The Art of Attentiveness (Wellness Wednesday)

This week, for Wellness Wednesday, I’m focusing on attentiveness. Charlotte Mason, my homeschooling mentor, called it “The Habit of Attention”. Many call it mindfulness. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with wellness?”, that’s a great question because it means you are paying attention and letting curiosity get the better of you!

What started me thinking about paying attention is this online class for HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) that I’ve been taking. I’m learning lots about how to thrive rather than simply survive as a person who processes life differently than most. I’m discovering what my strengths and weaknesses are as a person with this trait and how I can navigate the high levels of emotion that come with it, how I can conserve and replenish my energy, and how to ask for what I need. 

It’s kind of crazy that it’s taken me this long in my life journey to begin learning these things, but as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And one thing that stands out from this class is that in order to implement my newly acquired tools and techniques, I need to learn to pay more attention.

It Starts With Me

First, I need to pay attention to myself. This is a bit of a challenge for me because I lived most of my life in a culture that was all about service to others. I still absolutely believe in service to others, just not in a way that leaves me completely out of the equation. Even Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which implies self-love. 

I need to ask myself, “What do I need?” when I’m starting to get tired, upset, overwhelmed, etc., rather than to just keep going until I get to meltdown mode. And “Do I have this to give?” when someone asks something of me. If I’m already in a depleted state, I’ll be giving from a negative, resentful place. If I can live from a place of love and compassion toward myself, I’ll be much more loving and compassionate toward others.

Focusing on the Good in Others

Second, I need to pay attention to others. And by this I mean to focus on the positive qualities that each person has. HSPs can nitpick, obsess, and tend to focus on negative things, especially when tired and emotionally overwhelmed, which is a lot of the time if we aren’t paying attention to our needs. I need to make lists of the good things about those I love and know and repeat those things to myself and say them out loud to them. 

By sharing the things I admire and appreciate about others with them, it will encourage them and reinforce the truths about who they are in my own brain. When I’m with my husband, my kids, or my friends, I need to focus on their words, on their faces and gestures, and savor the moments we have together.

Nature

Third, I need to pay attention and connect with nature. Put on my shoes, step out the door, look, listen, breathe, feel, and notice. What do I see? What sounds can I hear? Does the sun feel hot on my back or the wind feel like it’s pushing me while I walk? What kind of bird is singing in the apple tree? Where is that tang in the air coming from?

Slow Down

And this is the kicker for me: In order to cultivate the art of attentiveness to myself, others, and to the world, I NEED TO SLOW DOWN!!! My smart husband is always telling me this and until I started this class, I inwardly resisted. “But I have so much to do! I’ll never get things done if I move around like a snail.”

During week one, the teacher said, “HSPs need slow mornings”. She said if you start the day off at a clip, your emotional brain revs up, is on high alert, and you quickly lose “energy points”. That explains why I’ve been tired within a few hours of waking up for most of my adult life.

At my teacher’s suggestion, I’ve begun a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. Waking up and meditating first thing in the morning has been a huge help to me this past month. I used to jump out of bed and start on my to-do list, but now I take a few minutes to pay attention to my breath and that sets the tone for the rest of my day. It’s training me to notice my needs so that I don’t overextend myself emotionally and physically. I can give to my family, work better, and still have energy left to enjoy life. And this is living well.

Books

Want to read more about slowing down and paying attention? Here are two non-fiction books on the subject plus a book of poetry that you might be interested in.

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

Lost In Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness by Esther de Waal

Thirst by Mary Oliver

Blend

And here’s an aromatherapy blend that will help you focus and cultivate attentiveness. Place drops in diffuser, fill with distilled water, and diffuse for 1-2 hours at a time. Best during the daytime hours.

1 drop Cardamom

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

If you would like to tell us how you’re learning to be more attentive, please share in the comments!

Moving Toward Morning

We just finished the first week of September and I feel all the things: a little melancholy that summer is waning, excitement for the start of a new season, and the sense that I am myself as this is my birthday month. Transitions–endings and beginnings blurring together–are always difficult, even when you are looking forward to the new.

I don’t know how the weather is where you live, but here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, we are experiencing pleasant weather in the high 60s to mid- 70s (Fahrenheit). Although it still is warm, there is a tinge of a chill, and the nights fall a little earlier with each passing day. My daughter began eleventh grade this week, my stepson twelfth grade, and I am in my second month of Ayurveda school.

How I start my day determines how successful the rest of it will be, so I wanted to talk about morning routines. What does yours look like? Mine varies quite a lot. On Sunday, my wake-up time depends on whether my husband and I have a music gig or not, but most of the time I can sleep in.

