Gratitude in the heart of your home

You can’t be angry when you are feeling gratitude.

You can be resentful when you are feeling gratitude.

You can’t be sad when you are feeling gratitude.

Feeling gratitude transitions your emotions to felling love about what you have.

Once you love what you have you are opening your heart to more abundance, more love, more experiences that will trigger positive emotions.

Let’s make this a big deal. Not only couple thoughts you capture in the morning or before you go to sleep in a journal. Let’s display it big in the heart of our homes.

I have a gratitude board in the middle of the living room that reminds us of some things we are grateful about. I also invite guests to write what they are thankful for.

This morning we restarted the board. I’m grateful that my little one was appreciative for other than family, such as hugs, the moon, and herself!

I’m also grateful that if you read this post you might transition to a better feeling and remind you that we are alive and enjoying this wonderful planet with incredible family and friends. Just put your hands in your heart, close your eyes and take a deep breath.

Elisheba and the Moon

One day a little girl was sitting on a bench. A full moon cleared the sky like a second day. No stars can be seen, only the white beautiful ornament dangling in the grey space. She looked deeply at the moon and felt a wash of light, refreshing beam of softness on her eyes, body and spirit. She took a deep deep breath, closed her eyes and put her hands on her heart, feeling all the joy of the world expanding from her chest. She opened her eyes again and looked at her friend in the sky.

– Girl, you are swimming in love and joy, now you can ask me anything that you do want.

– Moon. Thank you. I want a flower.

In the hands of the little girl, a partially opened red Colombian flower appeared in her hands. It was as wide as her hand with silk thorns. Its fragrance impregnated her soul with good thoughts.

– Moon. Thank you. This is soo beautiful… I want a puppy.

A tiny bark was heard from the corner of the room. A small Havanese dog joyfully run to her lap. She named him Toby. He licked her face and tickle her spirit.

– Moon. Thank you. He is so cute… I want inspiring love.

The moon placed the girl on Earth and gave her the name of Elisheba. Gave her parents that showed her unconditional love. Gave her siblings that taught her how to fast forgive and love no matter what. Gave her friends to create magical experiences. Gave her the world in a blank canvas for her to paint.

A Thought About a Thought

Hi Thought, where do you come from?

It seems you are hidden in the corner of my room

where I self connect before the sunrise.

I know you like to hang out in there.

You become like a child at recess

going all over the places, jumping, running and bumping.

But sometimes, Thought, sometimes

I just want you to be quiet

I want you to be well behaved

Sitting maybe in the corner of your own room

where you can  sit in silence and meditate.

 

Being Kind or Being Right, a Parent Dichotomy

I recently read with my Son the Wonder Book by R. J. Palacio. The book is  about a child, Auggie, who has a disfigured face due to the Treacher Collins syndrome. The novel relates Auggie’s challenges to attend school, make friends and fit in society. The magic of the book relies on Auggie’s journey, touching hearts and changing people around him, making him a remarkable human being, a wonder.

Mr. Brown is the English teacher in the book. He provided a precept (principle that guides our thought and behaviors)  for every month. His September precept, and the first one given in the book, was a quote by Dr. Wayne Dryer:

WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING
RIGHT OR BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND

It sounds beautiful. But in reality it is sometimes  hard for a parent. Can you teach a kid by being kind instead of right?

Yesterday, I stumbled open a story (or maybe a fairy tail) of the Babemba (or Bemba) tribe, which I was not aware of. The Babemba tribe is one of  the 72 tribes in Zambia, located in Southern Africa. The story inspires an incredible human way to deal when someone does something harmful.

The person that does something harmful is taking to the center of the village. The whole tribe surrounds him. The tribe members take turn to tell him all the good things he has ever done, how great he is, etc. The tribe believes we all come to do good and that we all look for safety, happiness and love. The tribe helps him raise his human spirit, connect him to who he truly is.

Today we don’t live in magical tribes.  Our houses have fences and we only see each other at neighborhood parties, kids activities, gym or at the pool in summer.  However, I am fully convinced that we can practice raising our kids human spirits even in the worst situations in our modern fast highly-structured world.

I tried to mimic in a way the Bemba tribe, with my small tribe, my three children. If someone does something bad that we don’t like, we very fast forgive and raise his spirit. And we do it by writing notes.

I recently wrote to my son the following letter, after he did something harmful (He hide my computer because I took his phone away). And, as a surprise, I put the letter in Mom’s home mailbox, when he was not with me.

