Having a daily practice of meditation and mindfulness is not just for your own benefit.
Indeed you do receive all the wonderful gifts; things like more peace and calm, a clear receptive mind, an open compassionate heart, and real joy - all of which you bring with you into your relationships, your job, your community, and the world.
Have you ever heard about the ripple effect? It's based on the understanding that we're all connected. Our thoughts, beliefs, and actions are like pebbles dropped into still water creating ripples that extend outward affecting others. It's really hard to say just how many lives we impact through the ripple effect - studies show on average it's 80,000!
You're the pebble.
Do you see how important your personal meditation practice is? How you show up in the world matters.
What ripples are you making?
Here are some ways you can practice being present for others in powerful ways.
1. Ask yourself what impact you want to make
We can so easily get lost in the grind of what we do and lose sight of the impact we are having and lose the energy and enthusiasm it takes to keep going. Connect to your purpose by asking yourself, "What's the impact my life, my work, my presence is having? What impact do I want to have?" Write it down and keep it close. Check-in with yourself to see how aligned your thoughts, beliefs, and actions are to your intention for making an impact.
2. Do one small thing every day
Little things make a big difference. There are thousands of ways to impact people in a positive way that are easy to do. They may seem "small" but you just never know what a difference they can make.
Ideas for random (and not so random) acts of kindness:
Random acts of kindness are done without an agenda - other than extending kindness and love! The actual impact you make is out of your control and may never be known to you. You'll get to enjoy the feeling of being a positive presence in someone's life - a pebble that's making ripples and possibly even waves.
"The idea that everything is purposeful really changes the way you live. To think that everything that you do has a ripple effect, that every word that you speak, every action that you make affects other people and the planet." – Victoria Moran
"Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.” – Jackie Chan
"Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end." – Scott Adams
This post is part of my 2021 Lenten series, Your 40 Days: A guide for stillness during Lent to help you commit to your spiritual practice for deep renewal and transformation.
I’ve been meditating for 10 years now. I practice regularly, pretty much every day. I’m also a meditation teacher which I’ve been doing for 8 years. Meditation is something that has profoundly changed my life for the better and I see how it helps my students, too.
And… also… the truth is... sometimes I feel like shit.
Some days, all the things meditation promises seem to evaporate, leaving me with horrible dread, sadness, worry, fear, and hopelessness.
Today is one of those days.
It’s sunny outside for the first time in a while. It’s spring, so while there've been beautiful sunshiny days to appreciate, and warmer air causing bouts of delight, there's also been days and days of rain. Cold gray gray days. I would understand if I were in bed on one of those days.
I’m having one of those sunshiny shit days where I want to sell all my belongings and buy a one-way ticket to Ibiza. One of those days where I feel like the second I open my mouth, I regret it because the sound of my voice is like fingers on a chalkboard and everything I say is shit.
When I feel like this, I do have the wherewithal (thanks to meditation) to ask myself what I need.
Today I need a walk outside, the largest latte one can buy, and to write down these words.
I don’t love it when I have days like this. I feel like a meditation failure.
Plus, the texture of this experience is rough. Most of my days are smooth and easy and really fun; full of real joy. My meditation practice saved me from being gobbled up by darkness ten years ago, so when I feel glimmers of those same shadows within me, I worry I’ve truly lost my way.
This is a terrible feeling for a meditation teacher to have.
If I’ve lost my way, what on earth am I doing guiding anybody else?
As I sit on this rough patch within me, I’m flexing my mindfulness muscles pretty hard. I don’t want to believe the thought that people who meditate, (especially meditation teachers) shouldn’t have shit days like the one I’m having right now. And the truth is… I don’t have to believe it because it isn’t reality.
As Byron Katie says, “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
I know meditation isn’t a panacea. I know dark days are part of being human no matter how much you meditate, and these kinds of days are actually good for me because that means it’s time for me to grow. I know that if I just stop and settle in, maybe let myself be still inside of this dark storm, something beautiful can emerge. Like the sunshine or a butterfly.
