Life balance as harmony

“Embracing Harmony: A Guide to Balance and Fulfillment in Life”

A formula for turning disharmony into harmony and life balance

Our life pathways are many, filled with twists and turns, paved and treacherous. While our formative years are fairly set, successive life chapters require choices that can set the tone for how harmonious our life journey unfolds.

Imagine if you could integrate a process  into your life Continue reading

Earth

What We All Have In Common

Celebrating Earth Day 2021

I recall a poet I once read who said that the Earth delights in us! This makes me smile. In my desire to honor this day, I began browsing through a number of quotes from a variety of people who have had something special to share about the Earth—our home. Their words address the importance of protecting and caring for it, learning from it, and ways it can feed our spirit—not just our bellies. This inspired me to do some jottings around their words.

American novelist and environmental activist Wendell Berry said, “The earth is what we all have in common.” We live on it, sleep on it and eat from it. The earth is our home and its abundant air, water and bounty keeps us alive.” We all share this planet with all its species and abundance. But in our busy lives and challenges it’s easy to forget this and take it all for granted.

 

Call for hope

wild flowersFormer, First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson said “The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” She was an advocate for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways, especially with wild flowers—of which she wrote, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

Hope is something we need desperately today. Hope for a healthier environment, society and world for our children’s future. A Native American Proverb says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” But hope is not enough. We need to care for it, and take appropriate action where we can while there’s still time to save our precious habitat from depletion.

HimalayasThe Earth received significant benefits during the past year as we sheltered at home during pandemic. Air pollution plummeted around the planet. Surprisingly, people living in Northern India saw the Himalayas 100 miles away for the first time in ‘decades,’ as the lockdown eased air pollution. As people spent more time outdoors, at safe distances and often alone, the Earth also benefited from our visible presence walking on it and enjoying its beauty—even if only in our neighborhoods.

 

Spiritual cleansing

I find walking through a forest or a prairie enlivens and cleanses my spirit. Digging in the garden and planting seeds and plants nourishes it as well. Watching things grow and regrow again each spring brings me great joy. The beloved environmental photographer John Muir encouraged us to “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile…Wash your spirit clean.”

forest riverJohn Muir also said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Have you ever walked in nature and found your thoughts and cares dissipating as you opened your senses to everything you encountered? Moving through a difficult period in his life, Craig Foster befriended an octopus in a South African kelp sea forest. Diving and videoing his experience taught him a great lesson on the fragility of life and humanity’s connection with nature. The “Octopus Teacher,” has become an Oscar nominated movie for us all to feast on.

Henry David Thoreau wrote of a need for “the tonic of wildness” as he explored marshes and other habitats to see, hear and smell the creatures and environs. Wildness is becoming less and less available to us on our Earth and must be cherished—as Foster most certainly has documented.

 

Loving kindness

Albert Einstein’s words: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,” are worthy of pondering. His work took him both into the most minuteness as well as the infiniteness of the Universe. We can also take this metaphorically as another way to delve into what it means to be human in this finite life, as well as what is our essential nature.

Loving kindnessResearchers have shown that Earth’s magnetic field vibrates at the same frequency as our heart rhythm when we’re in a heart coherent state. Increasing our vibration with loving kindness increases our harmonious interaction with Earth and each other, day-to-day.

Vietnamese spiritual teacher and author Thich Nhat Hanh has shared his simple wisdom in many books. This is just one of his numerous gems. “You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.”

This is Our Earth. Let’s cherish its natural wonders. Let’s bring the prayer of loving kindness into one another’s lives as we move through this time of great healing is crucial.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair.” -Khalil Gibran

Syncing internal clocks

Elixir for a Healthy Life

What if you had something that could boost your immune system and help your body fight off infections like colds and flu? We all have access to an elixir that can do that (and so much more). It can help prevent weight gain and lower stress hormones and anxiety, thereby contributing to a healthy heart. It can help maintain proper brain function, including memory retention. It can boost mood. It helps us be alert, improves concentration, and increases productivity. It helps us make wise choices and avoid mishaps. It may even improve relationships. Life may be fuller and richer thanks to this elixir.

ElixirThe remarkable thing about it is that it is absolutely free! We know it well and should utilize it daily (rather, nightly). It’s sleep, or course.

