I wrote this before the news broke of the seventeen (and climbing) lives lost in yesterday’s school shooting in Florida. When I heard, I knew right away that I didn’t want to share this in that moment. Solemnity was required. A day later, I feel angry, deeply grief stricken, and desperately worried for the future. Which is exactly why I feel that sharing this with you today is the most loving and hopeful thing I can do.
With deepest respect and loving sympathy for all those who lost their lives yesterday, for their friends and loved ones, and for those who are still fighting to hang on, I give you my Valentine’s Day blog post, all about creating more loving relationships with ourselves, our neighbors, and our world so that we all might be more inclusive, joyful and peaceful…together.
There’s something sweetly sentimental about it that warms my heart. I enjoy a little romance and having social media feeds bursting with warm, loving wishes adorned in cupids, flowers and pink and red hearts. It’s fun to see little ones dressed up in their red attire (my own little guy, Rohan, is currently dressed in red from head to to…red socks, pants and shirt, none of the shades matching, of course, but he’s absolutely delighted with himself). I love all of that.
But Valentine’s Day brings some challenges, too, and in recent years I find myself noticing them more and more. First, commercialism has taken Valentine’s Day and run amok. Second, overemphasis on a sort of Hollywood version of romance creates unrealistic expectations (and often disappointment) for many couples. And third, the focus on romance marginalizes other loving relationships, downplaying what “love” is in a broader, more inclusive sense and how vitally important that love is for our individual and collective well being. It also fans feelings of loneliness and isolation for those who aren’t paired off with “someone special.”
A Transformational Valentine’s Day Wish
Almost twenty years ago, I read Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Though I’ve forgotten most of his message over the years, I clearly remember a passage in which he spoke about love. He pointed out the West’s association of love with romance, and how we’ve largely lost sight of the fact that love can be a choice and an action, something we do rather than something we feel. And that passage has stuck with me.
There isn’t much we can do just now about the rampant commercialism of Valentine’s Day; aisles of red cellophane wrapped chocolates and insanely expensive roses are likely here for the foreseeable future. But I propose to you that we can – together! – make it a far more inclusive, authentic and meaningful holiday with just a little heartfelt effort. If we can move forward mindful of our opportunity to choose to love in each moment, we can transform how we think and feel about love and romance for the better.
Foundations for a Loving Life
Romance is wonderful, but built on a wobbly foundation, it can’t truly thrive over the longterm. So let’s spend some time working on our foundations, creating an environment in which there’s greater peace within and between people. By beginning with improving how we relate to ourselves and think about our life and our interactions, and then expanding our learnings out to include our neighbor and our world, we create circumstances in which love can take root virtually anywhere and grow.
In brainstorming how to go about this, I noticed that my ideas – I have a lot of them! – fell into four categories:
- Practice self care.
- Love your neighbor.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Love the Earth and all her inhabitants.
And with that, my lovely Valentine, I present to you my unconventionally loving, hopeful, and playful Valentine for you and our beautiful world. Will you play a loving round of BINGO with me?
I know. It’s a little (maybe a lot) cheesy.
I had no intention of creating a game of any kind when I sat down to write yesterday. Games were, in fact, probably the furthest thing from my mind. This was some how born out of meditating on the decidedly unloving headlines that dominated the news yesterday and how that might mesh with a Valentine’s Day message…while washing dishes. My mind was flooded with micro-actions, small and relatively simple steps we can all take with relative ease to create a more loving life and a more peaceful planet. And somehow…that turned into…BINGO? Hhmmmm.
Anyhow…your BINGO board is above. Explanations of each of the squares appear below. (Along with a few extra ideas for good measure.) So print this baby out, and let’s play!
Practice Quality Self-Care
Put away your credit card and step away from all screens (after you’re done reading this, of course!). We’re going to up our game from indulging in “retail therapy” and collecting Instagram “likes” to make time and create space to practice some high-quality self care.
Watch the sunrise and bathe in morning’s serene silence.
