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"Simply" Increasing Prosperity

A client of mine recently gave me a "triumph call"-- he'd achieved a goal he'd been working on for a long time: financial independence. "You were right all this time," he said. "I did increase prosperity through simplifying my life!" In just two years he went from an overworked, overstressed, overweight, overspent marketing director to a debt-free, relaxed, physically fit writer (with freedom to work as much or as little as he cares to!). He changed where he worked, where he lived, what he thought, and how he spent his money and time, gradually shifting the course of his life onto the path he'd always dreamed.

This story is not a miracle. Each of us is able to live our dreams--and the Universe wants us to live our dreams. However, the pressures of our culture obscure the path to living our ideal lives. Many of us work and spend more than we would if we weren't immersed in a society that worships MORE.

The antidote to this is to simplify. Enhance the activities and expenses that are of top value to you (a "9" or "10" on a 1-10 scale) and start diminishing those that are less than that. It may involve saying "no" to good things--but the payoff is saying "yes" to what you value more! That is prosperity.

A simple life may look different from the packaged "prosperity" that our culture holds out as the norm. The client mentioned above sold his house and bought a small place with the cash he received on equity. Instantly, he was mortgage-free. Our society says you are supposed to increase your living space at all costs. For this man, who plans to travel in the south all winter, and isn't highly focused on home-making, a small place is actually better. And the fact that it's paid for frees him up to work less, play more, and experiment with ideas he's been longing to do. That's more prosperity than when he had a huge home and mortgage, and was under pressure to make a large income to keep up with his expenses.

Another client increased her prosperity by simplifying what she did with her time. "Everything I do is for someone else!" she discovered. She was spending the bulk of her energy satisfying other people's expectations and agendas. When she simplified down to just the things that mattered most to her, she reduced her stress level, improved her health, and discovered a dormant creative talent. In an unexpected by-product, her marriage improved. In her words she became "much easier to live with!"

Prosperity comes when you set your sights firmly on your ideal life. Simplifying expenses, activities, and mindset creates the freedom you need to make changes. You "make room" for true prosperity to come into your life.


The Great Sensuous Eating Experience

We are designed to be exquisitely, intimately involved with food. Food is more than just sustenance--it's a total sensory experience. If you perfunctorily toss down edibles without savoring them to the fullest you are missing the banana boat.

Unfortunately, the Board of Very Cranky Adults decided a long time ago on rules to inhibit our enjoyment of food. It's time we took matters into our own hands and reclaimed the right to revel in food with all our senses.

Here are new rules, created by the Committee for the Advancement of Simple Pleasures. Post them on your refrigerator. Read them before preparing a meal. Adopt them. Love them.

1. Throw your food
You never truly know a food until you've tossed it around. Nothing's better for making you notice a food's shape, texture, color and, well, aerodynamics.

Try it! Grasp the solid roundness of an orange. Finger the smooth, pocked peel. Toss it into the air and catch it, appreciating how it grows smaller as it goes farther away, larger as it returns. Enjoy the smack as it hits your palm. Feel the weight in your hand. Repeat as many times as it takes to lift your spirits. Bonus points if another person walks in and you play catch with them. When you've fully enjoyed throwing the orange, eat it (it's now more flavorful from being warmed, and juicier from gentle impact.)

2. Eat with your fingers
Children want to eat canned peaches with their fingers. Why? BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD. People like to lick the batter bowl as much as eat the finished treat. Why? BECAUSE IT'S FUN. The touch of food on ANY part of the body can be a joy!

Try this: serve an entire meal sans silverware, giving everyone permission to use fingers, tongues, or whatever part of their body gets the food to their mouth. Here's a good menu for a variety of textures: spaghetti (serve it with your hands!), salad, bread (tear pieces off the loaf), and ice cream sundaes for dessert. You and your family or friends will never forget the tactile joy of delving hands into your food and licking fingers throughout the meal.

Bonus points for chanting, "Silverware is a sensory rip-off!"

3. Inhale your food
You know how tasteless food is when your nose is stuffed up--tuna may as well be rubber, and toast tastes like cardboard. Since your tongue only reports four tastes (salty, bitter, sweet, sour) and your nose senses over 10,000 smells, you must smell your food to get the real flavor. For example, maple sugar, white sugar, brown sugar and honey all have the exact same taste--sweet. What allows you to distinguish them is the smell, both before it's in your mouth, and after as it wafts up the back of your throat to your olfactory cells.