Elixir of Sleep

Like most other species, we require sleep to restore and rejuvenate body and mind. In most cases, all we need to do is climb into bed and allow ourselves to relax into quality, restful sleep—consistently.

The widely accepted rules of “sleep hygiene” say we should follow the same nightly schedule—including on weekends—and sleep seven to eight hours every night. There’s no such thing as a sleep bank to compensate for lost sleep. But, sadly, it’s estimated that 60% of Americans do not get sufficient quality sleep.

Falling asleep for many people is a challenge. Waking up with the inability to go back to sleep is common as well, as is chronic insomnia. Our elixir is effective when “used” properly—by learning to honor the cycles of nature.

Physiological psychologist David Dinges, who is the chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has said, “I think sleep is one of the sweetest things you can get—like a great meal or seeing a good friend.”

Syncing with nature’s rhythms

Master clock like a conductorEvery plant, animal, and human exhibits biological processes through the course of the day known as circadian rhythms. Like programs running in the background, these rhythms are designed to carry out essential functions and processes. The different body systems are all synchronized with a master clock in the brain that acts like the conductor of an orchestra with all the players fine-tuning their local timing. This master clock is particularly influenced by cues from the environment, especially light, tied to day and night and our sleep-wake cycle. Like plants lifting their leaves in daylight and lowering them in the dark, almost every aspect of our daily life as well as every bodily organ, system, and cell is regulated by our internal circadian clocks. Our daytime and evening activities have a huge effect on our circadian rhythms.

While we all feel that drive to sleep, millions of us are lured by our phones, tablets, and computers when we should be preparing for bed, which then interferes with our ability to get to sleep. Stress from jobs, relationships, and the news—including the current pandemic—creates fear, worry, and anxiety that can make it difficult to relax enough to go to sleep or to sleep soundly. Shift workers and people who regularly travel across time zones may find it especially challenging to get quality sleep. The body likes regularity in everything—waking, eating, exercise—and especially sleep. Even the time changes every spring and fall may throw us off a bit.

Syncing internal clocks

According to Satchin Panda, PhD, author of The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight: “…a sleep deprived brain is more dangerous than a brain under the influence of alcohol.” Yet driving after a sleepless night is not illegal. Much like the effect of jet lag from crossing time zones, many people experience social jet lag after weekends. Having a full-time weekday job, we often stay up late, party, and sleep late on weekends. On Mondays we may feel awful.

Getting a good night’s sleep regularly is the best health insurance, writes Mathew Walker, PhD, author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Getting fewer than seven hours of sleep, he points out, can make us more susceptible to the common cold. With five hours or less there’s a 70% greater chance of developing pneumonia. And without sufficient sleep for five days before getting a flu shot, there’s a 50% reduction in normal antibody response, thus rendering it less effective. Think about this before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Impact of light

We humans are predominantly visual creatures. The eye sends light signals to the brain telling us when it’s morning and night. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, remains inactive during daylight. But, around 9 p.m., when it’s dark, it switches on and floods the brain, where it remains for the next 12 hours. Its functions include lowering alertness and reducing body temperature, telling the body it’s time to fall asleep.

Daylight shuts this hormone down, and the body then shifts into readiness to meet the day. A predominance of blue light is present in daylight. Exposure to enough sunlight daily (even on cloudy days) can help us fall asleep at night. During evening hours, too many of us expose ourselves to the blue light emitted from the screens of our electronic devices, including TV, as well as energy-efficient LED lightbulbs, which has the effect of fooling the brain into thinking that it’s still daytime, causing it to hold back the release of melatonin.

Preparation for sleep

While there are many factors contributing to sleep problems, you can sync your internal clock by monitoring your light exposure, the timing of meals, and what you take to bed with you. Using dimmer, warmer lighting in the evening, changing to nighttime light settings on electronic devices, and using blue light–filtering glasses for watching TV and using cell phones and tablets and PCs can help. Eating only within an eight-hour period and no more than a few hours before bedtime can help the digestive system complete its functions before sleep. Also, remember that caffeine makes the heart beat faster. Coffee’s stimulatory effects last up to five hours, but it can take up to 10 hours before the caffeine fully leaves your system. While a nightcap might sedate you into going to sleep, alcohol interferes with REM dream sleep, an important part of the restorative sleep cycle.

