individuality, personal style, self expression and the sparkly Erin Loechner

I am so incredibly intrigued by clothing.

Please note that I didn't say that I am intrigued by fashion -- the truth is that I actually couldn't care a whit about fashion. In fact, it has been years since I've even flipped through a fashion magazine. As much as I do love clothing, fashion and shopping in general often holds little interest for me.

The thing I love about clothing, you see, is how a necessity -- items which, let's face it, are really just supposed to keep the weather out -- has involved into a form of self-expression. Of course, magazines try to tell us how to use clothing (and make-up, for that matter) to "hide our flaws," but you know what I think is flawed? Approaching clothing on that premise in the first place.

How about if we simply wore the clothes, colors, make-up and hair that made us feel awesome, damn the trade rags?

How about if we chose clothing not based on "what's in fashion," or "what's best for our body type" (and who gets to decide that, by the way, anyway?), but instead based on what comfortably expresses who we are deep inside?

Now, I'm not going to lie and say that I've never followed fashion -- of course I have. But a few years ago, conversations with two friends completely changed the way I view clothing.

The first conversation I had was with a geologist friend of mine, Helen, with whom I'd worked at a very conservative, male-dominated company. I noticed that while she always looked very professional, her clothes were often full of wild colors and patterns, and her hair was, quite decidedly, purple. We became great friends (and, in fact, she was the first person I interviewed for my book), and one day, I asked her about her purple hair.

"Well, I'm not into make-up at all," she said slowly, "and I love the color purple. It makes me feel powerful and strong. So one day, I colored my hair purple, and I loved it. I've kept it purple ever since. And I'm sure the day will come when I'll want to do something else, and when that happens, I'll change. But for now, I love my purple hair."

The second conversation I had with a different friend actually had nothing to do with clothing or make-up at all -- it was about art. My friend Jo had a beautiful home -- tiny and cozy -- filled to the brim with the most amazing art. The first time I visited her, I was entranced.

"Your art is so awesome, Jo," I said. "Where do you get it?"

"Well, I travel so much for business," she said. "Instead of buying souvenirs from the places I've been, I buy art. Some of it I bought in galleries, but some of it is just local folk art or even street art."

"How do you know what to buy?" I asked. "Do you research the artists? Consult with other collectors? Study different genres of art?"

She laughed heartily. "Oh God, no," she said emphatically. Then she looked at me seriously.

"I just buy what I love. I realized that if I just bought whatever art made me happy, it would be perfect for my house and never look out of place. My house would become an expression of me, and therefore, it would all just naturally work."

Between these two friends, I decided to start looking at the way I dress myself the way Helen views color and Josette views art -- as a form of self-expression, rather than an attempt to follow fashion "rules." And while I would never call myself "fashionable," I've had people comment that I have a very signature style. Whatever -- in the end, it really doesn't matter: I definitely am much more comfortable and confident dressing in clothes that make me happy, and that's what's most important to me, you know?

As it happens, I had the opportunity recently to sit and talk about this very topic with the amazing Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind -- a woman who, for me, epitomizes letting what you love express who you are. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

sn't she lovely? And so for this month, I challenge you to pick a day -- it can even be a day where you're not planning on going out -- and wear whatever makes you feel awesome. It can be based on a color or how it fits, but definitely it should be based on how it makes you feel. Play with accessories, hairstyles, make-up -- or just keep it to clothing and forget about everything else. And of course, I'd love if you'd share how it made you feel afterward in the comments. It's my hope that you'll find that you've discovered the best way for you to express yourself through clothing -- and realize it has nothing to do with what the magazines say about you.


This was cross-posted at BlogHer's Own Your Beauty.

own your beauty: agelessness with kyran pittman

In a few months, I will be 44 years old.

Forty-four years old.  Like, officially in my mid-forties.

It's hard to explain how I feel about this:  it's not that I feel old, per se; it's more that when I was a kid, 44 seemed Very Old, and how can it be possible that I have reached the age of Very Old?  I don't feel Very Old.  Shouldn't 44 feel older?

