Wassail

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Wassail“Wassail! Wassail!  All over the town,
Our toast, it is white, and our beer, it is brown”

I first learned about Wassailing when my school chorus sang this traditional Wassailing Song from the Middle Ages.  It was explained to me as a tradition akin to modern day caroling, going door to door, singing to your neighbors.  The wassailing tradition is quite a bit more than that, of course, but it’s a convenient starting point.

Wassail comes from the Old English Waes Hael, which means “to your health”, and is a blessing offered when drinking a spicy, often alcoholic version of hot mulled cider.  It was traditionally served with dry toast, which would be soaked in the cider.  In pre-Christian  southern England, where apple orchards were an important source of food, the residents would travel from orchard to orchard at mid-winter, singing and drinking to the health of the trees, soaking their toast with the fruits of the recent harvest, and offering it to the trees in blessing.  This tradition endured in various forms throughout the Christianizing of Europe, and continues today as caroling and toasting to our health with an upraised glass .  I don’t know anyone who soaks real toast in their cider anymore, but the word “toast” now means the act of raising your glass to wish good fortune for another.  “Wassail” has come to mean both the beverage and the verbal toast, and it is a great toast to offer at Yuletide, for it wishes health and good cheer to all.

With the desire to wish health and good cheer to those I love, I decided to create a perfume blend of essential oils that would capture the spirit of Wassail.

Not having any apple-derived essential oils on hand, I began with the next scent most strongly associated to Yule for me: Pine.  I selected the light and sweet Scotch Pine, which evokes the remembrance of fresh-cut Yule trees and wreaths.  Energetically, Pine is psychologically fortifying, instills positivity and helps to restore self-confidence.  It counteracts pessimism and reawakens our instinctive connection to life.

I paired the Scotch Pine with Ginger Root, a warmly invigorating oil that can awaken the spark in our personal dark spots.  This is a good oil for New Year’s blends, for it can stimulate will power and resolve, and helps boost confidence and morale.  It’s warm spiciness merges with Pine’s sweet brightness in a smooth fit.

Because I’m trying to create a blend that both energetically supports good cheer, and a blend that will also make a beautiful perfume, I considered but dismissed several oils that might do the job but not smell as lovely.  I didn’t include Cinnamon, for example, because even though it may be a traditional spice in Wassail, it can easily overwhelm a perfume blend, and can be a skin and respiratory irritant to others. It’s important to consider safety factors when selecting oils for a blend.

Instead, I went next to Sweet Orange, which is a traditional ingredient in Wassail, and embodies the energy of good cheer.  Sweet Orange essential oil is expressed from the peel of the orange, so it smells exactly like a freshly peeled orange. Who can resist a smile at that? Bright and sweetly scented, Orange conveys joy and positivity, dispersing the moodiness and irritability that takes hold when  energy stagnates.

The blend was almost there, but my nose said it still needed something more, something that would hold onto the brightness of the orange and help anchor its sweetness into the blend.  I recently acquired some precious Osmanthus blossom from my supplier, Nature’s Gift.  Osmanthus is said to bring new things into your life—new opportunities, surprising synchronicities, and prosperity. Exotic and rare, it strengthens the will and focuses resolutions for the accomplishment of goals that have been sitting on the back burner for awhile. Osmanthus encourages positivity and hope for the future.   It seemed like the perfect addition for a Wassail blessing.

The result is a sweet and uplifting perfume with spicy undertones that anchor the complex sweet tones at the top.  I’m very pleased with this result, and pleased to offer it as a gift to my loved ones.

Wassail Perfume Oil
Designed to bring you good cheer!

Essential Oils ratios:
4 Scotch Pine
3 Ginger
2 sweet Orange
1 Osmanthus
Carrier Oil:  fractionated Coconut

Qualities:
Pine is psychologically fortifying, instills positivity and helps to restore self-confidence.
Ginger oil is essentially warming, invigorating, and can help to boost confidence and morale.
Orange conveys joy and positivity, dispersing moodiness and irritability.
Osmanthus encourages positivity and hope for the future.

 May this mid-winter Solstice season, howsoever you may celebrate it, bring you health and good cheer.  Wassail!

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Gifting

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GiftingGifting for me is ideally an organic, spontaneous, spiritual act, initiated as I move through the world and see something that I ~know~ would be cherished by someone I know; I take enormous joy in facilitating that process, in finding the perfect gift for the perfect person, in being a conduit for synchronicity to occur.

I love the gift that comes at the perfect time, the well-placed act of kindness that turns someone’s day around. No special occasion is necessary, except the special inner prompting that identifies a need and see a path to meeting it.  I love responding to a hunch that such a person should have such a thing, and hear the gasp of wonder that comes with a wish made manifest. I love gifting when I give myself over to serving as a conduit for the will of the gods.

I seek those moments; I actively search for opportunities to share the joyous energy that comes to both giver and receiver.  Gifting is an exchange of love, even when the perfect gift is given to a stranger. It is a means of connection, linking hearts in a moment of shared joy.  I have received gifts in my life that I try to pay forward, and I love participating in the energy that is exchanged when we reach out our hands in generous giving.

As a spiritual practice, I cultivate this form of gifting throughout the year, whenever I can. It brings me great joy.  But I find it very hard to engage in this intuitive form of gifting around the holidays. I have to engage with the gifting process on a whole different level that I find quite artificial, forced, and uncomfortable.  There are expectations and obligations to contend with.  There are relationships that vibrate on the tuning fork of holiday gifting. I am forced to change my entire approach to gifting: I have to make lists, figure budgets, and then begin to wrack my right-brain for ideas about what my gift recipients might like. All of it is a strain.

