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3 Tips for Practicing Spiritual Self-Care

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It’s tough to put yourself first when you’ve been taught to put others first: your kids, friends, spouse, patients, parents, boss, coworkers, siblings, clients… Everyone but you!

What do you notice when you’re always on the go, running from here to there to meet your “obligations”? What’s your energy level like? Are you able to focus on others’ feelings, and what they’re saying? In other words, can you really be there for the other person?

It doesn’t make sense to put others first if you’re burning yourself out doing it.

Enter spiritual self-care. Here are my top three tips for daily actions that will help you feel more balanced:

Spiritual Self-Care Tip #1

Breathe, really deeply. Even if it’s for just three breaths a day. Do it in the morning when you wake up, or in the middle of the day when you’re stressing out, and/or at night before you go to sleep. Breathe in and out through your nose.

meditation-1837347_640.jpgBreathe in for as long as you can, filling the belly and not just the lungs. Breathe out for as long as you can. Stay with it. Feel the air moving in and out.

Bonus: You can tell yourself and your friends that you are meditating every day. Because it’s a mini-meditation, this breathing thing. Woohoo! Look what you did.

Spiritual Self-Care Tip #2

Intentionally do one physical act that is just for you, every day. Maybe that’s sitting by yourself for a few minutes in the morning, enjoying the smell of your coffee. It could be taking a walk at lunchtime instead of sitting at your desk. What about buying something at the grocery store that will give you sensory pleasure, like a ripe plum?

One physical act a day. A small thing or a big thing, but one thing.

Spiritual Self-Care Tip #3

Bathe yourself in golden light. You can do this at any point during the day, but at first it’s easiest to do when you’re lying in bed in the morning or at night.

Imagine a huge golden sun above your head. Put a magnet inside that sun and energetically pull to that magnet everything you need that day. Don’t think about it too much. Just call in whatever feels right:

  • Courage
  • Safety
  • Laughter
  • Joy
  • Wisdom
  • Confidence
  • Love
  • Gratitude
  • Self-awareness
  • Patience
  • Abundance
  • Connection to the divine love
  • Energy
  • Peace

woman-591576_640Pull the golden sun energy down into yourself. Feel it from the inside out and the outside in. Let it fill you up. Feel it in your organs, skin, hair, chakras, and aura. Feel it from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Let it radiate.

The whole practice can take anywhere from two minutes to several minutes, depending on how much you want to call into the magnet and how long you bathe in the light. (A slightly longer “bath” will allow in more of the energy you need right then.)


So there you have it—three ways you can practice spiritual self-care that take a total of 10 minutes a day. I guarantee you will feel more grounded, energized, and happy as a result. And guess what? That means there’s more of YOU to go around!

Happiness Is a Warm Hug

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I want to create a ministry based on hugs.

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you get a long, warm embrace from someone who has loving intention behind it? Maybe warm, or valued, or wanted, or seen? It feels good.

Cut to last Friday night. I’m out with a friend in a nice neighborhood, sharing food and drinks and good conversation. My companion says to the restaurant owner, who is playing host at the bar, “Does anyone ever tell you that you look like ______ (a local politician and businessman)?”

He smiles tentatively, responds in the affirmative, and adds, “But he’s much more successful than I am.”

Ever the minister, I say, “But how do you define success? I define it by level of happiness.”

He says, “Then I’m not successful.” I pause, wait him out. Nothing. I look at him–really look at him. He is sad. He looks beaten, like he’s barely made it through the day.

“Do you need a hug?” I ask. He pauses, waits me out. Looks at me–really looks at me. I’m not sure what he sees, but he feels accepted and safe.

“Yes, I do.” My friend and I pay our tab, and he says he’ll meet me at the front near the exit. I tell him I have to put my things down to give him a proper hug. I introduce myself, and he tells me his name is Steve.

“Hello, Steve.” I shake his hand. And then I give him a hug. I wrap my arms around his neck and move in close. He puts his arms around my waist. We stand there for a good long while. I put my head on his shoulder. We part.

“Thanks,” he says, “I needed that.”

“I’ll be back when the restaurant reopens,” I say. I want to support this man who is carrying such a heavy weight on his shoulders.

That’s me. Keeping the faith, one hug at a time.

The Faces of Prayer

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Call it meditation, prayer, mindfulness, consciousness, or sitting quietly with self. What matters is the intention behind it. When you take those actions, do you intend to connect to something larger than ego? The divine within you, perhaps, or God, or Buddha, or the universal consciousness?

You might call that prayer–not the, “Please save me,” kind, but the, “My eyes are open and I am grateful,” kind. Each time, each moment is unique.