Thing is, age is a funny thing.  There's so much about growing older that we're taught, all our lives, everywhere we look:  magazines, movies, models -- we let all these images help form the general idea that youth is acceptable, age is not.  But it seems to me that this construct of age -- much like society's construct of beauty -- is a myth. It seems to me that, as is true with any aspect or characteristic of ourselves, we should be the ones to create our own stories.  Why would we give this right up to anyone else, much less to commercial organizations?  Why should we allow our ages -- whether we're young, or old, or anything in between -- be coloured by what commerce says is "right" or "wrong," any more than we permit commerce to tell us about our hair colour, or our height?

What if we took control of our own stories?

And there's more:  I've come to believe that we don't become old solely because time passes, or even solely because we start to believe the world when it tries to tell us we're old.  I think we also become old when we stop looking for the wonderful.  I think we become old when we stop living like each day has the potential for showing us something new or beautiful.  I think we become old when we are so engulfed in routine, we forget to look for the Different.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my friend Kyran Pittman, author of the brand new book Planting Dandelions.  In her book, a riveting collection of essays on how she went from wild child to wife and mother, she discusses how her life and her outlook has changed since leaving her twenties and entering her forties.  And luckily for us, she shared more of her thoughts in the video below:

And so, for this month, I challenge you to spend some time each day looking for the wonderful.  Start a gratitude journal, listing the good things that happened to you during the day, if you think that would help.  And for more inspiration, I wanted to be sure to share with you this fantastic blog I found recently, called Advanced Style -- whose mission is to show "proof from the wise and silver-haired that personal style advances with age."

And indeed, I guarantee you that the people featured in that blog haven't stopped looking for the wonderful.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

one good thing: some final thoughts on heartbreak

The following is excerpted from The Beauty of Different (Bright Sky Press 2010).

About fifteen years ago, I convinced myself that my life had fallen completely apart, never to be put back together again.  I was in my late twenties and my first marriage had ended.  After taking the bar exam (and barely passing), I moved out into an apartment on my own and was promply laid offfrom my first legal job ever.  I was jobless, alone and running through my savings.  Fast.

In short, I was a mess.

Understandably, my outlook on life seriously deteriorated.  I began believing that ever major move I had ever made was completely without logic or basis, that I was incapable of making a sound decision.  I became depressed, and I stopped eating.  And since I wasn't in a relationship and didn't have any children, I started having thoughts -- fleeting thoughts, mind you, but they were there, just the same -- that perhaps it would be better for the World at Large if I simply ... went away.

Then one day, as I was lying in bed late at night, trying to fall asleep and failing miserably, I remembered the first two lines of a childhood prayer my grandmother taught me many decades earlier:

Jesus, safe in Mary's arms,

thank you for this day.

As I lay there, I felt myself growing angry.  "Thank you for this day"? Really?  My life was seriously sucking wind lately.  How the hell was I supposed to thank anyone for that day.

But then I thought, well ... maybe there's one thing that was good about this day.  If I can think of one thing to be thankful for, then, maybe, the day isn't a total loss.  Maybe it's worth sticking around to see tomorrow.

So I thought.

And I thought.

Then suddenly I remembered that earlier that day, in a fit of defiance and even though I really couldn't afford it, I stopped by a coffeehouse for a cup of coffee.  When I was about to enter the building, an older man who was ahead of me grabbed the door, opened it wide and stepped aside to let me in, smiling warmly as he did so.  I remember thinking to myself, goodness, that was really nice, and weakly smiling back.

Okay, I thought as I lay there in bed.   A stranger showed me a bit of kindness today.  That's one good thing that happened today.  I felt just the tiniest bit better.

And then I fell asleep.

Since that night, every night before falling asleep, I think about at least one good thing that happened to me during the day.  At first, it was very difficult -- the decidedly insignificant fact that I'd perfectly boiled an egg for my morning breakfast featured heavily as a "good thing" in those early days.  But slowly, and ever-so-surely, I found that I was able to come up with one, sometimes two, eventually three and even occasionally more occurrences in my day that were good things.  And after a few weeks of doing this nightly practice, I found myself consciously looking for events during my day that were Good Things, things that made me think, cool, I'll add that to my list tonight.  And amazingly, my outlook began to change.  I became more confident.  Slowly, I was able to turn my life back around.