In order to give my intuition room to assist, I sometimes find myself window-shopping for ideas, which means overcoming my overwhelming aversion to crowds. As an introvert, holiday crowds means most shopping centers are gauntlets to run at a high cost in personal energy. I get distraught in large crowds, and retreat from the whole experience. Commercials, normally muted in my household, now get grudging attention as I search for gift inspirations. I wade in the rough surf of commercialism and hope to keep my feet beneath me. But with the sheer volume of gifting that is expected of us at the holidays, I get overwhelmed. I get decision fatigue.  I lose the joy that gifting can bring me.

Each winter, I am given an opportunity to try a different approach, to find joy in holiday gifting.  Yet each season, I feel great relief to put the winter holidays behind me. This year, I am once again earnestly seeking to connect with the joy of gifting in a way that feels more authentic to me.  I will once again seek to balance the conflicts of expectations with the joy of a well-placed gift.  I will resist the urge to avoid the holidays, but to expand my heart large enough to embrace the process,  challenges and all.

Seek joy. Words to live by.

Happy holidays to all, howsoever you celebrate them.

Blue Moon

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On August 31, 2012, there will be a full moon.  Since it is the second full moon in the calendar month, it is considered a “blue moon”.  Inspired by the occasion, I decided to try and blend an aromatic oil that tapped into the essence of this rare August harvest moon.

With the idea of a blue moon in mind, I started the blend with the beautiful Blue Lotus infusion as the soft floral top note.  I added a wee bit of Clary Sage for the sense of dreamy euphoria it can inspire, then added the herbal notes of Coriander and Palo Santo to remind me of the heady aromas of the herbal harvest.  Finally, I anchored them all with the earthy richness of Vetiver.

It was tricky to find the right balance between these notes.  Clary Sage can be deceptively overpowering in a blend.  It doesn’t strike the nose with force, and yet it can easily take over.  Although the Blue Lotus infusion is the richest Lotus in my collection, I had to tilt the ratio heavily in favor of the Lotus to balance the Clary Sage.

The Coriander and Palo Santo bond in a lovely way.  The coriander is spicy and herbal, which plays well to Palo Santo’s sweeter, more persistent bouquet.  Together, they balance and hold the middle notes of the blend.  I needed a strong base note to anchor the ethereal top notes and the fresh herbal middle notes.  Vetiver pulls them together beautifully, embracing them with its deeply earthy sweetness.

Blue Moon Aromatic
9 Blue Lotus Infusion
1 Clary Sage
2 Palo Santo
1 Coriander
2 Vetiver

Lotus couples a subtle aroma with a powerful emotional and spiritual effect.  It brings serenity and tranquility. Lotus puts the mind in a state of relaxed awareness, as through a veil has been lifted, allowing a deeper understanding, and a brightening of vision.  It helps open the crown and third eye chakras.

Clary Sage enlivens the senses and dispels illusion, restoring clarity.  It’s known for it’s mental-emotional uplift and euphoria.  It helps restore a “felt instinct” for our life’s true purpose.  By restoring lucidity to the instincts, clary sage allows inspiration to flow.

Palo Santo is grounding.  It helps open, align, and connect the chakras.  It is a useful aid to meditation and is used for spiritual cleansing and renewal.

Coriander has a reputation as a euphoric and aphrodisiac.  Combining a warm and woody serenity with peppery stimulation, the oil both calms and uplifts, making it good for worry and anxious overthinking.  It imbues a feeling of security, peace, and earthly permanence.  Yet it couples this with a feeling of spontaneity and passion, and seeks to achieve stability without denying joy.

Vetiver relaxes an overheated, hyperactive mind and nurtures an insecure self-identity. The oil imbues us with the calm, reassuring strength of Mother Earth, and her deep sense of belonging.  Whether mentally exhausted from overwork, or out of touch with our body and its needs, Vetiver sedates and yet restores us – centers and reconnects us – closing the gap between Spirit and matter.

May this full moon offer you a moment of reflection and beauty.  Namaste.

The Power of Intention

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Brains are funny things, and the psychology of how they work is utterly fascinating to me.  It is particularly interesting to me how we are able to harness the power of belief to create the circumstances of our life.

The study of psychology has come a long way since Freud first speculated on the nature of a cigar.  We still don’t have a predictable rule book for how the mind works, but we’ve learned about ways of thinking that do not serve us, and developed strategies for helping people find mental stability in an unpredictable world.  But as far as we’ve come, the mind and its operations are still the realm of mystery and speculation.  No two of us are alike, and it is our minds that make us unique.

Our beliefs power the operating system of our brains.  We tend to see what we expect to see, and not notice what we aren’t expecting.  People who have trained themselves to be especially observant to unexpected cues seem extraordinary to us, like Sherlock Holmes.  Our expectations create filters that help our brains sort and process the otherwise overwhelming flood of information that we are exposed to each day.  We make certain assumptions about how the world works and what will happen next, and our experiences generally conform to these expectations.

But expectations don’t just give us help in planning our days; expectations have the powerful ability to influence outcomes.  Expectations, and the filters that are formed by them, have the power to shape our experiences.  Expectations influence results, so it’s important to set our expectations with intention.

