Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

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Make 2019 the Best Year Yet

I can’t believe it’s already December! The holiday merry-go-round is spinning in full force here, so I’m going to take a break from posting for the rest of the month. But first, I want to share with you an article I recently wrote for Hers Magazine titled “Do’s and Don’ts to Make 2019 Incredible.” If you can, try some of these ideas this month. Taking a few moments for ourselves each day can really help keep us calm and centered amidst all the hustle and bustle

I hope you have a happy, magical holiday filled with love and light. See you next year!

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The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, and each morning is an opportunity for a fresh start. It’s like pressing the reset button—and you get that chance every twenty-four hours.

A morning ritual enables you to make the most of every day. Here are some “do’s and don’ts” that will help you master your mornings and steer your life with purpose toward a clear vision of what you want.

Don’t put yourself last. This is especially important for women. We tend to get up and immediately start handling external obligations, whether it’s for family or work. If we take a moment to care for ourselves first, we fill our own well and have more to give.

A morning ritual is one of the highest forms of self-care. We’re literally putting ourselves first. When we do this each morning, it helps train us to put ourselves first throughout our life. This is not selfish, it’s necessary. If we keep putting others’ needs ahead of our own, never taking the time to replenish our reserves, we will eventually run out. A morning ritual refuels us every day, keeping our life running smoothly.

“Having a morning ritual, I believe, is the key to stepping up to the starting line of a new adventure. Every day is full of possibility. [Mine] gives me the ability to meet the day’s activities in the best possible way.”—Char Cooper, business owner and marathon runner

Don’t use an alarm clock. Try training yourself to wake up without one; this allows your body’s circadian rhythm to wake you up when you’re naturally ready so you feel alert instead of groggy (as can happen when your alarm goes off during deep sleep). In order for this to be possible, you need to get enough sleep; make sure you go to bed early enough the night before.

If you want to keep using an alarm, don’t hit the snooze button—it only makes you sluggish. And once you’re awake, don’t get up immediately. First, take a few deep, slow breaths; doing this will calm and center you.

Don’t check social media or email first thing. Feed your mind with positive input and determine your priorities for the day first, instead of distracting yourself or getting waylaid by others’ needs.

“If I wake up and look at the phone right away, my whole day is wrecked. I have to meditate first. Meditation needs to happen before anything else; that’s my time.”—Jeanne Geier Lewis, start-up entrepreneur and co-founder of Capsure and Creativebug

Don't multitask.

It’s tempting on busy mornings to juggle three things at once, but resist. It might feel like you're getting more done, but studies show that we’re less efficient when we multitask, and it will scatter your energy. Strengthen your ability to focus by putting your full attention on each activity in turn. This also makes your morning feel much more peaceful, and you can carry that feeling of peace with you throughout your day.

Do go outside.

Getting sunlight first thing makes you more alert and spurs production of the mood-booster serotonin; it also helps regulate your sleep cycles. Take your morning coffee or tea out with you and enjoy.

Do what makes you happy and fills you up.

Ask yourself, “What do I need today?” Not “What do I have to do” or “What do others want me to do?” but “What do I need to do for me?” Whatever works for you is right for you.

Do try something creative.

Starting the day by “playing” may seem like slacking off, but it can actually boost your productivity. Ideas include meditative drawing, painting, knitting, writing, and singing. Or, have a short dance party—it’s more fun than exercising, easy to fit into a busy morning, and will rev up your energy while putting you in a good mood.

Do take the time to listen to your inner voice.

Overall, I think the most vital thing is taking quiet time for yourself. That’s when you hear your own voice and find your own truth.”—Tonya Lewis Lee, women’s wellness advocate, entrepreneur, filmmaker, and author

Women often have difficulty achieving the lives of our dreams. In fact, we often have difficulty even knowing what our dreams are. Centering ourselves with a morning ritual helps us access that inner knowing. By connecting to our core self, the one who is often drowned out by the world, we are able to know ourselves better and see clearly what it is that we want, then map out how to achieve it. And when you create the space for inspiration to come to you, you can realize solutions to problems and receive insights that will make life easier.

