Anxious? This simple practice always helps.

When my clients report feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stuck, and generally in a funk, I recommend this simple practice for one week. It’s Dope.

When they do it they report feeing:

  • Calm and relaxed.
  • Happier and more confident.
  • More creative and able to focus.

Want some of that yourself?

Stay off all Social Media for one week.¬† That’s it. That’s the whole practice. I said it was simple. I didn’t say easy.

This simple strategy reduces anxiety and increases confidence and creativity 100% of the time. Here’s why:

It’s all about the Dopamine, baby. I told you it was dope ūüôā

Dopamine is that neuromodulator that affects your sense of motivation, drive, productivity, satisfaction, and even your sense of time. You have a natural base-line level of dopamine. That baseline is different for each of us. Some things you do boost your dopamine above your baseline – drinking coffee, exercising, eating chocolate, having sex and yes… social media.

Your body is exquisitely fine-tuned to keep you in a state of homeostasis, so after experiencing a boost of dopamine your dopamine level will drop below your baseline. What does that mean for you?

Since a rise of dopamine above your baseline makes you feel motivated and energized, a drop below your baseline makes you feel unmotivated, flat, moody. Feeling that way sucks, so you’ll want to grab the closest and easiest dopamine boosting agent you can. You won’t want to do anything challenging cause you’re in a low-motivation funk. And what’s the simplest dopamine hit – you’re probably holding it in your hand. Scrolling just a little longer seems like it will make you feel better, but it doesn’t.

Whether your dopamine hit comes from chocolate, coffee, exercise, nicotine, social media or any of the other dopamine boosters, you don’t get that same initial hit with repeated use. The initial dopamine response gets weaker and shorter with prolonged use, but the after-effects get stronger and longer. More funk. Less fun. This is commonly known as addiction. Craving more and more of a stimulant to feel better, with diminishing effects. It would be like watching your favorite movie over and over and over again. You want to feel the way you felt the very first time you watched it, but you can’t get that same high.¬†It may be enjoyable at first but that pleasure will diminish over time.

Tech companies know this. That’s why they hire top neuroscientists to make their sites stickier <- Just another word for addictive.

If you’ll give yourself a break, and not give in to the addictive pull of social media of any kind, your dopamine level will return to its natural baseline. You’ll have more motivation to do other things. That will boost your creativity, productivity, sense of well being and confidence.

If you’re thinking “I just can’t stay off Social Media”, I’d like you to get creative and ask yourself “How can I stay off Social Media for just one week?” When you ask yourself empowering questions, your mind will go looking for an answer.

If your job requires you to be on Social Media, as is the case with many of my clients, you can do this:

Schedule the times you’ll be on social media. Keep that time to a minimum. Set a timer as soon as you open whatever apps you’re using. When the alarm rings, turn it off.

Know why you’re using it. What is the goal you want to achieve for your work while you’re in there? Focus on that and do it. Then put it away.

Stop yourself from mindless scrolling. As soon as you catch yourself scrolling, as soon as you’ve lost track of the reason you’re there for your work, shut it down.

After a week’s break from addictive scrolling, notice how you feel and what you’ve accomplished.¬† And if you know someone who’s feeling funky and struggling to get sh*t done, feel free to share this with them, and maybe go social-media-free together!

I haven’t touched on the effects of comparing your real world feelings to the perfectly curated and coiffed lives your scrolling through, but if you find yourself slipping into despair when you compare, this might help.

I’d love to hear what a week without social media changes for you.

Walk your Desire Path.

How do you know if the Path You’re On will¬†lead you to your heart’s desire?

“Desire Path” is a term used in landscaping. It refers to a path created by people or animals walking regularly through an area. It’s a different path from the one that was planned and laid out. In this photo the planned path is off to the right. The Desire Path is roped off to try to give the newly planted grass a chance to grow.

Can you guess what’s gonna happen as soon as those ropes are removed?¬†You got it – people are gonna walk that path again – because that’s the path they desire.

Why do people leave the nice, smooth, planned path and create a new one? Why not follow the plan and walk the path that experts spend time and money building?

The main reason is that the desire path is more direct. It will get you where you want to go faster.

