Project Happy

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like the violin.” John Lubbock, whoever you are, you’re a smart man.

I was drawn to this quote in particular, because in fact I used to play the violin, for about 10 years throughout elementary, middle, and high school. And as a musician, practice you must! Although I’m sure there were times in which my parents regretted encouraging me to play an instrument.

My violin is now collecting cobwebs somewhere in the depths of my closet. I always say I’ll take it out to play again one day…

But whether you play an instrument or not, happiness my friends, is something worth practicing.

I’ve never been the cheerleader type. You know, perky and smiley and all those other exaggerated cheerful qualities. Quite the opposite in fact. I was always an inquisitive, thoughtful, serious sort of child. Perhaps even a dark little thing at times. In second grade, when we were asked to write about a particular topic in our daily journals, such as: “What do you like about yourself?” I would write something like, “I don’t like anything about myself, I’m not good at anything.” Holy perfectionism!

No, a cheerful disposition never came naturally for me. Upon seeing a company of men getting all their equipment ready to cut down some trees at my next-door neighbor’s house, eight-year-old little me marched right over there with an 8″x 11″ hand-drawn sign that read: “STOP KILLING THE TREES!!!” The utter horror and injustice of such a crime was real and important to me. I was jaded by the age of 10.

But as I approach 30, I’m becoming that cheerful, happy person.  I’ve still got my edge and introversion, which are parts of my personality that will never go away, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve simply learned that what I focus on has changed.  Now (not all the time, but enough of the time), I focus on my vision.  That place where I see myself in a couple of years time.  Living on my metaphorical mountaintop, yet more connected than ever.

It’s a rad thought.

Ditching the Script

In a bigthink.com interview, author Porochista Khakpour offers advice to young writers.  The best part about her advice is to not take the advice of other writers, and “throw away the script”.  In other words, everything we think we “should do” is not always the best way to go.  Follow intuitive sense and common sense.  “The world is just run by other humans, who make lots of mistakes, and who are trying their best, and sometimes doing their worst”, she says.  It may seem like the thing to do to look to a mentor, an author you most admire, and try to glean exactly what their secret might be.

But that isn’t the way the creative process works.  Sometimes, there’s nothing to say and there’s no need to force anything.  I think another really interesting approach is the idea that you may not always want to try to articulate your thoughts onto paper.  Instead, use the writing as insight into what you’re thinking.  I sometimes do this with meditation, but I suppose writing (also certain sports, other forms of art, teaching) can be a form of meditation.  I never thought to view it that way.  Don’t always sit and ruminate and analyze your thoughts.  Let the thoughts spill out in a medium of your choice (in my case, writing) and then you’ll be able to observe what it was you were thinking all along.

There is so much noise in this world.  So many opinions and ideas.  Not all methods work the same for everyone.  Like I mentioned in “My Story”, everyone’s path in life is unique, so that means their thoughts are unique, so that means their abilities are also unique.  Next time you want to ask another person for advice, experiment with not asking for advice.  Use your own special form of meditation.  It might be woodworking.  It might be gardening.  It might be graphic design.  It might be cooking without a recipe.  Whatever it is, before you begin, ask that same question you were going to ask while seeking another’s advice.  Just put it out into the universe.  Say it aloud, or in your head, or just sense the presence of the question.  In being present, eventually the answer will come.

Sip a Cup of Positivitea

Whenever I feel happy, I try to record it.  Write it down, snap a silly selfie, wiggle my shoulders and belt out an NSYNC holiday song, smother one of my dogs with hugs and kisses, dig in dirt, stare at some trees, whatever.  I wrote the following in my journal just two weeks ago…and last night I cried and cried until the veins on my temples popped like on the biceps of bodybuilders.  Where had that joy gone?  Why can’t I keep it in my locket and open it whenever I need my mojo back?  It’s so easy to get sucked into the quicksand of sadness.  But the more I get to know myself, the quicker my recovery time is.  Why?  Because I know what specific things I can do to lift my spirits.  I can fake an obnoxious smile until my cheeks hurt (see photo).  I can read poetry, or an inspiring story.  I can curl up under a heated throw and eat dark chocolate chips out of the bag.  I can sip tea and tell myself, “you are worth it.  You have a birthright to be happy.”  And there it is.  My cup of positivitea.  It is my foremost goal in life to discover what it is that makes me/people/communities happy.

