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11 Feb

Crafting the Perfect Love Letter

By: Dalma Heyn & Richard Marek, authors of How to Fall in Love

 

Let me tell you a story of a botched attempt at crafting love letters.

The hero of How to Fall in Love : A Novel is a master of love letters—of reading, collecting appreciating them.  He is putting together a retrospective of one of the greatest love-letter anthologists of all time, and in doing so, reads history’s most elegant and familiar love letters, from those of James Joyce to those of Napoleon.  But, knowledgeable as he is, when it comes time for him to write a love letter to his own beloved, Eve, he caves. He can’t do it. Here he is, surrounded by the world’s most brilliant love letters, and he feels as if his own words will sound silly and empty and banal.  So he “borrows” those of the greats instead of speaking in his own voice, admittedly a rather tongue-tied voice, and pretends they’re his own.

Of course that can’t work! He’s plagiarizing, for one thing. For another, he’s broken the only one rule there is in love-letter writing, and that’s SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART.  You can’t copy another’s love letters. You can’t steal others’ expressions of love.  You can’t even mimic them. A love letter is nothing else if not a genuine, heartfelt, authentic, idiosyncratic articulation of your own very personal, very specific feelings for the unique object of your love. It’s your rhythm; your humor; your way of relating.

Other than being as specific as you can about your feelings and making sure you’re writing something pure and not loaded or hiding another agenda (a love letter must have no agenda other than to express your bursting feelings), there are no rules of craft. Unlike the business letter, with its carefully presented details and rigid format; or the letter of apology, with its crucially important elements of regret for bad behavior and desire to make it up to the offended person; the love letter is a completely wild and lawless entity. It can be on scrap paper. It can be written with lipstick on a mirror.  Nothing is limited to procedure, per se,  in the love letter—neither format nor grammar nor substance, even.  Only that the lover express with clarity and imagination precisely what’s in the writer’s heart, and do so, it is hoped, in a way that the beloved is touched, moved, charmed, amused.  It’s a work of art, the love letter. Not replicable. It can’t be duplicated because only the writer feels the specific feelings and he can’t feel that way about anybody else or express himself to anyone else in this form. How personal that fact is! So his goal is to convey, maybe with some wit and imagination, that which will strike the beloved as real and true and specific to her. Specificity is key:  you’re after connection, after all, and to connect well, your emotions must resonate with your lover.  And only you know how that can be done. Because after all, only you know her this well. It’s your love  and your love alone that has broken through to her. You have a pipeline to her heart , as she has to yours.

If there are any “rules” at all, they’re rules of forethought. You’re bursting with the need to express your feelings—but is this a good moment? Is your lover so occupied with other things that to present a letter now is just  bad timing– and inflicting on her your deepest feelings is going to feel more like a burden than a joy? Are you writing a letter at a time you’re bound to get hurt, or be cast aside—because of external events? Think carefully about timing.  And, are you able to put yourself  aside enough to speak only of appreciation and the miracle of love—and not, instead, itemize all the ways you’re being boosted by love?  (A letter that says, in effect, I love you because you do this and this for me and without you I’d never have accomplished this and this and this…is an eloquent thank-you note.  But a love letter it isn’t.)

A love letter is generous. It’s specific. It’s unafraid. It’s in your voice. It’s about the beloved and only the beloved. It’s a bare-your-soul expression that only you can write—so write it when you feel emotions well up in your heart along with the glorious urge to express them.

***

IS YOUR LOVE LETTER SWOON-WORTHY ENOUGH TO WIN A TIFFANY RING?

New York Times Best-Selling Authors Share Tips to Win

The 2019 Love Letter Contest

In the era of online dating, Cupid’s age-old trappings like hand-written love notes have fallen by the wayside. But this timeless display of affection will never go out of style. Given the rarity, a love letter could be just what you need to win over that crush, rekindle the romance, or even show your squad-love for Galentine’s Day. When was the last time you told someone you loved how you really felt?  Where do you even begin?

Luckily, expert writers Dalma Heyn and Richard Marek have your back.

This husband and wife team of New York Times best-selling authors are sharing insight and advice to communicating love in the digital age.  

Whether it’s platonic or romantic, Heyn and Marek will show your audience secrets to crafting the perfect love letter, the three things every lover note must have, and the complexity of communicating love in the age of Tinder. They also have examples of hilarious “worst ever” letters that encourage the audience to respond with their own “worst evers.”

ABOUT THE 2019 LOVE LETTER CONTEST:

To celebrate the release on Feb 5 of their new book, How to Fall in Love, Heyn and Marek are on a nationwide search to find the perfect love letter. The 2019 Love Letter Contest runs until April 30, it is totally free to enter, and the winner will be announced on May 15.

The winner will receive:

  • A rose-gold Tiffany Paloma Picasso Love Ring  (valued at $500).
  • A framed, gorgeously hand-written copy of their letter.
  • Your winning letter shared (if the winner chooses) with our entire social network.

