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.

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.”

peace in themidst at Crab Tree Nature Perserve

Peace in the Midst

How can we find peace in the midst of difficult times? It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, yet we continue to live through turbulent times. American poet, environmental activist, and farmer, Wendell Berry wrote a poem in 1968 during another turbulent time in American history.

After reading Berry’s poem the other day I decided to visit my favorite place to hike, the Crab Tree Nature Center. Crab Tree is a place where I can lose myself as I savor the wildness of the rolling, glacier-formed landscape and trails traveling though forest, savanna and wetlands. Yesterday the open fields were ablaze with yellow daisies (photo above), goldenrod and purple asters. The wildness of it all brought me great peace. Borrowing Berry’s words, I drank in the ‘grace of the world’ and felt totally free.

Later I read that the color yellow is associated with the qualities of confidence, optimism, happiness and friendliness, all qualities that are so needed now.

May you, too, find peace of mind and optimism during despairing times.


The Peace of Wild Things
Wendall Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.


“Always have something beautiful in your sights,
even if it’s just a daisy in a jelly glass.”
~H. Jackson Brown, Jr., American Author

Join me for free Sunday and Thursday meditation.

Harmoniously,
Jacqui

Earthrise

Earthrise

Earthrise

Dedicated to Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project

On Christmas Eve, 1964, astronaut Bill Anders
Snapped a photo of the earth
As Apollo 8 orbited the moon
Those three guys were surprised
To see from their eyes
Our planet looked like an earth-rise
A blue orb hovering over the moon’s gray horizon
with deep oceans and silver skies
It was our world’s first glance at itself
Our first chance to see a shared reality
A declared stance and a commonality
A glimpse into our planet’s mirror
And as threats drew nearer
Our own urgency became clearer
As we realize that we hold nothing dearer
than this floating body we all call home

We’ve known That we’re caught in the throes
Of climactic changes some say
Will just go away, While some simply pray
To survive another day
For it is the obscure, the oppressed, the poor
Who when the disaster is declared done
still suffer more than anyone
Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time
Of this, you’re certainly aware
It’s saddening, but I cannot spare you
From knowing an inconvenient fact, because
It’s getting the facts straight that gets us to act and not to wait
So I tell you this not to scare you
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality
Where despite disparities
We all care to protect this world
This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel
To muster the verve and the nerve

To see how we can serve
Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours, To use your unique power
To give next generations the planet they deserve
We are demonstrating, creating, advocating
We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything
but lenient With the future of our youth
And while this is a training
in sustaining the future of our planet
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Now Now Now
Because the reversal of harm
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial
So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not
Just as we chose to go to the moon
We know it’s never too soon
To choose hope. We choose to do more than cope
With climate change We choose to end it—
We refuse to lose
Together we do this and more
Not because it’s very easy or nice
But because it is necessary
Because with every dawn we carry
the weight of the fate of this celestial body orbiting a star

And as heavy as that weight sounded, it doesn’t hold us down
But it keeps us grounded, steady, ready
Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earth-rise
To see it, close your eyes
Visualize that all of us leaders in this room
and outside of these walls or in the halls, all
of us change-makers are in a spacecraft
Floating like a silver raft
in space, and we see the face of our planet anew
We relish the view
We witness its round green and brilliant blue
Which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly:
What can we do?
Open your eyes.
Know that the future of this wise planet
Lies right in sight:
Right in all of us. Trust this earth uprising.
All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before
For it is our hope that implores us, at our uncompromising core
To keep rising up for an earth more than worth fighting for.

– Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate

 

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

Happiness while not knowing

Happiness While Not Knowing

Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”
–Emily Dickinson

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clients have shared their fears and anxiety about living in a state of not knowing. Will we and our loved ones stay safe? How long must we continue with all the restrictions and safety measures? When will work, play, and life in general go back to normal—if ever? These concerns are especially relevant for active older people who may wonder if their lives will ever be full again. Is it possible to be happy while not knowing what will happen?

We are born not knowing—and we are quite content in this state, as long as our basic needs are met.  But as life unfolds around us, we begin to learn that certain conditions have to be met—by ourselves and others around us. Still, our young minds remain curious and we have a sense of wonder as we discover new things, like what’s around the corner—in spite of being told “no.” As we grow older, we learn that to make it in life we need a plan, and we are highly rewarded when the plan results in success. But many plans fail and alternatives must be found. I have personally had to abort or revise many a project, goal, or dream—and have been much better off with the way things turned out.

