On Mindful Meditation, Journaling and letting go
Fall is the season for learning how to let go. And the trees are our teachers. As we come out of the summer and into the fall in the Northern Hemisphere, plant life gradually dies away and becomes dormant. The dead matter folds back into the soil and provides nutrition for seeds yet to be planted. It’s all preparation for coming back to life in the spring. We humans are also a part of this yearly cycle of life, death and rebirth. But what does it mean for us?
In the fall, the trees give us the most amazing colour show as they gracefully let go of the leaves they have outgrown. When it’s time to let go of a leaf, they simply LET GO. There’s no fight, no doubt, no struggle. It just simply IS, an inarguable truth. Leaf’s dead. Time to let it go so that it can be recycled into the soil to feed future growth.
Letting go is our work this season, too. In order to make space for rich new growth experiences in our own lives, we, like the trees, have to let go of what no longer serves us. This could be people, habits, limiting beliefs, a job that no longer fits, clothes that no longer fit. The list goes on and it is as individual as you are.
How do we know what our dead leaves are, what we need to let go?
Identifying your Dead Leaves with Mindful Meditation
Ever thought you might have to Mari Kondo your inner world? Yeah, me neither. But it’s actually a useful approach, believe it or not. It is about identifying that within your life that sparks little or no joy. And these feelings point to or actually ARE your dead leaves.
Your first step is to identify them. No need for any big moves. Remember that a leaf dies slowly, turning from green to gold or red. The tree has time to prepare to let go of the leaf. It stores its energy for the winter, hibernating and resting in readiness for spring’s growth.
Here’s where mindful meditation comes in. According to Mindful.org, “the goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.” Meditation is a way to explore, venturing into the inner workings of your being as expressed through physical sensations, emotional reactions and random thoughts. “…Your head doesn’t become vacuumed free of thought…it’s a special place where each and every moment becomes momentous” Mindful meditation, then is a practice of being present within yourself, and observing each of those moments, without judgment and with curiosity, warmth and kindness.
The steps are easy and gentle, as described on Mindful's website.
Mindful meditation allows you to become like the tree. A tree does not judge itself for letting go of its leaves. Nor does it beat itself to a pulp with guilt and shame for shedding. It just does what it must do to take care of itself so that it can continue to grow and do its part in its ecosystem.
Mindful meditation, when practiced with consistency, has the potential to rewire your thought, feeling, behavioural patterns--and your brain. It allows you to be present in any situation, observing your own inner reactions and discerning what is working for you and what is not. It gives you space to observe your belief systems so that you can review and revise as needed. And it helps you connect with the sacred in yourself, so that you can plant the seeds of your hopes and dreams, and then nourish them lovingly into being.
Journaling it Out, One Dead Leaf at a Time
Once you have come out of your mindful meditation, give yourself an extra 10 minutes. Set an intention to identify that which no longer serves in your life--the dying leaves. Pull out your journal and write the first things that come to your mind. Don’t judge them. Notice what emotions you are feeling about each list item. Write these emotions down. What sparks joy? What doesn't? Notice any body sensations that come up in response to your intention. Write these down. If anything more comes up—random thoughts, feelings, ideas, write them down. Don't judge them or analyze yet. Now get on with your day.
Keep adding to your list of observations. Over time, you'll begin to notice connections and patterns. You'll begin to understand what your being is saying to you through thought, emotion and body sensations. You'll be able to determine what relationships, beliefs, situations or stuff is sparking joy, working for you, supporting you to be the best you can be. And you'll be able to see which ones don't. That's your official Dead Leaf List.
Again, like the tree, don't rush into anything. give yourself time to determine the best course of action. Use your tools--mindful meditation and journaling--to break it down for yourself, in terms of thought, emotion and sensation. When you think about how to end a friendship, say, or draw boundaries around it, observe your thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Use the same techniques as you did to identify the Dead Leaves to find a way through for yourself that feels calm and even. Remember to be kind, loving and as non-judgemental with yourself as possible. Guilt and shame have no place in your healthy ecosystem.
