Following Joy

 Don’t you feel like maybe it’s about time? I certainly do.  As I approach my fourth decade of life (what?!) I am no longer content with running “the race,” following the herd, or living unintentionally. I feel a strong desire to foster stillness within, move in the direction that brings me joy and make choices that are aligned with my deepest intentions. Sounds good, right? Well, it wasn’t always that way. For a long time, I had a lot of inner clutter. My mind was full of conditioned beliefs, worries, doubts, what ifs – just to name a few. I didn’t know what it felt like to take action aligned with my intentions. Forget about actions, I wasn’t even clear on my intentions.

 

When our inner dialogue is too loud, it drowns out our inner wisdom. When the internal landscape is too chaotic, there is simply no space for awareness and inspired action. Over the years, I have been committed to cultivating inner space through meditation and mindfulness practice. It has often times been an arduous yet rewarding journey. A journey that I would not change one bit no matter how difficult the path has been at times.

 

When we operate from an internal place of relative stillness and centeredness, we can begin to see clearly and move in the direction of our deepest desires. Many of us contemplate our purpose- especially as we enter midlife. How can we fully express who we are? How can we make a difference and live an authentic life?  As I practice mindfulness and continue to cultivate inner quiet, I am beginning to realize that we don’t have to search for our purpose. The key is to follow our joy. It is so crucial to pay attention and then move in the direction that feels aligned. With practice and pure interest, we can learn to attune to our bodies. Our body is always speaking to us if we can learn to quiet the mind’s chatter and drop into our body sensations. How does it feel when we are aligned, full of joy, full of passion? For me, my body feels expansive, present, effortless. How does it feel when we are misaligned or in fear? For me, my body feels constricted, tight, uneasy. We can always check with our body and follow its signals. It sounds easy and yes it is once we get past all of our mind’s chatter which is often times filled with doubt and fear. This takes practices but becomes clearer and clearer as we intentionally pay attention to our present moment experience. Once we are tuned in, we need trust and follow our joy.

 

Take inventory right now of the different areas of your life.   What brings you joy? What confines you? Can you commit to following what lights you up? We don’t even need to make big changes. Start small but just start. Life doesn’t wait around for us. The time is now. Find what lights you up and go in that direction. The answers we are seeking are right in front of us, we just need to learn how to pay attention. Follow the people that lift us up, the job that inspires, the food that nurtures our body, the thoughts that are supportive, the hobbies that bring joy and be unabashed in the pursuit to live in full alignment.  Yes, it is hard but I know what is even harder- living a bound life.  Along the way to joy, we will let go of what no longer serves us. This letting go can be uncomfortable and downright painful at times. Letting go of all the things that are holding us back – perhaps a belief system, a relationship, a job, a vision of how we thought it would be. The more we follow our joy, the more joy we will attract. Take action- one small step in the direction of joy every day- at your own pace and consciously acknowledge your efforts along the way. We need to become exactly what we want to attract and our purpose will reveal itself. It is right in front of us if we can remove all of our blinders and see clearly.

 

xo,

Amanda

Finding Your Path Home

Living a life that is your own takes a lot of inner work and bravery. It is not for the faint hearted, especially in times of challenges when we are called to face ourselves , dig deep and grow. The journey inward can be a lonely one. In fact, it isn’t meant to be done with company. It is important to have support along the way but at the end of the day, it is about our relationship with ourselves. It is how we relate to ourselves that determines how we can relate to others. I have learned first hand that the ways in which I can meet my own suffering as well as my own joy is to the degree that I can meet others with theirs.

