The Magical Power of Touch Points

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Last winter after I resigned from my job and decided to head overseas for an adventure, I volunteered at a 10-day silent meditation retreat as a transitional activity to ease my mind and to get comfortable with the complete change in my normal routine that would be coming soon.  I had sat at a 10-day silent meditation retreat before as a student and I had volunteered half-time at another one, but I had never volunteered a full course.  I expected the usual hard work in the kitchen where about six to seven of us would start the day at 4:30 in the morning to cook three meals per day for 70-plus students.  While the work could be strenuous, it was fun to chat with my colleagues in the kitchen and have friendly banter. We also had three different times during the day where we were able to sit for a full hour and meditate with the students.

 

Soon enough my work-in-the-kitchen and meditate-on-the-side routine became very comfortable five days into the retreat, but on the sixth day that all came crashing down. The manager of all 40 of the female students took a nasty fall on some ice and all eyes (literally and figuratively) were on me to step in as the female manager as she ended up having to leave the retreat early.  I had no experience at any point ever in my life of being the manager of anything.  The stress of the situation felt very dense as it was the sixth day in and I could tell that many of the students’ mental states were being tested. The main female meditation teacher sent me on three different errands within the first hour of being the manager, mostly to help check in on girls that were having sickness or intense emotional trauma.

 

Just as with most big changes in my life, even ones that from an outsider’s perspective might seem small, my egoic mind started racing.  Not only were the thoughts in my mind racing, but they were crashing into each other like children playing bumper cars for the first time.  Here I thought that I was such a good meditator, but I figured out that this was a real-life situation where I was being tested on how skillful I had become with my mind. On the second day of being female manager, I almost had a sheer panic attack as I had to stand in front of 70 pairs of eyes peering at me as I counted to make sure that every female meditator was in the meditation hall and if they weren’t there I’d have to discuss with the teacher and go to find them.

 

I mentioned to the meditation teacher that second night of being female manager that I have an extreme fear of being in any spotlight, even at a silent meditation retreat.  I told her about how I was on the verge of a panic attack a multitude of times that day.  She had great advice which to this day still sticks with me.  Her advice was that as soon as I felt that panicky feeling come on, to notice my extremities.  She told me to feel where my fingers and toes were at the moment of panic or anxiety; for an example, right now I can sense my fingers tapping against this shiny keyboard and my feet…they are resting on top of each other on this cool pavement below me. It instantly brought me back into my body and out of my head.

 

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I have brought this tool with me throughout all the hustle and bustle of daily life.  I often get anxiety attacks in grocery stores.  Most recently I was at a grocery store on a weeknight around 6:00 and I was standing in line with crowds of people around me.  I had that familiar panicky feeling come on, where I felt as if the floor below me was just about to collapse and the walls were going to come down, but before that full on anxiety attack could hit me, I brought awareness to the extremities and was instantly calmed.  As soon as I sensed my fingers placed on the handle of my shopping cart and my toes were resting in my shoes that were flat on the shiny white floor, I felt soothed.  I am so thankful for learning this technique and highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety or panic attacks.

Peace out!  🙂

 

–Ilona

Gratitude in Action

“I am so incredibly grateful that you and your car got us from Portland to this trailhead safely,” my friend Mary stated.

And now it was my turn...”I am so incredibly grateful that I have a refrigerator and cupboard stocked full of healthy foods.”

Another steep part of the hike was upon us, we both went back into the solitude of our minds until we reached flat land again.

I am so grateful for the household that I live in,” Mary said.

I am so grateful that I have my health to be able to do this awesome hike,” I said.

My friend Mary and I have been on many hikes throughout the Pacific Northwest together since I started hanging out with her almost three years ago.  A few weeks ago we ventured on a hike and came up with a new way of hiking. Each time we came upon a new incline to hike up, we had to each think of something near and dear to our heart that we were grateful for and then once we reached flat land again, we’d share with each other what we were thinking. We did it in some back lands behind Silver Falls in Silverton, Oregon.  The trail had many inclinations and there were no other souls around.  I felt so light and as if my body was buzzing throughout the hike.

