Category Archives: Living Your Intention

Say Hello to the Ox

Yin Metal Ox

Say hello to the Ox. The second sign of the Chinese zodiac, this Yin Metal Ox makes his entrance February 12, 2021 and remains through January 31, 2022

Animal years, according to the ancient lunar Chinese calendar, are grouped, not into decades as in the Western world, but into cycles of 12, beginning with the Year of the Rat and ending with the Year of the Pig. Each year is governed by one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and each has its own particular character.

Those born in the year of the Ox are considered strong, reliable, fair and conscientious. Their calm, patient, manner inspires confidence in others. Although they tend to say little, they can be very opinionated and stubborn.

How was it determined that animals would make up the lunar Chinese calendar and in what order?

According to ancient Chinese zodiac legend, the Jade Emperor (The Emperor in Heaven in Chinese folklore) ordered that animals would be designated as calendar signs and the twelve that arrived first would be selected. On the day of the race, the rat got up very early and rushed to the gathering site. The steadfast Ox led the way, happily thinking he would be the first sign, but at the last minute, the opportunistic Rat scampered over the Ox’s back to arrive first, becoming the first animal of the Chinese zodiac, making the Ox second.

chinese zodial wheel

In Chinese culture, the Ox is seen as a sign of integrity and responsibility. Honest and loyal, they form strong bonds with their partners and families and make good, lifelong friends.

In addition to the 12-year rotation of the animals, the classical Chinese Five Element Theory also plays a part in the energy of the year. This theory holds that the Elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal, significantly modify the quality or nature of whomever or whatever they represent. The Element Water encourages qualities of sensitivity and persuasiveness, Wood enhances creativity and imagination, Fire produces dynamism and passion, Earth instills stability and practicality and Metal adds strength of will. The Metal influence of 2020 continues in 2021.

Ancient Chinese philosophers and scientists understood that while the world is in a constant state of change, it is moving through a distinct framework of cycles, each having an opposite and equal value, such as night and day, cold and hot and birth and death. This concept of duality forming a whole is referred to as Yin and Yang, explaining how seemingly opposite, or contrary, forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. Yin contains the seed of Yang and vise versa and they constantly transform into each other. Just as a state of total Yin is reached, Yang begins to grow. Depicted by the Yin/Yang symbol, Yin is considered more passive while Yang is considered more active. The quieter, more grounded and passive Yin energy of 2021 will come as a welcome relief from the fast, active, hard-driving Yang energy of 2020.

The Ox denotes the hard work, positivity and honesty that will be manifested in all of us in the coming 12 months. This Yin Metal Ox year invites us to remain prudent and calm. Rather than making big changes this year, consider remaining in more of a holding pattern. Always remember to strive for a balance of Yin and Yang. The year of the Metal Ox will be a time for emotional, spiritual and economic innovation.

May this New Year bring balance in your life,
inner strength that never weakens,
joys that never fade, and hopes that never diminish.
Wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year and an auspicious 2021.

Welcoming the Rat

Today we are welcoming the Rat! The first sign of the Chinese zodiac, this Yang Metal Rat makes his entrance January 25, 2020 and remains through February 11, 2021.

Animal years, according to the ancient lunar Chinese calendar, are grouped, not into decades as in the Western world, but into cycles of 12, beginning with the Year of the Rat and ending with the Year of the Pig. Each year is governed by one of the twelve Animals and each has its own particular character. The sign of the Rat, being the first sign in the cycle, imbues Rat people with leadership qualities.

How did the Rat become first in the cycle? The most widespread Chinese zodiac legend tells of a great race.  The Jade Emperor (The Emperor in Heaven in Chinese folklore) ordered that animals would be designated as calendar signs and the twelve that arrived first would be selected. On that day, the rat got up very early and rushed to the gathering site. The steadfast Ox led the way, happily thinking he would be the first sign of the years, but at the last minute, the opportunistic Rat scampered over the Ox’s back to arrive first, becoming the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. The Ox came second, followed by the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

In Chinese culture, the Rat is seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Clever and quick thinkers, Rats are successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life.The Rat is the Chinese zodiac sign known for being inquisitive, shrewd, and resourceful. Because the Rat is the first in the rotation of the 12 zodiac signs, meaning that a Rat year is a year of renewal. So when a Rat year comes, it generally delivers new experiences with favorable outcomes for all of the signs.

