Sleep better, Sleep deeper

Sleep Better—Sleep Deeper

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Sleep is essential for all aspects of health, according to neuroscientist Mathew Walker, author of NYT best seller Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Sleep is vital for maintaining immune system, cardiovascular and reproductive function. It helps improve memory, psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative decline and prevent cancer. Yet, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey (in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and Japan) at least 50% of people don’t get sufficient sleep (7 hours or more) on weekdays. If you routinely get 5 to 6 hours of sleep your body, mind and well-being are paying the price. Sleeping longer on weekends doesn’t replenish your sleep deficit.

If you think you are one of those people who can function on less sleep than the rest of us, you are wrong. Only 1% of he population carry a gene that allows them to function optimally on less than 5 or 6 hours of sleep. According to Walker you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have this gene.

Dream and slow-wave sleep cycles

During sleep our brain waves move through different cycles throughout the night. As we begin to “fall” into sleep slower alpha and theta waves increase. When we dream theta waves are in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage. Here our brain processes all the information from our day integrating it with past experiences. This phase creates a foundation for understanding our life and the world around us and provides insights and problem-solving abilities. The dream stage is essential for processing and regulating emotions. Research has shown how dreaming about traumatic events allows us to process and move past them.

Our cycle of deepest sleep—slow-wave cycle—is known as NREM (non-rapid eye movement) when we do not dream and delta brain waves, slowest of all, take over. This stage allows our brains to store, strengthen and consolidate memories of what we learned. It’s the brain’s way of housecleaning—cleansing, repairing and clearing out wastes. If this process doesn’t take place, or is significantly reduced, it can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. During slow wave sleep your body goes about the healing and regenerative processes that help strengthen your immune system, hormones, cells and mental health. Slow-wave sleep is also the time in which information learned during the day is stored and processed by the brain.

BETTER SLEEP CYCLES

Sleep Better, Sleep Deeper

Effects of caffein and alcohol

Caffein can help us feel alert and energized, no doubt about it. On the downside, however, caffein blocks adenosine receptors in the brain that create our desire to sleep. This may be fine in the morning, but not later in the day, since this blocking process continues long after ingesting caffein. For example, drinking a cup of coffee at noon, half of the caffein is still energizing our system, on average, 5 hours later. It still can take another 5 hours or more to fully release its affects. As a result we may have difficulty falling asleep.

On the other hand, although alcohol initially acts as a sedative, it actually is a powerful suppressor of REM sleep—even in moderation. Going to bed with alcohol in our system, disrupts the second half of our sleep significantly. So, our sleep is not continuous and restorative.

Circadian rhythms

Our bodies like regularity in everything: timing of sleeping, waking, eating, etc. Like plants lifting their leaves in daylight and lowering in darkness, almost every aspect of our daily life is rhythmic and regulated—essentially programmed—by our internal circadian clocks. Every organ has its own circadian clock, even every cell.

Both daytime and evening activities have a huge effect on our circadian rhythms. Our eyes receive and send light signals to our brain to tell it when it’s morning and night. Exposing ourselves to enough daylight and/or blue spectrum lighting earlier in the day, helps us fall asleep faster at night. But, towards evening, incandescent warmer yellow-red and dimmer lighting increases the rise of melatonin. This hormone tells your body it’s time to sleep by lowering your alertness and reducing body temperature.

How much and when to sleep

Walker says that adults need an average of 8 hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal health. The National Sleep Foundation, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend between 7 to 9 hours per night. However, adolescents need 9.25 hours on average. NREM sleep is essential in the brain maturing into adulthood. When Edina, Minnesota shifted their high school start time for 7:30am to 8:30am, it resulted in increased SAT scores, attendance and graduation rates and less depression.

I found it interesting that humans were originally biologically hardwired to sleep in two different periods in a 24-hour day. Have you ever noticed a dip in your alertness mid-afternoon? Walker recommends taking a short nap, 30 to 60 minutes, during the early afternoon. Some Mediterranean European and South American cultures still allow for an afternoon siesta. Harvard University researchers followed 23,000 Greek adults over a six-year period. Their findings revealed that people who took afternoon naps had a 37% lower risk of death from heart disease than those who did not. Interestingly working men in particular showed a 60% reduced risk.