As an example, look up “Double-Slit Experiment” and prepare to be blown away.  If you haven’t already heard about this, it’s an experiment with results that confound current science.  In a nutshell, the experiment proves that particles behave differently if they are being observed.  The act of observation changes the outcome.  Think about that a moment.  The physical world – the part that can be observed and measured – changes depending on whether or not someone is watching.  So when I assert that expectations influence results, I’m talking about a measurable phenomenon.

Water treated with the word “Love”

There is a controversial set of experiments that I find utterly fascinating.  Conducted by Masaru Emoto of Japan, he made the startling assertion that the physical properties of water change visibly depending on the source of the water and the intention of the person handling the sample.  For example, clean water and polluted water display different crystalline structures when frozen and viewed under a high-powered microscope.  Well, that’s believable.  What begins to strain credulity is when he exposed clean water samples to words written on the containers.  Positive words such as “love” created beautiful crystalline structures, whereas negative words such as “hate” created distorted ice crystals.  Startling, eh?

Emoto has done many experiments with water, and while his results are controversial within the scientific community, he has concluded that water molecules store information and can respond to environmental stimuli.  In other words, if you speak loving thoughts to your glass of water before you drink it, the water you drink will be measurably different than if you said, “I hate water” before you gulped it down.  Expectations influence results.

So where am I going with all this?  I have come to believe that our intentions and expectations, shaped by our words, can have the power to influence outcomes.  Consequently, we should guard against persistently negative states of mind, because we will tend to create the negative circumstances we are dwelling on.  But conversely, there is great value in learning how to cultivate a more positive state of mind, for it will likewise tend to create a more positive environment for us.  Attitude is everything, and we have the power to choose our attitude.

Part science, part psychology, part magic, I use this principle when working with essential oils.  If water has the power to change and record our intentions, I believe that essential oils are likewise capable of being “programmed” with intention.  Furthermore, because they are complex chemical compounds already, each essential oil already has predetermined energetic properties that can be enhanced by our intentions.  For example, lavender has inherent sedative properties, but if I additionally add the word “peace” when handling the oil, then I believe I might be enhancing the properties and effects of this oil by the power of my intention.  So now when I use the enhanced lavender oil, it will be more likely inspire peaceful rest.

Can I prove it?  Well, only anecdotally.  I don’t have a lab nor the expertise to conduct an experiment that would satisfy a scientist, but I don’t need that for myself.  Expectations influence results, and *that* is a truth that is already well established.  If I expect an oil to help me in a specific psychological way, then it most assuredly will.

Potion makers and magic users seem to have grasped this truth long ago.  Each substance in nature has inherent properties that can be combined and then enhanced with words, ie, a spell.  While I don’t generally consider my essential oil blends to be potions, I have no problem with them being thought of as such.  You don’t need to believe in magic to believe in the psychological benefits of positive thinking.  If you expect an oil blend to have a particular psychological result (peace, confidence, clarity), then you are far more likely to get what you expect.  From what I can see, magic is all about harnessing the power of intention and expectation.

This is the principle that underlies most of the work I do with essential oils.  You start with a goal, shape it into an intention, and select oils whose properties can support that intention.  Then you hold that intention in mind while blending the oil, and revisit that expectation each time you use the oil.  We know that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers around, so by linking an aroma to a well-rehearsed intention, our expectations have the ability to affect the world.  I don’t necessarily believe it is the chemical properties of an oil alone that makes it effective.  It is the interaction of the oils with the powers of the mind that creates the effect.  But go ahead and call it magic if you like.  Like the well-documented double-slit experiment, it certainly seems like magic.

Here’s an oil blend that I recently created based on the principles outlined above.  I wanted to blend an oil that would help my mind stay focused on prosperity and abundance, rather than on limitation and lack.  I selected four oils that already have the properties desired, and then I “charged” them with my intention using an affirmation.

Prosperity Blend
Sweet Orange Essential Oil – luck, money, joy, the sun
Pine Needle Essential Oil – prosperity, purification, confidence
Ginger Essential Oil – Success, money, power, confidence
Patchouli Essential Oil – prosperity, money, clears obstacles

I blended equal amounts of each oil into a carrier oil base of organic virgin olive oil that had been heated by the summer sun. Additionally, as an experiment in oil blending, I also collected fresh whole ingredients, dried them in the sun, ground them up, and infused them into the oil.  The result is delightful.

I rub a little bit of the oil between my palms each day while saying the affirmation, “My life is filled with prosperity and abundance.”  While I don’t believe the oil itself will help me win the lottery or anything quite as dramatic as that, I do believe that this oil is one more tool to help me refocus my thoughts on the positive outcomes I desire, rather than staying stuck in unproductive negative thinking.

In the past few weeks, I have already seen the benefits of this practice.  I am better able to recognize the blessings I have and the many ways abundance has manifested in my life.  It is easier for me to see the ways in which I prosper, and to be grateful for all I have.  It is a much happier and healthier frame of mind to be operating from, but I needed help to achieve it. This is the power and gift of intention.

UPDATE: Less than two weeks after writing this post, and after continuing to use the oil and affirmations, I got a job offer for a fantastic position at a great organization I’ve been trying to get into for the past several years.  I feel truly blessed by this process.

Fire Within

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“Holy Fire” by Alex Grey. This is an excerpt from a larger piece. See the complete work http://alexgrey.com/a-gallery/h-fr.html.

In my ongoing search for enlightenment, I seek balance through aligning  myself to the rhythms of the earth and the natural world around me.  The solstices and equinoxes offer me an excellent opportunity to reflect on the cycles of nature and my place within them.  By tuning into these rhythms of life, I’m more aware of myself as a piece of nature, subject to my own unique cycles and rhythms.  It makes sense to me that my search for harmony and balance must include placing myself in balance with the world around me.

