One Foot In Front Of The Other – How To Know When You’re On The Right Path

mountain-path

I’m going to tell you right from the get go that the title of this post is a little bit misleading because here’s the thing. I don’t believe there is a right path. There is a right direction, there is a grand and inspiring and enlightened and vibrant place that you are moving towards but there is no one “right” way to get there. We make about 35,000 choices EVERY DAY! How would it be possible to get every single one of those “right”?

I like to think of it like this. Whatever it is that you are looking for in order to be happy, in order to be fulfilled, in order to be the best version of yourself in this lifetime – it is out there. It is out there like one amazing awe inspiring view. For me that would be the mountains filled with alpenglow but for you that might be the ocean or big sky country or a sparkling city vista at night. We’re not born seeing the view – we may have a sense that it’s out there and a general idea of the direction but there is never a straight direct path with blinking neon lights saying “GO THIS WAY”.

Instead there are subtle signs. Gentle nudges. We can’t always see them, we FEEL them.  We start out in the trees and have to find our way through. It’s easy to get turned around, or distracted and even completely lost at times. Like any good life wanderer the more we pay attention, the more signs we come across pointing us in the right direction.

Every “wrong” choice can be a gift too if we are paying attention. It becomes one of those things that nudges us back to moving in the right direction.

In my early 20’s I moved to a magical little mountain town where I ended up meeting my husband Mike. It was one of my first “real life” experiences after college. This little town is full of amazing, self-reliant people. People who grow glorious gardens. People who know how to cook and bake and can their own food. Potlucks – which happen frequently – are an amazing site to behold. These are people who know how to knit and fix things. They are people who have spent extensive time hiking in really remote parts of the mountains. Strong, kind, community focused kind of people.

When I first started meeting people in the community I felt a little like they were beautiful, magical creatures. Amazing and fascinating but not quite real.

Every other week Mike and I would make the hour long drive to the nearest town with a big grocery store and we’d load up our shopping cart with Rice-A-Roni and boxed mac and cheese (sometimes we’d throw in a can of tuna or some frozen veggies to make it “healthy”). We thought that was pretty normal but after living in this town for awhile it became apparent pretty quickly that the locals had a very different way of approaching food.

I remember distinctly one pivotal night for me. We went to have dinner with some new friends on their organic farm. Walking through bamboo groves and into the house they had built themselves 30 years ago felt somehow like coming home. On top of the burning wood stove was a cast iron pot of something that smelled delicious. Exposed wooden beams and comfy couches made up the living room.

When we sat down to dinner there were candles on the table. The beef stew that Anne had made was made up of only things that she had grown on the farm and beef from a neighbor that raises cattle. It was very clear that this was not a special occasion type meal – that this was a way of life (I doubt very seriously that there is Rice-A-Roni lurking in any of their pantry cabinets).

When we left their house that night my heart felt filled up to overflowing while simultaneously desperately aching for more. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That my friends is a sign you are moving in the right direction!

But you have to act on it! Otherwise it becomes one of those happy/sad memories. The kind that make you feel nostalgic and like you may have missed out on something more.

For awhile Mike and I continued on with our regular shopping habits because they were familiar and easy and normal to us – but now on the drive home I would feel disgruntled and grumpy. That unsettled feeling was a clear a sign that I was supposed to be moving in a different direction.  It took me awhile to tune into what was going on, but finally I decided to stop wanting to be like those magical people and try to start living like them.

Maybe it will sound silly to you, but the first time I walked into the local food coop I was completely nervous. I felt like there was billboard above my head walking around with me that said, “This is the girl who mostly eats ramen noodles!” I didn’t know what all of the vegetables were, I didn’t know what half of the things in the bulk section were. The people who worked there were friendly, but I was shy to ask questions. After I bought our groceries that week I felt a little out of my element, but also exhilarated. It was a start. I could catch a glimpse of the mountain view through the trees.

The key is to pay attention. To look up from time to time and ask yourself what’s really important. To take the time to catch a glimpse of the view through the trees so you know generally which way to go. You are already on the right path. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing more than you do right now. You are right where you are supposed to be. And although it might be a little scary, if you take the time to notice what makes you feel unsettled or unhappy you can change your path and walk towards something bigger and more beautiful. Towards the life that’s right for you.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Book Review: The Happiness Project

thehappinessprojectHow is it possible that I have not stumbled across Gretchen Rubin before? I feel like now after reading her book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The title of the book is a nice summary of what her year-long experiment entails but what you can’t know unless you read this gem is just how utterly charming and relate able the author is.