Every Thursday at 1 pm CST, I offer free guided iRest meditations. iRest is based on an ancient practice of Yoga Nidra known as “sleep of the yogis.” Participants sit or lie down sinking into deep relaxation, often bordering on sleep. Afterwards they arise feeling refreshed and regenerated. Learn more about iRest and my meditations and try one at the end of this article.

Preparation for better sleep

Is it time for you to evaluate your daily routines so you can sleep better, deeper and feel healthier? How might you create new habits and even bedtime rituals to calm your busy mind and release tension. What activities can you avoid that create anxiety or cause your heart pump faster before bedtime?

Consider relaxing with meditation or breathwork before retiring. Meditation has been shown to allow the slower brain waves of theta and even delta to increase. Gentle practices like yoga and Clinical Somatic Movement have a similar effect as you release muscle tension to help enhance better sleep.

Learn more about Somatic Movement
E
xperience Somatics in a Zoom or in-person class 

Try this guided meditation practice
to ease into better and deeper sleep.

Check out my classes. 

 

Questions to Consider

Beginning a new year, it’s customary to reflect on our desires and create intentions and resolutions we wish to fulfill in the coming year. For some of us a new chapter of our life is eager to unfold and goals are being called for to charter the course. I rather believe this process can be likened to waking up out of a deep sleep as we do each morning. For each day offers us new possibilities, hew horizons and opportunities to restart anew.

Whatever deep desires we may hold for our lives, we are not alone in this world. Everything we do affects the world around us, as it does us. We are not separate from one another, but interdependent. This interdependent nature calls for cooperation with one another. As you form your intentions, I invite you to consider your impact on the world around you. The following poem may offer some guidance in the process.

At the bottom of this post, you are welcome to be guided into a live  recorded meditation to help you with this process.

Questions to Consider When Waking

By Bernadette Miller

What would you do if you really knew
that life was wanting to sing through you?

What would you say if your words could convey
prayers that the world was waiting to pray?

What would you be if your being could free
some piece of the world’s un-whispered beauty?

What would you stop to bless and caress
if you believed that blessing could address
our painful illusions of brokenness?

What would you harvest from heartache and pain
if you understood loss as a way to regain
the never-forsaken terrain of belonging?

What would you love if your love could ignite
a sea full of stars on the darkest night?

 

 

 

New Year’s Blessing: 2023

May this poem and blessing enlighten and inspire you as you venture into a new year. With wisdom and grace, Larry Robinson’s poem holds many contractions and heartaches of our world with wisdom and grace.

At the end I offer you a guided year-end meditation from a recent live group session.

New Year’s Blessing

A year of loss and chaos draws to a close.

Stories from a thousand cultures remind us that the cosmos is born – and reborn again and again – from chaos.

We have passed the darkest night of the year but the light only returns slowly.

The old order has passed as well but the new is not yet apparent.

Life does renew itself and new forms emerge as old ones pass away.

It has always been this way.

For all the misery of the past year, we have also seen astounding acts of beauty and courage and generosity.

This liminal space we inhabit is a time to dream, to imagine and to plan.

There are times when seemingly small acts can have out-size impacts.

I believe that we are in one of these times – actually a hopeful time, a time of possibilities.

Cynicism is as perilous a path as naïveté.

Hope is a choice, not a feeling; we create it through our actions and through our words.

At this turning of the wheel I invite and challenge you to dream grandly of the world you wish to bequeath, to proclaim it proudly and boldly and to join with your brothers and sisters to take the practical steps to make it real.

Remember that every act of kindness bends the arc of our shared life toward love.

Unhurried mornings, greeted with gratitude;

good work for the hand, the heart and the mind;

the smile of a friend, the laughter of children;

kind words from a neighbor, a home dry and warm.

Food on the table, with a place for the stranger;

a glimpse of the mystery behind every breath;

some time of ease in the arms of your lover;

then sleep with a prayer of thanks on your lips;

May all this and more be yours this year

and every year after to the end of your days.