I celebrate the summer solstice for its abundance of sunshine and energy.  Today’s weather certainly cooperated with that ideal.  It was the first real scorcher of summer, and it came right on cue for the summer solstice.  I stood outside in the sunshine this afternoon, eyes closed, palms opened toward the  light.  I bathed in the light, feeling it penetrate my skin, sparkling fragments of light sinking into me and setting each cell of my body alight.  My solar plexus glowed with an inner sun that grew brighter with each breath I took.  I strained every fiber of my being to embrace the light until I glowed.
(Note: I found the accompanying artwork by Alex Grey only after writing this description, but it looks like the artist and I had the same experience.)

I limited this sun bath to about five minutes, for although I’m clearly a sun worshipper, I also have huge respect for how swiftly the sun can harm my fair skin.  This is part of the reason I pay homage to the sun.  We are totally at the mercy of the sun, and utterly dependent upon it as well.  There would be no life as we know it without our sun.  It is of vital importance to our lives.  I try to remember this, but in the day to day bustle of life we sometimes forget fundamental truths, so the summer solstice is the perfect opportunity to remind myself.

As I stood in the sun, I imagined myself on fire.  (It was about 95 F, so the image came to me easily.)  I pictured flames dancing within me.  Everything – heart, lungs, muscles, veins, blood – all on fire.  I was a forest fire, flames consumed all the dead underbrush of my soul, clearing the way for new ways to grow.  I was incandescent.

After my sun meditation was over, I decided to commemorate the solstice by blending a new essential oil perfume for the occasion.  I wanted it to be fiery.  I wanted it to be bright and spicy.  I wanted it to support my confidence as I emerge from a long period of uncertainty.  I pulled out my oil boxes and got busy.

I decided to use seven different essential oils to correspond to the body’s natural energy points known as chakras.  Some oils fit their assigned chakra better than others, energy-wise, but I let the oils choose themselves and just attempted to guide the process.  Here’s how it turned out:

I have over eighty different essential oils to choose from when blending a custom perfume.

Fire Within
1 drop Sage (Crown)
3 drop Hyssop (3rd Eye)
1 drop Holy Basil (throat)
1 drop Clove Bud (Heart)
3 drop Lemon (Solar Plexus)
2 drop Ginger Root (Belly)
2 drop Ylang Ylang (root)
Diluted into 1 oz. fractionated Coconut oil.

Sage  is one of the sacred herbs associated with wisdom and longevity, and warding against evil. It is renowned for its spiritual cleansing and purification properties, dispelling negativity and cleansing the aura.  Its aroma is herbaceous, sharp, and bright.

Hyssop is an invigorating oil, recommended for melancholy and pessimism.  Its strong, pungent aroma opens the chest and helps us to face the world, counteracting the urge to withdraw. It can strengthen one’s sense of personal boundaries, and defends the individual from negative influences. It can sharpen awareness and consolidate the aura. Its aroma is sweet, warm, and bright.

Holy Basil may aid with anxiety, hysteria and nervous depression. It is a stress reducer without being a sedative. Some sources indicate that, like other basils, it enhances clarity of thought and aid memory retention.  It is sweet and spicy in aroma.

Clove Bud: This herb has been used in various ways, including protection and purification. This Sun scent can help create a feeling of safe warmth and thus a sanctuary in which to do inner work. Clove’s Elemental Fire aspect encourages action and achievement. This botanical fragrance is good for building confidence and unlocking the chains of old ways of thinking. The oil of clove smells just like the cooking variety, sharp and spicy.

Lemon has a clearing, refreshing effect and is particularly useful in the aftermath of emotional storms.  It brightens the mood and helps to restore a sense of optimism and good cheer.  It smells sweet, bright, and citrusy tart.

Ginger root oil is warming and invigorating. It activates will-power, stimulates initiative, and restores determination.  In addition, it can help to boost confidence and morale, making it the ideal catalyst of the Will.  Invoking and enhancing the vital fire, ginger can restore the exhilaration of achievement.  Its aroma is spicy, pungent, warm, sweet and woody.

Ylang Ylang has a calming action on the heart.  It harmonizes the mind while calming the nervous system.  The oil relaxes, uplifts, and helps to reunite our emotional and sensual natures.  It soothes and entices, opens and centers us.  It allows us to inwardly unify and so outwardly merge.  I especially chose the heavy sweetness of ylang ylang to balance the spicy heat of the other oils.  The intensely sweet perfume reminds me of tropical flowers that bloom in the heat of midsummer.

This blend could carry one less drop of lemon, but an extra drop slipped into the bottle in spite of my plan. I always allow for serendipity in my blends. After blending this oil, I immediately tried it out, even though it can often take a day or several for the oils to fully integrate in a blend.  The first scents that are revealed in this blend are the sweet lemony top notes.  As it dries down, the spicier notes are revealed. It felt warming and energizing, exactly as I had hoped. It is my intention that this oil blend will help me in situations when I need to feel my connection to the summer sun, shining brightly in my heart.


Note
: My oil descriptions come from the notes I’ve taken as I’ve studied essential oils over the years.  My notes often synthesize the information I got from several sources, and although I tried to make note of where I learned what, my notes are not complete in that regard.  Still, much of the information on how essential oils can be used spiritually come from Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: A Guide to Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance Through Essential Oils by Gabriel Mojay. http://www.amazon.com/Aromatherapy-Healing-Spirit-Restoring-Emotional/dp/0892818875

Affirmations: Programming Language for the Brain

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I’m old enough that when I think of affirmations, I think of Al Franken’s character of Stuart Smalley in Saturday Night Live, and I laugh. With a big dopey grin, he affirms, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me!”

