Let’s Play!

Coffee Break by Rebecca Villarreal

Loved Ones,

This is the shortest post ever. I know how busy you are. That’s why I made you this meditation. It can be done at any time of day or night. It’s just under 7 minutes. And it focuses on play! So when you take a coffee break or a walk around the block or even as you do the dishes, have a listen and remember you are loved!

You can access the meditation here. Think about bookmarking it so you can go back to it when you need a reminder to press pause on your to-do list and play. I know you’ll get more done if you take a moment for you. Trust me!

Sending you my biggest smile!



I Love You More than a Boy Cheese Sandwich

Girl Cheese Sandwich by Rebecca Villarreal

How I’ve missed you! I have so much to share with you today. First, let me tell you why I love you more than a boy cheese sandwich. When I was a wee one, I thought grilled cheese was “girl cheese.” So a girl cheese with ham was a “boy cheese” sandwich. I love cheese.

True story: As a toddler, in order for my mom to get me to walk home from the “avenue” (where she went to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker), she’d buy a pound of sliced muenster cheese. She’d take out that slice of cheese and hold it out in front of me. You get where this is going. I followed her home, eating slice after slice. Ergo, cheese = love.

Today, my act of love is to share some of the tools that have shaped my ability to love myself and you. For if I cannot love myself, how can I love you? Think of this post as a meander down your favorite aisles of the grocery store. If I was in the cheese section, for example, I might pick up my favorite Petite Basque, some shredded asiago and ask Robbie, my cheese guy, for some tips on a slightly stinky variety. My only hope is that you think about opening at least one of these gifts. Some are free and some are recommendations for books and courses.

Aisle 1: Forgiveness I’ve touched upon forgiveness before, but I have never known forgiveness like I know it now. Here’s what made all the difference: the e-course “Forgiveness with Iyanla: How to Forgive Everyone for Everything.” If you find yourself holding on to even the most minute grudges, this is for you. If you are hard on yourself, constantly striving and finding a level of internal criticism, (even mental abuse) for your behavior, thoughts, judgements, food choices, friendship or relationship choices, this course is for you. Basically, if you’re human and would like to begin to feel a flow in life that’s new and different, check it out here.  And if you’re not ready for the course, she has also recently released a book Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything.

Aisle 2: Relaxation Relax? How can you ask me to relax? I have so much to do! I am busy! I don’t have time for that, you, exercise, meditation, meal planning, writing, pursuing my dreams. Guess what, there is a way. Check out Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreShe helps us overachiever types learn, “I am imperfect and I am enough.” The chapters are short! If you haven’t seen her Ted talks, watch this one first and this one second.  And to get a sense of how wonderfully human she is, watch this short excerpt of a speech on blaming which was animated. It’s one of my favorite stories of hers and I think you’ll love it!

Or if you’re not a reader and you feel like taking an e-course on the your computer, tablet or phone, my husband and I have been enjoying her course called The Power of Vulnerability through Udemy. She also has a course on the book which I have not taken myself, but have had friends who have enjoyed it. You can view that information here.

Aisle 3: Meditation You only need 10 minutes a day for meditation or even less! Here are some of my favorite resources:

1. Insight Timer app: this app for your phone contains the most eclectic mix of guided meditation from 1 minute to 30 minutes and it’s free. My son and I often use this app to help us fall asleep.

2. Kirtan Kriya Meditation: You can purchase this on amazon or iTunes or do your own search. It’s been studied by Harvard and the National Institutes of Health for its impacts on age-related cognitive decline and depression. There’s a slide show here to learn more. You are expected to feel and see great energetic shifts if you do it for 40 days or more. I learned it in December and did the 13 minute version for 40 days and saw tremendous changes in the way people reacted to me, everywhere I went. It’s hard to explain the shift, but it’s a lot like winning the lottery for your heart and spirit.

