Bonus Hours of Bliss

I was writing my morning pages earlier this week (part of my morning ritual and a practice I learned about in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) about how I had “slept in” that day. I had woken up at 8 a.m. For the vast majority of my life, I would have called that getting up early, and now I considered it sleeping in! Such an enormous shift in my thinking has occurred over the past year or so.

As I’ve talked about here before ("How a Morning Ritual Changed My Life," 8/17), when I started improving my sleeping habits in an effort to feel more rested and less irritable, I began to wake up around 7 a.m. without needing an alarm. As long as I had fallen asleep by 11 p.m. the night before, I would feel rested and have plenty of energy all day. Rising a little earlier enabled me to spend that time in peaceful activities that centered me.

I was reflecting on this, and feeling deeply grateful, when something occurred to me. Believe it or not, this was something I hadn’t yet realized. If I used to get up at 9 a.m. most days, and now regularly rose at 7 or 8 a.m., I was gaining at least an hour every day. I was adding time to my life—a minimum of 365 hours each year! THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIVE HOURS! What?! And I was devoting that time to myself—to stretching, writing, meditating, sitting outside, walking—activities that energized and refreshed me daily. I had reclaimed those hours of unconsciousness and was using them to become more “awake” in my life.

This feels like magic to me, although I know it’s simple math (something that was never my strong suit!). If I live fifty more years, as I hope to, that will be 18,250 additional hours—at least. If I get up at 6… ah, but no. That’s a bridge too far! But 7 a.m. is doable for me on most days, and that would mean up to 730 hours a year, or 36,500 hours over fifty years. Holy cow.

What might you do with an extra hour each day, devoted solely to something that makes you happy? If you aren’t able to wake up any earlier, can you find some “bonus time” during your day—perhaps by cutting down a little on social media or TV?

Even half an hour or fifteen minutes can make an enormous difference in how you feel. Maybe instead of checking your phone, you could check in on yourself: scan your body for any areas of tension, then stretch it out. That can take as little as five minutes—you could fit several of those mini-breaks in throughout the day, and you might be surprised how relaxed you feel afterwards.

Imagine how those extra minutes spent focused on yourself—and the positive changes that will bring—can multiply over the years. Give it a try for a week or two and see what happens!

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The Restorative Power of Retreats

What a difference a year makes! I recently returned from Lucky Star Art Camp, and while I was there I reflected on how much I’ve changed since I first attended in November, 2016. I have stretched myself way beyond my comfort zone, beginning with going to Lucky Star last year completely alone and not knowing a soul in advance. I was scared, but proud of myself for doing it anyway. I also had been feeling a deep yearning to be creative, but had no idea how and zero confidence in my ability. And, I felt silly, selfish, and irresponsible to be spending time and money on something that was not “productive” or “purposeful.”

Then I took my first class, began to loosen up, and gradually learned to let go and enjoy the process for what it was giving me rather than focusing on what I created. I also discovered how friendly, open, and supportive everyone was, and how delightful it feels to be surrounded by kindred spirits united in a common goal of creating and connecting.

This year, I felt way more comfortable from the beginning, and I was much more relaxed in my approach to the classes. (At least I had gotten better at stemming the rising tide of performance anxiety and ignoring that critical voice in my head.) I’ve been channeling my creativity into my book project over the last six months, but had been missing the hands-on fun of making art. It felt so blissful to dive in to each of my classes and be fully present in the moment.

 I made beaded necklaces, learned watercolor and whimsical lettering techniques, and played around with acrylic paint while sitting by the river. I did acquire some skills, but I also practiced letting go of my expectations, which was way more valuable.  I was even able to display some of my creations during “show and tell” the last evening of camp. They weren’t perfect or professional, but I was still proud—and putting my imperfect art out for all to see was quite an accomplishment for me.

What makes Lucky Star so special? Certainly the people are a huge factor—from creator Lisa Hamlyn Field and the team of family and friends helping her, whose enthusiasm and energy are contagious, to the gracious and generous staff of Camp Waldemar, to the inspiring creative souls who teach the classes, to the fun and supportive women who attend—everyone contributes to making the experience unforgettable. Sitting around the campfire at night, telling jokes, sharing, and singing along as the resident singer/songwriter Mandy Rowden plays her guitar—you feel like part of a vibrant sisterhood. That sort of connection with other women can be lacking in our hectic lives, and it’s so vital.

