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Planning to be Happy

So often in our lives we are struck with the desire to know what is going to happen. The craving comes from somewhere inside, from the place that likes to plan for tomorrow, plan for next week, next year and so on.

The desire to plan hasn’t always been a part of human existence. Prior to the agricultural revolution, we foraged and hunted for our food, never really knowing where our next meal would come from. This encouraged a sense of transiency, moving from one location to another, responding to the elements of nature. In this way we were more connected with other beings of the animal kingdom, nearly all of whom still don’t set “plans” for their future. Humans of that time, and animals of now, simply stayed in tune with the present set of circumstances and acted in alignment when needs arose.

Then came the agricultural revolution- a time in human history that transformed how we organized and planned. During this time we figured out how to stay in one place and work with the land to grow our food. The need for transiency drastically reduced. People wanted to stay in one place. People decided that “owning land” was a priority. Along with this came the distinction of the have and have-nots. Community changed, and an opportunity opened up for those who wanted social power and control.

We started planning more and more. By understanding the cycle of the moon, and the cycle of the seasons, we could plant crops and plan to eat them months later. We could plan to store food during winter to feed our families. A more primitive planning process arose along with an important transition in human history.

The world saw humankind move from a more tribal culture to a world of states and civilizations, organized religions, bureaucracies and institutions. Time became more linear, individuals identified separately from the whole. This created a desire for stability, order and predictability— a desire and attachment to the planning process. We became reliant on our ability to plan the future.

Fast forward 2,000 years and we are still benefiting from the creation of process and planning. Many technological advances are the result of a vision for the future and a plan to get there.

We have gained so much from the ability to plan the future, but what have we lost?

We have weakened our ability to exist in the present moment- to see and feel things as they are, not as we planned them to be. This oversight can lead to cognitive dissonance in the form of depression, addiction, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. Personally, I’ve experienced this when I sought out and accepted a job that I planned would bring me happiness. It was quite the opposite in reality, but I held onto my preconceived notion for over a year. I kept telling myself it would get better, that I still wanted this job, that it would still make me happy. The longer I held on, the further happiness moved away from me until I started suffering from anxiety and depression. I couldn’t figure out how to get better until I realized I wasn’t being present with my reality.

Instead of addressing what I actually felt about the job, I was holding onto what I had planned to feel about it. Once I realized this, and embraced it, I was able to release my attachment to the “plan”. Once I released the plan, it was easy to let go, quit the job and move on.

The disservice we do to ourselves comes from our attachment to plans. Planning can be fun—a new vacation, a holiday celebration, a new experience—yet once we attach our happiness to the future plan; we are not fully present with experiences life brings our way.

How can we practice non-attachment? Anytime you feel anxious, depressed or angry. Ask yourself—where am I placing the power for happiness? If the answer is anywhere other than the present moment, simply recognize the response and remember—“The only time I can make myself happy is in the present moment. The only time I can plan to be happy is right now.”

xoxo Kate

What It Takes to Sail Through Life

“If you don’t like the direction your life is heading, change the direction of your sails.”  If only it was that easy. This inspirational phrase seems simple enough yet it’s incredibly difficult to put in to practice.  What I have learned thus far is that we have limited control over the exact destination in our lives.

Our lives are a sailboat floating on the current of existence. We have no control over the wind or the flow of the waters, we can only adjust our sail accordingly. We choose a path, set sail and hope to reach our destination. Sometimes the waters shift and take us in a different direction than we initially set out for. Sometimes that new destination is better than planned, other times it’s not.

Many days the sun is shining and there is a steady breeze. If we practice gratitude, we are usually thankful for these beautiful, uneventful days at sea. Other times, we barely take notice as the day passes by. The weather is perfect and our sails are set, we simply coast through the day unaware at how pleasant it is.

There are times that a storm comes. The winds blow this way and that, the waves crash over the sides of our boat. We don’t know if we will survive. Sometimes a destructive force smashes our sail and breaks the mast. Occasionally, we pass other boats already capsized and take a moment to lend our support. Every so often we pick up other travelers and share the journey for a period of time.

The sea always provides us with what we need. Perhaps there’s a day when our sails are set and we are ready to go, but there is no wind. We can get frustrated at this or use it as a time to practice patience. Patience with the journey, using the solitude to observe our inner self and life around. We might notice something, like the glint of the sun on the water or the sound of a dolphin call. In this moment, we find peace. As we get more experience, we realize the lack of wind always carries a message.

Patience is the greatest lesson to learn as it allows us the space to relax without the desire of control. Patience provides us the tools needed to control what we can—our actions, our thoughts and our words; and to let go of what we can’t—other people and the outside world.

