I began my now-annual tradition of keeping a “Joy Jar” in January of 2014 during a very dark period of grief and depression in my own life. I felt lost, exhausted, and just so gravely sad almost every day, even though my coaching practice was growing and I was in the best physical shape of my adult life. Grief is a monster, with long tentacles that invade all aspects of life. I saw a little post on Facebook about “Joy Jars” and thought, “what the hell? It can’t hurt to look for some joy, so I’ll give it a try.” You can read about my first year of this process here.
Cut to NOW – January 2017. Life has moved forward, and mine has seen a lot of improvement and positive growth as I’ve deepened my practice of documenting my own joy, as often as I possibly think to do so. As I began emptying out my jar, right after two back-to-back holiday driving tours, I noticed immediately that 2016’s jar had a LOT more joy stuffed into it! Thinking back over the roller coaster of global atrocities, polarizing politics, and the loss of so many cultural icons, I was quite pleased to see that I had kept my attention honed around seeking joy in spite of the news and the general state of affairs in the world. I felt a little giddy as I pulled the bits of folded paper out onto the kitchen table.
As I began unfolding each piece and reading my own scrawl, I noticed that I wrote more detail and more feeling words than I had in previous years. I wrote lots of tiny stories about whole days or weekends, or a particularly juicy conversation or experience, sometimes cross-referencing dates in my journal so that I could read even more, and I also noted how I felt.
I saw lots of good feeling words like excited, grateful, loved, ecstatic, surprised, relieved, woo hoo!, feeling acceptance, unconditional love, yay!, and hopeful. I saw that my joy was very active, too, with all kinds of verbs like hiking, swimming, rowing, paddling, laughing, eating, noticing, cheering, savoring, traveling, loving, and more swimming. I could see myself on location when I read my narratives that included relaxation, deep conversations, sharing experiences, boating with friends in Florida, hanging with my family during their summer vacation trip to my mountain, long walk and talks in the woods with my best friend, playing outside, sharing favorite swimming holes with my favorite kids, seeing fireworks over the lake on 4th of July, driving… Basically, the Joy Jar of 2016 was EPIC. As I read all my bits of joy, I got to soak them up and experience them all over again. I could really transport myself to those moments scattered throughout the year and connect to the warm fuzzy inside that led me to write them down for the jar.
As it turns out, joy is an infinitely renewable resource!
And now I see a whole new value in the practice of stuffing your smallest moments of triumph and most intense moments of pure joy and excitement into a jar to review at the end of a very long 365 days: doing so helps you be discerning in your future goals and plans. You can see EXACTLY what makes you happy and then you can PLAN to do more of those things. When your life becomes your own in this way, you feel a deep sense of freedom, purpose, and peace. Energy flows where attention goes, so make sure energy is flowing towards filling your life with as much joy as possible.
Having already done a good bit of my strategic planning and goal setting over the next 12-18 months, I’m now using the patterns I’ve extrapolated from my joy jars to tweak those plans and goals. When you plant seeds of joy, you reap more joy. This is such easy gardening, and you don’t even get your hands dirty. If you’ve never tried this simple practice to help you be more mindful of what makes you happy, get started right now! Your January 2018 self will be forever grateful that you took these simple steps.
- Step 1: Find an empty jar. Or a box. Or a notebook even.
- Step 2: Fill it with little notes to yourself about moments of joy throughout the year.
- Step 3: Empty it out at the end of the year/beginning of next year and have the pleasure of re-experiencing your own joys as you read through all your notes and stories.
- Step 4: Repeat.
May your 2017 bring you JOY in many forms, and may you be paying attention so that you notice when you feel it! Namaste.
Not feeling the joy? Feeling stuck and not sure how to get out of your rut? Call today for a FREE phone or Skype coaching consultation ! (864) 918-2914 or email email@example.com
Vicy is a Board Certified Transformational Life Coach, founder of Complete Life Coaching, and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy from Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, GA) and Durham University (England), respectively, with specialization in neuroscience, chemistry, and Eastern-Western philosophy of mind comparative studies, and a Certified Indoor Rowing Instructor. When she’s not coaching or rowing, Vicy is also a yogini, wild water swimming enthusiast, Reiki master (Levels I & II), hula hooper, writer, speaker, and organic gardener. Vicy’s life purpose is helping others discover the best in themselves while learning to pursue their dreams and goals with proven strategies that’ll help them move mountains.
Cultivate Compassion… Starting With YourSELF
By Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA, BCC
“I am so stupid.”
“I am so frustrate that I keep doing this even though I know it’s not good for me and I know it’s wrong. What is WRONG with me?”
“Why can’t I just let it GO?”
“When will I learn to stop letting people walk all over me?”
