Six Morning Intentions to Reduce Bad Moods & Increase Mindfulness

Learn from the dogs.


Ever since I stopped smoking I have been in a much better mood upon awakening. Even still, I like to have a few intentions that I make before I get out of bed. They help me to feel grounded and to remember that living a mindful existence is much more nourishing than constantly escaping the present moment. I would like to share some of them with you guys, in case you can benefit as well.

~Today I will look at my face for at least 3 seconds in the mirror without any judgement whatsoever. I will try to do this at least 3 times during the day.

~Today I will let a few voids exist without filling them with technology. I will try to pet the dog instead of checking Facebook at least a few times today.

~Today when I drink my first cup of water, I will take my time and acknowledge as I take each sip the fact that I am mostly made of it. I will ponder this until it temporarily freaks me out, and then I will know that I pondered it deeply enough.

~Today I will remember that things can happen one at a time, and they can even happen with a little space in between in which to appreciate the bigness of it all. I do not have to rush.

~Today as I eat meals and snacks, I will take at least a full minute beforehand. I will look at the food I am about to eat, and think about what it would take for me to make this food on my own. I will imagine growing the vegetables in the sun, I will imagine growing the wheat and pounding it into flower, I will imagine until I know that I cannot possibly fully imagine what goes into the food I eat, and then I will allow myself to feel gratitude for the thousands of pairs of hands and thousands of spirits that have contributed to the food I am eating, directly and indirectly. I will feel this gratitude and sense of connection as I chew, at least sometimes, today.

~Today if my computer freezes for a few minutes or my phone acts funny, I will pause before getting upset and realize that these are technological masterpieces, and a few extra minutes of waiting is nothing compared to the immense convenience that these things are offering me each and every day.

Now, I don’t fully verbalize all of these before getting out of bed, honestly. I sorta just think, “water, food, mirror, computer, rushing, dog-not-facebook.” I tend to make up new ones, but these are six keepers. The food one is particularly intense. I find that I do it each time I eat wasabi peas. I am still not sure how those are made, and wow, it would be intense to make them on my own. Having a sense of awe and appreciation for the things that we take for granted can be really nourishing. It can help us to stay awake and aware, and to help others to do the same.

I would love to know other little things that people do when they wake up to try and have a good day!

The Recipe of Meaning & Lack Thereof in the Daily Micro-Traditions of America

This is the feeling of the moment.

Grow beyond what is holding you back.

Lately I have been noticing that there are an awful lot of traditions going on around me. Whether it is an elaborate wedding, a trip to the grocery store, or a question about how someone’s day was, there are endless moments where it feels like the symbolism of what an act is supposed to represent is relied upon by the person more than the actual feeling involved in the act. Sometimes it seems that we expect the tradition to take care of its own meaning without any effort on our part, and this, to me, is a problem.

Take weddings, for instance.

A fine idea. A beautiful event, even. Lots of people, all dressed up, present for the occasion of two people publicly committing themselves to each other in the name of God. Often times, delicious food and free drinks. Not a huge problem, but a very huge bill. All so that a human can express their intention of not letting their love fade for another human.

Then there are holidays. Who’s family’s house are we all going to go to, how many people do we each buy gifts for, who is getting me a gift so that I can get them a gift, etc. Delicious food, free drinks, huge bill. All so that humans can spend time with other humans that they are closely related to.

The problem I have is not with the traditions or rituals themselves. It is with the meaning that we put on them, or forget to put on them. It is the easy tendency to slide from our original connection to deep meaning and significance that we feel within ourselves into a numbness that amounts to just trying to do the right thing to fit with the protocol, expecting the meaning to take care of itself.

The thing about rituals that makes them powerful in both life-enhancing and life-destroying ways is that they remove the need for active thinking. This is sometimes how we feel closer to God, or the Spirit, or the Universe. We recite a mantra and feel that unity with everything around us because we have stopped making things up and have fallen into a trance. This trance can help us to remove the duality that our minds constantly create and help us see that things are all connected.

Or, it can make us feel numb. It can make us feel nothing. It can help us forget to logically think and allow us to go along with the motions. We can do so in the name of the tradition. We can buy an expensive gift and assume that this is a display of real love. We can have a fabulous wedding and assume that we have done all we could to foster our connection with our new spouse.

Weddings and holidays are two huge traditions, but the ones that have been really coming to my attention lately are the smaller ones. Micro-traditions, if you will. For instance, asking a question. This is an act that we are taught from a young age. If you want to know something, ask a question! However, something that many of us seem to have forgotten is that receiving the answer is part of that particular micro-traditon. The feeling of being open; of hearing the answer. You cannot leave that part out.