The inward journey is not a linear path and there are no direct road maps along the way. I have found that there are times in my  journey where I feel strongly connected to my truth and am “on-track.” I feel inspired when I’m teaching, writing, out in nature, working with my patients and connecting with my family. I have also experienced many times feeling disconnected and “off path.” In these times, I may lack the motivation to meditate, don’t want to write, numb out with food, go through the motions at work and just remain on auto-pilot mode. I wanted to write about this because many others have voiced this roller coaster ride to me as well.  What I see now is that this IS the path- the “on-track” and the “off-track” are part of the journey. It is in the awareness of our feelings of expansion and connection when we aligned with our truth and the awareness of the contraction and disconnection when we are living inauthentically. We need to experience both and know when we are feeling disconnected that we have the ability to reconnect. Through our awareness, we understand that everything is impermanent. Our feelings of connection and disconnection come and go and our job is to witness them without clinging to the “good” and resisting the “bad.” When we witness first hand that all of our experiences, feelings, thoughts, sensations are constantly changing, we no longer have to fear that things will “always be this way.” It is in our witnessing them that we can allow all to move and enter the next moment as new.

The only thing that stands in the way of feeling connected to ourselves and the world around us is our minds- all of our false beliefs, perceptions and conditioning. Life is neutral and occurring every moment with or without our participation. We can be part of life or we can be stuck in our minds. The way to free ourselves is to know how to work with our minds. Through meditation, we train our attention so it is not always caught up in a mental movie. This is not easy work but it is the way to freedom. Our minds can be full resistance. Resistance comes in many forms- judgements, “should haves”, doubt, confusion, not good enough,  procrastination to name just a a few.. It is in the way we meet our resistance with compassion that helps loosen its grip. Resistance is part of the path as well and it too is impermanent. In a twisted way, resistance is protecting us from getting hurt, being vulnerable and facing our fears. However, resistance keeps us stuck and as we continue to grow, our inner knowing and our intention for living an awakened life needs to become stronger than our resistance.

When I feel “off track,” I remind myself that everything is impermanent. I take extra time for self care. Self-care is what reconnects me. It is making sure I make time for meditation (even when I don’t feel like it), getting enough sleep, journaling and slowing down to acknowledge the inner calling for reconnection. I hike and spend time in nature to connect myself with life outside of my inner maze. The heart of self care is about meeting your own needs. We can spend a life time searching on the outside for our needs to be met- looking desperately for our spouse, parents, career, friends, money to meet our needs. The search will be endless. It is not until we can meet our own needs that we can heal and move forward. If we feel unseen or unheard, we need to see and hear our true self and follow it. If we feel unloved, we need to learn to love ourselves.

With the holidays coming up, it is important to take time to slow down and listen to the part of you that wants to be acknowledged, supported and loved. It is believing that when we feel “off track,” it is just a signal to slow down and go inward. Our inner state is reflected on the external. Once we clean up our inner workings, our external will mirror all of our magnificence.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving filled with presence, gratitude and love,

Amanda

 

Can You Wait For The Glitter To Settle?

 

In my daughter’s girl scout troop, we made “mind jars.” These are plastic bottles filled with water and loads of glitter. The girls loved this project. We saw how when we shake the jar, the glitter clouds the water and we have to wait for the glitter to settle for clarity to return to the water. We talked about when we are activated that our mind and feelings become stirred up and it is very difficult to see clearly and make appropriate decisions. We practiced breathing and allowing the glitter to settle. I am not sure how much they understood but they certainly loved making the jars:)

 

The question to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing to allow the glitter to settle before we can see clearly?” Sometimes we can be so enmeshed with our “glitter” that we don’t even realize that we are seeing things through a clouded lens. I can certainly relate to the confusion many of us face when trying to make decisions- big or little. Should I move? Change my career? Leave a relationship? Go back to school? No matter what the situation is, the answer can never come from a place of reactivity and confusion. When we are not centered and present, our mind will take us off course. We can think our way in and out of any scenario. The excessive thinking (which is a form of reactivity) will leave us feeling more confused, frustrated and lacking trust within ourselves.

