats, and vision for the world. Here, she shares the inspiration behind her journey, the lessons learned along the way, and what comes next.

LS: Colleen, thank you so very much for sharing your story with our readers! Let's start with the basics. Tell us about your journey, and how the inspiration came to you!

Colleen: It’s interesting to think back to the original days when this idea came to me. It was a combination of things that led me to embark on the Big Shared World journey, from thinking of the concept, to the ability to actually do it. I think there are a lot of wanderlusts out there who desire to take on a big travel project of some sort. There are so many reasons we don't do "big things"...maybe we feel it is frivolous somehow, or we struggle to find the courage, or simply don’t have the resources.

I realize that I was uniquely situated to dream this and go for it. My background was in studying international development. I was living in Washington DC after I finished graduate school. I was participating in the marketing of a film on social entrepreneurship, and also working as a consultant in corporate sustainability. As a result of these positions, I was seeing firsthand just how many complicated challenges our world is facing today.

I started to realize that we are living in a critical time with critical problems, but that these problems were shared problems, worldwide problems, borderless problems. There wasn't one company, one country, one organization, that could solve these problems. But because the world feels so big, we as citizens often feel that the problem, and the solution, is somewhere "out there."

In my spare time, I had been working on writing a book about being a millennial today. Most people in my personal and professional circles knew of this side project. One day a friend and I were talking about some of the neat interactions I’ve had on airplanes. My mom worked for an airline and I had discounted flight benefits, so I traveled more than most. Knowing I was working on a book, the friend suggested I write a book about the people I meet while traveling. I thought it was interesting, but suggested that it’d be even better if I asked everyone the same three questions along the way. I felt an immediate connection to the idea. Almost as soon as it crossed my mind, it felt certain that I would do it.

Five weeks later I moved home to Minnesota, and made the preparations to go. The initial goal was three questions, three months, thirty countries, three hundred people. That eventually evolved into fifteen months, forty countries and over seven hundred people! So I underestimated myself –it took much more time than I expected, but I also talked to many more people than I ever set out to!

I traveled to six continents, and generally planned at least seven to eight days at a time. I tried to allow for "planned spontaneity" in a sense. I learned the true definition of exhausted along the way, but I always felt overwhelmingly grateful to be in the situation that I was in. Even on a tiring day where nothing seemed to be going quite “right”, I knew that a tough day was temporary and I was privileged to be experiencing it all.

LS: What were the three questions? Were people open to answering them?

Colleen: So the three questions are as follows. First, what does a good life mean to you? Second, in your opinion, what is the biggest threat to humanity today? And third, what do you think the world will be like fifty years from now?

I really am proud of those questions. After I had the idea, I met with so many friends, family, and colleagues to get their input on what questions to ask. Once I had the idea, it was my sole focus – designing the right questions to prompt robust conversations about peoples’ values and thoughts on our world today. And it was very important to me that anyone could answer them – from a young boy living on a remote sacred island in Peru, to a tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I was very pleased that the questions held their meaning, and still do today.

It was much easier than I thought to find people to answer the questions. I looked for people who looked like they might want to talk, or seemed to be idle and have a little time on their hands. I approached a lot of people in public parks, or asked friends of friends in a new place to have lunch or coffee, or asked my Airbnb hosts and other service providers. Many were strangers, and some were via introduction, or via another person or family I had previously met in my travels, or through social media. Psychologists have a method called “snowball sampling” when researchers have their study participants refer the next batch, like a snowball that gathers more snow as it rolls. I engaged in what I like to call “snowball networking,” where I would constantly be asking people who I was meeting to refer me to someone else.

I remember for example being on a train with three business men from Saudi Arabia. We never otherwise would have had the opportunity to meet or talk to one another. We shared this beautiful conversation during our several hour train ride where they answered the questions, as the one with the best English served as the group translator. Then they asked me to share my answers to the questions and several other thoughtful questions they had about my travels. They were a bit stunned that a young woman like myself would prefer to do this independent travel project, rather than settle down and start a family or more traditional career. It was not with judgment, but curiosity, that we learned more about each other and had a unique experience that the questions and nature of my travel project allowed.

Overall, I found that people were craving the opportunity for conversation. I think the youngest person who answered my questions was seven years old, and the oldest was eighty-one! I am still analyzing my data.

LS: Did you have a favorite place or experience?

Colleen: Goodness, there were so many. If I close my eyes and meditate on that question, the first image that comes to mind is that of a middle aged father who I met in Peru, on a vacation with his daughter from Chile. We talked on the train ride back from Machu Picchu to Cusco. He was so thoughtful in the way he thanked me for asking him the questions, and I felt truly grateful in turn for meeting him. It was this unexpected gratitude that felt profound to me. A day that was a highlight involved a ten hour guided bike tour in Bangkok, Thailand and spontaneously coming across a Buddhist summer camp where the monks in charge shared juice boxes with us as they answered the questions and discussed the project. I just couldn't have planned that experience. Such sweet moments, and so many beautiful people. The book will share so many more of these experiences and interactions.

LS: Were there specific challenges you dealt with along the way?

Colleen: Overall, I tried to be pretty smart about how I traveled. After all, I was a young woman traveling alone. In general, I tried not to visit places where my asking questions of a complete stranger would be perceived as threatening. I did my traveling and talking during daylight hours, and then would return to wherever I was staying at night to plan out the next day. I rarely drank any alcohol because I wanted to have my faculties about me. So overall, I just tried to make decisions that kept me safe and out of dangerous situations.

I think we often build this story about "the rest of the world", and our fears make the world seem like it is a scary place, better to avoid than interact with. But we cannot reverse globalization. We live in a global world, and I feel like as millennials, we are the first global generation. In a sense, we have two identities, the identities that we came from, and this newer, broader identity. It feels like there is almost an "older" way and a "newer" way, and transition times can lead to fear too. We are fearful to let our borders down, level the playing field, and let others in. Understanding the deeper challenges that openness brings to our global society was always a driving force of my project. It wasn’t so much a physical challenge, but an intellectual one that I set out to grapple with.

LS: What are some of the most important lessons you took away?

Colleen: My hypothesis when I left was that the issues we deal with in this world are ultimately human issues. And we are imperfect humans, doing our best, and it is these same imperfect humans that go on to become leaders of organizations and countries. We personify things instead of humanize them. Just in the same way we try to honor complexity and differences in our friends and family, we need to do that "out there" in the world. Otherwise we do ourselves and others a disservice. Ultimately, the same reason we build up borders and walls within our own families, echoes why countries don't get along in a lot of instances.

I think this journey, asking these questions, has also made me better in my own interpersonal relationships. I am a better listener. I am more likely to listen and be open to others, rather than lead with my own thoughts and opinions. I also feel like I believe in myself more, and feel like I can give myself permission to do "big" things, or to be open to the signs along the way that are guiding me towards what I was meant to do.

My trip would have been a lot easier not to do. Even now it can feel overwhelming to put it all together in a meaningful way. I had a spiritual moment in meditation recently, where I had the experience of meeting my future self. It was a very powerful moment, and she was grateful for me now, making the decision to make this trip happen, and managing the ambiguity of this transition between the journey and what’s next. Now I have to pay it forward in a sense, as I come full circle. I received so much richness, and in turn, I want to share those stories with the world.

LS: What comes next?

Colleen: I feel strongly about wanting to honor my journey, and the strangers that so generously shared their time with me. I am in the process of developing my website further to share photographs, stories, and resources for people who want to learn more. I want to help expose global issues in a way where individuals can discover what they feel most passionate about, and use the website as a tool to help navigate how to take the next steps. I am also in the process of writing a book about my trip, the experience of asking these questions, and what I learned and received in return. I am analyzing all of my data that I collected as I write as well. And I have some planned speaking engagements. But most of all, I don't want to wrap up Big Shared World, I want it to continue to grow and evolve into what it was meant to be...an opportunity to build a global community through conversation.

I think about how, in this election season, we can feel so easily disheartened. How we can create a story and get riled up about the "Other." Now, based on my experiences, the "Other" is no longer so foreign to me. There are certainly situations that are deeply complicated, and I am not naïve to the tensions of the world. I just want all of us to be open to engaging with one another so that we can start talking about the issues that impact all of us.

To learn more about Colleen Waterston and the Big Shared World project, please visit her website at www.bigsharedworld.com.

The Next Step
Watching Literal Shyft grow over the past several months has been nothing but pure joy.  Since we launched in May, we have steadily added a host of brilliant and generous authors who have shared deeply personal content.  Our readership continues to grow.  There is a profound feeling of satisfaction--we are really doing it.  We are contributing to peoples' lives, sharing stories, and deepening and broadening the conversation about how to live the conscious life.

There is no other way to describe this feeling other than profound gratitude.  Gratitude for our team that has come together.  Gratitude for the dreamers, writers, peace-makers and meditators in this world.  And grateful for all of you, our readers, who remind us exactly why Literal Shyft is an important voice today.

But there is more.  September has been a busy month for all of us here at Shyft.  We are taking the next step, from word, to action.  This month, we launch Shyft Work, our workplace meditation program.  Shyft Work is an innovative, one of a kind mindfulness and meditation program geared specifically towards workplace issues.

Our relationship to the work we do is csmalleromplex.  Perhaps for some of us, work is a calling, and for others, simply a job that brings in income so we can find meaning in other parts of life.  But there is no question that work is a place where we often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and disconnected from our bigger picture purpose.  Meditation in the workplace allows us to develop a sense of integration, resilience, and compassion where we need it the most.

Desmond Tutu once said, "Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."  This is why Literal Shyft and Shyft Work exist--because this is how our team can, little by little, do our part to bring a greater sense of wellbeing to ourselves and our community.  Bringing mindful awareness to the workplace will allow each and every individual to do the same...cultivate a greater sense of presence with work, home, and life as a whole.

Nothing could be more important.

So we thank each and every one of you for becoming a part of our family.  We thank you for believing in us and what we do.  And more than anything, we thank you for doing your part, in small and big ways, to bring love to every word and action.

With gratitude,

monishasig

 

 

 

 

Monisha Vasa, MD

Editor In Chief, Literal Shyft, Conscious Words for Conscious Living

Visit our website to learn more about Shyft Work.

Relationship Problems With Your Soulmate?
Anyone who finds themselves in a dysfunctional relationship will either try to make their soulmate “perfect” by changing them, or try to change themselves to be the “perfect” partner.

Here’s the truth:

  • Every person is imperfect.
  • You can't make a person change.
  • Therefore, we must learn to tolerate, appreciate and even love an imperfect person.

With that said, whomever you choose to love, realize that you are also choosing to love a set of problems. There are no problem-free candidates.

Problems are a part of any relationship, and you will have some sort of problems no matter who you love.

For example:

img1Lacey married Andrew, who tends to be a tad loud at parties. Lacey, who is shy, hates that.

But if Andrew had married Molly, he and Molly would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Andrew is always late and Molly hates to be kept waiting. If someone is late, Molly feels taken for granted; something in her childhood made her sensitive about that. If Molly were to confront Andrew on being late, Andrew would have believed her complaining was an attempt to dominate him. That’s something he gets upset over rather quickly.

If Andrew had married Leah, they wouldn’t have even made it to the party, because they would be fighting about Andrew’s lack of help with the housework. This makes Leah feel abandoned, something that makes her stomach queasy. And Andrew would have seen Leah’s complaining as an attempt to dominate him.

Since we are never perfect and our soulmates are never perfect, our imperfections are bound to cause two types of problems: solvable problems and unsolvable problems.

Solvable conflicts can be as simple as setting up a relationship ritual such as a five minute coffee chat to feel more emotionally connected. Solvable conflicts reach a resolution and rarely get brought up again.

The Soulmate Conflict

img2Meet John Gottman. He is the Muhammad Ali of relationships. During 40+ years of research on happily married couples, John was able to create a combo of techniques that produced a ridiculous 90%1 knockout rate in predicting whether couples would divorce within 10 years or not.

His heavyweight title showed that the happiest couples have persistent unresolved conflicts.

In each one of John’s books, he points out this: The idea that couples must resolve all their problems is a fairytale.

In fact, relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. When we fight and argue, it teaches us how to love better, how to take a step back from the “problem” to understand our partners better. It teaches us how to work with change in our relationships as it evolves. It reminds us of why we choose our soulmate, and allows us to renew our relationship over time.

The Never-ending Fight

According to John Gottman, couples disagree on unsolvable never-ending issues 69%2 of the time.

These perpetual conflicts are a byproduct of the fundamental differences between soulmates. Differences in personalities, needs, and expectations that are fundamental to their core definitions of self.

Despite how much we want the problems to go away, they never will.

The Emotionally Clogged Relationship

If couples cannot start talking about the unsolvable problem in a healthy way, the conflict may make the relationship emotionally clogged.  Unable to drain the tension between soulmates.

The topic of the conflict doesn’t matter in terms of knowing if the problem clogs the relationship or not. It can be about anything. To an outsider it may seem like a very small issue, like not vacuuming the house. But within the relationship, it feels like a monster in the closet; too scary to open up.

When a relationship is clogged, partners feel rejected by their lover. They feel like they can’t get through, like their soulmate doesn’t care or like to talk about the issue.

Ironically the more partners ignore the conflict, the more they have the same conversation over and over again. It’s like a dog chasing its own tail.  Over time soulmates become more and more entrenched in their positions and the friction between them grows. It may hit a point where there’s no possibility of compromise.

img3Conversations turn into the perfect storm – no shared humor, affection, or appreciation. Just winds and rains of frustration and hurt. If the storm lasts long enough, people start vilifying one another.

Their thoughts become negative. They turn against each other. They see each other as selfish.

All of this clogging eventually leads to a clog in trust.

Breaks in trust tend to push soumates away from each other. It doesn’t take a couple’s therapist to realize that the likelihood of infidelity and divorce is directly proportional to how miserable the relationship is.

Talking about the issue is like taking a plunger to the toilet. It releases all of the built up emotional tension.  Despite the unpleasantness of the never-ending problem, lasting happy couples are able to talk about the issue with a lot of positive emotions – laughter, affection or even appreciation.

Lack of Safety = Lack of Communication

Often times these perpetual problems never get talked about because one or both partners never feel safe enough to bring it up. Sometimes it’s due to past experiences in our relationships (even childhood) and other times it’s due to partners feeling neglected and lacking connection. This can prevent partners from being vulnerable enough to open up.

When a relationship achieves a certain level of safety and one soulmate clearly communicates that he or she wants to know about the underlying meaning of other partner’s position, the other partner can finally open up and talk about their feelings, dreams and needs.

------------------------- If you see yourself in this photo, contact me at moazzam.ali@gmail.com for high resolution prints of the shot or the file to get the prints done yourself. If you know me personally, just give me a call...

The goal is for each soulmate to understand the other’s dreams behind the position on the issue. For example: one partner may wish to save for traveling during retirement. The other may want to spend that money on an exotic trip now.

You can continue to talk about the same issues, occasionally improving the situation for a short time, but the problem will always re-emerge.

There is value to realizing that when choosing a long-term partner, you are choosing a set of problems you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or even fifty years.

The whole goal should not be to solve every problem. It should be to work with each other in order to improve the relationship to the extent that you are left with a set of unsolvable problems that both your partner and you can learn to tolerate, and even cherish.

You shouldn’t need to feel the need to change somebody or yourself in order to love them. Nor should you let some disagreements get in the way of a healthy, and otherwise happy relationship.

 

        1. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative medicine. Family Process38(2), 143-158
        2. Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce?: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

 

Making It Matter
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Frequently we don’t take action because we’re not sure the effort will actually matter.

I was recently reminded of our skeptical nature, but also the truth that all good work, done in love, matters profoundly. Let me explain.

I had just finished sharing a message to business owners and their spouses about how one word, one action and one person can profoundly influence the lives of others. After my presentation, the event organizer asked the group to follow her to the location for the next activity.

We all walked from the beautiful auditorium, down a long hallway, through a series of double doors and into a massive loading area. Once there, a lady on a bullhorn shared that in our own community and around the world, the plight of poverty means many families are unable to eat. She explained that we were going to work together to create boxed meals to feed hungry families.

She gave some instructions and assigned jobs. With pallets of canned goods, dry food and water bottles stacked high, we got to work.

The room was hot. The work was tedious and tiring, and yet the room was energized with the tasks at hand.

Two hours later, as the pallets sat emptied, boxes filled and mission accomplished, we moved the boxes from the floor and onto waiting trucks for delivery.

I asked a gentleman if he was enjoying the workout, and he responded, “Yeah, man. It certainly feels good to help out.”

He then paused, looked at the truck full of boxes, then back at me, and sullenly added, “But, let’s be honest: we’re putting a band aide on a gaping wound. I am not sure it really matters.”

The bullhorn cracked over his final words. We turned away from the truck and back to the leader.

She thanked us for our efforts and added that since 1998 more than 250 million meals had been served in this manner. These meals have been shipped to all 50 states and 73 countries. She shared the hopelessness that accompanies being hungry and the gift that food is, nourishing both the body and the soul.

Finally, she added, “And today, through your efforts, your work, your generosity, 20,000 additional meals were just packed and loaded onto this truck. So 20,000 people will receive that nourishment and hope. Thank you for it!”

As the room erupted in applause, I looked at the gentleman next to me again and smiled, saying, “Well, sounds like it will matter to the 20,000 people eating them.”

My friends, in a marketplace that trades on negativity, in communities mired in cynicism, and with a media focused on fear, it’s time to realize that our words can lift up or put down; our actions can restore or tear down, and our lives can be evidence of further reasons for despair or shining examples that the best is yet to come.

The time is now to pack the meals, load the truck, and trust that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. For indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

How to Float to the Top

When I am at a party, the question I dislike the most is “What do you do?” I often challenge the other person by responding, “I live joyously and consciously. That is what I do.” But the very idea of living joyously and consciously is hard to grasp, let alone sustain, amid the demands of a high-tech workplace.

I get at least 200 or 300 emails a day, each one a data fragment asking me to respond in some fashion. My grandfather, who was a rice farmer in a small village in India, probably had to respond to four or five pieces of communication a day. For him, once the sun went down and the cattle were back in the shed, the rhythm of life changed. Not in Silicon Valley, where I work — the rhythm is 24/7. There is no dial to turn down and say, “I want a bit less of it.” So you have to accept that these are the conditions you are choosing to have, and then ask, “In the midst of this, how can I be peaceful, happy and content?”

The fact is that technology is like fire. Ever since we’ve discovered fire and known how to harness it, we’ve found it exceptionally useful. You can cook your food with fire, you can melt and blow glass with it. But if you misuse it, you can burn yourself or raze an entire city to the ground. Technology is a powerful tool — but whether you use the tool to be productive or destructive, to live with peace or chaos, is up to you.

At Google, where I work, we are building amazing technologies like self-driving cars, Google Glass and Google Plus. But the most important technology that every human being has access to is right within us: our body, our mind, our consciousness. On the outside we have the Internet, on the inside we have what I call the inner-net. That’s the connection you need to make if you want to live a truly conscious life — and there are simple steps you can take to connect, starting right now.

Communities of employees at Google — “Googlers” — organize themselves into groups that center on different interests. We have Gayglers, Jewglers and Carpooglers. I started a group for Yoga called Yoglers with just one student — but word spread and it has become a larger program across many Google offices. When you practice yoga, you’re asked to bring your complete, 100-percent awareness to your body and your breath. If you practice regularly, you stay more aware, and you make choices driven by that. The quality of your interactions improves. You stop checking your email when someone is talking to you. You become a more conscious human being.

Yoga to me can be practiced all the time, like meditation. Every single moment of every day, I try to be mindful, whether I am engaging with a janitor, a chef, an engineer, or a marketing colleague. I do set aside time for specific practices, and for the Yoglers class I teach, but in truth, every moment of every day is my inner work.

What if you don’t have a yoga or meditation program at your work? It’s simple. Go book a conference room. Sit, close your eyes, start meditating. It doesn’t matter if only one person shows — or if no one does. If you sit there for 60 seconds and watch your breath, you have just started a meditation program. You don’t need a budget or resources. Someone just needs to step forward and do it. Someone — perhaps you.

What’s essential to realize is that you don’t need to withdraw from the outer world in order to create a peaceful space in your inner world. There is a story in the Bhagavad Gita in which the warrior Arjuna looks across the battlefield and refuses to fight. He says, in effect, “My friends are in the other army. I can’t battle them.” And Krishna replies, “You must. In your role as a warrior, you need to battle and do so with honor.” I think Krishna is saying that this world is not to be avoided, but engaged. Some people think that they can find peace and avoid conflict — like, say, the stress of being passed over for a promotion — by going to live at a monastery or an ashram. But I have been to many ashrams and seen that these issues follow you. You think that the director of the ashram should have promoted you to be senior teacher! We tend to think, “I have my work life, then I have my spiritual life,” but the same person with the same body shows up everywhere.

The challenge, of course, is to engage the world without getting entangled. A lovely metaphor that I grew up with in India is that of the beautiful lotus flower. It always floats on top of the water, even though the roots are mired in the mud below. When water falls on a lotus leaf, it gently flows off like dewdrops. The message in the metaphor is that we can be involved in life and work without being mired in it. We can let our problems roll off us. We can float to the top.

To learn more from Gopi Kallayil, you can buy his book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life.

This post was reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.

 

Four Keys to a Wholehearted Life
A wholehearted lifestyle is a way to engage ourselves and our life – a conscious attunement to ourselves and our world. It can also be thought of as wholehearted consciousness. Rather than stay on autopilot, there is conscious awareness of how life is lived. A decisive choice is made on who we want to be and how we want to relate.

This takes guts.

Guts because we will find ourselves in a growing arena that can change how we relate to others and our own selves. We will be stretched; we welcome material that promotes our growth and bring our whole heart to it.
In contemplating how I wish to begin a dialog on wholeheartedness, four points come to mind.

1. Openness.

When we suffer, we often squirm. There is a reflex to shut down or escape – do something – anything! – to alleviate suffering. We become closed off, protective, and disconnected rather than open and welcoming.

In practicing a wholehearted life, we gently work to remain open in these moments. A spirit of openness to all experiences pervades – even the difficult ones. Openness allows some room to breathe, to notice, and simply be present with what is occurring.

There is no rush, no push, and no spurring to react. It is okay to just be.

2. Vulnerability.

Being open means we are going to bump – or ram head first - into vulnerability. Raw feelings and experiences are going to happen. Wholeheartedness is about arriving at these moments and welcoming all of what we are to exist and be seen.

This is where it really takes guts. The things we usually shut off, avoid, or hide are the things we say “hello” to when we are vulnerable. Being vulnerable isn’t always easy, but can be liberating and authenticity-building.

Rather than rejecting parts of ourselves and our experiences, we invite them to have a seat at the table. We allow ourselves to be whole, complex, simple, and many other things. We allow ourselves to be real.

3. Love.

Heaps and heaps of love go into a wholehearted life. Being open and vulnerable is going to rouse different reactions within and around us. A great stance to it all is deep, unwavering love.

Within this kind of conscious living, we honor the fact that we and others all deserve love – kindness, wellness, and a good life. Rather than react and judge ourselves or others, we offer love.

When we tap into a compassionate, loving place and let it energize us, we relate to life with a bit more sweetness, gentleness, and kindness.

4. Gentleness.

Wholeheartedness is staying open, vulnerable, loving, and gentle all at once…and then hitting a bump that unbalances us.

Here we embrace gentleness toward our own selves and others. None of us will nail it every day, and that is okay. We have room to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and to try again. Gentleness is about remaining soft and flexible, dropping rigidity and perfectionism.

Possibilities abound in every new moment. Wholeheartedness is arriving at those moments – and our own being – again and again. Being gentle means it is all okay.

Always Shifting.

A wholehearted life is many things. We take a step back, another forward, shift to the left, to the right. Life is dynamic and there is beauty in the rhythm and movement. It is a process unique to each soul – a journey just our own. No doubt, a wholehearted life honors and celebrates it all.

Three Tips for Meditating on the Road
Have you ever driven home from work, and it’s not until you put the key in your house door that you realize you don’t remember an ounce of the commute home? Trying to backtrack along the route in your mind to make sure you didn’t run any stop signs seems next to impossible.

Let’s face it… we are definitely creatures of habit. As human beings, our brains are hardwired to be more comfortable with routine, and switching into “auto-pilot” mode at any given moment is what our busy minds can sometimes do best.

If you have a comfortable meditation practice routine, it might be hard to keep it up if there is a disturbance in your daily pattern. Your auto-pilot takes over the moment your alarm goes off: Get up, get dressed, head out to the living room, turn on relaxing music, close eyes, deep breaths, ommmmmm.

It’s a wonderful thing when you are so dedicated to your practice to be able to do this every day. However, getting your meditation practice out of this auto-pilot mode can be extremely rewarding.

A vacation is a way to reignite your mind/body connection, and meditating will help ground you and bring your awareness to the present moment, which in turn will help you appreciate your travels on an even greater scale.

Here are three tips to help you keep up your meditation practice while on the road:

1) Schedule time for yourself.

Have you ever thought to yourself that you are going to have plenty of time to meditate while on vacation? Only to find that the sands of time somehow slipped through your fingers?

If you have, you’re not alone. Sometimes when we expect to have all of the time in the world is the exact moment when it feels like there is never enough.

So what can you do to compensate?

Before you grab your passport and head out the door, take a look ahead at your schedule while traveling. Are there times when you will be able to get away from friends and family, and spend some time alone? Or perhaps there will be time while in the passenger seat of a long road trip where you will be able to close your eyes for a few minutes.

Schedule this precious time for yourself by marking it in your calendar. It’s much easier to keep a commitment when it is in writing. Also, set a corresponding alarm on your phone or Fitbit. Set it to go off when you think you will have time to meditate, and then again every hour as a gentle “reminder”.

If you are going to be surrounded by friends and family the entire trip, set your alarm to wake you up before everyone else. This will not only give you the peace and quiet you need during your meditation, but you will also have more time throughout the day to enjoy your vacation.

2) Be flexible.

Be prepared to meditate in a multitude of ways.

If you are used to sitting on your porch on your meditation cushion, listening to the same music and birds singing, at the same time every day, then brace yourself. You won’t be able to take all of the aspects your regular routine with you, and that is kind of the point of getting away…. To get out of the norm of your everyday living.

Think about your meditation practice for a moment.  What is the main thing that helps you get deep into your practice? Is it a certain song? Is it the relaxing herbal tea that you drink right before? Perhaps it is the crystal that you hold in your right hand…

Whatever it is, if there is something that helps you with your meditation practice, bring it along. You are going to be out of your routine, but if that cushion helps you get in the zone (and it can fit in your bag), use it.

If you get the opportunity to get out into nature, take it. Go to the beach. Take a hike in the mountains. Kayak on the lake. Look around at all of the gloriousness that is surrounding you. Close your eyes, and for a short moment, be still. And, breathe.

3) Love yourself through the process.

The whole point of meditation is to just be in the present moment. The great thing that happens when you are on vacation is you get out of your daily routine.

The automatic way in which we pass through life is up-ended on itself. We can’t just wake up, make coffee, get dressed, and head out the door to our job like we do every other day of the year. We get to explore, we get to play, we get to be.

So even if you find that you don’t have the time for your daily practice, understand that the process of getting out of your head will happen naturally while traveling.

You just have to lean into it. And, love yourself through the process.

Habits are the Solution, Not the Problem
There’s something quite intuitive about the fact that the more attention we pay something the more a part of our experience it becomes.

Shower your plants, children, hobbies, or relationships with attention and they not only thrive, they become a bigger part of your life.

Stare at–or even just think about–that cut on your leg and suddenly you feel the pain. It’s been there as long as it’s been there, but it becomes real for you when you look. Your attention brings it to life.

So, it’s ironic that we also tend to stare at and focus on our unwanted habits in the name of making them better. We track them. We monitor how we’re doing. We hone in on “I did it again”, or “three days habit-free!”

It looks like the unwanted habit—the part of it that we see–is the problem. If you shop, smoke, or gamble, shopping, smoking, or gambling is the thing affecting your life. Those are the specific behaviors that are wrecking your finances, relationships, and health. They are clearly the problem, so they are clearly the thing to focus on and change.

Except they aren’t.

They are actually the solution.

The “problem” (which the quotes indicate is not actually a problem), is that we aren’t feeling like ourselves. We’re feeling off base and in our cloudy-minded state, our habit appears to take the edge off our discomfort.

Our mind instantly suggests (sometimes demands) your habit as a solution. Feeling something you’d rather not? Eat this! It’ll take your mind off of your problems (and it does, for a minute). Feeling weighed down by urges to do your habit? Do that habit! That will make those urges go away (and it does, temporarily).

Our habits get us a tiny bit closer to home. Habits are solutions to the “problem” of not feeling well.

Not being at home is not actually a problem at all because we’re always moving in and out of feelings states. Our minds are always filling up a bit and then quieting down a bit, no different than waves on the ocean crash more or less forcefully on the shore.

When your high emotions calm down, your need for your habit will too. There is nothing to fix, there is only this to understand.

There is a great irony in the work I do with people who want to be rid of habits and addictions. The more we talk about the habit, how it shows up, what it all means… the more of a problem it tends to look like.

As we shift away from that focus on the specifics of the habit and look more to the nature of our experience, how the habit operates as a solution, how our human experience flows through us…the less a problem the habit appears to be and the less caught up in it we feel.

Of course we talk about the habit to some extent, but we don’t stop there. We don’t problem-solve or trouble-shoot the habit itself because the habit isn’t the problem.

If we trouble-shoot anything, it’s our misunderstanding about life. Understanding how this being human thing truly works is where freedom lies.

This article was originally published on Dr. Amy Johnson's website here: http://dramyjohnson.com/2016/04/habits-are-the-solution-not-the-problem/

Listen
Did you know you have a sacred guide inside of you to gently steer you through this wild and precious life?

You’d be wise to get to know her.

She comes with many names….. inner wisdom, goddess, satguru, gut feeling, inner knowing, instinct, sixth sense.

I like to call her Intuition.  But please, call her what you like.  She responds to any name spoken with love.

When I researched the word ‘intuition,’ the Collins dictionary offered this sentence to further our understanding, ‘You can't make a case on intuitions, you know.’

Is it no wonder that so many of us feel disconnected from our intuition?

We’ve grown up listening to the so-called “experts”, and we've been bombarded with advertising from dawn to dusk telling us what we need to be happy.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be drawn away from our inner knowing.

Your intuition speaks to you in whispers. While the experts and the advertisements speak with loud voices and neon lights.  If we’re not careful she’s easily drowned out.

But she’s worth listening out for, as her mission is to guide you to create a life that you truly desire.  A life of authenticity, joy and wholeheartedness.

When you listen to her whispers, you’ll guided to live a bespoke life that’s tailored just for you.  Not a run-of-the-mall, off-the-shelf, mass-produced, flat-pack life.  A life that’s fit for the glorious individual that you are.

Because you are an individual expression of life itself.

You are life living itself through you.  Just like a wave is distinct and individual when it surges up above the ocean, you are a distinct and individual part of creation.  And creation has great plans for you.

So try it.  Sit in silence.  Meditate.  Breathe.  Listen to her whispers.  Listen for the way she speaks through your body.  A lightness.  A heaviness.  A longing.  A secret long-held desire.

Listen.

Dr. Lauren Tober's online yoga and meditation course, A Daily Dose of Bliss, begins Monday, August 22. You can sign up here: http://www.adailydoseofbliss.com/

A daily dose of bliss

Searching for a New Home
I've been paying close attention to the "refugee crisis" happening the better part of this last year. There are many issues involved with this very broad and general title. Issues like: war, peace, hope, tragedy, future, past, present, individual, society, migration, boarders, terror, distance, economics, duty, family, and home. The situation is immense and immediate. I wanted to paint a mural to raise attention toward the notions of refugees, immigrants, migration, and borders.

One of my best friends and fellow artists, Max Ehrman, and I were talking about these issues one day and we began sketching. Instead of painting imagery depicting walls and borders, strangers and masses of people, we decided to direct the imagery to be more personal. We wanted real portraits of real people, in delicate bubbles of sky and stars, floating in the midst of linear lines that fade in and out, and a cloud of organic matter.

I began to research and quickly was in the midst of hundreds of images of refugees online. I wanted to be more specific. I narrowed my search to children, caught in the change of leaving their only notion of home. Then I came across 3 specific stories, from different photographers and projects.

img2

 

Zein al-Houssein
Zein al-Houssein. Photo © Alex Oberg

5 year old Zein al-Houssein. "I need to live as other children and play football," he stated to photographer Alex Oberg. Zein fled Syria with his father and brother, and they are now in Turkey with the hopes of reaching Sweden. I found Zein's story on theNational Geographic website in the article Intimate Portraits of Refugees: ‘We Don’t Want to Live in a War’ written by Anna Lukacs.

 

 

Nadia on the right. Photo © Sebastian Rich
Nadia on the right. Photo © Sebastian Rich

12 year old Nadia. She (on the right) and her 9 year old sister, Haseena, are the second generation of Afghan refugee girls to attend school. I found Nadia's story from the UN Refugee Agency's flickr page. The photograph of the sisters was taken by Sebastian Rich.

 

Unnamed Syrian girl. Photo © Benjamin Reece and Robert X. Fogarty
Unnamed Syrian girl. Photo © Benjamin Reece and Robert X. Fogarty

Unnamed girl from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. I came across her image as part of the beautiful Dear World project, created by Robert X. Fogarty. The girl's photo was in the Dear World + Syrian Refugees article, which was made possible by partnership with CARE.

 

 

 

True, the world is different today than it ever has been, but we humans must not forget who we are as a species - social mammals who feel, think, imagine, and create. It is these unique traits and qualities that has lead to us circumventing the world and now reaching out into space looking for more. We are curious beings, and that is what has brought us to continually move around. The ideas of borders, boundaries, and division could be our most detrimental concept because it creates the notion of us and them. We are all one, and we share this world.

We share the world

 

Here in the United States of America it is especially difficult to hear talk of exclusion and border walls. Is it really so easy to forget where we come from? The majority of our population is here because of immigrants, refugees, and those seeking a new way of life.

In our globalized world today, borders are a place of increasing struggle, hardship, and violence. In July, the UN‘s refugee agency said that 45.2 million people remain displaced from their homes due to worldwide conflicts - a 19-year high.

 

Many of these people are forced into these conditions due to conflict, economic, or environmental hardship, and would have never chosen to leave their home had they not had too. Most are looking for safety, for a chance, for a home. I hope this mural can offer a moment of reflection for those who come across it.

To learn more about Strider Patton and his work, please visit his website: www.striderpatton.com

How to Teach Your Preschooler to Meditate
Small children are full of energy and emotions and they have no understanding of how to regulate either one of them. Parents often try one of two thematic responses, or pendulate between the two. The first is punishment. Yelling, time out, loss of privileges or toys. The other is an attempt to verbalize and work through the emotion. Affection, discussion, and the increasingly popular “time in.”

Where both of these methods miss the mark is a true understanding of brain development and how giving your child the gift and skill of meditation could make all the difference.

First, a quick recap of how the brain develops. In overly simplified terms, the brain develops from back to front and from inside to outside. The first part of the brain that develops is known as the “reptilian” brain and is mainly concerned without nothing but survival. The next portion that develops is the limbic system, or emotion central. Lastly, the prefrontal cortex develops which is where logic, rationale, and basically good decision-making occurs. The most trusted data suggests that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around age 25, and only starts significantly developing in grade school years (note: not preschool years).

So does this mean we just have to accept that toddlers and preschoolers will just be completely out of control in general?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they are likely to be literally incapable of controlling their emotional behavior and have little to no understanding about why much of it is happening.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give them tools and resources for dealing with it better. Meditation could be a very meaningful tool for your preschooler especially as their brain develops to bridge the gaps between emotion and logic.

Now, let’s not have any misconceptions about your preschooler calmly “om-ing” away for hours. That’s not what kid meditation looks like. Especially at the beginning of their exposure to meditative practice, it will come in form of more guided meditation. Guided meditations are a great way to get them to pay attention to their breath and their body sensations. A couple quick breathing exercises that help by incorporating information they are already familiar with is Birthday Candles and Number Breaths.

Birthday Candles is a great one because what kid doesn’t like reliving the joy of birthday cake? Have your child sit comfortably and close their eyes. Tell them to pretend that all of their friends and family are surrounding them with love and that right in front of them is their birthday cake. Ask them to think about a wish they have for happiness, take a deep breath and then slowly blow the birthday candles out. Repeat this for as many “happiness wishes” they can think of.

Number Breaths are a helpful way to both practice counting and help your child find a way to relax themselves. Number Breaths is based on the 4-7-8 breathing technique to calm anxiety or restlessness. But to simplify it, just use one number until your child is ready for something more complicated. I started doing Number Breaths when my daughter was one and a half, and she could confidently count to the number four without getting distracted. So we call them “Four Breaths,” and it goes like this:

Breathe in, 1, 2, 3, 4. Hold 1, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4. Repeat four times.

Will they do perfect inhales and holds and exhales? Definitely not. But they will learn to pay attention to their breath and will discover how breathing mindfully helps them to calm down.

We also use the Calm app, which comes with a “Kid Calm” section, which offers guided meditations for kids. Basically they are recorded stories that help kids visualize sensations and pay attention to their breathing. You can also invite your child to do one of the regular guided meditation sessions with you as well. (Warning: this will not be a calm or meditative experience for you.) After introducing these resources to my preschooler, I have been pleasantly surprised when she asks to meditate when she has trouble feeling calm at bedtime, or remembers to do her “four breaths” when she is struggling with listening or getting too rowdy.

The really significant factor in teaching meditative practice to preschool-aged children is that it will positively affect their brain development. Our brains create pathways in terms of how we experience, relate to, and respond to emotions and stress. These pathways become our default throughout our lives until we choose to work on changing them. Giving young children a way to calmly and positively deal with overwhelming emotions sets up a much more positive and self-directed pathway for the rest of their lives.

Resources:
http://www.teach-through-love.com/child-brain-development.html
http://www.medicaldaily.com/life-hack-sleep-4-7-8-breathing-exercise-will-supposedly-put-you-sleep-just-60-332122
https://www.calm.com

Joanna Waterfall – Yellow Co.
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down with Joanna Waterfall, Founder and Creative Visionary behind Yellow Co.  Yellow Company is a Los Angeles based company built around supporting conscious, female entrepreneurs.  In this interview, Joanna shares with us how and why she started Yellow Co., and what we can expect as Yellow Co. continues to grow and expand into the world of entrepreneurship.

LS:  Joanna, Thank you so very much for taking the time to sit down with us today!  Can you share with us a little bit your personal and professional background, and how you started Yellow Co?

Joanna: Of course!  I graduated from California Baptist University where I studied graphic design and digital media.  After I graduated, I worked for a small branding agency in Newport Beach, where we worked for small businesses, designing logos, doing their branding, and so forth.  Eventually I got married, moved to Los Angeles, and started working for a small studio in Echo Park, also doing graphic design for creative businesses, which I loved.

Ultimately, I started working on my own, and developed a full time freelance career as a graphic designer, which I thought was the ultimate vision that I had for myself career wise.  I realized though, that I had somehow surrounded myself with people who seemed to be thinking about themselves all the time, and I too felt like I was thinking about myself, all the time.  It put me into a bad place emotionally, because I felt like I had lost my sense of direction and purpose.

And then, one day, I was participating in a photoshop workshop, and I happened to be in a room with a group of women, all of whom were female, social entrepreneurs.  They were all trying to solve important problems with their businesses, and leave a genuine impact on the world.  I felt amazed and inspired by them, and coincidentally started meeting more and more women like them—women who were using their businesses, passions, and skills to change the world.

All of a sudden, in the shower, I realized that I wanted to start a conference that supported these women who were making a difference. A conference where I would actually want to sit in the audience, to hear these stories and journeys of how these women were using their brands and businesses   And so I started Yellow Co.

LS:  Wow!  What an amazing story of how Yellow Co came to be!  How did the company evolve from that initial vision you had in the shower?

Yellow_2015_Day_1-111
Joanna: Yellow Co started mainly as a conference for conscious female entrepreneurs, and we are now in our third year of running the conference.  We have attendees from all over the country, and now even from international locations, which is amazing.  Our first year we had 150 attendees, then 300 in the second year, and this year we are anticipating 500!  At this year's conference in August, we will be launching our membership platform, which will allow our members to connect and support and learn from one another.  We are also creating digital content that will be useful for our members.

Although our growth has been wonderful, it has also been a challenge.  When the conference was smaller, I was able to pretty much do everything that was needed for the conference.  I realized in the second year, that was no longer possible.  I am best in the realm of creativity and envisioning possibilities; organization is not my strong suit, and doesn't come logically to me.  This year, I realized I had to bring on board an event management company to help me with the things that are not my strengths.

I think the other challenger I face is learning how to communicate the vision that I feel in my heart. I think it is important to be able to articulate clearly what you are feeling in terms of vision and mission, so that other people can understand and become a part of your dream.  That has been a learning process for me, and one that I imagine other entrepreneurs also struggle with.

LS:  How did you come up with the name, "Yellow Co?"  What is the significance of the name to you?

Joanna:  When I first thought of the idea for Yellow Co, the image that first came to my mind, being a visual, creative type, was that of a bee.  Bees work in community, together, simply doing what they are created to do.  Just by being themselves, bees make flowers bloom, they make the world nourished, and beautiful.  This is what I wanted to encourage amongst this particular group of women--by being who you are uniquely meant to be, you will make an impact.

LS:  I know that your conference is intended for women, but you also attract a number of male speakers.  Can you share with me how you decided to bring in male speakers for a women's conference?

Joanna: Of course, that is a great question, and one I have thought about quite a lot.  First of all, we are a conference geared towards female Yellow_2015_Day_2-107entrepreneurs.  However, if a male really wanted to attend, we honestly wouldn't turn him away.  I also should add that we define "entrepreneur" quite broadly.  You don't necessarily have to be starting or running your own business.  You can be a part of someone else's vision, but one that you feel very passionate about.
You can be an entrepreneur of your own life, simply by creating and designing what you want for yourself. I think of entrepreneurs as those who are wanting more than the status quo.

In terms of having male speakers, I believe that both males and females bring different voices to the conference.  I didn't want to create an echo chamber.  I thought the attendees could benefit from the unique perspective that the male speakers brought, by their different ways of thinking, even speaking.  Just like how, if there were an all male conference, they would benefit by having female speakers.  We all see things differently.

LS:  Thank you for sharing that, and yes, it is so important that we all have the opportunity to learn and grow from one another's experiences.  Joanna, do you have any personal mindfulness practices that are an important part of your daily routine?

Joanna: I think it is very important to be intention and disciplined.  First of all, I value getting outside, into nature, for a hike every day.  I like to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, where I can think and breathe.  I leave my phone and devices at home so that I can hear my thoughts.  My faith and prayer are a big part of my reflective practices as well.  And journaling.  Journaling helps me to know where I am at, what I feel and think about things, where I am in terms of my body and spirit.

I also have a group of eight women that I meet with, every Wednesday morning. We simply get together and talk about our lives, what's been going on, what we struggle with.  We listen and give feedback.  They help me to connect the dots.  It is a powerful experience to be a part of such a group, and to have that type of support and guidance.

LS:  One final question for you Joanna.  What inspires you?

Joanna: Hmmm.  What inspires me?  So many different things.  I am inspired by my surroundings.  I love working in downtown LA.  It is gritty, full of mystery, which I love.  The arts district has this unpolished realness, and a creative vibe which I really connect with.  And I am inspired by the women that I am surrounded by.  My friends, the speakers at the conference, who are genuinely changing the world with their unique gifts.  Almost like knowing the shape of their puzzle piece, and how they are meant to fit in.  That is inspiring.

Yellow_2015_Day_1-54

To learn more about Yellow Co and their upcoming 2016 conference in August, please visit www.yellowconference.com.

Photos by Caca Santoro; you can find her at http://cacasantoro.com/.

Turning a Struggle Into the Best Story of Your Life
Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists -- lists are an easy way for busy people to retain information.  Of all places, I found myself making the most lists in the hospital.  And of all kinds of lists (after a surgery that went terribly wrong) I found myself creating a gratitude list.

shoppinglist

This was one of many lists I created every night in the hospital.  I'd make myself think of something I was grateful for from A to Z, even when I hated my circumstances.  By rummaging through my angry and frustrated thoughts, eventually, some positivity submerged.  By the time I reached "Z," my life had not changed dramatically, but my thoughts had.

My medical condition is hard to quantify. I don’t have a formal diagnosis or illness.  I may not have a stomach, but I sure am hungry for life.  It started in 2005 – a week before my senior prom.  It was our second night of Passover, and my stomach started hurting.  My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case.  On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up, soon after, I collapsed, and I went into a coma. Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the OR.

I was in a coma for months; both my lungs collapsed and I needed 122 units of blood. I nearly died. When I woke up from the coma, doctors told me I had no stomach and I couldn’t eat or drink anything. They didn’t know when or if I’d ever be able to again.  What do you say to that?

Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, part of me wanted to throw something.  I was frustrated – I had just gotten my college acceptance letters – was I the victim of some cruel joke?  My biggest goal in life was acting on the Broadway stage – and now I couldn’t even walk or talk.  That’s when I made the conscious decision, that as long as this was my life right now, I would not let myself feel like a victim or hospital patient.

I survived by creating hope, one day at a time. I started a chocolate business, starred in shows, discovered painting, taught nursery school, learned karate, got my yoga certification, wrote a musical comedy about my life, kept a sense of humor, and hoped that every day might get better. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconstructed with my remaining intestines.  But for six of the past 10 years, I didn’t eat or drink a drop, not even an ice cube.

Once I was able to have my first bite of food, life finally seemed enjoyable – I could eat and I thought any surgeries were a distant memory,  I went to California on vacation, and suddenly my wound ruptured.  I was immediately air-vacced to Yale Medical Center. My mother went home and gathered every scrap of fabric she could find, an old set of acrylics, and a glue gun.  Every day, I worked feverishly in my hospital bed, gluing, painting, and letting my imagination set me free.  Every day I would create a new work of art, a new source of hope, and display it outside my hospital room.  Soon, nurses and even mobile patients would stroll by my room to see what I had created.

Suddenly, I felt like I had a mission to share my story with the world. A message that with hope, strength, and a little creativity, anything is possible. I delved through my literally thousands of typed journal pages that I kept over the years I decided to take some of my journal writings, combine both original and established songs, and make a one-woman musical of my life so far.

To quote a line from my show:

“They say that everything happens for a reason.  But that’s not always true.  Sometimes, you have to make it happen. I can’t be 13 again but I can be the best 26 I can.  But sometimes I wonder what life would be like if this never had happened –This is not the path that I planned for myself – but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how they plan it?  I was led astray, and hurt, and betrayed, and dehumanized, taken apart and put back together, but differently.  But my passion never went away.  I kept my hunger alive.  Now I know that my role in life is still to be that same performer I always wanted to be when I was 13.  But now with an even greater gift to give.  A story to tell. “

The story I tell is not one you hear every day.  But now, the story I now tell myself every day starts with list.  A simple gratitude list.

Just hearing someone else's story makes us feel the same pain or joy that they have experience.  It's sharing them that makes us stronger.

That's how we know we're not alone.

You have a story too.

Our stories make us stronger.  So today -- tell yours.

 

 

Asking the Right Question
Scared? Before you do anything, ask yourself a question.

The question is: who do you want to be?

I woke up to a world that seems to have lost its mind.  Humans hurting humans.  Weather that makes no sense because it’s unprecedented in our short, recorded history.  And in the United States a political campaign that’s turned into a made for TV reality show.

This is my umpteenth rewrite this morning.  I feel lame writing about any of it, because nothing about what’s going on is simple.  And it’s heartbreaking.  But I kept writing because i remembered I don’t have to save the world.  I just have to make enough sense out of it so that I can manage myself without adding to the chaos, and maybe share a little of what I’m learning with you.

When I’m confronted with things that scare or sadden me, I feel a compulsion to do something—anything—even if it’s wrong, just to feel better.  If I go with that compulsion I’ve got lots of choices:  shove a chocolate donut in my mouth; slide down an endless internet black hole for a few hours; remember a grudge and work it for a while; or start waxing poetic about what’s wrong with the world and why everybody who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.

