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Why so mercurial?

Mercury got you down?

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a triple header. At the time of this writing, we’re entering into a new moon cycle and are leaving behind Mercury in retrograde. Oh, and there’s the first harvest (known in the Celtic tradition as Lammas).

It’s also a super moon, meaning the moon is at the point in its orbit that is nearest to the Earth; that means the high tides are higher, and the low tides are lower right now.

As our bodies are nearly two-thirds water, the motion and greater intensity of the moon’s impact on the tides means we are subject to that much more gravitational “pull.” It’s not your imagination – it’s science.  So, if you’ve been feeling especially off balance and maybe a little more wobbly than usual, allow yourself to lean into rather than resist all the movement. Welcome in less topsy turvyiness, and more easeful floating. It’s a time to focus on anything or anyone in your life that is stable right now.

In this edition of Soul Notes, as the planet Mercury seemingly (although not actually) reverses its course, let’s explore what it means to be “mercurial.” Mercurial is defined as fickle, volatile, ever-changing, and unpredictable. It can leave each of us and those around us feeling a little, or a lot, anxious.

Mercury, the chemical, is named after the fastest moving planet in our solar system, and if ingested can cause among other things damage to our nervous system. It is no coincidence that many believe that Mercury in retrograde can be rather disruptive. It happens at those three or so times a year when the planet Mercury is moving slower than is the Earth, creating the illusion that it’s moving backward. That can be disconcerting indeed.

Our medicine cabinet in the kids’ bathroom when I was growing up always had in it a small bottle of something called Mercurochrome. Containing a trace amount of mercury and not having been subject to FDA scrutiny or approval, it  has since been taken off store shelves in the United States.

Whenever I ran back into the house after having fallen and scraped one or both my knees, mom would pull out the bottle of Mercurochrome, take a stopper full of the liquid silver and sploosh a mighty squirt of the stuff right onto my skin. I winced and felt the burn and nearly held my breath as I would watch a brownish reddish amber amoeba stain of goo form on my skin. Fully awakened by the new pain out-paining the original one, I nonetheless scampered back out again to play, and probably fall again, and likely later to have to pull out a few nettles and foxtails from my socks and hair.

While “at play,” what I like best is that my mind gets to take a rest. Gemini is my sun sign, and according to astrology, Mercury is my ‘ruling planet.’ Mercury is said to rule communication and the mind. So during Mercury’s retrograde periods, I get to enjoy a double-uptick in challenges.  I get to practice calming down my already otherwise nervous, highly mutable energy. I get to be so extra…you know, mercurial! 

For your consideration

How about for you? Are you coming off a super-charged few days or weeks of intensity in your life?  If so, consider seeking out ways to stabilize and ground yourself.  Yes, ground yourself, as in hold a stone in your hand, sit on a rock, or put your bare feet on the actual ground. Take a slow, long, calming look out at a mountain peak or at a set of large trees in your area, if you can. And, if you’re at all like me, even standing in mountain pose in your living room, and breathing deeply and slowly for 8-11 breaths will likely do you wonders.

Okay, your turn:

In what ways are you coming out of an especially wobbly week or two, and in what ways are you transitioning along with the natural world into a more stabilized phase?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2019 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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Leaving something better than you found it

Restoring a place to its original habitat

On a recent Saturday morning, I joined a group of about 50 volunteers to help restore the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Playa del Rey, California.  Our mission was to clear an area about the size of a football field of overgrown foliage and remove the nonnative plants.  This in turn, as our group leaders advised us, would serve to restore the area to its original ecological balance and to retain ecosystemic harmony in the region.

During the introductory talk, the representatives from the Reserve explained to us that the thousands of bird species who migrate from North to South each year have lost many of their natural water and food sources, due to humankind’s disruption of the native plants and the injection of nonnative plants from lands far and wide.  This has also adversely affected the living patterns of butterflies, caterpillars, snails, lizards, and a range of insects who would otherwise be contributing their ecological benefits in a more thriving way to this area.

