Mindfulness does not have to be a big deal- actually it shouldn't be a big deal- it is simply the practice of paying attention and intentionally taking time, or even just moments, to do so. Although in the beginning stages of exploring mindfulness practices it may be easier to have processes and rituals woven into the day, ultimately it is the mindset, not the practice, that we are seeking to master. What is the mindset? The mindfulness mindset is one that is continuously aware, less reactive and responds to life with care and control. It is the practices that support the mindset, the practices are only relevant if they support the mindset.
Possibly the simplest, easiest and maybe even best way to integrate a mindfulness mindset is through the check in and reflection process. If mindfulness is all about bringing non-judgmental awareness and authentic responses to life, then the best place to start is by tuning in to what life is throwing at you. Again, checking in does not need to be a drawn out process, actually it should not be long and drawn out because if it is then there will be more resistance to doing it. However, just like any practice, it comes slowly. It takes time to connect with and learn the language of your body and mind, to understand not just the basics of what you are feeling but the underpinnings as well. What does success feel like in your body? What does frustration feel like? And where in your body do you feel it? How does your body let you know what you are feeling and thinking and vice versa? The thing is, you are usually somewhat aware of how you are doing and how you feel about certain situations, people, etc. but the act of acknowledging brings thoughts and emotions to the forefront which thus allows you to properly make adjustments based on your experience and “check them off the list”. Stress is the perspective of a potential threat, thus if you become aware of and acknowledge the potential threat, you have the ability to recognize that it isn’t actually a threat or that it is a threat and begin to respond to it.
The check in is incomplete without reflection. It’s not just what you are feeling, but why. “Why” is one of the most powerful questions you can ever ask yourself. It is through the continuous questioning of why that you can begin to understand the underpinnings of your successes and failures and bring a greater level of control and power to your responses. Just like the check in, upon reflecting you are bringing cognitive recognition and acknowledgment of the experience and/or your response to an experience. It seems silly but as soon as you acknowledge what you have experienced as a result of a situation it is no longer just a sensation randomly floating around in your body/mind but you actually consciously take note of it, which means that subconsciously you will be more likely to make adjustments to your life because of it. Reflection supports independent and critical thinking, the process is entirely driven by you in relation to the world around you. You’re going deeper than just seeing how you are interacting with others, but exploring what is going on within you as a result of your interactions with others.
The processes of checking in and reflecting hold you accountable. If you know that something makes you feel a certain way, or that in general you are feeling a certain way, then you are both empowered and required to make certain adjustments and if you don’t then you are that much more accountable for why things aren’t getting better (my guess is that this is why people don’t do a check in). Habitual change, profound change, only comes from bringing awareness to what is and what is no longer working. You cannot become better, happier, healthier if you do not recognize that there is something going on that does not serve your best self. The check in sheds light on what is working and what is not, eventually you will check in enough and get the same old unsatisfying responses enough that you may decide to do that thing that you have needed to do for a long time to grow and evolve.
Does this all sound a little redundant? You’ve been told to check in and reflect since you were in school? Yes, yes you have, because although this is a deeply mindful practice, it is also one that is critical in any success equation. Mindfulness is an every day matter and its origination is rooted in the human condition: the desire to become more. So yea, you can create all sorts of practices and rituals (I have my own), but you can not as well and get very similar results. It’s not a matter of what you do, but how it is done that makes it mindful.
It is NEVER too late to start a good habit! When is the best time to begin? Now. How long? As long as it feels approachable to. Where? Wherever you are comfortable. When? Whenever you remember. The more you check in and reflect, the quicker of a process it becomes, the more you weave success practices into the day.
Leave a post-it note on your desk, in your car, on your refrigerator that asks “how are you doing right now” so that at some point doing the day you are reminded to check in. Stop what you’re doing, plant your feet on the ground, relax your shoulders (and jaw and hands!!), close your eyes or soften you gaze, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you’re feeling right now. Is it pleasant or unpleasant? What thoughts or emotions are coming up? How does your body feel? What do you feel and where? Don't try to make it better or worse, just pay attention. I know, "What's the point of paying attention if you're not going to do something about it?" Well, you have to master step A if you intend to master step B... i.e. you have to fully and comprehensively understand how you are feeling if you want to truly do something about it. Even if you don’t go into sun salutations and calm breath after this (because you have the time, right?), just bringing attention to the moment is powerful. Maybe even notice if any subtle changes come about as a result of the simplicity of checking in… do you actually do something about it? Or do you just become more careful with yourself for a little while?
Happiness is about learning how to make lemonade with your lemons, right? Actually, I disagree. I also think this saying is a bunch of pretentious hogwash that people use when they want to pretend like they're having a good time. Nothing is more patronizing (and less helpful) than someone telling you to find a silver lining.
Mindfulness can easily come off as all of the above: how people should be happy and peaceful and focused and how all of these things are totally possible if you just meditate every day and take on a whole new attitude. This is exactly why (I would be willing to bet) so many people don't open themselves up to this work, and honestly I can't blame them! When presented in this manner it absolutely leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The thing is, when presented in this manner it isn't actually mindfulness (sounds more like a pyramid scheme, really). What is the glue that not only pulls it all together and has, what I believe to be, the most profound and positive affect on your life is non-judgment. Mindfulness is not mindfulness without keeping things nonjudgmental.
