Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gratitude and Optimism

One of the wonderful outcomes in the practice of Happiness or being joyful is that when one sets the intention to practice being happy and takes a few steps in the practice the level of happiness rises exponentially.  (you can check out some of the stats in Robert Holden's book Be Happy)  Needless to say as I have started some work on Gratitude and Optimism I am at least starting to feel a little happier.  Or maybe I should say I am starting to feel a little more in focus and learning that I have power over my emotions.  

So this week I am working on being intentional about letting people know I appreciate them.  I have been writing notes, giving gifts (which seems a little more simple since it is the Holiday season) making sure to stop and smile.  I also have been keeping a gratitude journal (like Oprah recommenced a few years back).  In addition to the gratitude, I have been working on optimism.  This is one I am really good at, the challenge is for me to stay there - and stay there realistically.

There is an old Cherokee Legend called "The Wolves Within" that I have been reminded of a lot lately as I am more intentional on this path of being a happier person.  

An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story.

I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.  But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." 

He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger,for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?" 

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."

Which one are you feeding?  And what do you feed it?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Practicing Happiness

My husband is a perpetually happy guy.  There is not much that gets him down and his happiness seems so effortless.  Although I treasure my vast array of emotions there are most definitely times when I long to have that effortless "happy" feeling.  I believe that happiness is not an end goal, but something that we experience in moments, great and small, throughout life.  I also believe that happiness is a practice that we can put into place and the more we live into our happiness the more it becomes ingrained in who we are.

I ran across an article earlier this week 12 Things to Make you Happy.  As I read through it I thought that these would be some great practices to put to work now through the holidays and continue through the new year. (here is the short form)

  1. Express gratitude.
  2. Cultivate optimism. 
  3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. 
  4. Practice acts of kindness. 
  5. Nurture social relationships.
  6. Develop strategies for coping. 
  7. Learn to forgive. 
  8. Increase flow experiences. 
  9. Savor life’s joys. 
  10. Commit to your goals. 
  11. Practice spirituality.
  12. Take care of your body.
Although we may all order these differently since our personalities/values/priorities are so very different I invite you to join me in this journey of discovery and practicing happiness.  Pick one or two to start with and enjoy the experience.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 2011 - Peace

Advent - Peace

I always get a little excited for this weekend following Thanksgiving.  Growing up in my family is meant putting up the Christmas tree, bringing out the decorations, baking cookies, and finally, FINALLY starting the Christmas music (Andy Williams was one of my favorites).

These days the preparations are a little different, but I still love this season.  We still break out the music and the decorations (although now we have a live tree outside rather than bringing it into the house) but the reasons I love this time of year have changed from excitement, to nostalgia to an amazing sense of comfort and joy.

During my life as parish pastor I learned over and over how difficult this time can be for many people because of loss, stress, people pleasing, busyness . . . (the list could go on).  I know I have gotten caught up in a lot of those emotions and it makes for a really crumby time of year.  But the underlying factor of the preparation, and hope for the birth of the Prince of Peace gently (and sometimes not so gently) reminds me that I too can bring peace to the world - starting with myself.

It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and the expectations and the whirlwind of the season, but we can also choose to step out of the craziness - if only for a moment - and find peace.

listen to some quiet music
go for a walk, a slow run or find your way into a quiet park
write a list of things you are thankful for
hug your kid, your spouse, your dog
drink a cup of egg nog really slowly
read a passage of scripture (or a piece of writing from one of your role models) and let it sit in your brain for 5-10 minutes


Friday, November 18, 2011

meditate - patience

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing:
God alone is enough. - St. Teresa of Avila

As we enter into the Holiday season, I can feel myself already getting a little tense about the lengthening to-do list.  Don't get me wrong, I like to be busy, but add onto the busy-ness that my schedule will not be my own for about 3 weeks over Christmas I get a little tense.

Realizing that this is only a short time helps, but there are other tools that help reduce the stress too.  
Writing, exercise, a glass of wine, talking with good friends, smells and scenes from a happy childhood, traditions upheld (and maybe even modernized a bit) . . . I am sure you can think of 3-4 of your own stress relievers.