Making an impact: visible and lasting results

By thinning out the overcrowding of plants, and removing stem by stem the nonnative ones, we created breathing room for the native plants to catch some air. Throughout the course of a few short hours, it became more and more readily apparent that we were truly making an impact. I could see as well as feel the difference we were making, moment by moment. As I looked out across the patch of wetlands we were assigned to help restore to its natural beauty, the plants seemed to look happier and it was if I could hear them saying: Thank You.

I was also struck by how much the same could be said about us as humans, too. We seem to be a species rarely content to enjoy the breathing room, with the ever increasing “crowding” of our days filled with back to back scheduling and activities.  We don’t seem to have a switch that tells us automatically to “leave well enough alone.”  If humans over the centuries hadn’t disrupted the natural ecosystem, there would be nothing to restore in the first place.  Yes, we volunteers that day were leaving this area “better than we found it,” but that was only because the humans years before us had left it worse than they found it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It takes a certain level of conscious awareness to be good stewards of our land and surroundings.

For your consideration:

Each of us, individually and in groups, can make a positive impact by volunteering even a few hours of our time to improving the land and space near and around us.  Take a few moments to write down a list of volunteer organizations or events in your area – select something between now and Solstice.  Maybe you will visit someone in a hospital or other care facility?  How about volunteering at an animal rescue organization?  One time I felt the urge to clean up a local public park, and called up a friend to come with me – it was rather impromptu – all we needed to bring were a few garbage bags and away we went!

Let me know what you select to do.  I look forward to hearing all about it and witnessing the impact you’re making.

Okay, your turn:

Where in your life or community have you left your mark in a tangible way, that has created viable improvements?  Would you like to make more of an impact?  Are you committed to doing so?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2019 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.

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Planting seeds now and for well into the future

Planting seeds and envisioning orchards

In elementary school, our teacher often told the folkloric tale of Johnny Appleseed (whom I researched recently to find out was a real person named John Chapman — an early American colonist and missionary —  who was a member of the New Church of Christianity).

While details of his life and legacy are the stuff of legend mixed in with documented history, John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) was known to travel throughout New England and into the Midwest, spreading apple seeds for others to grow apple trees on their land. It has been reported that he was quite the businessman and enterprising in that he followed the then law that prescribed that a person with 50 apple trees or more could stake claim to a plot of land as part of the early homesteading rules and regulations.

And his religious beliefs, stemming largely from the New Church’s forbidding doing harm to any of God’s creation, informed many of his day-to-day activities. He is believed to have built fences around apple trees to keep out livestock and other animals. It has been reported that he even helped heal an injured wolf and a hobbled horse.

Johnny Appleseed also was someone who made it his mission to spread apple seeds in a way that allowed apple trees to grow and the fruit to propagate naturally. He disfavored the intervention through the then and now common practice of “grafting” from one tree to another. Apples intrinsically have a wide variety of genetic variability. As such, not unlike a box of chocolates (an appreciative nod to the movie Forrest Gump), you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. Without grafting, apple seeds are allowed to sprout into an array of unpredictable varieties.  That lends to them being hardier and more able to adapt to and incorporate their ever changing surroundings.  While less ‘standardized’ and less ‘consistent’ in their outcomes, non-grafted apples allow for the element of surprise and naturally occurring complexities to emerge from the mystery and manifest into form.

So, what’s the spiritual lesson in this, you may be asking?  I’d say it’s this:

Plant the seeds and let go.  Provide them water, soil and sunshine, sure; but otherwise, let them be.  Allow specific outcomes to remain uncertain. Resist the temptation to impose person-made alterations that prevent nature from enjoying its full expression and dare I say potentially quirky “imperfections.”  So, too, may it be with regard to your own dreams and aspirations.

