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Show Your Love Every Day

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Every year for February 14th we buy Valentine’s Day cards for significant others, spouses, friends, family members and even classmates. It is the one day per year that some consciously remember to dote on those around them and let others know how much they care. While romantic and thoughtful, for many this practice is sometimes limited to this one day (or other special occasions) where they show their love for others. Is showing others compassion, love, gratitude and affection something that we truly want to reserve for one day? Or, is this something that we should practice year-round?

Often in life, and in the network of our relationships, we become comfortable. That’s not to say that we don’t care, but that perhaps we don’t consistently show that we care or show our love for others and the world around us as much as we should. We take things for granted, and we take people in our lives for granted. Almost all of us are guilty of this at some time or another, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something that we can strive to be better at.

We don’t have to wait until February 14th to buy a sweet card or to write a loving letter to those we care about. In fact, I feel that those signs of appreciation make an even deeper impact if they fall on random days or times when they are unexpected.

I used to write my husband cute little sticky notes for him to find in the morning all the time when we first started dating. It used to make him smile, and he would lovingly express his appreciation for them. So why did I stop? Isn’t bringing joy to his day worth the extra effort? Valentine’s Day is a wonderful holiday to treat almost as you would New Years — with new intents and goals of showing love to those around you on a more consistent basis.

This expression of love can be extended to our family members and our friends, to our children, our coworkers, to anyone who we care about. These individuals in your life deserve to hear on a regular basis how much they mean to you, and they in turn will feel more deeply loved and/or appreciated as a result. Whether it’s through a card, letter, hug, phone call or even a face-to-face interaction, you can show those around you how much you value them every day.

This outwardly display of compassion doesn’t have to be limited to those who are close to you, either. Human beings are all deserving of love, and expressing appreciation to those you run across throughout your day or week, sometimes complete strangers, is just as nice. You can tell the woman who let you skip her in line how kind and considerate she is. You can tell the person behind the cash register how appreciative you are of her friendly attitude, or make a point to genuinely thank the employee who walked all over the store to help you find what you were looking for. Love and gratitude are wonderful feelings to share.

Love and gratitude also don’t have to be verbally expressed to others every day to exist. If there is anyone currently in your life (or deceased) that you have felt/currently feel love towards, simply remembering them or thinking of them with an open heart full of gratitude is a nice way to honor that love. You can even think lovingly of those who you have grown apart from, those who have hurt you or those who might need love the most. Just by thinking it or feeling it, you are sharing your love.

Life seems to pass by quickly. We can easily get wrapped up in routine, but if we consciously take time to remember to show our love to others on a daily basis, we are gifting those around us and ourselves as well.

So this Valentine’s Day I challenge you to not only shower your loved ones with your feelings of love and gratitude, but to also remember to honor them on a regular basis, because they are deserving of it.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Where there is love, there is life”. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

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Holiday Joy

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Ah, the holidays have almost arrived!

During this time of year, many are rushing about in an attempt to get every gift on their list for loved ones — the latest and greatest in toys, scarves, tech gadgets, candles, books, and wines to hand off to family and friends.

While material gifts are great, what if we were to celebrate our love of giving to others in another way? What if in addition to the toys, we ask our children about an activity they would like to do that would make them happy? What if we asked our significant others what one amazing date would be to them, and then take them on it? What if we asked our brother, sister, mother, or mother-in-law if they would want to spend some time together doing their favorite thing?

In the spirit of giving, we could give others something that holds more value than anything else — our presence, our love, and our undivided attention. Everyone might not want this, but for those that do, it means far more to them than a gift card to a store.

In the daily bustling about in life, we often forget to be fully present around those we love. Sometimes we are only half listening to our husband while we are working on other things, or never call back that friend who mentioned having dinner together. We get caught up in other things and maybe don’t think about our great aunt who is spending most of her days alone. What if, in the spirit of giving, we paid more attention, set those dinner plans in motion, and brought our great aunt a warm meal and sat with her for the rest of the day?

