Why You Should Volunteer

I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments.

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Happy Monday!  Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring.  We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better.  We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.

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Welcome February

On the first Wednesday of each month we like to pause and take a look at what’s going on in the world around us.  We’ll highlight some nature and environmental news, give you a bit of inspiration, and ask you to partake in a monthly sustainability initiative with us.

With all of the snow that’s falling, there’s no doubt that we’re definitely deep in the middle winter, yet the slowly growing days are making it all bearable. Did you join us during January in trying to reduce your salt/chemical use when clearing the snow? Katie spent a boat-load of time shoveling her Colorado driveway. All of that exercise was fueled by her afternoon milkshake habit!

This month we’re excited to share our new challenge as well as a bit of inspiration and some stories that caught our eye in the news.

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Welcome January

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A new year! Ugg/yay. I’m feeling so many feelings about the flipping the calendar from 2015 to 2016. Excitement about all to come while wanting to slow down time because I don’t want to miss a moment and there’s so much to do, but I’m sure many of you feel the same way. I’m assuming that this is a sign of old age? blah.

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Monday Meditation Challenge

BREATHEHappy Monday! I feel bad for Mondays. While everyone is busy hating them, I’m going to make an effort to be mindful of Mondays. Poor Mondays. I’ll keep you.  Last year we talked a tiny bit about mindfulness and  meditation. I will be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on meditation.  I just know I feel darn good after a few minutes of peace and mindfulness.

MANTRA

I’m giving myself a meditation challenge and I thought I’d mention it here in case you want to play along.  I’m going to meditate every day for the next twenty-eight days. I’ve tried to get into the habit of meditating, but I always end up practicing before and after yoga only.  If I skip class for a week, I’ve gone a full week without focused meditation. I try to practice walking meditation whenever I think of it, but it’s less than once a day.

MEDITATE

So here goes, guys. Twenty-eight days of meditation.  I’m starting small. My plan is to meditate for two minutes a day for the first week! I really want to succeed and I think if I get in the habit of sitting down and keeping my mind quiet for just two minutes a day, it will be a real victory.  The next week I’ll work on five minutes a day.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself so that’s all I have planned for now.  I’ll keep you updated.  Are you going to try it too?  I’ve been using this website to help get in the zen zone.

RELAX

I also created a few images to remind myself to relax, breathe, repeat my mantra and meditate.  For the past few weeks, my mantra has been patience and compassion.  I hate when I cut someone off, get impatient or irritated so I’ve really been trying to work on that.  Wish me luck!

Katie here : Good luck, Sarah! I think this is such a great challenge! I finally did some yoga this weekend with a few minutes of focused meditation afterwards (after a couple of weeks without any), and it felt so good. I used a 20 minute class from YogaDownload that I had on my phone, so I didn’t have to leave the house and could easily squeeze it in during Alex’s nap. The point is, that short dose of yoga and meditation had me feeling good for the rest of the day and left me determined to fit more of both into my days, so I’m excited to take on this challenge with you… I’m going to make one of your images my desktop background as a little reminder to step away from the screen and meditate :-). 

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Going to the Mountains..

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“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity… – John Muir

Happy Monday everybody!  I hope you were all able to spend a little time outside these past few days.  It was a balmy 78° on the Jersey shore where I spent Saturday shooting a wedding.  I love the ocean, but I have to admit, it felt really nice driving back to North Carolina and the mountains.

John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, is an inspiration to many, including myself.  Time and time again, I read his words and feel a deep longing to immerse myself in nature.  My recent return from Colorado has me dreaming of mountain climbing and through hikes of the Appalachian Trail.  Originally I planned on writing a post today about hiking the Flatirons 1+2 trail in Boulder, but as I started researching how the peaks were formed, I realized I didn’t have quite enough time to research, digest and reiterate.  Sit tight though that post is coming. I hope you love rocks as much as I do.

*This photo was made in Nederland, Colorado.
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Happy Autumnal Equinox!

