Monday, December 28, 2015

Staying centered beyond the holidays

So the chaos of the holidays now seems to be settling down. Well, almost. While it may be this time of year that reminds us how much we need to stay balanced and centered, it’s not the only time of year. It can be work, family, friends, health, relationships and more. They all can add up to a level of stress that pushes us out of balance.

Fortunately, there are several ways to get back into balance, and one that I’ve found is very effective is the use of labyrinths.

For those who may not know what a labyrinth is, I wanted to see if I could come up with a quick and easy definition. Easier said than done. I found answers like “a single path or unicursal tool for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation” and “an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete” and “a maze.” The last one is just wrong and the others didn’t really give me the “quick and easy” I was seeking.

So I thought I’d turn to insight from an expert and friend. Karen Quant, another certified teacher in feng shui and space clearing through the International Institute of Interior Alignment, also happens to have built her own labyrinth in Sydney, Australia where she lives. She says on her site:

"The labyrinth is an archetypal symbol found among many cultures and countries and has been traced back to the Neolithic ages. It is a symbol of sacred space and walking the labyrinth is considered mindful action. A place where you can release anything that is no longer serving you, a place to deepen your ocmpassion, find your purpose, quiet the mind, seek inspiration, insight and clarity, or for enjoyment and meditation." 

If you need a visual, you can view Boori Boori, the one Karen created, on her site, or find images of one of the most famous ones at Chartres Cathedral in France.

So about now you may be wondering how you’re going to take advantage of a labyrinth in Australia or France or even how to find one near you (they have become much more prevalent in recent years and many churches will have them on their grounds -- Still, after a tough day at work or difficult time with family or just a long day of any kind, you’re not going to want to traipse out to a labyrinth to find a sense of peace and calm.

I agree.

The solution is a hand-held labyrinth. I have two. You can find them in rock shops or alternative bookstores. They’re easy to carry with you or store in your desk at home. They come with a stylus that allows you to trace the path of the labyrinth. You use it the same as if you were walking the path yourself. This means you trace the path without once lifting the stylus, going all the way to the center and then all the way out. As you start, you can focus on a specific goal or intention, e.g., letting go of anger and frustration from the day, identifying a lesson in the events of the day, or simply becoming more centered.(I’ve found that if I take a few deep breaths just before I start, I get better results.)

The compact size allows you to bring it with you anywhere, and as long as you can get away from the stress for 5 to 10 minutes, you have a simple way to get centered and return to the situation in a better place than where you started.

So as the holidays wrap up, know that you have another tool in your arsenal to help you stay centered and calm for a happier, more balanced you. 

Until next time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Honoring the season of rest, inner work and wisdom

Winter in my backyard, 2014 (still waiting for snow this yea
Winter begins today (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). It's a time to rest, relax and restore. A time to reflect on the year's achievements and challenges. It's also an opportunity to find greater balance by aligning with the energy of the season. Nature is a great teacher, and one way to learn from her is to follow her rhythms and connect with the energy of the seasons.

Ancient cultures understood this, and lived day in and day in sync with nature. Winter allowed them to slow down their lives and take time to
understand the successes and failures of the previous 11 months (e.g., bountiful crops, unproductive hunts, expansion of the tribe).

They also knew that by aligning with the natural rhythms around them, it increased their chances of survival. Harsher climates and shorter days meant staying indoors more to protect themselves and their families from colder weather and nocturnal predators. It was a way for them to stay safe, but also to stay in balance with the cycles of nature and their lives.

Today, we may not have the same threats as our ancestors, but we also have lost our daily connection to Nature. It's less apart of our lives and more a refuge we turn to when we need it. Fortunately, there are many things we can do today to re-enforce this connection, and Winter is a perfect time to do this.

In modern times, we don't have the luxury of modifying our work day to align with shorter days. So instead of modifying your schedule, you can modify your environment to be more in sync with nature -- as it gets dark, gradually dim your lights or even try putting candles out to replace your electric lights. Connecting with the cycles of the day helps us to better connect with the cycles of the season and nature.

Another way to honor the season is to make time for reflection. Easier said than done, but even five minutes a day, meditating, listening to soothing music or just focusing on your breathing, can make a difference. You can also set an intention prior to your reflection to request images, feelings, and thoughts that will help you better understand the lessons in the past year. Winter represents a time to assess our experiences and find the wisdom within them, so this too will help you gain a deeper understanding of this season.

A simple stone gratitude altar
Four primary elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, also align with each of the seasons. While this varies by tribe, often Winter is associated with the Earth. This element helps us to stay more grounded and stable. You can honor this element in your home by creating a small altar made of stones -- something as simple as a circle of stones around a candle that you might light each day. Another option would be to create a miniature cairn -- a welcoming symbol of protection and safe passage for travelers. If you're hosting the holidays, the cairn is a great way to honor your guests who may have traveled many miles to be with you.