Larry Robinson

One more poem to reflect on from Angela Farmer, a gifted yoga teacher who lives on an island in Greece.

              The Necklace

 

She gathers up the shattered pieces 

From those dark and dusty corners   

              of her past.

 

She strings them on a thread-

            as long as her life

And touches each one in the soft moon light . . . 

 

All the pains and fears,

           All the loss and failures

She arranges amongst the pearls of her beauty,

    the diamonds of her friendships

    and the sparkling gems of her success in life.

 

Yet in her woman’s heart,

She notices . . . 

        those broken pieces glow more deeply-

        those broken pieces glow more deeply.

 

Lovingly she ties the string around her neck. 

Loving the The Whole Enchilada

Enjoy this iRest guided meditation

Loving the Whole Enchilada

A colleague went to a Mexican restaurant and on the menu, he found what he thought was the perfect meal. It was called “The Whole Enchilada.” When the server took his order he said, “I would like the whole enchilada, but could you hold the cilantro, pico de gallo and red chili peppers?” Her response was, “Sure I can, but then you won’t be getting the “Whole Enchilada, will you?” This for him was really a teachable moment as he reflected on how judgmental we tend to be about what we want in life.

Most of us are seeking to experience the whole of life with nothing missing—that is except for what we don’t like. After all, who really has the desire for conflicts, problems, pain or illness? Surely peace, love, light, blue skies and green lights are what we long for. Yet, whether we like it or not, the menu of life offers us the whole enchilada—both the good and bad. When we try to eliminate what we don’t like, we are missing the parts that help link us to innate wholeness. How can we then be loving the whole enchilada?

A life  that is perfect, whole and complete requires us to love the totality of whatever life serves us—without judgements. 

Join us Sundays and Thursdays for live zoom meditations. 

Culativating an Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude Meditation 
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n positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Why? Because gratitude can help us experience more positive emotions and better able us to relish good experiences and even reduce symptoms of depression. It also can improve our overall health, help us better deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. While this research is relatively new, the principles have been a part of human being’s traditions for eons. This is particularly true in many of the world’s faith traditions, as well as indigenous peoples, such as our own Native Americans who truly practice an attitude of gratitude as daily practice.

Learning from past traditions

I write this in the week of Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the time we take pause to give thanks for all we have harvested during the year – goals accomplished opportunities ensued and people who made a difference in our lives. Yet going back in time the first Thanksgiving was celebrated after the first harvest and attended by 90 Wampanoag Native American people and 53 Pilgrims (survivors of the Mayflower). Having always lived close to the Earth, Native peoples must have understood the great hardships the Pilgrims had endured. They could teach the newcomers how to live with the land and the changing environment.

I recently read of how Native Americans have always had a tradition of expressing gratitude in all their gatherings. Unlike most of us, I am very intrigued with how broad they cast their gratitude. Whether for a council gathering or of family they always begin with ritual of giving thanks. They believe they have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.

Bringing minds together as one

They start by bringing their minds together as one as they give greetings and thanks to each other—so their “minds are one.” Then they proceed to thank what they refer to as their “Mother the Earth” for all it’s bounty. Thanks for the waters to quench their thirst and nurturing life to all beings. Thanks for the fish, plants and animals, and for medicinal herbs for health and healing. They give thanks for the trees and beautiful songs of birds. Each day without fail the sun travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day providing the source of life and the moon that governs the movement of tides. Finally, they thank their ancestors and the very source of creation itself.

Author Daniel Defoe’s famous 300-year-old novel, “Robinson Crusoe,” provides a portrait of how gratitude can enhance one’s life. Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in which he finds himself alone on an unknown island. Rather than falling into despair and focusing on loss and regret, Crusoe begins to count his blessings. He’s alive and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage. Thus. thanksgiving becomes a part of his daily life.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

Gratitude is a way for us to appreciate what we have instead of always reaching for something we lack. As we learn from native peoples, there is a whole world—much of which we take for granted—to  be thankful for. Some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis include writing a thank-you note and keeping a gratitude journal. Meditation and prayer produce positive healthful hormones. Even thanking someone mentally produces can do the same.