Lets just take a step back for a moment and get clear on what non-judgment means: it is the ability to allow things to be what they are without creating bias around the moment. It's the ability to step back from good things and bad things and just let them be things. We don't have to make lemonade when we don't believe that lemons are bad and needing to be changed into something else. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is happening right now without judgment of what is happening right now... THIS is what makes it REAL. I definitely sit down to my mindfulness practice and just stew the entire time on something that is going on in my life (that may be totally trivial, by the way), but this is OK because beyond becoming perfect and happy, my mindfulness practice is about being real and letting life be what it is. Life is savage enough, when you heap judgments of "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong" on top of it, it becomes hardly tolerable.
As a teacher you go into the school year, week, maybe even day with a plan and a relative image of perfection in your mind. But as you all know, you never fully know what's actually going to go down and what degree of hot mess your classroom will be in that day. JUDGEMENT lets you know how the day went and whether you got anything done that was intended to get done, whereas BIAS lets you know whether this was good/bad, right/wrong. Bias has you fighting against reality and this my friends is a giant waste of energy because if you learn anything from this newsletter it is that fighting against reality will never get you anywhere. Judgement in terms of assessment is necessary, it tells you when to stick to the plan, when to course correct and when to straight up abort mission. Bias, on the other hand, tells you to stick to the plan because damnit you worked hard on that plan and you're going to make it happen come hell or high water. The practice of nonjudgment allows you to live with the reality of what is going on around you, because instead of wasting energy creating bias you are proactively learning to respond in an affective way to the moment. Going with the flow isn't about letting life happen to you, it's about letting life unfold as it will and responding with your absolute best self to create the very best result possible. As I have said before, you are only showing up with your best self when you are showing up fully present, unencumbered by the past [regrets] or future [worries].
Mindfulness is the practice of letting life be what it is and staying focused on the present so that we may do our best to experience it and respond to it. I can tell you from experience that it is incredible how much more enjoyable life becomes when you stop trying to make it anything other than what it is. More so, I can promise you that when you allow life to be as it is you are going to address situations far more successfully because you won't be addressing the situation that you wished were happening, but the one that actually is happening. As lovely and magical as Mindfulness sounds, it's really a practice for realists who want to stop wortying about the hand they were dealt and start doing something about it.
So next time you practice mindfulness, be it breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or relaxation, instead of trying to make it the exercise that is going to change your life, just let it be an opportunity to pay attention and see how your body and mind respond to what is going on... and nothing more. If your mind wanders, let it wander. If you start thinking about how whatever you're doing is really awkward, let it be awkward. If you can't relax, then don't relax. Just do me a favor and don't start wishing it were something else, judge it (or yourself) for what it is, or pretend that it's amazing when it totally isn't. Just let it be.
This is why I encourage you to try doing something every single day, because although the practice may be the same (for example, doing calm breath for 5 minutes every morning), you and your mind are in a completely different state of being every single day. Your class is technically the same every single day, but as we know they absolutely are not the same every single day. A daily mindfulness practice allows us to explore, nonjudgmentally, who we really are and how we really respond to things and it is through this combination of honesty and nonjudgment that we are given the opportunity to create positive change. The more present and nonjudgmental we are within the classroom every day the more capable we are of creating a positive learning experience for all.
Let everything you do be your own choice, following your own internal guidance and timing. This thought came to me this week during Savasana. So often I see people coming out of savanna moving exactly as I tell them to, when I tell them to. This largely ruins the point of the practice- the goal is to get into a more present and intuitive space. Your yoga practice should be the practice of presence, which means tuning into yourself, not into me as the teacher. I am guiding the class to various poses at various times, there is a reason for the sequence, however it is important that you move into each pose and hold each pose in a way that is in-tune to yourself, not myself. Each pose, regardless of the guidance, needs to come from your own inner drive. Does this mean that each person is going to be doing a completely different practice? No, however I suspect this is the fear. This does mean that each person is going to be experiencing a completely different practice, because they will be experiencing their own practice.
This is one of the greatest gifts and powers that you can hold within your own life. This does not mean that you do not do what you need to do, follow along and play well with others. PLEASE, trust yourself well enough to know that if left to your own devices your decisions will honor what is happening around you. This does however mean that instead of being constantly reactive and responsive, you are intuitive, present and in the beautiful flow of your inner self. We have spent the better part of our lives doing as we are told and reacting to what is happening around us. The effect that this has had on you is that you do very little at your own impetus. It takes away subtle layers of independence, intuition and trust. Yes, you have to be somewhere at a specific time, and yes you have a to-do list to conquer. But doing it in your own way and your own time ensures a greater degree of power and pleasure within it. After all, it is your to-do list and your plans that you are tending to. If you spend too much time thoughtlessly moving through the day you forget this, and slowly, action by action, your life becomes someone else's life, maybe it's your children's, or your boss's, or Father Time's in general. Doing things in your own time and on your own decision fosters ownership over the action. As subtle of a shift as this is, it has a massive affect- everything is once more yours.