I hear a lot of comments like the ones above from my clients during our first few sessions. One aspects of my work as a transformational life coach is to help people hear their own language, especially with regards to how they talk to and treat themselves. I spend a lot of time carefully saying things like, “May I please repeat back to you what you just said to me?” I repeat what clients say with similar inflection and body language to their own. When I do so, I see the look of shock on their faces and I watch their bodies slump or tense or shudder or whatever the general modus operandi is for that particular person. People are initially scared of their own language, verbal and non-verbal.
Why is our inner dialogue and our outer talk about ourselves important? Because we must first hear what and how we’re talking to ourselves in order to begin developing compassion.
Once a client has heard his or her language clearly, I ask a question like, “Would you say what you just said to [or about] yourself to a five-year old you were taking care of? Would you say it to your best friend?” The answer is always a resounding NO and a rather disturbed look. Usually that “no” is followed by some commentary on how much easier it is to be kind, objective, and compassionate towards others than it is to be kind, objective, and compassionate towards one’s self. I agree. It IS easier, but this is exactly why it is so important that we all learn to develop a deep compassion towards ourselves.
How do develop kindness & compassion towards ourselves?
It all starts with noticing. Noticing how we’re feeling during moments of frustration or anger or guilt or shame. Just like I ask my clients to pause and allow themselves the opportunity to “instant replay” what they just said by my repeating it to them, we must learn to do this for ourselves. When we are able to notice the shift in our language and behavior, whether we say it out loud or just say it in our own minds, it’s equally degrading and problematic. Once we are able to consistently notice our tendencies, we can begin to consciously change them through choice. If we never notice, we can never choose to change.
Following are three suggestions on how to start noticing:
1 – Allow yourself an extra two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening to sit still and quiet and just create some “breathing room” within yourself. You can sit and just breathe. You can sit and say kind things to yourself or affirmations of some kind. You can sit and just be quiet and allow your thoughts to float through you like fluffy clouds on a summer afternoon. You can sit and listen to calming music. What you do doesn’t matter as much as intentionally taking just a couple of minutes for “time in” with yourself to just BE for a moment. The purpose in doing it morning and evening is to start your day centered and end your day centered because doing so helps you develop your own inner observer. Your inner observer is the part of you that recognizes you are more than the sum of your parts. You aren’t just your thoughts or your job or your kids or your mom’s fears or whatever it is that you tend to over-identify with about yourself. When you stop over-identifying with one aspect of yourself, you instantly become more open and compassionate towards yourself and others.
2 – Take a moment to “check in” with yourself throughout your day, especially on busy days when you’ve scheduled yourself back to back to back and have that feeling that I call “the white rabbit” syndrome. (Do you remember the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late for an important date!”) It’s amazing what three long, slow, deep breaths can do, and you can do them in the car, or at your desk, or even in the middle of a meeting. It’s just breathing. I assure you everyone does it. Taking a moment to do it consciously can help clear your head, your heart, and give you a centering energy boost to help you feel more peaceful within. When you feel more peaceful within, your ability to be compassionate expands exponentially.
3 – Laugh. Need I really say more? LAUGH AT YOURSELF. Are you really taking it so bloody seriously that you ate two cookies instead of just one? Is it really a crisis that you’re running 3 minutes behind schedule? Will someone die if you don’t say yes to every volunteer opportunity presented to you? Laugh at your human-ness. I assure you, we are ALL in the same boat. And oftentimes, when we really look at it, that boat is very funny. Laughter helps you gain perspective and it also gives you a solid boost of feel-good hormones that will help you recognize life is hard enough without your needing to make it harder on yourself by saying unkind things. You don’t deserve that. You deserve kindness, peace, and compassion. Give yourself some.
Give and Get
What’s really interesting about the journey towards constant self-compassion is that as we begin to give ourselves daily doses of our own compassion and kindness, we begin to notice that others are giving us more of both as well. When we treat ourselves with loving-kindness and compassion, our bodies, minds, and spirits respond to our treatment and we (seriously) begin to resonate at higher frequencies. Our energy levels are higher and more sustained. We begin to sense that we can TRUST OURSELVES. We begin to sense that nothing is inherently wrong with us, and instead we are simply perfectly imperfect creatures, every single one of us. We begin to realize that others are struggling with the same sorts of things that we are struggling with, and we begin to realize that by recognizing these similarities we build bridges that help us connect to others. We can see ourselves in others, and our empathy grows. We can see ourselves in the mirror and realize we deserve goodness, from ourselves and from others. The bottom line is that when we start giving to ourselves, we can give more to others and we can actively receive more from others. We can hear compliments and just say, “Thank you,” and smile. We can hear praise and accept that we deserve it. We can feel appreciation and we can reciprocate that feeling. We can RELAX and allow others to help us see our own greatness while we help others do the same.
