There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window.
Rather, abide at the Center of your Being …
Search your heart and see …
The way to do is to be.
~~ Lao Tze
It is the season of harvest, when we reflect on all that we nurtured and tended to over the past year. It is also the season of giving thanks and a season of settling in and returning home, to the body, to the Self, and to the community as we prepare for the season of darkness and Winter. Chinese medicine theory reminds us to find our own rhythm within the innate cycles of Nature, so we can coordinate our energies and efforts to be in alignment with our environment and nourish our Qi.
But that seems easier said than done to many of us. Our intentions are pure, and even inspired, but the actual implementation of “the doing” seems to get lost in the chaos and overwhelm of our daily life. We’ve all experienced those moments when life seems to be stuck in a never-ending loop, leaving us feeling unmotivated, uninspired, and in a perpetual rut. The sensation of being trapped in a monotonous cycle weighs heavily on our emotional well-being. However, the good news is that even in the most stagnant of situations, there’s always room for change and growth.
Martha Beck, PhD is a Harvard trained sociologist, a NY Times best selling author and also holds the distinction of being Oprah Winfrey’s life coach. She presents a process in her book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to your True Self that anyone can use to find a sense of purpose, emotional healing, and a way to be free of mental suffering. Martha says that much of what plagues us – from our negative habits and patterns, to constant people pleasing, to remaining in stale relationships or careers – happens because we are not in touch with our true nature. This being “out of touch” actually signals a split from integrity, though it is very often an unconscious split. Fueled by cultural norms and traditions, we are pointed in the directions of what is expected or what is deemed appropriate by others, perhaps our families, or educational institutions, instead of allowing us the privilege of exploring the lush landscape of our deepest desires and dreams. Martha reports that most of her clients state the number one issue of feeling disconnected or lost along their journey relates to a loss of a sense of purpose in their own lives. This is then followed by the second reported issue of bad moods, which we try to medicate or ignore. But those moods are actually our teachers, the messengers trying to redirect our attention and actions to the “right life” for us.
When we find ourselves in the midst of the upset and disharmony of a dark mood, we can ask ourself: Where can I go so I might feel more light? Where is a space I can feel more connected? Martha’s suggestion to all of us is this: REST. REST. REST. Listen to the body and find time to nourish and restore. But certainly this idea of taking time to “do nothing” is not the message in our society, where multi-tasking and busy-ness have been the standard of accomplishment. Martha’s personal odyssey of breaking through the obstacles that kept her from her True Self includes fully healing from a myriad of chronic illnesses, and this message continues to be a reminder that our physical afflictions have a root cause that is connected to how we think and what we believe. Finding a new rhythm and getting back into sync with what is true for us brings us into alignment, where we can become our best selves. But how do we do this?
Meditation was the process that Martha found as her own path for discovering the amazing journey of going within and learning to listen to the wisdom of her Self. Certainly, there are many options available to be “meditative” without sitting on a cushion for 30 minutes, and there are many different approaches to meditation, so explore and find something that works for you. There are a few apps you can try: Smiling Mind is a free tool downloaded by millions of people, developed by psychologists and educators from Australia’s leading digital-led, prevention focused mental health not-for-profit. Calm, Headspace and Brain.fm are well known apps available in paid subscriptions, and are helpful with meditation, relaxation and sleep preparation.
Of course you know that meditation has positive effects!! Among the many benefits of meditation: pain relief, better concentration and memory, and improved mood. It can also prevent and help manage symptoms of chronic illness. We all have access to that information … and yet… your mind will come up with all sorts of “reasons” why you can’t do it. Here are a few common mental hurdles — and advice for how to jump over them.
“I don’t have time!” It’s wonderful if you can spend 20 or 30 minutes a day meditating, but, if that’s not possible, try starting with five minutes a day. By calming your stress response, meditation can help you both to manage time better and to make better decisions, saving you time, in a sense. Meditation may also slow the aging process, the ultimate gift of time!
“Bad feelings come up.” A regular meditation practice can lead to feelings of inner peace, but not every moment of meditation is peaceful. “Don’t be surprised if, while you’re meditating, an upsetting memory or uncomfortable feeling bubbles up,” says behavioral health specialist Jane Ehrman, MEd. The goal isn’t to eliminate emotions, but to relate to them in a new way. Rather than pushing feelings away, judging them, or being carried away by them, just observe them. “Acknowledge what is happening and then try to move through the experience with compassion for yourself.”
“My mind wanders — I’m not cut out for meditation.” As with emotions, thought elimination isn’t the goal of meditation. When thoughts come up, acknowledge them, let them go, and focus your attention back to your breath. Think of meditation as sitting on the banks of your life and watching the moments float by. Just let them go.
