6 Lessons from Nature on Living a Peaceful, Fulfilling Life

Nature

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~Lao Tzu

Five years ago, I was feeling really stressed (like millions of other people in the world). I was working full time in a job that was draining me of every single ounce of energy I had.

I had nothing left to give to myself or those I loved at the end of each working day; life had turned into an incessant cycle of getting up, going to work, coming home, working, and going to bed.

During this time, I read about so many people who were also unhappy with their lives. People who had reflected upon their existence and realized that this was not harmonious with who they were.

I read about these people who inspired me with awe yet at the same time felt a sense of desperation. That could never, would never, be me, I thought. And while these conflicting thoughts existed, I became increasingly stressed out and more and more unhappy.

There were things I enjoyed about my job (and still do). I became a teacher because I felt fortunate in having had such amazing support throughout my own education and wanted to offer young people that same help and guidance in return.

But at the same time, I was changing as a person and I wasn’t the same being I had been six years previously when I had chosen that path. For my own sanity, health, happiness, and the happiness of those I loved, I knew something had to change.

And then it did. My partner and I decided to move to a rural area of Herefordshire and buy a hundred-year-old cottage.

There is no quick fix for happiness and I realized that the most important way to become less stressed was to change my way of thinking. But living in the countryside has undoubtedly contributed to my increased levels of calm.

There is nothing like walking down a tranquil country lane, whatever the season, and just observing the sounds, smells, and landscape.

I walk the same route regularly but this never bores me. With every single day, let alone season, something has changed and yet there is also a sense of constancy in nature, which I find incredibly comforting.

The Lao Tzu quote about nature not hurrying embodies something I find I’m continually trying to work on—slowing down my daily pace. All too often we rush through our days, anxious to get things done at the fastest speed.

When I’m aware that this is happening, I make myself stop and think: Why am I doing this?

The pace of our world is frantic and seems to be constantly increasing. Despite this, I support the belief that life is not a race. 

Going faster doesn’t necessarily equate with accomplishing more or better. In actual fact, the opposite is usually true. If you slow down, you make fewer mistakes, are able to think more clearly, and act with purpose.

For me, this also results in feeling calmer and being more aware of my surroundings and those around me. This can only be a good thing.

Frequently, we might tell ourselves that we must do such and such but in most cases, this feeling of having to do something is only a result of pressure from within.

I personally believe that it’s important for our own sanity and health to slow down (and I apply this to driving, walking, and breathing on a regular basis).

So this quote got me thinking about what we can learn from nature…

1. Determination

Nature is pretty hard to stop. Weeds and grass grow with dogged determination (much to the frustration of the lazy or time-pressed gardener). Many baby birds and other young offspring grow up against a huge number of odds; they are determined to survive.

With determination, it doesn’t matter how fast (or slowly) you move through life. If you are determined, if you have a goal and a plan to reach that goal, you’re already a long way toward it.

2. Strength in adversity

Have you ever pruned or cut back a plant only to wonder whether you ever actually did, because now the greenery has exploded into an amazing array? I used to be reluctant to cut any plants back until someone told me that they actually ‘like’ it.

I suppose it’s nature’s fight for survival; you cut it so it puts even greater energy into growing more.

Nature could decide to give in and plants could just shrivel up and die. But they don’t. In life, when things seem tough, we usually have two choices: give in or give more.

Choose to mirror nature and decide to face problems rather than run from them.

3. Adaptability

Nature can be incredibly adaptable. Just think about the four seasons. Animals and plants alike adjust to cope with the changes in climate and meteorological factors.

Humans are no different. We put on an extra sweater or two in the winter but can be less adept at managing with changing circumstances. Since change is one of the only certain things in life, try to accept this and see it as a positive thing as far as possible.

You might not be able to control life events, but what you can control is how you respond to them.

4. Storing inner strength

When autumn arrives, nature seemingly goes into shut down. But actually, wonderful things are going on, ready for when the plant and animal kingdom come into full swing once more.

Take a leaf out of nature’s book and nurture inner strength when times seem sunny so that when the clouds appear, you don’t give in.

5. Collaboration

One thing nature does really well is working together. Bees and flowers are just one of the many examples of this. Bees collect nectar from flowers to make their honey while the flowers get a good deal out of it by their pollen being spread by their furry winged companions.

You might be a real people person or perhaps you prefer your own space. Either way, the world is one huge partnership of human beings.

There are so many things that we simply could not do without the help of others. Look around you; everything you see has been thought of by a human, designed by a human, made by a human (okay, perhaps with the help of a machine, but still). I find that thought pretty amazing.

I’ll never meet most of the people who somehow are connected to my life, but knowing that every single thing I do I am able to do because of someone else is pretty awe-inspiring. In so far as you can, see people as teammates rather than competitors or adversaries.

6. Consistency

With the exception of an extreme weather occurrence, nature is pretty darn consistent. Want to be a super fit runner? Jogging every three months isn’t going to get you there; try to stick to a once weekly routine.

It doesn’t matter if the day or time has to change as long as you hit that road/treadmill/country lane once a week. Maybe you want your garden to look pristine and something to be proud of. Again, get out there regularly rather than spend five hours slogging away once a month.

Whatever your thing, be consistent.

Whether you live in a rural area, town, or city, nature is all around us. Harness the power of nature to live your life and slowly accomplish your dreams.

Photo by Moyan Brenn

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About Alexis Evans

Alexis Evans is a teacher and complementary therapist in the UK.  She is the founder of zenmindbody, a mobile holistic therapies service for ladies.  Visit www.zenmindbody.co.uk to find out more or connect with Alexis.