Participating is easy. All you need to do is:

  1. Bare your soul in writing (okay, that part might not be all that easy).
  2. Send your love letter to us at thestoryplant@thestoryplant.com.
  3. That’s it! (You might, of course, want to share the love letter with the person you were writing it to, but that’s entirely up to you.)

To see the complete set of contest rules, click HERE.

 

ABOUT AUTHORS DALMA HEYN & RICHARD MAREK:

Husband and wife team Dalma Heyn and Richard Marek are the authors of  How to Fall in Love , a provocative love story for the digital age. Heyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller The Erotic Silence of the American Wife, Marriage Shock and Drama Kings.  Her books, published in 35 countries, have been best-sellers both here and abroad. Richard Marek is one of the most accomplished book editors and publishers of his generation, working with writers James Baldwin, Thomas Harris, and Robert Ludlum, among many others. He is the author of Works of Genius and has ghostwritten a number of best-sellers.

 

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04 Feb

Ancient Secrets of Seduction

“Tantra” means “instrument of the body.” It sounds exotic, but it is actually very simple. Tantra teaches us to use all five of our senses consciously, because our senses are how we are connected with the physical world. And of course, it is with our five senses that we connect with each other, too. If you’re looking to up the romance quotient in your relationship, here are a few tips from ancient India. And for good measure, let’s use the romantic rose in each example. Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red signifies desire!

Touch (“Sparsa” in Sanskrit)

The skin marks the visible limits of the body; it is where we make contact with the world. Our skin is our largest organ, and 16% of our body weight. With touch we experience much of our environment: temperature, clothes, sheets, shower, etc. Wake up the sense of touch with massage. Use different materials and textures, such as a feather, a velvet hat, baby powder, a silk scarf, or rose petals. Infuse sesame oil, or unscented body lotion with rose petals, or rose essential oil for a wonderful massage oil.

Smell (“Gandha” in Sanskrit)

Women are particularly sensitive to smells. Our pheromones are the scents that we give off without even realizing it. These pheromones train us to recognize and desire our partners. When people stop smoking, they are amazed by how much they rediscover their sense of smell. Studies have shown that the loss of the olfactory sense is often accompanied by a loss in sexual interest, so it is a good idea to keep our noses functioning optimally! Fragrances have quite an allure to them. Roses just smell like romance. Use rose-scented candles, and sprinkle rose petals in the bathtub. Shower together with rose-scented shower gel.

Taste (“Rasa” in Sanskrit)

Is it any wonder that we say we have a certain “taste” in partners? The tongue is super-sensitive. By blocking out the other senses, by closing your eyes for example, you can focus on the taste more fully. Love is sweet — there’s a reason why we call each other honey and sweetie and cupcake! Savor and delight in the tastes and textures of various foods and drinks: whipped cream, chocolate, a strawberry — and, yes, rose! Sweet rose tea is made for romance! It smells wonderful and tastes divine — and it is the perfect way to end a romantic meal. Tulsi Rose Tea has the added benefit of helping you to relax, and de-stress…to get you in the mood for romance! It is easy to make your own blend of rose tea with dried rose petals, or dried rosebuds, steeped in hot water.

Sound (“Sabda” in Sanskrit)

Sounds have a profound effect on the body. Studies have shown that sounds can open up our inner pharmacy and balance our physiology. They can help us to be healthier, and to generally feel better. What sound do roses make? They’re silent. Sweet and soft. Whisper sweet nothings to your loved one. Play soft, sweet music. Dance with the rose between your teeth, let your body move to the rhythm, breathe gently into your partner’s ear.

Sight (“Rupa” in Sanskrit)

For romance, it’s all about lighting. Think pink — use rose-colored light bulbs, so you naturally see things more rosy! Dine by candlelight. Spread rose petals on the table. Make a trail of rose petals that leads to a surprise. Do a few Bollywood shimmies, put on a show. Look into each other’s eyes until you get lost. Feel the intense connection that you create.

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21 Jan

Better Sleep Can Warm Up A Relationship

For couples having trouble under the sheets, improving their relationship could be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

Catching extra winks together in bed can significantly help improve a relationship. A good night’s sleep is restorative to the mind and body, gives us energy and improves our mood—all attributes that can make us better partners in romantic relationships. On the other hand, a poor night’s sleep —often the result of a couple’s mismatched sleep styles— can be a major problem for a relationship.

Many couples can live happily together, but they can’t sleep well side-by-side, which can negatively impact their relationship. Sleeping together is an important way for couples to feel connected with each other. And not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling sluggish, cranky and hard to get along with.

If your partner’s sleep style is keeping you up at night here are some tips to bring harmony back to the bedroom and into your relationship:

1.
Problem: Your partner kicks in his or her sleep, waking you up.
Solution: Make sure your bed gives each sleeper enough sleep surface to move around comfortably. For couples sharing a bed, the mattress should be at least queen-sized.

