Infusing this holiday season with meaning, gratitude and joy

I’ll begin this essay with the disclaimer that it might be a polarizing topic and that I fully support everyone’s right to believe and celebrate whatever they wish. I also support the decision to question beliefs and let go of what’s no longer serving us.

After becoming a parent, I started noticing more and more aspects of holiday traditions in the U.S. that I hadn’t given much thought to before. At first, I became increasingly aware of the overwhelming commercialism. It feels like we’ve lost so much of the substance and connection to these holidays and replaced it with things. I’m by no means a minimalist, but I do believe that material things should support the holiday, not the other way around.

The second and more complicated concern that kept coming up in my quest to find meaning is that actually, I don’t fundamentally agree with most of the holidays I’ve always celebrated.

Thanksgiving is so closely tied to colonialism and white supremacy.

I’m very spiritual, but not religious, calling into question my celebration of Christmas and Easter.

I also have struggled with Halloween, because it’s so much more than dressing up and begging for candy. The origins are rich and fascinating, but you’d never know it based on how we celebrate today. I also don’t see what’s so scary about black cats and witches, but that’s a rant for another day 🙂

I’ve thought a lot about what I want from traditions for our family that I’m not getting under the traditional holiday system:

  • Celebration of seasonal changes and what’s happening in nature
  • Gratitude for the abundance in our lives
  • Acknowledgement of our privilege as a white family living in America
  • A focus on experiences, not things

Most of the Christian holidays we celebrate today are modifications of pagan celebrations and customs, so my research began there. After all, I don’t want to completely throw out our traditions…I want to understand their roots so that I can better honor them and perhaps even bring back some of the original intentions that have been lost.

My goal, beginning with this year’s holiday season, is to try new things to determine what sparks joy for our family and to retire what no longer feels authentic. I’ll cover the autumn equinox/Mabon, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Halloween/Samhain, Thanksgiving, the winter solstice and Christmas.

I hope you’ll join me as I document our experiences along the way!

Time anxiety and how I’m addressing it

I don’t consider myself a particularly anxious person, but if there’s one area I struggle with, it’s feeling overwhelmed about time. I was introduced to the concept of time anxiety through Laura Tremaine’s 10 Things to Tell You podcast. Before this episode, I never considered classifying those nagging little worries, but as with most things, naming it has given me so much more awareness and understanding.

In a nutshell, Laura describes two types of time-related anxiety: 1) the short-term, how-will-I-ever-get-everything-done-today type of panic, and 2) the long-term, I’m already-40-how-will-I-have-time-to-fullfill-all-of-my-dreams type of dread.

My concerns fall mostly into the first category, and when I notice them creeping in, I try not to pass judgement. I use it as a reminder to focus on whatever I’m doing, because I’ve found that when I’m feeling time anxiety, I tend to flutter between tasks repeatedly rather than finishing one and moving to the next.

I’ve also taken Laura’s advice about adopting a time-related mantra, which I use repeatedly throughout the day: “I have enough time.” It does feel a little empty at first — more like a wish than reality — but over time, it’s started to sink in. I feel much less frantic and more in control of my time, like I’m deliberately choosing how to spend it versus letting the clock run all over me.

P.S. If you’re looking for a deeper dive on time anxiety, I highly recommend listening to Laura Tremaine’s podcast, episode 145.

P.P.S. Read more thoughts on how we spend our time. Will we choose guilt, shaming or joy?

Making time for a spiritual practice when you have young children

I could’ve titled this post “Aspirations for the year” because creating space for my own spiritual growth while staying at home with a two year old and one year old has been my focus for months. I don’t pretend to have it figured out, but I want to share what’s working for me in the hope that my suggestions will benefit others. Let’s jump right in.

Primary barriers

The biggest barriers in nurturing my spiritual practice are 1) having time and 2) having space. The lack of time speaks for itself…it’s hard to set aside blocks of time for meaningful spiritual experiences; put another way, it’s hard to have a spiritual breakthrough while your child is absorbed in a 15-minute episode of Trash Truck. Hey, it can happen, but it’s tough. It’s much easier to do a load of laundry and let your spirituality take a backseat.