My Dear Son,


I am so thankful to have you as my son. Because you are an incredible human being
You are kind. Yes you are:
When you help your Mom without asking
When you share your cookies with your brother
When you respond with your smile
When you let your friends play first
When you buy candy for your brother
When you help your sister cross from one side to another playing lava
When you don’t ask for soda in a restaurant to help me save money.

God gave you an incredible body, strength, muscles and flexibility. Soccer teams have enjoyed having you, basketball teams have enjoyed having you. I have seeing you doing front flips, not one, not two, but eight times in a row. I have seen you jumping in your bike, climbing a wall like nobody else, and beating me and all the other kids your age in a 5K race.

I see how kids your age want to be with you. I see how they call you. I see how they come to my door asking for you. I see how nice you are with them inviting them to your house, inviting them for dinner, to sleep overs.

I remember when you took one of your friends for a bike ride, even though you know we was not very good. You had patience and you were there to support him. His dad told me once: Your son is a gentleman, he is welcome every time.

Continue being so awesome with your friends, You just need to be you, showing respect and kindness.  You will have as much friends as the starts in the universe.

Every morning and every night before going to sleep, I put my hands in my heart and think about you. I pour you with blue green magic light that goes form my heart to you. I’m sending you my love. I see you shine, in your room, above the house, above Gaithersburg. A bubble of your love, of your light goes around the US, fills the Earth, fills the universe. I get a sense, a tickling,  an incredible sense of Joy.

I love you,

Your Dad

And here is a written note from his sister, She wrote it when she was 6 year old.

This is just a note, a simple note written by a incredible little human being. Written when his brother was being mean to her. A note highlighting and act of kindness of his brother waiting in the hot sun for her.

I think our kids need more hugs instead of punishments. They need more inspiring words, kind words to raise their spirit instead of more rules and behavioral contracts.

When we are anger about a difficult situation we can’t hear or see. We are in this emotional state where we disconnect from our being.  So, let’s try to reconnect raising our spirits. Raising our kids spirits.  Let’s  practice more a  language that can penetrate that barrier and get deeply into our hearts.  As Mark Twain said:

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

 

 

 

 

A Mindful Walk on Nature

The end of September is a tricky time of the year in the Washington DC area. It might rain, be cold or sunny. I guess it is all part of the magic of Fall.

I was blessed the last weekend of September. I had my kids with me and the weather was on the 70’s. Perfect weather to get out.

I usually engage them in an outdoor activity. I gave them several options: biking the Crescent Trail, hiking the Sugarloaf Mountain or hiking around Clopper Lake. I knew they were going to choose Clopper Lake because it is closer to our home, about 5 minutes away by car. It is an awesome place to hike if you live in the Gaithersburg area. You can walk around the lake, which is about 3.5 miles. You can breath nature, touch nature, smell nature, … reconnect. In other words enjoy a mindful walk.

I parked near the eastern part of the lake and we all walked down to meet the Lake Shore Trail. Immediately Titi took the lead. After few minutes he stopped and looked near a rock. He saw a small creature. I’m not sure about what he exactly was looking at. I was happy he was just exploring. I loved it. I didn’t need to say anything. Their attention became focussed on their surroundings. Their sensory system activated. There was nothing to do but walk and play with whatever they found on the path.

These were some conscious activities that arouse naturally from the two hour hike that I wanted to record, that I might used in future hikes, and that might inspire other parents. Here they are:

1) Look for animal saliva in trees

It sound gross, but is was fun. We looked at the trees cut by beavers and we dare to touch the saliva in the trunk. It was a great opportunity to talk about beavers. We discussed about where they might live, if they swim or not, and how stinky the saliva was compared to other salivas.

2) Estimate beaver bytes from diameter of trees

It was an interesting idea that came from my 7 year all daughter. We started looking at trees and imaging how many bites a beaver had to take to bring the tree down. We looked at a 40 inch tree, and she said: Well.. is like 100 bites. The we looked at a 10 inch tree and she said: I think is like 10 bites.

I was not sure about the efficiency of the beavers, but I think we were not that far away from reality. The point to be made is that it was fun and allowed us to talk about math concepts.

3) Challenge to remain silence

The rule was that nobody can talk. Just walk. We lasted like 10 minutes. It was an interesting exercise to control yourself. I know it is a common practice in mediation retreats where people can’t talk for days. I lost the challenge when I spoke to correct their direction. They were going the wrong way. They were 20 ft in from of me. I had to break the spell by saying Kids go the other way! Next time I will think about getting their attention in a different manner.

