Let’s take a Yale Psychology Class Together

On listening to a Jay Shetty podcast recently, he interviewed Yale Professor Laura Santos.  She created a psychology class with 1200 people enrolled every semester.  It’s called Psychology and The Good Life.  It’s gone viral and almost half a million people have taken a version of it online for free.

It’s amazing to see so many people that are interested in creating a better version of themselves.  All of us want to be happy, but have been guided to paths that led to false starts.  We believe that happiness will be found with the amount of degrees we have, money made, items purchased,  or countries travelled to.

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Psychological research has shown that happiness is in the daily habits we practice versus the journey. It’s interesting as a psychologist myself, I have found the path toward living a disciplined life which is inclusive of meditation, gratitude, and presence more through my spiritual and yogic training than through the doctorate I attained in psychology.  But now the fields are converging are pointing both towards the same thing.

As I look at the past several weeks of who is logging on and reading this blog it’s people from all over the world: UK, USA, France, Mexico, Germany, Jordan, Philippines.  And this is in the past weeks.

So many times we want to start a revolution to change the world, but perhaps being part of an ongoing global conversation can be enough.  Happiness has the capacity to be contagious.  We cannot demand a change from others, but we cans start to alter how we live and interact in the world.  If you are intrigued, take a peak into the free Yale class or podcast to dip your feet into living the good life.

 

To sign up follow this link

https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being?fbclid=IwAR2U4XNZuaWZ4t7-idv6mcJ6_hqXV6kwrP3F0ZNipgz1nbYdNigcU_mlvBI

or to catch a peak of the interview check out

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-purpose-with-jay-shetty/id1450994021?i=1000452612917&fbclid=IwAR0JRrVoHJMSQa-1TN9lLPYChYI1aeBGVDuYTrV5WqADdk_SgX9QK3sKEVM

 

Paws for Reflection

Today as I was driving 60mph on a back road to work in the UK, I stumbled upon a cow that seemed to be walking leisurely down the road.  I slowed down, the cow veered to the left and kept going.  I felt as if I was transformed to India, a place I have never visited, but seen images of cows amongst the streets and city life. I hoped the cow was okay, he/she had tags on it’s ears.  Farms were close by.  I am sure there is some form of symbolism to this, which may reveal itself.  But it’s been an interesting time with me and animals these past several weeks.

 

Two weeks ago, after a one week holiday to Greece, I walked onto the second floor of my home and heard a noise.  I saw two eyes staring at me.  It was an intruder, but not a burglar.  It was a pigeon who flew into my home and was stuck, flapping it’s wings in distress.  Who knows how long the bird was there for?  Bird poop was all over the room.  After being shocked and frozen, I was able to find ease and guide the bird onto my hand and out the window.  If a bird pooping on your shoulder was good luck, perhaps a bird flying through your chimney, and pooping dozens of times in your home was a dozen blessings.

 

And then there are my two dogs, who are now 10 and 12 years old.  One has had numerous visits to the vets recently, but luckily has been healing with grace.  I am revering every moment I have with them and have residual guilt when leaving for work. The more time I spend with them, they simply seem to request more with their sad eyes, growls, or touch.  Eckhart Tolle calls pets “guardians of our presence.”  They truly are the protectors of our sacred attention.

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We are inhabiting the world with all these animals.  And although we, as humans, are kings and queens of the Earth kingdom, these tiny unexpected interactions with animals ground and humble us. They take us out of our busy technological world to remind us to slow down and share the space with them. There’s still a wildness to be found in our modern world.  I’ve observed foxes crossing the parks in London, a hedgehog that hopped into my yard, deers that wander, and dragonflies that dance by my post office.

 

Pause to observe the beauty of all living things around you.  And perhaps allow your paws to bring you away from the electronic screen and to those that share your atmosphere.

Saturday Morning Meditations

I stayed at a friend’s apartment in Central London last night. She had a spare bedroom, and it was spare. Tiny but had what I needed for the night, fresh white sheets, duvet, and clean towels. It was pleasing to have a total blank space.  Nothing laid on the walls. There was no television, or even drawers, just a bed. As I laid down in the bed and looked out the window, there were two images. The rooftop of the next door building and the impressive Shard.  

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My eyes awoke gently at 530 am.  I gazed out the window and observed the pink hued sky offering softness to the nearby architectural wonder. I saw a single bird fly by, and even heard a nearby local whistling on his walk. There was a pattering of cars that passed, but silence again.  This was my meditation today.

