How To Be Happy, When The News Is Not

We woke to the news of another senseless mass shooting today. And not just a shooting, but the deadliest shooting in US history. Horrific, unthinkable, unjustifiable tragedy.

From shootings, to hurricanes, to inflammatory politics, we can’t escape negativity these days, and it’s taking a toll on our collective psyche. So many people are hurting, and it’s hard to know how to begin to help. It’s also hard to turn our attention away from the bad news.

Some people can acknowledge and process these tragedies in a healthy manner, but for others this negative cycle can have a significant impact, making us feel stuck, depressed, and hopeless. If the news of the day is overwhelming you, here’s how to break the negativity cycle:

  • Mind your mind. The human mind is like a monkey–always busy, and looking for ways to get us in trouble, rarely focused on the task at hand. Notice how often your thoughts shift to the past or present, and think more about what is happening in the moment, than anything else. Remember that the present is the only thing you can control. When the mind wanders, think “be here now.”
  • Sort your thoughts. Just like you sort laundry, (whites with whites, and colors with colors), you can also sort your thoughts. Which are helping you? Which are not? Make the line between the two more obvious. Notice that all thoughts are either painful (and disempowering), or painless (and empowering). Work on fueling the empowering thoughts, and pushing aside anything that might disempower you.
  • Recognize repetitive patterns, and break them. Our mind repeats the same messages over and over again. In some cases this is good–affirming thoughts foster confidence and hope. However, when negativity rules our thoughts, it can create self-sabotaging habits that are hard to break. Get really honest about your thought habits, and get rid of the ones that drag you down.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. The ego rules the mind and convinces us that we are right, and everyone else is wrong. That our perception of reality is the ONLY reality. And it’s just not true. Nothing in life is that cut and dry, and no one is right 100% of the time. Remind yourself that no matter what it seems, you don’t have all the facts. Give yourself, and others, a lot of grace, by recognizing that not everything you think is founded in truth.
  • Trust the struggles. Challenges are an essential part of life, and trying to fight them only makes us more unhappy. We have a choice in every moment to embrace reality, or deny it all together. When life doesn’t happen on your terms, instead of getting angry or denying it, tell yourself “it is what it is.” And then figure out what you can do to make it better, and go do that.
  • Ask a different question. Instead of asking “Will it ever get better?” ask “What can I you can do to make the world a better place?” And don’t discount your answer. We might not be able to directly change every bad situation in the world, but we can always do something to make a difference in someone’s life. Remember that every small act of kindness adds up like the drops of water in the ocean. The more positive effort you put forth, the better the world will be. No act is too small…so go do something to make the world a better place.
  • Remember that nothing is forever. Everything is always changing, which is good news, when we watch the world struggling. Todays news will be tomorrow’s history. Life will not always be this way, so get to work to do your part. Take it one breath, one moment, at a time. Affect what you can change, and use your talents to help others, one random act of kindness at a time.

Should we keep watching the news? Yes, of course. It’s important to stay informed. But don’t let it consume you. Know your limits and control your thoughts, so you can use your energy for uplifting and inspiring work, helping to make the world a better place, and enjoying the happiness you deserve.

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We Are All Connected

HBO has a new ad running on social media that looks to be a plug for the network, but also feels a bit like a political statement, borrowed from the ancient yogic texts.

The ad reads “It’s What Connects Us.” The video that accompanies the ad portrays a variety of HBO actors and actresses saying “ah”, one at a time, until they all slowly melt together. Together their voices create the familiar tone that accompanies the HBO logo at the start of all of their programs.

It’s an absolutely brilliant use of one of the great teachings of yoga: “we are all connected”. This theme is found throughout ancient yoga texts from Yoga Sutras to Bhagavad Gita. There is so much about this idea in yoga, but the ad specifically reminds me that the sound “om”, or “aum” as it is traditionally written, is believed to be the sound of the universe working together. HBO is missing two of the syllables–it is actually pronounced “ah-oh-m”, in three syllables, but still, the meaning is similar.

When we chant “aum” in community, the result is much like the sound we would hear if flying high above the earth, listening to all beings at work and play. The constant buzz of people milling about their days creates a beautiful and meaningful vibration. It confirms that every life has a unique and important purpose.

It’s interesting to note, also, that the three syllables in “aum” each have a meaning–the A stands for creation, U stands for preservation, and M stands for dissolution. The entire life cycle in one word!

I love how this ad demonstrates the importance of perspective to recognize connection. We all need to take a step back once in a while. right?! Although each individual “ah” in the video is not particularly inspiring, as the faces blur and the voices blend, it makes a joyful noise.

Maybe you have noticed this in your yoga classes? Some classes offer three “aums”, and the first can sound cacophonous, but by the third, the sound is quite beautiful. This phenomenon occurs because we begin our chant alone, but quickly find our connection to each other through shared energy.