“Happiness is the absence of resistance to what is.”—Rupert Spira

Not knowing: fork in the roadCertainty and change

Our brains feel rewarded when we make choices, and it doesn’t matter if the choice will actually be rewarding. It may seem strange that we would choose something unrewarding but certain, over uncertainty. But when we fail to decide or are uncertain, our brain conjures up negative scenarios that generate doubt and fear. We distrust uncertainty and ambiguity. Not knowing makes us feel vulnerable. The more we ruminate over uncertainty, the worse we feel. In contrast, when we know the answer or have a plan, we feel both safe and in control. Having a sense of certainty, we feel lighter, freer, and more content—even happy.

Being safe and in control, however, is ephemeral at best, as change is inevitable. But giving up certainty requires us to examine the beliefs that define us. These are the stories we hold to be true about ourselves and our world that have helped us feel stable and secure. We may try to hold on to our stories about the way things have been and yearn for the fruition of long-held dreams. In doing so, we not only risk wasting the precious life we’ve been given, but also miss what we most desire. Letting go of resistance to what is may enable us to discover our true self—and, as a consequence, happiness. That is authentic security!

Declaration: Pursuit of happinessFrom pursuit to acceptance

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. Unfortunately, the meaning of that right is often misconstrued. Much of our culture is geared toward seeking happiness in the form of experiences, relationships, and the acquisition of things. We seek to make it big financially so we can live the good life. We’ll be happy once things turn out a certain way: we land a better job with better pay so we can afford better clothes, fancier cars, and lavish vacations; or we retire early and live the good life. When we do finally obtain such material trappings, our sense of happiness is likely to be short-lived and we become possessed by a desire for something else.

Happiness eludes us when we spend our time longing for things to be better—or at least back to so-called normal. When we allow not knowing to continue to gnaw at us, this uncertainty becomes a form of suffering, according to Rupert Spira, the author of many books on spirituality. In The Art of Peace and Happiness he defines suffering as resistance to the current situation and searching for an alternative future. Learning to accept things as they are, as opposed to resisting them, opens us to our true nature and the knowing of our own being, which unfolds as happiness. Rupert says, this is pure meditation and the highest spiritual practice.

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial
for answers to come to you.” –Eckhart Tolle

Uncertainty as helpfulUncertainty as helpful

While uncertainty may seem to dominate our lives right now, the core of our faith and spiritual traditions has always been cloaked in mystery. How can we knowingly grasp our place in the universe and the nature of all things? Yet research has revealed that most Americans believe in God or a higher power, even though this belief transcends reason.

Not knowing often makes us feel like we’re on shaky ground. How then can we feel grounded? Since the brain likes to be in control—and be rewarded for it—we can teach it to accept uncertainty about the future and actually be rewarded. Not knowing creates space for possibilities and opportunities to be revealed and for answers to be found. Remember when not knowing made us curious and we looked at the world with wonder and delight? Shifting our perspective can help us overcome our fears associated with uncertainty.

“To live in not knowing, or unknowing,
is to live in the joy of pure potentiality.”—Linda Hubbard

Walking in natureAcceptance

With simple practices like prayer, meditation, or walking in nature, we begin to appreciate uncertainty. The goal of embracing not knowing is exemplified by the Taoist practice of meandering meditation, which is simply following one’s thoughts without seeking a path. In all of these practices, acceptance can unfold into a kind of inner knowing where answers to our most pressing challenges can be revealed.

peace and happiness found in the most challenging circumstancesIn Spira’s view, not resisting not knowing leads to happiness, which he describes as “the simple knowing of our own being as it essentially is, that is not dependent on the conditions of the body, mind or world. It is our ever-present nature that lies shining quietly in the background of all experience and, when it is recognized, overflows into the foreground, pervading all experience with its qualities.” He says that peace and happiness are essentially the same—and can be found even in the most challenging circumstances and trying times, like those that all of us currently face.

do it differently like this impala

Do It Differently

We humans are creatures of habit—and for good reason. Habits help us live efficiently and do important things each day, like brushing our teeth. Our habits are formed by trial and error. As babies we learn to push ourselves up, roll over, and eventually pull ourselves up to stand. And we receive loads of accolades when we do. Our curiosity spurs us to constantly explore new things—until we fall or are told “No!” which can be confusing and make us feel bad. As we grow, the conditions of our lives begin to shape our thoughts, feelings, and actions that can ultimately shape our destiny. We can remain creatures of habit or we can do it differently, try something new, move out of our comfort zone. When we do, brain science tells us we will be enriched.

