“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust
One of the things I focused on when I was at the Chopra Center Silent retreat was to really look at things deeply; to see things without labeling them. For when we see things and immediately label them, we move on and don’t really see the essence of that flower, tree, cloud, or even that person. When we label a flower, we know what a flower is, we’ve seen tons of flowers in our lives, and even when we label it as a rose or a tulip, we still miss that particular rose or tulip and all it has to offer.
During April, I spend more time in nature and focus on being and not doing. Yesterday, we had a lovely cloudy afternoon that brought the wonderful fragrance of rain. I just sat in my backyard and looked at the sky, the plants, the birds and everything else and just took them in without labeling each thing I saw, heard or smelled (I had to list them here because labels is how we communicate and this blog would be boring without words). I was living in the present moment and it was blissful!
Try going into nature and see if you can see deeply without labels.
What is it like to look deeply using all of your senses?
Walking Meditation Poem
I take refuge in Mother Earth.
Every breath, every step
manifests our love.
Every breath brings happiness.
Every step brings happiness.
I see the whole cosmos in the earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Today was a heavenly day in Tucson; the skies were overcast yet you could still see areas of cerulean blue amongst the cirrus clouds. The temperature was in the high 70’s, so it was perfect for being outside and taking in the beauty of the spring foliage of the golden yellow Palo Verde tree blossoms. It was an ideal time for me to do a walking meditation.
The purpose of a walking meditation is to bring the body and mind together peacefully. This is not the time I do a power walk or actively pursue my 10,000 daily steps. When you practice mindful walking, your purpose is to bring your attention to the physical experience of walking. With a walking meditation you take small steps and you do not go anywhere. Usually you have a goal to walk somewhere, but with a walking meditation you have no destination in mind. The goal is to be in the present moment with full awareness of the experience of walking – getting somewhere is not the goal. When you walk mindfully, you see the beauty and the wonder of the earth around you, and you wake up. You can do a walking meditation inside, outside, by yourself, or with a group.
Have you ever really slowed down and paid attention to the experience of walking?
Try walking mindfully and experiencing the beauty around you and share the experience.
“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I know that some days are busier than others, but on the really busy days I make sure I start the day from a quiet place filled with peace. The other day, I had a full day of chores and I worked hard all day. But, I set the intention to come from a place of peace and took the time to start my day with meditation and time in nature.
Before starting my tasks, I enjoyed my cup of coffee sitting in the back yard. I just stopped and looked and watched the bugs and the birds. The irrigation system had just watered the plants and the leaves had water on them. I admired a finch that sat on the edge of the pot and took sips of water off the leaves. I noticed all of the varied colors of green on just one plant. I was inspired by how much the plants had grown and matured since I pruned them back in January. I was in awe of the roses and the different blooms in a variety of stages from buds to full blooms to dying. I was grateful to be able to sit outdoors. I listened to the birds and heard the wind and just took the time to appreciate the gift of nature.
Taking those few minutes to be inspired by nature set the tone for the day made all the difference in how I dealt with a busy and hectic day. Starting from a place of peace is the best way to have a successful busy day.
What can you do to come from a place of peace on busy days?
“I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation” ~ Oscar Wilde
There are recent discussions that we have developed a Pavlovian response to our technology devices. We hear or see a notification and we stop what we are doing and look to see what it is and whom it is from. Sometimes we are rewarded with good news or a text or message from a special friend. Just like the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment we have been conditioned to respond to these notifications even though many of them aren’t meaningful or important. These interruptions cause us to be less productive because we are constantly disrupting our flow of work and getting off task.
During the month of April, I take a technology vacation every weekday from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. I check my email, messages, and anything technologically related first thing in the morning and again after 5:00. This has really messed with my online games like Scrabble, Words with Friends and Blitz, but it also making me more productive as I am using that time to read spiritually. I don’t stop and check my mail and get sidetracked from what my current activity is, I am focused on the present moment. I have turned off all notifications so I don’t hear any dings that might tempt me. I learned that I really like these technology vacations when I was at a silent retreat and went 10 days without using any technological devices. I missed not being able to do a Google search every time I wanted to know something, but it helped me get quieter and I was removed from the constant disruptions, and the world didn’t stop because I didn’t answer an email or text. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology; I was the Technology Coordinator for a school district and I believe in it’s potential. However, I feel that we have become too wrapped up in our devices and must balance our use of them so we aren’t like Pavlov’s dogs.
