It’s easy to get really down about the future of this planet when you read the news: polluted water, oceans and air. Genetically modified food. Animal testing. Lost biodiversity. Climate change. But then I see teens and kids already working passionately to make our planet a better place—and I see a ray of hope. Check out these amazing youth advocates, who have already dedicated a good portion of their young lives to educating others and enacting change:
1. As a child, Birke Baehr started reading food labels and researching the ingredients of everything his family was eating. “I discovered the dark side of the industrialized food system,” he said in his popular TEDx Talk at age 11 (he’s now 15), which covered the topics of factory farms, GMOs, pesticides and herbicides. He soon turned his passions for natural food into a website (www.birkeonthefarm.com), a children’s book, speaking appearances and a solid foundation for a future in organic farming. His tips for other kids (and adults): “Think local. Choose organic. Know your farmer. Know your food.”
I’ve realized something about myself this past week: It’s really, really hard for me to let go of “stuff.” Even if said stuff is crammed into every nook and cranny of my closets, garage and cupboards and I haven’t seen it in ages.
But thanks to the inspirational (and doable) tips from author Marie Kondo in her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I’m happy to report that paring down is getting easier by the day. And the benefits really are life-changing: I’m feeling newly inspired in my business. I feel mentally “lighter.” And the serenity of this experience has reminded me, again, how we have much to learn from our animals.
When I first heard about her book and the so-called KonMari method of tidying up and its connection to happiness, I immediately thought: I have to try this. But where to begin? This book is showing me the light. After just 2 days of organizing, I’m already seven large bags (ready for Goodwill) lighter, three closets more organized and two bookshelves cleaner. Awesome!
The basic idea is this: Every item in your home should “spark joy,” and objects need (and even want) to serve a purpose. We imbue the objects around us with our energy, so if they don’t bring us happiness, they weigh us down—and it’s time to say goodbye. It’s as easy as saying a simple, “Thank you,” to those objects for the joy that they brought you (or the use they fulfilled) in the past, and then … let them go. I love the positive focus the book has on the things we keep, rather than the things we get rid of. As I began the process, little did I know I was embarking on a life-altering experience full of raw feelings tangled up with old junk.
Out with the old …
I started with my master bedroom closet. But my excitement for getting organized soon deflated as I realized the contents before me had transformed into a Pandora’s box of negative emotions. I’m talking really heavy emotions—emotions surprisingly attached to things.
As I dug through a too-high pile of shirts, pants, dresses and the like, the clothes transported me to places in my past. Sometimes, places where I didn’t want to go. A lot of these clothes, I realized—which I wasn’t currently wearing—were from my long months of cancer and radiation treatments. Guess what? Whenever I saw them, which was virtually every day, they sparked bad, negative feelings inside of me. They always reminded me of my cancer—and who wants to think about that?! So I got rid of them. But remembering all of that was painful.
With those dumped into garbage bags, then I noticed: Wow, a lot of my new clothes are Pilates clothes—and let me tell you, these ignite happiness within me! They make me feel strong. I never thought I’d lift weights again—but here I am, able to do just that. I sorted through everything, memories of my past and hopes for the future. Now everything in my closet is something I love (bad memories begone!). I’m so much happier when I look in my drawers now. I feel practically weightless.
It’s amazing to me how such a small thing can resonate deeply the way this has. Perhaps that’s why Kondo’s book has connected with so many people. It gives real tips to help you achieve an emotional positivity that you can’t really put your finger on. But it’s there.
My new, serene closet
Happiness in a drawer
Only books that I absolutely adore
This part amazed me. After cleaning out my closet, I was able to, finally, revamp my Equine Reiki Manual, which I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I just didn’t know how I wanted to change it so it just sat in the back of my mind. But then it totally came to me in a magical moment of inspiration after going through this process, throwing out tons of stuff, and bringing more Zen into my daily living space. This is not a coincidence, my dear readers.
Again, the animals are our teachers
I’ve said this before, but it’s so true: We have much to learn from animals. My dog Mystic doesn’t need to surround herself in a mountain of material items to find inner peace and happiness. She’s content with a small box of toys, a collar and leash, her brush and food dishes. And on top of that, she gets a lot of love and hugs and special doggy time from her family. This experience reminded me the importance of paring down to be more like Mystic. I cannot wait to tackle the rest of the house.
Have you tried the KonMari method? I’m excited to hear your story here.
Last week, I invited you to join me on my 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge, a simple way to bring more happiness to your life. The idea is a wonderful one: Each day you spend five minutes in meditation, write down three things you’re grateful for, and do one act of kindness. I couldn’t wait to get started! But that was before my week turned upside down …
I started the challenge last Tuesday. I meditate every day anyway, so that part was easy. I thought of some things I was grateful for. I saved a spider as my random act of kindness (though I can’t say I did it without screaming!). And then, the very next day, my horse Kodiak colicked.
Colic is a serious problem in horses and has the potential to be fatal. I was really worried as I raced over to the barn right after my trainer called. I dropped everything I was doing to be with him and help him through this difficult time—in whatever way I could.