Safety versus changeability

Distress and anxietyAs our bodies grow, our brains also grow. Our brains are trained to favor familiarity and, from an evolutionary perspective, keep us safe from predators. Safety and comfort take on a whole new meaning with the seemingly predatorial pressures of contemporary living. Our distress and anxieties are often rooted in a fear of failing. Playing it safe and doing what we have always done seem to be easiest course—until a major change disrupts things. Then resistance and resentment may surface and we ask: Why did this happen? Why did they have to change things? Why can’t it be like it was? Why do I have to do it differently?

Neuroscientists tell us our brains have plasticity—i.e., they can adapt to newness no matter our age. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions light up brain circuits, or neural pathways, and establish new connections. These pathways are reinforced the more they are lit up, becoming deeper and stronger. Because of the brain’s plasticity, we can start a new path, make new connections, and develop a new habit by intentionally and consistently trying a new way.

Researchers have shown that it takes three weeks to create a new habit. If we are starting a diet or have the desire to change a self-limiting thought or belief about ourselves, we need to give it a fair chance so the new pathway can establish itself. It’s important not to resist, but trying to drop old patterns of thinking should be avoided as well, as it may strengthen the old way. The brain reinforces whatever we focus on—positive or negative. Research has shown that simply thinking and imagining a new way of being helps build new neural pathways.

Defying age

defy physical and cognitive ageAs our bodies age, we can accept, and therefore reinforce, the notion that physical and mental decline is inevitable. Or, our brains and our bodies can defy physical and cognitive decline by recapturing the spirit of curiosity of our early years, by letting go of habitual living.

We can defy physical and cognitive age by doing things or wearing things or connecting with things from the past that make us feel younger. In 1979 Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist and author of Mindfulness, carried out an intriguing experiment known as the Counterclockwise Study. She selected a group of men in their late 70s and, for a week, put them in a 1959 living situation. All accoutrements of their environment—furniture, décor, news, sports, music, TV, movies—were from the earlier time. They were instructed to behave as if it were actually 1959, like discussing historical events as if they were current. The results: the men’s physical strength, manual dexterity, gait, posture, perception, memory, cognition, taste sensitivity, hearing, and vision significantly improved—by a minimum of seven years.

Nearly thirty years later, in 2010, Langer collaborated with the BBC to recreate her experiment with six former British celebrities in their 80s. They were transported back 35 years—to 1975—by similar means, and they too emerged after a week notably rejuvenated—in some cases up to 20 years younger than their biological age.

Boosting the brain

In recent years a new field has emerged called neurobics. You may have seen advertisements for mental exercise programs to enhance memory and focus and even change negative self-talk. These programs claim that practicing neurobics regularly can keep your brain fit. Neurobics works to keep brain pathways active and actually create brain food molecules linked to memory called neurotrophins.

Research by Moses Chao, a psychiatrist at NYU Medical School, found that using nondominant hand activity like brushing your teeth with your “other” hand produces neurotrophins that boost memory. Chao also discovered the same enhancement of memory with physical movement and exercise. He refers to this as “Miracle-Gro” of the brain nerve cells. He says we should keep moving and be like children, always in motion.

Neurobics as mindfulness

giving your full attentionThere are three main components of the neurobics system. One is expanding the use of all our senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Sensory data generally pass through the thalamus en route to dedicated areas of the cortex designed to process them. Most of us use vision and hearing regularly but the other senses less so. We can use our senses in novel ways, such as closing our eyes while showering or eating or watching TV without the sound.

A second component of neurobics is giving your full attention to something, like trying an activity that is completely new to you, perhaps bird watching or learning a new language. And finally, a third component, is to break from your normal daily routines. Take a new route to work or to the supermarket. Shop at a new store. Rearrange your desk, workspace, or furnishings. Move art work in your home to different locations. Buy a new outfit that is not be your usual “style.” Let your imagination soar!

Neurobics has much in common with mindfulness practices like eating in silence and savoring the tastes and smells. One mindfulness neuroscientist recommends the practice of self-nurturing touch. Spend a few minutes periodically during your day gently stroking your hands, arms, and face in the most pleasurable way possible.