In some ways, I think creating time is easier than creating space. By this, I don’t mean physical space. I think of creating space in energetic terms; I need a basic amount of calm and focus to be able to sink into a spiritual experience…both of which can be tricky to come by in a house with kids.

I’ve looked for ways to address these barriers in my life and made some small adjustments that have yielded big results for me.

First, reframe how you define “spiritual practice.”

For months, I was so hung up on wanting the perfect, deep spiritual experience — where I could set aside two hours for a reflection on self love for instance — that I missed out on having any experience at all. Don’t be like me! Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good! Be honest with yourself about what’s realistic in this phase of your life and give yourself a lot of grace when expectations aren’t always reality.

Look for ways to incorporate spiritual practices into everyday life.

After months of trying and failing to make time for myself, I had a breakthrough: if I wasn’t able to make time away from my kids, then my kids would need to be part of my practice. My goal for these rituals is simple…grounding and gratitude. They’re easy to incorporate into our morning routines, and though my children are young, I think it helps model good habits for them as well as benefitting me. Here are a few habits to consider:

  1. Light a candle or incense and set an intention for the day.
  2. Play grounding music. I’ve been listening to a track called “Any Energy Still” by Beautiful Chorus on the Insight Timer app; it repeats the mantra “any energy I do not need may leave” and it feels so clearing. I do this while I’m tidying our kitchen and making breakfast. Side note: This is a concept called “pairing” that I learned from Gretchen Rubin, and it’s a great way to incorporate new habits. For instance, flossing your teeth while you talk on the phone; you don’t need to set aside extra time and the old habit (talking on the phone) is a reminder to do the new habit (flossing). Simple but effective.
  3. When the kids are fussy, I burn sage as a reset for all of our moods.
  4. Show gratitude and acknowledge nature. As soon as my children wake up, we sit on the sofa together and look out the window to our backyard. I say good morning to the sun, trees, flowers, insects and animals and thank them and Mother Earth for their protection, bounty and love.
  5. Prepare special baths on the full moon with Epsom salt, essential oils and a relaxing playlist.

Next, I want to implement some morning yoga with my kids and one page of journaling for me while they play with their morning baskets. Here are some other ideas for getting out of your head and into your body.

While these ideas are by no means groundbreaking, I’ve found that they help me keep a healthy mindset and inspire me to make more time for spiritual development when I can.

Plan ahead to facilitate deeper spiritual work.

Simple daily practices, while incredibly effective, likely aren’t a replacement for deeper spiritual work; that type of practice takes time, focus and the ability to really drop in to reflect and receive messages. This area is still a work in progress for me, but here a few things that are making a difference:

  1. Have a list of resources ready so that when unexpected free time appears, you don’t waste it by wondering what to do. Your list can include rituals, articles or podcasts you want to explore, meditations, local and online classes, journal prompts, etc. I keep mine in the notes section of my phone so that it’s always available.
  2. If possible, find a community in your area that shares your belief system and your schedule. I recently came across a teacher based in Atlanta who is the mother of two young children. Most of the people in the community she’s built are also moms, and the times they gather are much more aligned to my schedule than someone who appeals to single adults.
  3. Put it on the calendar. Gretchen Rubin coined the adage: “something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.” I found that by scheduling my spiritual work, I was much more likely to not let other things like housework get in the way. You could begin with rituals aligned with moon cycles since that offers a built-in structured framework.

You can always ask for support from the Universe…for a community…for more time in your day…for help prioritizing…for a new teacher to come into your life…to help you make space to learn and grow. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might also want to adopt a time-related mantra. But most importantly, give yourself grace when things aren’t going well and acknowledge that this is a particularly busy season of life. If you’re feeling a little dormant, know that spring is coming.

Permission to enjoy Nutella (and other indulgences)

This week, a friend and I were talking about several new activities keeping her busy this year. While all of the new developments are incredibly positive — a new kickboxing hobby, more time with friends, a meditation course she’s hosting — she’s overwhelmed with managing her time.