This morning I wanted an alternative to behaviors that have never, ever satisfied me for longer than the time I engaged in them.  So I asked myself a question.  Who do I want to be?  How do I want to show up when life hands me stuff that I’m afraid I can’t handle?

Do I want to fall back on automatic pilot, that place where I don’t actually feel anything, I just numbly do what I’ve always done?  And then feel worse?

On automatic pilot my mind creates awful and catastrophic thoughts even though I’m sitting in my comfy chair with a full belly and a cup of coffee.  The thoughts trigger my body to pump out survival chemicals to help me escape from the scenario I’ve created in my mind.  It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, because I’d have to leave the planet to get far enough away to remain untouched and unfeeling–they just keep on pumping.  So I keep on reacting, like a puppet.

The situation that creates the fear doesn’t really matter.  There will always be something we’re afraid of, wanting to run away from, or avoid.  We may not even be aware that we’re responding from a place of fear.  There’s simply too much going on not be unsettled at times, even when we can’t quite put our finger on what’s bothering us and making us feel not quite right.

What matters is to not react out of that initial fear and resistance, and to wait for the space that makes room for the question. 

The moment I asked who do I want to be I felt a lessening of the fear in the pit of my stomach.  That question has power and substance and a strength that draws me up into the fullness of who I am.

This morning when the space opened up and I asked the question, almost immediately one of my all-time favorite books came to mind, ‘Making Peace in Times of War’ by Pema Chodron.    Check it out the next time you’re afraid.  Or maybe better, before you’re afraid.  It’s a small, short book.  It’s one of a handful of books that I’ve re-read many times.

The gist of the book is that my attitude will determine the degree of suffering, if any, that I will experience in this moment.  And that my perspective will determine the degree of effectiveness that I will bring to a situation.

I get daily email reminders of what’s right with the world … stories about people like you and me who have risen into the fullness of who they are, in spite of living in a world that’s struggling to find its way.  Their stories change me, enlarge me.

So today when (not if) I’m assaulted with more than I think I can handle I will stay connected to all the goodness and loving kindness that surrounds me when I remember to take my attention off of what’s wrong for a moment, and notice what’s right.  I will pause and wait for the space that makes room for the question, who do I want to be?

If I can’t save the world, I can manage myself.  And If I do that, at least I won’t be adding to the fear, divisiveness and heartbreaking chaos of which the world already has an abundance.

Try it – what have you got to lose other than a few pounds?  Who do you want to be?

Embracing Wisdom Through Solitude
At the bottom of the hill on our half acre land was a dirt patch. As a young girl of nine years old, I would often sit there and play with the pebbles. Perhaps I felt closer to the earth and gently guided by our land's invitation to lean in. I listened to the calls of parents summoning their children to return home, lawn mowers distinctive humming and the encircling of light winds. I was surrounded by familiar neighborhood buzz yet enveloped in solitude.

There are some that are genuinely drawn to solitude. Within it lives independence, inspiration, happiness, and higher powerLike many things, our states of being have a makeup that extracts the comfortable and the uncomfortable. But solitude, while breathing through pain, can be a companion that holds the deepest reflection of our self. Solitude invites an unobtrusive hand to guide discomfort to a place of recovery. Solitude is where I reached down into the depths of my soul pleading for answers to unimaginable questions while being a caregiver. It is where I lived while grieving the loss of my father. It asked me to go on an expedition with mortality and not sprint my way to the result we name death, but uncover how the dying process and my witnessing of it was informing my every action and step.

One of the most valuable aspects of solitude is the wisdom that can be accumulated during the moments of despair, exhaustion, suffering and unpredictability. It was through the act of making complicated decisions (by ways of capturing, evaluating and discerning through all information available) that I discovered an untapped wisdom within me. I realize now that any enlightenment of knowledge I acquired was through a worship of the questions, not the attainment of any answers. As a beholder of my own inquiry, I feel liberated.

Fervently stating his awakening of knowledge, my father one day said to me, "please always remember to let go of the noise within and around you." His impassioned desire for his daughter was to simply have wonder in this world, sitting on the dirt patches of our land, dreaming of magic.

Jessica Jesse — Founder of BudhaGirl
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down with Jessica Jesse, CEO and Creative Director of BudhaGirl. Prior to starting BudhaGirl, Jessica began her career in fashion as a model for Hubert de Givenchy, and later worked directly with fashion icons such as Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, and Valentino. Several years ago, Jessica founded BudhaGirl, a fashion centric company that is at the forefront of combining mindfulness, rituals, and science, with beauty, fashion, and jewelry.

LS:  Jessica, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with Literal Shyft!  Can you tell us how your vision for BudhaGirl started?

Jessica: Of course.  About three and a half years ago, my son went through a neurological crisis.  At the time, as his mother, I was desperate to leave no stone unturned, in trying to find a solution that would help him.  I wasn't finding the answers I needed within the western medicine framework.  And the more research I did, the more I found that contemplative practices provided tools that could help stabilize and heal the brain.  Through mindfulness, time, and lots of practice, we were eventually able to help my son heal, and turn his life around.

My professional background had always been in fashion.  I knew I didn't want to be a fashion designer.  But after this experience with my son, I realized that I wanted to start a company that could combine my passion and talent for fashion, with my passion and interest in mindfulness and ritual.  We started with ten pieces of jewelry, all produced in an ethical manner, and all handmade.  At the time, everyone within the industry thought I was crazy to try and connect mindfulness to fashion, but I believed it was an important and necessary step for the industry.  It was revolutionary to learn that beauty and fashion could go hand in hand with mindful and conscious living. You didn't have to simply wear a rock on a string if you wanted to be mindful.

LS:  Can you share more about the connection between jewelry and mindfulness?

Jessica: I believe in the power of ritual and intention setting.  Every morning, we go through a certain process.  We wake up, we bathe, we get dressed, and finally, we accessorize.  We can use jewelry to turn this routine into a ritual.  For example, with our nine all weather bangles, each bangle represents an intention for the day.  It is a simple yet powerful way to connect to our intentions every morning, or our gratitude at night.  The all weather bangles are easily my favorite accessory, and our most popular item.  They are weightless, they don't scratch, they don't jingle, and you can share them, or give them away when you feel compelled to do so.  I love them.

GenerationWhitesmaller

 

LS:  How does mindfulness impact how you run your company?

Jessica:  There is a quote that I love by Thomas Moore:  "The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."  I love this quote, because it is exactly the foundation upon which BudhaGirl is built.  We believe in the power of jewelry and accessories to connect us, in every moment, to how we want to live our lives.  I run my company in the same way.  We don't make a lot of big plans in our company, thinking ahead and into the future.  We focus on practicing mindfulness and compassion in our every day interactions with each other, our clients, our vendors.

We also have a growing science advisory board, a team of physicians and scientists, that keep us abreast of research on how mindfulness and other reflective practices are impacting brain health.  This information directly impacts our pillars for product values and interaction.

LS:  What does your own personal mindfulness practice look like?

Jessica: I know we spend a lot of time reflecting on the big events in our life.  But I believe that these events only punctuate our life, and that the overall quality and feeling of life is built upon the small, daily rituals and moments that we experience. For example, people will reflect back on a vacation in Mexico and think, "Wow!  That was the best margarita I have ever had!".  Well--yes.  You were in a beautiful environment.  Your senses were heightened.  You were relaxed.  Could you imagine how life would be if you brought that same quality of noticing, of savoring, to your daily cup of coffee?

I also have a morning ritual of sorts that has been transformative for me.  When I wake up every day, I take about ten to fifteen minutes to meditate, to focus on how I feel and what I notice within my body and mind.  Then, I visualize.  What do I want to manifest in my life, in my work, in my family?  What core issues am I dealing with, and how do I want to address them?  What type of day do I want to have?  It is not an easy process, but it has become a way for me to think clearly.  I don't need any special equipment or a special space, so I can go through this ritual even when traveling.

I try to make it a point to be focused and pay attention.  For example, if I am picking up my daughter and we are in the car together, we turn off our phones.  We spend time together, we talk, we listen.  It is an opportunity to connect, and that would be missed if we were distracted by our technology.

LS:  Jessica, what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur today?Bangles

Jessica:  I would tell him or her to be present.  That is all.  Be present. That is the most valuable offering you could give to yourself, and others. And no matter what, you are going to work really, really hard.  So chase something you love to do.  That may change over time, but whatever you love, do that.  What more could you want from your work?

LS:  One final question for you--what inspires you?

Jessica: I think there are two answers to that question, or maybe they are essentially the same.  I love how, through BudhaGirl, we can effect change in the world.  That is inspiring.  Running a small, but growing company is a joyful experience.  It is hard work, but every day, there are moments of joy.  Joy is so important.  It is different from happiness in its energy and vibration.

Secondly, I am inspired by my thirteen year old daughter.  She always tells me, "You can do this.  You are doing something good."  And this is really important to me.  So perhaps in some ways I am inspiring her, but she also inspires me to keep going, each and every day.

 

To learn more about Jessica Jesse and BudhaGirl, please visit www.budhagirl.com.

 

Three Ways To Turn Failures Into Blessings
Growing up, I was always scared of failing. Truthfully, as an adult I was terrified of failing. As you get older the pressures and the responsibilities of growing up weighs on you. Things like making money become so important for survival and having a career to provide that income feels crucial.

It was a constant conversation in my household growing up, to get a good job, make lots of money, buy a house, and have children. It’s the American dream, right?

It’s not the dream if you become stressed out and you are no longer happy with your life. It is our birthright to be happy and abundant, but the problem is our ego gets the best of us many of times. Our ego tells us we failed because something didn’t go as planned. Each time things don’t go as we imagined our ego gets louder repeating that we are failures.

The ego is but a figment of our imagination. It likes to torment us, but we can quiet our ego by changing our perspective. As Rafael, E. Pino once said, “Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value.”

The truth is your failures are not really failures.  Your failures are blessings. All you need to do is change your perspective. In every failure there is a reason behind why it happened. There is true value in every situation even though it did not have the outcome we desired.

Seeing something from a different perspective can raise your awareness, enabling you to see the true reason why things have happened in your life. The blessing may not be apparent at the very moment it happened, but as you continue to practice changing your perspective you will start to see the truth behind every situation.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Situation #1: Melissa went on a job interview and she didn’t get the job.

Feeling: Melissa beats herself up because she feels like she messed up during her interview. She felt like she failed and now what is she going to do.

Perspective: Melissa may not have gotten the job because she would have been miserable at the company because they treat their employees like crap. There is a better job out there for her.

 

Situation #2: Danielle got laid off from her job.

Feeling: Danielle is angry at first, but then starts to think maybe she made mistakes that led her to getting laid off. She starts to feel like a failure.

Perspective: Danielle’s purpose was not that job and she was meant to do something else with her life. The Universe is steering her in a different direction.

 

Situation #3: Tachie’s boyfriend broke up with her after 7 years together.

Feeling: Tachie initially feels sad, but remembers all the harsh things her boyfriend said to her. She starts beating herself up, feeling like it was her fault. She starts to think she was the cause of the relationship failing.

Perspective:  Tachie didn’t realize that her boyfriend was a cheater. He had already started dating someone new. To make himself feel better he pointed the blame at her for the relationship failing, so he wouldn’t look like the bad guy. She is better off without him.

 

I truly believe there is a reason why everything happens in our lives. Although some situations are very painful and bruise our self-esteem it doesn’t mean it’s the end. There is another chapter to our lives as long as we allow ourselves to move on from these feelings of failure.

I speak from my own experiences of feeling like a failure. I realized when I kept thinking I was a failure everything in my life was off-track. Life wasn’t happening as smoothly as it used to. I had to change my perspective on my situations and see the blessings in every life event, I felt like a failure.

I see now that my failures have made me a stronger person. I see now that my failures have given me clarity of what I truly want out of life. I see now that my failures give me a reason to start fresh. I see now the many reasons why I had to endure the pain I have experienced. I see why God put these obstacles in my path.

Change your perspective and start seeing the blessings in your failures.

 

Here are 3 steps that can help you turn your failure into something beautiful:

Step 1) Pick a time you feel you failed and still holds emotion for you. You will know. Write the experience down.

Step 2) Now look at the failure and ask yourself, "Did you truly fail?" Listen for the answer in your heart. Look at it from different angles. See the different perspective. Try not to allow your ego to provide the answer.

Step 3) List the benefits from that experience. What are the blessings from this failure? Dig deep until you have at least one.

 

 

The Missing Link in Workplace Wellness Programs

Modern day fast-paced jobs, with the ever demanding quotas and expectations, are wearing people out. Many employees do not or cannot slow down to rejuvenate themselves. Unfortunately, the result is chronic stress, which can lead to a host of complications, including high blood pressure, weight gain, insomnia, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, mental health issues, and substance abuse. 

Rampant stress can disrupt the morale and culture of a workplace. While there will always be an element of stress to working, that stress doesn't have to rule the workplace. If it does, there's only one direction the business will be headed and that's down.

With this increased awareness of the harmful effects of stress, workplace wellness programs are becoming increasingly common.  But are they addressing the problem?  According to a survey performed in 2014 by Towers Watson, a global professional services company, stress is the number one workplace health risk. However, despite that statistic, only about 15% of employers in the same survey reported that improving the mental and emotional health of their employees was a priority in their productivity and wellness programs. 

This is the disconnect between current wellness programs, and the true need in the workplace.

Current workplace wellness programs include health risk assessments, behavior modification programs for weight and exercise, and screenings for high blood pressure. Employees might hear about the importance of work/life balance, but are they being given tools to make meaningful changes? What about directly confronting the #1 reason that employees take long term leaves of absence--stress??

Many current wellness programs are based more on physical health or workplace culture, which are both directly influenced by stress.  This is like focusing on the symptoms, rather than the cause.  It's like trying to mop a flooded kitchen while the faucet is still running. You have to stop the faucet. 

Likewise, you need to address stress directly in order to improve employee health, performance, and workplace culture. 

Some workplaces have implemented programs based on harnessing stress. While not a solution, this is perhaps a step in the right direction.  Especially in Silicon Valley, companies have started introducing elements of friendly rivalry and gamification to their workplaces, offering social rewards for better performance. Although some of these methods are effective, they often rely on inducing a controlled amount of stress in their employees.  This strategy is of course based on the assumption that too little stress will mean that employees are not motivated to perform and that too much stress will mean impending burn out. Although the logic of this is something that has been called into question by many mental health professionals, it is taking a step forward in acknowledging the impact of stress levels on performance. 

If companies really want to help employees manage stress, meditation is perhaps one of the most promising strategies.  Meditation has been the subject of several studies which have shown a lowering of blood pressure, increased concentration, and boosting of the immune system in test subjects. Many people imagine meditation as an activity done by a spiritual person sitting cross-legged in a monastery or mountaintop. However, there are many forms which can be done anywhere, both religious and secular. 

In fact, Steve Jobs was known to use Zen mindfulness practices to gain clarity, reduce stress and enhance his creativity.  In one study, subjects who meditated regularly for just six weeks showed marked improvement when placed in stressful situations in regard to their immune system response and their emotional distress. They actually improved their physical reaction to stress as well as their mental process of dealing with it.  Similarly, a study performed in Wisconsin found that after 8 weeks, an increase in electrical activity occurred in the left frontal lobe of the brain which is active in people who are optimistic. With this being the case, regular meditation practices adopted by employees could help them to reduce their stress while improving their health and outlook.

The question is then, how can companies incorporate meditation into their workplace wellness programs? The first step is education. By showing employees the proven scientific benefits of meditation you may pique their interests. Furthermore, providing resources for local classes or including sessions in employee insurance benefits may be part of the answer.  Of course, an implementation strategy for meditation programs will be up to each company and their particular workplace culture.  However, imagine how much more sustainable companies will be with a team of employees who are calm, creative, and focused, rather than stressed, overwhelmed and ill.

It's definitely worth considering how this missing link in workplace wellness programs--meditation--might benefit your company leadership, employees, and workplace culture.  

Pruning Your Life
In my work, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of discovering and aligning with your “yes!”. This deeply positive position in relationship to your life allows you to open to what brings you deeply alive, unleashing your vitality and the potential to flourish in new and life-giving ways. While it’s important to cultivate this deeply yes-oriented position, it’s also important to understand that learning to stand in your “no” is another expression of aligning with your “yes!”.

To illustrate why, let’s talk about the subtle art of tree pruning.

Have you ever pruned a fruit tree, or watched someone do it? It’s a subtle and delicate process. You have to have discernment about which types of growth on the tree are unproductive. You also need to know how much to prune to optimize the growth. If you don’t ever prune, the tree will not produce as much fruit and will become more and more unhealthy.

The branches will be growing one on top of the next, blocking the sunlight from reaching the leaves and preventing the fruit from forming. And there will be an increasing number of what are called “suckers,” branches that tend to grow straight up and never produce any fruit; they take the life-energy of the tree, but don’t produce anything.

Growth by itself is not all good. If not properly tended to and guided, the tree will become less vital and less productive, and will be sending it’s precious life resources toward a growth that isn’t serving the whole of the tree.

Proper pruning is an art. It requires a great deal of awareness and finesse to know what to cut, how to cut, and what to leave to ensure that the tree flourishes and produces bountiful fruit of exquisite and delicious quality.

When you remove what is not serving the vitality of the whole, you allow for the fullness of the natural, organic blossoming to happen.

rockThis is an allowing, not a forcing. You simply are supporting what innately wants to happen.

The same rules of pruning also apply to your life. Is your life feeling crowded? Do you have a sense that you are investing your life-energy where you are not getting returns?

Just as with a fruit tree, pruning your life needs to happen on a regular basis. As the one who is uniquely responsible for tending to your own vitality, you are the only one who can learn the subtle art of pruning your life.

So what might it be time for you to let go of, to prune away? What no longer belongs in your life? What might you need to shed? What clutter might you need to clear away to free up your life-energy to be fully devoted to what you have to give in life, and what you are here to receive? In other words…

What is your life-energy currently feeding that is not in alignment with your “yes!”?

This is about unleashing your vitality and releasing the energy that is caught in the heaviness and entanglement of what no longer belongs. Pruning needs to happen in every dimension of your life.

Sometimes it just takes a little snip of a tiny twig, and sometimes it requires getting the saw out to remove a large branch that is heading in an unhealthy direction or blocking the light from the branches that feel juicy and full of life goodness for you.

So, where do you get started with the pruning? Wherever is most obvious, and you might start small until you get the hang of it. Below are some examples of places you might begin:

  • Physical Belongings
  • Household Clutter
  • Volunteer Commitments
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Home
  • Beliefs

Saying an authentic “no” can be an act of saying “yes!” to your life-energy.Remember, no one but you can tend to your life-energy and vitality, so it is your responsibility to be discerning about what you are saying “yes” to.

If you are someone who habitually says “yes” and then regrets it later, something you can try as a way to strengthen your “no” muscle is to simply respond to every request with, “I’ll need to think about it, and get back to you.” This will give you time to fully consider the prospect.

This can work between you and yourself, too, if you tend to get easily excited and drawn in a lot of directions. Pause and tell yourself that you won’t make a decision until tomorrow (or next week). Let it percolate so that you can learn the art of greater self-discernment.

Take some time to tune in to what your truth is, and listen for that guidance as to whether this is where your life-energy is wanting to be shared. With time, after you give yourself that buffer of response, you will get better and better at being clear and honest with yourself in the moment of a request and responding accordingly. But until then, there is nothing wrong (and a lot right!) about gifting yourself the time to reflect and get clear.

The most important part of pruning is to practice self-honesty and trust.

When we have the courage to prune away something significant, we can’t know what will be given the opportunity to grow and blossom as a result, or where it will lead us in our lives.

 

3 Tests for Finding Your Authentic Self
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ~Aristotle

Authenticity is all the rage. Be you, be true, and be cool, they say. But how? It’s not as easy as it sounds. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

So let’s say you’re confident. Not always. But often. You’re not always there but you’ve gotten there before and you can get there again.

Now you want to listen to yourself a bit. You want to find your authentic passion. You want to be authentic. How do you search your heart and mind to find your authentic self?

After sifting through Harvard visioning exercises and attending endless executive corporate retreats and paging through dusty leadership textbooks I have found what I consider the three best tests to finding and aligning your authentic self. I have shared these tests with countless leaders and use them on myself at least once every year.

Here they are:

1. The Saturday Morning Test

What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do? Your authentic self should go toward that…

2. The Bench Test

How do you feel when you put yourself in a new situation? Your authentic self will lead you toward that…

3. The Five People Test

Who are the five people closest to you in the things you love most? Your authentic self is an average of those people . . .

The Saturday Morning Test

Let’s start with a horrible question.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I worry about that question because it sits invisibly over much of our lives. Professional designations. Business cards. Résumés with job titles and bullet points. These are great things! But the downside to this filtering and organizing is that so many people grow up stuffing their textured, layered, complex selves into narrow buckets that don’t allow room for individuality.

Nobody knows what they want to do with their entire life. Nobody. Nobody is born with a single unifying sense of purpose that they strive toward forever.

Have people at your work ever said “I just backed into this job!” or “I never said I wanted to do this when I was younger. I didn’t know it existed!”? My point is it just doesn’t happen. Having one giant purpose that you strive toward forever isn’t the goal.

What is?

An ikigai.

A current aim.

A reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The Saturday Morning Test helps find an authentic passion and check if you’re letting that passion be as big a part of your life as it could be.

The Saturday Morning Test is your answer to one simple question:

What do you do on Saturday morning when you have nothing to do?

morningAsk yourself that one crucial question, think about it for a second, and answer it out loud. What do you do on Saturday morning when you have nothing to do? Do you go to the gym? Do you record yourself playing guitar? Take whatever answer you have and then wildly brainstorm ways you can pursue opportunities that naturally spew from that passion.

There will be hundreds.

Love going to the gym? Personal training, coaching a baseball team, volunteering for a walking group, running a yoga studio, teaching phys ed, starting a supplements company. And it goes on.

Love recording yourself playing guitar? How about teaching guitar online, editing music, learning to DJ, starting up an instrument company? One of the happiest people I’ve met was a high school music teacher who decided to start importing, selling, and teaching the ukulele.

Your true self will be drawn to these ideas.

They make you richer, stronger, and happier in your work life, too.

Dale Carnegie said, “Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.”

The Saturday Morning Test asks you to lean in to your natural passion to enrich your work and personal lives.

The Bench Test

I met Fred Thate in July 1998 in the SHAD program.

Vancouver was our home during this month-long summer camp for teenage nerds as we bounced between astrophysics lectures, particle accelerator field trips, and long conversations on the oceanside campus of the University of British Columbia.

Geniuses are hard to spot, but Fred was a certified genius in my book—crisp thoughts, sharp observations, a piercingly insightful view of the world. I knew he was going far, but I was eighteen, he was seventeen, and our masking-tape-stuck friendship got tossed on the shelf when we went to different colleges and got immersed in our own lives.

Years later I Googled him and saw he worked as an investment banker in New York City. I cold-called the place and politely asked for Frederic Thate, please. When he answered his desk line, I said “Hey Fred, it’s Neil Pasricha,” and it was a mini–telephone reunion. I planned a trip down to New York to hang out with him for a weekend.

I spent four years at Queen’s, he spent four years at Princeton, and we were eager to hear about each other’s experiences. We spent an hour searching for the blue whale in the Museum of Natural History as we caught up.

“So how’d you pick Princeton, anyway?” I started. “I mean, I knew you were smart and all, but why not Harvard or Yale or Cornell or Columbia?”

“Well, I was lucky, I had some options,” he humbly mumbled. “I didn’t know where to go, so I made a test to figure it out. I called it The Bench Test.

“Basically, I figured I could rent a Jeep for a week for two hundred dollars. And I knew making this decision was worth more than two hundred dollars. So I rented a Jeep and visited Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia. At each campus I walked around until I found a bench near the middle of campus. Then I sat in the bench for an hour and listened. I watched the students and listened to all the conversations around me. I listened to what was important to them, how they talked to each other, what they were excited about.”

“How’d you decide to do that?”

“Well,” Fred continued, “I figured most of my time over the next four years would be spent doing exactly what I was listening to. Going to classes was twenty or thirty hours a week, tops. The rest is making friends, chatting on the way to class, figuring out plans. Basically, my experience was going to be the sum of all the conversations I had over four years. So I tried to hear those conversations and figure out if they were a good fit for me. I tried listening to my authentic self and letting it lead me toward the right decision.”

I was impressed.

I knew hundreds of people who went to university. I knew the majority spent time paging through websites, going on campus tours, and visiting the library stacks—researching for hours the pros and cons from the books. That’s what I did.

But The Bench Test was so much simpler than all that. Fred didn’t ask anybody where he should go to school, because he knew their opinions were based on their experiences. Not his. He didn’t bother with campus tours highlighting famous statues and state-of-the-art treadmills. He didn’t sift through campus demographics and SAT score sheets in university guidebooks.

He didn’t care.

He just went to campus and sat on a bench.

The Bench Test worked for Fred because he immersed himself in the new situation he wanted to test and then patiently observed his authentic reaction to that situation. That’s what The Bench Test is about. Really putting yourself into something new for a short time to test it.

Can you use The Bench Test in other places? Absolutely! Just call it The Office Tour Test during your job interview, The Sidewalk Test when you’re looking for a home, The Treadmill and Shower Test when you’re looking for a gym.

Think about going for an interview at a new company. You’re desperate to learn about the company culture and the workplace. Should you ask, “What’s the culture like?” No! I get asked that so often in interviews. But that’s like reading about school in a book or learning to drive a car in a classroom. You need to get into the office. You need to feel the culture.

How?

The Office Tour Test.

Ask for a five-minute walk around the place after your interview.

You may not be able to sit on a bench, but you’ll see everything you need to know.

I’ll never forget my first tour of the Walmart Home Office during my job interview.

Sitting on cheap, wobbly, garage-sale chairs in the humming front reception, I watched a motley crew of smiling fifty-somethings, flashy thirty-year-olds, and baby-faced college grads quick-walking in and out of the place. It was like an animated Office Diversity poster. Nobody was dressed up. People were all ages. Nobody was using big words.

The walls were full, too!

I walked past the company mission in block letters: we save people money so they can live better. I liked that they knew what they were doing and talked about doing it. There was a flow-chart of the company’s history. Rankings of the “Top 5 and Bottom 5 Vendors.” And a cutout sign with “Today’s Share Price” listed and the sentence “Tomorrow depends on you!”

I walked around with my interviewer Antoinette as she led me down a long hallway and up a flight of stairs. On the way she said hi to every single person by name and they said hi to her by name, too. I felt like we were on a red carpet. “With a thousand people working here, how do you know everyone?” I asked her.

“Easy,” she replied. “We have the ten-foot rule. You say hi to everybody within ten feet of you. It’s based on asking customers how you can help in a store. Our name badges have our names printed in big letters and we hang them on our shirt collars so they’re easy to read. It’s like those hello my name is stickers at parties. Except we wear them all the time.”

The culture wasn’t for everybody.

But I loved it immediately.

The Bench Test is immersing yourself in a new situation and observing your reaction to make sure your decision is aligned with your authentic self.

The Five People Test

“The company is the five people you sit beside.”

My leadership professor at Harvard said this all the time. What did he mean? The five people on your team, the five people you eat lunch with every day, the five people telling you all about the company—they are the company. They create and help articulate your view of the company.

“Are your friends making you fat?” asked The Newfriends York Times, with an article and research studies concluding that even our weight may be based on the weight of our friends. Hang out with fat people? You become fat. What if they hang out with fat people? They become fat. Then you become fat. Sad but true. Some studies have even suggested you’re the average of your friends’ height and their attractiveness. Makes sense when you see old married couples that look the same. Or people who look like their dogs!

Researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler write in their bestselling book Connected: “We discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend gained weight, you gained weight. We discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend stopped smoking, you stopped smoking. And we discovered that if your friend’s friend’s friend became happy, you became happy.”

Bestselling author James Altucher took the idea even further in the main points of his “The Power of Five” article: “You are the average of the five people around you…You are the average of the five things that inspire you the most…My thoughts are the average of the five things I think about…My body and mind are the average of the five things I ‘eat.’…I am the average of the five things I do to help people each day.”

Remember this: You are the average of the five people around you! You’re the average of their intelligence, you’re the average of their looks, you’re the average of their positivity, you’re the average of their creativity, you’re the average of their ambition.

So what’s The Five People Test?

Take a look at the five people closest to you and remember you’re the average of them. There’s you in the middle.

Want to know how positive you are? Average the attitude of the five people you spend time with most.

Want to know how strong a leader you are? Average the leadership qualities of your five closest peers.

Want to know how confident you are? Average the confidence of the five people you hang out with most.

Sure, it’s an approximation, but The Five-People Test shows us who we are…to ourselves. It’s one of the three tests you can use to find your authentic self.

As American philosopher William James said, “Wherever you are it is your own friends who make your world.

____________
Learn more about the Author Neil Pasricha.  Purchase his book -- The Happiness Equation -- here.  
This article was originally printed in Tiny Buddha.  
Do you want to live forever?
Do you want to live forever?  In today’s youth obsessed culture, there is big value placed on staying young.  But how young and for how long?  For most of us, adulthood has been a ride of highs and lows.  There have been amazing years, tough years and some we’d like to erase and re-do.  When I was growing up, my father turned 39 every birthday for 5 years.  Is that a good age to be forever?

The idea of immortality begs many questions.  Primarily, why? What is the value in being on the earth, day after day, year after year, century after century?  What more could we get out of life if we continued to live forever?  Would living forever be the way to ensure that we are not forgotten?

As far as medical advances have come, science has still not found a way to stave off death.  Medicine can certainly prolong the experience of living with illness. ICUs are full of people who are alive merely because there is electricity supplied to machines which are pumping hearts and delivering oxygen. They are alive because the machines keep them that way.  At what point is this deemed “living” as opposed to “not medically dead”?  Would they want to stay attached to the machines forever?

Death is useful as it marks the end of disease and physical suffering.  Imagine being 567 years old with bad knees for 3 centuries, incontinence, terrible eyesight, impotence and a heart terrible condition.  There would certainly be no surprise birthday parties for you!  And birthdays would lose their meaning after the 300th revolution around the sun, don’t you think?  As would holidays, springtime, the presidential elections, and any other occasion which marks the passage of time.

In order to make living forever enjoyable, we’d have to eradicate disease and degeneration all together.   And while medicine has made may advances, it has yet to find a cure for the most common diseases of our time.   This hasn’t stopped some companies and individuals from seeking ways around death.  Last year, a couple in Thailand had the brain of their 2 year old daughter cryogenically frozen moments after her death in hopes that she’ll be brought back to life when science catches up to this desire.  In her brief life, she was a light; loving and kind.  And her swift rare brain cancer robbed her of a full life and an opportunity to share her light with the world.  Her parents, medical engineers, wish for her to have that chance.  She is the youngest person to undergo this treatment and her nickname was Einz—German meaning the number one.

As of 2014, over 250 people have been cryogenically frozen.  The foundation of cryonics is that death is a process and not an event.  It seeks to prevent loss of information within the brain that encodes memory and personal identity.  It also rests on the belief that aging itself will be a treatable, reversible condition as medicine attains full control of the human body.  In cases where only the brain is preserved, cryonics believes that the brain cells can be prodded to regrow the body in the process that made the body in the first place.

If this all sounds like science fiction, at best it’s an interesting idea in the field of immortality.   It is also hope for those who want to live forever.   Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, transhumanist, author of Virtually Human, and pioneer in the world of artificial intelligence stands by the motto “death is optional.”  If it is and people can live on healthy and happy, keep the party going!  However, what would you do with your life that you aren’t doing in this finite life span you have now? My father eventually turned 40.  May I also have the honor to grow old one day.  Eventually.

Designing Your Best Life: An Interview with Pernille and Sine Maria Spiers-Lopez
Pernille Spiers-Lopez is a coach, mentor, public figure, and author.  She previously served as the President and CEO of IKEA North America, as well as Global Chief HR Manager for IKEA. Pernille and her daughter Sine Maria jointly cofounded Good Life Designed, a complete resource center, network, and community for supporting individuals in living their best life.  Shyft was grateful to sit down with both Pernille and Sine Maria in the heart of Long Beach, California, and engage in a dynamic conversation about relationships, seasons, and the importance of exploration.  

MV:  Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us and share your story.  Pernille, can you share with me how you transitioned from your corporate position with Ikea to your current work as a coach, mentor, author?

Pernille:  For the duration of my career, I was very much an expert at piling more and more on my plate, doing more, working harder, working faster.  At 40, in the middle of my career, I ended up having a panic attack that landed me in the Emergency Room.  I was fortunate to have my mentor, Ulf, with me at the time, who was senior to me, and had mentored me for many years.  I remember him telling me, "Pernille this is the best gift you could ever wish for."

I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. It turned out to be true. It was a turning point. This is when I realized I had to stop, reflect, pause and take care of myself.  I have been trying to include this in my life ever since. After the anxiety attack I did take on two big jobs - one heading up IKEA North America followed by Global HR. I have no doubt that the trip to the hospital prepared me for those new challenges. I took them on with a much higher awareness. After two and a half years as global HR manager and commuting between Chicago and Amsterdam, I realized that my season at IKEA was coming to a close. I also realized, that nothing can grow in an overgrown forest.  If I wanted to create time for what was meaningful, I had to clear other things away.

As I prepared for a life without IKEA, I promised myself I would take a year off and not say yes to anything. I had to learn how to go to a party and answer the question, "What do you do?", with the answer, "I quit my job, and I am learning how to do nothing."  It was a lesson in not attaching myself to my title, and learning how to be okay with being nobody, essentially.  I also realized I was afraid of being forgotten, of not having a "big job" to define me.

Around the same time, I realized that I had gained so many tools from my years mentoring and coaching at IKEA.  My children were growing up, and I knew that I had to find a way to reinvent my relationship with them.  I wanted to be able to share with them all that I had learned, and create an opportunity for us to have more meaningful conversations.  It was then that I started organizing retreats with my daughter, our close friends and family, in order to be able to share those conversations together.

SINE MARIA SPIERS-LOPEZ
SINE MARIA SPIERS-LOPEZ

Sine:  My background is in event planning and hospitality in Los Angeles.  I loved the idea of creating beauty, and making people feel special and welcome.  Our retreats are a perfect opportunity for me to continue doing that, while working with my mother to learn from her, and enhance our ability to communicate well with each other as we both entered new phases of our lives. We have now created Good Life Designed together, and have just launched our online course.  It is another way for us to share tools and resources with individuals looking to create a meaningful life.

MV:  Tell me about the inspiration behind your book, "Design Your Life", and the online course as well.

Pernille:  I realized while I was at IKEA that many individuals spend so much time designing their perfect kitchen, and yet don't put the same thought, effort, and planning into designing their ideal life.  We live in a time where we are told, "You can do anything!"  We are told, "Follow your passion!"  But what does that mean exactly?  How does one go about doing that?

My book was intended to share the idea that we are all ultimately responsible for creating the life of our dreams, and providing a map of sorts as to how to do that.  I don't pretend to have all of the answers for people.  But I can share what I know, and can help people through my own experience, by asking them the right questions.  The online course is a similar tool.  We wanted the course to be an opportunity for people who might not have the time or money for coaching or a retreat or workshop, to still learn the same process.

Sine:  It is especially important to me that we don't promise to have all of the answers or be "experts."  For me, it is necessary for me to go through my own journey of exploration, defining what I want to do in this life.  I can't use other people's answers, and I can't compare myself to other peoples' standards.  But I can use these tools as a guide to help me sit with the anxiety that goes along with that process of self discovery.

MV:  Can you give me an example of one of the tools that you talk about in the "Design Your Life" book and course?design-your-life_web__large

Pernille:  One of the tools that I find particularly important is a journaling practice.  We learn what we think by taking the time to write it down.  I discovered "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron, and I loved her idea of morning pages, where you sit down and write out three pages every morning. Eventually, you stop writing about what happened yesterday, and you start to get to what lies underneath all of the busy-ness in the mind.  Journaling can provide a great deal of clarity when we feel muddied.  When I left IKEA, I committed to 100 days of consistent journaling, and it was an invaluable part of my finding my way forward.

MV:  What have you learned over the years about how change happens for individuals?

Pernille:  I realized that sometimes peoples' lives are really chaotic and there is a loud and clear message that things need to change.  But sometimes, things are pretty good...you might have your "perfect job", two kids, a marriage, and yet, there is that quiet whisper inside that tells you that you are still not happy.  That something needs to shift, perhaps something small, and perhaps something big.  It is okay to not settle, even when everything looks good on the surface, especially when you hear that voice inside calling you towards something else.

Pernille Spiers-LopezI also know that failure is a critical part of change.  When things are good, we kind of...coast.  But when we fail, when we face adversity, disappointment, that is when we really get to grow.  We are so afraid of failure, but now I say, to those who fail, "I salute you!"  It means you are trying, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and embracing an opportunity to learn.

Sine:  For me, I have learned that it is okay to not have all of the answers for myself right now.  It is okay for me to take time to explore what might fit for me, and what might not fit for me, even if other people feel like my career should be defined in a certain way by now.  People reinvent themselves many times over during the course of their lives, and it is okay to allow ourselves to grow and change and evolve from one thing to the next when we realize it is time.

MV:  One final question for you both.  What inspires you?

Pernille:  What inspires me?  Connection with other people inspires me.  I believe that everyone has unlimited potential and possibility in their life.  I had a father who believed that I could do anything, and so I believed it too.  At the same time, I realize not everyone is given the same hand in life, and so I also believe in the importance of social justice, the importance of leveling the playing field.  I work with Save The Children and coach and mentor a number of people.  It is deeply important for me to do so.  I am inspired by the opportunity to give back, to give all of these experiences, skills, knowledge, away to other people who might benefit.

Sine:  I am inspired by beauty, by celebration, and by meaningful connection.  I was able to manifest all of those qualities in my work as an event producer, and now, in my work with Good Life Designed.

MV:  Thank you both for sharing your time and wisdom with us!

To learn more about Pernille and Sine Maria Spiers-Lopez, and their offerings and tools for living your best life, please visit their website at www.goodlifedesigned.com.  To access their online course directly, please visit Goodlifedesigned.mykajabi.com.

Please also stay tuned for a future retreat co-hosted by Good Life Designed and Shyft!

Managing Fear Using Martial Arts
Fear is a most pernicious thing.  As an emotion, it is capable of submerging us so completely that we can no longer even recognize how it rules our every moment.

There are the primal fears, of course, such as concern over one's physical safety.  But there are also fears associated with emotional trauma, which left unchecked, can rob us of the ability to be vulnerable and open with the people we care about and even worse, push them away.  Other coping mechanisms can involve escapist routes, such as excessive drinking, substance abuse, video gaming, or over-work.  These defensive coping mechanisms are all simply a means of psychological protection in a world we are afraid to explore, be it the world outside, or the one inside.

While walling ourselves away does keep us emotionally safe, it does so at a significant cost.  It is simply not healthy. Like a shut-in who refuses to go outside for fear of encountering some possible physical threat, emotional shut-ins never truly reveal themselves to others, either by evading or armoring against all they encounter.  And while the cost of never leaving one's home is readily apparent, the cost of never opening one's heart is less so but no less harmful.

I have observed in myself how my own personal fears have created negative patterns in my life.  In trying to work with it, I have tried lessening fear's insistent influence through a variety of ways with varying degrees of success: certain substances that can effectively reboot your brain for a period of time, allowing to see the world in a more relaxed, unencumbered state.  Talk therapy, which can be very helpful.  And martial arts, which of all my experiences, has been the most effective for me in terms of its overall effect and durability as a discipline.

On its face, the pursuit of martial arts is the development of a physical skill for self-defense, which is certainly an important facet that addresses any physical insecurities that people may have.  But it also has a significant impact on emotional health and resiliency as well.  It is a path, which when traveled, can gradually clear certain shadows from the mind.

At its core, a true martial art will teach us how to be strong, relaxed, and present in the face of extremely adverse circumstances.  Success in this endeavor requires the fusion of mental, spiritual and physical into a singular purpose and focus through dedicated training.  And with each step in this type of training, you are training yourself how to be in an operational state of total presence in the face of incredibly stressful situations.

Fear cannot survive in the mind that is present.

And make no mistake, this does not mean you need to beat people up, in fact, it is probably preferable that during your training, you are bested.  Often.  This process of repeatedly losing, standing back up, and trying again, over and over, shows us that we have a resiliency and toughness that has some threshold that we have yet to find.  You learn to be humble, but in a way that is very, very strong.

After some amount of this kind of intense training, it will carry over into all facets of your life, instilling an internal strength that allows you to be more relaxed and free when confronting challenges elsewhere.

This strength is what permits an open heart.

If you are new to this road, it may be difficult to find all the necessary ingredients if you don't know what you're looking for in an art or training environment.  I think there are many characteristics here that help compose a good situation, which could probably use some more exploration. But here are a few to note:

1.   Seek a culture based on mutual respect with no tolerance for unhealthy egos and attitudes.  If you find an environment with bullies, or one that is just an outlet for an teacher's ego, keep looking.

2.   Find a training system that requires you to spar, and spar hard (but safely).  You're not going to get much from training forms all day.  This also creates a tight community where each member trusts each other completely.

3.  Choose an art that emphasizes defense and technique over aggression and force.  You will usually find better people there.

The essential ingredient, however, is you. It is your purpose and intention that ultimately dictates the journey and the experience that occurs for you. There will be ups and downs, perhaps some interesting turns.  However, if your compass is true, you will never be lost.

 

Learning From A Legend: Reflections On Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali began his training in 1954, at the tender age of 12, and retired in December of 1981.  He stood up to many more challenges outside the ring than inside the ring.  In truth he was a fighter in both arenas, up until the day he died.

As the world mourns the death of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., I thought this a fitting time to reflect on how this man, the greatest, impacted the world for the better.  His golden heart and silver tongue worked together to create slogans in the minds of millions of fans worldwide.  His mantras can get you fired up in the morning and keep you going in the face of the most challenging odds.

Ali’s career began when he informed a police officer of his intention to whip a robber who had made off with his bike. The officer went on to show him how he might channel his frustrations in a more constructive and uplifting manner.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Muhammed went on to achieve a breathtaking list of accolades in sport.  But he never sacrificed his mission of peace.  He was a rights activist throughout his career.  A firm advocate of religious freedom and racial justice, Ali maintained, “hating people because of their color is wrong and it doesn’t matter which color does the hating, it’s just plain wrong.”

Niosha ShakooriI often consider, when I become frustrated at the smallest hint of a challenge, the way he rose up after being beaten down, time and time again, amassing a string of legendary victories in his wake.  Although he said he hated every minute of training, he believed in the motto, “Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” His spirit was unquenchable.  His strength and lust for life was contagious.  In 1981, he actually talked a man out of jumping of a ninth floor ledge, persuading him to keep on living.

A cat may have nine lives but that doesn’t compare to the fact that this man successfully raised nine children, who revere him as a father, all the while maintaining his position as a World Champion and campaigning for human rights.  As for how many lives he must have worked through, I can’t begin to fathom.  Diagnosed with Parkinsons back in 1984, it was occasionally rumored he would be dead within days, only to find him up and about years later.  His twin daughters recently told CNN that, although they hardly remember him without Parkinson's, he was the perfect father and role model, the kindest man they have ever known.

I wonder if the man who once refused him a drink of water in a store when Ali was a boy, on account of his color, ever realized he had dismissed a legend.  His activism became known when he refused to be conscripted in 1966, citing his opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam war.  That’s not to say he was afraid, as he proved on the countless occasions in which he faced and outsmarted death in the ring.  He was a messenger of peace for the UN in later years, protesting the war in Afghanistan, still fighting the good fight.

It’s been said that Ali changed the standard of what constituted an athlete’s greatness.  Indeed, he believed that unless you use that heart of gold and silver tongue to make a positive impact on the world and uphold the motto of peace, you are nothing more than self-serving.  “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Muhammad-Ali-Quotes-14

As I sit looking through a list of Ali’s quotes, I am dumbfounded that they all came out of the mouth of just one man. So outstanding was he that I’m quite sure that millions of people who have never even heard of him, use his mantras ("Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.").  Other than a tremendous champion and humanitarian, I also like to remember him as something of a comedian…as he once said, “It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

TRATO: Living In Unity With The Ocean
AS MY FATHER USED TO SAY, fighting against injustice is a victory in itself. These words made a lasting impression on me and became increasingly louder after his passing in 2009. Growing up in Southern California and cultivating a spiritual relationship with the Pacific Ocean, my desire to protect its beauty was constantly reinforced.

The more I educated myself about the dynamics of our seas, the more I felt uneducated. The gaping discrepancy between humans and their level of consciousness to the ocean is apparent now more than ever. We have yet to make the connection, thus subconsciously fail to live in harmony with it. We function from a limited programmed mindset that ultimately adds momentum to the already devastating truth of over-fishing, shark-finning, pollution, etc.

Because my father modeled that one person can truly make a difference in the wealth and health of nature, I committed to doing the same. Back in 2013 I started this venture with only an idea and a vision of purpose. Shortly after TRÄTO, an activist driven clothing line was born. TRÄTO, To Rescue Animals of The Ocean, was the actualization of my passion to encourage our surf community and those who, like myself, experience the spiritual connection with the sea and want to take a stance against its demise.

The response thus far has been overwhelming. Never did I know so many of us are already connected with like-minded passions and consciousness. Just recently TRÄTO became a foundation, an official 501c(3), allowing us to broaden our reach. The TRÄTO Foundation was created to not only inspire us to live in unity with the ocean but to influence our youth, as they are the greatest weapon against future environmental decline.

My intention is for our kids to make the connection by seeing the connection so they are inspired with a sense of hope that they can have a voice and they can in fact make a difference. With this foundation we will work to educate our kids on ways to live in such a way that runs in harmony with bringing back the vitality of sea life. Without the opportunity for our kids to be educated on this matter, their generation may not be able to bear witness to the oceans beauty like we have been gifted with. 100% of proceeds from our apparel go directly into the non-profit allowing us to spread this message of hope around the world. It affords those willing to do the work to lead the way for future generations.

TRATO was started by Tiffany Rose Vandersloot, an Orange County native who is passionate about advocating for the animals of the ocean, and related environmental causes.  She believes in educating children to be conscious and respectful citizens of nature.  

5 Things We All Need To Be Happy

My work as a psychotherapist varies all the time, and it differs with every person who sits in front of me. No two people are the same, and even when two people experience an almost identical set of experiences and difficulties, their journey through that is completely unique.

For therapy to be effective then, it has to be fluid and tailored to the individual person. Having said that however, there is something that I keep coming back to time and time again.

Everything we do in life is a behavior, and all of our behaviors are motivated by one of two things. To feel good, or to avoid pain. Whether we realize it or not, in order to feel good we strive to satisfy the basic psychological needs that all of us have. It's not possible to be happy unless we are satisfactorily meeting these needs.

In my experience, Choice Theory has been the most effective way to help people understand what their psychological needs are. Once we understand them, we can choose to satisfy them through behaviors that are more beneficial to us in terms of creating the life we want. Choice Theory explains our psychological needs as follows.

1: Survival. Our need for survival is both psychological and physiological. It is a primal need that is hard wired into us in order to ensure the continuation of the species. It is our need for food, shelter, warmth, sex for procreation, and in today's world - money. If our need for survival is threatened (for example by homelessness or tragedy) it takes priority over all of our needs and becomes our only concern. Once Survival is satisfied sufficiently, the rest of our needs come into consideration.

2: Freedom. This is the need to have autonomy and freedom of choice in our lives. It is our need to feel that we are in control of what we do and how we do it. We always have choices, but sometimes these choices can be severely restricted by circumstance. The more we feel trapped or powerless to choose our paths in life, the more frustrated this need becomes.

3: Power. This is our need for recognition and responsibility. Anything that helps us to feel empowered will go towards satisfying this need. In today's world a great many people strive to meet this need in hurtful and destructive ways. The healthy way to meet your need for Power is not by trying to control the people around you as so many of us do. It is by choosing behaviors that cause you to strengthen and grow. Behaviors and actions that cause you to become better than the person you were yesterday.

4: Love & Belonging. Outside of Survival, this could be our greatest need as human beings. We all want to feel like we belong in the world. We all need connection, intimacy, friendship and love. More of our behaviors are unconsciously driven by this need than by any of the others. No man is an island, and as human beings we need each other to thrive. Our western culture has long since moved towards independence and individualization, and unsurprisingly we have far more mental health problems than cultures that still value community over the individual.