Langer defines mindfulness as simply “actively noticing new things,” which she says energizes and engages us and opens us up to new possibilities. We then become more aware of our environment and more sensitive, understanding, even compassionate. Langer recommends that we notice five new things about a partner, friend, or colleague. Noticing is also listening objectively to others’ viewpoints and being curious about how they came to their opinion.

Embracing change

Embracing changeBeware that the brain is always on guard to potential threats and therefore is resistant to change based on the perceived fear of failure. This fear is really our imagination, a fantasy run amok, according to neuroscientist Andrew Newberg. The more we reinforce the fear “Maybe I’ll fail,” the more likely it will become “I’m going to fail.” Newberg, who is the director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University, recommends practicing affirmations and loving-kindness meditation to reach a state of relaxed awareness where you can observe the fantasy for what it really is. You can then change the failure fantasy to “I might fail and I might succeed.” Ask yourself what it would feel like to succeed. Focus on that feeling and proceed with actions.

As I reflect on my life, there has always been a part of me that relished change and new experiences. My early years of solo foreign travel expanded my appreciation of people living in different cultures. Yoga, belly dancing, and Argentine tango have each created deep body awareness. My work as a recruiter, then as a coach and a facilitator of iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation has reinforced my compassion for people and their circumstances. My newest venture has been completing a Clinical Somatic Education certification training and empowering teaching and teaching people simple movements to relieve their own chronic pain. I’ve found that doing things differently than I had previously has greatly enhanced my confidence and courage.

Are you ready to approach your life differently? Try something completely new. Change a deeply rooted habit. Learn about and challenge your memory with neurobics. Then relish what you’ve done for yourself.

 

Being You

A Meaningful Life is Being You

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

—Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning

What gives life meaning? Through the ages that is a question that philosophers and religious scholars have pondered. Today psychologists and other scientists have intensified the study of what makes life meaningful. A wide range of answers has emerged. Some say it is finding a purpose or passion, while others contend it is being useful, living according to one’s values, or simply finding joy in all one does. The answer, of course, differs for each of us, and it can change in different phases of our lives, or even in a moment when confronted with a sudden tragedy. I believe having a meaningful life is being you—your best self! Being you is showing up with right action and right conduct in every circumstance in life.

What is needed?

Viktor Frankl, who was subjected to unspeakable brutality and depravation in four concentration camps, observed that inmates who retained some meaning in their lives were most likely to survive.  He believed it’s not about having what you need to live, but asking yourself, “What am I living for?” Frankl kept the memory of his beloved wife and his hope to be reunited with her alive, which gave his life meaning. A Vietnam POW spent his many years in captivity mentally designing the home he would one day build—which he eventually did!

If one is confronted with unavoidable suffering, Frankl recommended asking what could be learned from the situation. Is there any meaning that can be squeezed out of seemingly meaningless or even disastrous or horrendous happenings? In the aftermath of tragic events such as wildfires and hurricanes, and even mass shootings, countless people find meaningful ways to help others in distress, whether neighbors or strangers; they rebuild communities, and they take action to get laws changed. For Frankl, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, or courage in the face of adversity.

Being you

Where do we find guidance on the path to living more meaningfully? According to Richard Miller, PhD, yogic scholar and developer of the iRest® Yoga Nidra training, there are times when we forget our true essence, our Divine nature, and we experience what is known as the kanchukas, or five limitations (limited ability or capacity, limited knowledge, limited time, limited body or space, and scarcity). When this happens, there are messengers who point us toward being as we truly are. Miller affectionately refers to such messengers as “The Pointer Sisters,” after the R&B singers who got their start in the 1970s and are still performing today.

Miller says that we are all seeking happiness in one manner or another, and this is the underlying motive behind every action we take. The Pointer Sisters surface within our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions and relate to beliefs we have about ourselves. We get to know the Sisters’ presence whenever we feel disconnected or constrained in our daily experience. Then they point us to our wholeness with questions to help us realign. Let’s explore the questions.

Feeling separate

SeparateHave you ever experienced a situation in which you felt powerless or limited? However hard you try to rectify the situation, nothing changes, resulting in feelings of frustration, anger, or unhappiness. This is an opportunity to step back and acknowledge that the Pointer Sisters are present and have a message to share. You can discover the message by asking, Who am I? Am I a separate powerless being, or is my true essential nature potent and unlimited? Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel these opposites.

