Archive for May, 2015

8 easy activities that are good for the soul

Living with intention. Living joyfully. I try to connect with these ideals every day, though some days I’m more successful than others. The thing is, when I take the time to really nourish my inner self, I feel stronger, more balanced and, well, happier. So no matter how busy my schedule gets, I always try to make space for simple, soul-nourishing activities such as these:

1. Watch the sun rise. When was the last time you took the time to do this? (And I’m not talking about seeing the sun rise over the freeway while driving to the airport to catch an early-morning flight.) I mean, awakening in starlight, then setting your intention to wait, watch and really savor the beauty that is a new day beginning. This is not just a wonderful time to clear your mind and think, but also a special way to start your day.

2. Plant a vegetable (preferably one you love to eat). You don’t have to be a green thumb to try this one out, and you don’t have to plant an entire time-consuming or complicated garden. Just pick one veggie and give it a whirl. There is something almost meditative about working with the earth, digging and planting. The payoff—eating something fresh you grew yourself—nourishes both your body and soul.

3. Groom your animal. Brushing your dog, cat or horse feels good for them, but it’s good for us, too: It’s the kind of easy, repetitive work that lets our mind wander to a peaceful place. Strengthening your bond with your animal is another bonus. (They’ll shed less, too!)

4. Make your bed. When your bed is made first thing in the morning, your room looks better and more welcoming all day. Also, it starts your day off right by accomplishing this one small task. And at night, isn’t your state of mind in a more positive place when you can wind down in a tidy room? Try it tomorrow; it takes just two minutes.

5. Do a random act of kindness. There’s real power behind a random act of kindness. Even a small gesture of kindness can generate tiny ripple effects and help make this world a better place. Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk on the subject. See what this woman learned when she dedicated herself to 38 acts of kindness for her 38th birthday:

6. Visit your local art museum. Most of us like to visit an art museum when we travel to a new city. It’s refreshing and almost meditative to wander and contemplate art—but most of us forget we can do this in our own city, as well. (I know, I know … it’s not The Louvre, but still.) We lead such busy lives we often neglect nurturing ourselves. But don’t think of visiting an art museum as a mere indulgence; studies have linked “artistic consumption” to improved health.

7. Channel your inner kid with a coloring book. Tapping into our creativity is very nourishing for the soul, but sometimes being creative can be exhausting. Enter the rise in popularity of coloring books for adults, which can now be found topping the best-seller lists. Like many of the activities listed here, coloring can be very meditative and relaxing (and fun!), and studies show art therapy such as coloring can also reduce stress. I like this one and this one.

8. Find your personal Zen. Maybe you love to exercise—for me it’s Pilates. Or maybe you love painting, writing, creating music, brewing an amazing cup of coffee or baking a batch of muffins. Find a place in your day to do whatever strikes you and that you love.

These are just a few ideas that are good for the soul—do you have any to add to the list?

A simple meditation for those affected by war

On this Memorial Day, I am thankful to live in the place I find most beautiful in the world: Northern California. I am grateful for the men and women who gave their lives so that I can live in a peaceful place. I also want to honor the many animals who have died serving in war. When I was in London, I was so touched by the beautiful Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park. The movie War Horse was also a very moving look at the history of horses who helped humans in World War I. I invite you to join me in this special meditation today which is offered for peace and healing to all the animals (and people) who have been affected by war in this world. Blessings to those who have lost their lives, and may peace heal the hearts of those living with war each and every day. May the peace which we create today in our hearts radiate out and help to heal the world.

Healing Meditation for Those Affected by War

Find a comfortable place to sit, with your beloved animal at your side if you wish. Place your hands, palms together, in front of your heart, and dedicate this practice to all the animals and people who have lost their lives or been affected by war. Then rest your hands on your lap or on your animal. Your animal may decide to stay with you and support your meditation.

Close your eyes as you breathe. As you inhale, imagine the breath as a beautiful healing light flowing in through your nose, filling your body with beautiful light. On the exhale, imagine this light can expand out your body and all around you. Breathe in light. Breathe out and expand this light. Continue this breath at your own pace for 10 repetitions. Then allow your breath to return to normal and breathe gently.