One of the main points of the book is that everyone will have their own path to happiness – an idea that I personally hold near and dear. I was curious before beginning this lovely read what it would be like to dive into the details of a happiness project that belonged to someone else. Someone with different interest from me (she admits readily to not being such a fan of the great outdoors, and yoga – at least laughing yoga – also did not make the cut). It was great! The author is humble and honest and funny (sometimes without meaning to be). She admits to her faults and admirably tries to improve upon them without being preachy about it. She talks about a lot of feelings that I think many of us can relate to — one example being the idea of wanting to become a better listener without just waiting impatiently for a break in the conversation to jump in with her own story or experience.

I love how she gives an honest account of what it’s like to juggle home and work life. She talks in detail about how she came round to figuring out what it is that is really important in her life. So often we get caught up in our daily grind that it’s easy to forget to stop and take a minute to ask ourselves the big questions like, “What is it that really makes me happy?” And, “How am I making space for that in my life?” Conducting your own happiness project might be just the ticket!

I know I’m gushing here but one last thing that I love about this book is the incredible recommended reading list at the end. Gretchen Rubin is clearly a reader – she makes a lot of references to her favorite books and the impact they’ve had on her life. I don’t know if you are like me but sometimes when I’m reading a book that I really love I feel a little sad when it’s over. The silver lining for me on this one is that now I have a huge list of book recommends to add to my reading list from an author that I really love.

Check out Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project for an uplifting, enlightening, very personal journey towards finding greater happiness and be on the lookout for more great stuff to come from this author.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Are The Best Things in Life Really Free?

christmaspresents

We were at Costco. In December. On a Sunday. Needless to say it was a zoo. People were honking at each other in the parking lot and inside the store the isles were so crowded that all you could do was shuffle along like a Christmas zombie at the same pace as all of the other shoppers through the entire store even though all our family really needed was dog food. Let’s be honest those free sample counters are hardly free – somehow while I was innocently trying a taste of Tillamook cheese the rest of my cart was inexplicably filling up with items that would add up to hundreds of dollars at the checkout.

I shuffled past the women’s clothing section and being stuck in a zombie pile up I HAD to look at what they were selling. Two of my weaknesses are hoodies and the color purple. Lo and behold there was the cutest purple hoodie  sweater I’d ever seen! It was like it was made for me (well, and probably thousands of other women across the country).

I checked out the price. Definitely not in the budget – especially this time of year with so much other spending going on. And so I, the girl with a cart load of yummy healthy food for my beautiful family, sank into a serious case of the holiday grumps. Did I stop at just being grumpy about not being able to afford a purple hoodie? Oh no! That would not be enough of course. I then had to get down on myself for being materialistic. Didn’t I recognize all of the blessings I did have?! What was wrong with me! But berating myself just made me feel worse and didn’t fix it so I sunk deeper. At the check out I looked at all of the other holiday shoppers with their carts full of gifts and came head to head with the super ugly and uneasy feeling of jealousy. Ugh!

Now to my own credit this is not a normal feeling for me. I’m generally a pretty positive practical person and so I was kind of shocked to meet up with these yucky feelings there in the Costco check out line. My husband and I over the years have chosen jobs that we felt made a difference and that we liked doing over other potentially higher paying occupations. Things are sometimes tight but we are a long ways off from being poor. Things were a little extra tight this year with both boys in preschool and myself working only part time, but those were choices we made to have the life that we wanted.

I reminded myself of all of this and the queasy feeling eased a tiny bit but still lingered. I didn’t really feel like partaking as the family sang boisterous holiday songs along with the radio on the drive home.

I got home and took a nap. Okay. A little better. I asked myself what I would tell someone I was coaching in this situation. Gratitude. Focus on all of the good things in your life. I keep a gratitude journal next to my bed and every night I jot down three or four things in that journal that make me happy and I’m grateful for each day. I started to wonder how many of those things cost money. So I did a little study of myself and looked back over the last week to take a tally of what things that I was grateful for cost money and which things didn’t…

Here is a snippet from 11/21 through 11/23:

