How Learning This One Thing Changed My Life

Why is life so f*cking hard sometimes? Up until a couple of years ago, this was a recurring question for me. My life was filled with stress, worry, never being good enough, always wanting something more, never knowing what that something was.

My critic ran the show.

I was depressed, moody, uncertain of what to do with my life. I felt like I was going nowhere. And I was so tired of feeling that way.

Then I finally woke up and I started asking a different question.

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Do You Make These Six Common Mistakes When Meditating?

I remember the first time I tried to meditate and thought, “This is so not what I thought it would be!" I had a very clear image in my mind of what meditating was supposed to be—and what it wasn’t. And what I instead discovered is that my preconceived notions actually kept me from experiencing the true benefits of meditation.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why meditating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, perhaps you have some of the same misconceptions that I initially had.

To make sure we are reaping the true benefits of meditation, we first need to understand some of the most common mistakes people make when starting a meditation practice.

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When Trying to Figure It out No Longer Works, Try Asking Different Questions

I’m not sure if it’s something that I ate or something going on in the stratosphere but I have been riddled with self-doubt and anxiety lately. And, for some reason, there seems to be a lot of this going around right now. I really wanted to try to solve this mystery and provide some answers to why this is happening and what I can do about it. In my process to do so and in preparation to share my findings with others, a couple of timely things occurred.

First, I happened to pick up a book (which I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic read immediately) that I read a couple of years ago and was reminded that I do not need to try and fix anything or even figure it out. As Michael Singer says in his book, “When a problem is disturbing you, don’t ask, ‘What should I do about it?’ Ask, ‘What part of me is being disturbed by this?’"

Secondly, I spoke with my father who shared some beautiful — and very vulnerable — wisdom with me. He said that possibly the greatest thing he has learned in his life is that he doesn’t have the answers — just lots of questions. And I think there is a lot to learn from this little gem.

These insights helped me shift away from trying to figure it out to asking different questions.

When we think we should have the answer or know what is going to happen, we simply create more stress and anxiety in our life. Which I’m pretty sure is the exact thing we are trying to escape by “knowing."

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In those moments of anxiety, self-doubt and uncertainty it’s not about having the answer, it’s about asking different questions.

What’s going on inside right now?

Check in. Like Michael Singer says, notice what part is being disturbed. What is happening in the body? What is happening in the mind? What sensations do I notice? Simply observe. It is not about judging it or changing it. Just tuning in.

Who is it that notices this going on?

Ever wondered who it was that was observing all the various thoughts and sensations going on in the body? That is the observer. The consciousness. The true self.

My guided meditation today used a brilliant metaphor for the mind being the clear blue skies. Our thoughts and feelings are the passing clouds. And sometimes they are dark thunderclouds and it can seem difficult to think about anything else. But the clear blue skies are always there — just think about an airplane going above the clouds. And it is from these clear blue skies that we observe the thoughts and feelings. It is from these clear blue skies that we find our self. We are not the clouds below — our thoughts and feelings — we are that which observes.

Is anything wrong in this moment?

This one can be tricky because we sometimes like to think that certain feelings are “wrong” or that the thought that we are having is “wrong” but if we get really honest with ourselves and remember that no feeling or thought is neither wrong nor right — it just is — then we can more often than not answer this question with a resounding “no.”

Most times we can take comfort in the fact that we have our health and our safety. We are not in immediate danger. Just because we feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong — it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. That is part of human existence.

Now, if you’re still wondering what to do when feeling a surge of self-doubt or anxiety, all I can say is that I don’t have the answer nor do I think I need to.

See what happens if instead of tasking our minds to trying to figure it out we simply observe what is going on, sit with the discomfort and ask who is it that notices all of this from those clear blue skies?

What one or two things can you start doing when experiencing feelings of self-doubt or anxiety? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear what resonates most with you!

3 Paths to Get What We Want — Which One Do You Choose?

A few months ago, I challenged myself to eliminate caffeine from my diet for 2 weeks. The 2 weeks turned into almost 2 months. Initially, I started exploring alternatives like herbal teas and even decaf espresso at times. Then, I started to notice how in my search to expand my possibilities and remove my need for something I actually started to institute a new limitation. All of sudden, I couldn’tdrink caffeine. I was afraid to drink it as it might reignite my addiction. This became its own limitation. Just another extreme. When I noticed this, I consciously ordered a cup of coffee. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I used to, I appreciated the fact that I permitted myself to know what I do and do not want at any given time.