You don’t need to meditate for an hour—simply sitting in silence for a few minutes can be transformational. Journaling is also an excellent way to get in touch with yourself. If you find it difficult to be still, try a moving meditation with walking, Qi Gong, or yoga.

Creating a morning ritual is about taking charge of your day from the very beginning, gently, with purpose. When you start the day on your own terms, you are better prepared to live your life that way. You are mindful and calm. You can see more clearly the path that you genuinely desire to take—the path that leads to your happiest, most fulfilled life.

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Take a Tizzy Timeout

The holiday season is here, and I can already feel myself revving up into overwhelm mode. I LOVE the holidays, but I can really stress myself out with all the extra tasks I take on during this time. Cooking, baking, hosting, making and sending out holiday cards, shopping for gifts, decorating … does this sound like your list also? Last year, I was able to use my new morning ritual to stay somewhat centered, and it helped me slow down and enjoy the season more. But I still wore myself out. When things get extra busy, I work myself into a tizzy trying to handle everything as quickly as possible. I tend to keep moving until it’s all done—and then collapse.

This year, I plan to take some short breaks each day—“tizzy timeouts”—to recharge myself as I go. I’ve tried this during crazy-busy days recently and it really helps. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in that whirlwind of activity. Just taking a moment to sit down and breathe, or a few minutes to savor a cup of tea, can make all the difference in how you feel. That tiny little rest restores enough energy to keep going without completely burning out. And it can help make whatever you’re doing a lot more enjoyable!

I also highly recommend a morning ritual, if you don’t already do one—or if you’ve tried but find it hard to implement. For some tips, check out this article I wrote recently for Yoga Journal on “5 Ways to Actually Stick to a Morning Ritual,” or this post on The Daily Positive: “Meaningful Morning Rituals in 10 Minutes or Less.

Whether it’s in the morning, at lunch, in mid-afternoon, or in the evening, carve out some space each day just for you. Take some time to rest and recharge. The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint!

I won’t be posting next week since it’s Thanksgiving, so I’ll see you in December! I hope you have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving (if you’re in the U.S.) and a lovely week (if you’re not!).

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Meaningful Morning Rituals in Ten Minutes or Less

I'm so excited to announce that my article on how to fit a morning ritual into a busy life has been published on The Daily Positive! If you're not familiar with it, this is an amazing web-based community that is full of inspiring resources for wellness and creating a happier life. I am thrilled to be a part of it!

You can read my full article here.

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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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Look What I Made!

I’m thrilled to announce that my book is out! A Beautiful Morning: How a Morning Ritual Can Feed Your Soul and Transform Your Life is now available on Amazon and my book website, www.abeautifulmorningbook.com! There’s also a Facebook page.

 I'm excited about this book's potential to help people, especially women, take better care of themselves and create more fulfilling lives. A morning ritual can be a powerful transformative tool, and everyone I talked to conveyed such wonderful wisdom and advice. Here’s a brief overview of the book:

Discover the power of a morning ritual to transform your day—and your life. Inspired by her experience, Ashley Ellington Brown interviewed more than twenty women who are living their dreams, such as best-selling author and life coach Martha Beck; author of the blog FHB and Me and great-great-granddaughter of Frances Hodgson Burnett Keri Wilt; horse whisperer and Equus Coach Koelle Simpson; and painter, author, and creativity coach Tracy Verdugo. They share how a ritual can provide space for clarity and inspiration, refresh and restore you, enhance your relationships, empower you to be your best self, and enable you to steer your life with purpose toward a clear vision of what you want.

A Beautiful Morning is about increasing your ability to be, not your ability to do. Productivity is marvelous, but to be calm and centered while you’re productive—that is the essence of a happy life. A Beautiful Morning is filled with an abundance of insights, ideas, and resources you can use right away. It will encourage and support you in creating a daily practice that easily fits your current life and guides you toward increased happiness and fulfillment. You deserve a life you love. A Beautiful Morning can help you create it.

If you’re curious about creating a daily practice, or know someone who might be, check it out!