Also, the setting is spectacular. Waldemar is a restorative, spiritual spot. You feel it the minute you turn into the drive: the peace, the beauty, the history, the magic. On the last afternoon I lay for hours next to the river, listening to the waterfall downstream and watching the breeze blow through the cypress trees. Horses came down to drink and splash around. Small groups of women were gathered at different spots, talking and making art. It was a powerful tonic. I am so envious of the girls who get to spend months there in the summer.

And then there’s the food! I’ve never had such nourishing, delicious meals in all my life. The staff prepares everything with tons of love, and it shows. They make every dish so tasty and appealing, I find myself eating way more than I usually do at home! But as another camper noted, mysteriously, we don’t gain weight while we’re there. Despite eating three large meals a day for nearly four days (and dessert! at lunch AND dinner!), I’m not any heavier when I come home. We theorized that it’s because the food is prepared both healthily and lovingly, and that our creative exertions burn a lot more calories than you’d imagine!

I had thought that perhaps I’d built up last year’s experience in my mind, making it seem much more wonderful than it really was—but no, it was just as incredible as I’d remembered. I’m so glad I went back and immersed myself in that magic once again. I feel creatively recharged and personally restored. I remember now that retreats like this do have a purpose—they renew our spirits so that we can return to our lives with fresh energy and enthusiasm. It’s not irresponsible or silly. It may be selfish, but in the best sort of way—taking care of oneself is necessary for a good life. I talked with one camper who said her husband was so struck by how happy she was after coming home from camp her first year that he insisted she go every year. It makes a real difference in the quality of our lives—and our loved ones’ lives—when we are happy, and activities like this fill us up. I can’t wait for next year!


What is joy, exactly?

Recently I started reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, and came across a concept of his that surprised me: that “joy” is not an emotion, but rather a “deep state of being.” I had been equating joy with intense happiness, but Tolle says there is a difference. He says that joy comes only from within us—not from external factors. Pleasure is what comes from external factors, and it is generally short-lived. Pleasure can cause pain when what brought it ends or disappears. Huh. I hadn’t considered that distinction before. All this time I have been seeking joy from external sources. That explains a lot about why it has been so fleeting!

I do wonder, though, if what gives me pleasure can be an avenue to joy?  (Avenue to Joy: band name.)  I feel like the tiniest things can make a difference. If you sprinkle little tidbits of pleasure throughout the day, you end up with an overall happy day, and if you do that regularly, you’d end up with a happy life—right?

I took a course from a marvelous life coach named Anna Kunnecke about intentionally creating blissful experiences to boost happiness, and it definitely improved my quality of life during the course.  My activities included massages, good food, baths, chocolate, wine, champagne, hot tea, cashmere sweaters, fresh flowers, clearing clutter, and going to the beach. I feel like those brought me joy at the time. I guess Tolle would say they just provided momentary pleasure. It’s true that they didn’t create a lasting sense of joy within me, but I appreciated and enjoyed them nonetheless.

For my purposes as a “joy detective,” I’ll use the term a little more loosely here than Tolle defines it, but I’m going to keep thinking on this concept. I will ruminate on the idea that the best path to joy is to explore within myself. I have to say, it doesn’t sound nearly as fun as a trip to Tahiti! Seriously, though, I’ve experienced days where nothing I do makes me feel better; there is a dissatisfaction within me that external pleasures won’t fix. I suspect that he has a real point, and that abiding joy is more of a peaceful connection to God/the universe, or perhaps a re-connection to our souls, rather than the emotional high I’ve been picturing and pursuing. I think that reading authors who have experienced this—like Tolle, and Martha Beck, and Byron Katie, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and Esther Hicks—can help us learn how to go within and find that true joy.

Meanwhile I will also continue the “pursuit of happiness” in my external life, because things like chocolate and hugs and sunshine give me great pleasure, and I enjoy those kinds of treats even if they’re not necessarily the path to enlightenment. Sometimes you just want to snuggle up with a glass of wine and a good novel and take a break from the hard work of self-improvement, you know?

What do you think about this concept of joy coming from within rather than without? Does it ring true for you? How do you define joy?