“We’ve got it so good and it’s still hard.”

I was struck by the wisdom of these words overheard at the farmers’ market the other day. It’s been a rough 10 months for most of us. Pretending that it isn’t hard just because others have it harder isn’t particularly helpful. I often hear people who have the privilege of a safe and comfortable home, plenty of food on the table, and good health downplay their struggles, knowing that others are suffering more.

It’s nearly impossible to take action to improve a situation if you deny that it exists. Acknowledging that it’s hard to be separated from loved ones or restricted to one building, no matter how lovely it may be, is the first step to creating solutions- compromises probably, but something that can at least begin to fill the gaping hole where hugs from grandchildren and travel used to reside.

Admitting that these times are hard allows us to fine-tune the adjustments we wish to make. It allows us to draw on the resilience that is present, although possibly inactive, in everyone. Most of us haven’t had to endure any sort of lasting challenge like this, but our ancestors survived World Wars and The Great Depression. Clearly we come from hearty stock or we wouldn’t be alive today!

“We can do hard things.” Another sentence crammed with wisdom, this one from Glennon Doyle’s Untamed.

I’m not suggesting to exclusively shift your focus to the difficulties you are facing. Thoughts are powerful things and it pays to choose them wisely. But just as ignoring the “check engine” light on your dashboard will not lead to a perfectly operational vehicle, neither does avoiding your feelings lead to wellbeing. Just as the light is meant to motivate a visit to the mechanic, noticing your emotional state can propel you to getting the help you need.

Somewhere there is a balance between wallowing in self-pity and disregarding an unpleasant truth. Allowing ourselves to accept what is real gives us greater power to create change. Freeing up all that energy of projecting a shiny façade enables us to see more clearly how we can make the most of what we’ve got and how we might be able to assist those who have less.

Wherever you are on the difficulty spectrum, I wish you greater ease and comfort. If you’re in a position to lend a hand to another, please do so. There’s very likely a food bank or shelter or agency in your area that’s overwhelmed by demand or a neighbor who could benefit from a small act of kindness. I know from personal experience that you’ll feel better if you do and your efforts will ripple outward into the world.

Yes, it’s hard. Fortunately we can do hard things.

Help for Empaths

I’ve been revisiting the tools and techniques in The Emphath’s Survival Guide; Life Strategies for Sensitive People over the last few months. As the fear and anger in the collective realm continue to escalate, I’ve been finding a need to step up my protective mechanisms.

Judith Orloff, MD says, “Empaths have an extremely reactive neurological system. We don’t have the same filters that other people do to block out stimulation. As a consequence, we absorb into our own bodies both the positive and stressful energies around us.”

If you’ve ever been scolded for being “too sensitive” or commanded to “toughen up”, you might be an empath.

If you’ve ever wished you had armor like Ultraman, you might be an empath.

If strangers tell you their problems and people dump their emotional garbage on you and it feels like being slimed by ectoplasm, similar to what happened in Ghostbusters, you might be an empath.

If you’ve ever wanted to move to a remote forest with no neighbors, well that’s probably a human thing, but if you’ve actually looked up properties in Alaska and learned how to make your own candles, then you might be an empath!

The good news is that once you understand that there’s nothing wrong with you, that sensitivity can be a blessing, that there are ways to protect yourself that don’t come in a bottle or loaded with sugar, you can take action to cultivate your wellness. In these pages, you’ll find great wisdom to help you navigate. I sure have!

Following the Breadcrumbs

Some days I feel like I’m living in a modern day fairy tale. Today is one of those days. As per usual, it began with something going wrong. Or so I thought.

I was unable to open a document that needed revisions. An update was required and then my laptop needing restarting. Of course, that took forever. I’m sure you’ve been there!

I finally gave up and decided to go for a walk. Along the way, a cat rushed up to me from out of nowhere and then starting weaving slowly back and forth in front of me on the sidewalk. It felt like I was being herded! I declined to follow as it turned toward a house, assuming the human who lived there wouldn’t welcome my unexpected arrival. Your cat sent me? Nah. I kept going. But my spidey-senses were tingling and I was now hyper-alert.