You’re not likely to feel potent and unlimited right away. It’s like trying on new clothes or a new hairstyle that may take time getting used to. It’s not about doing but about coming to accept your true self as whole and connected. As a result, you will be better able to address the situation that brought you to feeling powerless and regain a sense of wholeness.

Feeling confused 

There may be times in your work, managing your finances, and other situations when you may wish you knew more. You may need to obtain more knowledge or training, or consult with an expert. But when it comes to knowing what can truly bring forth a meaningful life or make you happy, what you need to know is already inside you. Accessing this inner knowing helps you with important life choices and decisions.

Do you really need to go to another spiritual workshop or read another book or even this column to bring you more in touch with your true self? Those things may be helpful for a while, but if the teachings are about trusting and knowing yourself, then perhaps you should ask Why am I continuing to pursue these things? It may be because you enjoy connecting with other likeminded people—not because of limited knowledge.

Feeling a lack

As soon as you get that raise or promotion or your kid buckles down with his school work, you’re sure that you’ll be happy. Maybe it’s a new job or the perfect relationship or winning the lottery that you’re counting on to fulfill you. In the meantime, you feel a considerable lack in your life: what you have is inadequate; you desire something better. Or, perhaps you are clinging to what’s present in your life for fear of taking a risk.

You may believe that because life is imperfect you too must be imperfect. But here the Pointer Sisters pose the question What am I? The truth is that you are already complete. I often reflect on how Frankl handled his holocaust experience as a reminder.

Feeling time bound

time boundDo you find there is never enough time to accomplish everything? Anxiety, frustration, or fear about not meeting deadlines may ensue. There’s certainly no time for reflection on what makes your life meaningful. The Pointer Sisters here implore us to believe we are born, then we die; in between time rules our ability to be happy. There is a paradox here. When we are deeply engaged in meaningful activities (in a flow state, also known as being in the zone), it can feel like time stands still.

Instead of feeling constrained by time, what if you were to ask When am I in the flow of life? How can you integrate flow into your life and make it more meaningful? When you do, the past and future become less relevant—and you open yourself to the wholeness of your essential being, which feels timeless.

Feeling limited in space

Time and space are scientific terms used to describe our physical presence in this world. But these are limiting factors when it comes to acknowledging the spirit that inhabits your physical body. You may feel your body is constricted and contracted with all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that surface throughout your day. But your physicality is not who you truly are. Ask yourself Where am I? You are the all-pervasive awareness at the heart of your true being.

Pointing to your wholeness

Pointing to wholenessTake a moment to experience this right now by closing your eyes, taking a few long, deep breaths, and feeling your connection with the surface beneath you and the space around you. Welcome the Pointer Sisters to be present as you welcome what you believe your true self to be. Feel the limitation of your body. Then allow yourself to expand as the Pointer Sisters point you to the wholeness of your Essential Being.

One of the Pointer Sisters’ hit songs was “Yes We Can Can”: “Oh yes we can, I know we can can/ Yes we can can, why can’t we?” Yes, we can all learn to live beyond our limitations—and thus make this a meaningful life.

Join one of my iRest courses where you can learn how to live beyond your limitations.

holding space

Holding Space: Healing & Transformation

There are times when providing a supportive space (or holding space) for someone facing a challenge can be the greatest gift. The process of holding space means being compassionately present. And it may not be an easy thing to do—especially when the other is our child, aging parent, or intimate friend. Our tendency is to want to fix things or offer advice. But when we are instead able to just be there for someone, it allows them to dip into their own inner space. This allows for making sense of their circumstance and thus shift from feeling isolated, wounded, or victimized to feeling safe, supported, and connected. Ultimately, our holding supportive space fosters the other’s growth and empowerment.

tear dropHolding space can happen at ordinary and unexpected times. Have you ever had an experience of being suddenly and utterly present with a complete stranger? I remember when someone behind me in a grocery store checkout line. She mentioned she was buying nutritional shakes for her mom who couldn’t eat solid food anymore. Then there was the person sitting next to me on an airplane who shared that he was traveling to be with a dying friend. In both cases, I felt deep empathy; my heart spontaneously opened to them, and they poured out their emotions.

