Walking Bravely and In Great Happiness

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As you may know, I declared this My Year of Creative Living. So far, I’ve taught myself to play the ukulele; took a tap dance class; spent a weekend dabbling in abstract painting; and, participated in a three-week blogging course.

What I’ve learned so far from these activities: creativity is the core of feeling really alive. I’m never so giddy, conflicted, anxious, thrilled or joyful than when I’m in creative mode. It’s a definite high, folks… I highly recommend it.

My current endeavour is… writing a book (ahh!). I’ve hired an amazing writing coach to guide me through this process and keep me accountable to the task (which is worth its weight in gold), and I feel like I’m diving into my most personal, meaningful creative pursuit yet. Its exhilarating and terrifying at once, which is the very definition of entering “the arena” of vulnerability, as Brené Brown calls it.

I was listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey speak about creativity in their latest meditation challenge podcast, and their explanation of creativity hit me on a whole new level:

“Creativity is the root of our biological existence.”

Our bodies – each and every cell – are constantly evolving and responding to brand new conditions. Chopra defines creative living as bringing freshness and renewal to each day, each circumstance. In this light, it’s easy to see that we are all – by our very biology – creative beings and the tired notion of creativity belonging only to artists and writers swiftly abates.

Creativity lives in our divine freedom to choose our response to any given moment.  The ability, however, to bring the freshness and renewal of creativity to each moment is, you guessed it, a practice.

The practices of letting go of comparison, staying present and cultivating your awareness for what’s true for you in this moment (and not what your long-standing, self-limiting stories tell you) nurture your creative life. And it nurtures what you are likely seeking for yourself: to feel alive, to feel worthwhile and to feel so very you as much as possible in your life.

I invite you to rebrand yourself as a creative being, starting today. I mean, you already are a creative being… and now you have the choice to start seeing yourself this way and living your life from this perspective.

What would it be like to approach your job, your marriage, your parenting and your personal growth as a “creative type”. As an artist, even? As someone who walks “bravely and in great happiness”, as so beautifully said by artist Robert Henri?

It is, after all, in your nature – in your very cells – to do it.

 

Sidelined By Scarcity

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I have not been my best-self at work these past few weeks. I’ve been reactive, blaming and cynical, and have even had (I’m embarrassed to say this) my inner-belligerent-child emerge during a few interactions with my manager. Yes, there’s a lot of drama and stress and uncertainty in my work environment these days, but this is exactly the time when I want all of the personal growth work I’ve done around authenticity, courage and values-based living to help me to rise above the drama, so that I can still be my best-self and not succumb to the things that trigger my grumpy “it’s not fair” gremlin.

Then, a few days ago, I was doing my morning meditation with Deepak Chopra (via his Infinite Abundance app), listening to his wise and soothing voice say to me:

“There are those who live day to day concerned about not having enough of whatever they feel is necessary for their happiness and security. Their bodies most likely echo those feeling by sending messages of discomfort in the forms of anxiety, discomfort, worry or stress.”

The second statement hit me first. I zeroed in on his words: anxiety, discomfort, worry and stress. Yup, that sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. Then I considered his first statement: what I am concerned about not having enough of? Then all the Brené Brown wisdom kicked in. Whenever I hear “not enough” I know scarcity is at play. So, I sat with this for a while: What feels like “not enough” right now? The answers came at me fast and furious:

I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough time to do my job, to organize and offer workshops, to be with my kids, to exercise, to relax, to get the house clean, to pull weeds, to read all the books I keep buying, to call my friends, to reconnect with my husband, to get a good night of sleep, to register my kids for swimming, to buy birthday presents, to pack a healthy lunch for myself, to listen to the backlog of podcasts on my iPhone, to create a vision for my business, to meditate…  

Obviously, I could go on and on and on.

This is nothing new, of course. Most of us feel the pressure-cooker of not-enough-time. But what has taken me off guard was how this was impacting my mood, outlook and behaviour. A sense of scarcity is so settled into our subconscious that it can so easily throw us off our game, and in ways that are unexpected. Take my behaviour at work, for example. Here I was, feeling grumpy and acting out like a toddler in the workplace. I’m not sure I would have connected that back to a sense of time scarcity had I not sat with my anxiety around “not enough”. But there it was.

It makes me think of all those times I’m short and agitated around my children only to realize what I’m feeling is anxiety and fear that has nothing to do with them or their behaviour. This happened recently, after the photo of the drown Syrian boy on the beach was everywhere. You would think that the sorrowful image would make me go home and hug my children. Instead I went home and was uber-stern with them. Again, when I checked in with myself, I realized how much fear and anxiety I had around what happened to that child. And I was acting out that fear and anxiety by being agitated with my children (it doesn’t make sense, but our sense of vulnerability can be overwhelming and trigger some strange behaviour, folks).