As I got out of bed and moved to a different part of the room and looked out the window again, I saw St. Paul Cathedral.   What gems this tiny room had, if I allowed myself to settle in and appreciate it.  It was a beautiful site and simple, which many expensive hotels in the area lack this view from their bedroom windows.

I remembered how much I indulge in what a city has to offer in the wee hours of weekend mornings.  Residents allow themselves to sleep in from their work driven tight schedules. And as they dream or nurture their Friday night hangovers, I can indulge in the true luxuries the city has to offer.  I chose to start my day early to begin exploring the quiet adventures that may lay ahead, as the world slept.

This included watching for an extended amount of time a miniature bellagio dancing fountain. There were four rows of water being squirted in the air.  One particular row created a makeshift rainbow for seconds.  There were no children trying to scream and cool themselves off by running through it. Just morning joggers, street cleaners, and me.  I took off my shoes and socks, sat down just to observe, with the London Bridge at my back.  How do you capture a makeshift floating rainbow? It’s like trying to encapsulate a moment into words. The image of a rainbow lingers for a tiny amount of time after the water has stopped.  The mirage of what once was.

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A dog and his owner walk by the fountain, the dog observes the dancing water and engages in playtime. He laps up some water, it then disappears. The water the re-emerges taller than before. He runs away and barks.  The rainbow’s angle begins to shift.

Tourists walk by and briefly snap an image of the dancing fountains. But because they don’t linger, I doubt they see the rainbow.  It’s when you allow yourself to sit still and observe, that the secret beauty appears. I find true beauty in cities, is nature playing amongst and within the manmade environments.

How can you look at a rainbow and not believe in magic or possibilities?  I don’t need the scientific reasons why rainbows create these images to our vision.  I just need to see it, observe it’s wonder, and the impact on my heart.

You must loosen the grasp of your hands to allow the dancing moment to be held with wonder and without attachment.

 

 

Take Me To Church

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To be immersed in a tiny historical church watching your favorite musician perform equates with a sacred experience.  I didn’t know what to expect when purchasing tickets to see Rachael Yamagata at the St. Pancras Old Church.  I simply thought it was a renovated building repurposed as a performance space.  The hectic one hour drive, then one hour tube ride into Friday London afternoon rush hour kept my head in a frantic dizzy spell. I began to question if I made the right decision to see a musician perform one more time.  Was all this work of paying for my dogs to be cared for and stay overnight in a hotel worth it to see a concert?  My busy chattered mind ruminated this logic.

But then we stumbled onto St. Pancras Old Church, the doors were not open yet. And therefore, there was time to wander the graveyard that surrounded us.  This space was one of the earliest locations of Christian worship from the fourth century. It’s been written about by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.  The infamous Hardy tree stood here, that included numerous gravestones that were moved from their original location to the trunk of this tree, due to the building of a railroad.  The tree grew around the graves.  Early feminist writer from the 1800s Mary Wollstonecraft was buried here as well. In the midst of fast paced London was the luscious oasis of greenery.  It slowed the pace of my mind and body.  Before wandering into the church, you felt as if this was already a spiritual place, where people have gathered for hundreds of years gathered to worship.

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Now we would worship in a different way. Entering in, I was quite surprised they sold alcohol.  This is still a functioning church.  To have a beer next to Jesus felt sacrilegious for the Catholic school girl in me. When I told a friend this, he offered.  “Why is that? Jesus transformed water into wine?”  This led me to further question why we must fit spirituality into the confines of a traditional box.  The performances of the opening act Worry Dolls and Rachael Yamagata felt like a holy experience.

Musicians, as well as all of us, have the capacity to connect with the Divine or Universal Energy in order to create.  The Worry Dolls talked of being vessels for particular songs, and even had a song titled “Let the Light Shine Through.”  The song reminds us of the light children are born with, but we all seem to have the capacity to lose as we maneuver throughout the world.  At one point they had joked about something on stage, and there was a loud startling noise that erupted from an amp.  The performers joked, “Is that you God?”  We all laughed, but there was an awareness that the spirit was present. Let me remind you that these performers are not Christian Singer Songwriters.  They are indie artists, but their spirituality emanated through their performance.

Then Rachael Yamagata performed and it actually stopped my breath.  I observed that I unconsciously held my breath as she sang, and played the piano. It was as if I wanted to minimize everything occurring in my body, to allow the space for her performance to awaken. Rachael has been a staple in my life from the time I was 25.  For over 15 years through the circle of crush, heartbreak, marriage, divorce, and repeat she has consistently been there for me. Her music and lyrics at times seem to be the words wanting to be expressed from my soul. The rough passion that emerges from her as she sings will pause any heart in the room, and re-awaken tears that have been immersed in locked boxes for years to emerge.  She also has been a source of familiarity for me, as I have seen her almost every year I have been living in the U.K.  To see a favorite musician from the U.S. reminds me that home isn’t too far away.