10.3.15 Journal Entry

I feel so inexplicably wonderful in this moment.  Full of love, devoid of anxiety, relaxed, and grateful.  I smile because I am blessed.  Suddenly, I noticed that I was brimming with love and I was not trying.  Maybe my metta meditation has worked.  Maybe I’m moving closer to my dharma and that makes me feel hopeful.  Maybe it’s just that there’s nothing going horribly wrong right now.

I feel held by something greater than myself.  Quiet, soft, my body billows like a down comforter.  Self-love, perhaps, is the culprit, the wellspring.  Maybe that’s what this feeling is.  The idea that I am in charge of my life.  That I have the passion and the inspiration to be successful no matter what I end up doing.  Maybe I’m starting to enjoy the journey.  Trust the process.  Know, deep in my gut, that everything will be as it should be, and so I can let go of my worrying about it all.  This is a remarkable feeling.

Next I think, “I hope this never ends.”  Clinging to comfort.  Buddhism says grasping causes suffering.  I am mindful enough to recognize this knee-jerk reaction to clutch to comfort.

As I began writing this, halfway through the page I started to feel that old pang in my chest come up again, like that stubborn eyebrow hair you keep on plucking.  I wonder if that anxiety comes from not wanting this happiness to end.  Or maybe the anxiety comes from the ever-increasing hushed words of the self-critic, who could be suggesting that I don’t deserve this happiness, and it, in fact, won’t last, and I’ll be back to discomfort and dissatisfaction.  Even still, I feel pretty darn rooted in the belief that I can accomplish anything, and I no longer need to seek approval.

I’m an adult.  I have to remember that.  Sometimes I still feel like a child.  But I’m an adult.  A fierce, compassionate, innovative healer.  I can eat popcorn for dinner and soup for breakfast if I want to.  It’s exhilarating to start to release perfectionism, approval-seeking, whatever.  I am happy being me.  Finally!

What dream of yours seems so outlandish, that it couldn’t possibly materialize into reality?  I challenge you to challenge that belief.  Instead, say, “why not?”  Why can’t this dream happen?  Pay attention to what stories you might be telling yourself.  Write them down.  We’re about to turn all of that on it’s head and chuck it into the ocean.

xo Steph

Lean Into Joy

This is a poem I entered into my school’s poetry contest. My poem placed, I scored some cash, and more importantly, a spot in the next publication of The Beacon, the school’s creative writing magazine. Today I read this poem in front of an audience of people (most of whom were there because it was a class requirement). I’ve never been much for public speaking. But something about sharing it made me feel all squishy and warm inside. Truth be told, I didn’t feel much of a connection to this poem, until I realized what it’s all about (sometimes I don’t write the poem, the poem writes me). It’s about gratitude for yourself. A deep appreciation and satisfaction in your capabilities and gifts. It’s about connecting with your inner flame, your lifeblood. It’s about linking with “your people”, finding the ones who “get you”. Your place in the world is right around the corner, if you haven’t already found it. It’s also inside yourself, if you dare to get that close.

Lean into joy
In its simplest form.
Find it in the questions
You commit to memory and
hold in your heart.

Maybe some things
Are meant to be unseen.
Maybe, we focus our attention
on what sustains us.

Look, I mean truly look,
Deep down into the well of your soul.
If you drop a coin and make a wish,
Will you hear the pleasant plop
of the penny reaching water?
Or will it land among dust and debris,
Where water was once abundant?

Seek out moments,
Experiences that energize and delight.
Learn what fills your well again.
Wealth is not found in material form,
But in the ecstatic joy and passion
That fills our well to overflowing.