Once I entered the woods, I could see people on the trail ahead of me. I caught up to them almost immediately as my legs are long and my stride energetic. To avoid lurking behind them or trying to pass, I took a different route than planned. About 10 minutes later, I blundered around a bend to find a buck with impressive antlers eyeing me warily.

Pausing to drink in the beauty of this moment, I saw he had a friend. Friends, actually, and maybe a consort. And, oh, there’s a fawn. Six of them in total. Not a big deal in the woods of Pennsylvania, but keep in mind I’m within the city limits of Philadelphia, the sixth largest city in the US, and about 100 yards away from a very busy road.

I stood there awestruck for many minutes. I’d still be there now, but it’s obvious my presence made them uneasy, so I continued on my journey, causing them to scatter, luckily away from the road. As I resumed my brisk pace, I remembered how a similar series of fortunate events put me on the path of a kindred soul in another part of the vast park system a few weeks ago.

The pure magic of this encounter elevated me out of a snit I had been nursing. Suddenly it was easy for me to let go of a hurt that had been unintentionally delivered and my mood improved greatly. Earlier in the day I had asked Reiki to help me heal this wound. I believe this allowed me to receive divine guidance, which led me to exactly what I needed despite my best efforts to stick to an inferior plan.

I then remembered how just yesterday I was thinking that it had been ages since I’d seen any wild critters bigger than a squirrel, and made a request to Mother Nature to send me some visitors. Those simple intentions for healing and wildlife viewing combined with my willingness to be rerouted by following the breadcrumbs led me to have an uplifting spiritual experience.

What a blessing! The more I pay attention to and allow myself to be guided by mystical nudges and my heart’s longing, I find myself in the right place at the right time. So when the urge to share this joyful episode on my blog arose, I brought myself straight to my now-restarted computer and started typing.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Simple Wake-Up Practice to Influence Your Day

I recently posted about my morning ritual, an elaborate and highly personalized, somewhat flexible routine that I designed to maximize my well-being. I’m following that up with a simpler, yet still very effective, technique for those who cringe at the thought of devoting so much time to a daily practice. I will reiterate that it doesn’t really matter what you do, just that you do it with consistency. There are countless approaches to health and healing. Choose one that suits you.

I’m a huge fan of Dr. Rick Hanson’s work. He teaches practical tips for maximizing well-being based on neuroscience. If you’re interested in starting your mornings off with an easy strategy for “growing the good” based on research and facts, I highly recommend this blog post.

“There is a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from whatever it rests upon.” Why not make a choice to rest your mind on something positive to get your day going on the right foot? I look forward to getting his free newsletter every week, and this particular one really hit home.

Enjoy!

Year of the Misfit

Many moons ago, I was introduced to the concept of “a word of the year”. Choosing one word or a short phrase to act as the theme for the following 12 months. The benefits of narrowing it down to something simple are the ease of tapping into the feelings that this word conveys as well as wielding it as a homing device. Will this thought, these words, this action promote my intention to experience xyz? It’s really a brilliant strategy for navigating the uncertainty of the outside world.

On New Year’s Day I went for a solo hike to sort out my thoughts and choose my word. I did a letting go ritual involving a piece of bark I’d collected the week before and carried home not knowing why. I broke off pieces of the bark, returning them to the forest from which they came, symbolically releasing each and every outdated belief and coping mechanism, all unwanted and unnecessary burdens, and most importantly: any resentment, justified or not. Everything that I didn’t want to carry into 2021 with me.

During this process, the word “belonging” arose. Not belonging as in fitting in, but an internal belonging. A sense of being at home within myself despite most definitely not fitting in to the norms of society or most of the group settings I’ve explored. (Toko-pa Turner’s Belonging, Remembering Ourselves Home helped me greatly in understanding the difference. It’s a fascinating read!)

That afternoon I hosted a small online gathering to guide my Reiki students through a contemplative meditation to clarify their goals and perhaps choose their own themes for the year to come. I fully expected to share that I was devoting myself to belonging. But during the meditation, as I led us to drop into our hearts and listen, MISFIT popped up loud and clear.

I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that when the heart speaks, it’s easier to take heed immediately. The universe conspires to eventually bring me around to obeying its wishes so I might as well surrender now. I rolled with it without any resistance (much to my surprise and delight!).

