A few weeks ago, I found myself trying to explain what I write about to someone and failing miserably. (There is a reason I’m a writer, not a speaker.) I realized that part of the confusion was coming from the word, enchantment. What exactly is enchantment? What does it mean to live an enchanted life?
While I’m sure there are a lot of different definitions, I would like to take a moment to explain what enchantment means to me and why it is such an important aspect of personal happiness. In fantasy literature, an enchantment is a spell or bit of magic cast on a person that alters their perspective. The physical reality around the person does not change but the way the person perceives the world around them changes.
You have probably heard it said that true happiness comes from within. When we experience a more enchanted outlook, we aren’t focused on trying to change the world around us or our place in the world. We focus, instead, on changing our own perceptions. It is only through changing our outlook that we can truly learn to be happy.
When we live a more enchanted life, we realize that we always have a choice. We can let our reality control our perceptions, in which case we are at the whim of the moods, the fads, the weather, the push-and-pull of everything around us, to dictate what we want and how we feel. OR, we can let our perceptions control our reality, in which case we are lead by our own inner light, our own contentment, our own spark of happiness. True enchantment is being in touch with our own inner light and letting that deeper truth be the filter through which we choose to participate in the world around us.
(Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, Clute and Grant: Enchantment)
Before I get too deep into my Wellness Spells series, I would like to address something that has been on my mind. Lately, I have seen a lot of very thoughtful posts that are critical of wellness or lifestyle trends. The particular ones I am seeing getting a lot of flak lately: minimalism,veganism/plant-based living, yoga, and the tiny house movement. There have been others, but those I have seen the most. The general critique is that such practices make a lifestyle that is common or compulsory for some into something glamorized, expensive, and/or culturally insensitive and accessible only by the elite.
Let’s take minimalism as an example. Criticisms of the minimalist movement are that it glamorizes a lifestyle that is compulsory for many (by limiting spending), that it simultaneously is inaccessible for persons living month-to-month due to an emphasis on making expensive, quality purchases rather than smaller, more frequent purchases, and that it is mostly taken up by people of a certain status.
I think these criticisms are definitely worth addressing and am grateful that someone has done so, but as someone who spends a lot of time promoting wellness, I would like to take a closer look at them and address a few issues with the criticisms. First, I do think that these criticisms tend to come about in the height of these trends, after they have, essentially, been turned into commercial commodities, marketed, and after the most extremist forms of these lifestyles have been highlighted:
A critic of the tiny house movement is rarely looking at the baby boomer unemployed during the recession who lost his home, had no money left for retirement, and hoped that downsizing and turning away from conventional ideas of “more square footage is better” would allow him to live peacefully; they are looking at the 100K deluxe mobile tiny home with the sauna and the heated floor they see on TV or on Pinterest.
A critic of minimalism isn’t looking at a young graduate who is loaded with student loan debt and is trying to simplify and prioritize her spending habits to save money and invest in what she truly wants out of life; they are looking at the glossy minimalist loft apartments in magazines and the corporate executives who chose to ascribe to a simpler lifestyle after becoming highly successful and who only own 100 things.
It should be said: to be able to focus on our self-actualization is a privilege in and of itself. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it falls at the top of the pyramid. When we are concerned for our safety or we have nothing to eat, we will not be able to prioritize nourishing our own potential. Even wellness in and of itself is hard to focus on if illness is an issue. So, in that way alone, I can’t in good conscience say that there isn’t an aspect of elitism in wellness trends that we should be aware of.
We are all in different places in terms of what we need in life. That doesn’t mean, though, that taking the time to address self-actualization if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so is a bad thing; in fact, I would argue that it is the responsible choice to make. This kind of emotional growth can and should come with an awareness of the disparities in the world and a drive to help rectify that.
Along that line, I also think that people are realizing that even the most privileged lifestyles have their downsides. I once heard an explanation to justify minimalism that went something like, “Excessive consumerism is a first-world problem, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.”** I truly believe that living an overly-consumerist lifestyle is toxic, both to our own well-being and to the world at large. We are consuming too many products, too much meat and junk food, too much television, too much plastic, too much of our own time and money, just too much of everything. All of this distracts from focusing on our well-being and having a deeper awareness of the world around us. Taking the time to re-assess and prioritize what we really want and need to let into our lives and what kind of person we want to be is necessary.
