Friday, January 29, 2010

Practice Makes...

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Practice makes perfect-- no, that's such a loaded word.

Practice helps bring about change, but it can be difficult to actually initiate and then stick to it.

I remember loathing sitting down at the piano each day to practice as I was growing up. This was most definitely a source of conflict between my mom and I.

Today, I goad my own self to practice various things and I experience similar, though internal, struggle.

For example, I'm all charged up about breathing lately.

I'm reading a wonderful book called Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery by Gay Hendricks and I am convinced that, as the author asserts, the physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual aspects of my life can improve by breathing deeply, slowly and diaphragmatically more of the time.

The challenge is, I have pretty much always been a mouth breather. According to Hendricks (and my own observations), mouth breathing not only allows more unfiltered air into my body, it also tends to be shallower and limited to the chest.

Practicing conscious breathing has become a new goal for me. Each and every day-- throughout the day-- I am trying to remember to pause and pay attention to my breathing. When I do this, I deliberately breathe through my nose and drop my breath down.

As much as I want to re-learn how to breathe, life often comes swooping in and I find myself falling back into old patterns. I realize that I am sucking in air via my mouth when I get busy, stressed or am even just zoning out.

You might not care much about the way that you breathe. But it's quite likely that there are habits that you would like to change.

Practicing is the best way that I know of to bring about the change you seek.

Right now, you probably are hearing that amorphous “parent” out there telling you that it's time to practice which is absolutely the LAST thing you want to do.

I'm with you. At first glance, practice sounds like no fun, hard work and downright boring.

You are always practicing something.

When you really think about this, however, each one of us is always practicing something.

In the dictionary, the word “practice” is defined as: “a habitual or customary performance” and also as: “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”

As you brush your teeth, you are practicing dental hygiene. When tell your children and your partner that you love them, you are practicing expressing how you feel.

When you tell yourself that you can't follow through with a particular aspiration because you are too old, don't have the right training or education or simply can't make room for that in your are practicing.

We all practice behaviors, ways of being and beliefs all of the time.

So when you want to make a change, yet you feel resistant to actually incorporating this new way into your life, remind yourself that you already are practicing-- you are just practicing the habit that is holding you where you possibly no longer want to remain.

It's a mind game, I know.

But if re-thinking the whole notion of practice helps you to motivate yourself, why not try it?

Practice is a program or a re-programming.

As I sit here at my computer dealing with not enough sleep, a kid with a sore throat who needs my attention and an intention to accomplish a certain amount of work, I am given the opportunity to practice.

I can unconsciously rely on my accustomed manner of breathing to merely stay alive or I can create some space in my awareness for conscious breathing and potentially increase my vitality.

It's truly a moment-by-moment decision-making process.

As you know, with just about anything you've ever learned in your life, the more experience you have doing a new skill or action, the more naturally it happens for you.

Think of practice as a program that you are running in your mind/body. When you are trying to change an already established habit, it's a re-programming.

In either case, as you repeat this new or different way of being, thinking or acting, it becomes imprinted in your body memory. New neural connections can form in your brain as you practice this preferred habit.

Today I encourage you to recognize that all of your thoughts and actions are practices that you can choose to change or to continue, depending on what you desire.

It's up to you and your willingness to practice.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Calm After the Storm

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Sometimes there's nothing better than a deep and cleansing cry. It can shake things up and clear out all of that stuff that each of us needlessly carries around.

As adults, many of us don't give ourselves permission to cry.

Somewhere along the line the message was made known that crying is weak and “for babies.” This is especially the case for boys and men. But girls and women also receive similar messages.

We are subtly or overtly told that there is no room for crying in a successful, got-it-all-together kind of life.

Throughout my life I've been a “crier.”

When I was a young girl, I'd frequently cry and my mom would ask me “Amy, why are you crying?” My tearful response would often be, “I don't know.” Now that I know what I know about my past, I can guess about what the reasons might have been some of the time.

What I want to focus on here, however, is the wonderful release that can come after the tumult of a deep cry. I encourage each and every one of us to welcome this kind of crying when it arises.

To me, it is truly a calm after the storm.