It’s a lot like life–so much of what we do each day can feel mundane, disconnected, and less than inspiring, especially if we do it alone. Taking a step back, however, we realize that we each have important work to do, and we begin to see that everything works together for higher purposes. Our responsibility is to stay on our unique path–yogis call this dharma–and trust the struggles, believing that everything that happens holds meaning.

Perhaps most importantly, HBO’s “It’s What Connects Us” ad reminds us that the idea of separation is an illusion. Our minds may tell us that we are alone, but the truth is that we are all connected, even if it sometimes does not seem that way. The high and the low, the good and the bad, the interesting and the boring, the beautiful and the ugly, all support the beautiful harmony of the universe. Just as the artist uses dark and light colors to define his work, the contrasts of life are necessary and beautiful forces for connection. Thank you, HBO, for this reminder.

 

Seek The Truth Relentlessly

MONDAY MANTRA: Seek the truth relentlessly.

We all have stories about who we are, and what we can or can’t do. We repeat the stories so often in our mind, that we start to believe that they are the ultimate truth. I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, and so on and so on. It’s an endless cycle, and the more we repeat the story, the more it sticks to our perception of who we are.

Until we recognize that the stories in our minds are limiting, and self-imposed, we can never realize our full potential. The only way to become who we are intended to be, is to examine the story, and get rid of the parts that don’t serve us.

What are your stories? Which are founded in reality, and which are not? Don’t let the story stand between you and what you might become. Seek the truth relentlessly, and do what must be done to be happy, even if it seems impossible. We are all capable of so much more than we know. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and believe that what you want most is waiting for you, on the other side of the truth. ॐ

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Feed The Faith, Question the Belief

MONDAY MANTRA: Feed the faith, question the belief.

As a new year begins, we feel a renewed sense of hope for what lies ahead. We make resolutions to do better, and be better, but what can we do to ensure that we actually become a better version of ourselves this year?

Our best hope for transforming our lives is getting to the root of how we make choices. Are our decisions founded in faith, or founded in belief?

Faith is who we are and what we know at our core; the undeniable truths of our lives. I like to think of faith like the roots of a tree, because faith grows strong from the inside out. No matter how intense the storm, what we know for sure will never change. When we are connected with our faith, we feel free and happy. Everything is exactly as it should be, and we can do anything we set our mind to.

Belief is that which is founded in ego–it can be easily swayed by the world around us, like the leaves and branches of a tree. Belief emerges from our experiences, and is influenced by the expectations and ideas of others. Because belief grows strong from the outside, and forces its way inward, it can make us feel imprisoned, and incapable of change. We might know that we can change because of our faith, but because we have given power to belief, we are not able to live up to our resolutions.

Through the practice of yoga we learn the value of satya, seeking universal truths, and being truthful, in every situation. Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to question our beliefs, and to invest in that which is undeniable. We are worthy. We can grow stronger. We can control our responses to the world around us. These are all things that can no one can take away from us.

As you make plans for an amazing year ahead, remind yourself to feed the faith, and question the beliefs. Watching your thoughts will open new possibilities in your life, and faith will empower you to make those dreams come true.

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I Am Not My Circumstances

MONDAY MANTRA: I am not my circumstances.

Sometimes life is so wonderful, that we believe this is how it always should be. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly difficult, and we wonder what we did to deserve such challenges.

Throughout our lives, our circumstances are constantly changing. As our situations change, our minds label what is happening around us as good or bad. We believe that life is good when things go the way we want, and life is bad when things do not unfold as planned. Our analysis of what is happening founded in perspective, and not necessarily truth. And because analyzing our experiences is engrained in our thought patterns, our conclusions often bleed into our opinion of ourselves. In the process, we can damage our self-esteem, our motivation, and our judgement. We cling to a temporary and false sense of who we are, founded in that which is fleeting.

In order to be happy—truly, sustainably happy–we must anchored that which never changes. We must remember that, although circumstances are always changing,  who were are at our core can never change. Our essential, authentic self is created at birth, and we remain that same person through our entire lives.

Think about who you were at age 5, age 15, age 20. What made you, you? Has that changed?

You will face many trials–everyone does–but the challenges are there to refine you. They are your greatest teachers, leading you to become more of who you are intended to be.

Stay present through the good and bad times in your life, and never forget what makes you, you. Circumstances are simply part of your journey. Nothing that ever happens can change your essential self.

 

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Rejoice In The Way Things Are

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MONDAY MANTRA: Rejoice in the way things are.

There is an important distinction between happiness and excitement. So often in life we think, if I only had this or that, I would be happy. The truth is that we already have everything we need to be happy.

Happiness comes from being connected to who we are. It is the byproduct of believing that everything is exactly as it should be. Good things happen, bad things happen. It all works together to teach us to appreciate the blessings in our life. When we are grateful, we feel happy.