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How a Morning Ritual Changed My Life

Last Saturday morning I looked at the clock and it was 8:15. I had already written my morning pages, stretched, walked the dog, made breakfast for my son, and fixed my coffee—and I felt good; I wasn’t sleepy or grumpy! This is nothing short of a miracle, let me tell you. At the age of 49, I am sort of becoming a morning person! At least, it’s not torture for me to be up and about before 9 a.m. anymore. I can’t explain what a big deal this is for me, and I’m proud of myself for creating this shift.

My whole life I’ve loved to sleep. When I was a baby my mother used to wake me up to play because she was bored. I regularly slept until noon when I could, up until my thirties! Once I had my son—who did NOT like to sleep—that all came to a screeching halt. I was so sleep-deprived those first few years, I felt like a completely different person. My sweet husband, who has never had trouble rising early, began to get up with our son when he would wake at 4 or 5 a.m. so I could sleep in—and I basically spent the next ten years trying to fill that sleep deficit. I jealously guarded my sleep like a thief hoards his jewels.

But about a year ago, I began to notice that I felt irritable in the morning way too often—as if I’d woken up late and was running to catch up. I also felt tired every day, even when I got nine or ten hours of sleep. I researched possible causes for this in my usual way—reading lots of books and doing endless internet searches. I discovered that my nightly glass of wine was probably keeping me from deep sleep, so I started skipping it—and what do you know? I woke up feeling significantly more rested and less irritable.

But many days I still felt sluggish. I emailed a coach I follow, Sonia Sommer, to ask her advice, and she recommended that I phase out all the vitamins I was taking. I had quite an array—ironically, most of them chosen to give me more energy—and she told me that as we get older, it becomes harder for our bodies to process supplements; we can actually overtax our liver. So I took a break from them and also started drinking dandelion tea, which supports liver function. She also recommended going outside and getting sun first thing in the morning to re-set my biological clock each day, so I began doing that. I added more exercise and committed to being in bed by 10 each night.

Finally, I took a hard look at my mornings. I realized I was hitting snooze until I absolutely had to get up, then jumping out of bed with that adrenalized feeling of being late. I would stumble out to the kitchen, feeling groggy, and race around doing morning chores while I gulped my coffee. It was an awful way to start the day—no wonder I didn’t want to get up! No wonder I was grumpy! I decided to stop hitting the snooze. Rather, I would open my eyes and lie in bed for a moment, stretching and breathing deeply—and consciously NOT thinking about my to-do list. Doing that really made a difference in how I felt.

I started taking my coffee outside, drinking it slowly while I sat with my feet in the pool. I would watch the clouds or the water rippling and listen to the birds and the breeze through the leaves. Again, I wasn’t thinking about what I had to accomplish, just letting my mind rest. 

As I did this for a few weeks, I began to feel much more in control and relaxed in the mornings, and that feeling would last through the day. I started noticing that I would wake up around 7 or 7:30, then make myself go back to sleep if it wasn’t officially time to get up yet. I decided to try getting up whenever I first woke up, just to see how I felt. I was amazed to find that I wasn’t tired at all; as long as I was asleep by 11, I would wake up naturally around 7 or so, and have plenty of energy all day.

I kept doing this, and got into a rhythm of getting up on my own, before my alarm clock. It gave me more time in the mornings, which I decided to spend on myself. I would stay in my bedroom and journal, or try to sit in silence, or do some stretches on the floor—and it made me so happy! I realized I was creating a sort of morning ritual that was helping put me in a positive frame of mind. I was more patient, calmer, and more centered.

In April I began a writing class led by Martha Beck and Elizabeth Gilbert; shortly after it started I was sitting outside with my coffee and I began wondering how they spent their mornings. I figured they must have some sort of amazing ritual, since they are living aligned with their dreams. I thought about other women I knew who were living like that, and wondered about their mornings. I realized it would make a fascinating book—and then I realized I could write it! I was both exhilarated and terrified, all in the same moment. I decided to go for it, because I wanted to share with other women how powerful a morning ritual can be. If I could help even one woman change her mornings for the better, as I had done, it would be worth it.

I committed to writing the book, and am about halfway through it now. I’ve interviewed over a dozen women—including Martha Beck!—and what I’ve learned has been fascinating. I can’t wait to share it with everyone. As it progresses, I’ll keep you updated!

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