I spent the whole day at his side, and then a long night at the barn. I stayed awake all night to watch over him. If his condition worsened, I would have had to take him to a nearby equine hospital. I offered Reiki to him for many hours while waiting and waiting for signs of improvement. I realized I didn’t have the mental resources to “do” the Happiness Challenge I had just promised myself I’d do.
But then a funny thing happened. Although the Happiness Challenge didn’t turn out the way I’d thought, looking back on this week, I realized it actually still helped me in the end. I had gone into this week intending to do acts of kindness … but here I was in a difficult time, and someone did an act of kindness for ME! My trainer, Susan, literally dropped everything she had planned the day Kody colicked. She stayed with me, walking Kodiak, massaging him, staying with us as the vet arrived to treat him. When the tube the vet put through his nose into his stomach caused Kodiak a terrible nose bleed, Susan hugged me as I cried. She even stayed at the barn until the evening, watching over Kodiak, so I could run home to grab dinner before I drove back up for the night. Her selflessness reminded me how powerful kindness is in this world; how it really can help to get us through the tough times. (And it showed me what a wonderful friend she is, too!).
Also, during the darkest part of the first night he colicked, the Happiness Challenge reminded me of the importance of focusing on gratitude instead of giving into fear. It’s at our most difficult moments that it’s most important to remember this! During the extended periods of Reiki meditations in the barn that night, I kept my mind positive by remembering many more than three things about Kody that I was grateful for. I thought of how Kody really helped me so many times in my cancer recovery; how back then, I couldn’t wait to be well enough so I could ride him again. That was one of the goals I focused on during my difficult, painful recovery. And now it was my turn to do everything I could to help him. I kept telling him, “We are going to get you through this. You are going to be ok.” I’m so happy to report the impaction finally resolved without needing further veterinary treatment! It took both Kodiak and me a few days to recover from the emotions and stress of it all. I think the worst part for him was when he started feeling better but had to be on a restricted diet. That horse loves to eat!
So while I may not have followed the Happiness Challenge to a T, because it was at the top of my mind and intention, I had a deeper realization of the importance that meditation, gratitude and kindness have in our everyday lives. I think it’s important to remember that when things are running smoothly for us—someone else out there is having a horrible, terrible day, and maybe one small act of kindness on our part can help them find hope and strength where they couldn’t see it before. And maybe all of us can become just a little bit happier.
I still love the idea of 5-3-1, and I want to keep incorporating this idea into my daily life. For those of you who followed the challenge with me, thank you. Now tell me: How did your week go?
I can’t believe it’s been nearly five years since I toured Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary in England. It’s one of my sister Kathleen’s SARA sanctuaries, and she’ll actually be teaching equine Reiki classes there again next month. (Click here for info on attending!)
Caroline Thomas, one of Remus’ dedicated volunteers (and now a friend of mine), was sweet enough to take me on a tour that day to meet the animals. Caroline is not only a SARA teacher, but also the owner of Hoof and Paw Holistic Therapies and an expert in essential oils.
The powerful therapeutic benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy have been known since ancient times, dating back to Ancient Egypt (and probably even before). Recently, Kathleen—having had so much success with Reiki and animals—decided to give essential oils a try. I’m happy to report that, thanks to Caroline’s guidance, she’s had much success adding them to her dog Mystic’s wellness routine.
Mystic suffered some past traumas as a puppy (before they found each other), and today she sometimes shows aggression. Now Mystic is able to “take charge of her own healing,” as Caroline says, thanks to a variety of essential oils she recommended for Mystic: angelica (which helps with fears stemming from childhood trauma), neroli (for separation), yarrow (to address past traumas when nothing is known), violet leaf (when a traumatic incident has changed behavior) and carrot seed (for abandonment).
“In the wild, animals naturally choose plants to help them heal physical and emotional problems,” says Caroline, who offers essential oils and consultations worldwide via Skype. “And this is exactly the same way I use the essential oils.”
Kathleen and I are essential oil newbies, so I went straight to Caroline with all of our questions. Here, she gives us the lowdown on essential oils—the best oils for animals, how to use them safely, how they work, and the five top oils every animal lover should stock in their medicine cabinet:
IAHL: What are some common problems in animals that essential oils are great at helping?
Caroline: Essential oils can treat a multitude of ailments—from animals being fearful of fireworks to animals needing a flea repellent. The most common problem I use them for, however, is for fear issues, due to animals not being socialized enough when they were young. The world then becomes a very scary place for them.
Caroline Thomas offers aromatherapy to a horse.
What are your favorite oils for cats and dogs?
I own around 40 essential oils, and I do have my favorite ones, such as carrot seed, which is excellent for animals who feel abandoned. It is such a comforting essential oil. Yarrow essential oil is brilliant for animals when you do not know about their past, as it allows them to release old wounds. I use this oil a lot when working with rescued animals.
How do essential oils work?
As your animal breathes in the fragrance of an essential oil, the molecules are transported into the limbic system of your animal’s brain (the part of the brain that processes emotions and memories). The essential oil works here to promote happiness, calmness and physical well-being. All essential oils are safe, as long as they are used correctly.