Not a morning person? To be quite honest, I’m not either. But waking early is worth the initial discomfort of crawling out of a cozy bed to put your feet on a cold, hard floor and begin to hustle before the sun comes up.
There’s a magical calmness that blankets the whole world in the early morning hours. It’s quiet, and what little sound there is comes into clear focus as it rises and falls away, unchallenged by dozens of competing sounds. As the first rays of sunlight reach around the earth and make their way into the eastern sky, the birds take notice and begin to sing, first just a few joyful voices, then more, and finally a full chorus. And it feels like they’re singing just for you. Pure magic.
Beyond the poetry of birdsong and painted skies, the benefits of waking early are many. You get to begin the day with a clear mind. No one needs anything of you and you can think and feel in peace. This helps you ease into your day with a clarity and grace that otherwise are easily lost in the harried rush of morning routines.
Honor your truth.
Take time to learn what your truth is. Dig deep into your values to understand what motivates you. And once you understand what really drives you, honor it fiercely and lovingly, as you might honor and protect your own child. Establish boundaries, and know that they aren’t there to prevent connection, but to ensure that when you connect with someone, you are doing so in a way that’s respectful, healthy and mutually supportive. Be firm and kind.
Practice being your own friend.
How do you talk to yourself most days? Do you offer yourself loving support as you might a dear friend? Or do you tend to be harsh and critical of yourself? I think most of us tend to be unkind to ourselves quite often and to say things to ourselves that we truly wouldn’t even think of saying to a friend. Observe how you speak to yourself and learn how to interrupt your self criticism with kindness. When you look in the mirror, you deserve to see a friend.
Someone once said to me, “eat like you love yourself.” Makes sense, right? Eating and drinking are ways that we can administer self care throughout our day, every day. Realistically, we know we won’t always make great choices, and that there will be days when we inhale our dinner as we dash from this appointment to that one, hardly tasting our food, never mind making healthy choices. Seek progress rather than perfection and enjoy the journey with all its ups and downs. Try new things. Make it an adventure. Have fun. Your body will thank you.
Be in nature.
Nature heals. It heals our minds, our hearts, and sometimes even our bodies. As much as possible make time to be in nature. Stroll on the beach. Walk in the woods. Climb a mountain. Lunch in the park. Wherever you find peace of mind, go there as often as possible. My friend Bernadette Murphy, or Bernie, of Find Your WAE ends her daily morning ritual by stepping outside – even if just for a moment – to breathe in the fresh air and bask in the newness of the day. Find your way to connect with nature and make it part of your self care routine.
One of the best ways to connect with your own loving nature is to create something. Let your creativity flow in whatever way pleases you. Draw, paint, color or sculpt. Play an instrument, sing or dance. Bake or cook. Write a poem or a story. Sew, knit or crochet. Work with beads, wood or metals. Start a garden. Get involved with theater. The possibilities are endless. Just do something that allows you to flex your creative muscle (you do have one, you really, really do!) and notice how it makes you feel. You might find it freeing, empowering, expansive, joyful, moving, and on and on. Just tune into the feeling and give it a name. And remember it. You created that.
Look up! There’s beauty to be found.
Put your laptop away. Step away from your phone. Turn off all screens and wherever you are, look up. There’s beauty to be found everywhere. Find it where you are right now. Connect with who and what you see.
- Look into the eyes of the person your sitting with and see what treasures they hold.
- Count the stars in the sky.
- Take in the spectacular skies at sunset.
- Watch your child play.
- Behold the majesty of trees and the miraculous color of flowers.
- SEE the world around you.
Read. Reflect. Grow.
Personal development books are amazing. They aren’t just for lost souls who are grasping for meaning and direction. They serve anyone who is looking for deeper personal insight and growth in life. There is a personal development book out there for everyone. A few of my recent favorites include:
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I absolutely devoured this book. It was vulnerable, relatable, funny, insightful and incredibly eye opening. I wish we could make this required reading for all of humanity. If you haven’t read it yet, run and get your copy now. Seriously.
