As we start on another trip around the sun, I invite you to think about how you can be a creator this year. There are two types of creator’s- one type of creating is working with objects to make things (woodworking, crafting, cooking, art, or even creating events and parties). The other type of creators create themselves. I encourage you to create yourself this year. This does not mean starting from scratch and acting in ways that are not authentic. Using whatever existing skills you have, whatever you have learned from your own life experience, use it to express yourself. Get out of your own way and drop the idea of becoming like someone else because you are already a unique piece of art. You just have to know it and realize it.
Imagine if all the thoughts that go through your mind were made into a movie. What kind of movie would it be? A comedy? A horror film? A plotless story with boring dialogue? Would you be willing to let others watch the movie of your mind? If you don’t like the movie that is going on inside your head and would not want anyone else to watch it, then why are you still replaying the same story? We have the ability to be the producer, director, and writer of our lives and to create a Life Movie that we enjoy and get pleasure out of watching.
A common image that depicts the conscience is the devil and the angel sitting on a person’s shoulder, whispering into the ear of the person of what they should do. One of the first lessons children are taught is good vs. bad. Whatever imagery we grow up with to depict moral vs. immoral, sinful vs. virtuous, or acceptable vs. unacceptable, we all have to remember that these judgments of the mind are just products of our environment. If we get too stuck in these binary choices, we miss out on experiencing the truth and beauty that lies within our own hearts. How many times have you done something just because you “should” as taught by your parents or some institution? What would have happened if you listened to your own heart and intuition? When we respond out of our own awareness, whatever we do will be good. When we break free of conditioned beliefs, we can start to see life as it really is.
In our society, men in general have been taught not to cry, to put on a brave face when they get hurt, and to not show they are in pain. Women can fall into this tendency as well. All of us, at some point in our lives, have likely been in a situation where we felt like we had to close off our feelings and emotions to avoid getting hurt. If something is especially painful, we might even hide the pain from ourselves. We put up a barrier around our hearts, like a layer of ice, in order to freeze the painful emotions inside, yet we know that a tiny crack in the ice could send the emotions flowing through us again. Tears have the power to melt the ice. It is ok to cry, and there is no reason to feel ashamed of your tears. Crying helps us let go of pain, they allow us to be gentle with ourselves, and they help us to heal.
Mornings are like the early childhood of your day. How you start your morning is influential in how the rest of your day goes. Do you start your day feeling hectic and rushed? Or do you give yourself time to wake up peacefully and engage in routines that set you up to feel centered, calm, and ready to productive? I encourage you to reflect on your mornings and to think about how you wake up influences the rest of your day.
Along my driveway there are several cracks in the concrete and in those cracks, blades of grass have popped up. It’s pretty amazing that grass has managed to grow in a tiny area that is surrounded by a material meant to suffocate the natural ground underneath. If you’ve never seen concrete or asphalt being laid for a road or sidewalk, typically they dig up the sod until it’s just soil and then lay gravel or other material before pouring on the concrete. It seems like any ability for a plant to survive underneath seems really slim. Yet, if a seed were to reach the soil underneath through a crack, it is able to grow. That is one courageous plant! Staying in our safe zone is like being a seed. The seed has all the potential to grow into a beautiful plant but it has to take the risk of breaking out of its protected casing and expose itself to the elements. If the seed stays safe and protected, the potential remains in the casing, nothing changes, and the seed could still perish without it ever reaching its full potential. We need to be like seeds; knowing that our full potential can only exist if we are courageous enough to get out of our comfort zone.
Ponder this: You have a pot of boiling water on the stove that you need to cool down, so you dump in ice cubes to cool it. It does the trick. But then it starts to heat back up again and you find yourself having to constantly add more ice cubes. This a “symptoms approach” to problems. By just focusing on the symptoms, you find a short term solution, but in the long term the problem is still there. A “roots approach” to problem solving gets at the underlying cause. How would the roots approach solve the boiling water problem? Turn off the stove. Take a look at how you are approaching different problems in your life. Are you taking a symptoms approach or are you addressing the problem at its roots?