I have two suggestions:
First, if you yourself follow any kind of trend, be it a wellness trend or something else, consider looking a bit more into its foundations and stripping it down to the essentials. Does this trend have an important cultural history and are you aware of what that is? Have you given thought to what this trend means to you, personally, and how it has changed your life? Are you caught up in the pricey goods, the bells and whistles, because you feel that you need those things in order to follow this trend? Does the reality of the trend truly match the fantasy that is being sold? Does the trend have scientific validity? Have you thought about where you purchase the products for your trend and if they are made ethically? Have you thought about if the way you talk about the trend is sensitive to others?
And secondly, for the critics, I would also suggest stripping these trends down to their essentials. Pay less attention to the designer stores, TV shows, and extremists and more to the everyday, heartfelt stories found online, the people trying to make the best out of bad situations, working with what they have, and finding hope in small changes that bring them joy. Research where the trends started and why. Ask yourself why the trend bothers you; is it because the trend is inherently insensitive, because you just don’t like it, or maybe even because you feel uncomfortable with the idea of personal growth? Whatever you do, by all means don’t stop bringing up valid criticisms, just please do so respectfully and with a comprehensive understanding of the trend itself.
So, today’s Wellness Spell is:
A critical eye with a joyful heart.
To me this phrase means to examine our passions in life to really get to the root of them, but to also take note of what makes us happy. We shouldn’t ignore the things that truly tickle our heart; in one way or another they are trying to tell us something. At times, though, this may mean finding a different method to reach that same feeling or digging a little deeper into just what it means to us and why.
I hope this has been helpful; I really value wellness myself and wish to continue promoting it in a respectful way. It is very exciting to me that so many wellness practices are coming to the forefront right now and I think that is great. If you have any additional thoughts on the matter that I didn’t cover, please let me know.
**If anyone can help me find this quote and credit it, please let me know! I think it may have been from a documentary but can’t find it.
Welcome to my new series, Wellness Spells! Like the name suggests, each post in this series will focus on a different aspect of wellness. I will also cover a few myths and misconceptions about wellness.
First off, what is “wellness?” Dictionary.com defines it as “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.” In the West, we have for a long time seen our physical health largely in terms of illness, as in something that needs to be fixed or healed, rather than focusing on things like prevention and physical and emotional growth. Lately, though, I have noticed more people pursuing wellness, whether they are seeking out a healthier diets, coloring or practicing meditation to feel more calm, or re-examining their life choices in order to prioritize what they want the most. Isn’t that great?
Sometimes, though, starting a new wellness practice can be scary. We see a long road ahead of us and it can feel intimidating. That’s why today’s advice is to take just one step. This could be something as simple as adding one more vegetable to your diet today, visiting a website about a wellness practice you have interest in, swapping out one household product for a healthier or more ethical option, or even just putting on your running shoes. Don’t worry about steps two, three, and four; just get comfortable with the idea of step one.
Are you wondering where the “spells” part of “Wellness Spells” comes in? Each post in this series will have a “spell,” which will basically be a phrase or mantra to keep in mind that will help you on your wellness journey. Today’s spell is:
Once you have achieved step one, steps two and three are easily done.
Okay, okay, it’s a little cheesy, and I seem to be channeling Marry Poppins today, but I hope it will be helpful (and please let me know if it is).
Is there a wellness practice that you have always wanted to try, but just never got around to doing?
Whoops! I intended to post this a few weeks ago but got sidetracked. Better late than never?
When I first heard of the Roanoke Harry Potter Festival, I had assumed that it was going to be a small, local festival with a few hundred people tops. Little did I know that over 9,000 tickets had been sold to the event and the city had capped tickets due to being at capacity.
Fortunately for me, after my meltdown during the Unicorn Frappuccino disasterof 2017, my husband was pretty darn determined to get tickets. He eventually was able to procure some, forever increasing his good-husband status in my book. After attending, I decided to write a review of the event.