36746077 - five elements, creation and destructive circlesIn addition to the 12-year rotation of the Animals, the classical Chinese Five Element Theory also
plays a part in the energy of the year. This theory holds that the Elements Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal, significantly modify the quality or nature of whomever or whatever they represent. The Element Water encourages qualities of sensitivity and persuasiveness, Wood enhances creativity and imagination, Fire produces dynamism and passion, Earth instills stability and practicality and Metal adds strength of will. The Metal influence of 2020, suggests a strong and purposeful year.

Ancient Chinese philosophers and scientists understood that the world is in a constant state of YinYangchange, yet moves through a distinct framework of cycles, each having an opposite and equal value, such as night and day, cold and hot and birth and death. This concept of duality forming a
whole is referred to as Yin and Yang; it explains how seemingly opposite, or contrary, forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. Yin contains the seed of Yang and vise versa and they constantly transform into each other. Just as a state of total Yin is reached, Yang begins to grow. Depicted by the Yin/Yang symbol, Yin is considered more passive while Yang is considered more active. Yang is the energetic influence in 2020.

 This Yang Metal Rat bodes a strong, prosperous, and lucky year. Rat years are the perfect time to save, but not a time to go without. The Metal Element supports all the signs in demonstrating  determination and persistence regarding goals and aspirations. And while it is always important to strive for a balance of Yin and Yang, it is especially important this year as we enter a new 12-year cycle.

May this New Year bring balance in your life, strength that never weakens,
joys that never fade, and hopes that never diminish.
Wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year and an auspicious 2020.

The Season of Yin and Yang Arrives

treelight01The season of Yin and Yang arrives in Minnesota. The short, dark winter days of December, combined with the quiet beauty of a blanket of snow, personify Yin energy. Add Yang energy with glowing holiday lights that brighten and twinkle, and you have a season of Yin and Yang. In balance, Yin and Yang contribute to the beauty we so enjoy at this time of year.

But just about the time holiday fervor is threatening to create an imbalance of Yang energy, along comes the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year and represents the official beginning of winter. Yin energy reinstates itself!

Saturday, the 21st of December, I attended the annual Winter Solstice celebration hosted by dear friend. Our participation connects us with the energy of other cultures around the world that have celebrated solstice festivals since ancient times.

CandleOur hostess invited each of us to shine a light on what we were grateful for this year. A candle was lit, bringing light to the darkest day of the year. As the softly glowing candle was passed from one woman to the next, intimate stories of healing and insights were shared. Each person talked about both accomplishments and challenges experienced during the year and how the difficult times brought the greatest lessons learned. The light shone brightly for each of us in gratitude for the subsequent insights, wisdom, understanding and connection gleaned from hard-earned lessons.

BonfireAfter sharing gratitude, we participated in the solstice tradition of writing on a piece of paper what we wished to release before entering a new year: arrogance, ego, selfishness, poor health, self-doubt, negative thoughts and so on. These pieces of paper were then tossed into a fire to be set free. This ritual creates a powerful sense of release.

I am grateful for friends who afford me an opportunity, in the midst of the holiday rush, to take time to pause and acknowledge the transition to a new season, to appreciate nature’s celestial beauty and wisdom. I am grateful for having the opportunity to speak my gratitude in the presence of others, to symbolically release what did not serve me well in the ending year and to set positive intentions for a new year, and, auspiciously, the beginning of a new decade!

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”Albert Schweitzer

 Happy Solstice! Happy Holidays!

The Season of Gratitude

VegNovember arrives, ushering in the season of gratitude. Throughout history, fall has been a season for celebrating Earth’s bountiful harvest. While the nature of these celebrations has evolved through the centuries, the spirit of the occasion remains the same: to reflect on life’s blessings.

