Krazy Kat Namaste

Violent, hate filled, psychopathic Ignatz Mouse throws a brick at sweet, but dimwitted Krazy Kat, who perceives the act as an expression of love from the mouse, whom he adores. Authoritarian Offica Pup, who admires Krazy, locks Ignatz in the Coconino County Jail but there is no “three strikes, you’re out” law to keep the cycle from happening again the very next day !

The genius of cartoonist George Herriman was that he could create variations on this theme in a daily comic strip and keep it fresh via poetic wordsmithery, the ever shifting surreal desert landscape, and the different schemes Ignatz comes up with to connect brick to Kat.

I was reading a reprint volume of Krazy Kat strips from the 1930s and began to wonder about the subversive effects this repetitive cycle of violence on the subconscious. See …being immersed in yoga culture and an emphasis on ahimsa, or non-violence to one’s self and others… I think about these things nowadays! Quite a shift for someone who’s favorite movies include Bonnie and Clyde and A Clockwork Orange!

So, does being a good yogi mean having to do away with such entertainments? And what about those chaotic Warner cartoons featuring predators Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester the Cat, and Elmer Fudd seeking the deaths of Roadrunner, Tweety, Bugs, and Daffy? Does the virtue of ahimsa rule out the appreciation of genius expressed through depictions of violence?

Maybe it’s possible that viewing violent entertainment does not compromise the soul when the proper frame of reference is observed, and can result in positive reinforcement! Think about it … in Krazy Kat, the only person who suffers from the effects of his violence is Ignatz Mouse, the perpetuator himself. Krazy feels a blissful state of love and does not suffer concussions, pain or death; in fact, he misses the bricks when they don’t appear with regularity. Offica Pup gets the satisfaction of doing his job and protecting Krazy. Only Ignatz, locked away in his cell, suffers.

Likewise, Wile E. Coyote reaps the brutal violence of his efforts to destroy the Roadrunner as they backfire while the bird zips off into the horizon, oblivious that he was even under threat.

These violent cartoons actually provide a karmic metaphor, teaching the virtues of ahimsa as practiced in zen beatitude by Krazy, Roadrunner, Bugs, et al; while warning us of the cosmic futility of the evils of violence!

In conclusion, I invite you, in the spirit of non-violence, to spend some time today in the following meditation: Find a place where you can sit quietly without interruption, begin taking long smooth breaths, and repeat the sacred mantra “Eh, what’s up, doc?” for approximately 15 minutes.

Namaste!

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Return of the Peacock

This week I got a sign from God!

I’m going to tell you about it and it may sound a bit hippy dippy, but it’s a cool story anyway, whether you believe in that type of stuff or not… so here goes!

Lately, I’ve had a number of people around me pursuing the practice of Qigong, which got my curiosity up. In case you don’t know what Qigong is, it’s a discipline combining movement, breath, and meditation to enhance health and well being. Qi is a term that basically means ‘life energy’ and Gong means ‘discipline’. Qigong is similar to Tai Chi, but the movements of Tai Chi tend to be related to martial arts movements while Qigong movements are not as specific.

So when I saw an advertisement for a four day Qigong seminar for $99, I figured it would be a good intro at a reasonably low price. If I dug it, I would incorporate it as a complement to my yoga practice. One thing that made me skeptical about the seminar was that they said that attendees could get another two days of training a couple of weeks afterwards and get instructor certification. I would assume you had to practice for a few years before becoming a teacher…not six days!

Anyway, I did the seminar, and it was really good. There were about 350 of us and we did some Qigong, learned about food healing, practiced some breath techniques, and listened to some philosophical lectures. It was well worth the 99 dollars.

But I’ll say this: The first time I went to a Yoga class, I fell in love with it. However, I didn’t fall in love with Qigong in that way. I like it ok and figure I’ll practice it from time to time, so that’s cool.

I was still toying with the idea of doing the instructor training figuring I could learn the Qigong better and get instructor training that would help my Yoga teaching. It turned out that the cost was 99 dollars per day for the 2 days of training, plus one should get a $45 dvd of the routine to practice for the two weeks before the training. I figured $243 was a good price for instructor training and certification, but I was still skeptical about the 6 day thing, so I was on the fence.

The problem was that you had to pay for the first session before the end of day 4 of the seminar. Now, the guy leading the seminar, at one point, taught us a prayer he used when he had to make a decision. The gist of it is “Oh, God, creator of the universe, please give me a signal if I should <insert your issue>. Please make the signal clear and conspicuous so that I will not have any doubt.”

I figured, “What the hell…I’ll use his prayer to ask if I should do the instructor training.” and I said my own prayer modeled after his, and added that I needed to know by the end of the seminar the next day. The next day came and went. THERE WAS NO SIGN! I’m skeptical of that type of stuff anyway, so I went ahead and paid for instructor training, and went on my way.