What surprised me recently was how much I pray, and in how many ways:

  • My “20 breaths” meditation with eyes closed–which I can do anywhere, even on the back of the motorcycle–allows for immediate grounding and a new perspective on the world every time I open my eyes
  • Yoga practice, where I pray with my body by falling deep into meditation even while my muscles and ligaments are challenged; I am honoring the divine in myself, my teacher, and the lights in the rooms who are practicing with me
  • Wearing amulets, such as the lotus flower and an open heart charm, which represent my connection to the larger consciousness and honor my ability to stay present with the world even during difficult times
  • Kirtan, or chanting in Sanskrit, which removes the mind-created barriers to being one with the divine energy
  • Hiking, where I am at one with my surroundings and in awe of the sounds, sights, and smells of the physical world
  • Affirmations, which I speak to honor myself as a unique and beautiful expression of divinity
  • Mindful eating, where I thank three teachers, one with each of the first three bites I take

Without even counting the times when I converse directly with my higher power, I pray all the time. I’ve built these practices up slowly–over years–but I am pleased to notice that I am connecting to the light more every day. My aunt, an energy worker herself, once told me, “Honey, you are the brightest thing in this room.”

In what ways do you pray? How does being more conscious of that shift your perspective on your connection to the divine?

 

Photo: Buddhist prayer flags; (c) Rawich; courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Into the Great Wide Open

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Hot air balloon on a clear morning near the Rocky Mountain foothills

I’m impressed by people who ask for what they need–openly, honestly, and without shame. Their vulnerability amazes me. I aspire to be like them. They trust that their higher power, the universe, their communities, and their friends and family will support them and give them what they need. And they get it, albeit sometimes not in the form they imagined. They seem happy.

On the flip side, our capitalistic society has built in me a deep core of independence. Self-reliance. Strength. I know I can get through anything on my own by relying on my highly developed coping mechanisms (now mostly healthy rather than maladaptive). My faith in myself and my connection to the universe will get me through, most of the time with relative grace and ease.

So sometimes those same people, the ones I admire, also push my buttons. Who are they to ask for help? Can’t they make it all happen by themselves?

There’s the disconnect. It’s my tether to the universe that I rely upon to get me through the tough times, but that universe is comprised of guess who? Little ol’ me and all of the other shining lights that surround me. It’s these times of cognitive dissonance that make me step back and laugh at how my ego mind fights with my spirit self and the knowing of my true path.

The woman in this video, Amanda Palmer, found her way past the ego mind to get to the point of giving away her music in return for donations. She asked for what she wanted. It resulted in the largest crowd funded music project up to that point.

What my philosophy has distilled to over the past few years is this:

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Whether you ask the universe, your fans, or someone specific, you must ask. Put fuzzy, vague, static-filled intentions out, and what do you get back? Nothing. Or at least nothing good.

I vow to ask for at least one thing a day for the next 30 days. I am prepared to receive.

Lessons from Buddha by Deepak Chopra

Photo courtesy of http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

Photo courtesy of www.stockfreeimages.com

The fictionalized account of the life of Buddha by Deepak Chopra is an engaging, beautifully written story that inspires and educates. I picked it up because it’s different than anything Chopra has penned, plus I’m a sucker for well-researched accounts of historical characters presented in the format of a novel. This one did not disappoint.

Ultimately, Buddha is the story of a man, Siddhartha, who gave up everything he had–wealth, status, power–and went on a quest to understand the true nature of self and to attain enlightenment. He didn’t know what the answers would be, but he was willing to learn from spiritual masters and go to great lengths to delve deep into himself to connect with the source.

Once he found enlightenment and transformed into the Buddha, he was surprised that he had to use words, or sermons, to communicate. His healing touch and thoughts could bring freedom–from guilt, sorrow, and attachment to worldly pleasure and pain–but they couldn’t bring enlightenment. He found that without a Dharma, or philosophy, earthly beings couldn’t take the next steps away from their current way of life toward the understanding that the self is an illusion and that the end of suffering is possible.

Buddha never talked about God or the gods. He shunned ceremony and “religious practices,” because they distract from the true nature of being one with the source, or superconsciousness. Ultimately, each person’s path to clarity and freedom is unique. That’s what I love about Buddhism. It’s not a religious practice; it’s a personal journey. One can follow any of the paths to enlightenment and move toward peace, tranquility, and connection.

At the end of the book, Chopra wrote an FAQ about Buddhism to help make it more accessible to the lay person. If you’re seeking clarity, or freedom, or enlightenment, I encourage you to read this book. If it calls to you, it’s time.