3. 21-Day Mantra Meditation Journey with Deva Premal and Miten: I first participated in this meditation for free through Mentors Channel. And guess what, there is a Vol II starting on February 14th! I’m so excited for us! I didn’t even know that until I was writing this post for you. Here’s the link to sign up! I purchased Volume 1 through iTunes because I enjoyed it so much. What’s fun about these meditations is that they are in Sanskrit, a language which is more than 5,000 years old. Deva and Miten explain a little bit about the mantra before we begin chanting to their beautiful music. Sometimes I just listen to it rather than chant along if I can’t keep up. I do it in the morning, on the bus, on the L and even while walking. Ideally you are still for meditation, but I’ve learned to make it work with my lifestyle.

(**This just in: Oprah and Deepak Chopra just announced a new free 21-Day series called “Manifesting Success” beginning on March 16. You can sign up here. I’ve enjoyed several of their free meditations before. For first timers, this may be an easier starter than the chanting above.)

Aisle 4: Spirit Vacation I’ve recently experienced a revolution in my faith. You don’t have to believe in a certain God to read on. I’m not going to suggest that you take my path up the mountain, I’m suggesting “seeking” as a kind of vacation. Here are some resources to help you explore the freedom of letting go.

1. Thich Nhat Hanh: I’m recommending several books by this Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize: Teachings on Love (which I’ve never read in a linear way–I just let the pages pick me). The meditations at the back are priceless especially Touching The Earth in Chapter 13. I also love his Living Buddha, Living Christ, The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation, Anger and No Death, No Fear, which is a priceless resource for any kind of grief.

2. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young: A friend started snapping pictures of this daily devotional and sending them to me. It felt like back in the nineties when I read Simple Abundance but with God and a few excerpts from the Bible sprinkled in. My experience as a Catholic Buddhist is that I know very little about the Bible so this has been a fun way for me to learn more and also receive a single message every day which hinges on trust. Along a similar vein, I have recently enjoyed the e-book 9 Days to a Deeper Prayer Life with the Holy Spirit by Anne and John-Paul Deddens. It’s only 99 cents and it’s a lovely way to start my day by reading these short prayers on my phone.

3. The Sufi Book of Life: 99 Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish by Neil Douglas-Klotz: This is a wonderful book to use as an oracle. When you are feeling like you need some guidance, just let the pages fall open. When I opened it just now, it came up with “The ‘I Can’ Power of the Cosmos.” You’ll learn some incredibly powerful approaches to life that date way back and yet integrate multiple traditions. I’m still exploring this book as I write this. Each chapter is only approximately four pages long.

I hope you enjoyed this trip with me down the aisles of my spiritual grocery store. Remember that free samples are always available through Google. If someone appeals to you, find their website or Facebook page and sign up for email updates or “like” them. Then you’ll get those bite-sized chunks to taste.

Remember, I love you more than a boy cheese sandwich!

Boy Cheese Sandwich by Rebecca Villarreal PS: Now that I’ve made you crave a girl or boy cheese, check out one of my new favorite movies (which is on Netflix) – it’s Chef! And here’s the video of the making of the perfect girl cheese sandwich. (Note: adult language used in both videos.)

**I am not an affiliate of any of these resources so I don’t get anything but happiness knowing you may pick one for your heart.**

“Olé!” Preparing Your Heart for Thanksgiving

Loves, this is not another gratitude post. This is a how to live in the now and not let thoughts, feelings and relatives (alive or dead) drive you insane post. 

The video above is proof of bloodlines. My son is not just another kid dancing flamenco on bubble wrap. This is the spirit of my grandmother, Mama Chelo, who passed away last year just shy of her 106th birthday. She and I used to dance flamenco together in her living room.

In the U.S. lots of families and friends are gathering tomorrow to inhale large amounts of food, hold hands and express gratitude. There may also be some grief for the empty seats around the table.