With your desires, envision them coming into form.  And, then let them go.  Allow them to run their natural course. Don’t allow your over-thinking and over-manipulating to “graft” onto your dreams and drain the life out of them.  Don’t try artificially to “contain” the fruit of your dreams.  Allow them to adapt and blend into the naturally shifting conditions and environment.  That, to me, is what we mean when we say “to be in the flow.”

The analogies between personal development and spiritual growth, and growth in nature, are abundant. When I started to envision the topic for this particular edition of SOUL NOTES, I didn’t anticipate that it would lead me to the tale of Johnny Appleseed.  Alas, here we are.  There’s more to his story, as I know there is more to yours as well. Tales to be told, and shaped, reshaped, and retold.

The longterm impact and leaving a legacy

Johnny Appleseed also exemplifies that planting seeds in the short term can reap dividends in the long term. As each of us continues to grow in our own spiritual development, the world stands to gain from that growth.  As each of us plants our seeds of intentions, desires, and heartfelt aspirations now for the betterment of all, we help to provide for generations to come.  In doing so, we indeed stand to leave an important and loving legacy.

For your consideration:

Feel into your dream theme for this year, and determine what seeds you’re planting now so that they may continue to grow throughout the year into a strong and vibrant orchard, for you and for others to enjoy. You are the steward of that legacy. You are the gardener.

Okay, your turn:

What are you planting now, in the ground, in your life, in your relationships, and how you show up in the world?  Are there any seeds you’ve been keeping tucked away deep in your pocket so to speak, that it’s time to plant into the ground and to allow to grow out into the light? If so, what is it exactly that you are waiting for? The season is now.

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2019 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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Emerging from a slumber: Lessons from nature this time of year

Emerging from a slumber

As we approach Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere – I honor that it is a time when nature nears its completion of its turn toward what we experience as the “shortest” days of the year.  The days are not actually shorter; we simply experience them as shorter because we “see” less daytime, and observe more evening time during a 24-hour period.

As Winter Solstice comes and goes, we tend to say that the light returns. May we all remember that the light never truly goes away.  It’s always there. It’s only that during certain portions of our planet’s orbit around the sun, we experience fewer hours of daylight.  Physically, on the earth, the more north we are, the more extreme the disparity between the total hours of lightness and of darkness.

Not unlike the planet, we, too, as humans are turning and rotating through the seasons…through the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives.

What is it about slowing down, lying dormant, by nature’s design, only to be later awakened from our slumber – that sometimes seemingly troubles us? Why is it that in modern day society, we tend to choose overindulgences over what is more meaningful and is more apt to sustain us? Typically, we tend to go for the immediate gratification. Silly humans!

We can take a lesson from the great grizzlies who “den” in the wintertime, seeking refuge from the severe weather conditions. Hibernation affords them an opportunity to preserve their bodies and life force energy when the natural resources on the outside are less readily available and more difficult to come by. It’s a time when the wind picks up, and the temperature drops. The grizzlies forage and bulk up during the weeks preceding their hibernation; they re-emerge leaner and yet just as strong as when they entered.

How does this parallel our own lives as spiritual seekers? Does this open up an opportunity for us each year, to “go inside” and take refuge from the outside forces?  For me, that means surrendering into the natural rhythm of the seasonal shifts, rather than fighting against them.  I used to express disdain for the wintertime.  I saw it as an inconvenience to drive home from work in the dark, and to have fewer hours of sunshine to enjoy the beach and other outdoor activities.

While I’m still practicing my surrendering into the darker times of the year, each trip around the sun I get a little closer to full acceptance. Turning inward, this time of year, I make an even more concerted effort to slow down and tap into my own inner light, my own soulful center.  We all have one.  And, yes, like the sun, it’s always there, too.  Sometimes it’s a flicker; other times, it’s a full glow. It may appear dark and stark from time to time.  I remind myself that it only appears that way. The source of the light remains the same: constant, steadfast, reliable, and true. I have much to receive from it, much to sustain me.  I appreciate it now.  I’m thankful for all that it offers.  And, for you?