Start small. Start in moments where you know you can afford to not rush, it will make you feel more comfortable. Tell yourself that you are actively choosing to not rush, regardless of what the clock (and anyone else) says. When you are in yoga, or in bed, and it's time get up and get going, move at the pace your body is asking to move- roll slowly to your side and wait there until your body says it's ready to sit up. Sit up and rest there until your body says it's ready to open its eyes. When you are looking to get something done so that you can move on to the next task, tell yourself that you are going to move thoroughly. Remember that you can more carefully, thoroughly, mindfully without moving so slowly that you run late. Trust yourself to this. Try it out. Move with intention and care, for this moment, as tedious as it is, is your life and it deserves your attention. After you do this, check in and see how it feels. I bet you will feel much more connected with yourself and the moment, as well as having a greater sense of joy and power within it, leading to greater appreciation for whatever it is that you did because it is now YOURS and you did it for YOURSELF, exactly when YOU wanted to. The universe may have the upper hand in delegating your life at times, but even if the choice wasn't your own, it will become your own as soon as you do it in your own way and in your own time.
Sometimes it is in the simplest of things that we experience the most profound change, those beloved “ah-ha” moments. When boiled down, this is exactly what Mindfulness is and what it brings to us, those simple “ah-ha” moments. It’s the simple act of paying attention that can completely change everything about life. Being 100% present means giving 100% to everything and everyone that you are with in the moment. Just think about it, how different would your life be if you gave each and every moment 100% of your peak performance? But being present is not easy, neither is meditation… says the girl that has spent the better part of the last decade dedicated to it.
The game changer for me came in yet another simple package: the breath. Without the breath, yoga, mindfulness and meditation are anything from acrobatic to abstract. At the risk of sounding cliche, without the breath we are nothing. From time to time in my yoga classes, when coming out of savasana, I have students just lay still and observe their breath and try to inspire them to a state of awe, that this simple act of breathing is literally everything. Every moment of our life, our greatest successes, would be nothing if not for our breath. When I pause and take that in it makes me feel a little bit like a child seeing snow for the first time, being filled with both wonder and gratitude. I think as adults we could use a bit more wonder and gratitude.
But it is in these brief glimpses of the breath in the present moment that we have the opportunity to regain our control, our power, and come to our senses. The breath is often called the anchor, just as an anchor holds a boat in place, our breath serves to hold our mind in place. The breath is always there, so it is totally reliable way to quickly check in and come back to the moment. Mindfulness is essentially paying attention, or in other words it is watching our mind, but this requires virtually splitting our mind in two, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While our Mr. Hyde mind is running all over the place, panicking, reacting and judging, our Dr. Jekyll mind is sitting there watching it, aware of the insanity of it all. It is only the calm, non-judgment of Jekyll that can calm the insanity of Hyde. But this brings me back to my original comment, that you must split your mind in two to achieve the ability to control it. This is no easy task, especially if there is a history of stress, trauma, anxiety or depression (which at this point, many of us have).
Before we get to this more advanced state, we have our breath. Simply stated, the breath is the one thing that we always have in every single present moment, thus it is the best tool to support us in becoming more present. When we pay attention to our breath we are subsequently slowing our mind down to pay attention to what is going on here and now as well. Yes, stopping and paying attention to the breath, or stopping and taking a deep breath, is hugely helpful in stressful moments. But it goes many steps further when we practice intentional breathing, or breathing exercises (pranayama in Yogic terms). When we practice breathing, we are putting our breath to work with specific patterns, holds, depths, etc. This is not just paying attention to our breath but it is working with it, manipulating it and ultimately controlling it. We typically breathe without paying attention to it, it is automatic. Similarly, our minds tend to think automatically and our bodies tend to move automatically. Thus, when we learn to be fully in control over our breath, we gain a similar degree of control over our minds and bodies. Ten years later I still struggle with meditation, however, anytime I start my meditation with breathing exercises my meditation is pristine, because I have not just observed my breath, but controlled it and that control extends almost instantly to my mind as well.
My yoga teacher training had a profound affect on me not because of the poses, but because of the breath and how much my work with my breath changed my life very quickly. In yoga we are taught that before we can move and breathe, we must first breathe. It seems so simple, but for most of us and on most days being able to follow our breath for two whole minutes without being distracted is no easy task. Although we can experience yoga in a very positive way before we fully connect with the breath and the body, it is when we connect with the flow of the breath and the body that our practice becomes much more profound and impactful off the mat. When we master our breath we are capable of mastering the perceptions of our minds in any given situation. What does “master our breath” mean? Well, in pranayama practice we have exercises with a slow, calm breath and ones with a rapid, short breath and ones with long, deep breaths and ones with long holding times. All of these exercises induce stress upon our lungs as well as our brains reaction to the stress on our lungs- the challenge is to create this stress but practice keeping control and calm. Aside from creating a very strong respiratory system, this also has an amazing affect of being able to override the brain’s reaction to stress, thus creating a great deal of control and power. In yoga training, what happens next is that we can then practice more challenging poses, holding longer, doing wacky things with our bodies and all the while using our breath to create a calm and controlled mind. This process works in reverse too, with a calm and controlled mind we are able to challenge the body in much greater ways because the element of panic is removed. An important point to note though is that stress is not actually removed, it is simply cut it down so that when stress does come forth during practice it is objective and letting the practitioner know that something is wrong and needs to be attended to. Eventually, this moves off the mat and when we experience stress whether in the form of physical or mental anxiety, our minds are moving slower thus making us more capable of recognizing the stress, digging through the drama and emotion of this stress and getting to the objective facts of it and thus responding in a much less reactive manner.