Same thing with spending time with another human being. Or walking the dog. Or taking a shower. Or making love. These things are all micro-traditions, but how often are we using them just to numb out the real feelings? Just to follow a protocol that we are comfortable with so that we can stop the act of feeling meaning? Are we adding all the ingredients except yeast for bread and expecting it to rise?

Some (most) weddings end in divorce. Some holiday gifts are bought while you are feeling spiteful. Some questions are asked with no intention of hearing the answer. Sometimes you can spend hours with someone and never even truly feel their presence. There are countless micro-traditions that get carried out every single day without the right ingredients. Even if they are carried out to perfection, they sometimes do not lead to the desired result of happiness. This doesn’t mean that happiness is unattainable, it merely means that no tradition or recipe is going to get you there.

My wish for myself is to pay more attention to this tendency. To actually feel what it is like to walk the dog, without having that me a tradition that I take part in daily without thinking about it. I want to never forget that without yeast, the bread isn’t going to rise. Without feeling, the traditions are not going to create the magic that we hold them to. And even with everything in place, there is no way to guarantee a future of anything. There is only a choice you can make, right now, to choose what is real to you.

Re-Claiming Your Stolen Sense of Intuition

I was eavesdropping on a conversation many years ago at Puffers Pond in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a conversation between a young child and her mother. The mother was clearly in a bad mood, talking in curt little sentences, shoulders hunched, plowing her body through the sand and dragging the kid alongside her. The child asked,

“Are you angry, mommy?”

“No. I’m fine.” was her abrupt, angrily spoken answer.

“Oh. Okay!” The child cheerfully replied.

I watched them, and had a moment of revelation. That child had a great intuition. The child was correct in picking up on her mother’s obvious body language. At the same time, she was too young to say, “Are you sure you aren’t angry, mommy? See, you are walking much faster than me, your shoulders are showing obvious signs of tension and your voice is coming out in a rather abrasive manner…”

My concern was that from then on, the child was going to have similar intuitions, and think back to this day, even subconsciously. She was going to remember that if her mother had similar body language, she was probably not actually angry. This is a huge problem.

The child had a blind trust in the mother, as many of us do as children, especially if our parents are generally kind to us most of the time. We sort of have to. They feed us, protect us, and we know that we need them.

And yet, they are usually a bit crazy. They have to go to work, sometimes to a job they do not enjoy. They have to make money, they have to feed us, they have to give up some dreams in order to tend to ours. They have to conform to a society that is inherently working against their nature, working against their ability to touch in honestly with their emotions. And they pass that perverted blessing down to us without even realizing it.

They have to. We have to. We grow up and get some of our intuition back, but it takes work. And then, after those blissful years of thinking that we can change the world if we try hard enough, we realize that actually what we need is a job and an iPod and someone to marry us. Then we have kids and lack the patience to truly deal with our emotions, so we teach them to do the same. This is how I see the situation in an egg shell, even though there are many more bits and pieces.

The problem is that touching in with our emotions takes time. Not time tomorrow, not time next week or on our next vacation; time. Time. Right. Now.  It requires us to stop with the work, stop with the incessant thinking, and sit down. It requires us to be vulnerable, to express that vulnerability, to truly feel ourselves being in pain or being scared or being happy, even. It requires some spaciousness in the present moment, and this is precisely what many of us lack.

We all have our ways of touching in with our emotions and allowing ourselves to be. For some of us, there is meditation. For others, there are long jogs where we let our brains shut off. Everyone figures out some way to do this, but rarely do we have in-depth discussions about it. Especially with our kids. It is hard to teach these things, and we definitely do not learn about them in school.

And this is why the mainstream nuclear family’s ability to deal with emotions is steadily going down the drain. Everyone has their own room, everyone has their own music device and personal television, everyone can isolate and pretend that they are the only ones who have crazy emotions. The world around them is basically telling them that no one else struggles with these things, everyone else is fine, and their parents “love” them.

My earlier post about magic words dealt with this issue. Here, I want to go more into the idea of “I love you.” These words require almost nothing to say. Saying them out loud burns a half a calorie at most, depending on your personal metabolism.