I have myself changed the direction of my sails, caught a glimpse of a far off destination, released expectation and set sail. But most importantly, I’ve learned how to honor the patience it takes in life—with myself, with others, with the world. With this patience, any destination will be a delight… of that I’m certain.

“A man who masters patience, masters everything else.”

xoxo Kate

Here Kitty Kitty…

My friend recently told me a story of how she adopted a new stray kitten. She rescued the kitty after it was brought into her yard by an older feral cat. The older cat felt threatened by the little one and sometimes would attack. My friend knew she had to step in and rescue the kitten.

The little guy, only a few months old, was so scared once inside my friend’s home, he hid behind the stove and wouldn’t come out. For days, he felt threatened for his life. Afraid of the new sounds of something much larger than himself entering his world, he created a small space to exist in. A small, easy, safe space to navigate. Little did he know that beyond his boxed-in world lay a wondrous, magical land full of comfy blankets, mice, adventures, and a cohabitant full of unconditional love and caring.

Eventually he did step out, meagerly, with the assistance of my friend. Now his world had expanded. With a gentle timidness, he started to explore this new world. He felt the love and care of my friend, he saw the beautiful journey that lay ahead.

As soon as I heard the story, my spirit smiled. I always know when my spirit smiles, as an energetic sense of peace comes over my body for a brief moment. And when my spirit smiles, I listen and pay attention to the message.

Realizing your fullest potential, and the abundance of love that radiates around you, is a scary process. It’s scary because it only happens when we let go of the thought patterns, behavior patterns and roles that we play in our lives. A story we’ve told ourselves from childhood no longer has any bearing. Our job is part of a societal-imposed system. We move through our days recognizing the creator of our world is – and only ever will be – our own self.

That kind of power, when not embraced or controlled, seems like a scary thing.

But then we start to use it. Slowly we start to trust the big cohabitant moving through our world with us—the beautiful bigger force of unconditional love and caring. This bigger force has lived long before you were born and will continue to live long after you die. This bigger force will love you long after your physical body disappears. This bigger force will always make sure you have exactly what you need in your life. And this bigger force will show you a world of magic and wonder. A world of adventure meant just for you. This force exists inside of your body, and in all that surrounds you. You might not be able to perceive it yet, but at some point soon you will. It just takes a little bit of courageous trust and…listen.

 

“The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself

everything that you want, you already are.” – Rumi

xoxo Kate

Rooting in Patterns

Last weekend, I hiked through a redwood forest inhaling the fresh scent of wet leaves and new life. The valley allowed for streaks of sunshine to illuminate the many beautiful scenes of the forest floor. I stopped by a babbling creek at a point where a tree had fallen, creating a waterfall. Many times during high rains, trees will fall down, blocking the creek until the water pools and rises up and over the fallen tree, continuing to cascade down to the sea. Sometimes the earth falls away with the tree, exposing the roots of other tree neighbors near by. Walking a bit further, the trail led me under the exposed tree roots. I was able to observe the sacred giant towering above me from the very bottom up.

Underneath the tree, the exposed and broken roots were starting to show signs of new growth. Green bumps speckled the broken root, bulging out, slowly making their way down and back into the earth to set a new foundation for the tree. At some point in the future, perhaps even after my life is over, these tree roots will make it back into contact with the earth and ground down the tree in a new way.

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Patterns are like roots in our lives. They are beliefs, behaviors and actions we use to handle the various situations that life brings to us. Whether it’s a childhood circumstance, a traumatic teenage situation or another various affair that came up at some point in our life, we create patterns on how to deal with it in the future. The process of the tree roots re-growing down into the earth is just like the idea of creating new patterns in our lives.

One way is to take time to explore and recognize the patterns we carry around in our behaviors, actions and routines. Once we recognize these patterns, we can identify which of them no longer serve us in a positive way, and we can go about changing them, changing the way we are “rooting down” into our own life. Much like the tree, by redirecting the energy from an old or broken root, to growing a new root (a new pattern of thinking, acting, believing) we can create a different foundation for our whole life.

Sometimes a healthy storm comes and destroys part of our foundation—whether a family crisis, losing a loved one, or job, or house—whatever the storm is, we are left with a shaky unstable foundation. A blessing in disguise, we are relieved of the need to consciously remove energy from an old root (pattern) and send it to a new root (pattern). The old root is gone and now there is no choice. A new root is going to grow and we can choose the direction that’s right for us.

