Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spiritual Sustenance

This past weekend, I had the great honor of participating in a Spirited Explorations workshop, hosted by Sacred Journeys ( and led by Andy McClure and Maria Buckalew. The weekend combined music, art, poetry, ritual, laughter, tears, movement and dance, play, and spontaneous improvisation within a supportive container of community. This was the fourth spiritual growth weekend of this type that I’ve attended through Sacred Journeys, and each experience has inspired deeper self-reflection, sacred connections within a loving community, and greater levels of healing.  One of the biggest takeaways from these weekends is always a powerful felt sense of the “Big Love” – the magnificent, transcendental experience of the unconditional love and interconnectedness of all beings.  Awakening to the Big Love is true spiritual sustenance for me.

During this past weekend, I read a lot of Rumi’s poetry – to myself and aloud – and felt transformed by connecting with Rumi’s experiences of the Divine and by engaging at such a deep and intimate level with other travelers on the spiritual path. One of the participants described the weekend workshops, previously called “Shaking Medicine,” as an adventure in “dancing with God.” During our sacred time together, Andy suggested, “We are the drums upon which the gods play.” We are actively co-creating the experiences throughout the weekend, but there is also a strong element of surrender. When we bring openness to self, to community, and to spirit, we are changed and blessed.  We surrender to the mystery, not knowing what will happen during the weekend or how our lives after the weekend may change in response to the growth that occurs when together.

For me, some of the sweetest and most remarkable mysteries this past weekend occurred during the Giveaway Ceremony. We each brought a wrapped item that held some personal meaning for us, placed those anonymously in the circle, and then randomly selected a new item to take home. The exchange was magical. Each person received something absolutely perfect and appropriate for who they were, why they were there, and where they were on their journey.  We marveled at the poignancy of how our stories intertwined and how the gifts we brought ended up in the hands of people who needed them and with whom we’d made meaningful connections during the weekend. As for me, I host a drumming circle at The Resiliency Center, and I received a fabulous new rattle. It was similar to one I had previously, loved, and accidentally broke. It’s a playful instrument and absolutely in keeping with what I am seeking in my life at this time. A community member who has struggled with dyslexia throughout his life but has started reading more and more recently received an absolutely beautiful book and wept. To witness the mystery unfold in such personally meaningful ways for each person was stunning and inspiring. It further strengthened my faith in the Divine and in my place in the magical web of life. Despite the seeming contradiction, I have found that the further I open to the mystery, the more loved and less lost I feel. In the mystery, all things are possible. I am grateful for this growing spiritual community, for the opportunity to connect with such amazing men and women, and for experiences of the Big Love that support me on my journey to be and become my highest self.

Today, I wish you magic and mystery and spiritual sustenance on your travels. Whether you define spirituality as a direct connection with God, walking in the woods, participating in a religious community, deep communion with other people, or time alone in meditation or prayer, I wish you nourishment. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Laughter - and Developing a New Habit

Last weekend I attended a laughter yoga leader training. It was marvelous fun. We engaged in laughing exercises, practiced deep yoga breathing exercises, and learned about the tremendous health benefits of laughter. At the end of the training, the teacher encouraged all of us to cultivate a new habit of daily laughter yoga. The health benefits take effect with even 15-20 minutes of laughter daily. When laughter exercises are combined with yoga breathing for a daily yoga laughter practice of 45 minutes, the resulting boost to physical and emotional health is significant! After only a weekend’s practice of 2 laughter yoga sessions each day, I was amazed at how good I felt.  A woman in the class who struggled with fibromyalgia reported being pain-free for the first time in years as a result of the exercises in this training.

Tonight, as I reflected on this past week, I give myself credit for my intentional introduction of at least 15 minutes of daily laughter. I used driving my car as a prompt for remembering to laugh and to practice the sitting laughter yoga exercises. It has made my drive to work far more enjoyable. Reflecting over the week, I also note that I fell short in integrating a solid 45 minutes of laughter yoga practice into my daily routine. Cultivating a new health habit requires motivation, discipline, and planning. I believe it also highlights any current habits that may impede our ability to be successful. Introducing laughter into my drive was not difficult because I didn’t have any current driving practices besides driving and listening to music. Adding laughter to that is easy to do. But introducing a 45-minute laughter yoga practice, well, that takes some planning and requires a bit of schedule and priority reorganizing.  Ideally, I’d practice in the morning – so I would get the benefits of laughter throughout the entire day. This requires getting up earlier. Getting up earlier requires going to sleep earlier. Going to sleep earlier requires skipping The Daily Show and Colbert Report – or taping them. There is a whole chain of things that need to change to put this new routine in place. While the changes I need to make aren’t particularly elaborate, sometimes cultivating a new health habit demands many different adjustments simultaneously.   

