Lately there has been much talk about how busy a society we are, the evils of technology, and what a shame it is that we connect online more than in person.
Yet there is another practice that is emerging simultaneously with our busyness: Realizing the importance of taking time away from it all! Meditation, yoga, sitting by the beach, and other forms of quiet time are finding their way into many people’s routine.
Sometimes clients share their involved story with me, then say, “I just don’t feel I am handling it well.” In most cases, they are handling the situation beautifully, but forgetting to handle themselves as conscientiously as they are the other people and events. I will gently reflect that perhaps instead of needing to do more, it is time to do less, to take time apart from the situation and renew themselves.
What are some ways you renew yourself? Having a list of three or four things can help your renewal time feel fresh. Other people like their standby of one or two activities (or inactivities!). Taking a walk, listening to music, relaxing in a hammock, reading a book are other ways to take a vacation from busyness for a while.
I love riding my bike around a lake near our house. Biking has always been a refreshing activity for me—feeling the wind cooling me as I ride, looking at natural surroundings or pretty neighborhoods, and enjoying the exercise-induced invigoration when I’m done. My favorite trail is in Busse Woods, passing the elk as I ride; but even shorter rides near home can feel like I was gone for hours!
If these activities still seem too time-consuming in your busy day, try taking two minutes two or three times throughout your day to breathe. Stop what you are doing and do some diaphragmatic breathing—breathing from your belly—in and out for two minutes. Try it right now…Refreshing, right?
There is always time to take time apart--and there is always the need to do so!
I am guilty of a most false assumption: “Everything in my life will go smoothly since I am on a spiritual journey.”
Isn’t that cute?
What a rude awakening to find out that I’m not always going to get my way from that God that I have always loved and tried to please!
My first clue into this was the drive from Missouri to Florida right after being married. My new husband and I were enjoying the scenery, albeit a little lost. My husband pulled into a gas station to ask for directions (yeah, I got a winner) while I waited in the car. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly filled with jealous thoughts: “What if he finds someone in there more attractive than me? What if he finds her more interesting? What if? What if? What if?!”
I was never jealous with previous boyfriends–not once. My attitude was, “Hey, if you want to date someone else, go right ahead. I don’t need to waste my time.” These thoughts that surfaced during our honeymoon trek came as a disarming and alien surprise.
At the time, I didn’t know what to do with jealousy, and was quite embarrassed and overwhelmed by the emotions. I tried to hide what I was feeling, but didn’t do so well. Fortunately, my husband was kind enough to talk me through my feelings.
…Which would have been great if all I needed to do was talk! I felt better in the moment, but those feelings were only a taste of what was to come. I had a whole slew of faulty childhood beliefs that were surfacing to be healed. This was what my spiritual journey was to be for several years: Clearing false beliefs from my childhood–not just jealousy, but a series of dysfunctional attitudes and concepts about relationships overall.
What the heck? I wanted to be married and live happily ever after! I wanted to ride off into the sunset, live on the beach, and be eternally wise and wonderful! That emotional work was getting in my way of my FUN! How dare it!
I eventually learned that this is the spiritual process, and healing needs showed up in all areas of life: my relationships, career endeavors, and how I perceived myself. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves on the spiritual journey have issues that arise to be healed. This clearing of false beliefs, shedding light on what is real and true (until the next round of clearing!) is what this journey is about! It is simply part of our journey as humans moving into Something Greater.
How disappointing, I have thought–at first and many times since then! Yet, how necessary to be able to move forward unimpeded by my fears and false assumptions. How much stronger my intuition became because of my willingness to do the work. What better life choices I have made because of my willingness to let go of my lesser ideas of “fun” and short-sighted ways of doing things.
The spiritual journey is about clearing away our personal ideas of what is real, valid and important; and open to our intuitive nature that knows what is better for us. Our Higher Self waits for us to loose our little wills and cooperate with the bigger picture that can only be perceived when we tap into it! And we can’t tap into it while we hold fears and wrong ideas about whatever situation is at hand.
The spiritual journey takes diligence, willingness, and spunk. What are you willing to let go of so you can grow?
Change happens. Sometimes we change because we want to; sometimes we change because we have to. When dealing with a change that is out of our control, one of the best approaches is to Sherlock it.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes.
It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
You know Sherlock. He’s the odd, people-challenged character who sure knew how to solve mysteries. Don’t some changes feel like mysteries to you?
Recently, my favorite yogurt brand changed the consistency, flavor and protein content of their product, and I wasn’t happy! I will use this silly example to walk you through the process of moving through a change that is out of your control so you can get a feel for the process. If it can work with yogurt, maybe it will transfer to any bigger change you may be dealing with!
“…[W]hen a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.”
Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet
1. What is the change that is happening around you? Describe the facts. What exactly is different?
This company changed the protein content of my favorite yogurt went from 15 grams of protein down to 12! Plus, the consistency is more watery, and the flavor tastes watered down as well, but it’s cheaper!