During this process, it’s important to remember that it takes time to grow a new root. Combining energy, time and a healthy dose of patience results in a new pattern foundation in our life. And in my experience, the more patient we are, the sooner the results happen.

However the situation comes to us, whether by a storm knocking out an old pattern or a conscious decision to move in a different direction, a new pattern begins to emerge. Time is the simplest and closest companion to growth. Practicing patience with ourselves during times of transition, helps us to consciously grow new roots, new patterns of foundation in our human experience.

“When we observe nature, we can learn the secrets of life. And they are not a secret after all.”

xoxo Kate

Embracing the Dark Side

This weekend I had a very hobbit-like energy, causing me to shut out most of the world and shuffle around my home finding menial tasks to do and, most importantly, taking naps. The weather outside was beautiful (one of the benefits of living in California during the winter months) and although I made it to the beach everyday with my dog, Diego, I just wasn’t feeling the normal energized self I’ve come to know and love. Every time my mind thought of an errand to run or a friend to call, my being-ness shut down and I would slump down onto the couch to watch another episode of “Fuller House”. The more my mind would create reasons to get me out of the house, the more my energy would drain, ultimately keeping my butt on the sofa. I felt bad about all of this somehow, I felt I should be out enjoying the day instead of letting it pass by and curling up with my dog.

It was almost like I was entering a dark side, my conscious mind pushing me towards the light but running into interference from some dark energy that was ruling me throughout the weekend. This isn’t the first time I’ve let the darkness take over, in the past I’ve let sadness, laziness, jealousy, greed and gluttony rule my actions for a period of time. However this was one of the first times that I worked on embracing the dark side and letting it run its course. And you know what? It did run its course, and left me feeling happy, energized and light.

Typically, we are taught not to dwell on things that make us unhappy. Most of the motivational messaging emphasizes not focusing on the negative, on letting things pass through, on ignoring the dark side in us all. Most days, it works well to suppress these dark thoughts and carry on with our daily tasks and responsibilities. Yet at some point, the suppressed darkness emerges again even stronger than before and we run into all kind of difficulties—illness, depression—that manifest into problems with our jobs, families, partnerships and relationship with spirit. Ignoring darkness only acts as a band-aid, a superficial protective layer which eventually falls off, revealing a larger wound underneath.

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost

Embracing and welcoming all unhappiness, sadness, anger, fear in our lives is the only way we can let go and move past it. We have to let out the full expression of the darkness, allowing it to reveal itself fully to us so that we understand exactly where it’s coming from. That realization allows us to address any problems at their root, and also recognize when we just need a break from something for a little self-care. Welcoming the negative feelings also helps us to learn about ourselves more and more, until we walk around comfortable in our own skin and firm in our values.

Here is a short meditation to help embrace the darkness:

“It has come to my attention that I must work on my acceptance of the negative side of me. The dark side that constantly tries to balance all the light which enters my life.

If I try to ignore the darkness, it only manifests itself further into my existence.

For now I realize the only way I can work through my karma is to fully accept all aspects of my being. All that exists around me has a dark side. The moon shines brightly, creating a glow that entrances the obscurest of forests, only to retreat back into itself, creating a shadow that instills darkness in the world around it and on itself.

I will work on being more like the moon, letting its waxing and waning be a constant reminder to welcome my darkness with the same hospitality as my light.”

xoxo Kate

Fly Bird Fly

A little bird flew into my office the other day and I spent the better part of an hour trying to rescue and get it safely out. The bird stopped frequently to rest on the light fixtures and chirp the sweet melody of “SOS”.

As it fluttered and flapped around, I tried to speak in a calm voice and gently lead it out of the door. But the beautiful bird kept flying up, towards the a-frame ceiling, constantly exhausting itself with this repetition.

I thought about that bird as the wings flapped helplessly, so many heartbeats used, so much energy spent. The bird repeated the pattern from its past, feeling danger and flying up towards the safety of the sky. Yet this day, the sky wasn’t there and flying up was no longer helping. What the bird needed to do was take a moment to look around at the situation at hand, and then it would find the open door that leads to freedom.

What do we hold on to as a way to find safety? A pattern of behavior we’ve used to escape a challenging situation and feel “protected”? Much like the bird, once we find a method to work for us, we stick to it and at some point miss the open door staring us in the face, because we are too busy looking up, for our normal route to security. And just like the bird, that door might be the one that leads us onto our path of happiness, freedom and life itself.

