Calm your Mind with this Simple Technique

Breathe and Smile

If your spiritual practice includes meditation, it can be a challenge to stay in the present moment. In his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh recommends conscious breathing to keep you in the present moment by calming your body and mind. This simple technique is easy and can be done any time, any place. Simply recite to yourself:

Breathing in I calm my body (breathe in)
Breathing out I smile. (breathe out)
Dwelling in the present moment, (Breathe in)
I know this is a wonderful moment. (Breathe out)

If you can’t remember that, simply say:
“Calming, Smiling, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment”

If you can’t remember that, just remember to breathe and smile.

Regardless of the version you choose, be conscious of your breath and your smile. Take slow and deep belly breaths to calm your body and signal the mind to relax. An easy and gentle smile relaxes the muscles in your face, helping to relieve tension in your forehead and jaw.

Next time you are having struggling to remain in the present moment during your spiritual practice, give this simple technique a try! Thanks for reading!

Books to Guide Your Daily Spiritual Practice: Books Part 2

There are so many great spiritual books, I had to do another blog post with book recommendations!

This time I wanted to share some books that can help with your daily spiritual practice. If you are just starting on your journey as a spiritual seeker, it is hard to know where to start. A great place to start practice is with books that have exercises and practices included. The books below all have exercises, prompts, and ideas to focus on for your time of silence, meditation, mindfulness, and prayer. Don’t think you have time to meditate? Take a moment to read a short meditation or use a gatha, which is a short verse, while completing your daily activities. Take a look at these books and learn more about how to develop your spiritual practice even if you don’t have much time. Click here to read Spiritual Books to Open Your Heart & Mind: Books Part 1 if you missed it.

Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul
By Melody Beattie

This book has a new meditation for every day of the year. The mediations are short, beautifully written, and end with a take away from the message and lesson for the day. Even if you don’t have much time to meditate, these are great to read quickly before starting your day to set the tone and/or an intention.

 

The Power of Naming: A Journey toward Your Soul’s Indigenous Nature
By Melanie Dewberry

This is a gorgeously written and engaging book. At the end of each chapter are exercises to practice the ideas presented in the chapter. Exercises include meditation, journaling, and visualizations to help you integrate the lessons and messages into your experience.

 

Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit
By Henri Nouwen

In this post-humous book, his students outline Nouwen’s descriptions of movements of the spirit in the journey from the head to the heart. He describes the practices of lectio divina (Divine Reading) and vision divina (Divine Seeing) as ways to enhance our spiritual practices by focusing on texts and images that have spiritual meaning to us. This book also includes exercise for reflection and journaling at the end of each chapter.

 

Peace is Every Breath
By Thich Nhat Hanh

This book is making an encore appearance here, and for good reason. It’s short chapters are great prompts for silence, prayer, and meditation. In addition, the end of the book includes gathas, which are short verses designed to assist you in focusing on and being mindful during your daily tasks. He includes gathas for just about everything you might be doing during the day, including brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and cleaning, just to name a few. Gathas can be memorized and/or written in places where you can see them every day. These are great practices for people who think they don’t have time for mindfulness and meditation.

Spiritual Books to Open You Heart and Mind: Part 1

I love to read!

The author seems to be speaking to you; sharing their wisdom and insights with you. We have access to their beautiful words as their gift to us even if they have long since passed away. I am starting with just a few titles and will add more in upcoming articles. I read these books again and again and refer back to for insights and guidance. Also, I have a LONG list of books that I plan to read and/or are in process of reading that I can highlight in the future. I tend to read two or three books throughout the day; I have morning readings, day readings, and readings that I do at night before bed provided I don’t fall asleep! Needless to say, it takes me a while sometimes to finish a book. Once I do though, I will be sure to share the ones I will add to my list of go-to spiritual books. I hope these books provide you with comfort, guidance, and inspiration as they have done for me!

What are your favorite, go-to spiritual books? Click here to head over to my Facebook page and share your favorite titles in the comments! My list of books I want to read is long, though I am always looking to add more! Happy reading!

Spiritual Books to Open Your Heart & Mind!

The Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda

What struck me after reading this book is that Yagananda lived his life completely guided by spirit. To me, he is an example of being comfortable with mystery and completely open to Divine guidance. This is an entertaining read, in which he shares about his life and the interesting people he met along the way. He is no longer with us and it is truly a gift that he shared the story and experiences of his life. Paramahansa Yogananda was founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship and teacher of yoga, meditation, and the universal truths underlying all religions.

Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness & Grace
By Angel Kyodo Williams
This book contains clear and easy to understand explanations of Buddhist philosophy and practice. She provides detailed descriptions about how to meditate, including postures and how to still the mind from distractions. Angel Kyodo Williams is a Zen priest and founder of urban PEACE. She is a leader for Transformative Social Change which applies inner awareness practice to social change.

 

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life
By Henri Nouwen

This book is a compilation of unpublished works and was written posthumous by students of Henri Nouwen. This book gives practices on how to determine the Divine guidance that is all around you. This book also includes Henri Nouwen’s writings about how silence, community, time and many other factors influence the process of how you are Divinely guided. Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, professor, and active in numerous causes related to social justice.

 

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
By Richard Rohr
In this book, Richard Rohr writes about how to dwell in the present and address dualistic thinking. He offers simple practices that strip away fear and ego. These practices can be great prompts to prayer and meditation at the beginning and/or end of the day. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

Peace is Every Step
Peace is Every Breath
By Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a bonus two for one! Thich Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Zen master and spiritual leader whose teachings on mindfulness and meditation are both beautiful and accessible. He teaches you how to apply mindfulness techniques to every day, seemingly mundane tasks. He also includes insights, stories, meditations, exercise that can be easily applied to the busiest lives. Both of these books are great for morning and/or evening reading, because they are broken down into short and easy to read sections. These short sections are wonderful to use as prompts for prayer and meditation.

 

 

My At-Home Spiritual Retreat Experience & Tips on How to Create Your Own

Why an At-Home Retreat?

My husband was going to be out of out town for a few days, so I thought I might give myself some retreat time while he way away. I looked at a few places not too far from where I live and then had the thought, “I have the whole place to myself, why do I need to go anywhere?” I don’t travel light and the thought of packing to be gone just a few days was not appealing. Why not be at a place where I have all the comforts of home? Meaning my actual home? As an added bonus, retreating at home was budget friendly. So, I did a little research, and created an at-home retreat!

My At-Home Retreat Experience

My connection to Source/Divine/Creator/God deepened over the weekend, and I gained lots insights and “aha” moments. Revisiting my creative side was great. I realized I can incorporate these soul nourishing ideas easily into my daily life. I can take time to see a sunset, do a coloring page or kiddie craft, use my salt lamp, run my diffuser, and many of the other retreat activities any time I’d like. Retreating at home did require some self-discipline, as I had easy access to potential distractions, like the TV, my phone, and computer. Shortly after my retreat time, I had a spiritual direction/guidance session, which was helpful for reflecting upon my retreat experience. Next time, I will consider getting spiritual direction/guidance before and during my time “away” and creating a focus or intention for my retreat. If you’re interested in getting spiritual guidance on your retreat, contact me at joycarter.net for more information. I also have videos on my website at https://joycarter.net/blog/ on topics such as stress management, using visualization, self-care ideas, creating a personal oasis, and a mindful eating meditation that you can use for your retreat.

Overall, I really enjoyed my at-home retreat and will be doing it again the next time I have the house to myself for a few days. Full disclosure, I did attend a birthday brunch for a friend during my retreat time, though I didn’t drive and felt it was a nice “break,” especially since I was spending so much time alone during those four days.

Thinking about creating your own at-home retreat? Continue reading to find out more about my experience, and for tips and resources. Feel free to borrow my ideas or create your own. Happy Retreating!

