Last week, I took part in “The Happiness Program,” a 5-day meditation course run through the Art of Living Foundation. It was quite a whirlwind of an experience, filled with 24+ hours of breathing, meditating, team-building, yoga, and even an impromptu “Iron Chef” cooking competition!
At times, I was exhausted, uplifted, emotional, and energized, and I left the whole thing feeling incredibly enlightened. While I learned a great deal about meditation (like how to practice Pranayama breathing and the art of the Kriya), I think the most valuable of all were the little lessons I picked up along the way that I can take into my daily life. Alas, I want to share with you — my beautiful readers and friends — some of the advice I took away!
1. Talk Less, Listen More: Are you listening? You know, I mean really listening? I know for me, listening doesn’t come as natural as talking does. Often times, I find myself thinking of what I am going to say next or in my own head when someone else is talking (which not only is rude, but also takes away from being in the present. )
During the course, we were split into teams of 3 to take part in a listening / storytelling exercise. Each person was given 8 minutes to tell their “life story,” while the other two were told to sit there and listen in silence. No talking. No questions. No comments. Just your 100% pure, undivided attention. I absolutely loved this exercise, surprisingly even more so when I was the listener. I found it so enchanting to learn so much about these unique individuals by just being there in the moment, looking into their eyes. All it takes is 8 simple minutes. Imagine if we could do a little more of this every day.
2. Work on Increasing Your Prana Every Day: Prana = our energy. When our prana levels our high, we are happy, bubbly, energetic people. And, on the other hand, when they are low we tend to get cranky, lethargic and sad.
Our prana can be increased in many different ways, including from food, sleep, and meditation. Take time to nourish yourself each & every day, and let your prana levels soar!
3. Happiness is Already Within You: Are you constantly thinking about the next best thing you need to be happy, or happier? Here’s the thing: we’re always going to want more, but when we do this we miss out on living in the now.
Check out my recent post on letting go of this “if/then” thinking, and finding happiness within you. When you let go of this wishful thinking, you’re able to be happy with where you are, who you are, as you are in this very moment.
4. Give 100% of Yourself to the Things Most Important to You: We talked a lot about what it means to give 100% of yourself, and live with purpose. This doesn’t mean to go over the top, nor mentally or physically exert yourself. Rather, it’s about giving all of yourself to the things that matter most to you.
For example, if you are in love, love with all of your heart. If you aspire to be a writer, write your butt off about the topics you are passionate about, even if it means staying up until the crack of dawn to jot your visions. When we live this way, we’re able to give more of our energy to the things that matter to us, rather than letting those not-so-important things drain us. Go ahead, try it out!
5. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: I won’t lie; stepping outside your comfort zone can be absolutely frightening. When I was asked to join a meditation course that I knew very little about (with 100+ strangers!) I was a bit nervous. But I knew I had to do it. To learn. To grow. To become a better version of myself. I danced in a big group of people at 9:30 in the morning, I meditated for 90 minutes straight and pushed through the discomfort as I sat cross-legged, I cried, I laughed, I got vulnerable.
And I don’t regret any bit of it. Where in your life are you playing it safe? I highly urge you to get a little uncomfortable, and relish those moments of true growth.
6. Feel Your Feelings (Fully): When you’re speaking in a microphone in front of a group of people you just met or tearing up after a deep meditation, you learn to fully embrace living your emotions out loud. I remember in my early 20s, I was so ashamed of my emotions; crying meant I was weak and I tried to “keep it together” in front of others. I didn’t really know how to express myself in an honest, sincere way.
Now, I’m totally OK with balling my eyes out or feeling super confused/angry/upset/fill in the blank. This makes you human; it makes you real. In the course, we learned to fully embrace our emotions…and to do so with intensity. If you are sad and want to cry, cry your eyes out and let it go. If you’re unbelievably happy, laugh with all your heart. Pissed? Show it. Let it out, and resolve it.