Whether we are inspired by fiction, native peoples or our faith or family traditions, gratitude is an essential ingredient for living a healthful  and engaging life. It involves both receiving and giving. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is like a growing a currency from which we can never be bankrupt. The more we feel it and express it, the more deposits in our master gratitude account, canceling out facing “notes” of regret at the end of our life.

Join me now as we cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Check our my free classes:

iRest Meditation and Hanna Somatic Movement–a gentle movement practice to release pain and enhance mobility.

iRest: Loving Kindness

iRest Loving Kindness Meditation.

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The attitude of Loving Kindness is oLoving Kindnessne of the pillars of the Yoga Sutras and Buddhist teachings. I invite you to rest back and experience this heart-based iRest meditation focused on connection, communion and tenderness towards all sentient Beings. This includes ourselves! Enjoy being guided in this 35-minute iRest practice into your loving spacious essence.

 

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Feel free to listen, download and share these imperfect, unedited, live iRest practices recorded during my weekly group sessions.  I trust they will benefit all of us as we navigate times of uncertainty and change. 

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Winter--A time for dreaming a more conscious life

Dreaming a More Conscious Life in Winter

Now that holiday celebrations are over, it’s time to put those New Year’s resolutions to work. Start the new diet, exercise regime, marketing tactics, job search, new business or work strategies, find a mate. There is no time like the present! Well—maybe not. And, maybe the Omicron virus is telling us to take a break, stay safe and take time for dreaming a more conscious life.


Turning Inward

What does nature do during winter? With the sparseness of the nurturing sun’s energy, nature turns inward and retreats. It becomes cold and dark. Creatures hibernate, plants submerge their energy into their roots and ponds harden into ice. Nature doesn’t go to the Bahamas for fun in the sun! Nature doesn’t push its high-energy button, because there is little energy to spare. If nature closes down its work during winter, why don’t human beings do the same? For most of us, work and economics runs our lives, and a hot sunny island may seem like the only way to retreat.

turning inward for Self-reflectionWith the increasing disharmonies we now face in the world, isn’t it time to rethink what governs our lives? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease, rather than with great effort and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives, contemplate our spiritual nature and how we fit into the bigger scheme of things? The work of winter is to store away and shut itself inside. It conserves until spring when the energy rises again. When nature retreats, an ideal time for self-reflection emerges.

 

Connection with our journey

Chinese medicine associates this time of year with the element of water. Water is essential to life. We are born in water and it comprises 78% of our bodies. Water can be forceful or serene, refreshing or murky, fluid or stagnant. Water connects us with our journey—our past, our ancestry and our destiny. It seeks truth, virtue and honesty, and reveals the hidden mysteries of our unconscious. Our thoughts and feelings are filled with secrets about our life, often deeply negative and self-destructive.

The emotion associated with water is fear. We fear change, failure, hurt, the unknown, loss, and abandonment. At the deepest level, we fear our very own death. In many ways, winter is a time of death, as parts of nature wither away. Water imbalance in the body may cause us to identify more deeply with our fears, outwardly expressed in un-ease, worry, tension, and phobias.

 

Surrendering to life

Surrender and releaseThe kidney is associated with the water element. Its function is to extract from fluid waste what is pure for recycling and send the impure to the bladder, its mate, for elimination. The bladder receives, holds and releases. Its true nature is adaptability, going with the flow. When we urinate, we surrender and release, yielding to the flow of life.

The kidney is considered the storehouse for the vital life essence—the very root of life. It regulates the amount of water in our body and all the organs depend on it. It does the work of warming, moistening and regenerating—lest we become cold, rigid, degenerate, or fearful.

 

Acceptance

Fear is governed by our ego, which holds onto patterns from earlier life. When we resist letting go of the toxic waste of our past, those dark secrets rule our lives. But these patterns are not part of our authentic self. When we learn to accept the past, release its power, dis-identify with the ego and live more fully in the present, we surrender to the freedom of being in the flow of life. When our life path is flowing well, it is like the flow of a river that adapts to the changing course. When it is not, it may feel like a quagmire in which we feel overwhelmed or in despair.