Here’s what I also I know:
That’s the big beautiful point. Stay. Don’t run away and don’t let fear be the voice you listen to. Tell people you struggle, too. Move all the way through. Let this dark sunny day have its way with you.
From this womb of darkness, may I be reborn.
Come, oh hands of God, and shape me into something new
Something more beautiful
Like who I am to you.
I have been a spiritual person all my life. Professionally so.
But also, in the most personal of ways, private and deep, this sense of the world and supreme being who it, that is, absurdly larger than myself, has allowed me a faith, hope, love which are also not based on the mere work of my hands or will at all. It was the wonder of this freedom that invited me into the more, that finally was known, in stillness.
Most of my hobbies as a man are loud. Fast, active, physical and loud. Boxing, gun sports, exercise, cars and motorcycles. Running and some lifting. Action and competition and bodily. I love these things. They are who I am. I live into these things and then live back out of them. They make me more of me. But also, the “noise” of all of these things tire me, fatigue me. More than a physical exertion that simply tires the body. These, on top of all the things me in life (dad of 5 daughters, grandpa of 6, someone who works, someone who worries...etc), pile up in a way that wearies me until I cannot quite catch my breath.
I am a fairly new at meditation. It is a hidden, neglected part of most faiths, even the Christian faith, that was intended to allow the participant to join the divine in a stillness that defies all the noise around us. But it is also a stillness that allows a strength and focus that is impossible to know otherwise. Absolutely, utterly, nowhere possible.
So, 3 simple observations from a man who now meditates:
I can choose to be still.
Amid all the chaos of these days (and I do not presume these days are any more chaotic than any others, per se) I can embrace stillness. I can enter into this. Amid all the things simply me.... relationships and job and play, I can enter this. As I begin to go there, I can know, I can be aware of and even envision, that all the universe around me can is loud and frantic in its energy, in its discord. Personal or otherwise. Collective or individual. Circling. And yet, I can choose to be still. Right there. Exactly there, I can choose to be still with all of this swirling around me. I can choose, with practice, to to quiet all the negative, repeating thoughts inside of me as well; inside my own head as a man, as a male, I can let go all of the swirling secret, private thoughts that I am a failure, that I am not all that I should be. That I don’t measure up. I can enter into that quiet and do something that is a simple kindness to me, knowing the deep stillness where I am as exactly as I should be.
I find my strength within me.
When I meditate, I most often have a sensation of moving down. I get to be gathered back into myself and the feeling of that, for me, is to move down into myself. I feel my body, secure and solid, sitting. Core. Shoulders and arms. Ass and legs, sturdy. Safe. Secure. And from there, from that strength, I move down into myself. No longer fragmented or scattered about for the sake of all I need to do, all I need to be. In this moment, in these breaths, I am just me. In myself. I can, from this sense of still-strength, I can simply be a watcher of me - of my feelings, of my thoughts, of my fears, of my heart’s contentments, and as the simple, strong observer of this me, I can let things go.... I can make more of what I wish to. I can recognize the best parts of me and let go of those things which finally are little of me. And all of that, for me, feels like a squatting down. A settling down. An allowing a downward move into myself that then tends toward lightness, freeness as I end the practice and move into my day. I can re-arrive at this place whenever I choose, even as I do my day. Driving. Readying for bed. Any time that I need to find this strength, to move down.
I'm more present and engaged in my life.
Also, then, I can be the wild animal who crouches in the brush, camouflaged, gathered, hidden for the sake of moving up and out of that stillness to hunt. To live life fully engaged. NOT playing catch-up. NOT always behind the curve. NOT always waging a losing fight. You may rise up and out of the quieted stillness and be altogether aware. Present. We as men typically measure ourselves by all that we achieve, often times at the expense of those relationally in our lives. But, out of stillness, like a big cat who suddenly appears full speed out of crouching, we can do, literary do our lives, purposefully. Not haphazardly. Not accidentally. Not unawares. All the things I love to do that are loud and forceful and driven, I enter these from the strength and focus of stillness. For all those whom I love, from this practice, I love them better, both in knowing who myself to be, but also with some of the fears set aside, literally quieted, I get to love and be a better presence in their lives.
