By Lauren Ash. Photos by Deun Ivory.
I just turned 29 (#SagSeason). I'm already really, really into this year and what it already symbolizes for me. Rather than terror at the thought of nearly stepping into my thirties, I'm excited. I'm an advocate of taking intentional time to reflect on our life journeys and our self-care journeys, more specifically. So, in the spirit of reflection, I'm sharing twenty-nine things I know for sure.
These things are what I know, so don't expect them all to resonate with you. I encourage all of you, on the eve of a major, global collective shift—entering the new year—to reflect and write your own list. You can allow this list be a daily reminder of your ethos. A manifesto of sorts. One that is flexible and may shift with time. Be open and receptive to what life teaches you, and do your best to take the useful lessons, apply them, and grow. Own your experiences. Let me know what resonates with you and please share some of your "for sure's" in the comments below.
Don't Take Anything Personally. "Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering." Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements.
To anyone that finds this easy, I applaud you. I often get in my own head about why someone responded in a certain way, communicated in a particular tone of voice, or made a particular decision. God has gifted me with my own body and brain, which I am grateful for, but having an embodied experience in this world also means that, naturally, I see things from my own perspective-sometimes to my own detriment. So, I practice this agreement, by gently checking in with myself when I find myself unnecessary dwelling on the actions or words of others. And to all my empaths: this agreement is especially for you!
God Has Smiled on Me. While my spiritual journey is ongoing, and I have existential questions just as much as anybody else, I affirm God's consistent presence in my life. When the unexplainable occurs, I don't chalk it up to luck or chance, but God. And, for whatever reason, God has shown favor for me again and again. For that, I am grateful and try to return this favor (grace) to others.
Epsom Salt Baths Heal All. Seriously, I took one the other day and it changed my life. I nerded out afterwards and researched why (magnesium, in epsom salts, which most of us are deficient in, is easily absorbed by our skin and promotes muscle release and boosts our mood). I'm embarrassed to say the amount of time that it had been since my last bath! I'm now taking notes from my girl Deun Ivory and adding epsom salt baths as one of my weekly self-care rituals. The clarity, and relaxation brought about as a result of this bath led to a reflection which gets me to my next revelation...
Decisions based on fear stifle growth and waste energy. From the outside, it might appear as though I have it all together (ha!). But I still allow fear to creep in and dictate my decision-making sometimes. And when I look at the result of that decision, I realize how futile that is. It has caused me to experience stagnation, rather than growth. How do you discern whether a decision is based on fear? Simply take time to reflect. Write down your response to this question: why am I making this decision? If your responses are rooted in fear, it will be obvious. And if it's not obvious, it will be soon after you make the decision. You will feel conflicted, or anxious. That is your spirit, your intuition, communicating with you.
Nothing that is for me can be taken from me. My BFF Chelsea Frazier is the first person I remember saying this to me. She's right. And, in a similar vein, holding onto things that aren't for you is a WASTE of your energy. From personal to professional break-ups, I have seen this to be true. Ask yourself: what are you currently mourning the loss of that was never for you in the first place?
Feminine energy over everything. Shout out to the dope women in my life who really do make me think that women run the world. And who, despite patriarchy and without seeking approval from men, continue to kill it.
Good things take time. The enormous beauty and power of A Seat at the Table is one big metaphor for this. Solange Knowles took several years to create something that so many of us were deeply touched by. Undoubtedly, rushing the process to put out the album years ago wouldn't have led to the magic that we've all been enjoying, and benefiting from. It is a beautiful reminder that the journey is the destination and that in taking your time, good things will manifest and also bless others.
Black Lives Matter. This statement doesn't require explanation, as that's akin to convincing you of my humanity. You either get it or you don't. I send my love to Black Lives Matter organizers and black and non-black allies in the fight to ensure that black lives matter legally, too.
Intentions, not goals, should guide my life. This may be one of the biggest learnings as a creative entrepreneur. My close friends all know that I'm a recovering control freak (or, as my fellow creative entrepreneur pal Lisa Guillot puts it, control enthusiast). Maybe you're like me: excited about your to-do list, an overachiever when it comes to goals, and always trying to figure out how to be even more productive. But as my always-wise collaborator and sisterfriend Zakkiyyah Najeebah has shared in episode 10 of our podcast: "you can't put a deadline on quality and a magnified vision." I've learned that setting up my life according to larger intentions, like "I experience joy through my work and allow joy to be a measure of success" rather than specific goals leads to more pleasurable outcomes and less stress. And (gasp) sometimes I go above and beyond what I could have imagined for myself when I live according to intentions rather than goals. (Side note: I coach 1:1 and small groups on all of this. Holler at me if you want to work together in manifesting your best, most authentic life.)
