Sometimes this “you’re an old soul” mumbo-jumbo just pisses me off.
I was this particular kind of pissed off a dozen years ago when walking into yoga class.
Most likely I won’t remember your name if I run into you on the street (sorry, it’s true, I’m one of those people who needs context), but I can still feel the warm wood under my toes and the slight sawdusty scent which always lingered under the Nag Champa burning in the old church where class was held. Kate, who still often graces the cover of the yoga magazines, was teaching.
I rolled out my mat and pretended to stretch, listening instead to the replay in my brain of Llorraine’s rant about my old-soulness. So when Kate asked us to set an intention for the class, I did what any old soul with a chip on her shoulder would do: Prove it! I challenged the Universe, shaking my metaphoric fist at the sky. Show me just how “old soul” I really am!
And I set my intention to feel each of my lifetimes on a cellular level.
Let me pause for a moment to remind you that I food shop and vacuum and use chopsticks to fish the dog’s kibble out of the crack under the baseboard, just like you.
Most of the time I don’t live in altered states. But I cross through them, maybe more often than most, and learn a smidge more about the underside of the Universe (the part we don’t often see) each time I do.
What I learned this time was rather simple:
When I set the intention of feeling all my past lifetimes during yoga class, I felt like a bunch of puzzle pieces that don’t fit together. The length of my legs no longer matched and there was a weird stereo cacophony which almost seemed to reach my ears.
That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks as I straddle two timelines, two possible realities.
Honestly it’s been a bit schizophrenic. One moment I’m a complete failure, ready to fold up my part of our business and collapse in relief on the sidelines. The next moment I’m an author-to-be with an incredibly beautiful book coming out next summer (I’ve seen the illustrations and it’s going to be pretty spectacular) and a group of witchy, wise women deeply invested in my community and programs. One moment I’m deep in the morass of a crisis of confidence brought on by a multitude of bad decisions on the technological front, the next I’m fielding emails from numerous people who suddenly want business coaching (and I’m thinking come on people! Haven’t you gotten the memo? F-A-I-L-U-R-E.).
My friends have watched me swing between these two extremes, trying on every hat in the closet to see which will get me through the day: the wise old teacher retiring so the young ‘uns can take over, the sassy mentor ready to unstick you from your own morass, the sharp business woman asking all the right questions (this time around!), and the pathetic wreck sniveling through mounds of tissues.
This morning I was finally able to step back from myself, to get enough distance to understand I’m dancing between timelines, between possible realities… and right now, in this moment of choice, both are alive and real (and there’s probably more than two!).
Here’s the bit that’s replicable, ’cause if I’m the only one having these thoughts I’ll eat my socks: To get through these moments I needed the next level of intention-setting and to sink into a deeper well of gratitude.
Intention setting has never been simply about a couple mantras in the morning and a new vision board. But this experience of seeing the warp and weft of my reality, seeing the threads I was weaving or not weaving, drove home our multitudinous levels of choice: we not only choose our emotions and our actions, we also choose how we’re gonna think about ourselves. And that last choice resonates through everything else say and do.
Spending time in gratitude every evening, recounting the day’s pleasures, is lovely. But gratitude runs deeper than that; it’s about where you want to put your energy and attention… which means it’s not just about being grateful for the book deal, it’s choosing to focus on being grateful for the book deal instead of spending the same time/energy worrying about the tech troubles.
The funny thing is, in the midst of the angst of the past week, I’ve heard Lorraine’s voice a couple times:
Listen, if you were some young soul, I’d take this shit! But you’re an old soul; quit wasting your energy on the wrong stuff. Get yourself together and get to work!
Guess there’s a place for all that old-soul mumbo-jumbo after all.
Talk to me about intention setting, gratitude, old soul mumbo-jumbo, or the time you got caught between two realities in the comments below!
Oh, and some of you like to know what herbs or stones or animals I work with when I’ve got a particular thing going down. This week, I’ve been focused on dandelion, who cheerfully finds a way to grow and prosper in all sorts of odd and uncomfortable situations. I’ve also called on Owl, who moves easily between realities. Finally I’ve been taking some probiotics to help my gut digest life a bit better and massaging the Liver3 acupuncture point to support my liver assimilating all this new information!