3 Life Lessons from Yoga Practice


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I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for two and a half years. The physical benefits alone are worth the time and effort: it helps me be flexible, balanced, and strong. The Wii Fit says my age is four years younger than my real age, mostly because my balance and center of gravity are so good. That makes me all the more able to do the things I love, like bike, hike, and dance.

But it’s the other benefits, the ones that don’t have a lot to do with my physical body, that have changed my life.

  1. I can breathe through any kind of pain: emotional, spiritual, or physical. Ujjayi breathing is a controlled way to take air in and let it out that allows the practitioner to keep life force moving through the body instead of escaping from it during difficult yoga poses. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used ujjayi breath to move through tough confrontations and emotional distress.
  2. I am capable of doing things I never before would have imagined. Every time I experience a new pose, or refine one based on an instructor’s suggestion and feel my body as if it’s completely new to me, I am filled with wonder and awe. How did I do that? I trusted that I could. I stopped being afraid and moved into the world of possibility.
  3. It is possible to stop time. I ceased buying into the concept of linear time more than a year ago, when I realized that each moment is its own infinity. Yoga practice encourages me to be fully present in every moment, letting go of all past and future moments. It’s a freedom like no other.

These life lessons have let me feel contentedness, joy, love, and compassion to an extent I never have before. And I know that I’ll keep learning, keep growing, keep discovering. Yoga has become a way of life, and I am grateful for its lessons.

Mini-Meditations You Can Practice Every Day

It can be tough to start or maintain a meditation practice. Maybe it’s difficult to find a quiet space or more than a few minutes where you can sit or lie down to focus. It’s possible that the discomfort of looking at your thoughts or your inability to let them go without judging yourself harshly gets in the way. There are myriad reasons why meditation doesn’t make it to the top of the to-do list.

Even with lots of practice and a deep understanding of the benefits of meditation, I laugh at myself when I find I’m not doing it every day. But when I reflect on it a bit more, I know that in fact, I’m practicing a series of mini-meditations as I move throughout my day. Going through even one of these exercises a week will help you access the benefits of meditation: calm mind, calm body, calm heart, and feelings of serenity, joy, and gratitude.

  1. When I wake in the morning, I take two to ten minutes before I get up and simply lie in bed. During that time, I don’t go through my to-do list in my mind or think about anything other than how sweet life is. Call it a practice of gratitude, or counting blessings.
  2. To create calm mind and calm heart, I notice my breathing. Intentionally taking long breaths in for a count of four, holding them for a count of two, and exhaling long breaths out for a count of four helps to slow the heart rate and brings with it a peaceful feeling.
  3. If I’m feeling emotionally highjacked by someone or something, I stop, close my eyes, and gather all of the energy that’s residing in my space that belongs to someone else. I let it effortlessly go into a rose or other symbol that’s outside my aura layers, then explode that symbol so the energy can go back to its rightful owners.
  4. If I’m feeling floaty or like I’m not being in my physical body, I connect my root chakra energy (at the base of the spine) to an energetic grounding cord that goes deep into the center of the earth. Sometimes that cord looks like a tree trunk, sometimes a column of white light, sometimes a green vine. That instantly brings me back to my body and allows me to reconnect with the present moment.
  5. If I’m feeling unsafe or I just want to protect something, such as a car I’m in or the bike I’m riding, I put a big energetic bubble around me and the object. Then I attach it to a grounding cord (see above).

There are many more mini-meditations and energy exercises I do throughout the day as circumstances call for it. Add yours in the comments below–I would love to hear them!

Meditation Is Practicing Peace

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, speaker, author, and all-around rock star of kindness, turned 76 years old this past Saturday. Happy birthday, Pema!

Well known for her ability to bring Buddhist teachings to the Western world in a widely accessible way, Pema helps us laugh at ourselves while imparting valuable wisdom. Just the sound of her voice radiates peace, and she has had a profound effect on my life. Here’s a brief look at her style, where she explains why the best spiritual teachers are actually the biggest troublemakers in your life:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7qFi52FX1Q

Pema is in a year-long retreat in the mountains of Colorado, but she created a video in celebration of her birthday to give us all some instruction on the way of meditation.

I celebrated with others in community at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Denver on Saturday. We watched Pema’s video, experienced three 20-minute sessions of silent, open-eyed meditation (two sitting, one walking), discussed our experience briefly in small groups, and had one final sitting meditation.

In the small group, I talked about how I had learned to meditate with eyes closed and had some difficulty with the fixed, open-eyed gaze. “What did it bring up for you?” the teacher asked. “I can feel the discomfort of my body more,” I said, laughing because the knot underneath my shoulder blade seemed to bring searing pain with eyes open and was manageable with eyes closed.