In anticipation, we reminisce about our blessings as 46731368 - thanksgiving roast turkey dinnerwe plan how our Thanksgiving Day will be spent: whether to be a host or a guest; what traditional dishes will be served and with whom we will spend this day of gratefulness. For some, this Thanksgiving will have new meaning and a different energy. There are those who have experienced the loss of a spouse, a parent or a dear friend; a deep void will be felt as those who are no longer with us are lovingly remembered. Thanks will be given for their presence in our lives. Others will experience an expansion of gratitude as the birth of a child or a grandchild is joyfully acknowledged. Loved ones may be absent because of distance and we find ourselves alone; others will embrace the addition of a new family member or friend to their Thanksgiving festivities.

Regardless of our individual situation, Thanksgiving provides an auspicious time to gather with those we hold dear, even in thought, to share in gratitude for both the gifts and the challenges that brought us to this day.

wallpaper

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we haveinto enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

Living in a Windmill, Part 2

Last month, I shared my excitement about visiting the windmills of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands and my awe at how they function. I am also in awe that people actually choose to live in a windmill!

Kinderdijk, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site, is dotted with 19 windmills, which still work much as they did in the mid-18th century when they were built.Ext01Wmill

Windmills are octagonal in shape. Made of 8 solid oak posts that run obliquely towards each other, they form the octagonal frame of the mill. The windows of the mill provide gorgeous views of nature, rhythmically interrupted by the rotation of the windmill blades. There was also a rhythm to the constant creak of the massive wooden cogs and wheels necessary to drive the blades. Very different from our typical background traffic noises.

Life in and around the mill has always been hard; their locations are remote, with accessibility only by foot or bicycle. And no matter how beautiful a windmill looks, poor insulation, draft and moisture made day-to-day living uncomfortable and challenging.

In the absence of an actual kitchen, food was cooked over an open fire or on a stove. Rising smoke and soot made the first floor uninhabitable. Two bedsteads served as a sleeping place for the whole family on a second level. Rainwater served as drinking water, the toilet was above the ditch and the washing was done along the waterfront. It was a difficult life, in a demanding environment.

Int05WmillThe windmill we visited has been somewhat modernized with functionality the goal. The kitchen is located in a separate, tiny building outside. On the main floor of the windmill, half the living room is used for dining and the other half is used for ironing. Children’s sleeping quarters are tucked in a closet, aptly referred to as closet beds.

The millers have always been self-supporting, growing their own vegetables, fishing and raising their own livestock. Ext05Wmill

I was drawn to the uniqueness of the windmill structure as a home and to the surrounding grounds that allowed the owners some semblance of self-sufficiency. I was also looking at this novel lifestyle through Feng Shui eyes. So can Feng Shui Principles be applied to living in a windmill? What do you think?

Principle #1: Nature is the Model: This Feng Shui Principle reminds us of the importance of trying to understand what makes a forest of trees soothing or a beautiful sunset inspiring for the purpose of attempting to recapture the magic of the outdoors and bring that energetic vitality inside. The windmill as a “home” is symbiotic with the outside energetic forces of nature.

Principle #2: Everything is Energy: this Principle takes into consideration the vibrational energy of everything around us – shape, color, pattern, flow, to name a few – as we make choices in determining how our environments will support and nourish us. The windmill, as a home is, in and of itself, it’s own vibrational energy, harnessing wind and water.

Principle # 3: Your Space Reflects Your Life: Your home is a mirror of your inner self.
To quote a miller: “It’s not only a building — it lives, if you get symbiotic with it, the mill lives because there is a miller. And the miller lives because there is a mill. It’s a way of living.”

Principle # 4: The Power of Feng Shui is in your Intention: Having the courage to explore your vision of life as you desire it, how you live each day, being true to who you see yourself as and daring to live as if all is already accomplished.

Ext13WmillAnother Miller quote says it all: “Did you ever fall in love? You cannot explain it. You get a special feeling. And when it really storms, the mill moves a little bit like a ship. It’s so special. Some people are scared about it, but I love it when I’m lying in my bed and I feel the mill going and you hear the cracking and the sounds and everything. And the wind blowing through a little hole. I love it. Sometimes I get tears in my eyes when I wake up and I see the sun coming up and I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited every day that I can be here’.”

Can you say you feel that way about waking up in your own home? That is, of course, the ultimate goal of Feng Shui!