For your consideration:

As individuals and as a society, have we been slumbering too long?  Or, to mix metaphors:  Have we been asleep at the wheel?

From a spiritual standpoint: Are we now emerging from our slumber and stepping into a higher level of consciousness?  I would say yes, for many, this is indeed the case.  That’s what’s been the challenge as well as the opportunity…for growth, for a remembrance of what’s pure and true, and for paving a renewed path: a path that honors us, our sacred institutions, and our precious planet and all those who inhabit it.

For me, the recent political landscape in the United States has served as a powerfully potent catalyst that has reawakened me from my own slumber and reactivated my political and legal activism. The misuse of power across many sectors of our federal government, coupled with the blatant disregard for the United States Constitution hurts my heart.  And, at the same time, it fuels my passion. If you’re a regular reader of Soul Notes, then you’ll recall some of my chronicles of such matters the past two years.  I’m feeling into what that means for me, heading into 2019.

Okay, your turn:

Where in your life would you like to take temporary refuge, and regroup, so that later you may re-emerge lean and strong?  What needs shedding or letting go?   What lessons can be found in the darkness?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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Why do we resist change? (Or, do we?)

Why do we resist change?

In this edition of Soul Notes, let’s talk about change.  I’m not talking about change for change’s sake.  I’m referring to those anticipated or even avoided changes that gnaw at us, and keep us at best distracted or at worst completely stuck, immobile, and hunkering down and ducking from opportunities that may expand us, help us and others, and even allow us fully to flourish.

Rather than resisting or avoiding change, perhaps it’s worth flipping it on its head:

What if instead it was a matter of welcoming and embracing change, in spite of, or even especially when, the outcome is uncertain?  It need not be reckless nor done with wanton abandon.

With, in many instances, hotly contested races in the midterm elections held in the United States this week, many voters heartily embraced a change in the ruling political party and a rebalancing of power among the three branches of government.  Not everyone held on for dear life to the status quo.

Some changes are certain.  They are taken as a given, without resistance: The ebbing and flowing of the tides.  The waxing and waning of the moon.  The rising and setting of the sun.

Stages and seasons of growth in nature:  those are accepted as certain, or nearly always so. Nature takes a certain trajectory, follows a certain course, pattern, cycle, movement, and rhythm. Of all the species, it is humankind that is perhaps the most not-so-kind to the natural world.  We are the species that most interferes with the grand design of this world.

It is we who inject and impose contorted calendars and appointment schedules into what is an otherwise orderly order.  We invoke what are for the most part arbitrary time changes such as “daylight saving time.” It is this imposing of our will over divine will that I would venture to say brings us strife and grief, and long-term suffering at the hands of fleeting, or even altogether unmaterialized, gains.

Maybe it really does come down to the invocations expressed in the Serenity Prayer:  Accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and invite in the wisdom to know the difference. For those circumstances we cannot change, we can still indeed change our response.  (See The Meaningfulness of Meaning here, referencing the work of Viktor Frankl.)

We are in control.  We get to decide how we respond. We get to take inspired action.  We get to adapt, move forward, expand, and grow.  And why not?  To stay stuck is tiring, uninspiring, and altogether dull.

For your consideration:

Is change something to be avoided at all costs?  Why or why not?  Does it depend on the situation?

Okay, your turn

Where has embracing change, even when initially it seemed scary, brought about improved outcomes for you?  On the other hand, when would you have benefited from accepting a situation exactly as-is, and had fully appreciated it in that moment?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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Sandpipers dot the shoreline

Sandpipers

Dozens of them

dot the shoreline

as they scamper toward the receding flow of the tide

as it heads out

and back in again

while the ocean water

flows back toward the beach.

 

Symphonically

they keep in rhythm

with each other

and with the tide.