I have always known the power of gratitude as I have seen it work wonders in others’ lives and my own.  Meditation has helped me to further integrate into the wonderful energy of gratitude. By being so completely present in the moment, everything seems like a miracle.  Of course, the monkey mind comes back quite often (dang it, I’m still human!) But for the most part, ever since starting my meditation practice half a decade ago, everything…a spoonful of delicious soup, resting my body on a comfortable bed, or having a meaningful conversation with a dear friend  have all become moments of gold.

A couple different spiritual teachers that I have been listening to lately have inspired me to start a new daily practice, I made up my own term for it, I call it “3 and 3.”  It’s super easy, doesn’t take a lot of time and is incredibly powerful.  I either do it at night or in the morning when I’m having my coffee.  Basically, I list three things in which I am grateful for, but honestly it’s more than just listing them…I actually try to really feel how deep my gratitude is for them.  Then I list three intentions that I have for that day (or if I’m doing this at night, I list three intentions for the next day.) I have found this to be a very powerful practice because more often than not I reach almost all of those intentions that day.

If that seems like a lot of extra activity to your already packed world, maybe just try to do it for the week.  So before the week starts, list three things you intend to get done that week and three things that you are in gratitude of from the last week.  I have found that actually writing them out, with pen and paper really seems to make it happen.  Do whatever works for you yo, I just hope you do give it a shot and see for yourself!

Peace out!

Listen to Your Heart! And Woah! I did a video?!

​​​​Took a hike to one of my favorite waterfalls and decided to try and attempt something that scares the crap outta me: vlogging!  Click and watch a short 2-minute video done by a rookie.  The message is all about following the heart!

Materialistic Mindfulness

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After my first 10-day meditation retreat, something within me really snapped and shifted.  All of a sudden I wanted to get rid of a ton of personal belongings.  I still found a few items very meaningful: my journal, coffeemaker and hygienic tools were things that were important to me. However, my shelves upon shelves of dusty DVDs, CDs, books, and random knick-knacks felt heavy. Impulsively, I grabbed a few large garbage bags and just started pulling all of these items that felt heavy to me and gently placed them into the garbage bags.  Without thinking twice, I jetted the collected items over to my local thrift store and dropped them all of without looking behind.  I felt a lightness in my mental and physical state instantly.

Materialism has never been my thing, but especially since starting meditation in 2011, it seems that any fractal of interest in it has dwindled even more.  Almost a year into my 20-minute daily meditation practice, I was inspired to write a piece for Lightworkers World about how I feel in regards to the idea of physical things creating inner happiness. The deeper and deeper that I have gone into the depths of my soul, the further I have gotten from caring about comparing what others’ have to what I have. I have instead thought more and more about how I appreciate the things that I do have and truly taste the blessings that I am given on a daily basis.  The cravings for more lessen as I see how amazing it is that I have a fully stocked kitchen, efficient means of transportation, and ohhhhhh so much more!

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When I was visiting my sister on the East Coast over this past winter, I had a couple of Netflix binges and upon doing so came across an incredibly inspiring documentary entitled “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.”  The main two cast members of the documentary Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodermus also have an inspiring website, The Minimalists, which you should definitely check out if you have time.  A lot of what they mentioned in their documentary was exactly the same thoughts that I had been having shortly after my first 10-day meditation retreat.  They touch upon the last few decades of American culture and how it has heavily influenced our consumer mindset.  We have somehow been driven to think that things create happiness, but as the late George Carlin would state “trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all of your body.”

Over the last six years, I have moved about eight times (what can I say, a spiritual awakening can cause a bit of chaos, hehe) and one of the moves was cross-country. With each move, my amount of possessions has lessened and I find myself only holding onto the things that I find necessary.  Not having a whole lot of clothes makes life so much easier to me and the few clothing items that I do have are my absolute favorite, so I get excited to wear them.  Everything that I own, besides some old mementos stored in family and friends’ attics, fits into my vehicle. It feels so freeing to be able to pick up and go to a new place if my heart is calling it, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this.