She started recounting her typical schedule and after a pause, said in a dark tone, “I’m addicted to TV.” I asked what she meant; I’ve known her my entire life and was surprised to hear this confession. She said that she watches one show every morning — it’s her guilty pleasure — and she can’t give it up. She said “I know tv is bad for me. I know what you’re thinking. How can I complain about being busy if I’m watching TV for 45 minutes every morning?”

I asked her how she feels after watching her show. If it’s a part of her morning routine that helps her feel relaxed, ready to take on the day and even a little indulgent, then how could it be unhealthy for her?

This thinking is such a common trap. We get so caught up in busyness, productivity and what’s “good” and “bad” for us, that we often avoid day-to-day pleasures that could make a substantial difference in our overall happiness. It’s all about the energy with which we approach these small indulgences…with appreciation, joy and mindfulness as opposed to feelings of insecurity, lack or guilt.

Admittedly, this distinction isn’t always straightforward. Almost two years ago, I had my first child. She was born in the midst of COVID, and the pandemic combined with my new stay-at-home mom status left me feeling pretty isolated. A friend of mine started a virtual moms’ group and invited me to join. The group’s charter was to have meaningful conversations about parenting mindfully. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for, so I was baffled that after only joining a couple of times, I found excuses to not attend week after week.

It took me two years to understand why. I knew at the time that I always hung up the phone feeling so much worse than before, and I assumed that was because I’m an empathetic person, and listening to a dozen women share their deepest feelings of anguish, anxiety, sadness and fear was difficult. But the calls also made me question, very fundamentally, whether I was fit to be a mother at all. On one call, I remember a very judgmental discussion about watching Netflix in the evenings and the diagnosis that if we’re watching TV, then we’re “numbing out” to escape unaddressed issues and unhappiness in our lives. At the time, I had been watching “The Crown” in the evenings with my husband, and I broke down weeping on the call and told the group, between sobs, that I didn’t want to be that kind of parent.

In hindsight I see that sweeping accusations like the Netflix finger pointing that I endured are completely ridiculous. After giving 23 hours a day to my child, I chose to watch “The Crown” because it made me happy and because my husband and I enjoyed talking about British history, historical events, set design, living in Europe, etc. together. It brought us closer together. In our reality as new parents in a pandemic — too cautious to do much outside of the house — these were our dates, and they gave us so much joy.

It saddens me that even in the more enlightened wellness/metaphysical community, we can’t help but diagnose behaviors and try to fix people. When you’re looking for a problem, you will always find one. That’s not to say that TV and other addictions aren’t real and very serious…they are. But every action should be viewed in context.

I urge you to look for ways to inject some joy into your life. Try doing something normal at an unexpected time — like watching a show in the morning. In 2018, while I was living in London for work, I found a way to incorporate Nutella into my breakfast every Friday; having it for breakfast felt absolutely decadent and so celebratory.

Eat your Nutella. Watch your show. Use your wedding china. Burn the nice candle. What better way to honor the beauty in life than to make time every day to enjoy it?

A not-so-scary approach to writing your memoir

A friend recently gifted me a copy of Laura Tremaine’s Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level. Each chapter of the book begins with an essay about Laura’s life through the lens of a particular theme: pivotal decisions, belonging, magical moments, breaking points, etc. The close of each chapter includes a writing prompt on the same topic.

The book is a quick read (or listen), and while the writing wasn’t exactly profound, I was incredibly inspired by the prompts and overall layout of the book. By covering just 10 themes, Laura manages to share the highlights of her life to date and paints a vivid, even complex, picture of herself. By the end, you truly feel like you know her.

About halfway through the book, a lightbulb went off. If I took the time to sit down and explore all of these writing prompts, I, like Laura, could have a pretty thorough personal memoir to show for it. I’ve considered writing down my story before, but I’ve been intimidated by the process. But 10 chapters? With themes that have already been decided for me? I could start now, tackle one theme a month and have a full memoir written by December. Now that feels doable.

I do have to admit that it’s not quite that simple. There’s nothing particularly dazzling about each chapter of Laura’s book, but there is something dazzling in the way they marry to tell a full story. At face value, it comes across as simple and straightforward, but I suspect that a lot of thought went into chapter order, which stories she selected and how she ensured continuity without being redundant.