Make it a habit to close your eyes (you can smell better by eliminating the dominant sense) and slowly breathe in the smell of your food for a good 10 seconds. Let the rich smell of lasagna fill your nose. Enjoy the yeasty smell of bread. Be tickled by the scent of orange juice. Draw in the comforting aroma of tea. Notice the scents of foods you don't normally think to smell, like carrots, raisins or milk. The more you smell it, the better your food will taste.

4. Make noise
Groan with pleasure, sigh in contentment, oooh in amazement, burp in satisfaction, smack in appreciation. Let a taste be so wonderful you emit the sound it inspires. After all, food talks to you -- the snap of raw green beans, the clicking of pasta being stirred, the crinkly crack of eggshell, the sizzling of frying onions. Have a meal where no one can talk, only make non-word noises. You will love the freedom to make sounds that actually add to your food experience. Food is noisy---and so are you, if you dare!

5. Don't waste time on convenience
Spend time with your food. Wash and cut up your own vegetables, appreciating their bumpy, sleek, or fuzzy textures. Make bread from scratch every so often, to punch your hands into flour-dusted dough. Turn off the television and make dinner preparation a family event; some of the world's most meaningful conversations occur while making food. You don't win anything by eliminating preparation. In fact, you lose--money, pleasure, satisfaction, communion, and one of life's greatest simple pleasures.

6. Play with your food
It's okay to arrange your peas into a Star of David if you want to. Put a carrot nose on the eggplant if it makes you laugh. Find out how many green grapes fit in your mouth without breaking. Arrange red and gold apples in a centerpiece. Why not experiment with your food, play with it, get more enjoyment out of it than just the chewing?

Food is fun. Food is divine. It's a gift from creation that wouldn't have had to be so interesting and beautiful. To do it justice we should enjoy it in all ways--its looks, its sounds, its smells, tastes, and textures. Bless your food. Exult in it. And if a little lands on the walls, so be it.

Sensuous Spirituality

Is there any spiritual experience that does not come through the senses? Think about it: you have an intuitive flash--accompanied by a visceral "punch" in the stomach. You experience a moment of profound spiritual bliss-- and a vibrating sense of well-being floods your body. You have a psychic blast--you "saw" something before it happened. On this earthly plane our spirits and bodies are entwined. To fully experience our soul, we must embrace our senses.

Your senses feed you information both from outside, such as sounds and scenes and textures, and from the inside, such as heart beating, blood rushing, or stomach growling (plug your ears and hear the great booming going on inside you)! By tuning more acutely into your senses, you increase your spiritual power. You become more sensitive to spiritual messages.

Great spiritual practices intimately involve the senses. For example, in some forms of meditation one absorbs every detail in the surroundings. In the sweat lodge, heat facilitates spiritual cleansing. Mantras create sound and vibrations in one's head and chest. The smoke of incense or sage pleases the eyes and nose. Many practices involve the body at large, such as twirling Sufi dancing, yoga's Sun Salutation and the stand/sit/kneel/sign of the cross sequence of Catholic mass. Taste may be involved, as in Holy Communion at Christian services or bitter herbs at Jewish Passover. And of course, music is integral to spiritual experience. Clearly, the senses are vital to fully accessing our spirituality.

Improve your senses

You can physically improve some of your senses, such as smell, touch, balance, vision and taste. Others like hearing and the magnetic sense (that which allows dowsers to find water, and lost people to find home) cannot be physically improved, but through increased awareness can effectively feed you more information.

Gratefulness is essential

The first step in improving sensuality is to be thankful for your senses and amazing body. Appreciate that you are as much a being of the Earth as of the stars. Many spiritual seekers denigrate the body or see it as a blockade to higher realms, a "lesser" part of our being. This attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is impossible to truly feel that we belong in the universe until we embrace our natures as physical and spiritual creatures. Bless the senses as the pathways through which you experience everything in this lifetime. They are a link to the divine.

Intention is next

Desiring greater awareness improves sensuality. You may savor the tang of raspberry juice. Listen to the musical drop of water into the sink. Close your eyes and experience the rushing of wind in your ears. This focus will immediately seem to improve your senses, when all you have done is begun to pay more attention.

Exploration stretches sensual boundaries

To tune your senses to even higher awareness, follow your curiosity. Senses must be explored and challenged to keep improving. Explore a little right now: Feel the coarseness of the paper in your hands. Smell the page. Now shake the paper and hear its different sounds. Touch your tongue to the page and notice the taste and texture (and how funny you look!). Now think of one more way to experience this paper through your senses.