Our hearts have no time for the trivial
When there are wondrous landscapes to discover.
Untold stories,
Unwritten memories,
Pieces of personality,
Fragments of our true essence;
The hidden corners of our being
That we guard and conceal from the world.

Take this brief life in stride.
Gather all the brightest pieces
into your box of jewels,
And lean into joy.

Trusting Your Inner Compass

Remember the times before GPS?  Yeah, me neither.  I do remember typing my destination address into Mapquest’s magical navigator, and scribbling down the directions on a scrap of paper, dashing in my car, and whizzing on my way.

Many times, I still got lost.  But that was half the fun of it, wasn’t it?  It was part of the adventure and emblazoned anxiety.

Now, we set out on a journey and it’s no longer really a journey.  We’ve become so reliant on information systems outside ourselves, and lost touch with our own inner compass.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  We try to control the events of our lives, set reminders on our phones, tweet and post and scroll, clutching fervently to whatever seems to be working for us.  Distractions from ourselves.  Whatever it takes to get us to our pre-determined destination crafted by the thinking (vs. intuitive) mind, that’s what we’re going to do.  Steps A-Z.  In sequential order.

Well what happens when our plan runs off the tracks?  When T comes before B?  When someone throws a wrench in our perfectly prescribed timeline to “Z” destination?  I can tell you what happens for me.  I become disappointed, confused, angry, bitter, sad, and usually, defeated.  I forget the entire journey, throw away the destination, and move on to devise another plan.

Maybe I don’t need to do all that planning.  Hmm, there’s an idea.  Maybe it makes more sense to follow signs, landmarks, breadcrumbs, garden gnomes.  (Ok, probably not the last one).  At least I won’t be so attached to a rigid outcome.

I think by allowing myself to stray, to wander, to try different hats and shoes and scarves on, I can free myself from the anxiety of reaching that pre-set destination.  Maybe I’m already where I’m supposed to be, in every moment.  And the more I’m fully here and awake in each moment, the easier it will become to follow the flags, lights, and arrows pointing me to my next excursion.

This of course, requires trust in some force greater than myself, and also great trust in myself.  I used to ignore, shove aside, and snuff out my intuitive sense.  I’d shush that hushed voice that was actually guiding me.  I did things that didn’t align with what felt right to me, or true to my essential nature.

The more I denied my inner compass, the more lost I became.  But now, I feel like I’m starting to rest in the knowledge that I will listen to ME, and also take some hints and nudges from God/Universe/Spiritual Law/whatever IT is…because that resides in me.

The answers reveal themselves like dominoes clicking gently against each other, spiraling and weaving and knowing exactly where they are headed.

Steph xo

Okay, Universe. I Get It.

courage

I see this magnet every morning when I make my coffee.

Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions.  All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make the better.

But sometimes, I actually pay attention.  I read this brilliance of Ralph Waldo Emerson and think to myself, “when am I going to take a courageous step, and stop being so timid and scared?”

Have you had a dream that you’ve pushed so far away in the back of your mind, that you hardly remember it’s there?  Maybe as a kid, you had a particularly keen eye for beauty and expression of life, and you took pictures with your polaroid camera, wanting to spend all of your days capturing special moments.  Maybe you’ve always wanted to be that photographer, and throw all of your energy, inspiration, and time into honing your craft.  But this subtle voice of doubt always said: “That isn’t practical.  You’ll have to claw your way through the competition.  How will you find clients?  Better stick to your “safe” job, and “steady” paycheck.  You have to eat, remember?”  Well I think that voice of doubt is full of crap.  And even though I think it’s rubbish, know it’s not really true, and know there are ways to succeed and make your passion work for you in a financially sustainable way, doubt continues to checkmate me.  I get so close to winning the game, and then doubt taunts me, making the final move that I wasn’t confident enough to see.  Freezing me into inaction and disappointment.