 

Barefoot

I press my feet and toes deep into cool wet sand

on a sweaty Summer’s day

as dusk drops in

 

With each stride

my head dips toward my chest

and I drop into reflection

and then I bring my head back up again

looking out into the setting sun’s light

 

Turning toward the Pacific Ocean

I survey the water

and take in the view

toward the west and the northwest

 

I see the trail of

sailboats

that are heading back toward and around

Marina del Rey’s nearby jetty,

And

I breathe in the view of

the Santa Monica mountains

and the coastal edges of Malibu

peeking out ever so slightly

off in the distance toward the right

 

All the while

I allow all that is

all that is

weighing heavily on my heart

and all that is

swelling my heart

and filling me

with

love

sorrow

sadness

grief

awe

mystery

devotion

reverence

revelation

serenity

solemnity

peace

calm

 

I am a body

and a soul

walking

my path

 

And it

Is

poignant

challenging

heavy and

light

and

dark

and

bright

 

Tragic

and

beautiful

and

joyful

and

in the end

as in the beginning

it is

all

divine

Okay, your turn:

What comes up for you as you read this poem?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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The wisdom of the sages

There’s sage and then there’s sage !

Sage, as we know, is a type of herb. The sage plant has been used by a number of cultures for thousands of years.  It has been used in Chinese medicine.  It has been used by Native Americans in various ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. Some have even suggested that it leads to immortality!

In China, sage tea has been called the “thinker’s tea.” Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, it has been known to help improve memory and overall brain function.  Perhaps that is why the word “sage” also is used to describe a person who is wise.  It can also be used as an adjective (as in “sage advice”).

The title of this article is a deliberate play on words.  Sages and ages. They both connote a harkening back to ancient times as well as serve as a current example of ancient traditions put to good use in the so-called modern age.  Has there been a resurgence, or have these practices been put to good use all along?  Are we perhaps simply more aware of them now, due to the internet, globalization, and social media?

Sage has even become a somewhat trendy baby name, at least in the United States.  I wonder if it’s part of the ‘Apple’ craze?  (Referring to the celebrity’s baby’s name, not the computer company.)

We all remember being asked the question when we were young: What do you want to be when you grow up?  Me:  a philosopher.  I didn’t hear anyone around me saying that they wanted to be that.  It wasn’t exactly listed anywhere as a possible career track.  That didn’t matter to me.  If it was needed, and served a purpose, why couldn’t it be an occupation?

I wasn’t even exactly sure what all a job as a philosopher would entail. I knew in my heart, though, that it was a role that would be important and one that would be of service to others.  In my imagination, philosophers were the wisest people in their communities.  And, as such, they had a responsibility to answer seekers’ questions and provide helpful suggestions, recommendations, and solutions.

Sometimes we picture “wise ones” sitting on a mountain top, or living in caves in the Himalayas.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured them more along the lines of a wise man or wise woman in Ancient Greece sitting quietly in a town square, as the local villagers would stop by whenever they were seeking an answer to an inquiry or when wrestling with a concern that was weighing heavily on their soul, or when struggling with a conflict they couldn’t quite resolve.

I pictured philosophers dispensing wisdom not unlike a modern day pharmacist dispensing medicine.  And, I did truly envision “philosopher” as an actual vocation, and a paid position, for sure.  I even had a specific annual salary in mind.  I thought that a philosopher should make $300,000 a year.  Here was my reasoning:  At the time, the President of the United States’ annual salary was set at $200,000. Knowing that, accordingly, I figured that philosophers should be paid at least 50% more than the President, as they would be at least that much more wise and valuable to the country and citizenry!  Apparently, I really had put a lot of thought into this (grin).

While Philosopher or Sage may not be a job title, certainly there are modern day professions where others seek their guidance and advice.   Lawyers fall into that category (hence, the term “counselor at law”).  As with some other professions, within law, there are rules of professional responsibility.  It is part of the licensing process, and continuing legal education requirements as well.  And, as covered in this week’s Six-Minute Saturdays episode, many lawyers including myself were drawn to the law as a career because of a deep desire to be of service.