Working and Living in a Windmill, Part 1

After a two-month break from blogging, I’m back to share what I consider a challenge, especially01XtraWindmill from a Feng Shui perspective – working and living in a windmill! To be honest, I never knew people actually lived in windmills! I found out differently when we traveled this August to Kinderdijk, a village in the Netherlands and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site since 1997.

Located 15 miles east of Rotterdam, Kinderdijk has suffered floods since the 13th century. The story goes that after one such devastating flood, the Saint Elizabeth Flood of 1421, a wooden cradle was spotted floating in a canal. As the cradle approached the dry land of the dyke, the locals observed a cat jumping from side to side, keeping the cradle balanced. Upon closer inspection, they discovered a baby inside. From that time on, this area was called Kinderdijk, Dutch for “children’s dyke, and a fairy tale, “The Cat and the Cradle,” was born.

I was excited to visit the 19 remaining windmills, which still work much as they did in the mid-18th century when they were built.

05XtraWindmillWe arrived by bus to the visitor center where we then followed a maze of walkways through the nutrient rich wetlands to view the windmills, sharing the walkways with both pedestrians and bicyclists. I loved the topography. Almost a third of the Netherlands is below sea level and I found walking “in the marshes” a unique and breathtaking experience. I was surrounded by tall grasses and reeds, continuously dancing in the breeze along side swampy water full of beautiful water lilies. The grand expansiveness of the area was spectacular!

For nearly a thousand years, the Dutch have been clever in dealing with the water that surrounds them, keeping the land dry with this ingenious system of windmills and pumping stations. These windmills harness the power of wind to pump water out of what are called polders, swampy areas reclaimed from the water and turned into arable farmland. The water is pumped out of the low-lying ground to prevent flooding and keep crops from drowning.

Once, there were more than 10,000 fully operational windmills in the Netherlands, but they’ve been gradually replaced, first by steam pumps and subsequently by diesel powered pumping stations. The remaining mills are kept in working order, in the event of a power outage or calamities that can put the pumping stations out of action.

All the Kinderdijk windmills are watermills, which means they are only used for draining. Every 04XtraWindmillwindmill has four blades. The function of the blades is to convert the energy of the wind into power to lift the water. In order to catch the wind a sail is stretched over the blade. The amount of sail depends on the actual wind speed and the estimated wind speed later that day.

Normally the blade is fully covered with sail, but in a strong wind only half the blade will be covered. In case of a storm, the windmill can even run without any sails. To prevent the windmill from burning down from a lightening strike, a thick copper cable connects the iron part of the blade to the ground. The windmills are the highest buildings in a wide flat area and therefore the chances of being hit by lightening are quite high. Another chain is attached to the blade and the ground to block the blades when the brake might malfunction.

Before setting the windmill off, the blades must be turned into the wind. This is done with the tail of the mill. The tail of the mill consists of a triangle shaped set of bars connected to the cap of the windmill. A wheel is attached to the tail and a chain is connected to posts that are surrounding the windmill. By turning this wheel, which looks like the steering wheel of a ship, the chain winds around the axle of the wheel.

The top floor of the windmill will start moving, because the cap is not fixed. It rests on big rollers and is kept on top of the brick walls by the weight of the blades and the tail of the windmill. The windmill can make a full 360-degree turn both clockwise and counter clockwise.

When the sails are set and the blades are facing the wind the brake can be released. This is done at the tail of the mill by pulling a thick rope. Pulling the rope causes a post on the top floor to move down on the outside and up on the inside. The post pushes the braking blocks up and away from the tooth wheel, called upperwheel, which is connected to the blades.

Watching the owner go through the complicated process of determining wind direction and speed, manually adjusting the sails on the blades and pulling the rope to begin the process is beyond impressive! It is an amazing feat of hard labor, dedication and determination! It’s the Feng Shui process of intention on full display!

And that’s the working aspect of a windmill. Next month, the windmill as home.

Happy Summer Solstice!