As I sat with the word, it began to unravel. Accept. Allow. Embrace. Release. Release? Yes, but not in the sense of letting go. Release as in: let the misfit out. Think Gandalf in all his fierceness shouting, “Release the kraken!”. Like that.

Whoa. This is totally unexpected. I was (and continue to be!) filled with elation at the thought of letting my inner misfit out of her confines full time. The rebel within me is overjoyed to finally have some company and an ally against the harsh inner critic who tries to keep me safe by blending in.

I have no idea how this is going to play out over time, but I’m intrigued. I have my theme, unexpected and unusual as it may be, cemented in my mind and a willingness to follow wherever this map will lead.

For all you fellow misfits, know that you’re not alone! You never have been, but now there’s one more of us out in the open. Maybe our paths will cross. I imagine we’ll be able to recognize one another quite easily. Let’s not fit in together.

Daily Healing Ritual

I’m a huge fan of creating personalized daily rituals for healing. The act of setting aside time each day to do something, anything really, that supports health, happiness, creativity or connection can be extremely transformative. Students and clients often ask me about my morning ritual, so I thought it would be helpful to put it in writing.

For me, morning is a sacred time. I naturally wake up super-early and have worked hard to give myself the luxury of starting my workday later than the norm. I’ve learned to do the things that are most important to me first, while my energy is high and before the demands of the day can interfere. Morning rituals are a perfect match for my constitution and lifestyle. Other people prefer to use their lunch hour or evening, and that’s great too. It’s important to figure out what works best for you, otherwise it just won’t stick.

Twenty years ago I began with a simple mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga, and affirmations a la Louise Hay. That worked well for me for many years, but eventually I was led to experiment with different techniques. I began gathering tools to support my intentions and explored the myriad options available to me. Sometimes I got lost down the rabbit hole, like a kid in the cereal aisle, unsure of which colorful box to choose. Other times I rebelled against the routine and chose to improvise instead. The only thing that really matters is that each and every day I show up for myself in some way.

I still find it challenging to remain devoted to a daily practice while keeping it flexible. My needs are constantly evolving, so my ritual needs to evolve as well. By no means does this need to be a rigid process. Spiritual practices can be designed to bend and flex to fit your uniqueness rather than forcing you to conform to dogmatic tedium. There’s enough of that in our culture already; we needn’t impose any more upon ourselves in the name of healing! If it feels like a chore, you won’t want to do it. If it feels like a blessing, you’ll be eager to engage.

Another crucial element to building ritual is protecting the time to nurture, nourish and empower yourself. Being on a healing path requires us to become part guard-dog in order to stick with the plan and not get drawn into unnecessary drama. It’s not always easy, but it really is quite simple. All I have to do is ask myself, “Will this decision promote healing?”

I think of my practice as the vehicle that carries me to my destination. Obviously to get there, I need to know where I’m going. Synchronicity along with my intuition, emotions, and dreams can guide me along the way. Meditation and journaling are the tools that I use to get clear about where I’m going. And as my goals change, I can correct my course anytime.

My intended destination is a state of being. I’m aiming for vitality, inner peace, creativity, resilience, and pleasure. You might have a similar destination. Or not. The format remains the same even though this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The methods that I’ve chosen are highly personalized to meet me exactly where I am. I’m not wishing to lead anybody along my unique path. I’d rather inspire you to find your own.

Keep in mind that I have no dependents and have chosen an exceedingly simply lifestyle with a low overhead, which enables me to spend a few hours most days tending to my well-being. Not everyone has such privilege. Please don’t compare yourself! Do what you can with what you have. You might need to be hyper-selective in order to find the most efficient techniques. Remember that choosing mindfulness, compassion, and kindness at any moment is a gift to yourself that takes no time and minimal effort.

Alright. Now for the ritual that is currently working for me.

Before I get out of bed, I do some simple breathwork while saturating myself with Reiki. I take a few moments to tune-in to how I wish to feel that day and really let those sensations sink in. I acknowledge any worries or circumstances that could interfere and apply Reiki to them as well as to my desires. This is a short, but powerful exercise that sets me up for a truly beautiful day.

