What is the Dark Night of the Soul?

hopeThis phrase is commonly used to describe a time in one’s life when it appears as though all is lost, including the attention and support of God. Old ways of seeing life and believing in it end without a clear focus on what comes next. It can be a period of dark moods and hopelessness.

Originally stemming from the 16th century writings of Carmelite priest Saint John of the Cross, the phrase “Dark Night of the Soul” was indicative of mystic development, a quest for holiness. In our modern era, the phrase indicates a time when spiritual development is moving full speed ahead, except the person in the midst of it is usually in despair. During this time, the old and familiar fades away, making room for a new and deeper meaning to life. The challenge is that we can’t see the relevance while going through it, so we suffer.

Experienced as internal chaos and misery, the original Christian notion of this Dark Night is that God has turned away for good. What actually happens is a new pathway opens up that encourages transformation of one’s relationship with God. It’s a blessing in disguise.

In Christianity, the feeling of abandonment by God, a place of darkness, is considered a test of one’s faith. The agony of making your way through the dark causes the old self to reform. The ego dissolves, and a surrender takes place. Old expectations and illusions about God are broken. It is this process that brings a person to new levels of consciousness and into a new, more meaningful relationship with God.

In the midst of a Dark Night, don’t pull out the pills or jump off the bridge! Keep walking through it. It doesn’t last. You’ll come out the other side. God, Goddess, the Supreme Being, the Divine, the Universe, whatever name you choose, you can be sure that it does not desert you. It might seem to for a time, but it’s impossible for it to abandon you. Instead it leads you into greater light.

Chakra Health: Your Personal Wheels of Light

chaIn Sanskrit, chakra translates to “wheel of light.” The body has many chakras, but seven of these wheels of light are traditionally used for healing. The first chakra is located at the base of your spine while the seventh chakra is at the crown of your head. Each chakra has a role and point of view. In her book Wheels of Light, Rosalyn Bruyere says, “Each of the seven traditional chakras has a physical, an emotional, a creative, and a celestial component. Besides these, each chakra has its own purpose or particular viewpoint based upon the area of consciousness it influences.”

The chakras are swirling vortices, “energy centers” that connect with your internal organs and endocrine system. They affect your physical, mental, and emotional state, reacting to every thought, word, feeling, choice, and action. These energy centers respond to exercise, the food you eat, sunlight, the way you allow yourself to be treated by others, your thoughts and feelings about your relationship with the outer world, and they respond to chaos and confusion or peace and calm.

Dr. Valerie Hunt and Rosalyn Bruyere conducted studies at UCLA and found that the human electromagnetic energy field is generated by the chakras. Bruyere says, “Our research at UCLA was significant on more than one level. It was perhaps the first attempt made in our country to examine an electrical manifestation, a magnetic field phenomenon, as connected to the healing process.” She also says, “Health is generally defined as absence of disease, but this is really an unsatisfactory definition. The word ‘health’ means ‘wholeness.’ Health implies much more than freedom from disease. A complete definition of health must include vitality, appropriate feelings, clear thinking and reasoning, and a willingness to embrace change.”

In addressing “wholeness,” in striving for health and embracing change, the energy field and chakras are important. There is a flow of energy through the chakras in your body that has a natural balance. But when the body isn’t well, or when the emotions, mental state, or spiritual state are compromised, the complementary role of each chakra is also compromised. To try to heal yourself without addressing your chakras would be like trying to swim in oil. You might be able to look as if you’re doing it, but you’re actually bogged down and covered in muck.

The healthy flow of the chakras can be enhanced through what is commonly known as “chakra balancing.” Many healers specialize in the chakra system. When I see people in person, I always balance the chakras and energy field. One way you can help keep your chakras balanced is to leave your tech devices behind and go outside to sit on the earth. Connect with nature and allow yourself to be brought into balance. Breathe into your heart center. Soften your lower belly. Take a deep breath and sound out “AAAHHHHH…..” until you have no more breath. Listen to your higher guidance. Trust your intuition. You’ll be amazed at how much more centered and balanced you’ll feel.