2.
Problem: Your partner likes it hot, you like it cool.
Solution: Ideally, your bedroom should be a cool 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. But a few simple adjustments can make it possible for a person who craves heat and a person who craves cool to sleep side by side comfortably.
• Double-fold the blankets so there is more coverage on one side.
• Invest in a dual-control electric blanket or a twin-sized electric blanket on one side.

3.
Problem: Your partner snores, keeping you up at night.
Solution: Snoring can be a serious health concern, so make sure to consult your physician. If your partner’s snoring is not a serious health condition, try alternative treatments like investing in anti-snore pillows, sprays or nasal strips that are designed to help people breathe more easily.

4.
Problem: Your partner tosses and turns.
Solution: It may be your mattress. Mattresses should be evaluated for optimum comfort and support every five to seven years.

5.
Problem: Your partner loves to cuddle, but you like your space while you sleep.
Solution: Compromise. Before falling asleep, spend some time snuggling together and then agree to sleep apart.

6.
Problem: Your sleep schedules don’t match.
Solution: Try finding a bedtime that works for both of you. Be considerate if you are a night owl or an early riser compared to your sleep partner. Keep overhead lights off and use minimal lighting while you are awake and your partner is asleep.

A bad night’s sleep affects your mood, work and relationships with others. Sleep, like proper diet and exercise, is essential to overall well-being.

More sleep tips at BetterSleep.org

Sleep Tips video

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14 Jan

More Birthdays: A Reason to Celebrate!

Recent survey results released by the American Cancer Society reinforce, once again, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and the findings are definitely cause for celebration. The online survey, which showed a strong link between health and attitudes about birthdays, revealed that people who say they are in excellent health are more likely to consider birthdays special and exciting events.

In addition, the survey found that people who say they are in excellent health are nearly twice as likely to love celebrating birthdays, generally consider them fun and feel more special on their birthday than people who say they are in poor health.

Clearly, these results are another reminder about the benefits of leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Not only will you look and feel great, but you’ll also be a brilliant birthday party guest!

The results are part of the Society’s Official Sponsor of Birthdays campaign, which asks people to imagine a world with more birthdays. More birthdays mean more time with our friends and family, and more opportunities to celebrate the important milestones in their lives.

A big part of the American Cancer Society’s effort to create more birthdays is helping people stay well by making healthy choices in their daily lives. Whether you’re planning a party for a child, an adult, or yourself, there are fun and creative ways to make your celebration one that will help create more birthdays for years to come.

Get Active.
To get your guests moving, pick an action-oriented theme for your birthday celebration — pool parties, soccer games, dance parties, or scavenger hunts are great fun for kids and grown-ups alike. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition!

Be Prepared.
If you’re hosting an outdoor party, have sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and extra hats on hand for guests who might have forgotten them. If you’re hosting your celebration indoors, find a smoke-free restaurant or venue or have it at your house and remind guests that cigarettes aren’t welcome.

Stay Food-Smart.
We know birthdays are about celebrating, but you can have your cake and stay healthy, too. There are plenty of healthy and delicious foods you can choose to share with your guests. Consider serving low-fat snacks like popcorn, pretzels, and baked chips and salsa and healthy meal options like grilled chicken or shrimp skewers. You can bake healthier, too, by making your birthday cake from scratch so you can control the ingredients and make smart substitutions like swapping butter for applesauce.

Give the gift of more birthdays.
Joining the movement to create a world with more birthdays isn’t limited to your own special celebration. By giving birthday gifts to friends and loved ones throughout the year with health and wellness in mind, you can help the people you care about look forward to more candles to light. Here are some creative gift ideas to help people stay well:

For cooks or want-to-be cooks
:
Package flavored oils and vinegars in a large bowl made for salads.
Create a basket filled with healthy cooking utensils such as an apple corer, zester, lemon/lime juicer, garlic crusher, ginger, and nutmeg graters.
For the portion size conscious cook (and eater), consider giving a food scale, measuring cups, and/or attractive measuring spoons.

For foodies:
Create a basket with cheese, crackers, and fresh fruit, with perhaps a decorative cheese spreader.
Package dried fruits and nuts in a unique serving dish with pretty cocktail napkins.
Collect your favorite healthy recipes and give them in a recipe journal so they can also record their own.
Give a cooking class gift certificate.
Give a subscription to a favorite healthy cooking magazine.
Give a gift certificate to your favorite local healthy restaurant.

