Easily instituted advice if you’re on a silent retreat or doing a weekend of journeywork, but harder in the midst of daily life when you’re not sure you can hear your own thoughts—let alone the voice of your heart.
I have a secret for you:
Your biggest hurdle to hearing your inner truth is getting out of reaction mode.
When you’re in fight-or-flight response and can’t hear the voice of your heart, you’re actually not supposed to; our bodies are hardwired to get us out of danger.
(If neolithic woman hung around wondering if it was her dharma to get eaten by the saber-toothed tiger, our species would have died off long ago. Which I’m sure some would argue would’ve been a good thing.)
Your hair-trigger fight-or-flight reflex works great for tigers of the saber-toothed variety but not so well for daily modern life…
…. which admittedly sometimes leaves you feeling like you’re being chased by a whole streak of tigers (yes, that’s really what a group of tigers is called—a streak. Thus giving us a moment when humans—and human language—are sooooo cool).
The most important thing to know about being in constant, low-grade reaction: you don’t realize you’re in it.
So you think you’re being ridiculously rational, but you’re behaving more like a drunk driver who’s sure she’s road-safe.
In order to break the cycle, you’ve got to build some calming into your day, whether you think you need it or not.
My daily ritual?
(It only works if you stay off social media while you’re sipping.)
Turn the process into ritual:
As you boil the water, notice the interaction of fire and water.
Listen to your favorite song while your tea steeps (tea = water and earth).
Breathe in the steam (water and air) before your first sip.
Taste your tea. Roll it on your tongue before swallowing.
Remember this is your time. I don’t answer the phone or finish the laundry. I sit and sip and breathe.
I’m a black tea drinker myself—a holdover from my time in Ireland—but milky oats, holy basil, a little chamomile or lemon balm will all help you calm the heck down. I sometimes add cinnamon or roses to my assam, both of which work wonders for my stress levels.
(The cinnamon is more personal than medicinal. My Aunt Ceil would make cinnamon tea and it’s atavistically soothing for me.)
Tea not your thing? No worries: it doesn’t much matter what you do (as long as it calms you). It matters that it’s daily. The dailyness is what lets you break out of fight or flight mode (’cause remember you might not realize you’re in it).
The other day whilst sipping tea, I listened to FDR’s “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” speech.
Roosevelt knew the power of fear. He knew a bunch of humans in reaction mode was truly something scary.
You are beautiful and strong and full of purpose. Find your daily check-in, whatever it is that lets you come back to center and share the power of your heart.
Tell me in the comments below how you will be finding some quiet in these overly loud times.
I tend to be a striver, an achiever, a “what’s next?” kinda gal.
For me, gratitude has to be a ritual, otherwise it only happens on the rare occasion when something completely out of the ordinary whacks me over the head with the wonderfulness of this world.
So, as a Thanksgiving treat, I thought I’d share my super-easy gratitude practices (the ones I actually do.)
But before we get into the doing of it, let’s talk about why gratitude matters anyway.
It’s pretty easy to put gratitude practices in the trendy column and move on with your cynical life. But gratitude is a trend for a reason: your thoughts are rewiring your brain all the time.
This is important, so, one more time:
Your thoughts are rewiring your brain all the time.
Don’t believe me? Hear it from a Harvard-trained psychologist (this dude must take stand-up comedy courses because he is super-funny!):
Gratitude literally causes chemical changes in your brain, which causes a positivity chain reaction. Gratitude:
increases dopamine, the feel-good chemical;
dopamine increases your level of happiness (this begins a positive feedback loop);
dopamine turns on the learning centers in your brain, so happier = smarter.
My family started saying what we were thankful for as a way of beginning the Thanksgiving meal many decades ago. We’ve since added to family dinner “best of the day” and “best of the week.” But I don’t have large family gatherings on a daily basis, so I’ve come up with some daily rituals (that I can actually stick with!) to keep my dopamine flowing:
1. Three Gratitudes Before Bed
I don’t speak these out loud or write them down. I just say them quietly within my own brain when I get into bed at night. Easy-peasy.
2. Giving with Both Hands
When I was traveling in Thailand, I was told that it’s considered rude to give or receive with one hand. This has stuck with me. When I pay my hairdresser or massage therapist, I use both hands and consciously remember to be grateful for the service and care they provided.
3. Remembering Happiness
This is cool: remembering a happy moment creates happiness. My moment was coming up over the mountains on I-84 in New York and seeing the sunset blazing over the Hudson River. My heart opened wide. I relive that moment a few times a week and can feel the radiating joy (and dopamine!) for hours after.
4. An Essential Pick Me Up
We all have scents that make us happy because smell is connected to our hind-brain, the most primitive part of us, where emotions are triggered.
