Inspired by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, in which she transforms her depression and anxiety into fullness and joy by devoting herself to a practice of noticing and writing down every moment of wonder, I decided to try it myself.
What would I notice inside if all day long I jotted down the small moments that brought a smile to my soul?
My first morning went like this:
1- A warm bed on a cold autumn morning
2- A striped kitten staring at me when I wake up
3- A tiny brown foot pressed against a furry paw
4- A 4-year old leg slung across my belly
After several weeks of praising, of carrying around a little notebook, I realized that a path of praise trains us to become artists of life. Just like the photographer captures beauty in an image, so we can capture the miracle of being alive by seeking out and orienting our attention toward wonder. Each moment carries something praiseworthy if only we can clear our eyes of the silt of routine and see the world with the freshness of a child. My son picks up a rock on our driveway and is entranced with the details of design and color that swirl through the stone. There are thousands of twin stones on our driveway, but to my son that singular stone captures his attention and he gives it due praise. We can do the same. It's a question of intention, a commitment to witnessing life through a lens of wonder, which also means a lens of love. And it's not only the noticing but the act of writing it down that opens us to a felt experience of gratitude:
“Moving the ink across the page opens up the eyes." - Ann Voskamp
“There are eyes in pens and pencils.” - John Piper
Wonder is transposed into joy when it's witnessed, and it's amplified tenfold when it's documented.
My list has continued throughout the month. I jot down wonder in a notebook or on my iPhone, a random scrap of paper, anywhere:
42. Crystalline cloudless blue sky
43. My son saving caterpillars from the middle of the road
Noticing wonder and offering praise isn't just about focusing on what we normally think of as "good" and "beautiful." Rather, it's recognizing that there is good and beauty in everything, from a sleepless night to a poor report at work. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around as we're deeply conditioned to seek only the positive and comfortable aspects of life.
But finding wonder in each moment or experience is another way of saying yes to life: yes to beauty, yes to scarlet and gold leaves of autumn, yes to the light in your child's face, yes to the cat curled on your lap and yes to illness, yes to natural disasters, yes to conflict, yes to pain. It's a way of shifting out of habitual resistance and developing a practice that allows us to step into the flow of the river of our lives.
57. Argument with my husband (it does, eventually, lead to more closeness)
58. Irritation with my kids (what can I learn?)
Many people greet the emptiness they feel inside with self-judgement or distraction. You reach for your computer. You check your email. You scroll through Facebook. You eat more than you need at breakfast. There are thousands of ways to distract and avoid.
But what would happen if you moved toward the emptiness with a sense of curiosity and compassion? What would happen if you became so curious about it that you were able to describe it in detail? What would happen if you drew it or danced it or wrote a poem about it? The emptiness would become the fullness. Something inside would break open and you would notice a crack in the protective shield of numbness.
You might touch pain. And as an artist of life, you would move toward that as well. There is nothing—literally no-thing—that we need to push away. It's all part of the privilege of being alive. It's the light and the shadow that only ask one thing: to be seen. It's all we really want, and it's when we can find the courage to open to the darkness and pain that we discover the pathways to joy.
Source: Sheryl Paul M.A. for MindBodyGreen.com
Some people still associate meditation with kung fu movies and 1960s hippies, or at least New Age spa resorts. But the last few years have seen meditation practice steadily growing in “mainstream” popularity. What's that about? Could meditation make sense as a part of your busy urban lifestyle?
High profile meditation enthusiasts keep cropping up, from the artists like Jerry Seinfeld and David Lynch, to board members of Goldman Sachs Group and Exxon Mobil Corp (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-22/harvard-yoga-scientists-find-proof-of-meditation-benefit.html). “Mindfulness Training” workshops offered for employees at Google Headquarters (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/technology/google-course-asks-employees-to-take-a-deep-breath.html) regularly have wait-lists of up to 30 people. And U.S. government-funded neurological studies have reported that meditation causes significant improvement in brain and immune function. (http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/65/4/564.short) But still, the philosophical language used to talk about meditation can seem pretty irrelevant when just getting through the day's “to do list” can be so overwhelming.
