An exercise worth trying during any season

As the summer rolls on and time seems to pass at a quicker pace than I like to admit, I realize how important it is for me to remain as present as possible and cherish these days.  We talk about ‘being present’ all the time but I think this concept is as unique for each person as their own experiences.

For me, ‘being present’ is about recognizing an experience, acknowledging my energy, and appreciating my emotional response without getting caught up in interpreting the event or worry about what is going to happen next.  I know this sounds pretty direct but the truth is that it’s not always easy.  However, one of my favorite ways to embrace any moment (even the frustrating ones) is to smile and take a deep breath.

Try it out.  Pause, put a smile on your face, then take a deep breath in.  As you try this, you will become more aware of your body, your emotion, and tension that may be present. If you continue to smile and breathe for a few minutes you will notice that if tension is present, it starts to ease a bit and if you are feeling good to begin with, the smile only enhances your experience to its full capacity.

If you want to see the true magic of this simple exercise, try it during a challenging moment.  For instance; when someone has just said something offensive or hurtful or when something doesn’t go the way you would like.  The beautiful thing about smiling is that even if you don’t ‘mean’ the smile or you feel like you are forcing it, your body and mind respond just as if it is genuine.

So practice this exercise out this summer and remember that being present isn’t just about embracing amazing and beautiful moments; it’s about taking an active part in our own realities and remembering that we are wonderfully complex and thoughtful beings that are full of love, hope, and compassion.

Being present doesn’t have to take a lot of energy or even a lot of thought.  It just takes a moment to be totally real with ourselves and open to an experience.  The more we engage in this exercise, the better our hearts and minds will be to practice love and compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

Even though smiling may not be an exercise that helps you tone up your physical self;  it targets the most important part of our bodies….our heart and souls.   So go get your smile on and be present.  🙂

Finding my happy place

Mississippi River

When I hear the term ‘happy place’, I’m always curious what that means for people.  Throughout the years, I have explored different ideas of what this magical place would look like.  It would vary with certain images and experiences but nothing remained constant.   I struggled with the confines of establishing a physical location that only held feelings of happiness or peace.  I began to wonder if I would ever determine one place of existence as purely happy.

Then, this past week I had a perfect storm of stress, anxiety, and fear all rolled into one challenge after another. As I experienced intense uncertainty, anger, and frustration I wasn’t sure what to do or even how to cope.  There was nothing ‘to fix’, it was more about navigating overwhelming feelings and accepting the reality of the situation.  I knew in my heart that I would have to let go of the worry, the fear, and the frustration and try to find a place of peace.  Talking seemed to help a little, but I still needed to clear my head and lighten my heart, so I decided to go for a walk.

As I headed to the park by my house, still full of fear and worry, I realized that I was going towards the only place that could provide me peace.  The park.  It was my refuge.  I go there every week, almost every day to walk our dog or go for a run.  I couldn’t help but welcome the small sense of relief flooding my body as I realized that no matter what, when I am at this park, I feel that the world is an okay place.  There I am insulated from the chaos of the day, the ever-growing tasks lists, and any other expectations from the world.  There is a calm supported by the trees and the rolling hills that is hard to express through words or even pictures. There is a constant that only nature can provide.  The birds never fail to sing in the trees, the river doesn’t cease to continue rolling past, and the squirrels and wildlife promise to rustle in the woods every evening.  And sometimes, the universe will grace me with wonderful surprises in the form of a deer and her fawn running across the grassy area or even the rare site of a blue crane walking along the banks.

I walked for a while and then became absorbed in watching the river run past me and disappear around the bend.  Then, like water rolling off my shoulders, the burden in my heart became lighter.  I forgot about my fears for just those moments and breathed in deep and started releasing some of my tension.  I couldn’t help but be reminded that even in the midst of angry and hurtful people, scary situations, terminal illnesses, and more pain than is imaginable at times…there is also peace.  Walking along the river path and catching a glimpse of a blue crane doesn’t make all that heartache go away.  But it allowed me to catch my breath and simply remember that there is always something bigger than me.  Something more powerful.  I can choose to get caught up in the things that are big, powerful, and scary;  or I can choose to embrace the bigger/more powerful and peaceful things.

blue crane at park

I came home that evening feeling only a little lighter, but I had gained just enough of what I needed to get me through that evening and the next day.  And even more importantly, I realized that I can, without a doubt, finally claim my ultimate happy place.  It’s not the actual space of the park, it’s perspective that I gain through the park.   I believe our happy place resides within us at all times; sometimes we just need an external reminder of how to get there.  Maybe it’s a river walk, maybe it’s a meaningful conversation with a loved one, or maybe it’s just the stillness that is finally recognized in the heart.  No matter what, the space to feel peace is always there, it’s just up to each of us when we are ready to embrace it.  And in that space, deep within my soul where stillness lives…is my happy place.

My park

Monday attitude check

Happy guys

I rarely approach a Monday with the same enthusiasm as a Friday.  Maybe it’s because I have more restless sleep on Sunday night, maybe it’s because my mind can’t turn off the ever-increasing ‘task list’ for the week, or maybe it’s just because I’m not quite ready to release the sweet but so short weekend.  There are a variety of factors at play here, but it is not lost on me how lack of restful sleep and a stressed mind impacts my overall sense of well-being and my attitude to approach the pending day.

The problem is that it’s not just me who feels this energy.  When I am overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated the people in my life can tell and feel this energy too.  I spend a lot of time exploring things that improve my well-being and working on my self-awareness, but things still don’t always work out the way I would like sometimes.  Some days I am simply in a foul mood or just don’t feel my best and being hopeful and enthusiastic doesn’t come so easily. I have to practice self-compassion on these days and remind myself that nobody is perfect and being happy or at peace doesn’t mean living in some delusional state that is void of frustration or challenges or even heartache.  However, when I am feeling frustrated, tired, or otherwise discouraged; it is important for me to pause and think about who I am subjecting all of this awesomeness to and what is my motivation in sharing this kind of energy? Do I just want everyone to know that I’m in a bad mood or am I looking for help and support right now? And most importantly, what can I do to change my outlook on things?

All of that said, I am not suggesting that everyone suppress bad days, gloomy moods, or emotional challenges…I am suggesting that we think about why we feel the way we do and what we can do about it ourselves instead of falling into the habit of using complaining as our primary coping mechanism.  And if you are having a bad morning or entire day, own it.  State that you are in a bad mood, but don’t just complain about it to people.  Assert your problem then figure out what you are going to do about it.  Otherwise it makes for an endless cycle of complaining and bad energy.  And that makes for an exhausting day, any day of the week.

My goal for today is to reduce my complaining and focus on solutions and healthy outlets.  I am not so unrealistic to say that I won’t complain at all….could you imagine?  But at least I’m increasing my awareness and maybe instead of continuing to complain, I will respond and resolve my feelings before it turns into a full-fledged bad mood!  Of course, it may mean that I do nothing more than pause, breathe, and repeat.  Who knows, with enough practice, maybe someday I will bookend my week with TGIM and TGIF!

Hope everyone has a Happy Day! 🙂