Three years ago, when this blog graduated from random occurrence to weekly newsletter, I didn’t realize I was making a commitment to noticing the curious and the intriguing, the magic in the ordinary, the way the light reflects off a dew-splattered leaf or the scent of rosemary in the afternoon sun.
I didn’t know that in bleak moments when life seems annoying or painful or heart-wrenching, I would still be finding lessons and bright spots because I had made a promise to both myself and you to create something worth reading every Sunday morning.
I didn’t understand that blogging would become my act of communion, first with the world around me and then with you.
Writing has forced me to live in wonder.
It’s shown me how to keep the faith—to confidently approach each week knowing that at some point my imagination will be sparked by something worth sharing, something worth the time it takes for me to write and the time it takes for you to read.
It’s only this morning, lying in a borrowed bed at my sister’s home overlooking the Mediterranean, watching myself watching the world waiting for a moment ripe enough to become story, that I’m realizing this devotion I’ve created, realizing how I’m devouring details—the jasmine planted strategically beneath the open bathroom window, the word play as my niece and nephew switch fluently between English and Hebrew, the avocado green of the pistachio ice cream at the local gelateri.
Last night I looked around the table as we had our usual rambunctious family dinner, noting that “family” includes a childhood friend who is often willing to make the long flight from New York to join in our Israeli gatherings. Will this week’s blog be about friendship?
I think about my sister, who growing up wanted nothing more than to buy my parent’s house in a small suburb near Philadelphia but instead married into a foreign country, became unexpectedly bilingual, and is now a favorite teacher who can’t walk ten steps down her town’s ancient shopping street without being waved to, hugged, flagged for a quick chat.
Will this week’s blog be about brave choices when there’s an unexpected fork in the road?
I never know what I will write but I do know that if I pay attention it will come to me.
So I keep the faith, pay attention, commune with the world around me.
What I realized this morning at 3:30AM, jet-lagged and headachy, is how friggin’ grateful I am for this practice. Knowing that I am going to write, come headaches or out-of-town guests or wedding anniversaries or trips overseas, and knowing that you are going to read, keeps my life wonderous. It keeps me paying attention and in the game. This is why I blog.
So thank you. You are part of this equation and I hope that in the reading you too are sparked and your capacity for noticing the sensual world expands, that you begin to know both yourself and the world around you more deeply.
Tell me—what are you noticing in your world? What is lighting you up today?
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.
Do you know how smart, beautiful, and fearless you are?
Have you given yourself a cheeky wink and a thumbs up in the mirror lately?
If you haven’t, make kissy faces at your beautiful-being the next time you pass the looking glass.
Because being grateful actually has a neuro-chemical effect on the brain. Which is why I have my clients start every session by telling me what’s new and good… especially when things are horrible and crappy.
Gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus, which controls things like metabolism and sleep and stress. Which means that your decision to notice the good in your life affects your weight, your rest, and your relaxation.
Studies are showing that gratitude actually affects dopamine levels in the brain (read more here), which means being grateful makes your brain a happier place to live… and puts you in a positive feedback loop that makes it easier to be happy.
We tend to think of happiness as a fleeting feeling over which we have little control. But what happens if you think of happiness as a practice?
I suspect, if you are like many of my clients, it’s a practice that might be particularly relevant right now; at this time of year, when winter is beginning to soften but spring has not yet pushed through, aggravation can quickly become a dominant emotion.
The best antidote for aggravation is a little gratitude.
There are many ways to have a gratitude practice and you might have to experiment to find the one that flows for you:
* Keep a gratitude journal.
* Share something you are grateful for with your partner before bed.
* Use the camera on your phone to record moments of gratitude during the day (this is especially useful if you, like me, find gratitude in things you can see).
* Use essential oils to remind you of things you are grateful for (pine to remind you of Christmas with your family or clove to reminisce about Thanksgivings past).