Their Spirits Run Through You

One of my greatest teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, has taught me so much about love, grief, anger and staying present. When it comes to grief, he reminds us that the blood of our ancestors runs through us. I think my son’s dancing is empirical evidence of that fact given that he only met Mama Chelo once. (See the photo below.) I’d take that theory even further and assert that amazing people who have influenced our lives, and may not be blood relatives, also run through us. Sit in the knowledge that some part of the way we interact with the world is credited to the people who came before us.

#grandparents #grief #thanksgiving

Take the Car Keys from the Crazy-Makers

I imagine several of you may also be rehearsing conversations in your heads with certain family members. You may be anticipating conflict or a nice serving of guilt ladled out with the gravy. Or maybe you’re spending it alone and mourning disappointments for a lost childhood.

If you’ve ever thought, “He drives me crazy,” here’s a suggestion: don’t hand him (or her) the car keys. And that goes for your thoughts and feelings too. You are the only licensed driver of your heart and head. Why hand the keys over to someone who’s had too much chardonnay?

Here’s one solution for you. It’s a short RAIN meditation recently gifted to me:

R-recognize (just notice what’s in your mind)

A-awareness (be aware of any feeling associated with what’s in your mind at the time of meditation)

I-investigate (investigate in your body from the neck down where you feel it)

N-natural observation (do you have evidence in your natural surroundings to support or refute your feelings or thoughts)

Keep in mind RAIN is just observing and feeling–nothing more. No analyzing or judging. It doesn’t even need to make sense. To learn more about this meditation, click here.

Finally, if you need extra help, check out this article “Let it Go” from Psychology today, which details steps to help you do just that.

And if all else fails: find some bubble wrap, start dancing and shout, “Olé!”

Dancing with DNF


You are so going to thank me for this one. You’ll feel better about all those DNF projects, all those DNF relationships all those DNF diets.

What is DNF?

Did Not Finish.

It’s my “time” for the Chicago Marathon. In 2011, I trained for months running along the Chicago lakefront. Then I injured my knee. I was blessed with one of the best physical therapists in the city and learned so much about taking care of myself. I asked him, “Can I just go to the race and run for 10 minutes?”

I had my heart set on at least starting the marathon.

He answered, “Sure, you can run for as long as you feel good.”

I ran for 14 miles. So I did the Chicago half marathon. I only had a babysitter for three hours and I needed six hours to complete the marathon. (Yes, I chose to start in the last corral.) Just as I neared my neighborhood, I turned off of the course and ran home. The photo below was shot on my balcony, sweaty and full of joy for trying.

Have you finished every project that you’ve ever started? How about high school or college? How about marriage? Children? A business venture? Did you have plans that ended in DNF?

DNF is way better than DNS –- Did Not Start.

Recently, on a sad morning, I was speaking to Amheric, a member of my personal board of directors and an accomplished marathoner. Towards the end of the conversation, when I was feeling better, I mentioned that I had been contemplating the benefits of DNF. I’m paraphrasing his response below:

So much of life is just an illusion made up of our thoughts. As far as I’m concerned, you’re only DNF when you’re dead.”

Whoa. That’s some good stuff!

So my friends, I’m going to give you some gifts that will get you to your good place. They will help you to start what’s most important to you. I have personally tested past versions of each one of these FREE resources.

1. Start a “stop doing” list to help you focus on what’s important. Here’s a helpful guide in a vintage blog post from Danielle LaPorte (check out her hyperlinks throughout as there’s an excellent article by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great.) Her book, The Fire Starter Sessions is now out in paperback ($15 or less) and can be a very helpful traveling partner if you are figuring out what to start and stop in your personal and professional life—it’s great for entrepreneurs. There are also lots of free resources online related to the book. Here’s a PDF of a workbook to accompany The Fire Starter Sessions as well as short “Circle of Fire” videos to guide you along the way. Try the free stuff to see if it resonates with you.