It’s easy to gift our loved ones with material things, but in gifting them with our presence, we are gifting ourselves, as well. Sharing love is a gift for all involved.

We can teach our children to value quality time with others. We can show our spouses that they matter greatly to us — that we want to be part of truly making them happy. We can show our relatives that we think and care about them, too, and can make their day by giving them the love that they deserve.

So in the spirit of the holidays, and in the time of giving, I invite you to try to give a different gift this year — a coupon for one romantic date or a nice massage for your partner, a day at the zoo with your child who has been begging for months, a special dinner with a friend that you’ve lost touch with. Fill your holidays with the most cheer possible by remembering the gift of love.

Happy Holidays to all! 

 

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Succumbing to Solstice Darkness

shutterstock 152960528 500 002The culture clash between winter solstice and Christmas is battling for my allegiance. On the one hand, the sun will set on the winter solstice today in Seattle at 4:20 p.m. This time of year, I am ready to pack up the day and begin my long winter’s nap by 7:00. On the other hand, that seems laughable. Who has time to go to bed at 7:00? This is the frenetic holiday season. Too much to do! Not enough time! Additionally, I find myself fighting the darkness. I sit in front of my light box as I work. In the evenings, I turn on all the lights and crank up the music to fend off a desire to hibernate while I push forward in accomplishing the items on my to-do list.

Yet my body refuses to be ignored. It is allying against me and siding with circadian rhythms that dictate darkness = rest. The busyness our culture calls us to now is diabolically opposed to what nature calls us to.

Every year I feel this same clash. In an effort to reduce the busyness, I consider the tasks and activities that are most meaningful to me during the holidays, prioritize them and cut out everything else. Decorate the house beyond a Christmas tree? Nope. Send out holiday cards? Gave that up a decade ago. Limit my kids to one present each plus stocking stuffers? My bank account thanks me. Bake Christmas cookies? A wholehearted yes! Even with being conscientious about what I spend my time on, I still find myself depleted and resenting the few “essentials” of the holiday season.

Last night, I succumbed to the darkness. It was about time. I turned my back on the to-do list, turned off the lights and music, and sat in front of the Christmas tree. Just sat and soaked up the beauty of tiny lights twinkling on fragrant evergreen boughs. I reflected on the tree’s meaning of everlasting life, symbolism that reaches as far back as ancient civilizations. I recognized my connection to the whole of the universe. It was the most peaceful, energizing thing I have done all week. Not only did it allow my body to rest, the quiet moments of contemplation filled a longing in my soul. It shifted my perspective to what is truly important—love. Love for ourselves, our families, neighbors, the web of humanity, nature and the divine. That love is far more satisfying than my beloved Christmas cookies.

On this winter solstice night, I will again let nature have its way and sink into the rest and peace of darkness, knowing this is what fills me with light and life, and brings joy to the tasks of the holiday season. May you also be filled with the gifts of this season.

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Following the Unexpected Path

shutterstock 169037579 3It is shocking that I am an energy medicine practitioner. At least, to me it is. Five years ago, I would never have imagined that I would open my own energy healing business. Even sitting in the Level 1 Healing Touch class I could not have imagined it. Within ten minutes of class starting, the instructor explained the energy system: the chakras and auras. I sat there thinking, “What the heck am I doing here?! I have no idea what to think about chakras and auras!” It sounded so woo-woo and I struggled not to roll my eyes and heave deep sighs. But sometimes we are led down unexpected paths, and this was all Universal Energy/Source/God’s doing. On the surface, nothing about my previous experience prepared me for this change of career. I started in theatre administration, then moved to human services and finally stayed home for a number of years to raise my boys. But an undercurrent through it all was my contemplative practice.