Holding space with compassion

CompassionWe may think of ourselves as independent persons, but we are all interdependent beings.  Holding space for another is a form of compassion, but it is not a one-way gesture; it’s a shared experience. The American Buddhist author and teacher Pema Chödrön has stated this eloquently: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and wounded. It is a relationship between equals.”

Often, when we show compassion for another, our own dilemmas surface. We want to say, “I know exactly how your feel.” But do we really know how another person feels? You may think that this response, and even sharing a personal story, will help them. But more often than not it will diminish the importance of their struggle. How do we know when to simply listen and when to offer advice or share our own experience?

No agenda

Holding space has no agenda or expectations or the need to help someone overcome a problem. All judgment must be set aside. Sitting silently and listening—in other words, abiding—creates a safe environment that invites the other’s heart to make room for whatever wants to be present. Don’t be afraid of silence.

Abiding is not suppressing your own thoughts, feelings, or sensations, but rather inviting them to take a back seat for now. Though your relationship with the one you are holding space for is “between equals,” you may not occupy equal space. You invite the person to occupy as much space as they need. As a back seater, you may want to take up more prime space. Be mindful when this happens. Simply say, as Messengeryou would to a small child, “Not now; later.” Mindfulness is noticing your attention and what arises to distract you. It also is recognizing that whatever arises in your awareness is a messenger with something to share. It could be a self-doubt, judgment, or even fear. Rather than killing the messenger, we also must hold space for the message to be revealed.

Avoiding sympathy, favoring empathy

While holding space, notice when feelings of sympathy arise, as they can lead to disconnection from the other person. According to Brené Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, when we feel sympathy for someone, we feel sorry for them but don’t feel their pain or understand their perspective. Feeling empathy as well as expressing compassion strengthens our connection. There may be a fine line between empathy and compassion. When we are compassionate, we are conscious of another’s distress and desire to alleviate it, but we are not invested in understanding their perspective. But with empathy, we are aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another. As a result, we become more connected to them. Empathy is putting yourself aside, stepping into the other’s shoes, and walking their path with them.

EmpathyBrown views empathy as being at one end of a continuum of connection, with shame at the opposite end and vulnerability as the equalizer. Shame and blame close us off and cause disconnection. In stark contrast, an empathic ear offers another the opportunity to be vulnerable yet feel safe in sharing his or her weaknesses. While shame says “I can’t let you see this,” vulnerability involves courage, compassion, and openness to connection.

Journey towards feeling whole

As I reflect back on my life, I think of many times when I needed to share my struggles with someone I could trust, who would listen lovingly and even feel my pain. There have been losses—a job, intimate relationships, parents. There have been life-changing challenges to address and decisions to make. I am fortunate to have had others who supportively held space for me. Some things, I’m sure, may have seemed trivial to the listener. Yet I have learned the value of letting go and allowing my vulnerability to surface with the right person. I have been able to do the same for friends and family, as well as countless people in my coaching work. I believe this is an important skill we learn on our journey toward feeling whole.

If someone we care about has acted inappropriately or been dishonest or hurtful, how can we hold space for and support them? Is it possible to set judgment aside and offer unconditional acceptance? Many therapists have learned that they don’t have to like a client or approve of what they have done. But they accept the person and constructively encourage them to move forward in their life. We can learn that same approach.

Fundamentals of space holding

Learning to hold space for someone can be cultivated as a form of spiritual practice much like meditation. Key components of this practice are:

  • Letting go of judgment
  • Opening your heart
  • Allowing another to have whatever experience they’re having
  • Giving your complete undivided attention to the other person.

Holding space for another invites our best self into the relationship. We trust the process to unfold organically. In sharing a journey with someone with an unknown destination, we foster their healing and transformation—and often our own.

Connection in the Midst

Feeling Connection in the Midst of…

When we are confronted with difficult circumstances, such as enduring a hurricane, witnessing acts of terrorism, having relationship conflicts, or facing serious health concerns, it is common to react with anger, hurt, or feeling separate, isolated, or victimized. Or maybe we shut down and become numb. But we live in an interconnected world and we are wired to be connected—with the environment, other people, and various aspects of ourselves. Connectedness can also be with something larger than we are—a calling, the universe, God, or another higher power. It essentially is connectedness to a deep peace within.

connection in natureAnd we are not separate from nature. The sun, the air we breathe, plants, and animals all provide humans life-giving nourishment. As Alan Watts so eloquently put it: Each one of us, not only human beings but every leaf, every weed, exists in the way it does, only because everything else around it does. The individual and the universe are inseparable.” What’s most available to us at any moment is our connection to life and others through our senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching.