One black woman's success is ALL of our success and should be celebrated and spread like wildfire. Some of my close friends jokingly refer to me as their PR agent. When I introduce them to people, I often sing their praises and magnify (sometimes to their embarrassment) their talents, accomplishments, and projects. When I introduce myself to others, I am not afraid of sharing the work that I am invested in and the projects I have realized. I'm proud of my accomplishments. As wisewoman Marianne Williamson encourages "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do ... And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people to do the same." And as a black woman, I find this enormously important because we are the ones who are too often left without credit for our work or our brilliance. (See here.) So, next time you see a black woman in your life do something amazing, celebrate her! Make it known.
An abundance mentality is the ONLY mentality. I don't complete with anyone. I don't compare myself with anyone (for more on this, read Deun Ivory's amazing blog post on this—I consign everything she says). I am invested in the idea that there is enough opportunity, and space, for all of us. Little by little, I'm whittling away at the American value of individualism in favor of practicing African principles including Ujima (working together) and Ujamaa (supporting one another).
If you have been blessed with natural gifts, it is part of your God-given purpose to share them. Now, I'm talking about the things that come natural to you. The things that other people comment on and praise you for that you barely bat an eye to get done. For me, this includes communicating (specifically writing and public speaking) and bringing people together with purpose and enthusiasm. From a young age, my Mom always affirmed these as gifts, but I didn't realize them as gifts until more recently. The time it takes me to complete tasks (and complete them well) related to these gifts, as compared to others, is pretty amazing. And when others complete things that I wouldn't EVER be able to do, or do as well, I am in awe. What I've learned is that your gifts are your gifts for a reason much bigger than yourself. Not exercising them can lead to some pretty dire results for you and for others. Uncertain about your gift? That's okay, too. It will be revealed as long as your heart is open to receive it.
Mindfulness leads to enormous joy in the present moment and contentment with my present circumstances. I recently discovered that if I approach cooking like I do meditation, I love it. I wouldn't have told you I love cooking a year ago. Why? Because the practice of pulling myself to the present moment, noticing distractions without being slave to them, produces joy. This past year, I have begun applying mindfulness to more everyday practices and have experienced something damn near miraculous. A natural high, of sorts. Mindfulness brings us away from the noise of our modern society and forces us to be present only with what is right in front of us. That's really all we have.
Yoga is a practice which should extend beyond the four corners of my yoga mat. I have enjoyed practicing yoga as a holistic wellness practice since 2010. Nearly seven years in, and I can say with certainty that I have learned even more about myself as a spiritual being because of the practice, than as a physical being. Truths like "good things take time" and "intentions > goals" have been gleaned from my yoga practice. There's so much to be learned, still. I would love to hear how YOU practice yoga beyond your mat, as well. And if you have any book recommendations for yoga as a holistic, spiritual practice, please share them with me!
Meditation is the best, free self-care practice. Scientific research has confirmed that meditation leads to powerful effects ranging from decreased aging and increased immunity to increased attention span and decreased stress. So, I guess the question is: why aren't even more people meditating? Every time I guide a meditation, I start with turning one major myth on its head: the idea that one can be "bad" or "good" at meditating. If that was the case, I'm the worst meditator out there. I get distracted. I notice that itch on my leg. I remember my to-do list, and add to it. I wish I was eating. I stop prematurely. The list goes on. Here's a little secret: everyone can meditate. There is no good, or bad. It is a practice. One that is beneficial regardless of what you experience while doing it. I love guided meditations most as they help bring me back to the present moment (check mine out, too)! My favorite meditation app is Headspace. Let me know what you think!
Therapy is bae. Let me be honest—I haven't been in quite some time, it's at the top of my self-care to-do list for 2017. I am blessed to have found an amazing therapist who worked for me the first time. I know this isn't the case with everyone. That being said, finding the right therapist and approach to therapy is worth every dime spent. From working through trauma I have experienced, to learning how to forgive, my therapist served as an amazing listener and powerful advocate for me growing into my higher self.