3) Try to bend a branch slowly without braking it

This action requires connecting the branch with your heart and feel when it is about to break and stop. It is a very mindful act since you need to concentrate on the pressure of your fingers and fill the branch folding in your hands. Your eyes connect to the branch and to your feelings foreseeing any possible rupture. We broke several of them. What worked best for us was bending and relaxing several times while each time bending a little bit more.

4) Talking, hugging and high fiving trees

This also sounds silly, but it was fun. Specially, my girl does it in a very natural way. For my boys it was a little bit harder. We said: Hi tree how are you? Thank you for being here and cleaning the air that we breath, for making shade, for making this place so beautiful. Then we hug the tree or just high five it. We also respectfully said Bye Tree.

5) Look for turtles or other cool animals

Walking trying to spot animals is great, because you center your attention in an idea. I think it helps thinking of a positive idea and projecting a specific outcome. Something that’s what we need to do more in our lives. Feel the outcome of what you desire. We are going to see a turtle, it is just a matter of time. Almost at the end of our trip, we spot some turtles and took a video of one of them swimming. If you have never seen turtle swimming, here you go:

I recently was in a yoga class, where the teacher was talking about abundance. And she mentioned one idea that made me ponder:

What do you have, that money can’t buy? What is so precious that it will be very hard to put a value on it?

I responded internally in my half lotus position:

Having three kids, hiking in a beautiful lake with them, living in such an awesome safe place like Gaithersburg, and all of us having the health condition to hike for two hours.

Maybe the acts of mindfulness lead to acts of gratitude!

 

Stop and Listen, the Path Will Show You the Way

On July 2018 I was in Tucson attending a meeting. Hot Tucson. Very hot. My flight comming back was at 11 AM on Saturday. I decided to go for a hike before my flight. There are lots of place to hike in Tucson. Tucson is in proximity to two national parks and is surrounded by five mountain ranges. It reminds me of the beautiful Bogota, where I grew up. In Bogota you can experience sunrises magically appearing behind the Cordillera of the Andes mountain range.

I head early to the hiking trail because of my early flight and the weather. At 9 AM it was supposed to be 97 °F. I woke up at 5 AM and arrived to Ventana Canyon Trailhead at sunrise. The Uber left me in the parking lot of the Lowes Hotel, a cool resort in the area. I had no map and no idea of where I was going. The night before my friend Michelle told me that Ventana Canyon Trailhead was the easiest to get in and the easiest to get an Uber to drive me back to the hotel. I just listened to what Michelle told me and I followed.

When I got off the Uber, another hiker was approaching at the end of the parking lot. A nice lady named Laura. We clicked and in seconds we became hiking partners. We both had two hours. She had a map and she was an experience hiker. I followed her. We had a nice conversation about our work, our kids and nature. I just followed.

I haven’t seen so many cactuses in my life. The climbs were steep. I think we went up 1000 ft. It had rained in the past days and the trail was not very clear.

We had to guess in several occasions the best path to take. We finally got to the top of the hill. We experienced beautiful views. The air cleared out. We felt the breeze clearing our thoughts and mind. A sense of bliss.

There are nature water pools in this trail but we never made it to the them. I think we were 5-10 min away from the first pool, where hikers can relax and can get a nice refreshing bath.

 

Getting lost took some of our time, We had to get back, but we had no idea how. We explored several possible paths but we continued getting stuck by a fence of cactus or deep cliffs.  After 10 minutes we saw another hiker coming. We went up and got on the path he was using to get towards us.

We had a brief chat. We told him how we have been trying to get back for a while, the steep conditions of the trail, the hot weather, the pools that we will not be able to meet…
In the middle of our conversation he said one thing that stuck with me:

If you are lost, stop and listen, the path will show you the way.

Sounds weird. Very weird. But if you think about it, it sort of makes a lot of sense. And, it is not a the trail issue, it is a life issue.

We followed his advice. After 10 minutes of heading back we got to another confusing path block. It was a very rocky place. We didn’t remember passing through this intersection. Huge rocks where in front of us inviting us to slide down over their rough surface.

