We all have our own view of the ideal life, the one that writer Elizabeth Murray calls a life in "full bloom"—a life that's good, meaningful, and full of creativity and compassion for others. To achieve that life, she writes in her new book Living Life in Full Bloom, you have to foster and develop the qualities of four distinct personality characteristics that each one of us harbors deep within: the gardener, who nurtures and observes; the artist, who uses creativity to discover new possibilities; the lover, who is guided by her heart and passions; and the spirit-weaver, who expresses gratitude and recognizes blessings.
The following selections from Murray's book show you a few ways that you can tap into each of those personalities so you can "define the purpose of your busy life, figure out who you really are, and unearth your passions and gifts," she writes.
Breathing as a relaxation technique is an ancient practice and can be used at any time to increase your vitality and happiness.
Head outside to a garden terrace, porch, park, or wild area. Sit directly on the ground or lean against a tree with your bare feet planted firmly on the Earth. Take even breaths, in and out. Enjoy your breath and be aware of the pleasure of being in Nature. As you breathe, consider how you share the same air with the weather, the coolness or warmth, the breeze, and the sun. Which scents does the air carry? Can you smell the current season? Can you feel the season with your cheeks? Can you hear the season? As you breathe, bring an awareness of the garden into your body. Slow down your thoughts, inhale with a mindful focus, and feel the union of your body with the natural world.
Choose a day to awaken before dawn and be ready to greet the day's first light.
Rise before dawn. Light a candle to guide your way outside or to a large window. Admire the soft colors as they appear on the horizon. Let the dawn light inspire you. Appreciate this new day as a gift like no other. Choose to embrace it with intention and mindfulness. What would you like to dedicate this day to—a loved one, an action you want to take, or an opportunity to express peace, love, courage, clarity? Gather your dreams and consider what they say about your aspirations for your inner personal garden and the garden you share with the world.
Blessings on the meal!
Buy your food from local organic growers and producers, and strive to grow food in your own garden. Invite friends over to cook. Search out new and different recipes—ethnic foods connect us to the people of the world and the global dining table! Eat entirely vegetarian meals at least once a week for health of body and Earth. And before you eat, express gratitude for the food by blessing the growers, the elements, and the cooks. I like to hold hands with my guests and bless our meal together. Conscious food consumption—eating with purpose and gratitude—helps to develop new, more healthful eating patterns and to increase the appreciation you have for the abundance in your life.
As cosmologist Brian Swimme tells us, we are all made from stardust.
Go outside to the darkest place you can find and lay down under the night sky. Become aware of a living, expanding cosmos and our connection in present time and deep time—the multimillion-year time frame within which scientists believe Earth has existed. If you can see thousands of specks of light, put your hand up: The space of one fingernail will cover up one million galaxies. Think of the implications! You can't help but be in awe of the vastness of the night sky, reflect on the interconnectedness of life, and allow yourself to hold deep reverence for Earth.
Because of salmon-rich rivers, gigantic forests growing on the edge of bountiful seas, and a profuse plant life of berries, food, and medicine, the native people of the Pacific Northwest had time to develop rich animistic mythologies and art forms reflecting that abundance.
Reflect on the native cultural value that status comes from what you give away, not how much you possess. Sort through your material abundances for things you can share or give away. Make donating food (whether garden riches or groceries) a goal each month. Plan a garden celebration to share your harvest and gratitude with your friends and community, lifting up the bounty with music. Your generosity will generate abundance.
My journals are bulging with inspirational ideas, sketches from places I visit, visions I have collaged from magazine photos, childlike messages scrawled with my nondominant hand from my intuition, and more.
Use pages in your artist's journal for your own writings, reflections, and sketches. Cut out photos of yourself and add them, as a collage, into landscapes or paintings you love—then glue inspiring words and sentences over the photos and paintings. Piece together affirmations made from cutout letters and words. Work with spontaneity and intuition and be open to surprises as you gather together your life, dreams, and goals. As you add to your journal over the next few months or year, you'll be amazed by your insights and how many of your goals are realized.