And yet, I know from personal experience just how powerful and transformative affirmations can be. Our brains are a bit like computers, and our thoughts, shaped by language, does the programming. With a steady application of affirmations, you can reprogram negative thought patterns that are holding you back, and even manifest into your life things that will bring you greater joy. Affirmations are a powerful tool that are often underestimated.

Affirmations can be used in the context of a wide variety of issues. Got love problems? Try affirmations. Battling depression? Try affirmations. Trying to find a job? Try affirmations. Want to lose weight? Be more peaceful? Want to lucid dream? Meet your spirit guides? Be less shy around people? All these kinds of things, and more, are suitable subjects for work through affirmations.

About 20 years ago I was in a professional development workshop through my job, and the workshop presenter offered a method of applying affirmations by using index cards. I used his method daily for about a year, tweaking the instructions until I found a method that really worked for me. That was a year of tremendous growth for me, with deep-seated issues that came unstuck for the first time in my life. I saw first hand the power that affirmations can have, and have been a devoted follower of this method ever since. The affirmation cards were an important tool for helping me reset my thinking into more healthy channels. It’s a great tool for manifestation as well. I have used affirmations ever since. I offer this method below:

The deck of affirmation cards I used are easy and fun to make, and very simple to use. I used a package of regular 3×5 index cards for my deck. (I later used unlined cards and a printer to make them even more colorful, but you can make these by hand as well.) Each card will contain an affirmation of a new reality you want to manifest in your life. Nothing is too big or too small to be worked on through affirmations. Emotions like anxiety, fear, depression, anger, loneliness, etc. are all excellent fodder for this tool. So are more tangible goals like career, family, finances, home, car, etc. And before you pooh-pooh the idea of affirmations like I did, give it a shot for a few weeks. This is a powerful tool that did really deep transformative work on areas that I had been stuck on for years.

So, put one affirmation per card. Use colors and/or images if you like, but the words you choose are important. Each affirmation needs to be phrased in the positive. Our subconscious brains are very literal and latch onto action words, not the smaller parts of speech. For example, if you want to work on anxiety, don’t say “Don’t Panic” because the subconscious will focus on the word “panic” – that’s counter-productive. Instead, use a phrase like “Stay Calm” which gives the subconscious an action that it can work on. Focus on the present tense – the subconscious mind operates in the eternal now; instead of saying “the perfect job for me is coming” (which keeps this perfect job somewhere in the unreachable future) say “I am ready for my perfect job”.   I’ve found that inspirational quotes can also make effective affirmation cards.

Create as many or as few cards as you like. Once you have a “deck” of cards, you can also add more or take away cards that are no longer as relevant. Once you have your deck, simply flip through them and read them once a day. (Or more often if you like, but once daily worked for me.) You can do this at any time, any place. I often flip through my affirmation cards while waiting in line at the bank or the grocery store. That’s it. Just read your affirmations to yourself daily. It usually only takes 2-3 minutes. You don’t need to meditate on them (although focusing on your affirmations in a meditative state is another very powerful technique.) You don’t need to particularly “work on” these things. The daily read-through is the work. The brain is like a computer and will program itself with whatever instructions it receives. Your affirmation cards are the programming instructions. Input daily for best results.

Here’s a partial list of affirmations that I use or have used in the past:

¯ Expect joy
¯ I am guided from within.
¯ My spirit shines brightly
¯ I am open to receive
¯ I have the strength I need.
¯ I radiate peace.
¯ Laugh daily.
¯ Listen within.
¯ With one deep breath – let it go.
¯ Pay attention.
¯ Play with abandon.
¯ Practice wellness.
¯ Seek peace.
¯ I love going to work.
¯ Stay calm.
¯ My heart is filled with love.
¯ There is always a reason. Each result serves me in a useful way.
¯ There is perfect abundance.
¯ Trust the process.
¯ I see the next step.
¯ My memory improves with each passing day.
¯ I am stronger than my temporary cravings.
¯ I can easily resist temptations.
¯ “Expect your every need to be met, Expect the answer to every problem, Expect abundance on every level, Expect to grow spiritually” -Eileen Caddy
¯ I am motivated to accomplish all that I have to do.
¯ At all times, I have unlimited access to my Inner Wisdom.
¯ I look forward to the challenges each day brings
¯ I say YES to opportunities
¯ I deserve to be successful
¯ My joy in life is clearly apparent for all to see
¯ I express myself freely and easily
¯ I am confident of my abilities
¯ I am good at saving money
¯ I love vegetables.*

*My favorite example of an affirmation that worked for me is the one that says “I love vegetables”. This was never true for me. As a kid, I avoided anything that resembled a vegetable with very few exceptions. Lettuce and corn were about it. As an adult, I learned to eat at least a limited few vegetables, but I still didn’t like them. I wanted to love vegetables, but… ick. So I put this issue into an affirmation card and worked on it. Every time this card came up, I chuckled with dubious amusement. After all, affirmations are good for some things, but this? Ha ha. But I kept the card in the deck. Month after month I laughed at my “vegetable affirmation.” It took about a year or so before I noticed that I had gradually begun adding more and more vegetables to my diet in ways that I hadn’t been conscious of. I’d go to a restaurant with a salad bar, and instead of lettuce and a few pieces of shredded carrots, I’d come back with my plate loaded with all sorts of things that just sort of “looked good” to me at the time. I gradually became aware that I was looking forward to such voyages into veggie-land. That was a long time ago, and now I can say without a hint of my former reservations that I really do love vegetables. A lifetime of revulsion was transformed into a much healthier attitude.  Go figure.  My silly “veggie affirmation” worked.