5: Fun. Our need for Fun is exactly as it sounds. We have a basic psychological need to have fun. Mostly we understand that fun is nice and it's a great thing to have in our lives, but still we underestimate its importance. Rather than being a nice thing to include if possible, once we've taken care of everything we that we feel we have to do, Fun is vital for our happiness. Like the other psychological needs, if our need for Fun goes unsatisfied, our happiness declines and will eventually disappear.

Now that you know the 5 things that you need to be happy, you are better equipped to make the right choices for you. Our feelings are a barometer that tells us how well we are meeting our needs. When we're happy, we know our psychological needs are being met. When we're not so happy, we now know what to look at so we can make the changes we need to make.

3 Life Lessons from Chewbacca Mom
If you haven't seen this yet, you absolutely must. watch. this. video.  Happy Chewbacca mom has gone viral, and for good reason.  I was on the floor, couldn't catch my breath, tears running down my eyes, hysterical with laughter while watching.  Take a look for yourselves in the video below.

I watched this video over and over again, every time better than the first.  And the more I watched, the more I realized there were some pretty important life lessons about happiness that could be taken away.  Here we go:

  1. Let's take ourselves a little less seriously.  I mean really people.  If there is one thing Happy Chewbacca Mom isn't, it's self conscious.  She is not afraid to be herself.  She is not afraid to be or look stupid.  She could give two flying figs what others think of her.  Happy Chewbacca Mom is fully herself, in a way that nobody else could be, and that is what draws us to her.  Her ability to be crazy, silly, weird, and embrace it all, is beyond reproach.  We could all use a little more of that in this life.
  2. Let's laugh more.  Happy Chewbacca Mom keeps cracking herself up with her mask and its garbled noises.  The more she laughs, the more we laugh.  Her laugh is more contagious than the flu.  I can't remember the last time my stomach hurt and I just couldn't stop laughing deep belly laughs...and then I realized I need to do this way more often.  Afterwards my blood pressure was down and I wasn't so worried about paying the bills and what to make for dinner.  Everyone looked a little more attractive and I felt nicer.  We all need to laugh more.  It's good for the soul.
  3. Let's be kids again.  When was the last time you bought a toy for yourself to play with?  Part of the reason we love Happy Chewbacca Mom is because she bought this mask for herself and no one else.  We all need to play more.  We all need to dress up and dance and play with dolls and jump on trampolines and run through sprinklers and wear masks for no reason at all.  We all need to adult a little less and find our way back to our regressed, carefree selves.  There is such unbelievable freedom to be found in that place.

I hope you watch Happy Chewbacca Mom over and over the way I did and take away your own lessons about happiness.   Perhaps we over complicate what it means to be happy.  Maybe happiness is really about these small moments, being our weird selves, cracking ourselves up, and living for the sheer joy of those experiences.

Let's all do a little more of that, and make love and laughter viral the way Happy Chewbacca Mom did.  We will all be better off for it.  And maybe happiness really is that simple sometimes.

5 Ways to Supercharge Your Motivation

Motivation is essential for overcoming challenges in life. From losing weight and getting in shape, to landing a new job or finding a loving mate, motivation is key.

The problem is like water motivation ebbs and flows. Some days you wake up filled with energy and hope, ready to hit the gym, eat right, network and tackle your to-do list. Other days you feel like sleeping in, lazing around the house and binge watching your favorite TV shows.

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do when motivation ebbs to get it flowing again. Here are 5 ways to get your motivational mojo back on track:

1. Acceptance

First accept that this is the way you (and most humans) are. We all have good days and bad days. Periods of high energy are typically followed by periods of low vitality. When you accept and understand the rhythmic cycle, you can engage in activities that coincide with your level of energy. On up days you can expand more energy and fully engage and enjoy life generating health and happiness. On low energy days you can cultivate peace and calm and replenish physical and mental energy by enjoying nourishing meals and getting more rest.

2.  Plan and Set Goals

You can’t create what you want in life without a roadmap. Defining your goals, what you want and how to get there, will help you keep the wheels moving forward even on down cycle days. Take some time to define your core values. Write-up a plan to help you achieve what you want. Set some short, medium and long-term goals. Ask yourself where do I want to be in a 3-months, 6-months and a year from now? Then create SMART (SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) to guide your daily and weekly actions.

3.   Get Accountable

Knowing you have to report to someone can help you get back on track fast. Just make sure your accountability buddy isn’t judgmental. Consider hiring a coach. Not only will she help you stick to your plan, a good coach will enable you to reach your goals far more quickly and powerfully than you ever could on your own.

4.   Create Habits

Forming a routine around self-care habits is key to permanent change and maximizing motivation. Start with one positive habit you want to develop and then create a habit loop to make it happen. A habit loop is a cue, followed by the habit and then a reward.

To create a habit loop find a simple, obvious cue to remind you to perform the behavior and a reward for when you’ve completed it. For example, if you want to exercise first thing in the morning, fill up your water bottle the night before (cue), put your sneakers by your bed or the door (another cue) and lay your exercise clothing out so you’ll get up and get going (another cue). When you’re done reward yourself with a hot shower, a few minutes of leisure time or a tasty, healthy snack.

5.   Self-compassion

Motivate yourself by self-care and self-compassion rather than self-criticism. While we all have a critical voice that tells us “I eat too much,” I don’t exercise enough,” “I should work harder” or “I procrastinate,” … it’s not the best motivator. Although it means well, our critical voice makes us feel bad about ourselves, especially when we don’t meet a goal or sleep in instead of going to the gym. This criticism can leave your feeling sad and depressed which can send you right back into a negative, down cycle. Don’t let it! Remember, you are in control.

If you’re tired and lack energy and motivation stop dragging yourself through the day. Take care of yourself and follow my 5-step plan to recharge your batteries. And before you know it your motivation will be right back on track.

Changing The World, One Child At A Time
I had the pleasure of sitting down over Skype with John Marshall.  John was making a temporary stop from his world travels at his brother's home in Andover, Massachusetts, while I was across the country in my office in Newport Beach.  We enjoyed a long talk about how he transitioned from becoming a nine-time Emmy award-winning producer, to an author and philanthropist advocating for orphan children around the globe.  

MV:  John!  Thank you so much for sitting down with me.  Can you share with us your background, both personal and professional??

John:  Of course.  My hometown is in New Hampshire.  My initial degree was in business administration, but I discovered I really didn't like business administration, so I eventually went on to build a career as a screenwriter and television producer.  I have two children, a son who is 23 and a daughter who is 21.  I loved being a father and tried to make the most of the short time we get to spend with our kids. When they were teenagers, we had reached a crossroads as a family, and decided to take a year off, traveling around the world and volunteering. 

I spent time in some amazing places, but ultimately I fell in love with the children at the Good Shephard Agricultural Mission, a large orphanage in Banbassa, India.  I eventually wrote a book, Wide Open World, about our time volunteering.  After our year abroad, I realized I had discovered a new passion, which was to help discover and support orphan champions around the world—people on the ground, doing good work, to save and care for these forgotten kids.  My non-profit, New Orphanage, is my way of giving back.

MV:  What a trajectory it has been for you.  I know you now spend the majority of your time traveling and continuing to support and serve at the orphanage in India, as well as some other orphan projects in Africa that you’ve helped found.  What is your current lifestyle like?  What have been the pluses and minuses for you?  

John:  Thanks to my book sales, it has been several years now since I’ve had to hold a traditional job. In that time, after my daughter went away to school, I sold my house and started traveling, ultimately finding my true calling with these orphaned and abandoned children. Caring for orphans has been the most rewarding work I’ve ever been a part of, but there have been some trade-offs.  For example, my daughter is currently in college, and misses her childhood home to return to in the summers. My life is now full of adventure but much less stable, which can be hard on her. While I love her like few things on this earth, I love lots of kids and feel torn at times. How to have the maximum impact? How do I use my time effectively and still be a good dad? It’s a constant balancing act but we’re figuring it out.

John Marshall

MV:  Tell me about your passion for orphans in particular.  What about this cause is dear to your heart?

John:  When I first learned about the plight of orphaned and abandoned children around the world, I wanted to save them all. UNICEF puts the number of such children at around 153 million, and that’s a really big number. To put it in perspective: If you were to stack 153 million dollar bills one on top of the other, that pile would be more than ten miles high!  It would be hard to wash 153 million socks, much less feed and clothe and love 153 million children. Very quickly, I began to feel overwhelmed. When you look at the problem all at once, it’s easy to feel defeated before you even start.

But then I realized, that huge number is just made up of individuals. One child and one child and one child. They’re not statistics, not a faceless mass. These are children we are talking about. Like your children and my children and every child we’ve ever loved. So then I thought: If I could help one child, and then another, that would be a start. I found that when I focused on helping the single child and not trying to save the whole world, the process became much less about ego and more about service.

One person at a time is the way we connect, anyway. So I use my skills as a writer and TV producer to tell stories about individuals that might help inspire people, to connect with them emotionally. Big, faceless numbers never moved anyone. It’s always the story of one that motivates people to act. Like the single Syrian baby washed up on shore. It makes the crisis personal.

Here in America, we don’t see starving children begging in the street. Orphans in Zimbabwe or India might as well be on the moon for all the connection we feel with them day to day. But I guarantee, if you meet these children that live and struggle in these far off places, you will fall in love with them. So that’s what I try to do. I tell stories to make the world feel something and, hopefully, to act. In many ways, my years of experience in the TV business now feel like practice for this work. These children are certainly the best clients I’ve ever worked for.

MV:  What do you think orphan children need the most?

John:  I think they need what any child needs.  They need what your son and daughter need, or what my son and daughter need.  Yes, food, clothing, shelter, and education...but beyond that, they need someone to love them, care for them, spend time with them, encourage them.  And they need just regular fun!  At the Indian orphanage I visit, we spend time putting on a huge summer camp we call Summer Games that’s full of new experiences and late nights and a little friendly competition. Fun is what makes childhoods memorable and I love offering these kinds of memories to kids who began life without much play at all.  

The truth is: serving these kids feels like the perfect exchange to me. If you ask them: Who gives more? You or Uncle John (which is what they call me), they would say that I give more. They don’t think they are giving anything at all. But if you ask me, I say the exact opposite. What these kids give to my life is infinitely more than valuable to me than what I am giving away. So it goes beyond win-win. Everyone feels like they’re giving nothing and everyone feels like they’re getting everything!

2. Holi at the orphanage

MV:  What would you advise the average citizen who wants to help, but can't or won't leave their job to do so?  

John:  I would say to get involved with the cause that feels close to your heart.  For reasons we don't understand, we all feel a connection to different causes.  Perhaps some care about the rainforest or animals, even if they have never been to a rainforest or seen an endangered animal in the wild. 

I was once asked at a book signing, "John, why don't you help children in America, instead of India or Africa?"  And I said: "I’m not sure. Why are our hearts touched by something and not something else?"  For whatever reason, I feel drawn in particular to those children, but if someone feels particularly drawn to children in America, go for it!  They all need us. Whatever you feel in your heart, whatever small step you can take, just do it.  There is so much collective need, like a giant ocean.  If each person tackles just one drop, eventually we will get there.  We are all part of the same team.

I started the New Orphanage project also in order to help people know which organizations they can trust.  I have seen far too many charities and orphanages that were scams, where all the money went to corrupt adults, rather than to the children.  Through the New Orphanage project, I personally visit and assess which individuals and organizations are reliable, trustworthy, and fiscally responsible, and help connect them to people willing to help.  It is a way to expand my reach.

MV:  Yes.  If we all did our own part, the collective impact could be massive.  My final question for you John.  Can you share with me what inspires you?

John:  What inspires me?  Well, I think about how, these days, if you listen to the news, you would think the whole world is in freefall, that the end is near.  But when you actually get out into the world, when you meet the world, you find committed, passionate people everywhere.  And then I realize, this world is going to be okay.  These people are my inspiration.

And of course, I’m inspired by the children of the world. Through no fault of their own, these kids were given a challenging start in life. Abuse, abandonment, hunger, fear. And yet, they are some of the most joyful kids you will ever meet. They are not just a reminder of all that we have, they are a reminder of what gratitude looks like, what unconditional love feels like and what a difference we can all make when we take the time to reach out and lift one of them up. They are my inspiration. No doubt.

MV:  Thank you John, for your time, and for sharing your experiences with our readers!

To learn more about John Marshall, his project New Orphanage, his book, Wide Open World, and his upcoming book, Mission, please visit his website, www.johnmarshall.com.

The Adolescent Brain on Meditation
Those of us in the field of mental health and addiction recovery have known for years—through personal experience and observation—that mindfulness practice is an incredibly powerful tool for healing. Now science is backing that up, unquestionably.

Take this stat, for example: A review study at Johns Hopkins found that the effect of meditation on symptoms of anxiety and depression was exactly the same as the effect of antidepressants. That’s right, exactly the same.

Meditation has also been proven to reduce “wandering mind,” which is associated with unhappiness; increase empathy; decrease ADHD symptoms; and improve concentration and attention. Two groundbreaking studies by Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard Medical School showed that meditation enhances areas of the brain associated with well-being, self-regulation, and learning—and decreases the volume of the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.

Of particular interest to me is the research showing a link between meditation and recovery from addiction, such as the study in which mindfulness practice proved more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes than the American Lung Association’s “freedom from smoking” program. Another study, conducted at Boston Latin School by the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (KIEL) and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, indicated that yoga practice (which includes a strong mindfulness component) could decrease adolescents’ willingness to smoke cigarettes.

According to Sat Bir S. Khalsa of Harvard Medical School, the KIEL’s research director, “Qualitative data collection reveals that adolescents are less anxious and sleep better after doing yoga; in addition, their self-awareness and ease in their body increase, and their worldview begins to shift toward a more positive alignment.”

The data is clear: Mindfulness works.

So what does this feel like from the inside, particularly for those in recovery? My friend Angel Grant—who’s a yoga teacher and cofounder with me and Michael Hebb of Drugs Over Dinner—describes it beautifully: “By practicing meditation, you’re able to gently develop a capacity to witness pain as it happens inside you without letting the stories your mind tells you cause you to act self-destructively. Meditation teaches us to wake up from the habits of our mind so we have clear, conscious choice in our actions. By practicing sitting still in silence—especially when I didn’t want to, when I didn’t ‘have time,’ or when it was wildly uncomfortable—and developing compassion for whatever showed up inside me, all the self-judgment and self-deprecation, my neuropathways were rewired.”

Meditation works simultaneously on the physiological and psychological levels: As the brain and biological markers change, the capacity for resilience and self-understanding expands. “Anything that increases awareness helps with the struggle with depression, anxiety, and substance use,” says Newport Academy psychiatrist Michel Mennesson, M.D. In terms of adolescents, he says, “increasing awareness actually increases maturation—particularly if the practice is done in an environment leading to increased connection with others who understand your challenges.” That’s why mindfulness practice is an integral component of our curriculum at Newport Academy. It’s vital that we take advantage of the neuroplasticity of the adolescent brain in order to effect positive change.

Meditation is one of the best tools we have to create that positive change. Evidence-based research shows that it’s as powerful as antidepressants and increases overall happiness and resilience through multiple mechanisms. It has no dangerous side effects, and it’s free. So why aren’t doctors prescribing teenagers a practice of mindfulness instead of a cocktail of pharmaceuticals? Why isn’t our health-care system paying closer attention to information that could completely shift the way we treat mental illness and substance abuse in this country, for adolescents and for people of all ages?

When this happens, we’ll see more and more people, including many whose suffering has been untouched by conventional methods, achieve the long-term, sustainable healing that Angel Grant has found in meditation. “Through practice and grace, the operating system inside my head has been rebooted,” says Grant. “New pathways have been created in my brain. Heroin and cocaine can no longer compete with the depth of connection I’ve experienced.”

Originally published in Psychology Today

Jamison, Founder and CEO of Newport Academy, is a prominent voice in the field of adolescent mental health and addiction treatment. He is an active participant in the movement to reduce social stigma around substance abuse and mental health challenges. Jamison is a writer, spokesperson, yoga teacher, and fierce advocate of holistic learning and compassionate care for struggling teens.

Balance 2.0
Ying Zhao Liu, Design Director at LinkedIn and zen temple resident, recently said at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, "Balance is a zero sum game that we cannot win. Instead, we must focus on integration...balance implies scarcity, integration implies abundance."

I found her statement to be brilliant. I often struggle with compartmentalizing my life, labeling the different parts as "family", "work", "hobbies", "friends", as if they fit into neat little boxes within my world. If one box expands, another by necessity shrinks. And the true reality is that all of those boxes are constantly overflowing, each email and blog post and birthday treat vying for my energy and attention.

This is why the idea of work life integration speaks to my core. I love the idea that who I am, in all of the different parts of my life, is one and the same. The psychiatrist in me influences how I mother, and the mother in me influences how I treat patients. The writer in me helps me create the narratives of my life, bringing creativity and awareness to all parts of my being. Trying to prioritize these identities within me in the quest for "balance" feels like trying to pry apart the five fingers on my hand.

When we speak of integration, we can think of our whole selves operating in all of the different spheres of our lives. The growth of one part only benefits the greater whole. This resonates with me so much more than the idea of balance, where it feels like the different parts of me compete for a finite amount of attention. Integration implies that we have the resources and the energy that we need. There is time, because we will always find a way, eventually, to create space for that which feels important to us.

So how can we bring a little more integration into the fullness of everyday life? Here are three tips to maintain that sense of connection as we navigate our careers, families, and everything else:

1. Stay Present: When we are working, work with full presence and awareness. And when we are with our families, be there with full presence and awareness. When dinner is interrupted by work calls, or work is interrupted by a sense of guilt at missing a class volunteer opportunity, we start to feel fragmented and exhausted. Wherever you are, occupy that moment and that role as fully as you can by tuning into your breath, or feeling your feet on the floor.

2. Find Meaning: No matter the nature of our work, we can almost always connect to a deeper meaning or purpose. Why do we do what we do? How do we serve a need within us, or a need in the world outside of us? What is our little corner of the world? When we can connect to our work as important and meaningful, we can bring our whole heart to what we do. Our work becomes less of a "job", and more an extension of who we are.

3. Allow Rest: When we are motivated and involved, life moves forward at full speed. We give all of ourselves at work, and to our family and friends. We exercise, we volunteer, we cook, we care for parents and children and animals. No matter how integrated life feels, when there is just too much life, things start to fall apart at the seams. Make sure you are building in time for self care and rest. Create time to do nothing at all. Find time to just be. Take things off of the to do list. We all have at least ten or fifteen minutes in a day to decompress and allow ourselves to rest and relax completely in mind, body, and spirit.

Integrating work into the fabric of who we are and our broader lives allows for less fatigue, less burnout, and greater overall satisfaction. How each of us weaves the strands of our lives together varies based on who we are and what is important to each of us. The beauty lies in our ability to be fully who we are, always.

Counting Our Blessings
BOTH our intuition and the science tell us that noticing all of the blessings in our lives can help us be happier. But what is the connection between mindfulness and gratitude? In some ways, we can think of mindfulness and gratitude as related practices that go hand in hand.

For example, when we use our mindfulness skills throughout the day, we are more present and tuned in to our experiences. This gives us the opportunity to really notice opportunities for gratitude that we might have otherwise missed. For example, if we consciously tune into our senses, we can discover a particularly beautiful sunset while driving home from work, or how soft and trusting a child's hands feel in ours.

Interestingly, when we set aside time at the beginning or the end of the day to write in a gratitude journal, or simply reflect on our blessings, we start to pay more attention throughout the day for people, places, and things to add to the list. Just like keeping a food journal makes us more aware of what we eat, keeping a gratitude journal makes us more aware of what we have to be thankful for. And being more aware is exactly what being mindful is about.

Like anything else, gratitude takes practice and effort. Today, I feel especially thankful for a spontaneous conversation I had with my daughter in the car, where she shared with me some challenges she had been experiencing at school. I am thankful for the opportunity to write, to share ideas and thoughts and words and create larger conversations. I am thankful that, as I write this, Friday is around the corner, and there will be time for rest.

If you would like to read more about gratitude, we loved this New York Times article on gratitude, and why it is important to cultivate year round.

5 Ways to “Teach” Kids Mindfulness
Can we actually teach our children how to be mindful? Or are we just trying to preserve the inherent consciousness that they already seem to have? In other words — is mindfulness truly taught, or is it just “unlearned” over time?

I remember watching my children eat when they were four or five years old. If given a cookie, they would turn the cookie delicately over and over in their hands. They would study the texture and composition with their eyes. They might inhale the chocolatey scent. All before taking a single bite. And when they started to eat, they would savor each mouthful, thoroughly enjoying themselves. And the most amazing thing—when their tummies were full, they would put the cookie down and move on, not feeling compelled to continue eating if they were no longer hungry.

Mindfulness with Kids

I find that young children often already have the inherent knowledge of how to live mindfully—its often simply what they do without knowing any differently. They linger on their walks, observing the flowers, turning over rocks, running when their bodies feel like moving, spinning around when their hearts feel like turning.

But these days, when I take them on walks, I am aware of the homework that needs to be completed, or bedtime looming. I urge them to hurry. I start to accelerate in my head. If we don’t get back home in time, we won’t finish dinner and homework in time. If dinner and homework don’t get done, bedtime will be delayed. If we miss our window of opportunity for bedtime, they won’t fall asleep. If they don’t fall asleep, they won’t wake up in time for school. If we are late for school, I will be late for work.

And so on and so forth until I am spinning into the catastrophic implications for the next day, rather than being present for the walk that we are on in the here and now. With the tension in my body and my rushed voice, I put a screeching halt to searching for roly-polys and blowing the dandelions.

Of course we have to balance our mindfulness practices with the logistical needs of day to day life. But I realize I often hurry them when hurrying isn’t necessary, rush them when we have time. Part of this frantic pace is because our kids are often over-scheduled or over-committed. Part of this rushing comes from feeling frazzled ourselves, and projecting that onto our kids.

So these days, my goal isn’t necessarily to teach my kids how to be mindful. It is to get myself out of their way. I try to allow them time to play. To explore. To rest. To breathe. To just be.

It is not easy as they get older, and they are pulled in multiple directions, as are we. It often feels like we are juggling a million balls in the air at once and they are all about to come crashing down. But we try our best to honor the time and space for them to just be who they are, because that is when we find their most centered selves emerging. Or perhaps that is when we are most able to notice.

Here are five tips for preserving mindfulness in our children:

1. Allow for plenty of unscheduled down time: Kids may complain of getting bored, or you may see them get restless. It is important for children to become aware of these emotional states and see them through on their own. Consider refraining from stepping in with solutions or ideas. This process helps them to learn that they can sit with all sorts of emotions, and that emotional states come and go. Often periods of intense creativity arise from boredom and quiet.

2. Model mindfulness: Make time for your own mindfulness practice. Whether you have a formal sitting practice or try to implement conscious awareness throughout your day, make it a priority. Try to minimize multi-tasking, and similarly encourage your kids to do the same. Kids will do what they see us do, more than they will listen to what we say. Use your practice as a springboard to discuss setting intentions, or cultivating gratitude for the small and big blessings of our lives: “I am grateful for the fact that we are all able to sit down together for dinner today.”

3. Ask lots of questions: Ask questions that encourage children to connect to their senses. “What does the air after today’s storm smell like to you?” or, “What do you see in the clouds today?” Using our senses or awareness of our breathing is a way to connect immediately to the present moment. We can also ask our kids questions to consider other people’s feelings, or their impact on others. For example, “There was a new boy in class today? What do you think that was like for him?”

4. Manage your expectations: Kids may not always be in the mood to discuss big picture ideas like gratitude and compassion. Use kid friendly language and consider bringing up such topics in casual passing, or at night before bed when they are relaxed. Some kids may even be open to short meditation practices, like focusing on breath or the flame of a candle. Some kids may not be. It is okay to be brief, or to let it go if they are not receptive. We are just planting seeds. Even the introduction of mindfulness to their developing minds can be helpful.

5. Discover opportunities for compassion: Mindfulness ultimately is one tool to recognize our interdependence, and find ways to relate to one another with an open heart. Discover opportunities for kindness and compassion within your family, and in the larger community. This could mean involving children in a simple service project, or making it a point to use positive, kind language with those we come across.

The amazing thing about “teaching” kids mindfulness, is that it is a journey for child and parent alike. Teacher becomes student becomes teacher. Together we deepen the process of occupying our bodies and living our lives as they unfold before us. There are no mistakes, no right ways or wrong ways, just the ways that work for each family. Let us encourage our children, just as they encourage us, to cultivate a more curious and fully lived life. The process itself is a gift and a blessing for all of us.

Who Makes Your Jewelry?
If you buy jewelry from a major department store, discount store, or chain boutique likely the answer is it is made by people overseas who are underpaid and often working in unsafe conditions. “Who makes my jewelry?” is a question that you should begin asking yourself if you’re not doing so already. For years the fashion industry as a whole has been focused on profit margins and quick turnover (fast fashion) far more than the quality of materials and construction, the health and well being of production workers or environmental sustainability. Happily, that is now beginning to change. We’re finally seeing a groundswell movement of people who care about where the things they buy come from and how they are made.

I’ve been quietly making sustainable jewelry one small batch at a time in my studio for over 20 years- long before there was a slow fashion or sustainable fashion movement. A lifelong lover of jewelry and all things vintage I first starting creating jewelry that was an assemblage of found objects that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill- pieces of old records, credit cards, fabric bits, old plastic toys. As time went on my style evolved but my jewelry always involved using recycled or upcycled materials. About 12 years ago I uncovered a stash of unused vintage beads, chains, and other findings that had been languishing in a dusty old warehouse and knew at that moment that it was my destiny to bring them new life- uttal vintage modern jewelry was born. I combine my vintage components with recycled gold and silver. Currently 90% of everything I make is from sustainable materials and I strive to have it be 100%, including packaging and shipping materials.

In addition to the unsafe working conditions and low pay of jewelry production workers overseas there is also a lot of damage being done in the jewelry industry on the materials end of the equation. Much jewelry is made from materials that do not come from renewable resources- gold, silver, and gemstones. In addition to being non-renewable, these resources are often mined in unethical ways that are toxic to the environment, involve widespread government corruption in developing countries, and are done with little regard to the safety of mine workers or child labor laws.

Today, it is no longer necessary to sacrifice your values and beliefs in the name of fashion. There are many designers like myself who consider sustainability when making every decision in their businesses- from the use of materials in their designs to their packaging and promotional materials. Additionally, businesses like Brilliant Earth only source gemstones from mines that they personally certify as meeting strict labor, trade, and environmental standards.

So, get to know your jeweler. Ask them questions. Find out who makes your jewelry and what they are making it from. Our planet will thank you.

Cebette Uttal is the owner and creative force being Uttal Vintage Modern Jewelry.  

The Truth About My Mindful Parenting
One of the occupational hazards associated with writing numerous articles and a children’s book about mindfulness and parenting is that people expect you to be a mindful parent.

They expect your children to be mindful children.

You might think, on any given day, that my household is calm, with zen music playing, candles flickering and my children peacefully playing or meditating. You might imagine my home looking minimalist, decluttered. Perhaps you think you would find me sitting quietly at the kitchen table with them, a cup of tea in hand, journaling about my next writing project.

Right.

Here is the reality of “mindful parenting” in my household.

My kids are often yelling and screaming at themselves or each other. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know, and they don’t either. They often hit, kick and pinch themselves or each other. Don’t ask me or them why about that either. None of us knows.

Mealtime is a complete circus, often accompanied by candy in exchange for making “healthy choices,” like a half of a strawberry or a micro-molecule of broccoli. There is lots and lots of screen time when mommy needs to hide out in her closet for a break.

And quite often, there I am, impatient, exasperated and frustrated. A favorite phrase that I often find myself saying, over and over again: “How many times do I have to tell you to...?” (insert your demand of choice — get your shoes on, go to the bathroom, finish your homework, keep your hands and feet to yourself, etc. etc). You may see me yelling at them to stop yelling.

You might also see me inhaling a few gummy bears and texting on my phone while (I think) they are not looking.

I share this with you because I don’t want to contribute to unrealistic parenting standards. I also share this with you because I prefer to be transparent about how painful it can be to handle the demands of parenthood, while at the same time, wanting to take in every second, knowing how fast it will go by. And I share this with you because I don’t want myself, or my children, to be held to expectations that we can’t meet.

Yes, I believe in parenting mindfully. To me, this means I hold an intention to raise children who are conscious, compassionate and thankful. But this is clearly a work in progress.

For me, my intention is true. And although there is a lot that I can’t do “right” on a day to day basis, there are also many things that I can do.

I can start over, minute by minute, and hit the reset button when mindfulness has eluded me. I can apologize to my children for yelling or being distracted. I can try to start conversations about who we are and where we are and what we are doing and why, somewhere in the midst of our daily madness.

I can remind myself every now and again to put down my phone and play with them. And even though I don’t “play” very naturally, I can connect to the feeling of gratitude that they still want to play with me, even if I am not always very fun.

I can mindfully connect back, over and over to the hope that somehow I am good enough. And if not, that we are building a framework for them to be able to understand that I am always trying my very best.

Right now, being a mindful parent honestly means starting from a place of compassion for myself, and from there, extending understanding and forgiveness to my children. I can’t expect perfection from myself, and I can’t expect it from them.

I pray that from this space of kindness and loving, flexible boundaries, we can all grow together in the ways we need most.

One day, when my children are grown, maybe there will be candles and tea and peaceful harmony in the home. And that would be beautiful. But today is not that day. So for the present, I will embrace the chaos of each messy moment as best I can. Because I am aware that, not too far from now, I will look back and trade the candles and tea in a heartbeat, just to have a moment of this chaos back.

Martial Arts for Mind, Body, & Soul

I first met Master James when I was searching for a new Tae Kwon Do studio for my 4-year old son.  His previous studio was highly structured– something that did not resonate with my free-spirited little boy.  So it was a breathe of fresh air to walk into CDM Black Belt Center and meet Master James in this new environment.  His approachability immediately put me at ease.

Now, almost three years later, I sit down with Master James, a fourth-degree black belt, to learn about him on a personal level – as James Na -- and not just “Master James.” 

Can you tell me a little about your background? 

I was born in Korea and moved to California when I was 12 years old. I started Tae Kwon Do when I was 10 years old and immediately loved it. I knew from a very young age, I wanted to be a Master and open up my own Tae Kwon Do studio.  Fast forward 15 years later and I opened up my first studio.  CDM Black Belt Center is my second studio that I opened up three years ago. 

I’ve noticed that you incorporate meditation into the classes now.  Is that a component of Tae Kwon Do or your own personal touch?   

It’s not a regular component of Tae Kwon Do. I integrated it into my classes because of the personal changes in my life that resulted from my own meditation practice.   

I started having my students meditate for a minute at the beginning of each class just a few months ago.  But actually when I think about it, Tae Kwon Do itself is meditation or at least a form of meditation. When we are on the mat sparring or in our form – our thoughts are focused on only one thing and that is the moment.

How did the kids react to meditation in the classes?

In the beginning, it was really hard for the young kids to meditate for even just one minute.  But I’ve seen improvement in just the past couple of months.  Most of our kids can now sit in meditation for 3-4 minutes. And, the parents love it.  We have received a lot of positive feedback.

I know for me, I teach best what I most need to learn.  Is that what you would say about meditation for you? 

Yes – I really needed it.  I had a lot of pressure on me – pressure to be the best and the stress that comes with being a small business owner.  My mind was constantly racing back and forth. Meditation definitely helps calm my mind, watch my thoughts, and recognize my emotions.

As a result of my meditation practice, I have more clarity.  It is like I have a 360-view of myself at all times – more self-awareness. It helps me be me.

What do you mean? 

Well, I want to be true to myself. With meditation, I connect with the essence of who I am. I am not distracted or carried away with outside noise -- like what others say or how others react. It helps me stay true to my core -- to know who I am and not who my parents or society what me to be. 

I get a sense you are really hard on yourself.  Is that an accurate perception? 

Maybe so.  There is a lot of pressure that comes with being a Tae Kwon Do Master.  I just want to always ensure my actions and behavior align with my core.  The only way I can do this is by reconnecting with my core on a regular basis.

I also want to make sure that what I provide at CDM Black Belt Center is aligned with who I am and how I behave.  We [me and the other instructors] are the brand of the CDM Black Belt Center.  So, if I want to build a better brand, I have to build a better me.  

I’ve noticed that you have a softer approach to teaching Tae Kwon Do. 

I don’t believe in fear-based teaching.  I believe in positive teaching and reinforcing positive comments.  That’s what motivates students to be and do better. 

What inspires you?

Seeing my students improve not only in their Tae Kwon Do form but more importantly, as human beings.

CDM Black Belt Center

2612 E Coast Hwy

Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Phone number: (949) 644-5577

cdmblackbelt@gmail.com

http://cdmblackbelt.com

An Interview with Fodada: The Fresh Face of Fatherhood
Shyft was grateful to sit down with Bobby Barzi, chief dada and creative visionary behind Fodada.  Fodada is a company built around the invaluable relationship between fathers and their children.  When Bobby is not dreaming big about Fodada's future or designing clothing, he can be seen out on the streets of Orange County with his boys, living and loving the fatherly life.  Bobby inspired us with his powerful vision for Fodada, and why taking small, simple steps to be a conscious parent can be the most invaluable gift of all.

Shyft:  Can you share the inspiration behind starting Fodada?

Bobby:  The inspiration was the incredible experience of becoming a dad. I became a father in 2008, when I had my son Pierce.  Having a son had a dramatic effect on my entire life. I loved it- it was unbelievable in every way, shape and form. It was centering, and it really got me thinking about my own life.

At the time, I was working for an international IT firm on US and European operations. I was fortunate that I had a great deal of flexibility and was able to spend so much time with my son. Being a dad became my life, in a big way! It opened up the opportunity for me to really grow as a parent, partner and person. I couldn’t get enough of it. I felt so much better as a person- and a shift started to happen. Three years later, I had my second son, Royce. I was overjoyed and inspired; having a second son just took everything to another level.

As I spent time with my sons, celebrating this amazing relationship, I was able to meet other dads in the neighborhood.  I realized that we were all having the same incredible experiences, joys and challenges included. It became clear that something was missing from the landscape of how people viewed the experience of fatherhood.  This is how the idea for Fodada was born.

If I could somehow impact a group of fathers in a way that was positive, that effect would be compounded and that impact would multiply across the board: kids, partners, self, community.

But how could I best do that? I contemplated joining a charity or nonprofit but at that time there really wasn't anything serving at that level that I envisioned. So, I started Fodada, a company committed to celebrating and promoting what a great dad can and should mean to a child, a spouse, a family and community.  Fodada was born in 2012.

I recognized that Fodada needed to inspire an open ended dialogue between dads and families that extended beyond specific-moments and activities.  I wanted something tangible, something that continued the conversation over a long period of time while keeping us connected and empowered. That was the main reason I created a clothing line.  Clothing seemed right because it touches everyone and that was important to me. Clothing is something people love, is reasonably priced and is a way to represent our intentions.

Shyft:  What are some challenges you had to overcome in starting Fodada?

Bobby:  Our initial challenge was how to create something that tells a logical story. Once we articulated our vision, the challenge then became, how do we do more, how do we become multidimensional? Thats where our programing came in. We now organize and collaborate on national and global programs such as The Tee that Could, Dad and Me, Womens International Defense Day, Atjoni Library, and Red Beanie Bond. But we are still growing.  There is so much to do.

Shyft:   These are some pretty powerful initiatives. Of these programs, have any surprised you in terms of reach and influence?

Bobby:  The Dad and Me program. Its very simple but powerful--how can we create opportunities for fathers and sons to spend time together?  Today, there is so much data that supports how important this is.  Every part of the household and community benefits when fathers spend time with their children. It benefits everyone!

In the next 6-12 months, Dad and Me will extend to a national and global level. We want to organize a day for cities, universities, sports establishments and businesses to celebrate the bond between dads and kids.  This could be a “Bring Kids to the Office Day" or a city festival.  The main goal is for kids, dads, and partners to walk away knowing how good time together feels!

When children feel that it is a priority for their parents to spend time with them, they will carry that knowledge into their future relationships.  That is the legacy I hope to leave for them.

The second program I love is Womens International Defense Day. The national and global reach of these self defense classes for women has been amazing. I’ve been been asked why Fodada creates programs specifically for women. Every man has a women that is incredibly important to him, be it his wife sister, mom, friends, friends' daughters... their safety and empowerment is critical to all of us. I need my sons to understand how important it is to empower the women around us. At the end of the day, we want to promote balance, in households, and in larger communities. Everyone, male or female, should have a voice, be supported, and feel comfortable and safe.

Shyft:  I’ve heard you say the best gift you we can give a child is time.  That feels very close to my heart. Can you tell me about how spend time with your kids?

Bobby:  I love doing everything with them!  I love just talking to them. I love learning their thoughts and questions. It doesn’t have to be deep. I have fond memories of conversations with my parents and grandparents, and I love being able to create the same feeling with my kids.

I’ve learned there is something special about having these conversations one on one, where they are not looking to impress, compete, or seek validation from one another.  Just individual quality time with dad.  Oh and I love dancing with them. WE LOVE DANCING!

Honestly, I can’t think of anything I don’t like doing with them. I even enjoy the simple non-moments where it is just about the connection.  In fact, those in-between, non-moments are my my favorite memories as a son.

Shyft:  What would you say is the simplest meditation or mindfulness tool that creates the largest shift for you?

Bobby:  I just try to value all my experiences with gratitude. I make it a point to sit and reflect, and convert that appreciation into positive energy.  I find this helps me to navigate through the more challenging situations in life. It is important for me to feel connected in that way.

Shyft:  What inspires you?

Bobby:  My kids of course! But also the unknown in life. I think the beauty of life is that you don’t have control over what will happen.  Life can be so rapid, like a river.  I can either thrash and not get anywhere, or I can chose to be calm and appreciate the beauty of the experience. When I recognize the power in that, it makes it easier to navigate any situation. That's the amazing picture I keep in my head.  That's where I find my clarity, comfort and direction.

Learn more about Bobby and Fodada over at www.fodadawear.com.  

An Interview With Roy Danovitch: Creating Conscious Citizens

Shyft had the great honor and pleasure of sitting down with Roy Danovitch, educator and blogger over at www.thinksoup.org.  Roy shared his thoughts on democratic education, incorporating mindfulness into our schools, and the importance of encouraging dialogue amongst our children. 

Shyft:  Tell us a little bit about your personal and professional background, and how you came to education.

RD:  I was born in Israel and moved to the United States at the age of two years old.  I grew up in LA, and eventually went to a unique school called Crossroads.  I developed an interest in education, which led to my pursuing higher education at UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine.  I taught abroad for several years in Thailand, and eventually returned back to LA.  I had the opportunity to become the Principal of General Studies at a school called Shalhavet High School.  Shalhavet was a very unique place, in that it was a coeducational, Jewish high school that operates as a Just Community. The Just Community is the name for the school's democratic approach to education, which empowers students to participate and engage in very meaningful ways. This model is not very common even in the most progressive schools, many of which place limits on the role students play in making meaningful decisions.  I served as principal for several years, and then decided to pursue further education at Columbia University, where I am currently enrolled in the Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership Program.  I am obtaining my masters, and will stay to get my doctorate as well.  I also enjoy blogging about democratic and just education on my blog, www.thinksoup.org

Shyft:  Can you explain to me what democratic education is about? 

RD:  Of course!  You are not the only one who isn’t familiar with this concept.  Democratic education essentially means that a school believes in cultivating a just and fair community.  There is usually a community meeting or town hall, where all issues pertaining to education within the school are discussed, and students have a right to express their opinions and vote on relevant issues.  This was developed in order to facilitate development of individuals who can think critically about morals and ethics, and eventually translate their thinking into action.  It may not always be the most efficient model, because it takes time to engage faculty, students, and staff in a model where fairness prevails.  But we definitely see a more engaged and accountable student body, varied and interesting approaches to teaching, and decreased burnout in both teachers and students. 

Shyft:  This is fascinating.  I love the idea that students can have a voice and a say in their education, and feel empowered to address issues that concern them.  An important part of such a model, I would imagine, would be encouraging open dialogue amongst members of the school.  In fact, on your blog, you discuss why it is important for students with different interests and backgrounds to come together.  Can you share more about this?

RD:  Yes, I wrote a post that I titled, “Too Much Clubbing,” where I discuss the risk of organized activity and clubs at the high school and college level.  I found that there are so many varied types of clubs, from sports, to common interest groups, to groups formed on common cultural backgrounds, religious backgrounds, political views, and so forth.  On the one hand, this is a good thing, because students can find fellowship and solidarity with group identification.  On the other hand, a campus can easily become divided into fragmented groups, where there is little interaction and dialogue between groups whose ideas and thoughts might differ.  I like to think about a concept that we learn about in education called “the strength of weak ties.”  Although our strong ties are important, our weak ties can be equally important in seeking opportunities, relationships, and just broadening our understanding of our world.  I would like to see us move towards a less insular model, where we can reach out and strengthen those ties with people who differ from us in a meaningful way.  At younger ages, we might consider that, although clubs and organized activity provides some benefit to our children, there is also the trade off of what they miss with downtime and less free play.  In general, I think simpler is better.  We want to create an environment and opportunity for children to discover who they are for themselves, both in and out of school. 

Shyft:  This is so very true.  It is so important for us to be able to learn from those who backgrounds and interests differ from ours, and to broaden our sense of community and connection.  I think this is part of creating compassionate and mindful students.  Can you share with me any personal mindfulness practices, and also how you seek to incorporate mindfulness into the school setting?

RD:  To be honest, I don’t slow down enough to really make as much time for mindfulness practices as I would like.  That being said, I do create time to engage in activities that I believe are inherently mindful.  For me, the act of writing helps me to see my thinking.  It forces me to think more slowly, and become more aware of myself, which is essentially what mindfulness is.  I also find a great sense of peace in reading, because I am never rushing when I read, and I am thinking deliberately.  In terms of schools, I think we can also take creative approaches to mindfulness.  For example, at Crossroads, we had a Council group that developed as a result of our partnership with the Ojai Foundation.  Within the council, we had weekly, deep discussions about topics such as fear, desire, conflict, purpose, and we practiced principles such as listening and speaking from the heart, being spontaneous, and being “lean” in our language.  I also think schools can consider activities such as karate, which encourage focus, attention, discipline, and integration of mind and body. 

MV:  Thank you so much, Roy, for taking the time to share your expertise with us.  We look forward to more from you in future issues! 

Mindfulness As A Way Of Life

What does it really mean to be mindful?  Mindfulness is a term that you may hear or see in so many different settings, given its current popularity.  And yet, there are many different ways we can start a conversation about mindfulness, and many different ways to define mindfulness also.  Although mindfulness might seem “trendy” these days, it is backed by neuroscience as an evidenced based intervention for a number of problems, like stress, pain, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Mindfulness is the state of being present, aware, of our internal and external environments, in a non judgmental, compassionate way.  It is simply being in the moment, and knowing that we are in the moment.  It is recognizing that we are in the shower, when we are in the shower.  It is recognizing that we are eating, when we are eating.  It is recognizing that we are sad, when we feel sad.  We don’t have to judge ourselves or our thoughts and feelings.  We simply bring our awareness to them, with kindness and recognition.

It is just as important to know what mindfulness is not.  Mindfulness is not a self improvement project, or one more thing to add to your to do list.  That automatically assumes that we somehow want to change ourselves, or be different than we already are.  Mindfulness is not religious, or even spiritual, although it may enhance religious and spiritual practice.  Mindfulness is not something reserved for seasoned meditators.  It is available to all of us, in all walks of life, all ages, all demographics, and is free.

So how can we start a mindfulness practice for ourselves?  There are two important components, although each person’s practice will look different.  The first is a sitting practice of meditation.  You don’t have to sit for long periods of time.  Even sitting (or laying) down, just for a few minutes a day, and focusing on the sensation of your breathing, in and out, in and out, is all that it takes.

If you have a thought or feeling arise, wonderful!  Simply notice it, let it go, and come back to the breath.

The second component is the informal practice, that we weave throughout our daily lives.  This is simply using all of our senses, or our awareness of our breathing, to engage in our regular activities.  For example, when you are washing the dishes, instead of letting your mind wander to the next day’s meeting or activity schedule, engage all of your senses to become aware of washing the dishes.  Feel what the water feels like.   Observe what the transparent soap bubbles look like floating in the air.  Hear the sound of the sponge scrubbing against the dishes.  Your senses and your breath are always available to you, and the quickest way to bring yourself back to the present moment.

Perhaps it is most important to remember that mindfulness is a practice.  There is no way to be good or bad at it, and your practice will be yours, uniquely individual to your needs and lifestyle.  The moment you start to feel stressed about needing to be more mindful, is the moment to start fresh.  You don’t need to be or do anything.  You are simply waking up to your internal and external world, one breath at a time.

How To Love Yourself In Ten Easy Steps

WARNING: RADICAL SELF-LOVE MAY LEAD TO A DEEP SENSE OF CONNECTION AND POSSIBLE LIFE TRANSFORMATION. 

1. REALIZE that love is your birthright. It is not something you have to earn by hustling for success, approval, true love, fame, beauty or other life pursuits. Because you were born, you are worthy of love.

2. REALIZE that self-love is simply a deep connection and honoring of yourself. That’s it.

3. LEARN how to recognize the difference between your own voice, and the cacophony of voices you carry around with you, which probably include your family, your friends, society, religion, old and new loves, and faceless people you have never even met but still care what they think about you.

4. GET to know your voice through meditation, walks in nature, writing in a journal, sitting in stillness for long amounts of time. Stop DOING. Listen.

5. REALIZE that listening to yourself doesn’t make you selfish, lazy, irresponsible, or unlikable. It makes you strong and proud of yourself. You can’t give to others what you don’t have for yourself.

6. REMEMBER who you were as a child, before all the other voices took root. Reconnect to what you loved as a child -- art, play, music, nature. Start doing those things.

7. START listening to your voice. Don’t say YES when you mean NO. Don’t say NO when you mean YES.

8. WHEN your body tells you it is exhausted, numb, or in pain, listen to it. Stop. Sleep. Nourish. Don’t try to prove something by ignoring it.

9. FEEL. If you need to cry, cry until you have no more tears. If you are angry, sit in your car and shout it out. If you are overwhelmed, acknowledge and validate it. Talk to yourself like the most loving grandmother in the world would talk to her most beloved grandchild.

10. KEEP your heart open and shine whatever love you have out into the world without expectation. Love without abandoning yourself. You can have both.

Repeat these steps as often as needed.  Loving and honoring yourself is a lifelong process.

From Architecture to Yoga and Art
I never thought I would evolve from designing buildings to creating art, much less an artist drawing on coffee filters. My yoga and art journey began in early 2011. At that time I had registered for my first yoga challenge, wherein I had to attend a class every day for a prescribed time period.  I was also working and mothering, and had no idea of what was to come as I stepped onto my mat.

I decided to set a self-assigned goal to “write” about each class during my yoga challenge.  I wanted the opportunity to reflect upon, and document my experience.  I stumbled upon a pile of recycled coffee filters that I had intended to repurpose into a personal journal.  But instead of beautiful words, the only thing that emerged onto the coffee filters were doodles of stick figures on yoga mats.

Today, parallel with my continued passion in my yoga practice, the stick figure people have, step by step, transitioned to metaphoric expressions of art that, to my humble surprise, evoke strong feelings from viewers. Eventually, as I followed my heart and inspiration, my creative journey evolved into large paintings.

During yoga classes, deep in heat and posture and cleansing, I receive visions and inspiration for my art. I then explore and distill the visual energies that surface during class through drawings and paintings.  I realized one day that I have not been painting nor drawing, really.

I have simply been expressing liberally what my soul is feeling with each stroke, line and color.

I’ve been asked before why I think yoga is the vehicle that allows me to express the archetypes that I draw and paint. I absolutely believe and know that my yoga practice provides the path to an expression that I normally would not have the courage or clarity to explore, energetically and physically. My yoga practice provides an invitation to truly quiet the mind, so that only my heart can speak.