And I'm proud to say that in fifteen years, there's never been a day when I couldn't come up with something that made my nightly Good Things list -- even during the worst possible days.

Because it turns out that as long as there's One Good Thing, I can keep believing in Hope.  And sometimes, that's all I need to keep going.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

college smart: university of houston students talk about the beauty of different

Students from the University of Houston talk about the concept of beauty and what makes them different.  Their stories are breathtaking.  And the coolest part of this? I had no idea this was happening.  So awesome.

Related, however:  if you happen to live in Houston, be sure to tune into Channel 8 on Sunday, April 24 at 3pm (or Friday, April 29 at 10pm) to view my appearance on Living Smart, as host Patti Gras and I talk all about the book!

Thanks, PBS!

own your beauty: heartbreak

When I comb my memory looking for instances of true and complete heartbreak, I can quite honestly say that moments of heartbreak in my life have been few and far between (and it makes me nervous to even type this, lest I tempt the fates).  While the reasons for this could be that I've been inordinately lucky, there's a part of me that has a sneaking suspicion that it's not so much that my life has been so full of joy, as much as it is the way I've always historically dealt with heartbreak:  to bury it, pretend it didn't happen, and erase it from my present as much as humanly possible.  I've never been one to dwell:  Get Through It And Push On has always been my motto.  And for the most part, it has worked for me.

That said, I'm not entirely certain that the way I've handled heartbreak and disappointment in the past is the right way.  For the record, I don't believe wallowing is the right way to handle it either; but perhaps there should be a balance between the two.

When I wrote my book, I dedicated a chapter to heartbreak, and had the privilege of interviewing a truly beautiful man named Allen for the core of the section.  I won't tell you his story here -- you'll have to read the book -- but suffice to say that Allen had his heart broken by several people during his life, in ways I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  And yet, Allen is an angel:  he lives his life in service, he bears absolutely no ill will to anyone in his past.   When I asked him about his incredible capacity for forgiveness, he said, very matter-of-factly, "Well, see, Karen, the thing is after everything I've been through, when it's my time to leave the Earth, I want to know there isn't any unfinished business.  I've come to believe that love is the most important thing in life -- and if that's my guidepost, then I have to forgive, I can't hang on to anger anymore, or hate."

Now, Allen is exceptional when it comes to forgiveness, and while I totally agree with him, I have to admit that forgiveness can sometimes be a very hard thing to do.  In my case, I'd much rather just quickly forget:  my logic goes that forgiveness isn't necessary if you don't even remember what happened, right? 

But then.

But then, I contrast this with something my dear friend Brené says:  she says that you can't selectively numb.  She says that in doing what we can to erase pain and heartbreak by numbing (in whatever way we choose to numb), we also end up numbing the opposite:  we find ourselves unable to truly appreciate the joy, and gratitude, and the happiness when they also come our way.  In her words, we have to be willing to be vulnerable, in order to also be available for fully embracing the good; and when we do this, she says, we are living fully wholehearted lives. 

And, God help me, she may have a point.

So this is what I've been working on lately:  allowing myself to acknowledge when things aren't going my way, when I've been disappointed, and even when my heart has been broken.  I'm learning to sit with my feelings, and acknowledge how I feel, as Brené would have me do, before letting go of any anger, hate or disillusionment, as Allen models.  Because that, I suspect, is the way to handle heartbreak.

As if to confirm this concept, I was honoured to be able to speak with Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother last month.  She shared with me her story of how she coped with the death of her father, and her thoughts of heartbreak in general.  I'm so moved to share them with you, below.

So this month, I challenge you to be gentle with yourself:  when things go wrong, rather than pushing them aside (or in addition to raging about them), try sitting quietly with yourself and acknowledging how you feel.  Journal, meditate, or do what you can to mindfully treat yourself with kindness.