Admittedly, not all legal advice is the sagest or the wisest. I would suggest, though, that the profession is at least designed to serve that purpose, and with that intention.  And, ultimately, the client retains control over whether to heed that advice, ignore it, or even to seek additional opinions.

For your consideration:

So, with that in mind then, allow me to pose this question: Upon whom, ultimately, do we need to rely, for the sagest advice of all?

Are we not, each of us, deep down, our own best philosopher?  We simply need to access that inner wise sage.  That’s why meditation is important.  That’s why getting quiet and still is wise. By listening to our own inner guidance and messages, we each hold the power and divinity to reach the most appropriate conclusions and answers for ourselves.  And, that is valuable beyond compare.

Okay, your turn:

What’s been the sagest advice that you’ve ever received?  What’s the sagest advice that you’ve ever given? What’s the best advice that your inner-sage has revealed to you?  What made it so?  Did you act on it?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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An Ode to Love (aka, ‘not your usual’ love letter)

February, the month of love.  Oh, how we love (and sometimes don’t) love thee, February!

This new moon’s edition of Soul Notes is dedicated to love.  May love find you and you find love in all the divinely inspired ways possible…this month, and always.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Dear Love,

Thank you for sunsets

and sunrises

Thank you for moonrises

and moonsets

 

Thank you for rainbows

and moonbows

and mountain tops

and mountain bottoms

And landscapes

and horizons far and near

and seas to cross

and seas to see

and salty wind sprays

off the ocean

And unswept beaches

with crawly sand crabs

and scurrying sandpipers

 

Thank you for the crunch of gravel

and the scent of pine needles

and the shape of pine cones

and the sweetness of pineapples

 

Thank you for fireflies

and hummingbirds

and macaws

and geckos

 

and the clippity clop

of Clydesdales

 

and the sounds of drumming heard from the drum circle

down in the valley

 

Thank you for heart beats

and heart swells

and heart warmings

 

Thank you for goodbyes

and hellos

 

Thank you for touch

and taste

and ecstasy

and bliss

 

Thank you for stretches

and stretching

and growing

and restoring

and

Thank you for the

remembering

 

Thank you for new levels

and old reliables

 

Thank you for healing

and healing space…s

 

Thank you for being there

even when I don’t seem to notice

 

Thank you for seeing me

Thank you for hearing me

Thank you for listening

 

Thank you for knowing all the things

The secret secrets

and the not so secret

 

Thank you for the holding

and the mystery

and the understanding

and the hope

and the reassurance

 

Thank you for the reason

and the unreason

of it all

 

I am with you

We are with you

I am you

We are you

And it is…

divine

Okay, your turn:

What does this poem bring up for you?  What is love?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Savasana and the power of sweet surrender

Restore and Replenish

Ultimately, this practice helps “ready and steady” you for success as you return to the world refreshed and more available to handle its opportunities, challenges and stresses.

During this time of year, as nature slows down and takes a quiet breather to restore and replenish, it’s a good time to revisit our daily practices and employ simple yet effective ways to follow mother nature’s wisdom.   As nature turns inward, I invite us to do the same.

Heading into the holiday season as well, this can be a time of year that may heighten our nerves and trigger deep emotions.  This too makes it an ideal time to implement consistent daily practices to ground ourselves,  and help us “settle everything down”.

In this moon’s edition of Soul Notes, we explore the ancient practice of savasana, and a technique called 4-7-8 breathing.

Turning Inward

So often in our fast-paced world, we seemingly forget to relax! Even low-level activities which we may be thinking are ways to relax often serve more as a mental distraction, and aren’t truly relaxing at all (watching television news, anyone?)

What if we were to allow ourselves to drop into a state of quiet neutrality, where all of our hurried, harried, frazzled parts can come back together and rest?

Savasana, or “final resting pose”: This asana (posture) is typically reserved for the end of a yoga practice.