Often the desire path is easier. It may not look that way from the outside, but it feels easier when you’re on it because it’s aligned with who you are.

A few common features of Desire Paths:

  • They aren’t planned in advance.
  • They’re created over time through repetition.
  • It’s a natural instinct (intuition, desire) that drives people and animals to walk this way.
  • Nobody is telling anyone they should do it.
  • They’re not as fancy or proper as the planned path.
  • They’re natural, organic and may change over time.

What has any of this got to do with you if you’re not a city planner or landscaper?

Most of us find ourselves walking the planned path for much of our lives. We get the education, the job, the house, the car, the clothes, the vacations, the partner, the life that others have determined to be the path. Usually, we’re not even aware that we’re doing it.

You and I have picked up messages over the years about how life should be lived. Those messages come from parents, relatives, neighbors, friends, religious leaders, companies and most definitely from social media. These messages have formed unconscious patterns that drive our thinking and actions.

Carl Jung wrote, “Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call if fate.”

Okay, cool. But how do you make the unconscious conscious?

Try this simple practice:

Notice any time you’re thinking, “I’ll be [fill in the blank] when…” For you, that blank could be, “happy, peaceful, lovable, successful…” Whatever fills your blank is your Desired State, and that acts as a carrot out in front of you, keeping you on the planned path. The path you think you should be on.¬† You stay on the path to get to the desired state… one day.

Maybe you’re getting an education in the field you think will pay the best because then you’ll feel secure. You’re working your ass off, always on the verge of burnout because once your business has reached a certain level, then you can relax. You’re looking for a mate who will make you feel lovable. If you’re on the planned path to feel secure, comfortable, peaceful, loved…

Then consider:

What might be a more direct path?

Like the Desire Paths created in cities and parks, your desire path can be found by listening to your intuition and taking a direct step towards what you most desire.¬†Don’t wait to have the money, success, or mate that you think will give you what you want.

I’m not saying you should drop out of school, quit your job, empty your retirement investments or stop dating. Just stop expecting any of those things to truly satisfy you.

If you’re not even sure what it is you desire, this post can help you get clear.

I help clients get clear on their desires and then achieve them in direct ways that are authentic to them. From my years of experience with people from all different walks of life, I can assure you that what you really desire is already inside you. Let that desire guide your next step. It will lead you to your true self and your true path.

Feel free to share this with anyone who could use a nudge onto their own desire path.

 

Make summer last longer.

Last weekend I was at a wedding in Sequoia National Park. It was full of music and colour and animal masks. The giggling groom in his purple suit and lavender mohawk set the merry tone. After the last child arrived on a fiberglass unicorn and the bride settled in next to her mate in a gorgeous white gown with a multi-coloured train, the officiant invited all of us to take a moment to become present. To ourselves and our surroundings.

I immediately felt what I was sitting on. As I did, my body relaxed into itself, fully supported by the bench beneath me, the friends around me,¬† and the trees surrounding us all. The moment I became aware of my body, I heard the birdsong enveloping us. A symphony had been playing all around me, but I’d not noticed until I stopped to become aware of myself. Now I could hear sounds within the sounds, rich and layered and soft at the same time.

I felt the evening air on my face and my silk shawl caressing my shoulders. My ribs moved out in every direction with my breath as I expanded through the quiet inside me.

It all took a minute. Maybe two. But everything changed in that short time. It’s an over-used and somewhat corny expression, but “time stood still”.

Before that shift in time, I’d been excited and happy and wondering what would come next, but I’d not been truly present to all that was happening around me and within me. By taking a moment to become aware, I slowed everything down. There was a shift from my experience before that moment and everything that came after.

We’re all so busy, connected, and distracted much of the time that it can feel like life is speeding by. The easiest way to slow down time and make more of it, is to simply become present. Any time.

Summer is a great time to do it.

If you want to make summer last longer this year, take a moment every day to become present.

  • Step outside in the morning and feel the sun on your face.
  • Walk barefoot on the grass and let it caress your toes.
  • Listen to the sounds of birds singing, kids laughing or squirrels fighting.
  • Look at your food before you eat it and give thanks to everyone and everything involved.
  • Notice the changing position of the sunset each day. Watch it until it drops away.
  • Taste that bite of peach like you’ve never tasted it before.
  • Hug someone and feel your body breathe.
  • Savour a kiss as if it’s a summer night and you have nowhere else to be.