The little birdie spent a period of time flying against a closed window, eventually just sitting and staring out at the trees. Admiring the view with the bird I thought of the many windows I’ve looked longingly through in the past. Windows into others’ lives, the trees looking so green and inviting. “This is my path,” I thought as I continuously tried to fit through the window, only to smash into glass each time until I rested—weary from trying to fit myself through a window of this portrayed life path. It never works, and sometimes we hold onto that “window image” for so long that we just settle into that room, and start to build a life there that resembles the window display, completely unaware of the wide open door that would take us in the direction of complete fulfillment and self-expression.

Finally, the bird appeared to have exhausted itself to the point I could reach out and take it in my gentle hands to bring it outside. The bird shuddered with fear as my hands enveloped its body. Yet it was a short-lived fear followed by immense joy as the bird flapped its wings finally in the sunlight and sang a quick song as it flew on to its destined future, and ultimately a death that respects the life lived.

“Look around and listen with intent. With bright eyes and an open heart you will receive your life’s call.”

xoxo Kate

Scared of My Own Reflection

Occasionally I have the opportunity to stay in a remote cabin in the woods of Big Sur, CA. The other night, the moon hadn’t risen yet and the stars were putting on a spectacular show. Crickets chirped and the soothing sound of the ocean waves crashing into the rocky shore melodized the air. As I was putting on a cozy shirt and getting ready for bed, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that made me jump. There, in the window, was a shadow on the deck outside my room. As my eyes adjusted, the shadow took human shape and my heart dropped with fear. Adrenaline flushed throughout my body as I froze in fear of the person outside my window. A few intense heartbeats later, I realized the person moved when I moved… I realized it was my own reflection.

I pondered this for a while, laughing at myself for being afraid of “myself”. It’s not unlike many fears in life. I, like most of us, grasped onto the concept of the scary “other” at a young age. From horror films with some crazy serial killer, to the evening news reporting the latest violent crime, we are always bombarded with the same story—someone “out there” comes to harm an innocent person, just like us. And if it could happen to that person, it could happen to me. We feel the need to constantly prepare ourselves against that outside attack.

Yet really, our most dangerous threat—the one that repeatedly means life or death—comes from within. It is our own self that is our own worst enemy.

Of course there are cities and habitats that are more dangerous than others. Places where violence fills the streets and gunshots are heard nightly. But is it not “ourselves” that makes decisions leading us to danger?

Somewhere inside of us we have the voice that doubts our every goal. It can doubt our dreams to the extent that it sabotages and kills them. It can make us afraid that we will be rejected by someone we love, so much so that we push our loved one away and we lose them. It can make us fear we are not good enough to follow our passions to the point that we don’t even try. Worst of all, it can make us fear death to the point that we don’t really live.

Stuck in this cycle of perceived fear of the other, not realizing that the biggest danger lies in the negative voice in our head. Most never break out of the pattern; some don’t ever notice it exists. Placing blame elsewhere is easy, placing blame on ourselves is uncomfortable and tough.

What can we do to live with less fear and more love? I start by recognizing the fear when it comes and trying to pare down to where it stems from within myself. Sometimes there I find a belief so foolish and unfeasible that I can’t help but laugh at the control I allowed it. After that moment of awareness of where the fear stems from, it’s easier to find the courage to stop the pattern and get over it.

“Facing our deepest self head-on can be scary, but liberation is sure to follow.”

Nesting Within

I was sitting on a wooden bench the other day overlooking the rocky cliffs of Big Sur dropping off into the Pacific Ocean mysticism. As the strong wind blew against my face, I grabbed hold of the rustic bench below me. Waves crashed the shoreline and my fists gripped tighter. The scent of eucalyptus added to the trance and I started clenching my whole body. What came next astounded me.

Within seconds, I felt the rapid movement of the earth as it rotated and lurched forward through space. I felt the pull of gravity and the strong tides of the ocean. As the wind blew harder against my body, I felt as if I was flying. I gripped tighter as the anticipation grew inside me. What was I experiencing? My body grew more tense and the strange fear of letting go crept in. I felt like if I let go of the bench, I would fly away, lose control and meet my peril. Again the wind blew harder, my grip grew tighter and my heart raced. It was the same feeling I’ve experienced right before jumping into a cold pool.

“Deep breath in… just do it!” I told myself, “just let go!” But I couldn’t let go, I was frozen in a moment in time when I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. How is it going to feel? Will it be too painful? Too challenging? Finally, I inhaled one last deep breath as courage kicked in and I took the leap of faith.

I released my grip and relaxed my body. Immediately a rush of stability swept through my being. Now that I wasn’t holding on so tightly, I was swaying with the wind, subtly moving with the ebb & flow of the earth. I was grounded in the natural movement of life around me.

