The Most Important Work of the Day

 

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When do you think your most important work of the day takes place? Maybe it’s in the middle of the day when you are in the thick of creative projects at work? Maybe it’s the volunteer work that you do after your “real” job? Maybe it’s in the evening when you are spending time bonding with your family? Maybe it’s right before bed as you spend time reflecting on the day? This is all important work.

For me the most important work of the day happens right up front, first thing in the morning. I wake up early – always have – a blessing and a curse passed down from my Dad’s side of the family (mostly a blessing, I only say a curse because I’m usually toast by 9:30 pm). I’m on autopilot a little first thing. I put the tea water on, do some yoga while waiting for it to boil, and then fortified with my steaming mug I sit down and get to work.

And by getting to work I mean I sit down and meditate. How can I consider sitting and doing “nothing” as my most important work of the day? Here’s what happens for me when I meditate. I give myself permission to relax with purpose. I can physically feel the calm wash over me as I start. When my mind starts to chatter (which it will inevitably do) I give myself permission to let it go. Have you ever had the experience when you can’t stop thinking about something, or someone, or a certain situation and you go over and over it again in your mind? Meditation is like taking a deep breath and saying “time out”.

Meditation helps me let go of the chatter and opens up space for calm, for creativity, for peace, for gratitude. It helps me to recognize that I already have everything I need in this moment. It makes me feel more positive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished meditating and when I’ve looked up I’ve been struck by just how beautiful the world around me is. And those feelings often stay with me through the whole day. They help me to be a more patient parent, to be a more creative soul, to approach stressful situations in a calmer way, to focus on the positive, to want to connect with the people around me.

I’m certainly not trying to suggest that meditation makes me perfect – just that personally it helps me realize who I want to be and how I want to move through the world. And that for me is the most important work of the day – to set an intention of how I want to see and interact with the world around me.

So how will you set your positive intention for the day? Some people pick a daily mantra, or give themselves a pep talk in the mirror. Some people pray. Some people break a sweat. Some people snuggle with their children. The way we start the day matters. It is important work. It sets the tone for the entire day and that spills over into the rest of our lives. Find whatever it is that makes you feel love, connection, happiness first thing in the morning and do it every day.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.


Here is a little more food for thought for the importance of starting our day in an intentional way:


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You Are More Than The Sum Of Your To-Do List

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I am a great lover of to-do lists. The satisfaction of crossing something off for me is a high, so much so that (don’t tell anyone) from time to time I may have written a few things on the list that I had already completed just for the pleasure of crossing them off. I keep my to-do list on my counter where I can jot down anything that comes to mind and not forget that I want to do it. Occasionally this has meant that my to-do list is longer at the end of the day than at the beginning, as I’ve kept adding things all day but only been able to get a few of them done.

The problem with this of course is that with a mile-long list we have so many options for things to do that when we go to choose what’s next we might not be choosing the most important thing. Maybe we tackle the little stuff first because it feels easier to get motivated to do those. Maybe we only take on tasks that take a few minutes so that we can cross more things off – the whole quantity over quality game. Even though we feel really busy it can also feel like we’re treading water. As if we’re crossing things off but not really making any substantial progress towards anything.

Here to help is the idea that less is more. We’ve all heard that phrase before and it applies to your to-do list too. Instead of haphazardly jotting down everything on your list that comes to mind (as I so often have in the past!) you write down only the three most important things to get done each day. This helps you to focus on the really important stuff and not feel pulled in so many directions. If you don’t want to loose all of those other great ideas you might keep a separate place for writing them down and you might even get to some of them. But each morning when you are planning your day try to think about what three things will move you in the direction you want to go the most and focus on getting those done first.

To take this even one step further, I think it’s helpful to spend some time identifying not only what’s really important to us in our lives as far as what we want to get done – but also how it is that we really want to feel.  You can cross every last thing off of your list but if you are completely stressed out and unhappy the whole time than what is the point! The majority of this whole life experiment takes place inside our heads. I know that might sound a little silly as we physically move through the day but our mind is always filtering, always analyzing, labeling, interpreting, seeking. It’s also extremely creative. If we give it a task instead of letting it run loose wherever it feels like it will often come up with the solution.

So if at the beginning of each day we can set an intention not just for what we want to get done, but also for how we want to feel – energetic, positive, friendly, loving, confident, calm, present, creative – your mind now has a job to do alongside your physical body. Each time you feel yourself drifting off to another place, maybe feeling frustrated or overwhelmed or upset about something the trick is not to beat yourself up about it but instead to acknowledge it, allow it, and then remind yourself of the intentional feeling that you set for the day. Take a deep breath and reset.