 

I think that’s part of the problem.  Not seeing past the doubt to the truth.  Not taking small, courageous steps toward your dreams each day.  Allowing society’s measure of “success” to dictate what you do with your life.  If you know what you’re capable of, and know that you have to take a stab at achieving you dreams, because anything else just feels like a distraction, the first thing to do is to determine your own definition of success.

 

I’ve thought about what success means to me quite a bit lately.  There have been times in my life where I subscribed to the traditional, Americanized version of success: becoming a doctor, lawyer, or fabulously wealthy entrepreneur; owning a house so large that the smallest sounds echo; driving fancy, gas-guzzling “look at me – I have money!” SUVs.  There have been times where I felt unfulfilled, and I tried to fill that void by shopping, buying clothes and shoes and purses I didn’t need.  None of those material things made me fulfilled or happy.  In fact, they made me feel bloated with the hangover of excess.  Somehow, this didn’t seem like right living.  Not when there are children in parts of the world that don’t own a single pair of shoes, and eat dirt cookies dried in the sun to fill their bellies.

 

Success to me, is about real, heartfelt connections.  It’s about giving the best parts of me to the world.  A sense of community and unity.  It’s about people helping people.  It’s about doing my very small part to heal and create change.  Success to me, is having the freedom to curl up under the cozy covers with a book, with my dogs snoring softly on the floor nearby.  Success to me, is staying continually in awe of nature.  Success to me, is having a beginner’s mind.

 

It is only a matter of time before the urge to become who I’m meant to be becomes so strong, that I will have to forego what I’ve been doing and change my life completely.  In the meantime, I’ve begun to change right where I am.  I’ve done this by making a conscious effort  to connect with people at work, even if it’s just with eye contact and a genuine smile, or asking about their children and really taking the time to listen.  Offering someone undivided attention and presence is powerful.  With our electronically-dominated world, this is becoming a rare and needed gift.  More often, I step outside of my bubble and make small talk with the person bagging my groceries.  Giving and connecting, and being radically grateful for all I have, has made all the difference.  I’ve ditched my victim mentality, I’ve stopped belly-aching about the trivial, and I’ve started getting REAL.

 

And guess what?  I will silence that voice of doubt.  I will go for it, fully, and with abandon.  The only question that remains, is…when?  And when will you go for your dream?  Let me know, I’d love to hear your story, your dream.

Steph xo

Feeling Fully

  

Let’s be real: we’ve all encountered someone who’s words or actions grate our nerves, irritate us, etc. Look for the opportunity in that experience to grow as an individual. What can you learn from them? You might become more mindful of your own words and actions. Maybe you make a commitment to be kinder, more lighthearted, tolerant, or non-judgmental. Next time you come into contact with that person, and feelings of anger or annoyance start to emerge, allow yourself to fully feel that, and delay your reaction for a moment. Consider that there are a whole host of reasons this person might be acting in the way that angers you. If you reframe the story in your mind, you can feel less anger, and more compassion. 

 

Anger and irritation are perfectly normal emotions. They may be uncomfortable, and we may feel aversion toward them and try to push them deep down inside ourselves. A teacher of mine from Kripalu, Aruni Nan Futuronsky, said: “The only way past the emotions, is through them.” In other words, we have to be willing to feel our emotions fully, in order to release them. Have you ever tried to push a beach ball under water? Doesn’t it shoot right back up? This is the same with our emotions. If we push them down, they will eventually pop up again. Alternately, we can feel the tension, and then say, “thank you anger, for providing me with this lesson, but I no longer need you.” Take this practice in stride. We don’t create sustainable change overnight. Give yourself the space to emerge from a place of compassion slowly. Give yourself permission to feel anger, so you can ultimately release it, and come back to a state of equanimity. Thich Nhat Hanh, in a recent interview with Oprah, said, “the lotus flower grows out of mud. Without the mud, we cannot have the lotus.” That is the nature of duality. Without anger, we could not feel harmony. Without sadness, we could not feel joy. 

