Recently, I had the opportunity to take a small group of uniquely inspired ladies on a retreat at the Keys Creek Lavender Farm, out in the country setting of Valley Center– which is about 30 miles from San Diego, CA. In this space known for growing, healing and well-being, we spent the day focusing on and celebrating “The Self”. We weren’t cultivating conceit, self-righteousness or self-absorption. What we were doing was finally giving ourselves permission to treat us the way we treat others in life… with love, kindness and compassion. Spending time to focus on ourselves is not commonly encouraged in our western culture, where to get ahead (and sometimes just to make ends meet) we work the extra hours doing as much as we can, in addition to taking care of those around us, and responding to their needs– be it our significant others, children, parents, pets, etc…. As women of the 21st century, we are conditioned to do it all: juggling work, family and home life. We rinse and repeat these conditions all the time. Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, sometimes we run out of time to do it all, and find ourselves stressed out, burned out and most of all– out of balance.
It’s All About the Selfie Retreat allowed these women to regain balance and well-being, and give themselves the care they need. They had the opportunity to slow down and experience life focusing on the present moment. They asked themselves questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” They did this through various reflective exercises, mindful meditations and intentional activities that supported savoring the moment and experiences. They participated in strengths finding, walking meditation, mindful yoga, mindful eating (nourishing themselves with purpose), sending loving-kindness to their loved ones, themselves and the world, and mindful self-talk—applying self-compassion techniques to cultivate both positive emotion and to use as coping tools when things don’t go as planned.
There’s not enough time and space to describe the full retreat in one post, so I’ve broken the day down into a few posts with this being installation #1. By the way, The Selfie Retreat is a staple service of BeingMerry.com, and is scheduled to happen at least once per calendar quarter. For this post, I’d like to focus on the mindful walking meditations that promoted self-love, self-care and gratitude.
Mindful Walking Meditation
We held a few different perspectives during our walking meditation, where we either focused or opened our awareness intentionally as we moved through nature, from a vintage barn setting where the ceiling was covered with bunches of drying lavender, to the labyrinth space where a magnificent crystal sits at the center. We initially focused our awareness on the sensations of walking – noticing the sensations in our leg muscles moving us through this space, the functioning of our joints supporting our bones, and our feet touching the ground and propelling us forward. We also focused our attention on our breathing—the intake of air at our nostrils, the releasing of stress in our exhale, the rising and falling of our chests or abdomens, and the opening of our hearts as we took in all of these sensations. We were aware of feeling of gratitude inside ourselves, for the ability to walk, breathe and exist without too much difficulty in those moments.
Our focus of awareness shifted once we reached the rock-lined labyrinth. These structures are unlike mazes as they have only one starting and ending point, which are one in the same. Labyrinths have been used throughout history in many cultures and over many centuries as a symbol of one’s spiritual journey, among other things. As we slowly walked through the labyrinth, we contemplated our life’s own journey, accepting all that we have gone through that has led us here to this moment. Sometimes the difficult times we experience are hard to accept, however, if we reframe those times and look for the silver linings (the lessons we learned as a result of those hard times), we see that without both the good and the bad times, we would not be exactly where we are today.
We ended our walk with an open awareness meditation, sensing and savoring our surroundings. In this type of meditation, we are encouraged to notice everything around us employing as many senses as we can. We notice the strength and temperature of both the breeze and the sun on our skin, as well as the aroma of the sweet lavender and fresh outdoors, and finally the songs of the birds chirping nearby and the sound of feet shuffle along the dirt path. Looking at the trees we pass, we notice the texture of the bark and the shape and color of the leaves with all their gradients. We are aware of our feet on the dirt path, and realize that many before us have walked this way as well. We may feel a sense of common humanity—being a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We feel a sense of awe and gratitude for life itself—all around us, and the ability to be a part of it. We realize that we are so very blessed.
How will you take time for yourself today? Trying going for a walk in nature.