Our minds can handle about 4 hours of “deep work” or “tightly focused attention” in a day before we start to experience mental fatigue. It is that point in our studying or working where we start to feel less effective and productive, and we may start to feel easily distracted and irritable. This is usually the sign that the mental effort you have been exerting has depleted the glucose that feeds neural energy. In the same way that we give our body a rest when we feel tired, we also need to give our brains a rest. What can we do to rest our brain? First, here is what does NOT rest the brain: checking emails, surfing the internet, looking at social media, or playing video games. These activities will not give your brain a deep recovery. We need to engage in activities that allow our brain to “just be” without continued distractions. Meditation and spending time in nature are the best ways to give your brain the deep relaxation it needs. Logistically, most people can’t leave their workplace to drive to a nature preserve, but you don’t need to go very far. Take a walk around your building and enjoy the fresh air, or maybe there’s a patch of trees in the parking lot you can sit under. If you work in a concrete jungle, focus your attention up into the sky and admire the clouds and sunshine. If you want to be more productive, you need to give your brain a rest.
Visualizations can be powerful. Many star athletes and big time presenters use visualization before a big game or presentation to help them perform better. Can visualization replace the hard work, preparation, and practice? Not at all! But visualization is one extra tool you can use to enhance your performance, especially if it’s something anxiety producing. An important key element of visualizations: you want to engage all of your senses as your visualizing yourself in the situation. This is not just imagining a fantasy in your mind where you have the ability to fly 10 feet into the air. You are walking through the situation as if it is actually happening and you’re aim is to walk through the scenario without anxiety and with a calm, centered mind and body.
Here is an example of how to do a visualization if you have to give a presentation or speech that you are nervous about. First, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes to help center and calm your mind. Now visualize the actual setting where you will be giving the presentation (if you’re going somewhere new and don’t know what it will look like, visualize your best guess of what it would look like). Continue to breathe slowly and deeply, taking note of any anxiety that starts to creep up. See if you can fully engage your senses; smell what the room might smell like, notice the details of anything else that may be in the room, feel the temperature of the room. If any time you start to feel anxiety, pause the visualization and continue breathing until you feel the anxiety fade away, then continue. Visualize yourself walking up the podium/stage/front of the room, again, engaging the senses. Feel your feet walking, feel the temperature of the air, notice what else may be in the room, and most importantly, feel yourself feeling confident and prepared. Now visualize yourself getting to center stage and actually going through your speech/presentation in your mind. Again, if you start to feel anxiety, pause and breathe deeply until the anxiety fades away before continuing. Feel yourself feeling confident and comfortable. Finally, visualize yourself ending your presentation with a big smile and the sense that you nailed it. Sit with that moment as you continue to breathe deeply. Then open your eyes when you feel ready.
Now go and nail that presentation!
As spring approaches, many of us may be thinking about lawn care. Our yards have had the winter to be dormant and to rest, but now we need to think about giving it the care it needs if we want it to be healthy. Lawns are much like our life, we can’t expect to spend a few hours one day taking care of it and expect that it will stay green and lush the rest of the year. Lawns require consistent maintenance. In the spring we may do a lawn “detox” by raking up dead grass exposing the earth underneath so when we add fertilizer, the nutrients can get into the soil, rather than stay at the surface. We may also sprinkle grass seeds to bare patches that were damaged by high foot traffic or animals. Then throughout spring and summer, the grass needs to be mowed regularly. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of waiting too long before mowing and the grass becomes too long for the mower to cut. It ends up being more work for you and it’s usually not healthy for the grass either. Like anything else in our lives, if we form healthy habits, we end up creating less work for ourselves over time and we reap a lot of benefits. Whether your “life care” is a healthy diet and exercise routine, or making your work-from-home job as productive as possible each day, remember that it will benefit from consistent maintenance.