Out of stillness, thoughts emptied out for the expressed purpose to quiet the soul, we come from that, free to choose up the best parts of ourselves. The highest versions of ourselves comes up and out of stillness, not out of the frantic, desperate attempts to keep up. Not out of the endless losing battle to get enough things done. With meditation, I live, love, work, and play much more fully and with greater attention to that which, those who, bring me joy.
Alan is a former Pastor, serving the Lutheran Church for over 25 years. He is now retired from ministry and serving at-risk young men at a residential treatment facility. He enjoys loud things, quiet time, and the love of friends and family. He learned to meditate in January 2020.
I was quoted in Forbes! 😲
It's a pretty good day when you find out your words and name appear in global publication such as Forbes! Here's the quote:
“We’re losing the battle for our attention if we don’t make time for meditation every day. Meditation empowers us to respond with our brilliance rather than react with our fear-brain to stressful situations,” meditation expert Angela Swanson of Cloud Nine Meditation tells me. “Our brains need to rest. A daily meditation practice gets us off the hamster wheel of our incessant worrying, problem-solving, and analyzing and gives us much needed time to pause and relax. When we’re calm and centered, the more effective we are. We’re able to meet the needs before us with uncommon clarity, creativity, and compassion.”
One thing is for sure, the holidays can be extremely stressful for some of us.
Seems like there's an extra helping of sadness, anxiety, disappointment, and grief this time of year. And what makes it even worse is that it's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
If you find yourself in the hollow empty spaces of dark thoughts and feelings, first know that you're not alone. You don't need to suffer in silence. (See below for crisis hotlines)
Second, consider unwrapping these two gifts that darkness brings:
1. Unconditional permission to take care of yourself
Whether this means removing yourself from toxic situations or calling a friend who's a good listener or simply asking yourself this question, "what do I need right now?" Honoring your needs is essential. I can't tell you how many people I know who think they have to suffer through their pain instead of tending to it.
2. Light for the way
If you stop and think about it, light is brightest in dark places: headlights on cars, a lighthouse in a storm, stars at night. Darkness and adversity threaten to blind us BUT if we open our eyes and look around we can see clearly where help is, where hope is, where love is. If you simply can't see it, go back to #1. Taking care of yourself clears the mental lens so you can find your way.
I love you, my friend.
With joy, wonder, and unapologetic self-care,
Are you a list-maker?
I’ve got something for you that you can put on the list in your mind. (Because I know you’ve got a few lists going there, too!)
Good news! It’s just ONE thing!
I want you to know the 1 single thing that’s absolutely required to realize the benefits of meditation:
You have to do it.
All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to reap the rewards of meditation. Here’s what you don’t get if you don’t actually meditate:
So on those mornings you’d rather sleep-in than meditate, or when you’re tempted to read, read, and read some more about personal growth instead of practicing what will help you get there, remember this one thing:
Knowing about it won’t help you. Doing it will.
Do you need help getting started with meditation? Or making it a daily habit?
Learn to meditate so you can stop trying to meditate.
I'll be honest. There are a few people I wish would not show up at the holiday gatherings this year. You know the ones: they talk too much, complain too much, drink too much, laugh too loud, and they don't help with the dishes.
Dangit. It makes me want to avoid gatherings altogether and stay home and binge-watch Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. 🤦♀️
The trouble with people is... they're just like me.
Ouch! That didn't feel good. (Hang in there, buttercup, it gets better.)
Just a little bit of empathy can go a very long way with people you're having difficulties with.
This exercise can be done with someone you barely know or with someone who triggers you left and right. It's a way to let go of assumptions and focus on what we have in common with others.
Just Like Me Exercise
Bring a person to mind. Focus on the center of your chest or put your hand on your chest, and mentally say to them:
Try it out!
You'll feel a lot better and that person you have difficulties with will feel better, too.
With joy, wonder, and pumpkin pie,
(Just Like Me Exercise adapted from Google's Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute)
Are you a good sleeper?
