A Little Soul Nourishment: 5 Ideas For You

Sedum in Fall

“There is no one like anyone else, ever…For it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

~ Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of my grandmother – my Oma – who was my last remaining grandparent. My Oma was a complex and intelligent woman, who experienced many struggles in her life, and who had a deep enjoyment of reading, especially poetry, essays, and books that made her think. She was also a talented and accomplished writer, and when I look out across my family – thinkers, writers, readers, linguists, teachers, wordsmiths – the shared history makes itself clear.

Funerals, like no other life event, confront with you thoughts of mortality and the meaning of life, and take you through this unique realm of family you don’t regularly get to see, people from your past, stories you’d forgotten, and the joys, sorrows, struggles, adventures, and mundane everydays that make up each individual life. It’s a liminal time where contemplation and reflection – soul work – feels important and necessary.

I spend so much time thinking and reading about nourishing the body (right now I’m reading No Grain, No Pain, by Peter Osborne – a useful read if you have any digestive diseases or discomforts, or think that gluten might be a problem for you) that I often forget to make space for nourishing the soul.

fall sedum 2

What nourishes your soul? I love poetry, photography (hence the fall sedum photographs, all from my front yard), reading beautiful nature essays, engrossing novels, making soup, chocolate chip cookies, playing pianoblog posts that give me perspective on life, books on happiness, and tea. Oh, and writing. I suppose that’s what this blog post is – a bit of a Tuesday outlet for my soul.

So here are five of the soul-nourishing options that I’ve been thinking about lately. Consider putting a book option on hold and giving it a read before bed (an excellent soul-nourishing time), or take this blog post and use it as a reminder to incorporate a little of your own soul-food this week, whatever that is for you.

  • Wait But Why: Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel: Great title, no? What a cool concept. I’ll let the post speak for itself, and it’s a hugely worthwhile read, but the main point is: life is a series of Todays. Thinking about life only as exciting Tomorrows that are going to be so much better than our regular Todays is missing out on being present, and is ultimately missing the point. This wonderful post reminds us that thinking about life as a movie montage or a big picture with sweeping music, an overall theme and story arch, and whizzing frames that just blur past the hard, disappointing, or boring bits, just sets us up for regrets and unhappiness. We may find those epic stories in looking back on our lives, but the reality to make peace with is that no matter what, our lives are built brick by brick, Today by Today. And, our Todays might often just be “mundane Wednesdays.” What we can hope to do is make the best of our “mundane Wednesdays”, and so the post concludes with some tips for the scientifically proven things that actually improve our Todays over the long-run: gratitude, good health, satisfying and loving relationships, good sleep, and kindness/giving to others.
  • Gratitude, by Oliver Sacks. This short, small book contains four essays written by Oliver Sacks in the last two years of his life. I read it cover to cover in under an hour and felt my soul had been warmed. Oliver Sacks writes so positively about aging (in the first two essays, before he receives his terminal cancer diagnosis) and then so beautifully, bravely, and honestly about the remainder of his life in his final two essays. It’s also a marvellous book to marvel about writing, and the power of words to reach out across the ethos and capture emotions you felt but weren’t satisfactorily able to express. This little book gave me new ways to think about the beauties in life, the gifts that we’re given (even those that don’t seem like gifts), and the magic of a dialogue with a good book.
  • Upstream, by Mary Oliver. I love Mary Oliver’s poetry, and even though this is a book of essays, I can’t deny that reading it is like reading poetry – a luxurious pool of words that you spend time swimming around in. The book includes a wonderful essay called My Friend Walt Whitman, where Mary Oliver writes about poetry – and the experience of poetry – with such tenderness: “But first and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple – or a green field – a place to enter and in which to feel…I learned that the poem was made not to just exist, but to speak – to be company.” If this makes you wish to read poetry, try a few favourites: Whitman, for sure, and Mary Oliver, but also Wendell Berry, John Keats, Tennyson, and Shakespeare. All good and satisfying.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies. I’ve been trying to incorporate more grain-free options, to see how that sits with me, and today I’m trying these Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies from Against All Grain. I’m all for nourishing my soul by also nourishing my senses (and stomach). *grin*
  • Herbal Tea: Lastly, if you’re looking for a new tea to try, consider fennel! It’s great for digestion, very soothing if you have any digestive issues, and it may also be anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, and helpful for managing PMS symptoms. Plus, I love the licorice/anise flavour.

If you’re looking for other soul-nourishing and happiness-boosting posts, consider:

Thank you for allowing me to write about what’s on my mind, and for taking the time to read, even though this diverts from usual content. I’ll be back with more recipes soon. Until then, happy soul-nourishing!

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercouse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

~Oliver Sacks, Gratitude


© Eat Well, Live Vibrantly

5 Songs and 8 Ways to Start Your Morning with Joy and Movement

scotland morning

Morning in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland. Bliss.

Morning: the first or early part; the beginning.

Dance: to leap, skip, etc., as from excitement or emotion; move nimbly or quickly.

