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

The Importance of Patience

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I’ve mentioned before that my mother is practically the holy saint of patience. At least when it comes to my sister and me. I have seen her lose her temper at my grandma or my dad a few times, but whenever it comes to her kids, she seems to have a limitless supply of time, compassion, and understanding. I have always been dazzled by this impressive character trait. I’m not sure why, but I certainly didn’t seem to have any of that passed down to me.

I can still remember my mother playfully commenting on my lack of patience when I was younger. I didn’t think much of it. I’ve always known that I am a very impatient person. I guess part of me just assumed that I’d get better at it as I got older. And that has happened somewhat. I certainly have more than I did as a child, but still no where near as much as my mother or my grandmother.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have been spending time with my mom doing various tedious adult things like taxes and looking for a new car. She is very slow and meticulous with everything that she does. That’s how she drives, that’s how she eats, that’s how she communicates. I would imagine almost a serene, monk-like state existing behind her eyes if I didn’t know how anxious she actually is a lot of the time under the surface. When I spend time with her like this, it really emphasizes our different levels of patience.

Although, I generally restrain myself for as long as I can, I always feel the urge to start rushing her through things. Her slow pace makes me feel even more frantic for some reason. I begin to feel like jumping out of my skin. I’ve started to wonder how different it would feel to be a more patient person like her. She never seems to be rushing herself like I perpetually am. This sense of urgency really exacerbates my anxiety and it is ever present. Even when I find myself doing something for the purpose of killing time, I notice myself flying through it as fast as I can.

This lack of patience even comes up in my yoga practice. Most people would assume that the faster vinyasa flow classes or power yoga would be the most challenging, but really it depends on the person and what it is you’re wanting to challenge. Sure, those types of classes may be more physically challenging, but the slower classes are far more mentally challenging if you ask me. I am able to easily lose myself and surrender to the fast-paced movements of strenuous flows, but holding a seated forward fold in a yin yoga class can really test my ability to relax and stay with the breath. I notice a lot of students who also really struggle to relax and just lie there at the end of class in savasana.

Life already seems to be flying by at break-neck speed without the added stress of internal urgency. Sometimes it’s important to stop and ask ourselves exactly why we are rushing. Occasionally there is good reason, maybe your running late and need to get to work on time for a meeting, or you have to squeeze a lot of important tasks into the few free hours of your day. I’d imagine most people are able to relax after meeting whatever deadline they were so frantic to meet, but for me that sense of “not enough time” will keep following me long after.

It’s almost humorous how much I rush myself along. I rush to make coffee, to brush my teeth, to cook dinner, to workout, to get dressed, basically anything you can think of. I’ve gotten more speeding tickets than I’d like to admit. Earlier today I realized that I am also rushing myself in other ways. I never allow myself the time and space I need to meet my goals or aspirations. Because of the unrealistic time frames I always give myself to make changes, I always end up feeling like a failure or that I’m just not good enough. I end up giving up on what I set out to do before I’ve even given myself a fair chance. I never let myself simply enjoy the process.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been a wonderful help to me. They help me remind myself that I am exactly where I need to be. I am doing exactly what I need to be doing. It is worth more to do something well than to do it quickly. A rushing mindset is practically the opposite of mindfulness. I am always focusing on the next thing I have to do, ignoring the task I’m currently engaged in. Always struggling to be ahead of the current rather than letting it carry me. Most of the time when I ask myself what the purpose of this hurrying is, I come up blank. It is so easy for me to forget that life truly is about the journey rather than the destination. After all, I’m not really sure where that destination even is or if I’ll ever actually reach one. What would I do if I did?

There is no starting or stopping point in this mess we call life. Like I’ve said before, everything is a cycle. We can’t waste our time worrying about what lies ahead or behind. All that matters is taking the time to enjoy wherever we are in that cycle right now. There is really nothing else we can do. So today I’d like for my intention to be patience. I want to challenge my automatic movements. I want to slow down and take the time to really savor each moment, especially when it feels like I don’t have time. Time is just an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves. This soul, however, is infinite. This mind is limitless. This love is ever present and all consuming. Everything is as it should be. Now is the perfect time to revel in that truth, to be joyous, to be mindful, to be fully present.

Denying Myself

Last night I was able to manifest an enlightening moment of expansive loving kindness. Just the moment before that, I felt like I was on the precipice of a panic attack. I felt held together by just static and stitching. I was afraid I was going to pieces. But I managed to blossom instead. I decided to stop fixating on trying desperately to hold myself together. Instead I chose to reminisce, to remember what it feels like to feel in love with this life. To find a seat of gratitude within my soul. To shift my vantage point.

I so rarely remember that I am capable of doing this. It seems so impossible, yet so easy. I forget to even stop and consider trying. So often we feel like merely the passengers on this journey, or like we are lost at sea, at the mercy of the ocean waves far from the shoreline. We are fighting so hard to keep our head above the water, that it doesn’t even occur to us that we can choose to breathe below the surface.

Life is very similar to dreaming in a lot of ways. Maybe that’s why I am always looking for messages and lessons from my sleeping mind. Last night felt like a dream in which you realize you are dreaming. Suddenly you remember that you are in control. In waking life we may not be able to completely alter the world around us, but we can completely alter our inner world whenever we want. We are the artists of the landscapes inside of ourselves.

If this is true, why is it so hard to believe it some days? I know very well there are times when fluffy thoughts like these cannot reach me. I mentioned in my post yesterday that this loving awareness, this simple bliss, these are my natural state. These feelings are the true expression of my soul. All I have to do is allow them to flow from me, to let my heart remain open. How quickly I’ve forgotten all the profound wisdom I read in The Untethered Soul.

So often I stifle and block my own love, my own happiness, my own peace. I block off that flowing spout of energy from my heart space. I begin working with brick and mortar from the moment I awake. I am an expert at denying myself. When my thoughts begin racing with everything that is “wrong” what it’s really doing is tallying up all the reasons that I’m not allowed to feel okay, to be happy. I’ve been telling myself “no” for so long that I started to forget I had the power to say yes. I am the one who has written these arbitrary rules on love and happiness.

I don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect before I let myself be happy. In fact, I have the power to decide that everything is already perfect right now. Today is an excellent, magnificent day to be happy. Nothing can take that happiness away from me, except me. It’s always easy to be in love, to be blissful, because this is how we are meant to be. The suffering and exhaustion that accompany depression, anxiety, anger, fear, hatred, are created from the immense effort of acting and feeling so contrary to our soul’s essence. It’s always harder to be something you’re not.

I think somewhere along the line this ever-present mindset of scarcity and limited resources, led us to believe that we have to ration our love, our joy. But that well has no bottom. We never have to fear we will run out of these things, because they are us, we are one and the same. I’ve learned to let the thinking mind limit my potential. I give myself “rational” reasons not to be happy. I tell myself I don’t deserve to feel good because of (x) or after doing (y). I’ve been feeling like I have to choose between denying myself or denying reality. But that isn’t true. I can be flawed and imperfect and still happy. Love and happiness have never hurt a situation.

No matter what I am faced with in this life, no matter what mistakes I’ve made or continue to make, I still deserve to be happy. It’s not silly or selfish or wrong. Because by sharing this energy with the world, I am doing what I have always been meant to do. What we are all meant to do. What everyone has been telling us to do since we were children. Just be yourself. That timeless, limitless, ever-present, powerful self that lies at the seat of every soul, the manifestation of love, of joy, of light, of hope. All we have to do is remember. Remember who you are.

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