The day after, I was back at work and at the end of the day was feeling kind of ragged, and even though I felt like I should have stayed late to get some stuff done, I split and headed for Yoga class. When I arrived, there was a parking spot at the meter right by the studio door that is usually filled at that time, so I grabbed it, pleased at my good fortune. The meters need to be fed until 6:00 p.m. and it was 5:45, so I figured I’d put in a quarter rather than risk getting dinged for $50 by the parking Nazis coming by at the last minute. But more good fortune! There was still 21 minutes left on the meter from the prior parker!

Went to class, good practice…very sweaty and detoxifying. After class, I went to my car. AND THERE IT WAS! …right on the ground next to the front passenger door.

A PEACOCK FEATHER!

Bear in mind that the name of this blog is ZenPeacock and the peacock is my totem. For the story behind that, read my blog entry, “Why Peacock?”. Suffice it to say that peacocks have a major significance to me and two days after I asked for a sign, I wind up in a premium parking spot which just happens to have a peacock feather next to it!

A message from God

Peacock feather found 7/11/2012 after asking for a sign on 7/9/2012

So what did it mean? The sign did not come before I had to pay for the training. It came immediately after a particularly satisfying Yoga class, which reaffirms to me that YOGA IS MY PRACTICE! Qigong is cool and I may practice if from time to time, and maybe add some moves to the ‘tune in’ portion of classes I lead, but I’m not going to put a lot of energy into the practice. I don’t discourage anyone from pursuing Qigong or anything else as a discipline…but for me, it’s Yoga.

Thanks, God!

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Persist – The Importance of Practicing Through Reisistance

In my last blog post I talked about the 2week vegan detox I was just completing. At the time, I was feeling great from all that healthy eating and weight loss. In fact, at times I had a bit of a giddy feeling.

Then it ended. I started back on my traditional eating habits (which aren’t horrible, but do include meat). The giddiness went away and I gained back a few of the pounds I lost, which was to be expected.

Anyway, along with the end of the detox, my mood went down and in my yoga practice, I got into a bit of a “what’s the point” funk. I wasin another yoga class, noticing my flexibility limitations and lack of six pack abs and beating up on myself. As long as I’ve been practicing yoga, why can’t I do every asana perfectly?

This is the point where I feel it is most important to persist! These periods come from time to time. We can’t always be on a high, practicing with energy and inspiration and breaking new ground in our asanas. And sometimes, we’re not even going to have an average practice.

Sometimes, we’re going to struggle! It’s going to be tough to motivate ourselves to get to practice and put forth the effort when our energy is low.

But when we make the effort in spite of the struggle:

  • We get an extra sense of satisfaction for doing it
  • We raise our ‘average’ ability to put forth effort
  • It becomes ingrained in our psych that we can get through a practice on our tough days
  • When we have our next super phase (and it will come!), it’s SO much better than it would be if we took a break

It’s the persisting through the tough days that makes the good days awesome! And on those awesome days it really hits home that the entire struggle was worthwhile!

So when your motivation is low, remind yourself that those days are the most important to practice! Persistence in the face of struggle leads to the days we kick ass! See you on the mat!

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Viva Las Vegans! The Detox Experience

I’m on day 12 of a 14 day vegan detox cleanse as taught by Carolina Goldberg. What this means is no meat, no refined sugar, no caffeine (or other intoxicants), no wheat, no dairy.

Sounds not fun? Well, it’s really not so bad. You eat fruits and vegetables and can eat all you want. You have a smoothie in the morning that is so delicious that I make one for breakfast most days of the year, even when I’m not detoxing.

For the other meals you start out with cooked vegetables for a few days before switching to raw foods. I had Indian food, falafel plates, soups, a vegetarian chili dog, salads, etc. I had such a variety and the food was so tasty that I did not miss the meats. After a few days of cooked food, you start phasing into raw, meaning uncooked vegetables and fruits, which for me meant   lots of salads…after all, when you go to lunch with non-vegetarian coworkers, a salad is often the most convenient raw food standby.

Now, that’s where it gets monotonous,  and I’d start fantasizing about juicy
hamburgers and Mexican meat burritos smothered with cheese. So no sweat…I’d
occasionally break the raw regimen with a cooked vegan meal, and that would be
like a treat that would ease the craving.

Then you start mixing in blended meals. This means concocting some combination of vegetables, fruits, and seasonings into a blender and liquefying it into a soup. We started out with some suggested menus, but then it gets fun to experiment and learn what works.