These tools really helped me through some of my darkest times. Mindful Meditation allowed me to explore my inner world, one thought, feeling and body sensation at a time, without judging or drowning in shame and guilt. It allowed me to discern which thoughts were coming from the voices or experiences in my past and which ones were truly my own voice; which ones made me feel light and buoyant and which ones sunk me like a stone; and which ones led to feelings of joy and happiness.
Journaling allowed me to figure out the thought, emotion and action patterns I had developed as coping mechanisms in joyless situations. It also allowed me to discover and honour my inner treasures, parts of my being that I felt good and sparkly about. And it gave me, literally, a blank page on which to visualize the reality I wanted to experience. This is still a work in progress. Not because these tools don't work but because Life doesn't stop until you do. It is is simply an unfolding process that does not stop delivering learning moments and opportunities to refine your experience until you are driving mostly in the JOY lane.
So This fall, take some time out for yourself to go on a profound inner journey. Uncover what is ready to die away in your life, and let it go. Fully embrace your uniqueness and be the fullest, most authentic best you can be.
Just like nature is beginning to awaken after its dormant period, we too are re-awakening with new dreams and plans for our lives. Here are 3 important tools to help you nourish your soul/soil
February 1st and 2nd mark Imbolc, the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a celebration of the first first stirrings of new life, the earliest signs of Spring, in the northern hemisphere, even though there might still be snow on the ground or freezing cold outside. It’s significance to the human experience is the very earliest hints of spring rising in our spirits. After months of turning inward, of hibernation and rest, life is beginning to stir again.
From what I understand, Imbolc is a celebration not only of this moment in the earth’s annual cycle, it is a celebration of the same in ourselves. It is a moment when we honour and nurture our own capacity to bring something to life in ourselves and our own experience. Just like nature is beginning to awaken after its dormant period, we too are re-awakening with new dreams and plans for our lives.
Sounds fantastical? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just the way things are supposed to be, a way of being that is in alignment with the Earth herself, a way made superfluous by a 9-5 way of thinking and being. But let's set aside that and go with the lessons of Mother Earth here for a minute. Let your spirit begin to stretch and shake off the restful sleep of winter. For with this awakening comes a much needed clearing.
When those lovely spring flowers start poking their heads up through the dirt, it’s time to clear the ground and cut back dead growth in the garden before new growth starts sprouting. The same kind of care is needed in our internal gardens, to clear out internal clutter and the things that died within us during the winter, in preparation for exciting new growth to come. Winter is a time of turning inward and descending into ourselves, identifying the things within that we were ready to let go of, be they thought patterns, behaviour habits or limiting beliefs. It is also the time of dreaming what we see for ourselves, what we would like to experience.
Imbolc marks the time to really let go of all those things, for once and for all, and embrace transition and change in real, lived ways. It’s a time to leave your comfort zone in order to grow more fully into yourself by creating the kind of experiences that will take you there. Sounds kind of exciting and pregnant with possibilities, right?
Yet it is also really, really hard. Because while we love the idea of change, humans are also creatures of habit who like the safe and comfortable. Real change, letting go of things that no longer serve us and stepping into new ways of being and doing can be a long and daunting process. And that can feel super uncomfortable.
Nature shows us that everything has a time and a reason. Think of Imbolc as a time of facing challenges, of taking your own measure. Do you have the strength required to make lasting changes? Can you leave what is safe to grow more fully into yourself? Can you breathe life into your winter dreaming? And how can you set yourself up for success?
This is where tools come in to help you clear out what no longer serves, nourish your soul and lay the initial seeds of what you want to bring into your life this year. I’m sharing with you the ones that I am using at this time. Hopefully, they will be of use to you in some way.