You bring up a good point. I’ve heard a lot about the risks of essential oils.
All oils are potentially toxic if used incorrectly. It is important to have an understanding of the cautions. For example, bergamot is phototoxic, and fennel should be avoided in pregnancy. I always give clear instructions to my animal owner clients, so there is no misinterpretation of how they are to be used.
How can we use them safely?
You will need to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil, such as calendula or grapeseed oil (one drop for a cat, and two to six drops for other animals). Find a quiet place and take the lid off the diluted bottle. Let the animal sniff the oil with the lid on, and if they are trying to lick the top of the bottle, this is a very positive indication that they need that specific oil. If your animal wants to lick the oil, pour some onto your hand; equally your animal may just want to sniff the oil, so hold the bottle tightly and let your animal sniff. The most important point is that they are choosing how to interact with the essential oil, as this will allow them to get the exact dose that they need.
How often do they need it?
I usually offer the essential oil twice a day. Your animal may sniff it once and then not need it anymore because that is the exact dose they need. Or they may choose to sniff it for a longer period and then not need it. Be assured that your animal knows best, and if you have invested in an expensive essential oil, don’t try to force more of it onto your animal, as this is when problems happen. Always leave an escape route, as the olfactory system of a cat or a dog is more advanced compared to ours. If they need a specific essential oil, they will happily sniff it; if they do not need the essential oil, they will happily move out of the room.
Do essential oils work for other animals, too, outside of cats and dogs?
Essential oils work for all animals if you use them as [intended].
Where can our readers find safe oils for their animals?
The essential oils that you use with animals need to be of medicinal quality; they need to be 100 percent pure. I buy my essential oils from Kobashi Pure Essential Oils. Their oils are of a very high standard.
Can you recommend the best oils for getting started? Which oils should all animal lovers stock in their medicine cabinets?
Yarrow, carrot seed, seaweed, valerian, Melissa and a carrier oil such as sunflower oil.
What are the therapeutic properties of these oils?
Essential oils are excellent for behavioral issues, but they also help with physical issues, too.
• Yarrow: emotional—past abuse, unknown past, fearful anger; physical—inflammation, skin problems, arthritis.
• Carrot Seed: emotional—abandonment, loss of will to live; physical—loss of appetite, slow-healing wounds.
• Seaweed: emotional—extreme lack of self-confidence, depression; physical—arthritis, immune stimulant, poisoning.
• Valerian: emotional—chronic fear, hysteria, panic; physical—shock, sedation.
• Melissa: emotional—anxiety, hyperactivity, over sensitivity; physical—high blood pressure, hormonal irregularity, viral infection.
Big thanks to Caroline for sharing her thoughts and expertise on essential oils. What about you and your animals? Share your experiences here! (For more info on essential oils and animals, check out Essential Oils for Natural Pet Care. Written by a holistic veterinarian, the book addresses some of the controversy over oils and their safety.)
This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice.
When I was at Pilates the other day, my trainer told me about 5-3-1, a simple (and genius!) way we can all be happier. Specifically: Spend five minutes a day in meditation; write down three things that you are grateful for; and lastly, do one random act of kindness. Each day.
Though I do meditate every day, sometimes I’m too busy to think about focusing my thoughts on gratitude, or going out of my way intentionally to do a random act of kindness seven times a week. So I’m going to give 5-3-1 a try this week starting today, and I’ll report back next week with my results. I’m pretty excited, and I hope you’ll join me!
Before I begin, here are some thoughts about making the 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge really work for me (and hopefully you, too):
1. Meditate for five minutes a day: Remember, your daily meditation doesn’t have to take place sitting in a quiet room on a pillow with your legs crossed. Meditation is about bringing compassion to our lives—and then sharing it with the world. You can do this while walking the dog, taking a stroll on the beach, cuddling your cat and so on. These forms of meditation may be considered “informal,” but they’re just as powerful—if not more so. I also prefer to meditate with animals close by (definitely try it if you haven’t already!). And since all we need is five minutes a day for this challenge, try these mini meditations as a launching point.
2. Write down three things that you’re grateful for: I’m grateful for my health, yes. And for my family. Etc. Etc. But this week I’m going to challenge myself to look deeper and uncover new things specific to each day to be thankful for; little things that pass me by and get forgotten because so often, life just moves too fast. So instead of “I’m grateful for my daughter,” I’ll be looking for more focused gratitudes, such as, “I’m grateful that my daughter and I were able to share some laughs during breakfast this morning.”
3. One random act of kindness: This one is a little more difficult for me, if only because I want to be a little creative about it. I’m thinking about sending a little thank-you note or email to someone who helped me recently; I could also purchase the Starbucks latte for the person behind me in line at the drive-through. I’m also hoping that as I go through my day, opportunities will arise for me to do a conscious act of kindness on the spot. Clearly I need some inspiration here, so I’m definitely going to check out this list of 101 Easy Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.
Tell me: Are you in? Please join me for the next seven days, and let’s report back next week with our results!