It's amazing what even one of these things can do.  And seriously - that breathing meditation that I have been doing, AMAZING(ly harder that one might think).  I still have to work at it, but it does get easier, and I have noticed that it makes a difference in how I breathe throughout the day - which also makes me more aware of what I am doing, and more intentional about how I am spending my time.

The holidays can be a very stressful time, but also a very amazing time.  Let it be easy.


Friday, October 7, 2011

meditation for a busy life

A few weeks ago my sister was telling me how much better she has been doing/feeling because I inspired her to do more meditation. I have to say I was really jealous. I have not been able to do the kind of meditation I have wanted to for too long.  I am a mom, wife, small business owner (well, small business starter really) we just moved to a new town and although I have been able to meet some great people I am still working at building a local "tribe".

So I was really excited when I found a few great resources to make the meditation experience new and exciting for me.  ONe of which is an awesome Yoga Instructor whose class I get to at least once a week (2 times a week if I am not preaching or teaching)  Another great resource was even a free kindle book!  So I have decided to test some of these out - over the next few months leading up to Christmas.  Meditation for the busy world/life.  Granted I am starting out with some knowledge and skills I am not sure if that is going to be a help or a hindrance (e.g. I would like to meditate for at least 40 minutes rather than just 10-20).

What I have learned so far is that 20 is really enough to get some good benefit.  However, if one does too much less then the benefit dramatically decreases.  I started my favorite technique the other day with some breath work.  I have yet to be disappointed with this simple technique.

Place your feet flat on the floor and sit up straight with hands resting on your thighs, palms up (for most meditations I like just being in a comfortable position, but this one works wonders for your posture and diaphragm.  Allow our shoulders to drop away from your ears and begin to breathe in the following pattern. Breathe in for the count of 4, hold for 8 counts and breath out for the count of 10.  (you may find other references give different numbers, so do what works best for you, but I challenge you to hold for longer than your intake of breath and exhale at least twice as long as the intake).  Try this for 5 or 10 minutes and wok our way up to 20 minutes.

This is one of the ones I like to do right before bed - I can breathe away the cares of the day.  How often do I remember to do it?  Not enough (like once every few weeks)  One would think that the results I get are so wonderful of course I would remember, but the reality is, this meditation stuff is still getting going in fits and starts, and although I know how great it is and I see how it changes my life, it it still hard.

For the next week, every night I am doing this specific meditation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The First Lesson - Breathe

Friedrich Nietzche is credited with saying, "There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies".  In the past few years of studying Healing Touch www.healingtouchinternational.org and continuing in my work as a pastor and Spiritual Director, I have come to understand a little better the deep profoundness of this statement.

So as this journey continues I continue to find new ways of exploring this mindfulness.  And I continue to find how much more I can learn (isn't that just the way it goes). 

I have been teaching a class recently on listening to our bodies and how that can shape the way we live into who we are created to be.  Each of us with different visions of our future, different gifts and passions and yet so intimately connected to each other and the world around us.  It has been fascinating to learn how each different person grows and changes as they learn to listen to their own intuition and physical responses.

I am still learning to listen and interpret my own responses - it is sometimes harder to see what it right in front of you.  For over a decade, I have been preaching and leading worship services in Christian communities. I love Public Speaking.  I do not love preparing.  Every week that I work on a "sermon" I literally make myself sick.  My body starts to shut down, I get really tired stressed out, for many years I would get migraines.  And yet I totally feel called to the work.

What I have found is that I have not been called to the box/framework of the traditional preaching system.  Let me teach a class and I get really excited.  Why is that that I just can't get my mind in the framework when I prepare a sermon?  Because I am so connected to expectations.  There are some weeks that I can let it go and just be me - those weeks ROCK.  However, and this is not an excuse but a realization, I am human and until I can learn how to be present in who I am created to be (in the image of God) all the time listening to my inner spirit, connected to where God leads me, then my body will step in and cramp up and make me feel like I am physically sitting in a tiny box with very little oxygen.

So my lesson on listening to my body today is breathe - which really is the first lesson in so many body practices isn't it.  Just breathe.

P.S. - a few extra reminders
"I am fearfully and wonderfully made" - Psalm 139:14
"In the image of God"  - Genesis 1:27