Monday through Wednesday during the school year, I get up to drive my daughter to school. My choice is to either get up at 7 and launch directly into making breakfast/coffee/tea, and then drive her to school, or I can get up early at 5:30ish and meditate, journal, practice visualization and affirmations, exercise or do yoga, shower, and then start making breakfast, etc. The latter is my ideal.

Even the rest of the week–Thursday through Saturday–if I get up early and get all of those important soul-nourishing pieces of the morning done before the rest of the house wakes up, I feel amazing! I have a positive outlook, feel confident, and am ready to face the day. This way I can begin work, meet the needs of my family ,etc., without resentment or trying to figure out how to squeeze in a workout.

It might seem crazy to contemplate getting up an hour or two before everyone else. That obviously means going to bed earlier. As a certified lifelong night owl, it is challenging for me to stick to this. And I am not religious about it. If I don’t have a good night’s sleep, am not feeling well, or if I go to bed late because of work or a special occasion, I don’t get up super early and I don’t beat myself up about it. But as soon as I can realistically get back into my morning routine, I will.

So my hat is off to you if you’re already an early bird and rise before the sun to do what you need to in order to make your day a success. But if you’re like me and are still moving toward your ideal morning, that’s great too! The best thing is to ask yourself why would you want to do this and then write down a good long list of reasons why. The more reasons you have, the more likely you will continue working toward your goal. If you can display your list of reasons somewhere visible to motivate you, all the better!

Design the morning that works for you, at this stage in your life. And like I said in my Facebook and Instagram Lives on this topic, please, if you’re a young mom with a baby or toddler, or you’ve got an elderly parent or sick family member you are caring for, or anything else that is super demanding, this is not the time to begin a new routine, to get up early, etc. Be extra gentle and kind to yourself and take time for yourself when you can.

This particular advice comes from this episode of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happier Podcast: In order to get your family on board when you are starting new habits, be consistent! They will get used to it sooner if you stick to your routine.

And since I am always looking for ways to share what I learn about aromatherapy with you, here are two diffuser blends that are great for mornings. They are motivating, positive, promote confidence, perseverance, and a bright outlook.

Morning Blend 1:

1 drop Basil

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

Morning Blend 2:

1 drop Tulsi

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Orange

Alright, I’d love to hear about your morning routines: what works, what doesn’t, and what new habits you’re incorporating into your life this September.

Ayurveda and Abundance (My Journey)

After completing nearly 43 trips around the sun, I know that the direction we are supposed to take at different points in our lives can seem unclear and even confusing. I mostly make choices based on what my intuition tells me and that usually serves me well. But once in a while, absolute clarity presents itself while I am decision-making and that is what happened to me recently.

And when things become clear, I can often see a thread of seemingly unconnected incidents, inklings, conversations, and thoughts can be connected and lead to a decision or new life choice.

So what am I even talking about? MY PATH TO AYURVEDA! It started when I enrolled in aromatherapy studies in early 2018. Various lessons referred to Ayurveda and everything I read made sense, seemed balanced, and like something I would want to learn about.

While studying for some aromatherapy classes late winter/early spring, I read about Ayurveda self-care tips and listened to a podcast (LifeSpa with John Douillard) that benefited my digestive health in a big way. I bought a few of the recommended herbs, began taking them after meals, and guess what? My digestion is about 98% better than it was before I started taking them. But more about these herbs in another post…

Then, about three weeks ago I began thinking of what I could add to my aromatherapy studies to round out my consulting services. I really wanted to be able to offer clients a whole life approach for helping them with their wellness goals. Traditional life coaching programs didn’t seem to have what I was searching for.

One evening, I typed in “holistic life coach” or “wellness coach” and stumbled upon Ayurveda programs. I signed up for a free three-hour course from Kerala Ayurveda and loved it. Right after that, I signed up for a three part mini-course from Cate Stillman at yogahealer.com. I recommend both of these schools based on what I learned in their free courses. I became obsessed with Ayurveda training and began researching other online schools. Of course, I had one minor obstacle: I couldn’t afford to enroll in any of them.

Around the same time, I had my friend Laurie Petrisin over for lunch and a painting afternoon. While we were painting, she shared how she listens to Wholetones by Michael Tyrell during prayer/meditation. Being curious, I looked up free music on Spotify that was in different frequencies and found several playlists. My favorite is 528 Hz, the frequency of transformation and miracles. Apparently it’s the same frequency that the sun emits!

I began listening to a playlist of 528 Hz when I was in the car and for a few minutes every day. I also purchased two books about abundance, which I am currently reading and gleaning much wisdom from, and will share with you when I’m done.