I continue on this journey because I felt a form of healing was happening within me. As I released fears of judgment and expectations on this creative path, I was able to do the same in my day to day life. I feel more liberated and more authentic with the way I perceive myself and others. It has truly been, and continues to be, a transformative experience.

rhonnadelrio_belikeatreeI know I stumbled upon this journey for a greater purpose: to inspire others who are experiencing that “nudging gut feeling” to awake to their own authentic selves. I would like to inspire others to stay in the practice of what makes them come alive, uniquely alive! Whether it is yoga, running, sewing, painting, climbing, dancing, praying, playing an instrument, gardening, or meditating... with practice, we begin to chip away layers of fears and doubts.

 

When these defenses fall away from our hearts, what’s left is the design of our soul’s clarity, and the freedom and courage to express our very unique true selves!

Silence the mind and listen to your heart… and allow your own personal journey inward to begin.

Rhonna del Rio is an emerging artist with a degree in Architecture. For years, she has been drawing buildings via computer operated programs or by looking at them and sketching what she sees physically. Today, as a yogini and artist, she instead draws organically from within, creating soulful expressions that emerge after each powerful yoga class.  Learn more about Rhonna and her stunning creations at www.yogaandartjourney.com.  

Tuning In With Tech
We all love ourselves some Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, but is there a way to use our technology in a more conscious manner?  We have all fallen prey to the unconscious scrolling in the dark of night, feeling our anxiety rising and our self esteem falling as we read post upon pristine post.  We loved the suggestions about how we can use technology mindfully over at www.mindful.org, written by Harvard psychologist and educational consultant Christopher Willard.

http://www.mindful.org/the-joy-of-missing-out/

Editor’s Column
Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Literal Shyft: Conscious Words For Conscious Living. We are so glad you are here!

For those of you who don’t know, Shyft is a gym for the soul in Southern California, focused on starting a conversation about modern day life skills. How do we learn mindfulness at home, work, and in our relationships? How do we develop the social and emotional skills that help us navigate twenty first century parenting, friendships, and romance? And perhaps most importantly, how do we find each other and ourselves, so that we can jointly cultivate a conscious community for ourselves and the next generation? Literal Shyft is a digital magazine that allows us to start and continue those conversations through the written word.

In this issue, we will focus on Mindfulness 101.  We believe that conscious living is available to all of us, in all moments. We don't need to go away on a retreat, although that can sometimes be helpful.  We don't need to be a part of an enlightened select few.  Like all change, efforts to become more mindful as we navigate our daily lives, start with the smallest of decisions, the tiniest of steps, towards a more intentional life.

HERE, you will find practical, simple suggestions that you can implement with ease in your busy world. Perhaps you decide to start with a simple meditation practice for five minutes per day. Or perhaps you decide to put away all devices and eat a meal with conscious awareness. Maybe you will choose to notice gratitude for the most ordinary of moments. All of these are small steps in a more mindful direction, and yet over time, collectively generate big shifts in how we feel, think and connect.

From the bottom of our hearts here at Shyft, we thank you for joining us. We are truly grateful. At Shyft, there is no distinction between teacher and student, because we are all here to learn and grow from one another’s wisdom and experience. Together, we can co-create a community and a lifestyle that encourages kindness, awareness, grace, and most importantly, harmony.

We look forward to embarking on this journey with you.

With gratitude,

Monisha Vasa, M.D.

Founding Editor

Reflections On Mindful Eating

Eating is essential and can be pleasurable.  It can also be a source of stress, if food is not available, or if food is available, but we have a complicated relationship to eating.  All people can suffer from cultural pressures to look in a way that has been elevated as preferable.  In much of contemporary culture, this means staying thin and fit.  This pressure is very stressful.  There is also a growing amount of information available and controversy about the sources of our food.  I sometimes struggle with eating stress, guilt, and over-indulgence. Below are a few ideas on mindful eating I appreciate.

We Can Make Choices that Feel Right When We Shop for Food

  • We Can Educate Ourselves

If you are concerned about healthy choices and/ or about choices that are ethically sourced and environmentally conscious, spend some time reading about your options and checking out food labels.  While I get overwhelmed by all the information about health trends and organic standards in the news, I try to glean some awareness from it that is useful.

  • We Can Be Kind to Ourselves

While I do my best to make conscious choices, I try not to beat myself up for not being perfect as a consumer.  There are times when price, convenience, limited information and timing do affect my food choices and that is alright.  I hope you will be kind to yourself about variations in your choices too.

We Can Use All Our Senses to Experience Eating

  • We Can Open Ourselves Up to the Meal

As Jenni Grover reminds us in the Mother Nature Network, “The tanginess of a lemon, the spiciness of arugula, the crunch of a pizza crust — paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully.”  While taste is our primary sense for eating, don’t discount smell and sight- think of all the times that the sight or aroma of a dish was enough to get you excited.  Touch is important too; feeling the texture of food on your tongue can slow down and focus your eating experience.

  • We Can Listen to Ourselves

Mindfulness of the senses leads us into the present moment. When we are present, we are more able to determine when we are satisfied, hungry, or full and respect that knowledge.  The Center for Mindful Eating says this about mindful eating: "[b]y using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food.”

Some food difficulties can become eating disorders, and this article is not meant to be prescriptive in those cases, which call for professional support.  I hope it is a general, helpful reminder of a few ways we can slow down, pay attention to, and enjoy the experience of eating.

Meditation 101

“I tried meditating but I was awful at it.”

“I could never meditate, my mind just keeps going and going.”

“I wish I could meditate, but I don’t have any time.”

THESE are some of the most common concerns I hear about meditation on a day to day basis.  Meditation seems to be the simplest, hardest thing we can ask ourselves to do.  And yet a daily meditation practice is immensely helpful in calming the mind, allowing us to be less reactive, and improving our focus and productivity.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that meditation does not have to look a certain way.  In fact, creating a practice that works best for you, and feels good for your mind, body, heart, and soul, is the best way to create a sustainable and rewarding practice.  You don’t have to get anywhere or accomplish anything with meditation.  It is simply a time to be, to allow yourself to observe what is going on inside of you, and let go of that which does not serve you.

So, how do we start?  I say keep it simple, and make it an act of self care.  You can keep it simple by choosing a time that you know will generally work for you, and won’t get intruded on by other life demands.  Usually this is first thing in the morning or last thing at night, but do what what works for you.  You don’t have to sit for long periods of time.  As you sit, notice the sensation of your breathing, how it feels in your body to inhale and exhale.  Start with five minutes, and if that feels long, two minutes, or even one minute.  And if that feels too long, one breath.  Simply focus on the feeling of one breath in, and one breath out.

We all have time for that!

When thoughts or feelings arise, simply notice them, the way that you would notice clouds floating across the sky.  You don’t have to judge them, or more importantly, judge yourself for having them.  It is absolutely normal to have thoughts arise during meditation, that is what our brains are meant to do!  Simply allow them, release them, and return to the breath.

Meditation can be an act of self care, if we make it one.  For example, you can create a beautiful space with a fragrant candle, pictures you love, or a cushion that allows you to feel comfortable.  Allow yourself to be and feel relaxed and dignified, in whatever posture works for you.  Feel free to listen to guided meditations, or simply set a timer.  Tell your family that meditation is your protected time.  This is your practice, and it will so much easier to continue if you love doing it.

We all have time for one breath, and if we don’t, then perhaps that is all the more reason we need to be meditating.  Cultivating the time and space to sit with yourself in silence can help you feel more calm, focused, and productive for the rest of your day.  What could be more important?

Ten
Tonight will be the last night I tuck you in as a nine-year-old. Ten will greet us in the morning.

Ten. I keep repeating this number over and over. Each time, tears brim in the corner of my eyes. I remember your first bath in our home, a small apartment in Texas. I held the curve of your back, angling your body, holding your head in the right spot, while the water splashed and mixed with your two-week tears. In those early days, I wondered about your growth and my becoming. My palette of paint trickled into one another, one color indistinguishable from the other, night and day blurring together like some psychedelic kaleidoscope.

I reach for the lens gazing backward and forward, still trying to massage the reality that you are ten years older and I am in midlife. Even though ten officially hits tomorrow, the preview started last year. In 2015, you announced, "Double-digits, Momma. Ten. I cannot wait." You're in a hurry, while my urge is to pause time, when Momma is still your preferred hero. But I see the pieces of you, swinging back to your tender childhood years and edging toward adulthood in one continuous pendulum. You, my dear, are trying to figure it all out. Sometimes you rush to hug me when no one is looking, but other times, you usher me out of the door, afraid your friends might witness how much you love your Momma. When I try to kiss your cheek, in the middle of the grocery store or in front of friends, you say, "Not here, Momma. It's embarrassing."

Other times, you will ask to sleep in our room, laying out a makeshift mattress on the floor of our space. I sometimes hear your breathing at night. Slow and soft, comforted that you still want to sleep in the same room as your mother and father. Oh, but it's a different story, when your friends are over. You command the room, boasting like a lion, ushering us out of your throne, like you’re too old to have any supervision from your parents.

But again, we shift back. You still say Marco, while we reply Polo, those nights when you need to find something in another room and haven't quite reached the light switch. But, when your father tells you something, you immediately yell back, "I know, Daddy. I know how to do it." I suspect this is a surge of independence and free will and the mismatched symphony that will occur in the teen years, but I move too fast. Ten is still ours.

While I am writing this to you, I hear the refrain from one of my favorite songs, Landslide.  I hear the words, "But time makes you bolder, Even children get older, And I'm getting older too . . ." It is a landslide, all of it. An entire decade in a blink. I still ask, "How did this happen so fast?" One of life's biggest clichéd questions urging us to look at its truth.

You are starting to see your truth and paving your way. Marching toward the end of the Harry Potter series. Making a calendar of your school deadlines. Announcing your resolutions like, "I need to be better with my emotions." Baking homemade biscuits from your favorite chef, Pioneer Woman. Offering words of encouragement when I am feeling down and asking your father about the work he does. All these pieces outline the adult you.

But I am still lingering with the child you. The little girl who believes in Santa and magic. The little girl who laughs every time she farts. The little girl who loves notes from her Momma in her lunch. The little girl who never shies away from a wrestling match with her father. The little girl who giggles while watching My Little Pony and combs the hair of her American Girl doll. This is the little girl who is the one I want to keep close, adore a little while longer, before the space is filled with emotions I cannot fix and questions I cannot answer.

I'm busy taking cues, understanding letting go is a continual, painful process. I will never be ready. Not at ten or twenty or ever. Of course, I understand this hollowing is life. It allows you to have room for other experiences to fill you up. I understand that some of those future moments won't include your father, or me but of other directions and people.

But know this, our dearest, only little girl, you have all of us. You always have and always will. We will be standing behind you as you forge ahead. The world is your ultimate trapeze, your parents, your forever safety net.

Rudri Patel is an attorney turned writer and blogger.  She blogs regularly over at www.beingrudri.com, often contemplating the wisdom and beauty in life's most ordinary moments.  She has written for outlets such as The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Brain Child Magazine.  

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/niosha/public_html/shyftmag.com/wp-content/plugins/post-grid/grid-items/variables.php on line 116

Test for Meditations
One Small Shyft At A Time
Why does it seem like the easiest things are actually the hardest? Like meditating for a few minutes in the morning, or writing a gratitude list, or exercising? We know that such activities only take a few minutes, and provide a profound return on our investment of time. We know we will feel so much better after than before. Yet somehow we never quite get into the rhythm we are looking for.

Before we know it, the “S” word starts to slowly creep in to our minds. We know we “should”…but somehow, we just don’t.

What I often discuss with my patients and in my writing, is that we can’t wait for our motivation in order to start. The motivation may well never come. Or it may come after weeks or months of maintaining our morning rituals or our nightly journaling before we see the true rewards, often leading to renewed motivation to continue.

So how do we start then? If we find ourselves struggling, it could be a sign that the task is still too big or overwhelming. What is the smallest possible action available to you that will allow you to take that very first step? It could seem ridiculously, microscopically small. But that is okay. No judgment here. Whatever takes you even a millimeter closer to your goals and dreams is worthwhile and worthy.

This is why we are excited to begin our “How To” series, and share in the power of small shyfts leading to massive change. This is our opportunity to suggest tiny ways to build positive forward motion into all of our lives. When we each individually make a more conscious decision, we each inhabit more conscious lives. And conscious lives lead to conscious communities.

Before we know it, we are transforming, individually and collectively.

So we welcome you with open arms to our “How To” series, and we look forward to all of your suggestions and ideas as well. Share with us what it is you know how to do. We are all students, learning how to live our best possible lives.

One small, shaky, imperfect step at a time.

Dear Dr. Shyft
Dear Dr. Shyft:  I am really irritated with myself.  I have been working hard at improving myself.  I have been trying to meditate daily, do yoga regularly, and be grateful.  I try to eat well and exercise. But lately my self care plan feels more like self punishment.  I keep falling off the wagon and then beating myself up for not being better at taking care of myself.  It is especially hard to keep up with my daily meditation practice, even though I feel so much better when I make it a priority.  Somehow life just always gets in the way.  Why is it so hard to stick with something that I know is good for me?  
 
Signed, Struggling to Sit
 
Dear Struggling:  I completely understand where you are coming from.  We all know we would feel better if we meditated daily and were mindful, compassionate, grateful, and healthy all around.  But sometimes it can be helpful to remember that meditation and mindfulness were not created to be yet another self improvement project to impose upon ourselves.  In fact, just the opposite.  We are not trying to “get” anywhere or achieve anything through meditation.  It is our time to practice simply being.  That’s it.  Even if we “be” for one breath or one minute, that is great!  Once we start puffing out our chest about how often or long we have meditated for, we know the ego has snuck in the back door, which means it is time to get back to the basics.  Gentle structure and accountability (like a timer, an app, a class, a friend, a routine) can always help.  But let’s not berate ourselves to be good to ourselves, because, well, then we miss the point altogether.  Do your best, be kind to yourself and others, and if that’s all you can do, well, that is just perfect.
How to Glow

Meditation shines your light from the inside out. The more you meditate, the more you glow! And the more you glow, the healthier your skin looks and becomes.

There is an emerging field of research called psychodermatology that studies the interaction between mind and skin.  We know that our emotions and stress levels affect our skin.   As a result, addressing skin issues begins from within.   Because meditation reduces stress, fear, worry and anxiety – conditions that are often the root causes of skin problems--time spent on the cushion can actually improve the quality of your skin.  

Here are five reasons why meditation is the new facial:    

  1. Meditation slows down the aging process.

Meditation increases telomerase activity. Telomeres are the caps that protect the ends of our chromosomes. Telomerase is a type of enzyme that prevent the age related shortening of telomeres.  Studies have shown that the increased telomerase activity may lead to increased longevity and better quality of life, especially as we age.

    2.  Meditation calms inflammation 

Numerous studies on meditation and meditation-like practices have shown anti-inflammatory effects.  Inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress.  Chronic inflammation can lead to changes in the skin, such as wrinkles, sagging, and acne.  Anything that helps combat inflammation can help our skin remain youthful and clear.  

    3.  Meditation addresses the underlying issues that cause skin problems

 Whether chronic or not, skin issues worsen with stress. Reduced stress equals healthier skin. Therefore, stress reduction is critical to successfully treating skin ailments and promoting healthy skin cell growth and regeneration.  What could be more anti-stress than meditation?

    4.  Meditation improves your mood

A regular meditation practice increases the brain’s ability to repair itself and grow new neural connections. Like a muscle, these neural pathways get stronger and more effective with practice.  As a result, people who meditate experience more inner peace and an overall sense of wellbeing. Meditation also increases your brain’s serotonin production, which literally makes you happier.  Indeed, the skin shows us that happiness comes from the inside out.

    5.  Meditation helps you make healthier choices

With a meditation practice comes more awareness of your breath, your body and your surroundings. This leads to an increased ability to pause, be present and consider your lifestyle choices.

This can manifest in several ways, including simply becoming more conscious of where and how your food, clothes and skin care products are created.  Also, that pause between stimulus and response may lead to less alcohol, smoking, and substance use, all of which impact the way our skin looks and feels.

So get your glow on by taking the time you need to take care of yourself.  Just as meditation helps us be grateful, your skin will thank you too. 

How To Be Kind
Being kind feels like the easiest thing ever until someone cuts you off on the highway or grabs your Starbucks mobile order.  When compassion is out of reach, here is how you can find it again.  
  1. Pause:  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—just stop.  Often our anger, thoughts and emotions can be a runaway train.  Sometimes we need to pause before any wise action can arise.
  2. Breathe:  Once you have stopped, take a deep cleansing breath.  Fully feel every aspect of the breath, from the initial inhale through to the very end of the exhale.
  3. Connect To Your Body:  Feel your feet on the ground.  Relax your shoulders away from your ears, and unclench your jaw.
  4. Find Your Compassion:  Take a moment to wish yourself peace and ease, as well as those in front of you and around you.  We don’t often know the pain of others, and can easily take circumstances and peoples’ actions very personally.  See if you can drop the stories and instead feel heart centered, good wishes for yourself and others.  Remember that everyone wants to be happy, just like you do.
  5. Take Wise Action:  From a place of still, deep compassion, determine the kindest action available to you.  It might be to walk away or lean in.  It might be to speak your truth or to listen with your whole heart.  You will know.
Acting out of anger can be the path of least resistance, and being kind can feel hard.  But if we set an intention to live our days as a kindness practice, many opportunities will present themselves.  It might be the only practice we need.
How To Meditate
Meditating might be easier said than done, but our goal is to make it easier done than said. Here are five steps to sitting pretty. Before you begin, find a quiet space. You might consider creating a beautiful space for yourself, or lighting a candle, or whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable. But any space will work, from a quiet office, to your walk-in closet or your car (real spaces we ourselves practice in).

Once you have found your space, begin with steps 1-5 and find your zen.

1. Set an intention for time. As mindfulness expert Joseph Goldstein has said about meditation, “Something quite extraordinary can happen in even five minutes.” His colleague Sharon Salzberg concurs, explaining: “Usually when people start sitting, we say that five minutes is enough. You don’t have to think, ‘I’ve got to sit here for six hours.’ You don’t have to get into some pretzel-like posture and suffer!” But it’s often said that the best practice is the one you can actually maintain. So start with a small, truly doable amount of time. You can always increase the length of your meditation later if you want to. Even one mindful breath a day is a good start!

2.  Find your seat. Sit cross-legged on a meditation cushion, on a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor, or lying down, if you are someone who struggles with back or neck pain. The important thing is to find a relaxed yet dignified position so that you don’t get sleepy. Palms of your hands can be upright or down on your thighs…just don’t wave them in the air. If you prefer your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you otherwise let your eyes close softly.

3.  Notice and follow your breath. Place your attention lightly on your out-breath, while remaining aware your environment. Be with each breath as the air goes out through your mouth and nostrils and dissolves into the space around you. At the end of each out-breath, simply rest until the next in-breath naturally begins.

4.  Note the thoughts and feelings that arise. Whenever you notice that a thought, feeling, or perception has taken your attention away from the breath, just say to yourself, “thinking,” and return to following the breath. No need to judge yourself when this happens; just gently note it and attend to your breath and posture.

5.  After the intended time, close your practice. Open your eyes and take your time to acclimate back to the environment. Notice the way you feel. There’s no need to give up any sense of calm, mindfulness, or openness you’ve experienced. See if you can consciously allow these to remain present through the rest of your day.

Remember that a little R & D is okay. There will be a process of exploring and learning what is best for you. Free yourself of any expectation of doing what’s right. What works for you at one time may later not work for you. We simply remain curious and inquire about our experience, and change according to what our bodies, minds, and spirits need.

To take the next step, click here.

How To Sleep
We have all been there.  Two am, scrolling through social media on your phone, unable to sleep yet unable to do anything else, thanks to our dear friend insomnia.  Why is sleep so elusive sometimes?  Here are five tried and true tips for when counting sheep just isn’t working:
  1. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  Yes, even on the weekends.  This trains your body and mind to feel sleepy around the same time every night and readies you for sleep.
  2. No devices for at least two to three hours before bed.  The blue light from screens suppresses your body’s melatonin release.  Not to mention all the FOMO and angst that gets kicked up comparing your life to others through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Maintain a relaxing routine prior to bedtime.  This could involve reading a book or magazine, writing in a journal, drinking decaf tea, taking an evening walk, or unwinding in a bath.  The idea is to do the same relaxing routine every evening, so that you are preparing yourself to relax and settle down for the night.
  4. Save your bed for sleep and sex.  Anything else like watching tv or reading should be done outside of bed.  You want your brain to associate your bed with getting a peaceful night’s rest, not binge watching Breaking Bad or tossing and turning.  If you can’t sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxing until you feel sleepy, and then try again.
  5. Allow your body and mind to let go.  Physical activity early in the day and minimizing caffeine and alcohol in the evening set the conditions for sleep.  A few minutes of quiet meditation or breathing just as you lay down allows you to release your worries and surrender to sleep.
The next time insomnia visits, trust that your body will always find a way to get the amount of rest it needs.  Try to release any catastrophic thoughts that involve never being able to sleep again, or envisioning weeks of bleary eyed dysfunction at work.  Instead give steps 1-5 above a go and repeat as often as needed.  If that feels like too much, feel free to start with one and go from there!  Sweet dreams are right around the corner.

 

How to Turn FOMO into JOMO
In this world of technology and social media, it is easy to let FOMO drive our decisions.  You check your Instagram feed only to discover that you weren’t invited to that pinterest worthy dinner party last night.  You log onto Facebook only to find your frenemy from high school on a ten day vacation in Bora Bora.
Before you know it, you notice your self esteem got lost along the way and is nowhere to be found.
But is FOMO all it is really cracked up to be?  If "Fear of Missing Out" is making us feel lonely and less than, maybe it is time for a different approach.  Read on for five easy ways to turn your FOMO into JOMO ("Joy of Missing Out"):
  1. Know Thyself:  It is easy to feel left out if you are constantly measuring yourself by other peoples’ standards.  What is it that you love and value?  If you love to read, then you didn’t miss a thing by skipping that dinner party for quality time with your latest novel and a glass of wine.
  2. Find Your Tribe:  Often FOMO sets in when we feel like we are being excluded.  It can feel like everyone is out there doing something amazing, having a great time, or climbing the ladder while we are somehow falling behind.   But when we have found our people, those who “get” us, all of a sudden FOMO can fall away.  The right community can mirror who you are and what makes you special, and can’t wait to spend time with you in all the ways you love and enjoy.
  3. Tune Inward:  We can all find ourselves driven by shoe-envy (or house-envy, boyfriend-envy, job-envy, you name it).  When we notice envy rising within us, that is a perfect time to pause and tune in.  What are we feeling and where is it coming from?  What do we really need and want?   Do we want to feel noticed, recognized, heard?  Perhaps there are better ways of getting our needs met.
  4. Consider a Detox:  Social media has allowed us to be connected 24/7 and worldwide in a way that is unprecedented.  And while it is amazing to see pictures of growing families and beautiful sunsets, sometimes it can all be a little overstimulating.  We can find ourselves spending so much energy on other peoples’ lives that we forget to live our own.  Every now and then, a social media or tech detox can help us refocus on what feels important to us.  What could be more joyful than that?
  5. Slow Down: FOMO can often lead to a frantic, busy attempt to keep up with the rat race.  When we slow down, we can finally enjoy the small, ordinary moments that were getting lost in the rush.  There is so much beauty in a delicious cup of coffee, a good cry with friends, or a weekend nap.  Maybe missing out is exactly what we need in order to discover a life we love again.
So next time you find yourself feeling left out and left behind, stop, drop your phone, and re-evaluate.  Perhaps there is a happy upside that we never noticed before now.  Consider trying steps 1-5 and repeat often when you need a way to turn your FOMO into JOMO.  You may never look back.
There is Enough

“Today in Geography we were talking about different types of jobs, and apparently there’s one where you can travel all around the world and write about different cultures. That’s what I want to do.”

My 14-year-old’s words gathered into a compact, virtual fist, then thrust themselves directly into my gut.

But that’s what I wanted to do, said a whiney voice in my head.

The voice surprised me with its appearance. It belonged to the fearful little girl inside of me, and she was jealous.

Of my own daughter, no less.

Over the past year, I’d been making a conscious effort to heal her wounds, and I thought we were making great progress.

Yet, here she was.

And she was competing with my daughter because we have similar interests.

Ever since childhood, two of my greatest loves in life have been writing and traveling. In college, I desperately wanted to participate in the Junior Year Abroad program, but I had a major obstacle to overcome: my overprotective parents.

Yes, my parents were the kind who imagine the worst-case scenarios in nearly every situation and, therefore, they limited the things that they allowed me to do. To be fair, I was born with a compliant personality, so I adjusted my dreams to fit within the framework for what they felt was safe.

There were some dangers in exercising such extreme people-pleasing, dangers which I didn’t identify until decades later. As I grew, I began to adopt my parents’ fears as my own (hey, I was compliant, remember?). I also felt powerless to do anything about my situation, and so I gave up my dreams to travel and write.

Now, here I was in the car, doing a quick mental analysis of my youthful decisions while my daughter talked excitedly about her potential future vocation. I didn’t like the queasy feeling in my belly that accompanied the voice of my wounded childhood self but, thankfully, it suddenly stopped speaking.

That’s when I heard the calm, reassuring voice of my sage. As soon as she had become aware of the presence of my petulant inner child’s appearance, she had rushed her off stage as quickly as she could.

Then my sage delivered a calm, rational, inspirational monologue.

There is enough.

There is enough room in this world – in this family – for two writers, for two travelers.

Look at this beautiful, talented creature across from you.

She’s curious.

She’s fearless.

Because you allow her to be that way.

Be grateful for your own upbringing; it was because of your overprotective and fearful childhood that you consciously raised your daughter to embrace her fearless nature, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

You encouraged her to read.

You encouraged her to speak her mind.

You encouraged her to be herself.

What an honor it is for you to now share a similar passion with your daughter.

Embrace that.

When the sage was finished, I mentally applauded her.

Then I took a deep breath.

I began to imagine how fun it would be to read my daughter’s insights about cultures from all over the globe.

And I even pictured myself traveling with her to some of those faraway places someday. Maybe we’ll both write about our journeys: two different perspectives about shared experiences.

Because each of us brings our own voice to everything that we create.

Because there is enough.

This post first appeared on ChristineSempetrean.com.

See For Yourself
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius

Last week I flew into New York and arrived just after 1 AM.

When I approached baggage claim, there was a gentleman holding a piece of paper with my name on it. His name was Armand. We made our way to his car, out of the airport, and onto the highway, chatting the entire way.

As we pulled in front of my hotel, he finished sharing a valuable lesson that I needed to hear and perhaps you need to hear, too.

Armand shared his journey of living in Albania, experiencing extreme hardships including being displaced due to war, enduring tragedies and leaving family. Eventually, he came to the US with no ability to speak the language, no money and no idea what to do next.

He worked hard, learned a new language, found love, married and had two children. He shared that perhaps it’s not been an easy one, but it’s most certainly been a good life.

We discussed his current job and past experiences ranging from a couple years in law school to spending almost a decade as a truck driver. In his 18-wheeler, he crisscrossed the nation. Through hundreds of interactions with dock workers, gas station attendants, freight managers, truck drivers, diner waitresses and fellow sojourners, he saw every corner of the country – and every spectrum of individual within it.

I asked how all those experiences shaped the way he sees the world today?

He thought for a moment, looked into the rear-view mirror at me, and responded: “The people here are better than they know.”

I thought about Armand and his statement while sitting 12 hours later in the same airport he’d picked me up from.

I was in the waiting area for my flight. The TVs were airing the news: The most recent terror attack in the UK, the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the retirement center nurse who murdered almost a dozen patients.

I was feeling absolutely beat down by the news, misery of life and certain doom we all face… and then I heard the whisper of hope.

It came not from the news but a new friend: Armand’s voice from the day before, “People are better than they know.”

While it is true that terrorists murdered, injured and attempted to sow fear, it’s also true that a transport officer with a simple baton, a Romanian baker with a basket and other unsung heroes raced toward the terrorists to halt the attacks. These heroes responded to an act of unconscionable cowardice with undaunted courage.

While it is true that the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s also true that the global movement to reduce greenhouse gasses continues and that executives from some of the most influential companies and mayors from cities around our country are committed to championing the cause.

While it is true that one nurse took the lives of her innocent patients, it’s also true that hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors, medical technicians and janitors passionately work each day to serve the sick and weak. What drives them isn’t fanfare or a spotlight, but instead a purpose to provide healing, kindness and love into the lives of their patients.

My friends, it turns out that everything has beauty, but not everyone chooses to see it. It also turns out that our friend Armand is right: The people here are better than they know.

Turn off the news and see for yourself.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

Full Body Decision Making
If you are anything like me, you typically depend on logic, reasoning, and thinking to make decisions. It seems I have created invisible barriers between aspects of my life and world, parsing out the aspects that “should” be governed by either thoughts or emotions. Though I identify as a primarily emotion-centered person, there is something about making a choice or decision, especially one that feels big or important, that immediately results in my brain gripping for control. It is as if I cannot possibly make the wrong choice if I have effectively reasoned it away; I cannot make a mistake if my brain is in control.

Even as I write this, I have an urge to roll my eyes and tell myself “that’s ridiculous and not how the world works.” Old patterns, however, are hard to break. Our culture holds a very thought-based value system, and throughout my entire life this has been taught to me, ingrained into my being, by all of the models in my world. Decisions and choices are just problems to be solved, right? Talk it out, make a pro/con list, think about which option will likely have the best outcome…whatever you do, just figure it out! Nobody ever taught me that I could make a decision with my body.

Treating the energy and movement of life like a math equation hasn’t really been working out for me. This lesson came to me, as they often do, with a challenging decision handed to me by life itself. In the face of what felt like a weighty decision with many possible outcomes, narrowing my options down to two was effortless. Taking it a step further, however, is where the disconnection between my head and the rest of my body began. My head took over without me even realizing. The logical decision seemed easy enough—I looked at the evidence available to me and assessed what seemed like minimal risk. My chest and stomach began to tighten, but I pushed them out of my awareness. I made my choice.

As you are probably anticipating, after I communicated my decision to the necessary parties, things started to shift. My head and my body reconnected and I was hit with an immediate sense of dread. I had an intense feeling of being on a roller coaster, my internal world filled with uneasy energy. The mistake I was so desperately trying to avoid was here.

I am not going to fill you in on the details of what came next, or whether or not I was able to rectify my mistake. That is not what matters here. The decision I made was not life changing, but my process around it has that potential. The intensity of my reaction, though unpleasant, brought my awareness to a pattern that I have been engaging with, and at this point in time is no longer serving me. For the first time, I felt the strength of my intuition. And I trust that it holds a knowing that I am ready to explore. Now, the work for me is in finding ways to call upon it before a decision is made rather than in hindsight.

The steps that I will use to strengthen my ability to listen intuitively, I offer here to you as well. My experience has been profoundly body-based, rooted in the sensations of my stomach and chest—so that is where I begin. Building awareness is the first step to any self-exploration, so I will invite body awareness whenever a decision presents itself. I have seen the power of my brain to take control, so it may be a struggle to quiet my mind and bring attention to my sensations. I must find a way that works for me to allow for more balance and breathing room to my decision-making process. I also don’t want to cut out the thinking brain entirely, as it does offer it’s own value. Ultimately, this is a practice in choosing mindfully, and trusting what feels right.

Intuition lies below the conscious brain, but it does have ways of communicating with us—we only have to be willing to listen. Almost all of us have had an experience of knowing without thinking, yet it is a sensation that can be hard to have faith in or to give control to. Maybe it is not a matter of one aspect having control over another. The human body has both the ability to know cognitively and to know intuitively because both are valuable. What decisions would you make in your life if you could balance what feels right with what makes sense? At this moment in time I believe that it takes the whole body to make a whole decision. I, for one, want to live my wholeness. And it starts with allowing my intuition a little more power in my life. 

Do One Thing at a Time
Last week I was standing at the Chicago airport and noticed a young woman in front of me in the security line. She looked as though she was traveling on business, perhaps returning home after a meeting. She was eating her lunch sandwich while at the same time typing something on her iPad. And as the line inched forward she kept her place, pushing her bag forward with her feet.

Suddenly her cell phone rang. She answered the phone and cradled it between her shoulder and neck, still holding her sandwich in one hand and doing one-finger typing on her iPad with the other hand and propelling her bag forward with her legs. By now she had reached the desk where the officer was checking identification and boarding pass. She placed her iPad on the counter and retrieved her driver’s license from her handbag, all the while still cradling the phone between her shoulder and neck and continuing the conversation. She was now doing five things simultaneously. And I thought, How did we reach here as a civilization? How did we survive as a species?

The one thing I have learned to do over the years, using trial and error and some hard knocks, is to practice doing one thing at a time. It sounds simple—almost pedestrian. It’s on the same level as someone saying that if you eat vegetables and exercise regularly, you will feel better. But underneath this very simplistic-sounding wisdom there is a profound secret that people from heart surgeons to professional athletes to world-class musicians have discovered, adopted, and mastered.

In today’s hyperconnected, fast-charging lifestyles, there is a tendency to do too much at the same time and get very distracted in the process—a tendency that blogger Linda Stone has called continuous partial attention. “To be busy and connected is to feel alive,” Stone writes. “But the consequence is that we’re over-stimulated, over-wound, unfulfilled.” Our productivity suffers too. At work, for example, I have caught myself in meetings being tempted to check and respond to e-mail even as one of my colleagues is presenting something. And simultaneously I’m likely to have a few chat windows open in parallel conversations and be trying to inhale my lunch as well.

I’m getting everything done at once, or so it seems. However, when I look back I see that my time was actually not that productive. I’m not really sure of anything I “got done.” I can’t recall any details of what was presented. I can’t remember the flavors of my food or even tell you what I ate. Except that there is food spilled on my keyboard that gives me some clues. And I have sent an embarrassing message in the wrong chat window.

This technology that is our brain is exceptionally good at focusing on one thing at a time—not more. There must be a reason why you never see an accomplished violinist practicing the violin while watching a game on television. Our brain also takes time to switch from one task to another, and the incessant back-and-forth required by doing too many things at once drains our energy. The brain takes time to exit one task and gather itself around the next task. Whichever Zen master told us, “Eat when hungry, sleep when tired” had something profound on his mind beyond just a witty one-liner.

What works for me is a simple system. I pick the most important and urgent single task in front of me. I set a timer and power through the single task in a focused manner. When I am done or the timer goes off, I stop—or work a few extra minutes until I reach a stopping point—then take a short break of a few minutes, get some water, or take a short walk on the floor or outdoors. Then I tackle the next most important single task.

Sometimes, if I need to work on a large task, such as drafting a presentation I’m giving at a meeting in Toronto, I’ll alternate tasks. I might work on my presentation for 30 minutes, attend to e-mails for another 30, and then switch back to my presentation. In contrast, if I’m working toward a tight deadline, then I might stay with that task until I’m finished. The system allows for flexibility; the choice is yours.

The second thing I do is make appointments with myself. I block out chunks of time in my calendar that read, “Work block to finish [the specific project].” For example, instead of responding to e-mails as they come, I will block out two hours just for e-mail and process hundreds of messages in one sitting. When it is a formal appointment—even though it’s with myself—I am more likely to commit myself to doing that task. And if you are in a corporate setting, no one else is going to spot an open window on your calendar that they can hijack to draw your attention to something else.

According to Tony Schwartz, who wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog in 2013 about the cost of multitasking, “The biggest cost is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 percent. But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”

A simple suggestion that Tony makes is to do the most important thing first in the morning, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. Resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take a few minutes to recharge. “When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time,” he writes. “When you’re renewing, truly renew. . . . Stop living your life in the gray zone.”

I tried hard for years to be the first person in the history of humankind to prove that multitasking really works—that we can be effective in the “gray zone.” Paradoxically, I have found that doing one thing at a time actually helps me get more things done and do them better. Here is the dirty little secret. Our brain is one of the most complex, sophisticated working systems we know of. Give it one task to focus on and it can perform brilliantly. Give it five tasks to do at once and it crumbles. Why mess with it?

 

Unplug
For better or worse, we live in a 24/7 world. At any time of the day or night, we can flip on our television or open our tablet or phone and be immersed in information. On one hand, this exposure to such a vast amount of knowledge and data can be enlightening and liberating: at no point in human history has the collection of information been so vast and so accessible. On the other hand, sifting through all of the noise that this causes can be nearly impossible and finding the golden nuggets of truth in the rushing river of 21st century media can seem like it is just too much.

If you are already prone to feeling stress or anxiety, our “always on” world isn’t doing you any favors. The human mind is a powerful, powerful creation, but one that is simultaneously fragile. With a 24 hour news cycle and social media platforms, our minds are constantly inundated with unnecessary junk.

You may not realize it, but when you hear a news story about how the world may come to an end at any moment or watch a show about a house hunter with a budget larger than anything you could imagine, your mind continues to process that information long after you’ve changed the channel. In the news example, your mind is subconsciously trying to cope with the possibility of certain doom! That’s a tall order, don’t you think? And in the example of the house hunter with an astronomical amount of disposable income, your mind may start to wonder “Why can’t I have that? Am I not good enough?” We needlessly put our mind through the ringer when we are constantly exposing it to these stimuli.

Now, compound all of that with the “normal” stress and anxiety you feel on a day-to-day basis: juggling demands from work; needs around the house; time spent with friends and loved ones fostering important relationships. By themselves, these are already a lot to deal with! Throw in the barrage of media from the TV and our phones, and we’re in hyperdrive but don’t know who is flying this rocket ship! What can we do? How do we make it stop?

Unplug. Step back. Breathe. Focus on what is important to you.

When it all seems too much to handle and your stress level is reaching its peak, just unplug. Even if just for 15 minutes at the beginning. Find time in your day where you don’t have a TV on and where you’re not looking at your phone. Just be present in the moment.

Find someplace comfortable. Someplace where you feel safe and away from distractions. Focus on your breathing. When you focus on your breathing, you’re telling your mind that it is okay to slow down and take a break from processing of all that “stuff.” Like any good exercise, this takes practice. But just like any type of practice, the more you do it, the better you become. Finding 15 minutes is no longer a chore, but part of your daily routine, and a routine that will leave you feeling alive, powerful, and in control of your life, even in this chaotic world!

The mind is a beautiful thing, but we must take the time to care for it. When you step back and focus your energy inward, your mind can take a break. When you’re done, you’ve done yourself and your mind an incredible favor.

The Other Side of Fear
Fear…most of us have it.  We all face it at some time or another.  Fear of the unknown, fear of a new experience, you name it.  Some fears are irrational.  Some are healthy and rational, I suppose.

But what I have found is that since I became a mother, my fears and worries have grown exponentially.

It’s been fear of change, fear of my kids growing up too fast, fear of aging, fear of what others may think, fear of pain, fear my kids will get sick or hurt, worry, fear, and more fear.  It’s a continual practice I work through in therapy and processing my thoughts while also connecting the dots back to childhood.

But I’ve also realized it’s more than that.  It is having the tools and self-discipline to keep my thoughts positive.  Because I tend to expand the thoughts behind my fears into bigger, all-consuming problems than if I had simply let them go.  I recently attended an inspiring conference with my husband affiliated with his practice, and this one sentence from that morning has stuck with me (among many others):

Thoughts are not facts.

A thought is simply a thought.  If you’re dwelling on the same negative thought, ask yourself, is it true?  Then, (because the brain’s initial reaction may be “yes”), is it absolutely true?  How does this thought make me feel?  And then, what would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief?

9 times out of 10 it is pretty clear to me the thought is just that:  a thought.

Listen instead for the voice that fuels you.  What thoughts are life-giving, build you up, and prove to take you down a different mental path?

Over the past year I have worked on changing my thought process, so it was fitting that this conference paralleled where I am on my own journey.

Life has been, and will continue to be, different.  I am learning to choose joy.  I am learning to sway the thoughts behind my fears to an entirely different realm of thinking.

I choose the thoughts that make me passionate about my calling.  I choose the thoughts that make me appreciate my life and all that God has blessed me with.  I choose the thoughts that make me feel strong and capable and ready to tackle any challenge.  These thoughts will never let me down.  They will not take me down the slippery slope of pity or despair. Because the truth is, life is pretty darn good.

This whole process is still relatively new for me.  I am a work in progress and probably always will be.  But I’m grateful for these changes and for the words of wisdom spoken into my life.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. - Henry David Thoreau

Eight Ways for Staying Happy
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. Many of us are still trying to pursue that last bit. But what defines the achievement of happiness? Money? Love? Children? And, more importantly, can we stay happy while we’re in its pursuit?

Even more, once we have it, how do we maintain it?

Aristotle famously once said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” It’s such a short and simple phrase, but it means so much.

It really is dependent on yourself. The happiest people in the world are not necessarily the richest, or most famous. They can be found in all walks of life. It starts from within. It starts with yourself.

Want to know the top eight things I live by to help me reach this goal?

Now, I’m not perfect. Not even close. But I gathered some ideas I felt made a difference in keeping me happy.

Listed below are eight of these ideas. I take each of them on lightly and don’t pressure myself into having to get them all done at once.

After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I know the ideas look great on paper, but they’ll feel even better once implemented into your own outlook and life. Remember: we are human. Sometimes life can throw its occasional curve ball and push you offtrack. That’s ok. The key here is to get up, dust yourself off, and get back to it. Back to your own pursuit (and maintenance) of happiness.

Eight Ideas to Keep You Happy

1. Make lists, lists, lists.

Take notes on projects you’d like to start. Vacation spots, places you’d like to eat at, people you need to call.

I have a ‘notes’ app on my phone and have an appropriate category set up for each of these lists. A hand jots down a note in a list within a notebook. When someone gives me a personal recommendation or I read about something that sounds great, or even remember something that I’d like done, I jot that down. This helps to keep me engaged in the things I’d like to experience, and to have things that I look forward to doing.

Along these lines, studies have found that people show happiness in the planning stages of their vacation, when they look forward to going away, much more than upon returning from the trip. Read on the results in the Huffington Post article, The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think.

I found a few notepad favorites to get you started, if you need. Check out this Kate Spade notebook or these small handmade notebooks with cream paper that come in different varieties of sets of 5.

2. Raise money for someone.

Do this outside of a charity organization so that you can hand them the entire amount you raise.  Not a percentage or a portion, but the entire amount. Make a difference in that person’s life. It will feel so good.

Helping someone without any agenda,and without a need for something in return has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Of course, check with the person or family to ensure that there is a need and that they agree to the fund raising in their name. Also make sure to ask whether they’d like their name included or excluded. Anonymous works just as well. I recently did this at a party where my friends and I raised money for a fellow mom battling breast cancer. More on this to come.

If you don’t feel comfortable raising for a specific person, you can alternately raise money for your local hospital or children’s school.

3. Add plants.

I did just that, after a recent trip to Aruba. I noticed all the greenery, and all the plants that were at the hotel, and I took in the beauty and decided to add this to my own household and work. Plants give off life (that’s the nerd in me speaking, as they do actually give off the oxygen that we breathe), and plants make people happy. A wonderful article covering this topic and listing many of the health benefits of plants in the home is The Perks of Being a Plant Lover.

4. Think about your children and your spouse when they are not with you.

Though it’s wonderful being with them, sometimes they can drive us crazy. But what better time to think positive thoughts than when you’re away? Take a few minutes out of your day to think of the good things they bring to your life, no matter what your situation is.

5. Do something nice for friends.

Randomly spew off three names of friends and send each a text saying something nice. You could tell them you love them, or just that you’re happy that they’re your friends. But something nice to make their day. Do this once a week.

Here’s an example I’ve picked out, to make it simple for those who want to have it one-click away: a fantastic gift for your friend that they’ll surely love: bath bombs, with easy purchasing and delivery from Amazon, or a book of 500 Reasons to Appreciate Friends, titled, Friendship Is.

They’ll get your point. And love it.

6. Carve out a few weekend hours to purge.

Every month, purge a little. Old letters, unwanted clothes, parts of your life you no longer need. Let them go. Donate them to a charity, if possible. It’s like a cleanse, except it’s external, yet it still helps you feel cleaner and healthier.

7. Put aside ‘me’ time.

Whatever makes you happy and keeps you grounded, do that. Set aside specific time during the week to do it. Working moms, we have it hard, but it’s so important for us to take a break from both motherhood and work responsibilities on a regular basis to decompress. Take part in yoga, go for a hike, listen to tunes, go to the mall (but of course, spend what you have).

8. Take a vacation and disconnect.

That means leaving the phone or other electronic devices home. No phone means no work or friends taken with you on your trip. It means quality (and I mean quality) time with your little and loved ones. Even if there’s fighting here and there, these are still bonding moments. You’ll be surprised with just how much the kids will appreciate it.

 

Get Unstuck
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Change or die.

If those were your only choices, would you embrace the necessary, potentially difficult transformation required to live? Or, would you persist with status quo, assume your fate and accept death?

That was the question posed in a book I enjoyed a decade ago by author Alan Deutschman. The book’s daring title is, by the way, Change or Die.

The answer seems so obvious.

In theory, if we were presented with the choice as dramatic as life or death, of course we’d make required changes, right?

Contrarily, Change or Die shares research analyzing everything from diets and relationships to corporate structures and prison recidivism, sharing that the reality is very different. Patterns in our relationships, diet, work and life are so ingrained that the vast majority of us are more willing to quietly slip into the night, than to boldly change and live.

Ah, but there is hope!

This book shares three keys that empower people and organizations to accept change, avoid death and thrive forward.

  1. Relationships: Changing by yourself is almost impossible. Research revealed that having an accountability partner, workout buddy, coach, or support group helped in sustaining change. Those who made real change first formed community, then became responsible to one another and finally became accountable for their own actions.
  2. Habit: We become what we repeatedly do. The individuals and organizations that sustained change built it into their days. With the community providing accountability, different choices were being made so frequently that the brain itself was being rewired. What once seemed impossible, became difficult, then simply irritating and eventually second nature.
  3. Hope. The final piece that allowed individuals and groups to move forward and sustain change was a compelling purpose. Knowing their purpose and believing in the worthy goal they were pursuing, they were empowered to endure repeated difficulties on the journey forward.

Surprisingly, what we’d think would be the most likely catalyst for causing change, fear, doesn’t work. Fear may create short term tweaks in behavior, but it has little bearing on long-term decisions or sustainable results.

(I was reminded of the difficulty of forming new habits during my most recent Live Inspired podcast interview with Christine Hassler, bestselling author and counselor. She spent much of her life chasing someone else’s dream until she made up her mind to change her path and today: She empowers thousands of others to do the same. Check it out here.)

So, change or die?

The choice between the two extremes is simple. It’s just not easy.

Choose today to lean into others and create an accountability system for each other. Together, you can choose to replace life-depleting habits with those that spark creativity, health, vibrancy and life. (I’m launching Live Inspired Studio for this very purpose soon. Sign up to learn more and get updates.)

Because, ultimately, the secret of change is not in fighting the old, but in focusing your energy on building the new.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

5 Keys to Enlightenment
Mindfulness is the topic du jour, and it doesn’t look like it’s going out of style any time soon.

You can’t turn around without hearing a word or phrase related to it — meditation, acceptance, letting go, enlightenment…

In some ways, each term has been endowed with mythical characteristics. But, enlightenment may take the cake for being the most difficult to pin down and most rife with misconceptions.

I’m not going to give you a definition of enlightenment, instead I’ll present my own perspective. What I will offer are ideas for you to consider if you’re exploring a path of mindfulness and have enlightenment as a goal.

If you find yourself intrigued, I’ve met my goal.  Because enlightenment can’t be ‘logicked’ or intellectualized or explained.  From what I understand, it is an experience.  Hoping this will kick-start an exploration or be a boot in the pants if you find yourself stalled.

#1  Drop your idea of enlightenment.

If you’ve experienced it, great.  If not, you’re in for an exciting adventure discovering that it’s not what you thought it was.

#2  Forget about arriving.

If you think you’ve arrived, you haven’t.  Notice the next time someone pisses you off.  It becomes clear that not only have you not arrived, you have only just begun.

#3  Make friends with ambiguity.

See # 2 above.  We want black and white.  The further along the path you go the blurrier the edges around black and white will become.

#4  Lighten up!