Enjoy a moment everyday and summer will linger in your soul.

I’d love to hear how you slow time down and make summer last.

What are you thirsty for?

After years of drought, looking at parched landscapes and hiking barren mountains, we got rain.

Everything is lush and teeming with life. Landscapes are every shade of green and bursting with kaleidoscopes of colorful flowers. Water’s tumbling over rocks, down hills, creating creeks and pools where salamanders are busy making salamander babies.

Our once thirsty soil is vibrant and alive, expressing itself in full bloom.

What is your soul thirsting for? 

We all go through periods of drought at times. Life loses its luster and we feel kinda flat. We can even lose touch with our longing.

But like rain on California’s dry earth, there is something that would bring your soul back to life.

Give it to yourself.

The world wants you to bloom.

 

Feel free to share this with anyone who’s going through a dry time, and maybe find a way to be a cool drink of water to them.

I took this photo on a walk last week. It’s a field of California poppies that stretch as far as the eye can see.

How about a little compassion and awe?

Years ago my mom pressed her ear against mine. “No” I told her, “I don’t hear it.” She has tinnitus that’s so loud she was sure other people could hear it.

When I meditate my body often tingles. Last weekend I asked my husband to press his body up to mine and hold me after my meditation. “No,” he told me, “I can’t feel it”.

What do my tingly body and my mom’s tinnitus have to do with anything?

Each one of us is experiencing something that only we can feel. Whether it’s dark thoughts or high hopes, debilitating anxiety or ripples of peace, the thrum of ecstasy or a sharp pain in your left kidney. Everyone has an inner world that’s layered and complex and wholly their own. Yet we often assume¬†that what we feel and think and how we experience the world is the same as others do. We think we know them but we can’t, not fully, no matter how close we may be.

We can never truly know the agony of his childhood wound that hasn’t healed. Her family’s trauma that she carries in her bones. The secret desires he’s too afraid to share. The passion that makes her rev like a race car.

But we could live awe and wonder with ourselves and others because even with these internal worlds that could bring us to our knees in sorrow or in joy, we manage to get up, get dressed, get to work, feed the kids, and be mostly good to one another.

And when we don’t, wouldn’t it be nice to feel compassion for ourselves and others, and trust we’re all doing the best that we can.

Feel free to share this with someone who may not feel understood right now, because you want them to know that they’re still loved.

 

It’s not about being present.

I want to say a bit about being present, cause the command to “Be Present” is everywhere: On t-shirts, pillowcases, tattoos and Instagram posts about desert turtles.

Being present has become one more thing you gotta do and one more thing to feel bad about if you’re not doing it.

But it’s not about being present. (in my humble opinion)
If you’ve ever meditated you know it’s not about focusing on your breath, or mantra, or image, or sensation … and staying focused.

Meditation is about lovingly, gently, smilingly coming back to your breath or mantra or image or sensation… again and again, and again.

You don’t become present and stay that way (okay, some humans actually do. I certainly don’t). You are present and then you’re not. And you come back to being present again.

You’re brave and then you’re not. And you find a way to be brave again.

You’re kind, and funny, and quick, and thoughtful and fit and ambitious, and successful, and generous, and peaceful … and then you’re not.

The gift you give yourself and the world is to accept it all,¬†just as you’d accept your mind wandering in meditation, and then gently come back, again and again, and again.

With love, Debra

Elevate Your Life to a Work of Art

There’s a simple ingredient I’ve been using in my life and sharing with clients. Here are some of the symptoms we’ve been experiencing when we use it:

  • A deeper sense of peace.
  • Heightened intuition.
  • Greater connection with self and others.
  • More creativity.
  • Easier decision-making with greater clarity.

It’s the same ingredient you’ll find in abundance in art galleries.

It’s White Space.

It’s what draws attention to the art, allows us to really focus on it and feel its effect on us. I love to look across a nearly blank room, see a work of art and notice how my breathing changes. I love to discover the way it makes me feel.

If galleries crammed works of art together like wallpaper it could be more efficient, save time and money. Several shows could open at once. But it wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Without white space, poems are just a jumble of words and music is just a wall of sounds. A conversation without white space is people talking at each other, but it’s not a dialogue.