My Thoughts on Doing a Silent Retreat

533796_3292120096307_1066899692_3043234_1472076028_nEvery year I do a silent retreat or two for at least a week at a time. And each time, people look at me puzzled when I tell them this is what I’m doing. After all, it’s so strange to not talk incessantly, or be talked to. Isn’t it?

Sometimes I join a group, other times I go solo. Often, in April, I like to do a solo retreat in Maui or Kauai (or both, let’s be honest). It’s my birthday month and I love to be immersed in the island vibe. But this April, since I was in Maui last September finalizing the last chapters of my new book, I decided to do a silent retreat in a place where I won’t be able to check messages because there’s no wifi, let alone cell phone service. I’ll be with about 100 others, who come together from distant places, all with a similar idea: let’s take a little breather from the madness, check in, tune in, and listen to what’s real and true, if only for a week.

I very much look forward to no talking, writing, reading, computers, television, or electronics of any kind. No checking email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no CNN, no Orange County Housewives. Am I in the minority when I think we’ve become a completely distracted, unbalanced society through this media? At any rate, there will be the sights and sounds of nature along with deer, turkeys, maybe a fox or two, hawks, lizards, sunshine and intermittent fog.

And, oh yes, I almost forgot—the sound of my own thoughts. The chatter of my inner 5 year old, my inner sullen teenager, and various other inner selves all interrupting my older, wiser self. There will be unexpected random memories, songs from 1983, compulsive planning, weighing the pros and cons of letting my hair go gray, living room redecorating, and ideas of what I should have said to someone 15 years ago. This chatter will go on at least for the first couple of days until it exhausts itself and my mind surrenders to balance and spaciousness.

The first time I attended a silent retreat, I had signed up for 10 days at a meditation center in the Massachusetts countryside. I’d been told by one of my professors that it was the best thing he ever did. Better than any sort of therapy. Incredibly transformational. So I jumped right in and attended the New Year retreat when we entered this millennium. It was lights out by 10pm on December 31, 1999. No fanfare, noise, champagne, nothing. We were awakened by the sound of a bell at 4:00am on January 1, 2000 to continue meditating. It was odd, but delightful.

So here I am 13 years later, still longing to get immersed in my week of silent meditation. Still looking forward to not knowing what’s happening in the outer world. It feels a little defiant, actually, in this information age, to simply turn my back on it all and ignore it. I won’t speak for a week, or be spoken to. I won’t hear my neighborhood’s leaf blowers, screaming children, or the Harleys going down Hwy 1 on Sunday. Instead, I’ll have the opportunity to engage inwardly, locate my deepest center, learn to love the rhythm of my own breath, and release a bit of what doesn’t belong to me.

When it’s over, I’ll return home with greater inner peace, with more love to share, and a greater tolerance for all that is noisy and alive. Now why would anyone not want that?

The Tastiest Way to Eat More Broccoli

broccoliI originally found this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks: Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten. I’ve never been able to eat raw broccoli, not even smothered in some sort of dip or disguised in a salad, so this method of roasting was a real find.

Because of this recipe, I pick up broccoli and lemons almost every time I shop for vegetables. The rich health benefits from eating broccoli are widely known, so let’s get right to it.

4 to 5 pounds broccoli (organic only!)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (make it organic!)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

The following 3 ingredients are part of the recipe, but I skip them. It’s up to you!

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I’m a non-dairy person, but I’ve tried it with the cheese and it’s delicious. If you use it, be sure to get organic cheese.)
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves)

Heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Cut up the broccoli into your desired bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups). Place in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Toss the garlic on the broccoli and drizzle with 5 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle the salt and pepper. Roast for 20–25 minutes.

Remove from oven and toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest, and lemon juice (and the pine nuts, Parmesan, and basil if using). Serve hot. You’re going to love it!

Communing with Your Higher Self

green goddessYour Higher Self is the wise, all-knowing part of you that is connected directly to All That Is—the Divine Source. It knows why you’re here, where you’re headed, and carries much knowledge and awareness accumulated through eons of time. I believe it’s the part of us that helps us hold our integrity in life. It keeps us moving forward toward positive expansion.

In this age of constant distractions—shiny, sparkly objects catching the attention at every turn—it’s easy to become detached from the Higher Self. At worst, this detachment leads to self-abuse such as drug-use, violence, physical neglect, and negative mental states. At best, it’s a nagging feeling that you’re not living the way you were meant to.

