Read an Excerpt
Mastering the Art of Enlightened Work and Mindful Play
By Kimberly Wilson
New World Library Copyright © 2010 Kimberly Wilson
All rights reserved.
Spirit is an invisible force made visible in all life.
— MAYA ANGELOU
To start your journey as a tranquilista, let's get grounded and connect to your spiritual side, the foundation of enlightened living. I'll help you take your spirituality to the street by serving up real-world tips rooted in Eastern philosophy, ways to live mindfully despite your pesky BlackBerry, and my favorite can't-live-without tools to ensure oodles of calm.
The "act of being mindful" is a grandiose phrase for simply being in the moment. Ever notice that most of our suffering comes from rehashing the past, worrying about the future, or wishing things could be different than they are in the present? Being a mindful maven is not about perfection; it's about being fully and completely present with what is: the raw, the juicy, the not-so-juicy, the letdowns, and the celebrations.
MODERN-DAY MINDFULNESS TIPS
Mindfulness is not something to practice only at church or the yoga studio, but is an important trait to adorn yourself with at all times. Ever had those moments of opening your mouth and immediately regretting what you've said? How about replying to an email and hitting "send" in a flash, only to wish you could crawl into a cyberspace hole afterward? What about forgetting to say thank you after being given a thoughtful token? Ever been snippy to the girl at the counter who isn't making your soy chai latte quickly enough? These are everyday moments of mindlessness of the sort that we're all guilty of from time to time. You're reading this book because you crave something different, a state of being kind, compassionate, fabulous, and giving. Following are my favorite modes of invoking mindfulness while on the go.
Say a Passion-Filled Prayer
When I grew up in small-town Oklahoma, giving thanks for food and requesting that loved ones be watched over (and saved) was the norm before meals. My prayers have evolved since those early days. Prayer offers the chance to connect to something larger than ourselves. I derive solace from bringing my hands together and bowing to something or someone else. This simple act is done regularly at the end of most yoga classes and is a sacred way of acknowledging the spirits of those around you. My beau reminds me that he was smitten after I did the hands-together-nod at the end of our first date. It is a very humbling action to bow to another being, especially an omnipresent God or Goddess. This simple gesture can be a reverent way to acknowledge your interconnectedness with other beings and even the unknown.
Bathe in Affirmations
Ever notice that the little voice inside your head may not always be your biggest fan? Self-doubt is sure to creep in despite your best efforts to exorcise the nasty demon. Don't worry; it's not just you. Even the most celebrated actresses and writers say they battle this same issue. Lingering fears of not being as good at something as others think you are often lead to a larger fear of being "found out."
The way I combat those not-so-positive voices is with affirmations — short, pithy, positive statements made in the present tense. You may ask, "Really, I'm supposed to say things like 'I am beautiful,' 'I can do anything,' 'I am a successful writer'?" Indeed you are!
There is a whole café built around affirmations in the San Francisco Bay Area called Café Gratitude. Every item on the menu is an affirmation. It's inspiring just to place an order. I'm a big fan of their "I am bold." If you're in the area, why not try their "I am happy" or "I am peaceful"? Rather than simply ordering vegan nachos or pizza, the café ensures that you will take a moment to repeat a positive affirmation. Customers are asked: "What are you grateful for today?"
Next time self-doubt comes for a visit, ignore it and instead start your day, meeting, or event on a positive note by reciting the mantra "I can do anything" and watching what transpires. Your mind will quickly catch up with your mouth.
Pen Your Thoughts
Tap into your spiritual and creative sides through this time-tested tradition. Journal writing has been an important part of my life since the wise young age of eight. Writing your innermost thoughts on paper allows for reflection, the chance to capture the moment, and a private space where you can spill how you really feel without concerns about grammar, tear- or ink stains, or losing a friend. Do you find yourself complaining about the same thing repeatedly? Do you see patterns in your comments about relationships? If so, this is the perfect realm in which to explore ways to make changes. Do you notice a negative tone during certain months? Maybe that's the time to dash off to a warmer climate for some much-needed R&R.
In the morning before your coffee kicks in, start writing whatever comes to the surface. This allows you to start your day with a clean slate. You can also do your writing before bed as a tool for reflection. Others use their journals to recap the day with basic information like where they brunched and what movies they saw. Some write to diffuse pent-up emotions they dare not share publicly. Over the years I have found that the volume of my journal writing increases during challenging times of transition, such as breakups or moves. How you use your journal doesn't really matter; just using it is the point.
I find that handy phrases to jump-start my writing can be helpful tools on days when staring at the blank page seems overwhelming. For example, try:
Today I am feeling _______.
I am most happy when _______.
I am bothered by _______.
I really want ________.
I continue to struggle with ________.
These small springboards can uncover some interesting material.