For me, the scent is jasmine. An under-note of citrus (like bergamot or lime) makes it even better! When I need to go to my happy place, I put a drop on my hand, rub my hands together, and hold them over my nose or I put a few drops in my diffuser and scent the whole room.
It’s important to have a toolkit for happiness.
Life’s gonna throw you curve balls. It’s what life does.
Having a gratitude practice puts you in the driver’s seat. You can’t control the world around you, but you can control how ready and resilient you are to receiving it.
It’s pretty tough to hear the small, still voice of your inner divinity while juggling a job, two kids, and a mortgage.
That’s why my first spiritual teacher, who insisted that I was a modern-day priestess, admonished that I should never get married or have kids or dogs or even fish!
Okay, I’m exaggerating on the fish; I’m sure she thought some koi in the pond would be good for meditation. My point is that she felt pretty strongly that I should avoid decisions that allowed the noise of everyday life to pull me off my center.
And let’s face it: even for the most grounded of us, the ups and downs of daily living exert their own gravitational force.
As modern-day wisdom-warriors, our primary fight is with our own wandering attention, keeping it focused so that our energy goes where we want it to and not to the gazillion other places that are happy to have an infusion of our light.
In addition to the push-me, pull-you of a normal day, we also need to be mindful of whom we allow into our world. New York Times columnist David Brooks notes that
… the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you.
When you add all this up it’s pretty easy to get discouraged and to feel like the modern world is no place for the spiritually-inclined. I’ve had plenty of moments when I longed for a hermit’s hut or cloister.
But, truth? While a hermitage might be good for my soul and might put me deeply in touch with my intuition, I would miss being able to run out to the coffee shop for a decaf cappuccino with a half-shot of vanilla syrup.
So the challenge is finding balance: walking a spiritual path while still being deeply engaged with not only the world, but with the society—family, friends, work relations—around us.
We all have an inner wisdom that is ours to tap.
We are all witches and wisdom keepers and priestesses.
So… how do you connect to your inner G.P.S. on five minutes a day?
Find the times when you can squeeze in a minute or two for yourself and set the intention that that is enough.
* Work in an office or have kids who need your attention? Grab an extra minute in the restroom!
When you use the restroom, spend an extra minute in the stall. Put a drop of your favorite essential oil on your palm and rub your hands together. Take a few deep breaths and picture the plant you are smelling sending its roots deep into the ground and turning its leaves toward the sun.
* Spend a lot of time commuting? Use the red lights!
A red light is perfect for 3 deep breaths, feeling the air fill your belly. Blow out forcefully, expelling tension and negativity.
* Race around all day and collapse into bed at night? Take two minutes for gratitude!
Keep a gratitude journal on your bed stand. You don’t have to write a lot, just note 3 things you are grateful for. Write in sentence fragments—I give you permission.
Where do you find a few extra minutes to nurture your spiritual self? Let me know in the comments below!
You don’t have to retreat from the world to tap into your inner-wisdom; it is with you wherever you are!
Think about it: can you even remember half the wishes you made as you blew out the candles on your numerous birthday cakes? Did you think about them much after the moment of wishing?
A wish has very little energy behind it. It’s a thought on the wind, a vague hope.
But an intention? Now that’s another story. Or at least it should be.
Let’s start with the basics:
An intention is not the same thing as a wish.
If a wish is a vague hope, an intention is an expertly shot arrow.
Sure, every once in a while a complete neophyte hits the target (and a random wish might, too) but if you want to have any degree of success at this whole intending thing, you need to treat it like art… or like archery: you must hone your craft and become one hell of a marksman.
The best way to do this?
Use the power of intention daily.
Intending should be like brushing your teeth; you do it at least twice a day, even when you don’t feel well.
‘Cause guess what?
This whole intention-setting thing is simply about living intentionally.
It’s about focus and awareness: the same skills you need to be a good driver or a good mom.
Intending is a daily practice.
Which means that you are honing your craft on small things… which isn’t the way we normally think about intentions.
We pull out the intending mojo when we want something big and life-changing: a new love, a new home, a new job or maybe a special trip. We brush off our intending magic when we are feeling a lack: of money, of time, of compassion.
It’s kind of like only praying when someone is dying; you’re suddenly making deals with God… even though you haven’t had so much as a conversation in decades.
Living intentionally isn’t about deals. It isn’t about “pulling it off.” It’s about daily focus.
Which, on the surface, isn’t sexy. But when you dig deeper, you’ll find it’s an opportunity to bring creativity and meaning into your life.
Ready to do some really grounded, Earth-based intending?
Start by looking up!
The moon has a cycle. It begins at the New Moon (the dark of the moon) and then the moon grows slowly, night over night, until it’s Full. From there, it ebbs, shrinking down until it’s New again.
Linking to this ebb and flow creates a rich intention practice: when the moon is New, set an intention for growth. And when the moon is Full, set an intention for releasing whatever isn’t serving you.
