Easing Overwhelm with More Space

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A couple weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed. I’m sure it happens to everyone, especially during the holiday season – you’re too busy to even think. It was difficult for me to find time to make dinner, walk the dog, and clean the house, let alone prepare to teach yoga classes and work on my Celebrant projects.

The things that I really want to do take a lot of time and mental space. How could I find more time for the activities that feed my soul, when I barely had time for what I needed to do? The answer could not be to add more to my schedule.

And then I had a revelation while driving around, running errands: what I need is more space, not more time. I immediately turned the radio off. I used that 20-minute drive to just pay attention to what I was doing. And immediately, ideas started popping into my head about the class I wanted to teach that night.

I started looking at all of my time differently. No more podcasts during walks with the dog – that is now 40 minutes a day for watching the change in seasons, looking at clouds, and laughing at my dog. Along the way, I naturally start to process, dream, plan, and mentally create.

It makes me more efficient with the time I have. I feel less frenzied. Less frustrated. Now, when I have time to do something I want to do, like writing a blog post, I actually have ideas in my head.

We can all use a reprieve from overwhelm during the holidays. Here are some ways you may be able to find more space:

  • Turn off the background noise at home
  • Don’t take out your phone while waiting in line
  • Put down your book while on the train or metro
  • Take a bath instead of a shower
  • Let yourself get bored – that’s when ideas come
  • Exercise outside without distractions

How do you find more mental space when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

Rituals for Other People’s Pain

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I recently finished reading The Secret Life of Bees, a novel published 15 years ago and made into a movie in 2008. (I’m quite behind on my fiction reading.) One of the characters in the book, May, was described as having a “condition” that made her feel everyone’s pain as if it was her own. She was an empath, in other words.

This character learned to manage her pain by building a sort of wailing wall. When she felt overwhelmed by painful events, she would write it down on a piece of paper and leave it in the wall.

May’s character reminded me of two things:

  1. We are all affected by the pain of others.

I believe we all have a little bit of May in us. When we hear of tragedies or violence on the news, it affects us. Photos of children fleeing Syria moved us. Hearing stories of how other women were harassed sickened us. Learning about yet another police shooting angered us. It’s not a condition. We are still connected to the pain of others, no matter how far away they are.

  1. We need a way to deal with that pain.

Sometimes we react by tuning out and shutting down. It’s too much to bear. We close our hearts, become filled with fear, and maybe push people outside our circle away. We can start to deny or ignore our connection with our fellow human beings in order to limit the pain we’re exposed to.

We need to find a balance between maintaining our compassion and connection to the human condition without being overwhelmed.

I’ve written before about dealing with personal pain here,  here, and here, but how do we handle other people’s pain? Events we can’t control?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Develop your own personal ritual. Write it down and burn or rip the paper up. Carry a stone on a walk and throw or drop it somewhere. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Give the pain a place to be.
  • Take action. Take whatever action you can, whether it’s donating money or getting involved with a cause – even if it’s unrelated to the event.
  • Connect with others. Develop a ritual with others. Talk about what happened. Take a walk together. Connect.
  • Spend time in nature. It is grounding. It helps put things into perspective.
  • Practice a loving kindness meditation. Find a guided meditation here: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-loving-kindness-2/, on yogaglo.com, or elsewhere online. I’ve recommended this before. It is the meditation equivalent of a cure-all.

Do you have a ritual for dealing with other people’s pain? What works for you?

On Health Problems

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For the last 3 years, I have been dealing with some frustrating health issues (that probably started way before then and that I won’t get into now). It’s not serious, but I don’t feel good and over time I believe it could affect my quality of life. In some ways, it already has.

I’ve spent thousands on health care practitioners, testing, and supplements not covered by insurance. I completely changed my diet. I’ve fasted. And I have been on a diet so restricted I couldn’t even eat lettuce, let alone try to eat out. I suddenly gained weight that I could not lose. And while some things have improved, most issues persisted.

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I felt betrayed by my body – like it was a stranger. I was also quite hard on myself. I did yoga all the time, meditated, ate healthy, and exercised. What was I doing wrong? To make matters worse, in the yoga world, I had come across philosophies that implied that health problems are personal deficiencies. Like my health issues are really a reflection of the state of my soul.

On the fence between continuing to search for solutions and accepting that I may not ever feel better, I purchased the book The Loving Diet by Jessica Flanigan. The Loving Diet does recommend specific foods. But more importantly, what Flanigan recommends is love.

She recommends a radical love: cooperating with your illness and loving your negative emotions. Avoiding “againstness” is key. Rather than trying hard and fighting your illness, you should work with your illness and even love it! It is better to simply show up and trust your life.

With this perspective, illness can be an opportunity – a way to wake up to something in your life. It is here to teach us, not to punish us. Time will tell, but I’m pretty sure my health issues are here to teach me to be more kind to myself (which is very different from trying really hard to do what I “should”).

I’m going to give it a try. What’s the harm? Doesn’t the world need more love, anyway?

After the funeral’s over: 4 ways to deal with anniversaries

 

After Funeral Remembrance

A little over a year ago, I had my first real experience with losing someone I was close to. My cousin, who I grew up with, died unexpectedly a few weeks before her wedding. After a year, I still think about her every day. So, when the anniversary of her death came, I knew it wasn’t going to be just another day.

Here are some ways to remember loved ones:

  1. Write them a letter / talk to them – Just because they’re not physically present anymore doesn’t mean that your relationship with them ends. Ask them for guidance. Tell them how you feel. If there were things left unsaid – say them.
  2. Call your friends/family – You’re probably not the only one struggling with memories and emotions. Reach out to each other. Tell each other funny stories about your loved one.
  3. Have a memorial service / scatter ashes – If the funeral for your loved one left something to be desired, hold another one! It is never too late. Even if the funeral was the healing ceremony it should be, that doesn’t mean there’s not more healing to be done. Gathering friends and family together for a short remembrance ceremony can be deeply comforting.
  4. Have a personal remembrance ritual – The options are unlimited here. What reminds you of them? My cousin was an amazing baker. For Thanksgiving, in what will probably become an annual tradition, my sister attempted to make my cousin’s famous pumpkin pie recipe. It was a small way to honor her memory at a time when we would be missing her the most. This article says that personal rituals can be a great salve for grief.

I called my sister and spent some quality time with my journal. I reflected on how my life has changed since she left, partly because of her, and how I wish I could share it with her.

Weddings: Personalizing a Hand Fasting Ritual

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Now that wedding season is underway, I wanted to provide some suggestions for personalizing a wedding ceremony.

Hand fasting is an ancient ritual used by many cultures across the world and was the inspiration behind the expression, “tie the knot.” It’s a beautiful and symbolic ritual that also lends itself well to being personalized.

Here are some ways that hand fasting can be tailored for your ceremony:

  1. Materials
  • Choose symbolic colors or patterns
  • Make multiple ribbons, or other material, symbolic of an idea. For example, each chord represents one thing that makes a strong marriage
  • Use material, scarf, tie, etc from someone important to you. This can be a sweet way to honor someone who has passed.
  1. Who does the hand wrapping
  • The officiant
  • Parents
  • Children
  • Close friend, etc

* Bonus: Person doing wrapping can also choose the material for wrapping

  1. What is said during the wrapping
  • Special vows to each other
  • Simply gaze into each other’s eyes
  1. Whose hands are being wrapped
  • If involving children in a wedding, wrap their hands on top of the parents’ hands. Bind everyone together as a family.

Find the variation that reflects you and your ceremony the best!

Finding Peace

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It is hard to know what to do when a tragedy like Orlando happens. Even if you do not know anyone who was affected, we are all touched by it. You may feel a mix of empathy, anger, outrage, and hopelessness. You may wonder where we can be safe, what will be next, what can I do, what will it take before things change?

As we begin the process of mourning as a country, as individuals, I would like to offer a suggestion for a small thing we can each do. I think one of the best ways we can honor those who have died is to contribute to creating peace.

I once heard the Dalai Lama speak about peace on the national mall, in front of the Capitol Building. He said that peace in the world begins with your own peace of mind. When we are at peace with ourselves, we spread that peace to those around us.

When our actions and words are aligned with this place of inner peace, others will respond in kind. And then they spread that peace to others around them. Creating change in the world begins with changing yourself.

How do you find inner peace? It is a continuous process of cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion. Yoga and meditation are tools that can help, especially restorative yoga.

Try this simple meditation:

  • Close your eyes and take several deep breaths
  • With your eyes still closed, look down and imagine that you can turn your eyes inward
  • Turn your internal gaze to your heart. Sense your heartbeat, feel it in your chest
  • Then, listen. What does your heart need? Does it have a message for you?
  • When you’re ready, return your gaze forward and take several deep breaths.
  • Open your eyes.

Whatever approach you take to finding inner peace, the key is really in prioritizing your own mental and spiritual health. It may seem frivolous or unproductive to spend time doing “nothing,” but to put it into perspective – the world depends on it.

4 Ways to Get Settled into a New Home (That Don’t Involve Unpacking)

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A little over 6 months ago, I moved into a new house I had never seen in person, in a new state. My boyfriend and I discussed doing a personal ritual to consecrate the house as ours and honor our new start together. But the day I arrived, things started to go wrong with the house. Soon, we got so busy with repairs, insurance claims, and unpacking that we forgot about our plans.

Moving is one of the most stressful things we can do. Our homes are more than places to live – they are our refuge. Homes are containers for our growth, where we recharge, and where we spent time with the people we love the most. Moving to a new home, then, can make you feel unsettled, disconnected, like something is not quite right.