For those wanting to be more active
:
Give a gift certificate to a local athletic shoe and apparel store.
Include a step counter/pedometer with an mp3 player.
Package a jump rope, exercise band, set of hand weights, and/or workout ball for an all around healthy workout.
Make coupons for babysitting so your friend can work out while you watch the kids.
Make workout buddy coupons and commit to get up three days a week to walk before work with your friend, if that’s what she wants to do.
Give a gift certificate for a tennis lesson, packaged with a water bottle and flashy colored tennis balls.
Give a gift certificate for a golf lesson, with a book on the best public courses to play (and encourage your golfing buddy to join the USGA Walking Member Program).
Give a gift subscription to a favorite health magazine such as Fitness, Runners World, Walking, Golf Digest, Bicycling, etc.
Give an exercise mat and workout tapes or CDs for home use.
Volleyball net and ball.
Badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.
A yearly pass to a local or national park.
Croquet set.
Baby jogger.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the American Cancer Society, eleven million cancer survivors will mark their birthdays this year. What’s not to celebrate about that?

To join me and the Society in the movement for more birthdays, visit www.morebirthdays.com.

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07 Jan

Time Well Spent: Volunteering in the Foster Care System

Time is a commodity. It’s been compared with money. We only have so much of it in this lifetime, so time is precious. And how we spend our time says a lot about what is important to us. Recently I’ve had a big change in where I’ve been finding my time spent – and it has surprised me, in many wonderful ways.

 

I’ve done the career thing, a couple of times over in a couple of different incarnations. And I’ve done the mom thing — wholeheartedly: from carpools and karate, to homework and heartache and everything in between. And all along the way I’ve been involved with some kind of service. But it was always secondary to the job, or the kids, because there is only so much time to go around, especially for a working mom.

 

When my boys left for college I found myself with time on my hands. This is something that hasn’t happened since I gave birth. Yes, I’ve still got work, but a person can only sit in front of a computer for so many hours a day without going crazy! I decided to volunteer at a group foster home.

 

The process for this is quite extensive. I had to go through security clearance, including fingerprinting and a TB test. And I also had to go through training. It took a couple of months for all the paperwork to go through, but now I’m officially a volunteer. And I love it!

 

In the past, when I’ve volunteered it was all about making gift baskets for silent auctions, going to lunch meetings, and selling raffle tickets to raise money for the organization. I wanted to contribute in a different way, to actually work with the kids. In one of my work incarnations I was a modeling school teacher, so I have experience working with teen girls. This population is the most “at-risk” in the foster care world and I felt it was a place where I could make some sort of a difference. At this particular foster home, there are 14 teen girls who live on campus.

 

A group foster home is often the last stop for kids. At this point they have nowhere else to go. Most of them are there through no fault of their own. If they have parents, their parents are abusive, addicted to drugs, or in jail. Or they are simply unable to cope with the difficulties that their child is going through. Most of the kids are SED, or severely emotionally disturbed. This foster home has family outreach, and things like parenting classes, with the goal of bringing the family back together again. But the reality is that just about 3% of the kids who arrive at group homes eventually return to a healthy family situation.

 

I waltzed in to the girls cottage thinking this was going to be fun, that the girls would be happy to see me, and that we’d have tea parties and book clubs. I quickly learned to not have any expectations, or any particular plans, and to just be present for whatever needs they had at the moment. One of the staff members told me that these kids are like porcupines. They are withdrawn, and suspicious, and have their spikes up to protect themselves. You need to approach cautiously, and gently. And when a porcupine throws out a spike, you can’t be surprised, or angry, because it’s just the nature of the animal. With everything these kids have been through in their young lives, it is completely understandable for them to be on guard.

 

Where we started to bond was in the kitchen. These girls need their spirits to be fed, and sometimes the best way to do that is by starting with their stomachs. Group homes aren’t known for their gourmet cuisine, and the weekend dinners are the most dreaded of all the meals. By cooking together, good wholesome meals with lots of fresh vegetables, we were able to fill up the cottage with yummy smells that made the place feel much more like a home than an institution. While cooking we can talk amongst the activity, so there are no awkward pauses. And we have a mutual goal that we accomplish together, something tangible to both serve and enjoy in a delicious meal.

 

I’ve been going up there every Sunday to make dinner with the girls. And I find that during the week, I miss them, so I’m up there at least a couple of times in the afternoons just to hang out, help them with their projects, and generally be available. I’ve given them books, and DVDs, and I bring fresh fruit for after school snacks. But what they really appreciate, more than anything, is my time. It’s just the being there that really makes a difference. And as time goes on, I’m discovering that more and more, this is where I am choosing to spend my time. Vedic philosophy says that the three most important things we can give our children are attention, affection, and time. The children in the foster care system are starved for all three. And this is something that any of us can provide without spending a dime.

 

As I learn more about how everything works with foster care, I’m finding more ways that those of us who want to help can really make a difference.

 

Right now there are more than 780,000 children in the United States who are in the foster care system because they are unable to live safely at home. Most of these children are there through no fault of their own, but because their parents can’t, or won’t, take care of them. The children often have difficulty trusting people, and making lasting relationships because so many strangers come in and out of their lives: police officers, lawyers, judges, therapists, social workers, and foster parents. If they are placed in a group home, there is also several different staff throughout the week to watch over the kids. They can be moved from home to home, and school to school, with little or no notice. It can be daunting, and even scary for a child.