I am excited to see a lot of other people feeling the same way about materialism, how it’s not truly all that it’s cracked up to be.  Advertisements are unfortunately always going to be around as long as money is around, but at least as we get more and more in touch with ourselves and remembering who we truly are, we will be able to get less swayed by those advertisements.  How are you feeling about all the things that surround you right now?  Do you truly need all of it?  Or might you be able to donate some of those extra items that you haven’t touched in ages?

344Everything that I owned in 2011 as I made my way from the Midwest to the West Coast of the U.S.

As always, please comment and share your thoughts with me, I love feedback 🙂

Take care, much peace and love!  ❤

Meditate With Me!

 

Wooh!  Spring is in the air, summer is right around the corner and the collective energy feels exciting. With that excitement, there is a slight undertone of feeling scattered. It feels like everyone is making plans for the future: backpacking trips, camping trips, road trips.  All of these thoughts of making future plans makes it feel difficult to stay focused in the here and now.  This is how the last couple of weeks has felt for me at least. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and as if I am being pulled in a million different directions I try to find a spare 10 minutes to sit and meditate, adding this onto my other daily habit of 20 minutes of meditation in the morning.

 

In the spirit of community I thought it would be awesome to record a 10-minute guided meditation.  This meditation is one that I have shared with countless friends and acquaintances when they have asked me if I could instruct them in meditating.  I learned this one from the “Insight” meditation group that I joined in Portland, Oregon back in 2012.  What exactly is “Insight” meditation might you ask? It is derived from one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation called “Vipassana” meditation. Vipassana involves focusing on the deep interconnection between mind and body.  It involves focusing on your breath and anytime your attention wavers, you gently bring yourself back to your breath.

 

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I start out the meditation with having us take a few deep breaths together which helps to ground us into the present moment.  I then ask us to notice three touch-points, noticing your connection to whichever surface they might be on (i.e. your hands resting against your knees or thighs, your bottom on a cushion or a chair.)  We then will bring our attention up to our nostrils and become aware of the cool air coming in and the warm air as we breathe out. Paying attention to the sensation of the in and out breath is the main focus for the rest of the 10 minutes.  Some might not like this type of meditation, but I am hoping that it does help a few. There are an incredible number of different types of meditation and mindfulness techniques, so if one doesn’t work for you, don’t you worry because there are countless others to try.

 

Click on the recording below (best listened to with headphones) and join me for 10 minutes of meditation, I hope this helps you!! 🙂

 

 

 

My Three Go-Tos

I was on a date recently where the guy goes, “so, are you like a health nut?  Like….do you drink green smoothies and run five miles a day?”  I had to pause and think about it until it dawned on me that yes, I actually have become the health nut-type. When I was a teenager I used to make fun of  the health nut-types and I thought a lot of them might have a stick up their butt, but come to find out….looks like you can become what you hated, hehe.  It took some years to catch onto it, but now I completely understand why there is a hype to creating healthy habits. The high vibration I feel after downing raw veggies, fruit, and nuts daily, the endorphins that get released after I go on a long run, and the way anxiety floats away after meditating all feel really good.

 

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During the hustle and bustle of life and ever-changing moments it’s so easy to get caught up and lost in it that we forget to take care of ourselves.  Between busy work schedules, commuting, remembering to call friends or family on their birthday, getting back to text messages, and so many other things that come up it’s so easy to forget about ourselves. Extremely stressful times seem to be when we are most prone to forgetting about caring for ourselves.  Divorce, break-ups, losing someone close to us, moving, starting a new job, raising a family, and whatever other major life change we are going through can test our limits and push us to the brink of insanity. What has helped me for times of intense life debacles is what I call my “Three Go-Tos.”

 

My “Three Go-Tos” are the three things that I try to do on a daily basis without any hesitations or reservations.  When life is going really well, things are going smooth, and I am managing time well is when it’s most important to do my “Three Go-Tos. ”  These times are the most important because I definitely notice that healthy habits seem to slip through my fingers when things are going so seemingly well for me.  It’s so easy for me to think “accccckkkkk, I am feeling good and things are grand, I can skip my 20-minute morning meditation today…” and then those kind of thoughts can easily become a habit of their own.  When things are going nicely in life, it is most important to keep up the healthy habits so that when life does throw those curve balls we can stay strong and remember the sources that help us.