“When you surrender to what is
and become fully present,
the past ceases to have any power.”

 –Eckhart Tolle

Authentic conscious self

The surface of a lake may appear still as though nothing is happening. Yet, submerged is an incredible depth of conscious aliveness. This conscious aliveness takes place when we are dreaming during sleep.  When our true source or identity is never truly grasped, we experience doubt and insecurity, which stimulates fear. But truth is the absence of fear. When we go beneath the surface to the depths of our being where truth resides, we connect with our authentic conscious self, our gateway to the Divine.

Dreaming a more conscious life

dreaming of rebirthDeath is not the opposite of life, but of birth. The true work of winter is to go within, to gestate, germinate, and conserve essence. It is preparing for rebirth in the spring. Surprisingly, when we conserve our energy resources in winter, shed toxic patterns that no longer serve us, we are refreshed, renewed and ready to implement a better life plan when the elevated spring energies return to support us.

So, allow yourself to slow down and examine your life path. Use water for purification with baths or long showers. Contemplate your essence, life’s meaning and purpose. Dream, meditate, journal, brainstorm, visualize, create affirmations and goals. Engage your body minimally, such as with walks or gentle movement. Economize your energy essence. Preserve and regenerate your resources. Retire early and rise later, when you can. Spend more time in the warmth of friends and snuggle with loved ones. Live in sync with nature and surrender to the flow of the precious aliveness of life in the midst of dreaming a more conscious life.

Check our my free classes of iRest Meditation and Hanna Somatic Movement, a gentle movement practice.

Keeping Love Alive in the Darkness

Most holiday greetings include words like “joy,” “merry” and “happy” in their text. Yet, consider that we are called tokeeping love alive in the darkness celebrate cultural and religious traditions with family and friends – during the darkest time of the year. This darkness manifests in our lives in many ways that can not only make it a challenge for us to be happy and joyful, but also cause us to forget the essential teaching of this season--keeping love alive.

“Ancient traditions remind us that we have come to this world for one reason….to love and to find a love even greater than any known by the angels of the heavens.”
–Gregg Braden, The Isaiah Effect: Decoding the Lost Science of Prayer and Prophecy”

Legacy of love

Trees and plants go dormant or die in winter. Their essence is preserved in their seeds and roots for rebirth and rejuvenation in the spring. Whether nature or humans, we all have an essence that lives on after death in the energy of the cosmos, in nature and in the legacy we leave behind and pass onto others. This essence is love. Divine love permeates the Universe. It is the core energy that connects and holds everything together—the stars, galaxies, planets, moons, everything on Earth.

Keeping the charge of love alive
is an essential teaching of the holiday season.

Darkness and Diminished energy 

At this time of year the sun, our natural energy charger, is busy sending its rays to other parts of the planet, leaving us with short, dark dreary days. We in the North are supposed to be hibernating like the rest of nature. Instead we’re typically out and about trying to be merry, stressing our bodies–and often our relationships. It’s not uncommon for heated arguments to ensue at family gatherings. Now with our current political climate and the continuing stress ensued from the Covid-19 pandemic, the charge of love has seemingly diminished.

keeping love alive in the darkness

Perhaps we can learn something from our earliest ancestors. They feared that the life-giving sun would disappear at this time of year. So they performed rituals they believed would prevent this from happening. Eventually, they came to embrace this season as a womb or seedbed of life to come. They saw the Winter Solstice as a time of death, a passing away of the old pattern of the year—the old sun, old habits, beliefs and structures—and birth of a new sun, new patterns and possibilities. It was a time of healing and transformation.

Changing traditions

Our traditions are filled with memories of the past and the love we’ve shared with others. But traditions change when people’s lives change. Children grow up and move away, relationships end and loved ones pass on–and even pandemics emerge. We keep love alive when we adapt to change, like nature, even creating new traditions and bringing new people into the fold. This helps heal losses and create new possibilities.