After a basic introduction, though, many people find meditation more helpful in everyday life than initially expected. Meditation starts making sense when it stops seeming like a vacation activity, and instead you can begin to use it as a tool for getting through the workweek with a sense of spaciousness! The premise is that taking time to work with your mind can actually help you go further into the other projects and passions you care about. Everyone seems to agree that it's worthwhile to take some time to train and care for the body. Why do we so rarely take the time to train and care for our minds?
When we've got a big project to complete, and the temptation to stay up late working on it, we've all learned by experience that at some point it's actually a more strategic, effective choice to take a walk, clear your head, or get some sleep. Then we can dive back in, refreshed and ready to work efficiently. This is the logic of taking the time to show up for a meditation class. But it turns out this logic applies not just for efficiency, but also for enjoyment. A refreshed capacity to listen and think clearly helps us get work done. But the most compelling part is that quieting down our habitual stress patterns gives us the possibility to experience a basic sense of contentment. We can start to enjoy our own lives!
Every teacher I've ever learned meditation from has said something like “Don't believe anything I say - test it out for yourself, in the laboratory of your own daily experience. If it works for you, use it. If not, toss it aside.” Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in religious contexts from Christianity and Islam to Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is essentially non-religious: compatible, but inherently separate from any system of beliefs. Mindfulness practice - which has gotten so much attention through scientific studies proving its transformative effectiveness - is nothing more than noticing what's going on.
There are many ways into meditation - many different techniques. But the heart of mediation practice is actually very simple. It has to do with relating directly to our own experiences in any given moment. Stillness and stability create a container in which we can start to understand how our own minds work. By showing up for something as simple as sitting on a cushion and watching the breath, we can become more able to show up for the rest of our own lives. Don't learn to meditate because you're curious about meditation, learn to meditate because you're passionate about enjoying life.
Want to learn more? Come join an Intro to Meditation class at the gorgeous new Urban Yoga studio in Business Bay, Dubai. Class happens three times a week, and you can check out the schedule HERE. Each session introduces the tools you need to get started, some discussion on meditation in modern life, and then guides you step-by-step through the meditation practice itself. Careful though, in addition to better focus and more efficient working patterns, you might even enjoy yourself!
Urban Yoga have kindly offered our Glowpeople community a FREE FIRST SESSION (choose any class you like!) and 10% off the first package. Book online at www.urbanyoga.ae, select the 'Drop in' payment option, and simply mention Glowpeople when you get there! Please note that 'Introduction to Mediation' classes resume on October 18th, 2013.
In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better, happier and longer lives. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States.
After identifying the world’s Blue Zones, Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity and happiness. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones residents shared specific characteristics. To read more about this fascinating work visit their website.
Meanwhile take this great test to evaluate how happy you truly are with your life, it's a real eye-opener:
Bask in bright light! Research into mood disorders confirms that people get a powerful surge of energy and enhanced mood when exposed to sunlight or bright indoor light. Research has found that summer sunlight increases the brain’s serotonin levels twice as much as winter sunlight. In fact some centers in the UK, and other countries where the weather is gloomy year-round, have stopped treating depression with medication and instead are treating patients with exposure to artificial sunlight - and the results are quite astounding!
Each day, get 5 minutes of non-peak sun (before 10am or after 3pm) without sunscreen or sunglasses to enjoy the full mood-lifting effects of sunlight (try to do this a few times a day). If you live in a country where you don't see the sun often, change your indoors bulbs to full-spectrum "daylight" bulbs and try to keep your environment as bright as possible all the time, whether at home or in the office.
Check our other tips for "Boosting wellness in 5 minutes or less!"
Learn to do absolutely NOTHING!
"Liming" is the Caribbean art of doing nothing - without feeling guilty about it. Most people today have lost the ability to chill out and just connect with themselves without having to be DOING something all the time...they constantly distract themselves with outside stimuli (TV, internet, friends, work etc...)
Try liming frequently to give your brain time to process all the information it receives over the course of the day.
Take a five minute "mental vacation" every few hours. Picture your favourite beach or other getaway place.
The idea is to escape the rat race briefly - but completely!
Check our other tips for "Boosting wellness in 5 minutes or less!"
Are you ready for change? Join our Detox Workshops