 

Thankfully, there is a volunteer organization called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to look out for specific children in the overburdened legal and social service system. These volunteers make sure that the children’s needs are being met, that they aren’t getting lost in the system, or languishing in a group or foster home that is not appropriate for them. The CASA stays with the child until the case is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Because foster kids move around so much, many times the CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence, the one adult they can count on to care for them, and advocate for them. The CASA volunteer really gives the child a voice, by speaking on the child’s behalf in the courtroom and in team meetings so that the needs of the child are addressed and met.

 

If you have some time to spend, and you want to make a lifelong difference for a child who really needs your help, consider volunteering in a foster home. Or even better, consider becoming a CASA. Last year, more than 68,000 CASA volunteers served more than 240,000 abused and neglected children through 1,018 program offices. CASA volunteers have helped more than two million children since the program was established in 1977. Currently there are not enough CASA volunteers to go around. Statistics show that children with a CASA volunteer are far more likely to find the services and resources they need and go on to lead successful and productive lives. Now can’t we all consider that to be time well spent?

For more information, visit the CASA website: nationalcasa.org

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18 Dec

A Grateful Generous Heart

An excerpt from The Jewel of Abundance by Ellen Grace O’Brian

Although millions of Westerners practice yoga simply for its health benefits, the philosophy and wisdom behind the multifaceted discipline have far more to offer. In The Jewel of Abundance: Finding Prosperity through the Ancient Wisdom of Yoga, award-winning author and Kriya Yoga teacher Ellen Grace O’Brian reveals an overlooked aspect of yoga: its powerful teachings on prosperity. She draws upon the ancient Vedic tradition of yoga philosophy and practice and shows how spirituality and earthly success can complement each other, leading to realization of the higher Self. O’Brian presents a clear explanation of both the philosophy of yoga and the nuts and bolts of practice, such as setting up a daily meditation routine, incorporating mantras, discerning how to cooperate with universal principles for complete well-being, and cultivating mindfulness in action. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

# # #

A grateful heart is a magnet that draws to us what is harmonious and good. This idea is reflected in a playful metaphysical adage: not, “We see things as they are,” but, “We see things as we are.” In other words, our state of mind and consciousness color our perception and determine how we see and experience things. Taken a step further, this dynamic explains how we also then draw to us what corresponds with our consciousness. When our hearts are grateful, when we approach others and life itself with gratitude for all that is given, we generally reap more of the same. The opposite is true as well. When we’re down and depressed and can’t see much good anywhere — that experience will tend to compound itself.

Life in the manifest realm is mixed — light and dark, hot and cold, day and night, up and down, fast and slow, and so on it goes. But beyond all duality and changing phenomena is the unchanging Absolute Reality that we can know as good, as whole and completely supportive of its divine purpose. Isn’t it better for us to call forth the good in every situation? To call it forth in every moment? We can do this through training our mind to extract what is good, what is praiseworthy or useful, and gratitude is one way to do that. Simply look deeply into any relationship, or any situation, and ask what there is to be grateful for. There is always something. When we find it, and call it forth, our heart opens and we become more receptive to the presence of divine grace at hand.

Which comes first, gratitude or grace? They seem to arise together. Gratitude is our natural response to the gift of grace, and gratitude itself opens us to the awareness of ever-present divine support. When we work hard toward something and accomplish it, or desire something and attain it, we generally feel good, and along with that we feel some relief — a kind of “job well done!” out-breath. A very different feeling arises when we become aware of the powerful presence of divine grace that has allowed us to experience more than we ever could have without divine support. On those occasions, we feel something else. We feel awe. We are amazed, inspired, and yes, grateful.

The distinction between relief and awe is a good indicator. It gives us a glimpse into how expansive our life is, how awesome it is or can be.

 

Gratitude Practice

Gratitude stretches us to be bigger, to expand our consciousness, to open our hearts and our minds more fully. When we begin the practice of cultivating gratitude, we often notice that it’s generally easier to feel grateful for what we like, for what we want or find pleasant. It’s more difficult to experience gratitude when what comes our way is unwanted.

I once worked with a woman who had an amazing gratitude practice. It was so pervasive that it was contagious. I found myself feeling grateful for her because her grateful attitude made our encounters so pleasant. Her responses frequently surprised me and helped me to expand my perspective. This was her practice: Whatever I offered her, she responded with a genuine “Thank you!” Her response was always the same. If I offered her my praise and gratitude for something she did well, she would thank me. If I let her know that she had made a mistake or that something was not done well or right, her response was still “Thank you!” This was the key that made this practice so effective. She was truly grateful, her words accompanied by a genuine smile. She never gave one of those “thank you” nods accompanied by a smirk. How did she do that? I never asked her, but my guess is that she was a natural at cultivating spiritual awakening through selfless service. She did what she did as an offering, as her way of worship. She was grateful when it went well, and she was grateful when it did not because that gave her an opportunity to learn.