- The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. This isn’t great literature, but Elrod outlines a process for transforming your morning routine to get more out of life. When I first read it, I was in the throes of depression. TMM marked a turning point for me, a milestone where I empowered myself to create change. If you want more out of life, this is a great place to start.
- The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna. This is a truly charming little book, filled with lovely illustrations and exercises to help you explore your inner landscape. If you feel like you may be at (or better yet, nearing) a crossroads in life, this book might just be just the thing to help you navigate through that crossroads to the best outcome for you.
Count your blessings daily.
I know. I really do. This has become something of a cliche. But there’s something to it. In each and every day, there is something to be grateful for. In all my struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve lived through long stretches of being challenged to find the good. But when all else fails, there’s fresh, hot coffee (thank you, God, for coffee). There’s a refreshing breeze. And there’s the joy of my son’s laughter to propel me forward. There’s always something. Find it, and feel blessed.
Assume good intent.
In a recent interview, Brene Brown spoke about having a mindset that people were doing frustrating things “to her”. And she shared that with help from both her husband and her therapist, she had a major perspective shift. She went from “why is everyone out to get me?” to “what if everybody is just doing the best that they can?” By reframing her views and shifting her perspective, she freed herself of feeling like a victim and carrying the burden of anger and resentment.
I recognized myself in Brene’s story and made a point of watching my self-talk and reframing when it seems appropriate to do so. It’s so liberating and opens you up to be able to love more, connect more, and receive more in every way.
If assuming good intent feels too risky to you (I get it), I encourage you to at least try to assume no negative intent or neutrality. Good intent just might follow along next.
Much like assuming good intent, practicing forgiveness lifts the emotional burdens of anger and resentment, allowing us to move through the world more freely and with greater joy. When we forgive, we open up and internal resources that were tied up with carrying anger, hurt and bitterness can suddenly find new purpose. So renewing.
Be willing to sit with pain.
Have you noticed? We’ve lost the strength and patience it takes to sit quietly with pain and to really feel it. So focused on being happy and grateful all the time, we’re reluctant – perhaps even afraid – to deeply experience our struggles and all the emotions that go along with them. And we’re generally no more patient with others’ sadness and grief than we are with our own. But we all live through times of pain and darkness, and we all learn from these experiences. It’s part of the balance of life, and – unless it’s extreme or unusually long-lasting – it needn’t be fixed and quickly dismissed. Learn to sit with it. Allow it. Feel it. And only then, should you try to gently move through and beyond it. It’s OK. It’s part of who you are. Allow your darker side expression so your light can shine more brightly.
Love Thy Neighbor
It’s the golden rule, one of the foundational principles of most major world religions. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It seems like it should be easy, but oftentimes it’s not. How can we do better?
There’s a politic of fear that’s taken root in the world and is trying hard to establish control. But fear fails to lead, because it isn’t created from a loving mindset. It cannot stand the test of time because eventually the truth will be revealed – that we are all intrinsically and eternally connected, and that we are beings of love, made by a loving creator – and fear will ultimately have to quietly retreat (or better yet, evaporate completely having been replaced by a loving paradigm). We can help this process along by practicing loving our neighbors right now, right where we are. All of them. Love them intentionally and deliberately (remembering that tough love is very real and will need to be part of your practice).
We can dissolve the toxic us versus them dynamic that’s dividing us up, but it will require work. Here are some ideas on where to start.
Learn about a different culture.
I’ve found that the more I learn about people and different cultures and belief systems, the more I discover how much we all have in common. Diversity is fascinating and beautiful. The common threads that unite humanity across cultures and across the ages are deeply moving.
The internet empowers us to virtually explore new lands, to learn about and hear their languages being spoken, to understand deeply-held values and beliefs and the history behind them. We can explore their art and music and learn about accomplishments in math and science. We are incredibly empowered and have the tools at our disposal to develop depth of knowledge and insight about our sisters and brothers anywhere around the world. When we understand more, we can better appreciate varying perspectives. And when we can take on another’s perspective, we can much more effectively create opportunities for unity and peace.
So go learn something.
Find common ground.