Identity Crisis: When You Aren’t Sure Who You Are or How You Fit In

Reflection of Self

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

In another life, not too long ago, I was an actress.

I “fell” into acting when a catalogue showed up on my doorstep for UCLA Extension summer classes, and in my boredom I started flipping through it to see what was on offer. For whatever reason (synchronicity? my intuition?), the Acting 101 class jumped out at me, and something in me said yes.

At the time, I was living in West Los Angeles, only a few years out of college after graduating from Pepperdine with a degree in business, working in the travel industry, and quite frankly, not entirely sure how I really wanted to spend my life.

My “identity” as college grad with a business degree didn’t mesh well with this newly emerging identity as an actress, but that little “yes” that signed me up for the class quickly became a louder “yes” as I fell in love with acting itself.

Even though I was a performer at heart (dance was my medium of choice for thirteen years in my youth), acting was only something I did occasionally in a school play here and there. But this—Acting 101—this was something new.

This was my chance to become not just one aspect but all aspects of who I imagined myself to be, as I brought words to life, I embodied amazing roles, I hobnobbed with the stars…okay, that last bit might be stretching the truth. (As an “indie film” actress, most of my hobnobbing was with other talent from the independent film and local theatre scene.)

But no matter who I was hobnobbing with, I always found myself comparing and falling short—reaching for my new identity as a “successful actress.”

Not pretty enough.

Not skinny enough.

Not put together enough.

I remember thinking “if only” time and again; if only I were (fill in the blank), people would accept me, understand me, love me.

Life is hard when you don’t know who you are.

Or so I thought—until I met and fell in love with an actor who was actually doing those things I wanted to do, and yet still had many moments feeling as lost and disconnected as I did.

I began to awaken to the possibility that no one is immune to this identity crisis; even those who seem to have everything together question who they are and why they’re here.

This identity crisis, fueled with my desire to help others in a more direct way, set me off on my current journey as a healer and coach. I was seeking to understand who we are at a deeper level rather than try to simply “fit in.”

Yet even as a coach, I found myself holding tight to the role I played as my identity. I wanted to be like other coaches—successful coaches—and I wanted to look and feel the way they did, fit into the mold that was shaped for my occupation.

But the harder I tried, the more I realized that I didn’t fit in. Not because I was doing anything wrong but because, the truth is, “fitting in” is an illusion.

We are more than just our personalities, our likes, and dislikes.

We’re more than our gifts, talents, and skills.

We’re more than what we do, and we’re most certainly more than our bank accounts (or lack thereof).

In truth, I believe our real identity actually brings us closer together rather than further apart, and it’s less about “fitting in” and more about truly connecting with one another.

I began to shift the story from lonely outsider to a small but very important part of the whole. 

This changed not only how I felt, but also how I showed up in the world.

If we listen to our ego, we only see the differences between us and other people, but if we listen to our intuition, we see the overlaps, similarities, and connections.

I began to ask the deeper questions—not who am I, but who are we? And more importantly, what are we, collectively, here for?

The answer that came through for me was so simple, yet so profound.

Love.

We seek love because we are love. That is our identity.

When we remember how alike we are at the core, it makes figuring out who we are on the surface simply a secondary gain.

You may be questioning who you are and why you’re here and what your real identity is; after all, we all do.

Who you are is always evolving, so rather than get stuck turning inward to figure it out, I challenge you to shift your focus.

Just for today, try the below:

Every time you connect with another person today, whether it’s a stranger, colleague, loved one, or even someone who rubs you the wrong way (actually, especially if it’s someone who rubs you the wrong way), ask yourself this question:

How are we alike?

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that you both read the same books. Or have the same views on an area of life. Or perhaps you both just love the color purple.

Or maybe you can feel deeper into it and sense that they too are seeking like you, even if they seem to have it all figured it out. Or that they also want to be seen the way you do, even if they aren’t going about it the way that you do. Or that they could use a kind word or gesture, even if they didn’t reach out and ask for it.

In that split second, think to yourself “I get you, because you’re like me.”

This thought, consciously chosen in that moment of connection, can powerfully change your perception of “who you are” in this world and ultimately transform your identity crisis to an identity awakening.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

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About Sabrina Bolin

Sabrina Bolin is a compassionate guide whose mission in life is to be a vessel for love. She currently manifests that mission through MyMiBoSo, her coaching practice focused on bringing intuitive awareness to the mind and body in order to create joy in the soul.

How Accepting Your Circumstances Can Help You Find Something Better

Happy

“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.” ~Sonia Ricotti

I’m on an old bus in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where I’m staying on a three-month tourist via. I look through the window at the streets, dirty beyond belief.

Thick dust in the air mixes with the pollution of exhaust fumes; I see men spitting on pavements and small children with greasy hair roaming the streets in search of people kind enough to give a few coins.

I witness dirty stray dogs that look like they have rabies, mingling in the crowd; all shops look the same—small, dirty, and grey.

I resisted it all during the first month of my stay, but this resistance only created misery. Why on earth do I always choose the road less travelled and not stick to the touristy spots, where I could remain blissfully unaware of the reality of Nepal?

I know the answer to this question; I always knew it. The universe is trying to teach me a lesson of acceptance and non-resistance. I couldn’t learn the lesson as long as I viewed life in Nepal in a judgmental way.

As soon as I eased into the country and became willing to view it without judgment, a whole new world opened up before my eyes.

I suddenly saw another side of Nepal: I noticed dirty yet adorable, happy children chasing kites on the green grass plot near the street; I noticed a mother sitting on the road and swinging her child in a loving way; I saw white broad smiles in tanned faces.

What’s most important, I felt the unity these people experience because they share this unique way of life. Brotherly love is in full swing here, and in India, but nothing of that sort I witnessed in the west.