We said, “OK, let’s practice”. We took a deep breath, closed our eyes for 20-30 seconds. Like breathing when doing mediation, but standing up. We opened our eyes again. We looked around and smiled. The trail was hidden behind some bushes. We continued our way back. I got on time for my flight coming back and Laura got on time to have breakfast with her husband. Happy Ending!

Finding our way with a mindful attitude is what I remember most of this trip. This goes back to the idea of being connected with our surroundings, specially when we are surrounded by nature, by the pure greatness of creation.

I think the practice of stopping an listening doesn’t only applies in a hiking path lost situation, but possibly in every situation in our life. We need to stop, reset our thoughts, our emotions, and what worries us more.

Let it go, breath it out, surrender and listen.

Hacking Negative Emotions

I previously wrote a blog about gratitude practices. In this blog I want to talk about the science behind why gratitude makes us happier and how to we can hack negative emotions.

What is Gratitude?

Before getting into the science let’s define Gratitude. I like the definition by Sansone & Sansone:

“Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”

thankyou

The  “what” in the definition, makes gratitude an event related emotion.  Gratitude is triggered.  Without the “what” (or an event) there is nothing to be grateful for. We, as humans need to be aware of the event, process it, and convert it to a feeling.  The feeling will take us to a state of thankfulness, which is a positive emotion.  

How de we assign feelings to events?

I put my philosopher hat and came up with the following. Note: This helps me understand the process so I can hack it. I just want to share it.

framework

The process of assigning feeling to events  can be broken down into three parts. 1) An event occurs, 2) the event is perceived and 3)  a feeling is associated to that event. Let’s take an event that has a negative emotional outcome.

negative

Event

An event is just something that happens in a given location and at a given time. Example of events are: Someone said that you look great yesterday in the afternoon,  the morning was sunny, I drank a coffee today in the morning,  I hiked for 3 hours over the weekend, I got a bonus this year in December, someone passed me and almost hit my car during my morning commute, etc.

You can’t control some of the events, what people think, say or do. 

control

However, you can control how you react to events, what time you wake up, what you eat and how you spend your time.

Perception

Perception is the process of becoming aware with your senses of a particular event. For instance, if someone is saying that you are great, but you don’t perceive (hear) it, this event is like it never occured. And then later if someone tells you about it you might say in a clueless voice “Whaaaaat?”.

When we process an event, we use previous memories but we can also overwrite the feeling caused by similar events. In other words, we can perceive events (even if they don’t seem negative) to be a positive one, and create a positive emotion.

We process the event both in a conscious and unconscious way. The unconscious way taps into previous similar experiences (thanks to the amygdala).  

Feeling

The third component is feeling. After the event occurs and you perceive it, a feeling is associated to the event. If it is a strong feeling, we call it an emotion. In the perception process we initially and subconsciously assign a feeling.  The feeling take us to an emotional state. The thing is, we can change the outcome (emotional state), by hacking the event, or how we perceive the event.

How can we improve happiness with gratitude?

Here is my practical take on this. One of the ways to be happy is to practice gratitude. Gratitude can come easily with events that are positive and that we can easily find value from them. The difficult part is hacking events that take us to negative emotional states. And this is where I want to suggest some strategies.

  1. Create more events that can take us to positive emotional states. Try to do what you love everyday. Spend your time on stuff that you are passionate about, dance more, sing more, laugh more, have more sex, etc.
  2. Self talk by reframing the perception of the events that take you to negative emotional states and, be grateful about the new way you look at the event.  The trick is to take over your emotional brain. This is how:

 

 

process-end.png

 

Our rational mind has the ability to rationalize and overwrite our belief systems. This is why we need to create in our minds a better story. Once we doubt or reframe our previous memories that shape our belief system, we can start looking at events in a different way. We can get so good at this that some people can almost get from an  insane “negative” event  something positive and be thankful for it. Just listen to the inspire story of Mo Gawdat or the JJ Virgin’s story about mindset and miracles both at Lewis Howes Podcast. Also, another good reference about how to get control if your brain is Mel Robbins’ 5 Second rule.

So let’s create positive stories and make this world better by improving our interaction with yourself and others.

 

Four Minute Journal in Evernote

Daily practicing of gratitude, affirmation and goals can help you be more happy and more focus on what you want to achieve in your life. One of the ways to do this is via a journal.

In the past I’ve been journaling in my notebook, in a word document and in Evernote. I felt disorganized. Over the christmas break I found a system that has been working for me only using Evernote mimicking the very successful five minute journal. I call it the four minute journal. I am enjoying it and I thought will be great to share.

ovearall-evernote

A great example journal is the Five Minute Journal from the Intelligent Change company. The journal contains all the sections I think are good to start the day with gratitude, affirmations and goals.