 

Having awareness that we are activated or caught up in confusion is the first step. Then turning inward and allowing the experience to be just as it is, without trying to “figure anything out.” Can we have the courage to sit with the uncertainty, to sit with not knowing what to do? We are so used to doing and fixing and reacting. The act of allowing and being with our experience may be foreign but it is the only way that I know to find the true answers to our questions. Never make a life changing decision based on our momentary reactivity. If you are facing a difficult decision, can you be brave enough to wait for the glitter to settle? Patiently wait and allow all of the “what if’s”, “why’s”, “maybes” to quiet down. Watch the emotions shift in the body. This is not passively waiting. In fact, it is the most active thing we can do. While we are waiting for the glitter to settle, we are building a spacious inner container that can watch our experience and not become it. We are strengthening our ability to witness, without judgement, our inner terrain-the thoughts, emotions, body sensations, resistance, confusion and build a space to contain it all as we rise above it.  In this space, we open to our inner guidance and all the fear, confusion and false beliefs can disappear in a moment because they were never real anyway. This space takes time to cultivate (much longer than it takes the glitter to settle in our mind jars). No one can do the work for us. It takes commitment, intention and deep self-love to do the work.

 

If you are interested in learning mindfulness mediation, consider joining my all day retreat on Sunday, June 4th from 9am-4pm at the Middlefield Library. We will be turning our attention inward, witnessing our experience, and cultivating the inner spaciousness needed to live a present, centered and fully awakened life.

One Day Immersion into Mindfulness

 

There are currently no upcoming scheduled mindfulness retreats
Please check back for updates


What does this day entail?

  • Amanda will start the day off with an inspiring talk on of what mindfulness is and how it can be the catalyst to wake you up to the life that is waiting for you.
  • This retreat offers a full day experience of a variety of mindfulness practices, including awareness of breath, body scan, mindful eating, mindful movement, walking meditation, mountain meditation, and loving kindness meditation.
  • There will be a closing discussion and guidance on how to continue incorporating mindfulness into your daily lives going forward.

Who should attend?

This full day retreat is for anyone who is seeking a day to step outside of the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether this is your first mindfulness experience or you have been practicing for years, this is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with yourself and remember what is truly important. This day is a wonderful opportunity for those who perhaps cannot commit to a weekly class but want to experience mindful practice led by a qualified and experienced mindfulness facilitator.

Benefits of  this retreat:

  • You will have a clear understanding of what mindfulness is and how it can be applied to everyday living.
  • You will be taught tools to help reduce reactivity and instead be able to skillfully respond.
  • You will reduce stress and allow your body to innately heal.
  • You will build attention and begin to have a new relationship with your mind.
  • You will cultivate stronger mental and emotional resilience.
  • You will learn how to befriend yourself and reconnect with who you truly are.
  • You will be taught how to establish a daily mindfulness practice going forward.

How should I prepare for this retreat:

  • Please wear comfortable clothing so you can easily move (for mindful yoga) and sit (for seated meditations).
  • Please bring a yoga mat and a blanket. Wear layers so you can adjust your clothing if you are warm or cool.
  • Please pack a lunch and a water bottle. There is a kitchen with a refridgerator available. Snacks, drinks and coffee/tea will be provided. We will be practicing mindful eating.
  • We will be doing some practice outside, as weather permits, so please consider sunscreen.
  • You are encouraged to come with an open mind and heart. Leave all expectations behind and immerse yourself in a new experience.

About the retreat instructor:

Amanda Votto is a qualified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor, trained through the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She teaches several mindfulness courses including mindful parenting, MBSR, and Introduction to Mindfulness. Amanda is passionate about sharing mindfulness and helping others awaken to their fullest potential. She is a physician assistant in cardiology at Hartford Hospital and believes whole heartedly in the power of healing from within. Personally, Amanda tries to embody mindfulness in all she does. She has a daily mindfulness practice and deepens her practice with 5-7 day silent retreats.


Please contact Amanda Votto with any questions at amanda@divinewithin.me

Previous All Day Retreats: June 4, 2017,  9am-4pm

Classes and Workshops

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- 8 week series

Hartford Hospital Integrative Medicine

1290 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield, CT

Orientation: Sunday, February 25, 2018 from 10-11:30am

Class meets on Wednesdays from 6:30-9:00pm starting March 14- May 9, 2018 with an all day retreat on April 29th from 9-4pm

Please email me if you are interested.