Another cool thing is to learn about sprouting. This is when you take vegetables or nuts and soak them in water and eat them once the little sprouts start appearing. This means the food is living and full of active enzymes. When you eat these sprouted foods, your body can use these enzymes for digestion instead of having to manufacture its own.

The point of all this is that you eat food that’s in its most natural state and your body needs less energy to digest it, and is able to start digesting accumulated chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and other impurities absorbed from your regular diet. And when it’s done, you feel great!

Typically, during the first few days of the detox, you may have some less than pleasant symptoms. For example, this time around I had a mild headache the first couple of days, probably from caffeine withdrawal (I’m a tea drinker. Coffee drinkers tend to have more severe headaches). Then some lower back and hamstring soreness and tightness (others have body aches all over). Then, there was the gaseous phase for a few days (had to be careful doing abdominals in yoga class!).

On the positive side, I ate as much as I wanted, but still lost weight, and I noticed my skin tone improve. My yoga practice flowed more freely and I was less groggy when I got up in the morning. I had lots of vivid dreams. Plus, it was fun to explore vegan restaurants with fellow vegetarians and detoxers.

I’m feeling good and not really missing any of the foods I cut out.  I believe that I’ve made headway on changing my relationship with food. I highly recommend detoxing regularly (this is my third).

But I AM looking forward to drooling over a sausage and egg breakfast on Sunday! Happy New Year!

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Reincarnation, Happiness, and Beans

Is there a link between reincarnation and the philosophical search for happiness? I recently read two different musings on happiness, both by philosophers who claimed to be reincarnated from earlier lives.

 Back during the World War I and Roaring 20s era of the 1900s, there was a newspaper columnist named Don Marquis, who heard the clicking of his typewriter as he came to his office one morning. “Who would be using my typewriter?” he wondered. He peeked in and was surprised to see a cockroach hopping from key to key, typing what turned out to be an article, all in lowercase letters since he couldn’t hold down the shift key. It turns out this cockroach was named archy and he claimed to be the reincarnation of a free verse poet and he still felt the need to express himself through writing. So Don Marquis would publish archy’s writings in lieu of his own from time to time, giving archy full credit, of course.

 My favorite of archy’s columns was ‘The Lesson of the Moth’. archy had come upon a moth trying to fly into a light bulb. archy asked him “Why do you moths fly so close to flame or light that you would fry yourselves?” The moth replied, “We crave beauty and excitement! It is better to be happy for a moment and burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while.” He then went and immolated himself on a cigar lighter.

archy thought about this awhile and concluded, “I would rather have half the happiness and twice the longevity…”, but added, “Still, I wish there was something I wanted as badly has he wanted to fry himself.”

Now let’s go back to the 6th century B.C., when there lived a Greek philosopher you may have heard of named Pythagoras, of triangle theorem fame. Pythagoras was also a strong believer in reincarnation, and would go into detail describing previous lives that he claimed to have lived.

Pythagoras had a different take on happiness: he felt that the highest happiness was the attainment of philosophical revelation in the realm of ideas. He believed that one needed to purify the body to create a physical state that would facilitate a mental state conducive to the higher planes of thought leading to philosophic ecstasy.

He and his followers observed a strict regimen of dietary restrictions and exercise that would produce the necessary purification. One of their odder rules: Don’t eat beans! Why not? Well, they believed that the human soul could reincarnate into a bean, and to eat beans, would therefore be a form of cannibalism!

So, Pythagoras was seeking to be part of beauty, like the moth, but instead of throwing himself to destruction in the physical flame, he sought the beauty of the metaphorical flame of revelatory thought. He had something he wanted as badly as the moth wanted to fry himself.

And if I could speak to archy the cockroach, I would tell him, “archy, take your cue from Pythagoras! If you do that, I would bet that in your next life, you would be promoted from cockroach to kidney bean!”

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Yogic Breath for Anywhere, Anytime – 3 Techniques

While the popular perception of yoga focuses on the physical postures, another important aspect of yoga involves breathing techniques, also known as Pranayama. A belief that different methods of breath affect the body’s health and life force is the core of Pranayama practice. Breath is used to deepen the yoga practice, and is also used to calm or invigorate the body off the mat. I’m going to talk about 3 different techniques that can be practiced by anyone during the course of normal activity, their benefits, and how they are done.

 Ujayi Breathing

The first is Ujayi Breathing, also known as victorious breath. Ujayi breath is practiced in flow and ashtanga yoga classes as a way to create a meditative focus during the practice and maintain energy throughout the practice. Benefits of practicing Ujayi on its own include calming the mind and body, increasing concentration, facilitating meditation, and stimulating circulation and metabolism, and is often used by people who suffer from insomnia to facilitate sleep. 