I felt the relief people feel to shut away the dust and pollution and enter a peaceful atmosphere of a café to enjoy a latte. I also felt the home-feeling people get sitting on roadsides, sipping over-sweetened milk teas.

This is what they know and this is what they choose to experience—who am I to judge all this?

This experience of opening up taught me the importance of non-resistance. When you’re observing everything without judgment and accepting things as they are, you feel completely at peace with yourself and experience real happiness within.

Many people don’t learn this lesson all their lives, like those stuck in unpleasant circumstances they hate. Until they learn this lesson, they will keep being stuck.

In India, where I currently live, many expats are stuck. They look shabby, they’re often drunk, and they complain about how appalling the life in India is, and yet they keep living here. Many of them hate the culture, and all their lives consist of resisting the way things are.

How Acceptance Helped Me Move to a Country That’s Perfect for Me

I know it’s horrible to be stuck somewhere you dislike and be unable to move on. However, this happens when we resist our circumstances. As soon as we wholeheartedly accept them, the door opens for a change, because acceptance dissolves the limited mindset that prevents us from seeing opportunities.

When I moved to England from Lithuania, my home country, I got stuck in a horrible town with factories and nothing to do in my spare time except shop in soul-less shopping centers.

What kept me stuck there was my studies and later a horrible job, which gave me a steady paycheck. I disliked the job, yet I felt comfortable. I was afraid to quit it because I didn’t know if I could find a better one.

I struggled with these surroundings and I hated them with all my heart. However, when I started reading self-help books, I got convinced that I was where I was because my mindset had attracted me there, and through my resistance I had gotten myself more stuck.

As I explained before, resistance limited my understanding of the world. I was unwilling to see the positive side of things, and thus I couldn’t spot any opportunities that would have shown me a way out.

When I realized this, I changed my strategy. I started accepting my situation instead of resisting it. Instead of thinking about how horrible the town was, I tried to be neutral about it, so I wouldn’t channel negative emotions into the situation and thus get more stuck.

I also decided to channel the emotions of happiness and joy into London, the city I loved, and visited whenever I had time and money.

Whenever a negative emotion or thought would arise about the town I lived in, I reminded myself that when my mindset changed—when I became more positive and open—I would more easily find a way to move.

My neutral attitude toward the town I lived in gradually made me see a more balanced view of it and eventually, appreciate the positive aspects. I noticed, for example, that the town had beautiful parks and ponds, and that some people living there were interesting and kind.

Developing understanding and acceptance opened the doors for a change.

As I became more open-minded and happier, I started noticing and acting on new opportunities. For example, I came across information about how to start my own business and thus acted on it.

Within a year or so of this change of mind, I moved to London, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

This non-resisting attitude made me dissolve some of the limits of my mind and thus I became more intuitive. This intuition eventually led me to the country where I felt most at home—India.

If I had never learned this lesson of non-resistance, I would probably still be stuck in that horrible town, cursing my situation to this day.

Wherever you are and whatever you experience, try to be at peace with it. If it’s hard to think positively about your situation, at least don’t focus on the negatives, and instead focus on something you’d like to experience.

It may help to make a list of things you’re grateful for and the positive aspects of whatever you resist. Focus on those aspects completely, and soon your mind will become more positive and more accepting of your present circumstances.

This shift in focus will eventually open the door to circumstances that are more empowering and positive.

Photo by Courtney Carmody

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About Simona Rich

Simona Rich lives in tropical South India, rides scooter, meditates, does yoga and helps people create fulfilling and unique lives. Read her story to find out how she changed her life. You can also find her on facebook, twitter and google+.

Vulnerability Is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness

Letting Go

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~Brene Brown

I was raised to be determined. I was raised to put my head down and solider on during tough times, and I was raised to never be vulnerable, because being so meant you were weak.

Whether these were the intended lessons, it’s hard to say, but somewhere deep inside that is what I interpreted the messages to be from those who had influence in my life.

Throughout most of my life I carried these messages like suits of armor protecting me from invisible opponents, sure to strike when I least expected it.

Each time I unbuckled the armor and exposed my raw tender skin to what I thought vulnerability looked like, it was only a matter of time before I was left broken hearted, disappointed, or worse yet, full of shame and self-hate.

Looking back on memories, I am reminded of a time when I fell madly in love, the type of love where you are brave, do not hold back, and lead with your heart.

Unfortunately, I later discovered that the person I was involved with was leading two lives, and would be on “business trips” while they spent time with me and then the reserve with their other life.

It all came crashing down after they “claimed” a death in the family, and when I called to give my condolences to the family, the supposed deceased family member answered the phone.

The lessons I learned during these perceived attacks left me carrying a heavy imaginary backpack full of reasons as to why I could not be vulnerable.

In my mind, this determination was a brave path to be walked alone and it proved just how independent I was, unlike those who “needed” people in their life.

It’s been a slow evolution from this point, which reached a low five years ago, to now. In fact, sometimes it has seemed so slow that I thought I was inching backward.

With an instinct to push, question, and doubt, buying in to the vulnerability bandwagon has been a tough sell.

Despite reading a plethora of self-help, transition, and any other inspiring books I could get my hands on, it never seemed to make a difference. Something just was not connecting inside of me.

During a personal development course three years ago, the facilitator used an actual full backpack to show me what the weight of my self-defeating story felt like.

He then had a group leader push down on the pack with the goal that I would eventually give in to the weight and to the story in my head that was holding me hostage.

During the demonstration, I could feel the weight of the pack getting heavier, my legs shaking, my stomach muscles twitching with fatigue, and my head pounding from my tenacious spirit fighting desperately to hang on to my story of why vulnerability was bad, I was determined, and I didn’t need anyone. 