I write down my dreams as soon as I get up. I’ve been using the voice memo function on my phone to record my dreams, which tend to arrive at an inhospitable hour, and then transfer them to a journal when I’m ready to turn the light on. It’s a work in progress, but so fruitful I’m eager to continue working out the kinks (mainly my resistance to taking action when it’s so easy to fall back asleep!).

To support my goal of creativity, next I turn to Morning Pages a la The Artists’ Way. Three hand written pages on no particular topic. I follow up with another 30-60 minutes writing of a productive nature. Believe me, I don’t always feel like doing this, but I know if I put it off, I’ll get distracted and neglect it. Writers write. It’s just that simple, so most days I go straight to my desk before even steeping the tea.

By now my body is clamoring for attention. If at all possible, I head to the woods for a walk. This slot used to be filled by yoga, but I’m finding that I get greater rewards from being in nature right now. It was a struggle for me to accept this since yoga has been a staple for me for decades. I’m sure it will find its way into my daily routine again sometime.

If weather permits, I’ll bring my tea with me and drink it sitting on a log by the creek. This is incredible medicine for me and the peace and joy I experience is well worth the effort and multiple layers of gear it takes to enjoy the outdoors during the winter in Pennsylvania!

Now it’s time for breakfast. I’m all about solid nutrition and nourishment from real food and love to enjoy a simple, yet hearty meal. At the table. Without any screens. Radical, right? But this sets me up to have steady energy and a stable mood, so most days I am able to resist the pull of my smart phone.

I used to think that if I was lucky, I’d get some time in for reading before work. I’m now recognizing that books (whether for inspiration, entertainment, or learning) are a great benefit to my creativity. If I’m unable to carve out time in the morning, I feel somewhat off, so my next upgrade is to secure time every day to indulge my inner bibliophile, especially with material that engages my imagination. Let’s face it, I don’t need any more practice being serious!

Yes, this is generally a four hour process. For me, it is my calling, my healthcare, my hobby, my passion all rolled up into one package that I have the blessing to enjoy each and every day. It’s taken two decades to build the lifestyle that gives me exactly what I need to be joyful and well. Each and every step along the way has been necessary to get me where I am today, and I couldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t decided I was worth the effort and taken a series of baby steps that got me going.

Whatever your path, wherever you’re beginning from and going to, you can benefit from taking one small action today to support yourself. It could be as simple as three mindful breaths or turning off the TV. Because you’re totally worth the effort. So why not give yourself the best possible chance to be as healthy and happy as you are able?

So Long 2020!

Here in Philadelphia we are experiencing very gray and rainy skies today. A friend just texted to say how perfect the weather is for the last day of 2020. It does seem rather appropriate!

I’m hearing fervent hopes that 2021 will be better. While I have no idea what’s going to happen in the outer world, I’m determined to cultivate more peace, love, harmony, freedom, and joy in my own little bubble. From there it will ripple out.

So, what’s the plan?

I find it helpful to look back over the year every New Years Eve and take inventory. What’s working? What’s not? What needs to be repaired and what needs to be let go? What victories do I have to celebrate? What changes do I have the power to make that will improve my circumstances and relationships?

While eating more cleanly and setting aside time for creative projects might seem somewhat meaningless in a world that on some levels resembles a dumpster fire, I still aim to maximize my comfort and well-being. When my tank is full, I’m better able to contribute to others.

If I focus my energy on the improvements which are in my control, not only do I feel empowered (which is a much better feeling than despair!) but I also give myself the best possible opportunity to create a different future.

So long, 2020. It’s been real. You’ve inspired me to take a close look at my life and ask, how does it get better than this? And you’d better believe that when my heart answers, I’ll be ready to take action.

Ask Rick: What Can I Do To Minimize Holiday Stress?

I found these tips from Dr. Rick Hanson’s newletter to be very doable, simple and quite effective. “Slow down, do less.” Good advice for most of us during the season of cold, long nights. I’ve copied it below in case anyone needs some gentle guidance.
In your body, keep engaging the balance to the sympathetic nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Potential ways to do this include long exhalations, relaxing the tongue, warming the hands, and relaxing the body as a whole.