Being able to say “thank you” to what comes, both pleasant and unpleasant, is unconditional gratitude. “Thank you” can be said aloud when appropriate, or silently as a prayer, but let’s say it! We can practice offering gratitude for something or someone that has pleased us and for something or someone that has not. The first is easy. The second, not so easy. It becomes easier as we hold that whatever comes into our life and experience always brings an opportunity for us. What will we do with that opportunity? When we meet it with gratitude, our potential to prosper and grow in love is multiplied.

# # #

 

Ellen Grace O’Brian is the author of The Jewel of Abundance and director of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment in San Jose, CA. Ellen is a yogacharya (an esteemed yoga teacher), a radio host, and an award-winning poet who weaves poetry into her teachings on spiritual matters, pointing to the mystical experience beyond words and thought. Ordained by a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, she has been teaching Kriya Yoga philosophy and practice nationally and internationally for over three decades. Visit her online at www.ellengraceobrian.com.

 

Excerpted from the book The Jewel of Abundance: Finding Prosperity through the Ancient Wisdom of Yoga. Copyright ©2018 by Ellen Grace O’Brian. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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17 Dec

Heal Yourself with Ayurveda: The Science of Life

Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year old “Science of Life.” It is the art of living in harmony with nature, and it explains the nature of everything in the universe. When we learn about Ayurveda, we learn about ourselves, how we “tick,” and how we can be our healthiest and happiest at all times.

Ayurveda teaches us to live life in balance. And it helps us to find exactly what that balance is for each one of us. We learn individual strategies for diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Since health is more than the physical, it is also mental, emotional, and spiritual, Ayurveda can be used to help us create and maintain healthy relationships. It can help us to better understand ourselves, and the people in our lives. We can work with our natural strengths to help balance each other out. We can stop trying to “change” others to fit our needs, and instead accept a person’s characteristics as a part of their wholeness, and honor who they are.

Ayurvedic principles can be applied to our work and career, to help us find and live our dharma, or purpose in life. They can help us with our family lives, in parenting, and to help resolve conflicts. Ayurveda is a lifestyle that shows us how to take care of ourselves, in a simple, practical, and loving way.

Ayurveda is a holistic approach to balancing body, mind and spirit. The ayurvedic system divides people into three basic mind-body types, or ‘’doshas’’: vata, pitta and kapha. We each have all three doshas in our physiology, just in different proportions. Your dosha is individual to you, just like a fingerprint. Start by taking the quiz, just 24 quick questions, to determine what your dosha is. This is a general introduction to Ayurveda.

Vata dosha types are known for their lanky frames, picture Keira Knightley, or Adrien Brody. They tend to be pranksters, like Ashton Kutcher, or spontaneous cut-ups like Cameron Diaz and Will Smith.

Pitta dosha types are ambitious and intense, which explains Madonna’s multi-tasking career. And they can be critical, like Simon Cowell. Pittas are also muscular, and make good athletes, like Mia Hamm, and Kobe Bryant.

Kapha dosha types are down-to-earth and easy-going. Think Tom Hanks, and Liv Tyler. Kaphas have beautiful big eyes and lips, like Angelina Jolie, and rich, velvety voices like Placido Domingo and Beyonce.

When you know your dominant dosha you gain insight into how your mind and body naturally operate. Because westerners have embraced the practice of yoga, we are now starting to explore Ayurveda. In India, the practice of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda are intertwined. They are sister-sciences that complement each other. They are synergistic, working better when practiced together.

I started living the Ayurvedic lifestyle while I was researching my first book: “The Healthy Family Handbook: Natural Remedies for Parents and Children.” One of the healing modalities that I explored in the book was Ayurveda, and the more I learned about it, the more it resonated with me. I have studied with Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. David Simon, Dr. Vasant Lad, and many other renown physicians in the field of Ayurveda. And I went to India to learn more about Ayurveda first hand. My book, “What’s Your Dosha, Baby? Discover the Vedic Way for Compatibility in Life and Love” is the first and only book about Ayurveda and relationships. And now I have a brand new 8 week course that I am doing in partnership with Daily Om: “Heal Yourself with Ayurveda.” Throughout the course, which includes text and video, you will learn everything you need to know to get started living an Ayurvedic lifestyle and be on your way to a life of balance and bliss.

For more information, and to sign up for the course: “Heal Yourself with Ayurveda” click here.

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10 Dec

All Children Are Our Children

A study commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed that nearly 40% of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults decided to adopt, all of the 134,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption would have a permanent home.

 

I’ve written before about my experiences volunteering at a local group foster home. It’s actually a residential treatment and crisis care center. While there are many children who live there for varying amounts of time, I have been lucky enough to establish relationships with a handful of them. I love these kids. I feel like they are my children. And in a very real sense, they are mine. And they are yours. They are a part of our community, and they are a part of ourselves.