Namaste,

Steph xoa

How I Stay Fit

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A friend I grew up with, a gorgeous young mother, asked me today if I have any other workout regimen other than yoga, and how do I stay fit. This opened up a can of worms, at least in my own mind 😉 To answer that question: I mostly practice yoga and walk our 2 doggies for exercise. A jog once in awhile is a nice supplement, but that’s pretty much my cocktail of exercise right there – yoga and walking.

So, I decided it might be helpful to provide a list of tips that I use for maintaining balance and a healthy lifestyle, without restricting myself. Disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive list! But I’ll throw out some ideas that help me find balance, and add more in future posts as they become available to my memory (haha).

Keep an abundance of healthy foods in the house.
This may seem self-explanatory. But if you allow yourself to become ravished, chances are you’re going to go for the quick and convenient, which often means fatty, sugary, salty snacks. I always have oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, peanut butter, carrots, apples, and more on hand in my house so that I have the opportunity to fill up on healthy stuff. Alternately, and this is important, do not keep crummy foods in the house! By crummy foods I mean processed gunk. Packaged cookies, cakes, and snacks are typically a no-no in my house. Just check the ingredients. If there are many ingredients you can’t pronounce, or high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats, chuck ’em. Or don’t buy them in the first place. If you have a sweet tooth, try making oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon, and some pure maple syrup. Another favorite of mine are smoothies! Or make your own dessert from scratch. Pinterest has tons of amazing recipes for healthy desserts made with pumpkin, applesauce, greek yogurt, black beans, etc. Give them a whirl!

Use Cinnamon.
I don’t know how I missed the boat on this for so long, but cinnamon is truly a miracle spice. Cinnamon is my new bestie. I put it on EVERYTHING. Well okay, maybe not everything. But truthfully, I use it in my coffee, chai or spiced tea, on cereal, oatmeal, rice cakes topped with peanut butter & banana, apple slices, you name it. It is so warming and comforting. It tastes delicious. And I haven’t even told you about the benefits yet. It has been known to stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings, and may be effective in treating Type 2 Diabetes by lowering blood sugar. It can be a remedy for headaches and migraines. In Ayurveda, it is believed to aid in proper digestion. It fights E.coli and inhibits bacterial growth, which means it’s a preservative. Honey and cinnamon together are said to alleviate arthritis pain. Simply the scent of cinnamon can boost memory and cognitive function. Isn’t that unbelieveable?! I know, I really nerd out when it comes to nutrition. But seriously. Start using cinnamon.

Eat Mindfully.
This is one of my favorite practices, and quite frankly it’s probably the most potent for stabilizing weight and staying fit. Most of us have busy lifestyles, I totally get that. But eating without paying attention to our food is wreaking havoc. I invite you to at least try mindful eating once. Maybe start on a weekend morning when you can actually sit and enjoy breakfast. Begin by sitting with a long, tall spine. Posture is important. Next, observe the food in front of you. Really look at it – colors, textures, elements. Where did the food come from? Did you prepare it yourself? Think about where the fruit/vegetables/eggs came from. Are they local? Think about all the effort it took to get this food to your plate, from cultivation to transportation, to you buying it, chopping it, etc. Now smell your food. Really take in the scents wafting into your nostrils. What feelings do these scents evoke? And now taste your food. Chew it slowly. Take sips of water or juice in between bites. Be with your food and the experience of eating it. Give thanks. This is a simple practice of mindful eating. It makes such a difference to eat this way, than to gobble our food down…sometimes not even remembering what we consumed. A consistent practice of mindful eating will naturally allow you to eat less, and actually be more satisfied.

Nix Liquid Calories.
The primary beverage we drink should be water. And a lot of it. Like, more than you thought possible. Our bodies need and want it desperately. If you hate water, try flavored seltzer. There are some pretty delicious flavors out there…black cherry is my personal favorite. If you need to have beverages with calories, let that be a special treat. Like a cup of hot cider or chai in the fall, hot cocoa in the winter, an occasional glass of wine, a freshly-made margarita with only tequila, lime, and triple sec (sour mix is the sugar devil!), or whatever your poison is. Just let it be in moderation. (Hmmm, where have I heard that before?) Seriously though. I like beer, trust me. It takes awhile to wean off. But now I can have one beer and be truly satisfied.