In those moments after a deep cry, it's as if the world is somehow clearer and brighter and I am lighter inside. I feel cleaned out in many respects.

Yes, that difficulty or situation that led me to cry is possibly still unresolved, but somehow it all seems a little easier to face.

I believe that a deep, cleansing cry can be extremely helpful when we become stuck. It's too easy to settle in to a sense of dissatisfaction or powerlessness. We can become dull and begin to move (or not move) through life in a sort of robotic mode.

Allow the storm
This is why the upheaval-- that may be unpleasant and even unwanted-- can be so vital.

Even if you aren't a “crier,” let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Too often, fear, anger, grief or other difficult emotions come up and we push them back down inside. “Who has time to get into all of that anyway?” your over-scheduled, full-to-the-brim mind might argue.

Even if you feel like you have the time, you might not want to experience the pain that these emotions threaten to bring with them. It might seem that you will lose yourself in the chasm of challenging feelings if you open the door to them.

I've certainly been there.

In just about every case, however, these feelings seep through anyway. You simply cannot hold at bay your sadness, fears, anger and grief. This can only intensify those difficult emotions and potentially manifest as stress and health problems (if they haven't already).

When you feel out of sorts, off your game or unhappy in some way, create the time and give yourself the space to explore your emotions.

I don't necessarily advise you to try to figure it all out from a thinking perspective. Instead, take a deep breath, open up to yourself and just let whatever is inside come out. You might use music, writing, dancing or another means to help yourself open up.

It is almost always the case that the storm within will not be more than you can handle. If it feels like too much or you are concerned that you will hurt yourself or another person, please seek help from a professional.

Appreciate the storm and the calm
As painful as it is for me to feel the feelings that usually accompany a deep cry, I can truly appreciate them and the whole process. My fears, anger and grief are a part of my human experience at this moment.

I can remind myself that I may not feel this way next month, next week or even tomorrow. And the sooner I allow the storm to move through me, the sooner I can open up to the release and the calm.

Of course, this build-up of difficult emotions and eventual intense release is not the progression that has to happen and it is not what happens every time I face a challenge.

There are occasions when I recognize that I am feeling a bit irritable, I explore what's going on, make possible changes, communicate with others involved and experience a release without any big storm.

It is not necessary to wait for the intensity to escalate to put into motion a clearing out and subsequent calm.

We can stay tuned in to how we each feel and give ourselves permission to explore beneath the surface of “feeling down” or “crabby” and then let whatever needs to come up and out do so.

It might be a gentle unfolding of emotion tied with realization and perhaps new (or renewed) commitments to how you want to live your life.

It might also be more tumultuous, filled with plenty of tears and other expressions of your feelings.

In both cases-- and those in between-- when you stop pushing down your feelings and, instead, allow it all to flow, you can enjoy a clearer, calmer and often happier life.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Response Time

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What do you tend to do when faced with something unexpected and seemingly threatening in your life?

  • A neighbor is chewing you out about your dog's barking or the volume of your stereo.
  • A piece of plywood flies off a truck and into your lane of traffic as you drive down the highway.
  • Your partner fiercely disagrees with a major decision that you have made and is making his or her point known.

In situations like these, do you tend react to what's going on without much consciousness about it? If so, you are not alone.

It is quite natural-- and part of our survival instinct-- to flip into a reaction when startled or somehow triggered. It can seem unconsciously derived.

The trouble is, sometimes our reaction only intensifies a situation that already feels out of control, uncomfortable or even disturbing.

Often, when we later look back on what happened, we feel regret or may wonder, “What if I'd responded differently?”

The difference between a reaction and a mindful response can be huge.

Do you usually fight or flee?

In times of stress or perceived danger, the adrenaline kicks in and people tend to go into either a fight or a flight mode.

Physiologists note that, just as in the animal world, humans meet intense and unexpected stresses by either readying themselves to fight (which can include defended-ness, hostility or even aggression) or to flee (which can include literally leaving the scene or dissociating and “spacing out”).

For those of us who have experienced abuse or other trauma in the past, the tendency to fight or flee may be easily triggered by situations that do not appear to be stressful or potentially dangerous to others.