  • I’m grateful that my workshop is full (free!)
  • That we had a super awesome healthy dinner AND the kids liked it (mixed bag)
  • That all of the laundry including the socks is sorted and put away (free!)
  • I had a good run at Fit School and am starting to make friends with Meg and Aly (mixed bag – paid for the running program, but new friends are free…)
  • My warm comfy bed (not free)
  • Our sweet kitty (mixed bag – she costs some, but her sweetness is free)
  • That the kids spent an hour today happily playing together without needing me (free!)
  • Sam’s creativity and Orion’s funny sense of humor (free)
  • The beautiful color of light this morning at sunrise (free)
  • Delicious smoothies for breakfast (not free)
  • Hot showers for water and tea (not free)
  • That blogging is so much fun (free)
  • That I have a family that loves me (free)
  • That there is a turkey in the fridge waiting to be cooked (not free)
  • For all of the sweet things people have written on the thankful tree (free)
  • That snow is in the forecast (free)

I kept reading through my gratitude journal tallying as I went. Total tally for the previous week; Free: 23, Cost Money: 5, Mixed Bag: 4

Somewhat to my surprise this little exercise was making me feel a whole lot better!  Not only was I steeping in the happy memories of all of the things that I love in my life I was seeing a pattern that was not as materialistic as I had feared. Whew!

I called my sister and she made me laugh like she usually does and life was looking up a little more. I took a deep breath and headed downstairs. There, my sweet and incredibly intuitive husband who had not only refrained from asking where I had disappeared to but had also made dinner and was now playing legos with the boys walked over and gave me a big hug. All of a sudden the ridiculousness of all of this brought on for want of a purple hoodie shifted into perspective and the sweetness of my life came back into focus. Thank goodness!

Why do I bother telling you my purple hoodie sob story? Well the night of my gratitude tally I did a little research on happiness. According to the Association for Psychological Science studies have shown people who are happy, “have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes and more creative ideas than their less happy peers.” Well who wouldn’t want all of those benefits! But the other exciting thing their research has show is that, “people can increase their happiness through simple intentional positive activities such as expressing gratitude or practicing kindness.” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013).  Awesome! Science backs up that not only did my gratitude experiment help to make me happier (which I knew of course but always nice to be scientifically backed up), but it also probably had a positive effect on my health and well-being.

Some people say money can’t buy happiness. Other studies have shown that to be true but only with an annual income over a certain amount. Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs suggests people can’t focus on things that make them happy until they have their basic physiological and safety needs met first.  I’m curious what you think? Are the best things in life free? Or do you need a certain amount of money to lead a happy and fulfilling life? Leave a comment below and let me know what your opinion is.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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What is Unattachment and Why Is it Important for our Health and Well-being?

cedarinsnow

“Don’t hold on to someone who’s leaving, otherwise you won’t meet the one who’s coming”-Carl Jung

When we were young my husband and I fell deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other and simultaneously with a beautiful twenty acre piece of land nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was (and is) a magical place with a creek and open pasture, edged by huge big leaf maples and towering cedar trees. The views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. It felt wild and expansive and we rose to the challenge of filling every inch of it with beautiful dreams of a home and gardens and a family. We were visionaries of the most incredible life and this was the place we were going to sink our roots in and live our whole lives long.

The property wasn’t quite legally subdivided and so couldn’t officially be sold yet, but we were confident that things would be taken care of. The owner was open to us using it until all of the permitting was completed. We happily got to work planting trees, putting in a garden, building a tree house and garden shed. After a year or so things were still not finalized, but seemed to be moving in the right direction. We built an arbor and on a sunny August day got married there and celebrated with the entire community.

We waited five years for permits to be filed and subdivisions to be completed. We waited five years before the whole thing crumbled. The owners went through a bad divorce, there was a family misunderstanding…we never really understood fully what happened (isn’t that sometimes the way with things that break our hearts). We were told the land was no longer for sale and wouldn’t be.

We were lost. I mean to say we were completely wrecked. Done for. Brokenhearted. Shocked. Angry. Confused. We practiced the opposite of unattachment. We were so angry! And we held onto our anger and simmered in it and with no productive way forward we stumbled through life for awhile. As a couple we suffered and our marriage suffered too.  We felt victimized. Someone had taken all of our dreams and crushed them. Someone had broken years of promises with no apologies and no alternatives. Who were we even now? What were our dreams?

Slowly we found our way through. Slowly we built new dreams and a beautiful life that we never could have imagined at the time – but not before a lot of lost time and more heartache than was necessary.

When you spend an extended amount of time in a negative state (such as holding onto anger) there are very real physical repercussions. It is it’s own kind of chronic stress. Under stress your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which in small doses can be helpful in certain situations, but when they course through our system on a regular basis they can have a very real negative effect on our hearts and brains. Research has shown that chronic stress can cause you to actually become hardwired to react to new situations in a negative way and can inhibit growth of brain cells that make connections to the prefrontal cortex-the part of our brain responsible for learning new things and creating memories.