If you can do these two things; 1) Limit your to-do list to only the most important 3 things and 2) Set an intentional feeling for the day, you will be a powerhouse! Getting the most important things done and also feeling the way you want to feel.

On a final note I’d just like to put a plug in for having days that are to-do list free. This is something that does not come naturally to me but my husband has helped me embrace over the years. Make room for things you love, for creativity and wonder. Let there be days that take you on an unexpected adventure without planning it all ahead. Some days are just made for that! It’s like that Greg Brown song, “Love calls like the wild birds — it’s another day. A Spring wind blew my list of things to do away.”

A Day of Wellness CoverIf you would like a little help in setting your day up in an intentional way that will help serve your health and wellness you are welcome to use my free Day of Wellness Worksheet for inspiration – just click on the image to download it. It’s intended to take just a few minutes each morning to help you focus on what’s important.

I hope you have a beautiful intentional day!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

Is It Time to Take a Mental Health Day? (Hint…Yes!)

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Often when we talk about taking care of our health and wellness the first things to pop into our mind is food and exercise. Of course taking care of those things are essential to being healthy, but just as important (and possibly more) and less talked about is making the time to take care of our mental health.

Sometimes talking about mental health can almost hold a stigma – like if we are taking the time to focus on improving our mental health there is something wrong with us or we’re broken in some way. Think about this. You are talking to a friend and ask them what they will be doing today. If they say, “going to the gym” you think, “good for you!” If they say “meeting with my therapist,” you think, “uh oh. Something must be wrong…”

It’s because of this stigma that I believe a lot of us don’t even really pay attention to our mental state until it does feel like we’ve reached some kind of a breaking point. But taking care of our mental well being should be part of our regular health routine just like eating healthy foods and getting moving.

Recently I did a series of interviews with women about their greatest challenges when it comes to their health and wellness. While some challenges relating to food and exercise certainly came up what was fascinating to me was that almost across the board challenges relating to mental health took center stage in our conversations.

Things like wanting to feel more positive and more confident, worries about a lack of focus and direction, wanting to spend less time comparing themselves to others, struggling to feel like they are enough they way they are, feeling overwhelmed and scattered, feeling like they are worth spending time, money, energy on…

Let me just say that all of these women are amazing, whole, intelligent, beautiful, inspiring women and are in no way broken. I think if we are really honest these are real struggles most of us face.

So what are a few simple things that we can do to take care of our mental well being?

  • Meditation – You probably know by now that I will always suggest meditation as an truly effective way to take care of our mental well being. There are lots of resources out there to get started. Look in your community for in person classes or try this great free app that I love.
  • Yoga – Yoga is great because most classes are a blend of exercise and paying attention to our mental state and will incorporate meditation and relaxation techniques. If you are looking for a way to try yoga for free at home check out the YouTube channel for my favorite online Yogi Adriene.
  • Gratitude Journal – I love gratitude journaling because it is such an easy accessible way to shift us into the positive mindset. At the end of each day jot down three things that you are grateful for and make you happy. As you fall asleep your mind will focus on these positive things rather than all of the worries and stresses of the day.
  • Digital Detox – This is one that I personally struggle with at times. But taking time away from our screens to look up and pay attention to the world around us and take a break from being bombarded with all of the information on our news feeds can do wonders for helping us to feel less stressed and more relaxed. It can help us reconnect with what’s important in our lives including the people around us.
  • Write Down Dreams and Goals – Feeling swept up in life or unsure about decisions is very common. The antidote to that is to take time to carefully create a vision of what you want your life to look like. Once you have a vision your creative brain will start coming up with ideas for how to get there – your goals.
  • Creativity for the Sake of Creativity – This one I love because I think it’s one we don’t talk a lot about and can be so wonderful for out mental health and happiness – especially if we can let go of our expectations for the final result. I love watching my preschoolers immerse themselves in their art projects. They aren’t trying to make something to impress the world. They are just truly in the moment enjoying the experience of creating.
  • Exercise and Eat Healthy – Ha! The irony is that it’s all tied in together right? I know for me personally sometimes exactly what I need to get into a good mental state is to break a sweat and eat better.