Creating a ritual for your new home can help you feel more settled. Here are some tips for initiating a new home:

  1. Perform a clearing. According to the ancient practice of feng shui, homes absorb energy from the people who live there. A clearing will help to remove this energy and instill your intentions in your new home. There are many ways to do this. The simplest clearing consists of opening up the windows and burning sage throughout the house.
  1. Declare your vision for your new home. Walk through each room in the house and declare your intentions for that room. For example, in the kitchen, you may intend to nourish yourself and your family. You may envision building relationships with family and friends over meals together in the dining room. You may also use this opportunity to make a fresh start and consider what you’d like to leave behind.
  1. Bless your house. Find a blessing that speaks to you and read it out loud. This can be done in conjunction with a clearing or other activity. I love John O’Donohue’s blessing, For a New Home.
  1. Make it yours. Clean it, fix it, make it the way you want it! Paint with love. The more energy you put into making your home the way you like it, the more it will actually feel like home.

Eventually, I found a feng shui practitioner to perform a clearing with me. We wrote our intentions and did a small fire ritual to say goodbye to what we’d like to leave behind. Our house already feels more peaceful and just more ours. Acknowledging and honoring the change that comes with moving with a ritual can make a big difference in how you feel when you’re at home.

Survivor’s Day

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I was recently listening to a Ted Talks podcast titled “To Endure,” when I came across an idea that I just loved and had to share!

The show included an interview with Monica Lewinsky, who gave a Ted Talk about her experience of the Clinton scandal. She did something stupid at a young and impressionable age that turned her life so upside-down that she had a hard time finding work or even volunteering. But she eventually was able to get her life back and was stronger for it.

We all face difficulties in our lives. Often, we’ll look back on those experiences as turning points in our life – a point after which you were never the same. And while that experience may have been the most difficult time of your life, you can be thankful for it. You’re a better, stronger person now because of it.

Every year, Monica and her family celebrate the anniversary of what she thought of as the worst day of her life. They call it Survivor’s Day!

As soon as I heard that, I immediately knew I had to incorporate it into my life. After I returned home from over a year and a half in Afghanistan, I was not the same person. That was the most difficult period of my life. I didn’t think I was going to make it. But today, I know that experience made me more resilient, stronger in some ways, and softer in other ways (where I needed it!).

What did you survive? How can you honor the experience(s) that made you who you are today? Maybe you survived losing your job. A divorce. An illness. It can be anything! This is one thing that unites us as human beings – we’ve all overcome something. And we should celebrate it!

3 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

IMG_2224Valentine’s Day is a holiday that brings up mixed feelings for me. I have been single for the majority of my adult life, with a series of the kind of dating experiences that made for good story telling (and that’s about all).

One year, I had a boyfriend who was actually willing to celebrate Valentine’s Day with me. In an attempt to foster some badly needed emotional intimacy, I asked him what he wanted for our future together. The answer was – he wanted me to pay for more things. So, I paid for our dinner and started contemplating our break-up.

I prefer to think of Valentine’s Day as a way to celebrate all types of love and to cultivate feelings of love, in general. Here are 3 non-romantic ways to celebrate:

1. Love yourself – address what you’ve been neglecting

Everyone has one part of their life that they want to attend to but don’t prioritize. Maybe you’ve been ignoring a nagging pain. Or you just can’t seem to make it to the gym or that yoga class you like. Take this time to nourish yourself and attend to your needs – whatever that means for you.

I have a tendency to prioritize work around the house over my emotional needs. I plan to work on my vision board and take a restorative yoga class in honor of Valentine’s Day.

2. Love someone else – write a love letter

Take this opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you by writing a love letter. The letter can be to anyone – a friend, family member, or even someone who has passed. You don’t even have to send it. It’s more important to just connect with your heart. If you decide to share your feelings – even better!

3. Love everyone – loving kindness meditation

Romantic love is only one of the ways we can love. Loving your neighbors, the strangers on the train, the person who cut you off in traffic – that is masters level loving!

Practice with a loving kindness meditation. Find a guided meditation here: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-loving-kindness-2/, on www.yogaglo.com, or elsewhere online.

Wishing you all kinds of love!

My New Year Ritual

Before the new year even starts, I see a barrage of articles about resolutions. How to make them, how to keep them, and sometimes how to rebel against the need for them. But I believe there is a step that should come before even thinking about resolutions:

Taking stock.

Reflection.

Winter in general is a time for turning inward. It is a slower, more reflective time of year. The darker days and bad weather well suited for contemplation. And a new year is a natural time to reflect on where we are in our lives.

I start each new year with my art journal and my calendar for the previous year. I usually make a month by month list in my art journal — the highlights and the lows, as well.

Then I’ll dedicate a page of my art journal for a big picture reflection on the past year. Was there a recurring theme for the previous year? What big lesson did I learn? How did I grow or change? I know one of my themes for 2015 was to follow my heart. That also meant I had to learn to trust what my heart had to say!

We frequently forget how much can happen in a year. Taking some time to reflect on where you have been helps you to both celebrate your successes and inspire you to dream and plan for the coming year. And maybe decide to keep a resolution or two.