If, as you read this, you are thinking, “this is simple,” please remember that it is, that is the point. We have so many tools within us, empowering us to be our best selves- I don’t believe in magical pills or cure-all programs. I believe in each of us having the power within our own hands to take care of ourselves perfectly. But this only comes with a certain degree of dedication and practice. Start by dipping your toes in the water: pay attention to your breath at certain, marked times of the day. I have a clock in my house that chimes on the house, every time I hear that chime I stop whatever I am doing and take a few slow breaths, paying attention to the inhales and exhales. Create a habit! Every morning before you have your first sip of coffee you take five slow breaths, or you practice a breathing exercise for 3 minutes. Every day that you get in the car after work, breathe. Every evening when you get out of the shower, breathe. Just because it is simple, doesn’t mean we can dedicate less of ourselves to it.
Sukapranayama aka Easy Breathing
This breath is intended to be easy so you want your breath to be comfortable and natural (i.e. not forced). Do this for at least 3 minutes but really as long as it feels good. This is great to do during stressful times and before bed.
This is a great exercise to strengthen lungs and smooth out jagged breathing. You can do this breath 10 times, or you can do it for 5 rounds then do another 5 rounds inhaling to 7, holding for 7 and exhaling for 10. There is a need to find balance between being relaxed and in control, thus allowing you to get a full inhale in exactly five counts.
We are today more connected than ever before, though it's not too far reaching to say that we are understanding more and more the fallacy of this "connection". Mind you, we are lucky to live in an age where we can actually and honestly discuss what is going on in our lives and heads. I think it is important to acknowledge that this is a huge and positive shift in society and humanity, we are freer than ever to feel and think how we want and live our lives accordingly, and we are certainly freer than ever before to express it all. Of course, there are pros and cons to this present state. Anytime a child learns something new they must learn the balance of use, which comes only from over-use, under use and using it in the wrong context. Just like a child, we as a whole are new to something and must learn the do the same, finding the perfect balance only comes from experiencing both the good and the bad.
Social Media has created a lot of warriors and martyrs- people who get on every day and write a long post of injustices, struggles and victories in the most passionate of manners. The intentions are good- to inspire others to speak out, stand up, do something for the betterment of themselves, others or the planet. However, I am seeing all too often people posting the same words over and over, then one day discussing their own failing, suffering and challenges, then the next day it's back to the war cry. Yes, these breakdowns in powerful conversation are also powerful, they connect us in our imperfect humanity, however the constant roller coaster of power-to-struggle begins to beg the question: beneath all of the words, are we doing the work? My concern is that the answer is no, no we are not doing the work. We are spending a lot of time crafting inspiration and stories with beautiful pictures, then using these posts to foster connection. Yes, fostering connection is a beautiful side affect of social media, but this fostered connection is only ingraining further into us the identities that we are talking about overcoming. Have we become so consumed by the gloss of the post that we have lost sight of the life that is living it?
The process of transformation begins with Awareness, we must understand that we have pain, or power, or whatever else (though we are not it). Then it moves to Acknowledgement and Ownership, fully embracing what we are experiencing right now. Finally it moves into the action part, actually doing something about it. Society has done some brilliant work on the Awareness piece, we are more aware than ever of what the hell is going on within us, what we feel and what we think beyond what we have been conditioned into. We have now moved onto the Acknowledgment and Ownership part- this is something that I believe we are new to and it is largely a result of the social media connection and the realization that the more we express ourselves honestly the more connected we actually become. But this is also where we are currently stuck. As mentioned, Acknowledgement comes from owning who you are and where you are right now. Right now are the operative words, we must own who we are now if we expect to change it, but change must come. The present situation, the now, is one part in the past choices and one part in the future potential.
The same force that kept us stuck in avoiding our differences is now keeping us stuck in loving our differences: connection. We were once afraid of being who we are because we would be different and alone, now we speak of who we are, the more different the better, and it has connected us to all of those who are different just like us. It's a Universal Truth- we are all so different and in those differences we are all the same. The fear of difference has become the badge of difference and now we all have badges... and we are all back to square one. But we are living beings, which means we are all evolving, every single day, physically, emotionally and mentally. We are constantly evolving more like those who we were once unlike and more unlike those who we were once like. This is just how it goes, so if you keep avoiding getting on the bus to hang out with your friends, eventually you'll be the only one left at the stop.
This connection is fostered by our attachment to identity. We as humans want nothing more than to connect, we are on this earth in large part to connect. What connects us? Our similarities, our differences, our identity. What happens is that we recognize our identity and own it, then we realize that this identity connects us to others, we love this connection, it makes us feel safe, loved, powerful, therefor the idea of losing this identity would result in us losing connection which would ultimately result in a loss of safety, love and power. Thus, despite the fact that we are all on social media talking about how we are changing into a whole new person who is totally amazing and super powerful, most of us actually aren't because most of us at a very basic level are deeply attached to our image and are therefor fearful of change. That's ok, change is not easy, but when we run around talking about making powerful changes we oversimplify a process that is never simple and we dilute something that is quite potent. We cover ourselves in the image of change and thus trick everyone, ourselves included, into thinking that we actually are changing. Sometimes creating an image of ourselves in change can become a powerful catalyst to make the change happen, and sometimes it can just cover up our laziness in a bunch of hash tags. Just because you put on the jersey doesn't mean you are now an all-star.