The road can be joyful and daunting.  Meet all the stages with equal measures of interest, openness, willingness and curiosity, and you’ll make the trip a lot more satisfying.

#5  Make the term ‘I don’t know” your new best friend.

If you think you know, it’s over.  I’ve wondered if having the ability to embrace ‘I don’t know’ may be the most straightforward pathway to real enlightenment.

Pema Chodron says, “enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.”  If you’re interested, here is one of her perspectives on enlightenment.

Full disclosure.  I have not arrived.  I am not enlightened.  I’m tremendously enjoying the experience of exploring it.  I hope I’ve peaked your interest.

Meditation Misconceptions
This weekend, I attended a meditation event and once again found it magical how so many people can come together to learn and share such a life-altering, yet deeply personal experience like meditation. However, the more you learn, the more you might see certain patterns. These are some of the myths I come across frequently, which perhaps raise the stigma attached to meditation. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions I have encountered:

20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. If you’re gonna remember ONE thing from this article, let it be this. You don’t have to meditate for 20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. Just like you wouldn’t tell someone who just started working out to do so for an hour a day, 5 days a week.  Similarly, we shouldn’t tell people who are trying to get into meditation the equivalent of that. Or anyone, for that matter. Start with 1 minute. Then try 2, then 3, then 4. Decide what works for you. Do that. As my favorite therapist says: “It’s a process, not perfection.”

Regular meditators don’t get sick. Meditation lowers stress hormones therefore making us less susceptible to illness. However, this study shows us that while non-meditators call in sick more often(missing 67 days from work), meditators still occasionally call in sick (they missed 16).

All regular meditators have a strict food regimen. Actually, meditating makes you more mindful of your surroundings and choices in general and food choices are no exception. However, eating "unhealthy" doesn’t make you more or less of a meditator. Especially now, where it’s not just monks in Asia (cliché, I know) who practice meditation, but people of all ages, professions, descents, skepticism and cynicism levels. You can meditate regularly your entire life without ever having to change your eating habits. You can have all the cake and the mindfulness too.

There is a difference between thinking and meditating. We're still, our eyes closed, just us and our brains...so why aren't the thoughts that cross our mind before we fall asleep considered meditative? Or when we're brushing our teeth? According to the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California, we think 48.6 thoughts per minute, or 70,000 thoughts per day. Meditation, on the other hand, is cultivating an awareness of our thoughts, or learning how to not engage with our thoughts.  In other words, meditation helps with that brain noise. Which brings me to...

Meditation = eliminating our thoughts. This is a pretty common one.  However, eliminating our thoughts isn't an attainable goal (nor one we should be striving for). Our thoughts become the elephant in the room and the more you try not to think, the more you do. Meditation is about being mindful and non-judgmental of your thoughts, and not labeling them as good or bad.  Your meditation practice isn't ruined if you find yourself thinking of what you're gonna have for breakfast. You just kindly return to your breath/ mantra/ visualization...

There’s literally nothing bad about meditation. If used excessively, even elixir can turn into poison. In 1992, Shapiro, a professor at UCLA, conducted a study and found some people experienced bad side effects like anxiety, panic, confusion when meditating. Eastern practitioners suggest that these issues might arise when beginning meditators try to go too far too soon.   As with any new practice, starting slow and easy is the way to begin, and then building from there.

There's only one (right) way to do it.  Some family, friends, or teachers might praise their way as the best and only one that "really works" while diminishing the importance of other types of meditation. However, there are many ways to meditate.  For example, When I was in Sri Lanka I meditated with a monk who taught every kind of meditation to beginners so they could compare and contrast their experiences. For example, mantra meditation doesn't work for me, and that's okay. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to meditation.

You need a teacher/retreat/book/… To me, the most wonderful thing about meditation is that to do it, all you need is you. Being mindful of your breath and thoughts is only up to you. Of course, teachers and books help, but they’re not necessary nor essential. What it all comes down to is how willing you are to deepen your relationship with your quietest, truest, most authentic self.

Keep calm and meditate on.

Waking Up
This winter was very difficult for a lot of us. The cultural climate of constant conflict and discord has left many of us feeling emotionally, spiritually, and even physically, drained. It is so important that we take the time to invite this new Spring season into our lives, and welcome a much needed, and refreshing, change.

Over these past few months, I have observed many of my clients going through a big shift, and they can feel themselves coming out of a life-hibernation. Many are sharing that they feel as though they are suddenly acutely aware of their potential, power and worth. Wonderful right? Except for many people, this time of inner revolution can feel a bit overwhelming and scary. Often, as we begin to move into our highest selves, there are multiple layers of complex narratives that bubble to the surface. It’s a process, a tapestry of tales and experiences, stitched together to form a renewed sense of Self. There are things we can do along each step of the way to empower our fierce truths, enliven our bravery and decrease any discomfort that may come up. You will absolutely come out of the process feeling stronger and better than ever before, you just may need support along the way. Here are some tips and tools for when you feel yourself, bravely, waking-up:

1. Often times, when we recognize things that we hadn’t before, we initially wish we could go back to a time when we didn’t know. I think a lot of this is rooted in fear of the unknown. We mistakenly believe that this new awareness will diminish our sense of safety, security and predictability, so, rather than cradle our newfound truth, we try to throw it away and ignore it. If you find yourself in this place, I invite you to write it down. Write down the new calling/dream/truth/goal in a journal or a place that feels safe to you. Even if you don’t want to do anything about it, just give it a space to live outside of your body/mind/spirit. “Ok, truth. I hear you. I see you. I acknowledge you. I might not do anything about it right now, and I might wish you were never here, but I thank you for stopping by.” As you allow yourself to write about it you will begin to notice an evolution of your feelings. Set aside 5-10 minutes of you day to ask yourself important questions like, “What if I allow this truth to be true? What if I don’t have to do anything about it just yet, but I can just try it on for size? What would it look like if I leaned in to this newness? What am I, actually, afraid of?” To use a favorite analogy from Sue Monk Kidd, once we are stung by a symbolic bee, we cannot be unstung. Write it out and you’ll find your way.

2. As you begin to stand in your new sense of power, you may feel an unexpected guest arrive: Anger (with a capital A). I’ve seen this so much lately, especially after the election. While we are very often told that anger is a foe, I believe it is actually a friend, trying to tell us very important information. As we wake-up we may start to feel less tolerant of people mistreating us; we may begin to question the motives of those we’d previously accepted without question; we may start to feel a deep, primal rage simmering while we re-examine our society and our history. This is when I highly recommend seeking the help and guidance of others. Perhaps you schedule an extra appointment with a therapist, or maybe you have a trusted mentor in your life to turn to. Either way, it is so important that you talk through the anger and explore its messages, before quickly reacting and potentially doing things you might regret. Anger is trying to deliver messages to us, but if we make rash decisions in its grasp, we very possibly miss the incredible gifts it has buried within. It’s not about making the anger go away, it’s about embracing it and then excavating for important artifacts. Using it as a tool rather than a weapon. We must take the time to work with our rage, knowing you owned it, not the other way around.

3. Right after the election, I found myself with numerous clients struggling with sudden severed relationships. Many experienced breaks in family ties and shared about dissolved friendships. The first thing I want to ensure everyone is that they are not alone. While we may feel temporarily isolated or displaced, and begin to blame ourselves entirely, it is so critical that we grant ourselves some serious self-compassion. As we leave the shores of the familiar and chart a course for new, unknown, lands, we can sometimes lose our bearings for a bit. We feel proud of our new strength and knowledge, but, at the same exact time, we might be met with unexpected longings for our previous routines, patterns, and relationships, even if they were toxic. When we are in these in-between spaces, it is important to start seeking out supportive friends and relationships that nurture your transformation. It is also critical to practice massive amounts of self care. Some examples that always help: Going for long walks, finding a good book at the library, taking a bubble bath each night, getting a massage, practicing yoga a few times a week, sitting alone in nature, repeating positive affirmations, getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of grounding vegetables and fresh fruits, drinking plenty of water, and taking time to journal. You are not alone, and you will feel whole once again.

As you enter Spring this year, remember that it may not always be easy, just like the butterfly struggling to emerge from her cocoon or a new flower pushing mightily through the thick winter mud, but it is, without question, always worth it. As you hear the song birds begin to sing outside again, remember to use these tools to keep yourself centered and courageous. There is big work to be done in this world, and we need you to be your best self, now, more than ever before.

Savoring the Small Moments
As parents, at the end of a long day we want nothing more than for our kids to just go to sleep easily. We may sometimes hit a breaking point and it isn’t pretty. Well, last night thankfully wasn’t one of those times. But I was definitely ready for my daughter to go to bed. My son has been waking really early for a couple weeks, and I’m just not a morning person. I had let my daughter stay up later than her brother, and she and I were watching a show on my iPad together before her bedtime.

When I told her it was time to go to bed, she sat up, and in the process the iPad banged into her forehead. The poor thing burst into tears. I immediately pulled her onto me and held her close. Part of me wanted to hurry the process along to get her to bed, but then I also found myself savoring this rather ordinary (turned sacred) moment.

“Remember when she was a baby? She’s still your baby.” With her face buried in my neck, I thought back to the memories that sometimes feel impossible to bring to the surface: my little girl as a tiny newborn in those first weeks of her life. I thought of her as a chubby, babbling baby filling my days with joy. I remembered her as a toddler saying the cutest things out of nowhere. Why is time so tricky? When I try and think of these memories, they’re so hard to recall sometimes. But tonight, they came back one by one,  as I held my sweet girl.

It’s interesting the moments that came flooding to the surface were not the trips we have taken as a family. They weren’t her first birthday party or even her first steps. Not the pumpkin patch visits or sitting on Santa’s lap. Not the “girl dates” we take here and there. They were the ordinary moments that I take for granted day after day. The regular, daily routines that seem so long, but are changing in the blink of an eye.

The days are long and the months are short, just as the saying goes. I want to freeze time in many ways, but forge ahead simultaneously. Because the struggle we feel in the present always seems like the one we can’t handle. But there is beauty in passing phases and a rainbow at the end of each little storm.

I think when we have raised our children, it will be the smallest, simplest moments that we savor. Holding their sweet hands to cross the street. Baking cookies together after school. Trips to the grocery store. The endless string of boo-boos we comforted. The most mundane moments will be our most cherished ones.

There is indeed beauty in the long days, and I am finding it. Even in the extra-long, beginning at 5 am days.

One Headstand Away From Imperfection
Practice: often defined as doing one activity or another with some semblance of frequency and consistency in an attempt to improve said practice. 

“Practice makes perfect.”

In any mindfulness class–whether it be meditation, or yoga, or any variation thereof your attendance will often be called “your practice.” One of the most fundamental and foundational principles of yoga is accepting that you come to the mat with an understanding that there is always something to learn and improve on in your practice. Therefore, never really reaching a state of “perfection.”

But, there’s the rub:

When you first start writing your name, you practice and practice so you learn your letters and and the right curvature of each one.

When you play a sport, you practice diligently, consistently, frequently in an attempt to perfect (or at the very least significantly improve it).

Most of our lives, we have been told that if we just keep at it that our practice will pay off and we will–in a sense–get to the point of perfecting the craft, the art, the sport, etc.

I have been practicing a headstand now for the better part of a year.

I still can’t do it.

I have broken several things attempting to do the damn thing.  And, it’s driving me insane. There are probably hundreds of gifs that could be made of flailing and yelping as I tumble back to gravity as quickly as I get to that final toe off the ground.

“You’re so close!” my yoga teacher tells me… every single week.

I have struggled with the concept that I may never actually be able to do this and that I must continue to practice with an acceptance of possibly never getting there, and that acceptance doesn’t mean I’m giving up.

Hell, I knew I was never going to be good at math and I accepted that real quick and haven’t looked back since!

Perhaps practice could take on the new meaning that practice is well…just that. Practice, is something you do with intentionality and at the end of it, know that you did your best and your body saved you the perfection you think you needed to achieve.

Alright, headstand you win, but I’ll always win when it comes to corpse pose.

The Power of Gratitude
There is one thing that we all want, one thing that we strive for - happiness.  Happiness however is a journey, not a destination. Research by Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage, as well as other psychologists attest to this principle that if we equate our happiness with an end result, such as the goal of obtaining something, like a house for example, we will inevitably change the benchmark once we have obtained that goal.

We will push the benchmark of happiness further and further in order to again grasp something more, maybe furniture for the new house. As such, we miss out on experiencing happiness fully and are always searching for the next thing of desire. 

Positive psychology and neuroscience give us some solid backing on how to practice the process of happiness.  Just like building muscles at the gym, our happiness “muscles” need to be attuned to and employed. The “muscles” of happiness are thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Paying attention to these “muscles” and being intentional with them is fundamental to the process. The concept of neuroplasticity informs us that we have the potential to change the way our brain is wired with intentional actions that re-wire old habits, be they behavior or thinking patterns.

One sure way to increase our happiness is through gratitude. Gratitude is expressed in various ways in our world, all of which lend an appreciation and graciousness to someone or towards something. With a shift in focusing on what we are grateful for we begin to see the positives, even during the hard or challenging times. Intentionally being grateful will, slowly but surely, re-wire our brains from a negative (or lack perspective) to a more positive (or abundant perspective). The latter being a perspective that lends us to greater overall happiness.

When we are short on money, our negative brain may naturally go to thoughts of lack about how much we don't have and how terrible our life circumstances are, leading us down a spiral path. On the other hand, a brain that has been wired towards gratefulness may naturally find appreciation for other things, like sunshine, close relationships and a hot cup of tea.

Being grateful or simply thinking about things that make us feel appreciative have a natural effect on our brain releasing neurotransmitters that aid in mood improvement and connection (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin).

Quiet daily reflection, making a gratitude list, sending someone a text or an email just to tell them you appreciate them, or taking photos of things you are grateful for can all contribute towards this positive outlook.

Another way to create a daily gratitude practice is through photography and social media.  For example,  Dr. Lauren Tober created a global movement called Capturing Gratitude, which aims to increase worldwide happiness, one photograph at a time. Capturing Gratitude encourages you to take time out of your day to notice things that you are grateful for, those that you can think about and more importantly, those that you can feel.

Remember:  the key to maximizing the benefits of gratitude is to be consistent in your practice, which in turn, re-wires the brain for happiness.  

 

 

Come and join the worldwide happiness and gratitude movement at www.capturinggratitude.com. You can also join the Capturing Gratitude revolution by using @CapturingGratitude or #CapturingGratitude on your gratitude photos on your preferred social media site: Facebook or Instagram.

Just 90 Seconds
Being human means that we’re attracted to what feels good, and resistant to what doesn’t.  That’s the ground of our humanness, and a primary cause of our fear and suffering.

Aware of it or not, we bounce between those two states all day, every day, throughout our lives.  Always with the intention of getting back to feelings of happiness and contentment.

Which of course is futile.  Talk about anxiety producing!

There is a way out.

We can develop a different relationship with our emotional life.  And it begins with the awareness that our emotions are manageable once we understand how they operate.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who, after recovering from a massive stroke, wrote a best-seller entitled: My Stroke of Insight.  In it, she explains how emotions work.

All emotions — anger, sadness, joy, longing — are responses to a stimuli.  They are automatic.  Something happens.  Something is said, or done, or thought, that triggers an emotional response in us.

Sometimes we can’t figure out the cause.  Usually that means we had a thought or saw something or felt a sensation so fleeting we didn’t even notice it.

Taylor says the length of an emotion, if left to simply live its natural organic life, is one and one-half minutes, just 90 seconds!

When it lasts longer than that, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve rekindled it, over and over, with our thoughts about it.  "Oh no, here it is again!"   "What if this??" "What if that?"  "I hate this!"  "Why me??"

Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort and letting it take its natural 90 second course, we jack it up by recycling our thoughts around it over and over.

In our misguided attempt to get rid of of it, we extend and intensify it.  So an emotion that naturally lasts 90 seconds can be dragged out, sometimes for years!

I’ve been struggling with some persistent and annoying hives.  They come unexpectedly, seemingly without rhyme or reason or discernible cause.  One morning I woke up at 4 am with a large hive on my tongue!  Totally freaked me out!  Adrenaline rushed through my body and my thoughts went crazy.  What if this?  What if that?

And then I remembered the 90 second rule.  I knew that making friends with the emotion I was feeling wouldn’t necessarily make the hive disappear, but it could help me reduce the intensity of my emotional reaction so that I could come up with a plan instead of running from mirror to mirror hoping that I wasn’t seeing what I was seeing, and further scaring the crap out of myself!

So I sat down, softened my body, focused on my out breath, letting all the air out of my lungs, and immediately realized I needed to take a Benadryl.  I also remembered that I have an Epi-pen, which in my fear, I had forgotten.  So I breathed into the tightness in my body, softening over and over.  And then I took a Benadryl.

I went about my business and noticed that periodically the fear returned.  Each time I breathed all the way out and softened around it, it seemed to have its life and leave.  The hive got smaller, so I didn’t need the Epi-pen.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that if my throat had been swollen shut this ‘take a pause and rely on the 90 second rule’ approach would have made sense.  The story line in that situation would have been different.  I haven’t experienced the kind of life-threatening allergic reaction that some people deal with on a regular basis.

With a little bit of hindsight I can see that each time fear returned, as I continued to soften when it showed up, instead of resisting it, it seemed to wreak less havoc on my body.  I had the sense that fewer stress hormones were being released the softer and more relaxed I kept my body.

That can only be good news.  The fewer stress hormones we’re dumping on ourselves the better!!

So the next time you’re confronted with something that makes you feel unsettled, like the ground beneath your feet isn’t as solid as you’d like it to be, consider doing the 90 second thing:

Soften, lean in, drop the story line, breathe all the way out, and put your attention on relaxing around the physical sensations with openness and compassion for yourself and for the feelings.  See what, if anything, you discover.

P.S.  The 90 second rule also works with anger.  When you notice you’re ready to rip someone’s face off, give yourself 90 seconds.  You won’t regret it.

Be Uncommonly Honest
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” ― William Faulkner

“If you don’t have anything nice to say…..”

We know how to finish this sentence, don’t we?

We’ve been taught by our parents, family members, coaches and teachers this mantra from a young age: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Any word or conversation that might be hurtful, divisive or unkind should remain unsaid.

And yet, today there seems to be no shortage of people who never received this advice. Examples are easily found in the conversations had by panels on television, political leaders in front of cameras or online contributors in your social feeds. The tone is so often ripe with pessimism, negativity and opinions shared with clenched fists.

At times it almost feels there must be a (false!) belief that in saying something negative about others, we somehow benefit ourselves.

Kim Scott’s life’s work is to help us see that this is not wise and, that the opposite – what she calls “ruinous empathy” or being nice to a literal fault – is not effective either. Her book Radical Candor came out last week and in it she shares the four categories of communication, and how to balance your communication to ensure progress, mutual understanding and collective growth… All of which cannot be had with ruinous empathy or undue negativity.

Kim has worked with and learned from unusual and significant leaders including expert diamond cutters in Russia and Steve Jobs at Apple. She’s also learned what is most effective in communicating with others so that they can do their best work and so their team can best meet their collective goal.

We spent time together on my recent Live Inspired Podcast episode discussing flaws within common communication styles, how they are impacting relationships and teams and most important: Solutions to improve them. (Listen here to Kim’s story and learn simple strategies to connect more effectively.)

Kim Scott refers to the most effective way to manage, lead and connect with others as “radical candor.”

Practicing radical candor includes being uncommonly honest while coming from a place of great love and respect. When practiced, it reminds us to keep the conversation about idea, not ego. It creates an environment where disagreement is encouraged, because in expressing ourselves and truly listening to others express themselves, we are able to find real truth.

It’s been said that truth without love is brutality, but that love without truth is hypocrisy. Using radical candor provides us the ability to care personally and challenge directly in order to encourage those around us to achieve extraordinary results.

Our opportunity as inspired leaders is to never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice, lying and greed. If we do this, we will change the world. Starting with our own.

I challenge you today to be uncommonly honest and come from a place of great love and respect.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

The Most Damaging Word We Use All the Time
Everywhere I go, I hear the same phrase over and over again: “I’m sorry.” Or, the shorter version, “sorry.” I myself used to be guilty of repeating this phrase, as well, but decided to train myself out of it when I really looked at what it was I was communicating to myself and to those around me.

The definition of sorry is twofold. First, there is the definition that has come to signify an apology in our culture. The difficulty with this definition is that “sorry” does not mean to express regret for something one has done, or to take responsibility for it. In fact, sorry just means to express regret, sympathy or pity. Without an action to take responsibility for, sorry simply expresses a feeling of regret. If the action you are attempting to take responsibility for wasn’t necessarily yours to begin with, the regret is misplaced. The other definition is: dismal, wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful. Bleh.

When you begin to pay attention to something, you begin to see it more clearly and more often. Paying attention to “sorry” rearing it’s head in conversation gave me the opportunity to learn more about it by asking questions to those who were giving life to the word. The responses that I received about why people had used the word were pretty uniform: it was just an automatic response. They weren’t doing anything to harm another person. They weren’t holding any malintent. They were talking, moving…simply being themselves. Simply being.

What does it say about our culture that it is customary, expected even, that people should constantly be apologizing for being?

When I sat down with myself and looked at how I was using the word sorry, it became clear that I did not feel regret or responsibility for something I had done to another person. The truth was much deeper than that. I authentically felt that there was something inherently wrong with me. I believed that I was not good enough. I bought in to the ridiculous standards put forth by both media and social media, and according to those standards, I really was dismal, wretched, poor, useless, and pitiful. I felt inherent regret for being lesser in a world that rewards only greatness.

So, I walked around all the time owning my sorry. I am dismal. I am useless. I am pitiful. I regret being me. I regret being. When I was late for a meeting due to traffic I couldn’t possibly have control over, I shamed myself. When I was so passionate about something that I spoke loudly in a conversation, I shamed myself. When I accidently bumped into someone’s chair and stubbed my toe, I shamed myself. I told the world and myself that I was bad, wrong, and not good enough over and over again.

The worst part of this entire story is that this is an epidemic in our world right now. I am not the only one reflexively saying that I’m sorry. I am certainly not the only one actually feeling a visceral level of regret. There are so many sources telling us that we are not okay the way that we are, and we believe it! How can we ever fulfill our dreams, engage in meaningful relationships, or feel gratitude for the magic that is all around us, if we are constantly reaffirming that we are not worthy?

I decided to take my self-worth into my own hands. I cut the word “sorry” out of my vocabulary. There is immense power in not feeling regret every day. Now, if I am late for a meeting, I simply state the truth: there was a lot of traffic today that I did not anticipate. I could not have controlled that, and I do not feel inherently responsible for it. I get to move on with my day!

In addition, I have learned to scale way back on any form of apology. In reality, I can only provide an apology when I honestly feel regret for something that was my responsibility. There is unbelievable freedom in not taking responsibility for something I am not responsible for. Apologizing to someone who is grieving is like saying you somehow contributed to that grief, again shaming yourself for something that has nothing to do with you. Not getting caught up in the shame, on the other hand, opens you up to feel and react with compassion.

Through this process I have come to a new truth: I am in charge of myself. I set my own expectation. I am responsible for me. I am powerful. I am beautiful according to my own standards. I am capable.

I am not sorry.

And you don’t have to be, either.

Habits of Perpetually Happy People

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been captive to negative thoughts.

I wasn’t necessarily aware of it, but I was definitely not a “glass half full” person if you were to ask me. I knew that I longed for joy – but I really believed my circumstances just weren’t allowing for it. Whether it was cranky kids, sheer exhaustion, or a season of sickness, I always felt the odds were stacked against me in my search for happiness.

I so badly wanted to find this ‘paradise’ in my life – that time and place where everything would finally go my way. I was so caught up in the “if/then” game: “If only the kids were a little bit older, then things would be easier.” Or: “If I could just get a solid night of sleep, then I wouldn’t be so irritable all the time.”

In my quest for this personal paradise, I continually fell short, of course.

If anything in my day went wrong, I would immediately start in with grumbling and complaining. One thought would lead to another and soon I found myself back down that slippery slope of self-pity.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became conscious of how my thoughts were dictating the course of my day. I started to see that happiness was actually a choice, and I was definitely not choosing it.

I decided I was in need of a serious life change. I researched the habits of perpetually happy people and the overwhelming theme that came up was gratitude. So I started to keep a thankful journal and wrote down all of the blessings I’ve been given, big and small. Soon after, things started to change for me. It was really hard to feel sorry for myself when my heart was so full of gratitude.

Another trait that habitually positive people possess is keeping their minds focused on uplifting thoughts. It took some time, but I trained my mind to literally re-route itself each time a negative thought came creeping in. I would replace it with something positive and life-giving instead. And slowly but surely I noticed my perspective began to shift.

The end result has been a completely new way of thinking, and an unexplainable joy I haven’t known before. I feel like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, eager to explore all this world has to offer. I’m seeing the world in color for the first time after knowing only black and white.

With this newfound gratitude, I’m noticing beauty everywhere.

And I’m realizing it’s truly the smallest, simplest moments that make for an extraordinary life. Lattes with a friend, a pedicure, my daughter’s eyes, the sound of rain, a certain smile of my son’s, my favorite cozy socks, clean sheets, sunsets, a beautiful tree. I am in constant awe of it all.

I hope I never lose this new sense of wonder. I want the ocean to take my breath away every time I see it. I pray my senses are always shocked when I arrive to the mountains, taking in that crisp, fresh air. I hope I always notice the white, budding flowers in Spring and the deepest purple violets blooming.

I’d been searching high and low for joy-filled days all of these years. Could it really be this simple? Was paradise here the whole time, right in front of me?

I have new eyes to see and a fresh outlook on life. I want to be a sunshine seeker, a kindness spreader, and a beauty finder.

Paradise, I think I finally found you. And I couldn’t be happier.

Overthinking: Death by Analysis Paralysis
"I have no idea how not to think."

In my line of work, we often joke about “death by PowerPoint.” You know what I’m talking about–we’ve all been there! Someone walks you through 50 to 100 slides of PowerPoint slides chock full of data, white background, and no color to speak of. Everything blurs together and you learn nothing except for vowing that you’ll never sit through another one of these presentations for as long as you live.

I propose that there’s a similar death when you are working to climb the mountain of mindfulness: death by “analysis paralysis,” or “what if’s.” 

Here’s what happens to me when the grim reaper of analysis paralysis knocks on my door: the mind races and a seemingly incessant stream of “what if” scenarios, bordering on the irrational and unrealistic start to unfurl behind my eyes. It’s like watching a bad b-movie where I’m the main star and I can’t seem to get my shit together, over and over again.  To add on to the joy of the mindless spiral, physical symptoms of jittery impatience start to manifest: legs jiggling, shallow breathing, shifty-eyed, giving each task or conversation before me approximately 2% of my attention.

Ideas / worries / disappointments / potential failures surface and bleed into more uncertainties that rip me away from my ability to stay present in the moment because I’m busy starring in my own movie of All The Things That Could Possibly Happen in the Future – Ever.

There are few things that can pull me out of that death spiral, but one thing in specific has yet to fail me. And, that is, the importance of body work. By body work, I mean physical activity of any kind, physical touch of any kind (massage, a simple hug from a friend or a loved one), my personal favorite: placing my hand on my heart center, and most recently acupuncture.

There is nothing more grounding than using the strength, movement, and physical presence of this beautiful and imperfect body that I’ve been given. Acupuncture has provided me a forced stillness when I’ve needed it the most. There is no where to go when I’ve got a bunch of needles stuck in random places all over my body. My limbs become heavy on the table. I am forced to face the ugly demons of over thinking, to quiet them, put them in a corner. I am in my own stillness breathing in quiet serenity and breathing out every thought as it slowly loses it’s tenuous grip on the edges of my mind. 

My mind elopes frequently with all of the possibilities and uncertainties of life. But my body is always here. Present and in the moment. Rooted and grounded to this earth. 

For it carries all of me, mind and spirit. 

More Than Just A Question
A question becomes more than just a question when it’s transformed from a superficial or challenging statement into an expression of love.

The image above is the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked.  Read on to see what they represent–the most fundamental components of your relationship toolbox.

In Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett suggests there are three types of questions she deals with most often – simplistic, combative and generous.

Riffing off that idea, here’s what I came up with:

Simplistic questions can be a problem because they tend to generate simplistic and superficial answers.

By simplistic I’m not referring to the mundane, everyday questions we ask, like:  “How’s the weather?” or “What do you want to drink?”.

I’m talking about narrow and loaded questions that suggest one already knows the answer.  They imply that if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot!  They’re not combative in that they assume agreement and compliance.  Questions like: “Don’t you just hate that?”, “Isnt she an idiot?”, and “Come on now, where’s that pretty smile?”

Combative questions tend to be black and white, generate divisiveness, and create a strangle hold on existing positions and opinions.

“So you’re saying I should just give up and let the bad guys win?!”, and “How can you think that?!” are combative, defensive questions that will serve to either end a conversation or keep someone mired in a position they may be unable to defend but will surely be unwilling to explore further with you.

Generous questions are expressed in a vein of openness and curiosity.  They generate wonder and excitement, and sometimes, suggest a connection between two people that may reflect a love that bears no resemblance to the romantic notions we hold about love.

“Help me understand how you arrived at your understanding of that”, and “Please tell me more”, are both generous questions hidden within statements that express my deep desire to more fully understand you and the topic we’re discussing.

A question becomes more than a question when it tells you that I want to learn, understand and grow with you and from you.  And that will never happen if I think I already know the answer.

Personally, I wonder about everything.  But mostly I wonder: “What do you really think about things?”

Once I started paying attention to the way I phrase questions, it didn’t take long to see that my questions don’t always reflect my sincere curiosity.  Often they evoke responses that tend to be as incomplete or misguided as my questions!

Words matter.  When I’m not careful, when I’m on automatic pilot, my questions fall into the first two camps – simplistic and/or combative.

To ask generous questions that will result in a more meaningful connection between us, I need to go into our interaction with an openness and curiosity that doesn’t always come naturally.

I suspect that generous questions are impossible without deep and patient listening skills.  And I think the converse is also true — we can’t experience true and generous listening without generous questioning skills.  They are inextricably linked.

Generous listening results in our ability to ask generous questions, and is perhaps the primary gateway to real love.  Because it allows us to connect.  And we are hard-wired to want to connect with each other.

After all, isn’t that fleeting butterfly experience of two souls meeting, seeing and connecting with each other, what love is all about?

I think we have it all wrong when we take for granted that once we’re ‘in love’ it’s forever.  I think it happens intermittently, and must be nurtured again and again.  And I’m not just talking about romantic love.  I’m talking about the love between parents and children and siblings, and the love we sometimes feel for friends and clients and even relative strangers.

I suspect that it’s humanly impossible to remain in a state of perpetual love. But if we meet each other with the intention to ask more generous questions and to practice generous listening, it seems likely that our ability to experience true love more often can be powerfully increased.

These are the tools that allow me to see you with no strings, no need for you to be anything other than who and what you are, a unique spirit with whom I’m trying to make a momentary connection.

As a reminder, I carry a visual in my head of the infinity symbol – two circles elegantly and inextricably linked – representing generous listening and generous questions.

My intention is to listen with presence, openness, curiosity and humility.  My desire is to abandon certainty.  I think I’ll be putting less weight on reaching agreement and more weight on understanding you.  Join me?

A Better Way to Run the Race
“Leaders are frequently limited by their vision, rather than by their abilities.” R.T. Bennett

Are you driven by what’s pursuing you or by what you’re pursuing?

It’s an important distinction. When we’re motivated by what pursues us, we have fear: of failing, of losing what we’ve achieved or that someone may take what’s ours. It’s like running an entire race with your head turned to see who is behind you.

But, my friends, there is a better way to run the race of life.

We’re invited to be inspired leaders sprinting forward, fueled by love of what we do, driven by what’s possible and motivated by the lives we can impact.

I was reminded of this truth during a recent conversation. Let me explain.

By all measures, Mike Matheny is a successful man. He is happily married, delights in his five children and enjoys an active faith life. He flourished during 19 years as a Major League Baseball player, was an All Star player, won gold gloves and made a financial fortune from baseball.

Mike recently joined me on the Live Inspired podcast to share his story, mistakes made, lessons learned and what they mean for us. He shared that the highlight of his career was the night he was called to the Big Leagues.

After incalculable hours playing catch, practicing, playing for his high school team and then for Michigan, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. After being drafted, Mike spent years playing in the minors, away from home, missing his wife, enduring overnight bus rides, before he got “the call.”

The evening he made his Major League debut, Mike walked onto the field and looked into the crowd. Among the tens of thousands of fans, he saw his brothers (who played catch with him even when they didn’t want to), parents (who invested countless hours and dollars guiding him) and wife (who believed in him through the months of absence and lean financial years).

And yet, as magnificent as the evening was, there was a voice whispering to Mike that he didn’t belong; suggesting he might not be good enough; there might be someone better for the job.

The voice stayed with him that first game, season and several seasons after. It was so powerful that he feels he missed out on the full experience, the real joy of playing baseball out of fear he might lose it.

As Mike grew as a player and man, he shifted from looking behind him for who might be taking his place and started looking forward, embracing the joy of being a Major League ballplayer.

It was a critical shift that permitted him to fully enjoy his success and – years later – to not be devastated when it was all taken from him. Upon retirement, Mike invested in real estate and, during the downturn, lost everything. Rather than look back at all he’d lost, he grew in his faith, leaned into his family and remained unwavering in his hope for tomorrow and running the good race today.

Mike’s pursuit led him to write on authentic leadership, mentorship and coaching. That opened a door to him becoming a roving instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals, which led to an unlikely interview for the role of manager of the club. Today, he’s had one of the most successful five-year runs for any manager beginning their career in the history of baseball.

As head coach and manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike offers encouragement to his young players. He implores them to work tirelessly, believe in themselves and be outstanding teammates. He also reminds them – and each of us – that looking backwards is not an effective way to move forward.

As you take the field today at your office, school or home, remember that leaders are frequently limited by their vision, not their abilities. Pursue your goals with dogged persistence and do so with your eyes, heart and dreams looking forward, celebrating this moment. You’ll never again have this view.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

The Weight of Silence

Why have I been silent all of these years?

A quiet, sterile surface,

afraid of not having answers,

afraid of my own ignorance and privilege,

afraid of ruffling feathers.

I have been silent.

Silent like tears falling at night,

silent like a flower wilting to powder,

silent like storm clouds brewing.

Silent.

But now, the truth is, I no longer know

the sound of my own voice,

and I can feel the shame of my ancestors’ ancestors,

as they wonder how their hearts got

lost in translation somehow.

The truth is, my silence is a breeding ground

for injustice and fear, a vacuum of sorts

for someone else’s words to fill.

No more, no longer.

The weight of my silence has

buried me into the ground.

The weight of my silence has oppressed

more than aggression and hate and prejudice.

The weight of my silence has taken away

freedoms and health and choices and lives

from those who were counting on

people like me to stand up.

No more, no longer.

I will speak.

I will ask.

I will love.

I will write.

I will protect.

Be it a whisper or a roar,

Be it a bad poem or a wrong answer,

One word of compassion weighs more

than silence ever will.

Mindful Dialogue: Politics and Kids
In recent weeks, I have had some difficult conversations with my two sons, who are eight and five years old.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I had secretly hoped that a social studies teacher, or a clever Disney movie with an underlying message on immigration and women’s' rights would get to them before I ever needed to.  In my fantasy, I could simply follow up with some nice words and inspirational quotes and tie it all up in a neat little package.  Done!  Isn't mom the wisest person around?

Unfortunately, life and parenting just doesn’t work that way.

Today, information is reaching our kids faster than we can, perhaps even more than they as kids, or we are parents, consciously realize.  Children are absorbing current events from the internet, social media, television, radio, friends, teachers, chatter at the park, and conversations “in code” with our spouses.  Furthermore, they are picking up on our moods, demeanor and even energetic changes in the world around them.

So where do we begin?  How do we open a dialogue with our children about abortion, women rights, immigration, refugees, and national security without stripping away their innocence, introducing bias, or asking them to pick sides?   

We as parents might feel unprepared ourselves to deal with such issues, much less discuss them with our children.  We are trying to filter, position, and even dilute some of the controversial news around us, without saying too much or too little.

Perhaps one gift of this election is an opportunity to practice mindful dialogue with our children.  Here are some ideas that have helped me in starting such conversations with my own little ones, and hopefully might help you too:

1. You Know Them Best: You know your children better than anyone else, including me, the experts out there, and other friends and family.  Consider your child’s age, developmental level, temperament, and ability to handle difficult topics and emotions.  Think about what a safe space and time for challenging conversations might look like in your particular family.  Make sure your spouse or partner is on board.  Begin by eliciting what your child already knows, and what questions they might already have, and use that as a starting point for conversation

2. Model Calm: Children are highly attuned to the emotions that their parents experience, especially fear, sadness, anxiety, and anger.  As parents, we know that there are many unprecedented changes occurring in this history defining time.  Yet we owe it to our children to find the balance of not over-reacting emotionally, nor under-reacting intellectually.  Do your best to be honest with your children about how you feel, while maintaining a safe and calming demeanor.

3. Educate.  Share the issues that you feel your children are ready to hear and absorb.  Use age-appropriate language and neutral words.  Do your best to not create a sense of fear or alarm, but let them know you are always here to help them understand what is going on in the world, and will always do your best to inform and protect them.  Share that it is important for us to do our best to stay informed as part of being citizens of the country and the world.  Help them understand and filter the available information, including discerning reliable sources.

4. Lean into Your Values.  We have been instilling and modeling values in our kids from the day they were born. We have done our best to model kindness, compassion, empathy, honesty and gratitude.  We have also tried to teach assertiveness, appropriate ways to share and ask questions, and how to be respectful to others, including those with whom we disagree. When talking with your kids, give them permission to use the lens of their values and moral sense of right and wrong, and help them do so. Many of the political issues we are facing today are beyond bipartisan. They are human issues. Let’s discuss them in a human way with our children.

5. Model Non-Judgment:  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and we may disagree with many of the people we know, and don’t know.  Given yourself permission to feel passionate about your own beliefs, without judging or belittling those who espouse different views.  We can share with our children that non-judgment is a trait we practice throughout our lives.  Remind them that our words have the power to heal or harm, whether used face-to-face, or via technology or social media.

6. Give Space and Reassurance.  Children and adolescents might be worried about their safety whenever big changes occur in their lives.  One of the most important things we can do is maintain a sense of safety and routine within our homes.  Provide space to voice their concerns and questions, and reassure them frequently that you will do your best as a parent to protect them.  As children, they have not yet experienced repeated political election cycles and cannot draw upon prior experience of such transitions of power. To adults, uncertainty and change are familiar, and we have had some practice managing the associated anxiety.  Uncertainty is a new and difficult feeling for our children, and therefore may need a little extra love and support.

Above all, difficult times and difficult conversations become an opportunity for sharing compassion with our children.  Consider practicing a simple compassion exercise with your child as something to “do” when feeling helpless, or overwhelmed.

Sitting on the floor with your child, open your arms out to the side and breathe in deeply. Breathe in peace. Bring your hands back to your heart, breathing out love to everyone in the world.  Do this several times. Breathe in peace all the way to the toes, and breathe out love to every child and adult in the world.

Difficult conversations and practices, however challenging, are perfect chances to teach our children, and ourselves perhaps the most important lesson of all.  No matter what is going on in the world around us, we all have the ability to pause and connect to a deep sense of our own internal compassion.  It is from this peaceful place that we can then manifest the change we wish to see in the world.

 

Breaking the rules?
How many of your decisions are really your decisions?

I’ve been looking back at my life and taking inventory. I’m wondering how many of my decisions have been decisions that: others wanted me to make; or that my younger, less experienced self would make; or that I think I ‘should’ make because of some unspoken rule that I’ve been following without even knowing it?

As an experiment, 2017 is the year I’ve tagged “letting go of all the rules that no longer work for me”.

Rules are sets of understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere. Some are written and some are understood.

I have no argument with speed limits, The Golden Rule, no texting while driving, or planting seeds at a specific time of year to get an abundant crop. These rules are guidelines that have proven to support the best interests of a healthy society.

I’m all in for certain rules of etiquette: keep your mouth closed while you chew; let people off the elevator before you get in; be quiet when people are sleeping; on a busy train or bus don’t take up two seats with your ‘stuff’. These rules indicate that you have a brain and a heart.

I’m not talking about overthrowing the government (although recently the thought has crossed my mind).

The vast majority of the decisions I’ve made over my lifetime have been made because of rules, shoulds, and ideas I actually didn’t see dragging in the dirt behind me … the ones that didn’t add to me or to the health of society. In hindsight I suspect I used them as an anchor to hold myself together. Maybe my fear was that if I wasn’t attached to a bunch of beliefs and ideas and rules I would run totally amuck?!

The rules I want to let go of are the ideas and unspoken dictates that are keeping me in line with someone else’s idea of how I ‘should’ act. Rules like "boys don’t cry"; "don’t gather undue attention"; "boys play sports"; "girls do the housework"; "men bring home the bacon"; "children should be seen and not heard"; "children should be allowed to do or say whatever they want"; "don’t rock the boat"; "keep everybody happy"; "don’t leave a high-paying job for a more satisfying one"; "you can only be happy if you have children"; "don’t waste your time on an art or music degree"; "get married" … and on and on and on …

I want to do things differently. Can I actually trust my own judgment? I’m not kidding myself. It won’t be easy.

Unspoken rules come from our families, our workplaces, our churches and our society in general. They’re everywhere. So how does one even begin to sort them out?

It’s also difficult because most everybody follows most of the rules, whether they know it or not. We’re hardwired to want to be part of everybody. Most of us way deep down want to be accepted. And for sure, there’s safety in numbers.

WHERE DO YOU START?

So if you want to use more discretion in which rules you follow, where do you start? What do you use to guide your decision-making?

SHOW UP

First of all, you need to show up. That means you notice when you’re on automatic pilot. When you’re on automatic pilot you’re going to do what you’ve always done. On automatic pilot you can hurt yourself and you can hurt others, and you may never know it. You want to do something different this time.

USE ALL OF YOU

Second, use all of you. By that I mean you have amazing resources to make healthy and reasonable decisions when you pool all your resources. When you bring in the wisdom inherent in your intellect, your heart, and your body and they’re working together, you know what to do! Literally.

Pause, breathe, notice the story (i.e. notice that you’re creating chaos or scaring the crap out of yourself with your thoughts), and then soften your body, You will come back to yourself. Every time.

TRUST

If you allow yourself to trust in your own basic wisdom, you will find it easier to follow the rules and laws that make sense, and enjoy the freedom of ignoring the ones that are insane. I don’t think there’s ever been a time that would benefit more from that approach. Maybe we can look back on this century as the beginning of the wisdom revolution.

As I keep practicing what I preach – pausing, breathing, noticing the story in my head, and softening my body – I’m experiencing fewer regrets and also more open-hearted moments.

I’m not expecting a complete overthrow of the rule police in my head. I am seeing myself slowly developing greater trust in my own wisdom.

Is there something that you’re doing that you know isn’t in your best interest? Is there a rule you’re following that sucks the life out of you? Have you ever asked yourself what feels ‘right’ to you? Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you? That one shift, from asking what ‘is’ right, to what feels ‘right’ to me in this moment, has changed the course of my life several times.

Think of a decision or a choice you need to make. It could be as simple as whether or not you want to let your daughter stay out after curfew. You get that it’s important to her and you know she’ll be mad at you if she has to leave the party early. You know that all her friends are being allowed to stay. But you also know the curfew is in place for a variety of reasons.

Put your hand on your belly, breathe out, soften your body, and then ask yourself what feels ‘right’, to you, in this moment. Not what ‘is’ right, but what feels ‘right’ to you?

A Movement Begins With A Single Step
When I took my two young sons with me to the Women’s March, I wasn't fully sure what to expect, or how to explain to them why it was important that we walk together.  Personally, I wanted to show them what could happen when we showed up for what we believed in and to find healing and strength through tolerance, civility, and compassion for fellow human beings – recognizing that diverse communities are the strength of our country.  That we could unite to harness our voices, and our ability to peacefully protest, as a radical tool for social transformation.

Learn more at Shyft.What my sons witnessed were women, men, and children from all across the world standing up in solidarity.  Being a part of a global movement felt like a moment of true empowerment, one I don't think I can ever forget.  Together, we made history.  Together, we were walking forward towards kindness, compassion, and equality.  Its endearing to see them perk up when the Women’s March is shown on TV and try and find themselves amongst the sea of people.

The positive energy and love amongst the marchers was palpable. Strangers were holding hands and taking pictures with one another.  They were smiling, laughing, and enjoying the movement that was unfolding in front of their eyes.  We were all in it together.  Truthfully, I hadn't felt a moment of such connection with friends, family, and strangers alike in many years.

My young son videotaped the entire march.  He was greeted by encouraging and loving adults who willingly agreed to be interviewed on camera and explain their personal reasons for marching.  The overwhelming response that he received was “for a kinder America” - one that is inclusive, just, and loving to all.

I didn't walk away having any more answers than when I arrived.  I still feel the same struggle within me:  how do I fight for what I personally believe in, while seeking understanding and compassion for those who espouse different views?  Perhaps the ability to see through another's lens, even when we don't agree, is the hallmark of compassion.  At the same time, I must reconcile that with standing for my own beliefs and values.

The march was also an unexpected reminder that we can find gratitude in the most challenging circumstances.  I discovered that this election, and the march, was an opportunity to be grateful.  Thankful for women uniting all across the world.  Thankful for the opportunity to teach my children about democracy.  Thankful for the reminder to continue checking my own unconscious biases.  And, even thankful for having the activist fire lit within me.

I seek to understand, I seek to be understood, and I continue to seek guidance in asking the right questions from all of those around me who have experienced battles that I have not fought. It is not easy.  For me, perhaps enlightenment may not be found on the cushion, but in facing these very real struggles while maintaining my core values, moment by moment. And yes, step by step.  

 

Reciprocity of Writing & Motherhood
Many women enjoy reading and writing about their experiences as a mother. I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, research essays, and especially journaling. I always found comfort in writing my thoughts and feelings on paper. It was almost as though I was solving my own questions, putting pieces of puzzles together with each written word. Since becoming a mother I found that being a part of a community that shares in the experience of motherhood is not only therapeutic, but informative. It’s allowed mothers all over the world to know that they are not alone in their challenges, feelings, and moments of amazement. There is a beautiful give and take in writing about one’s role as a mother- a reciprocity I’d never realized until I found myself immersed in the writing experience.

The story that brings any mother to begin writing is certainly different for everyone, but I’m sure much of it has to do with an urge to reach out to the world and find some sort of guidance. It was for me. As an English major in college, I always enjoyed journaling when I wasn’t working on a thesis essay. Once I completed school and joined the workforce, I continued to journal until I moved in with my husband. Between my job, wedding and pregnancy, I no longer had time to write.  During the duration of my pregnancy, only twice did I pick up my pen for the purpose of writing something significant. The first time was to write my wedding vows to my new husband; the second was to write a eulogy for my father’s service when he unexpectedly passed during my fifth month of pregnancy.

For the two years I didn’t write or feel any urge to journal. My entire focus was absorbed by the many faceted duties of motherhood; however, over the course of those two years I felt myself becoming undone emotionally. I was plagued with anxiety, and depression. I had mood swings that made me feel as though I were going insane. I couldn’t find escape in the laundry, cooking, vacuuming, and diaper changing. I needed to put a voice to what was happening within. Though life was hectic, the call to write was eventually heard through the dull rumblings of the constant traffic. One day, exhausted and hurting, I turned on the laptop that had been sitting dormant in my bedroom closet, and began to write. Once again I began to find a solace I’d nearly forgotten about.

The words on the screen spoke of a woman who buried her grief over losing her father in order to maintain a healthy, safe pregnancy and an outwardly positive environment for her young child. I wrote about how my unhealthy mindset was keeping me from being the parent I wanted to be. I admitted to being plagued by terrifying thoughts, and images of pending harm which caused onsets of panic whenever I ventured out in public with my child. I unburdened myself of all the fearfulness bottled up in my attempts to maintain an air of poise, and motherly perfection. With the terrifying click of a button, I submitted my essay titled ‘Parenting Through Anxiety Fueled by Grief’ to a website called The Mighty, and just a few short days later watched as a piece of myself was revealed to the world.