It’s not EASY because it takes conscious effort and conscious practice. But it is very simple. Cultivating compassion for yourself helps you and everyone around you. The only change you can ever really produce is self-change. So, stop waiting. Take a deep breath. And just do it!
There’s Just Not Enough Time – Really?
By Vicy Wilkinson, MA, BCC
We live in a world ruled by what philosophers call the hegemony of the clock, which is a fancypants way of saying that we are dominated by clock-time, schedules, appointments, and other agreements that fall in line with our collective sense of time. On one hand, this sort of domination is almost inescapable, whether you’re a philosopher or a business owner or a customer service rep or a stay-at-home mom. On the other, this domination is escapable in the sense that you can become aware of exactly what it means to have 24 hours each and every day.
The bottom line, to my way of thinking, is this: no matter how you think about it or slice it up or analyze what’s happening, the ONE way in which every single individual on this planet is the same is that during the course of any given day, we have the exact same amount of time. Since this is the case, why is there not enough time for most of us?
I’ve been asking myself this question for years, and I’ve discussed it with many people. Recently, I was texting with a new friend in my world and I found myself writing the following: “If I had more time to grow more veggies in the dirt and get more critters, my mountain would be like a farm…” After I sent the text, I asked myself, “what do I mean about having more time? I know I will not get days longer than my standard 24-hour days, even as days “get longer” with the spring and then summer approaching now. Then I realized: I often say “time” when what I really mean is “energy,” or “help,” or some other specific resource that may actually be available but about which I’ve not thought.
This seemed like an important realization to me because it was very freeing. I started thinking past my own “time trap,” and saw something about my situation with a lot keener sense of the truth. I DO want to grow more veggies in the dirt and get more critters because I have the space for such things. What is stopping me from having this is not the time it takes to invest in gardening, because when it comes right down to it, I could juggle some things and make that time. What is really missing is that I need (a) energy to put in that direction on a consistent basis (b) some help getting started and (c) a plan for maintaining what I start that’s viable in accordance with my traveling-often lifestyle.
As I began thinking about what I wanted in terms outside of the time trap, a few things became “do-able” that before that realization were purely theoretically. This is what thinking beyond “not enough time” can open up for you: possibilities that you had not considered before because you quickly (saving time) dismissed them due to the time trap.
I’m going to continue experimenting with pushing back on the standard “not enough time” dismissal of ideas, dreams, and desires and I encourage you to do the same. I’ll let you know over the next few months what happens as I beg in questioning this in my own life, and asking my clients to do the same.
What’s in your bag of dreams or on your bucket list or part of your life vision that seems unattainable due to the time it will take to attain it? What can you look at without the hegemony of the clock for long enough to see through the time trap and on to possibilities that use resources more in your direct control?
May your 24-hours-a-day yield the manifestation of your boldest dreams! Namaste, y’all.
This blog series by Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA, CTLC, BCC is called “Little Changes, Big Results” and introduces common problems and simple starting points for people, including those of you who are new to transformational life coaching. Welcome to Complete Life Coaching, where we connect, collaborate, and create.
Part 1: Mental Chatter & Anxiety
I wake up in the morning and it starts immediately… My own voice, yelling at me. “What the hell am I doing with my life? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get up, feel good, and GO? What possessed me to say THAT to him? Of course no one can love me for long, I make it too hard. Just stop trying. Or, good gawd, just stop EATING. Look at yourself – UGH. Get off your fat ass and go to the gym. How did I get SO FAR BEHIND?”
Maybe some of that sounds familiar to you. I know with certainty I have said all of it and, honestly, way worse to myself, inside my own head over the years, especially the “bad ones,” before I knew I could change that self-talk. I also know I would NEVER say such unkind, unhelpful, and let’s face it, just plain MEAN stuff to another human being.
So why do we say stuff inside our own heads to ourselves, about ourselves, that we wouldn’t dream of saying to a friend or family member? The short answer is that our minds, left to run wild, are full of fear, anxiety, loathing, and shame. And we are the constant recipient of our own projections of perceived faults and failures.
In my professional coaching practice, I am often the first person to hear someone’s “monkey mind” unleashed for an outside observer to see, and I view my position with humility and respect. I am honored to be able to just listen to my clients, many of whom feel they’ve never been heard or understood. When a person decides to pour out what’s really going on inside her mind, it’s an act of BRAVERY and takes vast COURAGE. (Aside on courage: from the Latin, then Old French, and finally handed down to us through Middle English, the word courage means heart. The heart as the seat of feeling, thought, etc.; spirit, mind, disposition, nature. As far back in English speaking history as 1300s, courage, when applied to a person, means “a quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking; braveness, boldness, valor” and it’s also “spirit, vital force or energy.” Speaking our minds, giving voice to the feelings and thoughts from our hearts, clearly takes a lot of this courage, this quality of mind.) I appreciate that magnitude of pure heart it takes to pour out the sludge and really take a clear look at it. It is terrifying to trust enough to be so completely vulnerable, so it certainly takes courage to tell our dark sides and share our stories of shame and pain. [Trust in the ability of the other person both to listen without judgment AND keep our confidence is key… Here’ s a great video about discerning when it’s okay to be vulnerable.]