Atmosphere. I would give the atmosphere of the event an 8/10. A lot of local stores and restaurants got in on the act and decorated. Each Hogwarts house had a “common room” that was decorated with the house colors. Street windows had Harry Potter signs and patronus cut-outs. They could have used more Harry Potter music; there was a ’90s cover band playing instead which my husband and I suspected was contracted with Roanoke City to play on Saturdays. A Harry Potter soundtrack would have really helped the atmosphere, though.
Food. I would give food an 10/10. Lots of local restaurants had Harry Potter themed menus. There were also Harry Potter vendors selling Fish ‘n Chips, Butterbeer, Butterbeer ice cream and snow cones, and more. There were also local food trucks with non-Harry Potter fair like burgers and ice cream.
Activities. Unfortunately I have to give this one a 3/10. There wasn’t much to do; my husband and I really stretched our time to even stay there three hours. There were some classes based around Harry Potter literature, psychology, and the like that seemed really, really, interesting, but they were all sold out. There was a performance of a Very Potter Musical that we saw a little snippet of, but unfortunately it took place behind a loud generator and the students were having to shout over that. We also saw a snippet of a quidditch match, but it would have been nice to have an announcer or a scoreboard for that, especially for people who didn’t know the rules of the game. I am hoping that next year there will be more to do and that the activities they had this year would be more accessible. Trivia in the Ravenclaw commonroom, maybe? A scavenger-hunt around the city? A school house relay competition? An owl raptor show? It would have also been helpful to have a more detailed brochure; we had to look up a lot of additional information online.
Shopping. I give this one a 6/10. There were, I would guess, 10-15 kiosks set up selling brooms, mugs, jewelry, and other fantasy-themed memorabilia. Living near that area though, I would have LOVED to have a tshirt, keychain or mug with the Roanoke Harry Potter Festival logo. The logo was super cute. I suspect that a specific Roanoke Harry Potter Festival kiosk would have been a HUGE hit.
The verdict: I wouldn’t have driven out of state for this festival, but since it was local, it was nice to spend an afternoon eating fish ‘n chips, watching a quidditch match, and trying butterbeer ice cream. I give it a 6/10 BUT with the hope that, since it’s the first year, they will have some kinks to work out before next year and will be better organized. I got the impression that this was intended to be a very small event that quickly got blown out of proportion. If there were more accessible activities next time, I would definitely go back.
I will also say that, while the big, well-funded Harry Potter tourist destinations are certainly magical, there was something particularly charming to me about how all the shop and restaurant owners in a small downtown area got in on the act and used their own creativity to transform their spaces into something magical. If that doesn’t represent an Enchanted Outlook, I don’t know what does.
For some reason I have been ruminating lately on mistakes made. Bad writing from my past that I came across. Something insensitive said five years ago. Opportunities not taken out of fear. Toxic relationships held too long. Things left unsaid.
It can be tempting to beat ourselves up over our mistakes. How much better would our lives be without them? How much better would the lives of others be if we had never hurt them?
In all this ruminating, though, I realized something. We only realize that we have made mistakes because we have grown past them. If we were the same person as we were when we made the mistake, then we wouldn’t have realized it was a mistake in the first place. I think realizing our mistakes is a kind of emotional rebirth, a saying of, “The person I was then is not the person I am now.”
I have in this way been trying to forgive my younger self, much in the way that a parent would forgive a child. And the foundation of the reason a parent forgives a child is because of love. We can forgive our younger selves because we understand that they acted in ignorance but we love them anyway and wish them the best. And then we can sit back and reflect on all that we have learned since we were that younger self and feel pride in our growth.
For more on mistakes, please check out one of my very favorite videos: On Being Wrong.
It’s Christmas time and my husband and I are eating Pho. We are having an interesting debate: What level of crisis allows the off-topic discussion of politics on a non-political blog, and how much or how often?
We agreed that one in twenty posts sounded fair for the time being. So this is my ONE, and I will make it count.