Your parents may have said this to you a lot when you were little.  Maybe they still do. But what do they mean? Sometimes they look at you with pity and ask if you really need that second serving of dessert, but they love you. Sometimes they yell and tell you that you’ll never be a good driver if you use your brights on a side street, but they love you. Sometimes they look at your new partner with condescending eyes and barely listen to a word they say, but they love you. Is this love?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Or, maybe it is. Maybe it’s love, but not respect. Either way, it can cause a lot of confusion down the road. Whenever someone, especially a parent who you still have some respect for, says “I love you, but…” you are getting a very mixed signal. You are hearing that they love you, you are trying to figure out what this  means (or at least, at 28 years old, I still am) but you are seeing that there is clearly not a sense of respect at some moments. Sometimes there are even a lot of conditions on this so-called love. And then, there is the almighty “If you really loved me, you would…” and this is utter nonsense.

If someone is claiming to have unconditional love for you, and then treats you horribly, maybe they do love you in their own twisted version of the word. But they are not showing you respect, and you have to stop the wheels of your mind for a moment in order to touch in with how you feel.

No matter what someone means when they say they love you, you have to listen to your own feelings. How are they treating you? Try not to think about it in terms of concrete examples of what is love or not-love, but just think of how you feel. You can tell when someone is genuinely spending time with you, and you can also tell when someone is in their own head while with you and is hardly present at all. You should pay attention to the same things within yourself.

The problem is that our culture teaches us numbness at every possible moment. You are supposed to get a job, make money, come home and turn on the TV. You are supposed to work yourself to death to pay for things you never really  needed. You are definitely not supposed to sit in silence, taking breaths and feeling the air come into your body and fuel your very existence. This would be a waste of time, I mean, you could be working.

And this is what our parents have been taught. This is how they grew up, and this is how we are growing up. I love you is a set of words that is supposed to mean something, but often times, even coming from those that we have known the very longest, they mean nothing. They symbolize an intention, a play of power, an excuse. They are often times backed up by nothing, and yet we can hear them and turn into ourselves, trying to figure out why we feel insane.

The reason we feel insane is that we have been the little girl. We have all had intuitions that have been true, and yet the people we were intuiting about have told us we were wrong. We believed them. We repeat the process, hiding our fears and moods from those around us, telling people we love them when we have no clue what that means. We say it while thinking of other things, we say it without truly feeling anything. Even though we know the feelings are in there somewhere, we don’t have the time to stop our minds and touch in with them.

This is the problem. And the only solution is to stop. To listen. To trust your feelings, and let go of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole. To realize that sometimes, people say they love us, and what they mean is something different. Sometimes, a parent or partner is truly disrespectful, regardless of how many calories they burn on words. The words I love you coming from their mouth does not need to make you second-guess your intuition. The words do not need to make you feel as if you are crazy, or not seeing something that you should be seeing.

All I’m saying is that I’ve been there, feeling crazy, trying to make myself believe something. God knows how many calories that burns, but regardless, my wish would be for myself and those around me to remember that our intuitions are valuable. Our time is valuable. Our lives are valuable. When someone calls us out on something, it may be hard to admit that they are right, but the more that we can foster this intuition in ourselves and others, the more this culture of isolation will be put in its place.

Are the Famous Magic Words Really Just Poisonous Routines?

We say things every single day that are rather predictable. We ask polite questions. We say we are sorry. We even say please and thank you. I’m realizing lately that these things mean absolutely nothing without the associated feelings; and the feelings that are required are insanely hard to feel.

Think about saying you are sorry.  Think about the origins of the phrase in your life. You were little, you probably broke something by mistake, and an older person told you to say you were sorry. So you said it, and magically, the situation was better. You were forgiven because you said that you were sorry.

But what did you mean? What did you feel? You were probably just mimicking the tone of voice of that older person, since you didn’t see what was so wrong with hitting that baseball into the ugly lamp, and you probably did a pretty darn good job. That trick turned out to work for a long time. It still does to the people who want to simply hear you say these words.

I wish that when I was little, someone taught me that words are more than sounds. That saying I’m sorry is not the same as forgiving myself. That saying please is not the same thing as truly respecting the giver. That saying thank you is not the same as feeling gratitude.

I wish that someone had taught me to stop, to check in with my feelings and my body, and see what it was I was feeling before saying these magic words. I wish someone had taught me that living a life is not the same thing as talking about one. I can put a lot of energy on these things now, but it seems like there are many automatic processes that are so deeply ingrained that it is hard to uproot them all as fast as I’d like.And everyone, from the adults to the kids, seem to be following these unspoken rules that words are enough on their own without the associated feelings of vulnerability, pain and forgiveness.

These things only matter when you feel that ache and void that is telling you that you are not fully living. Something inside makes you feel like your own ghost, and you can’t quite put your finger on why that is. This is one place to start. Think about the things you say the most often, and pay attention. Pay attention to what they are supposed to mean, in their greatest sense, and what you are actually feeling.