Speaking the negative self-talk, the monkey chatter of a fearful, shameful, antagonistic voice of our own dark self to another and trusting them to be open to receive – to listen intently – to remain solidly in non-judgment and compassion bolstered with empathy – takes heart. To speak out the chatter requires a connection deep down, literally, in the nervous system to the heart and the gut, making the speaker vulnerable. As one chooses to speak the darkness, the self opens from the core & exposes the chatter, shining light into the darkness. And when we turn on this “heart light,” of courage to be open and vulnerable with a trusted other, we taste freedom. It is then that we start to observe ourselves more keenly and make choices about how much freedom we will allow ourselves.
When we choose to make this one little change: to trust SOMEONE and to say out loud all the darkest chatter of the monkey mind, giving true voice vis a vis acknowledgment to the shame and rumination and spinning out of control narrative and allow another person to hear us, to understand us, we get BIG RESULTS for ourselves.
So, how can one begin to make this one change?
Step one: Begin by becoming more conscious and aware of that inner dialogue. Just notice. Just observe your mental chatter. If it feel and sounds more negative and painful than positive and motivational, begin to simply watch your own thoughts whenever you notice. Back off yourself, and just watch. This might be in a minute of silence after an argument with a parent, partner, child, co-worker. It might be in bed at night, trying to fall asleep after a long day. It might be as the alarm goes off in the morning. Just start with a minute. Just watch, like your head is a spectator sport. For a just a minute, don’t play, don’t engage, just observe. As you practice, this minute could turn into 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes… It becomes a silent, observing meditation practice. You realize there’s more to “you” than all that self-talk.
Step two: Decide you will make one change on your own behalf to begin the process of shifting your mind and asserting control over it. “In short, the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” – Dr. Dan Siegel (from this article on his website) After you’ve made this decision, you can continuously reinforce your choice to change each time your mind wanders down its usual path of negative talk. The great news, is that your mind is expert in that wandering! So it gives a LOT of opportunities to notice, to pause, to consciously shift. First watch, then you decide. Repeat. Constantly. It’s a process, it’s ongoing, and the timeline is your lifetime. Start slowly, but start consistently. Notice each time that you notice. Your ability to stop and observe without judgment will expand over time.
Step three: Choose someone to talk to and be willing to trust and share openly, with the spoken expectation (and AGREEMENT FROM THE OTHER PERSON) of receiving empathy and non-judgment, just listening. This person might be a professional like a trained life coach, or counselor, but she could be your best friend or brother or someone else that you truly trust and can feel safe with as you reveal some parts of yourself that you may have actively hidden.
Let’s think about empathy for a minute. Empathy is not sympathy, and the difference between them is very important. Empathy creates direct connection because empathy is “the power of projecting one’s personality [personal experience] into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” Early uses of the word in the English language talk of such things as “my mind’s muscles” and “feelings of… motor empathy.” Now we know that empathy is built into our brains and nervous systems with specialized neurons called “mirror neurons” and that we truly can feel connected to other human beings vis a vis our own experiences of feelings and emotions. Researchers and practitioners such as Brene Brown & Marshall Rosenberg cite empathy as critical to healing self and others, though their research and practices are ostensibly very different. “We’re wired to tell our stories, not keep our secrets,” says Dr. Brene Brown. It’s true. And it’s what creates connection in that “embodied and relational” mind of ours.
These three simple steps result over time in huge changes in your mind, your body, and your relationships. More empathic connection means more time feeling truly connected to other human beings, and therefore encouraged and “plugged in” to community. We are hard wired to connect deeply to others, and openness and trust feed those connections. With time and practice, the chatterbox that opened this article becomes adept and skillful at refuting, dismissing, or reframing the negative blah blah blah into something much kinder, warmer, and more realistic such as….
“I’m alive. That’s good. I’ll feel better once I’m up and moving and showered and fed some good food. Last night’s conversation was a doozie, huh? It’s okay. Today, I will try hard to stay focused and remember I love me. That’ll help solve the problem that started the argument to begin with. I’m learning not to engage when I’m exhausted. I’m okay. Everyone has bad days and makes mistakes. Just take a breather and keep going. Just do your best. Going to the gym could help, even if it’s just 20 minutes it’s good for me. I’m doing just fine where I am, just remember to breathe.”