$400 for Hartford Hospital employees and $450 non hospital employees

 

Beyond the Barriers: Awakening to Your Truth

Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford, CT

Saturday, June 16, 2018

All Day Retreat from 10am-5pm- see link below for details

https://www.copperbeechinstitute.org/upcoming-programs/beyond-the-barriers

 

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- 8 week series

Hartford Hospital Integrative Medicine

1290 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield, CT

September 2019- dates to be determined

 

$400 for Hartford Hospital employees and $450 non hospital employees

Please email me if you are interested- amanda@divinewithin.me

 

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- 8 week series

Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford, CT

Orientation is Monday, January 7, 2019 from 9:30am-11am

Class meets on Mondays from 9:30am until 12pm, starting January 15, 2019 (no class on February 11) with an all day retreat on Sunday, February 23rd and course ending on March 11 , 2019

https://www.copperbeechinstitute.org/upcoming-programs/mbsr-daytime-winter-2019

 

Flowing With Life

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How often do we find ourselves bypassing or resisting the present moment? Whether we are aware or not, we often miss the moment that is occurring right before our eyes. We may be so fixated on how things “used to be” or how they “should be” that the current moment passes without ever experiencing its fullness. In fact, if we stay unaware of this, our whole life can pass right by us, never truly experiencing it, merely living in our heads the whole time. This, to me, is the devastating truth that can happen when we live unconsciously.  I too was seduced into the unconscious lure of living my life purely through thought until I began practicing mindfulness. Somehow many of us have grown addicted to our own mental movie of “The Way Things Were” or “What Lies Ahead.” It is through intention, the cultivation of mindfulness (present moment living) and conscious teachings that we can wake up from our sleep. Real life unfolds on a moment to moment basis and we can choose to pay attention with awareness, interest, and an attitude of open acceptance to our lives. Our life that can be witnessed and felt through our senses, feelings/emotions, and thoughts.

Last week, my family and I went on a wonderful Caribbean vacation. We were surrounded by magnificent turquoise water, soft sand, warm sun, kind natives, and beauty that could be found everywhere you look. Isn’t it so much easier to stay present and feel awake in moments that are pleasing and full of happiness? However, living life to its fullest, includes being fully present for all its moments- neither preferring the good nor rejecting the bad. It is about staying fully aware, experiencing and accepting whatever presents itself in the moment. Plain and simple- life is as it is and it is purely the way that we interpret it that informs how we see it. Our perception of life mostly comes from our past conditioning (how we were raised, cultural beliefs and past experiences) and it this conditioning that creates our beliefs. When we become fully aware of our limiting beliefs and become curious about our perceptions, there is room to grow and change.

Life is constantly changing and presenting us with moments to grow if we can see them as such. Our Caribbean vacation took an interesting turn when my daughter got food poisoning the first night of our trip. This event had the potential to put a huge damper on our vacation; however, practicing moment-to-moment awareness allowed the vacation to unfold naturally. It was through my daughter’s lead that I learned even more what it means to enter flow. Kids, in general, are in the present moment, fully embracing what they are doing while they are doing it. They aren’t attached to certain expectations and haven’t lived long enough to fully buy into false beliefs/perceptions that we struggle with in adulthood. They are so close to their authentic, natural state. My daughter was sick with food poisoning in a beautiful resort with innumerable activities and fun at every corner. Never once did she question why she was the one who got sick. She wasn’t attached to a certain vision of how she planned her trip to be- lol. She simply accepted the “as-is” of her situation and naturally flowed with it- not resisting it. In doing so, she was able to continue to have fun and allow herself to be nurtured.  By the end of the trip, she was laughing that she knew the location of every bathroom in the whole resort. She handled this situation with ease, joy and an open hearted acceptance. It was through her beautiful example that I too surrendered to the present moment. I could have easily been consumed with fearful thinking about her food poisoning such as “Now the whole trip may be ruined. What if she is really sick and we are far from home?” The stories could have gone on and on. Instead I chose to embrace the present moment like her. Not to say that fear based thoughts didn’t enter my mind; however, I witnessed the thoughts and choose to see them as thoughts and not reality. The reality was that my daughter was sick in that moment and I truly had no idea how long the food poisoning would last. I had no idea how the trip would pan out but I was sure that if I perceived this event through a lens of fear/lack (why does this happen to me? My whole vacation is ruined, etc.) then indeed my experience would reflect my thoughts.