These are just a few ideas. There might be others that work better for you. I like taking informal surveys when I talk to people to see how they attend to their mental well being. For some it’s making time for a quiet cup of tea. For others listening to their favorite music at full blast in the car with their eyes closed. Try picking just one thing to do a day for your mental health (just like you would for your physical body) and experimenting with it. Tune into your thoughts and notice if you feel happier, more focused, confident, settled afterwards. I’d love to hear your favorite ways to take care of your mental health.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

starting-4_1_17Would you like some help creating a beautiful vision for your life and goals to get you there? My next Crafting A Wellness Vision workshop starts in just a few weeks. Register now to be one of 20 women in this supportive, coach-guided workshop. Each day you will spend 10-15 minutes completing exercises and journaling prompts that will guide you in the creation of an intentional vision for your health and happiness. Check out my workshop page to hear from past participants about the program.

Joyfully Well

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Have you ever noticed what a “heavy” topic health and wellness can often be? It seems like articles and studies are published daily demonstrating links between serious diseases and conditions and our lifestyle choices. Terrible things that will happen to us if we don’t exercise and eat the right things, if we don’t get enough of certain vitamins. If we allow too much stress in our lives. If we are exposed to too many toxins. On and on! It can feel like a war that we have to wage just to desperately cling to our health! Or like a hopeless battle that we’ll never win no matter how hard we try. The implication can be the more unpleasant something is the better it is for us. It’s the “no pain, no gain” or “you have to suffer to be beautiful” attitude.

Maybe last week you heard me tell the story of the women in my friend’s office who brought in a green smoothie to work every morning and then cringed in misery the entire time she was drinking it? When my friend asked her if she enjoyed them she said, “No! I hate them, but they are supposed to make me healthy!” The sad thing about this story is that this women is trying so hard to be healthy but she’s doing it in a way that brings her unhappiness every single day. I’m here to tell you there is another way! So here is my challenge to you to think about today:

What can you do to be joyfully well?

What foods do you love AND are healthy for you. What hobbies can you take up that get you moving AND make you happy? What kind of self care can you do that makes you feel relaxed and pampered instead of tortured and miserable?

Because here is the thing. To truly be well we have to shoot for our relationship with health and wellness to be a life long love affair. You may be able to force yourself to drink a horrible green concoction that you hate for 30 days but unless you find the joy in it what is going to happen after that? Most likely no matter how stubborn you are you will not keep it up your whole life long and thirty days does not a lifetime of wellness make.

That is not to say that joy and easy are synonymous. For me personally it might be easier to sit and veg out to a movie but I know going for a beautiful trail run with a friend, although “harder”, is going to feed my soul, bring me a greater amount of joy AND contribute to my well-being.

For some people it’s dance. For some hiking in the woods. For my sister anything to do with boats. For my husband skiing and mountain biking. Sometimes remembering how we loved to play when we were children and finding ways to do more of that in our adult lives can do the trick.

Wellness is not a quick fix. It’s like any kind of relationship. You can suffer through a bad one for awhile but over the long haul it will make you miserable and it won’t last. The challenge is to create a relationship with wellness that makes you want to be with it for the rest of your life! So that you can see yourself growing joyfully old together.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

starting-4_1_17Registration is now open for my  Crafting A Wellness Vision Workshop starting 4/1/17. Join the next cohort of women creating personalized thoughtful approaches to health and wellness through a series of daily coach guided journaling prompts and activities.

Life in Flow Motion

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Life is busy. Does it ever feel like your to-do list is endless and ever expansive? Like you cross three things off, but add five more? Our days and attentions are fragmented – pulled this way and that between running errands, taking care of children, working, picking up at home, trying desperately to keep up with friends. Monotasking seems like an antiquated, slow moving idea. All the while our monkey minds work overtime in the background giving us a running commentary on how we are doing, what we should be doing, how that last conversation should have gone, what next thing on our to do list needs to be crossed off.

You need a break. Your brain needs a break. You are not a robot. You cannot keep up this pace indefinitely until the kids move out! You will break down at some point.

But how? Well you probably know me by now. I’d recommend starting out by trying meditation. But what if meditation isn’t your thing? I have a dear friend for who the just thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and not doing anything stresses her out even more. But your brain like any other part of your body needs a chance to rest and recharge in order to be able to do it’s best work with positivity and creativity.