One of my most treasured projects over the past year has been writing a tribute book about my grandmother who passed away in 2020. She developed dementia over the last few years of her life, and when symptoms appeared, I sat down with her for a series of interviews about her life. I asked her everything I could imagine, wrote it down and collected photos and recipes to accompany the text. I began designing the book in 2014 (!) and finally had the first draft printed last month. This book will be treasured by so many members of my family as well as future generations. I wrote it down exactly as she said it, so the stories are in her voice. As a result, I can hear her in all of the pages. It is one of my most valued possessions.

Writing down your stories is both a tribute to yourself and also a therapeutic process. I can’t wait to see what old memories surface and what I learn about myself along the way. If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll try it, too. Let’s get writing!

Discovering divine love…in the bathroom

Something profoundly changed within me last night. My husband usually gets our oldest daughter, Aurelia, bathed and to sleep while I make dinner. Last night, he was working, so I did more of the bedtime routine and shared such sweet, tender moments with both babies. One of my favorite things to do is draw one of them up very close on my chest and wrap a blanket over both of us. The feeling satisfies something very primal within me. I realized last night that it’s almost like a womb, with baby and me so close together, tucked away, warm and shielded behind an outward covering.

The more I think about it, the more the past year and the next few years to come feel like the womb, too. We spend nearly all of our time at home, nurturing our babies, protecting them, loving them and watching them grow. Two short years ago, my husband and I went into offices every day. We traveled extensively for work and for pleasure. We commuted and went to happy hours and hosted dinner parties. And now, in our little bubble with our babies, we incubate and relish the simplicity of our days. Our lifestyle was partially shaped by COVID — my husband now works from home indefinitely — and partially by babies born 14 months apart in June 2021 and August 2022. While I was pregnant, I was amazed at how much I was forced to slow down; I wasn’t able to walk very quickly, multi-task or ignore rest. I’ve managed to hold onto those lessons and truly appreciate our routine and the pace of life with two babies…leisurely strolls around the neighborhood, hour-long meals, a complete reframing of what it means to be productive.

In an instant during bedtime last night, I realized what had shifted for me. For the the first, maybe ever, I felt fully present in the moment. It didn’t happen during yoga or meditation. I was untangling and hanging twinkle lights in the bathroom and singing silly songs while Aurelia splashed around in the tub, and it struck me that THIS IS IT. I wasn’t thinking about what I needed to get done after she was asleep. I wasn’t worried about her little sister Camille waking up from her nap. I was fully immersed in the moment. In our beautiful, exhausting, monotonous, multi-sensory, technicolor life of diapers and bottles and first words and first steps and pinching ourselves every day that they’re ours. For months, my husband and I have randomly looked at each and said “We’re married?! We have two kids?!?” because it’s all felt so surreal.

But after that moment in the bathroom, I thought with so much conviction as I held Camille later in the evening, that nothing has ever felt more like real life, like my life. Years from now, I’ll lie in bed at night remembering these beautiful early days of getting to know two precious souls, and I’ll smile. I’ll imagine the cheeky, exuberant expression that crosses Aurelia’s face when she shows us for the first time that she’s learned something new. Or the way that Camille beams and wiggles in excitement every time she catches one of us gazing at her. They are the light of my life, and I’m so blessed.

Not everything is easy, of course. There are tantrums and sleepless nights and teething pains and shortened tempers. I’ve struggled with missing meaningful self care time to ground myself and recharge spiritually. As a couple, we try to remember that each challenge shows us something new about ourselves and ultimately helps us grow; sometimes it works and sometimes it’s only aspirational. But every day, we feel the love of our girls, we appreciate the abundance in our life and we’re deeply humbled that they chose us. And nothing brings me closer to spirit — to divine love — than that.

Remembering your future and other wisdom from Dr. Joe Dispenza

I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual slump lately and decided to read Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza for inspiration. I first heard about the book during an interview with the author on The goop Podcast, which I’m ashamed to say was several years ago. I found an old list of books to read this week, and seeing Becoming Supernatural on the list, took it as a sign to start it.

