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Turning on the inner light

18 Dec

We have entered the darkest time of the year, marked by the Solstice, speedily approaching. In the old days, without electricity, indoor plumbing and built-in heat, the dead of winter must have been hard not just on one’s physical body but also on one’s mental state. In my imagination, that’s when some of our ancestors created rituals of light to ignite the spirit of hope, celebrating the solstice as a turning point of the year and marking the rebirth of light. Christmas, Chanukah, Deva Divali and others all fall around this time in the northern hemisphere.

I grew up with plenty of magical moments that were a part of our December, and light played a significant role in them. There were the late Sunday afternoons sitting by candle light and sharing stories and treats. I remember that every Christmas eve there was a huge Christmas tree standing in the corner of the living room, lit with many candles and made extra magical with sparklers. Our Christmas tree inspired awe in us youngsters, each time it was ritually lit. I loved the sparklers and the old glass ornaments topped with a hint of frosting, and the figurative ornaments which sent me on imaginary journeys, the birds sitting on branches dreaming of long flights to the south, the little white angel with the snow-white hair, and the sleigh made from glass beads, ready to cross Siberia or go straight to the North Pole. Now, in my daily practice i try to tap into the joy and wonder i experienced on the Christmas eves of my childhood.

When we experience joy (or awe) we shine—our inner light shines through. I am sure that you have seen a friend’s or loved one’s face light up when they hear of something that brings them joy. The light generated through joy makes them shine. And here is a little secret: you too will shine when you learn to cultivate joy.

How can you make your light shine more?

If i have learned one thing in the many years of being a student, teacher and coach, it is this: What we focus on prevails. I have learned that in order to experience joy i must nurture the potential of happiness inside me. Today i want to share just three strategies on how to cultivate joy and begin to turn on your inner light.

1) Focus on the positive.

This sounds like a no-brainer but if you are used to finding potential problems in every situation—which is how our brains are programmed to protect ourselves from possible adversaries—you are facing an uphill battle. You are embarking to undo not just a life-time of habit but also millions of years of evolutionary coding. Nevertheless, taking into account the brain’s plasticity your chances are good. For the holidays i recommend this:

Create positive experiences:

  • Set the intention to do something uplifting for yourself, and possibly for others. Plan uplifting activities. Ask yourself these questions: What makes my spirit soar? What nurtures my soul? What brings a smile on my face? Who makes me feel relaxed and comfy? Who inspires me? Who makes me laugh? Plan a gathering with someone who makes you feel good.
  • Instead of being the devil’s advocate, play with being the advocate of the light. Find the positive where you would habitually complain and focus on the negative. Share with others that you are experimenting with taking a positive stand. Invite them to join you in the experiment.
  • Do something new. Set the intention to be open to new experiences. Try looking at the world through a child’s eyes.
  • Be willing to say no to experiences that pull you down.
  • Limit time with negative people. If you can’t avoid seeing them (because they are family, for example) let them know ahead of time what your plan is. Interrupt the day with a nature walk to reset you.

Sometimes, creating a positive experience can be as easy as smiling at someone. Try it!

2) Cultivate gratitude.

Connect with all the positive in your life and stop taking it for granted. Be grateful for all you are and all you have. No, it’s not silly. It is awesome that your body is serving you so well even if other bodies seem more perfect, and even if yours is aging or having other problems. It has been with you for so many years and done so much for you. Wow. It is a blessing that you have a roof over your head, with indoor plumbing and running water. It is wonderful that you … fill in the blanks. Try writing down a list of things, big and small, that you are grateful for every day. Want to read more about gratitude?  Click here.

3) Acknowledge yourself for all of your efforts.

Yes, that includes efforts that did not quite succeed. You did something—that’s awesome. Celebrate when you created a great experiences for yourself or someone else. Celebrate when you did something new or something that seemed difficult. Give yourself credit for all the little things that nurture you or others. You fed the cat, you walked the dog, you went for a walk, you made the phone call you were dreading. All these are things to acknowledge yourself for.

And with everything, the more you practice the easier it gets and the more you’ll notice that what may seem tedious at first works. Best of luck cultivating joy and turning on the inner light!

How can you make your light shine more?

Need help? Visit my coaching website and contact me for coaching.

© Eva Ruland, December 2016

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Gifting—Now and Then

5 Dec

Gifting is an art. With so many options available, gifting has not become easier, it has become more difficult. How can you make sure you get the right thing? Most of us have already so much, more things than we need. We have the means to go and buy ourselves that book by our favorite author, the sweater that feels so cozy, or a beautiful trinket for our house or garden. Where does that leave gifting? Here are some thoughts on the nature of gifting and how gifting has changed over time.

In the northern hemisphere the holiday season is a time of darkness and cold. For our ancestors the dark season was a time of rest, as the days were short and the cold didn’t allow for much work outside. It was also a time of gathering around the fire, keeping each other company and minimizing the use of resources such as wood for warmth and candles for light. It was a time of storytelling and handiwork (such as needlework, knitting, and carving), some of it creative, much of it utilitarian. Some of the handiwork would be for personal use, some intended as a gift for a dear one. The grandmother would knit socks to help keep the grandchildren warm. The granddaughter might adorn a simple napkin or apron with a stitched pattern and so add a touch of beauty to family life. The father or grandfather would carve a new bowl or make a toy to delight the kids. By the time of greatest darkness, when the festival of light, Hannukah or Christmas, came along, trinkets of appreciation were passed on. Families and friends shared what they could conjure up, showing that they cared.

Gifting needed preparation and work. It was a sign of devotion, an acknowledgement of connection and care to pour ones labor into a gift. Later on, when crafts, trades, and the first industries changed society and currency became more common, gifting became the art of knowing what someone wanted and accruing it for them. That might have included asking help of a cousin or a merchant who ordered an item that was not easily available locally. Books and fine fabrics were shipped long distances to bring joy. Gifting was still work and the one gifting usually received pleasure from the joy their gift engendered.