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Wouldn’t you agree?  As we (in the northern hemisphere) move towards the dark, it’s important to gather up all the golden moments of autumn and squirrel them away for winter.  Fall always seems to be the season that scurries by the fastest and that may be why it steals my heart year after year.  I’m always trying to grasp onto those last warm weekends and the fresh fall air before the weather turns frigid.

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“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

This year I’m going to try my hardest to spend lots of hours outside (I camped at the McDowell Nature Preserve last night) and appreciate each moment that autumn brings.  I’m also going to make it a point to welcome the long nights of autumn and winter.  Life is about balance and change and the sooner we welcome and appreciate those changes the easier life will be. So dust off your dream catcher, pull out your comforter and screw in a daylight bulb near your reading nook, but before you do that, find your favorite fall outfit, take lots of walks and soak in the season.  Happy Equinox!

 

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Monday Inspiration Vol. 3

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Just a simple yet important reminder for the week ahead of you.  Isn’t it lovely when someone pays you a compliment, tells you you’re doing great or encourages you in some way?  Why shouldn’t you provide your own encouragement as well?  Only you know why you’re headed in the direction you are and that is enough to know it is correct and good.  Maybe you are unsure of your path and that’s ok too!  Just keep moving and encouraging yourself every step of the way, sooner or later you’ll realize everything you did was for a reason and a good one at that.  Remember to encourage others as well.  Tell family, friends and even strangers, words that will boost their spirits and empower them to live a happier and healthier life today and every day.

We’re encouraging you to focus on self-love this week. Christian Nestell Bovee said it best, “our first and last love is self love.” So why not start today?  Realize when you’re being too hard on yourself and simply let it go, exhale and tell yourself something encouraging.  Something you’d say to your sister, partner or coworker to make them feel a bit better about their efforts.  Simply realizing when I’m battering myself has helped me have a more positive mindset in many faucets of my life, everything from self-employment to traveling to eating.  Hear your worries and woes as if they’re coming from a loved one and respond accordingly.  I promise you it will feel great.  Happy Monday!

If you’re in the mood for more Monday Inspiration look here and here.
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Monday Inspiration Vol. 2

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This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to   the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites usall. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

A quick internet search revealed the source of these words as Chief Seattle, but after a little digging and this article, that wide-spread assumption is most likely false.  Even so, I think the sentiment is beautiful and one that I wished many humans believed in.  Tomorrow is earth day and Friday is arbor day so I challenge you to carry these sentences with you this week and the rest of the year.  Pass them on and share them when appropriate and feel great when you do something beneficial for mother nature.  She deserves it and so do you.

Rather than follow our regular schedule, this week we have some really great Earth and Arbor Day-inspired posts for you cats.  Tuesday we’re featuring artist, Benjamin Gazsi, who creates impressive large-scale eco-sculptures that we think you’ll love.  Wednesday’s post will be an easy to follow nature photography tutorial.  You’ll learn about aperture, shutter speed and other functions of your point-and-shoot or DSLR so that you can stop shooting on auto settings and start taking better photos.  Thursday we’re sharing a terracotta pot painting tutorial.  We’ll also highlight some common herbs and tips on how to grow and use them in your home!  And Friday we’re going to skip our usual In Season post and introduce a new series we’re calling In the Field. This week we’ll be talking to Sara Fitzsimmons, a scientist working to breed and reintroduce blight-resistant Chestnut trees to the forests of the eastern US.

We hope you’re gearing up for a week full of earth-inspired posts and living every day like earth day.  Ok, time to take the pup on a hike. Happy Monday!

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Energy flows where intention goes: Create Daily.

Whether you decide to focus your energy on your profession, home, health or anything in between, it’s important to create a little bit of something each day.  It’s nice to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day instead of worry.  Don’t go to bed thinking I should have, why didn’t I or what if?  Lay your head down knowing that however your day played out, you created a little something for yourself.