Turn your mind toward the animals and people who have been lost in war or affected by war. Feel your light shining so brightly. You may begin thinking of the animals and people you love, then continue to expand your thoughts to the circle of people and animals you know or have heard about, and then expand your thoughts to include all animals and people lost in or affected by war that you haven’t heard about.

Allow your heart to connect to each of these beings as you breathe gently:  “May you be safe and happy. May you be filled with peace. May you be free. Know that you are loved.” Continue to repeat these words in your mind for several minutes as you feel them radiating out. Imagine the light of your heart shines so brightly that it can reach all animals and people affected by war that you know. It can shine beyond, to the animals and people you have heard about who have been affected by war. It can even shine through the whole world, creating a beautiful vibration of healing for the entire planet.

If you feel distracting thoughts, imagine they are clouds just floating by. Don’t chase them; let them come, and let them go. When you are ready, set your intention to finish, take a nice, deep breath and slowly open your eyes.

Peace is powerful healing. Please share how you spread peace in your life.

6 easy ways to inspire more gratitude today

Forbes recently did an article on the seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude—among them, feeling healthier, a boost in self-esteem and sleeping better. I know for myself, I’ve tried to live more mindfully and cultivate more gratitude in my life ever since fighting breast cancer, twice. But because living mindfully and embracing gratitude into our everyday lives doesn’t always happen seamlessly, here are six tips that really work for me:

1. Set your intention—choose gratitude. Because we have good days and not-so-good days, gratitude must be a choice. Make a point daily to acknowledge all that you are grateful for. Focus on the things you do have and that are going right. There is always something, even if it’s small. When the hard times come (and they will), this important life skill can help you cope.

2. Watch this TED Talk on nature’s boundless beauty and the importance of being grateful every day. This wonderful lecture, featuring cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful images and wise words, is absolutely inspiring and riveting. I especially love this part, where the narrator says: “You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you, today. It’s given to you; it’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

3. Remember and hold close your favorite heartful quotes on gratitude. Here are a few of mine:

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” –Karl Barth

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” –Aesop

“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” –Epicurus

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” –Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

4. Help animals. Volunteering at a rescue will always help to inspire gratitude. First, it redirects your focus from “me” toward a sentient being in need of love and care. Second, spending time with gentle creatures naturally just opens your heart, which will help you to see things in a more positive light. And third, helping an animal that is sick, neglected or homeless can remind you to feel grateful for the basics we often take for granted: food, shelter, our health.

5. Start a gratitude journal. Or, if you already have one, commit to writing in it regularly. Your gratitude journal then becomes a lifeline you can cling to again and again when you need to remember all the abundances in your life you may otherwise have forgotten.

6. Practice patience. Yes, it’s annoying that you’re running late and the woman in front of you in line at the market has 20 coupons and is writing a check (if only she could find her checkbook). Or perhaps it’s a person driving too slow in front of you. Identify your hot buttons and next time, instead of reacting impatiently (or steaming on the inside), be mindful. Breathe, step back and use those precious extra moments to see the big picture. Count your blessings and revel in the beautiful gift that is right now.

What are you grateful for today?

3 reasons animals make the best meditation teachers

Can I admit something to you? It isn’t always easy for me to meditate. There are so many “human” challenges that can trip me up—an overactive mind that refuses to quiet, difficulty in accepting the present moment, or being so busy my energy is scattered all over the place. I want to share with you my secret weapon to strike down these obstacles and ensure a more powerful meditation: the animals.

You see, in my work with animals and Reiki over the years, I began to notice something interesting; when I would meditate and my animals would happen to be present, I found myself able to quiet my mind and be present with an open heart much more easily. I began to realize that perhaps I should rethink the way I approached my own meditation practice. Meditating alone is all well and good, offering numerous health benefits that have been backed by science. But when I began to meditate with the animals and follow their lead, all of the benefits of meditation I had always experienced began to improve. Here are three ways animals helped me become a better meditator:

1. It’s easier to stay present and peaceful in the moment with our animals. If we are trying to meditate but our intellectual minds keep analyzing, judging and interpreting everything (which is just natural for us, really), the animals will often mirror this agitation. The more we feel ourselves shift into a state of quiet, and the more we can just “be,” the more we can see the animals relax. I can always tell what state I am in by how the animals around me are responding to my presence. A peaceful mind and peaceful heart means peaceful animals. In addition, animals have a natural calming presence. So when we have trouble letting go, and we’re stuck inside past problems or future fears, simply sitting with our animals can help to calm our energy, quiet our thoughts and take us to this moment right now.