In my head, I knew Ayurveda school was out of the question right now because of my financial situation, but in my heart I felt full of anticipation and joy, like I was a child expecting Christmas morning to come. Really, I can’t explain it other than I wanted this so much and kept focusing on Ayurveda school and looking for free or inexpensive courses I might be able to take in the meantime.

Then, a couple of Saturdays ago, the idea of scholarships popped into my head. So I typed “Ayurveda scholarship” into the search bar. The first few results were unsuccessful, but I landed on Yoga Veda Institue which had a scholarship application. This was crazy because when I searched for aromatherapy scholarships and herbal studies scholarships last year, I never found anything. I though alternative health studies had no scholarship programs. I thought wrong!

So I spent a couple of hours on the application and clicked “Send”. For the next day and a half, I was full of anticipation and excitement and butterflies in my stomach. Late on Sunday night, I got an email from Yoga Veda informing me that I had received a 75% scholarship for their two year program!!! I was over the moon with gratitude and I still am! What made me so incredulous was that I was able to make the change in my mind and heart from “Oh, that only happens to other people” to “Why not me?”

If you have no idea what Ayurveda is, check out Cate Stillman’s book Body Thrive, which I’m reading right now and watch her free video mini-course at yogahealer.com. She brings an ancient tradition like Ayurveda into the 21st century and takes away a lot of the “woo-woo” that might lead you to dismiss it with a modern, skeptical wave of the hand.

Anyway, so the takeaway points here are: 1. That we all may have dreams that might seem impossible. But if you begin to stir up the inner desire for that dream and visualize where you want to go/what you want to do, listen to positive messages on the abundance mind and heart, who knows what might happen? Because, why not you, right?

2. My journey to Ayurveda was a process of hearing about it, learning about it, seeing an aspect of it work in my body (the herbs), finding out that there were programs, listening to music and messages about abundance and growing my faith level to believe it could happen to me, and then applying for the scholarship while facing the possibility of rejection. While I was living it, I didn’t see the dots connected, but looking back the path is clear. That’s always the way, right?

Kale Pesto (It’s a Thing)

One of my favorite parts of summer is fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Especially those which are grown nearby. Our local CSA farm, Sweet Land Farm, is now bursting with goodness from the earth (and the hard work of the farmers).

What I love is walking into the distribution shed every Tuesday afternoon, breathing in the heady, spicy scent of sweet Basil mixed with all the other veggies and the artisan bread that a local bread business sells. Even though I can’t eat “real” bread, I love the aroma! This CSA is where I learned to know so many greens–Kale, Swiss chard, Arugula, Broccoli raab–and, thus, learned to cook with them.

We all know by now how good for you Kale is, (and read here if you don’t) but not everyone gets as happy as I do about eating it. Have you tried making pesto with it? I’ve made delicious pestos with Arugula and Parsley, and, of course, Basil, so I’m not sure why I waited this long to try Kale pesto. You can use it just like any other pesto on pasta, zoodles, added to soups or marinara sauce, to name a few.

My recipe is simple and adjustable–add more garlic, lemon, salt, or olive oil to suit your taste.

Kale Pesto

3-4 cups of Kale leaves, rinsed, stems removed

1/2-1 cup Basil leaves, rinsed

2-4 garlic cloves

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans

1/4-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put everything (except the olive oil) in the food processor, place the top on (with veggie chute removed), and turn it on while adding the olive oil in a steady stream. Stop, remove top, scrape with a spatula, and process until smooth. Repeat as necessary. Add more oil if needed and adjust salt, garlic, lemon, and pepper to taste. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

What I’m Doing About Anxiety

For the past few weeks, I’ve had higher-than-usual anxiety levels. Lots of activity and a full house are definitely part of it, plus the changing weather, and my ongoing post-divorce inner work/healing. Yes, I know, we’ve all got stuff to deal with and we have to do the best we can every day. So, here is a list of some of the tools that are helping me get my anxiety under control each day.

Calming Aromatherapy Blend:

(4 drops Cypress, 3 drops Lavender, 5 drops Sweet Orange essential oil.) When my anxiety seems to be peaking, this blend helps me almost instantly. I put it in my diffuser, sit down to work at my desk, and within 10-15 minutes I feel that tightness in my chest ease, the inexplicable sadness and worry lifts, and I come back to myself.

Calmsense:

I’ve said it before and will say it again: This blend of B vitamins and herbs really works to calm me down, boost my mood, and relieve stress. Whether for everyday anxiety issues or for situational anxiety, (before a performance, for example), it works for me within twenty minutes. You should have this in your natural first aid kit.