I finished the book last night, so I’m still processing some of the nuances, but I wanted to share a summary while the content is still fresh.

A science-based approach to mystical experiences

According to the book’s description, Dr. Joe Dispenza “draws on research conducted at his advanced workshops since 2012 to explore how common people are doing the uncommon to transform themselves and their lives.” Specifically, he takes a science-based approach to studying the effects of different types of meditation on individuals and, when conducted as a group, the collective. He also includes relevant research done by other scientists on topics like the mind body connection and the impact of heart coherence on society as a whole. Their findings blew me away. Although he gets deep into the science, Dr. Dispenza uses simple explanations and helpful examples to make the content approachable.

A method for “remembering your future”

Although Dr. Dispenza doesn’t use the word “manifesting” more than a few times in the book, his entire approach is focused on getting out of the routine of our daily lives, releasing limiting beliefs holding us back from reaching our goals and using several processes he outlines in the book to imagine our future selves in such a tangible, sensory way that our bodies, minds and spirits actually believe and operate as if that future self already exists. He encourages his students to step out of each meditation as a new person. (If you’re interested in manifestation, I wrote about other approaches to manifesting here.)

One of the most profound studies he cites was done on two groups of people who were learning to play the piano: one group practiced by actually playing the instrument while the second group only visualized it. The study looked at the brains of all of the participants and found no difference. In other words, by simply focusing our attention and intentions, we can make our brains believe that a future that we only imagined is reality. In doing so, we bring about profound change and attract a life that’s energetically aligned to our new selves. He gives dozens of examples of people who have manifested better health, relationships and jobs for themselves through his approach.

However, the reverse is also true. When we are stuck in the past, reliving past traumas and feeling an emotional response to those experiences, our bodies don’t know the difference between a memory and reality, so our physical bodies respond as if the event is happening again and again, putting us in a constant state of fight or flight. We become so used to these hormones, even though they’re uncomfortable, that we continue to seek out ways to perpetuate the cycle. and stay attached to negative feelings like anger, resentment and victimization.

Dr. Dispenza uses meditation as a means to liberate the energy that is tied up with our negative emotions, invent our future selves, access information from the quantum, initiate metaphysical experiences and fill ourselves with love and light.

Easy-to-replicate meditations

Dr. Dispenza describes each of the major concepts he teaches during his workshops in this book and then follows each with a detailed meditation that readers can try at home on their own. It includes meditations that focus on the body’s energy centers, the pineal gland, trapped energy within the body and heart coherence, among others. You can access recordings of the meditations on his website. (Fair warning, they’re pricey.) If you’re like me and prefer guided meditations, you could easily write your own script based on the outlines in the book, record your own meditation and save yourself $30 🙂

Other resources:

Dr. Dispenza has written other books including You Are the Placebo and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.

He also has a blog, a summary of scientific research and other interesting content on his website.

If you really want to dive in, he continues to host workshops and launched a virtual course with Gaia.

What’s the origin of your fear?

Yesterday, I had my 15-week prenatal appointment with my midwife. During every appointment, she goes through a checklist of questions related to my physical and emotional wellbeing. This time, when she asked about how I’m doing emotionally, I paused. I told her about the anxiety I’ve felt related to violence in our area, particularly gun violence related to kids. I also talked about how my fears around COVID really flared up around the holidays and into January.

As she let me ramble, I had a major realization: my anxiety and fear actually had very little to do with COVID and the violence we’ve seen on the news. Rationally, I know that we’re safe. We make thoughtful choices, and we’re not taking many (if any) risks to put us in harm’s way. I realized that I have some unaddressed fear as a new mom that’s been compounded by the fact that I’m pregnant again. Out of shame for not living up to my own standards, I wasn’t allowing myself to express that fear, so instead I attached it to two very real, widespread and acceptable fears…COVID and gun violence.

The reasons those fears have persisted and evolved into anxiety is because I hadn’t addressed their root cause. By allowing myself to be honest about the more vulnerable cause – motherhood can be scary – I continue to accept my whole self and show myself some grace. I also have the opportunity to evaluate my own expectations. Do I judge other mothers for their fears as parents? Absolutely not. So why do I judge myself?