So try taking a technology vacation for a day this weekend, or an afternoon, or evening. Turn off your phone or put it on airplane mode, don’t head to Facebook or your other social media tools, turn off the television and computer. Go for a walk in nature, have a conversation with a face-to-face friend, pamper yourself with the quiet time to relax or meditate.
Does taking a technology vacation scare you? Are you addicted to your technological devices?
How can you take breaks from your technological devices?
PS - Just so you know this blog entry was scheduled to post during a time when I am not using technology, this is another way you can still take a break but use the advanced capabilities of the devices.
“There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil—this practice is called Abyanga” ~ Sandhiya Ramaswamy
I try to practice abhyanga as often as I can, but during the month of April I make a concerted effort to practice it daily. This is such a good way for me to practice gratitude towards my body; I thank it for all of the amazing things it does on a daily basis that I take for granted. I used to only pay attention to my body when I hurt something. When my back would go out, I injured my knee, or I had frozen shoulder I would then understand how much I count on my back, knees, shoulder and every other joint in my body. It was then that I would pay attention to those areas and give them extra love and support to heal. However, doing a daily self-massage allows me to give thanks to my body and take time to appreciate it.
So, what exactly is abhyanga? Abhyanga is a Sanskrit word and is an Ayurvedic massage technique using warm oil to increase circulation, enhance the immune system, reduce stress, and promote sound sleep. I usually do the self-massage techniques in conjunction with my daily bath. You can use any of the following oils: almond, coconut, safflower, sesame, grapeseed or jojoba. If you want specifics about the practice and how to apply the oil there is a great article and video with the steps at The Benefits of Ayurveda Self-Massage “Abhyanga”
Living in the desert southwest, my body drinks in the oil. The oil makes my skin feel soft and rejuvenated and it lubricates my joints. We push and abuse our bodies everyday and this practice relaxes me and reminds me how important it is for me to take good care of my body.
When was the last time you appreciated your body?
What steps can you take to nourish your body like with a self massage?
“Hurry has become the master. We have stopped sensing the stillness, the stunning fullness and beauty and divine perfection of the moment. Let us be clear that the small, complaining, undisciplined part of ourselves—the distracted character wanting nothing but convenience and ease—is unfit to be the ruler of our new destiny.” ~ Brendon Burchard
One of my favorite parts about April is that I don’t have to hurry. Since my goal is to not have any appointments or meetings during the day, I don’t have to hurry to finish my morning rituals to be somewhere at a certain time. It makes all the difference in being able to find the peace and stillness that exists within me. I love the feeling of bliss that I have after a day of not hurrying.
In our day-to-day to life we are rushing from one thing to the next. This month helps me gain perspective on what is important to me, so that when it is over I have the discipline to structure my day so that I remember to pause and only do things that nurture my soul. After April, I try to keep one day a week where I don’t leave the house.
Our lives are full and busy with so many things to do and so many more opportunities of additional things to do that we have to stop and make conscious decisions about what to include and what to skip. You must learn to say NO and let go of any guilt that you might feel by not doing something. You are the only person who can take care of yourself and you are in control of the choices you make about how you are going to spend your limited amount of time.
It is not easy to take a month to slow down like I do; this April is providing more challenging than others even for me. But try to carve out a weekend, day, afternoon or an evening to slow down and sense the stillness of the present moment that brings you to a state of peace and calm.
Has hurry become your master?
How can you slow down and live in the present moment?
“When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and 'good, orderly direction' to enter.” ~ Julia Cameron
I am not a hoarder, I get rid of stuff. I clean my closets once a year; usually during April I go through the closets and get rid of things that no longer bring me joy or I don’t use. I was raised in a “neatnik” house and we couldn’t do anything on the weekend until the house was cleaned first. I have given up on that philosophy of living, but I don’t like clutter and I like to keep things clean and see the top of the desk and tables.
This is true everywhere except when I am in a creative mood. When I paint or cook I am in the zone and things are a mess with stuff everywhere and I just keep adding as I get further in the flow. When I am done cooking, I clean up the hurricane of a mess and put everything away because this is a space that is lived in. I do not usually clean the art studio because I know I will be back in a day or so and I will want all of that stuff out again, so I just leave it out.
