I spent this past winter abroad. My husband Josh and I whiled away November and December in Venice Beach, California. We are both fortunate to be able to work from (mostly) anywhere, and so we did—working seven to eight hours a day and playing the rest of the time. We did what most deem impossible in LA—got around without a car, just two wheels and the open bike path. We rented a car only when we needed one, but most of the time we only went as far as our bicycles could take us.
We broadened our spiritual practice through so many classes, courses, events, and adventures. One highlight was being part of the Love Mob, where we gathered in the centre of The Grove Shopping Center the weekend before Christmas, just to share a little love.
In early January, we boarded a plane for a full 24 hours of travel that landed us in absolute paradise—Bali.
We had seven weeks on this magical, mystical, and rapidly changing island. We were floored by the beauty, the uniqueness, the kindness of the people, the green of the green, and the 98 per cent humidity that made our curly hair do ridiculous things.
Now back at home, the impact of our time there continues to affect our daily lives. One constant remains—we're more aware than ever that gratitude, health, and happiness are the most precious commodities.
Here are the five things I learned living in paradise:
1. The Gift Of Gratitude
Being grateful for things doesn't bring more great things into your life. It invites you to see, hear, listen, feel, and be present for the greatness that surrounds you everyday, in every moment. The Balinese people do not have much of what we tend to value on this side of the ocean. They don't even have high speed internet (how can they cope without being able to stream YouTube videos of hamsters on pianos eating popcorn?). For the most part, they do not earn enough to ever leave the island. Most live in small, crowded quarters and they work really hard. And they are the happiest, kindest people I have ever met. Why?
Gratitude. It is estimated that the Balinese spend 1/3 of their lives preparing for and participating in ceremonies and celebrations, and 1/2 of their household income on offerings.
We would be sitting in the small yard of our homestay, and women would come through to hang flags on our door, light incense, wave a flower, and chant some prayers.
Such is the way of life. When you spend so much of your time being thankful, it kind of takes over the way you think in any given moment. The challenging experiences become opportunities for learning, growth, and evolution, and the joyful experiences are abundant as you become more present to them.
Try this: Find two moments in your day to practice gratitude and create a ritual around the practice. We meditate together every morning, and always take a moment before dinner to share what we are currently feeling grateful for. It's a little thing, but one of those little big things.
2. Simplify, Don't Complicate
I am not sure why we complicate our lives so much, but I am thinking it has to do with feeling unhappy or unsettled. We travelled Bali for nearly two months with only carry-on baggage, and still seemed to bring too much. Life is so much easier, more enjoyable, and more relaxed when the clutter we create gets cleared away. This one came up so often that we made up our own little song—a mantra, if you will.
Simplify, don't complicate.
Simplify, don't complicate.
I don't need so much on my plate.
That over there, I don't need it!
More stuff, more clothes, a bigger house, a new partner, a baby—these things are not the secret sauce of happiness if you're not happy as things are. Filling our closets, our cupboards, our schedules, and our bellies doesn't make us better, happier, or healthier. Shed what you don't need, lighten the load, and just simplify!
Try this: Pretend like you were packing up to move. Take just your closet and your kitchen to start. What would you take? What would be worth moving and what would you be ready to give away? Start by decluttering your physical space and you'll find your emotional space will start to become lighter and brighter, as well. That over there, you don't need it!
3. Be Ready To Be Happy
We often attended yoga classes taught by the Balinese. They offered what was called Happy Hatha, a most awesome mix of traditional hatha yoga with ridiculously amazing bursts of laughter yoga. Our first experience had us literally in tears. I didn't stop laughing for two hours. It was amazing. Something our teacher, Eka Sukma, said resonated with me—it was that we need to be ready to be happy.
We can't just wake up one morning and decide, today is the day I start being happy. We need to prepare ourselves, want it, and be open to it. He compared it to buying a house. He explained how people think that buying a house is the answer, but then they cause themselves more stress by needing to take out a mortgage and make payments and the house which was supposed to be a great thing, becomes another stress. Just as you need to be ready to buy that house, you need to be ready to accept happiness and all that comes with it.
What does it mean to be ready to be happy? It's about breaking down old blocks, recognizing the habits that prevent our happiness, removing ourselves from the negative people in our lives, stop making excuses, ditch the destructive consumptive habits, focus on short term and long term benefits instead of persistent instant gratification, and quit doing things we hate today in an attempt to reach a time in the future when we think we'll be happy.
Try this: Start talking to yourself in the mirror. I am totally serious. When you wake up in the morning, look yourself in the eye and laugh, smile, wish yourself good morning, tell yourself how happy you are, how much you love yourself. Smile. And laugh some more. Big belly laughs. Real or fake, the cells of your body don't know the difference, they will just get happier. Then work on practicing happiness in any random situation. Happiness is a muscle that needs practice, exercise, and more practice.
4. Always Find The Fun And Choose Love
In any given situation, you have a choice. You can choose to be cranky pants, reactive and mean, or you can smile, be kind, and have fun. People often ask me if I am always as happy and silly as I appear in my videos. Of course not. I definitely wasn't having the time of my life on hour 14 of our first of two back-to back overnight flights, but what good does complaining about discomfort or wishing for something to be different do for us? It doesn't change the situation we are in, it only serves to increase our personal suffering. Look for the humour, look for the beauty, look for the opportunity to enjoy the moment, and express it through love. And if it's just not possible, then at the very least, take a few deep breaths and work to calm your mind, and then perhaps you'll be able to find the fun and the love. Consider that for the most part, it's our blessings that cause us stress.
Try this: Dance. JUST DANCE. Turn on music and shake it. This will change your energy, your mood, your spirit, and your blood flow. And for the four minutes of that song, let yourself feel truly, uninhibitedly full of love. Laugh, play, make noises, make faces, and shake it. Notice how you feel afterwards and then work to feel like that most of the time. That is love!
5. Practice What You Know
We know yoga is good for our mind and bodies. We know drinking green juice is better than drinking a soda. We know going to sleep early is better than staying up late. We know a good morning poop is better than not pooping. We know loving the work we do is better than hating it. We know being kind to others feels so much better than being mean. We know that being generous is better than being selfish. We know deep breaths into the belly will calm the mind and lower stress levels. We know most hair dye and nail polish is cancer-causing. We know that actively being part of a community is better than isolating ourselves. We know that saying hello to strangers we pass on the street is a friendlier gesture than avoiding eye contact. We know we should walk to the store and leave the car at home.
We know. We always know.
So let's practice what we know, because being kind, showing and sharing love, and taking care of our health will change the world we live in. Josh and I spent seven weeks practicing what we know in every waking moment and it brought us more fulfillment, joy, unexpected conversations, adventures, and connections than would have otherwise happened. Practicing what we know makes our lives better!
Try this: Choose three of the things that you know, and start doing them. Do them for a week and then share below how things changed.
Want to take on the paradise challenge?
We don't need to go away to practice living in paradise. Our paradise is where our heart is and our heart is where we are in every moment. Why are we all so much more open and kind when we are away from home? Let's make home our paradise!
I would love if you would take on two or three or all of the lessons outlined above and practice them for a week, maybe two. It doesn't cost any money. It doesn't take up any time. It's just a practice of being kinder, more open, more loving, more playful . . . more you!
If you're going to give it a try, please post a comment below and share how you are doing and what you are noticing.