Most of us have developed a propensity to quickly flip into either a fight reaction or a flight reaction.

Think back to a recent event that happened in your life that felt to you unexpected or intensely stressful. Do you remember how you reacted to what was happening?

Becoming aware of what you usually do can help you make desired changes when future situations arise. Of course, when you are surprised you might react before you've hardly had the time to register the perceived threat.

By knowing that you have a tendency to fight or to flee, however, you can catch yourself mid-reaction, calm down and make decisions about how you really want to proceed.

Choice-Supporting Techniques

When you find yourself reacting to a situation that seems out of control, unexpected and potentially dangerous, creating space for choice is vital.

Coming back into your body and your center or ground are powerful tools that you can use-- especially in those most stressful moments-- to create that space for choice from which you can respond instead of react.

Several times a day, take just a few minutes to practice consciously bringing your attention back to this present moment and to yourself.

The more accustomed you are to re-centering and grounding, the easier it will be to return to those states when triggers come up.

I envision my center as approximately where my solar plexus chakra is located-- midway between the navel and the base of the sternum. Other people bring attention to their heart area.

Simply breathe deeply and focus your attention on that place within you that is your “center.” You don't have to be exact; figure out what works for you.

Another option, which is called grounding, is to really feel your feet on the ground; focus on the connection that your feet are making with the Earth as you breathe from your diaphragm.

What is most important to these practices is to figure out what helps you return to your body and self and then continue to do it.

You will know when you are centered and grounded because you will probably feel clearer, more relaxed and better able to focus on what's going on in the present moment.

The powerful thing about being centered and grounded more of the time, is that you can almost always make conscious choices about how to respond to what's going on in your life at the moment.

When a stressful situation comes up, remember to draw upon this new habit you've begun.

Each and every one of us always has choice-- we often forget that as a fight or flight reaction takes hold. Practice coming back to yourself and your center or ground and make choices that will direct you toward the future you desire.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Courage to Be...

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Today we celebrate the life and contributions to the world of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although there were certainly scores of people who also articulated their visions for a fairer world and made deep sacrifices in order to bring about significant change, King's name is almost synonymous with the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s here in the U.S.

Over the course of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke many brave and stirring words that inspired hundreds of thousands of people. As he organized and led non-violent direct actions advocating desegregation and equal rights for African-Americans, he acted in ways that were indisputably courageous.

Do you consider yourself to be brave and courageous?

When I compare myself to someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., those words-- “brave” and “courageous”-- seem vastly inappropriate descriptions for what I do, where I've been and who I am right now.

After all, when is the last time that I faced down mobs of people who deem me to be inferior and even despicable solely because of the color of my skin? When is the last time that I spoke my truth in front of masses?


I'm starting to wonder, however, if this hesitation is somewhat of a cop-out. After all, when I belittle the challenges that I've overcome and I discount my own vision for the future, I am somewhat “off the hook.”

If I don't consider myself brave, I don't have to do more than just get by and try to maintain the status quo of my life.

Like me, you might look at someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. and balk at the idea of even considering your path in life or your contributions to the world to be as significant or courageous.

I'm not advocating a competition between any of us and someone like King. Instead, I'm suggesting that if we all can step up and acknowledge the ways that we have been and are courageous in our lives, perhaps we can nudge ourselves out of that status quo and take even more brave steps.

Who knows where this will lead us?

Bravery can take many forms.
As you might already know, there's not just one way to be brave. When you acknowledge your own courage-- in the past and present-- you can almost always step more fully into your own personal power.

It is from this place of empowerment, that you can find yourself making the changes that you never thought you'd successfully make. The closer you get to your vision, the more that you, those around you and the entire world can potentially benefit.

It all comes to down to this: When we each can stand fully and authentically in our own power, there's no need for any of us to put another down, battle over supposedly scarce resources or be anything less than loving and compassionate.

I encourage you to look at someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrate his courageous acts. Allow yourself to be inspired and to recognize that you are also courageous and brave, in your own way.