But, during April, I only do one task as a time and I finish each task, which includes cleaning up after each task, even in my art room. And what I am learning is that I like entering my creative space each morning without the clutter and mess. I feel that I am coming from a clean slate, a place of peace and it easier to connect to inspiration. It is important to clear the physical and mental clutter and let inspiration into our heart. I clear the mental clutter with meditation, going slowly, being mindful and finishing each task completely before moving on the to next.
How do you deal with physical and mental clutter?
“We cannot always control everything that happens to us in this life, but we can control how we respond.” ~ L. Lionel Kendrick
Today is a fabulous day, I am in the flow and things are going well. Yesterday I was a "Grumpy Gus" and not feeling the love. It wasn’t a terrible day and nothing major happened, but lots of things weren’t going the way I expected them to go. Things were taking way longer than I was planning and other people were adding things to my plate and I was thinking “Hey it’s my April – I’m on "inner vacation" and no one else is allowed to add things to my plate.” I was not living in the present moment and I was not accepting life as it was happening.
So I was aware I was grumpy – it is my choice to be grumpy and the awareness that I was choosing to be grumpy made me stop and ask myself if I wanted to continue to be grumpy or return to the joy and bliss I naturally feel in life. When I am having a hard time, I ask myself the following questions:
For me, this was another reminder that I am not in control of what happens in life. This was not how I was expecting my April to go, but I surrendered to this was what is happening and maybe it will work out even better. I looked at the situation from the other people’s perspective and saw that they were really in need and I wanted to help them out. I reframed the situation to say that every day I am doing a “chore” on my to do list (i.e. organize closets, spring cleaning tasks, yard work) and this is just a different chore and one that will benefit others. Negative energy is wasted energy in my mind, so letting my frustrations go made things so much better and I had a good nights sleep and today was a glorious day.
We are all going to have things happen in life, some will be the big things and others will be the trivial day-to-day things. We get to choose how we react. It is always crucial to remember that we are not in control of what happens everyday, but we are responsible for how we respond and it is a choice. And we get to choose whether we make it consciously or unconsciously.
Think of a recent situation that was frustrating. What could you learn from it? How could you reframe the situation and look at it from another perspective? What is the benefit of holding on to the anger and frustration or letting it go?
How can let go of the little things in life with more ease in the future?
“Recapitulation is a valuable practice to use in the evenings just before going to sleep. It’s a way to put yourself in the position of observer of your life, and of your dreams, so that connections, themes, insights, and meaningful coincidences become clearer. In short, this process allows you to access a higher level of consciousness.” ~Chopra Center for Wellbeing
I have attended numerous Chopra Center programs and at each they tell us the importance of a recapitulation practice at the end of the day. Once again, I have let this valuable practice fall from my daily practice and April is a month for me to regain the practice.
Prior to falling asleep, you review your day from start to finish as if you were watching a movie. You do this quickly, the whole process should take about five minutes. You don’t evaluate, judge or analyze what you are seeing; you observe objectively. You may notice things you didn’t do consciously and gain insights about the main character in the movie. One of the benefits is to help you develop your witnessing awareness. After you have finished watching the movie of your day, you let it go. One of the benefits of letting it go is so you can sleep easier. You have recapitulated your day.
Deepak tells you to say to yourself, “just as I witnessed my day, I will witness my sleep.” I noticed that when I initially started this process, I had little recollection of my dreams, but as I practiced it daily I now remember my dreams more and use the recapitulation process with my dreams to observe objectively without judgment what I experienced in the dream state. One of the key reasons for doing this is to continue to awaken the witnessing awareness so you get in touch with who you really are at your core and to attain higher levels of consciousness.
If you have never tried recapitulation, try doing it at the end of the day. Remember the key is to be objective and not judge or evaluation yourself and let the day go.
Also ask to witness your sleep and do the recapitulation process with your dreams.
“Very few people have ever done deep work in defining their character—the specific identity they wish to have. They simply respond to the world on a whim, without paying any real attention to the type of person they want to be or become.” ~ Brendon Burchard
The quote above comes from Burchard’s book “The Motivation Manifesto” which I highly recommend. I read his book last April as part of my spiritual reading for the month. One of the things that I have learned is that you cannot stay in your head when reading these types of books or the learning is just book knowledge. You must actually do the exercises so that the learning becomes personal.