Somewhere in the last century, the West reached an unprecedented level of wealth while simultaneously having access to fast means of transportation and communication. Mass production dropped prices, and mass consumption was born. The result of this was that many material wishes could be made true for most Westerners much more readily then at any time before. And this had its affect on gifting. The threshold for acquiring things dropped so low, that buying gifts became a chore you take care of in one day of massive shopping. For a while gifting become an exchange of things nobody needed.

Today, most of us in the West are privileged to have not only our daily needs covered. Most of us have more material goods than we need or can easily store. We have the means to go and buy ourselves that book by our favorite author, that sweater that feels so cozy, or that beautiful trinket for our house or garden we were charmed by. What we have less of is time and leisure, a sense of belonging and of purpose. Our lives have become complicated and stressful. So, what do we do with that innate longing to show our appreciation through gifting? Here is a suggestion: give the gift of a creative experience this holiday season. Find a class that offers an easy approach to creativity (or self reflection) and get a gift certificate for it. Give a gift that creates an opportunity to slow down and create something, or to explore one’s self in a way most people usually don’t ever find time for. A collage workshops to set goals for the New Year makes for a great gift, and so does a coaching workshop that helps participants integrate and become clear on what matters. Even more creative is SoulCollage®—a way to explore one’s interior world. I have all these available as gift certificates at evaruland.com/gifts.html, helping you make wonderful, meaningful gifts that will not add to the landfill.

May your holidays be sweet, cheerful and bright!

© Eva Ruland, December 2015

Holiday Season the old-fashioned Way

8 Dec
Indiana Jones and Yoda at Imagination Park.

Indiana Jones and Yoda where there for the Holiday party at Imagination Park.

When i was a child in Germany, December was a fabulous month. Nature would bring us the miracle of snow, and at home there were many magical moments spread throughout the month. When my siblings and i were small children, my mother would sit the 3 of us on a sleigh and pull us through country winter wonderland. To this day i remember the sense of awe i felt looking at the transformation of trees and fields. When we were older we would build a snowman, and once even tried to construct an igloo. That was fun, and precious because snow was not easily to be had. It came or it didn’t. It was nothing you could go and buy in the store.

Apart from nature’s miracle of snow, we had plenty of indoor moments that elevated our spirits. From December 1st – 24th we had our Advent calendars. We would take turns opening the tiny paper doors, and marvel over a little picture or a piece of chocolate we found behind them. On December 6th we celebrated St. Nicholas Day, with treats of fruit, chocolate Santas and nuts. Every Sunday afternoon during Advent* we would burn one more candle on the Adventskranz, a reef with 4 candles, and sit around eating treats, and singing seasonal songs. I remember a Windspiel, a little metal ring with 4 candle holders on the periphery and a sort of mini fan standing up in the center of the ring. From the fan cutout angel shapes were hanging. As the heat of the candles rose up the fan began to turn, and the angels were sent flying in a circle, as if they were on a carousel. I was hypnotized by this little wonder.

The real moment of magic happened on Christmas eve when a little bell rang and invited us kids into the living room which had been locked all day. It was just after darkness fell and that tiny bell we heard was said to belong to the Christkind, the Christ child. Next, the double doors to the living room opened and our eyes went to the huge Christmas tree alight with candles and sparklers in the otherwise dark room. My father sat at the piano and both my parents were leading us in singing Christmas carols. I could sense the proximity of the Christkind who, according to the legend we were told, had just been visiting with my parents to drop off presents. In my state of awe it all made sense; i could feel the presence of the divine. It manifested in blissful, speechless elation.

Recently i read that the Greater Good Science Center at UCB received a major grant to study the effects of awe on well-being. Several studies have shown that what Kant called the experiences of the sublime–awe evoked by beauty, or nature, or something powerful or majestic—has been connected with more joy, satisfaction, and health. Nature is a store house of awe–inspiring places and occurrences. A study performed here in Berkeley showed that study participants were more likely to help others after contemplating the majesty of North America’s tallest Eucalyptus tree–which happens to be right on campus–than those who had been brought to the exact same location but had been asked to point their view in a different direction, to a science building. The experience of awe humbles us and lets us forget momentarily what otherwise may preoccupy or burden us. Lifted above egocentric self-talk, unstoppable mulling over the past and worrying about the future–things in which the mind engages readily–kindness emerges. The explanation for this increase in altruism is that in the face of something bigger than us we are more likely to feel the connection between all beings.

Brief experiences of awe boost happiness, kindness, altruism, and health. If you are not yet convinced yet, consider this: It has been shown that cytokine levels, cytokines being a marker for inflammation in the body, decrease in study participants who experienced awe. To me, just remembering the sweetness and the awe-inspiring elevation i experienced decades ago puts a smile on my face and gives me a positive lift. To inject a fresh dose of awe and sweetness, i joined friends with their 8 month old baby yesterday for an old-fashioned Christmas lighting event in Imagination Park in San Anselmo. (That’s where i took the photo with Indiana Jones and Yoda.) What can you do to present yourself with an experience of awe?

PS: For a gift that can instill awe in the recipient consider a gift certificate for a collage workshop–the gift of creativity–or one for coaching–the gift of transformation. Tip: those who do not consider themselves artistic usually are particularly awed when they leave my workshops with a self-created piece of beauty in hand. More valuable than the collage they take home is that they have discovered a new trait in themselves, creativity. They will be moved by the presence of creative energy within them and it’s sure to make them feel really good about themselves. Gift certificates are available at http://evaruland.com/gifts.html.

© Eva Ruland, December 2014