Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Got Dreams?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What do you dream about?

I'm not talking about those surreal images that fill your sleeping mind in the middle of the night. I'm referring to the dreams or visions you have about your own life and world.

Whether they seem unrealistic, outlandish or downright impossible, dreams are an essential part of you moving forward into the future you want. Dreaming is a powerful and creative act.

Flashback to the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s. A very famous dream was eloquently communicated to the world by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He declared, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This speech, as well as Dr. King's teachings and actions over the course of his life, are indisputably influential. Other brave leaders have also worked, and are working, to improve race relations in this country. These improvements have come, and continue to unfold, in response to the dreams of these visionaries.

Perhaps your dreams aren't about racial equality. That's ok. Everyone's dreams-- no matter how seemingly significant or insignificant-- are important. It is the degree to which we allow or disallow our dreams that can make a huge impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.

Do you allow yourself to dream?

I admit that I have a very practical sensibility much of the time. My habit tends to be to not go “too far” or ask for “too much.” If I am invited to declare my dream, it's usually a bit tricky for me.

I'm frequently like the kid who's set free in the proverbial “candy shop” but I seem to need to think it through and be “reasonable” about which lollipops, bon bons or chocolate kisses would be the most appropriate choices.

Choosing a path consciously and mindfully is certainly advisable. Charging impulsively forward may take you to a place you don't want to go.

However, I know first-hand that standing frozen, spinning my wheels blocks my dreaming and the future I desire along with it. I may decide on a single caramel, but close the door to so much more.

When you shut down your dreams, you close yourself off to the future you desire.

What's holding you back?
If, like me, you realize that you don't always give yourself permission to dream, it might be helpful to take a deeper look at the resistance within yourself.

You might harbor beliefs about what you think you deserve or don't deserve. Maybe you were taught the false message that you are not worthy of a particular level of happiness or abundance.

It could be you resist dreaming because, on some level, you think there is only so much of the “good stuff” to go around. To you, living frugally or denying yourself is the only way to improve other people's lives.

It doesn't matter if your tamped down dreams relate to money, happiness or health. And regardless of how compassionate you want to be, when you hold yourself back, you simply cannot uplift or inspire anyone-- yourself or others.

What are your favorites?
Take a look at your resistance to dreaming. Take steps toward healing the wounds you may be carrying from the past. Turn your old limiting beliefs around and create new ones that support you en-visioning the future you want.

When you feel more open and excited about life, make a list of your preferences and desires. Simply write down whatever comes into your mind when you ask yourself questions such as:

*“What do I want?”

*“What is my vision for my future?”

*“What do my dream life, relationship, bank account, career, and world look like?”

How do I get from here to there?
Sometimes resistance to dreaming is rooted in feeling overwhelmed or concerns about how to “make” the dream actually occur. The desired outcome of the vision seems so far away or even incomprehensible; you might feel stuck and settle back into old habits of resistance.

Make it your intention to focus mainly on the vision itself and how great it feels when you permit yourself to think about actualizing your dream. Re-read your list of preferences and desires often.

Set aside concerns about how you will literally get from where you are to where you want to be. Opportunities often exist that we simply don't allow ourselves to see. Expand your view and notice how much freer and more empowered you feel.

Pay attention to the choices you are making. Sometimes your usual habits serve you and point you toward your dream and other times choosing a different option will more effectively take you where you want to go.

Above all, give yourself permission to dream and then keep on dreaming, no matter how practical or “realistic” you tend to be. Allow yourself to play around and create a vision for how you'd like your life and world to be. Next, open up and watch it unfold...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day!

Celebrate and Uplift with Inspired Action
By Amy Phillips-Gary

Today is Earth Day! You've probably seen television ads and programs spotlight products that are “green” and eco-friendly. You may have already taken part in events in your community to mark the occasion: streamside cleanup, community gardening, or perhaps tree planting.

Earth Day, officially declared as April 22nd here in the U.S. in 1970, was conceived as a day to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. More and more of us are joining in with Earth Day activities.

But before you pick up a shovel, trash bag or garden hoe, I'd like to invite you explore your intentions and motivations about our Earth and the environment of which we are all a part.

At almost every turn, we're told that our planet is in crisis environmentally. Whether it's carbon emissions, our dependency on fossil fuels or climate change, the talk is almost always how dire the environmental outlook is for our home, the Earth.

I do not advocate that we all stick our heads in the proverbial sand.

At the same time, however, I believe that the actions we take on this Earth Day and every day can be much more effective, long-lasting and mutually beneficial when we are inspired and positive-- instead of fearful or guilt-induced.

Lessons from Lisa Simpson
A recent episode of the satirical animated television show “The Simpsons,” showed the character Lisa turning to mind-numbing prescription drugs to cope with her deep depression about the frightening prospects for her town's future.

Lisa begins to see every person and thing in her life as only smiley faces in her drug-induced state. Where before Lisa was horrified to see people littering, dumping toxic waste or even being violent to one another, now she only sees garish bright yellow smiley faces.

Of course, it is not inspired, or inspiring, to walk around in a stupor as caricatured on “The Simpsons.” At the same time, to approach Earth Day-- or any other environmental action-- with a predominant feeling of fear, guilt, or a sense of self-righteousness is just as potentially ineffective and even detrimental.

Many of today's environmentally-oriented slogans attempting to raise awareness make an appeal to people to “save” or “protect” the Earth. This call is often followed up with statistics and facts about how many rainforest trees have been cut down, mountaintops removed, or how many plastic bags are piling up in landfills.

But what kind of existence are we mapping out for ourselves and our children with all of this fear?

Shift your energy and beliefs...
What beliefs do you hold about this Earth we live on? Do you tend to view it as polluted, in decline and threatened? Or do you believe that this is an amazing, abundant and sustainable place to live and thrive?

It can make a huge difference!

Have you ever taken an action when you mostly felt afraid or worried about whatever it was you were doing? Several years ago, my husband and I purchased a used car when we both were feeling fear, doubt and lack. The car turned out to be a total money pit as it seemed to need constant repair and maintenance. A big lesson for us was learned.
Never take action when your energies are fearful, negative and dominated by lack.

Attitudes and beliefs are quite powerful, which you probably already know from examples in your own life. This phenomenon tends to hold true in other areas as well-- including our relationship with the environment.

Take only inspired action...
What inspires you about this glorious Earth? I love watching the sun reflect off a stream in one my city's metroparks. I also feel renewed just being in the presence of trees and the green lushness of a forest. And, to me, there's something so much tastier and fresher about locally grown organic foods.

Touch in with what makes you feel alive and excited about your environment. From that energy and with those vibrations moving through you, choose your inspired action.

Notice how different it feels to plant a tree, till a cosmmunity garden or even pick up trash by a stream when your thoughts and attitude are focused on uplifting and hopefulness.

Truly celebrate this Earth Day. We are all interconnected with one another and with our planet. As we inwardly and energetically thrive, expand and continually renew, so does our Earth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mirror, Mirror...

Just about every one of us looks in the bathroom mirror every day. Whether it's checking to see if your hair is sticking out weird or food is in your teeth, you probably check your reflection.

Some of us like what we see staring back at us and others among us cringe.

Did you know that every single person and situation in your life can also be viewed as a big, ever-changing mirror? You can learn and grow in ways you might not have thought possible when you do so.

You are being presented with a mirror at virtually every moment-- especially when you feel uncomfortable, irritated or even enraged by someone or something in your experience.

Me and My Shadow
The mirrors in your life can be understood as a reflection of your “shadow” side. Theorist Carl Jung developed a series of archetypes; among them is the “shadow.” To put it simply, Jung suggests that humans project onto others aspects of ourselves that we do not want to acknowledge.

It might be the greediness of corrupt company CEOs. It could be the vanity of the celebrities we love to hate. It might even be the ineptness of a co-worker whose mistakes we always seem to have to clean up after.

As painful as it might be to recognize a mirror in the undesirable aspects of another person, you can more easily identify and make changes when you see and own those same tendencies.

The shadow is a powerful teacher-- a valuable resource when it comes to personal growth.

I honor and respect the theoretical contributions made by Jung. At the same time, I don't think we need to relegate the mirror imagings in our lives to being just “shadows.”

I think it is possible and detrimental to get caught up in a dichotomous “good/bad” “self/shadow” view of human nature. You can lose sight of the wonderful lessons being offered to you when you become entrenched in such a mind trap.

Beyond the Shadow
You can expand when you start to pay closer attention to the mirrors in your life-- and your growth can be even more expansive when you move past the tendency to label what you're seeing as “good or bad.”

When you are faced with someone who is rude, for example, you can end up being one who responds with more grace and kindness. But these shifts cannot happen easily, or at all, if you merely dismiss the mirror as “not you” and as “bad.”

You can focus your attention on labeling this person as “rude” and even notice that you harbor similar tendencies and then label yourself as “just as bad.” But neither of these reactions will allow you to move closer to what you want-- which is to feel better and be the person you want to be.

A different approach might be to recognize in the mirror your own possibly hidden tendencies or potential. After seeing this, you can know more clearly that you want to be a person who is kind, patient and considerate.

From that point, your focus is not on the “rude” behavior you've just witnessed, but instead on how you want to treat others and be treated. The mirror has allowed you to become more mindful of what you want and has helped you move closer to the person you want to be.

Mirrors, Mirrors Everywhere
Not only can you learn valuable lessons from the mirrors in your life, you can actually deepen your appreciation for life itself as a result. Just as you see that you can make changes that are more in alignment with what you want, those people you are observing (and possibly feeling annoyed by) can also do this.

Isn't it amazing that we all have the capacity to be the best we can be?

And it's not just shadows or points of contrast that are being shown to you in mirrors.

Every single day you are being shown reflections of inspiration. It is up to you to see and embrace those images.

When you see a person act heroically or tenderly, appreciate this mirror of your own ability to be a hero and a tender person.

You are being shown what is possible when you look at the mirrors in your life and from there you get to choose your next step. So thank that irritating person-- he or she is helping you to move closer to wholeness, happiness and joy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Treat Your Life to a Meditation Infusion

Would you like to feel more alert, energized, happier and healthier? Well, who wouldn't!? If so, you might consider meditation.

You could be like me and know the benefits of regular meditation but just don't make the time for it. Or, you may feel resistant to meditation because of what you perceive about the practice.

If you can set aside the perceptions you may have of meditation and open up to infusing your life with this enriching practice, you could be pleasantly surprised at how great you feel...and how easy it can be.

If you aren't familiar with the benefits of regularly meditating, here are a few:

*relaxation and stress reduction
*lower blood pressure
*increased oxygen to cells
*improvement of chronic diseases such as allergies and arthritis
*greater mental clarity
*increased serotonin, a naturally-occurring mood enhancer

And these physical and psychological improvements come without any of the undesirable side effects you might find with prescription drugs!

If it's so great, why don't more of us meditate more of the time?

Maybe you can't seem to get the image out of your mind of the meditating yogi sitting with legs pretzel-ed, eyes closed, shut off from the “real world.”

Meditation might seem intimidating to you. It sounds or looks difficult and, after all, you might wonder how you can fit one more thing into your day.

Because of your religious beliefs you might feel averse to meditation. It is often associated with Eastern spiritual practices such as Buddhism or Hinduism and you may not want to veer from the path you've chosen.

It is true that meditation is core to many spiritual practices-- this includes Christianity, believe it or not. Meditation takes various forms and can be a way to connect with a higher sense of self or a divine power, depending on what you believe.

Meditation can also be practiced without any explicitly spiritual or religious dimension at all. It is completely up to you to decide why you meditate and how you will practices.

Meditation cushion not required....

There are many many ways to meditate. Some do involve more physically demanding postures, extended time frames for sitting and chants or mantras. But what I'm suggesting here is a bit different.

By infusing your life with meditation, you literally bring meditation into more areas of your everyday life-- the walking around, answering the phone, brushing your teeth sort of moments. And with this meditation infusion, you potentially revitalize each and every moment.

Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh is one teacher who has proposed incorporating meditation into everyday activities. He leads others in walking meditation, for example. Learning how to meditate while walking is a great starting point for infusing your life with meditation.

Walk the meditative walk...

Walk with presence. Consciously take your attention out of your head and move it down to your feet. Notice how it feels as your feet or shoes connect with the ground. Breathe as you step. When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath and to that connecting between your body and the Earth.

You can do this when walking to your car, walking your dog, or even walking through your local grocery store. Walking meditation can be practiced indoors and outside.

The secret here is to keep your attention focused on this present moment. Really tune in to how your body feels as you take each step. As you breathe and step, watch as your body loosens and a greater sense of peace comes over you.

At its core, walking meditation is about breath, your focused awareness of your own body and a sense of openness.

There's no end to what you can do meditatively...

Take the walking meditation and expand it to other activities. You might set an intention that you will infuse a particular activity with meditation and then try it out.

For example, you might consciously decide to wash the dinner dishes in a meditative manner one evening. As you fill the sink with soap and water, breathe. While wiping down a plate, breathe and notice the connection between your hand, the soapy water and the dish.

The next evening, you could choose to wash the dishes as you might usually do-- which probably involves a less present mind and little or no attention to your breathing. What feels different about these two experiences?

Breathe deeply and step mindfully into meditation-- no matter what you are doing. The only thing you really need is a willingness to try this new way of living and an intention to keep returning to it.

For more information about Thich Nhat Hanh visit
For more detailed suggestions for walking meditation visit

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are You Having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

I was having one of “those” days. From the moment I stepped out of bed, it seemed like nothing went well. The drain was clogged, my office chair broken and the dog even puked on my bed! Despite that wiser voice in my head, I couldn't help but think “How much worse can it get?”

In reply to thoughts like this, the universe usually brings just that-- something even worse.

Perhaps you've also had days like this and, like me, you are reminded of the classic children's book by Judith Viorst in which the main character, Alexander, has a truly rotten day and it only seems to get worse. Without a doubt it seems like a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

And while we all know that a positive attitude can make even the worst circumstances more manageable, it can be quite a challenge to stop and turn yourself in a different and more positive direction.

But it is possible. And the improved feelings and effects can be astonishing!

Perhaps one reason why a lousy day can seem never-ending and bottomless is that we feel powerless in the face of our situation. For example, the tree roots growing into our home's drain seem huge and insurmountable. “How can I do anything to compete with a giant maple tree?!” runs through my mind and I feel helpless.

Some people freeze in the face of feeling powerless. Others numb out and turn to food, alcohol, drugs or other activities. Still others aggressively try to force the situation to change. While these responses may help the person cope with his or her out of control feelings, they almost always fail to allow the energy of the moment to shift. As a result, the situation often tends to worsen.

Stop and Look at Your Expectations
Before you travel any further in that downward spiral of “How could my day get any worse?” stop right there! See if you can step back from the intensity of your situation and pay attention to the expectations you have.

From where I sit in that bound up place, the clogged drain appears absolutely infested with tree roots and my mind conjures a huge plumbing bill and a dug up yard-- if I let it. While I might not literally divert the tree roots from my drain with my mind, I can change my thoughts and energy.

I can breathe deeply, bring my attention back to my own body-- feet on the floor, breath moving in and out. From that more centered place, I can decide to shift my expectations and my energy. Of course, I need to deal with the clogged drain, but I will perceive more options and the ultimate result will be more beneficial when I'm making choices from a more open state.

The essential tip here is that when you feel powerless and at the mercy of your drain, your kids, your job, your relationship, your body, your life, your economy, or your world, you can decide to stop and re-focus.

Widen your gaze.
As I get back in touch with my own sense of inner ease, I feel more empowered and the decisions I make for what to do next usually take me more quickly to a better-feeling place and outcome.

Sometimes my better-feeling place is only marginally improved. I may feel less powerless, but still annoyed to have to deal with this inconvenience. But from this even marginal improvement, I can keep building toward happiness.

I can begin to see that there's a lot more going on in my life right now than just this clogged drain. I literally and symbolically look up from the “trouble.” Yes, the drain still needs to be dealt with. But now I can also see that the sun is out. I can taste the pleasant salty-sweetness of a snack. I can really feel the hug from one of my sons.

In fact, when I look up from what was once a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” it all seems less lousy. I start to appreciate more of what is going on within me and around me. A more relaxed approach washes over me and I actually feel more empowered.

Reminding yourself of your own power can help transform one of “those” (lousy) days into one of “THOSE” (marvelous) days that simply keeps going. The big secret here is that nothing about your life has to change in order for you to shift from lousy to marvelous. It's all up to you.