 

So everyone’s “Three Go-Tos” are going to look differently, but my three that I don’t even think twice about anymore would be: having a protein-filled vegetable and fruit smoothie daily, meditating for 20 minutes in the morning, and running daily.  I have noticed in the last year how clear-minded I have felt and how focused I have become with these daily habits.  They have become so ingrained into me as daily activities that I feel weird if I skip one or two on any given day.  I do try to give myself a break if situations come up, it’s best not to become so strict that you end up becoming a “Go-To” robot, but it is great to keep in the habit.

 

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^^^ One of my fav go-to smoothie recipes^^^

 

Do you have some daily “Go-Tos” that have been getting you through this crazy journey of life?  What would be three of them if you had to choose?  If you can’t think of anything off the top of your head stop by this post to see if it helps to get your brain juices spinning: Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of…  I would really love to see what helps you guys and get some new ideas so that maybe I can switch up my “Three Go-Tos” from time to time.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂 Peace!

 

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Revamping before 33!

The road to 33 is looking good!



I have gotten so off track from my initial intentions with what I wanted to do with this blog, but that is going to change!  When I started this blog (gasp) almost five years ago I entitled it “Ilona’s Meditation Challenge” because that’s what it was going to be.  My original plan was to write down what I noticed from starting a daily 20-minute meditation practice and it kind of twisted and turned into something completely different, it became a bit more random.  That’s okay though because from it I have gained a ton of blogging friends and acquaintances.  I would like to steer this blog vehicle though back on track and keep at it.

With my 33rd birthday coming around the corner it has hit me that I truly am not getting any younger here.  So with that, I want to work on sharing a blog post at least once a week about all things MIND, BODY, AND SOUL!  I want to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves, to help remind them that WE CAN CHANGE OUR WAYS and that IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.  The only way that we can make that truly happen though is to have the desire to change, that is the first step.

So in the coming weeks, I will be challenging myself (as my blog page is now accurately named) to post one blog post per week that has everything to do with: meditation, healthy eating, exercise, and anything else that you can think of that helps to heal MIND, BODY, AND SOUL.  I am going to release any guilt that I have held onto about wasting time or any ways in which I have been unconscious.  I want to change within, bring it out into the world and inspire others if they too have this similar goal.

Please join me in these coming weeks.  I plan on sharing what I notice with my two daily meditations (I have now been meditating for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.) I will be sharing book reviews (I am currently reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.) I will be recording guided meditations for you to listen to and try out. I might even try my hand at making a video or two!

The point is, we are all in this together.  Everything is truly connected and everything we thought we knew is not going to last.  So let’s prepare ourselves now so as not to freak out when the crumbling begins (which it has already started a bit anyhow.). Let’s become more conscious together.  Let’s take a look at our bullshit stories that keep running/ruining our lives and transform them.  Please take my hand and cross this river with me.
Peace!

From my jog this morning:


Amen to that!!!!!

Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of……

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Life can throw curve balls at us, some days are tougher than others. We are all in need of healing as long as we are living in these bodies, in this world. I thought it would be fun to make a list of what has helped me in healing myself from the struggles life can seem to make. I would love if you added activities/actions that have helped you to heal your mind, body and soul in the “comments” section below. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of…..

