“It is never too late or too soon. It is when it is supposed to be.”
—Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
I am so amazed by how quickly time passes. It has now been a year since the May 2014 launch of my book The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness, published by HCI Books. A year . . . unbelievable ! And what an amazing year it has been. I have met so many beautiful people all over this planet. and I have seen what I know to be true: At our core, we are all loving, good human beings.
Reflecting on the speed of this past year brings it straight home to me how fast-paced life can be and just how truly important it is to practice being mindful, being right here in the present moment on a daily basis. This is, after all, what my book and my life’s work is all about.
With my travel, speaking, and studying over the course of this very busy year, I am still thriving and full of energy thanks to the tools of The Practice. I wake up every morning and sit with myself, preparing for the day ahead. And then I use the other tools to keep me rooted in the present moment. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I did not want to miss a single second!
I stayed connected within each and every moment as I traveled around the country and abroad, sharing my lifelong passion of spreading outer peace through inner peace, at book signings, lectures, interviews, and workshops. When I think about this past year, it is a template for how to truly live every day—not just special days, weeks, or years. I believe the whole point of our lives is to be here in this present moment, open and receptive to what life has for us—fully present. This is easier said than done, for sure, but with a daily practice of connecting within, we can all begin the journey of living our most precious lives with passion and presence.
I am not saying I didn’t feel stress or any of the other emotions we have as human beings during this past year. Of course I did! Rather, I was able to manage any stress or uncomfortable emotions I felt, moment by moment. With a daily practice, we can all learn to stop, take a breath, and start again. We come to understand that we cannot control what’s happening in the outer world, but we can control our responses to what’s happening.
So, if I started to get nervous that no one would show up for the next book signing on the schedule, I would “change the reel of thoughts,” take a deep breath, repeat my Sacred Mantra, and stay in the moment, letting the future moment take care of itself with the deep knowing that I would be okay no matter what. It’s that easy.
We can change our negative, wearisome thoughts into positive, present-moment thoughts. It is this staying in the moment—not letting my thoughts carry me away—that gave me so much energy and reserve to travel, speak, and be at my absolute best all around the world.
I just returned from the launch of the UK edition of my book. While on tour, I connected with people who share my passion from various cities throughout the UK, concluding with the beautiful Irish city Dublin. It wasn’t all business, though! My beautiful children, Michelle and David, were with me, and we had such a fabulous time together! Here we are in front of a bookstore window, and that’s The Practice behind us!
Souvenir Press, my UK publisher, designed a different cover of my book (which you can see just above Michelle’s head). No matter the packaging—the message is still the same! I would say sort of like people: No matter how we look on the outside, inside we are all incredible human beings who are meant to live magnificent lives.
I offer my love and heartfelt thanks to all of you for making this year so very special for me! Together, we are bringing love, strength, and peace to the world around us every day!
The Contemplative Heart by James Finley
“By associating with wise people you will become wise yourself.”
Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life and the FAU Peace Studies Program have the honor of hosting a conference with Thomas Merton scholar James Finley, beginning today through Sunday afternoon. I have known Jim since 2009, and I call him one of my most profound teachers. In his wise and caring way, he gently says to us, “Find your practice and practice it.” I love this beautiful moment when he teaches us that, once we have been sitting in meditation, we get a taste of our own strength, love, and compassion. And then, as we go into our day, he reminds us, “Don’t break faith with your awakened heart.”
How often do we experience these moments of deep knowing about ourselves and our life only to go into our day and the busyness sets in and the thoughts in the mind tell us, “You can’t do that or be that; just get on with what makes sense”? When we bring our faith back to our “awakened heart,” we can gently remind ourselves of our strength, love, and compassion and refocus our attention on what it is we wish to do or be.
We are all looking forward to an amazing conference with Jim: “A Path to Inner Peace: Freeing the Mind and Heart through the 12 Steps.” We will be offering the audio of this weekend later in the month. In the meantime, I highly recommend Jim’s book The Contemplative Heart, which is on the reading list for the “Reading for Inspiration” part of The Practice. But to give you a little taste of the inspirational Jim Finley, I will share a few excerpts from his book below if you wish to contemplate them and their meaning in your life.
“Studying with the Masters” is one of the activities I recommend in my book The Practice and in my workshops. I posted a blog a while back explaining this enriching and rewarding activity. If you’d like a refresher on this practice, click here. Then, you can use the following excerpts from The Contemplative Heart for this purpose, or just read, enjoy, and contemplate!
“The contemplative way is not that of striving for some far off goal that we may or may not attain, but rather is a way of discovering a secret hidden deep within our hearts.”
“The contemplative way is not that of figuring out some obscure teaching, but it is rather that of learning to see what is always before our eyes.”