When we are about to do something or not do something it is because we are going for something we want in life — to relax, fit into our jeans or just feel better.

This may come in the form of making resolutions and choosing to restrict certain things from our lives. Or perhaps by indulging in anything and everything that we want.

Either way, these both limit us from making mindful, purposeful choices in each moment.

There is a third — and much more empowering — way to get what we want in life.

The Buddha once said that “a path of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification … was the path of wisdom."

When we are about to do something to get closer to what we want, there are three ways we typically come to this conclusion.

"I can’t, so I guess I won’t"

When I eliminated caffeine from my diet, I initially did so from a conscious place — choosing not to drink it mainly for health reasons. Then, it became an “I can’t so I guess I won’t” decision which was very limiting and no longer based on the few specific reasons I had originally identified.

When we make decisions based out of self-denial, we lose an opportunity to get to know ourselves and get really clear on why we choose not to do something. We also end up making decisions out of fear, judgment, resistance or attachment.

"I can, so of course I will "

Before I gave up caffeine for those few weeks, I had gotten into a habit of having one or two cups of coffee each morning not because I actually wanted it but because I could … and I always had. It had become just as limiting because I was no longer checking in and making a conscious decision to have it.

When we permit ourselves to indulge in whatever we want just because we can, we miss an opportunity to really check in and see if that is what we want in this moment. We become a slave to ourselves and lose a chance to actively guide our life in the direction we want it to go.

"I can, and I choose …"

… to do it or not. In either case, I empower myself to choose what serves me best in that moment. We can still choose not to do something, in which case it is done from a place of knowledge and acceptance of oneself and not out of fear, laziness or greed.

When we realize we can do something and choose not to, we demonstrate our strength and power in the world. When we realize we can do something and choose to do it, we honor ourselves and have a chance to practice acceptance and letting go.

Living at the extremes of life can ultimately be quite limiting. The joy comes when we live somewhere in the balance of it all.

Striving to live a life in moderation is more than saying “yes” to some things and “no” to others — it is about getting quiet and making mindful decisions in each moment that reflect and uphold our values and principles in the world.

That is how we can ultimately get what we want out of life.

Think of one thing you consistently deny yourself of or indulge in. Is that based in a value or principle and, if so, what is it? If not, think about what it would feel like to empower yourself to no longer live by this limitation and instead consciously choose in each moment what you want to do.

How to Move from Comparison to Self-Acceptance

A friend and I were chatting the other day and she mentioned that she felt discouraged about her yoga practice because she had been comparing herself to how often I was going. I giggled when she said this because I had just that morning felt discouraged when I couldn’t get myself out of bed thinking how she always gets up early and accomplishes so much in the morning. It was so funny to me that both of us saw the other as being better or doing more when in reality we both are amazing and wonderful in our own, unique way.

Have you ever gone on Facebook or Instagram and thought to yourself, “everyone’s life seems so happy and amazing … why isn’t mine like that all the time?"

When we compare ourselves to others, we deny all the beautiful, authentic qualities we possess and think that who we are in this moment is not good enough.

So how do we move from comparison to self-acceptance?

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The practice of mindfulness is about celebrating and cultivating our authentic self in each and every moment. By practicing a few simple techniques, we create more space and opportunity to feel compassion, acceptance and love the person we are in this moment.

When we are about to compare ourselves with others, it is a great opportunity to check in and try a few simple things.

    • Take a moment or two and observe what is going on inside. Is there a feeling or a thought? Just check in with non-judgmental awareness and allow the feeling or thought to exist.
    • Gently remind yourself that every time we look at someone else as being more or having more, someone is most likely saying the same thing about us. This can help us experience more compassion for ourself and for others.
    • Shift the thought from "what others have or do" to “what do I have or do” and celebrate who you are even if in that particular moment there is doubt or anger or fear or frustration. Allow yourself to be reminded of the things you do well.

Especially with social media, it can seem nearly impossible to avoid comparing ourselves with others. It is something I struggle with on an ongoing basis. But, the more often I practice mindfulness, the more often I am aware of when I start to go down that path and how to navigate back out and into my beautiful, amazing, unique self.