1. Ho'oponopono - Getting Things Back into Balance
I use this meditation frequently. Ho'oponopono has its roots in Hawaiian culture; it’s intention is to maintain and sustain equilibrium in chaotic circumstances. Roughly translated, the word ho’oponopono means, “cause things to move back in balance” or to “make things right.” It is an ancient spiritual practice that involves learning to heal all things by accepting that we are all connected and so hold responsibility for everything that surrounds us. Responsibility. Not fault. It's a subtle but important difference. While we may create or invoke a certain kind of experience, it is usually for the purposes of learning. We are not victims in some kind of cause and effect blame game.
Within this framework, none of us are powerless or helpless, something I really appreciate. It acknowledges that we are each a contributing part of a whole. When there is disturbance in the force of the Whole, the ho'oponopono meditation is a graceful, loving way of restoring the balance for everyone involved. In short, you are calling the spirit of universal love to heal in you that which is creating the discordant outer circumstance you may be experiencing.
The meditation itself is a repeated mantra or set of words potent with intention. These are: I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Spoken in succession, the meditation becomes is a way of declaring a willingness to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions and express regret for any harm caused; to forgive oneself and others, asking the same in return; to live and walk in gratitude and appreciation; and to acknowledge the juice that makes the universe run–LOVE-- flows through each of us, holding us in Oneness.
I do the meditation whenever I feel out of balance, when I'm feeling fear or anxiety or anger. It helps level out those feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety. It brings me back to what really matters to me–personal responsibility, heart-mind coherence and choosing from Love. I also do it when I'm feeling relaxed and calm, like when I am falling asleep. There's never a bad time for some balance healing.
2. The Gratitude List - What nourishes your Soul/soil
If the Ho'oponopono meditation sets the overall energy framework for sustaining and maintaining equilibrium, the gratitude list lets you know what awesome foundational things are in your life inventory that are currently nourishing your soul. The very fact that you are grateful for these things tells you are being nourished by them. And your soul nourished is the soil in which you plant the seeds for what you’d like to create in your life this year.
Your gratitude list doesn’t have to be stellar or metaphysical. It just has to simply be populated by things that make you feel good, happy, joyful, peaceful, loved; that give a sense of meaning and belonging, that make your heart glow or skip a beat or two in sheer excitement. In reflecting back on my own list, I see that I have in my life an abundance of love, meaningful relationships and work, and a sense of purpose. This is my soul nourished and feeling truly blessed.
3. The Experiences List - Sowing the Seeds
This is a list of what you want to call in for the year to grow and evolve. It's not really a list of stuff (not just yet anyway--that will come later in the year) Rather, it is a list of the experiences you want to have that will support, encourage and facilitate that growth. For this list, give yourself some time to feel into a number of things in your life. Feel it from a place of love, not fear. You might, say, be really grateful for the family and friends in your life. And you would like to grow your relationship with them. So on this list, you might add, "Fun" as an experience you want more of with them. List item complete. It's an experience that is heart-centred rather than fear-centred.
But what do you do for things that bring up a lot of fear? Even though it can scare the crap out of us, Fear is not an enemy, really. It's a natural part of us that raises a red flag around an experience we no longer wish to have. So, for example, you might be feeling a little financially pinched right now, an experience that commonly holds fear and worry. It might be tempting to just add, "money" to the list, as the overall solution. "I want to experience having money or not worrying about money," takes the issue of finances into the experience realm. It's almost ready for your list. You know what do you don't want to experience, but what DO you want to experience? How can you shift perspective on that you can transform " worry" into a more love-centred experience?
Before you write anything down, feel into your financial fears. Notice any body sensations that come up. Is your heart clenching? Your stomach churning? These sensations are your body letting you know it is NOT enjoying this experience. It's in survival mode, as we all are in the face of a fear. We've been trained to swallow it down and white knuckle it through these fear experiences. Or to avoid them altogether. What if there was a kinder, gentler way? There is, and we all knew how to do it when we were children, before the world broke our spirits so that we'd fit, belong and obey.