And as always, if you'd like to share with us how you deal with heartbreak and what has worked with you, please do so in the comments below.  Because I truly believe that we're all connected, and any ways in which we can help each other get through the tough times is greatly appreciated.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

some final thoughts on humour

Earlier this month, I talked with Alice Bradley, co-author of the fantastic new book, Let's Panic About Babies!, about humour, and she mentioned that she is "constantly looking for the joke," much in the same way that I, as a photographer, am "constantly looking for the light."  Over the past month, I tried to look for the humour in situations as much as possible, and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  Just the trying was pretty eye-opening for me, though:  I found that when I tried to look for humour, it required me to detach myself from the circumstances, and try to gain a bit of perspective.  As I said, it didn't always work, but I think the exercise was good for me.

One interesting thing I did come across over the month was Laughter Yoga -- a form of yoga where participants laugh for 40 minutes (sometimes forced, sometimes not).  The theory is that the body can't tell the difference between fake laughter and real laughter -- the physiological and psychological benefits are the same.

I even found a BBC video featuring John Cleese that talked all about it:

Interesting, isn't it?

Now:  I don't know that I'm going to spend 40 minutes a day laughing (though it does honestly sound lovely), but I'm drawn to the idea that more laughter daily is good for your health.  In fact, the Mayo Clinic maintains that the benefits of laughter include

  • stimulation of your heart, lungs and muscles
  • activation and relief of the stress response
  • soothing of tensions
  • improvement of your immune system
  • relief from pain
  • increase in personal satisfaction

So here's to laughter and joy, friends.   May you encounter something funny every day.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

there is beauty in difference!

Sometimes you guys totally blow me away.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the phrase "I don't see differences" -- saying how I believed that ignoring differences isn't what will eradicate discrimination, prejudice or bigotry, but rather seeing the beauty in differences will.  I will admit to you now that when I wrote that, I was angry, and dashed off the post largely without thinking.  And honestly, I was quite heartened at the enthusiastic response it got.  It made me feel so much better.  So thank you.

And then, this morning, I got an email:

Karen,

I have been reading your wonderfully passionate and loving blog for a few months and have become enamored with your approach to life in general but he beauty of people in particular. In a facebook posting, you had us repeat the phrase "there is beauty in difference" until we had it memorized. I thought it was a wonderful approach to getting your message across.


One of your readers expressed that they wished the phrase was available in a poster that could be used in her classroom. Well ... I couldn't resist taking a whack at it. If you see fit, please make this available to your readers. I created it to fit on 11x14 paper and the file is high resolution, so it should print well.

Tim

Is this not the kindest thing you've seen all day?

I called Tim, and it turns out that he's not a graphic designer, but a photo hobbyist, who just like to play with design.  I can't tell you how moved I am by this.

And so, thanks entirely to Tim's creativity and kindness, click here to download the 11x14 poster you see above -- put it in your kids' rooms, your classrooms, your offices, wherever you think could use the good word.  And I've promised Tim that if he ever decides to open a graphic design studio, I'll be sure to let everyone know.  Because, seriously.

Thank you so much, Tim.

"i don't see differences"

Over the years, I've had many conversations with people about discrimination.  And often, though obviously not all the time, someone will say something like:

"I never discriminate -- I know this because I don't see differences."

And every time, I feel incredibly uneasy.

Recently, this comment came up again; and again, I felt myself stiffen, again on my guard. I know the person who said it meant well, but this didn't stop me from feeling extreme discomfort...

... what do you mean, you don't see differences?

I'M different.

Do you not see me?

 

Here's the thing:  I've come to believe that racism, or classism, or sexism, or homophobia, or bigotry, or any other kind of discrimination will never go away if we pretend differences don't exist.

I have come to believe that discrimination and bigotry will ONLY go away when we realize there is beauty in difference.

Say it with me:

There is beauty in difference.

There is beauty in difference.

There is beauty in difference.

the earthquake in japan: how to help

Early this morning, news came of a devastating 8.9-scale earthquake off the coast of Japan.  At this point, reports are still coming in, but the images are devastating.  And as I sit here, writing my little blog on the beautiful things in life, I'm feeling truly helpless.

So I decided to do the only thing I could do:  I will keep an eye all day on how you can help by donating aid or your time to the people of Japan, who will no doubt desperately need all the help that they can receive.  As I learn of more ways to help, I'll update this post.  If you learn of any other ways to help, please leave links in the comments, and again, I'll continually update.