When I left my first marriage I moved out of our home that I’d spent months renovating and into a small apartment with a mountain view. At first, I had only a foam mattress, linens, clothes, a pot, a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. There was nothing to sit on but the carpet, nothing to look at but the mountains and white walls. What I discovered was peace.

When my eyes looked around they could easily settle outdoors. When I ate I could feel the texture and weight of the clay bowl and wood chopsticks and taste each bite of food. That was my first experience of living with white space. I was very careful about everything I brought into my home, making sure it gave me joy and didn’t upset the balance of space. This was a beautiful contrast to my crazy busy world where I was booking meetings months in advance with little space in my day.

Now I consciously surround my days with white space. It elevates my life to a work of art.

Stress has become such a norm in many of our lives that we’re used to feeling tight and constricted. Even as we rush to fit in a yoga class we feel our tensions rise.

But I know that I’m not unique in my longing for white space. When I work with my clients they often use the word spacious to describe how they feel about the changes in their life. They experience more peace, tap into their creativity, feel better about themselves, enjoy relationships more and access their own unique greatness.

Sometimes the idea of white space is scary. You’ll be alone with yourself, your thoughts, fears and desires without distraction. Many people stay busy to avoid that. But you’ll find if you ease into adding white space a bit at a time and be gentle with yourself, you’re quite a wonderful person and more deserve to take up more space.

Here are a few simple ways to add white space and elevate your life to a work of art:

    • Give yourself a 2 – 5 minute break before shifting from one project to another.
    • Turn off all technology during meals.
    • Go for a walk outside during your workday.
    • Close your mouth and listen more in conversations.
    • Close your eyes and taste your food.
    • Set an alarm and meditate for just two minutes.
    • Turn off all distractions and let yourself focus on a task for an hour.
    • Create a simple ritual for morning or night that gives you a sense of space.
    • Clear clutter in a part of your home until that space is a source of peace.

I’d love to hear how you’ve added white space to your life.

Never give a gift with strings attached.

When you give a gift, really give it away.

Never give it with strings attached.

That expectation of something coming back in return will lead to disappointment.

Maybe even resentment.

It will definitely kill your joy.

When you give a gift… Let Go. Let Go. Let Go.

Your love will soar.

PS. The same thing goes for accepting gifts. Never take one with strings attached. It’s not really a gift.

Your sensuality can bring peace to the world.

I’m pretty sure you’d love to be a part of the solution, bringing more peace, love, and acceptance to the world.

You know you can’t give what you don’t have, but how do you find peace inside you during these troubled times?

Meditation is one of the proven ways to experience more peace, acceptance, and compassion, so you could start there.

  • But what if you don’t have 20 extra minutes each day to¬†chant and breathe and be calm
  • What if you’re already meditating regularly and still feel anxious at times?

By using the sensuality of your body as your guide, you can find the peace within you and share it with the world wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. This will help ease you into meditation if you don’t already practice. It will extend your experience throughout the day if you are already practicing.

Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your mind on an anchor. When you do that your mind stops jumping between the future and the past. You land in the present moment and can access the peace that is always inside you. The more specific the anchor is, the greater your focus will be.

So why not let your anchor for meditation be the sensations in your mouth every time you eat?

Your mouth is a dark moist cave of pleasurable potential. Eating is a sensuous act. By focusing your attention on

By focusing your attention on the flavors arousing your tastebuds and the juices filling your cheeks, every bite can draw you into the pleasure of that very moment.

When you are truly present in the moment as a living experience rather than a lofty concept, you touch the still peace that is always inside you, even during turmoil.  When you access that peace you experience a calm joy as well as compassion and acceptance for yourself and others.

Keep it simple and make it doable.

If you’ll give your full attention to just one bite of every meal, you’ll fill your day with sensuous, meditative moments.¬† The moments of presence will link together until more and more of your days are experienced in this¬†simple state of peace.

When your thoughts and actions come from that state you are a beacon of peace and love in the world.

All of us rush through meals at some time, barely paying attention to this sacred act. If you’ll pay attention to just one bite, you’ll alter your relationship with time and fill yourself up with nourishment.