Affirmations can be created around any issue you want transformed. Just read through your cards daily, and, as one of my affirmations reminds me, “trust the process.”

Lost & Found

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Although normally an optimistic person by nature, there are days when the relentless little disappointments of life wear me down and leave me feeling discouraged.  When this happens, my instinct is to do what has always brought me comfort: retreat to nature.  Whenever I am feeling lost, I can always find myself again in the woods.

Throughout my childhood, my family used to spend the summer on a small little island in the middle of a fairly large lake in Massachusetts.  There were about a dozen families that owned cottages on this little rock in the pond, but the island isolation helped to create our own little paradise.  It was very rustic; there was no electricity, running water, or flush toilets.  We floated tanks of propane over to the island to run our refrigerator and stove, but otherwise, there were no modern amenities.  Water was pumped by hand from the well and hauled up a hill where our cottage stood overlooking the lake, and our outhouse was, well, it was just something you got used to.  When it rained, we entertained ourselves with endless card games.  When the weather was nice, I was out in the woods.

I could hardly help it. The island was heavily wooded from shore to shore.  Just being there meant being among the company of trees.  I learned to climb them, and run among them in the dark without breaking my toes on the roots.  (That lesson took a few years and many broken toes.)  I learned to listen to their whisperings and tell when the weather would change by the sound they made.  I watched trees grow up, and sadly, I watched trees fade, fail, and die.  Summer after summer after summer, it was me amongst the trees.  I watched birds build their nests, and squirrels raise their families.  I watched bats roost among the branches, and a legion of insects make their way in and around the leafy canopy.  Trees were ever-present, and although it may sound unusual for a child, I counted the trees among my friends.   I was a woodland creature as much as any squirrel.

I still am.  Now, as an adult, I find myself returning to the woods again and again whenever I need to find comfort and peace.  Our family no longer has the cottage on the island, but I still live in the extensive woodlands of upstate New York.  I do not lack for woods or trails to hike through them.  So when the going gets tough, I grab my walking stick and instinctively head into the shelter of trees.

I was feeling discouraged and depleted this week.  I needed to find my internal reset switch.  So I took up my walking stick, filled my knapsack with what I would need to sustain me, and made my way to the nearest trail head.  I started my hike with a bit of yoga stretching.  Sun Salutations became a moving meditation as I used them to get grounded and open myself to being present.  Then I sat at a picnic table and took out my journal, where I wrote for a bit to clarify my intention to cultivate peace.  It’s hard to drop baggage that you don’t know you’re carrying, and I find journaling to be a good process to identify the things that are weighing down my journey.  This wasn’t just a random hike, but a journey to find myself again.  Thus prepared physically and mentally, I entered the woods.

I chose a path through the mountains above my home on a trail that crossed over many streams that carved their way through the landscape seeking sea level far below.  The trail began at a waterfall splashing down merrily among the fossil-laden limestone, evidence of an ancient inland sea from a time so long ago my mind boggles.  Meditating upon the presence of a clamshell fossil up in the mountains is a great way to find perspective.  It’s hard to stay trapped in the fleeting fears of the moment when confronted with time on such a vast scale.  Humbled, I rambled on, more peaceful and reflective than before.

Everywhere I look, the stones preserve the memory of the inland sea that this mountain used to be.

I walked steadily, but as silently as possible, pausing frequently to peer through the trees to see what wildlife might be sharing this trail with me.  I’d walk, and pause, and listen, then continue on.  I paused at another waterfall, and sat for awhile letting the sound wash over me.  I went further along the trail and found a fallen log in a sunny spot off the beaten path, and sat there for awhile and listened to the trees and birds exchanging news of the day.  I watched a spider reinforce her spiral web against the wind.  I saw a millipede hunt along the log where I sat.  Farther along, I found a large flat boulder and used it for another seated meditation where, anchored by the stone, I allowed my thoughts to become untethered and roam freely on the breeze.  I was hardly aware of myself as I rose and continued my journey.  As I continued my solitary drift through the woods, I allowed thoughts to form and pass.  I noted them, followed them, and let them go.  I spoke to the trees about what was in my heart, and let the breeze carry those words away.  I opened all my senses, and received the grace of the woods.

I thought I’d hike for an hour or so, but when I finally emerged from the woods, four hours had passed.  I felt a bit like I had slid down Alice’s rabbit hole.  I couldn’t possibly have been gone that long?  But it was time well spent.  I emerged from the woods feeling more settled, peaceful, and hopeful again.  I was pulled from my own petty worries back into a place of timeless beauty.  I dipped the ladle of my soul into a deep well of peace, and was refreshed.

Where do you go to restore yourself and find peace?

Heart’s Ease

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From distress to destress

Where do we find our heart’s ease?  How do we cope with emotional distress?  What do we do to help ourselves when life gets challenging?  I find that when I can keep my heart open to joy, I have the emotional resiliency to carry me through life’s difficult transitions.