This kind of radical shift takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. However, this 3-step practice, done consistently and repeatedly, over the course of 6-months to a year, yields massive results that can help calm anxiety; decrease mental, emotional, and physical stress; strengthen relationships, both with self and others; and mend the mind so that thinking and performance improve in all areas of life experiences. You’re worth it. May you experience this empathic magic beginning immediately. Namaste.
 Etymology & information on “courage” abstracted from The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), second edition, Volume V. Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK. ©1933, 1989.
 OED, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.
 OED, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.
Shamanic Sound Healing Journey with Guided Meditation + Potluck & Fireside Dancing
Please join us for a afternoon and evening of healing, sharing, and learning at our Magical Mountain Retreat Center with special guest Sonic Yogi, professional musician and sound healer.
We’ll be experiencing the deep healing offered through time in nature while Sonic Yogi shares the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls, Native American flutes, and other sacred instruments. We’ll have time for discussion and sharing, as well as guided meditation practice for increasing loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves and our world through the ancient Tibetan practice of tonglen (giving and receiving).
After the sun goes down, we will celebrate our journeys fireside with dancing and hula hooping…or just sitting and enjoying, if that is your preference.
This event is free, but donations will be accepted to cover costs and to thank Sonic Yogi for traveling from Lawrenceville, GA, to share and be with us! $10-20 per person is suggested.
We will provide garden fresh greens for salads and plenty of iced tea and deep well water. Please bring a favorite dish to share for the pot luck dinner. We will be outside most of the time, so please be prepared with yoga mats, cushions, insect spray, and sunscreen. Restroom facilities are available.
In this podcast, CLC discusses the importance of mindfulness, movement, and creating positive new experiences. These practices can be used to relieve the effects of anxiety, depression, anger issues, and trauma & PTSD. Learning to incorporate easy practices into your daily routine is one way to get started in a more grounded and solid-feeling life.
We discuss easy mindfulness practices that get your 5 senses involved and make it easier for your nervous system to calm down and focus on the present moment. We share stories about how movement helps with shifting moods and attitudes.
For more information on getting help, contact us for one on one help, resources, or join us for a retreat or workshop. You are also invited to join our online communities and get involved! Let us help you THRIVE.
Listen here now. (Available to stream or download.)
“Let the flow manifest where it will, not where we will it.” – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
“Love is my religion.” – Ziggy Marley
By Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA, BCC
It’s a gorgeous day and I am grateful for being here with the opportunity, time, space, wherewithal, and skills to write & share something open about my experience. It is my dream to get all this tumbling experience and introspection out of my head so that my stories and studies can better serve others. My work has shown me how much our stories impact all of us and the world around us.
My experiences in this lifetime so far have yielded a full range and often paradoxical and mind-boggling series of emotions and impressions. In my mind there exists an unfolding tapestry of moments and memories that contain everything, sometimes all at once. Irreverently reverent. Dishonestly true. Fantastically real. Unbelievably realistic. Miniscule and infinite in scope. Wide open and withdrawn. Overwhelmingly scattered and targeted like a laser beam. Full of conflicted conviction. Hysterically funny sadness. Loving hatred and hateful love. Optimistic hopelessness; joyous moments full of grief and despair. Gaining wisdom through loss after loss. Grasping tightly to learn to let go…
And the more stories I hear from others, the more deeply I understand we all experience this odd dichotomy of seemingly oppositional experiences, often simultaneously. The more I stay fully present with clients, students, friends, and family, the more I understand that nothing is exclusive or unconditionally independent. There is no single singularity of experiences that stands alone, isolated, outside the totality of all-that-is in our conscious experiences as human beings. We can truly laugh and feel joy in times of dark despair. We can feel hatred towards people we love deeply.
I’ve “known” this all my life through a deeply resonant feeling I first recall feeling when I was five years old and outside running through the woods. I studied it and questioned it intellectually for years, throwing my mind, body, spirit, into combing through philosophies from cultures, times, masters, and academics around the world – 21st century and backwards to the beginning of our recorded histories of thought.
Today, though, I have returned to the deep resonance of knowing from childhood. A knowing in my body – in my consciousness itself – in my spirit of the interconnectedness of all people-places-things-ideas-philosophies-understanding…being itself.
Our feelings and experiences are all valid, all ours alone, and universal.
Our ideas are singular and expansive.
Our creations reflect all that’s come before, as a whole.
We exist as part of all else that has ever or will ever or does exist.
Being itself is a continuum – expansive as the universe itself.
Consciousness is a gift!