Although so much of her music can be quite depressing, she alluded that it could heighten levels of suicidality if it was simply one depressing song after another.  But she was playful about it, in how she revealed the stories behind the inspiration of these songs. One song in particular was written about a love she had an obsession for joking that it was “restraining order obsession.” Yamagata continued that since this person has since married and has children, she is dedicating the song to her new obsession: her cats.  As she sang the lyrics, “I want you, and no one. No one else will do…” images of her cats were projected in the background behind her.  Rachael plays and molds her once depressive state into art that we can all relate with and enjoy. At other times, she brought in upbeat melodies and audience interaction.

Rachael told stories throughout the show, which is a necessary skill for a true musician.  One involved her first open mic experience 20 years ago and the horrors that arose from it, but it was necessary on her musical journey.  She invited anyone in the audience who was a musician or wanting to be a musician to join her onstage to sing a song. Several people opted to take the offer, and the audience cheered them on throughout the entire performance.  It was a beautiful experience to watch this artist offering an opportunity to upcoming artists with a supportive audience in a church.

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One of the most spiritual moments of the evening was this song Duet that had an interlude, and the entire audience filled with strangers hummed to the tune in unison.  This was a church experience.  Loneliness transformed to community, if only for one night through the shared appreciation of music from this artist.  Her old love wounds had the light shine on them, which sparked the lanterns in all of our hearts to collectively be lit as well.  To be in the presence of an artist’s work, whether music, painting, dance, garden, poem, or elegant building is transformative.  It stirs our souls, reminds us to appreciate the vicissitudes of life, and perhaps has the capacity to ignite our creative genius.

Therefore if you ever question going to see your favorite musician perform one more time, take the chance.  Your pace of life may be momentarily transformed.  You won’t regret the spiritual experience that is at hand. You will be taken to church.

For more on the amazing-ness of Rachael check her out on https://rachaelyamagata.com

The Happiness Scavenger Hunt

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The Happiness Scavenger Hunt

 

If we are grasping onto a memory,

We are not living in reality.

If we are clinging to the path we had planned,

Our feet are not standing on fertile land.

 

Turn your attention to this now

Potential is here if allowed

Lift your gaze to right here

Contentment is oh so near

 

Did you find it yet?

It’s standing there I bet

Why search outside for bliss?

It’s unfolding now in life’s kiss

Smile- You’re in Spain!

Returning to a city for the fourth time may be quite boring to the average traveler, who wants to count off as many cities as possible off their list.  But returning to a city is never dull.  There are always no adventures to be had.  For my 40thbirthday I returned to Barcelona, but I decided to do things differently.

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I always visited the Sagrada Familia from the outside, but never paid the money to enter.  Either funding was limited or it was overbooked.  But this time, it was different.  Words cannot express the beauty that awaited for me inside.  This church is set to be complete by 2026, 100 years after architect’s Antoni Gaudi’s death.  It has been under construction for over 100 years.  Sitting in this church, my mouth was agape. I felt as if this was the first time I noticed art and spirituality merging as one. I couldn’t help but have tears emerge as I sat in one of the pews.  The colors of the stained glass were stunning and awe-inspiring.  It was as if the church was oozing with rainbows or bursting with the vitality of all our chakras being woken up, as the windows gently held various color schemes. I was so immersed by the beauty of this church, that I failed to listen to the accompanying audio guide.  One piece of advice that was offered when I first turned it on, was “You are to have your own experience of Sagrada Familia.” This was true, I turned off the headset. What else did I need to hear here? All I truly needed was to experience this moment, without any influence of what I should look at and notice?  My eyes would land on what is was nudged to see.

Prior to entering the church, I had offered an elder woman 50 cents.  She was just outside the church.  I did not think twice of this, until needing to enter the elevator for the towers.  I was required to put my bags in a locker, and needed either one euro or 50 cents.  I was out of coins as I had just given them away, and would have to leave my space in line, go to the downstairs gift shop in order to get a euro.  A fellow traveler heard this, and offered me 50 cents.  This was my experience of “La Sagrada Familia.”  Kindness from strangers that was unexpectedly reciprocal.

There is so much more I experienced on this trip, and will write in future blog posts.