Exploration is harder because it's more obvious. People may notice you doing unusual things, such as listening closely to the clicking as you stir noodles, or holding your coffee mug up to watch curls of steam. But it is in these moments of exploration and wonder that you become open to spiritual experience. Remember as a child how a ladybug crawling over your hand transported you to awe? You can regain this spiritual sense of wonder by embracing the millions of simple and holy things all around you. Smell your food, feel a stone building, rub bare feet on the carpet, add green herbs to a dish, or touch the skin of one you love.

Practice keeps you improving

Random exploration is great---but intentional, repeated exercises are key to expanding your sensory awareness. For example, 50% of the population cannot smell one of the main human hormones that we emit, but with daily practice, half of those developed the ability to smell it. Many people find there are foods they don't like, yet by always sampling a tiny bit of everything--even things you don't like---you eventually "teach" your tongue to enjoy a wider realm of flavors.

Embracing the brilliance of the senses is embracing every aspect of life. It's living fully as a physical and spiritual being. Improving and enhancing these capabilities is key to accessing our higher selves. Enjoy this divine and sensual journey!


Ousting the Time-Stealers

Many of us complain about having "no time." We lead busy, full lives, often feeling rushed and unable to do the things we really want.

What if you could have 2 more hours a day to do only what you love? Well, you can. It means ousting some time-stealers that are built right into the normal day of an American.

To find time for your dreams, eliminate one or more of these things--unless, of course, these activities top the list of what you most want to do in life. If they don't, they are stealing time from more important things:

  • Watching television (average US adult watches 4 hours a day)
  • Browsing mail order catalogues
  • Shopping
  • Excessive grooming (more than 1/2 hour a day in washing, dressing, fixing hair, etc.)
  • Cleaning and laundry (many people iron sheets, vacuum daily, wash towels and clothes after every use, etc. Worth the time? More important than your dreams?)
  • Surfing the Internet (is it what you most want to be doing?)
  • Reading/answering e-mail (do all these people really matter to you? Is it quality communication?)
  • Reading the newspaper (listen to MPR to stay on top of the news while driving, cooking, or exercising. Would that free up time for something you love more than reading the paper?)
  • Talking on the phone (every conversation has a point of diminishing return. Recognize it, and say goodbye.)
  • Browsing magazines (unless it truly helps you pursue your dreams)

Sometimes I'm caught by one of these time-stealers in a sneak attack. Recently I met a friend to go bumming around Uptown. We were glad to see each other and to have a few hours to reconnect. We began to walk and talk, then saw the used CD store. We agreed to duck in and check it out. We ended up spending 45 minutes browsing, selecting a few, listening to some, and ultimately buying one. It was engrossing, interesting...and not what we most wanted to do, which was to relate with each other.

Then we couldn't resist an alluring card store. There were so many cards, for so many occasions--and look, wouldn't this one be perfect for my sister... A half hour later we left, having purchased a card and candle.

Next, a home furnishings store, rife with beautiful things. And there, a wrought iron candle holder, marked down 60%! We murmured over it, cocked our heads and imagined it on our respective tables, and decided to keep browsing and think about it. We left with neither of us buying it--but I cast a longing look at it as I walked out the door.

Then, a bookstore...overwhelmed by so many books, I never left the front table. I picked them up, read the back covers, looked at the author photos, read a few paragraphs in the middle of them, wondered if my own book was still on the shelves...and an hour later, we left. I had written down several to try to get at the library.

Finally we made it to the spot where we'd been planning to eat, and got to share our stories, problems and affection for each other. That was the point of the day, and the most memorable and enjoyable part.

We had trickled away most of our time perusing products, making decisions about buying and not buying, and being bombarded by all that we didn't have. It not only created new "wants" in me, it stole time from something far more enjoyable and worthwhile--a relationship.

Beware of your own time-stealers. They'll usually be enjoyable, or you wouldn't be doing them, but seldom are they what you most want out of life. An hour-long TV show (which is 20 minutes of commercials) may on the surface seem good for "relaxing" and "entertainment," but can't compare to the deep satisfaction of spending that hour learning piano, or painting, or writing your novel, or playing zoo with your child.

Let's all start doing what we truly desire. Every day. Our lives won't look like the typical on-line, sitcom-savvy, mall-hopping American who smells more of cleaning products than human. Our lives will instead be rich. Relaxed. Full. Healthy. We'll be better, and the world will be better. Let's say a universal "NO" to time-stealers that keep us from doing the good, true work of our lives.