Keeping love alive: Winter Solstice ceremony at Jacqui'sEach year on the solstice, I host a gathering of special people. We sit in sacred darkness as I lead a special ceremonial ritual drawn from ancient native traditions. A friend plays the Native American flute which is accompanied by the soft beating of a drum resembling the heartbeat. Candles are lit and the flame is passed  to another as we each share a story of how we moved from darkness into the light during the past or recent years, or something that lit us with joy. We end with a hearty laugh and a wish for new possibilities in the coming year!

Keeping love alive

The holiday season typically ends with an appeal to make New Year’s resolutions to help us call in the light and create those transformational possibilities. Perhaps it’s to take better care of body, mind or spirit. But resolutions can be empty words unless we imbibe them with energy, passion – and love. As the sun shifts into a new pattern it invites us to do the same. I invite you to take a moment to light a candle before the New Year. Feel Divine love energy alive within helping you to create resolutions that you can implement with joy and ease in the coming year–even in dark times. You might ask yourself:

  1. What am I willing to release–habits, patterns, beliefs, or something else?
  2. How do I want to show up in the coming year? 
  3. How will I keep love alive this year? 

    Keeping love alive imbibes you with the courage to stretch to new possibilities.

Check out my classes of Hanna Somatic Movement and iRest Meditation.

 

Cultivating kindfulness

Cultivating Kindfulness

As you might have guessed, the word kindfulness is a hybrid of kindness and mindfulness. On its own, mindfulness is simply present-moment nonjudgmental awareness, often practiced in meditation. The dictionary says kindness represents the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Brought into meditation, these qualities can enhance what might otherwise seem dry or even self-centered. An act of kindness involves connectedness—with oneself as well as others. There’s a lot of research that confirms the benefits of kindness and mindfulness to our overall health and well-being.

MindfulnessMindfulness needs kindness to help befriend the fragmented parts of ourselves—especially the parts we don’t like, parts that may feel limited, separate, or unworthy. The practice of mindfulness brings you into a state of awareness of the need for kindness. Mindfulness can intervene when you are about to react with fear or anger. It provides a pause or an opportunity to become grounded and gain a different perspective. Like the partners of yin and yang or shakti and shiva that play and dance together, cultivating kindfulness can transform meditation into a moment to moment everyday lived experience.

Suppose you are about to encounter someone whose actions in the past have enraged you. Pause and mindfully step back to observe and assess your feelings—with kindness. The result may enable you to act with compassion rather than wrath.

Mindfulness helps you become aware of stress in your life that may show up in your body—as tightness in your stomach or shoulders, headache, a racing heart. These are all messages that something is out of balance. Kindness offers comfort; it may help you find ways to reduce or eliminate stress and the damage it does.

 

Kindness’s side effects

David R. Hamilton, PhD, is the author of numerous self-help books including The Five Side Effects of Kindness,” which has this “caution” on its cover: “This Book Will Make You Feel Better, Be Happier & Live Longer.” He writes that a “side effect occurs alongside what’s intended. When we intend to be kind, we may not expect anything else to happen, but many things do happen.” These are the side effects of kindness that he discovered. It 1) increases happiness, 2) is good for the heart, 3) slows aging, 4) improves relationships, and 5) is contagious.

Hamilton says that humans have two ages: chronological (years since birth) and biological (apparent age of our body). Only about 20–30 percent of our longevity is determined by genetics. Science has shown that by regularly performing acts of kindness, we can slow processes of aging such as muscle degeneration, reduced vagal tone, weakened immune system, and inflammation.

It’s well known that mindfulness can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and improve sleep. Performing acts of kindness—as well as being the recipient of such acts—has similar benefits. But in addition—like most pharmaceutical antidepressants—kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter and one of the feel-good hormones that calm you down and make you happy. Your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up when you are being kind to another person—and when someone is being kind to you.

Another feel-good hormone, also called the love hormone, that is activated by kindness is oxytocin. Oxytocin helps lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health; it can also increase our self-esteem and optimism. We are wired to help one another as part of our human survival. The uplifting feelings we get from being kind are often referred to as the “helper’s high.”