After what seemed like an eternity, I did give in, and although I wish I could say it was like a light switch and I immediately embraced a new way of viewing and practicing vulnerability, that wasn’t the case.

Over the last three years it has been more of a slow sunrise, and on days when I felt brave and could trust who I was connecting with, I was able to open myself up even for just a moment and let people in.

I always thought it was my strength and determination that inspired people. However, what I have learned over the last five years is that those qualities in fact intimidated and kept people at a distance.

When I felt my weakest—when I could hardly get out of bed and face the challenge of a new day after a relationship had ended or when I was laid off due to a company downsizing—I dug deep and found the courage to ask for help from very supportive friends and my running group teammates.

I was overwhelmed with support, encouragement, and people saying how I was inspiring them in their own lives.

During this year of significant change and transition, I am proud to say that I have not put the armor back on. Being open to my vulnerability has allowed me to connect with people on a new level and embrace life lessons I definitely would not have learned previously.

In moments when I felt alone, digging deep, finding just an ounce of courage inside and asking for help, and admitting when I did not have an answer to a challenge I was facing has brought deeper, more meaningful relationships into my life.

In addition, I am now developing a calm in my life that has allowed me to embrace a new level of happiness.

Looking back on that demonstration with the backpack three years go, what I remember isn’t how long I resisted or even that I surrendered in the end. I remember how it inspired others who saw that I found the courage to give in and embrace what I feared the most after fighting so hard.

Strength isn’t about fighting; sometimes it’s about letting go. Having the courage to be vulnerable, even when it feels insurmountable, is the first step on the journey to a wholehearted life.

Photo by Beth Scupham

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About Terry Downs

Terry is the inspiration behind Simplicity Adventures, a company daring people to dream and achieve what they once thought was impossible and then inspiring others to do the same. Her book “The Simple Guide to Racing Ironman: Practical Strategies for an Extraordinary Day,” is coming out on Amazon this June.

When You’re In Transition: Being Patient and Accepting Uncertainty

Sitting in the Road

“Fear, uncertainty, and discomfort are your compasses toward growth.” ~Celestine Chua

Change is never easy, yet it’s always around us. Sometimes it hits us over the head (if you experience divorce, a career change, a move, or a loss of a loved one). Other times, it’s hiding around the next corner. And most of the time, it’s happening even we don’t even know it.

My father firmly believed in the adage the only constant is change. Myself, however, I avoided change as much as I could because I didn’t want to deal with uncertainty.

After a well-scheduled high school experience, I applied early to college and graduate school just to be sure I knew my futureThat worked well for a little bit. Until it didn’t. Until I realized that these decisions kept me from understanding that I was completely terrified of not knowing what to do next. That all of my early acceptances were actually holding me back from discovering what I really want.

After completing graduate school, I took my first pause, not knowing which direction I was headed in. To be honest, a pause is a kind word. It could also have been called a bit of a breakdown or simply the hard realization that life is a series of transitions and rarely “just planned out.”

A few years down the road, I found myself in another career and personal transition. I noticed I wanted to cling to something again to avoid uncertainty. After pouring through more graduate school websites and clinging to the idea that finding certain work was the answer, I realized I needed time to be in transition, even though it terrified me.

I needed time to heal and time to just be. Because that idea of being in transition made me quite uncomfortable, I knew I needed to sit with it, find my way through it, and finally become friends and a little more comfortable with transitions.

I once heard that the only way out is through. There are no short cuts. In order to hang (or some days, wallow) in and through the transition, I learned a few tools along the way:

Break the cycle of caring what other people think.

For a while, I hated when acquaintances and former colleagues would ask, “What are you doing now?” I would cower under that question and try to invent answers that would be sure to impress them, such as “I am learning astrophysics” or “becoming a ballet dancer” (both utterly and completely untrue).

On the whole, our society is fixated on success and we are rarely encouraged to take time “out.” Once I stopped judging myself, people’s questions seemed a lot less important to me and I was able to relax into my transition a little more.

Learn to just hang out. Wherever it is you are. 

Take a day. An hour. A lunch break. Stop with the planning and action-stepping and self-help reading and just chill. Don’t check e-mail. Don’t look for a solution. Turn it off. Whatever it is. It will still be there. Just take a pause and breathe. Because then the real pauses will feel a lot easier and familiar.

Be cool with the idea that there is no quick fix.

While looking for the next opportunity (personal or professional), it can be tempting to say yes to something just to end the search.

A friend of mine used to encourage her other friends to date “the second-best-guy” and to just take any job. That didn’t work for me. At all. The times I tried that left me right back at square one, even more discouraged.

The real thing takes time to find. The real thing is worth waiting for. The real thing is why we left whatever wasn’t working in the first place.

Do things that keep you centered and grounded.

It can be overwhelming to be in transition. It can be hard to make a simple decision sometimes. And it can be oh-so-tempting to self-medicate. Instead of obsessing over writing a resume or an e-mail or wasting time on Facebook, take a walk. Or sing a song or bake a chocolate cake. Or read a book or sing really loudly in the shower. Or do whatever it is that makes you feel centered. Do it every day. Commit to it.

I may not be exactly where I want to be, but I am feeling closer to it every day and am beginning to welcome transitions, because as their words says, they help us transition to the place we want to be.

Once we can soften into the transition and take the time—which is a gift—to relax into them, they can soon evolve into a place of respite, a place that is ripe with possibilities and excitement, a place that holds the space for us to become even stronger.