When we accept and celebrate who we are in each moment, we experience so much more peace and joy in our lives. Of course, this won’t happen overnight and is an ongoing practice — but each time we remind ourselves to check in and have more self-love, it gets a little bit easier.

What are three wonderful, unique qualities you can celebrate today? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

How to Live a Soulful Existence by Setting Intentions for the New Year

On the last day of the year, it is a great opportunity to set aside some time and come up with our intentions for the year to come.

Resolutions are the more common list we each make as we approach the first of the year. However, these firm decisions do not seem to support a mindful existence as well as an intention which allows for the ebb and flow that life most certainly will bring.

As we embark on a new year — another 365 days of possibility — let’s do so in an intentional way, creating a guide from which we can make mindful, soulful decisions in each and every moment that support and uphold the life we want.

embracing the ocean

I have tried many things in the past from resolutions to goals to simply remaining open to what life may bring — each with varying levels of success. This year I wanted to try something new.

A friend of mine challenged me to come up with my intentions for 2015. It was a beautiful exercise of sitting with myself and getting in touch with not just what I want to do next year but how I want to live.

With her challenge in mind, I sat down and thought about how a person might identify one’s intentions. These are more than just a list of goals or a list of things to start or stop doing. They are how we want to experience life in each moment. They serve as a guide that directs each of our decisions and helps us manifest that which we want to see more of in the world.

To identify one's intentions — and not just a list of resolutions — I suggest trying the following things:

Get quiet

Whether this is through meditation or simply observing the thoughts in our head and letting them be, getting quiet allows us to get in touch with our deeper, inner self — the wisdom within.

Reflect on the past year

When we make a list of our accomplishments, we can celebrate all that we already possess and how powerful we can be. To do this, a mentor of mine encourages us to close our eyes and visualize the person we were on January 1, 2014 (physically, emotionally, spiritually). Then, step out of that person and take a “mental walk” towards the person we are today (physically, emotionally, spiritually), identifying all of the accomplishments along the way.

It is equally important to identify any areas where we didn’t necessarily hit the mark — not so that we can judge or experience any self-hate (see #3) but rather so that we can realistically accept where we are currently.

Avoid judgement of self, others and situations

It is inevitable that things on our to-do list never got checked off or we didn’t reach some of our goals. That is okay. It is important to remember that life is a journey, not a destination. Instead of judging our current situation, simply observe it. Equally it is helpful not to compare ourselves with others. We are all on our own path and are exactly where we need to be at this very moment.

Get in touch with what we want to have more of in life

Once we have identified what we experienced as accomplishments and areas where we still want to improve, we can ask ourselves what feeling or experience we want to have more of in life. These will most likely start showing up as themes as we look at each accomplishment and ask “what was I going for here?” or “what did I experience/feel when I accomplished this?” We can ask the same of those areas where we want to improve by asking ourselves “if I did (more of) this, what do I expect to feel/experience?” These feelings or experiences can serve as our intentions — our inner wisdom and guide — from which we hang everything else.

We can still set goals that uphold our intentions and are illustrative of what we plan to experience. Just remember that goals — like life — change and need to be continuously reexamined and modified to fit current situations. So long as our decisions uphold and illustrate our intentions, we can live a mindful, soulful, intentional existence.

When you think about what you have accomplished and what you still want to improve upon, what feeling or experience are you looking to have more of in your life? 

Being Mindful Doesn't Mean Not Making Mistakes

Have you ever gotten frustrated with yourself for not being as calm and centered as you would like to be? I have. Quite a bit.

I often forget that mindfulness is not just another thing to “get right." Somehow I get it in my head that just because I practice presence that means I will always behave in a mindful way. That I can “master” mindfulness. No pressure or anything.

But Eckart Tolle reminds us that as soon as we notice we are not being present, we are present. That is the whole point.

Mindfulness is an ongoing, lifelong exercise in reminding ourselves to be in the present moment. This will happen over and over and over again.

And the more often I can remind myself that my mind is focused more in the past or future and not on what is happening in the moment, the more I strengthen my mindfulness muscle.

Head in Hands

As a recovering perfectionist and over-achiever, I really want to “master” mindfulness. I somehow think that once I “figure it all out” I will always act in a mindful way. No stress, no resistance, no attachment, pure bliss, above being human.

Well, that’s not how it works.