Herein enters the idea of flow. Flow is not a new concept. It was coined in the early 1980’s by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. You may of heard of people referring to flow as “being in the zone.”  Flow usually happens when you are doing an activity for which you  have the skills and knowledge but also is slightly challenging for you. Flow is an active process (rather than something like meditation or relaxing in the hot tub). Your brain is engaged and challenged and you seem to know exactly what to without hesitation. People who experience flow often report loosing track of time because they are so immersed in what they are doing. It is also sometimes called “The Deep Now”.

Here’s the part I think is really cool. The idea of flow has been around for awhile now, but more recently they have been able to study brains of people who are in a state of flow. The original hypothesis was that much of the brain would be active while in flow in order to create such a state of optimum engagement. What they found was actually the opposite. When a person is in a state of flow much of their brain actually shuts down leaving just the part that is focused on the activity engaged. The prefrontal cortex – which is the part of our brain that houses our ego, our inner critic, our constant commentary – shuts down. Leaving us with the ability to be more confident, more creative, braver and focused.

At the same time our brainwaves also slow down – going from the fast moving waves we have while moving through our normal busy days to a much slower speed found between daydreaming and REM sleep. We also get a flood of wonderful neurochemicals. A heady mix of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. And this optimum state of being lasts past just the time we’re doing the activity. Studies have shown that not only are people more creative when they are in a state of flow, they are actually more creative the following day!

What are the times in your life when you have experienced flow? I’ve been in a flow state while running, writing, drumming, reading. I know my husband finds it when he goes mountain biking or skiing. Often people report finding themselves in flow when making art or dancing. Usually flow is great not only for our brains but we enjoy it, it builds our self confidence because we are excelling at something that is slightly challenging. We feel happier. There are so many reasons to find and make time for flow in your life!

It might be possible to take flow to an unhealthy extreme – to get so immersed in what you are doing you loose track of time and forget to take care of your body or pick up the kids from school. If you find you have that tendency I’ve heard the suggestion of setting a timer so you know when to stop. But when used in a productive healthy way flow might be just the thing to helps part of your brain put the endless chatter on hold and finally take a well deserved rest.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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5 Free Apps For Better Health And Wellness That I Love

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Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking? I have had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with technology over the years. For a long time I resisted it as much as possible. I was the last one in my office to get on Facebook back in the day.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that as a society technology has played a major role in moving us indoors more and making us more sedentary – contributing significantly to the obesity epidemic and all kinds of other health problems our nation is now facing.

But as with most things in life the issue of our society becoming technologically driven is not clear cut good or evil. There are of course many great things that technology provides us with. I get pretty excited when it contributes to helping us live healthier, happier lives. I keep an ongoing list of health and wellness apps that I use myself or have been recommended to me by clients. Here are 5 of my favorites that are free:

  1. 1 Giant Mind – If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like you don’t have enough time a daily meditation practice can help. Here’s the thing though, you can’t use meditation like a band-aid. It would probably help a little  to sit down just on those days that you are feeling particularly under the gun and meditate but much more effective is a daily practice. 1 Giant Mind makes it very accessible, it walks you through the basics of meditation and runs a 30 day challenge  where you unlock more great teaching along the way. I can’t recommend this app highly enough. I honestly can’t believe it’s free.
  2. Fooducate – Fooducate is touted as an app that helps you with weight loss, but that’s not why I like it (you know me, I like to focus on your health not your weight). You can certainly use it to track calories if that’s your gig, but what I like to use it for is as a way to learn about products and get ideas for healthier alternatives. The Food Finder feature allows you to scan barcodes on any products you are considering and then it will give it a “grade” and more information about it. But what I especially love is that it will provide you with alternative ideas for healthier items. Other fooducate users can post about ways that they have used that food. Fooducate does a great job of making you feel like part of a community of people who want to eat healthier. There are paid features to this app, but you can do a lot with it for free. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Runtastic – If you are ready to get moving and are looking for an app that will track your workouts Runtastic Pro is a great option. I used this fitness tracker for years and found it to be really user friendly and accurate. It used to be that this tracker was just for running and walking, but now you can track all kinds of activities from rock climbing to cross-country skiing to wakeboarding. Seriously if you can think of it they can probably track it. One part I love about Runtastic is that they will give you a map of a course you’ve been on with the mileage and time, making it easy to challenge yourself to work on improving your time. Again their are some fun paid features (i.e. you can pay for stories while you are running), but the free version is pretty powerful and all you need to get started.
  4. Water Time – Drinking more water is a goal that a lot of women I work with have and it’s a good one! Drinking plenty of water flushes out toxins, it transports nutrients to your cells and helps your body to work more efficiently. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to stop and take the time to do it! There are lots of water apps out there but I found this one to be simple and easy to set up. It gives you reminders throughout the day to stop and drink (you just have to remember to have your water bottle with you!). With the free version there are some ads, but if they bother you an upgrade to the ad-free version is just $0.99.
  5. Lotus Bud – This sweet app is surprisingly simple and often exactly what I need. Throughout the day at random times the lotus bud app will “ring” a meditation bell reminding you to take a deep breath and be mindful of the present moment. It’s funny because my kids love it too. If they hear the bell go off they stop whatever they are doing and say, “time for a deep breath Mom!” A great app for all of us!

