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.

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

Mission: YOGA

yoga

Soon I’ll be going off on an adventure. What type of adventure, you may wonder? Well, I’m chasing my dreams. They’ve been beckoning me for some time now. In a mere month, I’ll be living and learning at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I’ll leave my hometown behind for awhile, as well as my corporate job (hopefully forever), to pursue what my spirit wants and what the world needs. This 200-hr program for my yoga teaching certification will be intense. From 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week, I will be quite literally living and breathing yoga.

Embarking on something like this ignites passion in my heart, and inspires me to draw on all my faculties to soak in all the knowledge and wisdom I can. As I draw more and more inward to prepare for this experience, I continue to consider my personal values and mission.

Completing the application for entrance into Kripalu’s Yoga Teacher Training program required much self-reflection and deep thought into why I want to pursue this path. I wanted to share some of my answers to the questions on the application. These will help me in the future, as I compose my vision and mission statements for a studio one day.

Why do you want to be certified as a yoga teacher at this time in your life?

There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and in our communities. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of yoga, and its ability to create a sense of peace, understanding, compassion, and love in people of all walks of life. If I could offer a small piece of solace through yoga practice, and a safe space for people to gather and feel welcomed and accepted, that would be an invaluable life skill to me. I would be living a life of true purpose and meaning, and helping people on a level where they could empower themselves, and find comfort in the deepest part of themselves that perhaps they didn’t even know existed.

I’d like to help others let go of perfectionism, quiet their inner critic, and feel able to live as they were intended – free of anxiety and discomfort. And when they are feeling anxiety, discomfort, depression, and anger, they should be able to use yoga to validate these feelings and perhaps be able to let them go.

When I walk through the hallway of the insurance office I work for, I’ve observed that many people hang their heads low, struggling to make eye contact, or smile, or say “hello.” These people can benefit from yoga. Almost anyone can. If I can offer the gift of potentially guiding someone to find peace in themselves, easing their tension and anxiety, that is awareness I’d like to create for people. Manifesting the peace that is within us, bringing it to the surface, and sharing it with others contributes to an outpouring of kindness in our communities that I hope to see more of.

How do you plan to apply your yoga skills to your life and work?

I’ve always had the innate desire to reach people in a healing sense. Ever since I was a little girl, I struggled with an anxiety that I didn’t understand. As a result, I was shy, awkward, and just felt different, or somehow separate. I want to help people understand that what makes us different is what makes us beautiful.

I suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager and received outpatient treatment; in the rehabilitation center I attended, I met many wonderful, talented, lovely, spirited young women who unfortunately buckled under the pressure of society’s skewed standards of beauty. It was heart-wrenching to be surrounded by these young ladies (and gentlemen) who to me, were gorgeous inside and out, but weren’t able to see it through their own eyes or hearts. I’m grateful for that experience, because a deeper sense of compassion was born out of it. It became my mission to help people find their beauty and truly accept themselves and be kind to their bodies.

Yoga fosters self-love. Yoga helps us cultivate understanding, patience, poise, and presence (among innumerable other benefits). It is a powerful tool that largely contributes to self-actualization, and gently leads us to becoming the best version of ourselves. Applying yoga skills to life and work comes naturally when we nurture a lifestyle of devotion and dedication to practice. The application of yoga comes through our countenance and in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate with family members, coworkers, strangers; it changes our perspective on daily life, allowing us to let go of trivial issues and focus on the bigger picture.

Om Shanti

Namaste.

xo Steph

The Pursuit of Perfect

We all have that fleeting time in our lives where we were (or we now perceive that we were) living optimally. I’ll give you an example. That “perfect” time in my life has a name: my “2007 prime”. In 2007, I was 20 years old. I was training for a half marathon, and was basically unstoppable. Running and constant exercise were my lifeblood. I had energy that rivaled a 5 year-old. When I wasn’t running, I was practicing yoga. When I wasn’t running or practicing yoga, I was hiking. When I wasn’t running, practicing yoga, or hiking, I was meditating…finding myself. I ate mostly vegetarian, had no boys in my life, stayed away from alcohol, and listened to a ton of Jeff Buckley. Whatever that means.

When I think back to that time now, and how I was in the best shape of my life, with hardly an ounce of fat to hinder me…I realize how unfair it is to expect myself to be that way. I was practically a kid then. I’m a woman now, and my body is preparing to have children one day. Not to mention that I wasn’t working at the time, meaning I had all day to focus on myself and exercise. Perfection is a figment of the imagination, and pursuing it relentlessly is exhausting and unhealthy. It sets us up for failure and self-deprecation.

I think the more important thing to remember is to be kind to myself. To celebrate in the small accomplishments, and hunt the good stuff. I could put myself down and dismiss my achievements, letting the critic take over and say, “well, you ran today, but you stopped. You did yoga, but you didn’t balance for very long in pendulum pose, and your chaturanga could really use some work.” OR – (thank goodness there’s an “OR”, right?) I could praise myself, and say: “you know what Steph? You did a great thing for yourself today. Not only did you walk 2 miles on the bike path during your lunch break, but you came home after a long day, practiced yoga diligently, and went for a jog outside, enjoyed nature, and benefited both yourself and your beautiful puppy.”

Which of those statements sounds better? Kind of a silly question when I put it that way…But it’s amazing what we tell ourselves sometimes. I wouldn’t criticize someone else that way, so why should I do it to myself?

The lesson to take away, (and I hope I get better at this) is:

Be where you are right now, and have that be enough.

Namaste.
xo Steph