Wisdom is the love child of knowledge and experience. We become leaders by experiencing the hardship, doing the work, learning from it and then sharing it with others, supporting them through the same process. Leaders choose to step away from the angry mob and do the work, what needs to be done so that change can actually happen, not just talk about it happening. Leaders inspire the world because they have been through the fire and they know the glory that is on the other side. Social Media can be a tough place for a true leader to exist, because transformation requires a certain lack of connection to identity and social media is the place where identity thrives. So use it, go on and find inspiration, connect to the pain and weaknesses of others, use it all to help you recognize your own pains and shortcomings, but then step away and get back in touch with yourself, not the story and not the image, then for goodness sake do the work. Don't do the work for your next post, but for your life, for the story that you go home to every single day.
"Use it, don't be used by it"
These words have rung through my head several times over the last few months to serve as a fresh smack to the head regarding how I am approaching my life. I am a firm believer that all of live is our choice, whether it be in the actions or the reactions. Our future is dictated by our exhibition of Free Will or the willingness to give it up to others. To convince ourselves that something happening to us it entirely out of our control is an act against our own sense of humanity. It's easy to give the power away to others to make the decisions. It's also easy to get into the habit that life is happening to us, as if we are just a chess piece and the board is our life. I believe the temptation to create this mindset comes from the desire to make the bad times seem out of our control- as if that makes it more bearable- and to make the good times seem more like a battle or a reward for hard work. Either way you look at this mindset, it is the trick of the ego to either be the hero or the victim. In life there is no hero and there is no victim, there is only YOU.
The better we get at making decisions that we know are best for us, the harder it is to b*llsh*t ourselves into thinking that there is some grand scheme in the universe that is pushing us to fail. "Easy" is a matter of perspective- all decisions aligned to our highest self are easy, whether or not they don't take a little bit of work is another matter... this is life after all. We are the chessboard, and the pieces are each and every action and believe we create. We are not here to do, we are here to be.
The Do-ing- actions, beliefs, relationships, etc.- are all a way to express ourselves in our grand Be-ingness
This means that we are using our relationships, actions, jobs, thoughts to help shape the most beautiful manifestation of the perfection that lies within our Pandora's box of a Soul. So when we start to believe that we have to do certain things, or that life is getting to be a bit too much, that's when that energetic slap comes to remind you that everything is on you. Why are you becoming the victim?! You chose this- if not directly by request then indirectly by energetic alignment. When you ask for something and the universe sends it your way, then you feel as if this thing is abusing you then you are congesting your energy and sending mixed signs to the universe. A good example of this:
I have been traveling a lot lately, pretty much every month I am either driving or flying all over the place for work. This is what I asked for, however I got really overwhelmed with it all and fearful that I wasn't going to keep my shit together enough to do my best job. I hopped into the Victim seat, ya know, the one where The Universe is cruising along at a million-miles-per-hour and there is the perception that there is nothing you can do about it. Once "use it, don't be used by it," popped into my head I stopped and assessed- this is exactly what I want and I am not willing to give up the work that sends me out on the road, on the contrary I want to continue to grow it, so put on your big-girl pants and get it together. This opportunity is the gift that I asked for, so don't turn it into a cross to be carried around. Find joy in every act that I have chosen to participate in.
Another way we are really good at jumping into the victim seat is when it comes to chosen positive habits, intentions and resolutions. We come up with this beautiful, grand scheme of how we are going to be healthier, happier, more spiritual, successful, blah, blah, blah and then we turn around and act like The Universe just threw a ball and chain around our ankles. "If I don't do __meditate_run_eat salad_avoid wine_etc.__ today then I am so screwed." Woah, what?! So you chose to participate in something that supports you feeling more you, then when it comes around to rolling up the sleeves you perceive yourself to be the whipping boy? You just took something that is intended to help you become more you, to further express your awesome You-ness, and you made it into the least personal and spiritual activity ever. You don't have to eat a salad every damn day to feel better about your body, you don't have to meditate every day in order to be connected. You are using the salad to feel better, you are not better because you ate the salad. You are using meditation to feel more connected, you are not more connected because you meditated!
I find myself back at the point that I always seem to come back to: When I put myself at the center of my universe- my actions, relationships, my beliefs- my life flows better, because I have 100% control to be the best version of myself within them. It can be scary, the ego has made us believe that being in the drivers seat means we have greater responsibility and more reputation at stake and we might become *gasps* selfish. This is fear tactic numero uno and it's all bullshit. Yes, with great power comes great responsibility. However, if we trust ourselves then we can trust that we always want to do good and this goodness starts within. If you believe that you are Good at your very core, then what makes you think that you won't be this Good within your life? I believe it.
So every time you find yourself bitching and moaning about all of the things that you have to do, all of the things that are such a life-suck, then do what I do and mentally slap yourself across the face and take back control. What did you do to create this present scenario? Is there something about it that doesn't honor your higher self? Is there something about it that you didn't want? If there is, well then change it. If there isn't, then stop complaining about what you asked for and change your attitude towards it!
Your greatest cheerleader...