Mornings can be really tough, especially in the winter. I read somewhere, a few weeks back (and I can’t remember where), about a women who had survived cancer and who decided she was going to dance each morning to the Pharrell song “Happy.” Funny how there are those little moments that spark a brain change in our lives – for me, that was one such moment. I suddenly thought: if I could start off every day dancing, why wouldn’t I?

And so I’ve tested it out.  Instead of listening to my usual radio station (which, admittedly tends to play more wah-wah sad music), I’ve danced around each morning for the last three weeks, and here’s what I’ll tell you: dancing in the morning makes you feel approximately 8-15% happier (all calculations are approximate and extremely un-scientific). When I wake up, it’s often still dark outside. Truth be told, here in Ontario, it’s dark, and it’s also cold. Talk about a recipe for depression and lethargy.

scotland morning 2

But, dancing in the morning is like a little happiness multivitamin. It wakes up your body and opens up your joints and hips and heart. It makes whipping up your breakfast smoothie more fun. It gets your energy flowing and reminds you that you are, indeed, alive (easy to forget on a tired, dark, cold Monday morning).

So here are my Monday to Friday recommended dance songs. Each one offers you an uplifting message for your day:

  1. Happy – Pharrell Williams, Neus Remix  OR Happy – Pharrell Williams, Vaux & Rivera Remix (message: dancing and happy go together)
  2. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye, Kygo Remix (message: sexual energy is life energy, and, remixes of Marvin Gaye songs are fabulous and make you happy)
  3. Got to Give It Up – Marvin Gaye (skip to 16:20 for the song) (message: moving and grooving leads to life possibilities)
  4. I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Whitney Houston (message: it’s awesome to dance with people who love you)
  5. Shining Star – Earth, Wind, and Fire (message: you are a shining star, no matter who you are).

If you’re looking for other excellent morning habits, here are a few more:

  • drinking a tall glass of water in the first few minutes of getting up to replace any fluids lost overnight;
  • eating a healthy breakfast;
  • taking your multivitamin and/or vitamins (vitamins are best taken in the morning; minerals best in the evening)
  • getting some natural light or exercise outside in natural light;
  • saying something positive to yourself about the day ahead or about yourself and your capabilities (rumour has it Christie Brinkley throws open the curtains every morning and shouts “thank you!” to the universe. I read it on the internet).
  • enjoying a mug of your favourite tea while you are still and calm;
  • engaging in some gentle wake-up type stretches.
hawthorne sunshine

Hawthorne indulging in a morning sunshine stretch.

We don’t always have a lot of time in life to carry out everything in the manner we’d like. Sometimes, it’s the snippets that we can grab that help us achieve great things. On a sunny morning, I watch my cats bask. They find a patch of sunlight, roll around on the floor, stretch, open up their bodies to the light, and embrace the bliss. When that patch of sun disappears, they move and find another one. They maximize the opportunities for joy that are available to them, right now, in the present.

So, think again about the definitions of morning and dance. If you could spend the beginning or early part of your day leaping, skipping, as from excitement or emotion, moving quickly or nimbly, what kind of energetic changes might that create in your life? How might that change your day?

Happy Dancing!

© Backyard Owl 2016


Cherish Yourself: 4 Tips to Cultivate Self-Love and Stop Negative Self-Talk

you yourself deserve loveI’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about self-love and what it means to be your own best friend. How many of you would say you smile when you see your own face in the mirror because that’s what you do when you’re greeting a friend? Because you are pleased to be you?

Not many, I suspect. And that’s a shame.  Because there is only one person that you will truly spend every moment of every day with, through good times and bad, for the entirety of your life, and that’s yourself.

Self-love isn’t about putting yourself above others, though; instead, it’s about each of us doing the work and taking some accountability for cherishing ourselves. Self-love means respecting and taking delight in your strengths and unique skills, appreciating your weaknesses and trying to grow or improve where appropriate, and loving your body for its power, health, and intricacy.

dare to love

Sadly, for a variety of reasons, most of us go through our lives berating ourselves, hating our looks or our bodies, feeling shameful, ugly, unattractive, undesirable, or unloved. If you pay attention, you might notice that you say mean things to yourself that you would never DREAM of saying to a friend.

This is what we call negative self-talk.

And negative self-talk:

  • decreases our self-esteem
  • decreases our capacity to create positive change
  • decreases our energy to go after our dreams
  • decreases our ability to believe in our own possibilities and potential successes, and
  • decreases our resilience to overcome failures, setbacks, and unforeseen bumps in the road.

And what’s worse, this kind of negative self-talk is reinforcing. The more you let it run wild, the more it will run wild. The brain creates pathways for efficiency. The more you think a certain kind of thought, the easier it becomes to think that thought again in the future, and the faster your brain knows to jump down that pathway.

In the beginning, retraining your brain to counter negative self-talk and to cultivate self-love can seem like really hard work, and it is – you are literally carving out new brain pathways and creating new default behaviours. That ain’t easy.

love is the great cure

But the reason I think it’s worth the work is is that I’ve become increasingly convinced that self-love is THE KEY TO IT ALL.