FlowersHappy Summer Solstice! I love this time of year especially because the days are long, the sunsets are beautiful and my garden is in bloom! I know that sounds odd; after all, hasn’t most of the country been experiencing spring blooms since the Spring Equinox in March? Growing up in Texas, I was accustomed to bluebonnets blooming in April. I was to later learn that Minnesotans were looking at piles of snow in April! And to add insult to injury, several years ago Minnesota was subjected to a snowstorm May 2. Yikes! Actually Minnesotans have seen snow as late as June, but that was back in 1935! So I’m feeling confident; the odds of a snowstorm are zero and my garden is blooming!

‘Just living is not enough,’ said the butterfly.
‘One must have sunshine, freedom,
and a little flower.’
Hans Christian Andersen 

 The Summer Solstice, also known as “Midsummer,” is the longest day of the year, the day when the Sun is at its highest point. Solstice comes from the Latin term solstitium (“sun stands still). The date of the Summer Solstice is always somewhere between June 20 and 22 and signals life at its most expansive.

The solstice serves as a reminder of the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Ancient cultures knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year; these were used  as markers to determine when to plant and harvest crops.

StonehengeSome 5,000 years ago, people placed huge stones, or megaliths, in a circle on a broad plain in what is now England, aligning them with the June solstice sunrise. It is believed that this unique stone circle, called Stonehenge, was erected to establish the date of the Summer Solstice. Some historians point to Stonehenge as evidence that ancient humans used the June Solstice as a way to organize their calendars. Viewed from its center, the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on the day of the June Solstice, suggesting that the builders of Stonehenge may have used the solstice as a starting-point to count the days of the year.

While we may never comprehend the full significance of Stonehenge, we do know that this knowledge wasn’t limited to just one part of the world. Around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. Standing at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazing toward the two pyramids, you will see the sun set exactly between them.

And while these ancient peoples built monuments to follow the sun’s yearly progress, today we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun.

Celebrations surrounding this time also have a time-honored history. Northern European countriesmidsummer pole like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland acknowledge the earth’s fertility with bonfires; they decorate their homes with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches. In Sweden and many parts of Finland, people dance around Maypoles. In the United States, the Summer Solstice is often celebrated by local festivals and gatherings with family and friends.

From a Feng Shui perspective, the Summer Solstice signifies the shift from the Wood energy of spring to the Fire energy of summer. Represented by the sun, the Fire Element reflects warmth, brilliance and vitality. In humans, it represents excitement, enthusiasm and generosity.

BaguaLtr04aa01RRRIn the Feng Shui Bagua, this vital life force is found in the Fame and Reputation sector. This area signifies the public aspect of your life – your reputation, your integrity, how you are perceived and what people say about you. The color red  holds the highest vibrational energy of any of the colors and represents the Fire Element. This Element reflects warmth, brilliance and vitality. In humans, it represents excitement, enthusiasm and generosity.

As we enjoy the beauty and bounty brought by the energy of the Summer Solstice, it is an auspicious time to focus on the Fame and Reputation area of your home. Energetically enhanced, it can provide extra support in this area of your life during this time. Consider adding a vase of red flowers in that gua with the intention of supporting personal growth and expansion. Use this powerful Fire energy to help you reflect on what it is you want to bring to the world and what you would like to be known and remembered for.

One way of celebrating the Solstice is to consider it a sacred time of reflection,
release, restoration and renewal.
Sarah Ban Breathnach

Outhouse Feng Shui

Several years ago, I came across an article on Outhouse Feng Shui. It was a fun concept and unique application of Feng Shui.

For anyone who has ever gone camping, the outhouse is a welcome essential. While I appreciate their function, I also find them gross so – quick in, quick out! There’s really no need to “Feng Shui” an outhouse in that situation, or is there? Something to think about in your spare time! In the meantime, I actually experienced an outhouse with good Feng Shui!

But let me start at the beginning. In the practice of Feng Shui, every room in your home has a specific function (or should have). There are also clear Feng Shui guidelines for enhancing positive energy (Chi) and mitigating any negative energy in each room, depending on its function and location in the Bagua of your home.

Bathrooms are especially challenging. Their primary function is elimination and, while we certainly wouldn’t want to live without them, by their very nature they drain Chi (energy). Sinks, bathtubs, showers and toilets have yin water energy and it is a draining energy that depletes our personal energy. The practice of Feng Shui advises that bathrooms also diminish your luck in the area where the bathroom is located; if in partnership, for example, it can decrease relationship luck. If a bathroom is located somewhere in the wealth area of your Bagua, it has the potential of draining your prosperity.

