How to Find Pleasure in the Ordinary

How to Find Pleasure in the Ordinary

This time is calling for us to look deeper and find a sense of joy and meaning in the simplest things.

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One of my favorite movies of all time — and definitely my favorite quote from a movie — is from Chariots of Fire. The protagonist, Eric Liddell, is a religious missionary who is training to run in the Olympics, while also preparing to go to China to do missionary work. His sister, who is joining him in the missionary work, admonishes him and says, “You have to throw away this silly running thing and do this really important work, God’s work.” She essentially reprimands him for not following God’s will. He just looks at her and he says, “But when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

The other day I was listening to a wonderful podcast by Tim Ferriss, who was interviewing Hugh Jackman and asked him when he first knew that he was meant for the stage. And Jackman answered by repeating that same quote from Chariots of Fire. He said it was his favorite line because it describes how he feels when he is performing, which is essentially the feeling of serving something larger than himself when he is on stage. I was so elated to be reminded of this phrase on feeling God’s pleasure, which, to me, is where the human part in us meets the indescribable spirit in us and we can experience a moment of conversion.

I think we’ve all felt it in some way or another. It could be dancing, singing, writing, or cooking, walking up a mountain, or walking on the beach watching a beautiful sunset, playing a sport, or even gardening. My mother would experience it on the beach, feeding the seagulls. They would all come flooding into her presence while she fed them breadcrumbs. We are all striving to feel this spirit-filled connection, where we go beyond our mind and sense of time, and we feel our thoughts stop, and we get filled with such an incredible sense of going beyond the physical self into a state of transcendence. As I was reconnecting with that wonderful line during the podcast, I realized how much I had missed that feeling during this COVID period, missing so many things about my life. I’ve had to fight very hard not to cave in and keep myself lifted. Even in the midst of writing this new book on the power of prayer, and during guided meditations, webinars, and Zoom calls teaching so many people about the awareness I have learned over the years, I myself have had to deal with the unhappiness of my human part missing my connection with people, which is when I feel “his pleasure.”

I, too, thrive in performing, and although I moved from acting into speaking and writing, I would experience this tremendous fulfillment as I went around the country speaking, inspiring, sharing the message of the open heart and the joy that’s innate in all of us; and it never failed that I would experience the magic of our oneness every time I spoke. In every event I did, strangers and I would bond, heart to heart, and reignite the spirit that lives in us. Every time I stood up to speak in front of people, there was no separation between me and them. I poured my heart out. I went beyond the script into the experience of being in the moment, speaking spontaneously from my heart and wisdom into the hearts and wisdom of others. So often at the end of events people would come up to me and say, “What you said was meant for me. I felt my heart burst open. I really let go of something.” I always felt the magical conversion of my human self and the larger spirit in me. I always left every event feeling fulfilled and blissful, in awe at the expansion of the human heart. It was beyond anything I could even describe. When I spoke, I felt his pleasure!

Cut to today, the quarantine, where there are no more events but endless Zoom calls, no human interaction but those through the internet. For some people it may work perfectly, and I’m happy for them; but for me, it felt like I had been moved out of my paradise, contracted and deprived of the very things I loved the most. I meditated, I prayed, and I tried to find ways to recreate some of the feelings that I’ve had when I’m speaking and connecting in real life. I knew my work was cut out for me. I now had to recreate that feeling knowing that it’s in me. It never leaves me, and I know I just need to find ways to keep igniting that conversion. I often think of the thousands and thousands of actors, dancers, musicians, and singers who feel that aliveness when they perform, and I am filled with such compassion and heartache when I think of what they are doing, day by day, to create that feeling of aliveness. For me, the answer is to try to find it every day through dancing, moving, loving, listening to music, walking on the beach, connecting with my friends, engaging in my work, and most of all through the gift of expanding in gratitude and reverence for the miracle of my life despite our circumstances.

There is the calling to go deeper, the calling to have even deeper self-compassion to embrace the human part that is hurting and feels bereft — without judging it or making it seem wrong, but in the most loving and tender way saying to myself, “I understand. I hear you. I’m here for you” — and find the conversion in the stillness, in the gaze that glimpses into the soul of who I am and who others are. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the deep quiet beyond my restless, impatient mind that asks, “When will this end?”. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the simplest most ordinary things — feeling the breeze, watching the roses, cooking a meal, feeling the sun, hearing the voices of my family in the other room — and magnify the gratitude of every moment with the spirit that lives inside me, and inside all of us, regardless of the conditions. It takes more stillness to hear the subtle whisper of the voice of the spirit that says, “I am still here. I never left, I’m never going anywhere. And you can feel me and find me as you stop looking back to what was, and instead open up your heart to experience what is now.”

Suddenly everything settles and the waves meet the shore. Whether it’s a cloudy, sunny, rainy, or windy day, the waves will always meet the shore because that is the extraordinary, miraculous nature of all things. The only response, when we open our eyes and see who we truly are, is simply awe. When we are in awe, then we feel his pleasure with every breath and in every moment as we bear witness to our aliveness that connects us to all life everywhere.