Walking outside for at least twenty minutes each day.

Just get out there! Your mood will lift, your ability to focus improve, your stress levels will drop, and your overall sense of well-being will rise. Feel the sun or rain or wind on your face, connect with your surroundings, and remind yourself that you are part of the planet, and the planet is part of you.

Meditation/Yoga/Prayer/Pranayama:

Pick one or do all of them, but whether you are praying, practicing yoga, meditating or doing breathing exercises like Pranayama, you will benefit with lowered stress levels and a calmer, more positive outlook. I enjoy meditating and practicing yoga with the YogaGlo app on my phone.

Watching something that makes you laugh.

I can get so serious and stuck in my head, trying to solve problems and get work done, that I forget to take a break and just laugh. Whether it’s I Love Lucy episodes, a movie like Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah or a TV show like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a good laugh session will do wonders for your mood and you’ll stress less.

Reading books on contemplative prayer and mindfulness:

Peace of Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

I would love to hear about what tools you use to help yourself when you are feeling anxious.

Monday Meditation

I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat one morning at the beginning of practice and began to cry. The instructor was guiding us toward the place we wanted to be and told us to focus on that, rather than the stuff in our heads, and the things that were wrong.

I was weighted by much that was wrong–real and imagined. Things I have continually heaped on myself since my divorce and things that I wanted to change about my own life and surroundings. Ways I attempted to control circumstances so I could bring order to places in my mind and body that I felt were lacking. I was a mess–full of anxiety and wrapped tightly into a cocoon of sadness and guilt and darkness.

On the mat, I began to moved through the poses. The focus was on strength and the idea was that we are stronger than we think we are. The poses became more intense. I shook in holding poses, (planks, especially) and felt fatigue hitting me in waves as I did yet another vinyasa. But as I continued through the difficulty of the practice I felt stronger and calmer and more assured that my life was a thing of complicated beauty.

Off the mat, several hours later, I began to meditate on empowering thoughts. Then I wrote them down. You know what? All that anxiety and guilt and regret and need to control my surroundings just melted away! It was such a relief!

This was so helpful to me that I wanted to share my list with you. I encourage you to make your own–it’s actually kind of fun and I think you’ll feel anxiety slip away and a sense of calm and strength center you.

I Can

I can be my best self today.

I can tell the truth today.

I can enjoy my life today.

I can be kind and generous to myself today.

I can be kind and generous to others today.

I can bring ideas and solutions to work today.

I can accomplish what I need to today.

I can listen today.

I can say I’m sorry today.

I can release the past today.

I can learn today.

I can be enough today.

I can matter to others today.

I can love people today.

I can take care of my body today.

I can take care of my soul today.

I can love my children today.

I can love my husband today.

I can stay in the light and not hide today.

I can be a good friend today.

I can drink enough water today.

I can get outside and let Nature embrace me today.

I can laugh today.

I can communicate better today.

I can improve on yesterday today.

I can say no when I need to today.

I can say yes when it’s wholehearted today.

I can make mistakes and grow today.

I can be God’s child today.

(Not Sad) Cypress (Wellness Wednesday)

When I turned seven, a couple of family friends gave me Nancy Drew mysteries for my birthday. I gobbled them up and was soon devouring the whole collection from our little public library in Brooklyn. By the time I was twelve, I was devouring Agatha Christie mysteries. Since the essential oil I’m sharing about today is Cypress, that made me think of the Christie mystery, Sad Cypress.

Actually, Cypress isn’t sad at all–it has quite the opposite effect. It is gentle and uplifting to the emotions. Happy Wellness Wednesday, friends! It’s time for another edition of “What Should I Do With My Oils?”.

Latin name: Cupressus sempervirens L.; Family: Cupressaceae; Part of plant used: Leaves, twigs, cones.

Therapeutic Actions: Antispasmodic, Antiseptic, Decongestant, Restorative to the Nervous System.

How to use: Helpful for varicose veins, edema, preventative for sore throats, relieve lymph congestion, respiratory infections in the early phase, influenza, asthma, sore throats, dry spasmodic coughs, bronchitis, rosacea, wound healing, calming, helpful for transitions or times of grief, soothes anxiety.

Soothing Cypress Diffuser Blend for Anxiety, Immune Support, Allergy Relief

6 drops Cypress

3 drops Lemon

3 drops Black Spruce

Allergy Diffuser Blend

5 drops Cypress

3 drops Naiouli

4 drops Scots Pines

Nightime Leg Blend for Varicose Veins, Swollen Legs and Feet

2 oz. fragrance free lotion

16 drops Cypress

12 drops Lavender

8 drops Red Mandarin