Let's see what we can do for our brothers and sisters in Japan.  We're all neighbours here.  We're all connected.

* * * * * * *

For inquiries concerning American citizens living in Japan:  

U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services at +1.888.407.4747 or +1.202.647.5225

For inquiries concerning UK citizens living in Japan:

UK Foreign Office Helpline number at +44(0) 20.7008.000 or japan.earthquake@fco.gov.uk

Google People Finder:

For finding/disseminating information about those in Japan: Google Person finder 2011 Japan Earthquake

Google Crisis Response:

For a list of additional resources, click here.

American Red Cross:

Disaster Alert:  Earthquake in Japan, Tsunami warnings

To donate US$ 10 to the American Red Cross,  text REDCROSS to 90999 to help Japan.

Canadian Red Cross:

To donate for Japan Earthquake Relief, click here.

Global Giving:

To donate to the Global Giving Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, click here.

Salvation Army:

To donate US$ 10 for earthquake relief, text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888 or visit SalvationArmyUSA.org

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres:

Click here to donate.

Network for Good:

Click here to donate.

own your beauty: humour with alice bradley

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friend, Alice Bradley, co-author of the brand-spanking new book Let's Panic About Babies.  Alice is also the author of the wildly popular blog Finslippy, and we'd met several years ago at a blogging conference.  She's a hilarious writer with great wit, and a sweet friend.

Over the weekend, we got into a somewhat serious discussion about writing, and humour writing specifically.  Alice is of the opinion that humour writing can be taught; moreover, she gave me some insight into how she writes.  "It's all about perspective," she mused.  "I write humour because I have to:  I couldn't imagine doing anything else.  And I find that as I go through my day, every day, I'm constantly looking for the joke.  I'm always looking for how an event can be perceived as funny."

At first, I was skeptical: I mean, I don't know that I'm a particularly funny person; moreover, while I love to write, I think it would really quite challenging for me to be a humour writer.  Still, in a certain way, what she was saying makes sense; in fact, it reminded me of how I shoot.  At any given time, whether or not I have my camera on me, I'm constantly framing shots:  looking at how the light is falling, what shadows there are, and what around me would make the most photogenic subject.  Perhaps there's something that humour-writing and photography actually share --  perspective -- that are key to doing them successfully.  Even more, perhaps the skill of seeing life from different perspectives is actually something that can be honed or practiced.

Maybe the skill of approaching life with a lighter outlook can actually be learned.

We spoke quite a bit over the weekend, and Alice was kind enough to let me record some of our conversation to share with you.  Here's what she had to say:

Isn't she awesome?

Anyway, the upshot is that Alice has given me a lot of food for thought, and I think I'm going to really try, over the coming month, to approach my life with more open eyes; identifying the ways in which my stresses might actually be funny.  It can't hurt right?

And while I'm doing this, I'm also going to do a little more to make sure there's more humour in my life:  watch a few more comedies on television (my steady diet of Law & Order episodes could probably do with a bit of a change), and search for some more talented humour writers on the web.  I have a few favourites -- The Bloggess, Hyperbole & a Half, Fluid Pudding and of course, Alice's blog, Finslippy, rank near the top -- but i could always go for a few more.

In fact, if you have any favourites, please share them in the comments, below.   Share the laughter love.

And as always, may your coming month be filled with humour.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

own your beauty: on breath and inspiration

At the beginning of this month, I invited you guys to do an exercise with me:  to take some time each day and deeply inhale at least 10 times, the way that the lovely Karolyn invited us to do.  How have you done?

I fully intended to start each day with this breathing exercise, but my memory isn't what it used to be, and the truth is that more days than not, I just began my morning as I always have.  But I'm pleased to say that this notwithstanding, almost every day in the past month I would remember that I'd promised myself I would commit to this practice, and every day, I stopped what I was doing, and took 10 deep breaths.

Sometimes I would think about what I wanted for myself on the inhalation ... I breathe in calm...

and then would think about what I wanted to rid myself of on the exhalation ... I breathe out worry...