It is within this knowing that I perceive my own rightness in the world. And by rightness I mean proper, integral, complete-ness, not at all my “rightness” (or righteousness) as opposed to wrongness.
Right action: My right actions are actions that revolve around using my inherent gifts. Teaching, coaching, questioning, facilitating, creating, growing self and others.
Right motivation: I am motivated by the need and, indeed, the calling to serve others and facilitate conscious growth, adaptation, and change.
Right livelihood: Coaching and consulting and teaching are my right livelihood. Writing, speaking, collaborating, listening, learning, and creating are integral pieces to this livelihood whole.
Right intention: I intend to heal myself and others. I intend to generate love, kindness, and compassion as a path towards healing & health – towards wholeness. Healthy wholeness is created by resonating the frequencies of love, kindness, compassion, and gratitude.
Right speech: To the best of my ability, which is better and better as I continually practice mindfulness, I intend to speak with kindness and passion, with loving intent. I recognize I use language that is sometimes calming and beautiful, and sometimes raucous and uncouth. My speech is born of emotion and the goal is that what I speak, reverent or irreverent, comes from a heart full of love, not a soul full of hate. Sometimes, love says, “I love you.” Sometimes, love says, “F**K YOU.” When it comes from love, it is right speech.
Right view/understanding: As I am able to comprehend my vastness (consciousness) and my limited scope (physical form), I believe the right view from which to pivot is seeing the unlimited capacity for transformation and change we each hold. We can be born again and again. We create our worlds daily, hourly, by the minute, in each moment. We can change, grow, heal, learn, and develop ever-greater understanding and capacities for compassion. We are infinitely finite.
Right effort: I am here to use my mind and body and spirit regularly – daily – in support of all that is moving towards positive expansion. My efforts matter. I effect change by deciding to use what I have at any moment. Right effort is making ongoing effort towards expanding loving-kindness through practice and action.
Right concentration: I am here to consistently redirect and re-determine my focus. I am here to commit constantly to showing up and being present. Present to myself and my own needs; present to the people, places, things, other beings around me. Present to this life and this moment. With mindfulness and choice, I can control my concentration.
All of this makes up my own personal experience of living what Buddhism calls the 8-fold path. I practice. I fall short. I practice some more. I excel. I practice some more. I fall apart. No matter the outcome, I just keep practicing.
I have come to realize that part of the 8-fold path goes back to those paradoxical – nonsensical, even – points of tension and experience within myself, that conflicted conviction and optimistic hopelessness, and all the rest.
I am made not solely of good and not solely of evil, but I contain within my existence the full capacity for both and for all the gray areas in between. And I fundamentally believe that we all contain this full spectrum of possibilities. We choose – again and again – with every thought, every spoken word, every feeling we allow to flourish inside of us, every interaction with others outside in the world, we choose which piece of the spectrum defines us in that moment.
Our lives are made up of these moments, these choices. We become an amalgam of these moments. When we reflect on our own moments, and begin to feel more joy, love, gratitude, kindness, openness than we do hate, pain, sadness, guilt, I believe it is then that we truly step into being our best selves, our whole selves.
When there is so much love that no external hate can shake us, we are whole.
When there is so much compassion that we can be gentle on ourselves and others in times of crisis, mistakes, or grief, we are whole.
When there is so much kindness that angry outrage from others does not knock us down or tear us apart, we are whole.
When we are whole, we are one. Heart to heart, mind to mind, spirit to spirit.
May we all become whole.
I’ve always been adventurous and have often been quoted as saying, “I’ll try pretty much anything at least once.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that this statement is still true and it’s a big part of why I truly enJOY my life, my work, and all the people in “my world.”
It is true, to the best of our knowledge at this time, that fundamental differences exist in the adolescent brain (11-24 years old by neuroscience & psychiatric definition) that make us all distinctly different in these years than in childhood or in adulthood. However, as adults, we are fully capable of embracing our ability to consciously change our brains by first examining our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and then changing the ones that don’t seem to be GROWING us and actually helping us THRIVE in our lives. When we start making changes, our brains change too! What’s awesome is that those brain changes affect how we think, remember, focus attention, make decisions, and relate to others (and ourselves).
We can learn a few things about how to GROW and THRIVE in our lives by setting ourselves up to experience more of the positive sides of four specific qualities embodied in the teenage and young adult mind, according to doctor and researcher Dr. Dan Siegel. In the book Brainstorm, Siegel defines those qualities as: Novelty Seeking, Social Engagement, Increased Emotional Intensity, and Creative Exploration. There’s no time like the present to take on at least one of those categories consciously and make some changes in your life to support it!