I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year in college. I was grieving from the loss of my mother, aunt, and grandmother, who had all passed away when I was in high school. My dog had been hit by a car and my boyfriend and I had broken up a few weeks prior to my first counseling appointment. I was also having family issues and was struggling with the changes of a new school, new friends, and harder classes. I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was physically ill, and I had lost 30 pounds in less than two months.
Instead of empathizing with me, my therapist told me after maybe two sessions that I needed to re-frame my thinking; “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are,” she said. She then gave me a sheet of paper outlining all the different ways a person can think irrationally.
Now, if you have read my blog, you know I am a big fan of optimism and cognitive re-framing. And no offense to the wonderfully effective cognitive behavioral therapy, (or therapists in general, because in my time working in the field I have known far, far more lovely ones than bad ones) but I didn’t take her particular approach very well for my particular situation.
This was my first experience with victim blaming, but it wasn’t my last. I realized that yes, depression can be accompanied by irrational thinking, but it was easier for her to think I was depressed as a result of thinking irrationally than to realize that a bunch of losses in close succession might hurt, and that, more importantly, such unfortunate events could happen to anyone, even her. I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, the world wouldn’t be fair.
Despite that unfortunate speed-bump, I recovered quickly on the basic combination of another counselor and medication. I found new meaning in helping others in need. I thought I had put that part of my life behind me.
That was, until I graduated college and applied for health insurance. I received a piece of paper that said that the insurance company could not accept anyone who had been diagnosed with depression within the past five years. I was confused. To a 23 year old, 19 seemed like a lifetime ago. I was healthy and had been healthy for nearly four years. I had already been dropped from my family’s plan, I was living completely independently, the recession had recently hit and I was lucky to even have a part-time job without benefits. I didn’t have many options.
But more than that, the darkest, most painful part of my life was reduced to a simple risk factor. Despite knowing how insurance worked, when I stared at that piece of paper, it felt like I was being punished for something that happened to me that I had no control over. I was angry. This was wrong. But it was also perfectly normal. And I heard that voice again, saying, “Sometimes things just aren’t as bad as you think they are.”
I went on to work in the mental health field at the time when mental health funding for my state had just been cut in half. This had a wonderful trickle-down effect of impairing not only the public mental health centers, but also local nonprofits who saw less grant money and more desperate clients who had been denied treatment by other centers that could no longer accept them. All those extra people ultimately ended up in the emergency rooms, so the state didn’t save any money, and yet when anyone complained, the general attitude from the state politicians was, “Things aren’t as bad as you think they are.”
There have been many, many things happening in the world lately that I have been very upset about, but the recent healthcare bill in the United States hit a nerve. To be clear: I value empathy and compassion above all else. I used to believe that anything could be talked out. That with the right caring, the right understanding, learning enough about how the world works, learning about the people who think differently than me, finding middle ground, then consensus could be reached. And yeah, I DO value conservative values like building up families, financial stability, spiritual growth, and being proud of my country. And I AM concerned about the thinning of the middle class, the national debt, and healthcare costs for Americans. I DO care very much and I DO want to work with people. After all, it’s my job to learn to work with people and listen to what they are going through.
Lately, the assumptions people make are that I am NOT that type of person. I have been called brainwashed, ignorant, accused of not trying, of being hormonal, irrational, too young to understand, and repeatedly talked over with an eye-roll, all because I draw the line at victim blaming, blatant hatred, admitted elitism, willing closed-mindedness, and misogyny committed with a smile. I WANT to be a person who reaches a consensus. I WANT to be a person who reaches out to learn about someone else’s point of view. I WANT to be diplomatic, kind, and empathetic. I WANT to learn and grow and change my mind and not be partisan or polarized in my views.
And heck, I WANT to have a blog where I talk about how finding life’s magic leads to happiness all day instead of talking about this.
But if I am forced to choose between putting my foot down or being complicit in letting people be stomped down, discriminated against, silenced, blamed for their depression, chronic illness, pregnancy, and treatment resulting from rape, and allowed to die, well, I will choose to be the kind of person who puts my foot down.
And if you are bothered by that, that says a whole lot more about you than it does about me.
Because YES, things ARE as bad as I think they are.