Life is a journey composed of many steps on our personal path that takes us down a winding road of constant evolution. And each day, we are provided with a myriad of opportunities that can allow us to transform into our next best selves. One moment we are presented with an opportunity to react differently when yet another someone in our life rubs us the wrong way; on another day we may find ourselves wanting to walk away from a particular circumstance but are not sure if we can. Eventually, we may find ourselves stuck in a rut that we can never seem to get out of. We may even make the same choices over and over again because we don’t know how to choose otherwise. Rather than moving us forward, our personal paths may take us in a seemingly never-ending circle where our actions and choices lead us nowhere but to where we’ve already been. It is during these moments that awareness can be the first step to change.
Awareness is when we are able to realize what we are doing. We observe ourselves, noticing our reactions, actions, and choices as if we were a detached viewer. Awareness is the first step to change because we can’t make a change unless we are aware that one needs to be made in the first place. We can then begin understanding why we are doing what we are doing. Afterward, it becomes difficult not to change because we are no longer asleep to the truth behind our behaviors. We also begin to realize that, just as much as we are the root source behind the causes for our behaviors, we are also the originator for any changes that we want to happen.
There is a freedom that comes with awareness. Rather than thinking that we are stuck in a repetitive cycle where there is no escape, we begin to see that we very much play a hand in creating our lives. Whether we are aware of them or not, our behaviors and choices are always ours to make. Our past and our present no longer have to dictate our future when we choose to be aware. We are then free to move beyond our old limits, make new choices, and take new actions. With awareness, our paths can’t help but wind us forward in our lives while paving the way for new experiences and new ways of being. It is through awareness that we can continue to consciously evolve.
It’s good to take a few minutes each day to unwind, but I include Sunday evenings to my daily unwind time.
Every culture uses something that pleases the senses to help in their prayer or meditation practices. Incense or some kind of fragrance is helpful, because it alone can set the tone of a room. And smells are one of the things that we remember and associate experiences with often. Lamps or candles are often used too; I prefer oil lamps because the flame is steadier than the flicker of a candle; inviting the witness to slow way down and come home for a little while.
Early on, I developed a way to learn by just observing. What to do, what not to do.. Observing is a way that I try to use to see things around me. Something that I learned about a long time ago has been coming up a lot for me lately; in all areas of life. It’s a statement that goes “People don’t see the world as it is, they see the world as they are”.
I see this showing up all over the place. Mostly between people. One of my favorite exercises to help slow down involves going into the woods and noticing how different all the trees are. And realising that we don’t judge the trees for being tall or short, straight or crooked, thick or thin. We just accept the trees for what they are and move on. We don’t get hung up on the fact that one tree might not have gotten enough sunlight and therefore grew a certain way, we just accept the tree for what it is and we move on.
I think that this is a practice that is desperately needed now with how we’re seeing each other. Chances are, we don’t know someone’s story and how they’re managing their life as a result of their story. All we see is how they’re managing their life.
I think we need to see people more like trees, and less like how we think they ought to be.
This photograph is of myself, maybe around 8 or 10 years old. Probably around the time when I was deciding that I needed to hold back and protect myself because I didn’t have the confidence or support system to help me see that I could be accepted and loved for just for who I was and that I could do anything in life that I set my mind to.
It may sound counterproductive, but sometimes when we’re working on ourselves we can hit sort of a plateau. Or, sometimes its more obvious and the thing we hit is like a wall. We just can’t seem to get past something. Its as if we’re putting the brakes on our growth process.
Sometimes, we can come up against a part in us that doesn’t want to heal or change. As a result, we can participate in self-sabotage. It actually makes a lot of sense. We all have a part of ourselves that is scared. And because when we start to heal, when we grow and our hearts open more, this can make us feel vulnerable. The part of us that is scared and wants to keep us down isn’t really sabotaging, its simply trying to protect us from pain. This part of us can be scared for many reasons, but often it comes back to knowing our own value. For example, if we don’t know our own worth, we can unconsciously think A), that we’re unworthy of whatever opportunity that is at hand, and/or B), that we’re keeping ourselves safe so that we won’t have to show up and risk experiencing an unwanted emotion.