Everyday Ecstasy

A traditional Irish tune had never quite sounded this way. Four of us were gathered for one of our delicious music jams, where we spend a night improvising, experimenting, and surprising ourselves through rhythm and sound. The play is sometimes crazy, sometimes sweet, and always ecstatic.

We were doing terrifically wild variations on Swallowtail Jig, playing it over and over, becoming ever more driving and fierce, accelerating-- until suddenly, inexplicably, all four of us stopped. The last slamming chord hung in the air, and the song's echo skittered around in the silence as if it didn't know what to do without us. I felt electric, completely connected to these three others. Then we burst into astonished laughter at the thrill of the "group mind" stopping us at the same moment, with no signal.

The night and the music wove on. Late in the evening, the air coming out of Pete's big drum blew out the candle in the center of our circle. As we beat a primal, tribal rhythm in the dark, I closed my eyes and took a ride on the music. Soon I found myself yelping percussive syllables, my voice now a rhythm instrument. Moments later, Pete, Sid and I were locked into a mysterious, three-part chant that seemed to come from some other land. The harmonies were in perfect tune, sending vibrations deep into my bones. Our three voices moved like one, wandering through the atmosphere. Energy permeated my body like a cellular massage. Gradually the chant and the drums diminished to a whisper, and trailed off into a silence that thrummed with energy. I drifted on the afterglow.

I need ecstasy in my life. It may come in different forms--sexual, creative, spiritual--but it is all one grand elixir. All of it leaves my body better, healthier, energized. All of it advances me on my life path. And all of it is wondrous good fun. I love the moments of "flow," of losing track of time when deeply immersed in making art, cooking, playing violin, embracing my husband, being in nature, or giving maximum athletic effort to something.

What would your life look like if it were fraught with ecstasy? Would you go outside more, paint more, make love more? Would you eat differently, construct your day differently? Would you change jobs? Would you pay more attention to what's already at hand--play more games with your child, notice the colors and smells of your food, enjoy the heat of the water while washing dishes?

Sometimes we get so separated from the ecstatic that we forget what gives us that high. But most of us have had it! Remember the unabashed joy you had as a child playing outside? Autumn glowed, with days that seemed to crackle with sound and smell. The sun was warm, the air scented with dried leaves, and you ran through piles of them until your legs ached with pleasant tiredness and the streetlights came on.

It's time that we adults reclaim the ecstasy that permeates everyday life. It is impossible for life to be boring or uninteresting if we are awake, sensing, aware, and grateful. Even with our grown-up jobs, money puzzles, and responsibilities, it IS possible to be ecstatic on a daily basis. If bliss isn't popping its head in your door regularly, here are some everyday ecstasies to get lost in:

The Adventure Walk
Allow two hours or more for a meandering, curiosity-directed exploration. Stop and look at worms, flowers, dog doo, and people because you have no agenda, no distance requirement, no aerobic heart rate to achieve--just a massive interest in an awesome planet. Crush leaves and smell them. Make a rule that for the next block you can't step on twigs. Stop and admire the whooshing treetops in the breeze up high. Sit next to a tree for awhile and just watch all that happens around you.

Spa Night
Declare an evening "spa night," and allow only beauty and comfort into your space. Buy or pick glorious flowers, turn off the TV, let voice mail answer the phone, put on music you love or just enjoy the velvet quiet. Eat a light, wholesome meal, draw a scented bath, light candles as the sun goes down, linger over a book, massage every inch of yourself with can design the evening that will delight and rejuvenate you best.

Body stretch
You can do this one right now. Like a cat, stretch every angle and appendage of your body. Enjoy the feel of muscles and tendons reaching their maximum length. Contort your face and feel the massaging action of your skin. Notice how every part of you hugs defining bone. Be grateful you have a body.

Play with a child
One of the most beautiful days I can remember is spending an entire day with a ten-year old on a small sandy island in the middle of a lake. We played Queen of the World, creating altars and castles from sand, shell, rocks, and twigs. We rolled down the steep dune. We walked at the edge of the water, watching our feet press water out of the sand, then little waves foam around our toes and fill in our heel prints. Find a kid--yours, your brother's, the neighbor's, or the one in front of you in the grocery line. Smile at that child. Make a face or animal sounds. Play peek-a-boo. Throw a ball around. Join in hopscotch. Play in the sandbox. Imagine you are unicorns. Turn off your pager and be with a child for awhile.