2. Now you get to expand a little. How do you feel about this change? Are you angry, afraid, sad, or frustrated? Let it out, and include why you are feeling the way you do about this change.
I feel really disappointed about this. I counted on those 15 grams of protein in the mornings when I didn’t have time for a larger breakfast. I would eat it at work as well, but now it isn’t satisfying as it was before. I don’t understand why they made these changes, and I feel angry. I feel especially frustrated because the only other comparable yogurt is at a grocery store that is inconveniently located!
3. What about this change is in your control? What about it is out of your control? (Keep to the facts here, too!)
I can control whether or not I continue to purchase this brand of yogurt. I don’t have control over how it is made. I can write an email to the company, voicing my dissatisfaction, but I can’t control whether or not they do anything about my dissatisfaction, either.
4. What would be the best way for you to manage this change? What steps are you willing to take to make the necessary adjustments?
I can consider other options, such as trying a different brand of yogurt, or making the trek to the other grocery store. I can also find other sources of quick proteins for my food intake needs, like protein bars.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four
Now it’s up to you what you decide to do. You can always choose to continue with emotional responses, such as disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness. If that’s the route you take, be sure to also answer this question: “For what good purpose would it serve for me to continue feeling (frustrated, sad, angry, hurt, etc) about this change?” That can be an eye-opener, and can lead to your choosing not to hold on to that reaction any longer than you need to.
“What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Cardboard Box
When you have completed the process and made your adjustments, kick back like Sherlock (or perhaps in your own, healthier way) and feel good about solving the mystery of change.
“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
Since the transition into the new year, there have been many scientific revelations around the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is focused attention, the observing of sensations and thoughts without getting caught up in them. Often the breath is the focus of mindfulness meditation, and yoga is an example of mindfulness practice.
Meditators and yoga lovers have known the power of focused attention, stillness and breath awareness for a long time—thousands of years, even. Through many recent brain scans studies, science now acknowledges several physiological benefits of taking just five minutes every day to pay attention to the breath:
Convinced like a scientist yet?
So, where to begin? All you need in your busy schedule is five minutes. Try to pick the same time each day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Think of it as necessary as brushing your teeth, except you are “brushing” away stress from your brain!
Sit comfortably. Begin taking normal breaths. Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm (“belly breathing”) rather than your lungs only (“chest breathing”). Rest your hand above the stomach and below the ribs, which is where your diaphragm is approximately located. As you breathe normally from your diaphragm, you will feel your belly rise as you inhale, and retract as you exhale. Continue for five minutes.
If you find your mind wandering (which you will!) during this time, gently bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice any sensations in your body, but do not let your mind have a conversation about them. Simply bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice sounds around you, but again, don’t let your thoughts go on about them. Let your belly breathing be your primary focus.
Keep a journal of the changes you notice over time. People have told me that their doctors asked them why their blood pressure was lower than their last check up. Others have noticed emotional equilibrium that wasn’t there before they began practicing. Others appreciate the sense of overall peace throughout their day.
What benefits are coming to you through your practice?
"'Mindfulness' Meditation Alters Gene Expression, Study Suggests", The Huffington Post | By Jacqueline Howard Posted: 12/09/2013 7:53 am EST | Updated: 01/19/2014 11:49 pm EST
"The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better", GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9NEUROSCIENCE
"The Power of Concentration", By Maria Konnikova, Published: December 15, 2012
Each new year brings new energy and desire for change! Often when we have something we want to change in ourselves, the first response we have is anger, frustration, rejection. We then try to go about our desired change with a hammer over our heads!
How many of us do well while getting bossed around, criticized and rejected? It might work for a little while—or a long while, if we are super-tolerant—but after a time, we stop trying so hard, or try to get away from the hammer, thus avoiding the task at hand.
We do better at change when we have encouragement, acceptance and a caring eye guiding us in the new behavior.
Who is the best person to do that for you? Maybe you have a supportive friend, or an encouraging therapist. But you are with you all the time! You are the one who will walk with you through all of the ups and downs of life!
Here are a few ways to encourage yourself through any change you want to make:
A little love goes a long way to melt raw materials and create a masterpiece. Take a best friend with you into 2014…YOU! Happy New Year, and happy new YOU!
Over the years of practicing therapy, as well as doing my own inner work, I have noticed an overlooked problem about judging others: It causes us to keep ourselves in a box.
We have all heard reasons for not to judging others: "Judge not, or you will be judged." "Judging keeps you in negative thinking." "Judging is bad karma."
What have been overlooked are the limitations we put on ourselves when we judge others. When we think toward someone, "You are doing it wrong," or some such variation, we are also setting a guideline for ourselves.
