With the holidays now upon us, many of us are beginning to feel the stress of this time of year. So how can we make the holidays more mindful? How can we get back to truly enjoying this time of year? I plan to approach this holiday season with a more mindful mindset than in years past. So along with baking holiday cookies, sipping tea by the fire and wrapping gifts, I plan to add these five reminders to my holiday to-do list:
1. Practice gratitude. I think about the concept of gratitude a lot, especially this time of year, when we’re bombarded by advertising and crowds and the expectations of others and an overly full calendar. When that overwhelmed feeling begins to creep in, it often helps to count the many small blessings in my life. Because the holidays aren’t really about buying the coolest, hippest gifts—they’re about being grateful for things both big (my health) and small (my daughter’s smile over waffles on a Sunday morning).
2. Embrace the moment right now. We are all pulled in so many directions during the holidays—from potlucks and decorating to shopping and parties. These things are fun, yes, but they can be stressful, too, especially when you are trying to fit them around an already busy schedule. When I can slow down and savor and embrace this moment right now—and put aside my worries about my to-do lists—I can connect with my inner happiness and peace again.
3. Eat mindfully. I do try to eat mindfully on a regular basis—and as animal-friendly as possible—but so much temptation surrounds us this time of year. Even though I intend to try my best, I must also practice compassion for myself if I eat too many cookies or too much chocolate (which I’m pretty sure is going to happen).
4. Take time for yourself and your animals. Our animals find happiness in the most simple things—a warm bed, a clean bowl of water, a soft pet on the head. Let us all remember to take breaks for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, and also to look to our animals for inspiration. Spending one-on-one time with them, either walking a favorite trail or cuddling on the couch with their favorite blanket, can calm our frayed nerves and bring us back into balance.
5. Breathe. And meditate. I am hoping my daily meditations will help me if I begin to feel overwhelmed by those myriad holiday stresses (difficult though well-intentioned relatives, busy parking lots, a sky-high pile of dirty dishes). Of course I feel like I have even less time now to meditate, but that’s when it’s more important than ever to keep it a priority.
6. Remember that this is a special time to enjoy. How easy it is for us to forget. I want to try my best to truly savor what matters most in my life—love, kindness and sharing with an open-hearted presence. I find this Dr. Seuss quote from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! perfect and inspiring for this time of year: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
Every year, Thanksgiving week reminds us to be thankful for all of the wonderful blessings in our life. But how do we do this if our beloved animals are sick? Here are some things to keep in mind:
Take the time to just “be”
Set aside time each day to just sit with your animal. This isn’t time to caretake, give medication or focus on what’s wrong—this is just time to be together. Focus on things you love about your animal using your senses—for example, notice how your animal looks, sounds and feels to the touch. This will help to bring you into the present moment, without an agenda and without having to fix things.
Be mindful of thoughts and feelings—and let them come and go
You may feel happy and full of love for your animal. Or, if your animal is unwell, you may feel sad or worried about his or her health. Allow your thoughts to float by like clouds in the sky. All of these thoughts are natural; just try to hold them lightly so that you can let them go, one by one.
Notice your anxiety—and be stable like a mountain
You might think, “I wish he wasn’t sick (or old or what have you—fill in the blank).” Or, “If only I could change this situation!” Anxiety takes our focus out of this present moment to the past that we can’t change, or to the future which we can’t know. Imagine you are a stable mountain of strength for your animal, able to weather whatever might come. Letting go of anxiety will help you to be fully present in this beautiful moment of connection with your animal—this moment is a gift that we might otherwise miss.
Experience the heart of the matter—and see the light
Sometimes when our animals are ill, we can only see what is wrong with the situation. Choose to look deeper—with your heart. When we look into the heart of things, we can find peace, beauty and perfection in this present moment. Underneath what is wrong, your animal’s heart and spirit shine through! Choosing to go straight to the core or heart of things unveils our inner light that is always perfect, even when we are ill. Seeing the heart of the situation will help our focus to hone in on what is true this present moment, rather than being distressed by the surface of things.
Practice gratitude—and shift into positivity
Seeing things from the heart brings with it clarity, and with clarity we can more easily remember things we are thankful for. This is not easy in difficult times, as when an animal is sick, but it is possible. As you sit with your animal, list three things you are grateful for in this present moment. This can help to shift your mind, thoughts and energy into a more positive and optimistic space, which your animals will feel and appreciate. When we are mindful, our energy is balanced and calm, and we are in the best state to truly help our animals heal.
In the middle of a crowded Saturday afternoon in San Francisco’s Mission district, I found the wisdom of the farm: peace, compassion, presence.
I decided to participate in Farm Sanctuary’s Celebration for the Turkeys—a beautiful gathering of animal lovers, a delicious vegan feast and a live video feed of the sanctuary’s turkeys eating delicious platters of lovingly prepared food. Thanksgiving feasts “for” turkeys, instead of “of” turkeys—what a concept!
I was deeply touched and honored to meet two of my personal heroes: Gene Baur and Susie Coston of Farm Sanctuary. Gene gave an amazing speech about compassion, and Susie shared photos and stories of some of the many turkeys she cares for at Farm Sanctuary in New York.
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!