A calm and relaxed body and mind are essential to drift off into quality restorative sleep. Our internal clock relies on a steady diet of healthy habits and mindful routines. Evening is a time to wind down, and the bedroom is meant for sleeping and intimacy, not for work, checking emails, or watching TV.

Have you ever had your head hit the pillow and found yourself worrying about a problem or a long to-do list? Or perhaps you finished reading a novel or watching a movie and found yourself ruminating over the story—and your thoughts won’t stop. Rather than lie there, it may be better to just get up and put your thoughts on paper or write down a plan for the next day. Then you might sit and do some slow gentle breathing or listen to a meditation recording or calming music. As the narrator in John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday reflects: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

Mindfulness practices for sleep

The Dalai Lama said: “Sleep is the best meditation.” Indeed, the restorative deepMeditation NREM cycle of sleep is much like meditation. A research study with middle aged and older adults revealed that practicing mindfulness meditation for just two hours per week for six weeks improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia, depression, and fatigue. You can create your own mindfulness practice for sleep by calming the mind with breathing. Incorporate a short prayer, or phrases such as “breathing in calm, breathing out tension.” Humming or sounding OM or gazing at a candle flame can help you focus on the present moment. Don’t worry when the mind wanders—as it will. Just gently bring it back. Better still, start earlier with some gentle yoga or somatic movements to release tensions and relax the body.

I recently taught a sleep course at a local community college—online—from 9 to 10 p.m. once a week for six weeks. After sharing various restful sleep preparation techniques, I guided them through somatic movements and a deep iRest Yoga Nidra meditation in the comfort of their own bed. A student shared, “I fell asleep easily and when I woke up with a hot flash, the techniques helped me fall asleep again.”  iRest is an ideal enhancement to our sleep elixir for easing into REM dream sleep and deep NREM sleep—both important for restoring body and mind.

So, is this the year for you to create your own practices to enhance the properties of your own elixir—sleep?

Resilience

Embracing Resistance, Igniting Resilience

I recently met my friend John, whom I know from Argentine tango dancing. Over lunch he shared with me that four years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease with Parkinson’s disease–which has been progressively impacting his life. He said that at a recent dance, his arm started shaking and his partner asked if something was wrong. His physician has now recommended he stop driving. Following the initial diagnosis, he refused to believe it; he resisted its reality. But currently he is embracing the physical changes rather than resisting them. How did he get there?

Meaningful LifeA life of sameness and predictability is far easier to accept than change and unpredictability, but the latter are inevitable. They happen in our work, relationships, and health, as well as our culture, laws, and, notably, weather. Sometimes the change is so dramatic that it can result in our feeling devastated, and thus we resist adapting to it. But there is a resiliency of the human spirit. In an e-mail after our lunch, John wrote: “The real lesson in this experience is the realization that you have Parkinson’s; not that you are Parkinson’s. When I overcame that obstacle, relationships became more precious, gestures became more meaningful, and life became more joyous.”

Embracing resistance as a tool

Resistance often gets a bad rap. If you were offered a new job, you might feel both happy and apprehensive about accepting it. You might have doubts about whether you’re truly qualified to do the work. Uncertainty and fear about the new and unknown are a natural part of human existence. Our ancient ancestors were concerned about what was directly in front of them: Is this something I can consume or will it consume me? What if we were able to view doubt—and thereby resistance—as a guide instructing us to carefully consider before we choose the best action?

What causes us to both welcome and resist change simultaneously? Fred Nichols, managing partner of Distance Consulting, wrote in his blog: “Resistance is evidence that people care about something and want to protect or defend it.” Resistance often reflects real challenges we need to consider, and it can enable us to go within to find what is most important. Resisting, in fact, can be viewed as a way of defending and preserving our lives.

Gretta Thunberg

Gretta Thunberg

Resistance is prevalent in today’s society. One person who currently exemplifies resistance on the world stage is Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She started learning about climate issues at age eight and three years later became depressed and lethargic and stopped talking and eating. She was then diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. Rather than allowing her mental disorders to limit her, she now considers them her “superpower.”

Greta has embraced resistance as a tool. In 2018 at age 15 she made a commitment to protest every Friday outside the Swedish parliament. Her OCD has enabled her to be a tenacious demonstrator on the implications of climate change; she’s mobilized young people and adults to take action on a global scale. As a result of her persistence, on September 20, 2019, four million people protested in over 2,500 events in more than 163 countries on all seven continents!

Three days later, Greta addressed world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. She accused them of stealing her dreams and her childhood by their inaction on climate change: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. . . . Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Accepting resistance

When we recognize our personal resistance to change, or even to the status quo, it does not serve us to ignore it. We first need to be with the resistance—reflect on it and inquire What are we resistant to and is there a message we should heed? In questioning ourselves we begin the process of embracing the resistance.

Synonyms for the word embrace are accept, welcome, and take to heart. Accepting a new reality gives way to welcoming what is, thereby enabling us to take it to heart—and ultimately embrace it. When we embrace it, we bring it into the light, which offers a broader perspective. We then gain the wisdom to handle it. When we are stuck in resistance and fighting, we become locked into a counterproductive mode of perpetual suffering.

RelationshipsJohn slowly faced the reality of his circumstance; he accepted his resistance and ultimately embraced it. By doing so, he opened himself to his true essence—beyond the Parkinson’s. While limitations on his lifestyle are evolving, he’s not focusing on what he can’t do or won’t be able to do in the future. Rather he’s living each day mindfully and with gratitude for all the things he can do and for what he values most—relationships. He seeks creative ways to do things and remains open to new experiences. As for Greta, she accepted her diagnoses and then channeled her efforts into a purposeful mission.

From resistance to resilience

We are living in unprecedented times, with massive changes unfolding all the time. They are global, economic, social, and environmental—as well as personal. New technologies are taking the place of jobs. Environmental disasters are driving migration and causing species to become extinct. Our challenge is to meet these changes with equilibrium.

Our capacity to overcome adversity is innate. According to psychotherapist and consultant Linda Graham, author of Bouncing Back, Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, resilience is the capacity to respond to pressures, changes, and even tragedies quickly and effectively.

resilienceThere is an innate drive for all living things to thrive. When a seedling encounters resistance, such as an obstacle that blocks its light and restricts its growth, it bends toward the light or finds an alternate path to it. When we humans experience trauma and setbacks, Graham encourages mindful awareness that shifts our perspective and enables us to discern options and make wise choices. She believes that we all have the capacity for resilience; by reestablishing centeredness, we become whole and have the opportunity to flourish. Embracing resistance ultimately ignites our resilience.

listening in nature

Listening as Presence: Learn How

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening to pianoI recently viewed a TV special with a segment from the PBS children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in which Nick, a young boy, was invited to play the piano. As Nick played a Bach minuet, Mister Rogers listened in a way that suggested he was not just hearing the notes but actually experiencing them in the same way Continue reading

Art of Befriending

Art of Befriending

What does it mean to befriend? The dictionary defines it as: “to make friends or become friendly with; act as a friend to (someone) by offering help, support or aid.” Diplomats, politicians and businesspeople are successful when they befriend the powerbrokers within the system. Whether with competitors, peers or enemies, Continue reading

Whole-hearted living

Embracing Wholehearted Living

“In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.” —Antonio Porchia, Argentine poet

We commonly think of the heart as simply an organ that pumps blood through our bodies. Yet we use the word heart in myriad ways in our everyday language. We learn things by heart, have a heavy heart, are lighthearted, or have a heart-to-heart with someone. Our heart sinks or turns to stone, we suffer from a broken heart, or our heart goes out to someone. We follow our heart’s desire, give from the heart, or get to the heart of something. Clearly, our heart has many more functions in our lives than simply pumping.  These functions represent fragments of a greater wholeness of being we have a tendency to lose sight of. It’s at the heart of whole-hearted living.

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curiosity-driven

Curiosity-Driven Life

“Curiosity killed the cat,” as the proverb goes. We certainly can get into mischief when we get too nosy. However, there is a rejoinder to this proverb that states “but satisfaction brought it back.” Dr. Linus Pauling said, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
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Life balance as harmony

Joy, No Matter What!

I am proposing something that may be radical, perhaps antithetical to your thinking. No matter the circumstances of your life, you possess an essential inner joy that you can access even as you navigate whatever turbulence or disharmony may be present. How can that be? You’ve had this great loss, disappointment, betrayal. How can you possibly feel joy in the grief of the moment? Perhaps at that moment you can’t. But there is always another perspective waiting to present itself. Eventually, what’s next or how you can move forward is revealed. As you allow this process to unfold, joy is waiting patiently to glow again inside you. Let’s explore how to cultivate joy.

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