Oh man... I usually sleep like a baby. But lately, my eyes pop open at 3am way more often than I'd like.
What is it about 3am that turns normal thoughts into a band of wild horses galloping through my mind? I mean, is there really nothing I can do to stop that from happening? Well... making sure I'm not missing my daily meditation practice is a must, obviously.
But then what do I do if it still happens now and then?
Here's what works for me:
Allow it all
The more I fight the thoughts and try to push them away, the more they advance and swarm, and the whole scene turns into an epic Western shootout.
Two words: neurological junk
I consider these thoughts are coming from the lower brain (limbic system) and are most likely a habitual response to stress. Instead of engaging the thoughts, I wait them out; giving them little or no attention until they move on outa there. This is easier said than done. Having a breath-awareness or body-scan practice is essential to help me to redirect my attention to the present moment instead of wandering around aimlessly while lugging around heavy baggage in the dust storm of my mind.
It's amazing how much this helps. I take some paper and a pen (it's best done freehand) and write quickly and freely whatever comes to mind. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't have to. I just follow the train of thought wherever it leads. Sometimes it's weird stuff that I don't understand and my writing is hardly legible. No matter, I just let it flow onto the paper and it becomes a channel for all those rowdy thoughts to clear out so my mind can rest (it feels like taking a big exhale in my brain). This also is a great exercise to do at work when you want to spark creativity because it shifts you out of the left brain (analysis) into the right brain (creativity). And indeed, after you do this free-writing exercise at 3am, you may have sparks of insight that you can jot down. But then, go back to sleep if you can! :)
I get a little "woo-woo"
I ask the Universe, "What do you want me to know?" Many times I've been guided to a very specific idea, or solution to a problem, or a peaceful resolution to a worry when I assume I'm awake for a reason. Once I allow whatever wants to come, to come, I fall asleep instantly. Again... not fighting it is the key.
Do you struggle with horses galloping through you head at 3am, too? If so, what works for you? I'd love to hear. Feel free to try any of the above - I'd love to know how it goes. Seriously - send me a note.
Wishing you peaceful rest and sweet dreams that carry you all the way through the night. Or at least a good binge-worthy series on Netflix (kidding!)
Food is tricky. But is it, though? No, it's not. Food is just food. We make it tricky with our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Here are 3 things that are true about food that might go against popular opinion:
1. You know what you need. Your body knows. Many of us have been seduced by marketing and wellness-culture to trust "gurus" who have the answer that perhaps worked for them (or have something to sell)... but they are not you. They have different bodies, different needs, and different motivations. Nobody has the answer for everybody. Remember that. Take what works for you and leave behind the rest. Or better yet, learn how to get back in touch with the wisdom of your body and how to trust yourself again.
2. It's ok to eat for reasons other than hunger. It's ok to eat to soothe emotions, to eat when you're bored, to eat to celebrate or to mourn. It's ok. If your default reaction to dealing with stress has been linked to food and you feel like you have no self-control to choose to eat or not to eat when stressed, anxious, sad, bored, etc... that's something that you can work with and rewire if you want to. Be kind to yourself.
3. Dieting can be a dangerous trap. I'm proof of this and know it's true for many others. Dieting that's restrictive creates survival-based habits in the brain that we can feel powerless against. Simply put, restriction leads to overeating and binging. Period. If you obsess, often overeat, or binge and don't know why it's likely because you've restricted food to the point that puts your brain in survival mode. This shuts down our ability to make executive-level choices... choices that come from our higher brain and truly nourish us. If you'd rather eat in joy-mode rather than survival mode, stop dieting and learn how to veto lower-brain urges. There's nothing wrong with you, you're not broken, your brain is just doing its job. It needs to know you're not going to starve which is why you need to feed yourself adequately and find ways to say no to the urges to obsess and binge. Soon enough the urges will disappear and you’ll regain your power to choose.
A few mindful eating tips:
And finally, here are instructions for how to eat:
Eat what you want when you want it, mindfully.
>> Learn how to eat a mindful meal.