–Curling up under a blanket and getting lost in a book.
–Waking up in the morning and drinking a full glass of water.
–Getting a back massage from a friend.
–Finding a new park or neighborhood that you have never been to and going for a walk in it.
–Writing three full pages of whatever is on your mind and not stopping until you get to the third page.
–Savoring a warm cup of hot chocolate/tea/coffee, drinking each sip mindfully.
–Sitting for twenty minutes, doing nothing but focusing strictly on each in-breath and each out-breath.
–Volunteering in your community.
–Playing music with others.
–Cooking a meal that you have never cooked before.
–Running/jogging for twenty minutes without stopping.
–Writing down what you dreamt of the night before.
–Drawing a picture.
–Painting a picture.
–Photography (check out my photos from Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho if you have time: Freak Alley.)
–Writing a story.
–Catching up with a friend that lives near you over a bowl of steaming Vietnamese pho.
–Hugging others fully, with two arms and for longer than three seconds.
–Caring for a furry friend.
–Having life conversation with an elderly person.
–Having life conversation with a child.
–Watching a good movie.
–Traveling to a city that you have never been to before, alone.
–Listening to music.
–Being here, NOW, over and over remembering to come back to right here, right NOW.
–Playing a childhood recess game with your adult friends.
–Getting a new haircut.
–Going for a hike in nature.
–Biking.
–Skating (roller skating, roller blading, skateboarding.)
–Working in a garden.
–Sampling new beers or wines.
–Blogging.
–Exploring a new city with friends.
–Walking alongside large bodies of water.
–Writing down three things that you are grateful for on a daily basis.
–Learning a new skill.
–Having a phone date with a friend far away.
–Kissing a good kisser.
–Going on spontaneous road trips/drives/car rides with music blasting out of the car speakers.

Meditation Musings

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My friend and I reached the top of the hilly incline to a viewpoint that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.  The vastness of the ocean view and the sound of the waves was something to meditate on.  I set my maroon colored water bottle on the ground beside me and sat down on a big boulder, asking my friend if she’d mind if I meditated for a few minutes.  She gave me the go ahead, “of course not, that’s a great idea!”  I closed my eyes and became aware of touch points–my bottom on the boulder, my feet planted firmly on the ground, and my right hand cupped in my left hand with the back of my hands on my lap.  When I felt 100% grounded, I started focusing on my breath, the cold air gently moving up through my nostrils and the warm air moving out.  After a few minutes, I opened my eyes again.

“Sooooo, how do you meditate exactly?”  My friend questioned.  I hadn’t realized that my friend of fifteen years didn’t actually know what I was doing on the boulder.  “Do you just try to think of nothing?” She asked.  I felt a surge of excitement in my belly and started telling her about all that I had been learning about meditation since I moved to Oregon six months prior.  Moving to a new state without a job secured and not knowing a single soul was a pretty traumatic shock to my system, but had I not pushed myself to do it, I don’t think I would have landed on the path that brought me to a practice that has brought me the most healing in my life: the practice of meditation.

After stopping a tobacco addiction, an addiction to pills, and ending a long-term relationship with an alcoholic over the course of time between my sixteenth and twenty-sixth years on this planet, coming to Oregon alone was like a re-birth into a new life.  I forced myself to join community groups and among them, found a meditation group that met every Tuesday.  I had been reading a lot of self-help books about meditation and listening to a guided meditation CD that my mom gifted me with before I made my trek from the Midwest to the West Coast.  At the Tuesday night meditation group, I learned so much more about meditation and am forever grateful for the veteran teacher that created the group.

I explained to my friend about what I do during my meditation, that I constantly pay attention to my in-breath and out-breath (I do the Vipassana technique, one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation.)  That thinking about nothing isn’t the purpose of my meditation, the purpose is to become aware.  Stories, ideas, to-do lists, what someone said to me earlier that day that hurt me, someone that I need to contact later, and many other things will come up in my meditation.  The point though is to not get stuck or attached to any of those things, to just be aware of them and continually coming back to breath, to presence.  Eventually, with a daily practice, you truly become aware of the nature of the mind and how easy it is to come back into the moment of NOW with the breath.

The practice of meditation has helped and healed me so much, layers upon layers of my self have been coming off.  Just when I think that I have come to the deepest aspects of my soul, of consciousness, new ideas and concepts come to me.  Out of all the travels that I have done, meditation has been the most intense journey out of all of them.  It hasn’t been easy picking up this practice, but I can definitely tell you that it has been worth it.  I want to help people bring this healing modality into their lives, so anytime a friend asks me about….it’s guaranteed I will turn into a motor mouth and this blog is another avenue in how I want to help people with this.  If this post has helped even just one person in getting interested in meditation….then I have done my job.  🙂