Ahhh February, smack dab in the middle of the winter. Winter is the season of the Soul, this is a time for our external and physical qualities to rest while our subtle and intuitive qualities come back to life. Winter is a time to come in, observe, sense, feel, raise awareness and assess. It's also fitting that we begin the year in the winter, after all, before we take any kind of intentional action we must get assess ourselves and build our foundations. This is the constant balance that we seek, the yin and the yang, between action and awareness. Winter is the season of Yin. In order to achieve anything we must know who we are right now.
February is also a month for love... and I'm not talking about the bullshit flowers, chocolates and plastic trinkets from China that somehow equate to "love". No, I'm talking about true love- Divine love. This love is so much more that flashy signs of appreciation. This love is humble. This love lets us be free to simply Be... Be the hot messes that are capable of so much that we truly are. Despite a commercialized holiday, February is the perfect month to take on the powers and gifts of love. January comes in all hot and heavy with it's, "I got shit to do and no one is going to stop me," mentality. January is empowered, January is strong, January is Yang. January often ends with a crash, or at the very least a slump, a reminder that there is only so much power we can put into our big plans and inspirations if we don't have some awareness and intention behind them.
This is where February, the hero of the story, swoops in to save the day. Before you fall flat on your face with shame or frustration for not having immediately achieved your list of goals, February slows you down and tells you it's OK. It's all going to be OK. Before you take another step forward, you must stop and figure out truly, honestly who you are and where you are right now. It's about creating Aligned Action- action and goals that align to your higher intentions. If your goals/resolutions in January were not aligned, there is a good chance that around now or the near future it will become apparent that something just ain't working. This is when Love comes in to save the day. Love says, "I see who you are, I see where you are, I see where you wanted to go and all that is just perfect, and where you are is just perfect." February gives us the hug that we so desperately need. Love reminds us that although we have so much progress ahead of us, where we are right now is a great place to be and to begin. We don't have to stay where we are (I daresay we should never stay forever where we are), however it is perfectly fine to be where we are. We are here for a reason, our past choices, our past lives have brought us to this moment and if we plan on taking another step forward we need to get comfortable with where we are right now. We must be willing to look ourselves- our faults and failures- in the eyes right now and say, "I see you, I love you and I am ready to change."
February, the month of love, is also a Yin month. We we practice Yin Yoga we practice observation. We practice adversity. We practice the ability to be with adversity as we move through it. This ability comes from Love. Judgment doesn't allow us to sit with adversity and look it in the eye, only Love does, and it is only when you look your adversity in the eye that you are able to move through it. Love, and yin, helps us practice the ability to open up and see what's going on in there, in our hearts and our heads. Judgment never opens up, because judgment is afraid of seeing what's going on in there because it knows it'll likely be wrong. Love knows that although some things are better for us than others, nothing is ever wrong and everything always serves a purpose. More importantly (maybe most importantly) it is when we can look into the eyes of our adversity that we gain a phenomenal amount of power. We are able to see our enemies for what they are: Us. When we realize that our fear, doubt, shame and every other negative theme that is holding us back is actually just another form of ourselves then we can also realize that we have had the power to change it all along. Achievement comes when we can look fear in the eye, with Love, and move through adversity with it. It is through this Yin method that we see that we are so much more powerful than we could have ever imagined. We never imagined it because we never looked, because our judgment and ego was afraid to look. Love always looks.
So in this month we slow down. We assess. We observe. We practice the ability to Love and Accept and be OK with whatever comes up, whoever we are, wherever we are despite our January intentions. We get real with ourselves and we own it, not to prove a point but so that we can lock arms with our greatest enemies and make them allies, moving through adversity together. Then, when we are on the other side, we can look back with awe at all that we achieved and how powerful we actually are.
The present world is full of rules and boundaries, proofs and equations. These systems help to lump us all into categories of good and bad regardless of the intricacies of the situation and Souls involved. A + B = C is what you have been taught and in order to get to the top of the ladder you must climb every step that came before it. You have turned life into a school and each situation is a class, each year a grade- the standards are high and the grading in biased. You have been led to believe that once all of the boxes are checked, all the classes are passed, then you will get the carrot at the end of the stick. When you graduate this school of life you will finally get happiness, peace, love, power and everything else you have been working towards. But there is another side to your brains that knows full well that once the class gets completed, you are not given happiness, rather another class. If you are not careful the end of your life will come and you will be no closer to happiness than when you first began.
You are essentially climbing the happiness ladder every day. Happiness (love, peace, power, etc.) is not currency, it is a state. You cannot buy happiness, but you can choose to live in a state of happiness. Happiness, because it is a divine right, does not need to be bartered for, earned or deserved. The word deserve when broken down means to serve- therefor you deserve anything that serves your Soul's growth. Supporting Soul growth in my mind is the only justification you ever need to work towards anything. Here's the thing- what happens when you are full of happiness? Good stuff, right? You impact the world you live in so if you are full of happiness, you are going to share that happiness with those around you, inspiring them to obtain the same degree of happiness. If you walk around feeling as though you need to earn happiness and until you earn happiness you will reside in a state of unhappiness then you are going to fill the space around you with unhappiness. The universe (and your friends) want nothing more than for you to be full of happiness, so if it brings you happiness, please, do us all a favor and go after it. It's a chain reaction- most likely your dream job and your best relationships all bring you happiness. What serves you in turn serves the world. So when you seek what brings you happiness that most likely means that 1. you're doing something you're really good at thus you are sharing your gifts and 2. you are emitting all that happiness in the space around you for others to enjoy. When you get caught up in the concept that life needs to drag you around for a while before you earn the right to do what makes you happy, we all suffer. So please, stop thinking that there is something selfish about doing what is best for you!