Grateful prayer
Every night, give thanks for the chance to be alive and conscious of it, and name five other things you are especially grateful for that day. Nothing is too small. The prayer I remember most is from a 6-year old: "Dear God, thank you for trees and sweaters."

Come up with anything on your own that will help pop you back into the natural state of bliss. I garden barefoot, enjoying the silky feel of soil on feet and hands. You might eat supper on the front step, dust off your bike to whiz around town, or lie naked in the sun. Be awake. Be alive. Be ecstatic. Remember the proverb: First ecstasy, then laundry.


The Opposite of Truth is...Truth.

The Divine cannot be contained in one idea or form. As soon as we think we've "got" it, we've squelched it into a puny human construct. Any idea someone espouses about God, the Universe, ________ (insert your preferred term here) can be argued another way from someone equally spirit-filled and earnest.

I struggled for years with the ever-puzzling nature of the divine. Was it a creative force filled with love, deeply and personally caring for every detail of our lives? Or a benign and indifferent power that set the laws of the universe in motion and is simply letting them roll? Both seem true, depending upon what perspective I consider at the moment.

Does each of us truly matter? There was a time when my self-esteem was low and the thought of my life deeply mattering was a needed, loving boost. Later in my life, as I took on all the troubles of the world and worked and worked and worked because I believed everything I did really mattered, I needed the opposite perspective: I was not essential to the universe. I was no more important than the billions of other people who have walked this planet, and the trillions of dragonflies that have flown, and the innumerable blades of grass. The world would stay on its path regardless of my efforts, good or bad. It was sweet relief.

There are wise teachings that say that when something is true, its opposite is also true. And so, we do matter. And we really don't. The divine is made of pure love. And the divine is neutral. Even when I've sought truth in such safe, over-arching maxims as "moderation in all things," I've realized that there are even limits to those. There is a time for excess and zealotry. And so even that wise maxim needs a disclaimer of "Moderation in moderation!"

At one time I was manager of Employee Relations at a large company. One of my responsibilities was to be sure we were making meaningful progress on Affirmative Action goals. I believe in affirmative action, because I know enough about human nature to know that we tend to hire and promote those who are most like us. That makes it hard for anyone who is not "the norm." I didn't want people's biases making decisions that should be made upon performance and qualifications. So, I vigorously worked for the principles of affirmative action.

Then I left the corporate world and moved to the country. Suddenly I was in a world that operated upon the opposite of affirmative action: information and help was offered if you had personal connections and similarity with a person. It was amazing how things would open up for my roommate at the time, who was Norwegian. Since the majority of people in that community were descendants of the first Norwegian settlers, they bonded to Kay and practically adopted her as a daughter on the spot. In a rural place where there is no central source for information (such as in a large metro area, with a comprehensive yellow pages, centralized government, etc.) and each small community is fairly isolated from the next, it is essential to make those bonds of sameness in order to be part of the informal information network. And I could see that this way of operating was good--even though it is based upon principles that are directly opposed to those of affirmative action. It fostered talking with neighbors, lingering at gas stations, delving for connection with people, something our modern world severely lacks. I was in a philosophical pickle. To resolve it, I had to admit that, despite the fact that the worlds of affirmative action and rural life were based on pretty much opposite truths, they were both good.

In my work as a personal coach I see the beauty of multiple and opposite truths. Since the coaching process brings out a person's inner wisdom and clear thinking, a client often comes upon a truth that helps guide him or her. And in my next coaching call with someone else, an opposite truth may arise, and it will be perfect for that person. I am humbly reminded that coaching is not about me being a big expert and telling clients what to do; it is about helping people each find the guiding principles that work for them. And, as a coach, I see time and again that opposites are true.

Clients may even be working on opposite aims. One is starting a business and working hard, another is trying to find balance by working less. One is working on cleaning up her house while another is trying to let go of her perfectionism. I have learned to reside calmly in the place where many opposing things are true.

I like the debate team exercise of taking an issue and deliberately arguing for the side that you disagree with. If we could all cultivate this degree of compassion for other viewpoints, we could live more peacefully with our gorgeous and divine diversity. So when you find yourself all hot about how wrong someone is, try looking for the wisdom in their oppositeness.

And remember, one thing is sure. Everything I've written here is true. And not.

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Nancy Conger, CPCC
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