Twenty years ago, as I learned a contemplative prayer practice, my hands seemed to catch fire while in contemplation. It was downright uncomfortable and when I asked my spiritual director about it, he said, “Someday you’ll be a healer.” I had no idea what he was talking about so I filed that comment in the back of my mind and forgot about it. Until about five years ago. The initial burning in my hands had faded after a couple of years, but five years ago, it came back—with a vengeance. It all came to a head one day when I chanced upon a page on the website of a local retreat center that featured the work of a Healing Touch practitioner. My hands caught on fire like never before. I had never heard of Healing Touch, but it was clear I needed to learn more. One episode of synchronicity followed another and the rest, as they say, is history.

If we allow ourselves to be led, we can land in the most unexpected places. Sometimes we get there through dramatic experiences like burning hands. Other times, the nudges are much quieter—a string of events that point in a particular direction, someone says something that sends our heart aflutter and ignites our passion, a longing that grows to the point that we cannot ignore it anymore.

The New Year invites us into reflection about our lives—to take stock of the past year and dream of unexplored paths in the New Year. The essential key is to pay attention. What is tugging at the corners of your awareness? Following the path that presents itself with openness and curiosity can lead to the most life changing and unexpected, yet delightful destinations.

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Rejuvenation

shutterstock 196781330 350Summer has ended. Most of us are saying good-bye to the vacation season and easing (or some of us are being thrown) into the new fall rhythm—school, refreshed energy for work projects, activities that resume once everyone is back in town from far-flung adventures. But how many of us truly rejuvenated during this summer season? After my family’s epic road trip (see previous blog post: The Epic American Road Trip), I was exhausted, cranky and in need of space to myself. So I took it. It felt like a matter of survival—not just for me but for members of my family as well. As the saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

I squeezed in three days to myself. It’s a funny thing, going off on your own with idyllic dreams of recharging and rediscovering your best self again. Reality usually hits me in the face the minute I step through the doorway into my retreat.

What do I do now?

I can feel the anxiety I was trying to escape creep up. I’m supposed to be relaxing, but I’m not relaxing. I’m here, I’m ready and I’m also fidgety and restless. Where is that Zen state of mind?

If only it were that easy.

I have found over the years that I have to ease into relaxation in order to withstand the withdrawal symptoms of exiting regular life. So many of us live in a wound up state all the time. We’re addicted to our electronic devices and the rush we get from the influx of constant information. What happens when we do stop? It’s difficult. When we disconnect, we fear we might miss something. The roles we play are stripped away, leaving us as…well, who?

When we extract ourselves from all the noise, we are faced with our unfulfilled longings and desires, the disappointments, the ways in which our life doesn’t measure up. And this was supposed to be a nice getaway. How awkward.

I usually start by finding a broom and begin sweeping. It’s a little quirk of mine. It’s still productive, so I’m not plunging headlong into “lollygagging" (my wound-up self’s word) right out of the gate. But it’s also a way for me to sink into mindfulness: the swishing sound, the feel of the broom handle in my hands, watching the dirt collect in a pile, the sense of completion when I’m done.

Maybe my unconscious mind recognizes this metaphor. Maybe it also is cleaning house of the busy thoughts that keep me distracted so I can open up to the present moment. After all, it’s only in the present that we find our true self. Our past self is just a memory and our future self is either a longing or a fear. But when confronted with our present self, we find grace. We find everything is okay. Not perfect, maybe. But okay. This last retreat, I was even able to experience the joy that lives at the center of all of us. That joy is what rejuvenates us, gives us hope and energizes us for the work ahead. That is a true vacation.

 

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The Epic American Road Trip

shutterstock 229434985 300It’s a part of our American culture: loading the kids and all manner of gear into the car and then setting off down the winding road in search of adventure, family memories and hopefully really good ice cream. We succumbed to the madness this year, filling the car’s rooftop cargo carrier so full that our 11-year-old had to sit on it to close it. As if that weren’t enough stuff, we couldn’t see out the back window due to the piles of camping gear. The goal was a 2300-mile loop from Seattle through Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Hells Canyon in Idaho and home again.