On the next breath, I'd come up with something else ... I breathe in health ... I breathe out tiredness ...

Sometimes I would just breathe.

At the end of a month of doing this, I'm surprised at some of the things I learned:  I discovered that without exception, I felt calmer and clearer and lighter at the end of the breathing exercise than I did at the beginning, regardless of how great I might have felt at the beginning.  I learned that if I was feeling angry or sad or poorly, even if at the end of the exercises these feelings remained, they had somewhat dissipated.  And I was stunned to realize that more often then not, when I got to the end of the 10 breaths, I wasn't eager to go back to what I was doing -- I wanted, instead to keep on breathing.

But there's something else.

Late last year, as I do every year, I chose a word for myself for the coming twelve months; that word is INSPIRE.  When I looked up the definition of INSPIRE, I found what you might expect:

to fill with an animating, quickening or exalting influence; to give rise to, bring about, cause; to influence or impel

However, I also found an additional entry:

to take into the lungs in breathing; inhale

So perhaps the most stunning thing I learned this month, while I did my breathing exercises, was that by controlling my breath, by calming my mind, by focusing on what I hoped for myself, I actually put myself in a state that made it easier for inspiration to find me.  It allowed me to focus.  To become more open-minded.  To ready myself for whatever was to come next.

It's no wonder that inspiration is so closely tied to the breath.  And on that note, I think I'm definitely going to keep going with my exercises.

I hope you enjoyed your own breathing practice as well -- and if you're open to it, I'd love if you'd share what you may have learned or observed in the comments section, below.

Still, in any event:  go inspire yourself.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

true story

"Beauty awakens the soul to act."

~ Dante Alighieri

* * * * * * *

Thanks so much for all your comments on the giveaway post!  I'm thrilled to let you know that the winner of the giveaway is Kim Sasso, who said, "I love that this is more than just a "self esteem" video..that it incorporates actions and behaviors into the idea of Beauty. Amazing."  Congratulations, Kim!  Check your email -- I've sent you a note asking for your snail mail address.

And with that -- have a great weekend, everyone.  And if you live in Houston, please don't forget to put next Tuesday on your calendar -- I'd love to meet you at Blue Willow Bookstore!

own your beauty: spirituality

A few weeks ago, I reconnected with a friend of mine I hadn't seen in almost 20 years.  My friend Wilma and I had met in the early 90's, when I was still in law school and she was still a respiratory therapist.  We used to be really close, and as sometimes happens between friends, we drifted apart, moved away.  But then, through the miracle of Facebook,  we're suddenly back in touch again.

Wilma is no longer is a respiratory therapist; in fact, she happens to be a massage therapist now.  A few days after we reunited, she came to my house to give me a massage.  I'm not someone who generally gets massages --  I think I feel so indulgent when I get them, or something -- but I have to say, after experiencing Wilma's work, I certainly see the appeal.  As she worked, we talked about her work, and about massage and touch, and just generally about taking care of ourselves.

"You know, Karen," she said, "all we have are our bodies and our breath.  It's essential for our spirits that we take care of both."

All we have are our bodies and our breath.

Her words reminded me of a time in my life when I hadn't been doing a particularly good job of taking care of either.  Ironically, it was about 20 years or so ago around the same time that I had met Wilma, and I had worked myself into a deep blue funk.  Having been raised Catholic, I found myself turning to the church -- going back to Mass more often -- but I also began reading about Eastern religions and philosophies as well.  And eventually, I made the decision to try to meditate.

At first, my attempts were laughable.  Saying "om" to myself as I sat crosslegged on the floor felt ridiculous, so I stopped, and instead, tried to remain silent.  I tried to empty my mind, but instead of becoming still, all of my worries and concerns came flooding back in.  But I kept trying -- every day, for at least 30 minutes a day -- and eventually, I figured out a way of meditation that worked for me:  I would slow my breath down as much as possible, and with closed eyes, visualize myself walking through a tunnel toward a light that was always just out of reach as the tunnel twisted and turned.  And every time a random thought would come into my mind, I would acknowledge it, then bring my mind back to my imaginary tunnel.

