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The Balanced Life: Understanding Spirituality

 

What is Spirituality?

 

Let’s go on a walk. I know a relaxing, easy hike through a beautiful forest. The day is mild with a slight breeze that cools the back of your neck and the tip of your nose. We’ll start our hike noticing how the sunlight cascades through the compact branches of the forest trees. As we move along the path, you notice how the light filters through the treetops like a jewel toned prism. Its golden rays gently touch the highest and most delicate leaves; yet as the light makes its descent toward the forest floor, it gradually moves in shades of mint to dark and brilliant emerald. You make your way down a muddy path where, just ahead, there is a slight break in the foliage. Delicately, you peel back each branch, finding your way through the hedge until your standing on the precipice of the most amazing view you have ever seen. A valley of treetops extends like a sea before you. Every mountain surrounding the valley is magnificent in height and breath. A dusting of feathery clouds sits atop each mountain, lending a feeling of mystery without any sense of foreboding. The view takes your breath away and in that moment, you know it isn’t by chance. This was all created by the hand of the most careful artist – it was all created for you.

Let’s explore another scenario. Have you ever felt compassion for a stranger? Perhaps a person begging on the street? A map of wrinkles creasing their face as they wearily sit on a busy street-corner, their heads bowed over an empty cup. Their clothes are riddled with holes and they worn out the soles of their old shoes. Their skin is marked with dirt and grit and their hair is dirty. You might wonder what happened to put this individual in such dire circumstances. Knowing what you do about life, you are slow to judge but quick to feel compassion for this fellow human who looks so down-trodden. Pity doesn’t drive you forward, pity resists against compassion. You feel empathy and you are quick to act, to empty your pockets of what little change you have or ask them if they desire a warm meal. You might take your shoes off and offer them, knowing full well that you have another pair at home.

This is spirituality. To look at the world without “I” but with us in mind. Whether it is you and your creator or you and your fellow man, that connectedness we feel is crucial to our fulfillment in life.

 

How The Expert Defines It

 

I love the work of Brene Brown. Her definition of spirituality in the book “The Gifts of Imperfection“, is better than my explanation:

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”

“Celebrating”. It’s something wonderful to celebrate! To know and feel as though we are not an accident – not a blip in the mysterious fabric of the universe – that we serve a purpose born out of pure love; that’s one amazing thought.

Interconnectedness inspires us to take care of one another. It helps us reach across political and social boundaries. Common humanity says “I am with you”. When we can say “I am with you” and apply principles of spirituality – recognizing and celebrating our connectedness through and by a greater power – we can develop hope and foster love in our homes, communities, and throughout the world because we know that we all serve a purpose and that we are all worthy of love and compassion.

 

My Experience

 

Finding your own spiritual path helps to make sense of life’s mysteries. When life tosses us in the throes of sorrow or when we have questions about our identity, spirituality often brings peace and calm to these deep and confusing questions. I don’t only feel spiritually nourished when I am sitting in church but I feel most spiritually sound when I spend time in nature.

Whether it’s a long run in my favorite park, a hike with friends, or taking my morning tea on the porch of my family’s cabin, I feel most connected to God when I am witnessing His artistry in nature. I find that being in nature calms my anxiety riddled mind. I can breathe and meditate on ideas. I often offer silent prayers when I am sitting alone in nature and I feel my most open and vulnerable to accept answers. Being in nature reminds me of my purpose, of my identity, and that I am made by a God of Love and that we are all connected through Him. It makes the world seem a little smaller, which makes far off problems in the world more meaningful to me. The way I see it, the smaller the world, the more connected I am to issues that seem far away.

I grew up religious and continue to practice my religion. My religion brings me peace and comfort. It has greatly impacted the way I view the world. I believe we are all brothers and sisters, no one is lesser or greater. We’re all unbelievably loved and we have been sent here to grow and serve one another. I won’t get into all the details but these beliefs have served me well. They have always emphasized the importance of compassion, the interconnectedness of not only people but animals and nature, and the duty we have as human-beings to serve one another and take care of our world. We don’t always get it right but I believe that developing a great sense of common-humanity has helped me through times of loneliness and suffering. The comfort lies in knowing that I am not the only one, that suffering serves a purpose, and that I can’t ignore the suffering of my fellow-man because, at the end of the day, their suffering is mine.

 

May you find what spirituality means to you.

Best,

Darcy

Book Club: The Body Book by Cameron Diaz

 

I found The Body Book by Cameron Diaz during a particularly frustrating period of trying to attain my body goals. I didn’t expect it to help me understand the beautiful functions of the human body and resonate with me as I contemplated my approach to health and wellness. Here is my full review:

What’s the Theme?

This book is about the facts of the female body. It doesn’t serve as a diet or workout plan but rather explains how the body digests food and uses it for energy among a vast number of other topics. The Body Book is an informative read with the occasional personal experience to illustrate different points throughout the book.