Bagua2aaTake a look at the Bagua of your home. Locate your bathroom(s). Do you have a bathroom in the health (center) area of your Bagua? Does your bathroom or toilet share a wall with your bed or your stove? Are you able to see into the bathroom from your bed? All of these are considered problems in the practice of Feng Shui and require specific adjustments (suggestions for mitigating the negative energy generated by these proximities).

Generally, if you’ve heard some Feng Shui “rules,” you might know that one rule is to keep the toilet lids down. I am amazed at how many people keep their toilet lid up; not only does it allow energy to drain away, but it feels unsanitary to me! Who likes walking into a bathroom with an open toilet? Your home toilet is not a public bathroom.

If you are feeling “drained” in any way, after identifying where your bathrooms are located in your Bagua, assess the condition of those bathrooms. Any dripping faucets? Leaking toilets? You know what to do!

The flush toilet was invented in 1596, but didn’t become widespread until 1851. Before bathrooms, the “toilet” was a collection of communal outhouses, chamber pots and holes in the ground. As people settled on the Great Plains, a need for sanitary facilities arose. In order to meet this need, outhouses were constructed using lumber or bricks. They were a type of “folk architecture” and soon became commonplace.

While outhouses are one of the humbler elements of our sanitation systems, they have received a 38705105 - old outhousesurprising amount of design attention and even public affection. They were a considerable advance over many older disposal methods in the United States (open trenches, cesspits), and the U.S. government actively encouraged their use in rural areas in the 1930s and 40s.

Location, location, location! Feng Shui tenets include practicality and function: Outhouses were located in backyards, placed a distance away from the house, yet close enough for easy access. They were also situated away from wells to minimize risk of ground water pollution, contamination, and disease. Sometimes the structures were placed near the family’s wood pile, so users, on their way back to the house, could pick up and carry in an armload of wood, so there would always be wood to feed the stove. And in Colonial times, when few people could read, a crescent moon cutout on the outhouse door was the symbol for women while the star cutout was for men.

My experience with outhouse Feng Shui was at a time in my life when, unhappy with my job, I decided to go on a week-long silent retreat in an attempt to gain clarity and perspective. I called and reserved a tiny one-room hermitage for a week in the middle of January. I was not deterred when I learned it had no running water and an outhouse!

And what an outhouse! It sat about 8 feet outside the door of my cottage on an elevated platform. The door to the outhouse faced away from the door to my little cabin. There was a window, with a lace curtain, and the floor was carpeted. A toilet paper holder, a rack with magazines and a couple of pictures on the walls completed the interior. While I knew nothing of Feng Shui at the time of this experience, I was impressed at the attempt to create a welcoming and comfortable environment in, of all things, an outhouse!

In the article about Outhouse Feng Shui, the author took an historical perspective, honoring the heritage of the outhouse that sat on her property. She also intentionally took a Feng Shui approach by first removing clutter, including dust, cobwebs and weeds. She repaired any deteriorating wood, made sure the door hinge worked, planted flowers around it and even considered bricking the pathway to it. She gave it a fresh coat of outdoor paint and painted the inside a bright, cheery color. I appreciate her nostalgia, and application of Feng Shui by creating function, cleanliness and beauty. I would have loved seeing before and after pictures of her outhouse.

The outhouse, a subject of photography books and posters, certainly seems to have an enduring place in the public imagination . If you just happen to have an outhouse on your property, consider revitalizing it as a delightful, and historical, focal point. It’s good Feng Shui!

Also good Feng Shui are the following suggestions for our modern bathrooms:

Keep the bathroom door closed, especially if it adjoins the kitchen or bedroom.

Keep the toilet lid down.

Replace any leaky faucets (energetically preventing them from flushing away personal energy and money energy).

And, of course, keep everything clean and in good repair.

 Life is like a movie, since there aren’t any commercial breaks, you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of it. Garry Trudeau

The Transformative Magic of Travel

Travel, for any reason, has the potential for new insights and, if you’re very fortunate, you may even experience the transformative magic of travel to a “thin place.”