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Thing is, it worked.  I became much more calm, much more serene, even in my everyday life when I wasn't meditating.  I began to stop worrying about what was wrong in my life, and instead, started to focus on what was right.  I even began ending my days with a gratitude practice:  thinking of at least one good thing that happened to me during the day, and feeling grateful for it.

And I began to realize that regardless of religion or faith, the simple act of spending a dedicated amount of time on my spirit, combined with a practice of gratitude, was transforming my outlook on life, making me a far healthier person.  Since that time, I'm sorry to say that my meditation practice has become more sporadic; still, my journaling practice of writing down my thoughts has increased tremendously, and in many ways, journaling feeds my spirit in a similar way.  In many ways, it's like written meditation.

Still, I need to slow down again, though.  As my friend says, all we have is our bodies and our breath.

Anyway, this month, I had the opportunity to sit and speak with Karolyn, who is a yoga instructor here in Houston, and like my friend Wilma, is a very spiritual person.  She's a wonderfully calming presence, and as we talked, she shared her own thoughts on spirituality and breath.  Here's what she had to say:

Karolyn's awesome.  After we turned the microphone off, we continued chatting, and she mentioned that back when she was in junior high she had a science teacher who used to say that if you made a practice of breathing very slowly and deeply ten times, as soon as you awoke in the morning and before you got out of bed (in the way Karolyn describes in the video), you would never get sick, you would remain at peace, and your spirit would be healthy.

I don't know if it's true, but it's worth a try, isn't it?

So this month, your challenge is to do as Karolyn's science teacher suggests:  every day, try to breath 10 times -- slowly, mindfully, just like Karolyn describes in the video.  If you can remember to do it before you get out of bed, that's a bonus; however, if not, make a point to do it at some point in the day, each day, anyway.  Again, do it 10 times, but if you want to do it for longer, that's cool too.  I'll do the same.  And at the end of the month, we'll report back to each other and see what we learn about ourselves.

Are you in?

I hope so.  In the meantime, remember:  your spirit is beautiful.

 

This post is part of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty initiative.  For more, click here.

you are beautiful* (the beauty of different giveaway)

Since Valentine's Day fast approaches (and as you know, I like to celebrate Valentine's Day as "Love Day," where you show someone you love them, romantic interest or not), I thought we'd do a giveaway here on Chookooloonks.  So leave a comment below to enter to win a signed copy of The Beauty of Different, and I'll pick a commenter at random and announce the winner on Friday's post.

And then, after you leave your comment below, head on over to Chookooloonks and leave a comment over there, too.

That's right.  Two chances to win a gift, perfect for giving to someone in your life who you know to be beautiful.

Good luck!

 

(By the way -- if you're so inclined, feel free to embed the video above in your own sites.  The way I see it, we need to spread the word that everyone is beautiful.)

update on the seattle jazz trip

Photo by Tea.

I'm currently in Nashville at the Blissdom Conference, so apologies for not updating on the Seattle meet-up earlier!  One word: epic.  I had such a great time and I'm so grateful to the Jason Parker Quartet, the Lucid Jazz Lounge and all of you for coming out and making it a great evening.

I've been updating Chookooloonks with the events of the weekend, so to read more, please take a look!

Saturday evening at The Hardware Store with my friends, hosted by Gluten Free Girl & The Chef

Sunday Coffee at Trabant Coffee & Chai and lunch at the Nettletown Cafe

Visiting the Sculpture Gardens and Pike Place Market

The main event.

Thanks again to all of you.  It was amazing.

 

Update:  I also wanted to share what some of the attendees had to say about the night.  Be sure to check out their blogs -- these are lovely people:

Scatterbeams -- Setting a Higher Bar:  The Beauty of Different & the Jason Parker Quartet

Darrah Parker -- Jazz, Joy & "The Beauty of Different"

Not Martha -- The Beauty of Different

Tea & Cookies -- Stalking Wonder:  Evening in a Jazz Club

Goodies from Coffee Jitters -- Five Fabulous (and Inspirational) Bloggers

Sweet River Photography --  A girl walked into a bar ...

One Working Musician (the awesome Jason Parker, the Jason Parker Quartet) -- The Beauty of Collaboration