When instant gratification doesn't set in and you get caught up with a sense of lack it is easy to convince yourself that there is a reason why you don't have happiness right now. Until you are able to do exactly what brings you happiness it is good to remember something: happiness simply is there for the taking. The trick is realizing this, realizing that you do not have to earn it, you just have to take it. This means that if you want happiness, then be happy. Happiness is an internal condition, no an external one. When external conditions can happen to us (accidents, breakups, being fired), internal conditions are 100% of our own choosing. Regardless of our external condition, you get to control your internal condition, this is one of your greatest powers. Therefor, regardless of what is happening in your life, we are allowed to choose happiness. Happiness is ruby slippers... you had the power on your feet all along you just needed to know that it was there and you could use it.
I've been having some great conversations recently with people about life, goals, creating more of the good stuff and working out the bad stuff. I am realizing more and more how much the mind and ego manages to gain control over even the most spiritual of practices. Our lives are full of rules, laws and beliefs. These aren't necessarily bad things, they help make sense of life, but they can also be incredibly limiting. It is hard to wrap our minds around some spiritual concepts... that is because these things aren't a matter of the mind, but of Spirit and the Soul. The dimension that our Soul operates on is limitless, the mind however is full of boundaries, explanations, walls and rules. Why? Because the Soul has no boundaries or concepts of time, every moment is the perfect moment. Most of the time these two cannot coincide peacefully, because the ego tends to bully the Soul into the back seat with some rather aggression notions that if it cannot be explained then it cannot exist. As wonderful as these concepts are, it is much harder to fully grasp and integrate into daily life- likely because the realm of the mind tends to be safer. Rules and boundaries are safe, we know what is "good" and what is "bad".
In the realm of the Soul, growth isn't linear, it is always expansive into all directions. In the realm of the Soul, wrong isn't necessarily bad, up isn't necessarily down and life doesn't happen to us. It always comes back to the experience. You are here to experience life, this world, relationships. You are not here to perfect or pin down every little detail. Experience gives you wisdom and this wisdom is derived from being both wrong and right, good and bad. The mind has convinced you that your entire life is one giant high school and each relationship, job, opportunity is a class and you either pass it or fail it- and god help you if you fail it. When (and only when) you graduate this high school you will get happiness, peace, love, power, etc. Reality is though, that for the Soul it doesn't matter. You could do everything or nothing... that decision and that affect ends up with you and your Soul's growth. The less you do the less you experience the less you grow. Is that a bad thing? No. You aren't going to receive damnation or judgment for how much or little you achieved. But it is a negative thing because you are denying yourself the ability for expansion. Going nowhere is just as limiting as going in the wrong direction. If you make a decision now that does not fully honor your Soul, you aren't going to be punished for it but at the same time it isn't going to help you evolve on your path... this is negative karma: a decision, action or habit that does not align to your Soul's higher path. We have loads of negative karma, but we are still functioning human beings who are living well. We are incarnated to work through this negative karma. So when you avoid action or take action that isn't aligning well you aren't going to be punished, but at some point in the future there will be an opportunity to work it out. That's how great the Universe is, when you mess up It doesn't rub the mistake in your face, It just gives you another opportunity to right your wrongs and realign to your path. Righting your wrongs isn't an action done for others, but for yourself. The ego, however, does rub mistakes in your face, reminds you of how dumb you are and how much you messed up which ultimately paralyzes you from seeking out opportunities to re-work your karma.
Our Soul's growth relies on the ability to move through these experiences (positive and negative) and learn more about ourselves within these experiences. We are not moving through these experiences to do them perfectly... we are moving through these experiences to do ourselves more perfectly. Besides- who judges that perfection? All that matters in your Soul's growth is YOU, you are going through these jobs, relationships, situations to learn more and more about who you are, who you are not and how you can behave in a way that honors all of this. You only mess up when you and your Soul's growth suffers.
You have your Divine Blueprint- the qualities, characteristics and skillset of your Soul which largely dictates how you can best maneuver the curveballs that life throws at you. But then there is also free will and choice, which says that you can react however the heck you want to react, even if it isn't honoring your Blueprint. Will a reaction work if it isn't exactly what your Blueprint dictates? Maybe, but it won't be quite perfect. You know when you react perfectly, because it gives you the perfect result that you have always wanted. The goal is to connect with the blueprint so clearly that you can shine it into the world you live in. When you are living a life that honors your blueprint you shine- you are the best version of yourself, others grow in your presence because of your inspiration, you have lots of energy to share because you aren't depleted from activities/relationships that don't support your blueprint.
You also have your Life Themes, which is a list of themes you are looking to explore as a way to further shine your Blueprint into this world. The key word is that these themes guide you, they don't make or break you. If a theme of yours is Love, you are not seeking to have love every where you go, you are seeking to explore and understand who you are in the context of love... this might mean loving relationships, or ones that lack love. This theme does not entail that you will have the theme in your life, but that you are working to understand how to shine in alignment with the theme.