And do the same to other people. Notice when someone says they are sorry and means nothing. Notice this because it is going to show you that you are not crazy for feeling odd about their apology. Notice that the reason you may have a hard time with truly being compassionate to some people is that you are listening to their words and expecting them to mean something. A lot of times, they do not.

Before you begin analyzing others, you have to begin with yourself. And before you begin to judge how you feel when you say these words, you can think of how you want to feel without those words. Sit down and feel what it is to be sorry, and to forgive yourself. Feel these things without habitual phrases justifying your tendency to flee from them. Then, feel what it is like to say please, to truly ask for something from someone, and respect them in that process. Think of what “I love you” means to you, and the feeling that is associated with it. Feel these things without the words.

Then, let the words come back.

The truth is that people love to avoid feeling vulnerable, feeling pain, and going through the effort it takes to actually forgive themselves. It is much easier to say some magic words and move on to the next thing. But I personally believe that this cultural process of ignoring the deeper reality and sticking to the surface is much like teaching our children that you can climb a picture of a tree, if only you look at it and say “I want to climb you, Mr. Tree.” It will never happen, and that kid shouldn’t grow up thinking that they have climbed a thousand trees just because they have said the magic words and looked at a picture. Climbing the tree takes more strength and intention than looking at a picture of one, and the feeling of accomplishment would actually be there in the real situation.

How to Use Your Routines to Break Your Own Mold

I know that it’s rather easy for me to spout off about how great it is to be creative each day and how a sitting practice can really help you slow down your mind, but it is not as easy to say that you’ll have no trouble finding the time to do these things.

Once you finish the dishes and the laundry and cleaning up the food that your dog knocked out of its bowl, do you really have time to sit and meditate for an hour? Who has time to take out the paints and go at it, especially given that they will need to get cleaned up after? Well, there is a solution to this problem.

You always have time. Not time to do anything new necessarily, but time to see it differently. Time to slow down.

One great thing about routines is that they are predictable. You can rely on them. We all have slightly different routines, but we know what they are. Maybe you take a shower every day, maybe you check the dumpster by the natural food store to see what treasures are there.  Maybe you do dishes, maybe you check your email. There are things you do, each day, predictably.

In some ways, these routines can make you feel less alive. They are repetitive, they are predictable, they are a time where you can tune out. On a familiar drive, you may not notice the curve of the big oak tree against the blue sky or the interesting feeling in your stomach as you take a sharp turn. You are going through the motions and thinking about what to make for dinner. You can let these routines give you more time to tune out, if you want. But then there are more routines to add in. Soon, most of your life becomes tuning out. And you can hold these routines up on a pedestal as you tell me that you don’t have time to meditate, don’t have time to paint; you are too busy with these things.

Or you can use them as built-in reminders to be present and creative. You can choose to be aware of how your body feels on those turns, to smell the difference in the air as the seasons change when you get the mail. To notice how different temperatures of water in the shower make you feel differently about the world. The point is that you are going to be doing these things anyway, they are like the string on your finger that reminds you to tell someone something.

Except the person you are talking to is yourself. And you are simply saying, “My routines are a reminder for me to be more present with myself.” They can be a reminder for whatever you want. I personally find that my routines are the time when I am most likely to obsess about negative things or indulge in my anxiety. This is a pattern that I acknowledge, and therefore, that I can let go of. I know that as soon as I am one-on-one with a sink full of dishes, my mind is going to start getting grouchy and anxious about the work I’m not doing. However, knowing this helps me to remember that doing dishes is my reminder to wake up. My reminder to smile, to feel centered and grateful for the world around me.

There is no getting rid of routines. You can escape paying the mortgage by living in your car, but then you have a gas tank to fill. You can watch the little numbers climb up at the gas pump under a new sky and still, you are in a routine. You can change your location all you want, but you are still going to have to do some things repetitively. If you can use these things to feel that energy of creativity, of presence, then you are going to have a different feeling when you are done.

Try to remember the last time you were really creative. Remember not what you did, exactly, but the feeling you had. The sensations in your body and the feeling in your mind. This is the feeling that you can have at any point, whether it is while you are painting a picture or while you are gently washing crumbs off a plate or folding a pile of clean shirts. The feeling is what matters, and if you are present while you perform these routine chores, you are going to see that there is quite a difference in the quality of your life.

Most importantly, cultivating that feeling while you do the things you have to do may help you to find the time to do the things that you really love. If you feel nourished and alive after folding clothes, maybe you will be more likely to take out a canvas and some paints and get creative with the colors. Each feeling leads to another one, so you may as well use any chance you can to feel the aliveness of creativity so that it can fill up  more crevices of your life.