Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Blogging as Self-help

You may have noticed that the topics I’ve been writing about lately aren’t exactly in line with my original intention for this blog. Years ago when I created it, my goal was to write about veganism, specifically helpful tips for new vegans or vegans in rural areas like myself. It is self evident that even in the beginning this resulted in few, infrequent posts. I was getting too in my head. Limiting myself and allowing perfectionism to stop me before I even started. I believe I went years without posting anything at all. I was too anxious to even think about it. Something that was supposed to be a fun way to improve my writing skills and share with others became just another source of distress.

Since I’ve started posting regularly on this blog again, I decided to write about absolutely anything I felt like writing about that day. I had been doing daily writing for years, but was starting to feel frustrated with the way my journaling always turned out. It seemed like I was just trying to fill the pages with meaningless words in order to get my daily writing over with. I feel like having an audience helps me to stay focused on a topic and actually express myself in a more productive, beneficial way.

I have been using it to explore my own thoughts and follow them to see if I am able to come to any interesting conclusions. It has felt rather therapeutic to me, writing these entries each day for the last few weeks. I can’t guarantee that I’ll continue this new habit, but for right now it is helping me a lot. I’ve really been enjoying contemplating what to write about and listening to lo-fi hip hop as I wander through my own thoughts. It may even be creating something nice for me to look back on some day.

So I do apologize if this blog seems lacking direction now and if you don’t enjoy or understand my seemingly random ramblings. But at the end of the day, I’ve started writing on here again for myself. After all imperfection is far better than radio silence. And I’m proud of this new habit of mine. Proud of myself for trying to remember how to do things for no other reason than my own pleasure and amusement.

Bullet Journal Spread: December

I have definitely lost a bit of motivation regarding my bujo this month since it’s about to be a brand new year. I am more eager to begin my bujo for 2018 and make the first pen marks in my Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. This is the brand I most often seen being used for bullet journaling. They are a bit pricey so I wanted to make sure I was going to follow through with the habit before investing my money in a fancy journal. After a very productive year of journaling (in a notebook that was not necessarily sturdy enough to handle it), I am confident it is worth the money.

Even though it’s basically half-way through the month already, I wanted to go ahead and show you guys my bujo spread for December. I hope you like it!

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The photos in the last week of my November spread do not belong to me. I found them on Tumblr as I often do to jazz up a weekly spread if I’m feeling anxious rather than excited about coming up with something to doodle.

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I particularly like how my goals and tracker page turned out this month. Sadly I have yet to fill anything in because I wanted to get a photo first in the natural light, forgetting that when I get home from work it is always pitch black now. Oh, the delightful fun of the winter months. I can’t wait for the sun to return to me.

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I tried to make the theme cozy winter bunnies, but all the red ended up giving this first weekly spread a more Valentine’s Day vibe. (Oops!)

This month I experimented with adding a positive affirmation to each week’s spread so I could practice replacing the negative thoughts I have throughout the day with something more loving. Whenever I catch myself in a loop of toxic thinking, I try to change this automatic dialogue into a more beneficial one. Repeating uplifting mantras in moments of stress and self-doubt really does do a lot to alter your mental state and view of the situation.

I hope that you are all having a splendid December so far! Also, to any of you that may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder like I am, don’t be too hard on yourself. It can seem hopeless when, after making steady progress, you find yourself sliding backwards into bad habits. Just know that you are doing your best, and progress is always sprinkled with periods of plateaus and slight regressions. Just keep moving forward, and I promise that your energy, your creativity, and your enthusiasm will return with the warm air, green scenery, and sunshine. Hang in there a bit longer and don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for still trying when things get hard. ♥

Bullet Journaling: October

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I am happy to say that 2017 has been a very productive and transformative year for me. I finally feel like I am steering my life towards the things I’ve always wanted. I attribute this change in character and consistency to a new phenomenon I stumbled upon called bullet journaling.

This is a type of journaling that allows you to have freedom of form, flexibility, and creativity while still maintaining a semblance of structure. Bullet journals (bujos) most importantly allow you to keep a sense of cohesion in your life. No more rewriting the same goals and ideas over and over again intermittently in different notebooks only to close the cover and blindly step back into the same routines that have been failing you thus far.

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I began my bujo last April, and at this point, I can honestly say that I plan to keep it up for as long as I am able. Keeping a journal in this form has allowed me to keep track of and keep up with my long-term goals. As I mentioned, I used to write down the same few abstract goals dozens of times only to come back to them months later not knowing if I had made any progress at all or even what that progress would look like. It has been incredibly fulfilling and self-affirming for me to be able to quantify my small successes each day. If you suffer from low self-esteem like I do, a bujo can definitely help you notice how much you actually are accomplishing. This, in turn, can give you the confidence to break out of a cycle of self-doubt and achieve more of your goals.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably already fretting about the possibility that you may see that you are not making progress on a particular goal and how that will affect your frame of mind. However, I have found that even in this instance a bujo can be helpful. Instead of seeing this lack of progression as a failure, it can stimulate you to make some changes. Is this goal really important to you? Should you drop this goal in order to focus more energy on more meaningful projects? And if this goal really is something you want to work towards, can you break it into smaller, more easily attainable goals? Don’t let this type of realization discourage you. Let it inspire you to try something new.

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In addition to tracking goals, bujos can include a myriad of other aspects such as: scheduling, habit tracking, studying, grocery lists, doodling, and anything else you want to keep track of all in one convenient location. As you can see from the photos I took of my October spread, I generally use mine to track daily habits and mood, set monthly goals, record my finances, plan my weekly meals, and record what I eat and do each day. But one of the best parts about bullet journaling is that you can change the layout and setup any time you want. Each weekly spread can look different depending on how busy you are or how your feeling that week. After evaluating how your spread worked for one month you can easily revamp it to better suit your needs for the next.

Bullet journaling can also have the added bonus of allowing you to begin to notice patterns in your moods and behaviors. If you see that you were feeling particularly down a few days or one particular week in the month you can look at what else was happening and be better prepared in the future to avoid situations or habits that produce negative emotions. You may, however, start to notice yourself becoming more happier in general. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, planning and making goals for the future actually increases feelings of happiness and contributes to a positive sense of well-being.

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There are endless amounts of videos online demonstrating how to set up your very own bujo along with inspiration and ideas to add your own special flare that keeps you coming back each day. I hope that this format of journaling benefits your life as much as it has benefited mine.

Happy Journaling ♥