At-Home Retreat Tips & Resources

-Create a schedule (or don’t): Clear your schedule for the time you want to retreat. A lot of the articles suggested making a schedule for the day, and there are even sample schedules for half and full day retreats. While I didn’t have a timed schedule, I did have a morning and evening routine. I left the middle of the day free to choose what I wanted to do. I already read spiritual texts, journal, and meditate every morning, so I kept that as the morning routine. In the evenings I would go to the park and watch the sunset, come home and eat dinner, then watch a spiritual/inspirational movie. Before going to sleep I read spiritual text. I suggest giving yourself “breaks” if you choose to go deeply into your practice.
-Disconnect as much as you can: If you can completely disconnect, that’s great. As a solo-preneur and one-woman show, I can’t completely disconnect, so here is what I did to compromise. I set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and I turned off all notifications on my phone. I notified people that I would be offline for a few days before and set out of office responses on my phone greeting and email. I posted on social media post stating I would be offline for a few days. I allowed myself to check emails and such once in the morning and once at night in the event that there was something that needed my immediate attention. I only watched the movies that I picked each night and no other TV. My computer was used only for streaming retreat related audio and video.
-Pretend you’re on vacation: If you’re on vacation, you’re typically not cleaning and doing yard work and such, so those are off-limits while on retreat. Make sure your house is clean and you have enough comfy clean clothes to wear during your retreat. If you must do chores, do them mindfully and limit your time doing them. It takes some discipline to avoid getting distracted by your “to-do” list when retreating at home.
-Make sure you have food available that takes little to no prep: Lighter, healthy food is suggested, though I did have some chocolate treats to enjoy. Some articles suggested preparing meals before. I had cooked main dishes and sides ready to heat up, along with sandwich fixings, and bag salad; items which did not involve extensive prep and clean up.
-Make sure you have your necessities on hand before the retreat: While you don’t need to stay in the house and/or sacrifice if there’s something you need, you don’t want to interrupt your retreat time running back and forth to the store and/or doing errands that could be done before or after the retreat.
-Create an activities list: I made a list of activities before the retreat, so I wouldn’t have to come up with ideas on the fly. The list of activity ideas I made for my retreat, with some added details for your information is below.

My Retreat Activities List

This is the list of all the activity ideas I had for my retreat. I didn’t do all of them, as checking all of the items off the list wasn’t my goal.

• Watch a movie: I watched Awake: The life of Yogananda; 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama; The Shack (The Shack’s subject matter was a bit intense for me while in retreat mode, though you can take a look at the movie description and decide for yourself). Most of these titles are available at your local library or on streaming services.
• Go to the park/Find a labyrinth/Get out in nature/Watch the sunset: Use this labyrinth locator to find one near you https://labyrinthlocator.com/ or try these virtual ones here https://labyrinthsociety.org/flash/labyrinth.htm. Don’t know what a labyrinth is? Check out this site to learn more https://labyrinthsociety.org/
• Get a massage or other spa/wellness treatment: Don’t count out massage, yoga, and aesthetic schools, discount sites and coupons to save on these services if you are on a budget. I ended up not doing this, though it’s definitely a possibility for future retreats.

• Read/Journal/Meditate/Pray: Read books about spirituality that resonate with you. Consider getting a daily meditation book or look online for daily meditations. You don’t need a fancy journal for your practice. I use spiral notebooks, which I stock up on during back-to-school sales. Some people enjoy using pretty journals to write in which is fine too. I like the spiral notebooks because they have no binding/spine, so they’re easier for me to write in. For a list of books to read on your retreat, click here to see a list of spiritual books I recommend.
• Draw, color, do crafts, or puzzles: I went to the dollar store and picked up a puzzle, some coloring pages, and kiddie crafts that looked like they would be fun. Puzzles can cause some people stress, so if that’s the case for you, choose another creative activity that focuses your attention and you find relaxing. Here are links to a stress relieving coloring book and colored pencils if you would rather order online.
• Diffuse essential oils: Choose relaxing scents such as lavender, or relaxing oil blends. Try Blue Sky Oils https://www.blueskyoils.com/joy-carter/. You can order online or visit the store in Mesa.
• Attend worship, prayer, meditation, and/or spiritual services
• Audio and video from inspirational speakers: Dharma Seed posts audio recordings of Dharma Talks that were given at Buddhist retreats. There are thousands of talks posted there, so you’re sure to find a topic that resonates with you. And many of them include meditation practices, so if you’re new to meditation, this might be a good way to start. Click here to access the talks https://dharmaseed.org/talks/
• Yoga/Pilates/Walking/Exercise: I recommend doing energizing exercises early in the day, and calming ones later in the day. If there’s something you do regularly, you could stay in that routine if you choose. One of the benefits of doing a stay at home retreat, you can still attend your regular gym or fitness class if you want. Check out Principle Pilates and Fitness for great Pilates classes if you are in the Chandler area. Click here to visit their website http://www.myprinciplefitness.com/ and learn more.
Bath: Add bubbles, bath bombs, essential oils, salts, or anything else you find soothing and relaxing. If you choose to do a salt bath, don’t soak for more than 20 minutes and be sure to rinse off after the bath to remove any toxins that have been released during the bath.
• Sit by the fire pit
• Smudge/Light candles/Salt Lamp
• Play piano/Listen to calming music

Hope these give you inspiration to try your own retreat soon! Thanks for reading!

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