2. Attend the Right-Brainers in Business Video Summit. Mark your calendar, April 7-18, for one of my favorite virtual events of the year! Wait! You’ve never attended a video summit? It’s a wonderful event because you can do it on your own time. Here’s the deal: Jennifer Lee, author of the brand new book Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way is a brilliant creative who generously shares interviews with successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them live or in their recorded version during the week of the summit. I won a scholarship last year to join her post-summit Premium Group and it changed my life. I gained authentic connections to people who inspire me to pursue my dreams and take real action steps to fulfill them. Sign up for the free summit here. Even if you can’t view every speaker, give yourself this gift or at least share it with someone you love. You do not need to consider yourself creative in order to enjoy this. There are lots of “left-brained” folks who participate.

3. Sign up for the free 21-Day Mediation on tapping into flow in your life with Deepak Chopra and Oprah starting on April 14th. I have participated in two of these free meditations and they have served as anchors and personal training sessions for my busy, busy mind. Tapping into your flow gets you to a point where things work and when they don’t, you surrender and stay calm. It’s like when you hit a green light intersection after intersection. Or when you have to wait in line and learn to just chill. That’s tapping into your flow. It’s not complicated. Once you sign up, you’ll be sent an email every day with a guided meditation. I generally meditate in the morning. It takes about 15 minutes. And don’t stress if you read this late or you can’t do all of the mediations. It works if you are slightly undisciplined as well as if you participate rigorously. You can’t beat that kind of flexibility! Sign up here.

Raise a glass to all the times you DNF’d. It means you tried.

Sending you love, courage and a calendar. Pick some dates to take action on something important to you today!




Do I have your word?

This post could also be called “12 Presents of the New Year: Resolution-Free Zone.” No commitments. Just 12 words. Last night while watching “The Desolation of Smaug,” there was a scene (no spoilers here) where one character said to another: “Do I have your word?” Simple. We have all heard that before.

Here’s my New Year’s experiment whispered (because everyone is still sleeping in my house) in the video above. It’s so simple. You can make it fancy and artsy and magical. Or you can do what I did: write 12 words on index cards or separate pieces of paper. Stick them in envelopes and open one each month. If you don’t have 12 envelopes, fold them over. Tape them. Staple them. Glue them. I’m going to open mine at the beginning of the month because I like presents on a regular basis. And I am going to watch how that word shows up in my life. They can be whatever you want. I picked words like free, energetic, laughter, joy, creator, dancing and singing. You can do this alone or with friends and family. You can do this over champagne or tea. Another thing I like to do is write two annual letters, one looking back on the year and one dated a year later and looking back–pretending that all of these amazing things happened in my life. For more on that approach you can click here. Whatever you do to celebrate a new year, do I have your word that you will be kind, gentle and loving to yourself–like you would to your best friend?

I thank you for teaching me this year. For reading and listening and sharing and giving so much for the last 12 months. Congrats on making it to the end of 2013!

Everything always works out for…you.


I have this cousin. We’ll call him David. And his sister, also my cousin, we’ll call her Kelly (pseudonym after my favorite Charlie’s Angel). So David has this saying, “Everything always works out for David.” So Kelly started her own saying, “Everything always works out for David’s sister, Kelly.”

You know another word for that saying?



You might have a mantra and not know it.  One year ago, in my first blog post, I mentioned Jimmie. When I ask how he’s doing, he always says, “I’m good, I’m above dirt.” So that’s Jimmie’s mantra, it centers on giving thanks for being alive.

Recently I used that mantra on the teacher that began the year greeting us at the front door of my son’s school.  Everyday on glorious cool mornings, when I asked how she was doing, she launched into “I’ll be better when this heat it over.” Mind you, in that moment, there was no heat. It was a glorious cool Chicago morning. She brought that weight to the front door as child after child passed through it. So one day when she asked me first how I was doing, I answered her, “I’m good, I’m above dirt. That’s what matters, right?” She responded, “You got me there.” And when I exited the school three minutes later after dropping my son at his classroom door, she had shifted her response to folks, saying, she’s good, she’s above dirt. And she said it loudly, so I could hear her.  We gave each other a knowing smile. Hers said, “You called me out.” And mine said, “Yup.”