As adults, we often have less confidence in, and are more judgmental about, our art. But when you let go of that, it's so fun to simply make marks on paper.
Try a walking-meditation drawing: In your artist's journal or on a pad of paper, walk slowly in your garden, home, or other place you enjoy. As you walk, draw what you see—daisies, a tree trunk, the curve of some clouds, some distant hills. You'll get little sketch vignettes, and nothing will be finished. Your practice is really about deep observation, seeing what is in front of you, and drawing in the moment without a filter. And it's fun.
I first fell in love with photography at twelve years old when Uncle Fenton handed me a medium-format view camera from Japan to photograph his party.
Photography can be used as a chronicle of your life journey as well as a meditative tool. Try taking at least one photograph a day for a month or even a year—whether it's your garden or objects in your home that you love. Explore with a new eye, seeing as if for the first time. Experiment with different perspectives. Perch on a high vantage point, taking in the whole for a sense of place, then take in the details with some close-up vignettes. Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning "good eye." It has inspired a whole approach to contemplative photography to capture the essence of what you see when you are present. Photography can be a spiritual experience—as well as visual communication. You can share with friends online and print your best images for notecards or for the wall.
The artist is a risk taker.
Self-doubt often comes from fear of failure or fear of looking foolish. Try to notice what ignites your own lack of confidence, and write a specific positive verse, affirmation, prayer, or gatha (meditative verse) to return to your creative center and help you overcome confusion and self-doubt. Then make a list of some things you would like to learn or do creatively that you have never done before. Pick one and begin with experimentation, a class, a workshop—or ask a friend to teach you. Sometimes all you need is to begin.
To live on purpose means bringing your unique contributions to the world as a meaningful offering of service to something greater than yourself.
In your journal, list all your gifts and talents, from languages you speak to parenting skills. Don't be modest! These are your assets. Then list what breaks your heart: children in need, climate change, illiteracy, animal rights, health inequality, civil unrest, inadequate elder care—the list could go on and on. Consider how you could contribute to changing that. This is your compass and fuel for action and gratification. Anything on these lists may reveal one of your purposes.
Since time began, people have had close relationships with animals: in the wild as a food source or threat, as a spirit totem connecting us to other higher domains, as allies, as domesticated work animals, or as companions and pets.
Perhaps you are fortunate to have a pet. If so, find ways to spend more time playing and learning from one another. Try to listen to what your pet is communicating to you. If you don't have a pet, visit an animal shelter to see if you might want to volunteer. Or develop a relationship with a friend's pet. If you're able, try to observe animals in the wild and celebrate their diversity and interconnection.
Spending time with elders can be a great gift not only to them but to yourself.
Sit and talk with an elder, whether a family member, neighbor, or someone else you know. Slow your pace, share some tea, listen with an open heart, and practice kindness and compassion. Ask questions, be patient, and keep your humor. You may be surprised to learn their life story—a story of hardship, privilege, risk, or reward—and you may be overwhelmed to find how rich a life they've led and how much wisdom they hold. Seek out more than one person advanced in years. If you are lucky, you just may end up with a dear friend and a role model for how you'll want to be as you age.
Research shows that acts of kindness not only benefit the person who receives the kindness but also release endorphins responsible for feelings of contentment in the person offering the kindness.
A simple daily act of kindness for yourself, for someone else, or for Nature will do wonders for your mood. Can you commit to thirty days of kindness? For yourself, set aside time in silence to affirm your life's path, to recognize your courage in trying something new, or to acknowledge being just the way you are. Forgive a mistake. Take time to walk outside and notice beauty, or just rest in a peaceful spot. For others, find small, simple ways to offer love, support, and encouragement with notes, calls, sharing food, doing a chore, or bringing flowers. For Nature, invite in wildlife with garden plants and birdseed, or give to causes and charities that work to restore habitat and diversity.
Listening with an open heart and without agenda is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone.