Happiness is very different than excitement. Excitement is what we feel when when we achieve a goal, or receive something that we feel we are lacking, such as a new car, a promotion, an invitation to a party.

Unlike happiness, excitement is not sustainable, because it is dependent on circumstances. Happiness is only dependent on self-awareness. It is what we feel when see ourselves with clarity, and remember that we each serve an important, unique purpose in the world.

At our core, we all want the same things–to know that we are seen, that we are heard, and that we matter.  This is what makes us happy, and it’s not something that we can buy or be given. It lies in how we see the world.

When we believe that we already have everything we need to be happy within, the whole world belongs to us.

The Other Side Of Fear

MONDAY MANTRA: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Fear is the great deceiver. It amplifies our doubts and toys with our imagination. The more we believe our fears, the less likely we are to take risks, and the more limited we become in our lives.

Fear and faith are like weeds and flowers in a garden. If we feed them both, both will grow…but the weeds will ultimately overtake the flowers. However, if we do the work to eliminate the weeds, clearing space for the flowers, what is beautiful will ultimately flourish.

The next time you find yourself wrestling with fear, push the negativity out of your mind, making room for good thoughts to grow. Doubt the fears, and believe in the possibilities. Tell yourself that life is limitless–you will never know how big your life might become, until you try.

 

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I Am Peace

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MONDAY MANTRA: I am peace.

December is, for many of us, the busiest time of year. Ironically, though, it is also the time of year that we talk most about peace on earth and goodwill to men. So, how do we reconcile the demands and extremes of the holidays, with our fundamental hope for peace?

By recognizing that peace is not something to wish for in the future. It is not some elusive ideal that we can only hope to achieve. Peace is a state of mind, a choice we make to practice ahimsa (non-violence) in every moment of every day.

Ahimsa is one of the highest values in the yogic practice. It is much further-reaching than physical non-violence. Ahimsa teaches us to refrain from negativity in all aspects of our life, including our actions, speech, and thoughts, about ourselves and others.

Every single one of us can be peace, by reminding ourselves that peace is a state of being. Any time it feels out of reach, use the mantra “I am peace” to remind yourself that peace is a who you are at your core. No matter how circumstances in life may change, peace is something that is always waiting within, ready to be revealed and shared with others.

Trust Your Struggle

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MONDAY MANTRA: Trust Your Struggle

One of the highest values in yoga is the concept of tapas–the heat that is created through refinement. Tapas is created when we stay in a difficult pose, even though we think we want to release it. The heat that builds through this resistance serves us by making us stronger, wiser, and happier.

The chatter in our minds can make it difficult to create tapas. It is human nature to avoid that which is difficult. We cycle through all kinds of stories–it’s not important, I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to do this. But…if we step outside of our thoughts, and push through the resistance, we see new opportunities to grow stronger in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

Trust your struggles instead of avoiding them. Ask yourself: What might be waiting beyond the challenge? There is joy in overcoming. A sense of pride and resilience that can only be achieved by working through difficulties with intention, awareness, and the belief that everything is possible.

 

 

 

We Can’t Get Happy, We Can Only Be Happy

MONDAY MANTRA: We can’t get happy, we can only be happy.

What’s the one thing everyone wants in life?

We all want to be happy. We chase happiness, as if it is a material possession that we can claim as our own. We think if I only had this or that, I would be happy. If only I was richer, thinner, or smarter, I would be happy. The longer we wait to “get happy”, the further out of reach it seems.

The truth about happiness, though, is that it is not as elusive as we think.  It is not a thing to be chased, but a state of being that we choose. We are, at our core, already happy. Our bliss might be hiding behind our attachments to the past, or our fears about the future, but happiness is always within, waiting to be revealed.

All we have to do to connect with our inner joy is learn to quiet the chatter of the mind. Be the witness to our thoughts, and practice non-attachment to outcome. In so doing, we realize that our thoughts are the only thing standing between us and happiness.

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Be Here Now

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MONDAY MANTRA: Be here now.

The only way to be truly happy is to live in the present moment. The worries, doubts, and fears that rule our minds are often founded in repetitive thoughts of prior traumas, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. These are things we can not control. The only thing we can control is the here and now. If we set aside thoughts of the past and future, and commit our focus to the present moment, we see our lives with greater clarity. We find new freedom in how we think, and we accept that the our life is not what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Life is what is happening in the here and now.

What Can I Learn From This?

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MONDAY MANTRA: What can I learn from this?

Everybody struggles. It’s a simple fact of life. Our circumstances are constantly changing–sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. The one thing that never changes, though, is who we are, We are the same person at age 5, age 25, and age 75. The more we connect with that essential sense of self through our yoga practice, the more we can control how we respond to the struggles in our lives. Instead of asking “Why do bad things happen?”, we practicing asking, “What can I learn from this?”. When we recognize that our struggles are our teachers, the easier it becomes to make peace with things outside our control.