 

Practicing kindfulness

practicing kindfulnessI am likely to offer help (or kindness) to someone who has a clear need when I know that I have the capacity to fill the need. I use mindfulness to go inside myself and quietly, nonjudgmentally reflect on my inclination to help. If positive feelings arise (which can happen instantly or after a considerable amount of time), I know I am doing the right thing. And when I don’t find clarity or positive feelings, I can back off from trying to fill a need and simply be kind. You can never go wrong with kindness.

Some acts of kindness might be viewed as selfish or as having ulterior motives that help the giver more than the receiver. But who’s to say who benefits most? Inspired by my gardener mother, I honed my own gardening skills by kindly offering to cultivate gardens for friends who couldn’t do it themselves. I get “high” fulfilling my passion, while they get a lovely garden. Mindfulness also plays a part in my gardening; tenderly nurturing the growth of flowers and beautifying a small part of Mother Earth are a meditative experience for me.

 

Seeds of kindfulness

I love the idea that kindness is contagious. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, said, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Sometimes a seed sprouts far away from where it fell carried by the wind or a bird. This reminds me of a popular saying in environmental circles: a butterfly flapping its wings can impact the weather halfway across the world.

Paramahansa Yogananda said: said: “Kindness is the light that dissolves all walls between souls, families, and nations.” What if we practiced kindfulness not just with people we perceive are in need, but also with people who are unkind? It might soften a sharp edge of their unkindness. Realizing that everyone experiences life challenges, we can reframe our perceptions of unkindness. In 2008, researchers started bringing Tibetan Buddhist monks to MIT to see how the discipline of meditation had changed their brains. When one monk was asked how he handles things that happen in his day, he said he re-narrates each circumstance. To the question “What if someone cuts you off in traffic?” he responded that he would imagine that in the backseat of the offender’s car there was a woman delivering a baby.

As American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote: “Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.”

Harvest Moon reminds us to harvest our blessings

Harvest Blessings and Cultivate Gratitude

Fall Equinox

Since ancient times, the arrival of spring and fall has been celebrated around the world at the equinox—a time when Earth’s day is split almost in half. This year the autumn equinox arrives on Wednesday, September 22. This is a time for us to get in synch with the seasonal energy. It invites us to cultivate gratitude and harvest our blessings as we enter an introspective and reflective phase of the seasons.

On the fall equinox, the amount of daylight from the sun has reached a midpoint of decline. With diminished photosynthesis leaves lose their vibrancy and begin to change color. As sunlight decreases, nature prepares itself for the winter season ahead. Abundance of color is everywhere to be seen. Leaves, asters and chrysanthemums burst with colors of red, purple, orange and yellow, and pumpkins and squash rest in fields ready to be harvested. In spite of all this abundance around you, you might be reflecting on what’s lacking, undone or missing in your life. However, instead of the glass half empty—why not appreciate the progress you’ve made, what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown.

“As you turn inward and fall in love with the truth of who you really are, you become whole, despite the brokenness.” – Chloë  Rain, Musical Artist

Shifting focus onto your blessings can help you integrate all the experiences of the past year, even those you wished had been better. The fall is a good time to cultivate acceptance for what is and what has been. Then you can tend to the clearing out or releasing what is no longer needed make room for the love, truth and wholeness to be realized.

Second spring

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”—Albert Camus, French Philosopher

I like the idea of autumn being a second spring. Even though the sun’s energy is waning, the cooler fall days can have an energizing effect as you prepare for the end of another year and the long winter ahead. Why not take advantage of this energy to inspire you to make a plan and complete what is unfinished.

The shift between light and darkness can spark an inner shift that can, in the words of theologian Meister Eckhart: “And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour, American Novelist

Harvest blessings with the Harvest Moon

The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox. Watch for its brilliance on September 20 this year. Symbolically, the harvest moon represents a new beginning, coming after the hard work and dedication of the past year.

“It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes and roofs of villages, on woodland crests and their aerial neighborhoods of nests deserted, on the curtained window-panes of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes and harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Enjoy this time of grateful harvesting, completion and beginning.