Living mindfully, means showing up for all of life, releasing all of our expectations of how things ought to be, and allowing life to unfold naturally on its own with absolute trust in its unfolding. This is not to be confused with being passive to life. Quite on the contrary, it takes commitment, intention and astute presence to actively engage with life. My daughter’s experience with food poisoning was an opportunity for myself, my daughter, my son and husband to practice equanimity- to see life as it is and release our need to categorize it as “good or bad, “acceptable or unacceptable.” Entering the present moment and flowing with life as it presents itself is a gift. This quality of “entering flow” can be cultivated and is the path to freedom. When we let go of expectations, we can engage in life.  When I released my expectation of how I pictured my family vacation to be, I made room for what actually was and was able to see the beauty in the midst of a challenge. I saw my daughter and her warrior spirit. I saw how easily she could flow with life and I marveled at her ease and full acceptance of the present moment. I saw the beauty in each breath she took as she slept in my arms. I saw her having fun swimming and playing in the sun despite the food poisoning. I saw the compassion of my son as he cared for his sister. I saw the unconditional love my husband showed for our family. I would have missed all of this if I were caught in my thoughts and resisting the present. All of the energy that it takes being consumed with thoughts and “what if’s” is freed up and room is created for spontaneity, joy and gratitude.

I am so grateful for the gift of mindfulness and how it has transformed my life and the lives of so many others. I can’t think of a better way to express my deepest gratitude than to intentionally show up for all of life’s moments and embrace the present without attachment or expectation- only full-on acceptance, open heartedness, and deep trust.  It is from this place that we can navigate a life that is in full alignment with our deepest self. This is my hope for all of us.

 

With love,

Amanda

The Wake Up Call

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There is no controlling life. Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado. Dam a stream and it will create a new channel. Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet. Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.”

~ Danna Faulds

In a blink of the eye, everything can change. Many of us have had firsthand experience with the ever changing nature of life. Whether it is a new diagnosis, a move, an accident, a divorce, a birth or a death, we soon realize that life comes without any guarantees. The faster we learn that we cannot control life, paradoxically, the easier and freer living becomes.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we begin to experience two crucial elements of life. The first is that everything is impermanent—our feelings, our circumstances, our lives and the lives of our loved ones. The other is that the only thing we have control over in life is how we choose to respond to our circumstances. Therein lies our power to co-create the life of our dreams.

At different times in our lives, we may get the call—the call to rise up and live the life we are meant to live. The call doesn’t necessarily come in a perfectly wrapped gift box. It may come in the form of a heart attack, a depression, a divorce or a layoff from work. The call is happening all the time but many of us are too busy in our heads to notice the present moment and too disconnected from our truth to hear the call. Don’t worry; the call doesn’t go away. Life is always working in mysterious ways to get us to wake up. If the call is ignored, our wakeup can come in louder and louder forms until our attention is caught, our escape tactics have run dry and we have few options left aside from turning inward and doing the work that is the only path to set us free.

Does this sound familiar? I personally sensed that I was “off path” years ago. I could not put my finger on what I was feeling. In fact, from the outside, it appeared as if I had it all together. I had a wonderful husband, two healthy kids, a meaningful career, yet an emptiness was growing within. I tried my usual escape tactics—keeping busy and avoidance—until the call became too loud that I could no longer ignore it. I felt disengaged from life and was unable to find happiness in the things I once enjoyed. I was confused, disconnected and felt deeply lost. I longed to return to the periods of my life when I felt joyful and connected.