 

When I first committed to this “job” I agreed to come in for two hours a week, for four weeks. I’m now averaging four hours a day, five days a week, and I just was there for eleven days in a row. I’m well into my sixth month, and I can’t imagine stopping ever. Being a volunteer means that I am not paid, and spending this much time at the place actually costs me lots of money each week. I can’t help but bring fresh fruit and books and things like that. I make the time because this is important. I spend the money because I would rather help these kids than save up to buy a designer purse.

 

More and more we are learning that we live in a global community. We see how much of what happens in other communities, and other countries, has an affect on our own lives. And because of the internet and ease of travel, it’s easier for us to reach out and help children not only in our hometowns, but around the world.

 

I recently met Vivian Glyck, an amazing woman who has made a difference by following her vision. She says that after becoming a mother, she developed “a keen sense that the world is so small, it is really just one community, and I realized that taking care of oneself means heeding one’s calling – without hesitation or deliberation.” Vivian’s calling is helping children in Uganda. Why? Because 25 million Africans, many of whom are children, are infected with the HIV virus. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. 12 million children are already orphaned by AIDS. Vivian travels to Africa and works with children personally, and she says they are “just like my child” which is why she named her organization “Just Like My Child.” The mission is to alleviate the suffering of women, children, and families in rural Uganda by empowering communities to create their own long-term solutions to healthcare, education, and microenterprise. Read more about Vivian’s story at: justlikemychild.org

My friend Lysa Heslov is also helping children with her foundation Children Mending Hearts. Her mission is to give children worldwide the power to find and use their voices through creative expression. This is a global arts exchange between at-risk children in America and children living in conflict zones around the world that educates, empowers and encourages all the participants. People of various cultures connect the different projects, and learn and grow from their experiences with each other. Lysa has traveled to the Congo and worked with children first hand. And now her foundation is traveling around the United States to conduct art workshops. For more information visit: childrenmendinghearts.org

 

My friend Joseph Curiale saw a news story on CNN which compelled him to start a foundation to help orphaned girls in India. Right now there are four girls going to school on scholarships, who would otherwise be living in poverty in a government orphanage. Joe has traveled back and forth to India 12 times to make sure that these children, whom he considers his own, are getting the support, and the love, that they need. Joe is a testament to how one person can make a difference in this world. The work he has done is remarkable. Read more about his story at: josephcurialefoundation.com

 

Through organizations like Plan USA we can sponsor an individual child, and help that child’s family and community as well. Sponsorship helps to provide vaccination and nutrition programs, community water systems and well construction, home and health clinic construction, school and teachers, and so much more. As a sponsor you receive a photo of your child, a family profile to introduce you and provide information about the community, and regular updates on how everyone is doing. You can send letters and small gifts, and you can even visit your child! This sponsored child becomes your ambassador to a place and culture that you might otherwise never know. I began sponsoring Swapna, a little girl in rural India, in 2005. I’ve been able to see her grow and communicate through Plan USA’s field office volunteers. We don’t speak the same language, and the geographical distance is great, but we are connected through our hearts. She is a beautiful child, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to her life in some way. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, visit: planusa.org

All children are children of the world. All children are our children.

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29 Nov

Divorce Is Forever

My friend Sandy and I had had yet another one of our philosophical discussions this weekend. She said, “I have a great title for your next blog: Marriage is Temporary, Divorce is Forever.” Having been divorced myself I can understand her sentiments. Yes, divorce is forever. But now, truly happily married, I’m in the state where I once again feel that marriage is forever, too. Maybe there really is no delineation — maybe it’s that these relationships we get ourselves into go on and on, and it’s just the definition of the relationship that changes. Whether married or divorced, there is this person in our lives that we love — or loved — and through whom we are tied with children, or finances, or history.

As celebrities give us this great illustration with which we can all better understand, let’s explore this theory with a few examples. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore: married, seemingly happily, for enough years to produce three beautiful daughters. They divorce amicably, and no bad blood shows up in the press. She later marries Ashton Kutcher, and Bruce shows his support as the three attend many family occasions and holidays together. One big happy family! And when Bruce remarries, of course they’re all there, too. Very civilized, very mature. So Bruce and Demi, although married to different people now, are still tied to each other through their children, and have managed to maintain a functional relationship.

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt do not share any children, although they shared years of their lives together as husband and wife. Will the press ever let them forget that? I think not! Even as Brad welcomed his 5th and 6th child, twins, with his current partner, Angelina Jolie, tabloids speculated about an Aniston-Pitt reunion. What gives? These people have all clearly moved on, but why can’t we? Is it because Brad and Angie have yet to tie the knot? They are clearly committed — and they certainly are looking to the future as they raise these children together. I think it’s because we want to see that Jennifer is okay. We want her to be happy, and in love, like Brad is. That way it seems more “fair.” But life is not always fair. Life gives us lessons, and sometimes they’re tough ones. We just have to trust that somehow, someway, through some power greater than our own, that it all balances out in the end. Karma? Destiny? Maybe that’s it.