Well my friends, that’s all for now (this post is getting quite lengthy). I do have many more ideas and practical ways to stay healthy and balanced, I’ll post more soon!

Namaste, Jai Bhagwan, Om Shanti –

Steph
xo  (P.S. for more fit tips and to follow my journey/be in the journey together, enter your email address below – thank you!)

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Being vs. Doing

I’ve been told that I’m a ghost lately on my blog and Instagram. Which is entirely true. Sometimes, or oftentimes in my opinion, a post that is born out of a spontaneous, organic thought is more sincere than a contrived one. I’d rather have my writing be authentic than forced. So if I don’t feel an urge to write, I don’t. Hence the gaps in posts. But, I did write something the other night (on paper in a notebook…old school; the way I used to exclusively write) that I think is worth sharing:

It’s become imperative that I figure out how to cultivate a kindness toward myself. For the health of myself and my relationships with others. When I become irritated with my boyfriend John, I believe this to be a direct reflection of the way I’m feeling about myself, or treating/responding to myself..which is often with irritation and impatience.

Impatience with my body especially. When or where this inclination toward perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and became so ingrained in my mind, I may never know. But I’m establishing the work of “undoing” the need to be perfect. It’s begun unraveling, in the best possible sense. We as a culture are under constant pressure to produce, produce, produce, to the point where 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough, and we’re left cutting into our time to rest and sleep, which I truly believe are essential to health and well-being. A lot of people say, “you can sleep when you’re dead.” I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy. It may work for some people, but personally, my body needs sleep in order to function properly and to be able to enjoy life fully and with ease.

I recently watched an interview with Rodney Yee and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Rodney Yee is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of yoga.” He said:

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with the impermanence of our existence. So naturally, it becomes an impulse we have to do as much as we can…cramming activities in what little time we have that seems to pass so quickly.

Produce. Perform. Achieve. What about just being? Is this something we’ve completely forgotten to do? In yoga, we sit with ourselves, and see what’s there. It’s amazing what emotions and sensations bubble up when we turn our awareness inward.

Personally, it’s become rather harshly evident that somehow, to my core, I have not learned to accept myself completely. I notice it especially when I’m practicing yoga. I push my body, silently scolding it for not deepening into a posture the way I think it should. I become frustrated with injuries that hinder my progress, and actually end up blaming my body, rather than being patient with it. I insult it when I focus in on flaws – for example, my muscular arms that I secretly wish were long and sinewy like a ballerina’s. If beating myself up were a major in college, I would have a PhD by now. Then of course, I become mad at myself for not being confident. So you see how easily the critic can swoop in and just take over.

I think that the expectation to produce and push often sets us up for our own critical review – which can end up being a roast on ourselves, spelling disaster for our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Sometimes we need to opt to push the pause button on production. Stop the assembly line. Be deliberately gentle with ourselves. For example – tonight I had a to-do list. I put this internal pressure on myself to accomplish these tasks in a certain period of time. After creating this list, and returning to it for my next task, I felt a sense of anxiety swarm and settle in my chest. Because if I don’t complete this list, suddenly I’ve fallen short.

So what did I do? I deliberately dismissed the list. I gave myself a break. I watched an inspirational documentary on Netflix (First Position; about a select group of young ballet dancers pursuing their dreams. Brought me to tears. I highly recommend it).

Why should we always measure our worth in achievements and accomplished goals? How about measuring in moments, in seasons, in our capacity to love, in our simply being human? How easy it is to forget that who we are, right now, in this very moment, is enough. More than enough. And on that note, I’m going to go have some popcorn. 🙂

Om Shanti,

Steph xoxo20140720-214531-78331492.jpg