So making the connection between my sense of scarcity and my fear/anxiety and my less-than-ideal behaviour at work was the necessary first step to making better choices. I have to say that time-scarcity is a big trigger for me and I try to be very aware of how this manifests in my thoughts and behaviour. I don’t always catch it, but this is all a practice after all. I remind myself that it is all enough; that everything I do and don’t do is enough. There is no race, there is no finish line, and the only thing I need to do is stay 100% in the moment in order to be my best-self.

 

 

The Work/Life Lab, Week #52: Month-end (Year-end) Mindfulness – Last But Not Least… Meditate

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Welcome to The Work/Life Lab: 52 Weeks of Daring Experiments To Shake Things Up and Learn More About Yourself At Work and Life

Experiment #52: Month-end (Year-end) Mindfulness – Last But Not Least… Meditate

In last week’s post, I mentioned that I’m a sentimental fool. So I’m sitting here, writing the final post of The Work/Life Lab and feeling many sentimental emotions: proud (yes! I wrote 52 posts this year!), relieved (yes! I made it to post #52!), grateful (that my posts have resonated with some of you, so much so that you’ve taken the time to reach out to me to let me know), and concerned (what am I going to write about in 2015?).

Ok, on to this week’s post… which is my monthly instalment on mindfulness. When I first posted about mindfulness back in January, I mentioned that I believe so strongly in the importance of mindfulness that I would write about it monthly, encouraging you, dear reader, to experiment with bringing yourself into the present moment in different ways. So much of our stress, anxiety and problems stem from the fact that we are either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. There is so much peace and ease and wisdom to be found in the moment; right here, right now. And the more we can practice bringing ourselves to the moment — and releasing any judgement of ourselves or our situation (to me, this is the most important piece of mindfulness) — the more we can live in the joy, calm and sense of expansive time that we all crave.

The one mindfulness practice that we have not explored yet in the Work/Life Lab is actually the granddaddy of mindfulness: meditation. There has been a lot of focus on meditation over the last few years, with Anderson Cooper being the latest to “drink the Kool Aid” saying that a visit to a meditation centre changed his life. In fact, there has been so much written about the benefits of meditation that I’m not going to delve too much into it here. Basically, you need to know that meditation:

  • Increases your health (boosting immune function, decreasing pain and inflammation)
  • Improves your intelligence (increases grey matter related to memory and thought, increases brain volume connected to emotion regulation and self control)
  • Boosts your social life (better social connections, improved empathy and compassion and increased resilience), and
  • Helps your mental health (decreases stress, anxiety and depression)

… all of which increase your enjoyment of life. This infographic by Dr. Emma Seppala give a great overview of meditation’s benefits.

Sitting in meditation unnerves some people. For those who have tried it, you know how difficult it can be to get going with a meditation practice. Meditation is not about just sitting in silence. It’s about calming your mind, clearing the chatter. This feels almost impossible when we’ve been conditioned for so long to continually think through our moments, rather than be in our moments.

But this is, after all, the Work/Life Lab and this is about experimenting in your life, right? Ok, so here’s the deal: I want you to try your hand at meditation for seven days straight, only 10 minutes a day. That’s it. Of course, I hope that a taste of meditation over seven days will spill over into a lifetime practice… but let’s just start with seven days.

The basics of meditation: sit comfortably; take a few deep breaths and then just breathe normally; notice tension in your body and release it with your breath; then bring your attention to your breath (and the feeling of the air entering and exiting your nostrils); and, when a thought enters your head, acknowledge it and let it go. That’s it. Do that for 10 minutes and you’re done.

I have two recommendations to make as you undertake this experiment:

  • Use a meditation app to help guide you. My favourites are from Deepak Chopra, and are called Ananda. There are three you can download: Infinite Abundance, Living in Love and Conscious Health. You can download one meditation per app for free. I love these apps because you can choose different types of music to play in the background and also set the amount of time you want to meditate. Then you have Chopra’s lovely, calming voice guiding you through the meditation. There are many more meditation apps out there; try a few and see which ones work for you.
  • For your first foray into meditation, try doing it lying down just before you go to sleep. Read this superb article on How to Meditate Lying Down, by Hwansan Sunim. I think this is a great place to start because it’s easier to fit in 10 minutes of meditation right before you go to sleep, plus it has the added bonus of helping you actually have a better sleep.

If you already meditate (yay you!), then your challenge this week is to mix up your meditation practice a little. If you normally sit for your meditation, try a walking meditation. If you normally meditate 20 minutes, extend it to 30 minutes. If you normally meditate by yourself, try joining a meditation circle at your local yoga studio. Any variation from your normal routine will do. The idea here is to expand your experiences of meditation and see how other forms of meditation serve you.

One important rule: do not judge yourself! Do NOT say you’re bad at meditation. Do NOT say you’re not cut out for meditation. Do NOT say you should meditate better. These are all false beliefs, and they are your inner saboteur’s way of dissuading you from quieting the mind. There is no right way. And the very act of trying to calm your mind and quiet the chatter is meditation. It’s all about the effort and energy of paying attention, of noticing your thoughts and the space between your thoughts. That’s it.

