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

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.

Joy and sorrow

What’s Your Natural Disposition?

“Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt.” —A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

PoohAs you start a new week, or even a New Year, do you see your life circumstances optimistically or pessimistically? What is your natural disposition? Continue reading

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

Islands: connection in the deep

Connection: Feel Supported, Valued, Loved

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep,” wrote American philosopher and psychologist William James over 100 years ago. Modern science is now revealing how we are “connected in the deep.” We are born with the natural urge—wired in our brains—for connection, and this urge continues throughout our lives. Ironically, however, even though social media connections continue to grow exponentially, we seem to be more separate now than at any time in history, as loneliness, isolation, and alienation are reported to be on the increase.

ConntectionAs social beings, we crave to feel supported, valued, and loved. It is well documented that true social connection lowers stress and improves physical health and psychological well-being. Isn’t it time to get back to valuing true connection and learn ways to improve or enhance our connectedness to one another—and especially to ourselves?

Disconnection

Everything in life is about connection. When we leave the nurturing, loving environment of our mother’s womb, we are suddenly separated from our source. From that point on, we seek ways to reconnect and make new connections. But inevitably there are more disconnections. Our mother is not always available, there is no one to play with, etc. As we grow and move out into the world, life circumstances change. Losses, failures, and unfulfilled dreams leave us feeling isolated or even that something’s wrong with us. When a friend or confidant is nowhere to be found, the tendency may be to stuff our feelings. Our reaction might even be something we’ve witnessed in the adults who mentor us. Such a situation can turn into a lifelong conditioned response, and we lose the ability to trust others and share our true feelings.

In the May-June 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, an article entitled “Friendships: The Remarkable Power of Our Closest Connections” revealed that 50% of American adults now report that they have zero close friends. This is down from two close friends reported in similar studies 10 years earlier. Yet, according to Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” So, what is the disconnect here? We crave connection, yet we’re losing our ability to achieve it.

interconnected with natureConnectedness was an essential part of life for early humans. Not only were they connected to one another, but they also had an interdependent relationship with nature. Being social was just as essential as having food, water, and shelter. In today’s world we no longer have that deep connection with our tribe or environment. In our busy lives we have ready access to connection on demand that helps us surf the surface of other people’s lives but neglects the depth. We’re becoming emotionally lazy, as we’re drawn to connect via methods that are fast, easy, and always at hand—and that don’t require physical presence.

Genuine connection

According to Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, “Genuine connection and companionship involves emotional risk—the risk of being authentically yourself, of being vulnerable, honest, and open.” Intimacy is what’s most essential. But human bonds take time and care to form and maintain. Intimacy involves trust with someone who can be a true confidant, who has our back, and who is not critical of our flaws.

connection

Mirror neurons

Human connectedness runs deep in our brains. Neuroscientists have discovered that we have the capacity to read other people’s minds. I’m not referring to psychic abilities. We are able to become attuned to another person‘s actions and nonverbal behaviors through a phenomenon called mirror neurons. When we tell a friend about a happy experience we’ve had, for example, neurons in our brain light up in all the networks associated with that memory. As we convey this experience through words and body language, the mirror neurons in our friend light up as well. In turn, our neurons pick up her signals that let us know we’ve been heard and accepted. This could help explain how and why we feel empathy for people when they are suffering.

Research has also revealed that whenever we finish doing something analytic or engage in nonsocial thinking, the network in the brain for social thinking lights up almost instantly, like a reflex. This spontaneous reaction prepares us for the next moment in our lives. We switch from taking in information to being ready to send it out. Our brain prepares us to be in the world socially.

Deeper connection

connectionIn this vastly changing world, I believe we are charting new territory in exploring what it means to be human. We can’t go back to living like our ancestors. But we also must not cast aside the basic elements of body, mind, and spirit that connect us with one another. Let’s explore some ways we can learn to enhance our connections.

Touch: What’s drastically missing in the connection-on-demand culture is physical touch. “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo. When we touch someone, we strengthen bonds and give life to a relationship. A pat on the back, a caress of the arm, a hug—especially a big hug—are primary ways of expressing caring and compassion. Touch is fundamental to human communication and it provides incredible emotional and physical health benefits. A simple touch activates the vagus nerve, which can calm the body and stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Even the sound of loving words can resonate in the body, touch the heart, and deepen connection.