Invite a friend or family member to go for a walk or for tea. Ask how that person is doing— and be present for the answer. With sincere open questions, encourage them to share more deeply. Or make a phone call to a good friend: Sometimes it's when speaking on the phone that we get the chance to really listen. When someone is lonely, sad, or trying to make a big decision, it is a gift to track and remember what is being shared so you can be a clear mirror for them.
I think about forgiveness when I'm watering the garden and suddenly little or no water comes out because there's a kink in the hose.
Is there a situation or person in your life you have not forgiven? Are you carrying resentment about something within yourself? Take this opportunity to be completely honest. Write down on a piece of paper: "I don't forgive because____." Reflect on how long you have been living with anger, resentment, or negative judgment, and think about how it makes you feel. Write three benefits for holding on to the resentment exactly as you're carrying it. Maybe it's outrage or disappointment, or maybe it seems easier than dealing with the situation directly.
Blessings are like golden threads that reweave your tattered soul and connect you to the gifts all around.
Keep a blessings journal—page after page of blessings you've experienced or offered over many years. Some years, you'll fill pages; other years, you may not feel as blessed, but it will increase your awareness of the smallest blessing—enough rain, a year of good health, a freezer full of home-made soup. Begin to compose your own blessing for the day, a loved one, or a special event. Offer it to your family and community. My favorite inspiration is John O'Donohue's book To Bless the Space Between Us.
We all want to be happy and in a state of joy and well-being.
Make your own map to joy: Write the word happiness in the middle of a large piece of paper. Write what and who makes you happy and why, branching out from the center. List people, places, creative activities, food, spirituality, music, beauty, holding a baby or an animal, reading poetry, attending a funny film, or exercise. How do these things connect? Keep coming back to your map and add to it with insights, a collage, or drawings. Naming your happiness can be as much a spiritual practice as an insight into your lived values, like taking an environmental inventory of your life.
Meditation is a time to simply let go of thoughts and focus your awareness.
Begin a simple practice of daily meditation or prayer. Sit still in a comfortable place, close your eyes, take notice of your breath, and bring your thoughts into your body. You might imagine a rosebud opening, petal by petal, into full bloom; this is who you are right now. Offer a prayer above you, behind you, below you, and all around you. Feel it go into your heart and carry it with you throughout your day.
Traditionally, the Sabbath is a day of rest, a time to reconnect to the sacred in your life and give thanks.
Choose a day for your own Sabbath to rest and connect to beauty and your own spirit. You might choose an hour each day or a few minutes throughout your day for a Sabbath. I have friends who set bells on their computer or phone to randomly go off so they will stop and breathe consciously. Take a nap or sleep in; it's the best and simplest thing you can do for your health! Find your own joie de vivre. Choose a staycation, enjoying your home and community. Maybe you'll take a break from a consumer- based culture, choosing a simpler life or moving toward a life that's more sacred.
Simplicity means being natural and easy to understand.
When has simplicity enriched you? Where are places in your own life you could simplify and gain more time and space? Whether it's your schedule, your closet, your desk, or how you cook or garden, it can probably be simplified to gain more time, beauty, or relaxation. Even cleaning out a drawer can bring clarity and simplicity. Look at the video The Story of Stuff on YouTube and the Web site www.storyofstuff .orgfor more insights. Practice saying, "What I have is enough!"
Vocation comes from vocare—"to call," to hear your calling, your life's work, your soul purpose on Earth.
In your journal, reflect on your life as if from your deathbed. What are you happiest about? What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments? Who have you loved and who has loved you? Are there any regrets? Is there anything missing you wish you could have done? What do you want to be remembered for? Write that down and reflect on it. A life review is an ancient way to get to the core of your life while you are healthy, like a good gardener reflects on which seeds to water and which to weed. Take steps toward finding and following your calling.
Get more inspirational tips on how to cultivate your inner gardener, artist, lover and spirit-weaver in Elizabeth Murray's beautiful road map to a better life! Order it today from your favorite retailer:
• Rodale Store
• Barnes & Noble