Free Yourself to Be Yourself: Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”

To continue the theme of examining your life from Monday’s post, we wanted to share a favorite poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver in which she describes how ultimately we must abide by our “inner voice” if we are to survive. Imagine our delight when we discovered this is also Maria Shriver’s favorite poem which she presented for National Poetry Day at the 2011 Women’s Conference.

So sit back, relax (well maybe) and enjoy the following rendition of “The Journey.” Then let us know what you think. Is this too radical to imagine or not? If so, what may be standing in your way? What would it take to free yourself to be yourself?

Mindfulness: Make Each Day Count

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) used worldwide to improve health and enhance wellness defines mindfulness as “Paying attention to the present moment on purpose as if your life depended on it in a non-judgemental way.”  It is slowing our lives down to notice what’s happening as its occurring instead of worrying about the future or  dwelling in the past.

Research indicates mindfulness contributes to improved physical health, greater immunity, less pain from chronic health conditions, shorter recovery times from surgery and many other mind-body benefits including decreased stress and better moods.  All it takes is time and consistent practice for it to work.

Here’s a fun way to practice.  Take a good piece of chocolate, and mindfully eat it.  To start, observe the chocolate and how it appears.  Then sniff it and notice the aroma.  Feel the texture and surface of it.  Pay attention to the sounds your body makes as you draw the chocolate near.  Finally, put it in your mouth and savor the flavor, texture, taste and total sensory experience. Mindfulness in action. Likewise, you can use a raisin or grape or slice of apple. It’s up to you.

This week dedicate 10 minutes daily to pay full attention to the present moment: playing with your child, sitting/walking outside, sipping coffee/tea, washing the dishes or showering.  Any activity is an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness as long as you are fully aware of it with all your senses.  As Kabat-Zinn suggests, treat it as though “your life depended on it” and you will succeed.

This week’s mantra: “When I bring my attention to the present moment and savor my experience, I can improve my health and feel better.”


Fall’s Here! Time to Reflect and Reconnect

Back in the day before electricity lit our lives up year round, fall’s longer nights and cooler weather prompted us to move indoors and spend less time engaged in the hubbub of daily life. It was a time of rest and restoration. Harvest was ending and families huddled together preparing for winter’s onset.

Today we’re often too busy to even notice the leaves turning but we can change this. This week, take 15 minutes to go outside in the morning to smell the fall air. Notice the the trees, their leaves, and how effortlessly they let go. If you live in the city, pay attention to how outdoors feels different than last month. Stop to reflect on nature slowing down.

Then choose another day to write down what you’d like to let go of. Put each on a  slip of paper. Maybe it’s guilt over a mistake or pushing yourself too hard. Just write whatever comes up without judging or censoring. At the end of the week, take all you’ve written and burn them one by one, releasing them from your soul. Fall is an excellent time to release the old to make way for the new.

You can also do this with your family/friends. Give each person slips of paper to note what they’re ready to discard and burn them together. Reflect and reconnect with yourself and others, creating space for what you do want to enter your life like the trees shedding their leaves for new growth.

This week’s mantra: “I can shed my outworn beliefs and let go of what’s no longer good for me .”

Stress Getting the Best of You? Just Breathe.

When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work.  My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night  and having trouble sleeping.  She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.”  Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.

Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically  and emotionally stressed.  Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily.  While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems.  Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.

The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted.  The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger.  Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end.  Why wait?  If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being.  Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.

This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”

Read more.

What I Learned This Weekend

Today I had the privilege of gathering with 10 other women at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center for a class I taught on Mindful Stress Reduction. The class focusses on different practices which ease stress and improve mind, body & spirit health and well-being through mindfulness and meditation. Each time I teach, I learn so much and today was no exception. Although many of the women were going through multiple losses including the loss of loved ones, their light was bright and illuminating.

Here are some of the insights they shared.

  1. Even in the midst of sorrow, practice gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for and while it won’t take your sadness away, it reminds you of life’s goodness.
  2. Sometimes what you need most is to stop and take care of yourself. Let the laundry sit unfolded or whatever you think you “need to do” before you stop to recharge. Sit still or do what nourishes you first.
  3. Take time to be in nature. Go outside with your family and turn off the indoor distractions. Reconnect with each other. Tune in to the simple pleasure of being together.
  4. You are not alone. Everyone is affected by life’s ups and downs. Stop feeling bad because it’s only you. It isn’t.
  5. Be prepared to make mistakes and fall in the same hole over and over. Become aware of the control you have to make a different choice. Even if you still fall in, notice where you are and how to get out. Then, learn to walk around the hole and finally, walk down a different street.
  6. It’s important to grieve the losses you experience in life. This is how you heal. They won’t go away if you deny them.
  7. In spite of what others want from you, be willing to say no especially if it’s best for you. Leave others to deal with the unpleasant circumstances they create.
  8. We create our own suffering. Learn to set aside unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, by finding activities you enjoy rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Life happens in the present moment. Embrace it.