We found adventure. We created family memories. We even ate good ice cream. What we didn’t do was have a vacation. By vacation, I mean a time to let go of stress and the chance to rest and rejuvenate. It was quite the opposite, in fact. It was stressful (questioning if the rain flies on the tents would keep out the thunderstorms, a kid throwing up). It was exhausting (sleeping on an air mattress that deflated during the night, snoring neighbors in the campsite next to us). It was draining (hours and hours of driving almost every day). Not to mention all the bickering in the back seat.

I needed a vacation from our vacation when we returned.

Now, before I sound terribly ungrateful for such an opportunity, let me state that there were great times had in the adventure, family time and certainly the ice cream. This is why we go on these epic adventures. If I had the chance to go back and do it over, I might do a few things differently to slow down the pace of our trip. But I would definitely still do it. We gave our kids (and ourselves) the chance to experience a truly awe-inspiring and gorgeous part of our country. Check. We can now cross Yellowstone and surrounds off our list.

What my deeper self is truly craving, however, is peace. Life with two boys is lively and fun—and so very, very busy. My two 20-minute meditations a day aren’t enough to sustain me over the long haul. For me, meditation is a necessary start at achieving balance in everyday life. But every once in a while, I need extended time when I am not responsible for anything or anyone else. In order to regain my inner equilibrium, I need to take a step back, not charge forward. I need to get quiet. Really, really quiet. To be in a place where I can let go and not worry about the next moment. To soak up the beauty of nature, not rush by while snapping pictures out the car window.

Selfish? No. This is self-care. This is the foundation of being able to offer our life’s work. As stated in the Energy Magazine Self-care Tool Kit, “Only when we effectively take care of ourselves can we live a vibrant and joyful life. Filling ourselves up first allows us to fully offer our gifts and talents to the world, creating meaning and a sense of purpose for our lives.” (Find the Self-care Tool Kit in “Downloads” on the menu bar above.)

What I’ve realized is that I need two vacations: the family adventure and a retreat that allows me to rest, rejuvenate and connect with my deeper self. I’ve already started repacking my bag.

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Barefoot Labyrinth

labyrinth 500Mud squished cold between my toes in the shade, but iridescent green moss that had warmed in the sun eased the chill as I weaved my way barefoot through the labyrinth. I had retreated to a small island off the coast of Washington state to find my grounding again. The rush of life had depleted my energy to the point that I truly was not fit for anyone else’s company anymore. Time to take a break and recharge.

The labyrinth is laid in beach stones in a small clearing surrounded by wild rose, Douglas fir and alder trees. It is as beautiful a sanctuary as any great cathedral. Mother Nature seemed to be thumbing her nose at my calendar which indicated it was the beginning of March. She was cavorting as if it were mid-spring, not still winter. She dared me to take off my shoes and socks and walk the labyrinth barefoot. I had never done this before (note “mud” in the first sentence), but her invitation was too tempting. I’ve become intrigued with the idea of “Earthing” which suggests that we are healthier when we are directly connected to the earth’s surface, and therefore its energy field, through our bare feet.  (Visit the Earthing Institute’s website to learn more by clicking here.)

I have walked the labyrinth many times during past visits to this sleepy island. It is a ritual that helps me to return to my center. But on this winter day in March, I tried combining Earthing with walking the labyrinth. I could feel the energy flowing through my body. At various points on the path, energetic congestion bubbled up from some unknown place within me and released. Earth energy and labyrinth energy seemed to be a powerful combination. Consciously letting go of old energy in this place where so many people had previously brought their devotion, intentions and love was freeing. I felt lighter, as if I really could lay down my burdens and leave them there.Sacred Garden labyrinth

I had been re-energized and returned home as much better company. The question became, how could I make this a regular practice in the midst of everyday life? Escaping to the island is not always possible, of course. But I had discovered a way to return to my center that was immediate and powerful—I wanted to continue this sense of well-being and peace.