It can be that we don’t have the confidence that tells us we’re able to do anything that we set our minds to do. By realizing that we’re not broken or that there isn’t anything wrong with us, that we’re just trying to protect ourselves from what we perceive as pain, it can really lift a veil on life and help us to welcome challenges in our lives.
Getting a little more clear and learning to know our own value. Just because we’re here and for being whoever we are, we are worthy of all of the love and grace the world has to offer.
A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe”; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task MUST be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Not one of us sees life as it is, the world as it is. We all see life as WE are. We look at others through our own likes and dislikes, desires and interests. It is this separatist outlook that fragments life for us – man against woman, community against community, country against country. Yet, the mystics of all religions assure us on the strength of their own experience, if only we throw away this fragmenting instrument of observation, we shall see all life as an indivisible whole.
A practice that can be done at year’s end to help usher in the new and escort out the old is to take some time and write (hand write) down some things that you want to release and then burning the paper in a fire.
It can be as simple as a single word, or as complex as you need it to be. But spend time on it; at least a couple of hours. You can do this over several days, but don’t rush or skimp on your writing time.
Then on New Year’s Eve, you can light a fire. It can be a small fire bowl, a fire-pit, or your fireplace. Safely light a fire and sit with the fire for a few minutes’ time. Don’t rush this. Close your eyes and sit with your fire and what you want to release for a few minutes. See what you want release, see how much you want to move on from it. Then see the smoke rise in your mind as you release what you need to.
When you’re then ready, safely drop your paper(s) into your fire. See the paper burn up, and the smoke rise, releasing you. Anything that’s held you back, it’s time to let it go. .Allow yourself to experience whatever you will about this as your paper burns away; anger, fear, anxiousness, sadness, loss, gratitude. Let it all out like the rising smoke from the burnt paper.
Close with an affirmation. Close your eyes again and say goodbye to the past once and for all, and to whatever has been holding you back. See yourself in your new life without what you released. Feel the relief, like a weight finally off your shoulders. Take a deep breath and let the exhale extend, like the last bit of release.
It can be helpful to write out your new intentions, something on paper as a reminder to create your new life. Re-visit in three months to check your progress. And finally, re-visit next year to see how you’ve done.
Let’s all make 2021 our best and most free year yet.
She’s the only American Buddhist nun, a renowned speaker and teacher. But she started out as typical as you and I.
Born Deirdre Blomfield in New York, she grew up a 60’s girl, and experienced life the way that many others did; marriage, children, divorces, substance abuse… After her last marriage had failed, as she searched around for some answers, she stumbled across an article written by a Buddhist monk, that was talking about using emotions for growth rather than trying to get rid of them or shut them down. That struck a chord with her, so she got interested and followed that path and ended up Pema Chödrön.
While doing a project yesterday this particular talk came up on rotation on my music. I’m glad that I keep stuff like this because I can listen now and have a different interpretation as opposed to years ago when I first caught wind of her and her lectures.
It’s about practicing remaining present enough with yourself during a highly emotional circumstance so that you can recognise that brief 1 or 2 second moment before you react.
In this split-second, you can as yourself, ” Wait a second.. I feel that I’m getting upset”. I’m feeling anxious, or triggered or whatever it is. It’s about taking that brief moment and noticing that you’re about to react.
Its in that moment that lies your choice. You can just stick with whatever you’re experiencing and ride it out, try to separate yourself from what you’re experiencing or you can fly off the emotional handle and go unconscious about it. Just the few seconds that it takes while you’re registering this process can be enough to begin to gently dissipate those high-energy emotions and allow a much clearer response to whatever the situation is.