I am human — even the Dalai Lama "makes mistakes" and is a lifelong student of mindfulness. Just because I have learned how to be more aware and experience a higher level of consciousness than I did, say, two years ago does not mean that I still don’t make mistakes.

Being mindful is not about being perfect. Being mindful is about being in each moment as often as possible, showing compassion to myself and others as often as possible, and fully experiencing my life situation as it is as often as possible.

For some of us, it might be helpful to be reminded that we are not superwomen and supermen. Though it can be easy to think that sometimes.

The path to enlightenment has twists and turns and roots and rocks and many stumbling blocks along the way. It’s not about avoiding the pitfalls; it’s about staying on the path in spite of them.

When we choose to practice presence, this does not mean we aren’t still human and make mistakes. If you find yourself forgetting that you are an imperfect human like the rest of us while on your path to more peace and ease in your life, gently remind yourself of these things:

All you can do is do your best.

And remember that “best” is not “perfect.” Imagine if each of us were more mindful just 10% more of the time. It doesn’t have to be 100% (and in reality won’t be) to make a positive difference.

Be compassionate.

Love yourself for being bold enough to try. Being mindful isn’t always comfortable. Failure is not an indicator of a lack of ability — it is a reminder of where our current limitations are and an opportunity to grow.

Pick yourself up and try again.

When you catch yourself judging or resisting or attaching to what is (or was or might be), give yourself a little grace for even noticing this (that’s already a huge step!) and then try again.

We can all strive to be more mindful in our lives while accepting that we are merely human. Mindfulness does not have an end date of completion. There is no certificate or title to achieve. This means we get to work on it each and every day for the rest of our lives. And the mistakes we make along the way are simply opportunities to learn more about ourselves and continue to grow.

How have you noticed yourself trying to “master” personal growth? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Leave Roller Coasters to the Theme Parks

My sister recently went to a theme park and shared with me that as she gets older she is not able to recuperate as easily after riding a roller coaster. This is how I feel about the emotional roller coasters we choose to ride on a regular basis. While the ups and downs can seem exhilarating (or even necessary) at times, they are actually quite stressful to our bodies and overall psychological state. I don’t know about you, but I would rather ride the lazy river through life and leave roller coasters to the theme parks.

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I have a tendency to feel things strongly and have spent much of my life experiencing the extremes of a situation. There was even a time when I thought I was bipolar. As I get older, I have less tolerance for this dramatic up and down — both in theme parks and in my mental and emotional life. I desire to be at peace as often as possible and not allow any high or low to debilitate me.

Stoics and Buddhists figured this out thousands of years ago — life is full of more ease and joy when there are fewer ups and downs. There will always be happiness and sadness, highs and lows, moments of ecstasy and moments of doubt but being mindful of a few things can help us shorten the gap between these moments in our lives and instill a more constant sense of peace. Here are a few things you can do to help shorten the gap.

Ask yourself if you have expectations or are attached to a specific outcome. Challenge yourself to let go of those expectations. This is another Buddhist principle — the fewer expectations we place on things, the happier (or more at peace) we can be. We could all do well to heed Gay Hendricks’ advice from his book Conscious Living, "By opening your heart to all of life — but clinging to none of it — you are participating in life fully.”

Ask yourself if you are judging the moment or outcome. Try to avoid labeling things as good or bad, right or wrong. It is sometimes hard to know the purpose of a moment until the moment has passed. Byron Katie says, "What you're believing is what you take with you.” If we believe that this is the worst (or best) thing that could happen to us, then that is what we will experience. We can just as easily believe that this is just the way it is, acknowledge the moment and any emotion we feel, and just be.

Remember that everything is impermanent and that “this too shall pass.” Recite this phrase to yourself when you find yourself at the pit of despair — and even use it as a reality check when you are on Cloud 9. Once we accept that nothing lasts, it is easier to move through this moment to the next.

Now this is not to say that we should not feel happiness or sadness, pleasure or pain. We will feel all of these things many times throughout our life. The goal for me is to acknowledge those emotions as what they are and not let them control me by placing judgment or attachment on them. I now prefer to flow with the ups and downs rather than let them spin me around and turn me upside down.

What is your initial reaction to living a life free of emotional roller coasters? What is your biggest challenge or concern with this concept? Join the discussion by leaving a comment.