In the cycle of life -- birth, childhood, adulthood, senior years -- winter also connects us to the wisdom of our elders so honoring our ancestors can be another way to deepen our connection to the season, and our own heritage. Spend time with the elders of your clan, your parents and grandparents, and see them as wisdom keepers. Listen to their stories and identify the nuggets that resonate with you. Perhaps you can simply silently honor their experiences, so different from your own. Consider creating a family tree so that you can identify your lineage. Delving into our history can help us better connect with ancient cultures that seem to show up in our countenance, the colors of our skin, hair, eyes, even our mannerisms.

So many ways to honor this season; pick one or two, or find your own. Truthfully, the more you honor the season, the more you'll be honoring yourself.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Holiday balancing act

For many of us, this time of year represents family, friends, and a season of giving. Along with that, there are the crowded stores, cranky shoppers, stresses of making another holiday meal and bringing together people who may not get along, or even want to get along, in a single space that despite being spacious the other 364 days of the year, now reminds you of a clown car.

Yep, despite the intent of the holiday, we often find ourselves more out of balance this time of year than not. It’s a time when we can get overwhelmed by so many things, and staying centered is so much more difficult. Fortunately, you have some options, but in order to put them in place, you may need to do something that’s also difficult this time of year – put yourself first.

Gasp! I know, it’s counter to what we’re trying to do in this season of giving, but if you want to stay in balance you will need to focus on your own needs. So now that you’re over that shock, let’s talk about some simple, practical things you can do.

Breathe. Seriously, just breathe. Give yourself five to ten minutes throughout the day to step away from whatever you’re doing and focus on your breath. Long, slow, deep breathes. Have you ever noticed when we start to feel anxiety, our breath becomes short and fast and primarily comes from our upper chest? It’s true. If you instead breathe from a deeper place, your stomach, your body and mind will begin to calm down. As you take each breath, your stomach will rise and fall, your shoulders will relax and your mind will begin to clear.

Define a getaway space. In feng shui, it’s important to have spaces dedicated to your intention – for example if you want to be a painter, then you should have a room, or if you have a confined space, a corner of a room, dedicated to painting – set up an easel, canvas, paints and brushes. I recommend designating a space in your home – a bedroom, a meditation space, a favorite chair -- where you can get away from the tasks that become overwhelming, close your eyes and center yourself. You can center yourself with your breath, by lighting a candle, listening to music or maybe just picking up your favorite book. This can go a long way toward helping you to re-center. 

Step outside. Fresh air. A night sky. A tree. Flowers. Being in nature has been proven to calm our bodies, even to the point of reducing blood pressure. You don’t have to go out for long, just a few minutes will make a difference. Studies have also shown that even pictures of nature can have similar calming effects on us; so find a picture of your favorite vacation spot in nature and take a few minutes to view it and remember the great time you had there.

Dance. That’s right. There’s nothing like a good dance to change your mindset and reduce your stress levels. Blast a favorite song with a message that resonates with you. You’ll probably get others to join in with you and soon you’ll have a dance party on your hands.

So those are just a few tools you can use to stay in balance. Each one is free and easy and can actually help you shift your mental focus and reduce the stress you’re feeling. Funny thing, the more you’re able to keep in balance, the better you’re able to manage those stressful holiday situations, and yep, you’ll be happier as a result.

Give ‘em a try. You’re worth it.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Expand beyond the ordinary

The past two nights, we’ve had visitors from Japan. Two delightful young women, musicians who play clarinet, were visiting the states as part of an exchange program at my daughter’s high school. It was their first time in America and they spoke very little English.

We enjoyed learning more about each other, in that awkward way you do when you end up drawing pictures of homes and making candy to convey your living arrangements and interests. It was a great experience, in part because we wanted to share with them something they couldn’t find back home. 

Our experiences included going out for pizza, which we learned is not something new in Japan where kids will often go to Pizza Hut, visiting the All Chocolate Kitchen in a neighboring town and watching the award-winning light show at a home covered in Christmas decorations that lit up every aspect of their home to the tune of 12 different songs.

In return, they shared with us what a symphony sounds like when students have been playing instruments since they were four – it was beautiful – and how to make sushi candy. All-in-all a very nice visit.

This whole experience reminded me how important it is to do things outside of your ordinary day. When we do the same thing every day -- getting up to go to work, email, meetings, lunch, email, meetings, dinner, tv, bed – it’s easy to get into a pattern of sameness. If that pattern includes any negativity – a meeting that went poorly, a frustrating email, a disappointing lunch – it can begin to feel like every day is not only the same, but bound to bring down your energy. You become out of balance.