Photo by Magdy AlOxory

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About Molly Ritvo

Molly Ritvo is a writer living in Burlington, VT. She loves to be outside, practicing yoga, travelling to peaceful places, cooking, and spending time with her loved ones. She is currently embarking on a new career chapter.

Finding Your Inner Light to Get Through Dark Times

Buddha Light

“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz of Shiraz

One week before my twenty-ninth birthday, the love of my life broke up with me. The pain of it was agonizing, heart-stopping. I could not think. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not breathe.

I expressed and released pain, anger, denial, guilt, sadness, and on and on, until I exhausted myself. The bottom had dropped out of my life, and my sense of self was left shattered.

If I could be so wrong about something I had felt such certainty about, I thought, then there was nothing that I could possibly be right about. I was tragically flawed and inevitably doomed.

So I did something desperate and extreme. I dropped out of graduate school, gave away all my furniture, threw away most of my belongings, and moved across the country.

My intention was escape: to run from the darkness, as far and as fast as possible, and to somehow exchange my old, broken life for a shiny new one.

It didn’t work the way I expected it to.

Instead of the dynamic new life in a vibrant city I had envisioned, I created instead an involuntary retreat into solitude and self-reflection.  

Moving far away changed only my environment; it didn’t change my internal landscape at all. After the excitement of change of scene faded, I was left with the one thing I couldn’t leave behind: me.

Because I didn’t know anyone, I spent a lot of time alone. This was back in the days before social media, before the Internet was what it is now, and way before smartphones.

I put pen to paper and wrote, a lot, just to purge the thoughts from my head. Many days passed for me in silence, simply because there was no one to talk to.

In my search to understand why something so unbearably horrible had happened to me, I embraced with passionate zeal every tradition or tool for healing and self-knowledge I could find.

I meditated, I did yoga, I breathed; I learned about the Saturn Return, the chakras, flower essences, fasting, mantras, shamanism, dream work, the I Ching.

All of this helped, but still, I was left with the dull, leaden weight of my loneliness.

I didn’t know how, but I was determined to find a way out. I clung to that intention for dear life: not the belief that it would get better—I wasn’t quite there yet— just the possibility that it could.

After a few months of existing from moment to moment with my solitude, I began to see myself more clearly, stripped as I was of everything familiar and alienated from everyone I loved. And slowly, surprisingly, and strangely, I began to notice qualities in myself that I didn’t know I possessed.

Because I did everything by myself, I learned self-reliance. If I got lost while driving, I had to navigate my way out of it. If my car broke down (which it did), there was no friend I could call for help.

I learned to take risks. Because everything I did was fraught with uncertainty, I realized that I could go out on a limb and figure out how to deal with it.

But even more than that: I found out that eating one perfectly ripe peach on the way back from the farmers’ market was an exquisite experience when performed solo and in silence. I could enjoy watching a fantastic movie even if I had no one to talk to about it when it was over. I could walk on a beach at sunset and appreciate the beauty without aching for someone to share it with.

My internal landscape had become, to my amazement, rich, complex, and interesting. The gradually dawning knowledge that I could not just survive alone, but feel whole and happy—even in small bursts—was a revelation to me.

Out of the ashes of a devastating personal loss, I found an unlooked-for self-respect and a renewed excitement about living my life. Gradually, a vision of myself emerged, contrasted against the darkness that had enveloped me.

Since then, of course I’ve had other experiences that have pushed me to an edge, but I’ve found my way back to center each time by drawing on the essence of who I am.

It doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my flaws or figured it all out. I am always me in those ways, too. I can still be critical of myself or get distracted by life’s endless dramas or get wrapped up in anxiety and worry. But I know that I have a map that can get me back to where I want to be instead of being stuck someplace awful.

It can take time to find the way back, but you can be sure of the way by keeping just a few things in mind.

When something unthinkable happens, the question isn’t Why? The question is Who?

Who are you? That’s the only thing you can really know. Let what is inexplicable be inexplicable. You can’t change what has happened and you can’t control other people. But you can choose to let adversity teach you something about yourself.

If you lose everything, you are still you.

Nothing that happens, no matter how bad, can erase who you are. You are always you, no matter what happens. Experiences may change you, but deep inside there is always that shining seed of self, the blueprint of who you truly are, guaranteeing the possibility of renewal.

Loss allows space for something else to take root in you. You can let it be wisdom, not bitterness.

When everything else has been taken away, you have a choice to mend the pieces that are left or to stay in the shadowlands. When you move in the direction of wholeness, the power of your intention can ignite your own personal revolution.

An open mind and an open heart can turn the key.

It is hard work to generate gratitude and serenity when you are suffering. Luckily, just wanting to be that kind of person can be enoughWith your intentions set in the right direction, peace and contentment will find you.

In persevering through my own darkness, I found a self—call it my authentic self, my immortal soul, core being, my heart center and sanctuary—who can survive whatever life throws at me.

My experience has taught me that the human capacity to endure—and to do it with grace, courage, and joy—does not really depend on anything outside of ourselves. Even when life seems impossible, the brilliant light inside yourself is enough to see your way through your own darkest nights.

Photo by Angela Marie Henriette

Avatar of Amy Dye Gori

About Amy Dye Gori

A writer and consulting astrologer at Genius Astrology, Amy talks with people every day about possibilities as well as challenges in the lives they want to create.  An academic by training, she writes about the cosmos, culture, creativity, and choice.

Are You Limited by the Fear of What Other People Think?

Dancing in the Night

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle

A few months ago, I found myself on the busy streets of London’s Covent Garden.

It was a mild Friday evening in the capital and the masses were out celebrating the end of the working week, looking forward to the weekend ahead.

But that’s not why I was there.

I’d come to Covent Garden on that day for a special project.

