Cultivating a Positive State of Being

As I’ve mentioned before, I receive weekly “Wellness Wednesday” emails from master healer Sonia Sommer, and they’re always full of inspiring insights and practical tools. I wanted to share one of her most recent articles with you because this practice is so easy and simple, yet so potentially powerful. Here it is:

Form Is Content

by Sonia Sommer

I first heard the concept in a parenting book. Kids are sponges for their environment. Not so much the physical things in it, but more importantly, the emotional state of the people around them. The emotional environment.

The idea was, as long as you create a calm, loving state within yourself, what you say and do will be the optimum environment for your child to learn and thrive.

On the flip side, negative states such as anxiousness or anger will send your child into fear and protection mode, which stunts growth and learning, amongst other things.

The form: your state of being, is the content delivered in your life.

Here's the thing, this is true for all of us, all the time.

The primary thing to cultivate is your state of being. This pretty much takes care of everything! Wait that's a bold statement....but, yeah I'm sticking with it.

When you're in an optimal state such as gratitude or the less tangible but uber powerful love, you'll naturally say, do and create optimal things. 

And ... get this ...

So will the people around you. That's nice isn't it? Sustained higher states of being always entrain lower states upwards. (That one I learned in Rolfing school decades ago).

You are effectively, the transmitter and receiver of the content of your life. You create and receive according to your internal state of being. 

This is a huge relief and super awesome I reckon. Because it's much easier to just go internal and cultivate your state than it is to try to figure out exactly what to do in every moment. Especially when shit's hitting the fan, other people are chucking a tantrum or things just aren't flowing.

I invite you to try this experiment today and see what happens

·         First thing in the morning, sit quietly and bring to mind a time when you gave or received love. Think of your kids, parents, pet, good mates, whatever works for you. 

·         Cultivate this state of love with all your senses. What does it feel like in your body, what are the words, sights, smells. Really bathe yourself in this sea of love.

·         Hang here with great focus for 2 - 3 minutes (longer and your mind starts wandering).

·         Enjoy your day.

That's it! 

If you want to boost things, you can set a timer to go off 3 times during the day and repeat the process. I begin all meditations with this process and try to stay with it for the entire time. If you bump into something or someone a bit challenging during the day, go straight to your form. You'll access the full bandwidth of optimal outcomes.

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What do you think? Sounds so simple, but I can see how it has the potential to change everything. Try it and let me know how it goes!

I’ll be taking some family vacation time in July, so the blog will be on break until the beginning of August. See you then!

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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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Lighthouses: Books That Have Lit the Way for Me (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of the list of books I’ve read during my search for joy that have guided me along my path. (See Part 1 here.)

The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron: incredible resources for anyone who wants more creativity and authenticity in their lives, whether you’re an “artist” or not. Her tone is calming and supportive, and her tools and exercises really work.

In The Artist’s Way she introduces morning pages, where you write longhand, stream of consciousness, for three pages first thing each morning. This clears the “sludge” out of the mind and can also help you identify fears and issues that are holding you back. Another tool is the artist date, where you take yourself somewhere creatively inspiring each week.

In addition, she outlines a 12-week program designed to help you break through any creative blocks and rediscover your true self and what you want to do. It’s amazing. Many of the women I interviewed for my book on morning rituals mentioned this book and how transformative it had been for them.  

The Vein of Gold takes you further along the” journey to the heart of creativity” and provides new exercises that are designed to “engage the reader in inner play.”

How We Choose to Be Happy, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks: they interviewed extremely happy people and found that often they were happy not because of their circumstances, but in spite of them. They CHOSE to be happy and accomplished this by setting that intention and looking for the positive in whatever happened to them. This shows that it’s not the external things that make us happy, but how we feel inside and how we perceive our lives. That’s why being a millionaire doesn’t automatically make someone happy. The authors were able to identify nine choices that all of the people had made that accounted for their happiness, and they discuss those. It’s a fascinating read.

 A Short Guide to a Happy Life and Being Perfect, Anna Quindlen: these deceptively small books pack a punch! Her writing is elegant and straightforward, and a pure joy to read. A Short Guide is an eloquent reminder to cherish each moment and appreciate the richness of our everyday lives.

Being Perfect rocked my world when I first read it. It’s full of brilliant insights about “the perfection trap,” which I often find myself caught in. She encourages us to be ourselves rather than constantly strive to live up to others’ expectations. These quotes really hit home for me: “Eventually, being perfect became like carrying a backpack filled with bricks every single day” and “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Yes!

How to Live a Good Life, Jonathan Fields: this is a very practical and easy-to-follow book that gives concrete recommendations on how to create a more fulfilling, engaged, happier life. He breaks life up into three “Good Life Buckets”: vitality (the state of your mind and body), connection (relationships), and contribution (how you contribute to the world). He says, “The fuller your buckets, the better your life. When all simultaneously bubble over, life soars. That’s what we’re aiming for. But the flip side is also true. If any single bucket runs dry, you feel pain. If two go empty, a world of hurt awaits. If all three bottom out, you don’t have a life. Figuratively and, in short order, literally.”

He gives a “60-second snapshot” to determine the levels in each of your buckets, and then the following chapters describe 10 ways to fill each bucket. Fields also runs The Good Life Project, which offers courses, podcasts, and even a summer camp for adults every year in upstate New York.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin: this was probably the first book I read that was specifically on looking for ways to be happier. It is also a very practical and easy-to-follow book, about how the author spent a year “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier” after realizing that she was wasting her life in a sort of malaise. She had reasons to be happy, but often didn’t feel happy, so she decided to dedicate a year to trying out different ways to boost her happiness. Rubin is an excellent, engaging writer and it’s a fun read with lots of interesting ideas to try.

The Miracle of Mindfulness and Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh: simply reading his books makes me feel peaceful. His style is so restful—it’s like meditating while reading. And his concepts are simple yet incredibly powerful. If you find meditating or mindfulness difficult, like I do, these books will be very helpful.

I hope that one or more of these books makes a difference for you, as they have for me. Stay tuned for Part 3!

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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?

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