“Will we spend this evening’s hours in a sustained, underlying sense of gratitude and reverence for the divinity of night? Probably not. Here is the riddle we need now to explore—the riddle of our ignorance in which, though awakened again and again, we forget again and again the divinity to which we are awakened.”
I would love to hear your thoughts on these excerpts, and if you are one of the attendees at the conference, please share anything that touches your heart in the comments below.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly,
but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
With the arrival of spring just a week away, I can feel nature’s miracles and the new life that is ahead for so many beings on this magnificent planet of ours. I spent some time reading on my patio last week here in South Florida, and I witnessed one breathtaking example: the butterfly.
Butterflies are simply gorgeous. To be in their presence is an honor. For me, they symbolize hope, strength, and love. Like all things in nature, the butterfly has many lessons to share with us. Let’s take a look at one that really stands out: the importance of being who we are.
Imagine the grand metamorphosis of the butterfly. Let’s relate the stages of this experience to the various aspects of our lives: first the tiny egg of potential, then the tireless caterpillar working toward that potential, then the chrysalis allowing that potential to take shape, and finally the butterfly who realizes that potential and takes flight.
The butterfly teaches us that it is not possible to go from egg to butterfly without the stages in between. And in our lives we cannot go from birth to death without the journey. So like the caterpillar, we must do the work. George Carlin once joked, “The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity.” This is so true! We often admire the beauty of the butterfly and rarely think about what it went through to get where it is! So it is for all of us that we must have a grand ideal for our lives and walk the path, putting one foot in front of the other.
Many people ask me, “How do I know what my life purpose is?” My answer is this: we sit with ourselves in silence and just listen. In this sitting, we place our attention within on the breath and drop our attention into our heart. By spending time each day listening to our heart’s whisperings, our life’s work takes shape, and we begin the journey—strong, loving, and connected within.
I founded the non-profit Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life as a result of my meditation practice. About eight years ago, I heard my heart say, “You are meant to bring love and peace to every being in the world.” Just how could I say no?
I promise that as you spend time with you every day, you will come to know exactly what you came to this life to do. Like the butterfly, you will experience the magnificence of being who you are!
“’We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet. ‘Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
My God and My All. These are the prayer words of St. Francis of Assisi, and I have been turning to them for comfort and support for more than twenty years. These words are my Sacred Mantra. As I explain in my book The Practice and here on my website, the Sacred Mantra is “a word, phrase, verse, or prayer with a long history of use that is hallowed or considered holy by the tradition or culture from which it originated, which you have personally chosen for your use.”
I have been using my Sacred Mantra for so long now that I consider it my sacred friend. I have experienced and enjoyed the many benefits of having this tool—this friend—by my side and in my heart. My Sacred Mantra helps me put my stress in perspective, quiets down my mental chatter, helps me to gain clarity of thought, and brings me back to the present moment when my mind wanders to the past or future!
When I discuss the Sacred Mantra in my workshops, I often talk about using it during times of uncertainty, fear, worry, and stress. In the beginning, it takes a lot of practice to train the mind to turn toward the mantra rather than to the worrisome or agitating thoughts that do not get us anywhere. I always say, “If worrying worked, then keep doing it.” But we know it doesn’t. What does work is the Sacred Mantra.
When the mind becomes accustomed to turning to the mantra, we move more easily throughout our day with more patience, compassion, strength, and love. It is as if a good friend is holding our hand and showing us the way!
The Sacred Mantra keeps us present in the moment, giving us an opportunity to really be aware of our actions and interactions with others. It gives us greater control over how we respond to life—because, frankly, that is where we really are in control. Think of this tool as a “thought interceptor”; when your mind starts down a negative, fearful path, start repeating your Sacred Mantra silently to yourself to bring your mind back to the moment, back to the place of reality and choice.
When you use your Sacred Mantra day after day, it becomes rooted within—a part of your being. So not only does it help me during times of worry and stress, it also comes to me in times of joy. One of these occasions, as I describe in my book, was my daughter’s graduation from college. I felt such incredible happiness to see her reach this amazing accomplishment in her life, and suddenly, there was my Sacred Mantra, like a chorus resounding within me! My smile could not have been brighter.
This simple phrase, the deep meaning it holds, and its power are transformational. Mahatma Gandhi called his mantra, Rama, Rama, Rama, “his staff of life.” I urge you to consider choosing a Sacred Mantra for your use and experience the many benefits of this beautiful friend firsthand.
To some people, the idea of being alone doesn’t sound very appealing. In fact, many people view it as something negative and to be avoided. If I’m alone, they think, there must be something wrong with me. In many instances, they may even seem to prefer other people’s company to their own. The truth is, they might actually be afraid to be alone with themselves. I know this because this had been true for me many years ago.
