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

VegFest 2021

Today was my first time going to a local vegan festival called VegFest. Even though I’ve been vegan for nearly a decade now, I somehow never managed to make it out there. I’m so glad I finally went though. It was so much busier than I could have ever anticipated. There had to be thousands of people crammed into the span of a few blocks. There were over 40 local vendors selling all kinds of things from plants and art to baked goods and bourbon. I don’t even want to calculate how much money I spent. There were a lot of things I wasn’t even able to try because the lines were too long or they sold out before I had a chance to stop.

I highly recommend attending any vegan festivities in your area. New vegans could definitely benefit from discovering what type of vegan options there are in their area. Experienced vegans can benefit from the uplifting atmosphere of being surrounded by like-minded people and seeing just how much support the vegan movement actually has. Even in more vegan-friendly areas, it can feel like a lost cause at times. There is nothing more inspiring than gathering together with your community to celebrate.

It’s really crazy for me to think about how far veganism has come in just my small area. There used to be hardly any options for me in the grocery stores or at restaurants. If I wanted to eat a dish that was even moderately tasty I had to put in all the time and effort to make it myself. Now being vegan is easier than ever.

I used to get it when I was first transitioning if people told me veganism was just too difficult for them. It was a big adjustment in a society that catered to carnism alone. Now I’m shocked that anyone can still use that excuse. With the Impossible Burger at Burger King, dozens of different vegan ice creams in the supermarket, and hundreds if not thousands of other perfectly incredible replacements for anything you could possibly desire, how could you still ask a vegan, “so what do you eat?” or “I could never give up x or y.” Hell, even the dinky little road side ice cream shop in the middle of nowhere has nondairy options now!

Even though I can no longer hold out hope that veganism will save the earth, it can still save the animals from enduring unnecessary suffering in the short time that we have left here with them. I am so grateful to be have been reminded today that there are so many other people in this world that are fighting to end that senseless pain.

Mindful Movement

Have you ever noticed how most animals, particularly animals in the wild, have seemingly perfect figures? As in, they look sleek and muscular and uniform. I’ve often wondered why human beings have such a huge variation of strange physical differences or “imperfections.” I won’t list any because I don’t want anyone to feel self-conscious about their bodies in any way, but you may be able to think of a few examples on your own. I certainly have personal grievances with my own body that come to mind and led me down this train of thought to begin with.

This could be solely because we have more diversity in our genetics than different animal species. But I don’t think it is solely genetic. I’ve seen people with very similar genetic makeup have vastly different appearances. I’ve wondered how much the way we hold ourselves in our daily lives comes into play. Our posture, for example. Is that determined by our genes? Or is it a largely unconscious result of a multitude of factors like our confidence or merely years of bad habit? Is the internal or external rotation of our femurs in relation to our hips inherited or perhaps created as we grow due to the way we walk? Does my lower tummy have that stubborn pooch because of genetics or has my mental avoidance of that part of my body contributed by allowing years and years of disengagement with those muscles? Does my pelvis naturally tilt forward, or has it been allowed to slip into that position because those stabilizing core muscles have been ignored?

How much could we change about our appearance by simply staying mindful of the way we move throughout the day? Even more importantly, how much degenerative pain could we avoid in old age by adding a loving awareness to each movement? Strengthening my mental connection to my core all day, rather than just during exercise, may not solve my insecurity, but it could definitely prevent the low-back pain I occasionally experience.

What’s the main difference between humans and other animals? They live in the moment, they remain present, while we humans are always miles away, lost in our own heads. Maybe other animals are just more connected to their physical bodies than we are.

Most of my waking hours are spent flailing my body about, mechanically falling into deeply ingrained patterns of movement I’ve developed from years of mindless repetition. Locking my knees, slouching at my desk, mentally disengaging from my midsection, rounding my shoulders forward as I grip the steering wheel, tight lips, tense face. I hold myself so much differently, so much more intentionally, while I’m working out or doing my yoga practice. I began to wonder what a huge difference it might make if I kept that mindful body awareness during the rest of my day. After a few years of that, I can’t imagine not looking different. And I’m nearly certain you’d feel different.

We all have so many bad physical habits that we remain mostly unaware of which manifest due to stress or other mental states. Not only can my anxiety cause me to tense my shoulders, face, and neck, but relaxing and releasing those same areas has the ability to alleviate the anxiety. The hard part is being able to step out of my head long enough to remember this in the moment. Perhaps being more mindful of my body will even reduce the amount of anxiety I experience day to day.

I think it is a fascinating theory worth trying out. It is definitely challenging to keep bringing your mind back to what each little part of the body is doing. But even if it doesn’t ultimately change outward appearance, it is still a valuable mindfulness exercise in its own right and would undoubtedly make a difference mentally.