The goal is truly to be more aware of our thoughts and busy chatter in the mind, but not get caught up in the dialogue. With a meditation practice, we learn to become the witness to the drama, simply observing the thoughts and then returning to the breath, or the mantra. And please note the word “practice” – for that is what it truly is – practice, NOT PERFECTION. Even during moments when we feel circumstances are beyond our control, it is essential to keep in mind that we truly do maintain the ability to alter our responses, reactions, and behaviors. We have the choice to engage in numerous lifestyle habits that can profoundly impact our mental state and emotional well being, and can help to clear the clutter that is obstructing your path to your True Self.
It is impossible to create an environment of peace, compassion and lovingkindness in our home and community if we have not yet been able to establish those roots within our own Self. But it is imperative that we begin to try, and practice, to find our best path to come home to our True Self – because this is what you were born for – to shine your gifts and your Light and share your unique, unrepeatable Self with the world. Just begin! If meditation seems too challenging for you at the moment, consider the following lifestyle shifts. By incorporating any one of the following changes into your daily life, you can experience a more positive and balanced mood, which in turn helps to move your qi and allow easy flow within your body-mind-spirit. Remember these lifestyle adjustments are not only about feeling better but also about fostering long-term emotional resilience and happiness. Embrace the choices and the changes and you’ll find yourself on the path to a happier and more fulfilling life, one day at a time, in alignment with your True Self.
- Regular Exercise
Why It Works: Physical activity releases endorphins, often referred to as “feel-good” hormones. These neurotransmitters interact with receptors in your brain to reduce pain perception and boost your mood. Also, research has shown that moderate regular exercise treats depression as well as prevents it. Exercise has been associated with reduced risk of depression and anxiety as well as lower rates of mental illnesses overall.
Exercise also increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps improve mood and cognitive function. So while exercise is important for keeping us physically healthy, it is equally essential for nurturing our mental health.
- Balanced Diet
Why It Works: A balanced diet rich in nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and amino acids like tryptophan (found in red meat, dairy products, turkey) provides the necessary building blocks for neurotransmitters like serotonin. When our brains are well-nourished and our blood sugar is stable, we are better equipped to regulate our mood and emotions.
- Quality Sleep
Why It Works: During deep sleep, the brain processes emotional information and consolidates memories. Inadequate sleep impairs mood regulation, making it more challenging to handle stress and negative emotions.
- Stress Management
Why It Works: Chronic stress triggers the release of cortisol, which, when elevated for prolonged periods, can lead to mood disorders. Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and exercise can help lower cortisol levels and promote emotional well-being.
- Sunlight and Vitamin D
Why It Works: Exposure to sunlight triggers the release of serotonin and helps the body produce vitamin D. Both of these factors play vital roles in regulating mood and warding off symptoms of depression.
- Social Connections
Why It Works: Human beings are inherently social creatures. Engaging in meaningful social interactions and building relationships can release oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” It promotes bonding and feelings of well-being. Social connection and love can also help to keep you physically healthier.
- Pursue Passion and Hobbies
Why It Works: Engaging in activities you’re passionate about stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Pursuing hobbies and interests provides a sense of fulfillment and happiness. Don’t have a hobby? Check out this great list to get started. Discover a Hobby
- Gratitude Practice
Why It Works: Practicing gratitude shifts your focus toward positive aspects of life, fostering an optimistic outlook. It encourages the brain to produce more serotonin, enhancing mood and overall well-being. Gratitude Challenge
- Declutter Your Environment
Why It Works: A cluttered and disorganized environment can create stress and anxiety. Decluttering promotes a sense of control and tranquility, leading to improved emotional well-being.
- Mindfulness and Meditation
Why It Works: Mindfulness and meditation techniques help rewire the brain, strengthening the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thinking and emotional regulation. These practices can reduce negative thought patterns, reduce stress, and promote emotional balance. Check out our local friends at the in person and virtual meditation studio: Pause to be Present
- Laugh More
Why It Works: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. It also has many therapeutic benefits for our mental health – it reduces the levels of stress hormones, promoting a positive and relaxed mood. Norman Cousins wrote all about his recovery from a life threatening illness and how laughter healed him in his best-selling and groundbreaking classic: Anatomy of an Illness: Perceived by the Patient.
- Set Goals and Celebrate Achievements
Why It Works: Setting and achieving goals provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The brain releases dopamine, reinforcing positive behaviors and enhancing mood.
You must live in the present,
launch yourself on every wave,
find your eternity in each moment.
Fools stand on their island of opportunities
and look toward another land.
There is no other land;
there is no other life than this.”
~~ Henry David Thoreau