Deep listening: Probably the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. Being fully present to another cannot be accomplished through a text or email. Physical presence is essential. It requires setting aside our own needs and agendas and not rehearsing what we’re going to say in response while the other is talking. When we become fully present, we open our hearts and minds to the deeper being beneath the words, and do so with curiosity and openness. This intimate way of listening is particularly powerful following a great loss or during a difficult change or transition. It can create space for compassion; when you lose yourself in another, feel what they feel. But it also exposes our vulnerability as we face the possibility of hearing disturbing truths we don’t want to hear. Ultimately, though, it can open the door for mutually experiencing a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

Befriend yourself: It’s often recommended that if you want a friend, be a friend. What better place to start than with yourself. Believing in yourself helps you to enjoy your own company. This sense of “okayness” with yourself can transmit to others, conveying that you are a caring person whom others will want to be connected with. I can vouch for this approach; being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. It can actually provide an opportunity for your heartfelt life mission to be revealed and unfold. If you don’t have a partner, you can still feel connection to life. We all need to give ourselves a hug every now and then!

Connect to life!

Few have understood connectedness as well as Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Are you ready to take the challenge of finding ways to become more “connected in the deep”?

I invite you to attend my free iRest meditations on Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon.

in sync with Earth's rhythms

Get In Sync with Earth’s Rhythms

Following the high energy that surrounds the summer solstice, July and August invite us to sit back, feel the energy of the crops ripening and wait for the harvest. August ushers in a settling or resting type of energy that connects us with the earth. Earth is our home and she provides us nourishment, support and life, as well as the cycles, rhythms and patterns of our lives. Learning how to adapt our busy lives to these cycles and rhythms can help us eat and sleep better and contribute to our overall health and well-being.Continue reading

maximize your energy

Maximize your energy

I’ve recently been blogging about how to Be a Wise Investor: of Your Thoughts and Your Time for your overall health and to get more out of life with less effort. Ours is a society of the overcommitted, cramming as much as possible into each day which can result in tremendous stress on your overall health and well-being. In addition to investing your thoughts and time more wisely, you can also learn how to invest and maximize your energy. Basically this energy is the life force that enables you to be physically active, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned.

You have the ability to maximize its quantity and minimize its waste.

Many of the performance demands of everyday work and personal life are tougher than those professional athletes face. Yet we are not trained as athletes are to manage our energy.

Our body/mind is like a vibrating string that needs constant tuning, much like instruments in an orchestra. Have you ever felt that your “life music” was out of tune? When you maximize your energy usage, you become fully engaged to put forth your best.

To be in tune is to be alive

To be alive is to consciously impose meaning on what you are doing. According to peak performance experts Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, the key to skillfully managing your energy is to build rituals and routines into your daily life, as athletes do when they train. When an activity is as routine as eating, sleeping and creating, you gain resilience and feel natural and in the flow.

Overcome energy blocks

Energy blocks and drains include negative emotions like anger and worry, and negative thoughts that pull you down. When you find yourself engaged in anger or negative thoughts, change the focus. Take a deep breath and ask for inner guidance to help you understand how to better handle the situation. Relax your face and say something to yourself that makes you feel supported and secure.

When I find myself getting into the worry mode, I ask myself, if the result of what I am worrying about is inevitable. Generally it isn’t. This defuses the power from worry and empowers me to come up with a plan. My energy expenditure is reduced, leaving me with energy to use for something more constructive.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Instead of fighting life or trying to force it to work, reframe your challenges into rituals or routines with which you feel more in the flow of the moment. Whether in projects at work, household chores or fitness activities, go beyond the force of willpower, discipline or stamina, and focus on maximizing positive feelings and minimizing effort. Align yourself with like-minded people who vibrate at a higher energetic frequency and bring out the best of who you are.

Make a list of energy blocks and drains and begin to create precise and specific behaviors as rituals and routines that you can practice on a daily basis. Over time these practices act like vitamins and nutrients to build the “muscle” that stores the energy you need to meet your daily demands.

Putting it all together

How you invest your thoughts and time affects your available energy. These are intertwined and require regular attention and taking ownership. Invest wisely by incorporating conscious mindful routines such as meditation into your day. You’ll feel healthier, more in tune to play your life music – more fully engaged in living the life you deserve.

I invite you to attend my weekly iRest meditation classes when we get more in sync with what’s important in our lives.

Getting high on life

Getting High on Life – Again

In my last article, How to Get High on Your Life, I wrote about the “Givers High.” Performing acts of kindness elevates our sense of well-being and contributes to a longer, healthier, happier life. Let’s explore how some people discover ways to integrate this high into their lives.

Natural anti-depressant

Acts of giving take you outside yourself, beyond the troubles, pains and challenges of your life, and can pull you out of the doldrums of isolation and loneliness. The brain is a social organ wired for empathy. When engaged in helping others, we experience their joy and suffering as though it were our own. Yet the giving also produces a positive emotional high pushing away our negative emotions. The old adage, “When you’re feeling down, go out and help someone,” really works.Continue reading