My husband and I were talking about it the other day and he asked me what I would do differently now. At that point in our lives we did the best we could with the experiences and tools that we had. But if I could go back now and talk to myself I would tell myself to cultivate gratitude. To focus more on the good things that happened there and less on the the things that were “taken from us”. I would work on reframing the situation to realize that we weren’t victims, that we chose to hold on for as long as we did. I would journal and meditate and breathe and look ahead to new adventures and I would try to let go more gracefully. Those feelings of anger and bitterness didn’t serve me and they didn’t change the outcome of the situation at all.

So I’m writing to you today about the power of unattachment because I wish it was something that I had known about and cultivated back then. That piece of property was never ours. Despite paperwork sometimes saying otherwise we don’t ever truly own a place. Another person no matter how much we love them does not belong to us. And as much as you might want something and work towards a dream you can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. Dreaming big is not a bad thing! Loving deeply is the only way! Taking time to mourn something you’ve loved and lost is a necessary part of moving on. Do those things with your life! And then when it’s time to move on from a dream or a person or an expectation take a deep breath and let go.

Practicing unattachment can help on any scale – from letting go of someone who has broken our heart to letting go of our expectations that we won’t get stuck in traffic or that another person is going to feel the same way about something that we do. When we are able to set aside our expectations we are able to find peace. When we practice unattachment we are able to meet the challenges this sometimes tumultuous life puts forward gracefully and calmly.

Unattachment does not mean you need to live in a cave somewhere in the Olympic rain forest with only a hand-carved wooden bowl and spoon as possessions. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love deeply and passionately and madly. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel that little surge of giddiness when you put on that new pair of jeans that fit you just perfectly. It simply means being able to let go gracefully when it’s time to so that you can move forward towards the rest of your life with an open heart and no regrets.

Be happy, be health, be well.

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Hygge for Health and Happiness!

candlelanterns

I am fascinated by wellness practices around the world and how environments help shape what we do to take care of our physical and mental well-being. Things like shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in Japan, the culture of sauna in Finland, siestas of Latin America…but one practice I just recently learned of is the practice of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) in Denmark.

Did you know that Denmark rates #1 on the list of happiest places in the world? Why is that when their winter days are extremely cold and short? How do they keep their happy disposition despite what some might think of as a challenging environment? I live in the Pacific Northwest where it is undeniably beautiful but winters are dark and rainy and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real thing for a lot of people. I was hoping the Danes might have a trick or two to help us through the darkest part of our year.

Denmark is doing a lot of very cool things that probably contribute to it being the happiest country on earth. Things like the fact that 50% of commuters in the largest city of Copenhagen commute by bike. There is extensive parental support when it comes to paid leave after having a child. They have universal health care. They provide free (or very low cost) high quality early childhood education and consequently many more women return to the workforce post-baby.  Gender equality is rated as very high.

In one interview a Danish woman said she believed that they were such a happy people because they felt safe. They don’t have to stress out about whether or not to have children because they know they will have lots of support. They don’t have to worry about the cost of health issues if someone gets sick. They have a strong sense of community and social support.

There is one other thing they do that I think we should embrace here in the Great Northwest -the practice of Hygge. Hygge doesn’t translate perfectly into English but it means something like “the feeling of coziness” They make a point – especially in the winter – of making their surroundings inviting, comfortable and festive. The winter season is dominated by festivals and gathering of family and friends.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Hygge at Home

  • Light candles – The Danes love candles! You can bring a little Hygge into your home by lighting candles on your mantle or at the table.
  • Snuggle under blankets with a hot drink and a good book – Even better if someone else is snuggling under that blanket with you!
  • Warm foot bath- If you aren’t sure you want to go to the trouble of a full blown bubble bath (although I’d say that would be very Hygge) try a decadent foot soak with epsom salt and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Enjoy a treat- One component of Hygge is enjoying delicious holiday treats in a mindful way without feeling guilty about it afterwards – just making a point to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate them.
  • Turn on some relaxing music during dinner time. Make the mealtime environment warm and inviting.

Really what I think Hygge boils down to is taking care of ourselves and appreciating the important things in our lives – our family and friends, our warm cozy homes, good food. It’s understanding that our bodies need a change of pace as the seasons change and embracing it rather than fighting it. We could all use a little more Hygge in our lives. Hygge for health and happiness!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.