From that moment on I’d not only found passion, and support in writing again, but I found confidence in being a mother that had previously escaped me. I realized I was not alone, and that my writing also aided others who were unable to share their own experience. Writing has proved extremely therapeutic in my role as a parent. In very much the way I wrote through prior emotional turmoil, I’m writing my way through the motherhood journey. I’ve ranted about the times that seem most arduous in hopes of discovering answers. I’ve reveled in so many magical moments one is only able to experience as a mother, painting pictures of memories I never wish to forget: describing my daughter in her doll like sleep, and remembering the evening she asked why she couldn’t catch the moon between her small fingers.

It’s also given me a new sense of purpose. Though I know my job as a mother is important, it’s wonderful being able to have a few minutes set aside to write, stretch my brain, and not let everything be about diapers and housework. Though I’m discussing motherhood in most of what I write, it’s still a time for me; a time for myself, entirely uninterrupted.

While motherhood has fueled my zest for writing, it has also fueled my desire to be the best mother possible through honesty and self-exploration. I’ve written about my fear of negatively influencing the young mind I’m raising, and found relief hashing through the confusions. In each sentence I’m finding deeper meaning and clarity in my role as a parent. Somehow seeing my thoughts and feelings on paper allows me to be more critical and honest about the part I’m playing as a mother. One cannot escape or confuse the knowledge imparted onto paper. Those paragraphs stare back at me and tell me, “This is what you are feeling. This is what you are doing. Now how are you going to address it?” Of course I can delete, erase the thoughts I’ve chosen to convey, but I truly believe that to be a good mother, and a good writer, one must be nothing short of authentic.

I’d never expected to find so much wealth in writing, and it’s now difficult to imagine my life without this creative outlet. Writing meaningful accounts about my role as a parent has given me a sense of purpose that goes beyond the day to day activities of child rearing. It’s allowed me to cross boundaries, revealing many things I used to keep hidden. Reading other mother writer’s stories has helped me understand the kind of mother I am, and realize that I don’t need to hold myself to impossible standards. Everyone has their own struggles, hurdles, expectations, and none of us is perfect. Mostly, it’s allowed me to appreciate and cultivate my current station in life through honestly, exploration and creative expression. Though I know I have a long way to go in terms of perfecting my voice, nearly every day I’m working, thinking, questioning, and creating. Writing has made me a better mother, while motherhood has made me a more thoughtful individual, and developed writer.  Those feeling lost, or that have a unique story to tell should not be afraid to pick up that pen and put it out there. I promise there is a wealth of support, self-discovery, and love waiting just beyond.

Tracing Life
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius

When I was a little boy, I loved to sit on my dad’s lap when he got home from work. We’d talk, watch television together or I’d sit while he read the paper after a long day.

Regardless of what we were doing, I often traced the veins on the top of his hands with my fingers, too.

Because he was an athlete in school and served in the military, Dad had strong hands with protruding veins. Sitting with him, held in that embrace, I always felt safe, protected, secure, loved.

One particular and peculiar concern of mine after being burned as a child was related to my acute awareness of the brokenness of my hands. All of my fingers were amputated; my hands were left with thick, red scarring. I knew the experience I relished with my dad would never be one my future children could have with me.

I had not thought about that memory or childhood concern in years. But a recent experience rekindled those thoughts.

My youngest child, Grace, just four, was sitting on my lap. As she sat on my lap her little index finger began tracing me. No, she wasn’t tracing veins, but scars.

Grace started focusing on one in particular. She kept going around and around. It felt like she was making a little circle.

Then she said, “Out of all of them, I love this one the most. It looks just like a heart. You’re lucky, Daddy.”

I looked down at her finger, then at the scar.

And for the first time I noticed this specific scar on my right arm. Sometimes things become such a part of us, we don’t realize they are there. But alas, there, on my right arm – where a collection of scars came together as one – was the unmistakable shape of a heart.

I looked away from it, back at her, and acknowledged, “You’re right, Grace. I sure am lucky.”

My friends, Grace thinks I am lucky because I have scars that cover my body and one that actually forms the shape of a heart on my arm.

But the real reason I’m fortunate is that, not only do I have the wholesome vision of children in my life to call out the beauty in my scars, but I have finally grown to accept and celebrate the beauty of them myself.

In life, it’s easy to see wrinkles, challenges, difficulties and scars as ugly. It’s common to consider them reminders of all we went through in the past and wish we didn’t have to endure in the present.

Today, my friends, I challenge you to choose to see them through a different lens. Today, be aware of where you’ve been, grateful for where you are, and convinced that the best is yet to come.

We are lucky.

For everything has beauty. And everyone who wishes can choose to see it.

 

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

3 Ways to Avoid the Comparison Trap
Multiple times each year, there is a buzz about parent-teacher conferences and the emotions that come up around them. This can be a stressful time of year for parents and children alike. It brings up questions like, “Is my child okay?” and stories about what it means to be above, below, or on par with whatever is “average.”

It is important that we keep in mind the purpose of parent-teacher conferences: to communicate where your child is currently functioning on any given subject in order to assess what they need to achieve the standard goals for their grade level. Ideally, this is a growth-based model that includes the parents to ensure optimal support for the child, thus providing them with the maximum potential for success. So…why all the anxiety?

My assumption would be that the anxiety experienced around the conferences is not actually related to the conferences themselves, but to our personal stories and beliefs about our inadequacies. Our culture is filled with pressures about how each one of us is “supposed” to be. The standards of our society demand that we look a certain way, engage in a certain way, and experience life in a certain way.

You should have a good job, but always be available for your family. You should be skinny, but not too skinny. You should be a good partner/parent/sibling/friend/etc. You should probably not have feelings, especially if you are a male…but if you do, you should definitely deal with them in private. And it doesn’t just stop with what you should do or be, but extends also to your family members. Your child should go to a certain school, have a certain number of friends, be able to spell a certain number of words!

Is this starting to sound like that nagging voice in the back of your head? When you walk into a parent-teacher conference, you are bringing all of this with you. You are carrying cultural baggage from every role model, commercial, or interaction that has somehow implied that you are inadequate. You may even be awaiting confirmation that the nagging voice has been right all along and you really aren’t good enough, and neither is your child!

Maybe this doesn’t resonate with you at all. Not feeling the stress of the first semester evaluations? Is there perhaps another place in your life where the experience I am describing does exist? I have yet to meet a single person who never experiences the stomach-dropping dread of “I’m not good enough,” or it’s siblings “I’m not enough” and “I’m too much.” Parent-teacher conferences are just one of the many ways that we can end up tangled in a story about our worthiness and capability. They are simply a topical entry point to a much larger challenge.

This discussion may also feel incongruent because your child is doing very well, and the teacher does not have much to report...perfect student, well behaved. Awesome! Right? With children who aren’t outwardly demonstrating some challenges, who are achieving while simultaneously mastering their emotions and demonstrating positive social skills, I would inquire about their internal state. That is a lot to have seemingly gotten under control for anyone, let alone a still-developing child. Are they excelling because they are simply experiencing ease in their current life and world, or are they putting pressure on themselves to do well at everything? These are two very different internal experiences, which require different levels of care and support.

At this point, you may be wondering, “How does this help me?” or “What now?” Here are 3 tips and tricks to work with your own beliefs, and to best support your child in the face of those beliefs. 

1. Develop Awareness

Did you go into the parent-teacher conference awake and ready, but then find that you zoned out while the teacher was talking? Did you find yourself disagreeing with everything the teacher said? What about in your own experiences with evaluations—or any other situations that bring up self-doubt or self-worth? If you can bring awareness to how you react when “not good enough” is brewing, you can start to learn more about what triggers it, what it feels like in your body, and how to work with it.

2. Balance the Perception

When the story of “not good enough” has control, it is so easy to find evidence that it is true. You can list a hundred and five reasons why you are a lousy employee, parent, spouse, grocery shopper, whatever! Your brain is primed for self-insults. To balance the perception, you will need to also list the things that you are actually doing quite well. It may take extra effort to find the positives. Write down the list to get clear about the successes happening in your life—both big and small.

This tool is easily applied to your child, as well. Okay, so your child is struggling in math and is experiencing some difficulties in peer relationships, but what are they excelling at? What area have they improved the most in since school began? What are they really enjoying?

3. Reframe the Challenge

Your child had a hard time in math class last year, so this year they refuse to even pay attention in their math class. What a great way for them to learn to ask for support and develop self-esteem!

You get mad in every weekly staff meeting because your coworker is constantly interrupting you. What a great time to practice asserting yourself and setting a boundary!

Okay, okay, you get it. Every challenge can be seen as an opportunity for growth. The challenge is not your enemy, nor is it the only challenge you (or your child) will ever face. So, what do you need to do for yourself to not only get through it, but to benefit from it? What supports does your child need to succeed?

 

The Magic of New Beginnings
2016 was certainly a year of new beginnings for Shyft.  And as I look back over the year, I realize that, in fact, new beginnings is exactly what Shyft stands for.  Whether it is January 1 or May 1, whether it is 11:59 pm or the ball just counted down to midnight, we always, always have the opportunity to begin again.  To start over.  To take a small step or a giant leap in the direction of our dreams.  That is the magical opportunity that every moment brings—to make a choice for ourselves that brings us just a little closer to a life that is aligned with our true values and desires.

In our first year, we accomplished more than we could have imagined.  We started Literal Shyft, our digital magazine focused on conscious living, forging relationships with readers and contributors from all over the world.  We hosted our first retreat with Pernille Spiers-Lopez and Good Life Designed, bringing together women from all different backgrounds to lovely Coronado Island, for a weekend of cultivating mindfulness and meaning.  We launched our corporate well being program, providing mindfulness based meditations in a variety of conference rooms across Orange County and Los Angeles.  And we hosted a number of private events in homes and yoga studios, creating opportunities for connection and conversation around how we can all live more meaningful lives.

We couldn’t be more proud of how we started, and perhaps more importantly, our “why”…we believe that, more than ever, we all need ways to slow down, discover what is important, and reach out to one another.

Shyft began as a vision deep in the hearts of three women.  But it came to life because of the community that believed in that vision, and participated wholeheartedly in its continued manifestation.  We realize that, in every beginning and ending, we have an opportunity to be grateful for the people who walk alongside us in this journey of life.  Thank you, each and every one of you—whether you have contributed an article to Literal Shyft, read one of our posts, joined us in meditation, or simply encouraged us to keep going.  We started because of you, and we keep going because of you.

So what shyfts lie ahead for you in 2017?  What new beginnings are whispering to you in a way that won’t let you go?  Just as you supported Shyft, we hold an unwavering belief in your ability to bring your passion to life.  Sign up to receive our latest free guided meditation on new beginnings, straight from our hearts to your inboxes.  It is our way to reach out to you in this vast world, and show you that we can’t wait to watch your unique and powerful gifts come to fruition in the year ahead.

From all us of at Shyft, we hope the year ahead is full of joy, health, and abundance.  Thank you for being a part of our tribe.  Let’s make 2017 our year to shine.  We’ll see you at the start line.

With gratitude,

Monisha Vasa

Monisha Vasa, M.D.
Editor In Chief
Literal Shyft Digital Magazine

A Daughter’s Response
A few weeks ago, Michele Fried, published an article on LiteralShyft.com titled “Why I’ll Never be a Perfect Parent”.

I took particular interest in the article, given that the author is my mother.

Here is my response to my mother’s words that she’ll never be a perfect parent:

Dear Mom,

It’s probably not the first time that I’ve said the words, “You’re wrong”, to your face, but I have to believe that this time is different.

Why?

Because this time, I really do believe that you’re wrong and, truth be told, that hasn’t always been the case.

You ARE the perfect parent, mom.

Now, before you get all “But Eden, you missed the point” on me, let me clarify.

I fully recognize that the purpose of your article was to emphasize that it’s okay not to be a “perfect” parent, and that the focus instead should be on being the best parent you can be.  But here’s the thing – not only are you the “best you can be”, you’re also perfect in my eyes (and probably in the eyes of your 9 other children, even if they don’t always say it out loud).

So, here’s why you’re wrong about not being perfect. Here’s why you are the perfect parent, and why I consider myself lucky knowing that I have you as my mom.

You provide unconditional support.

2016 was a challenging year for me.  Early in the year I sat you down to let you know I was applying to law school.  I remember seeing the shock in your face as we ate our hummus and falafel.

Yet, despite any confusion or shock you may have experienced at the time, you remained incredibly supportive.

You told me you’d support me no matter what. So, if I wanted to go to law school, you’d be there with bells on.

That’s perfection.

As a mom, your kids don’t always do what you’d like or expect them to do. The important thing is to be supportive, no matter what.

You do that, Mom, and you’re perfect for it.

You ask the tough questions.

You’re often the voice of reason.

Though you remain 100% supportive of all my endeavors, you help me navigate through those tough decisions by asking the questions no one else would ask.

When I told you I was applying to law school, you sat through the entire conversation, fully supportive, but you ended it by saying, “We’ve been sitting here for over an hour and you never once said the words ‘I want to be a lawyer. Do you really want to be a lawyer?”

You wanted to make sure I was pursuing law school for all the right reasons not for all the wrong ones.

You’re always there to be the voice of reason, Mom, and you’re perfect for them.

You’re actively involved and happy to be.

Despite your worry that perhaps law school wasn’t the right route for me, you remained involved throughout the application process helping me every step of the way.

But it was no surprise how active you were; that’s how you’ve been throughout my entire childhood.

You’ve always been there, Mom, and you’re perfect for it.

You don’t care what the neighbors think.

When my mind started to shift and I decided not to go to law school, to start a blog and begin freelancing instead, you didn’t give a second thought to what anyone else would think. You reminded me that the only opinions that count are my own.

You’ve never given a second thought to what “the neighbors” think.  You’re quirky, crazy, unique, and there’s really no one else quite like you.

You’re un-apologetically you despite anyone else’s thoughts, Mom, and you’re perfect for it. 

You’re not only a mom, you’re also a friend.

You’ve always been my friend. As friendship goes, we do quibble and fight on occasion but Mother-Daughter friendships are enduring, and you’ve proven that.

You’re always one of my very first phone calls to deliver good news or bad news and I certainly don’t see that changing anytime soon.

You’re an amazing friend, Mom, and you’re perfect for it. 

So, Mom, lucky for me and for all your children, we don’t have an almost perfect parent, we have you – the most perfect mom we could ever ask for – and I just wanted to make that perfectly clear to you.

Love,

Your daughter Eden

 

 

 

Thrown Out of The Nest
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”  - Pema Chodron

We’re thrown out of the nest when we don’t get something we want, or when we do get something we don’t want.

I get surprised every time.  I have a string of sunny days and it seems that literally everything is magically going my way.  Then it rains, and rains, and rains…  At the end of the string of rainy days it feels like something’s wrong.  And of course there is – I’m not getting what I want — endless strings of sunny days.

Your thing might be the 5 pounds you gained while dieting, or wanting your partner to load the dishwasher the ‘right’ way, not wanting a Dear John email or text (not even a phone call!), a partner or child you think is drinking too much, or getting critical feedback at work for something that ‘wasn’t your fault’.

Whatever it is that throws you out of the nest, it will be because you didn’t get something you wanted or you got something you didn’t want.

What to do?

After the initial shock and resistance wear off, we almost always face the challenge of how to manage yourself and communicate with others about our discomfort.  There are very few disappointments that in one way or another don’t involve other people.

Obviously there are countless ways to take care of ourselves. Each has its pros and cons.

Let the experience resolve itself.

Before you do anything you can take a chill pill and Pause, Breathe, Notice your story, Soften your body.

Ask yourself what is it that you need?  Give it a moment.  Clarify and state the facts as you know them, with no intention to have someone do anything to take away your discomfort.  You’re not asking anything of the other person.  You’re stating your concern and expressing awareness that you’re responsible for managing your disappointment.

Sometimes all you need is time, reassurance, or more information, or a combination of the three to deal with your disappointment.  For example, “I feel worried when I see that you’ve been drinking — and I want to find a healthy way to handle my feelings.”  Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can provide both reassurance and information.

The moment you take responsibility for managing yourself when you’re thrown out of the nest is the moment you are no longer at the mercy of getting thrown out of the nest.

Make a request.

If it becomes clear that you need more than time, reassurance or information, a request is another way to meet your needs.  Figure out exactly what you want and then ask for it, understanding that the other person has every right to say no, yes, maybe or I’ll think about it.  Because it’s a request, not a demand.

A request has little or no attachment to the answer.  “I wonder if you might be willing to make an appointment with your doctor for a check up, to make sure that drinking isn’t affecting your physical well being?”

A request is usually accompanied by some degree of curiosity around what will happen, which is different from attachment to a specific outcome.  It doesn’t carry a hidden ultimatum.

Non-attachment to an outcome can be tricky.  What looks like a request on the surface can be perceived as a demand if your tone of voice and facial expression communicate that there is only one ‘right’ answer to the request.

In an article by Parker Palmer in Daily Good, he used two words to summarize how he thinks Americans can stay grounded during this time of political upheaval.  I am borrowing his words because I think they define the heart of a request.

The words are chutzpah and humility. Chutzpah says my voice is important, it needs to be heard, and I have the right to speak.  Humility means I accept that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all, so I need to listen with openness and respect to ‘the other’, as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.

Make a demand.

Your third option is to make a demand.

Demands are made with the expectation that the other person must change their behavior.  When we’re thrown out of the nest we make demands because we want somebody or something to save us from this awful, heavy feeling.

Most of us are familiar with demands, either through giving or getting them.  Somebody’s not getting what they want, so whoever is unfortunate enough to cross their path first may be the likely recipient of a demand.  ‘I’m not getting what I want so you better give it to me, or I’m going to make your life a living hell.’

The boss criticized you, you’re still feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and before you can stop yourself you get home, walk in the door, and scream at the kids to pick up all their crap.  What happened?!  You went on automatic pilot, and that’s what we do when we’re on automatic pilot.  We make demands.

A demand can be direct, as in “I need you to stop drinking right now!”.  But often it’s indirect, as in “I can’t stand your drinking any more but it’s your decision if you want this family to implode”.  Both demands.

Sometimes a demand seems like a reasonable response to bad behavior.  But what really happens?  A demand forces you both to take a polarized position and stick to it.  And no matter how slick someone is at disguising a demand to sound like a request, you know it’s a demand because you feel an internal pressure to comply.

The primary pro of a demand is that it gives us short-term gratification – and there’s nothing I like better!  The cons, however, are pretty daunting.

Some of us are habituated to jumping right to demands.  The good news is that it’s a habit, not a characterological defect.  A habit is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be replaced with another behavior.

For the next two weeks I’m going to notice how I handle myself when I get thrown out of the nest.  Join me?

Rolling Out of Bed
Waking up this morning, I smile,
Twenty four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you wake up in the morning? Do you eject out of bed like a canon ball the minute your eyes open, or do you take a moment or two to connect to your inner core, you know, the center of your being that thinks that shooting out of bed is for less mindful people?

It’s not that rushing out of bed makes you a less conscious person, it just makes you less connected and aware of every moment of your day, especially the ones that begin your morning, which are important moments to acknowledge.

How we start our day really does set the foundation for the rest of it, and if you have to jump out of bed instead of calmly “rolling” out of it for reasons that are justifiable or necessary for you, then here are some ways to make up for it at other times in your day:

1. Meditate at one point for 20 minutes.

2. Try not to rush during your meals, and mindfully eat your food.

3. If you’re at work, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths in and out.

4. Say a mantra quietly to yourself during the day when you can’t meditate. It can be something like “I’m in gratitude,” or “world peace,” or “self love,” etc.

5. Talk to people without thinking about what you have to do next.

6. Don’t drink a lot of caffeine. We all know how easy it is to keep your adrenals pumped up, but try not to overdo it, and if you can, substitute it with decaf or herb tea.

7. Do something nice for someone. Ask them if they need anything, or just offer to do what you think they would like.

8. Don’t forget the “I love you.” You can always squeeze in one of those to someone you care about even if you’re rushed, but what’s better is if you say it not rushed, which will sound more meaningful.

9. Simply connect. Look someone in the eye and communicate what you’re feeling. Take a moment or two to relate mindfully rather than distractedly.

10. Shower or bathe slowly at the end of your day. Surrender to allowing yourself to wash your body with appreciation.

11. Get into bed and be thankful for your life.

Whether you get out of bed like a canon ball, or you roll, try and catch yourself in the midst of your pace and calibrate yourself to be more mindful. There can never be enough mindfulness in your day.

 

Things I Must Teach My Teenager
My wife recently asked me to teach our teenage son that “no means no” when it comes time for sexual activity. I wasn’t surprised by her request because like so many, she’d been following high-profile rape cases at high school and college campuses across the country. It was clear to both of us that there’s a terrible problem in our nation regarding sexual assault and we needed to do what we could to ensure that our son, a great kid, wouldn’t somehow inadvertently contribute to the problem.

I quickly realized that my own knowledge of the subject matter was dated and  what we needed to be teaching our son was now called “affirmative consent” or “yes means yes.”

That exercise got me thinking about what other essential 21st Century life lessons my son needed to learn, not only to keep himself safe, but also to ensure that he didn’t accidently cause harm to others. My list grew quickly and since high school wouldn’t be teaching him any of these things, I knew it fell upon my wife and me to carry this water.

The 21st Century life safety lessons I felt he needed to learn included: the seriousness of teen dating violence; the devastating impact of cyber-bullying; safely interfacing with the police and, if necessary, asserting one’s constitutional rights; navigating the dangers and permanency of social media; surviving a mass shooter incident; and so much more, including, of course, sexual consent.

As I started my research on these topics, I discovered some sickening statistics which only confirmed why it was so important for us to discuss these issues with our son. For example:

  • Twenty four percent of sexual offenders against women are age twenty or under1
  • Over thirty five percent of all sexual assaults occur when a victim is between the ages of twelve and seventeen2
  • Over twenty percent of white youth will be arrested by age eighteen (with higher numbers for people of color)3
  • One in three teens is a victim of abuse from a dating partner4 
  • Every day, forty-seven children and teens are shot5
  • Seven out of ten mass shootings take place at school or work6
  • One out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying and one out of six teens has done it to others7

 

These statistics, and many others like them, resonated with me beyond simply being concerned for the well-being of my own child. Perhaps it was because of my ongoing work as a leading gang prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles. Or, and more likely, it was because it brought me back to my own teenage years when I was unsupervised and terribly reckless.

Unlike today’s teens, I benefited from countless “do-overs” to make it through. Those are largely a thing of the past and the margin for error that our adolescent children face is smaller than ever. While making mistakes can be a great way for my son to learn, when it comes to the seriousness of the subjects at hand, it’d be best if he didn’t.

As I continued to delve into these topics, I became curious if other parents were as concerned about these issues as I was and I wondered if my background as a troubled teen and work as a prosecutor skewed my perspective. While I realized it was difficult to imagine that our own children might become a victim or victimize others, the statistics that kept running through my head clearly indicated to me that even good kids sometimes made bad mistakes.

The reactions I got from other parents run the gamut. Most parents shared my concerns but, interestingly, admitted they had no clue as to where to start, especially when it came to the issues related to sexual consent, technology or those dealing with the 4th and 5th Amendment. A refrain I heard time and time again was “I can’t teach what I don’t know.” Other parents, sadly, simply did not want to think about these terrible topics in relation to their children or somehow felt that their race or monetary status somehow exempted their children from these dangers.

Granted, the issues on my list are complex and nuanced, but so is raising children. As my son quickly transitions out of our house, we’ve got an opportunity to help him learn these things that’ll be of benefit to him now and for the rest of his life. I may not get to all of the topics on my list, but I’m going to try—starting with sexual consent.

Perhaps, one day, our schools will create a class that helps us teach these skills, but, until that time, it’s on us as their parents to seek out this invaluable information and impart it as best we can. Doing so will help prepare our kids for the inevitable—when the unexpected things happen in life. At those moments, we want them to do the right thing, respond smartly and stay safe for their sake and that of others.

This post was originally published on The Good Men Project.

It’s Only Coffee…
“Never wish that life was easier. Wish that you were better.” – Jim Rohn

Have you ever witnessed an event that should have ruined someone’s day, but instead became a moment of uncommon grace inspiring all who witnessed it?

Well, on a recent early morning Southwest Airlines flight I had such an experience.

After reaching our cruising altitude, the flight attendants took the drink orders, passed out the peanuts, and then the requested drinks to the passengers. The lady sitting directly behind me was handed a Bloody Mary. (Hey, it was already 6:30 AM… and most certainly it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Don’t judge!)

Unfortunately, the passenger lost her grip and the drink spilled all over the lap of the gal sitting to her right. It was not a pretty scene; there was a lot of commotion and a lot of words needing to be beeped out.

Another passenger came to the rescue, trying to help clean up the mess that was now seeping into the aisle. Unfortunately, she accidentally lifted the tray of the gentleman on the other side of the aisle.

Sending his freshly brewed cup of coffee into his lap.

And as if things could get no worse, concerned that he might get burned, the lady with the bloody mary actually took what was let of her tomato juice and poured it on his pants! It was a mess.

As the carnage eventually began to subside, I watched this unlucky victim wipe at his hopelessly drenched pants. And then witnessed a most unexpected expression on his face: a smile.

A flight attendant was apologizing profusely to him as he looked up from his pants, into her eyes, smiled again, and shared a quote I’ll never forget:

“It’s only coffee… and tomato juice.”

My friends, things will happen this morning and this week completely out of your control. It will be hot…or cold. It will rain…or the drought will continue. She’ll be late, or he won’t show. The kids will whine, or the silence will be deafening.

But because of my new friend, we now have a simple reminder on how to respond. Not to wish that life becomes less messy, but to become wise enough to remember that it’s all only coffee… and tomato juice.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O’Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John’s first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

Grace Over Perfection
The most wonderful time of year is upon us. Holiday meals shared with family and friends, hot chocolate, mistletoe, cozy sweater and boot weather. It’s what I look forward to all year long. However, there’s just one problem. Every year around this time, my kids suddenly forget how to sleep in to a decent hour (in this household “decent” means 6 am). I have tried everything, and I mean everything, to get my 3 and 5-year-old to sleep in later - to no avail. For whatever reason, these are the cards I've been dealt in this season of life. I have found some of my most challenging parenting moments to be in these long days. I’m certainly not at my best when waking in the 4 or 5 am hour…and neither are my kids.

When I find myself comforting the 20th boo-boo of the day, I'm often forcing an obligatory consolation to my wailing little one. While inside my head thinking, “Are you kidding me?!” Because it's the fourth time I've tried boiling that pot of water for dinner. And it's the 10th lego I've stepped on that day and the bags under my eyes are becoming permanent. Moods are already hit or miss at witching hour, and when you add to it a 4:30 am wake-up, they often tip to full-blown meltdown mode.

And it’s not just the kids who have a hard time. I’ve definitely been known to lose my cool a time or two on these never-ending days. I may yell and act like a pouting baby myself once in awhile. Am I proud of these moments? Not in the slightest. But I’m human and imperfect and do not operate well on little sleep. (Did I mention that?)

As you can imagine, bedtime routines start around 6:30 pm during this season. We’re all fragile by day’s end and ready for a fresh start.

When my head finally hits the pillow, I look back at the whirlwind of survival that took place. And I sometimes wonder if I’m failing at this parenting thing. Did I love on them enough? Were my words too harsh? Was I uplifting and encouraging or mostly harping on them all day?

The days are long, as the saying goes, yet somehow the years manage to fly by. When I’ve raised my kids, I don't want to look back questioning if I was loving or nurturing enough. But deep down inside, I already know the answer.

I am more than enough. 

It dawns on me that my children are probably clueless that I’m not 100% into comforting every bump and scratch they’ve ever had. What I’m betting they remember someday is that Mom always showed up with a hug and kiss to make it all better.

I’m hoping they’ll have fond memories of us playing board games and coloring together on the floor. They’ll likely remember our family’s holiday traditions instead of how early we all woke during these Winter months.

They may recall how I was not always patient. And that sometimes I raised my voice and showed my frustration. But I hope they’ll see we’re all allowed to be messy and scattered and have challenging days. Being present does not mean being perfect.

So tonight when I make my way to bed, I’m going to rest assured that I’m doing a pretty great job at this parenting gig. Every day is not meant to be sunshine and roses. I’m learning in this season that a little grace goes a long way. And come Spring, we’ll all be sleeping in a little bit later.

6 am, you have never looked so good.

How to Handle Your Emotions with 3 Words
In the English language, there are a multitude of words to describe feelings states. Each word offers a unique twist that allows us to describe with finite detail exactly what is happening in our experience. I could say that I am feeling exasperated, which would paint a slightly different picture than if I said I am feeling resentful. Each, it would seem, allows others to gain insight into our internal world and promote compassion. How wonderful that our language provides us with such opportunities for self-expression! Except I don’t think that this is true, at all…

Stay with me for a moment. 

To me, all of these words—forlorn, nervous, unhappy, annoyed—separate us from the truth of our experience. These descriptors are filler that disconnect our feelings from ourselves. Some imply blame, others simply allow us to go about our lives without taking ownership over, let alone attempting to process, our experiences. Mad, happy, sad, and scared are the essence of every feeling state that we attempt to describe with this ongoing list of adjectives; they are what truly lie under our descriptions and our strategies.

Let’s talk about “anxiety” for a moment. Anxiety is a concept that has spread through our culture like wildfire. To be anxious is normalized and reinforced regularly. To say that I am anxious allows me to go on and on about why I am anxious; “I am having anxiety because I have to do a, b, and c at work, all while my family is counting on me to do x, y, and z.” After going through these motions I am no longer even feeling, I am thinking and listing as a method of avoiding my experience. I have made the anxiety separate. It is not mine, but something outside of me to be avoided or exterminated. Besides all that, my lengthy description is not even the truth of my experience.

What am I really feeling? Scared. What am I scared of? Failing.

“I am scared to fail.”

This feels pricklier, right? Why is that, if, essentially, it is a simplified explanation of the same experience? To let someone else see you this authentically is very vulnerable. It is unnervingly real. To be able to say this congruently is to be embodied in your experience, remaining connected to yourself and your feelings. And just as it promotes self-connection, it also allows others to connect with you on a deeper level.

I challenge you to try this on for yourself. It may feel silly or awkward the first time, but can be very powerful when put into practice. Try to pair down your experience in an honest way. Use “scared,” “sad,” or “mad” as your primary feeling words. If you would like to take it a step further to understand what is contributing to your feeling state, zoom out your focus from the specifics of the lived experience, and focus instead on the real and deeper reason for your emotional reaction.

What is the essence of this current challenge, rather than the details of it? Are you hooked into an old story that is no longer serving you? Is a core value being threatened? What is that little nagging voice in your head telling you? Getting clear about the what or the why will enhance your self-understanding, and with time can illuminate patterns in your internal life that are impacting your external life. In addition, sharing the truth of your experience and getting vulnerable with someone else will create space for them to do the same, and ultimately create depth and honesty in the relationship.

I offer this to you simply as a way of becoming more congruent in your experience, but it is up to you to determine if and how this feels authentic to you. There is no shame in utilizing your well-established emotional vocabulary, with yourself or with others. There are no rules for how to feel emotions, or how to share them.

May this approach help you find your own way, whatever that may be.

United We Stand
It’s been a rocky year.  I felt afraid before the election, and I feel afraid after the election.  Much of the world seems afraid.  Regardless of which side we’re on, we want things to change…for the better…whatever our personal ‘better’ may be.

So what to do?

My experience is that fear begs for one or more of three things:  more information, more reassurance, more time.  I’m adding a fourth element because of the nature of the current unrest in the world:  A sense of personal power.  For many of us, the first three are achievable but the fourth element is harder to come by.

Here are a few things I’m exploring to reduce my own fear.

INFORMATION

I have all the information in the world at my fingertips.  I can educate myself.  I need to know what I’m talking about before I shoot my mouth off or scream that the sky is falling.  It may actually be falling, but I need to understand why and how that’s happening, so that I can make reasonable and effective choices in how I handle it.

The last thing I want to do is add ignorance to ignorance.  That’s a cycle that’s almost impossible to interrupt.

REASSURANCE

I can reassure myself by standing up for what I believe in, without denigrating someone else for believing something different.  Challenging, to say the least.  I’m sitting with this one.

I’m not sure what standing up for what I believe in looks like for me personally.  I’m a word person, so I can talk about it, and write about it; but like I said, I’m sitting with it.  It occurs to me that something more may be required of me.  Maybe it’s as simple as offering reassurance to those who may not experience the same degree of privilege and freedom that I enjoy.  I can reassure them that I will support them and not turn my back.  And in reassuring them, I’m reassuring myself that I haven’t lost myself and what matters to me.

TIME

I can respect and take advantage of the wisdom that time offers.  Giving it time, sleeping on it, giving myself a time out, taking a break – all have served me well over the last few months.  There is a time for action and if I allow myself to be present, to pause, take a breath and soften my body, I know intuitively when it’s time to move or act.

My challenge is the tendency to act on impulse, to react immediately.  But when I give whatever is frightening me even a little bit of space and time to come back into perspective, I seldom regret it.  A great ‘give yourself a moment’ tool is to use the THINK acronym before speaking or acting:

T is it true?

H is it helpful?

I is it inspiring?

N is it necessary?

K is it kind?

PERSONAL POWER

Sometimes information, reassurance and time aren’t enough.  Sometimes what’s happening is so frightening that I need to call on my deepest self for the strength to push past my fear and continue to behave in ways that are in line with my integrity and values.  That’s when I remind myself that no one individual, no group, and no rule or law can change who I am on the inside, unless I let them.

We are in this together.  And we’re all going to need to dig deep to bring out our best selves to address the problems we’re facing.  United we stand… divided we fall.  Trite.  Every truism becomes trite because it’s used over and over.  When it’s the only thing that really says what needs to be said.  It applies to every area of our lives — at home, at work, at play.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.

Parenting as a Practice
What if I asked you to consider something that is not often asked of us as parents: What if instead of asking you to share your best parenting advice or to share your child's latest milestone — I asked you to tell me your last parenting failure?

When was the last time you felt like your were completely unprepared for this job?

If you were to ask me that question, I'd have to look no further than last night. In a flurry of frustration, I was insensitive to the needs of my child. Intellectually, I knew she needed focused attention, mommy hugs, soothing words. However, in the moment of multi-tasking and exhaustion, I was unable to meet her needs. It didn't take long for my inner critic to belittle my parenting skills, taking me down with the simple and familiar "you should be better at this".

As a mother who prepared diligently for parenthood, and as an educational specialist who has studied psychology, development and learning for over a decade— I could have only learned through experience that parenting is messy, unpredictable, and so very humbling.

There are many "how-to" books on parenting but no custom manual addressing our children's particular gifts and needs. This is the ultimate ‘on the job’ training — the most valuable learning coming from our mistakes. Yet, many of us hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, either self-imposed or as an attempt to meet familial or societal expectations.

In the learning of lesser stakes endeavors — baking a pie or learning a musical instrument —most of us would not expect to gain expertise right away. We would aim to learn, yet expect to perfect nothing. If our child was baking a pie or learning a musical instrument, we'd encourage them to be patient and try, try again. We would expect that these activities require practice.

What if we reframed parenting as a practice?

Practicing, or having a "practice" means to perform a set of regular or daily actions— and if we want to approach mastery, a long-term investment in those actions. Practice helps to facilitate growth in one’s self through skill development. In parenting we can go one step further — we help to facilitate growth in another human being, and quite literally are growing alongside one another. Parenting becomes a sacred practice.

Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practice are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life’s difficulties. — Thomas M. Sterner, The Practicing Mind

 Parenting may never be a stress-free experience, but could the perspective of practice bring more joy and calm to each day?

Here are a few ideas to begin to shift your perspective:

First, become aware of your internal dialogue. Our internal voice is constantly commenting on everything we do, and determines how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. If we pay attention to it, we can choose what we tell ourselves. If we let it run wild, it has the potential to drag us down. What is your inner voice telling you about your abilities as a parent? Are the conversations happening around you contributing to a helpful or harmful inner dialogue?

Forgive yourself. The next step is to let yourself off the hook. With any given “failed” parenting moment, we can choose to feel guilty or we can choose to feel curious. If we choose the latter, it can lead to solution-oriented inquiry such as “what can I do differently next time?” Know that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection and try to retain what you have learned from the experience. Practice releasing all else.

Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Beginner’s Mind is a Zen Buddhism concept which means a mind that is open to possibilities, a mind that is ready to ask questions. If we presume to know it all, we see fewer possibilities. This concept applies to how we perceive our kids, and ourselves. As we grow and change with our children, each of us deserve to be seen as who we are now, in the moment.

Commit to one new action. Consider what skills you would like to work on as a parent. Do you want to be more patient? More playful? What is one small habit you could commit to each day to put you on the path toward your goal? If you would like to be more playful with your child but an hour of imaginary play feels unrealistic, boring or aggravating to you — start with 5 minutes a day of uninterrupted focused play. This daily five-minute play session compounded over time could equal a big payoff in your sense of playfulness and connection with your child. You can increase the time incrementally or change your focus as you see fit.

One of my favorite parenting internet memes goes like this: “Once upon a time I was a perfect parent. Then I had children. The End.” As I practice parenting, I realize that while practice does not make perfect, it does make me more present. To practice is to trust the process of learning, to allow vulnerability and accept the uncertainty. Of course, a part of me longs to be that idealized parent I thought I was preparing to be, but for now, I am satisfied to look to her as my benevolent guide, rather than my destination.

This article was originally posted on the Growing Humans site: www.growinghumans.net.

6 Reasons to Meditate
“So what is a good meditator? The one who meditates.” – Allan Lokos

Mediation is an ancient practice, but it’s gained massive popularity in recent pop-culture. Everyone from Madonna, Arianna Huffington, Katy Perry, and Oprah all tout the benefits. Even so, getting started can be a daunting task, which is why it’s a great idea to remind yourself of the wonderful benefits of meditation.

1. Creates a Sense of Inner Peace

Modern life is full of distractions, to-do lists, and mental clutter. Meditation helps us to weed through our thoughts and move into a state of peace. In this state we are able to access our inner wisdom or knowing. Meditation is one of the best tools to balance one’s emotions, thoughts, and even the physical body.

2. Makes You Present

Many of us spend a lot of time in future fantasy or worrying about the past. When you meditate you bring yourself into the moment, which is incredibly powerful. Regular meditation can help focus your mind and attention, so one spends more and more waking and working time in the present. When one is fully living the present moment they are able to maximize life’s experience and lessons.

3. Gives You Clarity

We all get confused or feel uncertain at times. Meditation is an amazing tool to provide clarity and receive messages from your higher self or inner wisdom. Sometimes the simple act of bringing yourself into the present can create an “a-ha” moment. While in a meditative state, you can ask your inner guide to assist you in clarifying something in your life that’s of concern. Many find that meditation is one of the simplest (and least expensive) methods of connecting to their inner knowing.

4. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

There are millions of reasons for us to feel stressed or anxious, from getting on a plane to finding a way to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Meditation helps focus our attention and connect to our larger selves. When we move into this space, we see ourselves as a small drop of water in a very large ocean. In this state, our stress levels reduce and our problems move into perspective. Before opting to self-medicate to relieve anxiety, try to meditate.

5. Better Sleep

Meditation has been scientifically proven to create a better night’s sleep. One of the major reasons people suffer from insomnia is that their minds are bombarded by (often negative) thoughts. Meditation helps to clear and focus the mind, thus creating a much more peaceful rest.

6. Increases Spiritual Connection

A regular meditation practice naturally leads to spiritual attunement and a state of higher consciousness. Regular meditators tend to increase their intuition and sense of well-being as well as insight. Through meditation. your mind is able to bypass the ego and make decisions from a much higher altitude.

All and all, the different benefits of meditation come together to make life more enjoyable. Who doesn’t want that?

The Staying in Bed Meditation
“Sleep is the best meditation.” - Dalai Lama

Some of my clients have sleep issues, and they come to me to teach them how to meditate so they can fall asleep, or go back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.

When someone tells me they have a problem sleeping, whether it’s going to sleep or staying asleep, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What do you do when that happens?’

What they tell me is exactly what I expect to hear, not because I know their sleep patterns so well, but because most people do the same thing when they can’t sleep; they surrender to doing things that are actually anti-sleep, and what that means is they will resort to stimulating the mind rather than calming it, which is what is needed for sleep.


Here is what to avoid before sleep, followed by a “Staying in bed” meditation to help you fall asleep:

1. Don’t drink coffee or any highly caffeinated drinks after 5:00pm.

2. Don’t drink excessive alcohol. It reduces REM sleep.

3. Don’t eat sugar. It’s a stimulant.

4. Don’t eat a heavy meal after 7:00. Your digestive system should be resting until 5:am.

5. Don’t watch TV with disturbing subject matter or violence. That includes the 11:00 news.

6. Don’t use your computer or any other devices. The backlit screen affects melatonin levels.

7. Don’t go to sleep angry. Kissing and making up is a good idea before you go to bed.

Try and make those your seven sleep principles, and follow them as often as you can.


Sleep Meditation:

1. Lie down in bed with your eyes closed.

2. Take a few deep breaths in and out.

3. Imagine yourself floating on a cloud or a serene river.

4. When you inhale say to yourself, “I’m falling asleep” or “I desire sleep” or “I am sleepy.”

5. When you exhale say to yourself, “Letting go” or “Surrender” or “Falling away.”

6. Follow your breath as your chest or stomach rises up and down.

7. Keep visualizing yourself floating gently, your body getting lighter and lighter.

Repeat these steps until you fall asleep, and if waking up in the middle of the night is your problem, don’t get out of bed, but instead do this meditation. The minute you get out of bed, or go on your computer or devices, you’re telling yourself, “I’m awake,” which is sending a message to your subconscious that you’ve accepted it. Instead, stay in bed, and tell yourself, “I will fall asleep again,” which is telling your subconscious what your clear intention is. You’re in charge of where you want your mind to go, so if it’s staying awake, you will allow your mind to be active, and if it’s going to sleep, you will direct your mind towards calming down and relaxing.

When you surrender to sleep, you allow for a blissful state of mind where thoughts no longer control you, and you are free of the strains and stresses of daily life. Don’t you want to treat yourself to that?

Close your eyes....
Breathe....
Float...
Sleep...

 

Taking the First Leap
You don't have to take a giant leap to cross over the raging river and get to the peaceful bank on the other side. You just have to work out how to build a bridge."

Anyone who has voluntarily pursued any kind of significant change in life has probably noticed, with the beauty of hindsight, that the anticipation of the first step you take into the unknown feels ridiculously scary.

It warrants much pondering, sleepless nights, endless conversations with friends and a few grey hairs, which just add to the trauma of the whole situation.

However, once we've taken that very first step and change is underway, we suddenly become quite blasé about it all and, rather than continuing to obsess over all the if's, but's and maybe's, we develop some kind of magical power to cope with all the uncertainty and just roll with the punches.

It's occurred to me that, as modern day humans, we seem to have two pretty amazing abilities on this subject:

1) to worry endlessly about changes which are yet to happen and over which we may have little control

and, conversely;

2) to cope remarkably well when we're actually face to face with the reality of being up to our eyeballs in it.

Many of us, occasionally or regularly, either expend far too much precious energy on worrying about the unknowns that come with change, OR let those concerns get the better of us and inhibit us from changing anything, no matter how unhappy the current situation might make us.

Having experienced this myself, most notably taking 6 months (or the best part of 5 years, depending on which way you look at it) to decide to leave the corporate world, and now having worked with many clients who feel "stuck" in various aspects of their lives, I thought I'd pull together some of my thoughts about positively approaching change in the hope that it might help someone out there take that first little leap forwards.

How to take that first little leap:

Go small on the overhaul

The things that tend to occupy a lot of our brain time, the things we think we really want or the things we'd ideally like to change, tend to be pretty big. They loom large in our heads, they overwhelm us with their options and implications and spin round and round in the washing machines of our minds until we haven't got a clue what to do next.

But, often, it isn't the really big change that we actually need. It can actually be quite easy to totally change how we feel about a situation by making some quite small tweaks and by choosing to adopt a slightly different mindset or lens through which to view the situation.

The very best thing you can do is work on breaking down any change into small moves and from there down into the very tiniest parts which can, relatively easily, be turned into actions and hence quite quickly give you the sense that you're moving forwards.

So, what can we do to help ourselves break down these seemingly monolithic changes

100 steps

Like I've already said, significant change is unlikely to happen overnight in one fell swoop. There are going to be a number of stages, and within those stages a number of steps, and within those steps a number of actions, that you're going to have to work through in order to get there.

Let's imagine, arbitrarily, that there are 100 steps that you're going to have to take to achieve this big change.

Do you need to know, right now, what step 67 needs to be?

Nope, you only really need to know that pretty soon after you've done step 66 and shortly before you tackle step 68.

Here's a suggestion for how you can approach the 100 steps scenario:

  • Break it down to 3-6 chunks and label each of those chunks - there should be a chronological flow across the sections so you can be confident things will get done in the right order
  • Within chunk #1, decide what the 6 most impactful actions are that you can take right now
  • Kick off one of those actions each day for the next week
  • On the 7th day take stock, consider where you've got to, revisit chunk #1 and determine what the next 6 most impactful actions are that you can get on with over the next week and, if relevant, may be start to ponder what chunk #2 needs to look like

(Remember, don't let yourself get distracted by that horrible step 67 ahead of it's time. Trust that you'll work out what to do with it when you get there.)

Turn on your headlights

Here’s a great metaphor from one of my clients looking to move forward with his business:

I feel like I’m driving a really nice car, that I’m taking it on quite a long journey - the weather conditions and visibility aren’t very good right now and I don’t actually know the destination that I’m ultimately headed for. I know that that in itself could be a valid reason to not even start the car and get on the road but, instead, I want to turn on the headlights so that I can at least clearly see the bit of road right in front of me.

He had faith that as he went on the journey each bit of the road would appear, he'd be able to work out which turns to take and, although he might end up taking a bit of a scenic route, that he'd get to the right destination in the end.

You only need to have complete clarity about the next few steps you're going to take towards something new and the rest will work itself out as and when it needs to.

Final thoughts

“You cannot do everything but you can do something. So don't let what you can't do, get in the way of what you can.’

Despite the fact that this post is all about change, it's also important to remember that life doesn't always need to be moving. It's really nice to stand still sometimes, to enjoy what we have, what's going on right now and everything just the way it is.

But change is nonetheless inevitable. Sometimes it will happen to us. Sometimes we'll want to go after it, so that we can grow, rebalance or move to find more fulfillment and contentment in our lives.

So, since we're going to have to face it anyway, why not embrace it for all the opportunities and new experiences it brings. Why not try to work with it and minimize the amount of energy that we expend on worrying about what is yet to come.

And the best way that we can do that is by taking that first little leap.

Why I’ll Never Be a Perfect Parent
My children have more than one complaint about me. That's a lot of complaints when you have 10 children. I mean, each child probably has at least two complaints, if I'm lucky! It’s understandable. I am forgetful and should possibly get my hearing checked. Apparently they say, "mom, Mom, MOM!" a lot before I respond.

I often forget to adhere to the fact that there should be consequences if chores are not done.  For proof, there are always dishes in the kitchen sink. I buy paper plates all the time.

The dogs are happier to see me then my children.  Though a long time ago, my kids used to come running while shouting, "Mommy's home!!!!" Now on a good day, I may get an audible response to my hello.

I’m really funny and my own mother agrees. My children, however, don’t appreciate my humor as much.

I haven’t slept much in the past 29 years of parenting.  Maybe if I got more sleep, my parenthood would be closer to perfection.

These are just some of my examples that somewhere along the parenting journey, I realized I would never be a perfect parent.

 I Don’t Aim For Perfection

I never really desired to be the perfect parent, but I do strive to be a positive and successful parent.  I love learning and seeking out the silver lining of even the most overwhelming parenting moments.  I am not afraid of challenges and can tackle many ups and downs.

I sometimes wonder if my children expect a perfect parent.

I believe my children realize that parenthood has been, and always will be, my biggest passion, my love, and my joy. I don’t know if they realize that it is the thing I know how to do best – even without being perfect.  This is why I don’t beat myself up about not reaching perfection. It’s not possible in the parenting occupation.  But if perfection equals how much love and passion I have for being a mom – then I am indeed perfect.