After a revving up of the body, nervous system, organs, muscles and blood flow during yoga exercises, savasana serves many blissful purposes, including:  reintegration, restoration, and a letting go of any mental chatter, agitation, or “gripping.”  It’s an easing into the floor or ground upon which your body is placed – on your back, with legs comfortably apart, arms opened, palms facing upward.  Eyes are closed.  Breathing is calm, slow, and deep. Savasana is typically done for 5-10 minutes, and may even be done for up to 30 minutes at a time.

By engaging in savasana, you more easily become aware of your breath and your mind state.   Ultimately, this practice helps “ready and steady” you for success as you return to the world and all its many challenges, opportunities, and stresses.

Another way to “turn inward” and combat the day to day stresses we all face, is to combine savasana with a 4-7-8-count breathing technique made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil. As with other yogic breathing, it’s best done with your tongue placed up and against the inside of your upper front teeth.  1. Take a slow deep breath in, for a count of four.  2. Hold the breath for a count of seven.  3. Release the breath out for a count of eight.  In one session, repeat this 4-7-8 breath cycle four times, to complete “one round”.

Start out breathing at a counting pace that’s comfortable for you, and over time you’ll find yourself being able to slow down your breathing and elongating each count.  The sequence, however, remains the same:  4-7-8. In total, a round of four breath cycles takes no more than two minutes, tops!

It will help you relax any time of day.  And, it will help you fall asleep.  Train yourself to do this to help you get centered, grounded and calm before you react to any stressful situation.

Although savasana is usually done at the end of a full yoga set, I’m inviting us all to try it on its own, as part of our daily practice, especially between now and the end of the year. Both savasana and the 4-7-8 technique have compounding positive effects when done consistently and over the course of several weeks and months.

Savasana and the 4-7-8 breathing technique — each of these practices are whole and complete on their own, and need not be done together.  You actually don’t usually see them done in conjunction with one another. I’m suggesting, though, that they make for a powerful combo pack!  I invite you to try them together, at least once a day.  Do a ten-minute savasana, followed by a four-cycle round of the 4-7-8 breathing.

Sweet Surrender

Both of these practices serve as forms of physical and energetic surrender, in all the best ways.  It’s a conscious and powerful choice to grant ourselves devoted time to recharge and receive the bliss that comes with sweet surrender.  Look at the image of the child above, so pure, so relaxed…so open to all of life’s joys, triumphs, and love!

For your consideration and “extra credit”:

In addition to doing one savasana daily*:

Several times throughout the day — and especially right before going to sleep – do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. Remember this practice takes only a minute or two to complete.  You will serve you and your overall health and well-being tremendously by doing so!

*For a refresher on daily practices, go here.

Okay, your turn:

What daily practices, if any, have you been doing throughout the course of this year? Have you tried any new ones?  Are you open to doing something a little differently throughout the holiday season?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2017 Lori A. Noonan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The Meaningfulness of Meaning: Living a Life Worthwhile

In this edition of Soul Notes, we explore the concept of meaning and what that constitutes in terms of a meaningful life.  In this article, I’ll make references to one of Viktor Frankl’s books, originally entitled From Death Camp to Existentialism, now more commonly known by the title: Man’s Search for Meaning.

A doctor of psychiatry, Viktor Frankl (Frankl) is the founder of the psychotherapeutic school of thought he named logotherapy.  In contrast to Sigmund Freud’s focus on human instincts and the human drive for pleasure, Frankl focused his work on man’s (humankind’s) quest for finding meaning in one’s life.

Part One of Man’s Search for Meaning documents Frankl’s personal experiences as an inmate in concentration camps during World War II.  In Part Two of the book, he elaborates on logotherapy and how his experiences in the camps provided the backdrop for himself to become in effect his own best patient.  Part Two includes examples of patients he treated outside of the camps along with scientific and statistical data to illustrate his points.