Accessing your Higher Self connects you to your wisest self which has answers for you and knows what step to take next. Communing with your Higher Self requires that your mind be quiet enough to hear its wisdom. Being in silence, settling inward, and getting in touch with the body and breath is one path to linking more strongly with your Higher Self. Experiencing joy is another way. Real inner joy, coming from experiences that raise your vibration high enough that you transcend the ordinary mundane world, can link with your true higher nature.

We not only can touch our soul essence in meditation by tuning into the body and breath, or when we allow ourselves to be truly joyful, but we can gain guidance from our Higher Self and begin to allow it to be the guiding force in our lives. Once you’re in touch—ask, wait, listen, and trust. It’s always been talking to you, but hasn’t always been heard. So give it some practice because there is no guidance better for you than your own wise counsel.

Insomnia? Sleep Well to Nourish Your Body, Mind, & Spirit

sleepYour body heals during sleep. It rejuvenates, renews, and recharges, mending what needs mending. 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. is a peak time to deeply nourish yourself after a busy day. If you’ve suffered from insomnia, you can sleep well to nourish your body, mind, & spirit.

If you’re not asleep by 10 o’clock, allow yourself to deeply rest from then on–stop work, turn off all electronic devices, no food or TV. Instead, deliberately calm your mind. Read an enjoyable novel, meditate, write down your thoughts, listen to a mind-balancing audio designed for sleep–begin a ritual to send signals to your mind that it’s time to prepare for deep, restful sleep.

Getting to the root cause of insomnia and returning to balance and wholeness is the holistic approach that sustains your body, mind, and spirit. (Using street or prescription drugs is like applying a bandage that remains on the surface and doesn’t truly heal. You know it.)

Here are 16 ways to sleep well, beginning with natural nutritional supplementation.

  1. Get adequate magnesium and calcium. I take a food-based magnesium supplement before bed and within 20 minutes I can hardly keep my eyes open.
  2. L-theanine is an amino acid that calms the mind and can be taken in the morning and again before bed. It’s especially good if you have a racing mind.
  3. Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics (available online) reduces cortisol levels to lessen stress and help you sleep–important for anyone living a high-stress lifestyle.
  4. Hyland’s Calms Forte is a homeopathic remedy that can help calm nerves and promote restful sleep. Find it online or in any natural foods store.
  5. MyoCalm PM by Metagenics is a combination of herbs and minerals for overall relaxation and sleep with no side effects.
  6. Drink relaxing tea, such as chamomile, in the early evening. There are several relaxing herbal teas specifically for bedtime at www.mountainroseherbs.com.
  7. Exercise daily, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk.
  8. Avoid caffeine during the day, or have green tea only in the mornings. Even chocolate in the early evening is enough to keep some people buzzing late into the night.
  9. Clear your bedroom of clutter, including computers, electronics, and television. Some people say they have to have the TV on to sleep. Really? That is a health problem waiting to happen!
  10. Stop answering the phone in the evenings if conversation activates your mind. Turn off your phone and all wifi at night. I know, it will cause anxiety initially, but you’ll get over it in a few days!
  11. Move electronics away from your bed and if possible, don’t have any in the bedroom. I have one electronic device in my room–an air filter–and I keep it many feet away from the bed.
  12. Calm your mind and spirit in the evenings by turning off the computer and television at least an hour before bedtime. Yes! Just do it.
  13. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body will thank you.
  14. Write down your thoughts and feelings to get them out of your head and onto paper. This way, they don’t swirl manically through your brain at 2:00 a.m.
  15. Meditate for a few minutes before bed to clear your mind.
  16. Put some sleep inducing music on your iPod and get your headphones ready. My favorite site for the best sleep-promoting CDs is www.monroeinstitute.org. You’ll find numerous amazing CDs for every sleep issue.

Finally, turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Get the unfolded laundry out of there, pick up the papers on the floor and put them in a different room, remove anything from under the bed, get comfy sheets and change them often.