Changing many things at once, replacing old behaviors with new ones, letting go of the habits we currently have, well, this is tough stuff!  Research varies on the amount of days necessary to establish a new habit – from 21 days to 90 days depending on whom you ask. I wonder how much of the challenge in adopting a new habit is really a reflection of our difficulty letting go of whatever habits we currently have. Even if we know that jogging is better for us than watching “The Bachelorette,” we may continue succumbing to our desire to watch the show. Maybe we enjoy seeing the places they travel on their dates and imagining ourselves visiting there, or we find ourselves hooked on the adrenalin rush we get from screaming at the television set as if it we were on the sidelines at a boxing match and had some input into the decision-making.  We human beings are often more emotional than we are rational, and struggles with habit change really illustrate this.

Is there a new habit you want to begin in your life? Is there something that continues to get in your way? I encourage you to be gentle with yourself, remember all the positive reasons you want to do this new thing, and then find a way to start – even if you start small at first. Find a way to make it easy for yourself. Laughing in the car works for me. I also bought a Laughter Yoga DVD that I can follow (rather than having to create my own routine each time – which can be challenging as a newbie). A friend of mine has wanted to focus more on his physical health for a while now and decided to hire a personal trainer. Great move! This professional has created a nutrition and exercise plan to help him reach his goals – and offers support through every step of the process. Support makes a big difference. I am fortunate because my sister also attended the Laughter Yoga Leader Training – so we’ve been checking in with each other about it. It also helps that once we begin a new health habit, the tangible benefits we experience often reinforce our commitment to the new behavior. This is definitely true for me with laughter yoga. I LOVE laughing, and I feel great when I do it.

What have you found really helps you stick with a new positive behavior? What do you know about how you can best support yourself and get support for yourself in creating the positive changes you desire?  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Laughter Medicine

I am happiest when I make time to prioritize laughter in my life. Watching a funny movie or spending time with friends who are naturally gifted storytellers are some of my favorite pastimes.  I also love sharing an afternoon with one of several female friends who share my sense of humor and really get the absurdity of life. We can laugh and laugh until our stomachs hurt, often about the same sorts of things that could have us in tears on a different day or in different company.

Finding really good comedies to enjoy can be a challenge. Often I return time and again to the same old favorites. In my estimation, there simply aren’t enough comedic movies starring women. Many films with female casts are too sappy or too stupid.

When several women whose opinions I respect had been raving recently about the new movie Bridesmaids, co-written by Kristin Wiig of Saturday Night Live fame, I was a bit hesitant.  Watching Kristin on SNL, I have admired her ability to transform herself into any number of crazy characters; however, I have found many (if not most) of the female characters she plays a bit painful to watch. The movie trailer for Bridesmaids didn't help, as it made the film look like a female version of Dumb and Dumber. I wanted to laugh, not be annoyed. I wanted a fun ride, not another movie that insulted women more than it really “got” them or their humor. My friends reassured me I would love it.

Well, I am happy to report that Bridesmaids definitely delivered! I went to see the movie last night and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The film provided a healthy dose of laughter. It included great physical humor, silly antics and inside jokes among women, and dialogue and portrayals that made fun of just about everyone but no one in particular (unless perhaps the type of man John Hamm portrays – but that seemed justifiable). 

The movie had some truly over-the-top scenes and moments that were absolutely ridiculous. I adore this in my comedies. I enjoy the opportunity to step outside reality, suspend disbelief, and just enjoy.  The cast was brilliantly expressive, and I still smile to think back on various shenanigans and the actors’ side-splittingly funny emotional reactions. One visual image in particular – seeing Maya Rudolph’s character in her custom-designed wedding dress – still has me giggling.

As a big fan of laughter, I loved the opportunity to giggle, laugh, and even snort at times throughout this film, one that ended up being far sweeter than I had anticipated.  A fun female friendship film, Bridesmaids provided me with many minutes of laughter. I am so grateful! Laughter is definitely one of my very favorite ways to nurture my resiliency. Laughter is medicine – good for our physical and emotional health and fabulous in helping us see new perspectives and gain more appreciation for life.

Today, I encourage you to see a funny film or do whatever else makes you laugh heartily.  I hope you giggle so hard that you snort, your belly aches, and you even have trouble catching your breath.  That’s the good stuff. :-)  Enjoy!