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.
Looking for something to help you relax?
Sound therapists were able to rate ten of the most relaxing songs, with Marconi Union's 8 minute trance-inducing tune, "Weightless", coming out on top thanks to its continuous rhythm of 60 BPM, an ideal tempo for synchronization with the heart and brainwaves, read on:
>> Hear it in our article in 'News and Views'
"Oh, it’s you again. Hello fear. October is cancer awareness month and you can’t get through a store without being bombarded with pink ribbons. Naturally, this month kicks up a lot of emotion for people, and rightly so. But it’s possible to work with our fears and use them to our benefit. Fear contains powerful messages. When we’re courageous enough to be with what scares us, we can awaken our intuition and create a new path for healing. Whether you’re worried about getting sick, you’re currently dealing with a health issue, or you’re scared and struggling in other areas of your life, don’t judge your fears, invite them to tea.
It’s common to belittle our fears and try to pre-maturely cleanse them away. But just because we’re afraid, doesn’t mean we’re toxic or failing or falling off the spiritual wagon. Fear is one of the many colors in our emotional palette, and it’s often there for a reason. There’s nothing weak or less evolved about being frightened. And guess what, you’re not alone. We’re all scared. No one is fearless.
Fear is normal and, to a certain extent, it’s important. We can thank fear when it makes us get a lump checked or tells us not to get into a van with that guy. We can have gratitude for fear when it shakes us awake or jolts us from complacency. But while fear can play a very valuable role in igniting action, we can’t let it run our lives—especially if our fears are totally unfounded or irrational. Once we receive the message (the ah-ha!) we need to disable the fear alarm, turn it off, cool it down. Because no one can thrive in a constant state of panic, our bodies aren’t built for that, and neither are our spirits.
When fear becomes your lighthouse it will perpetually lead you to darkness.So how do you get what you need from fear without letting it pull you under? Bring yourself back to the present moment. The here. The now. The pillow under your butt. The ground under your feet. The real reality. Unplug the movie in your mind and pet your dog. That’s real. That’s what’s truly happening.
Taking fear for a joy ride: My guide for dancing with the dragon.Open your heart: You know those fluttering feelings in your belly? Instead of getting hysterical, just sit with them. Breathe through them. Deeply. Slowly. Continually. Have the guts to stay there longer than you’d like. If sadness comes up, let it be there. If anger comes up, that’s ok too. Tears will probably follow. This is real and raw and wonderful. Congratulations!
Listen: Once you’ve made contact with what’s coming up for you, ask fear what it’s trying to say. Request that it communicate in a calm, coherent way. Don’t rush it… have some R.E.S.P.E.C.T., mind your manners, and don’t interrupt. Let fear speak. Listen.
Do an intuition gut check: Make a determination about whether your fear is constructive or destructive. If you agree with the fear, begin to explore how you can make a healthy shift. If you don’t agree, you can simply decline the opportunity to react. Instead of indulging yourself and peeing in your new pants, soothe your thoughts like you would soothe a nervous 5 year old.
Here’s a quick tour down one of my irrational rabbit holes: An impending doctor appointment. All I could think of was how my disease had progressed and that I’d like to invite you all to my funeral. What kind of food should be served? Should there be a DJ? No, that’s not serious enough. Who should get my good jewelry? My mom and my sister. Will Brian remember to feed Lola? Oh, god, Lola is going to die! Lola is dead. And Brian is so lonely. I love Brian and I miss him. Maybe he should start dating again. But not someone younger then me. OH MY GOD Brian is dating a hot 20 year old! I hate Brian.
If I can grab myself out of that loop, I’ll probably have a good ole laugh, acknowledge the underlying anxiety, head to Target for some trash mags or watch a great movie (while holding Brian’s hand). However, if I’m unable to see my fantasy for what it really is (stress) then the next time Brian asks where the almond butter is, I’ll tell him to ask his child bride!