No matter what I did to “figure it out,” it just didn’t make sense. There was no catastrophic external event that occurred. Letting go of trying to understand why took me a long time. I turned to mindfulness as the crucial step in reconnecting with myself. I signed up for an 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction course (MBSR).  Through the practice of mindfulness, I discovered that my answers could not be “figured out” in my mind. In fact, my mind only created more confusion. I found the stillness that was needed to reconnect with the real me. Slowly, I began quieting the inner chatter and trusting in myself and life. I knew I had all of the answers within me and with mindfulness, I have been able to access the place in me of unconditional love, patience and trust. My practice has had such an enormous impact on my life that I have now been trained through the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to teach mindfulness to others that are seeking to find their way back home.

What is your call to wake up? Perhaps if we can see these events with a different perspective—by trusting that life is happening for us and that every occurrence is perfectly delivered for our biggest growth potential. Would we dare welcome the “unwanted” and make proper room for it?

Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches acceptance and allowance. Through practice, we train our attention to be in the present moment, the only real moment there is. It is in the present moment that we can hear the call, that we can safely feel our feelings, and that we can discover some of the patterns that keep us stuck. Becoming the observer of our thoughts, sensations and emotions allows us to form new choices and patterns and release old patterns that no longer serve.

The call is here. Maybe it is a whisper or perhaps a loud scream. Either way it is an invitation to answer it. Will you?

I will be teaching the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, CT this coming January 2017 for anyone interested in taking a deep dive into mindfulness.   https://www.copperbeechinstitute.org/mbsr-day-winter17

I Took The Bait….

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Ever find yourself falling victim to your old patterns despite all of your efforts and good intentions? These days I have made it a mandate that I am present and in tune with my energy, actions, and thoughts. But…when the trigger is extremely charged and the wound is very raw, the temptation to fall into an old pattern is high. It is critically important to know yourself and your “hot spots.” When we are triggered by someone or something, they are mirroring to us that which needs to be healed within us (otherwise we wouldn’t be triggered). The people or the situations in ours lives that provoke us the most are actually our best teachers (IF we can see them in this way).

The other day I was activated and the trigger was too intense that I took the bait. I bit back. I was even aware that I was highly reactive while I was doing it but I still choose to continue. It didn’t end with that event either. As the day went on, I continued to take that negative energy with me. For example, I gave into useless gossip, lost patience with my kids, and felt overall drained. It wasn’t until later in the day when I took inventory of my inner landscape, that I could feel my energy was very heavy. I knew exactly why. When we are attuned to our bodies, we can feel when we are “off.” That particular energy was draining and dirty.

So what do we do now? I can tell you from this particular experience that once my inner landscape felt contaminated, my ego (or “false self”) was very loud. The ego is that inner voice that always has something to say and a lot of the time it is not so nice. My ego immediately had a field day with my low energy state. Thoughts such as, “You should know better,” or “Back here again? Don’t you learn?!” The ego has lots of tricks in its bag and the dirtiest trick of all is shame/guilt. However, my authentic self has grown and has become the voice I can now (thankfully) hear and choose to listen to. It is the quiet whisper that soothes my heart. The voice that tells me that we all make mistakes and in fact, we often learn best through our mistakes. It is the voice that offers forgiveness to myself and to the other that I lashed out on. For what I didn’t know a few years ago but definitely know now is that I am allowed to be imperfect and I am enough just as I am. I no longer need to berate myself for my wrong doings, instead I can uplift myself with my progress, my good intentions, and actively change my own energy. I know that I am always offered a new moment to choose better.

We are all enough. Just the fact that we were born is a guarantee that we are all worthy to give and receive unconditional love. So let’s make a commitment to clean up our energy, to not listen to the voices that keep us stuck, yet instead embrace our highest self, the one who deeply knows our unmatchable worth.

The next time you fall victim to an old pattern, take inventory of how it makes you feel. Journal, meditate, talk to a trusted friend and then choose to forgive and release that energy. Continue to build your muscle of awareness and with practice we will overtime no longer be interested in taking the bait. Our inner landscape is sacred and protecting our energy is a priority. We all make mistakes. We can always choose to grow by learning from our mistakes and not allowing them to keep us stuck in old patterns that do not serve us anymore.

Much love,

Amanda

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