I would love to hear how your experiment with meditation goes, so please leave a message below or leave a comment on my Facebook Page.

With that, I bid you a beautiful New Year full of ease, peace and joy!

 

P.S. Dear Readers… I am taking a short break from blogging! I’ve decided to take the month of January off from writing, and will be back at it in February 2015. Be well!

 

 

 

 

The Work/Life Lab, Week #47: Month-end Mindfulness – Practicing The Law Of Least Effort

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Welcome to The Work/Life Lab: 52 Weeks of Daring Experiments To Shake Things Up and Learn More About Yourself At Work and Life

Experiment #47, Month-end Mindfulness: Practicing The Law Of Least Effort

“When you struggle against this moment, you struggle against the entire universe.”

Deepak Chopra

I was listening to a guided meditation by Deepak Chopra earlier this week and in it, he was speaking about the Law of Least Effort. His words hit me like a cosmic ton of bricks. Chopra says,  “when our body-mind is in concert with the universe, everything becomes spontaneous and effortless.”

Effortless? Boy, I could use me some of that. I don’t know about you, but everything for me these days has been feeling hard and stressful, as if resistance is rising up to meet my every move.

Chopra goes on to say that when you struggle against this moment, you struggle against the entire universe. And while you might want change in your life, accepting your life as it is, right now, puts you in the best position to achieve your goals.

What? This very notion goes against everything I ever believed about creating a life I want. Don’t I have to struggle? Isn’t it supposed to be hard?

I was listening to this at exactly the time I needed to hear it: I had just suffered through my third night of insomnia (something I’ve been dealing with for months, and is REALLY getting me down), and my whole body was aching. To make matters worse, my brain was racing from one little stressful thought to another… about my work, my kids, my house, my marriage, my body, my parents. I was UPTIGHT! I was pitted in struggle against almost every part of my life.

So, at that moment, I decided to let go. Let go of the struggle, and release each and every little stressor I was facing. What I did is what I’m going to ask you to do in this week’s Work/Life Lab. This is a mindfulness exercise at its best: coming right into the present moment and releasing your brain’s grip over every little thought about what has gone wrong or what could go wrong, and to just be with what is, right now.

So here’s what I did:

I got out my journal and wrote “Let go of…” and wrote a list of every little thing that felt like a source of stress. I went through all aspects of my life and whenever I noticed my chest get tight or my stomach start to ache thinking about it, I wrote it down under “Let go of…”. It looked something like this:

Let go of…

  • worrying about how my kids are doing at school
  • not doing enough for my business
  • anxiety over Friday’s workshop
  • feeling overbooked
  • worrying about my family’s perception of me
  • not getting things done
  • comparing myself to others
  • feeling like I can’t handle all this
  • mourning the days when my health was better
  • feeling like I “should” do yoga
  • pressure to sleep well (or at all)
  • the need to hang more pictures on the walls in my house
  • feeling bad about missing my dentist appointment

You get the idea. My list was LONG! Every tiny thing that caused stress to rise up went on that list.

Then, I wrote down, “And accept…” and wrote down what it was I chose to accept in my life. It looked something like this:

And accept…

  • it’s ok to be happy
  • everything is as it should be
  • there is no judge and jury
  • things will get done
  • things will not get done
  • there is no finish line
  • people want to help me
  • all is good, and so am I
  • I am responsible for myself, but I don’t have to blame myself
  • there is no right way to do things or live life
  • love is everywhere

 

I am not kidding when I tell you that this is the most powerful thing I’ve done in a long, long time. I felt my body loosen and lighten with every bullet point I wrote down. The pain in my body started to feel more distant the more I wrote. It was like the pain was still there but I was no longer buying into the bigger story around it (e.g. “I shouldn’t be feeling this pain at 45 years old; why can’t I get control of my health?; Am I ever going to feel normal again?”). I felt a kind of peace I haven’t felt for a long time.

So, this is what I’d like you to do: sit down with your journal or a piece of paper, and write at the top “Let go of…” and start listing all of the things that feel like a struggle in your life. Big and small. And as you write these, commit to actually letting them go. Release them and do it the name of the Law of Least Effort. Give up the struggle and let go. Think of it as a decision to stop swimming upstream against all the things that aren’t “right” in your life, turning over and letting the river just take you downstream instead.

Then when you’ve finished your list, flip the page and write at the top “And accept…” and write down some of the deeper truths that you hold. If you can’t think of anything, then just write down this: “Everything is as it should be. All is good and so am I.” (and believe it!)

The trick of course is to truly let each thing go. It’s not enough to write it down; you have to make the commitment to actually release yourself of these struggles and accept your life as it is, right now. That said, you must absolutely write it down, because that’s how you will make this a deliberate act of letting go.

Do this, and see what happens. At the very least, you won’t feel the stress and negative energy in your body anymore, and that’s worth its weight in gold. At most, you might find that everything in your life becomes spontaneous and effortless, as Chopra described. Ahhhh…bliss!