When being alone is too difficult, some people will turn to a harmful distraction to avoid it such as drinking or drugs—or, as was true for me when I was in my twenties, an eating disorder: bulimia. Overeating and purging kept me numb. This addiction is how I avoided being alone with myself and facing my feelings. However, during recovery, I discovered that our alone time is essential to connecting with ourselves.
Being alone gives us a chance to really experience who we are with authenticity and complete honesty. In solitude, we see ourselves from our own perspective, free of concerns about how we might appear to others and what they think of us. Little by little, we peel away those outer layers. In this alone time, we discover our true nature, who we are when no one’s watching—beautiful, kind, and loving—and then connect within to that source of strength, support, and love that assures us we are perfect in this very moment.
In my life today I am no longer afraid of being alone. I actually treasure quiet time and love going on silent retreats! I enjoy many solitary activities, but my morning meditation is the most precious to me. It is in this quiet time with myself that I know, at a deep level, that even though I am sitting alone, I am truly one with everything. This feeling remains with me throughout the day in all my interactions—with others as well as with myself. I feel deeply connected.
In my book The Practice, I talk about my early days of feeling lonely and alone, like I was the on the outside of life looking in and thinking that I would just love to be “somebody,” to be needed, to matter. In treatment for my bulimia over thirty years ago, I learned to meditate. For the past eighteen years, I have been meditating first thing every morning, knowing that in each quiet “sitting with myself,” I am connecting within. I am overcoming my feelings of separateness and aloneness. This brings me great comfort and a beautiful feeling of being connected to myself and everything around me.
What is your story of finding yourself and feeling strong in your own skin—feeling connected?
Kids of all ages amaze me. Sometimes they seem wise beyond their years, teaching us adults a thing or two about life. But most often, they need our guidance and our unconditional love to help them make sense of the world and their belonging in it. We can take many steps to ensure their safety and happiness, but I think Ann Landers said it best when she wrote:
“It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”
While there are many lessons we are here to teach our children and they certainly learn much of what they need to know throughout their school years, I absolutely believe there is nothing more important than showing them how to get in touch with their innermost selves. This connection to self is where they will hear the guidance of their hearts, the secrets of their souls, and little by little know deep within that they are magnificent beings in this world.
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to begin sharing aspects of my book The Practice with students at a high school in my area. In my conversations with these teens, what stands out most to me is that they are all seeking ways to be happy and to deal with what one teen called “the unbearable stress” that comes with being a teenager today. They are bombarded by technology and media messages suggesting that what they are looking for can be found in the newest gadget, other material items, or a coveted accomplishment. They feel that they don’t measure up or that they need to do this or that or even that the life they are leading won’t amount to anything. And, last, they feel scared and hopeless about many of the circumstances surrounding them today.
It’s a search we can all relate to…
I write about my struggles as a teen in the seventies, and although we certainly didn’t have the technology back then that we have today, I know very personally how it feels to be stressed out, unhappy, and wanting to feel smart enough or good enough to fit in. What teenager hasn’t felt this way at some point in their lives? It probably comes with the territory. But what I have discovered since my teenage years in my search for happiness, security, and meaning is that there are tools children of any age can use to access their inner strength and feel accepted by the most important person in their lives: themselves. This will make an extraordinary difference in everything they do.
Using the tools…
Meditation, focused attention, mantra repetition, and reflection are the tools I teach in my workshops and in my book The Practice. An overview of each of these tools is available on my website, and in-depth discussions can be found in my book. These tools are easy to understand and implement, but I work to further simplify them with teens. For instance, I explain mantra repetition as turning to a Focus Phrase first thing in the morning for one minute to start the day and then using it throughout the day during stressful times to reconnect to their inner source of peace, confidence, and courage.
I am so happy to say that kids are really open to these ideas. In my talks, they’ve expressed genuine eagerness to try my suggestion: “Wake up, leave the cell phone for one minute, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breath. Let the thoughts in your mind come and go and just breathe, connecting to your heart, your soul, your quiet within.”
Kids are just like us—they truly want to feel happy and know they really are okay. I believe that sharing your meditation practice with your children—even just a few minutes a day—and teaching them to connect within will provide a solid foundation from which they can step into the lives they came here to live.
Our kids know how to solve math problems, they’ve experienced the fun and mysteries of reading, and they understand the usefulness of knowing a second language. But, most important, they also must know who they are. They can only discover this with a consistent practice of “checking in with themselves.” Once they have the tools, they can tap into their never-ending source of inspiration, intuition, self-love, self-confidence, and support whenever they need or want to.
I would love to hear your insights on helping our teens live their best life!