“Novelty seeking” is a perfect starting point in flexing my adult-brain muscles because adventure and the deep sense of excitement and exhilaration I feel when I try new fun stuff is fantastic for me! It’s also something that I can really hold onto and am able to enthusiastically transfer to others through the power of storytelling and sharing. (Which is cool in and of itself, AND it ushers me forward in my own growth because it precipitates more social engagement and increased emotional intensity in my own experiences… see how that works? Growth-orientation feeds more growth!)
This past weekend, I took a road trip with friends to visit even more friends down in Florida. We wanted to escape the winter for a while and get some sunshine, swim time, and some new experiences to forge new positive memories together. Goals: all accomplished and the trip exceeded all expectations.
Novel Experience #1: We canoed and kayaked around one of the local crystal clear headsprings (72 degree water, year ‘round) and got to swim with a multitude of wild manatees. We saw a family of manatees with a wee baby, and our individual manatee counts ranged from at least 6 to maybe 12-13 separate manatees. Once we were in the water with them, they swam right up to us, often nudging us with their bodies or their noses. I was snorkeling when 2 large adults swam directly up to one of my friends while I watched from about 5 feet away. Once of those guys turned towards me and swam directly underneath me, touching the skin on my bare legs as he swam by. It was truly an amazing experience! As we swam slowly away from the headsprings, we were able to identify them as the water turned darker and more brackish.
I felt excited but calm; these large animals were clearly curious and totally trusting of us. I felt a deep sense of connection and responsibility after I realized that most of the manatees had scars on their backs from propellers. I was so grateful to be moving slowly and mindfully through their waters, a visitor inside what was clearly their territory. When we got back in our boats to paddle upriver for a while, I just felt awestruck by how graceful these animals were and how they seemed to just immediately embrace our presence, in spite of their scars. I think this experience taught me a valuable life coach lesson about trust, using my strengths (enthusiasm, curiosity, love of learning), and the golden secret of slowing down and paying close attention. If we had just jumped into a boat and sped away upriver, we never would have seen those welcoming creatures.
(Apologies for not being able to photograph the manatees; I wasn’t prepared with an underwater camera. But you can see how happy we were after swimming with them!)
Novel Experience #2: When you’ve been friends with a group of people for a time period now measured in decades, you all get to know each other REALLY well. The super cool thing about that is that you’re able to perfectly predict the kinds of new experiences that ALL of you will enjoy, which makes it easier and easier to set up the possibility of new awesome memories you can create together. Our second day of adventure on this trip was one of those, “I know people who want to come here even though they don’t know it exists yet” moments. Our friend T, host with the most and partner in our cozy accommodations Rainbow River Club, had scouted out a place called “Devil’s Den” and we packed up with swimsuits, snorkel gear, and a picnic to go check it out!
After signing our lives away on various waivers which required a steady stream of initialing down the side of a front and back sheet of paper, we walked carefully down a set of about 20 stone steps into a hole in the earth. At the end of those stairs, we were standing on a rock ledge that had another 20 or so wooden steps leading down to a series of underwater platforms in the huge cave below, with sunlight streaming in from a gaping hole in the earth around the corner from where we’d entered the stone staircase. As the light lit up the water, you could see straight through to the bottom of the cave about 75 feet below the water’s surface. One person at a time (as instructed), we walked down the steps with our snorkels and flippers in hand. Once we got the platform suspended in the 72°F water about knee deep, we put on gear and pushed off for a snorkeling adventure while scuba divers explored the depths below. It was an incredible experience! You could see all kinds of fishes and as you swam around, the light danced all around. We had a private swim for about half an hour, exploring every nook and cranny we could get to without dive gear. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it anywhere, and it just felt like we were in some fantasy adventure movie of some kind. It was unreal and truly awesome. Although we’re used to swimming in 60° mountain river water in the summertime, 72° with flecks of sun inside a cave is only tolerable on bare skin for so long! So, we climbed back up the two very steep sets of stairs and found a sunny table to spread out a picnic and warm ourselves up like turtles on a log. By the time we’d picnicked and walked around the old SCUBA training facility on the property and dried out in the sun and shared what our personal take on the place was, the sun had shifted significantly and there was more sun on the hole in the earth. “Let’s do it again!” and off we went back into the earth for another swim and exploration of this cave that had a bit more light on it now. None of us wanted to leave, really, and have determined we would love to go back and spend some more time… and maybe go beyond the surface next time!