Give Up Being a Perfectionist

Aiming for success is different then being a perfectionist.  Sometimes there will be dishes in the sink, dogs that eat the sofa cushions, and you’ll run out of toilet paper.  I am not whining here nor am I looking for praise. This is my attempt to honestly share that most of us parents work hard to be awesome at what we do, but we also tend to beat ourselves up about not achieving some higher level of awesomeness. If you are a laundry folder or an ironer - or both - I applaud you! But if your folded sheets and ironed clothes are taking away your quality time with your children or partner, then tell the kids to stuff their pajamas in a drawer and don’t worry about matching socks.  Really, it’s okay.

I feel it starts pre-parenthood. You must really want to be a parent, not just for the title of mom or dad or because it is the next step in your life, but really want it more than anything in the world.  It also starts with loving and forgiving ourselves.  Because making a forever commitment to loving someone more than you have ever loved someone before requires us to good to ourselves. It also requires us to be dedicated to thinking always of our children first and to be prepared to be their cheerleader, teacher, and advocate. It isn’t about perfection it is about being a parent – a good one.

You will do a great job when you realize you will have tough days. Aim not for perfection but for being the best parent you know how to be, and when you feel that you don’t know how anymore, then be the parent who will seek out the support, resources, and tools to assist you.

Find Joy in Parenting

Be ready for a journey filled with surprises that are amazing and others that aren’t so great – and no matter where it takes you, remember this is what you signed up, this is what you wanted, this is what you love.

Stop over analyzing how your children and others view you and truly find joy in parenthood.  If we can find joy in parenting and sprinkle in a healthy dose of humor and flexibility, we will become the best we can be.  We will teach our children that we may not be perfect, but we are real, we laugh, cry, and make mistakes, but love who we are and who they are.

So while I will never be a perfect parent, I revel in the fact that my parenthood journey has been awesome and I am dedicated to this job forever.  Lucky for me though, I have almost perfect children. Okay, truth be told, I have perfect children.

 

 

The Art of Healing
The idea that art can directly influence a person’s healing journey evolved out of my own healing process. It became the driving force that persuaded me to share my heart with the world.  In 2011, my yoga practice collided with my personal healing, as I began to creatively express the powerful emotions that I experienced during yoga through art.

Around the same time, a friend of mine underwent a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy to battle breast cancer.  After a year of intense treatment, she received the wonderful news that the cancer was gone.  About a month later, she sent me an email requesting prints of art that I had shared on Facebook during her treatment.

She told me that she had been looking at that artwork during her treatment. She knew in her heart that it played a significant part in helping her through those challenging times.  She wanted to put the prints on her mantle as an official reminder of her survival.

Ever since then, I have been a true believer that art, rooted in hope and healing, can truly make a difference in someone’s journey through illness.

Displaying art in hospitals and other medical facilities can have numerous benefits, both to the patients and to the staff.  Here are just six of them.

1)  Artwork creates a positive point of focus.  Anxiety, worry and fear often accompany patients when they visit a hospital or clinic.  Eye-catching artwork can shift the focus away from illness.

I know from experience that I tense up when visiting a doctor’s office, even for a regular check-up.  One of the first things I do to soothe myself is look around the waiting room.  Heightened levels of stress and anxiety will only exacerbate any illness for which I’m being tested or checked for.  Creating an atmosphere of tranquility, peacefulness, and healing can ease this unnecessary discomfort.

2)  Artwork that exhibits hope and healing becomes a platform for healthy conversation between patients, staff, and visitors. 

Healthy conversation uplifts the energy of everyone involved, and can contribute to an outward rippling of positive vibrations throughout the healthcare facility.

3)  Art, in general, is therapeutic by study and by nature. 

Having the ability and access to look at art is an extension of the therapeutic process.

4)  Creativity provides inspiration and can bring forth calming effects that improve the overall condition of our bodies.  

The damaging effects of stress on our bodies have long been documented.  By reducing the stress in such settings, health care providers can attend to the complete and overall well-being of their patients with greater efficacy.

5)  Artwork can evoke unique and individual emotions from the viewer.  

Connection is a way of surviving and living.  Viewers naturally try to connect themselves with the subject of the artwork.  The emotions that are evoked from this are a way of becoming engaged, and this can help inspire them in the present moment.

6)  Specifically selected artwork in a healthcare facility exhibits a “caring nature” on their behalf for their patients’ well-being.  

Art contributes to the emotional health of the patients, as well as allows them to feel cared for, thereby contributing to their physical healing and recovery.

I believe our environment can heal us. In return, our healed energies and positive outlook allow us to help heal other people in our environment.  It is my hope to contribute to this dynamic exchange of therapeutic energy.

When I asked my friend what it was about my artwork that helped her recover, she simply said, “It moves me, and I feel the LIFE in it."

To me, there is nothing grander, nor more humbling, than being able to take part in helping someone through their illness and recovery journey. If my art can generate emotional responses, then other art forms can also make a positive difference in others’  healing paths.

What is hanging on your walls? What do these pieces evoke for you? Who are the users of your space, and what can you do to support their healing through the art you choose to share?

The Power of Morning
Every morning, I’m gently woken at 5:30 a.m. by soft, zen sounds—quiet humming from my alarm that sets a peaceful tone for the day. It’s dark outside, proof that fall is finally starting to settle in. If I’m lucky, as I draw my curtains, I’ll see the moon beaming, and soak in her energy for a few seconds before I get excited for the day ahead. All three of my boys are sound asleep in their beds (pure bliss), oblivious to the quietness of my world.

I head to my bathroom mirror, looking over the loving messages I’ve posted all along the corners. My favorite is this one: It’s your time to shine. I receive the note with gratitude, smile back at my reflection, and move right along. First, I work at removing the toxins I’ve accumulated from the day before (probably a glass of red too many paired with takeout Thai food), using my Ayurvedic tongue scraping ritual that I swear by. As I cleanse myself, I make sure to visualize the toxins being released from my body.

My bare feet pad into the kitchen, my second favourite spot in the entire house (second only to my bedroom haven). There, I engage in the comforting rituals that bring me peace and rhythm while I work in a trance-like state. First call to action: warm lemon water with a pinch of turmeric. It blows me away how such a teeny tiny act of love can be so supremely powerful. Nourishing my body and soul with this simple tonic sends me the signal that I matter, and in taking care of myself, I’m taking care of others, too.

Still in my body state of mind, it’s time for greens, greens (and even more greens). Now, let’s take a second and get real here. I can’t always make up a fresh batch of juice, so I’ll supplement with my high-quality, handy dandy greens powder, with some fish oil and E3 live to get my body into the alkaline state it so desperately craves. As much I try to eat clean all the time, I’m obviously not perfect and have been known to indulge from time to time. That said, my promise to my body is this: I’ll be aware and sensitive to the signals she sends me about her needs, and then I’ll respond accordingly. So far, so good. (And to be fair, sometimes she needs a chocolate martini.)

What’s next? My dirty little secret, that’s what. (Wink.) After I’ve had my lemon water and greens, I get in my car—even when it’s snowy and stormy out there—and head on over to my local Starbucks for my cup of pour-over-reserve coffee that I bring home for savouring. For awhile, I spent a lot of time questioning my obsession with this ritual until I realized what these morning drives are all about. Ultimately, they’re about connecting with the other regular early risers, my group of friends who I fondly refer to as the Starbucks Breakfast Club. Plus, being greeted early in the morning with massive amounts of warmth from the baristas sets a bright, positive light for the entire day.

Back home and feeling charged, I either read an inspirational book, peruse a few blogs, create content for my creative business, or use this time for online education—whatever I choose to do since it’s completely my time. Some days, I just need to head out for a walk with my coffee and music. Other days, I dance like a mad woman to Bollywood tunes.

But in the winters, I tend to hibernate a bit more. Snuggling up with a shawl next to my fireplace with a good book is the way I like to put myself in the mindset of positivity so I can start my day off right. I’m a Virgo, and we tend to be, you know, a bit anal. So creating a calm state is typically what I need most. I end my morning ritual with a 20 minute meditation (game changer), and follow up with some journaling. After that, it’s game on! I feel energized and ready to face the mayhem of waking up three boys for their day (you can only imagine).

I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have my morning rituals to anchor my day.

All of that said, my mornings didn’t always start off like this.  I used to hate waking up in the mornings—especially when it was cold, wet and dark outside.  Most mornings started off with me dragging my feet out of bed and wondering what the point of it all was. I’d wake up with this sense of heaviness. Have you ever felt that way?  I knew I had to get up because I had kids, a 9-5 job and a house to manage. But if I had it my way, I’d be back in bed, trying to escape from my worries. Honestly, it just felt like the easiest thing to do.

Somewhere, something shifted. For the life of me, I can’t remember when I fell in love with my mornings, but I do know that once I had a small taste of what it was like to just soak in all that early morning goodness, I wanted more. I could hear myself in the stillness and that was inexplicably healing.

By harnessing the power of my mornings, I’ve been able to start my days off on the right foot. I am way more focused that I ever used to be, but the best part of it all is that I can’t wait to get up each and every day with excitement (my secret to looking young, and the reason for that “glow”). Living in that positive mindset means I can now handle the unexpected curveballs that life so lovingly throws our way from time to time, which is my biggest gift from honoring and committing to my morning practice. Morning rituals are cultivated.  Most people are amazed that I get up so early in the morning just so I can be. I get a lot of people saying, “I wish I could do that!” and my answer is that you so, SO can.

Just 10 minutes every morning is life altering.

While at first you might be tantalizingly tempted to return to your old habits, if you stick with your morning practice, you can trust that there is everything to be gained and literally nothing to lose—other than 10 measly minutes of sleep.

To learn more about how to start a morning ritual that works for you, or to join Dimple's FREE 10 day Morning Rituals Challenge, visit www.wholeselfconsulting.com.  Just in time to birth that sweet sense of calm and inner peace you need before the holiday mayhem gets going in full swing.

 

The Communication Crapshoot
The fact that we occasionally connect in a meaningful way through communication is a miracle.

It’s lovely when that connection – a meeting of the minds and hearts – happens.  But more often than not, it’s a crap shoot.  How often have you left an interaction feeling pretty good about yourself, only to find out later that you had inadvertently offended or hurt someone?  You’re shocked, because you have a completely different perspective on what happened!

I bet you have an example from your own life right at the forefront of your mind this very moment.

Here’s how it works. In a shared moment, I intend to express amusement and creativity.  You, on the other hand, feel confused and uncomfortable with what I thought was sophisticated, wry humor.  And it happens both ways — you throw out an off-the-cuff remark that seems appropriate to the moment, unknowing that you just cut my heart out.

How and what I communicate is a complex interaction between my thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, psychosocial history, and genetics.  Toss in the fact that it’s expressed and received through my particular unique personality, physiology and neurology, the likes of which will never be duplicated... Of course communication can be a crap shoot!

When I’m not fully present in the moment, I can be remarkably unaware that I’m sending messages I do not want to be sending.

There is a growing body of evidence that facial expression, tone, and body language give us the bulk of the message. 
The actual words we use tend to have far less significance.

That’s a problem if I’m on automatic pilot and oblivious to anything except the words.  What might sound like an innocent opinion, when accompanied by a sneer or withdrawal of eye contact, can be devastating.

I suspect that our words likely represent the intention of which we’re aware.  We intend to be funny, or express interest, or offer information, or simply start or end a conversation.

But facial expression, body language, and tone often represent what’s really going on — what’s going on below the surface.  Sometimes the discrepancy between my thoughts and my body language can be pretty simple.  Although my posture, droopy eyes and yawns might suggest to you that I’m bored, I’m actually sleep-deprived and ready to nod off.  I simply can’t give you my full attention.  A few words of reassurance are in order so that I don’t inadvertently offend you.

What’s going on behind the scenes can sometimes be more complex.  I want more attention.  You want more attention.  I’m tired of listening to you drone on and on.  I’m feeling insecure so I’m droning on and on because hearing myself talk makes me feel important.  You’re falling asleep while I’m offering unsolicited advice.  Or in my head, I’m having a rant about what an idiot you are while offering a smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes.

Point being, when I’m mindless — on automatic pilot — I’m not fully in charge of the messages I’m sending.

More importantly, I don’t notice the outcome I’m creating until it’s too late.  I don’t see the look on your face before I embellish and exacerbate my first thoughtless miscommunication.  I don’t notice that my body is tight as though it’s on high alert. Way deep down, I may know something just happened and feel a twinge of discomfort.   But it takes a bit longer for me to notice that the temperature in the room just dropped by 20 degrees.  If I notice at all.

It’s bizarre — on automatic pilot, I can leave an interaction never knowing that I may have permanently damaged our relationship.

Returning to the moment, the simple act of noticing what’s going on both inside and outside ourselves, can radically change our relationships.  If we can come back to ourselves many times a day, we may experience a gradual increase in our ability to grab that foot before it gets inserted in the mouth.

Can we reduce the in-head/out-mouth discourse that can turn even the best-intentioned conversation into a big crap shoot?  Is it crazy to think that if we change even one relationship by being more aware of the messages we’re sending, it might be possible to change many of them?  And could that, if it spread, change the world?

3 Simple Steps to Crush Conflict
“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” – Wayne Dyer

I recently read an article encouraging readers to be bolder and brasher. To be more focused on ourselves and less worried about others. It implored us to be less polite and to be courageous enough to talk over others. And it challenged us to unabashedly and unapologetically speak, act, do and live in the manner WE want.

While this message definitely makes for passionate debate and “sharing” online, what I’m convinced we need is not a blanketed statement about being MORE selfish and brash. But rather, especially at this historic point where there seem to be more tensions than ever before between races, countries and political parties, what I am calling for is a blanketed message of humility and patience. Let me explain.

I saw firsthand the consequences of the former – and the mighty need for the latter – while walking into a Coldplay concert with my wife, Beth, last Thursday.

Nearing the entrance out of the summer heat and into the soon-to-be rocking arena, we waddled in a series of long lines.

To our left, we saw two individuals bump into each other, seemingly accidentally and innocently.  One looked at the other, scowled and barked loudly, “Watch where you are going!”

With a look of utter disbelief the other responded even louder, “Watch where I am going? You watch where you are going!”

It was on.

The small incident quickly elevated into shouting, then name-calling, then finger pointing, then pushing. It was eventually broken up, but could have been avoided entirely, as most conflicts can, with three simple steps.

Pause.  In the rush to respond, we frequently react first, think later. The better approach is to pause and show patience. Don’t be driven by the rush to judge or fix or respond or prove or win. Instead, take a breath. Reflect for a moment. Pause thoughtfully. Then considerately respond. In that silence you may even find the courage and humility to utter the beautiful word, “Sorry.”

Love.  Several years ago I began implementing a simple practice that transformed my relationships. It’s an expression I say to myself before speaking. It’s made me a better husband, father, son, friend, and leader. In every interaction I remind myself of the words and the truth: “I love you. And there is nothing you can do about.” It has avoided unnecessary arguments in my marriage, softened my response to mistakes others make, lead to incredible opportunities professionally, and diminished feelings of animosity while waiting in lines to go through TSA … or to enter a concert hall.

Space.  Frequently in the midst of elevating conflict, though, it’s hard to stay focused on pausing.  When someone disrespects us, it’s difficult to remind ourselves we love them…and that there is nothing they can do about it! And so the final solution is to simply walk away. It’s amazing how the things that set us off, given just a little time AND a little space, are much less significant than we thought in the heat of the moment.

My friends, we don’t need to be more infatuated with ourselves, take more selfies, speak louder, or push back harder.

No, what we actually need is to listen, not with a desire to respond, but with a heart to understand.

What we should aspire to is to meet anger and resentment with forgiveness and love.

What we ought to strive for is not to yell louder, but to walk away taller.

And in a global community as fractured, negative, and fear-based as ours, what we must remind others is that real courage whispers, true boldness apologizes, and love still wins.

As Coldplay might sing, “Nobody said it was easy!”

But it is needed, it is longed for, it is rare, it is right, it is the one way forward.

And it is time.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

No Time Like The Present
Yoga, Mindfulness, and Mental Health.

The perfect triad.

And also, quite honestly, three of my favorite subjects! As a Psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher in Orange County, California, I am fascinated by the intersection of these treatment modalities within a therapy practice.

Anyone who practices yoga regularly is probably aware of the benefits yoga has on mental health. They each compliment one another on so many levels and the integration of yoga with mental health is becoming more popular by the minute.

Yoga and mindfulness especially, are all the rage these days. It seems everywhere I look, there’s a new study on how yoga can help with depression, anxiety and ease stress or relationship tension. How slowing down to become more ‘mindful’ can help us to make healthier choices and teach us new ways of coping to unpleasant, unpredictable life events.

The benefits are written about everywhere, yet people remain challenged in starting a regular yoga practice. I see this struggle in my patients as they come in session after session, reporting back to me with reasons why this week {yet, again} they could not make it to their mat.

I get it. Starting something new is difficult. Especially when it involves slowing down, getting centered and becoming grounded in your body. Emotions, fears and anxieties are bound to come up. However, yoga can be extremely healing and having a consistent yoga practice can be so supportive to emotional well-being.

SO… for all the curious newbies who are aspiring to start and keep a consistent home yoga practice, but are a little unsure of where to begin- I will outline a few simple steps to get you going.

Number one.  Intention.

I suggest you become aware of why it is you want to start a yoga practice in the first place. Is it to help with your insomnia or anxiety? Do you want to lose weight? Perhaps you want to get to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. Whatever it is, it’s okay. Intention is key to so many things in life, which is why I think it is essential to any yoga practice.

An example may be, “My intention to start a yoga practice is to slow down my racing thoughts so that when my children/partner/life become irritable/frustrating/demanding, I have the necessary tools to help me deal with the situation at hand.”

Number two. Time.

I suggest practicing yoga in the morning. A morning yoga practice is my preference for many reasons, but mostly because this is when the mind is most clear. Plus, it’s the perfect time to get grounded and start your day with that intention you set! A morning practice can also help keep your energy lifted throughout the day. If that’s not a possibility for you, it’s perfectly okay. Practicing yoga around the lunch hour or in the evening can work well too, to refresh the mind, help release tension and counter afternoon fatigue.

Number three. Space.

A small, private room in your home or office is ideal for a daily yoga practice, although any quiet space that is large enough to roll out your yoga mat is perfectly doable. A balcony or grassy, quiet area in your yard can be a lovely place to practice if the weather permits. Just make sure your phone is off and you are not likely to be disturbed for a while.

I like to put on either a mellow or upbeat playlist and depending on my mood, will light a few scented candles. This is completely optional and really depends on you and what you’re feeling on that particular day. I always encourage my students to listen to their intuition and to trust it. Once your yoga practice becomes more consistent, your ability to tap into your intuition with more regularity will also strengthen.

That’s it! That’s all you need to start. Intention, time and space. These three things, in conjunction with the most critical piece {your breath} can provide you with the opportunity to develop a consistent, fulfilling yoga practice within your own home. Keep in mind too, that if you’re able to make it to a local yoga class, that’s a great way to build connection and be a part of your community.

Most importantly, go easy on yourself, have fun with it and enjoy the process. Learning something new can be challenging! Give yourself permission to fully experience whatever comes up.

To Breathe or Not to Breathe…
Time to take a minute to breathe. Exhale. Now breathe again. Today you’ve breathed for five minutes, taken 35 breaths, with an average heart rate of 66 BPM. Congratulations!

Breathe again?

That’s mindfulness, at least according to Breathe, a new app for the Apple Watch. Users are prompted, on a schedule, to take deep breaths for 1 to 5 minutes. Version 1.9.2 now features “suggested Breathers to use in your notifications.” Short, pithy, Zen-ish statements like “If life is a passage, let’s plant flowers” pop up on screen—complete with matching emojis. And hey, you can share your breathing with your friends on social media! Just copy the “Breather of the Day” and hit the share button. Stats and summary results report your daily progress!

Toward what, exactly? Are we really at the point where we need an app to tell us to breathe? To perform a fundamental requirement of life itself?

True, breathing is the foundation of mindful meditation. And we could all probably use some support in our pursuit of wellbeing. But how is it possible for technology to tell us—actual living, breathing humans—how to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings?

It’s not. Being told what to do, when, by a watch or a phone or a screen of any size is actually the opposite of mindfulness.

Mindfulness can’t come from a device that doesn’t think, can’t feel. Pre-programmed “breathers of the day” and pre-set notifications only bind us to a pre-determined schedule oblivious to our real needs. We end up ever more ruled by the clock—our actions and reactions, our thoughts, feelings, and now even our breathing dictated to us by the Apple Watch, the iPhone, Google calendar, Swipes, or whatever else might come out of Silicon Valley promising some peace of mind for the price of some in-app purchases.

Why are we outsourcing ourselves to our watches and phones, to devices and apps?

Looking at a screen means we aren’t looking within. Technology can’t cultivate a consciousness of, and sympathy toward, our restless hearts and minds, because it has no consciousness. Real mindfulness means paying attention to ourselves and others.

When we return to the breath at our own bidding, not the ding of an app, we learn to respond to our own needs. Instead of simply satisfying another external demand, we connect to our own sense of self, in flesh and blood, in person.

Now that’s mindfulness.

Who Is Really Hurting?

Life is a series of choices.

As a parent you want to guide your child to make the best choices when inevitable challenges and uncomfortable emotions arise.

As much as you may want to, you cannot protect your child from everything. Your best bet is to equip them with healthy coping habits. The two most common challenges your child will experience or witness, are bullying and discovering her own Inner Bully.

The Inner Bully is a voice that exists within all of us.  

This is the tone our inner voice takes when we hold ourselves back. It is an extreme way of coping, a perspective of all-or-nothing … win-or-lose. It is a narrow way of thinking that comes from being scared, perhaps seeing yourself as weaker-than, or even damaged.

Ultimately the Inner Bully is trying to protect you, but goes about it in a demeaning way.

The Inner Bully is a  voice that is especially strong for your tween and teenager as she is trying to discover who she is.  She is busy figuring out her worth amidst navigating her place in society - both in person, and in the virtual world.

Your child is growing up in a time unlike any other.  

Our children are so connected they are disconnected.

Their relationship with social media is depleting their ability for deep connection.

Our children may not understand how to start a relationship with their true selves.

Our children might struggle to sit with their thoughts or emotions, looking for an easy way out, or a distraction.

Our children are disconnected from their voices by using social media and images to communicate.

They are being subjected to more, while being depleted of the ability to cope with mean things being said by her peers in person, and online.

CyberBullying and Bullying are everyday experiences for 45% of our young people before they are 18.  This means at least one friend, or a group of peers, witness and absorb this demeaning behavior inflicted on the other 45%.

We are all in this together.  

The negative messages your child is taking in from bullies, cyberbullies, media and society are potent.  I don’t write this to add to our fear. I write this because I want our children to live a healthy, safe, confident life.

It’s time to start the conversation about the Inner Bully above all else.

Keeping this perspective in check will help your tween and teenager deal with growing up in a connected world.

All of these children - the bullied, the bully, and the bystanders -  are going through something emotionally that feels beyond their control.  What they do have control over, like you, is how they respond to it.

Here are some helpful tips to get your family talking and conquering the Inner Bully.

How your Inner Bully can show up...

  • “Are you kidding me? You will never be able to do that.”

  • “What she said about you is right.  I am weird and fat.”

Here are Inner Bully conversation starters...

  • List one thing you don’t like about yourself.

  • Why do you that is true?

  • Are you being hard on yourself?

Pump up your child’s Inner Advocate so she can debate the Inner Bully….

  • What are the top three things you admire about your child?

  • What is the earliest memory you have of your child when she showed you these unique characteristics?

  • Describe a time your child faced a challenge. How did she overcome it?

 

NOTE TO READER:

Although I write to “her” or “she” these are  issues and coping mechanisms for both boys and girls. Growing up I could not find the “she” in the “he.” By referring to all from the feminine, I am giving respect to the birthplace of every human. After all, you can find “he” in every “she” and “her.”

In Search of Your Soul
“Somewhere on the journey to progress, we seem to have lost our soul.”

Kerplunk!  Buzz kill!

I remembered that sentence from an article by Homaira Kabir about the need for awe in the workplace.  I don’t remember much else, but that line continues to echo in my head.

It begs questions.

What is a soul?  What does awe have to do with soul, if anything?  Have we lost ours?  So what?  Have I lost mine?

When I asked how I define soul, an answer came pretty quickly.  Soul is the part of me that is more familiar to me than my body but beyond my ability to articulate.  It’s the part that isn’t altered as my body alters.  It is the essence of me that I suppose if I’m honest, I hope is immortal.  (This definition pretty much covers the awe factor for me.)

My soul is what gives breadth and depth and meaning to every area of my life, including my work.

When I remember to check in with my soul–actually when I remember that I have one because oddly I’ve discovered I can forget–no matter what trouble I’m in, I’m ok.

When I’m not connected to my soul, I’m untethered.  It’s easy for that to happen.  Throw me a curve ball and I forget who I am.  It’s that quick.  That’s why ‘who do I want to be in this situation?’ is one of the most important questions in my self-intervention repertoire.  Somehow it seems to reel me in and reconnect me with the essence, the best, of who I am.  With my soul.

This is why I make room for meditation.  This is why I continue to work on becoming more and more honest with myself about myself.  My strengths and my limitations.  My joys and sadnesses.  My dreams and wonderings and bone-deep desires and longings.  I meditate and try to mindfully meet as many moments as possible so that there is less and less between me and my soul and that sense of being home, regardless of the chaos around me.

Maybe this is what it’s all about, recognizing that home is a place that we can’t articulate with words.  We can only meet our soul–come home–when we slow down enough to experience it.

Maybe that’s what that author meant when he said we’re losing our souls to progress.  That we’ve become so preoccupied, caught up in keeping our minds so full and our bodies so active, that it’s almost impossible to interrupt the cycle and spend time with our souls.

So this week I will meditate for just a few moments each morning, because a commitment to anything more will likely result in me finding a way to avoid or forget the intention.  After I get my coffee, I’ll sit down with a dignified posture and lower my gaze.  I’ll tuck my chin under slightly and relax my shoulders, soften my front body (my jaw and chest and belly), and bring my attention to my breath. And then I’ll simply rest in the present moment.  And I’ll allow myself to meet up again with my soul.

On Being Brave
We all have that one defining moment in our lives, the moment where we must choose between remaining fearful or taking a risk. We may not even remember when it happened, because we were so young. But we all learned to stand, walk, and ride a bike so we all faced and overcame a fear at some point.

For some, that defining moment may have been an agonizing decision such as quitting a stable job to start a dream business or not following peers in a pressure-filled situation. For others, their moment may have been a series of small decisions that carried significant weight in the light of future endeavors.

I have to say I have experienced both of these in pivotal ways. I’ve made big decisions that were scary – a move across the country and a called-off wedding just 3 months before the big day. These were clearly life-altering choices that changed my path significantly. But sometimes I think those smaller moments make an even greater impact.
Because who we are is ultimately the summation of all the decisions we made along the way.

Sometimes as parents we have to sit back and watch our kids make choices too. As much as we want to intervene, it is often better to let them face their fear. I had one of these moments come up a few weeks ago with my daughter. For the past several months, she’s been in a really fearful state which is new in some ways, but not so new at the same time. She’s started questioning things that used to be second nature – something as simple as going upstairs alone.

So on this particular day I had told her to grab her school clothes before we headed downstairs. She was doing a million other things besides choosing to listen to me. I headed downstairs anyway. She followed, but did not grab the items of clothing that had been laid out for her. What followed was a huge meltdown. She asked me to go get them, but I refused to give in and told her it was her responsibility.

What I was asking of her was a small decision in my mind, but to her, it was huge. We had a solid 20 minutes left til we had to leave for school. I saw a teachable moment and knew I had to go with it. We sat on the steps as she cried and cried, saying, “I just can’t do it.” I said over and over to her, “I believe you can. I believe in you.”

She gave me every reason why she couldn’t do it. But I knew if she did this one little thing, it would carry over to other areas of her life where she also feels fear. I told her to tell herself that she can do this. Our conversation went on for probably ten minutes.

Finally, the impossible happened: she took a deep breath, we counted down from ten and she ran up the steps as fast as she could. She quickly grabbed her clothes and ran down the stairs straight into my arms at the bottom. As I held her close, I felt her little heart beating so fast.  Both our eyes filled with tears of both relief and pride. I was proud of her, but she was even more proud of herself.

That moment ended up being a defining moment for her. In just a few short weeks, she’s been able to really let go of some fears at both school and home. I’m still watching and waiting for even bigger ‘brave moments’ to arise, but in the meantime I love seeing her grow.

And I’m taking cues from her – telling myself that in the same way, if I just do this one thing, each step will get easier. Each piece of writing I submit will bring me one step closer to my dream. Each time I extend grace to myself and my kids, I am realizing I’m the mother I was made to be.

Each time I try a new thing, I see the confidence building in myself.

The choices we make day after day really do add up. And over time, I am finding myself braver too.

 

Colleen Waterston – Big Shared World
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down over Skype with Colleen Waterston of Big Shared World. Over the course of 15 months, Colleen traveled to 40 countries, and met with over 700 people, in order to ask them all the same three questions about their values, thoughts on global threats, and vision for the world. Here, she shares the inspiration behind her journey, the lessons learned along the way, and what comes next.

LS: Colleen, thank you so very much for sharing your story with our readers! Let's start with the basics. Tell us about your journey, and how the inspiration came to you!

Colleen: It’s interesting to think back to the original days when this idea came to me. It was a combination of things that led me to embark on the Big Shared World journey, from thinking of the concept, to the ability to actually do it. I think there are a lot of wanderlusts out there who desire to take on a big travel project of some sort. There are so many reasons we don't do "big things"...maybe we feel it is frivolous somehow, or we struggle to find the courage, or simply don’t have the resources.

I realize that I was uniquely situated to dream this and go for it. My background was in studying international development. I was living in Washington DC after I finished graduate school. I was participating in the marketing of a film on social entrepreneurship, and also working as a consultant in corporate sustainability. As a result of these positions, I was seeing firsthand just how many complicated challenges our world is facing today.

I started to realize that we are living in a critical time with critical problems, but that these problems were shared problems, worldwide problems, borderless problems. There wasn't one company, one country, one organization, that could solve these problems. But because the world feels so big, we as citizens often feel that the problem, and the solution, is somewhere "out there."

In my spare time, I had been working on writing a book about being a millennial today. Most people in my personal and professional circles knew of this side project. One day a friend and I were talking about some of the neat interactions I’ve had on airplanes. My mom worked for an airline and I had discounted flight benefits, so I traveled more than most. Knowing I was working on a book, the friend suggested I write a book about the people I meet while traveling. I thought it was interesting, but suggested that it’d be even better if I asked everyone the same three questions along the way. I felt an immediate connection to the idea. Almost as soon as it crossed my mind, it felt certain that I would do it.

Five weeks later I moved home to Minnesota, and made the preparations to go. The initial goal was three questions, three months, thirty countries, three hundred people. That eventually evolved into fifteen months, forty countries and over seven hundred people! So I underestimated myself –it took much more time than I expected, but I also talked to many more people than I ever set out to!

I traveled to six continents, and generally planned at least seven to eight days at a time. I tried to allow for "planned spontaneity" in a sense. I learned the true definition of exhausted along the way, but I always felt overwhelmingly grateful to be in the situation that I was in. Even on a tiring day where nothing seemed to be going quite “right”, I knew that a tough day was temporary and I was privileged to be experiencing it all.

LS: What were the three questions? Were people open to answering them?

Colleen: So the three questions are as follows. First, what does a good life mean to you? Second, in your opinion, what is the biggest threat to humanity today? And third, what do you think the world will be like fifty years from now?

I really am proud of those questions. After I had the idea, I met with so many friends, family, and colleagues to get their input on what questions to ask. Once I had the idea, it was my sole focus – designing the right questions to prompt robust conversations about peoples’ values and thoughts on our world today. And it was very important to me that anyone could answer them – from a young boy living on a remote sacred island in Peru, to a tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I was very pleased that the questions held their meaning, and still do today.

It was much easier than I thought to find people to answer the questions. I looked for people who looked like they might want to talk, or seemed to be idle and have a little time on their hands. I approached a lot of people in public parks, or asked friends of friends in a new place to have lunch or coffee, or asked my Airbnb hosts and other service providers. Many were strangers, and some were via introduction, or via another person or family I had previously met in my travels, or through social media. Psychologists have a method called “snowball sampling” when researchers have their study participants refer the next batch, like a snowball that gathers more snow as it rolls. I engaged in what I like to call “snowball networking,” where I would constantly be asking people who I was meeting to refer me to someone else.

I remember for example being on a train with three business men from Saudi Arabia. We never otherwise would have had the opportunity to meet or talk to one another. We shared this beautiful conversation during our several hour train ride where they answered the questions, as the one with the best English served as the group translator. Then they asked me to share my answers to the questions and several other thoughtful questions they had about my travels. They were a bit stunned that a young woman like myself would prefer to do this independent travel project, rather than settle down and start a family or more traditional career. It was not with judgment, but curiosity, that we learned more about each other and had a unique experience that the questions and nature of my travel project allowed.

Overall, I found that people were craving the opportunity for conversation. I think the youngest person who answered my questions was seven years old, and the oldest was eighty-one! I am still analyzing my data.

LS: Did you have a favorite place or experience?

Colleen: Goodness, there were so many. If I close my eyes and meditate on that question, the first image that comes to mind is that of a middle aged father who I met in Peru, on a vacation with his daughter from Chile. We talked on the train ride back from Machu Picchu to Cusco. He was so thoughtful in the way he thanked me for asking him the questions, and I felt truly grateful in turn for meeting him. It was this unexpected gratitude that felt profound to me. A day that was a highlight involved a ten hour guided bike tour in Bangkok, Thailand and spontaneously coming across a Buddhist summer camp where the monks in charge shared juice boxes with us as they answered the questions and discussed the project. I just couldn't have planned that experience. Such sweet moments, and so many beautiful people. The book will share so many more of these experiences and interactions.

LS: Were there specific challenges you dealt with along the way?

Colleen: Overall, I tried to be pretty smart about how I traveled. After all, I was a young woman traveling alone. In general, I tried not to visit places where my asking questions of a complete stranger would be perceived as threatening. I did my traveling and talking during daylight hours, and then would return to wherever I was staying at night to plan out the next day. I rarely drank any alcohol because I wanted to have my faculties about me. So overall, I just tried to make decisions that kept me safe and out of dangerous situations.

I think we often build this story about "the rest of the world", and our fears make the world seem like it is a scary place, better to avoid than interact with. But we cannot reverse globalization. We live in a global world, and I feel like as millennials, we are the first global generation. In a sense, we have two identities, the identities that we came from, and this newer, broader identity. It feels like there is almost an "older" way and a "newer" way, and transition times can lead to fear too. We are fearful to let our borders down, level the playing field, and let others in. Understanding the deeper challenges that openness brings to our global society was always a driving force of my project. It wasn’t so much a physical challenge, but an intellectual one that I set out to grapple with.

LS: What are some of the most important lessons you took away?

Colleen: My hypothesis when I left was that the issues we deal with in this world are ultimately human issues. And we are imperfect humans, doing our best, and it is these same imperfect humans that go on to become leaders of organizations and countries. We personify things instead of humanize them. Just in the same way we try to honor complexity and differences in our friends and family, we need to do that "out there" in the world. Otherwise we do ourselves and others a disservice. Ultimately, the same reason we build up borders and walls within our own families, echoes why countries don't get along in a lot of instances.

I think this journey, asking these questions, has also made me better in my own interpersonal relationships. I am a better listener. I am more likely to listen and be open to others, rather than lead with my own thoughts and opinions. I also feel like I believe in myself more, and feel like I can give myself permission to do "big" things, or to be open to the signs along the way that are guiding me towards what I was meant to do.

My trip would have been a lot easier not to do. Even now it can feel overwhelming to put it all together in a meaningful way. I had a spiritual moment in meditation recently, where I had the experience of meeting my future self. It was a very powerful moment, and she was grateful for me now, making the decision to make this trip happen, and managing the ambiguity of this transition between the journey and what’s next. Now I have to pay it forward in a sense, as I come full circle. I received so much richness, and in turn, I want to share those stories with the world.

LS: What comes next?

Colleen: I feel strongly about wanting to honor my journey, and the strangers that so generously shared their time with me. I am in the process of developing my website further to share photographs, stories, and resources for people who want to learn more. I want to help expose global issues in a way where individuals can discover what they feel most passionate about, and use the website as a tool to help navigate how to take the next steps. I am also in the process of writing a book about my trip, the experience of asking these questions, and what I learned and received in return. I am analyzing all of my data that I collected as I write as well. And I have some planned speaking engagements. But most of all, I don't want to wrap up Big Shared World, I want it to continue to grow and evolve into what it was meant to be...an opportunity to build a global community through conversation.

I think about how, in this election season, we can feel so easily disheartened. How we can create a story and get riled up about the "Other." Now, based on my experiences, the "Other" is no longer so foreign to me. There are certainly situations that are deeply complicated, and I am not naïve to the tensions of the world. I just want all of us to be open to engaging with one another so that we can start talking about the issues that impact all of us.

To learn more about Colleen Waterston and the Big Shared World project, please visit her website at www.bigsharedworld.com.

The Next Step
Watching Literal Shyft grow over the past several months has been nothing but pure joy.  Since we launched in May, we have steadily added a host of brilliant and generous authors who have shared deeply personal content.  Our readership continues to grow.  There is a profound feeling of satisfaction--we are really doing it.  We are contributing to peoples' lives, sharing stories, and deepening and broadening the conversation about how to live the conscious life.

There is no other way to describe this feeling other than profound gratitude.  Gratitude for our team that has come together.  Gratitude for the dreamers, writers, peace-makers and meditators in this world.  And grateful for all of you, our readers, who remind us exactly why Literal Shyft is an important voice today.

But there is more.  September has been a busy month for all of us here at Shyft.  We are taking the next step, from word, to action.  This month, we launch Shyft Work, our workplace meditation program.  Shyft Work is an innovative, one of a kind mindfulness and meditation program geared specifically towards workplace issues.

Our relationship to the work we do is csmalleromplex.  Perhaps for some of us, work is a calling, and for others, simply a job that brings in income so we can find meaning in other parts of life.  But there is no question that work is a place where we often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and disconnected from our bigger picture purpose.  Meditation in the workplace allows us to develop a sense of integration, resilience, and compassion where we need it the most.

Desmond Tutu once said, "Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."  This is why Literal Shyft and Shyft Work exist--because this is how our team can, little by little, do our part to bring a greater sense of wellbeing to ourselves and our community.  Bringing mindful awareness to the workplace will allow each and every individual to do the same...cultivate a greater sense of presence with work, home, and life as a whole.

Nothing could be more important.

So we thank each and every one of you for becoming a part of our family.  We thank you for believing in us and what we do.  And more than anything, we thank you for doing your part, in small and big ways, to bring love to every word and action.

With gratitude,

monishasig

 

 

 

 

Monisha Vasa, MD

Editor In Chief, Literal Shyft, Conscious Words for Conscious Living

Visit our website to learn more about Shyft Work.

Relationship Problems With Your Soulmate?
Anyone who finds themselves in a dysfunctional relationship will either try to make their soulmate “perfect” by changing them, or try to change themselves to be the “perfect” partner.

Here’s the truth:

  • Every person is imperfect.
  • You can't make a person change.
  • Therefore, we must learn to tolerate, appreciate and even love an imperfect person.

With that said, whomever you choose to love, realize that you are also choosing to love a set of problems. There are no problem-free candidates.

Problems are a part of any relationship, and you will have some sort of problems no matter who you love.

For example:

img1Lacey married Andrew, who tends to be a tad loud at parties. Lacey, who is shy, hates that.

But if Andrew had married Molly, he and Molly would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Andrew is always late and Molly hates to be kept waiting. If someone is late, Molly feels taken for granted; something in her childhood made her sensitive about that. If Molly were to confront Andrew on being late, Andrew would have believed her complaining was an attempt to dominate him. That’s something he gets upset over rather quickly.

If Andrew had married Leah, they wouldn’t have even made it to the party, because they would be fighting about Andrew’s lack of help with the housework. This makes Leah feel abandoned, something that makes her stomach queasy. And Andrew would have seen Leah’s complaining as an attempt to dominate him.

Since we are never perfect and our soulmates are never perfect, our imperfections are bound to cause two types of problems: solvable problems and unsolvable problems.

Solvable conflicts can be as simple as setting up a relationship ritual such as a five minute coffee chat to feel more emotionally connected. Solvable conflicts reach a resolution and rarely get brought up again.

The Soulmate Conflict

img2Meet John Gottman. He is the Muhammad Ali of relationships. During 40+ years of research on happily married couples, John was able to create a combo of techniques that produced a ridiculous 90%1 knockout rate in predicting whether couples would divorce within 10 years or not.

His heavyweight title showed that the happiest couples have persistent unresolved conflicts.

In each one of John’s books, he points out this: The idea that couples must resolve all their problems is a fairytale.

In fact, relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. When we fight and argue, it teaches us how to love better, how to take a step back from the “problem” to understand our partners better. It teaches us how to work with change in our relationships as it evolves. It reminds us of why we choose our soulmate, and allows us to renew our relationship over time.

The Never-ending Fight

According to John Gottman, couples disagree on unsolvable never-ending issues 69%2 of the time.

These perpetual conflicts are a byproduct of the fundamental differences between soulmates. Differences in personalities, needs, and expectations that are fundamental to their core definitions of self.

Despite how much we want the problems to go away, they never will.

The Emotionally Clogged Relationship

If couples cannot start talking about the unsolvable problem in a healthy way, the conflict may make the relationship emotionally clogged.  Unable to drain the tension between soulmates.

The topic of the conflict doesn’t matter in terms of knowing if the problem clogs the relationship or not. It can be about anything. To an outsider it may seem like a very small issue, like not vacuuming the house. But within the relationship, it feels like a monster in the closet; too scary to open up.

When a relationship is clogged, partners feel rejected by their lover. They feel like they can’t get through, like their soulmate doesn’t care or like to talk about the issue.

Ironically the more partners ignore the conflict, the more they have the same conversation over and over again. It’s like a dog chasing its own tail.  Over time soulmates become more and more entrenched in their positions and the friction between them grows. It may hit a point where there’s no possibility of compromise.

img3Conversations turn into the perfect storm – no shared humor, affection, or appreciation. Just winds and rains of frustration and hurt. If the storm lasts long enough, people start vilifying one another.

Their thoughts become negative. They turn against each other. They see each other as selfish.

All of this clogging eventually leads to a clog in trust.

Breaks in trust tend to push soumates away from each other. It doesn’t take a couple’s therapist to realize that the likelihood of infidelity and divorce is directly proportional to how miserable the relationship is.

Talking about the issue is like taking a plunger to the toilet. It releases all of the built up emotional tension.  Despite the unpleasantness of the never-ending problem, lasting happy couples are able to talk about the issue with a lot of positive emotions – laughter, affection or even appreciation.

Lack of Safety = Lack of Communication

Often times these perpetual problems never get talked about because one or both partners never feel safe enough to bring it up. Sometimes it’s due to past experiences in our relationships (even childhood) and other times it’s due to partners feeling neglected and lacking connection. This can prevent partners from being vulnerable enough to open up.

When a relationship achieves a certain level of safety and one soulmate clearly communicates that he or she wants to know about the underlying meaning of other partner’s position, the other partner can finally open up and talk about their feelings, dreams and needs.

------------------------- If you see yourself in this photo, contact me at moazzam.ali@gmail.com for high resolution prints of the shot or the file to get the prints done yourself. If you know me personally, just give me a call...

The goal is for each soulmate to understand the other’s dreams behind the position on the issue. For example: one partner may wish to save for traveling during retirement. The other may want to spend that money on an exotic trip now.

You can continue to talk about the same issues, occasionally improving the situation for a short time, but the problem will always re-emerge.

There is value to realizing that when choosing a long-term partner, you are choosing a set of problems you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or even fifty years.

The whole goal should not be to solve every problem. It should be to work with each other in order to improve the relationship to the extent that you are left with a set of unsolvable problems that both your partner and you can learn to tolerate, and even cherish.

You shouldn’t need to feel the need to change somebody or yourself in order to love them. Nor should you let some disagreements get in the way of a healthy, and otherwise happy relationship.

 

        1. Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative medicine. Family Process38(2), 143-158
        2. Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce?: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

 

Making It Matter
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Frequently we don’t take action because we’re not sure the effort will actually matter.

I was recently reminded of our skeptical nature, but also the truth that all good work, done in love, matters profoundly. Let me explain.

I had just finished sharing a message to business owners and their spouses about how one word, one action and one person can profoundly influence the lives of others. After my presentation, the event organizer asked the group to follow her to the location for the next activity.

We all walked from the beautiful auditorium, down a long hallway, through a series of double doors and into a massive loading area. Once there, a lady on a bullhorn shared that in our own community and around the world, the plight of poverty means many families are unable to eat. She explained that we were going to work together to create boxed meals to feed hungry families.

She gave some instructions and assigned jobs. With pallets of canned goods, dry food and water bottles stacked high, we got to work.

The room was hot. The work was tedious and tiring, and yet the room was energized with the tasks at hand.

Two hours later, as the pallets sat emptied, boxes filled and mission accomplished, we moved the boxes from the floor and onto waiting trucks for delivery.

I asked a gentleman if he was enjoying the workout, and he responded, “Yeah, man. It certainly feels good to help out.”

He then paused, looked at the truck full of boxes, then back at me, and sullenly added, “But, let’s be honest: we’re putting a band aide on a gaping wound. I am not sure it really matters.”

The bullhorn cracked over his final words. We turned away from the truck and back to the leader.

She thanked us for our efforts and added that since 1998 more than 250 million meals had been served in this manner. These meals have been shipped to all 50 states and 73 countries. She shared the hopelessness that accompanies being hungry and the gift that food is, nourishing both the body and the soul.

Finally, she added, “And today, through your efforts, your work, your generosity, 20,000 additional meals were just packed and loaded onto this truck. So 20,000 people will receive that nourishment and hope. Thank you for it!”

As the room erupted in applause, I looked at the gentleman next to me again and smiled, saying, “Well, sounds like it will matter to the 20,000 people eating them.”

My friends, in a marketplace that trades on negativity, in communities mired in cynicism, and with a media focused on fear, it’s time to realize that our words can lift up or put down; our actions can restore or tear down, and our lives can be evidence of further reasons for despair or shining examples that the best is yet to come.

The time is now to pack the meals, load the truck, and trust that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. For indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching 50,000+ people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016 and was an instant #1 National Bestseller. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.

How to Float to the Top

When I am at a party, the question I dislike the most is “What do you do?” I often challenge the other person by responding, “I live joyously and consciously. That is what I do.” But the very idea of living joyously and consciously is hard to grasp, let alone sustain, amid the demands of a high-tech workplace.

I get at least 200 or 300 emails a day, each one a data fragment asking me to respond in some fashion. My grandfather, who was a rice farmer in a small village in India, probably had to respond to four or five pieces of communication a day. For him, once the sun went down and the cattle were back in the shed, the rhythm of life changed. Not in Silicon Valley, where I work — the rhythm is 24/7. There is no dial to turn down and say, “I want a bit less of it.” So you have to accept that these are the conditions you are choosing to have, and then ask, “In the midst of this, how can I be peaceful, happy and content?”

The fact is that technology is like fire. Ever since we’ve discovered fire and known how to harness it, we’ve found it exceptionally useful. You can cook your food with fire, you can melt and blow glass with it. But if you misuse it, you can burn yourself or raze an entire city to the ground. Technology is a powerful tool — but whether you use the tool to be productive or destructive, to live with peace or chaos, is up to you.

At Google, where I work, we are building amazing technologies like self-driving cars, Google Glass and Google Plus. But the most important technology that every human being has access to is right within us: our body, our mind, our consciousness. On the outside we have the Internet, on the inside we have what I call the inner-net. That’s the connection you need to make if you want to live a truly conscious life — and there are simple steps you can take to connect, starting right now.