What difference would it make in your life if gratitude became a practice and happiness a habit?
How do you practice gratitude and happiness? Share with us below!
It used to be that she would race into the park, excited to visit with her canine pals. When we get to the park now, she jumps out of the car and barks at us until her Frisbee comes out as well.
When we first introduced the disc, she would just chase it down like a tennis ball, often scooping it up after it had already hit the ground. But as she has gotten older and a little more coordinated, she is jumping, twisting, and catching it on the fly. It is spectacular and so much fun to watch…
…which is why it’s really hard to remember that we should be throwing her grounders.
Nyssa’s breeding makes her prone to hip issues later in life. Apparently these issues can take root when a pup is young, if their activity exceeds the stability of their developing hipbones.
You’d think it would be easy to wait ’til she’s a year old to begin Frisbee tricks. But one accidentally high toss, one bounding, twisting, glorious leap, and we were all hooked.
And this is the problem with prevention.
Prevention means that we will eat healthfully, get enough sleep, not drink too much or smoke too much, and forgo the sugary snacks… starting when we are (or were) perfectly healthy.
It means that we will somehow remember to drink our teas rich in flavones and forgo the moccachino, supplement with turmeric and medicinal mushrooms and seaweeds, eat our probiotic foods, take a walk, and not leap after Frisbees until we’re one year old.
And that’s hard! Most of us, like Nyssa, can’t comprehend that something that is so very easy to do today may actually be setting us up for a problem down the road.
What should you give up in order to preserve your health for a future that isn’t guaranteed?
Life could become quite dull and contracted if we are always looking out only for our physical wellbeing. Forget skiing or horseback riding, don’t go anywhere near hang gliding, and, heck, even crossing the street becomes questionable.
The path to pure prevention is difficult at best, soul-smothering at worst, and perhaps, in reality, just plain silly.
But we don’t come from a society that teaches us much about knowing our selves while finding the middle way. So we bumble along, doing whatever we please, until our body says NO.
At first it says no quietly — we may feel bloated after dinner or have a slight ache in our knee after a run. If, at this point, we tune in and listen, the correction is usually manageable: some herbal bitters before a meal, running on a dirt track instead of the pavement.
But most of us don’t listen; we don’t know how. We have been told to power-through, have a stiff upper-lip, get a backbone.
So the problems begin to multiply exponentially until suddenly we no longer know where they began or how to ease them. For as long as we can, we hold onto the belief that whatever is happening will pass because we are “too young”, or there’s “no family history,” or “not eating gluten is just a fad.”
We play this game until the pendulum swings hard the other way and we become sure our troubles won’t pass, and out beyond our control, so we commit to a lifetime of medication because, we believe, there is nothing else we can do.
Like most things in life, I think the answer lies in the middle ground, that area of turf that the pendulum swings through quickly as it takes us from Superman to Super-Sick with no self-conception in between.
What if we could learn to listen to our body’s first grumblings, the little squeaks and groans that are too quiet for our doctor to hear but are completely audible to an ear listening within? What if we tended our flus from the first muscle ache or scratchy throat, our GERD from the first bloat, our fatigue from the first day that it was just so hard to get out of bed?
This is one of the things I work on with my clients: knowing how they feel in their skin so they know if they feel off. And it’s pretty easy:
When you wake up in the morning, lay in bed and take a few deep breaths, then take inventory. How do you feel (remember that feeling happens in your body, so check in with your physical self, not just with your brain).
Before each meal, do the same thing – take a few deep breaths and ask yourself how you feel. Then check in again after you eat and notice if anything has changed (and if it has, look at what you ate!).
And finally, as you lie in bed in the evening, check-in once more. Maybe say a “thank you” to all your hard-working parts.
I can’t buy one hundred percent into prevention. Nyssa will get an occasional high toss in remaining months before her first birthday, and I will gleefully join my Dad in taking my niece and nephews for Friday night ice cream all summer long.
The middle road lies in a slightly different place for each of us, depending on our needs, aches, and constitution. The trick is finding yours and walking it.
Let me know how you find a healthy balance in the comments below!