It’s SO IMPORTANT to keep experiencing new things and growing our connections to friends and family in exciting and memorable ways that make us all FEEL GOOD. Embracing change through self-selected growth is one of the keys to long-term happiness, brain health, and a positively oriented thriving life. If you’re not doing anything new, or changing anything by using more of your strengths, we strongly encourage you to take on a challenge of some kind to do so! Keeping your brain, your mind, your body and your spirit active and growing is the closest thing to the fountain of youth we’ve discovered! Be well and be good to you and yours. Namaste!
by Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, BCC, Certified Transformational Coach
It’s nighttime, you’re trying to relax and go to sleep, and your brain suddenly bombards you with thoughts about what you woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ said during that argument yesterday or great ideas that will turn your whole life around AND save the world or the twenty- seven tasks you didn’t complete because you were trying to help the kids with a school project… or a million other things that our minds can come up with when we’re lying in bed and trying to relax and fall asleep.
In the world of transformational coaching, we call all this thinking, which has a tendency to turn dark, negative, and brooding, rumination or having ruminating thoughts. Another term for this thinking-excessively with little control is “monkey mind” or “monkey chatter.” In the Shambhala Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this sort of mental chatter is compared to having an untamed horse for a mind. No matter how you look at it, rumination can get out of control and cause a lot of difficulty in life such as insomnia, anxiety, short temper, forgetfulness. If left to fester and expand, rumination can lead down a slippery slope of temporary negativity into low mood, poor resilience, chronic stress, and even depression.
Of course, rumination doesn’t just happen when you’re trying to relax and go to sleep; many of us are plagued with ruminating thoughts during our wide awake time as well. For example, how long have you obsessed in your mind over a stressful conversation that happened hours ago? Or what kinds of thoughts take up space in your mind when you’re getting dressed in the morning and a certain pair of pants don’t fit right?
No matter when rumination gets in your way, though, there are proven techniques to help you regain control over your mind and discover your calm, peaceful center so that you can quiet that monkey chatter and choose a better direction for your powerful thoughts!
One easy way to put the brakes on rumination is very simple: stop “just thinking” by taking specific action. That action can be as simple as sitting down for 5 minutes and writing down what your mind is saying. Just dump it all right out on paper. It’s amazing how this simple act diminishes the hold negative thoughts have over us. If it’s at night and you’ve already gone to bed, do yourself a favor by sitting back up, turning that lamp on again, and taking up pen and paper. When we write down all the stuff our brain is screaming to us, it helps externalize our experience and in this simple act, many people find immediate peace.
Sometimes our brain is just trying to help us remember important things; when we write those things down, we can refer to them later when we CHOOSE to do so, and our brain can stop reminding us and let us focus on relaxing. This is especially helpful when your brain gets stuck in a loop about the minutiae of daily life: schedules, tasks, 17 things you must remember before walking out the door Monday morning…whatever it is, write it down – just “brain dump” it out there onto the paper.
Another great thing about writing it down is that for many of us, our mind likes to pour out creative ideas or solutions to problems we had a month ago at random times. If we take a few minutes to capture some notes about those ideas and solutions on paper, our brain can relax and move on. Writing things down gives us a logical sense of closure. It’s essentially clearing the cache in your mind like you do in your web browser.
If you find that writing is extremely difficult for you for whatever reason, I recommend keeping a voice recorder or using an app on your phone to just talk it out: literally speak your list or rambling thoughts into the recorder. (Sometimes this works especially well for extroverts who don’t enjoy writing, but do enjoy talking!) The outcome is similar as with writing it down because you have externalized the thoughts.
After you’ve taken the time to empty out some of the chatter, your mind can begin to relax and you can further help slow down any future rumination by taking advantage of that moment of spaciousness in your mind. After writing or voice recording, take 2-5 minutes to focus on your breathing and calm both your mind and your body all at once. If you take a really deep breath in and count to four – 1, 2, 3, 4 – slowly in your mind, then hold your breath for an equal 4-count, and then slowly exhale to a count of eight – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 – you will notice instant feedback from your body. Repeat this breath at least 5 times and you will help relax your entire nervous system, which naturally shuts down all that spinning monkey chatter.
If you find you still have some chatter after doing this breath work, you may want to take a step further in your writing or voice recording process by making notes about some potential solutions or ideas if your mind is still focused on some sort of dilemma. Some of us need to not just write the thoughts down, but also to do some creative problem solving in order to gain that sense of closure that helps us rest. You can alternate between breathing carefully as described above and writing to maximize your level of control. With practice, it all gets a lot easier and you can begin to slow the rumination periods over time. Bonus tip for problem solving in your sleep: Ask yourself a specific question about the problem and then go to sleep. Write for five to ten minutes first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed, and see what kinds of answers your awesome self has come up with overnight, like magic.
Experiment with these tools and make them your own. Once you find out what works best for you on those nights your brain tries to hijack your calm and your sleep, keep whatever you need beside the bed and keep those ruminating thoughts from robbing you of well-deserved, and much needed rest, relaxation, and precious sleep.
Take care of you. If you need more help, give us a call. We’re glad you’re here. Namaste.