Does it have a purpose?

The purpose of The Body Book is to inform readers while encouraging them to make better choices when it comes to health and fitness. The uplifting and positive delivery never shames the reader for making unhealthy choices but defines what true health is and the scientific evidence to back it up. Knowledge is power and in relation to this book, knowing how the body works will help readers take responsibility for their choices and prompt them to take action when it comes to their health.

Who Is it for?

This book is for any female who has ever wondered how the body works. Whether you are wondering what diet to try next, what actually makes some foods “super”, or why it’s hard for you to feel motivated when it comes to exercise, this book is meant for you. I would recommend this book to any woman in my life who has expressed frustration or curiosity when it comes to the body. I would highly recommend this book to my teenaged nieces as it covers a variety of sensitive topics that are delivered shamelessly with hard facts.

DID THE BOOK AFFECT YOU AT ALL?

I felt a deeper love and understanding for my body after only reading half of the book. I listened to the audio version for hours giving it my full attention. The delivery of each message and presentation of data made me feel as though I were best friends with my OBGYN and we were having a chat over tea.

Cameron’s passion for the female body is felt as she provides her own insights and personal experiences to sound medical research. She never tries to entice the reader into making lifestyle changes like becoming a vegan or including absurd rituals into their routine that aren’t backed by thorough research. I felt her approach to nutrition abides by the health guidelines given by the academy of nutrition and dietetics in the US, which support a healthy balanced lifestyle. Her passion for movement helped me through a slump in my fitness routine, not by shaming me, but by drawing attention to the fact that the body’s primal instinct is to move.

I walked away from this book knowing that I will pick it up again for refreshment and to revisit the data that has become so valuable to me. I will no doubt be picking up her latest book Longevity to help me on my journey through aging.

 

Have you read it? Let me know what you think!

Best,

Darcy

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The Balanced Life: Physical Health and Science

The science of exercise is in its infancy. When I was born in the early 90’s, women stayed out of the weight room, but donning their belted, spandex jumpsuits, they were encouraged to take aerobic group exercise classes like skittles. The fad diet of the time was “no fat” and extremely low calorie.

Here we are 17 years later and our approach to health and fitness changes with each fad. Low calorie, low carb, Atkins, Weight Watchers, low fat, no fat, high carb, keto, vegetarian, vegan, plant based, gluten free, dairy free, clean eating, IIFYM. The list could go on and on. Every personal trainer now makes their own eating guide. If I were going to invest in any industry, it would be the fitness one because people are willing to pay for answers. They become confused with all the contradictory information that they start paying someone for answers or any possible way to achieve their physical goals.

Physical goals change with the fads as well. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, the ideal body was rail thin. This meant LOTS of cardio. Then women started getting comfortable in the weight room. The ideal body was bikini competitor chic (which we would learn is not sustainable year round). Shredded frames with only the tiniest amount of body fat were sought after. Today society looks to the Kardashian’s for inspiration. It’s fashionable to carry a little body fat on the bum and boobs while keeping a teeny tiny waist. This body type is also not achievable by the large majority.

My Story

Awhile back I followed someone I considered a clean eating chef on Facebook. I enjoyed her healthy recipes (still do!) and when I saw that she was offering a cookbook sale, I jumped in and bought it. Come to find out, it was actually a meal plan to aid you in something called a “sugar detox”. I thought it wouldn’t hurt me to cut sugar for awhile even though I’m a 90% clean eater and don’t add a lot of sugar to my own recipes. The recipe book helped me prep a week’s worth of meals, claiming that the first week was the hardest and most detoxifying. I don’t actually believe in “detoxing” but I played along.

I weighed myself after a week and found that I had dropped a significant amount of weight, enough to make me worry. I decided to track the week’s worth of meals on My Fitness Pal so I could see what the nutrient breakdown was. I was shocked. I was also disappointed in myself because as a young woman who used to relish in eating significantly low-calorie, I knew firsthand the dangers of continuing on this path.

I stopped the meal plan immediately and decided to look up the woman’s credentials. It turned out that she didn’t have any. She was selling a very popular meal plan that claimed many health benefits without the slightest clue about the human body.

Moral of the story: we must exercise caution when it comes to putting our health in the hands of others. Get to know the why’s of your bodily functions, not just “how to get skinny fast” and other tag lines that can pull you in and lead you blindly. Our bodies are incredible and deserve the best care. They facilitate our amazing and unique spirits throughout the thrilling journey of our lives. I don’t know about you but I want to reach the end of my life strong, nourished, and fulfilled in every sense of the word.

The Book that Helped

A few years ago, Cameron Diaz wrote “The Body Book“. I was still in recovery at the time so I didn’t purchase it for fear it was another person telling me how to eat and what I should look like. Because of recent experiences in the gym, I decided to check out the reviews again and see what the hype was all about. I found the consensus to be positive, praising Cameron and various doctors who wrote an in-depth book on the science of our bodies that was actually enjoyable to read.