I tend to be hard on myself when it comes to making and creating.  I have so many ideas floating around in my brain that I get down on myself when I don’t put them into motion.  Sometimes I intend to finish a huge project, but by the end of the day I’ve only ended up collecting the materials to begin, but that’s ok.  Creation takes time.  Being inspired to do something is a process, but it will feel better if you take a tiny step towards your goal, project or creation every day.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote by Lao Tzu, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Think back to your last big project at work, in the kitchen or at your crafting table.  Better yet, think about awful papers you had to write in school.  How much energy was wasted resisting?  Then you put pencil to paper and the first sentence emerged and you realized you can get through this paper and who knows you might even go on to live a happy and fulfilling life.  The crazy thing is, I find myself resisting projects that I know I’m going to enjoy creating.  It must be biology trying to protect me from the unknown-I can’t fathom another reason why time after time I tip toe into projects.  Once I begin, I take off at lightening speed and enjoy every second.  Whether it comes easy or there’s problem solving to be done-it’s a nice creative challenge.  So here’s me encouraging you to take off, just do it, create daily!

It could be something simple like a daily doodle of encouragement, a step or two of a larger project or a workout.  Maybe you want to cook dinner five nights a week or edit and organize your entire photo library.  Maybe you’ve been pining awesome DIYs or filling up your basket of clothes to be mended.  Whatever projects you’ve been putting off or shuffling around, here’s your cue. Go, make, create!  Do a little something every day and I promise you, you’ll feel a whole lot better by the time the end of the week rolls around.

Remember: creation doesn’t have to be material.  Maybe you created space to think by meditating for five minutes or muscles by pumping out ten pushups. Usually my creations are meals or even cups of tea and to do lists.  As long as you set aside a moment for yourself in which you can relax and feel inspired you’re beginning to create. Now go! Think! Make! Create!

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This Isn’t Your Monk’s Meditation

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I’m sure a lot, if not all of you, already meditate in some form or another.  Maybe you clear your mind while you exercise or while doing the dishes or while taking a shower.  When you are alone with your thoughts you’re beginning to meditate.  Over the past couple of years, I have read a few powerful books about mediation and self-discovery and I believe they have had a big impact on my overall happiness and upbeat attitude.  I’ve learned to direct and guide my thoughts in a constructive way instead of arguing with myself.  Self-love is always in season so from time to time we’ll be sharing a little bit about our paths to self-discovery and tips for your own, in a series called Grey Matters.

First let me start off by saying I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist per say and I’m not here to promote any one religion.  I do however think that the Buddhist religion has some really great insights into how to become a better individual and how to pass on that goodness to those around us. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center, said it best, “The purpose of studying Buddhism is not to study Buddhism, but to study ourselves.” Buddhism informs us that we should identify the intention behind our actions and whether those actions will have a positive or negative effect on those around us.  If you identify with a particular religion or not, I think the Grey Matters series will be helpful to you as you walk on your path to self-discovery.

In this first installment of Grey Matters I thought it could be helpful to give a little primer on meditation and setting an intention for your day or week.  When you let your mind rest you are beginning to practice meditation.  You don’t have to venture to a secluded spot and sit in the same position for days on end without talking to a soul.  This isn’t your monk’s meditation.  It’s a tool for self-reflection that we can all utilize.  Mediation has tremendous power in that it helps us identify the motives of our actions and reactions.  It helps us to expand our minds and hearts and allows both to more easily accommodate the obstacles we all face from day to day. If the word meditation makes your eyes roll then think of it as constructive thinking.  Sometimes life feels like you’re climbing Mt. Everest with no coat when it should feel like you’re strolling along a beautiful beach.  Taking the time to reflect while setting an intention and motivation for your day can help you transform that mountain into a plain.  Meditation is a helpful tool in reducing stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and many other uncomfortable conditions of the human mind.  At first the goal of meditation is to have an open and clear mind.  You can’t solve all of your problems during the first week of meditation.  It’s a process so start small.