For most of my life, the fear of what other people thought of me had kept me trapped. It had prevented me from reaching my full potential and from enjoying life to its fullest.

I couldn’t bring myself to dance in public for fear that people would point and laugh. At work I was unable to voice my opinions for fear they’d be thought stupid. And at my lowest point, even walking down the street became a struggle, as my mind ran wild with images of people talking about and laughing at me as I went by.

I lived a half-life. I knew I was missing out. I also knew I had so much more to contribute to this world. But I was paralyzed by the fear that if I put myself out there I’d be ridiculed and rejected.

And so the “real me” remained cocooned somewhere inside. I knew she was there, I knew who she was, but fear kept her trapped.

But sixteen months ago, things began to shift. Filled with an increasing sense that I wasn’t living my purpose and a vast emptiness from the lack of meaning my life seemed to have, I quit my corporate office job in search of answers, determined to live a more fulfilling life.

I made a commitment to myself then to face each and every one of my fears and to find a way to reconnect to the real Leah and let her out into the world.

The last sixteen months of my life have been challenging, as I commit every day to living a little further outside my comfort zone. But being in that space of discomfort and crossing the threshold from fear into courage has led to the fulfilment I craved as I realize just how much I’m capable of.

I’d by lying if I said I no longer gave a second thought to what others think, but for the most part I can push past that to do the things I know I need to do.

And so it is that I arrived in Covent Garden, in the hope of now encouraging others to free themselves of that fear of what others think and embrace life in its entirety.

And so there I stood, on the crowded streets of London that evening, holding a sign handcrafted from old cereal boxes, saying:

“How often does the fear of what other people think stop you from doing something?”

The reaction to this simple question left me gobsmacked.

People stopped and took notice.

Some smiled knowingly, acknowledging that their own lives had been affected by the fear of what others think.

Some nodded with something of a sad look on their face. Perhaps there was something they really wanted to do but were being held back by that fear.

Others engaged in conversation, sharing their stories of how the fear of what other people thought had touched their lives or how they’d learned not to care so much.

That day, I experienced for the very first time the extent to which the fear of what other people think affects our lives—all of our lives. What might we be capable of if we could let go of that fear?

I went home that evening having learned some valuable lessons…

You’re never alone.

Too often we suffer our fears in silence. We believe ourselves to be the only one.

Everywhere we look we seem to be surrounded by confident people.

But I’ve come to realize that everyone—those who appear confident or shy; extroverts of introverts—we all, each and every one of us are struggling with our own fears.

When the fear of what other people think is holding you back, take a look around and remember, everyone is living with his or her own fear. You are not alone.

By confronting your fears you help others confront theirs.

More than anything, when you stop caring what others think and set out to achieve your goals and dreams, you give others the power to do the same.

Someone is always watching and wishing they had your courage. By stepping up to your own fears, you really do help others face theirs.

Be vulnerable and honest. Being open about your fears and confronting them head on could be the greatest gift you ever give.

What you think they think isn’t the reality. 

Those people over there? The ones you think are talking about you? Judging you? They’re not. Really. They don’t have time. They’re too busy worrying about what people are thinking about them!

And even if they were looking at you, judging you, talking about you, you can be almost certain they’re not saying the awful things you imagine.

Instead, they’re envying the color of your hair, your shoes, the way you look so confident.

What we think people think of us doesn’t come close to the reality.

Freedom from the fear of what others think is possible.

The fear of what other people think of us is like a cage.

Over time you become so used to being inside that cage you eventually come to forget what the outside might be like. You resign yourself to living within its walls.

By taking deliberate and purposeful action to overcome the fear of what others think of you, you slowly regain your freedom and escape from the confines of the prison you’ve created for yourself.

And life outside that cage? It’s pretty awesome!

It’s a place where you can be the person you always knew you were meant to be.

And that, being fully self-expressed, being everything you know you are, fulfilling your greatest potential in life, well, that’s the greatest feeling you could ever know.

Don’t let the fear of what other people think stop you from living the life you were born to live.

Photo by PhObOss

Avatar of Leah Cox

About Leah Cox

Leah is a Courage Coach and founder of Where Is Life?. She specializes in helping people live with less fear and more courage so they can show up in this world as the people they truly are and live the lives they were born to live.

Burn Away Your Barriers to Love: 7 Ways to Live a Beautiful Life

Hand Heart

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~Rumi

My grandmother is nearing the end. She’s had a good life, a family, a loving husband, dancing and singing, growing things, running a business.

There are some skeletons in the closet though; her early life had some very heavy experiences that made her afraid and may have held her back. On balance, a great life, but there were challenges.

Right now, she’s slipped into a dream world and she is often still there when her eyes are open. There are lucid moments but her short-term memory is gone. She wakes and wonders who you are.

But if you don’t push her to be in your time zone, she is happy to have her hand held, to sing the old songs, to laugh, to tell you what’s what. Her personality hasn’t changed.

What she’s doing, we think, is sorting through the various stages of her life, coming to terms with the things that need to be understood with the heart. She seems to be burning away the old memories, the old feelings.

Maybe she’s also looking forward to joining my grandfather for a dance, as they always did. They met at a dance.

I don’t really know what it’s like for her but I see her returning to a kind of innocence, burning off the barriers to love. I see her life and all our lives as a gift of learning how to love.

This has me thinking: How can we remove the barriers to love now? How can we burn off what doesn’t serve and let the best of us shine through?

1. Practice forgiveness.

Let go of the poisons of resentment. Let them wash away in a cool mountain stream meditation. Simply say, I forgive NAME and I forgive myself. I send love to both of us.