From Sandy’s point of view, her marriage was temporary. She didn’t plan for it to be that way. She went in with the best of intentions, until death do us part. But as it goes, things happen, people change, and plans go awry. So now she’s divorced, which she considers to be permanent. This is the new definition of her relationship with her ex. Can she “wash that man right out of her hair?” No. They have kids together. They had a life together. And now all of that has to be shifted to fit this new paradigm. It can be painful, and certainly stressful. There are unfulfilled expectations. There is grief, fear, and uncertainty. And what can we do about it? Somehow we have to manage. We have to redefine the relationship in such a way that it makes sense to us, and that we are okay with it, taking the good with the bad, however we choose to see that. We have to let go of any anger or resentment because there comes a time when we realize that we are only hurting ourselves with it.

So yes, my first marriage is over. But am I over it? Probably not. I’ve still got these two kids as constant reminders of the years we shared in it. Those years don’t disappear. They are a part of my memory, and my psyche. They helped to shape who I am today. But I still wouldn’t change a thing about it. I know mistakes were made, but those mistakes helped both me and my ex to learn and to grow. I know we are both better off where we are today. I love my life, I love my husband, and I know that I wouldn’t have what I have right now had the divorce not happened. So it’s all good. And I am sure that my ex feels the same way.

Life is full of challenges and full of risks. Marriage is a big risk. Divorce is another. Both take a commitment. It’s a commitment to living life to its fullest, to being true to yourself, to doing what you feel is best, and to honoring the wisdom that you have gained through your experiences.

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14 Nov

No Whining, No Griping, No Complaining: Take the Challenge and Reap the Rewards!

In my CoffeyTalk newsletter this week I put out a challenge for readers to join me in the “Complaint Free World Challenge.” Here’s how it goes:

“Maya Angelou writes: “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Now there’s an organization that is challenging us to go 21 days without a complaint! Can we do it? I’m certainly going to give it a shot. What a great idea! Why 21 days? Scientists believe it takes 21 days to form a new habit and complaining is habitual for many of us. A Complaint Free World has created purple bracelets to help us with this. The idea is that when we catch ourselves complaining, gossiping or criticizing, we move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again. So, it may take much longer than 21 days to get through the experience, but afterward, we’ll find that life is happier, more loving, and more enjoyable. Let’s track our progress on the CoffeyTalk group page on Facebook. Shall we call this Day 1? Game on!”

By taking on this challenge I have become much more mindful of what I say. Which is actually making me more mindful of what I think. I might think of something in a complaining sort of way, but before I express the gripe, I have to re-frame my thinking and find some other way of looking at things so that it doesn’t come out as a complaint. Interesting! What made that annoyance show up in my mind? Why does this bother me, and why do I feel the need to say something about it? Is there something I can do about it, or is acceptance a better approach? How can I communicate effectively to make my needs known without complaining? Of course all of these thoughts take place in a microsecond!

Maybe that’s the whole point behind this exercise. After all, this is not a new concept. Emmett Fox advocated a complaining fast in his “The Seven Day Mental Diet” booklet in 1935.
When we can change our thinking, we can change our life. And this is one very practical tool we can use to do just that.

In a perfect world, a no-complaining challenge would not be necessary. But then of course, we all have a different definition of perfect. These little annoyances and irritations are ways that we learn and grow. If we were comfortable all the time there would be no reason and no desire to change. It doesn’t matter what is going on around us, there’s always going to be something that we don’t like. But our response doesn’t have to be a knee-jerk complaint. We can be thoughtful, and even helpful. Or we can have a more zen attitude, and be accepting. And in any case, we can learn from the experience. Because that’s what life is all about. Here we are, thrown together in this place and time. We can’t help but bump into one another. We might as well look at the reasons why this happens, and what we are hear to learn from each other. Whether we perceive the experience as a positive or negative one, there is some purpose to it.

One of my life lessons has been patience. I have my own timetable, and it usually runs really fast. I can get a lot done in very little time. I don’t “waste” time; I use it efficiently. It has been a challenge for me to work successfully side by side with other people when my pace is so much quicker. And I recognize that my behavior may be annoying to someone with a different pace, especially when I want to speed them up. I have learned that I need to slow down at times, to be more careful and cautious, and take a few moments to notice the details. I have also learned that complaining from either side only slows down the process. Because that keeps us focused on the complaint instead of the task at hand. In some cases it is better to forge ahead, matching each others steps when we can, knowing that we will get past it.

I’m only 3 days into the challenge and I’ve learned a lot already. It would be easier if I tried Emmet Fox’s 7 day system first, but I’m already committed to this one and I’m not complaining! 18 days to go. Are you with me?

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