Imagine, for a moment, what your life would be like if the voice in your head (the one that is always talking – the Buddhists call it “monkey brain”) said the following to you:

  • yes, you can achieve what you want
  • yes, you can have your dreams
  • yes, you are talented, unique, and marvellous
  • yes, you have what it takes
  • yes, you can recover from a setback or a failure
  • yes, your body is beautiful and powerful
  • yes, your self and your individuality are precious
  • yes, you can do good in the world

If this was the voice in your ear, wouldn’t you feel happier, lighter, more joyful, and more powerful? You’d be unstoppable! So, how can you get started bringing more self-love into your life?


1. Affirmations: these might work for you or they might not, but they are worth trying. Try repeating them in the morning when you wake up and at night before bed. Or, try repeating them every time you see yourself in the mirror, or, every time you observe yourself being critical. If you use a mirror, look yourself in the eye and repeat the phrases out loud. Enjoy it. Use different dramatic emphasis. Speak with meaning.

A few examples:

  • I accept myself unconditionally right now.
  • I am glowing, healthy, and strong
  • I am beautiful just the way I am
  • I am clever, competent, and capable, and I will find a way
  • I am happy and loved
  • I love who I have become

2. Self-love goes hand in hand with self-care. Eat well, exercise, and take time to do the things that make you feel most like you: reading, writing, walking, socializing, listening to music, painting, cooking, dancing, whatever. Create space for relaxation but also for positive energization. Take a bath. Go to bed early. Stay up late watching your favourite movie. Do more of what makes you feel good.

3. Gratitude lists. I love gratitude lists. If you want to cherish yourself, make a list about yourself. What do you like about you? Your taste in sofas? Your ability to make people laugh until their beverage comes out of their nose? Your diligence at work? How your favourite colour is periwinkle? Identify what makes you YOU, and then take a moment (or many) to feel grateful about it.

4. Admire your life for 5 minutes every day: Take 5 minutes every day to be present. That could mean meditating for 5 minutes, if that’s helpful to you, or simply taking 5 minutes in which you do your best to be quiet and still, and just look around at your world. Look at your home and admire it with fresh eyes. Look at your pets, your children, your spouse or partner, your flowerpot, the soup you just made, your computer screensaver, whatever. Take 5 minutes and deeply appreciate the unique life you have and how pivotal you are in it! Thank yourself for building this life and feel appreciation for what you have achieved, and what you can do.

celebrate myself


© Backyard Owl

My top 10 favourite FREE e-books – happiness, health, and creativity

top 10 favourite ebooksThe internet is an amazing place. So many neat people out there, writing about what matters to them, and sharing thoughts, advice, and tips for the rest of us to help us live our best lives.  And all, or at least most, of this fabulous information is free. Free for our enjoyment and consumption.

Which brings me to free e-books. I love a good free e-book. And believe you me, there are free e-books on basically every kind of topic under the sun. Blogging, health, confidence, happiness, creativity, cooking, stress management, pets, you name it.

I mean, are most free e-books a means of advertising for a specific blog, website, product, or service? Yes. Do many free e-books require you to sign up for a blog or website before you receive the book? Yes. Are free e-books in general meant to bring you back to a website and make you a loyal reader? Well, sure.

fall grapesBut none of this is criminal stuff by any means, and regardless of this advertising angle, free e-books have a lot of value. They are often packed with information, extremely digestible, just the right number of pages, and focused on very specific issues, with straight-forward tips for moving forward.

They are little gems, really. And I love them (did I say that already?).

So take a look at the choices below. Remember, I’m not trying to advertise for specific blogs or products or coaches or approaches. I’m simply passing along some of the little treasures I’ve found in my searches of the wonderful world of the internet.

Note that some links below are to PDFs, while some will take you to places where you can download the e-book.

My top ten FREE e-books on health, happiness, and living the good life:

  1. Heathy Kitchen Guidebook: Accelerate Your Path to Nutritional Excellence – John Robbins and Ocean Robbins
  2. An Adventure Every Day: How to Live An Adventurous Life – Heather E. Wilson.
  3. How to Be Happy: No Fairy Dust or Moonbeams Required – Cara Stein
  4. How to Be the Most Attractive, Irresistible Version of Yourself – Shelly Bullard
  5. Mastering Creativity: Break Through Mental Blocks, Uncover Your Creative Genius, and Make Brilliance a Habit – James Clear
  6. The Magnetics of Feelings – Danielle La Porte
  7. The Bold Living Guide – Barrie Davenport
  8. The 5 Most Common Blocks to Authenticity…and How to Overcome Them – Hannah Braime
  9. Insider Secrets for New Coaches & Creatives: 23 Brilliant Bloggers Share It All – from YourSuperAwesomeLife.com
  10. CrazySexyManifesto: Guidelines for Dazzling Wellness Warriors – Kris Carr

Happy Reading!


© 2014 Backyard Owl