2. Try to understand.

Play act being that other person. What could have made them do the things they did? Were they in pain themselves? Were they just naive and oblivious?

3. Change your beliefs.

The limitations and barriers to love (and to anything else we want in life) are really about the beliefs we hold. The past is gone; it’s only our beliefs that live on to affect our current life. What belief is stopping you feeling love? Is this belief really true? Could you believe otherwise?

4. Change your story.

Change the way you see it and tell it. What did you learn?

Your story might be: “I am lonely because I was treated harshly as a child and can’t trust others.” You could change this to: “My early life taught me to crave and seek healthy connections.”

If you lived in fear as a child, did it teach you courage? Your story could be: “Being afraid taught me to stand up for what I believe in.” Change your story if you need to. Your story about before runs your life now, and now is what really matters.

5. Create from the darkness.

Play with the raw materials of life. Creativity transforms experience. Write, draw, paint, sculpt, bake, cartoon, collage, or just laugh about the hard stuff with a good friend. Get it out.

In the movie Something’s Gotta Give, the heartbroken playwright (Diane Keaton) writes madly, alternately sobbing and laughing with delight as she “nails” a great comic scene. At some point, the terrible truth may become hilariously funny. Get creative.

6. Give love to feel love.

Love lives in my heart when I give it. Giving love makes us feel love. How do you best give love? What does your beloved like most? Do they love hugs, a talk, good food, flowers, car movies? Feel love in the act of giving. You may not have to actually watch the car movies.

7. Appreciate this miraculous life.

List your gratitude. List your small and simple pleasures. Indulge in them. For all the dark and light, life is a beautiful gift.

I want to talk about that last point. Often, someone nearing the end is reluctant to let go of this life. I get that feeling watching my grandmother now. Whatever life has held, we want more of it, even when it’s time to say goodbye.

Years ago, I saw an achingly beautiful contemporary dance performance called Fallen Angels. In the last moment, the stage filled with a thin layer of water. All but one had climbed to heaven. One dancer was left flipping and struggling like a fish in shallow water, holding on desperately to a difficult and beautiful life.

In that scene, letting go of life was so hard. Despite all the mess and confusion, the pain and heartbreak, this last dancer did not want to leave, even for heaven.

For all its contrasts, life is beautiful. At the end of our lives, I think we may want to hold on to all of it, the good and the bad. I have a feeling our souls wouldn’t change a thing.

Let’s embrace the beauty as much as possible right now and burn off the barriers to love. We can only do our best, learning to love as we go, living and loving all of it.

Photo by Jenny Starley

Avatar of Tania Yardley

About Tania Yardley

Tania is a writer and a truthseeker who tends to question everything. She is currently looking for a new way to serve. Her past lives probably included a scholar monk and a dancing gypsy. You can follow her “ideas to play with” at missyardley.com.

7 Things to Remember When You Think You’re Not Good Enough

Not Good Enough

“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” ~Lori Deschene

Sometimes I am really terrible to myself and relentlessly compare myself to other people, no matter how many times I read or hear about how good enough or lovable I am.

On an almost daily basis, I meticulously look for evidence that I am a nobody, that I don’t deserve to be loved, or that I’m not living up to my full potential.

There is generally a lot of pressure to “stack up” in our culture. We feel as if there is something wrong with us if, for example, we’re still single by a certain age, don’t make a certain amount of income, don’t have a large social circle, or don’t look and act a certain way in the presence of others. The list could truly go on forever.

Sometimes in the midst of all the pressure, I seem to totally forget all the wonderful, unique things about myself.

I get stuck in my head and allow my inner critic to completely tear apart my self-esteem until I hate myself too much to do anything except eat ice cream, watch daytime television, and sleep.

The other day, while I was beating myself up over something I can’t even recall at the moment, I read a comment from one of my blog readers telling me that one of my posts literally got them through the night. Literally. And if that one simple word was used in the intended context, this person was basically telling me that one of my posts saved their life.

I get comments like these on a pretty regular basis, and they always open my eyes to just how much I matter, regardless of my inner critic’s vehement objections.

Such comments also open my eyes to all the things we beat ourselves up over that don’t matter—like whether or not we look like a Victoria’s Secret model in our bathing suit, or whether or not we should stop smiling if we’re not whitening our teeth, or whether or not the hole in our lucky shirt is worth bursting into tears over.

Lately I’ve been trying harder to catch myself when I feel a non-serving, self-depreciating thought coming on. And I may let these thoughts slip at times, but that’s okay because I’m only human.

While my self-love journey is on-going, here are a few things I try to remember when I’m tempted to be mean to myself:

1. The people you compare yourself to compare themselves to other people too.

We all compare ourselves to other people, and I can assure you that the people who seem to have it all do not.

When you look at other people through a lens of compassion and understanding rather than judgment and jealousy, you are better able to see them for what they are—human beings. They are beautifully imperfect human beings going through the same universal challenges that we all go through.   

2. Your mind can be a very convincing liar. 

I saw a quote once that said, “Don’t believe everything you think.” That quote completely altered the way I react when a cruel or discouraging thought goes through my mind. Thoughts are just thoughts, and it’s unhealthy and exhausting to give so much power to the negative ones.     

3. There is more right with you than wrong with you.

This powerful reminder is inspired by one of my favorite quotes from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Until you stop breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you.”

As someone who sometimes tends to zoom in on all my perceived flaws, it helps to remember that there are lots of things I like about myself too—like the fact that I’m alive and breathing and able to pave new paths whenever I choose.

4. You need love the most when you feel you deserve it the least. 

This was a recent epiphany of mine, although I’m sure it’s been said many times before.