 “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” G. K. Chesterton

I began to relate to my travels in a totally different way after a friend shared a compelling travel article entitled, “Where Heaven and Earth Kiss,”  written by Eric Weiner. Weiner references the term, “thin places,”  defined by travel blogger Mindie Burgoyne as “a place that draws you into itself, and transports you into the presence of a world beyond this world. You are moved into the presence of a mysterious power. There, all things you perceive through your senses are charged, electrified, illuminated with the presence of that power.” Weiner elaborates on the concept by saying, “A thin place is where the sublime bends low.”

We can all relate to our senses being charged and illuminated in the presence of breathtaking beauty. However, the distinction is that “thin places” connect us to something beyond ourselves – or perhaps to something deep within ourselves. When in the presence of thin places, Weiner goes on to say, we “perceive intuitively or through some inexplicable perceptive powers, glimpses of the divine.”  In these thin places, the distance between Heaven and Earth collapses.

Reading Eric Weiner’s intriguing article, I instantly recalled my first two encounters with places where I was deeply impacted by an unseen, unexpected transformative energy.

The first occurred in the early 80’s while traveling in Israel. During our time there, local friends took usOldCity to Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest cities. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Jaffa’s harbor has been in use since the Bronze Age.

We visited our friend’s art studio, located in an ancient building overlooking the port of Jaffa. Following our tour, I walked to the water’s edge. It was there I had an unexpected sensation. I felt the energy of this ancient place touch something deep inside of me that rang with familiarity. “I have lived here before,” was the message that came through loud and clear. This was my first sense of a connection to a past life. It caught me totally by surprise. While the feeling was profound, I felt completely at ease with it. Of course, I mentioned it to no one at the time, lest they look askance and question my sanity. Today I would have no reluctance in sharinging my experience. Nor, all these years later, has the memory of that feeling diminished!

“Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.” Eric Weiner

PrayFlagIt wasn’t until many years later that I had my next experience with a “thin place.” In 2002 I traveled for the first time to Tibet. Located on the “roof of the world,” Tibet has an average altitude of over 13,200 feet and is situated on a massive plateau between two Himalaya ridges. There is breathtaking scenery, profound spiritual awareness, spectacular vistas, and huge tracts of soothing emptiness. But it is not an easy place in which to live or visit; the terrain is severe and the air thin, requiring tourists to use oxygen to avoid altitude sickness.  But the people are cheerful, devout and serene. The sights of the colorful prayer flags dancing in the wind, the sounds of constantly twirling prayer wheels and the hum of chanted mantras took up residence in my being. Tibet’s energy enveloped me.

The group I traveled with could have left me there! I knew I would have been happy and content making a life in that sacred place! What was that about? At the time, I had no words for it. I still don’t.

 “In truth, however, once you’ve been in a thin place and allowed your spirit to absorb that which transcends the senses, all need for definition ceases. Our spirits learn differently than our minds.” Mindie Burgoyne

I had the good fortune to return to Tibet four years later. This time, in this magical, sacred place, Tom and I were married. Perhaps, in some mysterious, divine way, this culminating event, I could never have imagined, had been calling me long before.

“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything.  I feel it, though I do not see it.  It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses.  It transcends the senses.” Mahatma Ghandi

 Thin places, according to Weiner, are often sacred ones – St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul – but they needn’t be, at least not conventionally so. For one dear friend who has traveled extensively, Minnesota’s North Shore is, hands down, her thin place. For another friend, it’s Denali in Alaska.

Thin places captivate our imagination; we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive. “You don’t plan a trip to a thin place,” Weiner goes on to say. “You stumble upon one. To some extent, thinness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Travel to thin places doesn’t necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a ‘spiritual breakthrough,’ whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Regardless, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.”

 “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  Henry Miller

 

 

 

The Notion of Happiness

At a recent gathering, someone posed the question, “What is happiness?” The question opened a thought-provoking discussion on the notion of happiness. There are many words for happiness: bliss, contentment, delight, elation, euphoria, joy, exhilaration, optimism, or peace of mind, to name a few. Because of the range of feelings we associate with this notion, we are able to feel happy in a variety of ways. Is it an inner quality, a state of mind, or both?