Bodily connection

Most of us take our body for granted and are disconnected from it. We stretch it, strain it, and often abuse it. We don’t get enough sleep. We consume food and substances that compromise our health and well-being. The body is a web of interconnections and is continually seeking balance and wholeness via signals to and from the brain. But we often don’t pay attention to messages it may be sending in the form of pain or exhaustion. Our bodies can also speak to us through our feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We forget, or maybe never learned, that our bodies are constantly speaking to us. This is why we have been endowed with our senses and ability to perceive.

Social connection

We are making connections with others every moment of our lives—with every person we meet, every colleague we work with, every stranger who opens a door for us or sits down next to us on the subway. Let’s not forget the connections we have with all the people who plant, tend, transport, and sell us our food. Yet, we tend to be unaware of this multitude of connections.

social connectionResearch has shown that social connections strengthen our immune system, lower rates of anxiety and depression, heighten self-esteem, and increase empathy toward others. When we hear of a major disaster or tragedy and the suffering of many, most of us feel empathy and compassion. In fact, according to Brené Brown, best-selling author of The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage, “empathy fuels connection.”

How often do we make judgments about other people because they appear different from us? It might be their race, religion, nationality, politics, or maybe just how they are dressed. So much in our society tells us to distrust others. In his book, The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Living a Compassionate Life, Piero Ferrucci writes of two worldviews. One is pessimistic and the other is optimistic. We can distance ourselves by suspicion, or we can draw nearer to people knowing we are linked to one another. Kindness brings us closer to people.

Empathy connection

My friend Ann was taking her daily walk when she saw a man she’d never seen before walking several dogs and headed towards her. She noted that he was quite overweight and was wearing torn, disheveled-looking clothes. Not the kind of person she would want to connect with, she thought. She became aware of fear and anxiety rising within her. But then something shifted inside her, compelling her to make a connection. Ann said hello and commented about one of dogs, which was quite small, saying how cute it was. Tom, who introduced himself, responded that he’d only had him three days and had found him on the Internet. He was a rescue dog from Houston made homeless by Hurricane Harvey. He said he and his wife decided they had room for him in their home—and in their hearts. Ann found her own heart melting and opening wide.

Peace connection

I recently found the following simple yet poignant definition of peace from an anonymous source on the Internet: Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” Even though this calmness can be buried beneath the ruble of accumulated life experiences, it is there and it is free and accessible to us all.

Not long ago I helped lead a six-day iRest Yoga Nidra meditation teacher training. Participants came from all over the country and as far away as Hong Kong. Short for Integrative Restoration, iRest is highly experiential practice that helps one achieve, or restore, groundedness and deep calm. Regular practice helps one live a connected life as this place of peace becomes naturally integrated into one’s daily life. A participant in the training I assisted in last year, a psychiatrist, told me that iRest helped her feel more present in her body and less stuck in her thoughts.

iRest is a simple guided meditation practice of mindfulness and deep relaxation. It helps us systematically and somatically move through the boundaries of feeling separate from others, from life, and from ourselves. It invites us to embrace our best qualities, which are already present, though obscured by conditioning.

Jacqui facilitating iRest

Jacqui facilitating iRest

iRest offers a toolbox of practices that teaches how to notice whatever sensations, feelings, or thoughts arise as the body-mind’s way of sharing messages. A physical sensation such as pain may be calling for us to inquire into its source and, in some cases, seek medical assistance. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are also explored in a way that allows us to learn from their messages. Thus we become more aware and conscious of whatever may be arising in any given moment. Rather than allowing a negative reaction to form, we can feel back into our inner resource of peace and well-being and choose a more favorable response.

Other body-mind practices such as yoga, tai chi, and types of meditation are ways to access and deepen our connectedness. The same is true with activities that foster a connection with nature.

Peace within the midst

A core teaching of Viktor Frankl (1905–1997), Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist, holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was that our power to choose our response is the source of our growth and freedom. He also said, “If you don’t go within, you simply go without.” In other words, we lose our sense of connectedness.

We all have the capacity to feel grounded in peace. We can learn to live that way in the midst of whatever circumstance we encounter. When we experience this profound peace in the midst of turmoil, our connection is infinite.