I am a huge fan of audio books, I love to play them when I take long walks or when I’m cooking or in the car. They’re a good change of pace when I don’t feel like listening to music. I bought the audio version of The Body Book and right away I knew I made a good choice. Her approach to the female body aligned with my own values and beliefs.

Our bodies are complex, amazing, and beautiful. The line that drew me in and left me hanging on for chapters, was in the preface. It was along the lines of “the same beautiful body that developed from an embryo, grew into that of a healthy baby, child, and adult, is the same body we will grow old and die in.” Obviously, that was just my interpretation but since I have the audio version, it’s hard for me to go back and grab the actual quote. The way she phrased it opened my mind to the magic that is the human body; how it can grow from amazing circumstances and last throughout our lifetime. I will be writing a review on this book so stayed tuned!

It’s important that we are educated about the functions of the human body. We deserve to know the science behind nutrition; what causes cancer (not just people saying this food will make you fat and die!), what prevents it, and how physical exercise truly helps the body in terms of longevity.

Knowledge is power. After reading this book, I realized the potential of the human body beyond what Instagram fitness models will tell you. They can’t explain to you the very science of your birth, why bacteria is good for you, what raising your heart rate does for more than just your muscles, and why sound nutrition will prevent certain diseases. We have become accustomed to taking a “professionals” word for it but in the fitness industry, there aren’t many doctors creating meal plans or exercise regimens. Often, this is left to personal trainers or people with a passion for achieving aesthetic goals with basic certification for credentials.

 

I encourage you to find out the why’s of your body and look beyond physical aesthetic when choosing goals. If you want wash-board abs, find out why we have abdominal muscles to begin with! The structure of the human body is amazing and it has much more value than how it looks. For instance, your ab muscles might look glorious and shredded after tons of labor in the gym and kitchen but did you know that they exist to protect your vital organs, spine, and make you walk upright? Could you imagine life without them? Think “spaghetti noodle”. Be smart, relish in your knowledge, and make choices for your body that will embolden your future.

Have you had a similar eye-opening experience either through reading or in school that helped ignite your passion for physical health?

 

All the best,

Darcy

 

Get Your Own Copy of The Body Book Here:

 

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Book Club: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

 

Ugh, you shouldn’t have pressed publish. Little Miss Perfectionist is sitting beside me as I hash out this new series of posts. You can’t help anyone. No one can relate, she whispers. I take a deep breath and remind myself that it is not my intention to teach, it is my intention to share. This is my story, not the answers to the world’s most complex questions.

Inhale and gather all of that doubt, exhale and release.

 

I am excited to share my review (more fan-girl rave) of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. A beautiful title to a life-changing book.

What’s the theme?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown defines what she calls “whole-hearted living”. Through dedicated research and the compilation of unique stories, Brown sets out to find what makes some people more joyful than others. What she finds is her own mid-life breakdown spiritual awakening.

Does it have a purpose?

Dr. Brown skillfully dissects her own experiences, adding to them the experiences of those she researches, to find the keys to creating a more joyful life. What she finds is loads of shame. When looking for what “gets in the way” of some people feeling more positive and acting with resilience, she finds shame in a variety of ways for a variety of people. Instead of finding the keys to being happy 24/7, Brown finds out that she must address shame – her own and those of her research party.

Who is it for?

This is a great read for those 18 and older. Being a wife and mother herself, Brown becomes a friend and ally for those who find themselves in similar stages in life. I found her words to be as comforting as I would a close aunt. Her shameless presence crosses the border between author and friend. Her themes might be too mature for those in their teenage years but would be awesome for parents who want to foster a more compassionate and loving atmosphere at home and in their parenting style. I would recommend this book to my sisters (who are wives and mothers) as well as my own parents.

Did the book affect you at all?

This book changed my perception of happiness. I learned that those who seem to really own their lives and be in the drivers seat – you know, the kind of people who smile in adversity and always see the glass half-full – aren’t some super-human species. They simply live courageously by owning their stories, forgiving their mistakes, exercising self-compassion, and not letting shame drive their decisions.

After reading The Gifts of Imperfection, I was able to identify my own shame triggers and instead of letting them run my circus, I was able to intercede with the skills that Brene Brown teaches in her book. Noticing my shame triggers and being courageous enough to stand up to them has made me more self-forgiving. Instead of letting my anxiety run the race, I can recognize it for what it is and write a new ending.

 

I highly recommend accompanying this book with Dr. Brown’s CourageWorks course titled “Self Compassion with Kristin Neff and Brene Brown” which is worth the cost. I will be writing a separate review of Kristin Neff’s autobiography on self-compassion but this class gave me some wonderful tools for my self-compassion toolbox. With more in-depth explanations and exercises to create more whole-hearted living, I found this course to be invaluable.

Have you read it? What did you think? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Happy reading,

Darcy

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