“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” Dalai Lama

HappySo does the Dalai Lama’s statement refer to momentary happiness or long-term happiness? Is it a thoughtful consideration when we say we just want to be happy? Is there a key to happiness?

Psychologist Martin Seligman and the findings from Positive Psychology studies asserts that humans are happiest when they have the following five things:
1.    Pleasure including delicious food, a warm bed and desired material objects; that is, essentially anything that pleases one or more of our five senses.
3.    Relationships; social ties are an extremely reliable factor of happiness.
4.    Meaning – belonging to something bigger than ourselves; a sense of doing good for others and making the world a better place.
5.    Accomplishment – the achievement of goals.

It appears happiness can be both immediate, sensual, and measurable as well as rational, reflective, and relative.

We know being happy is good for our health. Happy people have stronger immune 46421713 - smiling friends playing volleyball at sandy beachsystems and have a longer lifespan. When you are happy, you are more giving, you better handle stress, you have more successful relationships as well as a more meaningful network of friends. Happy people are more creative and energized and this attitude translates to their work performance. Happy people are reported to live 14% longer.

According to Dr. Robert Holden, a British psychologist considered Britain’s foremost expert on happiness, we are experiencing what researchers call “static happiness.” In the 1940s, when people were asked, “How happy are you?”, the average score was 7.7 out of 10. Most recently, the average score was 7.2 out of 10.

While it may be universal, the meaning of happiness remains complex and ambiguous. Given its very nature, reported happiness is subjective. It is difficult to compare one person’s happiness with another.

The psychological and philosophical pursuit of happiness began in China, India and Greece some 2,500 years ago with Confucius, Mencius, Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle. There are remarkable similarities between the insights of these thinkers and the modern “Science of Happiness.”

 MenciusMencius (372 – 289 BCE) could well be called the pioneer of Positive Psychology. He spells out the role that feelings of happiness or satisfaction play in motivating people to do the right thing, as well as the sense of joy that results from the practice of humanity.

More modern day thinkers such as Abraham Maslow, an American professor of psychology at Brandeis University, theorized that human happiness is the outcome of meeting a set of needs. He listed these in order of priority, leading to a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. These needs include physiological, Trianglesafety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. For a person to have happiness her or his needs have to be satisfied first.

In 2002, the notion of happiness presented itself to me in a unique way when I traveled to the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Nestled between India and China in the Tibetan Himalayas, it is often called “The Last Shangri-La.”

I was fascinated to learn Bhutan’s Gross National Product is Happiness. Understanding and embracing the concept of happiness, the Royal Government of Bhutan organized a Gross National Happiness Commission to execute a strategy for national happiness. Objectives included promoting citizens to live in harmony with tradition and nature, as well as investing in the nation’s greatest asset: its people.

PARO, BHUTAN - NOVEMBER06,2012 : Unidentified smiling young monks standing by the religious prayer wheels at Paro Rinpung dzong, Paro, BhutanWhile the GNH framework reflects Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being. The concept of GNH is transcultural – a nation need not be Buddhist in order to value sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance.

Through collaboration with an international group of scholars and empirical researchers, the Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined with greater specificity these “Four Pillars of Happiness” into eight general contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. We can each certainly use these standards to personally measure how happy our lives are.

 Gretchen Rubin’s personal 12-month journey, chronicled in her book, The Happiness Project, was based on a number of premises assumed to be foundations for happiness. They include “mindfulness,” a kind of no elaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. This is an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Living in the present, which I relate to as mindfulness, as well as intention and gratitude are foundational concepts.They are also foundational concepts of Feng Shui.

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in It.” ~
Groucho Marx

When I reflect on what makes me happy, the list is endless: everything from hearing my daughters’ voices on the other end of the phone, seeing a shooting star, teaching a class, having Tom’s arms around me, being with family and dear friends, watching my garden bloom and a million things in between. I know mindfulness, laughter and gratitude contribute to my happiness. The bonus? They allow me to better handle the sad and/or difficult times that life inevitably brings. On reflection, I have come to believe we are in control of our own happiness level

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”  Unknown