I have been practicing Sanskrit mantras to music for free (again) for the last ten days or so thanks to Deva Premal’s 21-day meditation series.  Sometimes I “get them” and sometimes I just do my best to listen and not chant because my morning brain-mouth connection is running on its lowest setting.

What’s your mantra? Do you think things will work out? One of my favorites (thanks to my friend Tindi) is:

“I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this moment.”

I used it again and again on Friday when I was delayed for eight hours at National Airport. Try it.

“I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this moment.”

One of my favorite writers, thinkers, life-changers is Danielle LaPorte. She just started a weekly prompt related to her book and multimedia tool, The Desire Map.  She writes about Kali, the goddess of transformation, destruction and transcendence. Translated, that’s some fierce love.  If you have a mantra that works for you, keep it up. If you don’t, or your mantra hinges on lament, anger, discomfort or self-pity, ask Kali to destroy that.  Remove it from your life. Burn it like that outside of a roasted marshmallow. Get to that soft, gooey, s’more-ready center.

Remember we are nearing the end of Self-Care September. If you haven’t already, pull out the fierce love. Be a peaceful warrior and know, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment” and “Everything always works out for…you.”

Erasing Big Mistakes, Watering the Seeds, Naming Your Own Matilda

Have you ever felt regret at a choice you’ve made? Or anger at yourself for that relationship? Conversation? Purchase? Meal? Do you wish that you could erase that moment or decision? There are always lessons in those moments. Sometimes they are harder to swallow than others.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and teacher, shows how the mind is like a field, where every kind of seed is planted–seeds of suffering, anger, happiness and peace. The quality of life depends on the quality of the seeds. By learning how to water seeds of joy and transform seeds of suffering, then you are creating space for understanding, love, and compassion to flower.

That sounds so good. But how do you do it? Here are a few of my favorite short meditations from his book, Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions

1. If positive seeds are watered in a person’s life, it is partly because of luck and partly because of effort.

2. Inside every one of us is a garden, and every practitioner has to go back to their garden and take care of it. Maybe in the past you left it untended for a long time. You should know exactly what is going on in your own garden, and try to put everything in order. Restore the beauty; restore the harmony in your garden. If it is well tended, many people will enjoy your garden.

3. Compassion is a beautiful flower born of understanding. When you get angry with someone, practice breathing in and out mindfully. Look deeply into the situation to see the true nature of your own and the other person’s suffering, and you will be liberated.

4. Mindfulness means to be present, to be aware of what is going on. The energy is very crucial for the practice. The energy of mindfulness is like a big brother or sister, holding a young one in her arms, taking good care of the suffering child, which is our anger, despair or jealousy.

So whether you want to think about any negative emotion as a seed in a garden or a sibling or even a baby, you can work to be compassionate toward yourself and others. One time, I read that those negative seeds, like garbage, could be turned into compost which helps to tend your healthy garden. This helped me to accept my negative feelings and not just push them down with thoughts of gratitude. Once someone shared this insight as well: resentment is like taking poison yourself, then expecting the other person to die. Whoa.

The other approach I have learned is to name your negative emotion, whether it’s anxiety, fear, jealousy, anger or depression. Mine is named Matilda. I actually like the name Matilda. When she pops up, she’s wearing a light blue house dress with white polka dots and big black men’s wingtips with white socks. When I’m under stress, I see her coming. She just wants to squat inside me like a toad and take over. So I can tell her, “I see you, Mattie, thanks for reminding me to stick up for myself. You know what, have a seat in this corner of my heart. I know you want to fight for me. Let me take a moment to figure out how handle this one.” I know that I’m taking a risk in inviting you to think of your heart as a garden or a host to any number of characters, but let’s face it, we have all kinds of thoughts and emotions running through us every day. Why not try something new to help you navigate when the waters get choppy, or the garden gets weedy or a lady in a blue polka dot house dress shows up?