So, for instance, this past New Moon I set an intention for the garden that I am working on. My intention is simply to step into this beautiful work and build with gentle grace. Note that I did not intend to suddenly get a new tractor.
My intention is daily-sized!
And what I am doing by setting it is energizing and paying deep attention and reverence to my own life.
Work with simple intentions:
You can intend to go to bed earlier, eat healthier, call your kids more (or less!)… you can energize a project like painting a room or planting a garden.
Do you really want to go big?
If you use the energy of the moon, then over the course of the year there will be 13 new moons with which to align your intentions.
Most of us really don’t want 13 big life changes a year!
Which means many of your intentions will be simple. They will call energy into the dailyness of your life while at the same time working your mojo-muscle so that when you need to pull off the big stuff, you know how to do it.
Here’s the trick of it, whether you are working with the daily-sized intentions or the big life-changing mama-jamas:
* Be super clear.
Oh, the stories I can tell about ill-conceived intentions! I tell my students to create a web (we use Spider energy!) and look at the effects on various areas of your life.
* Return to the intention daily and recommit to it.
I use a little frankincense essential oil to help me ground and center my thoughts.
Just put a drop on your palm, rub your hands together, and then cup your hands over your nose and breathe!
Speak your intention out loud and listen for anything that rings false or feels incomplete so that you can correct your course.
* Release anything that’s getting in the way.
Sage smudging is my favorite tool for this. If you don’t know how, I give a step-by-step in The Toolkit for Times of Change (under the Get Started tab).
* Take action steps to make it happen.
In my world, setting an intention comes with 3 action steps. Period.
And if your intentions aren’t coming to fruition, ask yourself this: are you treating your intentions like wishes?
This is the time of year when I often see clients spiral down the rabbit hole, drop their daily habits, and land in a state of either despair or bizarre holiday mania.
(You know those wild-eyed women running through HomeGoods, gathering up every last beeswax candle? Yeah. You so don’t want to be that person.)
So let’s start OM-ing now as a preventative measure.
As the days get darker, we naturally turn inward and become more introspective.
Add to that the mild depression of less sunlight, throw in a pinch of holiday stress and, suddenly, this can become a pretty unsettled time of the year.
Instead of dreading the darker days to come, think of this window before Thanksgiving as a time to realign and get into solid daily habits that support you, body and soul.
Get these habits for the darkest days going now so that guests, travels, and cooking for twenty don’t throw you off!
#1 Carve Out Time for Yourself
It doesn’t take much. A 20-minute tech-free zone, where you don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself, is heaven. So on the way home from work or from the supermarket, stop at a park, turn off your phone, or go for a short walk.
(And let me know if you don’t feel better for it!)
#2 Remember to Breathe
First notice how often you hold your breath.
Yup, me too. It’s kind of shocking, all the breath-holding we do. You’d think we would have asphyxiated by now.
Okay, now for the remedy:
Actually make time to breathe.
Five minutes when you are lying in bed trying to convince yourself to wake up.
Another five minutes before you eat lunch.
(5 minutes is not that long, people! You can do this—it’s breathing, for heaven’s sake! It’s the first thing you did on the way in and the last thing you’ll do on the way out.)
#3 See the Sunrise
When you’re done lying in bed breathing, throw your coat over your jammies and go watch the sun rise.
A 7AM sunrise is one of the gifts of these longer nights—in the summer you can sleep ‘til seven or watch the sun come up. In the winter, you get to do both!
Andrew and I have gotten into the habit of standing in the street to watch the sun rise over the mountains (we have tall pines on the east side of our house, so there’s no view that way).
As the sun comes up, for just a few moments I feel myself as a part of the larger doings of this great big world and my own concerns get a little smaller.
#4 Check out Mama Moon
The moon reminds us of cycles.
The earth is on a cycle around the sun, too, but it’s a long haul around the galaxy. By the time we come back around, we lose the sense of cyclicality.
A moon cycle, however, is 28 days.
Every 28 days you get to start a new cycle: you get a do-over.
How cool is that?
#5 Don’t Forget the D
Scientists now tell us that D3 is a hormone, not a vitamin, and one in which we are almost all deficient. Because you get your D from the sun, the winter months mean diving D levels.
This is one to supplement; there are no herbs that are high in D.
I like a liquid D3 in an olive oil base so I can just mix it with my food.
#6 Sip Some Herbal Happiness
Sipping herbal teas in winter reminds me of summer, and gardens, and bumblebees.
Plus some herbs have chemical constituents that actually help the happy.
Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, Milky Oats, Hibiscus, and/or Linden.
I got a gorgeous white tea call Ya Bao and I am already planning my winter mix: Ya Bao, Linden, and Milky Oats. With a smidge of honey, I’ll be tasting sunlight all winter long!
And we all want that, right?
Now it’s your turn: share your habits for staying aligned through these longest nights!