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It is my last day, I only had several hours to spend before I headed to the airport. Each day included a tour excursion, except today.  I could awake at a leisurely stroll, without an alarm or plan.  The only plans I had needed to be altered, due to the fact the markets and shops were closed on a Sunday.  Why not take a 30 minute walk to the pier?  And that’s what I did…

To feel the sun on my face, drink freshly squeezed orange juice, have a latte waiting, eat a bikini (which is a toasted buttered ham and cheese sandwhich) as I look out at the pier.  This is the travel slow down that I have been waiting for.

 

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There’s a commercial for Spain I have once seen, the main catch phrase for visiting the country is “Smile, you’re in Spain.”  Simple.  There was no particular place to visit in the ad, or things you had to purchase as souvenirs. Just smile.  That’s all that is necessary to remember when I am here.

There’s so much to say about this trip to Barcelona, but now I am on pause. Maybe that is what travelling does, it pauses your life.  It mutes my thinking momentarily and brings me to right now, as I listen to fellow travelers around me.  As I sit for hours on bus rides from city to city each day, my mind wanders.  I don’t listen to any music.  I take tiny breaks for bursts of inspiration where I write in my journal, read my Paulo Coelho book, or nap.  But most of the time I look out the window at the Spanish natural surroundings and let my mind drift with the scenery.  How often does this happen anymore?  I generally feel I must be so productive during times of transportation.  I must listen to the latest podcast, catch up on phone calls, or struggle to see the directions on my phone gps to direct me to the right locale.  Infrequently do I let my mind take a break during moments of transport where I can view the landscape as it shifts from town to town. It reminds me of long car rides with my family, as I sat in the backseat.  I didn’t have the control of the wheel or didn’t know the direction we were headed.  My only job was to be along for the ride.  I would fall in and out of sleep, inspiration, reflection, and nothingness.

As I am at the airport, I try to remind myself the simplicity of the Spanish ad.  “Smile, you’re in Spain.”  As I head towards the terminal, and see people cueing up, I opt to take a seat. What’s the rush to return? Smile, I’m still in Spain.  Let me linger a little more.  Enjoy one last meal and a peak at the sun’s rays.

Take a Walk Through the Wild Side

As I walked my dogs today through the cemetery in Bury St. Edmunds, I noticed numerous other dog walkers there.  People were using it as a short cut to walk from one side of town to the other.  Family members were sitting on a bench and kids zipped by on their razor scooters.  Few people were visiting the graves, as some seem so old that they are almost illegible. This vibrant activity in the graveyard is the norm in this British town, but this was also the case when I lived in Cambridge.  In fact, in numerous European cities it seems that the locals use the cemeteries as parks. They are a place where people do not just visit dead ancestors, but also a community ground to relax and stroll in.

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In America, this does not seem to be our reality.  Perhaps it is only true in places like Los Angeles where they revitalized the Hollywood Cemetery to host concerts and film screenings.  People frequent the graves of celebrities in Los Angeles from Westwood’s forever home to Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood or Forest Lawn, home to Clark Gable and Walt Disney.  But what about the rest of the graveyards in America?  It appears the only times they are visited are lined up with the quintessential remembrance days: Memorial Day, Christmas, Mothers Day, and Father’s Day.  The rest of the year they are appear empty.

 

But why is it this way? Why do we not embrace graveyards in America?  Is it due to the fact that they are not in centralized locations where it is convenient to walk to? Are we not a walking culture and therefore have no need to stroll down places that house bones beneath our feet? Or is it something deeper?  Do we simply want to continue to immortalize youth, health, and life while not embracing the inevitable?  Our mortality.

 

In the Buddhist tradition, there’s acknowledgement that we as humans suffer due to old age, illness, and death.  Buddhists do not look away from this, but accept and turn towards it.  There’s a rehearsal to prepare for our own death. Traditionally five times a day, Buddhists may remind themselves that death is in their cards.   In fact, there is an app called “We Croak” that can do this for us.  If you purchase it, you will be notified five times a day with the statement “Remember you are going to die.”  As you click on the app when this message appears, a quote about death or inspiration will appear.  By continuing to keep death in the forefront of our brains, it serves as a tool to know we cannot escape this destiny.  Therefore, we have the opportunity of living an optimal life today.

 

I challenge you, wherever you live, to walk through a cemetery this week. Observe what you notice.   Read some of the tombstones.  How do you feel here?  Is anyone else there?  What is it like to linger here amongst those who have passed on and where we will inevitably be?  How does it put things in perspective?  Perhaps, you may notice that the problems you are facing today are minor to the values you are striving to live towards.  What shifts do you want to make in your life? Take action today.

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