Assume Your Meditation Position
Ah, the simple act of being — so much harder than doing. Why is sitting still and focusing on our breath such a tricky endeavor? For the girl-on-the-go, this single act can bring an enormous amount of tranquility. Meditation encourages us to slow down, empty our overactive minds, and provide rest for our bodies. One teacher describes the benefit of meditation as the chance to have space between a stimulus and a response. The practice of meditation allows us to be less reactive. Remember this tip the next time you receive an unpleasant email. Take deep breaths, create space before reacting, and notice that you can retrain yourself to more compassionately handle situations that push your buttons. The benefits may not seem obvious immediately after you've sat on your hot-pink cushion, but hopefully they will be apparent in your words and actions post-meditation. You, your colleagues, and beau will thank you for this newfound spaciousness and your thoughtfulness.
Now, let's go through a simple seated meditation together. Gather these accoutrements: a kitchen timer, chime, meditation cushion or firm pillow to elevate your hips, and (optional) incense or a peony-scented soy candle. Sit comfortably cross-legged on the front edge of your cushion with your hips elevated above your knees (or in a chair), light your incense or candle, set the kitchen timer for ten minutes, and sound the chime. Rest your hands on your thighs with the palms facing down, let your elbows rest comfortably, and allow your eyes to close. When the kitchen timer goes off, open your eyes, do a few gentle stretches, and prepare to emerge from your meditation more grounded.
Get Your Gratitude On
Recently I was asked if I ever take a moment to reflect on what I have accomplished. I was taken aback by the brazenness of the question. Who has time to observe such things when we are always in forward motion and looking toward the next thing? I confess, that was my initial reaction. Now I see the question as a call to action, to focus on gratitude. Moving forward is important for our aspirations; gratitude is important for our souls.
Each day during the next week, list ten items you are grateful for that day. Here's a selection from my recent list written during a nature getaway: I am grateful for the tiny frog hopping on the sidewalk.
I am grateful for the sound of pouring rain.
I am grateful for the four deer in the front yard.
I am grateful for my disconnection from the Internet and the forced internal connection.
Explore the mundane, explore the exotic. Honor the beauty that crosses your path each and every day, such as flowering, scented trees and bushes, a fallow daffodil pushing up from the barren earth, artwork in the office, or colorful fruit displays at the grocery store. Acknowledge what you accomplish daily, even if it's simply getting out of bed or getting to the office on time in clean clothes. Otherwise, our mindfulness is stuck on moving toward the future, rather than being in the present and encouraging ourselves along the way. Go ahead, give yourself a pat or, better yet, a massage.
"The more scent, the better" is my frequent mantra. I'm like a kid in a candy store when I walk into highly aromatic settings such as LUSH and the Body Shop. Most evenings I have a few scented candles burning, along with sticks of incense. Lavender essential oil is a must-have, and I carry it in my bag to dab onto my wrists or sniff at a moment's notice. Scents make us happy, hence the term aromatherapy. Scents have incredibly therapeutic benefits. I highly recommend you have on hand a few essential oils that can enhance a mood:
LAVENDER. My go-to scent. This oil is all about relaxation. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, plus it helps ward off mosquitoes. Add dried buds to pillows, sachets, and cards sent via snail mail. Great for cooking, drinking (a lavender-infused TranquilTini recipe is forthcoming), and bathing too.
SWEET ORANGE. Perfect for studying. This citrusy scent uplifts and detoxifies. It also assists with fighting colds and cleaning.
LEMONGRASS. Smells heavenly and is used in cooking. Great for reducing headaches, helping with jet lag, and soothing respiratory infections. An overall yummy tonic for the nervous system.
CLARY SAGE. I've been told this is the must-have scent. It does it all. It's an antidepressant, an antiseptic, digestive and reproductive help, and a muscle relaxant all in one. Smells a bit nutty, and offers lots of power.
PEPPERMINT. This delightful oil reminds me of the holidays and is great for a quick pick-me-up. Promotes alertness. Good for digestion and decongestion.
Don't forget scented candles to help set a mood and elevate your own. Choose soy over paraffin, essential oils over fragrance oils, and hemp wicks over paraffin wicks. Reuse the glass containers to hold paperclips, tea lights, candy, or business cards. All this ensures you're earth friendly while indulging in tranquility.
In our busy lives, the possibility of finding a sense of spaciousness can seem as far-fetched as writing a novel in one day. You may find yourself scheduled from sunup to snooze time, and then wonder what in the world you did, despite the fact that you were going ninety miles a minute all day long. Sound familiar? Mindfulness is most easily found within spaciousness. Yes, even scheduled spaciousness. I'm such a planner that I've had to literally trick myself into finding space in my calendar by scheduling downtime. This block of time allows me to take a step back, regroup, and make sure that I'm still on track. Sometimes it allows me a luxuriant nap or a long soak in the tub. You can still be productive, accomplish your aspirations, and take a moment for yourself. The key is to make it happen.
Can you picture always-late "Lucy" who rushes in to the office looking disheveled, breathing heavily from running, and apologizing that traffic was bad (yet again)? Lucy is an example of a person who lacks spaciousness. You may be blushing because you recognize yourself. We've all been there. We just don't want to continue being that girl. Exude mindfulness by arriving a few minutes early — be prepared, account for possible traffic or parking concerns, and be organized. As Maya Angelou reminds us, "You did then what you knew how to do. When you knew better, you did better." Do better by creating some sacred space in your daily routine.