I couldn’t help but notice this is much like what happens throughout our lives. If we hold on too tight, it makes it feel like everything is moving at high speeds. It makes us nervous, anticipating the “letting go”, fearing what would happen if we lose control.

When we finally do let go—of people that no longer serve us, of situations harmful to our wellbeing, of mistakes, of material things—we feel lighter, more stable within ourselves. The uncertainty ceases and the sense of dramatic movement radically lessens, because now we are moving too. We become in sync with the universal turbulence, more in-line with the natural patterns of existence. Simply put—when we hold on, we are resisting the wave; when we let go, we are moving effortlessly with the tides of our lives.

“Let go of attachments- literally, figuratively- and behold! More stability enters the soul.”

xoxo Kate

5 Easy Steps to Meditate the Stress Monkey Away

I’ve never been one to sit in long periods of meditation. Twenty minutes was a challenge to me as my mind raced with thoughts of the day and plans for the future. Now each morning for one hour, I become aware of each breath I take as I sit in silent meditation. I focus on the cool inhale and warm exhale. I’m always checking in with the quality of my breath. Is it fast and shallow? Is it slow and deep? Does it originate in my stomach area or the top of my lungs? How is it making me feel?

Most of the time, I’m not feeling good. The built up stress is still attached to me like a baby monkey to his mother. The mother monkey jumps from rooftop to rooftop with added weight making the journey much more difficult. When her baby is hungry, the mother monkey has to stop whatever she is doing and sit to feed. She surrenders completely, and devotes herself to him.

It’s much like I was doing with my stress. Carrying around the extra weight wherever I went. Feeding it constantly with negative thoughts and a stressful lifestyle. Surrendering myself to the stress, and devoting my thoughts to it.

I’ve decided I’m through with feeding it, and carrying it around this beautiful life. Now, my challenge is to detach from it. It became habit for me, my mind trained to cater to it. I gave stress power over me. Finally I’m taking my power back through meditation.

My Guru here in India is teaching me how to incorporate meditation into my every day life. It’s no easy feat, but there are a few easy steps to get started:

  1. Time– pick a time, either in the morning or the evening, when I have at least five to twenty minutes to dedicate (and aim for the same time every day)
  2. Sitting Position– choose any comfortable seated position (crossed-legs, legs out in front, back against a wall), make sure spine is straight
  3. Breath– begin with a few deep abdominal breaths followed by normal rhythmic breathing
  4. Mind– allow my mind to wander, don’t fight with the thoughts. Instead, observe the thoughts in my mind like I’m watching a movie, eventually they will fade away
  5. Point of Concentration– select a focal point on which my mind can rest, like nature, stars, colors, music or simply breathing

As the days progress, I add more time to the daily meditation building it up to one hour. Although my Guru says that twenty minutes a day is enough to de-stress the body and mind. With meditation, I’m beginning to see a change in my thought patterns. Positive thoughts start to outnumber negative thoughts. Slowly but surely, my baby stress monkey is starting to take the hint…

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.

xoxo Kate

Intoxication of Love

If traveling is like a fine wine, traveling India is intoxicating. I’m sucked in, tranquilly so, like a willing captive on a pirate ship. The danger feels enlightening and there is a mystical captain I don’t yet understand.

My eyes are droopy and I’m incredibly tired but I can’t look away. The tuk-tuks, cows, rubbish and people are everywhere. Black-faced monkeys climb though the city and into my heart. The constant honking and death defying driving — I’m hooked on this drug.

As I ride north, I contemplate how many other times I’ve been intoxicated so. Falling in love, head spinning, heart pounding, waiting for the first kiss. Will he love me too? I never know the answer but that doesn’t stop me.

Perhaps the most intoxicating of all is the ancient wisdom that lies in the hills here. I can feel it with each new place I see and person I meet. There is an underlying knowledge that pulses through the streets. This is the place where Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and Muslim converge. Where I stay in Rishikesh is a place where the words on the street are “positive energy”, “connection with the universe”, “individual consciousness”, “universal consciousness” and more of the like.

A place where a crystal shop lies around each corner, ready to provide me with all necessary tools for energy healing. A place where no one talks about religion, the only focus is on feeling positive and at peace. Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes are offered everywhere. Monks and Gurus merge with café owners, children and pilgrims to form the eclectic scenes. Ayurvedic Doctors are ready to provide stress relief and heal my ailments. The views of the Himalayas and ashrams are spectacular. Sometimes, I watch the rain fall heavy as locals set fire to their dead on the sacred river Ganga.

I think I’m in love.

“Falling in love…

                                                     …sounds like an adventure”

xoxo Kate