I’ve come around to embracing technology, especially when it can help us with our health and happiness. I’d love to hear what apps you use and would recommend. Leave me a comment below if you have one that you love.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

 

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

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

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“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.

 

 

Book Review: The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

The life changing magic of tidying upRecently my dishwasher broke down and at the same time we had an above average amount of out-of-town company staying with us. Trying my best to keep everyone fed and also have time to actually connect and catch up with them I found myself using what seemed like every dish in the house. At the end of the day after the kids were down I was faced with a mountain of dirty dishes that took at least an hour to wash by hand. On top of that because I was spending so much time washing dishes all of the laundry, toys, paperwork and everything else started to pile up. I noticed I was feeling resentful-not towards my company because I really was happy to have them there – but towards these mountains of “stuff” that sat waiting for me as if they were trying to ruin the end of my day!

I’m a big believer in the idea that things come into your life when you need them. During the week of the broken dishwasher and above average amount of company a friend of mine mentioned this book. It sounded interesting so I added it to my library holds list. Sometimes holds take weeks or even months to come in so I often put books on my list and then forget about them. This book came in the very next day – it was as if it knew how much I needed it!

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up is as much about decluttering the mind as it is about decluttering your house. Marie Kondo helps us to realize that all the possessions that we surround ourselves with take up our time and energy even if we are not conscious of them. Think of all of those things you have tucked away that you haven’t used in years and never will (come on, I know you haven’t looked in the back of the bathroom cabinet for a while)! Getting rid of them and keeping only what is truly useful and brings you joy creates more space in your life. In this book Kondo walks you through a very specific order in which to tackle decluttering your home and helps you grant yourself permission to let go of things that are no longer serving you.

One of the things that I loved best about this book was that it encourages mindfulness in our everyday tasks. Kondo talks about the importance of thanking our possessions for a job well done, and putting them away respectfully in a way that they can rest until we need them again. While this might sound a little woo woo, what I love is that it raises your level of consciousness and gratitude for those everyday things that surround you. I am certainly appreciating my dishwasher this week! But I’ve also been trying to be grateful for those things around me that I don’t always take the time to think about. I’ve been folding the blankets I usually leave in a heap on the couch and at the same time appreciating the warmth and comfort they gave me while reading. Or putting my shoes away with respect and appreciating how hard they worked to carry me through my day. Yes, my house is staying tidier, but even more than that my heart and soul feel in a better place.

This book is not for everyone. One friend thought the author was a bit over the top and took things to too much of an extreme (however, she did also admit it inspired her to take eight bags of clutter to the thrift store). Another dear friend felt like this kind of process was written from a somewhat privileged perspective – that many of us can’t just get rid of stuff that doesn’t bring us joy because we can’t afford to replace that needed item with a version that does bring you joy. A woman in my running group had the funny response that her toilet bowl brush certainly doesn’t give her joy but there’s not way she can get rid of that! Of course if your warm winter jacket isn’t in your favorite color you shouldn’t just toss it out, and please don’t get rid of your toilet bowl brushes (I think a dirty toilet might just bring you less joy than a toilet bowl brush after awhile).

What I do know is that since reading this book two weeks ago I am closing in on having taken twenty bags of unnecessary items to Goodwill or the dump. While I will admit to not being the tidiest person I know, I am also not a hoarder! The problem isn’t that I haven’t been able to let go of things, it’s that after awhile it’s easy to just stop noticing them. This book helps you mindfully take charge of your surroundings so that when you walk into your home instead of feeling bombarded by dirty dishes and piles of clothes and toys it feels like a haven where you have space to breathe.

Try giving this inspiring book a read. And just like when you tidy your house take what serves you, and let go of what doesn’t.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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