But don’t take my word for it… try a walking meditation for yourself. Focus your awareness on your bodily sensations, or open it up to nature and the world, noticing all her splendid details. Try one perspective and then the other. Explore which twist of mindful walking resonates with you. There are other things you can think about (or sense) on a mindful walk (in each step “you arrive”, in each step “you are home”—Thich Nhat Hahn encourages this perspective). The main point is that you focus your awareness, or open it up. When you find your mind wandering, as it will during meditations, just bring it back kindly to the object of your focus or intention. This kind of slowing down, and focusing or opening does not only change your body (giving it a break from the crazy running around many of us do), but also your brain (rewiring the stress response) and spirit (responding with awe and offering gratitude) as well. Try it as your-SELFIE just may thank you for it!
In June of 2012, The United Nations declared March 20th the International Day of Happiness. They proclaimed that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and invited the world to observe the day AND become involved in education and awareness-raising activities.
So, this site/blog post is one my of awareness-raising activities (not just for one day, but for all days). Because I teach and study The Science of Happiness and am a Well-being Coach, this day means a lot to me. Globally, it invites us all to INTENTIONALLY put goodness out there into the world. And science shows that goodness has a ripple effect on other people. What vibe will our planet give off that day when we spread the word and kindness to everyone we know, globally?
On another note, my sixteen year old daughter asked, “Why can’t every day be Happiness Day?” Good question Bailey. Why indeed cannot every day be Happiness Day? Well, every day can be a day we choose happiness. But what does that mean? What is happiness, after all? It’s a right and something we can pursue, as noted by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence. But, as Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness asks, “Can we ever attain happiness?”
Another question to ask is what does happiness mean to you? (Pharrell Williams gives us some suggestions– which you may want to clap along with;))
Humans have been trying to answer this question for more than 2,000 years. From the Greek philosophers (Epicurus and Aristotle respectively), two definitions surfaced. The first is Hedonic Happiness which focuses on maximizing pleasure and feeling good. Many people still see happiness this way today, as always laughing, smiling, being joyful and in search of pleasure. This view of happiness is sometimes seen as self-centered, but it is a part of the self that needs to attended to, for everyone wants to feel good. And when we feel good, we do good. And that goodness is contagious. Which brings us to a second view of Happiness.
A second definition is Eudemonic Happiness, which emphasizes living by virtues and functioning well in areas that are not tied to physical or personal pleasures. Living well by doing good, and contributing something back to the greater good– to an entity bigger than ourselves.
In The Happiness Journey, we learn that scientist Corey Keyes took these two ideas and blended it with a third to define a new kind of happy, called “flourishing,” which is defined as feeling good and functioning well both socially and personally. This view on happiness really looks at the holistic beings that we all are, and considers our mental and physical health and our connections to each other and to the world at large.
Still, other religious experts have contributed more meanings for happiness. Buddha notes that Happiness is moving away from suffering. The Dalai Lama states that happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from our own actions, and if we want others to be happy, we need to practice compassion. In addition, if we want to be happy, we need to practice compassion. Another well-known spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, notes that true happiness is based on peace.
All religions have their view on happiness. But which view of happiness will you celebrate March 20th? You can follow Epicurus’ words along with Thich Nhat Hanh, and do something for yourself that brings you peace and positive emotion. You can follow Aristotle and the Dalai Lama, and do something with integrity for the goodness of yourself AND others. You can follow Keyes’ definition and do all of the above and more.
Whatever you do, just do something INTENTIONALLY… acknowledge something good in life, in your life, and in the world. Be grateful that you have the ability to choose, and YOUR choice can influence your own and other’s happiness greatly!
Be sure to check back on March 20th for some suggestions on how you can increase your happiness– and it won’t cost you a thing!
(If you are interested in knowing more about Flourishing, consider taking The Happiness Journey).