The weather hasn’t cooperated entirely since I returned home. And there aren’t any public labyrinths close to my house. But on the sunny days when I work at home, I eat lunch sitting on the front porch steps with my bare feet on the ground. It’s a start. As the weather warms up and dries out, maybe I’ll draw my own simple labyrinth with sidewalk chalk. It won’t have the same wild beauty as on the island. But thankfully, when we get creative and take the time, we can connect to Mother Nature and our own center anywhere, even in the midst of everyday city life.

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Slow Down

slow downSlow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.” These lyrics from the 59th Street Bridge Song by Simon and Garfunkel have become my theme. They speak the truth for me - we move too fast. Our days are full of busyness and rushing. Must make breakfast, finish that work project, shuttle the kids to an activity, grocery shopping, dinner to make, and the list goes on and on. The cell phone rings. A text must be answered. A friend is in need. Oh, take a photo of that for the grandparents. We are “hooked up” and constantly on the move. We fall into bed exhausted.

When we are not physically moving, our minds are in constant motion sorting out what needs to happen next, that comment a co-worker made, a frustration, a new idea, and again, the list goes on. Have we become addicted to constantly being in motion, physically, mentally and emotionally?

We have been told over and over again it is good to take time to stop, to take time for ourselves, to quiet our minds. Yet, how do we juggle everything and still do this?

I have asked myself this question again and again over the last number of years. Each time I ask the question, my awareness of my activities grows and I change something. It is a process. What I have realized is that it is the small things that count most. Yes, I have done some radical things as well, which I will mention, but the small things are the glue.

These are the small things I do when I become aware that I am not “breathing.”

  • Walk away from the computer – even for five or ten minutes.
  • Get up and stretch – yes this much talked about piece works for me.
  • Go outside – rain or sun, warm or cold, this works for me. I must admit it is more fun when it is sunny.
  • Pet my dog – stop and pay attention to her and pet her without distraction.
  • Pick up my colored pens and doodle – something about this lets my mind wander and calm.
  • Move to a comfortable chair or lie down on the floor and just relax for a few minutes.
  • Lean up against the tree behind my house or check on my plants (indoor or outdoor).
  • Pay attention to my thoughts and breathe.

I work from home so my list reflects that. When I used to work in a corporate office, I had a different list but they were still simple things that took only minutes to do.

OK, the one radical thing I did was get rid of my super-duper deluxe Iphone. Yes, it could do everything, in fact more than I knew how to use. But, it had begun to rule me. So I ditched it for a track phone, one with paid minutes, that now resides in my car for emergencies. It does not take messages and I keep it turned off. Yes, it was difficult, but for me my quality of life has improved immensely.

Breaking the constant busyness habit is important to me and I work at it daily in small and sometimes not-so-small ways.

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About Those New Year's Resolutions...

Self care kit first pageSo. It’s February. We are one month into 2015. Do you remember your New Year’s resolutions? Frankly, I don’t. I think they had something to do with losing the weight I put on over the holidays (should have followed my own advice in the blog post below entitled “The Holiday Food Battle”). But really, does it matter? The point is that we reflect on what we want and need in life, and then work toward it. We can do that anytime. As an energy medicine practitioner, assessing what I need to stay healthy and well is a necessity on a daily basis, not just annually. Energy Magazine has created a Self-Care Kit to encourage us in caring for ourselves and keeping track of our progress. It’s free. Just click on the Downloads tab in the menu above. It contains a mandala-embellished weekly planner, suggestions for self-care, affirmations, and tools for self-assessment. Whatever your hopes and needs are in 2015, the Self-Care Kit can help you on your journey to actualizing them.