Your Blueprint and Themes are here to remind you that the "when", "how" and "why" details of life do not matter quite as much as you want them to, these questions help the mind and ego to build structure around the problems of life. Although these structures can be comforting, they can also take you away from what really matters and that is, "what can I do today that will best honor my Soul's blueprint and themes?" Find a balance between the mind and the Soul... Look to the Soul for your answers then look to the mind for the directions to make it happen. When you find yourself paralyzed with the Hows, Whys and Whens of life, step back and step in.
Well, it's that time of year again. We are a mere two weeks away from Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the Holiday Season. This awareness may raise stress or joy, or a combination of the two. It is certainly a time of year to be mindful of. Things happen with speed and intensity, we can get overwhelmed before we even begin, or we can think we are doing fine until we slam face first into a wall of exhaustion. So much cooking, shopping, housewarming, space sharing, traveling and partying- combine this with cold, damp weather, heavier food and alcohol and we quickly have a recipe for total mental, emotional and physical overdrive. This is a time when plans, diets, healthy routines and good-intentions go flying out the window, but as soon as they do, the snowball affect begins. I can tell you all day that you need to take better care of yourself. You can tell yourself all day that you need to take better care of yourself. But if you are like me, you need to fully understand why before you commit to doing it.
It all comes back to balance.
(It always comes back to balance)
The holidays are deeply rooted in connection, family and relationships. Some of us thrive on relationships, some of us thrive on alone time. Regardless of where you stand on the relationship scale, you need a bit of both to stay balanced. These relationships and connections entails sharing: energy, space, gifts, food, time. All of these things that you are sharing is sharing a small part of yourself within it, eventually these small parts that you are sharing add up to big parts and if you aren't replenishing then you are draining. What do you then fill this depleted void within with? Food, alcohol, possessions, illness, resentment and so much more of all the things that won't serve us. Imagine a pendulum swinging, a happy balanced life resides somewhere near the center, if you begin swinging to one end, you will swing to the other in an attempt to balance out. Excessive, unrequited giving results in excessive consumption.
The healthiest relationships begin within.
(Everything begins within)
Many of you have lived your lives with the understanding that you must put other's well-being first, otherwise you are selfish. I believe that society in general has been brain-washed into believing that self care is an act for the entitled (it isn't). I also believe that many of you do know that when you take care of yourself, taking care of others is effortless, but you might be too nervous to try it for fear of letting those around you down. But this is your permission slip, signed with love, from the Universe: Love yourself, take care of yourself and make your plans with yourself at the center... because nobody else will. If you can't stick up for you, then what makes you think anyone else will?
True sharing comes from excess- excess love, joy, money. The holidays are no different. If you intend to share, then you must have something that you can share, i.e. your cup must be full and brimming. If you want to share love, you must radiate it first. You should never have to give from your own cup, rather, have so much that it naturally comes out for those around you to enjoy. So the big question is: what specific gifts do you have to give?
Balance is defined individually and internally- it is a carefully crafted recipe that is decided by your internal conditional combined with your external situation. The internal condition is the uniqueness of you and your Soul's blueprint. The external situation is your holiday schedule. We must have awareness over one in order to take control over the other. So what is your gift? Is it Peace? Organization? Awareness? Are you the one getting shit done? Or are you the one entertaining everyone while others are preparing? You all radiate different skills and gifts, so why are you trying to radiate love if love isn't your gift? It is when you try to radiate what you believe you should that you depletion comes into the horizon. The grass isn't greener on the other side and your gift is just as valid and useful as the gifts of everyone else around you. More importantly your gifts are your super powers, you have them in unlimited quantities, you can share your gifts for days and days without getting depleted because you are not giving them, you are radiating them. Nobody needs your energy, we all have the ability to obtain and sustain our own energy, but we do enjoy your gifts and your presence.
So, what are your gifts? Think about it, look over your Soul Profile reading if you have had one, and if you haven't, maybes it's time you did. Your gifts are the skills that are innately yours. Your Soul Group defines the qualities and characteristics that are yours, your Energy Center defines the way that you share your characteristics and and gifts with us.
Considering your gifts/skills and how you best share these gifts/skills should give you your basic blueprint for navigating the season. Sit down and be honest with yourself: how much time can you share with others? How much time do you need alone? Don't lose focus by idolizing those around you who are social butterflies, or have limitless energy, because that's not you and we love you for you. Be clear on who you are, what you have to offer, what you need so that you are able to give your best, and when your best starts to run dry you know it's time to step out and replenish.
Finally, get clear on how you replenish, because you do it differently than the person next to you. Even if you do get really good at sharing the gifts you have, it is still important to balance out your time with some self care. I'm sorry, but this does take some planning and commitment, but again you are committing to yourself. How much time do you have? Ten minutes? Two hours? An entire evening? Whatever it is, commit yourself to it fully. Put everything else to the side and give yourself a little pep-rally. Remember, you are worth it.
We have all been here before. Some years it runs smoothly, some years it's messy and some years you think you're doing fine until you slam face-first into the wall. Let's not do that this year. Let's give. Let's celebrate. Let's let the greatest versions of yourself shine forth for those around you to enjoy and admire. Let's make this year a little bit different by making decisions that are best for you, then sit back and watch how everything else falls into place.
P.S. if you want some assistance road-mapping your holiday season I've got a few options for you...
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.