All that to say, our fears as parents are valid. But there’s a big difference between recognizing fears, taking proper precautions and letting them go and what I was doing…taking proper precautions and then continuing to worry.

If you find yourself caught in a fear-based cycle of feeling anxious and attempting to control situations, it’s worth checking in. Have you taken precautions? Are you still worrying? What can you let go? Know that your fears are valid, but they don’t have to control you.

One piece of advice that’s worked for me is to find an emotional anchor that you can come back to again and again when you feel yourself slipping into anxious mode. For me, that’s a deep conviction that the house we moved into a couple years ago was divine intervention. The timing, the features and the neighborhood were exactly what we wanted. We are meant to be there as a family and so we are safe.

Parenting as a catalyst for personal growth

Topics related to personal growth and parenting have been on my mind a lot lately: how we’re raised as people pleasers, how to recognize childhood trauma and ways that postpartum healing is as emotional as it is physical.

Digging deep to explore your psyche, separate your true self from learned behaviors and heal old wounds is so incredibly important, especially during the challenging and transformative phase of parenthood. Under the stresses of parenting, you feel conflict (within yourself and with others) more easily and recognize really quickly when things just aren’t working. You’re reminded of your childhood and spend more time contemplating how your wounds and beliefs directly impact another person. Conflict with immediate family members might arise. Anxiety and fear often become more extreme, but so does love. It’s a time of coming to terms with a stark duality: you are both the best and worst versions of yourself.

While parenting can serve as a catalyst for deeper transformation and healing, these lessons and this work aren’t just for parents. In fact, waiting until you become a parent to begin your personal growth journey isn’t ideal; you’d likely set yourself up for a lot of added stress as well as strain on relationships with those closest to you.

That said, if you’re already a parent or about to become one and you haven’t started your journey, it’s absolutely never too late. Take it slow and give yourself permission to feel whatever arises without judgement. The results are so incredibly rewarding and will dramatically change your life.

If you’re looking for a place to begin, I highly recommend The Seeker’s Manual by Arda. You can find other resources for seekers and parents under my resources tab.

30-day writing challenge: manifesting your goals

Several years ago, I was in a job that made me very unhappy, and the message I kept getting from the Universe was “have faith and quit.” I knew that was the right approach, but I was stuck on the question of what I would do with my time once I quit. I wanted to make the most of it. I set a date in my mind of when I would resign and gave myself a month to come up with a plan.

My mind was swirling with different scenarios, so each morning for a month, I pretended like I’d already quit my job and wrote a page or less on what I was doing with my time that day. I wrote in present tense (for instance, “I am designing” instead of “I will design”) and really explored each scenario as if it was actually happening. I tried to free myself from limiting thoughts and write about not only what I did, but how I felt.

By the end of the month, I had 30 detailed examples of how I could use my time and felt so confident in my decision to quit my job.

Writing challenge tips

This process could be applied to anything — your next job, relationship, health goals, financial aspirations, etc. If the idea of an open-ended topic feels too unwieldly, you could always choose different themes to write about each week; for instance, if your goal is a new romantic relationship, your weekly themes could be: how we met, the first trips we took together, little ways we show each other unconditional love and how we plan for our future.

If you do decide to commit to the challenge, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Try not to cover too many topics at one time. By focusing on one scenario at a time and exploring each idea fully, I was able to silence the chaotic chatter in my brain and unlock my creativity.
  2. Write around the same time each day. By writing everything down at a designated time, I set my intention with the Universe and kept my mind from spinning on the topic throughout the day. I’m not a morning person, but first-thing in the morning worked best for me.
  3. Not everyone is a writer. If the idea of sitting down to write seems daunting, you can explore other creative forms of expression like bullet journaling or drawing.
  4. Don’t overthink it. The goal here is tapping into your inner knowing and setting intentions, not perfection. If you find yourself getting stuck or self editing before you even begin, just start writing. You can even write about your writer’s block or frustration, just get something on paper, and I promise, ideas will start to flow.

Spring is a wonderful time for manifesting and new beginnings. Please let me know if you decide to try the writing challenge and how it goes for you!