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Sanctuary

canyonlandThere is a place I go to when I seek solace and quiet, a holy place. I discovered it quite by accident on a walk early one morning when I stopped for a moment to “drink in the morning.” In that moment I was aware of something different, as though I was standing in the presence of something timeless, a feeling of grace. It was tangible and palpable. As I stood, my soul began to resonate and a feeling of connection and peace washed over me.

I have tested this place, going back over and over again. Sometimes I have returned day after day, sometimes after a stretch of time in between. I have walked toward this place and back and forth in it, sensing the place and watching as the feeling gets stronger and dissipates with distance to insure I am not imagining. Each time I am there I experience a sense of grace, always palpable. It is indeed a holy place.

I don’t pretend to know what fills this place with grace or makes it holy. Others may have an opinion. (Others may not sense what I sense.) In truth, I reject labeling it and instead celebrate the mystery. It is enough that it is a sanctuary for me.

This special place is an elbow in a canyon hosting rock, pinion, sagebrush and cactus. The canyon walls are steep, colored with desert varnish. It looks not unlike the rest of the surrounding landscape. One moving too quickly, too caught in thought, easily can walk by unaware.

I wonder, have I “walked by” other places of grace because I was too caught up in myself? Have I left enough space for something holy to catch my attention? Contemplation of my inner world comes to the foreground and for me, this includes creating a hopefully ever increasing internal space for receiving grace and direction. This openness is one I actively seek. In addition, I consider whether I have something to leave in return, to give back.

These considerations are most important to me. They lead me on an inner journey, one that is rich and rewarding.

I go back again and again to this place regardless of the season, weather or time of day. Each time I leave this place, I find my mind, body and inner world changed, as though I have deeply rested.

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Color in Winter

colored pencils 500In these cold, dark days of winter I close the blinds as the day’s last rays of light are slowly fading to keep out the cold. Even if it does not make the house warmer, it makes it seem warmer and cozy. I eat comfort food, read more, go to bed earlier. Sometimes I am content with this way of life and other times I long for more light and longer days. February is the hardest month for me. Winter is dragging on and yet I feel spring, just around the corner, in my bones. I long to have the world colored vividly again.

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The Holiday Food Battle

cookies 148012307I was standing in the grocery store aisle, surrounded by black and orange. All I needed was a gallon of milk. But in order to pick up a gallon of milk, I had to traverse through a maze of black and orange Halloween merchandise, including piles of candy. Despite my passionate embrace of healthy living and eating, I’m a sucker for chocolate Halloween candy. I sighed a deep, bone-shaking sigh, knowing the holiday food battle had begun.

Every year at this time, I have a little pep talk with myself about holiday eating. It generally goes like this:

“Remember to eat mindfully and enjoy your food.”

“Make sure half your plate is full of vegetables.”

“Treat yourself, but in moderation.”

“Stop when you are full.”

That’s great advice and when I follow it, I feel pretty good both physically and emotionally. Not choosing to follow my own advice and resist temptation is what trips me up. After all, I may not see another apple pie before next Thanksgiving.  And I certainly won’t make Christmas chocolate mint cloud cookies for another year. The present opportunity seems so urgent and fleeting!

Thankfully, there are others who have written inspiring, scientifically-based articles on healthy eating. Check out the newly-released article on holiday eating by Sharon Greenspan in the November/December issue of Energy Magazine. (Not a subscriber? It’s free! Click “Subscribe” in the left-hand sidebar.) You can find other articles about healthy eating written by Sharon Greenspan, Joan Borysenko and others in Energy Magazine’s article index by clicking here.

Holiday eating doesn’t have to be a battle of wills. I managed to pull myself away from the siren call of veggies 45633913the black and orange aisle in the grocery store. Once I got home, I dipped into the chocolate stash in the cupboard and thoroughly enjoyed it. I will definitely be tempted to overindulge before the holidays are over; but each time, I can choose. With mindfulness, holiday eating can be a time of celebration and connection to beloved traditions.

May victory be yours!

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