If you still don’t sleep well through the night after you’ve tried these suggestions, see an acupuncturist, herbalist, naturopath, homeopath, or holistic practitioner. Each can help you with sleep disturbances. There is great hope and a solution waiting for you!

The Best Breakfast Smoothie for Optimal Nutrition

greenLooking for a way to easily get leafy greens into your diet? To build your health and vitality quickly and easily? Or to start your day with a strong nutritional foundation? Try my favorite breakfast smoothie!

This tops every other quick breakfast: bagels, muffins, granola bars, toast with peanut butter, cold cereal, a cup of coffee, or whatever else you grab on your way out the door. (Not to mention the donuts and pastries eaten by the tons every morning by people dancing with dis-ease in body and mind!)

Place all ingredients into blender except for the whey, which is fragile and should be added at the very end on low mixing speed.

Choose your base liquid, 1-2 cups to achieve desired consistency:

  • Organic nut milk (homemade is best)
  • Raw organic milk or goat milk
  • Coconut water
  • Water

Add the following:

  • 1/3 cup blueberries
  • 1/3 cup raspberries, strawberries, cherries or other dark red/purple/blue berries
  • A handful of greens: I usually use kale, but you can use spinach, chard, beet greens, or whatever leafy greens you want.
  • 1-inch piece raw ginger or 1 TBSP ginger juice
  • 1/8 cup chia seeds or a protein powder of your choice—try for 30 grams. (I’ve used Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein Powder because many protein powders have poor ingredients or a soy base. Don’t use soy, ever, unless it’s fermented and organic.)
  • 1 tsp Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil or other pure, high-quality fish oil
  • 1 scoop Garden of Life Perfect Food “Super Green Formula” or similar green powder
  • 1 TBSP Buffered Vitamin C powder (I use one from Allergy Research Group.)
  • ¼ tsp probiotic powder (get a top-quality acidophilus blend)
  • 1 scoop whey protein, added at the end and mixed in lightly (I use Natura’s Beyond Whey or Designs for Health Whey Cool)

Optional additions:

  • Coconut powder, shredded coconut, coconut milk, or a spoonful of coconut oil
  • Raw cocoa powder
  • Banana
  • Any other organically grown fruit–peaches, apricots, papaya, etc.
  • Vegetables–grated carrots, celery, greens (kale, spinach, etc), beets, parsley, or whatever else you’d like to add
  • 1 TBSP almond or cashew butter
  • 1 TBSP maca powder
  • 1 scoop PaleoCleanse by Designs for Health (a detoxification vitamin powder)
  • 1–2 TBSP ground flax seeds (I’ve used Barlean’s Fortiflax)
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • organic plain, unsweetened yogurt

At the end, after I’ve poured the smoothie into a glass, I put 3 drops liquid Vitamin D on top. (I use Bio-D-Mulsion Forte by Biotics Research Corp.) If supplementing with Vitamin D, you need to have your levels monitored so you don’t get too much or too little.

Enjoy! Your body and mind will thank you!

The Power of the Mind to Heal

power of mindThe mind is so powerful that it alone can help you heal. You have the ability to focus your thoughts on what you want and how you want to feel. In each moment you can notice where your mind has gone, whether to worries, fears, judgments, and other negativity, or to thoughts that are aligned with what you want for yourself.

The first step is to have an ongoing practice of noticing and managing your thoughts. This isn’t easy to do if you’re addicted to the television culture, where mass media offers a never ending stream of negative concepts into your brain. Or, if you like to get online and read the daily headlines followed by stories of horrific occurrences around the world. Or, if you like to “trauma share” with friends and colleagues about the annoying things that happen to you.

In the case of serious physical illness, we might find ourselves in a doctor’s office listening to negative possibilities and statistics that don’t sound promising. Because we are susceptible to these predictions, we often believe the bad news and accept it as fact when it isn’t. This can hinder the ability to heal because the mind is powerful enough to create what it believes.

We hear stories about people on their “deathbeds” whose families don’t tell them what the doctors have said about their dire situation. The person gradually gets well and goes on to live a full life. The mind didn’t have the opportunity to grasp onto the negative concept of doom, and instead believed in wellness. Our unwillingness to integrate the power of the mind into mainstream medicine is a hindrance in modern healthcare. If we were masters over our own minds we could enhance and improve the entire medical system.