Common ground can seem so elusive these days. The bitter divisiveness that we see around the world is driven by complex cultural forces. People with opposing viewpoints often have completely different views of the world and find it difficult to agree on basic facts. Distrust of the media and public figures makes it difficult to know where to turn for truth.
It’s up to us to find areas of common ground and to protect and build on them. I’ll admit, this is a place where I really struggle and I have to expand my practice and be willing to take more chances as I seek common ground. Will you join me? We are, after all, all in this together.
Learn the fine art of hugging.
Give someone a warm, comforting hug. Not one of those perfunctory, A-formation, no-touching-allowed hugs. Hugs are much like handshakes in that the ones that the ones we remember fondly are firm and sincere. The ones that comfort and support are forthcoming and courageous. So wrap that person up in your arms and give them a gentle squeeze. And be prepared to hold on until they let go.
“When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness.” —Thich Nhat Hahn
Serve others wherever, however you can.
Service to others humbles, uplifts and connects us. Service can be holding a door or walking an elderly person to their car. It can be volunteer, vocational, or spur of the moment. All that’s required is that you extend a hand to someone in need to help lift them up, to help them feel seen and worthy, and to help raise the vibration of the world at large.
“We rise by lifting others.” –Robert Ingersoll
Look a stranger in the the eye and smile warmly.
So simple, and so very powerful. Look up. See the person before you. Sometimes you can almost feel who and what they are. See them, and give them a smile. It takes just a moment but can change the entire trajectory of their day and yours.
Tell someone about the beauty you see in them.
We live in a world that gives us so much feedback – direct and indirect – about who and what we should be, and how we should live our lives. In reality, most of us fall short of the images that surround us and we are often our own worst critics.
Stop and take a moment to tell someone about the beauty you see in them. It can be physical beauty, intelligence, insight, wisdom, elegance, grace, strength, courage, talent…beauty manifests in infinite ways. Tell someone what you see in and appreciate about them. When you do so, when you help them see their beauty, it naturally blossoms even more and shines a gorgeous, loving, authentic light that warms and comforts the world.
Register to Donate Life
You have the power to save many lives. Let that sink in. You. Have. The power. How amazing is that?
Today, 115,000 people in the United States alone are waiting for an organ transplant. Many more know that they will require a life-saving transplant at some point in the future, but aren’t officially on the “wait list” yet. They live each day wondering if and when their life-saving gift will arrive. And they wonder about the person whose loving generosity and (when living donation isn’t an option)
ultimate passing will be the one thing that allows them to live on.
You could change everything for them.
When someone receives a life-saving transplant, they have to grapple with the fragile and transient nature of life in ways that most of us never will. They are full of gratitude and appreciate every morning that they wake up to a new day. They often seek to pay it forward by being advocates, coaches, and helpers of all sorts. So when you give the gift of life, they take that gift and amplify it so that the world might feel their loving appreciation. They want to be worthy of that transplant every day, in everything they do.
Through organ and tissue donation, you can love your neighbor in the most amazing and inspiring way and leave an incredibly precious legacy. To learn more or to register to be an organ donor, visit Donate Life America today.
Mindfulness is defined as “the quality or state of of being conscious or aware of something.” Through mindfulness, we begin to notice and observe our lives in a more calm and thoughtful way. We create space to choose our path and to shape our realities through monitoring our thoughts and feelings and choosing our responses in a calm and intentional manner. It sounds complicated but is remarkably simple, and it’s incredibly life-changing.
If you don’t do anything else from this entire list (or game, as the case may be) please, please do this. Meditate for five minutes every day for at least a week. Just sit down without expectation somewhere fairly quiet and distraction free. If you’re new to meditation, there are dozens of websites and videos that will “teach” you to meditate. If that appeals to you, take a look at a few.
My favorite way to meditate is using Insight Timer. It’s free, thoughtfully designed, packed full of great content that’s well organized and easy to navigate. And the community there is excellent. They offer a library of thousands of guided meditations that suit any mood or need. When I started my meditation practice almost a year and a half ago, their guided meditations were a huge help in keeping me focused and motivated.