2. Animals help our hearts to open, so that we can radiate our inner compassion. According to a 2013 study by Northeastern University, those who practice mindfulness meditation feel more compassion for others. But sometimes, compassion can be a difficult feeling to tap into. That’s where the animal factor comes in: Animals show so much unconditional love for us, we just can’t help but open our hearts when we are with them. If we are with our animals during our meditation practice, our inner compassion arises effortlessly because we are already opening our hearts to our animals at that moment. This compassion will radiate out to all animals … and even ultimately to the world.

3. Animals helped me realize an informal meditation can be just as effective. Some people think, “Oh, I have to light a candle and sit on this cushion to meditate.” And that sometimes works well, but it’s also very limiting. Meditation isn’t about escaping the world, shutting our eyes and sitting in a stiff position. The most important purpose of meditation is to bring compassion to our lives, and the truth is we have to learn to take our practice off of the cushion, bringing this compassion with us into the world. What the animals teach us by their compassionate presence is very freeing: That truly any moment in our lives can be a meditation. We can practice peaceful presence while sitting, walking or standing—cuddling our cat, walking the dog or standing in a pasture with our horse. You see, this is how our animals live already, and they can show us how to live this way too.

Meditation is about bringing all of our energy here to this present moment, and opening our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now. Animals are always present, they don’t judge like we do, and they live life with an open heart. They are my best meditation teachers: mirrors, reflecting to me how I should be, and lights, guiding me along the path of inner healing.

How have animals helped your meditation practice?

7 things you need to know about the ivory trade

Elephants are amazing, beautiful creatures. This is something I’ve always felt deep inside my heart, but I never truly understood it until I spent some time bringing animal Reiki to rescued circus elephants at a preserve. Wow! My life was forever changed, and I continue to be in awe of these magnificent pachyderms.

But the world’s elephants are in desperate need of saving. Despite the ban on international trade in ivory, a thriving black market worth an estimated $19 billion continues to exist. Here are seven startling facts about the ivory trade, along with some examples of what is being done right to help save the elephants:

1. Craigslist has become a safe haven of sorts for ivory products. A March 2015 report conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that a heart-stopping $15 million worth of ivory objects are sold on the site each year. Though Craigslist states online it does indeed “ban” the sale of ivory products, one wonders whether the site should do more to enforce it. Feel compelled to take action? The IFAW offers this convenient template so you can send a letter of concern directly to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster.

2. Slash (love him!) has entered the fray to help IFAW save the elephants from slaughter. He co-wrote a song and made a powerful video to educate people about the brutal realities of poaching. It’s a difficult but important video to watch, and I applaud Slash, a self-professed animal lover, for bringing attention to this important topic! Proceeds from the sale of this song are donated directly to IFAW.

3. The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes President Obama’s proposed ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory in the U.S. As stated on the NRA’s website, “the effects of the ivory ban would be disastrous for American gun owners and sportsmen.” I guess I’m not surprised the NRA feels gun ornamentation is more important than animals’ lives.

4. This sobering stat: The United States is the world’s second-largest consumer of ivory (second to China).

5. New Jersey, New York and Vermont are among the states leading the way to prohibit interstate ivory sales. Click here for more details on citizen-driven grassroots efforts spurring various states to act. Make sure to scroll down to see National Geographic’s handy graphic showing just how well your state stacks up.

6. A powerful new documentary funded in part by Microsoft’s Paul Allen will highlight the poaching/trafficking crisis. Called “Ivory Rising,” the film will feature undercover footage, aim to educate viewers about how the ivory trade connects to terrorism, and hopefully help shut down the ivory trade and save African elephants from extinction.

7. Ninety-six elephants are killed by poachers every day in Africa. Take a moment to let that number sink in. Then visit the 96 Elephants website for info on how you can help stop it.

Please share your thoughts here about this important issue.