I interviewed for a job earlier this week, and it went well.  Nerves don’t bother me in such situations.  I’m friendly and open by default. I have spent much of my adult life trying to cultivate an attitude of emotional equilibrium which helps me keep my cool in stressful situations.  However, I’ve had to work hard to maintain that equilibrium in the post-interview waiting stage.  With so much riding on the outcome of an interview, the waiting can be excruciating.  These are the day to day opportunities for growth that I try to be grateful for.

I’ve always found waiting for important news difficult.  As a teenager in high school, I used to audition for solos in choir and for parts in the plays and musicals.  I was still developing emotional self-control at that age, so I was a bit more nervous during auditions, but it was nothing compared to the all-consuming distraction of waiting for the call back list to go up.  I had a hard time putting my mind on other things, and would be anxious and distracted for days until the outcome was known.  Once I got the news, good or bad, I was fine again.  It was the waiting that killed me.

So it is still for me today, even after decades of meditation and self-development under my belt.  I have gotten much better at being naturally confident in auditions or interviews, but I still am driven to distraction while waiting for the outcome.  But while my idle mind still returns again and again to the thought “Will I get it?”, I have at least learned of a few effective strategies to engage my mind in worthier directions.

Here’s what doesn’t work: sitting by a phone waiting for it to ring.  Now, I don’t have a cell phone that I use for business purposes, so if I get a professional call, it’s at home.  This makes it far easier for me to walk away  from the phone, both as an object and what that object symbolizes.  As long as I’m at home, every innocent ring makes my heart leap into my throat, and my mind buzz like a kicked hornet’s nest.  I can’t find peace in a state of hypervigilance.  But by getting away from the reminder of my discomfort, I’m better able to place my attention and my emotional energy on other things.

A very effective strategy is to find ways to be helpful or useful to the world.  I actively look for opportunities to do good deeds.  If you’ve ever volunteered your time, you likely have experienced the special kind of joy that comes from helping a worthy cause.  Selfless giving opens the heart and aligns it with a greater good. There are a million little pieces of unhappiness and suffering in the world.  Relieve a piece of that for another, big or small, and your own heart is rewarded with the very act of doing it.  It’s impossible to stay stuck in emotional distress while simultaneously experiencing the joy of selfless giving.  An open heart finds sympathetic ease when easing the distress of another.

So yesterday, to ease my distraction by a phone that didn’t ring, I looked for ways to be of use to the world.  I saw a friend in emotional distress over the grave illness of a loved one, so I offered to visit with her and help her create a custom essential oil blend that could support her emotionally in this difficult time.  I blend oils for myself to give me support in similar situations, so I was hoping to offer this friend a gesture of solace that might also provide her with a real tool to help her through this time of sadness and transition.

We chose six oils whose properties are associated with decreasing anxiety, fear, and stress: Patchouli, Cedarwood, Lavender, Melissa, Bergamot, and Cypress.  Patchouli is good for steadying the mind when overthinking and worry develop.  Cedarwood can give us strength in times of crisis, and support emotional resiliency. Lavender is rightly renowned for its ability to calm and sooth frayed nerves. Melissa can provide relief from anxious depression, while Bergamot clarifies and uplifts the mind.  Cypress helps convey a feeling of emotional cohesion, and supports our ability to cope with change, particularly with the transition of death.  When I was done with the blend, my friend was left with a custom perfume that can give her something to focus on when stress becomes overwhelming, and I was left with the heart’s ease that comes from supporting a friend in need.  And of course, I was also exposed to a therapeutic qualities of these oils as I was blending them, so it helped us both  find a bit of strength together.  That’s what friends are for.

It doesn’t do us any good to stay trapped in difficult emotional states.  Whether unhappy with some piece of our lives, or distressed about events outside of our control, staying stuck in those emotions isn’t healthy.  I think it’s important to find ways out of negative emotional states into more peaceful, joyful states of being.  This is an important part of my search for samadhi.  I seek liberation from the chains of emotional distress.   In those times when I am able to achieve emotional equilibrium, I find an infinite pool of joy waiting to offer its endless abundance.  I haven’t been able to achieve a perpetual state of bliss, and maybe I never will, but that is where I become a buddha.  No matter where I am, that is my destination, my heart’s ease.

“Better do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense.” – Chinese Proverb

Drum Therapy

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LATE BREAKING NEWS: Drum Circles Cure Common Cold!

These are some of the drums I bring to my monthly drum circle.

But like any miraculous headline, there’s a catch.  In my case, the effect lasted only so long as I was actually drumming.  Once the drum circle ended and I was packing up the drums to go home, all of the symptoms of my heavy head cold returned.  But while we were playing last night, it was a surprising miracle.  It was such a noticeable difference that the other members of the group remarked on the change in me. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  Research supports the idea that drumming truly is a healing art.

Mostly I drum for the sheer joy it brings me.  Rhythm touches something deep inside of me, and affects me in ways not usually so dramatically noticeable.  Drumming relieves tension, stress, anxiety, fear, anger – the entire range of emotional states that leaves people tied in knots.  For me, at least, it’s impossible to hold onto these states while drumming.  I may start drumming from that place, but the rhythm lifts me out of that emotional state and transports me to a stronger, calmer, more genuine state of relaxation.  Relaxation doesn’t always mean calm – I’m usually energized by the practice, but it relaxes and unwinds all of the emotions that have me wound up.  And when you clear that away, what is left is a natural feeling of well-being and joy.