For example...
  • It can be brave to face the so-called mistakes of your past, forgive yourself and release them.
  • It can be brave to stop being a victim, to let go of the painful limits of this label and to forgive.
  • It can be brave to own up to a habit that you've developed that is mostly holding you back.
  • It can be brave to take steps toward changing that limiting habit-- even if it takes several tries.
  • It can be brave to speak your truth-- even if you believe that nobody else agrees with you.
  • It can be brave to speak your truth-- even if you think that nobody else is listening.
  • It can be brave to do the unexpected, the unapproved of or the unconventional thing when you are called to do it.
  • It can be brave to make peace with where you are and continue to line yourself up with the future you're dreaming about.

How can you more fully honor the ways in which you have been brave in the past? How can you honor the courageous words and actions that you are taking today?

What are the brave steps that you are inspired to take next?

Friday, January 15, 2010

“I Surrender”

By Amy Phillips-Gary

If you were a warrior on a battlefield or even playing chess or another board game, uttering the words “I surrender” would probably not be a desirable thing to do.

There is a definite association between surrendering and failure or weakness in predominant understandings of the concept.

Nobody wants to be considered weak or a loser.

In order to allow the kind of life and success that you want, however, surrender may be the key.

When conditions in your body, your relationships, your job, your bank account-- your life-- start to feel out of control and are not what you had in mind, you may try to force things back into“line.”

This is what I tend to do.

I find myself pushing against unseen forces that appear to be moving me in a direction that I do not want to go. Or, conversely, I attempt to wrestle my life along if what I want is not happening as quickly as I'd like it to-- or at all.

Just about every time that I've found myself in this “I will force my life to be the way I want it to be” mode, I become worn out and frustrated. This tactic simply does not work.

Many times, in fact, it only gets worse because of my pushing.

When I was taught to drive a car in snow and ice as a teenager, I learned a valuable, even life-saving, lesson. What my father made certain I understood was this: If the car that I'm driving begins to slip and slide, do NOT slam on the brakes and jerk the steering wheel in the opposite direction.

You were possibly taught this same winter driving lesson as well.

Instead, my father made me practice taking my foot off the gas, easing on the brake and gently steering in the direction my car is sliding. From there, the car can more effectively be re-directed back to the road or lane.

Thankfully, the other night when another car came donut-ing out of control into my lane on the highway, those ingrained lessons kicked in. I avoided an accident and didn't even skid or spin.

When you surrender, you release resistance.

You may feel like you slam on the symbolic breaks in your life when conditions feel frightening or unpleasant. Or, you might feel like you ram anything and everything out of your way at full speed trying to force movement when all feels stagnated.

In both cases, you are causing resistance.

Perhaps you butt heads with a person at work with whom you have to complete a project. You might storm around, sigh loudly or silently simmer about this entire situation.

Maybe you are concerned that, because the two of you are such a miserable team, the project will turn out poorly and this will reflect negatively on you. You are wanting to succeed and move up at work and this does not seem to be helping with that goal.

As you can guess, resisting where you are is not going usher in the improvements that you seek.

On the other hand, when you surrender, you release resistance in the form of all of those worries, limiting beliefs, fears and low expectations. You are no longer attempting to force anything at all about this situation.

The beauty and even magic is that it is almost always at this moment of surrender, that unexpected breakthrough moments happen. As you symbolically throw up your hands and let yourself go with the flow, it all-- somehow-- turns out.

Quite often, it all turns out even better than you expected.

Life can come together for you when you stop pushing against. Your dreams can manifest when you no longer force them and, instead, allow them to happen.

When you surrender, you place trust in the Universe.

Ok, so does surrendering to the flow of life mean that we should all just sit around and do nothing?

Of course not.

There is a huge difference between surrender and ambivalence. You can have a very clear and defined focus about where you'd like to go and what you'd like to do with your life.

Rev up your excitement about whatever makes your heart sing. Dream your dreams in high-color and vivid detail.

Then it's time to turn it all over to the Universe.

Whether you look to God, Goddess, Allah, the Universe, Source, Great Spirit or another higher power, allow that presence to provide. Create space so that you can listen for guidance and cues about when it's time to act and when it's time to wait and be patient.