This April, I plan to do deep journaling and answer the questions from the book. A few of the deep questions I plan to answer include:
You don’t need to share your answers, but share what it was like to answer these types of questions.
“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective.” ~ Doe Zantamata
I love vacations and I am just as excited about this April vacation of going within as about the vacations I take to Disneyland (and I love Disneyland). For this trip, I don’t have to pack any bags or leave my house. I am taking time for me and going within to the silence and stillness. I don’t have to rush off to catch a plane, make reservations or hassle with traffic, lines and rental cars. I do the exact opposite, I go slow, I pause between activities, and I reflect. I have time to listen to my body and my heart and I answer their callings.
I start this vacation by deliberately going slow. On the first day of the month I want to break free of the habit of rushing from one thing to the next. I do this at the beginning so I set the stage for mindfulness for the rest of the month. I do one thing at a time. I am mindful during the task and totally focus on what I am doing. If a thought arises about something else, I gently release the thought and return to what I am doing. I finish the task before moving on to the next task. I do this because I typically will think of something else that needs to be done while doing a task and an hour later I realize I have never finished the initial task. Then, at the end of each task I pause and take time to appreciate what I have done and to enjoy a sense a peace.
Do you ever take time between activities?
What can you do to slow down and be more mindful during your day?
"The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal." ~ Robin S. Sharma
One of my favorite parts of my April solitude month is journaling every day. I start each day with my morning meditation and then flow into writing in the journal. I am coming from that silence and stillness of meditation and I the words freely flow to my pen and paper. There is never a plan for what I will write about; sometimes it may be based on something that arose during the meditation. Sometimes it is a list of all the things I am grateful for and other times it is a dialog of thoughts about an issue I am wrestling with and usually by the end I have a plan for dealing with the situation.
I have found that writing is really a great way to get to know who I am at my deepest levels. These journal entries are only for me and so I am brutally honest about my flaws, mistakes, and areas I want to improve upon. I also share about the wonderful things in my life too. On the times that I am angry and upset about something, I release all of my feelings on the paper and then I burn the paper as way to symbolize letting go of the situation and moving on.
I attended a weeklong silent retreat with the Chopra Center entitled Silent Awakenings which was life changing. I highly recommend this retreat. During our time together, the Chopra staff shared that a journal is a listening device. It is our friend. It allows what needs to be released. I agree with these lessons as I know that journaling allows me to kind and gentle with myself as discover who I am at my core. Plus, through the writing process, I release the things that no longer serve me and I surrender issues that I used to hold on to and dwell on in my mind.
Do you have a journaling practice?
“Like too many of us, I mistook a busy life for a rich one.” ~ Anne D. LeClaire
Five years ago I read the book Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire and it impacted me greatly because she took time to be silent and go within. At that time, I was recently retired and realizing that I still had a very busy life. Even though I was retired and thought I would have to time to do everything I wanted, I quickly realized that I was busy running from one activity to the next. Sound familiar? I was just as busy, if not busier than when I worked full time and I realized it was not the ideal situation for a balanced life.
I tried taking a day of silence and I really enjoyed it and realized I wanted more. So, for the past 4 years I have taken the month of April off to be my month to get grounded, go slower, spend more time in silence, connect to nature and focus on answering the questions who I am and what do I want. I don’t schedule any activities during the day – no yoga classes, no art classes, no lunches with friends, no meetings, no doctor’s appointments, no gatherings with friends, etc. I still do things in the evening and on the weekends with my husband, but I have the days to go within.
The first year I did this it was novel to my friends and family and I am not even sure they understood. But, now that I am doing this for the fifth year, everyone seems to know and doesn’t even try to schedule anything with me during the month of April. It seems to take me a week to decompress and mindfully accomplish the things on my to do list and then for the next 3 weeks I focus on getting centered, being creative, reading spiritually, and cleansing my body, mind and spirit. After the month, I am rejuvenated and ready to tackle the world again from a calmer and more peaceful mindset.
My plan is to share what I am doing in my upcoming blog entries. You may not be as fortunate as I am to take a month to do this, but maybe you can find a week, weekend, day or afternoon for yourself. I am not taking a time out from life, but I am making time to go within and find what matters most to me and what I want in life from a place of peace.
How busy is your life? Is it a rich life?
When can you find some quiet time to go within and listen to your true desires?
Peggy Steffens is an artist and Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor
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