Necessary Context: I’m something of a science geek.  I enjoy reading the latest research findings from a diverse range of fields of study.  I like looking for connections between these domains, in search of my own unified theory of the universe. A lofty ambition perhaps, but really, aren’t we all in search of greater understanding and unity of meaning?  So I subscribe to science newsletters, and try to give attention to the front lines of research.  I’m no expert, but I try to stay informed.

Scientists have been studying the healing effects of drumming from a number of different angles.  One of the most interesting to me are the effects that drumming has on the brain.  As you may be aware, the activity of our brains can be measured in brain waves with devices such as an EEG (Electroencephalography).  Electrodes are attached to the scalp which measure the electrical activity of the neurons firing in the brain.

(Aside:  isn’t that COOL?)

Through EEG studies, we learn that there are different brain wave patterns associated with different states of consciousness, both awake and sleeping, and the stages in between.  When we are awake and focusing our attention, our brains produce beta waves.  By immersing ourselves in highly structured rhythmic environments such as drum circles, our brain waves begin to align with the rhythms in a process known as entrainment, which alters brain waves in measurable ways.

(Again, COOL!)

Alpha waves bring us to a state of deep relaxation, where creativity is unleashed.  This state can be achieved in the brains of drummers fairly easily and quickly.  It produces feelings of euphoria and well-being.  As the drumming persists, the brain can shift gears again, and produce theta waves.  Theta waves are associated with a deep meditative trance state where a doorway to the dreaming mind is opened. Insight and inspiration are often found in this state of mind.  Drumming is a key that opens the door to these states of consciousness.

But wait!  There’s more! (I apologize for the excessive use of exclamation marks, but I really find it quite difficult to curb my enthusiasm when it comes to this subject.)

The effects of drumming extend beyond their influence on brain waves.  In addition to producing a measurable relaxation effect, drumming also releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural opiates which relieve pain and produce natural feelings of euphoria.  Recent promising research also shows that drumming boosts the immune system, helping the body produce more killer cells that work to combat everything from viruses to serious illnesses such as cancer.  Cortisol, the stress hormone suspected as the root cause of many diseases, also decreases measurably while drumming.  Our entire biological response seems to get a tune-up when we immerse ourselves in highly rhythmic environments.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I should feel so fantastic while I was drumming last night.  I went to the drum circle feeling generally miserable, chained to my box of tissues, and desiring little more than to crawl into bed.  But drumming lifted me out of that entirely, creating a state of energy, joy, and euphoria that lasted even after the drumming stopped and my nose resumed it’s dripping.  It’s no wonder why I’m such an enthusiastic ambassador for the drum.  Next time, come join me.

For a well-cited overview of Drum Therapy, see http://healing.about.com/od/drums/a/drumtherapy.htm
Another nice summary can be found at http://www.shamanswell.org/shaman/powerful-healing-benefits-drumming-circle
To find a drum circle near you, visit http://www.drumcircles.net/circlelist.html 

What I Love

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What an interesting challenge, introducing myself to the world. It’s a bit like trying to bring a stranger up to speed on a movie that is halfway over without interrupting the show. I don’t want to tell you every single thing about myself – you probably don’t care, and I have no interest in full disclosure, valuing the privacy of my life as the sacred space where my most genuine living happens. But I’m not just writing for myself here. A blog is a public space. This is for you.

I’m writing here because I have something to share with the world, and, as a writing teacher, I know that context matters. We understand things more deeply when we have an appropriate context. Since this is a public blog from a personal perspective, you’ll get more out of it if you have some sense of who I am.

But how do I appropriately contextualize my life for you without this becoming an autobiography?

Perhaps that is one of the questions I will gradually explore in this space. But in the meanwhile, you, my gentle blog readers, will each be starting from different places and spaces. Perhaps you know me in real life. Perhaps these are the first of my thoughts to ever touch yours. Regardless of whether or not someone feels they know me, and for how long, each person sees me in his or her own individual context. Each of you necessarily sees me through your own filters, and constructs an understanding of who I am based more on your own experiences of life than on what I might really be like on the inside.

I accept all these premises. I am not who you think I am, and never will be. Your picture of me will always be a sketch, an interpretation. My goal is not to share my whole life with you, although some details of living my life will undoubtedly spill through. But here you will get snapshots of my journey as I move through the world with an attitude of exploration, in perpetual search for meaning.

So here’s a piece of necessary context: I write poetry. Now, as an English teacher, I’m very well aware that most people who just read that sentence had some degree of negative response. I understand, really I do, how few people appreciate poetry. It’s okay. I’m not offended, and I won’t try to convince you to love poetry – at least not today.

But here’s the thing: although my poetry is written in English, it’s useful to think of poetry as almost a different language entirely. At least, if you’re not a fan of poetry, it might help to think of it like a foreign language. I’m a native speaker. You all will have differing degrees of fluency. But I think in poetry, and always have, and when I speak, I have spent a lifetime learning to translate my thoughts from my native poetry into prose. But here, I won’t always do that. Sometimes the original thought – expressed in poetic form – is going to be what lands on this page. If you’re not a fan of poetry, I beg your indulgence. Most of them aren’t long. Bear with me.

This one tracks the direction of my thoughts as I was reading some poetry over my morning cup of coffee this morning. It’s what inspired today’s blog post. I offer it as is without further comment, but absolutely welcome your comments and discussion here and everywhere on this blog.

What I Love

I know enough of poetry to know
What I love, what moves
The sluggish blood of my heart
Coagulating in the cold of life

A silver cable of words connected
To a sudden jolt that revives
That vivid appreciation …
I’m alive, I’m capable

Of love and more love and I have another day
To love again.