I know, this isn't always the easiest thing to do because it requires trust. It also requires an inner assertion that you are worthy of what you seek-- whether it's happiness, a sense of fulfillment, health and vitality or love.

Give yourself those gifts of trust and worthiness and, as you do, surrender to what life has in store for you. It may surprise and delight you-- if you let it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Intuition or Something Else?: How to Tell the Difference Between the Various Voices in Your Head

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Recently, I re-watched the late 1980s movie “Field of Dreams.” In the film, Kevin Costner plays a somewhat new-to-the-vocation farmer in Iowa named Ray. One day, as he stands tending the corn in his fields, he hears a voice call to him: “If you build it, he will come.

Ray ignores the voice, jokes with his wife and daughter about it and loses sleep over it. The voice doesn't give up! Finally, a vision of a baseball field right in the middle of his corn crop accompanies the words.

And so begins Ray's weird and wonderful journey to plow under a significant portion of his crops and build a baseball field on part of his land. If you've seen the movie, you already know that “they”-- meaning baseball players from just before the 1920s who were banned from the game-- did indeed come and play ball on Ray's field.

Along this amazing journey, Ray faces inner doubt as well as apprehension and even derision from others. He takes financial and emotional risks and he is never assured that this will come out okay in the end.

But he does it anyway.

Voices in our heads
Perhaps you've never heard actual voices in your head as Ray did. You may, however, have felt a pull or a strong impulse to make a different than usual choice.

Sometimes this pull leads you toward outcomes that are pleasing and expansive. Other times, they don't appear to be positive at all.

Quite often, it can become confusing to really determine whether the impulse you are called to follow is truly intuitive or if it comes from something else.

There is a significant difference between intuitive inner information and the thoughts or beliefs that derive from fears, anger, desire for escape or other urges.

In order to thrive and expand in desired ways, it's vital that you learn how to tell the difference.

As you might have already discovered from your own experiences, when your actions are driven by worried, fearful or lack-based impulses, you often end up in the unsatisfactory places that you've been before-- or maybe even places that seem worse!

On the other hand, when you trust an intuitive pull, just about every time you feel improvements. They might not come immediately, but the steps you take based on the call from your intuition moves you closer to where you want to be.

Differentiate, Trust and Take Action
Two ways to tell the difference between the intuitive “voices” and those others that are based in such things as fear, lack, anger or escape, is to pay attention.

Start to notice the emotions and overall mood that accompany a particular compulsion arising within you.

For example, if you feel drawn to quit your job and open a cafe, are you mainly feeling beaten down by your current work situation and just want to get out? Or, are you mostly excited about the prospect of owning your own eatery?

The way that you feel is key!

If you find that your primary motivator at the moment seems to be upset about your present job, I don't necessarily recommend that you immediately abandon the aspiration to open a cafe. It just may not be the right time to take action.

Intuitive voices usually occur alongside feelings of excitement, eagerness, invigoration and often a sense of certainty or knowing.

Of course, as certain as Ray in “Field of Dreams” was that he had to take action and build that baseball field, he also encountered moments of doubt, worry and mistrust.

This can make for a confusing ride.

But when those doubts arise, return to your inner self. Take a deep breath and see if you can tap into those excited and eager feelings. Remember why you chose to follow your intuition in the first place.

As long as you can reach into that reservoir of hopefulness and vision within, it is probably wise to continue along this path. If not, you might decide to alter your course or to pause and take no further action for a period of time.

Practice tuning in to your guiding impulses in everyday moments.

As you are out driving, do you feel drawn to take a different street or highway than you usually do? If so, chances are there's a reason. Take that different route and see what happens.

Notice how it feels to act on a worrisome urge as opposed to an intuitive pull. How do the outcomes usually differ?

Following your intuition can seem like handing over the reins of control to your life. This is uncomfortable for many people, including me.

Keep breathing and tuning in to the way that you feel.

Make mental note when you take action on an intuitive pull and it has pleasing results. This can help you to more fully trust in the process and to know that we all truly do live in a benevolent and supportive Universe.

Friday, January 8, 2010

“Don't Mumble Your Life Away...”