In your emotions, keep turning to the small positive experiences available during the holidays: for example, decorations are pretty, oranges smell good, it’s fun to go sledding, kids are cute, and it feels sweet to make others happy. Then take a dozen seconds or more to savor the positive experience so that it can transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term emotional memory, and thus really sink into you.
Take care of your body, emotions, thoughts, and actions.
In your thoughts, beware “shoulds” and “musts.” The things we do during the holidays are only means to ends: goals such as happiness, love, sacredness, generosity, and fun. If the means get in the way of the ends – as they so often do at this time of year – it is time to lighten up about the means. Keep coming back to simplicity inside your own mind as an end in itself: the simple truth that in this moment, each moment, you are actually basically alright; the simple fullness of being in the present, not regretting the past or worrying about or planning the future.

In your actions, slow down and do less. Keep coming back to your breathing as you look for gifts, do dishes, wrap presents, or visit friends. Don’t let others rush you. Be kind; cut others slack; this time could be stressful for them, too.

One last thought would be the reflection that the practices of thought, word, and deed that lead to sanity during the holidays sound like a pretty good way to live year round!

Reiki for the Election, the Follow Up

You might have heard about the recent US presidential election. 😉 And that Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia in particular, were spotlighted while the country waited for the results. It felt like we were in one big pressure cooker!

This post isn’t about politics per se, but about the spirit of community and how taking action in ways that align with values can feel empowering. That spirituality and everyday life need not be compartmentalized, but can be integrated for greater purpose and well-being.

You might have also heard that Philadelphia’s mail-in ballot count was highly contentious! The media mentioned it once or twice. 😉

Here’s the insider scoop. This year, Pennsylvanians were allowed to register to vote by mail without needing to provide a reason such as poor health or travel. Unsure of the course of the pandemic and utterly devoted to democracy, many of us did so. After hints of the postal service not being able to handle the volume of this unprecedented event, many made a plan to hand them over directly at official drop-off points.

Well in advance of election day, two of my friends and I donned our masks, and walked to the neighborhood location. We were surprised to see a line of people waiting to vote early at the polls as well as a steady stream of folks dropping off their mail-in ballots.

It was AWESOME!!!

Reports from other neighborhoods and on other days made it clear that this was the norm. Signs continued to pop up all over the place, encouraging people to VOTE, make a plan to VOTE, to reach out to all our contacts and encourage them to VOTE. The neighborhood was already plastered with “Hate has no home here”, “Black Lives Matter”, and “Biden/Harris” signs, so it was pretty crowded out there.

The community as a whole was enthused and engaged in a way I’ve never seen. One of my clients told me that she and her husband were so committed to voting in person on election day that they bought hazmat suits. As people of color, they felt strongly about their votes being counted.

I continue to get teary when I recall the collective fierce determination that was so heartening it was palpable.

What’s this got to do with Reiki? Fair question! Back in September, some of my students and I offered Reiki with the intention for justice to prevail during the entire election process. You can read about that here. We were excited to be able to contribute our efforts to creating a more harmonious and equitable future for our country.

No, Reiki did not win the election for the Democratic party. The people had already made their choice overwhelming clear. You could not have visited this city without knowing which way the cards would fall. Reiki couldn’t have overridden the obvious choice of the vast majority, but I do believe it supported the process of counting those ballots.

I don’t know why, but state law says mail-in ballots could not begin to be counted until election day itself. There were HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of them! It took days to count them all, as you probably know. The whole world was watching us.

It was INTENSE!

And Reiki was helping to hold the space, ensuring that every vote was counted. Now I’m certainly not claiming credit for turning the tide of the election. I know other spiritual groups were actively engaged in flooding the election, the country, and the swing states with white light to support the highest good of all. Grassroots campaigns had been laboring industriously for months and it would be impossible to list everyone who made great strides behind the scenes. It was most definitely a collaborative effort.

Holding the vision for justice, peace, equality and harmony helped each of us to be doing something proactive while so many were feeling utterly helpless. I can think of nothing more just that ensuring that every vote was counted. Which is exactly what happened.

When the results were finally reported, it triggered hooting and hollering and corks popping on my quiet little block and a massive dance party in the streets downtown. Relief flooded through my body like a wave.

We have a lot more work to do to see the changes through, but we all rest a bit easier here in the City of Brotherly Love. Won’t you consider joining us in whatever way you can to to keep the scales of justice moving towards balance?