Catch Your Dreams
We've explored heaps of tips for becoming more mindful while conscious. Now let's touch on our unconscious dreaming state. Sure, it may sound like a bit of a stretch, but our dreams are powerful and full of interesting connections to what we may not yet be ready to face in reality. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that dreams have the potential to teach us something about ourselves. I believe they can be powerful pathways to what is brewing within.
Start by keeping a pen and paper on your bedside table. This is perfect for recording those almost-asleep-but-thought-of-something-else moments, along with your groggy early-morning recollections of your dreams. We are quick to forget our dreams once we get going, so we must capture them immediately. You may not know why you consistently dream about certain things or people, but by recording dreams regularly, you will begin to see patterns and can explore them more deeply with the help of books, Jungian analysts, or your friends. Start a dream exploration club.
If you're looking for an answer to something you're struggling with, try asking a question before you fall asleep, and let your subconscious mull it over while you slumber. Remember, all answers are within — sometimes they just need a little coaxing to come out.
Rock an Altar
An altar can be a small or grandiose setup of your favorite inspirational items, a special spot to get your spiritual self going at the start of your day, before heading to bed, or anytime in between. For as long as I can remember, I have had a nook to host images of my beloveds, candles, incense, flowers, plants, sacred books, and deities. My altar has been everything from a desk to a bench to a mantel to a windowsill, and currently it's my hearth. I have Ganesha (remover of obstacles), Lakshmi (goddess of abundance), and Saraswati (goddess of creativity) prominently displayed alongside a big, glass Buddha head. A vase filled with incense sticks. Tons of candles. A kitchen timer. A meditation cushion. Bamboo stalks. And framed photos of my beau, pug, and BFF. Even when I travel, I take a selection of the above to ensure a homey, spiritual vibe while in unknown territory. Let your altar be a comfortable spot where you can sit and reflect, meditate, or decompress while you're surrounded by a few of your favorite things.
Additional ideas on what to include on your altar are tokens from your travels, postcards, handwritten letters, artwork, quotes, seashells, stones, and crystals. Why not frame pictures of spiritual teachers to display on your altar? I've often joked that I want to frame photos of Madonna and Gloria Steinem for my altar. Whatever you choose, or whoever inspires you, let your altar be uniquely yours, even if you want to frame an unapologetic rock star.
Find Your Inner Nature Girl
Some tranquilistas find God at church, others in the great outdoors. Ever been on a gondola traveling up one of the snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks? I swear that is a spiritual experience. When I lived in Colorado for a season postcollege, I was awestruck every time I donned my gear and headed up the mountain to partake in an exhilarating ride back down. There is truly something magical to be found within nature.
Take a bike ride through your local park. Pack your lunch and head to a city park to dine mid-workday. Go camping — yes, car camping counts. Enjoy a Sunday afternoon hike or stroll through your nearby state park. Take a fall foliage tour through the Northeast. Rent a cabin in the country as often as you can. Snowshoe by moonlight. Nap under a big oak tree. Go rock climbing. Splash around at the beach. Walk through Muir Woods near San Francisco and breathe in the best-smelling air I've ever come across. Pitch a tent near a redwood tree in the Northwest and feel your city-living problems dissolve. Nature has a calming effect that can help keep us, and our trite everyday dramas, in perspective.
Go Totally Tonglen
In Buddhism, tonglen is a lovingkindness- and compassion-filled practice that is easily done on the bus, at the bank, or in a board-room. It translates as "giving and receiving." Here's the skinny: when you see someone suffering, or you know someone who is suffering, practice breathing in their pain and sending out love. Visualize their suffering (that of a crying baby, a tense boss, or a distraught colleague) as a dark cloud that you draw in as you inhale, and send out loving compassion in the form of white light as you exhale. Think of your breath as a filter. In practicing tonglen, we don't hold onto their pain, but rather we act as a catalyst. This has the capacity to change your connection to, and empathy for, others — especially the ones who have a tendency to push your buttons.
Explore Chic Chants
Chanting is a common spiritual practice used to evoke emotion and/or acknowledge the Divine. As a lover of kirtan (call-and-response chanting of words or phrases), I want to share a few of my favorites in case you'd like to tone your vocal cords and sing along.
LOKAH SAMASTA SUKINO BHAVANTU. Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga translates this as "May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all." I recite this chant during most yoga classes I teach, and when I'm struggling with anger or other negative emotions. I've even contemplated having it tattooed on my back (in fancy script, of course). Sure, that was a fleeting contemplation. But this mantra serves as a reminder to ensure that what I do affects others in a positive way.
OM. This is considered the original sound in the universe and is one of the most powerful mantras. Chanting this sound encourages a connection between us and the world and all of those around us. A beautiful reminder of our interconnectedness to others, nature, and beyond.
Excerpted from Tranquilista by Kimberly Wilson. Copyright © 2010 Kimberly Wilson. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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