Here’s a guided eating meditation from my book The Power of Pleasure.

 

Thanks to Elizabeth Grojean for knowing how to enjoy a peach, and to Cheryl Himmelstein for capturing the moment.

Eight ways to Override Overwhelm at Times like This

It’s easy to get overwhelmed right now.

It seems everywhere you turn it’s fires, ¬†floods or your friends and family in crisis.

But there’s a way to override overwhelm, be of service, and live in peace.

Keep turning in the direction of beauty.

Because no matter what else is going on, beauty’s right there. She sits on the shoulder of death, she flows in the tears of heartache, and she dances in the chaos of destruction.

Now it may seem irresponsible and even heartless to turn towards beauty when there’s so much suffering going on, but here’s why I recommend you try it.

With news and social media, we have more information about tragedies all around the world as they happen. We can be up close witnesses to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and angry white supremacists, even if it’s all happening thousands of miles away. We see it on the news and our friends post it online where we can watch it again and again.

And while a friend of mine said, “Now is a time we have to be vigilant”, we’re at risk of becoming hyper-vigilant; ¬†fueled by anxiety we watch for potential threat everywhere, increasing our stress levels in a vicious¬†cycle.

Though technology has evolved rapidly, our biology has not.

When you watch a disaster on a screen your nervous system responds as if it’s real. It prepares to fight or flee for your survival while you sit unmoving, glued to the image. That can leave you traumatized. A study shows that people who had repeated media exposure to the Boston Marathon Bombing showed higher levels of acute stress than those who were actually present at the bombing.

By staying informed and vigilant are you helping, or are you doing more harm? You’ll know by the way you feel. Letting yourself go down the rabbit-hole of exposure can put you in survival mode and you may not even know it. It can lead to anxiety, depression, problems sleeping, digestive issues and a host of problems that can make it hard for you to be part of the solution.

So what are you going to do?

Turn yourself in the direction of beauty. 

  • Look at things that make you feel good. Whether it’s your kids, some flowers or a work of art. There is still beauty around you.
  • Laugh. Get with friends to laugh, play games, tell jokes, make music together. Sh*t’s still funny, even now.
  • Shut off technology. Give your nervous system long breaks without any electronic input. When I recommend social media breaks to my clients 100% of them feel more creative, optimistic and better about themselves when they do. I know I do too.
  • Let yourself¬†feel. Weep, mourn, feel your fear. It’s not a time to override what is real. Let the feelings move through you so you don’t get stuck.
  • Move your body. A great way to shake the images and thoughts from your mind is to shake your body. Dance. Walk. Run. Jump on a trampoline. It doesn’t matter what. Just move!
  • Give where you can. Whether it’s donating to a cause, volunteering your time, calling a friend who needs cheering up or saying a prayer, give and you’ll feel less helpless.
  • Be silent. There is so much energy coming at you all the time, and an endless list of things to do. Take a few minutes every day to be silent and listen to yourself. Rumi said, “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” There is such loving wisdom inside you. It will guide you in exactly the right thing to do if you will listen. Sometimes withdrawing from the world is the most powerful way to be engaged.
  • Rest. Get more sleep. Take naps. Give yourself a break from pushing too hard. Times of great stress require great recovery. If you’re feeling stressed by it all, rest more. Ideally after you’ve moved your body ūüôā

Some would call the way I live “sticking my head in the¬†sand” because I can’t feel good when I ¬†expose myself to too much of what’s going on. I don’t watch really violent or scary movies. I haven’t watched the news in over a decade and I don’t log much time on social media, but what I need to know still reaches me.

I’ve been able to give to organizations helping victims of floods and fires, without watching any footage. I check on friends in area of danger, without monitoring the threat. This Sunday I’ll show my support at the local Racial Justice meeting that’s being disrupted by White Supremacists, because a neighbour told me people were needed.

The above are just 8 ways to turn towards beauty. These simple practices can calm your nervous system, strengthen your capacity to handle stress, and make you better able to help when needed. If they work for a weakling like me, imagine what they might do for you.

How do you turn towards beauty, even at a time like this? I’d love your ideas in the comments below.

Love Debra

Tweet these ideas and help others override overwhelm.