If you’re a meditation newbie – and let’s face it, even if you aren’t – there’s a good chance that your mind will wander and you’ll find yourself thinking about your grocery list and whether you have enough gas in the car during meditation. That’s okay. It happens to everyone. Just imagine that thought is a balloon & let it drift away, gracefully and effortlessly, and then gently bring your attention back to your breath and/or your guided meditation. Be patient and have a sense of humor. It takes practice. But more than any other thing on this list, I assure you, it creates peace both in you and – if you stick with it – in the world around you.
Listen to understand.
Listen with all your being. Seek to truly hear and understand the message being conveyed. Much more than simple words, our complex and nuanced messages find a voice through tone, body language, pitch and cadence. In silences or lack thereof. We must learn to listen with all of our senses, and to trust our intuition to guide us when we feel that something needs to be shared. We have to slow down, open our hearts and minds, and practice patience and presence. Only then can we really hear.
Respond instead of reacting.
Western society is always in a rush. When someone says something that we find troublesome in some way (particularly if we find it offensive) our tendency is to react quickly and “shut that BS down”. Instead, slow down and take a moment of pause. In that moment find the response that sets the right tone and creates an opportunity for connection. You’ll know it based on how it feels. Let your intuition lead you. Choose the thoughtful, intentional response.
Forgo judgement for curiosity.
Feeling a little judge-y? Try transforming that judgement into curiosity and see how it feels. I have found that it makes me feel lighter, and relieves me of the burdensome energy that goes along with judgement. It broadens your perspective, and opens you to learning and insight while also enabling you to build bridges. It’s a much more peaceful and loving way to move through the world.
Honor Your Mother and All Her Inhabitants
All the love in the world won’t save humanity if Mother Earth is unable to sustain life. In caring for Her and Her inhabitants, we connect with all life in meaningful and impactful ways.
Feed the birds.
There’s something very special about feeding birds. It connects you to nature, and connects nature to you. It’s a simple act that’s almost spiritual. Feed the birds and see pay attention to how it makes you feel. Then look for ways to replicate that feeling as you go about your daily business. Let me know how it goes.
Plant and nurture something.
Similar to feeding the birds, planting something and helping it grow connects us with nature. Some of us have green thumbs, while others seem to kill everything we lay hands on. And some of us (like me) are somewhere in between. The point isn’t to have a prize-winning pumpkin, the most beautiful garden or the best landscape design. The point is to connect to life’s unfolding and to gently help it along. It can teach you much about life if you allow it. And there’s really nothing that can connect you to Mother Earth quite like using your own hands to help her create new life. Pure magic.
Protect our planet.
If you aren’t on the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3R) Bandwagon yet, please hop on immediately. There’s plenty of room for everyone.
Mother Earth needs us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, plastics, and Styrofoam products drastically. We can easily do so with just a little planning and effort. It’s so simple to bring your own cup, bottle, reusable straws and cutlery, and shopping bags. At first it can be hard to remember and feel like an inconvenience, but as time goes on it becomes far more habitual and happens with relative ease.
Step up your 3R game and embrace the minor inconvenience of adapting to a new, less-wasteful way of life. When you try it, you’ll find that it feels good. It feels virtuous, peaceful, and loving. And it’s that feeling that tells us we’ve chosen the right path.
Love an animal.
Last but certainly not least, adopt and love an animal. Let it teach you what unfiltered, unconditional love looks like. There is nothing like the love of an animal. It’s absolutely life changing. And that kind of love can’t be contained. It’s infectious. You needn’t look far for evidence of this. The internet is absolutely crawling with wonderful stories about animals and how their love has changed their people. If you have room in your heart and your home, consider adopting an animal today. Thousands of animals need to find new homes; look for pet adoption events near you online.
Did You Get BINGO?
If you did already, that’s awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing. If you haven’t, keep “playing” and let me know how it goes. With patience and persistence, it will be a win for you, a win for all the people in and around your life, and a win for the planet too. Enjoy.