Botticelli Belly

Imagefor all the C-Section Mamas

I love my Botticelli Belly

one year ago

brought my treasure forth

nearly nine pounds

cut the strings that make me young

and gave me that jiggle

nowadays after he’s drunk with dairy love

he plays my tambor

blows raspberries

waits for my giggle guffaw

‘til the belly gives a bonus shake and wiggle

I wrote this after my son was born in an effort to appreciate my body at that exact moment. A friend told me recently that she was reading one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who was writing about body image.  She decided to call her thighs “the aunties” and give them names.  She looked at them like the eccentric aunts whom you love, but maybe they are a little embarrassing sometimes.  I know that when I looked at my belly’s stretch marks during the time of this poem, I thought, these are race tracks, yes, race tracks of love. If you are interested in rethinking your body image, become a facebook fan of the Body Image Movement founded by Australian Taryn Brumfitt or check out her website. She had been doing amazing things in the world to radiate love.

In my previous post, I talked about Self-Care September.  We are almost there.  I invite you to pick something to do for yourself on a regular basis and practice it. For example, it took me months to watch this 10 minute video about 10 mindful minutes of daily meditation—trust me it’s like no other, the guy juggles and will make you feel like you can do it.  Since I started that daily 10 minute meditation nearly a year ago, my physical manifestations of stress have disappeared. Stress still occurs, yet my reaction is different.  And here’s the clincher: all you have to do is breathe.  You are already doing that.

Or maybe you are going to use September to make a year’s worth of doctor’s appointments for yourself.  Or maybe you want to go back to school, but can’t afford tuition right now. Why not finally master math, science or learn about the arts and humanities for free?  You can enroll in Khan Academy where this non-profit online learning resource led by MIT and Harvard graduate Sal Khan walks you through any number of concepts in 17-20 minutes.

Or take some time to dream about that vacation you want to take and actually make a savings plan, vision board, a declaration to go.

I believe in you.  You believe in you. Take September to start anew.

When I grow up, I want to be like M.


With my heroine, M. in South Dakota

I am fortunate to work with a lot of people who have put in a fair amount of time on this planet. They know way more than I do and they are willing to share their wisdom with me in words and actions.

M. (pictured above) is one of the reasons I want to go to work. We took this picture last night in South Dakota. M. is one of the most active, inspiring and smart volunteers I know. She’s a retired teacher. I have been working with her for over a decade. Here’s a just a glimpse (I’m sure there’s more) of what she does in a typical month:

  1. Plays saxophone in a band – I think two bands – one plays at inaugural and related fancy functions and the other plays at less intense functions.
  2. Organizes musicians to play weekly during a meal and bingo at the senior center.
  3. Volunteers weekly in a kindergarten classroom.
  4. Provides caregiving (with her husband) for two separate sets of family members each of whom live a ways away – she drives 3 ½ hours to get to one of the aging couples.
  5. Recruits volunteers and participates in a backpack-stuffing program for children who don’t have enough food on the weekends.
  6. Serves as a statewide leader in community service which means that she motivates volunteers around the state who give back to their communities. She also collects and tabulates the number of community service hours contributed by these inspiring folks.

She does all of this with a smile on her face. With a constant wonder at life and a sense of gratitude for all that she gets back from the smiles and hugs at the senior center, in the kindergarten classroom and beyond.

And I only learn about this work by asking her. It’s part of who she is and it is in her DNA. And for my part, I am helping her to meditate just ten minutes a day, to make sure that she recharges and gives something different back to herself.

M. is one of the reasons I go to work every day. We don’t talk a lot. It’s mostly by email. Yet knowing that she is literally changing the world for the better and that I have a chance to learn from her and perhaps give her something she could use out here in this gorgeous prairie…I say, thank you for this chance to show up. I say thank you for introducing me to this saxophone-playing, backpack-stuffing, lover of humanity. When I grow up, I want to be like M.

Do you have these role models in your life? They are everywhere. And you can be one too!