By doing something out of the ordinary – breaking your pattern – you give yourself permission to get back into balance. We are not one-dimensional. We have amazing minds, vast interests, beautiful dreams and emotions capable of taking us to incredible heights. We can thrive on a little delight, an uplifting moment, a shared smile – when we look beyond what’s right in front of us.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. As with the chocolate restaurant, it can be introducing people to a place you enjoy and seeing it through their eyes. Or, it can be looking at your home town from a tourist’s perspective to see what little gems are only a short drive away. It can even be learning to make something completely knew that others are excited to share. All of these things can help you level set – focus less on the “have to’s” and “should have’s” of the day and bring in the “want to’s” and “glad you did’s.”

So look beyond the ordinary. You’ll find not only a way out of a pattern, but a way into balance.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rainy day thoughts

I love rainy days. They're the perfect excuse to stay indoors with a good book, sit in front of a warm fire and have a nice cup of hot tea. So if you're looking for a break, to reset and re-balance, appreciate those rainy days.

Of course, you can take this thought a little deeper. Consider the element of water, for instance. In feng shui, it can represent money or emotions. So if this element is out of balance in your home, it could represent a challenge to your finances or a block in your emotions.

Water is also one of the best elements to help you overcome challenges. A great aspect of water is its ability to overcome any obstacle. Just think about how it flows -- around and over anything in its path. Connecting with this element then, allows you to take on its properties, getting past whatever obstacles are in your way.

In general, better understanding the aspects of this element (and any of the elements) can help you to use it on your behalf. Here are just a few of aspects to consider:

On a physical level, when we shower, we know the water cleans our bodies. On a mental level, you can similarly use water to "cleanse" your mind by helping you release thoughts and ideas that no longer serve you -- imagine each drop rolling off and taking with it an old thought. On a spiritual level, water can help you go deeper into a belief to identify whether it is supporting you or holding you back. For example, if you have ingrained within you the belief that money is bad because it leads to power and power corrupts, this wouldn't support a goal you have toward greater financial abundance and you can begin to change that belief.

Also, did you know that because of its molecular make-up, water effortlessly clings to itself and other molecules? On a more metaphysical level then, when we wash ourselves, the water can cling to old ideas/beliefs/habits and as long as we are willing to release them, take them away. So, before you take your next shower or bath, identify one habit or thought that you're trying to release. Set the intention of releasing it while in the shower. Then, as you feel the water hitting your head, imagine every drop chipping away at the thought and taking pieces of it away. Actually visualize this idea being taking apart bit by bit until there's nothing left. Then take a moment to feel what that feels like. Hold on to that feeling as long as you can.

Sure, you may think that thought again shortly after, but if you make a practice of it "washing it away" every time you shower, you will find it easier to let go of that thought, belief, or habit over time.

So yep, water. It's a great element we can use to find more balance. Like I said, I love rainy days.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A flicker of focus

One of the things that I find helps me to stay balanced is to find a way to focus -- it could be just to focus on someone, an idea or more often than not, nothing. I have many thoughts, ideas, scenarios, worries, concerns, fears, hopes, dreams going through my head at any one time. Maybe your'e the same :). Sometimes I just want it to stop. Focusing on nothing seems to be the best way for me to get all that mental activity (the monkey mind) to, if not stop, at least slow down.

I've learned a lot of ways that help me do it, and one that I think is really simple and available to anyone and everyone is to light a candle.

When you watch a single flame, it's like looking at something so peaceful, and primitive. The way it tends to gently move, even flicker, the various shades of color, the constant reaching upward toward something more, something unseen.

It can truly take us away, away from our thoughts, and allow us, even for a moment, to let go.

Give it a try. See how it feels. Who knows, maybe you'll make it a regular practice.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Let's get started

Welcome to a new blog. Not a new thought. We've all wanted to find more balance in our lives in one way or another -- work, life, wives/husbands, kids, school, chores, tasks, to dos. It's a busy life.

I've been lucky enough in my life to experience a lot of stress. It's one of those things that seems to come with the various circumstances I've found myself in for the past 46 years. My stress often culminates at work. I've been in the corporate world for nearly 20 years, working at various agencies supporting Fortune 500 clients. I've either managed projects or managed teams of people who managed projects ranging from one-off web site projects to global solutions spanning digital and traditional marketing services. Think Mad Men with less glamour, alcohol and smoking and more modern day wonders like the internet and mobile phones.

I feel I'm lucky to have this stress because it allows me to incorporate another aspect of my life that has taught me some good tricks for finding balance. You see, for the past 15 + years I've trained in feng shui, space clearing, energy work and basically communing with the land. Yep, I'm one of those people.

So, I've had ample opportunity to put into practice techniques that create more balance in my life. That's what I'm planning to do with this here blog. I'll offer up what I've learned, and continue to learn, so that you can apply them or maybe just consider them, too. Some will be practical, others will be more "woo, woo" as some people say, but all of them will be ways in which you can, in fact, take steps toward greater balance in your life.

I hope you enjoy the ride. I plan to.

Until next time.