So let's go back to finances. We know what it feels like when we are scared about money, worried about lack. Now, let's try to feel finances from a more abundant, loving place. What would it feel like to have no worries about money, that you had everything you needed (need, not want)? Imagine what that would experience be like? Bring your mind (thoughts) and heart (feelings) into coherence, working together to create that experience in this moment now. Think about all the aspects of the experience that would feel so wonderful, all the things you might do, the relief you might feel, the joy you might feel. Feel the experience as though you’re having it right now, in this moment. Notice any sensations your body might be having in response. Don't judge what you're imagining or yourself for imagining it. It's your dream. Enjoy it.
And that experience you just generated? That's the intention seed you just planted. In it was not "money". It was the experience of relief, joy, fun, pleasure and anything else that came up for you while you were dreaming. Add these experiences to the list.
While it may not solve immediate financial problems, it is a way to shift your perspective on finances from fear to love. You can use the same process for anything else you would like to experience in your life this year. The fears will come up, they never really go away. But they can become more diminished in your personal operating system. And anytime you feel out of balance, go back to the Ho'oponopono meditation.
I hope we are all able to embrace this time of new beginnings and change, as this is how our spirits grow and evolve, especially when we push out from our comfort zones. Here’s wishing you the brightest of Imbolc blessings. I hope all our winter dreams come to life this year, taking us to the most exciting, empowered and balanced places.
THROW OUT THOSE LIMITING BELIEFS THAT NO LONGER FIT
Spring is finally here! I look forward to this time of year, like most people who live in northern climates. The snows thaw, temperatures warm and nature begins to come back to life. It’s time for the fresh and the new; and it’s also time to let some old things go. Yep, Spring Cleaning time! Pull out, dust out, clean out, throw out. Works great for our outer stuff. But what about our inner stuff?
Our inner worlds are also cluttered with old emotional habits and patterns that no longer fit. If we were to analyze our negative internal dialogue, for example, we would likely find that underneath all its layers lies a fear of some kind that holds us back from being or expressing our most awesome selves. The question is: how do you throw that fear stuff out?
STEP ONE: RECOGNIZE YOUR FEAR AND HOW IT EXPRESSES ITSELF
That’s not always an easy thing. The tell-tale, fear red flags are anxiety or worry. Our bodies are really good at carrying these signs. You might feel your stomach turning or butterflying; you might have a headache; you might feel down or like you’re carrying a heavy weight; your heart might literally ache a little or be beating a little too fast. These physical sensations are usually quickly followed by some self-talk, usually judgemental, mean and self-deprecating. Yep. That be Fear going on inside you.
Here’s a little story from my Life’s Safari to help illustrate. When I began Free Lion, I was making Vegan Leather bags (available through my Etsy Store. I still make them to order). After graduating from Architecture school, I had been a stay-at-home and then part-time working Mom. After my divorce, I had to focus on making a full-time living. I had always wanted to work for myself as an artist/artisan, selling what I made. But, I was broke and terrified, with no real confidence that I could run my own business.
When I sat to work at the sewing machine. I would feel that knot in my stomach and my heart would race a little. Then the thoughts would start. “You’ll never succeed. You think that’s even good enough? No one is going to buy that! Everyone is going to see you have no talent.”
I would argue with those voices in my head to hold them at bay while I sewed. This went on until I noticed that it was taking me forever to make a bag because I was spending more energy and time focused on fighting with the voices than on sewing. That was the day that I started questioning the voices in my head.
STEP TWO: QUESTION THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD
I was working with a counsellor at the time who introduced me to Byron Katie and The Work, a meditative approach to opening to your heart’s voice and your personal truths. The goal is to be who you ARE, not what others think you SHOULD be. The process is not to simply replace a negative thought with a positive affirmation, a la Louise Hay or The Secret. It goes much deeper than that. It helps you become mindfully aware of your thoughts and the effect they have on you, so that you can change your relationship with them.
Most of us react in situations on auto-pilot, using stress survival habits we learned as children. Katie lays out 4 questions to ask yourself in the face of negative thoughts or fear feelings. My counsellor added one more, which helped me to stop taking on other people’s stuff by identifying which beliefs/thoughts were mine and which belonged elsewhere. Asking yourself the questions gives you a moment to slow down, witness, analyze, evaluate and choose how to respond. It takes you from reacting on auto-pilot to responsively using your own agency.