Being afraid doesn’t make you inadequate: Many of us feel embarrassed and ashamed of our fears. We’ve been conditioned to believe that fear makes us weak. “Grow up. Man up. It’s not cool to be scared. Don’t be such a cry baby.” But stored up fears never make us stronger. Quite the opposite, stored up fears break us (emotionally and physically). If you want to set a powerful example for yourself and others, give your fears a voice. Talk it out. Call a friend. Chat with the friend within. Book a session with that good therapist. Pray. Ask for help. It’s all around you.
Take Action: Another way to gain clarity is to get back into my body through movement. Activating our bodies changes our perspective. A walk, a run, a bike ride, some inversions (they really help!), whatever it takes to snap out of the fear feedback loop.
Let love rule: Love is greater than fear. And love is everywhere, always. Love is the glue that holds the infinite together. Fear is a tiny drop of water compared to the ocean that is love. If you’ve ever practiced EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), you know that love and acceptance are great tools for calming your nervous system. I’ve used this statement (affirmation) many times: “Even though I’m really scared, I love and accept myself anyway.” Boom. Stress-reduction.
Lastly, sometimes fear is much easier to understand than we think. It may not have anything to do with being useful or not. It may not even really be fear. Perhaps we’re just really uncomfortable with change. New things. New information. The unfamiliar and all that goes with it. Give yourself a break. You’re human. You have many valid emotions. The trick is to stop being so critical and start applying more compassion, kindness to all aspects of you. Now go put on some cute heels or a snappy fedora and dance with your dragon (I promise you won’t get burned).
I hope this gives you some tools for difficult times."
Source: Kris Carr
Photo: Kris Carr
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:
DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN WORRY YOUR HEALTH AWAY?
Wellbeing is not just about what you eat (allthough it is a very big component!), its also about how you live and manage your emotions and stress levels. Stress accounts for about two-thirds of doctors visits and has been implicated in heart, stomack and mental disorders, along with the more common headaches, backaches and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Stress basically reduces the levels of your natural killer cells that fight off infections and tumours. Stress also produces hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that are potent inhibitors of our immune system. It is very important to find ways to manage daily pressures and anxieties. I love to practise just 10-15mns of meditation every morning come rain or shine! You can find many short meditations on Itunes or youtube. One of my favourite sites www.doyogawithme.com offers free online meditation and yoga classes. Find the one you love and practise it consistently. Journalling is also a great way of expressing your worries and concerns and bringing them out of the body...it helps you to unclutter your mind and find solutions to any issues you may have.
Finally, practise gratitude everyday when you wake up and before drifting off to sleep. Think of 3 things that you are grateful for in your life. We have a natural impulse before sleeping of thinking of what went wrong in our day and what we didn't accomplish. Gratitude shifts your attention to what is going right in your life instead. Its amazing how this simple act puts things into perspective and melts all the worries away!
OH I nearly forgot to mention the importance of breathing! Remember to practise deep breathing from the stomack (not shallow breathing from your chest) regularly throughout your day. It will relax you tremendously and still your mind!
We want to share a wonderful website with all of you out there! http://www.doyogawithme.com is a great website that offers free meditation and yoga classes online. It's great for all you busy bodies who don't seem to make it down to the gym...we've tried it ourselves and love the classes and flexibility to do it anytime, anywhere. Enjoy!
Thich Nhat Hanh is a phenomenal poet, writer, scholar, peace activist once nominated by Martin Luther king for the Nobel Peace Prize. If you have ever been curious about Bhuddism and would like to find out more about the daily practises that make them so balanced and fulfilled compared to the rest of us, look no further! His books are very powerful and simple to read and outline the Zen teachings that in my opinion everyone should include in their daily lives.
One of my personal favourites is 'Living Buhddha, Living Christ', but all his books are great (you can find them all on Amazon).
On his website, you'll find the 'Stillness Buddy' software that you can download onto your PC. Yes, even Bhuddist Monks have turned to technology! The software can be programmed by you to send messages on your screen as often as you wish throughout the day, reminding you to take 'mindfulness' breaks, moments lasting only a minute or so where you breathe and balance yourself. Those of you sitting behind your computers all day would love this! Click this link to download a free 14-day trial: http://www.plumvillage.org/stillness-buddy.html
About our Teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thầy)
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