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The Five Minute Journal sections include:

  • A Grateful section
  • Daily Affirmation section
  • What would make your day great section
  • Other sections that are a reflection of the day

This journal is great, but I travel a lot and carrying a paper journal is sometimes impractical. I am also an avid user of Evernote. So, I thought, well maybe I can mimic this great paper journal so it can work in Evernote. Here is how I did it.

Preparation

  1. Create a notebook called Journal (Go to File / New Notebook).
  2. Add the Journal Notebook to shortcuts (Go to View / Notebooks and then right click on the notebook and select Add to Shortcuts).
  3. Create a template, called Template Journal Entry (check it out here to see it and download it).
  4. Copy it inside the Journal notebook.

Morning Routine

After I mediate, take a shower and do my coffee, I sit down and do the following:

  1. Duplicate the template note (right click on the Template Journal Entry note and select duplicate note). duplicate
  2. Open the new note with name: Template Journal Entry copy. 
  3. Rename it to today’s date. I use the convention yyyy-mm-dd, since it will allow me to order the nodes by Title.
  4. Insert an inspirational quote. I have a link in the template which helps me finding an inspiring quote that I can related at that moment. When I found it, I copy it in my note.copy-quote.jpg
  5. Add three things you are grateful for.  This don’t need to be the usual things (e.g. kids, job, home). I try to think about small things.
  6. Write your daily affirmation. I write this from scratch not looking at my vision statement or previous affirmations. It helps me reorganized and tweak my vision.
  7. Write 3 things that will make your day great. I think about this as three achievements that can get closer to my most  important goals.
  8. Move excitedly to your other daily tasks.

This is an Example of yesterday’s note

great-04

I hope you  find this post useful and will help you with your morning routine. Happy New Year 2018!

Happy and Wise Christmas

Christmas is a special time of the year to be with family and friends, remember  Jesus’ birth,  be kind to each other,  exchange presents, eat, dance, hug and laugh. This is the first Christmas in 13 years that I will not be with my kids. This is the bad side of a separation.  Anyway, I  will be with my kids on New Year’s Eve and we will celebrate a late Christmas. I will go to Church, volunteer, and take time to reflect about how to give more and become wiser (especially with my kids).

 

christmas.jpg

Practicing Gratitude

I ask my kids every night before they go to sleep to tell me one thing they are grateful for. They respond “Thank you God for …”. They go to bed with the most memorable experience of the day in their minds. This practice is one of the things I put a lot of effort in and is one of the things I would like them to remember for the rest of their lives. Maybe it will be so hardwired in their brain that it will pass to their children. But,  sometimes, let me tell you, it is not that easy.

bedtime

I meditate in the mornings for many reasons. However, one reason is to help me practice my gratitude.  In the morning after meditating and with my hands on my heart I think about various things I’m grateful for.  I think about three to five things. Some I repeat every day (I can never stop being thankful for my kids) but I always try to find one or two new little things.

sunful

On some occasions I use a journal to log my thoughts of gratitude.  Sometimes a jot down my thoughts digitally in Evernote (I will do a post about this in the future) and other times in my moleskin notebook. But, I am more consistent with my thoughts after meditation.

Gratitude has tons of benefits. Just read this post “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude” that compiles more than 40 studies that shows how gratitude improves happiness. Even though I’m not in the place where I want to be, I’m very grateful for where I am and how I got here.

I’m not sure when I started to consciously practice gratitude. Maybe it was my mom, that taught me to be appreciative at the half full glass, one of the podcasts I heard, or a message at church. The fact is, I have stuck with this practice for more than a year.

Here are my two favorite gratitude practices from successful people (Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss) which I consider my mentors.

Tony Robbins practices gratitude in the middle of his 10 minute daily priming routine. I do a similar practice.  I give thanks after my 20-30 minutes of morning mediation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXbUFgqjMdk&w=500]

Tim Ferriss uses the Five Minute Journal in which the first section is about gratitude. I sometimes do something similar. I’m just not as good with paper any more, even though I like my moleskin notebook and have thought about buying the Five Minute Journal. I most of the times prefer Evernote.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glFMpyx_oU4&w=500]


I’m planing to do more posts related to this topic in the next weeks. Stay tuned.

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