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

Agapi StassinopolousHow to Find Pleasure in the Ordinary
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How to Love Yourself Through It All

How to Love Yourself Through It All

When we take a moment to disconnect from the world outside and look inward, our inner compass will guide us in the right direction.
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I was recently doing a webinar for some wonderful educators, and I started by asking them to share with me in the chat if they had allowed themselves to cry during this pandemic. Over half of the group said that they had been crying at different times during the quarantine. Some people were crying in the shower, going to sleep, at the dinner table, with a friend over FaceTime, after a Zoom call with their students because they missed the kids and were concerned about what will happen in the fall, etc. I personally have found myself bursting into tears during my walks, while meditating, going to sleep, and speaking to my closest friends. I get hit with waves of missing my life the way it was; and although I am surrounded by love, blessings, and sunshine, the emotional rollercoaster is affecting me.

I am writing a book on the power of prayer, and when I would talk with one of my best friends she would say to me, “Why don’t you just pray,” and I would say, “I’m crying at the same time as I’m praying” (it’s allowed). Please by no means think that crying is a weakness. Our hearts feel the contraction of the conditions we are living under, and it can be very emotionally draining. Crying releases pent up emotions, and if you put words to your crying, it can carry you like a river into a new place, seeing with new eyes as you feel renewed.

It’s easy for those of us who are emotional beings to acutely feel the losses in our lives, and it’s important not to do a spiritual bypass. I know there are many people out there who are using this time to be extremely creative and productive, and might be writing their next new novel or their next symphony. But there are also those who feel extremely victorious just getting to the end of the day without completely losing it — at home with the kids or their partners, or over endless Zoom calls. Many have this feeling of “Groundhog Day,” waking up thinking “Oh my gosh here’s another day,” challenged by the monotony of the uncertainty, even if they are healthy and still have their jobs.

“The Lexicon for a Pandemic” by Jay Martel in The New Yorker puts a humorous spin on it all. He wrote, “COVID-30: Formerly COVID-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine,” and “Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.” Another article I loved is “How Things Work in a Pandemic” by Kathryn Kvas and Mia Mercado. They wrote, “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are no longer the designated meals of the day. Now there is ‘eating,’ ‘not eating,’ and ‘thinking about what to eat next.’ Sometimes ‘eating’ takes place from dawn until dusk. Other times, you will just go back and forth between ‘eating’ and ‘thinking about what to eat next’ until you pass out.” Sometimes it feels like you’re putting the key in the ignition but the car won’t start so you have to get out and push it to get it going and hop in once it starts rolling. If we were to take an M.R.I. of our nervous system and brain, we would probably find that every particle of us is at a state of alert and stuck in fight or flight.

But I do believe that with all that, if we take a moment to disconnect from the world outside and from the overwhelm inside, and connect to a place within us that is steady and peaceful, our inner compass will guide us in a clear direction where we can feel present and grateful for our lives. But we must be willing to take a moment to make the shift and go there. When we ask and pray to the higher self, we can shift into our enthusiasm, our joy, and our creativity; and in the midst of contraction we can absolutely move into a more expanded state of being. Everything in our physical world right now is pushing us to contract, and the fear of the unknown can overtake us. Then we cannot feel the expansion that is available to us in our own heart and spirit. And, of course, the judgments we impose on ourselves that we should be doing better, and the judgments we have on the circumstances around us. add more inner pressure. Be smart with yourself and tap into the inner mastery that is available to you. Take mental dominion over your thoughts and release yourself from the inner bondage of your fears.

The only way to do this is by evoking tremendous self-compassion. Amplify the whisper of your spirit saying to you, “I love you no matter what,” and take that gift into your very cells and see how much more grace is extended to your day. I have written a prayer that I encourage you to speak out loud, because our voice carries healing power. Add your own words to it so you can empower yourself to renew your enthusiasm.

Dear Beloved,

Today is not just another day that piles on from yesterday’s.

Today is a brand new day because I am breathing, I am alive, and I can tap into endless possibilities. And how grand is that!

Just like the weather is never the same, just like in nature things are always changing, and just like in the whole universe everything is moving, today I welcome this brand new day, and I ask that I may look at this day with brand new eyes, not assuming it will be like yesterday.

Rekindle my enthusiasm and let that spill over to everything I do, without taking for granted the little miracles of life or forgetting to be grateful for every little thing.

Help me make this day a brand new day so no matter the circumstances of my life, let me find the newness in myself and break down the walls that I have built between me, my heart, and others.

Let me drop any judgements about how I think my life should be and move into acceptance embracing everything that is, and, from that place, make new choices to bring the spirit of more kindness, more tenderness, more loving, and more laughter so that the spirit that makes all things move can also move in me right now and make this moment and the next one (and the next and the next) a brand new moment.

I turn my gaze inside to the lighter parts of me so that I can see how I might have forgotten and been blinded, so that I may reveal what lies before me.

Help me trust that I am one breath away from knowing that the conditions of my life can be transformed with more grace, more ease, more loving, and yes, more joy.

I dare to let my heart soften renew myself in your embrace.

Allow me to see the truth of who I am and not the habit of who I have become; a glimpse of the bigger scheme of all there is!!

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

Agapi StassinopolousHow to Love Yourself Through It All
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