Here are Katie’s questions, plus the one more from my counselor. Sit with each question one at a time, in order. Go inside and listen for the answers that come up, paying attention to your internal dialogue, body sensations, etc. As in, "What comes up for you?" I found it useful to record my answers in a journal so that I could go back over them, analyze and re-evaluate.
So back to the story of me struggling at the sewing machine with vinyl and voices in my head. Care to walk through the Katie questions with me? Ok. Close eyes. Deep Breath. And then another one. And one more. Blow it all out. Now, take one more. Breathe.
The Statement under question,
"You’ll never succeed."
1. Is it true?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I’ve never run my own business before and actually, I’m just fricking scared right now.
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
Meaning do I have Actual Factual, tangible evidence that it’s true, that I won't succeed? Uh, well no. I guess i don't. I haven’t done it before so i have no concrete experience or numbers to prove I won't succeed. So it might be possible, right? I might actually be able to do this.
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
I feel sick, my stomach turns; i feel anxious, scared, like a loser, helpless, crippled, disempowered, unworthy, alone, kinda abandoned. Yeah. This sucks.
4. Where did you learn this idea?
Hmmm. My dad, rest his soul. He was a talented artist who wanted to be a graphic designer. In fact, in 1964 he was all set to start a job with an advertising firm in Nairobi, Kenya. Due to family circumstances, he had to join the family restaurant business. He quietly set aside his dreams, and never talked much about his own disappointment, or how he lived with it. He was, however, the voice of doom in all of our own career explorations. Sadly, Dad didn’t have a Byron Katie to help him out. But I do.
Ok, so this isn’t my own belief at all. I learned it from Dad. It's a limiting belief that comes from his experiences and fears. His idea of success was a professional career, not one based on craft or manual labour. I have professional credentials, but I haven't worked in architecture for 11 years. I'm behind on the career track. and the industry has become computerized. I would have to retrain, something I don't have time for. Besides, I would rather run my own business, designing, making and selling my own work.
I am not my father. I don’t have to listen to his fears and values anymore. I don't have to let them hold me back. "Thanks for worrying about me, Dad but I'm not a lesser person for enjoying designing and working with my hands. I am not a lesser person for not meeting your expectations."
This is huge! I can give myself permission to make another choice. I can work at wiping Dad’s broken dream from my inner dialogue, without shame or guilt; I can listen to my heart’s truth; I can shift my perspective; I can focus on bringing my own dream to life, one step at a time. And if I get stuck, I can ask for help. Hell Ya! A hallelujah door just opened up in the sky (cue choir of Angels)!
5. What happens when you believe something else?
When I believe that success is possible, the way that feels true to me, I feel more relaxed, grounded, capable, determined. While I am looking at a mountain to climb, I feel scared yet excited, hopeful. Maybe I WILL be able to do this after all. Woohoo!
STEP THREE: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
The beauty of this process is that you can CHOOSE your own beliefs, your own feelings, your own adventure. You do not have to be weighed down by beliefs that are the projections of someone else’s broken dreams or expectations. Nor do you have to be wracked with guilt for not living up to them. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel fear or have limiting beliefs ever again--you will. But now you’ll have a method to face each one, break it down, shift your perspective and choose something else.
Did you notice that the answer to the question involving my Dad was the longest of all the answers? That’s not an accident. The stuff that we inherit from childhood is actually the most complex stuff to dismantle and throw out. But it is possible to do. Just go slowly, layer by layer. And be kind with yourself.
Just remember that you were born with abilities, predispositions and talents written right into your DNA. That’s your nature. How you are raised and taught (that's Nurture) can sometimes wreak havoc with your inner balance. So, it’s down to you to honour your own nature and nurture yourself back into wholeness
STEP FOUR: FLY!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
How do you overcome fears? Do you have a process that works for you?