I find that it is most difficult to accept love and understanding from others when I’m in a state of anger, shame, anxiety, or depression. But adopting the above truth really shifted my perspective and made me realize that love is actually the greatest gift I can receive during such times.  

5. You have to fully accept and make peace with the “now” before you can reach and feel satisfied with the “later.” 

One thing I’ve learned about making changes and reaching for the next rung on the ladder is that you cannot fully feel satisfied with where you’re going until you can accept, acknowledge, and appreciate where you are.

Embrace and make peace with where you are, and your journey toward something new will feel much more peaceful, rewarding, and satisfying.

6. Focus on progress rather than perfection and on how far you’ve come rather than on how far you have left to go.

One of the biggest causes of self-loathing is the hell-bent need to “get it right.” We strive for perfection and success, and when we fall short, we feel less than and worthless. What we don’t seem to realize is that striving for success and being willing to put ourselves out there is an accomplishment within itself, regardless of how many times we fail.

Instead of berating yourself for messing up and stumbling backward, give yourself a pat on the back for trying, making progress, and coming as far as you have.     

7. You can’t hate your way into loving yourself.

Telling yourself what a failure you are won’t make you any more successful. Telling yourself you’re not living up to your full potential won’t help you reach a higher potential. Telling yourself you’re worthless and unlovable won’t make you feel any more worthy or lovable.

I know it sounds almost annoyingly simple, but the only way to achieve self-love is to love yourself—regardless of who you are and where you stand and even if you know you want to change.

You are enough just as you are. And self-love will be a little bit easier every time you remind yourself of that.

Photo by KelseyyBarbara

Recognizing and Overcoming the Fears That Make Us Settle

See the Light

“Fear, uncertainty, and discomfort are your compasses towards growth.” ~Celestine Chua

Settling feels awful. Take it from me—for the past few months I’ve been holding the Scepter of Settling in both my personal life and my business.

And it hasn’t felt good.

The other morning, as I sat waiting in LaGuardia Airport to board a plane for a three-day intensive business retreat in North Carolina, I had this sudden, radical a-ha! moment in which pieces of my life, both personal and business, just clicked into place.

Have you ever had that happen to you?

I realized I was settling in my personal life by accepting a relationship in which I was getting so much less than I wanted, and I was settling simply because I was afraid I couldn’t have more than I was currently getting.

There is a part of me that feels slightly embarrassed to admit that I was settling because of this deep fear that I couldn’t possibly have what I wanted from a partner, because it’s been so long since I have.

I was also settling in my business by continuing to work with a client who I bent over backward for again, and again, and again, who still always wanted more. I was settling by compromising myself and the way I work just for a few thousand dollars. I was afraid to trust that I would be absolutely fine without that money.

Does any of this feel familiar to you? 

  • You’re settling for friendships where you don’t feel supported, where it feels like it’s rarely “about you,” or where you have to hide or make parts of yourself smaller.
  • You’re settling for intimate relationships where you’re not seen and heard the way you want to be, or can’t show up authentically.
  • You play small in your family of origin, having to dumb down your success or your inner “shine” because there are stories about who you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to do, or you might “out-shine” a family member if you really show your brilliance.
  • You accept more than your share of work, work longer hours than you want, get paid less than you want, or work with people for whom you feel like you’re compromising yourself.
  • You make or have way less time for yourself than you like—you put off self-care, rest, good food, and exercise because there’s not enough time, money, or support.

In her amazing book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown talks about a marble jar that her daughter’s teacher used in the classroom.

Every time the class collectively did something good, the teacher put a few marbles in the jar. When they misbehaved, she took a few out. When the jar got to be full of marbles, the teacher threw a class party.

Brown talks about relationships in this context. Whenever we have a choice of attending to our partner, paying attention to them or their needs, seeing them fully and hearing them—showing up for them and our relationships—it’s like adding marbles to the jar.

And every time we turn away from our partner, choose to walk by instead of asking what’s wrong, avoid getting involved, turn away from the work of connecting and feeding emotional intimacy, marbles come out of the jar.

The last few relationships I’ve had were empty jars, with the occasional lonely marble rolling around desolately. I was getting sick with the settling—literally and figuratively. 

And it was impacting my business, where I found myself also settling in ways that were completely fear-based.

As I sat working just after dawn at LaGuardia Airport, getting ready to take three days for myself at a mastermind and business retreat, it hit me.

I’m finally ready to let go of what hasn’t been working, and the fear, and make painfully blank, open, empty space for what works, what feeds me.

I’m holding out for a full marble jar.

Are you settling anywhere in your life? Does it feel awful, sad, frustrating, exhausting?

Whether you’re settling in your friendships, your relationships, your work, your family, or your self-care, settling feels terrible and it’s bad for you, for your work, for your relationships.

Here are a few questions to get you started thinking about where and why you’re settling.

Grab a journal and a pen and get yourself a cup of tea. Light your favorite candle. Get comfortable. Dedicate this space to feeding yourself and filling that marble jar.

Closing your eyes, think about the areas of your life—your work, your love life/partnership, your self-care, your friendships…

Open your eyes and write each question. Then just start writing, without censoring or editing.

1. Where in your life are you settling for less than you want and need? Write out each place and how you’re settling.

2. Why are you settling? What’s the fear behind it? For instance, I found myself settling in a personal relationship because I had a deep fear that I couldn’t have what I wanted, so I thought I might as well settle for what I could get.

3. What do you fear would happen if you stopped settling?

4. What is a new belief about what’s possible for you that you’d like to think about working toward?

5. What would the first small step be if you were to act as if this belief were true?

We do this work in tiny steps so that they’re achievable and sustainable. Here’s to smashing the ways we settle.

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read