Aromatherapy is underrated. Seriously. Have you SMELLED lavender before going to bed? Have you gargled clove when your throat hurt? Have you massaged peppermint into your temples when you had a headache? Enough said.
You don't have to announce every move, nor should you. Sometimes I get so excited at the trajectory of my life that I want to share it with the world. But, I've learned that there is a joy in keeping secrets with myself. In being your own best cheerleader, you powerfully practice trusting your own vision and intuition. Try it!
Black people are a radical love embodied. To experience what we have, from being ripped from our homeland, enslaved for hundreds of years, denied the reality of enslavement and its continued impact on our livelihood, economics, and psychology, and to STILL CREATE, SURVIVE, THRIVE is nothing short of a miracle. We illuminate God, we illuminate the impossible. Remind yourself of this the next time racism threatens to steal your beauty and your identity.
Understanding your love language is crucial to know how to love YOURSELF as well as others. In one of our most-loved podcast episodes, Brittany Josephina gives us a word on an additional way to view the love languages. Now, I have been an long-time enthusiast of The Five Love Languages, but was viewing each love language from the mindset of love and care in relationship to others. When Brittany suggested that the love languages can be used in relationship with our own selves too, I fell out my chair. My love languages include quality time and words of affirmation, so I should spend intentional time with myself cultivating those things. Even if I don't receive these from others, I can and should be lovin' on my own self accordingly.
Practice makes...practice. Hi, my name is Lauren and I'm a recovering perfectionist. I've learned the power in viewing seeming mistakes and failures as learning opportunities! I strive to always do my best (a la The Four Agreements) in every circumstance, knowing that my best is always changing.
Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels. My Grandmother has said this to me thousands of times. It's an old saying, probably passed down to her from her Mother, that encourages us to assess the real from the BS. She has given me this advice in regards to relationships, as well as my career.
Dance. Many of you know that I'm the co-founder of Party Noire, a monthly day party focused on Black Joy. How many times have you danced yourself silly in broad daylight? I do it each and every month alongside hundreds of other brilliant and beautiful black people. It feels amazing. It is a form of self-care and healing, especially in the midst of a violent political climate.
I can allow food to heal and protect me, not hurt me. One of the biggest take-always from my Mom's recent triumph over cancer? That shifting the way we eat, can actually set us up for a long life of health and holistic wellness. Food can be a form of preventative self-care. When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she went to both traditional and nontraditional doctors. She filled me in on the advice of her nontraditional doctor, who advocated for natural remedies as a cure. My mother eliminated sugar, corn (it's the most genetically modified veggie out there), processed foods, and meat. While the shift in diet along didn't heal her, it helped. And she continues to eat healthier than I do today! I hope to one day adopt a vegan, or mostly vegan lifestyle (shout out to my friend Jenné Claiborne who is my inspiration), but in the meantime I try to practice mindfulness when making decisions about what to cook at home and where to eat when I go out.
Unplug to recharge. My computer crashes when it's overworked. So do I! Knowing this, I strive to incorporate intentional me-time and self-care time just as I incorporate time to complete my projects. When all is said and done, I hope to look back at my life and realize that self-improvement was one of my most beautiful and rewarding accomplishments.
Preventative self-care is crucial. I have learned to not wait until my breaking point to eat well, exercise, and check in with my mind and spirit.
My creativity knows no boundaries. I'm a writer, yoga teacher, founder, co-founder, editor-in-chief, podcaster, curator, singer, producer,...the list goes on. Guess what else I want to add to the list? LOTS. And I will. In due time. The past two years of growing and expanding within Black Girl In Om and outside of BGIO with my other creative projects have shown me: I can channel my energy and creativity however I desire to do so. And as long as I am creating from an authentic place, it will be a beautiful journey.
Ahimsa. This is one of the eight limbs of yoga and translates to non-violence for all living things. There's still more work for me to personally cultivate within this area (I have to stop eating animals, for one) but it serves as a beautiful, simple philosophy for how I'd like to live my life.
Self-love is the best love. I really love other people. I really love practicing loving myself. I'd love to say that I love spending time with myself more than with other people,...I'm getting there! The moments when I do (like during my BOMB epsom salt bath the other day), I cherish it.
Thank you for reading and I'm so excited to hear your thoughts and what you know for sure! Much love!