Returning to a personal story I shared in last month's post, before our son was born, I had many judgments of doctors, hospitals, and of all of western medicine's views on childbirth. When my inner guidance came that I would need to have his birth in a hospital rather than at home as we did with our first child, I felt afraid. "Something terrible must be coming", I thought to myself, "or why would God ever want me to do such a horrible thing as to have a baby in a hospital?" I came face to face with the wall of judgments I had built around the medical field.
After nearly 18 months of processing the layers of these judgments (that caused all the fear I was holding), I was able to get to the bottom line: The only thing that mattered was the safety of this soul coming into this world. When that was my goal, I was completely open to whatever way that had to happen.
After our son was born, easily and healthily in the cocoon of the hospital, I could not return to my old way of thinking. I had a new perspective on childbirth: The important thing is safety and the comfort of the one giving birth. Whatever that looks like to the individual is the right and perfect way to do it! Not only did I let every mother on the planet out of a tight and rigid box, I let myself out as well and was able to apply this lesson to other judgments I erroneously held.
We don't always know what the perfect thing is for someone else. But we do know what is right and perfect for ourselves, and sometimes that means doing something we would think someone else shouldn't be doing!
When you catch yourself having an opinion about another person or their actions, ask yourself, "How is this helpful to this person? Am I putting myself in a box by this thought?" We can free ourselves as well as others by checking in on our judgments, and leaving our options open as to what will be the right thing to do in the moment. This reminds me of a poem my husband has shared with me, written by a friend of his:
Cage, bird, liberator--
I am all three!
Think about it, and free yourself!
There is a fun song on the internet called “You Are a Pirate. The words are, “Do what you want ‘cause a pirate is free / You are a pirate / Yar-har-fiddle-de-dee / Being a pirate is alright with me / Do what you want ‘cause a pirate is free / You are a pirate” then repeat, continuous loop-style, ad nauseum.
The song originally comes from a children’s television program in which the town villain disguises himself as a pirate to lure the children away from their good behavior. He makes being a pirate sound fun with his happy pirate song and promises of freedom from discipline and rules. The children, of course, enthusiastically take their places as his crew mates. Who doesn’t want freedom?
On the spiritual path, one of the skills we learn is distinguishing between short-sighted egoic impulses and the true promptings of our soul. We start learning this by more closely observing the thoughts and feelings that arise and incite us to act. When our ego pulls us toward personality freedom, often it can excite us and feel good on a short-term basis. Ego pulls don’t take into consideration the needs of those around us or long-term consequences of our actions. We can liken this to the pirate from the song, and the children who happily followed along.
Soul freedom leads us toward greater responsibility for what is ours to do this lifetime. It also aligns us with our higher potential. Hmm…Not as enticing at first, is it?
Paramahansa Yogananda, the great Indian mystic, once said, “The mind is so powerful, it can make you taste salt and think it is sugar, and when you eat sugar, it can make you think you taste salt.” Our ego pulls are the salt that tastes sweet at first, but then we feel disappointed when we discover it wasn’t what was in our best interest. Our soul promptings taste a bit salty at first, but as we stick with them, how sweet it is! Everything flows better when we are aligned with our soul responsibilities!
How much time and energy do you spend following the piratey impulsiveness of your personality self? How long does that satisfy you?
The children who followed the pirate to his false “freedom” (and were subsequently captured) quickly learned that the rules they ran from actually provided structure so they could play more freely! Likewise, our intuition is there to help us learn the best structure and steps to take to free our souls from ego-captivity, allowing greater energy to flow into a more joyful expression of who we truly are!
Why bother with all this spiritual work? It’s all they talk about around here! I mean, really, what do we get out of it, except less time to watch CSI?
Because we want to love ourselves.
I know you think you already do. So did I, so I’d let myself stay up late watching movies even though I’d be overtired and grumpy the next day. I thought I loved myself, so I would put up walls between myself and others so I didn’t have to bother myself with them much. I thought I loved myself, so I would treat myself to that extra sugar in my diet.
We have to ask ourselves, are we loving ourselves, or protecting against something or someone? Are we loving ourselves, or making excuses not to stick with the discipline that is meant to keep us healthy?
Avoidance isn’t love, neither is indulgence. Love is the energy that comes through us as we clear out our fears, resentments and false beliefs. Love isn't so much an act as it is a vibration that becomes part of us as we do our spiritual processing and releasing.
So keep on forgiving. Take time to journal your thoughts and feelings. Make your daily meditation a priority. Be aware of your inner self-talk and make sure it is kind and supportive. Slowly but surely, you will make yourself more and more receptive to Divine Love moving through you, blessing yourself and spilling over as blessings for others.
All you need is love, the kind that comes from our healing and devotion to your soul evolution.
Lynn Barrette, LCSW Blending psychology with spirituality, I offer tools for forgiveness, acceptance, meditation and relaxation, and positive parenting solutions.