I’ve said before that animals are our greatest teachers. My beloved dog Dakota was my first animal Reiki teacher. And the animals I’ve worked with over the years have taught me so much about compassion and even guidance on meditation. But the other day, as I caught sight of my dog Mystic napping contentedly in her little dog bed, I realized the animals teach us other important lessons, too. Do any of these spiritual lessons from animals sound familiar to you?
1. Unconditional love. Mystic loves me when I’m in my PJs, grumpy, sick and even if the house is messy. No matter what mood I’m in, she’s there for me without judgement. It’s definitely a perk when you share your life with a dog, isn’t it? You can just be yourself. And it’s always been the same for the other dogs I’ve shared my life with, too (and also the cats!). Even my horses love and accept me for who I am. They don’t tell me, “Be different. Change who you are.” The wisdom of animals in rising above and embracing their humans (warts and all) is something for me to remember, learn and carry over into my life and those I share it with.
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
Business inspiration 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?
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!
I truly believe meditation can impact our lives in positive, astounding ways. I noticed this firsthand when my daily meditations and my animal Reiki practice helped me to fight breast cancer, twice. But I’m not the only one: Meditation is going mainstream, with more people than ever before jumping on board, eager to experience for themselves the amazing benefits of meditation that have been supported by scientific studies. Discipline yourself for astounding results.
The benefits are numerous and broad; in fact, meditation is almost like a “happy pill” that any of us can take, and it doesn’t cost a thing. The best part is, it’s easier than you think. It can be done anywhere; meditation doesn’t require a formal setup. You can do it while walking the dog, while in the pasture with your horse, while sitting still on a bench. There really is no wrong way to meditate, as long as your heartful intention is there.
If you haven’t found time to meditate lately, here are 23 reasons to put it back on the priority list. (I personally like to meditate with animals; how about you?) Check out these 23 ways meditation can improve your life right now:
2. You’ll lower your blood pressure. Studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation, which helps you let go of pent-up tension, is a natural way to help lower your blood pressure. Some people even attribute their daily meditation discipline to allowing them the ability to reduce their dependence on blood-pressure medications.
3. Meditation helps you to better handle stressful situations. When you are able to get into a quiet, mindful space on a daily basis, you’ll feel calmer overall, allowing you to regulate your emotions and better handle the daily stressors that typically might send you over the edge.
4. Meditation decreases depression and anxiety.Mark Ruffalo is one celebrity who has spoken out about how meditation “saved him” from anxiety. But countless others with depression and anxious thoughts are feeling the benefits as well. Even cancer centers across the country offer meditation rooms for patients. Training our thoughts to focus on the “right now” instead of anxiety-producing thoughts is so helpful when you’re going through a tough time. And yes, I know this from firsthand experience, too!
5. Meditation helps to relieve pain. Amazing but true: Studies have shown that meditation can sometimes take the place of narcotics for patients who suffer from chronic pain. Though not a cure, as pain sufferers will tell you, even a small bit of relief can be priceless. I found meditation absolutely essential to help me relieve the physical and emotional pain of breast cancer treatment.
6. You’ll boost your immune system. In fact, a recent UCLA study found that HIV patients who practiced meditation were able to “slow down” the drop in their CD-4 cells (these are the immune cells that are attacked and destroyed by the virus).
7. You’ll feel the positive results of meditation in just minutes. It’s true! In study after study, it’s shown that you’ll feel the benefits of meditation in no time at all. And though every minute counts, if you want to feel the best results, shoot for at least 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days, according to Carnegie Mellon University.
8. Meditation makes a person more compassionate. The science shows this to be true. And as I have found in my work with animals, the compassion and kindness we feel after connecting with our inner self through meditation extends not just toward fellow humans, but to animals as well.
10. People who meditate are happier. Happiness is something we all strive for, isn’t it? Meditation helps to take us there—in fact, studies show you’re actually “rewiring your brain” for happiness. Science says there are seven habits we can practice for a happier life. Guess what? Meditation will nurture all of them!
11. Meditation helps to boost your memory and ability to focus and learn. Students who took part in “mindfulness training” did better on the GRE than those who did not. And remember, kids are never too young to learn how to meditate (and experience the positive effects of it!).
12. Your overall quality of life will improve. In addition to all of the scientifically backed health benefits of meditation, you’ll begin to feel more fulfillment in your daily life. Here are 10 profound tips from a Buddhist Monk on living a fulfilled life.
13. You’ll feel calmer throughout your day. When you’re able to find your Zen, you can bring balance into your family and work life, and your day will run smoother.
14. You’ll be more successful in work. Meditation is a success secret of CEOs and famous actors. Even corporations like Google and Apple encourage their employees to meditate—because it helps the bottom line. Here are three reasons everyone at Google is meditating.
15. It can help you to quit smoking and other addictive behaviors.This woman did it, and you can, too.
16. Meditation can reduce your risk of a heart attack. Meditation helps you to reduce the amount of stress you feel in life—which can help you combat cardiovascular disease, as this article from the American Heart Association points out.
17. Some researchers believe meditation can even protect against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
18. Meditation can help you manage grief. When dealing with grief and loss, it can feel as if nothing will ever help. But when you meditate, you are training your mind away from the hurts of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. I used meditation to manage my grief when my beloved dog Dakota passed away.
20. It will help you to be present and really live in this very moment. How many of us rush, rush, rush through each day? But then we wonder where the day went and wish we could slow down. Part of living a mindful life is living (and enjoying) the moment as we experience it. Meditation can help you to embrace more of these moments.
21. You’ll attain a better understanding of your deepest self. Meditation can help you answer this question: What is the true purpose of your life? Additionally, meditation can help to strengthen your connection to your intuition.
22. Meditation can help you feel inspired in new ways. Need to do some brainstorming? Is there a problem that needs solving? Focusing your mind in meditation can help you see things in new and different ways.
23. It literally reshapes your brain. Who knew “reshaping” your brain could improve your life … but it does! All of the positives listed above result from meditation’s physiological effects on the brain itself. Here’s a fascinating TED Talk on the subject: