Monday, December 28, 2009

Launch Yourself into the 2010 of Your Dreams

By Amy Phillips-Gary

As I hang up my brand-new calendar for 2010 and prepare to welcome in a fresh decade, I can't help but think about what I want to do differently in the coming year.

Yes, I'm thinking about New Year's resolutions.

You might be doing the same thing. Many of us greet the new year with hopeful and ambitious lists of undesirable habits we're finally going to kick and the new, healthier ones we're going to adopt instead.

And many of us do begin to make changes-- at least for a little while. Sometimes we make a few changes but then fall back into those “bad” habits and tendencies after a period of time.

When the months fly by and we find ourselves back to late December again facing those same old limiting ways of reacting to life, it can feel frustrating, irritating and downright depressing.

This year, I'm re-thinking the whole New Year's resolutions thing. Instead of only focusing in on what I'm planning to change for the upcoming year, I'm going to devote significant attention to what I want to keep on doing.

Rather than my usual intention to throw out the old while resolving to re-fashion the bulk of the way I live my life, I'm going to create space for honoring where I am and what I'm doing that IS working the way that I want it to.

I actually believe that approaching a new year-- a new decade even-- from a base of acknowledgment and self-appreciation will help me to more effectively move into the changes that I desire. These changes may even come about with greater ease and be longer-lasting.

A funny thing about making changes...

Of course, I'm aware that my diet could use some cleaning up, I continue to be a bit of a perfectionist and my sense of patience with others can certainly use some bolstering.

There are tons of things about my usual habits that I'd like to improve upon.

What I've found in the past, however, is that I'm more motivated to take a risk and respond in a different way-- especially when it comes to well-practiced habits-- when I am in a place of honoring and appreciation.

My friend Mollie Hannon has been talking with some friends and I about the importance of making completions for the current year before moving on to the next. She even found a wonderful ritual online to do so.

Perhaps doing a completion ritual like this that involves you acknowledging the strides that you made toward your goals will help you to better appreciate where you are.

You might not be absolutely happy with what you achieved or did in 2009, but when you really stop and look at where you've been and where you are right now, there are bound to be some healthy and pleasing aspects about you and the choices that you've made.

By all means, make that list of what you aspire to do differently and what you want to manifest in the coming year and beyond.

But be sure to also include on that list what you intend to keep on doing, what you can appreciate about your current habits.

Build on all of those beneficial practices that you might not be noticing-- or giving yourself credit for. If you can't think of anything to include on a list like this, look harder.

Use your list of acknowledgments and self-appreciations as a sort of launch pad to propel yourself toward the future of your dreams. You might just be closer than you think

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let Your Light Shine

By Amy Phillips-Gary

It's all about the light.

I love December. We live in a world where there is plenty of conflict and outright war due, in large part, to people believing that their religious beliefs are the only valid path.

But, if you really look at these so-called divisions and conflicts, we really aren't that far apart after all. The many December holidays underscore my point.

I'm not a theological scholar; but, it's undeniable that, as diverse as the major religions are, there are also symbols, messages and themes that interconnect them all.

Interwoven throughout many religious stories at this cusp of Winter is the imagery of light.

We are being called to open up to the light within us and let it shine as we celebrate the specific holidays and perform the rituals of our choosing.

To me, shining inner light isn't about trying to make others believe exactly the way that I do (or that you do).

Instead, it is a radiating of the love, sense of peace and compassion that might (or might not) be a reflection of those same qualities found in a wise teacher or even God, Goddess, Spirit, or Higher Power whom might have another name according to your beliefs.

Winter Solstice or Yule
Of course, the importance of light can be traced to more scientific-historical roots. As the daylight grew shorter in the Northern hemisphere, sources theorize that early Europeans may have been fearful. The importance of the light and the sun was probably understood. For this reason, rituals were performed in an effort to ensure the return of the sun and the light.

The Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is the birth of a new solar year. From the day after the Winter Solstice in December up until the Summer Solstice in June, the daylight hours will steadily continue to increase.

From this darkest day-- the Winter Solstice-- we find the birth of a “new sun” and, therefore, a renewed light. This notion of light can easily be felt and understood from a spiritual and personal growth perspective as well.

Today many people all over the world celebrate the Earth and its turning wheel of auspicious days, including the Winter Solstice around December 20-22. Many derivatives of ancient rituals are continued.

In past years, for example, my family and I have joined with friends for wonderful Winter Solstice bonfires.

It is well-documented that the December 25th Christmas holiday was originally begun as an effort to convert pagan Romans to Christianity around the 4th Century of the Current Era.

The birth of Jesus, which Christmas celebrates, was actually not on December 25th and may have occurred in March, November or September instead.

Aside from these historical assertions, however, I still find many aspects of Christmas to be uplifting and worth commemorating.

In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus' birth is spoken about as a light coming into the darkness of the world. There was, of course, also the fabled light from the Star of Bethlehem that led shepherds and wise men to bring gifts and witness the arrival of this “prince of peace.”

Although my spiritual beliefs are more eclectic now, I remember attending Christmas Eve church services each year growing up. There was a palpable sacred sense of connection and inspiration as we all stood with lit candles in the darkened church singing “Silent Night.”

My family and I still share those songs and the story of Christmas together.

Pancha Ganapati
When my youngest son was around 4 years old, he discovered the Hindu god Ganesh. I do not remember exactly how he was introduced to this half-elephant, half-boy god who is known for removing obstacles as well as dancing and merriment, but my son developed a great affinity for Ganesh.

In honor of this affinity, I did some research and found the holiday Pancha Ganapati that modern Hindus living in the West created to honor Ganesh.

From December 21-25 daily rituals are performed around an altar for Ganesh. Different colored cloths are placed on the altar and sweet offerings are left for his enjoyment. The family gathers by the altar to Ganesh and meditates together each evening.

Pancha Ganapati, as you might expect, ties in wonderfully with the theme of light. Just as light starts from a source and radiates out to others, so too do the meditative intentions of this Hindu holiday.

On the first day of Pancha Ganapati, each person meditates on resolving conflict and cultivating harmony, peace and love within him or herself and then between family members. The second day is an expansion of that energy of harmony, peace and love out to friends and extended family.

The vibration of light, love and peace is then extended to the community and those with whom we do business on the middle two days. Then, on the final day of Pancha Ganapati, all of that wonderful love and harmony are sent out to the entire world and all of its inhabitants.

No matter what religion or spirituality you follow, you can tap into the inspiration and imagery of light that pervades throughout various beliefs this time of year.

Feel into yourself and cultivate that light, love and sense of peace that is you and is also greater than you and let it shine forth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

By Amy Phillips-Gary

I tend to get really stressed out around the holidays. And I often can't figure out exactly why.

Yes, I have extra shopping to do, baking, wrapping and traveling added to my already busy schedule. But still, my levels of tightness and tension don't seem to match even those added activities and responsibilities.

Earlier this week, as I laid in a restorative yoga pose designed to open up my chest, I finally understood.

The ghosts of my Christmases past were rattling chains-- and me.

As much as I so want to feel merry and bright all of the time during the holiday season, memories of particular aspects of my past Christmases re-emerge on the outskirts of my awareness and seem to really mess things up!

As I've written in previous blogs, I experienced very blessed holidays growing up filled with plenty of presents, tasty treats and lots of love and attention. What I also experienced during a particular time in my formative years was sexual abuse.

For decades now, I've been healing, learning and growing in terms of the abuse that happened. I no longer live with frequent flashbacks and other unpleasant side effects from the past trauma.

For this I am grateful.

But what I realized while in that wonderfully opening restorative yoga pose was that these ghosts of my past are intensifying my stress-- they are even a primary contributor to it. My habit of ignoring these ghosts or shoving them down is what heavily contributes to my overall sense of overwhelm and my seeming inability to fully enjoy my family, friends and celebrations during the holiday season.

Just as Ebenezer Scrooge's ghosts torment and won't leave him alone, so too do my ghosts...until I finally open up and let them in, acknowledge all of the ways that I'm feeling and offer myself extra care.

Allow space for both the sad and the glad.

You might not have had the same kind of experiences that I have had in the past. Your ghosts might be recollections of parents arguing and storming out of the house, alcohol or drug abuse around you, not having many (or any) gifts, parties and fun or other challenges.

Your ghosts might not be from your childhood. It could be that an unpleasant or unhealthy current situation rattles its chains loudly and jarringly.

What is common for quite a few of us is that we want to join in with the revelry and the potential joyousness of the holidays and we try really really hard to do so. But it just doesn't work when we also feel upset, depressed or off-kilter somehow.

I suggest that we all grant ourselves permission to feel what we're feeling-- every bit of it.

You can still attend parties and visit with loved ones. You can sing carols, light candles and exchange presents.

At the same time, you can allow time in your schedule to let in your ghosts. Just as Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, there were valuable and freeing lessons available to him when he followed his ghosts.

Yes, the ghosts were scary. Yes, the images weren't necessarily comfortable or pleasant to experience and re-experience.

But as Scrooge let them in-- the ghosts and the lessons-- he was finally able to tap into more generosity, expansiveness and elation than he'd probably ever imagined possible for himself.

This is what I'm doing for myself this holiday season that's different from recent years. I am opening up and creating space for my ghosts of Christmases past, when they decide to re-emerge.

I am allowing all of my feelings and memories-- even the ones that aren't happy. I know that as I stop resisting what's uncomfortable and I begin to open up to it all, the ghosts can more easily move through me rather than become stuck and grow even bigger than they were.

I already feel lighter, freer and better able to enjoy these moments of merriment and celebration. I wish the same for each and everyone of you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Relax, Renew and Restore this Holiday Season

By Amy Phillips-Gary

One of my favorite personal holiday traditions is to take a restorative yoga class.

If you haven't heard of restorative yoga, let me clarify. This doesn't feel like much of a class where one must study, concentrate or work hard.

Instead, it is an experience that is truly a treat. It is also one way that I relax, renew and restore my body, mind and soul during the often hectic holiday season.

During a restorative yoga class, props such as bolsters and blankets are used to support the body as fully as possible. Practitioners lay in particular poses on the floor, recline over a bolster with their feet up a wall, or even drape themselves over the seat of a folding chair.

This might sound awkward or difficult, but with the assistance of props and skilled instructors, my body feels gently stretched and almost instantly better able to relax. I always leave a restorative yoga session feeling simply blissed out!

A yoga studio in my city, Yoga on High, offers restorative yoga classes throughout the year. My husband and I create the time to enroll in one during December as a holiday present to ourselves...and to those around us because we always feel so ease-ful afterwards!

Stress mounts within just about all of us this time of year. As holly jolly as we might want to feel, grumpiness can develop and our shoulders tighten right along with it.

You probably already know the detrimental effects of stress on your body, mind and relationships. Stress can contribute to strain and conflict between you and those you love. It can also make you physically sick.

For this reason, I encourage everyone to make relaxing and renewing a priority-- right up there with getting your holiday cards in the mail.

If the idea of restorative yoga doesn't appeal to you, open up to other ways to relax.

I posted a list of what I call “wellness intentions” on a cork board by my bed so that every day I am reminded of my priority to incorporate relaxation into my life. Included on this list are: meditating daily and doing yoga and cardiovascular exercise several times each week.

Your wellness intentions might be very different than mine.

For example, you might not practice meditation, but you can choose to put your lists away, turn off your phone, tv and computer for even 5-10 minutes and just breathe. It's amazing how just breathing can help to loosen tension and open you up to relaxation and renewal.

Believe it or not, paying attention to what you eat and drink is another way to restore yourself.

Of course, just about all of us indulge in foods and drink we might not normally partake (or consume as much of) at holiday parties. I suggest that you join in with these celebrations and savor those food and drink treats as you desire.

But be sure that you are also treating yourself to plenty of water and whole foods the rest of the time. You might include green foods such as spirulina or wheatgrass in a smoothie to boost your immune system and enrich your body.

Give yourself the gift of relaxation this year for the holidays. Make a commitment to yourself to develop your own wellness intentions that can help your body, mind and spirit stay renewed and restored.

*For more information about Restorative Yoga, you can visit these sites:

Restorative Yoga for Body and Mind-- General Information

Videos About Restorative Yoga

Directory of Restorative Yoga Instructors

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Art of Giving

By Amy Phillips-Gary

The letters from wonderful organizations that benefit communities across the globe, homeless people and animals in my city and the environment stuff my mailbox lately. Invitations to volunteer my time or donate money are abundant.

In addition to this is the list of gifts I'm in the process of purchasing for family members. Trips to various stores and online shopping are part of my already busy day.

There is no doubt about why December is often called the “Season of Giving.”

I think that giving is a wonderful act. It can be a beautiful way to reach out and connect with another being. The exchange that happens when a gift (in material or non-material form) is given from the heart and received with openness and gratitude is one of the most powerful moments a person can experience.

But, as you might already know, giving can also feel like a drain. The prospect of giving can dredge up old feelings and beliefs that might link to a lack mindset or other issues.

A ton of “shoulds,” worries, guilt and competitiveness can easily attach to the act of giving...and strip away that powerful sharing and exchange that's possible.

I remember well the first time I gave my husband H (short for Henry) a gift just about 17 years ago. We'd only been dating for a month or so and he'd been across the country for about half that time. But it was clear to me that he and our burgeoning relationship felt right; and so, when his birthday arrived, I decided to give him a gift.

After arriving back to my apartment from picking him up at the airport, I presented H with wrapped up wind chimes that I'd found at a little shop.

Well, let me clarify that... I just about threw the gift onto his lap and then fled the room!

I absolutely wanted to give this special guy in my life a gift and to honor his birthday. But I pretty much obliterated the potential for connection and celebration in that moment by not staying present for the exchange.

While you may never have thrown your gift at the recipient and ran from the room, you may not often practice the kind of giving that will encourage the sharing and experience you'd like.

Give mindfully.
It doesn't matter whether you surprise those for whom you are buying or doing or you receive a list of what they'd like, you can still be mindful about your giving.

Tune in to the person who will be receiving your gift and pull up in your mind what you appreciate about him or her. This awareness can guide you.

If this is someone who you feel obligated to give to, this might prove challenging. You could ask yourself if you are really willing to give at this time. If your answer is “no,” perhaps the consequences will be uncomfortable, but your sense of integrity will remain intact.

If your answer is “yes,” return to your image of this person and find one thing that you can appreciate about him or her. From those feelings of appreciation, proceed with the giving.

This can make a huge difference!

Remember, you always get to choose what, how much and whether you will give at all in a particular situation. Stay open to the multitude of possibilities that are available to you.

Give freely.
From this attitude of openness and mindfulness, you can give freely. This means no strings attached.

This can also be a challenge.

I know that, from time to time, I am one who falls into the trap of “keeping score.” I give to another person and, even though I don't like to admit it, a part of me notices whether I receive a comparable gift from the one to whom I gave.

I am usually able to quell this urge to compare and compete, but it is present.

If you also have a tendency to give with “strings” or with expectations of a return of some sort, be aware of it. These thoughts will stand in the way of your giving experience.

After realizing that you are “keeping score,” breathe and be gentle with yourself. This habit will only grow if you use it as an excuse to criticize yourself.

Instead, shift your focus back to your intention. Is it your intention to give the gift in order to enrich this other person's life? Were you wanting to honor this person or symbolically demonstrate that you care about him or her through your action or present?

Continue to return to your primary intent, whatever that might be. Chances are, it relates to sharing a connection.

Give joyfully.
Gift-giving is potentially a joyful, exuberant and celebratory act-- if you let it.

Allow yourself to join in with the anticipation that the other person might be feeling wondering what is wrapped up in this brightly-colored package. Feel the sense of hope and support that people in a faraway country might be experiencing as they benefit from the medical supplies, trees or other aids that your donation helped provide.

Dive in with joy to the act of giving

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Art of Receiving

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Are you uncomfortable or even resistant to receiving?

During this time of year in which gifts are often exchanged, are you most focused in on the giving?

It's quite likely that you are. When I think about giving and receiving, giving comes out as somehow more important in my mind.

We tend to live in a culture skewed against receiving.

“It's better to give than to receive.” was probably taught to most of us growing up in our families, churches or schools. The stigma of those enrolled in low-income public assistance programs is still present today-- what about those proverbial bootstraps we're all supposed to pull ourselves up by?

Even when it comes to favors, there's a common discomfort when someone has done something helpful or nice for you and you haven't had a chance to reciprocate, or the person won't seem to allow it.

It's quite apparent that not only have the majority of us learned that it is more virtuous and noble to give than it is to receive, there can be a touch of superiority attached to the act of giving.

Don't get me wrong here. Giving is a potentially wonderful act. It is vital to our world and is admirable when freely and mindfully practiced.

My point is that if you close yourself to receiving, you're missing out...and I don't just mean on all of those presents and favors either.

When you resist the receiving part of the giving-receiving exchange, you block the flow of life. You also short-circuit a potential connection with another person or group of people when you close down to receiving.

In addition to cultural reasons is the unfortunate fact that deep down, many of us feel unworthy of what's being offered. This might be experienced as an urgency to prove ourselves or maybe a sense of shame about who we are.

So here we tend to be, caught among wanting to feel noble and appropriate by mostly giving, battling with our perception of unworthiness and-- at the same time-- wanting improvements in our lives.

We can't figure out why the relationships, the financial situation, the career or the overall experience of life we want don't come to us when we're working so hard and giving so much.

Here's probably's because we aren't allowing ourselves to receive it.

Consciously shift into a receiving state.
If you can identify these tendencies within yourself and you'd like to more fully open to the flow of life, set an intention to do so and then follow through.

Become aware of the thoughts, beliefs and habits that you tend to use as barricades to receiving. What do they look and sound like? When do they tend to surface most intensely?

Use this information to begin to interrupt yourself when you start to shrink back from a desirable offer of help from a friend or even a compliment. During each opportunity to receive, invite yourself to open up a little bit more than you usually do to what is being given.

You can practice this several times a day.

When a family member gives you a hug, consciously relax and open yourself up more fully to the love and physical contact that's being offered. If a neighbor wants to carry your groceries to your home, give yourself permission to say yes if you choose it.

Bring your attention and awareness into this present moment and be a full participant in the sharing that's happening right now. Whether you're opening a gift, sharing a kiss, listening to another person's words or allowing a helpful gesture, engage as you receive.

As you shift into a receiving state, you can still decide to say no or decline a gift. It's up to you to decide which offerings, words or gifts are in alignment with what you truly want.

I encourage you, however, to make potentially receiving your “default” state and approach to life. The positive effects can be amazing!

Friday, December 4, 2009

“It's the most wonderful time of the year...”???