Above all, just be real. One of the instructors compared this to that of a baby; when a baby is sad, they cry. When they are hungry, they cry more. When they are happy, they smile real big. There is no holding back or faking it; it’s just true, raw, genuine emotion. Do more of that.
7. We Must Go Through the Bad to Experience the Good: Sometimes in life, we think “Why me?” or “This is the absolute worst thing that could ever happen…EVER.” Sound familiar? If you shift your perspective a tad, you’ll realize that we must forge through the bad to greater appreciate the good stuff.
We wouldn’t appreciate the beautiful weather if we didn’t also go through some storms along the way. (Anyone else who survived Boston this past winter can relate!) We wouldn’t know what true love really felt like if we didn’t also go through heartache. The confusing, anxiety-ridden, lonely times pave the road for the happy, precious, “pinch-me-is-this-really-my-life” times. Ride the crazy wave of life, and know that there are brighter times ahead. There always are.
8. Stop Trying So Darn Hard: As I mentioned above, living with intensity does not mean over-doing it. If you find yourself trying so darn hard all the time, it may be time to take a deep breath, pause, and let things come to you.
We watched a brief clip with the ever so inspiring Founder of Art of Living Foundation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of one of his talks in LA. During his discussion, he opened up Q & A with the attendees, and one person asked, “How can I become more physically fit?” Shankar smiled, and simply answered, “Stop trying so hard.” While this may seem like silly advice, it’s actually brilliant and totally true. So often we try so darn hard to be prettier, skinnier, healthier, smarter, richer, better when sometimes all it takes is stepping back and noticing yourself, your body, as you are right now. Why do we feel the need to always do more? Honor where you’re at now, as well as how far you’ve come along the way.
9. Honor Your Self Care: Since the meditation course began, I’ve been making it a point to meditate each and every morning, the entire practice taking about 30 minutes total. This time for myself in the morning has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day, and I consider it sacred uninterrupted time for myself.
If meditating isn’t your thing, be sure you’re squeezing in some solid me time, be it through yoga, journaling, nap time, cooking or simply some quiet time for yourself. Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your body & mind, so be sure to honor that.
10. It’s Going to Be Alright: When I walked into the course on day 1, I won’t lie: I felt a little bit tense. I had just left my full-time job to follow my passions, and was surrounded by a room full of doctors, scientists and engineers. Some of my old fears from the past were beginning to arise again, particularly fear of not having enough money or being not “good enough.” I was future-tripping at its finest, and I recognized that in the moment.
During the middle of the course, we did a really interesting meditation exercise, where we were taken through different stages in our life: as a baby, through childhood, teenage years, 20s, 50s, all the way up to our 80s. Through each stage of our life, we were told to truly embody those feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I slowly opened my eyes at the end of the exercise, I felt a sense of peace and comfort.
I realized that throughout our life, we all have our struggles, however it’s all going to be OK in the end. The “problems” I had as a teenager (like getting a boyfriend, or coping with acne) and through my college years (finding a husband, securing that dream job) are no longer an issue, and I’m now given a new set of obstacles. However, I realized that there’s always going to be something, and as a 30 or 40 year old looking back on this time I’m going to laugh and smile. Embrace the now (even when times get rocky!), and soak up every minute of it; life really is more beautiful than you think.
11. You are Your Own Worst Critic: One of my favorite activities was one that we did at the very end of the course. We were each given a white plate and a bright colored marker, and had to put the plates over our shoulder (out of sight!) and write a compliment on everyone else’s plate. Through this exercise, it’s plain to see that we are our own worst critics. Everyone around you sees the beauty within you: your breathtaking smile, beautiful soul, shining positivity, fun personality! They aren’t looking at your insecurities, flaws, or faults; they see deeper than that. And yes, there are always going to be the haters and the judgers, but at the end of the day who really cares?
Let’s be a little kinder to ourselves now, shall we?