There are few more important things you can do than to shift your mind to the positive. Any negative thought can be transformed by focusing on its opposite. Writing down the opposite thought, even drawing it out, helps change the negative thought pattern. Notice what you think about. Are you hooked in to the latest gory or fear-based story on the nightly news? Do you have people around you who enjoy talking in negative terms, going over and over the same dark topics? Do you do this yourself? If so, noticing these times and making an effort to change them is your path to making a positive mind a habit.

The best conversation I had over the past holidays was with a friend at a dinner party who said, “I’m focusing all of my attention on seeing the best in people. I’m simply not talking negative about things. My challenge is to practice this even when others around me are being negative.” Isn’t that a challenge we all could be willing to take on?

That was a conversation I could have carried into the wee hours of the morning. When you find another person who’s behaving as if their positive thoughts make a difference, it’s inspiring, uplifting, and life-affirming. This is where true healing begins.

 

Breast Health Through Liver Health

liverThe health of your liver is closely linked with breast health. The liver processes hormones, but also toxins from your food, medications and drugs, commercial drinks and alcohol, and the environment. When too many of these toxins are in the body, the liver gets sluggish and can’t work optimally. This directly affects the breasts because they rely on the liver to help move toxic waste out of the body, some of which can collect in breast tissue.

Some studies show women who drink two or more alcoholic beverages per day have a 40% higher rate of breast cancer than women who don’t drink alcohol. This could be because alcohol puts more stress on the liver, besides contributing to an acidic environment.

If your intestines are toxic and sluggish and do not move on schedule, toxins released from the liver to be expelled get reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This creates a cycle of re-polluting the liver. The following steps will help your liver become healthier and function in the way nature intended.

  • Eat plenty of leafy greens every day, such as kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, collards, and dandelion. I add these greens to a morning smoothie.
  • Take dandelion tincture in a little water or make an infusion by adding boiling water to an ounce of dried dandelion leaves. Let sit for several hours, strain, and drink the tea.
  • Take milk thistle extract for at least one month. Milk thistle extract can be found at any natural foods store. Follow label directions.
  • Drink plenty of purified water.
  • Heal emotions of anger, frustration, and indecisiveness through methods such as counseling and energy work.
  • Avoid all processed and fast foods, fried and fatty foods, sugars, white flour, and alcohol.

Transforming Depression into Wisdom

Sunny flowers can help brighten your mood. Yes, for men, too.

Sunny flowers can help brighten your mood. Yes, for men, too.

The way you think about the world, others, yourself, and the conditions of your life will correlate to your mood. Your perceptions of your relationships, your health, job or career, housework and chores, your money and bills will become your habitual state of mind. Often, these mental states creep in quietly and before you know it, they’ve become normal. Though it’s not fun to hear this when you’re in the midst of depression, you have the choice as to whether your mind states are pleasant or not.

Thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions alter brain chemistry. So does pollution from air, water, and electricity, processed foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and even a lack of protein absorption. Dark moods can be triggered by loss, chronic illness, relationship problems, work stress, family crises, financial worries, and even unexpected change. Is there any wonder depression is so common?

But common as it might be, depression is a wake-up call to pay attention. What is the deeper meaning depression brings? What have we not been addressing within ourselves? Depression asks us to listen to its subtle messages so we can gain understanding and wisdom. We, as a culture, have been satisfied with avoiding deeper meaning. We seem determined to skim the surface, taking a pill whenever we don’t feel quite right. But when we act with courage to look within and alter habitual beliefs and thoughts, life expands and takes on new meaning.

There are many ways to be vital, strong, positive, hopeful, and joyous. Journaling and exercise, meditation, visualization, energy healing, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, going out in nature, proper nutrition, the use of mood-lifting essential oils, becoming more fully your authentic self, shifting your thoughts toward the positive, releasing the energies and expectations of others (often done through methods that access your unconscious mind such as energy work, hypnosis, biofeedback, or even simple visualization) ~ each of these can help you manage dark places.

Never allow yourself to despair for long. It’s okay to allow some blue moods, but if they stretch out for weeks, commit to getting assistance to help you through. There is hope and the journey is not that long.

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