If you’ve ever noticed a stone dropped into a lake; the initial “plop” it makes is one thing; but the subsequent ripples that the stone being dropped in the water make can actually be bigger than the initial stone created in the first place. If the stone is large enough, the ripples it makes can rock a rowboat on the other side of the lake.
Something that I thought I’d share in case it resonated withsomeone else. Your inner peace is definitely worth preservation.
Raising awareness within oneself is often the first step taken if one wishes to become more aware to one’s surroundings and to life itself. Can’t know anything outside of us if we’re out of touch with our own selves.
A simple way to begin a practice like this is to just pay attention to, and switch up routine things about ourselves.
For example, if you are right-handed, begin to do some things with your left hand; such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair or shaving. Reach for things with your non-dominant hand, and just notice what it’s like to do that and how it feels.
Look at how your feet are pointed as you’re walking or standing still. If necessary, gently correct the alignment by re-positioning your feet so that they are pointed straight ahead as you walk or stand still. Your hips and spine will thank you for this, too. Just notice, and gently correct and then see how it feels to walk and stand in this adjusted manner.
Last but never least is the breath.
Notice the depth of your breath throughout your day. Especially during any anxious moments. Can you notice your breath?
The breath is both a barometer/indicator and a tool that can be used to calm the nervous system. If you notice that your breath is shallow, simply make a point to pay attention to the length of your breath and try to lengthen your exhale to be double the time of your inhale. For example, if you count your inhale at four seconds, lengthen your exhale to eight seconds. And then see if you can notice what its like to do that, and how you feel after watching your breath and lengthening your exhale for a few minutes. Do this throughout your day, especially during anxious moments and just notice what its like and if there is any difference in how you feel during and afterwards.
These are some basic steps to become more self-aware.
As these are practiced, see if you begin noticing any difference in your awareness within yourself, and also outside of yourself; of your surroundings and of other people.
“A group of prestigious and internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.
Their work, among many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.”
Because the heart sends signals to the brain, feeling gratitude consistently can actually re-wire your brain; creating more receptors for such emotions and can be a great tool in overcoming depression and anxiety.
Controlling your anxiety and nervousness can be helped by simply lengthening your exhale.
Hacking your Vagus Nerve simply by using your breath and a lengthened exhale can help against stress responses, and will improve your Heart Rate Variable.
During an inhale, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates a very brief acceleration of the heart rate. During an exhale, the Vagus Nerve secretes a transmitter substance which causes a deceleration of the heart rate via the parasympathetic nervous system.
For example, a yoga practice instructs us to focus on the breath; specifically on the exhale. Using just the breath alone, one can lower one’s heart rate, which will in turn help to bring down anxiety levels, and help with agitation and general stress. Pranayamic breath work has been in use successfully in many ways for thousands of years around the world for the exact same reason. Almost every couple of years, fresh research corroborates that each of us can trigger our “rest and relax” parasympathetic nervous system to bring about a relaxation response , simply by focusing on the inhalation-to-exhalation ratio of our breathing and consciously extending the length of each exhale while doing breathing exercises as we go about our day-to-day lives. This allows us to focus more clearly, pay closer attention to someone or something, and allows us to be much more “present” in our lives with others. Immensely helpful in any situation.
Using these respiration patterns frequently (slowed and with longer exhalations) can explain a significant part of the efficacy found within contemplative activity practice. Though contemplative activities are diverse, they have shown a similar pattern of beneficial effects on health, mental health, and cognition: mostly in stress-related conditions and performance. This pattern can be explained by these controlled breathing exercises.
An easy way to test this and integrate it into your daily life is to use the 4:8 breathing cycle.
Inhale deep and long for four seconds, then exhale deep and long for 8 seconds. This should come out to about 5 cycles per minute.
Any time you’re feeling stressed out or anxious, try 2 minutes of Vagus Nerve Breathing, or about 10 rounds of the 4:8 inhale/exhale cycles. Just see for yourself how you feel afterward.