Communities of employees at Google — “Googlers” — organize themselves into groups that center on different interests. We have Gayglers, Jewglers and Carpooglers. I started a group for Yoga called Yoglers with just one student — but word spread and it has become a larger program across many Google offices. When you practice yoga, you’re asked to bring your complete, 100-percent awareness to your body and your breath. If you practice regularly, you stay more aware, and you make choices driven by that. The quality of your interactions improves. You stop checking your email when someone is talking to you. You become a more conscious human being.

Yoga to me can be practiced all the time, like meditation. Every single moment of every day, I try to be mindful, whether I am engaging with a janitor, a chef, an engineer, or a marketing colleague. I do set aside time for specific practices, and for the Yoglers class I teach, but in truth, every moment of every day is my inner work.

What if you don’t have a yoga or meditation program at your work? It’s simple. Go book a conference room. Sit, close your eyes, start meditating. It doesn’t matter if only one person shows — or if no one does. If you sit there for 60 seconds and watch your breath, you have just started a meditation program. You don’t need a budget or resources. Someone just needs to step forward and do it. Someone — perhaps you.

What’s essential to realize is that you don’t need to withdraw from the outer world in order to create a peaceful space in your inner world. There is a story in the Bhagavad Gita in which the warrior Arjuna looks across the battlefield and refuses to fight. He says, in effect, “My friends are in the other army. I can’t battle them.” And Krishna replies, “You must. In your role as a warrior, you need to battle and do so with honor.” I think Krishna is saying that this world is not to be avoided, but engaged. Some people think that they can find peace and avoid conflict — like, say, the stress of being passed over for a promotion — by going to live at a monastery or an ashram. But I have been to many ashrams and seen that these issues follow you. You think that the director of the ashram should have promoted you to be senior teacher! We tend to think, “I have my work life, then I have my spiritual life,” but the same person with the same body shows up everywhere.

The challenge, of course, is to engage the world without getting entangled. A lovely metaphor that I grew up with in India is that of the beautiful lotus flower. It always floats on top of the water, even though the roots are mired in the mud below. When water falls on a lotus leaf, it gently flows off like dewdrops. The message in the metaphor is that we can be involved in life and work without being mired in it. We can let our problems roll off us. We can float to the top.

To learn more from Gopi Kallayil, you can buy his book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life.

This post was reprinted with permission from The Huffington Post.

 

Four Keys to a Wholehearted Life
A wholehearted lifestyle is a way to engage ourselves and our life – a conscious attunement to ourselves and our world. It can also be thought of as wholehearted consciousness. Rather than stay on autopilot, there is conscious awareness of how life is lived. A decisive choice is made on who we want to be and how we want to relate.

This takes guts.

Guts because we will find ourselves in a growing arena that can change how we relate to others and our own selves. We will be stretched; we welcome material that promotes our growth and bring our whole heart to it.
In contemplating how I wish to begin a dialog on wholeheartedness, four points come to mind.

1. Openness.

When we suffer, we often squirm. There is a reflex to shut down or escape – do something – anything! – to alleviate suffering. We become closed off, protective, and disconnected rather than open and welcoming.

In practicing a wholehearted life, we gently work to remain open in these moments. A spirit of openness to all experiences pervades – even the difficult ones. Openness allows some room to breathe, to notice, and simply be present with what is occurring.

There is no rush, no push, and no spurring to react. It is okay to just be.

2. Vulnerability.

Being open means we are going to bump – or ram head first - into vulnerability. Raw feelings and experiences are going to happen. Wholeheartedness is about arriving at these moments and welcoming all of what we are to exist and be seen.

This is where it really takes guts. The things we usually shut off, avoid, or hide are the things we say “hello” to when we are vulnerable. Being vulnerable isn’t always easy, but can be liberating and authenticity-building.

Rather than rejecting parts of ourselves and our experiences, we invite them to have a seat at the table. We allow ourselves to be whole, complex, simple, and many other things. We allow ourselves to be real.

3. Love.

Heaps and heaps of love go into a wholehearted life. Being open and vulnerable is going to rouse different reactions within and around us. A great stance to it all is deep, unwavering love.

Within this kind of conscious living, we honor the fact that we and others all deserve love – kindness, wellness, and a good life. Rather than react and judge ourselves or others, we offer love.

When we tap into a compassionate, loving place and let it energize us, we relate to life with a bit more sweetness, gentleness, and kindness.

4. Gentleness.

Wholeheartedness is staying open, vulnerable, loving, and gentle all at once…and then hitting a bump that unbalances us.

Here we embrace gentleness toward our own selves and others. None of us will nail it every day, and that is okay. We have room to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and to try again. Gentleness is about remaining soft and flexible, dropping rigidity and perfectionism.

Possibilities abound in every new moment. Wholeheartedness is arriving at those moments – and our own being – again and again. Being gentle means it is all okay.

Always Shifting.

A wholehearted life is many things. We take a step back, another forward, shift to the left, to the right. Life is dynamic and there is beauty in the rhythm and movement. It is a process unique to each soul – a journey just our own. No doubt, a wholehearted life honors and celebrates it all.

Three Tips for Meditating on the Road
Have you ever driven home from work, and it’s not until you put the key in your house door that you realize you don’t remember an ounce of the commute home? Trying to backtrack along the route in your mind to make sure you didn’t run any stop signs seems next to impossible.

Let’s face it… we are definitely creatures of habit. As human beings, our brains are hardwired to be more comfortable with routine, and switching into “auto-pilot” mode at any given moment is what our busy minds can sometimes do best.

If you have a comfortable meditation practice routine, it might be hard to keep it up if there is a disturbance in your daily pattern. Your auto-pilot takes over the moment your alarm goes off: Get up, get dressed, head out to the living room, turn on relaxing music, close eyes, deep breaths, ommmmmm.

It’s a wonderful thing when you are so dedicated to your practice to be able to do this every day. However, getting your meditation practice out of this auto-pilot mode can be extremely rewarding.

A vacation is a way to reignite your mind/body connection, and meditating will help ground you and bring your awareness to the present moment, which in turn will help you appreciate your travels on an even greater scale.

Here are three tips to help you keep up your meditation practice while on the road:

1) Schedule time for yourself.

Have you ever thought to yourself that you are going to have plenty of time to meditate while on vacation? Only to find that the sands of time somehow slipped through your fingers?

If you have, you’re not alone. Sometimes when we expect to have all of the time in the world is the exact moment when it feels like there is never enough.

So what can you do to compensate?

Before you grab your passport and head out the door, take a look ahead at your schedule while traveling. Are there times when you will be able to get away from friends and family, and spend some time alone? Or perhaps there will be time while in the passenger seat of a long road trip where you will be able to close your eyes for a few minutes.

Schedule this precious time for yourself by marking it in your calendar. It’s much easier to keep a commitment when it is in writing. Also, set a corresponding alarm on your phone or Fitbit. Set it to go off when you think you will have time to meditate, and then again every hour as a gentle “reminder”.

If you are going to be surrounded by friends and family the entire trip, set your alarm to wake you up before everyone else. This will not only give you the peace and quiet you need during your meditation, but you will also have more time throughout the day to enjoy your vacation.

2) Be flexible.

Be prepared to meditate in a multitude of ways.

If you are used to sitting on your porch on your meditation cushion, listening to the same music and birds singing, at the same time every day, then brace yourself. You won’t be able to take all of the aspects your regular routine with you, and that is kind of the point of getting away…. To get out of the norm of your everyday living.

Think about your meditation practice for a moment.  What is the main thing that helps you get deep into your practice? Is it a certain song? Is it the relaxing herbal tea that you drink right before? Perhaps it is the crystal that you hold in your right hand…

Whatever it is, if there is something that helps you with your meditation practice, bring it along. You are going to be out of your routine, but if that cushion helps you get in the zone (and it can fit in your bag), use it.

If you get the opportunity to get out into nature, take it. Go to the beach. Take a hike in the mountains. Kayak on the lake. Look around at all of the gloriousness that is surrounding you. Close your eyes, and for a short moment, be still. And, breathe.

3) Love yourself through the process.

The whole point of meditation is to just be in the present moment. The great thing that happens when you are on vacation is you get out of your daily routine.

The automatic way in which we pass through life is up-ended on itself. We can’t just wake up, make coffee, get dressed, and head out the door to our job like we do every other day of the year. We get to explore, we get to play, we get to be.

So even if you find that you don’t have the time for your daily practice, understand that the process of getting out of your head will happen naturally while traveling.

You just have to lean into it. And, love yourself through the process.

Habits are the Solution, Not the Problem
There’s something quite intuitive about the fact that the more attention we pay something the more a part of our experience it becomes.

Shower your plants, children, hobbies, or relationships with attention and they not only thrive, they become a bigger part of your life.

Stare at–or even just think about–that cut on your leg and suddenly you feel the pain. It’s been there as long as it’s been there, but it becomes real for you when you look. Your attention brings it to life.

So, it’s ironic that we also tend to stare at and focus on our unwanted habits in the name of making them better. We track them. We monitor how we’re doing. We hone in on “I did it again”, or “three days habit-free!”

It looks like the unwanted habit—the part of it that we see–is the problem. If you shop, smoke, or gamble, shopping, smoking, or gambling is the thing affecting your life. Those are the specific behaviors that are wrecking your finances, relationships, and health. They are clearly the problem, so they are clearly the thing to focus on and change.

Except they aren’t.

They are actually the solution.

The “problem” (which the quotes indicate is not actually a problem), is that we aren’t feeling like ourselves. We’re feeling off base and in our cloudy-minded state, our habit appears to take the edge off our discomfort.

Our mind instantly suggests (sometimes demands) your habit as a solution. Feeling something you’d rather not? Eat this! It’ll take your mind off of your problems (and it does, for a minute). Feeling weighed down by urges to do your habit? Do that habit! That will make those urges go away (and it does, temporarily).

Our habits get us a tiny bit closer to home. Habits are solutions to the “problem” of not feeling well.

Not being at home is not actually a problem at all because we’re always moving in and out of feelings states. Our minds are always filling up a bit and then quieting down a bit, no different than waves on the ocean crash more or less forcefully on the shore.

When your high emotions calm down, your need for your habit will too. There is nothing to fix, there is only this to understand.

There is a great irony in the work I do with people who want to be rid of habits and addictions. The more we talk about the habit, how it shows up, what it all means… the more of a problem it tends to look like.

As we shift away from that focus on the specifics of the habit and look more to the nature of our experience, how the habit operates as a solution, how our human experience flows through us…the less a problem the habit appears to be and the less caught up in it we feel.

Of course we talk about the habit to some extent, but we don’t stop there. We don’t problem-solve or trouble-shoot the habit itself because the habit isn’t the problem.

If we trouble-shoot anything, it’s our misunderstanding about life. Understanding how this being human thing truly works is where freedom lies.

This article was originally published on Dr. Amy Johnson's website here: http://dramyjohnson.com/2016/04/habits-are-the-solution-not-the-problem/

Listen
Did you know you have a sacred guide inside of you to gently steer you through this wild and precious life?

You’d be wise to get to know her.

She comes with many names….. inner wisdom, goddess, satguru, gut feeling, inner knowing, instinct, sixth sense.

I like to call her Intuition.  But please, call her what you like.  She responds to any name spoken with love.

When I researched the word ‘intuition,’ the Collins dictionary offered this sentence to further our understanding, ‘You can't make a case on intuitions, you know.’

Is it no wonder that so many of us feel disconnected from our intuition?

We’ve grown up listening to the so-called “experts”, and we've been bombarded with advertising from dawn to dusk telling us what we need to be happy.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be drawn away from our inner knowing.

Your intuition speaks to you in whispers. While the experts and the advertisements speak with loud voices and neon lights.  If we’re not careful she’s easily drowned out.

But she’s worth listening out for, as her mission is to guide you to create a life that you truly desire.  A life of authenticity, joy and wholeheartedness.

When you listen to her whispers, you’ll guided to live a bespoke life that’s tailored just for you.  Not a run-of-the-mall, off-the-shelf, mass-produced, flat-pack life.  A life that’s fit for the glorious individual that you are.

Because you are an individual expression of life itself.

You are life living itself through you.  Just like a wave is distinct and individual when it surges up above the ocean, you are a distinct and individual part of creation.  And creation has great plans for you.

So try it.  Sit in silence.  Meditate.  Breathe.  Listen to her whispers.  Listen for the way she speaks through your body.  A lightness.  A heaviness.  A longing.  A secret long-held desire.

Listen.

Dr. Lauren Tober's online yoga and meditation course, A Daily Dose of Bliss, begins Monday, August 22. You can sign up here: http://www.adailydoseofbliss.com/

A daily dose of bliss

Searching for a New Home
I've been paying close attention to the "refugee crisis" happening the better part of this last year. There are many issues involved with this very broad and general title. Issues like: war, peace, hope, tragedy, future, past, present, individual, society, migration, boarders, terror, distance, economics, duty, family, and home. The situation is immense and immediate. I wanted to paint a mural to raise attention toward the notions of refugees, immigrants, migration, and borders.

One of my best friends and fellow artists, Max Ehrman, and I were talking about these issues one day and we began sketching. Instead of painting imagery depicting walls and borders, strangers and masses of people, we decided to direct the imagery to be more personal. We wanted real portraits of real people, in delicate bubbles of sky and stars, floating in the midst of linear lines that fade in and out, and a cloud of organic matter.

I began to research and quickly was in the midst of hundreds of images of refugees online. I wanted to be more specific. I narrowed my search to children, caught in the change of leaving their only notion of home. Then I came across 3 specific stories, from different photographers and projects.

img2

 

Zein al-Houssein
Zein al-Houssein. Photo © Alex Oberg

5 year old Zein al-Houssein. "I need to live as other children and play football," he stated to photographer Alex Oberg. Zein fled Syria with his father and brother, and they are now in Turkey with the hopes of reaching Sweden. I found Zein's story on theNational Geographic website in the article Intimate Portraits of Refugees: ‘We Don’t Want to Live in a War’ written by Anna Lukacs.

 

 

Nadia on the right. Photo © Sebastian Rich
Nadia on the right. Photo © Sebastian Rich

12 year old Nadia. She (on the right) and her 9 year old sister, Haseena, are the second generation of Afghan refugee girls to attend school. I found Nadia's story from the UN Refugee Agency's flickr page. The photograph of the sisters was taken by Sebastian Rich.

 

Unnamed Syrian girl. Photo © Benjamin Reece and Robert X. Fogarty
Unnamed Syrian girl. Photo © Benjamin Reece and Robert X. Fogarty

Unnamed girl from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. I came across her image as part of the beautiful Dear World project, created by Robert X. Fogarty. The girl's photo was in the Dear World + Syrian Refugees article, which was made possible by partnership with CARE.

 

 

 

True, the world is different today than it ever has been, but we humans must not forget who we are as a species - social mammals who feel, think, imagine, and create. It is these unique traits and qualities that has lead to us circumventing the world and now reaching out into space looking for more. We are curious beings, and that is what has brought us to continually move around. The ideas of borders, boundaries, and division could be our most detrimental concept because it creates the notion of us and them. We are all one, and we share this world.

We share the world

 

Here in the United States of America it is especially difficult to hear talk of exclusion and border walls. Is it really so easy to forget where we come from? The majority of our population is here because of immigrants, refugees, and those seeking a new way of life.

In our globalized world today, borders are a place of increasing struggle, hardship, and violence. In July, the UN‘s refugee agency said that 45.2 million people remain displaced from their homes due to worldwide conflicts - a 19-year high.

 

Many of these people are forced into these conditions due to conflict, economic, or environmental hardship, and would have never chosen to leave their home had they not had too. Most are looking for safety, for a chance, for a home. I hope this mural can offer a moment of reflection for those who come across it.

To learn more about Strider Patton and his work, please visit his website: www.striderpatton.com

How to Teach Your Preschooler to Meditate
Small children are full of energy and emotions and they have no understanding of how to regulate either one of them. Parents often try one of two thematic responses, or pendulate between the two. The first is punishment. Yelling, time out, loss of privileges or toys. The other is an attempt to verbalize and work through the emotion. Affection, discussion, and the increasingly popular “time in.”

Where both of these methods miss the mark is a true understanding of brain development and how giving your child the gift and skill of meditation could make all the difference.

First, a quick recap of how the brain develops. In overly simplified terms, the brain develops from back to front and from inside to outside. The first part of the brain that develops is known as the “reptilian” brain and is mainly concerned without nothing but survival. The next portion that develops is the limbic system, or emotion central. Lastly, the prefrontal cortex develops which is where logic, rationale, and basically good decision-making occurs. The most trusted data suggests that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around age 25, and only starts significantly developing in grade school years (note: not preschool years).

So does this mean we just have to accept that toddlers and preschoolers will just be completely out of control in general?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they are likely to be literally incapable of controlling their emotional behavior and have little to no understanding about why much of it is happening.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t give them tools and resources for dealing with it better. Meditation could be a very meaningful tool for your preschooler especially as their brain develops to bridge the gaps between emotion and logic.

Now, let’s not have any misconceptions about your preschooler calmly “om-ing” away for hours. That’s not what kid meditation looks like. Especially at the beginning of their exposure to meditative practice, it will come in form of more guided meditation. Guided meditations are a great way to get them to pay attention to their breath and their body sensations. A couple quick breathing exercises that help by incorporating information they are already familiar with is Birthday Candles and Number Breaths.

Birthday Candles is a great one because what kid doesn’t like reliving the joy of birthday cake? Have your child sit comfortably and close their eyes. Tell them to pretend that all of their friends and family are surrounding them with love and that right in front of them is their birthday cake. Ask them to think about a wish they have for happiness, take a deep breath and then slowly blow the birthday candles out. Repeat this for as many “happiness wishes” they can think of.

Number Breaths are a helpful way to both practice counting and help your child find a way to relax themselves. Number Breaths is based on the 4-7-8 breathing technique to calm anxiety or restlessness. But to simplify it, just use one number until your child is ready for something more complicated. I started doing Number Breaths when my daughter was one and a half, and she could confidently count to the number four without getting distracted. So we call them “Four Breaths,” and it goes like this:

Breathe in, 1, 2, 3, 4. Hold 1, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4. Repeat four times.

Will they do perfect inhales and holds and exhales? Definitely not. But they will learn to pay attention to their breath and will discover how breathing mindfully helps them to calm down.

We also use the Calm app, which comes with a “Kid Calm” section, which offers guided meditations for kids. Basically they are recorded stories that help kids visualize sensations and pay attention to their breathing. You can also invite your child to do one of the regular guided meditation sessions with you as well. (Warning: this will not be a calm or meditative experience for you.) After introducing these resources to my preschooler, I have been pleasantly surprised when she asks to meditate when she has trouble feeling calm at bedtime, or remembers to do her “four breaths” when she is struggling with listening or getting too rowdy.

The really significant factor in teaching meditative practice to preschool-aged children is that it will positively affect their brain development. Our brains create pathways in terms of how we experience, relate to, and respond to emotions and stress. These pathways become our default throughout our lives until we choose to work on changing them. Giving young children a way to calmly and positively deal with overwhelming emotions sets up a much more positive and self-directed pathway for the rest of their lives.

Resources:
http://www.teach-through-love.com/child-brain-development.html
http://www.medicaldaily.com/life-hack-sleep-4-7-8-breathing-exercise-will-supposedly-put-you-sleep-just-60-332122
https://www.calm.com

Joanna Waterfall – Yellow Co.
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down with Joanna Waterfall, Founder and Creative Visionary behind Yellow Co.  Yellow Company is a Los Angeles based company built around supporting conscious, female entrepreneurs.  In this interview, Joanna shares with us how and why she started Yellow Co., and what we can expect as Yellow Co. continues to grow and expand into the world of entrepreneurship.

LS:  Joanna, Thank you so very much for taking the time to sit down with us today!  Can you share with us a little bit your personal and professional background, and how you started Yellow Co?

Joanna: Of course!  I graduated from California Baptist University where I studied graphic design and digital media.  After I graduated, I worked for a small branding agency in Newport Beach, where we worked for small businesses, designing logos, doing their branding, and so forth.  Eventually I got married, moved to Los Angeles, and started working for a small studio in Echo Park, also doing graphic design for creative businesses, which I loved.

Ultimately, I started working on my own, and developed a full time freelance career as a graphic designer, which I thought was the ultimate vision that I had for myself career wise.  I realized though, that I had somehow surrounded myself with people who seemed to be thinking about themselves all the time, and I too felt like I was thinking about myself, all the time.  It put me into a bad place emotionally, because I felt like I had lost my sense of direction and purpose.

And then, one day, I was participating in a photoshop workshop, and I happened to be in a room with a group of women, all of whom were female, social entrepreneurs.  They were all trying to solve important problems with their businesses, and leave a genuine impact on the world.  I felt amazed and inspired by them, and coincidentally started meeting more and more women like them—women who were using their businesses, passions, and skills to change the world.

All of a sudden, in the shower, I realized that I wanted to start a conference that supported these women who were making a difference. A conference where I would actually want to sit in the audience, to hear these stories and journeys of how these women were using their brands and businesses   And so I started Yellow Co.

LS:  Wow!  What an amazing story of how Yellow Co came to be!  How did the company evolve from that initial vision you had in the shower?

Yellow_2015_Day_1-111
Joanna: Yellow Co started mainly as a conference for conscious female entrepreneurs, and we are now in our third year of running the conference.  We have attendees from all over the country, and now even from international locations, which is amazing.  Our first year we had 150 attendees, then 300 in the second year, and this year we are anticipating 500!  At this year's conference in August, we will be launching our membership platform, which will allow our members to connect and support and learn from one another.  We are also creating digital content that will be useful for our members.

Although our growth has been wonderful, it has also been a challenge.  When the conference was smaller, I was able to pretty much do everything that was needed for the conference.  I realized in the second year, that was no longer possible.  I am best in the realm of creativity and envisioning possibilities; organization is not my strong suit, and doesn't come logically to me.  This year, I realized I had to bring on board an event management company to help me with the things that are not my strengths.

I think the other challenger I face is learning how to communicate the vision that I feel in my heart. I think it is important to be able to articulate clearly what you are feeling in terms of vision and mission, so that other people can understand and become a part of your dream.  That has been a learning process for me, and one that I imagine other entrepreneurs also struggle with.

LS:  How did you come up with the name, "Yellow Co?"  What is the significance of the name to you?

Joanna:  When I first thought of the idea for Yellow Co, the image that first came to my mind, being a visual, creative type, was that of a bee.  Bees work in community, together, simply doing what they are created to do.  Just by being themselves, bees make flowers bloom, they make the world nourished, and beautiful.  This is what I wanted to encourage amongst this particular group of women--by being who you are uniquely meant to be, you will make an impact.

LS:  I know that your conference is intended for women, but you also attract a number of male speakers.  Can you share with me how you decided to bring in male speakers for a women's conference?

Joanna: Of course, that is a great question, and one I have thought about quite a lot.  First of all, we are a conference geared towards female Yellow_2015_Day_2-107entrepreneurs.  However, if a male really wanted to attend, we honestly wouldn't turn him away.  I also should add that we define "entrepreneur" quite broadly.  You don't necessarily have to be starting or running your own business.  You can be a part of someone else's vision, but one that you feel very passionate about.
You can be an entrepreneur of your own life, simply by creating and designing what you want for yourself. I think of entrepreneurs as those who are wanting more than the status quo.

In terms of having male speakers, I believe that both males and females bring different voices to the conference.  I didn't want to create an echo chamber.  I thought the attendees could benefit from the unique perspective that the male speakers brought, by their different ways of thinking, even speaking.  Just like how, if there were an all male conference, they would benefit by having female speakers.  We all see things differently.

LS:  Thank you for sharing that, and yes, it is so important that we all have the opportunity to learn and grow from one another's experiences.  Joanna, do you have any personal mindfulness practices that are an important part of your daily routine?

Joanna: I think it is very important to be intention and disciplined.  First of all, I value getting outside, into nature, for a hike every day.  I like to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, where I can think and breathe.  I leave my phone and devices at home so that I can hear my thoughts.  My faith and prayer are a big part of my reflective practices as well.  And journaling.  Journaling helps me to know where I am at, what I feel and think about things, where I am in terms of my body and spirit.

I also have a group of eight women that I meet with, every Wednesday morning. We simply get together and talk about our lives, what's been going on, what we struggle with.  We listen and give feedback.  They help me to connect the dots.  It is a powerful experience to be a part of such a group, and to have that type of support and guidance.

LS:  One final question for you Joanna.  What inspires you?

Joanna: Hmmm.  What inspires me?  So many different things.  I am inspired by my surroundings.  I love working in downtown LA.  It is gritty, full of mystery, which I love.  The arts district has this unpolished realness, and a creative vibe which I really connect with.  And I am inspired by the women that I am surrounded by.  My friends, the speakers at the conference, who are genuinely changing the world with their unique gifts.  Almost like knowing the shape of their puzzle piece, and how they are meant to fit in.  That is inspiring.

Yellow_2015_Day_1-54

To learn more about Yellow Co and their upcoming 2016 conference in August, please visit www.yellowconference.com.

Photos by Caca Santoro; you can find her at http://cacasantoro.com/.

Turning a Struggle Into the Best Story of Your Life
Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists -- lists are an easy way for busy people to retain information.  Of all places, I found myself making the most lists in the hospital.  And of all kinds of lists (after a surgery that went terribly wrong) I found myself creating a gratitude list.

shoppinglist

This was one of many lists I created every night in the hospital.  I'd make myself think of something I was grateful for from A to Z, even when I hated my circumstances.  By rummaging through my angry and frustrated thoughts, eventually, some positivity submerged.  By the time I reached "Z," my life had not changed dramatically, but my thoughts had.

My medical condition is hard to quantify. I don’t have a formal diagnosis or illness.  I may not have a stomach, but I sure am hungry for life.  It started in 2005 – a week before my senior prom.  It was our second night of Passover, and my stomach started hurting.  My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case.  On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up, soon after, I collapsed, and I went into a coma. Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the OR.

I was in a coma for months; both my lungs collapsed and I needed 122 units of blood. I nearly died. When I woke up from the coma, doctors told me I had no stomach and I couldn’t eat or drink anything. They didn’t know when or if I’d ever be able to again.  What do you say to that?

Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, part of me wanted to throw something.  I was frustrated – I had just gotten my college acceptance letters – was I the victim of some cruel joke?  My biggest goal in life was acting on the Broadway stage – and now I couldn’t even walk or talk.  That’s when I made the conscious decision, that as long as this was my life right now, I would not let myself feel like a victim or hospital patient.

I survived by creating hope, one day at a time. I started a chocolate business, starred in shows, discovered painting, taught nursery school, learned karate, got my yoga certification, wrote a musical comedy about my life, kept a sense of humor, and hoped that every day might get better. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconstructed with my remaining intestines.  But for six of the past 10 years, I didn’t eat or drink a drop, not even an ice cube.

Once I was able to have my first bite of food, life finally seemed enjoyable – I could eat and I thought any surgeries were a distant memory,  I went to California on vacation, and suddenly my wound ruptured.  I was immediately air-vacced to Yale Medical Center. My mother went home and gathered every scrap of fabric she could find, an old set of acrylics, and a glue gun.  Every day, I worked feverishly in my hospital bed, gluing, painting, and letting my imagination set me free.  Every day I would create a new work of art, a new source of hope, and display it outside my hospital room.  Soon, nurses and even mobile patients would stroll by my room to see what I had created.

Suddenly, I felt like I had a mission to share my story with the world. A message that with hope, strength, and a little creativity, anything is possible. I delved through my literally thousands of typed journal pages that I kept over the years I decided to take some of my journal writings, combine both original and established songs, and make a one-woman musical of my life so far.

To quote a line from my show:

“They say that everything happens for a reason.  But that’s not always true.  Sometimes, you have to make it happen. I can’t be 13 again but I can be the best 26 I can.  But sometimes I wonder what life would be like if this never had happened –This is not the path that I planned for myself – but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how they plan it?  I was led astray, and hurt, and betrayed, and dehumanized, taken apart and put back together, but differently.  But my passion never went away.  I kept my hunger alive.  Now I know that my role in life is still to be that same performer I always wanted to be when I was 13.  But now with an even greater gift to give.  A story to tell. “

The story I tell is not one you hear every day.  But now, the story I now tell myself every day starts with list.  A simple gratitude list.

Just hearing someone else's story makes us feel the same pain or joy that they have experience.  It's sharing them that makes us stronger.

That's how we know we're not alone.

You have a story too.

Our stories make us stronger.  So today -- tell yours.

 

 

Asking the Right Question
Scared? Before you do anything, ask yourself a question.

The question is: who do you want to be?

I woke up to a world that seems to have lost its mind.  Humans hurting humans.  Weather that makes no sense because it’s unprecedented in our short, recorded history.  And in the United States a political campaign that’s turned into a made for TV reality show.

This is my umpteenth rewrite this morning.  I feel lame writing about any of it, because nothing about what’s going on is simple.  And it’s heartbreaking.  But I kept writing because i remembered I don’t have to save the world.  I just have to make enough sense out of it so that I can manage myself without adding to the chaos, and maybe share a little of what I’m learning with you.

When I’m confronted with things that scare or sadden me, I feel a compulsion to do something—anything—even if it’s wrong, just to feel better.  If I go with that compulsion I’ve got lots of choices:  shove a chocolate donut in my mouth; slide down an endless internet black hole for a few hours; remember a grudge and work it for a while; or start waxing poetic about what’s wrong with the world and why everybody who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.

This morning I wanted an alternative to behaviors that have never, ever satisfied me for longer than the time I engaged in them.  So I asked myself a question.  Who do I want to be?  How do I want to show up when life hands me stuff that I’m afraid I can’t handle?

Do I want to fall back on automatic pilot, that place where I don’t actually feel anything, I just numbly do what I’ve always done?  And then feel worse?

On automatic pilot my mind creates awful and catastrophic thoughts even though I’m sitting in my comfy chair with a full belly and a cup of coffee.  The thoughts trigger my body to pump out survival chemicals to help me escape from the scenario I’ve created in my mind.  It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, because I’d have to leave the planet to get far enough away to remain untouched and unfeeling–they just keep on pumping.  So I keep on reacting, like a puppet.

The situation that creates the fear doesn’t really matter.  There will always be something we’re afraid of, wanting to run away from, or avoid.  We may not even be aware that we’re responding from a place of fear.  There’s simply too much going on not be unsettled at times, even when we can’t quite put our finger on what’s bothering us and making us feel not quite right.

What matters is to not react out of that initial fear and resistance, and to wait for the space that makes room for the question. 

The moment I asked who do I want to be I felt a lessening of the fear in the pit of my stomach.  That question has power and substance and a strength that draws me up into the fullness of who I am.

This morning when the space opened up and I asked the question, almost immediately one of my all-time favorite books came to mind, ‘Making Peace in Times of War’ by Pema Chodron.    Check it out the next time you’re afraid.  Or maybe better, before you’re afraid.  It’s a small, short book.  It’s one of a handful of books that I’ve re-read many times.

The gist of the book is that my attitude will determine the degree of suffering, if any, that I will experience in this moment.  And that my perspective will determine the degree of effectiveness that I will bring to a situation.

I get daily email reminders of what’s right with the world … stories about people like you and me who have risen into the fullness of who they are, in spite of living in a world that’s struggling to find its way.  Their stories change me, enlarge me.

So today when (not if) I’m assaulted with more than I think I can handle I will stay connected to all the goodness and loving kindness that surrounds me when I remember to take my attention off of what’s wrong for a moment, and notice what’s right.  I will pause and wait for the space that makes room for the question, who do I want to be?

If I can’t save the world, I can manage myself.  And If I do that, at least I won’t be adding to the fear, divisiveness and heartbreaking chaos of which the world already has an abundance.

Try it – what have you got to lose other than a few pounds?  Who do you want to be?

Embracing Wisdom Through Solitude
At the bottom of the hill on our half acre land was a dirt patch. As a young girl of nine years old, I would often sit there and play with the pebbles. Perhaps I felt closer to the earth and gently guided by our land's invitation to lean in. I listened to the calls of parents summoning their children to return home, lawn mowers distinctive humming and the encircling of light winds. I was surrounded by familiar neighborhood buzz yet enveloped in solitude.

There are some that are genuinely drawn to solitude. Within it lives independence, inspiration, happiness, and higher powerLike many things, our states of being have a makeup that extracts the comfortable and the uncomfortable. But solitude, while breathing through pain, can be a companion that holds the deepest reflection of our self. Solitude invites an unobtrusive hand to guide discomfort to a place of recovery. Solitude is where I reached down into the depths of my soul pleading for answers to unimaginable questions while being a caregiver. It is where I lived while grieving the loss of my father. It asked me to go on an expedition with mortality and not sprint my way to the result we name death, but uncover how the dying process and my witnessing of it was informing my every action and step.

One of the most valuable aspects of solitude is the wisdom that can be accumulated during the moments of despair, exhaustion, suffering and unpredictability. It was through the act of making complicated decisions (by ways of capturing, evaluating and discerning through all information available) that I discovered an untapped wisdom within me. I realize now that any enlightenment of knowledge I acquired was through a worship of the questions, not the attainment of any answers. As a beholder of my own inquiry, I feel liberated.

Fervently stating his awakening of knowledge, my father one day said to me, "please always remember to let go of the noise within and around you." His impassioned desire for his daughter was to simply have wonder in this world, sitting on the dirt patches of our land, dreaming of magic.

Jessica Jesse — Founder of BudhaGirl
Literal Shyft was honored to sit down with Jessica Jesse, CEO and Creative Director of BudhaGirl. Prior to starting BudhaGirl, Jessica began her career in fashion as a model for Hubert de Givenchy, and later worked directly with fashion icons such as Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, and Valentino. Several years ago, Jessica founded BudhaGirl, a fashion centric company that is at the forefront of combining mindfulness, rituals, and science, with beauty, fashion, and jewelry.

LS:  Jessica, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with Literal Shyft!  Can you tell us how your vision for BudhaGirl started?

Jessica: Of course.  About three and a half years ago, my son went through a neurological crisis.  At the time, as his mother, I was desperate to leave no stone unturned, in trying to find a solution that would help him.  I wasn't finding the answers I needed within the western medicine framework.  And the more research I did, the more I found that contemplative practices provided tools that could help stabilize and heal the brain.  Through mindfulness, time, and lots of practice, we were eventually able to help my son heal, and turn his life around.

My professional background had always been in fashion.  I knew I didn't want to be a fashion designer.  But after this experience with my son, I realized that I wanted to start a company that could combine my passion and talent for fashion, with my passion and interest in mindfulness and ritual.  We started with ten pieces of jewelry, all produced in an ethical manner, and all handmade.  At the time, everyone within the industry thought I was crazy to try and connect mindfulness to fashion, but I believed it was an important and necessary step for the industry.  It was revolutionary to learn that beauty and fashion could go hand in hand with mindful and conscious living. You didn't have to simply wear a rock on a string if you wanted to be mindful.

LS:  Can you share more about the connection between jewelry and mindfulness?

Jessica: I believe in the power of ritual and intention setting.  Every morning, we go through a certain process.  We wake up, we bathe, we get dressed, and finally, we accessorize.  We can use jewelry to turn this routine into a ritual.  For example, with our nine all weather bangles, each bangle represents an intention for the day.  It is a simple yet powerful way to connect to our intentions every morning, or our gratitude at night.  The all weather bangles are easily my favorite accessory, and our most popular item.  They are weightless, they don't scratch, they don't jingle, and you can share them, or give them away when you feel compelled to do so.  I love them.

GenerationWhitesmaller

 

LS:  How does mindfulness impact how you run your company?

Jessica:  There is a quote that I love by Thomas Moore:  "The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."  I love this quote, because it is exactly the foundation upon which BudhaGirl is built.  We believe in the power of jewelry and accessories to connect us, in every moment, to how we want to live our lives.  I run my company in the same way.  We don't make a lot of big plans in our company, thinking ahead and into the future.  We focus on practicing mindfulness and compassion in our every day interactions with each other, our clients, our vendors.

We also have a growing science advisory board, a team of physicians and scientists, that keep us abreast of research on how mindfulness and other reflective practices are impacting brain health.  This information directly impacts our pillars for product values and interaction.

LS:  What does your own personal mindfulness practice look like?

Jessica: I know we spend a lot of time reflecting on the big events in our life.  But I believe that these events only punctuate our life, and that the overall quality and feeling of life is built upon the small, daily rituals and moments that we experience. For example, people will reflect back on a vacation in Mexico and think, "Wow!  That was the best margarita I have ever had!".  Well--yes.  You were in a beautiful environment.  Your senses were heightened.  You were relaxed.  Could you imagine how life would be if you brought that same quality of noticing, of savoring, to your daily cup of coffee?

I also have a morning ritual of sorts that has been transformative for me.  When I wake up every day, I take about ten to fifteen minutes to meditate, to focus on how I feel and what I notice within my body and mind.  Then, I visualize.  What do I want to manifest in my life, in my work, in my family?  What core issues am I dealing with, and how do I want to address them?  What type of day do I want to have?  It is not an easy process, but it has become a way for me to think clearly.  I don't need any special equipment or a special space, so I can go through this ritual even when traveling.

I try to make it a point to be focused and pay attention.  For example, if I am picking up my daughter and we are in the car together, we turn off our phones.  We spend time together, we talk, we listen.  It is an opportunity to connect, and that would be missed if we were distracted by our technology.

LS:  Jessica, what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur today?Bangles

Jessica:  I would tell him or her to be present.  That is all.  Be present. That is the most valuable offering you could give to yourself, and others. And no matter what, you are going to work really, really hard.  So chase something you love to do.  That may change over time, but whatever you love, do that.  What more could you want from your work?

LS:  One final question for you--what inspires you?

Jessica: I think there are two answers to that question, or maybe they are essentially the same.  I love how, through BudhaGirl, we can effect change in the world.  That is inspiring.  Running a small, but growing company is a joyful experience.  It is hard work, but every day, there are moments of joy.  Joy is so important.  It is different from happiness in its energy and vibration.

Secondly, I am inspired by my thirteen year old daughter.  She always tells me, "You can do this.  You are doing something good."  And this is really important to me.  So perhaps in some ways I am inspiring her, but she also inspires me to keep going, each and every day.

 

To learn more about Jessica Jesse and BudhaGirl, please visit www.budhagirl.com.

 

Three Ways To Turn Failures Into Blessings
Growing up, I was always scared of failing. Truthfully, as an adult I was terrified of failing. As you get older the pressures and the responsibilities of growing up weighs on you. Things like making money become so important for survival and having a career to provide that income feels crucial.

It was a constant conversation in my household growing up, to get a good job, make lots of money, buy a house, and have children. It’s the American dream, right?

It’s not the dream if you become stressed out and you are no longer happy with your life. It is our birthright to be happy and abundant, but the problem is our ego gets the best of us many of times. Our ego tells us we failed because something didn’t go as planned. Each time things don’t go as we imagined our ego gets louder repeating that we are failures.

The ego is but a figment of our imagination. It likes to torment us, but we can quiet our ego by changing our perspective. As Rafael, E. Pino once said, “Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value.”

The truth is your failures are not really failures.  Your failures are blessings. All you need to do is change your perspective. In every failure there is a reason behind why it happened. There is true value in every situation even though it did not have the outcome we desired.

Seeing something from a different perspective can raise your awareness, enabling you to see the true reason why things have happened in your life. The blessing may not be apparent at the very moment it happened, but as you continue to practice changing your perspective you will start to see the truth behind every situation.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Situation #1: Melissa went on a job interview and she didn’t get the job.

Feeling: Melissa beats herself up because she feels like she messed up during her interview. She felt like she failed and now what is she going to do.

Perspective: Melissa may not have gotten the job because she would have been miserable at the company because they treat their employees like crap. There is a better job out there for her.

 

Situation #2: Danielle got laid off from her job.

Feeling: Danielle is angry at first, but then starts to think maybe she made mistakes that led her to getting laid off. She starts to feel like a failure.

Perspective: Danielle’s purpose was not that job and she was meant to do something else with her life. The Universe is steering her in a different direction.

 

Situation #3: Tachie’s boyfriend broke up with her after 7 years together.

Feeling: Tachie initially feels sad, but remembers all the harsh things her boyfriend said to her. She starts beating herself up, feeling like it was her fault. She starts to think she was the cause of the relationship failing.

Perspective:  Tachie didn’t realize that her boyfriend was a cheater. He had already started dating someone new. To make himself feel better he pointed the blame at her for the relationship failing, so he wouldn’t look like the bad guy. She is better off without him.

 

I truly believe there is a reason why everything happens in our lives. Although some situations are very painful and bruise our self-esteem it doesn’t mean it’s the end. There is another chapter to our lives as long as we allow ourselves to move on from these feelings of failure.

I speak from my own experiences of feeling like a failure. I realized when I kept thinking I was a failure everything in my life was off-track. Life wasn’t happening as smoothly as it used to. I had to change my perspective on my situations and see the blessings in every life event, I felt like a failure.

I see now that my failures have made me a stronger person. I see now that my failures have given me clarity of what I truly want out of life. I see now that my failures give me a reason to start fresh. I see now the many reasons why I had to endure the pain I have experienced. I see why God put these obstacles in my path.

Change your perspective and start seeing the blessings in your failures.

 

Here are 3 steps that can help you turn your failure into something beautiful:

Step 1) Pick a time you feel you failed and still holds emotion for you. You will know. Write the experience down.

Step 2) Now look at the failure and ask yourself, "Did you truly fail?" Listen for the answer in your heart. Look at it from different angles. See the different perspective. Try not to allow your ego to provide the answer.

Step 3) List the benefits from that experience. What are the blessings from this failure? Dig deep until you have at least one.

 

 

The Missing Link in Workplace Wellness Programs

Modern day fast-paced jobs, with the ever demanding quotas and expectations, are wearing people out. Many employees do not or cannot slow down to rejuvenate themselves. Unfortunately, the result is chronic stress, which can lead to a host of complications, including high blood pressure, weight gain, insomnia, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, mental health issues, and substance abuse. 

Rampant stress can disrupt the morale and culture of a workplace. While there will always be an element of stress to working, that stress doesn't have to rule the workplace. If it does, there's only one direction the business will be headed and that's down.

With this increased awareness of the harmful effects of stress, workplace wellness programs are becoming increasingly common.  But are they addressing the problem?  According to a survey performed in 2014 by Towers Watson, a global professional services company, stress is the number one workplace health risk. However, despite that statistic, only about 15% of employers in the same survey reported that improving the mental and emotional health of their employees was a priority in their productivity and wellness programs. 

This is the disconnect between current wellness programs, and the true need in the workplace.

Current workplace wellness programs include health risk assessments, behavior modification programs for weight and exercise, and screenings for high blood pressure. Employees might hear about the importance of work/life balance, but are they being given tools to make meaningful changes? What about directly confronting the #1 reason that employees take long term leaves of absence--stress??

Many current wellness programs are based more on physical health or workplace culture, which are both directly influenced by stress.  This is like focusing on the symptoms, rather than the cause.  It's like trying to mop a flooded kitchen while the faucet is still running. You have to stop the faucet. 

Likewise, you need to address stress directly in order to improve employee health, performance, and workplace culture. 

Some workplaces have implemented programs based on harnessing stress. While not a solution, this is perhaps a step in the right direction.  Especially in Silicon Valley, companies have started introducing elements of friendly rivalry and gamification to their workplaces, offering social rewards for better performance. Although some of these methods are effective, they often rely on inducing a controlled amount of stress in their employees.  This strategy is of course based on the assumption that too little stress will mean that employees are not motivated to perform and that too much stress will mean impending burn out. Although the logic of this is something that has been called into question by many mental health professionals, it is taking a step forward in acknowledging the impact of stress levels on performance. 

If companies really want to help employees manage stress, meditation is perhaps one of the most promising strategies.  Meditation has been the subject of several studies which have shown a lowering of blood pressure, increased concentration, and boosting of the immune system in test subjects. Many people imagine meditation as an activity done by a spiritual person sitting cross-legged in a monastery or mountaintop. However, there are many forms which can be done anywhere, both religious and secular. 

In fact, Steve Jobs was known to use Zen mindfulness practices to gain clarity, reduce stress and enhance his creativity.  In one study, subjects who meditated regularly for just six weeks showed marked improvement when placed in stressful situations in regard to their immune system response and their emotional distress. They actually improved their physical reaction to stress as well as their mental process of dealing with it.  Similarly, a study performed in Wisconsin found that after 8 weeks, an increase in electrical activity occurred in the left frontal lobe of the brain which is active in people who are optimistic. With this being the case, regular meditation practices adopted by employees could help them to reduce their stress while improving their health and outlook.

The question is then, how can companies incorporate meditation into their workplace wellness programs? The first step is education. By showing employees the proven scientific benefits of meditation you may pique their interests. Furthermore, providing resources for local classes or including sessions in employee insurance benefits may be part of the answer.  Of course, an implementation strategy for meditation programs will be up to each company and their particular workplace culture.  However, imagine how much more sustainable companies will be with a team of employees who are calm, creative, and focused, rather than stressed, overwhelmed and ill.

It's definitely worth considering how this missing link in workplace wellness programs--meditation--might benefit your company leadership, employees, and workplace culture.  

Pruning Your Life
In my work, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of discovering and aligning with your “yes!”. This deeply positive position in relationship to your life allows you to open to what brings you deeply alive, unleashing your vitality and the potential to flourish in new and life-giving ways. While it’s important to cultivate this deeply yes-oriented position, it’s also important to understand that learning to stand in your “no” is another expression of aligning with your “yes!”.

To illustrate why, let’s talk about the subtle art of tree pruning.

Have you ever pruned a fruit tree, or watched someone do it? It’s a subtle and delicate process. You have to have discernment about which types of growth on the tree are unproductive. You also need to know how much to prune to optimize the growth. If you don’t ever prune, the tree will not produce as much fruit and will become more and more unhealthy.

The branches will be growing one on top of the next, blocking the sunlight from reaching the leaves and preventing the fruit from forming. And there will be an increasing number of what are called “suckers,” branches that tend to grow straight up and never produce any fruit; they take the life-energy of the tree, but don’t produce anything.

Growth by itself is not all good. If not properly tended to and guided, the tree will become less vital and less productive, and will be sending it’s precious life resources toward a growth that isn’t serving the whole of the tree.

Proper pruning is an art. It requires a great deal of awareness and finesse to know what to cut, how to cut, and what to leave to ensure that the tree flourishes and produces bountiful fruit of exquisite and delicious quality.

When you remove what is not serving the vitality of the whole, you allow for the fullness of the natural, organic blossoming to happen.

rockThis is an allowing, not a forcing. You simply are supporting what innately wants to happen.

The same rules of pruning also apply to your life. Is your life feeling crowded? Do you have a sense that you are investing your life-energy where you are not getting returns?

Just as with a fruit tree, pruning your life needs to happen on a regular basis. As the one who is uniquely responsible for tending to your own vitality, you are the only one who can learn the subtle art of pruning your life.

So what might it be time for you to let go of, to prune away? What no longer belongs in your life? What might you need to shed? What clutter might you need to clear away to free up your life-energy to be fully devoted to what you have to give in life, and what you are here to receive? In other words…

What is your life-energy currently feeding that is not in alignment with your “yes!”?

This is about unleashing your vitality and releasing the energy that is caught in the heaviness and entanglement of what no longer belongs. Pruning needs to happen in every dimension of your life.

Sometimes it just takes a little snip of a tiny twig, and sometimes it requires getting the saw out to remove a large branch that is heading in an unhealthy direction or blocking the light from the branches that feel juicy and full of life goodness for you.

So, where do you get started with the pruning? Wherever is most obvious, and you might start small until you get the hang of it. Below are some examples of places you might begin:

  • Physical Belongings
  • Household Clutter
  • Volunteer Commitments
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Home
  • Beliefs

Saying an authentic “no” can be an act of saying “yes!” to your life-energy.Remember, no one but you can tend to your life-energy and vitality, so it is your responsibility to be discerning about what you are saying “yes” to.

If you are someone who habitually says “yes” and then regrets it later, something you can try as a way to strengthen your “no” muscle is to simply respond to every request with, “I’ll need to think about it, and get back to you.” This will give you time to fully consider the prospect.

This can work between you and yourself, too, if you tend to get easily excited and drawn in a lot of directions. Pause and tell yourself that you won’t make a decision until tomorrow (or next week). Let it percolate so that you can learn the art of greater self-discernment.

Take some time to tune i