Time for a post as I finish up teaching a couple of courses of The Happiness Journey, through Hapacus, and continue on with the class that I am taking which I wrote about previously, Love 2.0 with Barbara Fredrickson. It has been a juggling act, teaching, coaching, learning and living life with all the conditions I’ve built into it (family, kids, responsibilities, etc…). On the bright side, I am managing a fairly stressful load by CHOOSING to build positive emotions into my daily diet. As I teach the Happiness Journey, I remind my students and myself that happiness is only one emotion they can choose. There are a host of other positive emotions they can access if they need a lift out of a blue mood, which could be more conducive to actually lifting them up. And these positive emotions can lead to others as well, leading to an upward spiral.
So what are the other positive emotions from which we can choose?
There are at least ten positive emotions that you can call on and cultivate at any time. There are many more, but ten show up in many positive psychology studies. In another one of Barbara Fredrickson’s books, Positivity, she calls them out in order from the most often occurring:
- Joy (happiness)
and as suggested by another researcher, Kristen Neff,
I included this last positive emotion out after reading quite a bit on the subject as well. I would definitely add it to the top of my list… from which to cultivate at any time… especially for a busy working mom in this day and age. One of my favorites, besides love (and kindness), is gratitude which I hope to really savor and talk about more in November.
Can we really CHOOSE to feel positive emotion? And why are positive emotions important?
The homework for the Love 2.0 class involves revisiting Positivity fully. This book has reminded me of the key concepts about positive emotions in general, and YES, how choosing them intentionally can produce great benefits psychologically, physically and socially. This is one reason why they are so important. Here are some other key concepts worth knowing about:
- You can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas AS they unfold (and AFTER they unfold as well).
- We need 3 positive emotions/encounters for every 1 negative emotion felt– to enable us to flourish. (some are challenging this ratio right now– but considering many people have a ratio of 0 to 1 or 1 to 1, 3 to 1 can make a dramatic difference in life satisfaction levels, on a whole).
- Letting positive emotion linger will bring more health benefits.
- Positive emotions encourage positive spirals all around you, i.e., one positive emotion can lead to the others.
- Those who WITNESS positive emotions will feel more inspired and uplifted and are more likely to engage in positive emotion themselves.
- Positive emotions can help you broaden your physical and psychological outlook and build your life with more possibilities in a real physiological way.
- People who have a high positivity ratio live on the average 10 years longer than those who don’t. They also get sick less often and are able to bounce back from health and psychological setbacks more effectively and at a faster rate.
- Positivity is contagious.
This last point is pretty big. Your good mood influences how you interact with those around you, who adjust how they interact with those around them, and so on and so forth. This is a stellar example of how you can really “Be the Change You want to See in the World,” as Gandhi quoted years ago.
How can I choose and cultivate positive emotion?
There are many ways to cultivate positive emotion. As noted above, you can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas (and the meaning you assign them– The Happiness Journey addresses this concept through explanatory styles).
You can also choose intentional activities like:
- Connecting with nature (through sounds, sights, smells, touch)– by being outdoors or with animals/creature. Nature can inspire you, remind you that you’re part of a bigger picture (humble/awe you), and in return you may display gratitude and love for allowing this connection.
- Connecting with others– by showing interest, being curious, being kind or helping, When you help someone, you externalize your positivity and it moves between you and another person like a dance… adding more possibilities for goodness in the world.
- Opening your mind — by focusing on the present moment and finding the positive meaning in the situation. At any time, ask yourself in any given moment, “What is right here? What can I celebrate?” Or on a different note, dream about the future… anticipate an event in which you can plan and savor, and replay in your mind at a later date.
- Opening your heart– by savoring goodness, counting your blessings and following your passion. For any of the emotions or methods above, ask yourself, “When was the last time I felt this feeling? Can I think of other triggers that can produce these feelings? What can I do now to cultivate these feelings?”
There are many other methods you can employ to cultivate and choose positive emotions. If you would like to grow your repertoire/library, and learning about new tools that can help you increase your positive emotion, please email/contact me at any time.
What We Focus on Grows
Now that you know what positive emotions are, how they can benefit us and how we can choose them, what positive emotion will you CHOOSE to focus on today? Do it for today, tomorrow and if you can– everyday– and your heart, your mind and your body will thank you in years to come!
February 14th. What better day to celebrate love and kindness in the world (besides on your own birthday) than on Valentine’s Day? Last night I spent some time writing words of love to my husband and family. Today I presented those words to them, and found it put me on a path of love for the day; on a gentler road. What if we started all our days like that? What if the world started all their days with loving words and compliments? What a changed world we would see– one of pure compassion. Makes me want to try to start every day this way. It does take time and effort, but it’s well worth it.
Words that Matter
Last night I also helped my 9-year-old daughter with her Valentines. She has moved away from store-bought valentine’s for a few years now, and prefers to make them herself. Last year she made bookmark valentines. This year it was even more simple: a piece of paper cut out like a heart (with butterflies printed on it– as her school’s mascot is the Monarch), a complimentary sentence, and a lollypop attached. She made these by herself, stamping names onto the heart, adding a scrolling glittery decoration as well, and composed each compliment. I loved reading what she thought of her classmates: “You are creative,” You are a good friend,” You are generous,” You are good at math.” On and on and on she went. How wonderful for these kids to have those words to go back to whenever they need a little lift. She made me a card, and her father, brother and sister one as well. I love her warm spirit and seeing the good in other people. I just wished she would see more of the good spirit in herself, every day.
Words for Thy Self
Though my youngest has a complimentary spirit toward others, she does not have one towards herself. Unfortunately, she is always comparing herself to others; but only in the areas in which she is lacking. She constantly replays tapes of negativity about herself. Where she’s heard this information from, I’m not sure. But I want to put an end to it. So, this month we’ve started an experiment using daily self-affirmations. I saw an interview this Fall on Oprah’s Lifeclass , “You Become What You Believe,” with Cheryl Richardson— a life coach, author and expert on self-care. On Cheryl’s website she states:
- “Self-care is good for the planet. From years of personal experience, as well as coaching great men and women, I’ve come to understand that selfishness leads to selflessness. When we care deeply for ourselves, we naturally begin to care for others – our families, our friends, our greater global community, and the environment – in a healthier and more effective way.”
During her interview with Oprah, Cheryl recommended– to improve your self-image– saying positive daily affirmations for 30 days to turn your attitude around from a half-empty to half-full perspective. Her thinking– shared by many– is that we need to retrain our brain to thinking we are what we intend, and then we will act accordingly. Repeating this process (saying an affirmation everyday) allows the brain to strengthen associations, making this an exercise of the brain as well. Self-fulfilling prophecy is in volumes of psychological research, and still exists after all these years, even though we know our mind can trick us into believing anything really. Cheryl recommends breaking away from old habits of self-doubt and into new habits of self-love. If we can trick our brains into believing the worst about ourselves and then acting to make that belief true, we are then able to trick our brains to believing the best about ourselves, and then acting to make THAT belief true. What I am talking about here is directly tied into self-compassion and self-kindness that I posted about previously.
Daily Self-Affirmation Resources
Below is a list of resources that I use for daily self-affirmations; little reminders that life is positive and we are up for the challenge. Take a look. Some are print based and others are electronic. The great thing is that they are available to all– and can help lead us in the right direction– the direction of self-love.
- Cheryl Richardson shares a list of affirmations on Oprah.com.
- Another source I go to– or one that comes to me in my inbox via email is from Owning Kristina. It’s called “Mojo Mondays” and it’s a way to start your week off thinking about something healthy… for yourself.
- Louise Hay, a motivational author and founder of Hay House Publications also promotes daily affirmations.
- I found a nice app recently for the iPhone. An Affirmations app that has numerous positive affirmations for all to practice, all at your finger tips. Worth checking out.
- Facebook has a Positive Affirmations page as well, with new posts daily.
Which ever source you choose to pull from, the point is– just be kinder to yourself and to do so, you need to believe in yourself fully.
Wishing everyone a lovely Valentine’s day full of kindness in any form!