Prior to being captured, Frankl had already written the manuscript for his first book, The Doctor and the Soul.  He had tucked the manuscript into his coat before being forced onto the train for Auschwitz.  Once at the camp, he and all the other prisoners were stripped of their personal belongings.  Accordingly, the manuscript he had hidden in his coat was quickly confiscated.

Adding then to the already deep poignancy of Frankl’s observations made during the Holocaust, is the fact that he by necessity documented them all from memory.  He kept his mind sharp by reconstructing in his head the original manuscript of that first book that he would later rewrite and publish.  The only physical remnants of the original manuscript that he had been able to reconstruct while in the camps were in the form of key words and phrases that he would surreptitiously scribble on tiny scraps of paper.

Beyond the Physical:  Love, Spirituality, and A  Life Mission

Physically separated from his wife in the concentration camps, Frankl didn’t know if his wife was still alive.  It was in his mind’s eye that he would hold onto an image of her.  Just as through love he would cling to an image of his wife –- through a sense of commitment to his life’s work and overall life’s mission –- Frankl with devotion clung to the hope and intention of (re)writing his manuscript and publishing his psychological findings, all to the benefit of his profession and mental patients worldwide.

According to Frankl, love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. Love finds its deepest meaning in one’s spiritual being, within the inner self. He also said that even during his time in captivity, glimpses of nature, music, and humor helped him and others to survive.  They were grateful, he said, for the smallest of mercies.

Frankl further went on to contend that by devoting oneself to a cause to serve or another person to love, that the more human and actualized one becomes. In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, he suggested then that life’s meaning even can be potentially unconditional.

If and when conditions get tough on the outside, spirituality can play an even more important role from the inside:

“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 36, emphasis added).

In other words, the type of person each prisoner would become resulted more from that person’s mental and spiritual state, than purely his physical state.  Profoundly, Frankl maintained that one can decide to keep (and benefit from keeping) one’s human dignity, even in a concentration camp.

The Meaning in Suffering

Frankl was not suggesting that to have a meaningful life, one must suffer.  He did profess, however, that if there is meaning in life at all, there must certainly be meaning in suffering.  According to Frankl, those prisoners who discarded their inner morals, and who concluded that their lives were pointless, and thus “gave up” psychologically, were those who “forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 72).

The Importance of Having Faith in the Future and the Power of Personal Choice

Frankl also understood the importance of having faith in the future. Without a belief in a better future, he said, a prisoner was subject to losing his spiritual hold, and thereby made himself more susceptible to mental and physical decay at a much more fervent pace.

So, what to do?

We may not be able to change every situation that we face in life.  We can, however, change ourselves and our approach.

Through our attitudes, choices and decisions we make and the actions we take, we can rise to any challenge and accept the opportunity to infuse any situation with meaning, even the most difficult ones.  Meaning is possible with or without (although perhaps most strikingly during times of) suffering.

Our lives are lived in moments.  And every human being, as exemplified by Frankl, has the freedom to change themselves — and their experience of any situation in life — in an instant.

 “[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 66).

Each of us gets to decide what our existence will be in any given moment, and what we will become in the next moment.

That is true freedom.

Freedom Plus Reasonableness

Freedom alone, however, is not enough.  Frankl makes clear that freedom to choose must be combined with responsibleness.  Otherwise, as a race, the human race, we are destined for destruction. Every person has both potentialities within us – to be either a swine or saint, he said.  Which one is actualized, says Frankl, depends on the decisions we make, and not on the conditions we face.

So the beauty and the promise of Frankl’s work and legacy I would say is this:

Each of us has the challenge and the opportunity to bring with us the values of our past, make empowered choices and take responsible actions in the present, and thereby create futures of the highest value to humankind.

With that, we find meaning.

All is not lost.

Much is gained.

 

For your consideration:

What makes life meaningful? Can there be meaning in suffering?  Is suffering required?

Okay, your turn:

What has helped you bring a sense of meaning into your life?  Was suffering a part of it?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2017 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.