“Just as we don’t cover our ears during meditation, neither do we cover our eyes,” he advised. “The challenge is to find that place of peace regardless of the external environment.” He smiled at me kindly, and I quietly integrated the exquisite beauty of that lesson. “Try to work with it,” he said. Thank you, teacher.

Another woman talked about how much anger was coming up for her during her meditation practice that morning. “What Pema would say is to practice unending kindness toward yourself during those moments,” our teacher said, and we all nodded. Even the Buddha felt the emotions, from what I understand. The path to perfection is not judging yourself or the emotions, but rather sitting in harmony with them. That is the practice of peace that comes with meditation.

Benefits of the Deeksha Oneness Blessing

Two different deeksha oneness blessings, two completely different experiences, both wonderful. I’ll be going back for more.

Diksha.com describes the blessing as an experience that “…transfers physical energy, awakening our connection with the oneness in everything,” a process that allows us to deepen our relationships with those we love, ourselves, the divine, and all other people. Deeksha Colorado describes it as “…a transfer of divine, intelligent energy. The process works by creating a neurobiological shift in the brain and awakening the energy centers in the body.”

The blessing is for everyone who is ready to receive it and is nondenominational. As with other forms of communication with the divine, such as yoga, chanting, and prayer, the benefits are plentiful: reduced stress, freeing the mind of repetitive thoughts and chatter, a sense of peace and calm, and a feeling of connection to all other beings.

One deeksha I attended was at a large Christian church, where the blessing was preceded by a concert of sorts given by Donna De Lory, a woman who sings a combination of sacred kirtan chant music and other snippets of songs we know (such as Amazing Grace) and songs she’s written herself. It was a delightful way to enter into a sacred space of mind and heart. The music was followed by a brief meditation and a transfer of divine energy from the monk Doug Bentley, who has been trained at the Oneness University in India. He sat up on the dais and gave the blessing for 15 minutes with his eyes open, a time when we were supposed to gaze into his eyes, followed by 15 minutes of giving the blessing with his eyes closed. We then listened to recorded kirtan chant music for 15 minutes with our eyes closed while we integrated the experience. We were encouraged to remain silent for the rest of the evening.

Another oneness blessing I attended took place at a small, nondenominational church. There, we lay on our yoga mats on the floor with our heads pointed toward the center of the room, where a man played more than a dozen crystal singing bowls for almost two hours. During that time, a woman sang prayerful tunes in a high, Celtic-sounding voice, and we received hands-on blessings from two different deesha givers. Each lightly touched our heads for about a minute, and this happened twice during our time together.

After both of these blessings, I found it incredibly helpful to take my shoes off and stand in the grass for a few minutes. It is not unusual for your physical body to feel a bit wobbly after energy transfers, and grounding this way brings you back to this world a bit more gracefully.

Though the blessings were completely different in format, my experience during both was of calm acceptance of the divine energy flowing through me. I highly recommend the oneness blessing to people of all faiths and belief systems. One thought at a time, one person at a time, we are shifting the consciousness of the planet away from fear and violence toward peace and love.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s All an Illusion, in a Good Way

I recently watched the movie People vs. The State of Illusion in the theater. Twice. It was that good. Austin Vickers, an attorney, uses the dramatization of one man’s experience in prison and the testimony of neuroscientists, biochemists, and thought leaders to prove that we create our own reality. Others have demonstrated the same concept in different ways, such as in the wildly popular book The Secret.

Mr. Vickers points out that each of us is bombarded by 4 billion bits of sensory data each day. We process less than one one-thousandth of one percent (>0.001%) of that data. What about all of the other bits that we filter out? It’s in that space that we find worlds that previously existed only in our dreams, or not at all. It’s where faith lies, and the lightness of being discussed in ancient texts like the Egyptian and Tibetan versions of the Book of the Dead.

The premise is that if we created our own world, including what we believe, feel, and think, we can create a new world as well, with different beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. Of course, it’s not always as easy as snapping your fingers. The experts testify that we have created neural pathways from the time we are in the womb. Those neural pathways generate certain reactions and feelings in response to certain stimuli. For example, hearing raised voices (people yelling) may induce a flight response, complete with adrenaline, racing heart, and blankness of mind.

But we can also reprogram those pathways and create new ones. Dr. Joe Dispenza talks about his experience of intentionally creating a connection to the universal consciousness, or superconsciousness, where he feels a lightness of being and melts away the daily worries that our society dictates are important. This is the space where creativity, imagination, and love reign supreme. And he tells himself, “Remember this.”

You can retrain your mind and body to be connected to your own divinity, even if it’s just one moment each week. It’s a beautiful place to be, and I invite you to join me there.