For your homework this week, think about what you’ve learned this year which has helped you grow mind, body & spirit. Then, let us know. Remember, we are here.


For Lillian as You Leave

Lillian Michalsky is an extra-ordinary person and someone I’ve been privileged to know if only for a short time. I met her over a month ago at a women’s retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch. Although she was not teaching the class, her wisdom and insight made an impression as she sat in her lounge chair in our circle, living with pancreatic cancer. Her life is a legacy for the strength of human spirit which I know will continue in the hearts and souls of those she’s touched long after she dies.

In truth, I don’t know much about Lillian’s past. I know that when she was in her early 20’s she came out to Montana on a mission trip, got “adopted” by one of the Native American tribes who live there, and became a medicine woman because of their trust in her. Until then, this tribe’s language had only been spoken, and they were afraid of losing their stories which they wanted to impart to their children and others. Together, she helped them develop a written alphabet and translate their stories so they could be preserved. Remarkable indeed.

I was fortunate enough to be in a prayer circle she led at Feathered Pipe at the conclusion of our retreat. As we shared our prayers with Lillian and India and prayed for each other, we created a sacred space which lovingly held our souls. It was the most meaningful, spirit-filled ceremony I’ve ever been in and a beautiful way to end our time together. For this, I am forever grateful. I am likewise grateful for the generosity and compassion of all my sister goddesses in the circle.

Saturday, I learned that her physical strength is dwindling and her time here may be drawing to a close. In celebration of Lillian, I am asking that this week each of you meditate on a song which is one of her favorites, “Give Yourself to Love” by Kate Wolf. It is a good reminder for all us. Here are some of the lyrics:

“Kind friends all gathered ’round, there’s something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside;
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can’t hide.

You must give yourself to love if love is what you’re after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.”

You can listen to the song  by clicking here.

With much love, Lillian. Namaste.

Mind, Body and Spirit Comfort to Ease Perinatal Loss

Losing someone you love is always challenging but losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss often feels unbearable. When a baby dies during pregnancy, delivery or early postpartum, there are multiple losses which include the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for this child, hopes and dreams for you as their parent, and postpartum hormonal and birth-related changes without a baby to hold in your arms to feel that it’s  still worthwhile.

Here are some suggestions to help ease your mind, body and spirit. Remember, none of these tips will take away your grief but perhaps allow you to have a little more physical energy, mental ability, and spiritual comfort to deal with your loss.

  1. Try to eat at regular intervals to keep your body fueled. Substitute more frequent snacking if that’s all you feel like and choose whatever sounds good. Stay well-hydrated. Take a multi-vitamin. Let others bring you food or pick up ready-made healthy meals.
  2. Take breaks which allow your body and mind to rest. Don’t push yourself to resume your “normal” schedule if you have the flexibility to slow down. Strike a balance between distracting yourself and always having something to do. Grief takes a toll on us body, mind and spirit, and it takes time to heal.
  3. Nourish yourself with pleasant experiences and sensations. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to soothing music. Light a candle. Take a warm bath or shower. Do some gentle exercise or yoga. If you have other children, play or spend time with them. You are not betraying your baby by choosing to participate in life.
  4. Be-friend yourself. Imagine what you would say to a good friend or loved one whose baby died. Would you judge them for their feelings? Would you tell them to stop having a tough time or be done with their grieving? Chances are “no.” Don’t treat yourself that way either.
  5. Don’t tell yourself that because your partner isn’t grieving in the same way you are, they don’t care. Men and women grieve differently. Women are generally more open with their feelings and men seem less emotional. Again, don’t judge or be critical. Acknowledge that grief is expressed by each person in his/her own way.
  6. When other people make comments which seem uncaring, don’t take it personally. Our culture is fairly unskilled at dealing with death. Often. we think we need to say something to make the grieving person feel better instead of listening. Comments like “it’s probably for the best or now they’re with God” may provoke anger when intended to be comforting.
  7. Seek out people who do understand and bring you comfort. Although friends and family my worry about you and want to stop by to talk, it is up to you who you want to see and when. Steer clear of people who aren’t helpful and trigger bad feelings. Also, you may not want to see pregnant relatives and friends or participate in baby-related activities (showers, first birthdays, etc). Give yourself a break and don’t go.
  8. Be grateful. This is especially challenging after losing your child. However, if we let ourselves, we may find something in the midst of our sorrow which helps us feel supported and loved. Although you may feel alone in the darkness, the light of a new day will dawn. It is the nature of life.

Take good care. Namaste.