Here are a few tips to practicing meditation:

  • Choose a consistent, comfortable, clean and quiet space in your home.  I put a pillow on the floor in my bedroom; it’s as simple as that.  Some people have a space set aside specifically for thought.  Maybe it involves a comfortable cushion and a couple scented candles in front of a sunny window or maybe you’re not sold on the idea of meditation and you choose to sit at your dining room table with a cup of coffee.  However you choose to begin is fine.
  •  Minimize distractions and focus within.  If you’re sitting on the ground, sit up straight in a comfortable position and rest your hands on your knees or thighs.  If you’re sitting on a chair make sure both feet are touching the ground.  When you breathe in you should feel uplifted and when you exhale you should feel balanced and grounded, it’s easier to feel grounded when you’re making contact with the earth.
  • Close your eyes or soften your gaze and focus on your breath.  You don’t have to alter your breath, it shouldn’t be a distraction to you, but rather an anchor to the present.  We are practicing being present and not letting our thoughts carry us to the past or future. Change is possibly the only constant in our lives; let your flowing breath be a gentle reminder of that.
  • If thoughts pop into your mind simply exhale them away. Continue to focus on the sensation of your breath traveling in and out. Try not to get caught up in thoughts of your to do list or the fight you had with your friend.  Don’t beat yourself up about all these random thoughts either, simply acknowledge that you’re thinking and then exhale the thought and return your focus to the breath.
  • After five minutes feel free to leave the cushion.  It’s important to keep your meditation short and regular.  If you find yourself successfully freeing your mind of thought and meditating every day for five or ten minutes then you’re ready to address various issues through meditation.

After all, meditation breeds mindfulness, which is simply paying attention to what’s going on around you and not getting hooked by strong emotion.  If we’re being mindful we can begin to identify our intentions and begin to work with them.  We’ll save problem solving and addressing emotions for the next Grey Matters installment, but let’s start setting short-term intentions for our days and weeks.

Your intention is a thought or motivation for how you’d like to live your life.  It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution without all the pressure.  You can shape your intention daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly.  We’ll talk about setting long-term intentions in the next Buddha Brain post, but let’s stick to daily intentions right now.

Tips for setting a daily intention:

  • Think of a positive word, feeling or focus that will guide you through the day or week.  It can be a goal like writing and photographing x number of blog posts, completing a project at work or a gentle reminder like taking a nap when one is needed. It can also be an overarching, nonspecific theme like practice patience or be generous or persevere.  Think about what you’re lacking, what you’d like to work on or what your body and mind really needs and create your intention.
  • Repeat your intention. After meditating for five to ten minutes, repeat your intention, aloud or internally, three times with passion and motivation to carry through with your intent.
  • Take your intention with you. Now it’s time to go out into the world always knowing that you have your own special guidelines by which you’ll live your life.  You can repeat your intention whenever you’re feeling like your day is going off track.  Know that above all else something is guiding you even when you feel lost.

If your intention was to get enough rest than you’ll feel better about working harder when you’re awake and sleeping sounder during naps or at night.  You won’t have to feel guilty if you need nine hours of sleep instead of eight because you’re paying attention to what you really need to live a happy and fulfilling life.  If your intention is to be more patient, it will be helpful to repeat the word patience when a coworker is talking out of turn during a meeting, when your kids are misbehaving or when the line at the grocery store is a mile long.  Setting intentions is another small way to take control over emotion and immediate behavior.  It’s a tool for shaping our actions, reactions and even the way we talk to ourselves.  It’s a reminder that you live by your own rules.  It’s time to stop feeling guilty, upset or uneasy about the choices you make.  It’s time to stop judging yourself so harshly and instead knowing there was a reason for why you did whatever you did.  You intended it to be so and that’s all the reason you need.

I really hope you enjoyed this Grey Matters post and learning a bit about meditation and setting intentions.  I always felt like I had it all together, but once I started to peel away my emotions through meditation I realized I had a lot to learn about myself.  I’m able to communicate my thoughts so much clearer than in the past and I feel like I actually know why I’m experiencing strong emotion instead of just getting wrapped up in it.  I feel free from my own self-doubt and it’s really refreshing.  If you’ve ever felt the effects of guilt, anxiety or doubt I encourage you to try some of the tactics in this post.  I think you’ll feel a bit if not a whole ton.

Now go live lives of purpose!  Whether your purpose is to take a walk in the woods, cook a delicious meal, rekindle a friendship or get a promotion at work.  It is all just as important and integral in living a happy and fulfilled life.

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