Ujayi is done by contracting the throat as one takes long smooth breaths through the nose so that an ‘ocean sound’ is created during the inhale and the exhale. If it were done loudly, it would sound like a snore, but should be done softly enough to sound like a whisper. People often refer to it as Darth Vader breath. At the top of the inhale and bottom of the exhale, there should be a pause of about 2 seconds.

 Breath of Fire

The next technique I want to talk about is an invigorating technique known as Breath of Fire. Breath of fire is often used during abdominal postures. It is practiced for the releasing of anxiety, nervousness, and emotions and to readjust and strengthen the nervous system and help regain control over stressful mental states. It is also used to flush toxins out of the bloodstream and lungs, massage the internal organs, and expand the lung capacity.

To practice Breath of Fire, inhale and exhale rapidly through the nose or mouth, pulling the abdomen in during the exhalation and out during the inhalation. This is done very fast and people near you should be able to hear you. Start by practicing for 30 second intervals, and over time, build up to 2 or 3 minute intervals or longer as desired.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

The last technique I’m going to talk about is alternate nostril breathing. This technique is used to restore imbalances in the brain and encourage a calmer emotional state. Its revitalizing aspects make it a quick pick me up. It also enhances rest and relaxation.

 Here’s how to do it:

  1.  Exhale all the breath out.
  2. With the right thumb closing the right nostril, inhale slowly through the left nostril.
  3. Pause at the top, then close the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
  4. Pause at the bottom, then inhale through the right nostril.
  5. Pause at the top, close the right nostril with the thumb, and exhale through the left nostril.

 That’s one round. Repeat the cycle, starting with the inhale through the left nostril.

 When starting out, do 1 or 2 times. Increase as desired.

 So these are 3 of many breathing techniques known as Pranayama and practiced by yogis to calm or invigorate the body. While often practiced in conjunction with a physical hatha yoga practice, they can be practiced on their own by people seeking the benefits of these techniques throughout the day.

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The Buzz on Backyard Beekeeping

In recent years, our friends, the honeybees, have been disappearing at an alarming rate.  This phenomenon is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. It is characterized by the disappearance of all adult bees from a colony with no dead bees found in or around the hive. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of registered bee colonies declined from 6 million to 2.4 million. Bee researchers are considering pesticides, mites, diseases, and even cell phone radiation as potential reasons, but have not yet come to a consensus on a specific cause. They are encouraging people to take up beekeeping as a counter measure.

I’ve done some research on what is involved in backyard beekeeping and it does not look that complicated or expensive. I’m going to discuss six things that a prospective beekeeper should consider when planning a backyard hive: the hive, a smoker, protective clothing, fencing, water supply, and swarm control.

  1. The Hive – There are various types of hives available. The Langstrom Hive is the most popular in the U.S. It opens at the top and has removable frames and is shaped like a box.
  2. The Smoker – The smoker is a device that blows smoke, which calms the bees, so the beekeeper can open the hive and work. It masks pheromones of agitated bees so they do not aggravate other bees and the smoke smell causes the bees to eat in anticipation of having to move to escape a potential fire. A bee that is full of food is a mellow bee.
  3. Protective clothing – Clothing should not leave skin exposed and should be light colored, as dark colors aggravate the bees. A hat or hood with a veil should be worn to protect the face, and inexperienced beekeepers should wear gloves.
  4. Fence – When bees return to their hives, they fly in a straight line, so having a 6 foot fence will cause the bees to fly above head level and avoid disturbing the neighbors. The fence also protects the hive from wind and weather.
  5. Water – Bees need water and a supply should always be available so that the bees do not develop a habit of going elsewhere to find water like the neighbor’s dog dish. They prefer aged water and having it in a wooden container like a half barrel with floating plants works well. In many places, beekeepers are required by law to maintain a water supply.
  6. Swarming – Bees occasionally swarm and it is impossible to prevent 100 percent of the time. It usually occurs when bees are looking for a new home. They usually eat in anticipation of moving, so are usually passive. Colonies with young queens tend to swarm less, so requeening every year helps reduce swarming. Also, keeping a ‘bait’ home (an empty hive) 10 – 30 feet away provides a place for the bees to relocate to when they do swarm.

 So those six things – the hive, the smoker, protective clothing, fencing, water supply, and swarm control – should be considered by the prospective beekeeping when planning a backyard hive. In this era of Colony Collapse Disorder, beekeeping can be a satisfying and beneficial hobby or avocation!

More on beekeeping later!

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From Navy Brat to Urban Yogi

I recently joined Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, and the first speech we newbies make is called The Icebreaker, designed to get us up in front of people for the first time and introduce ourselves. I decided to modify mine into a blog post that provides a little background explaining how I got into yoga.

I grew up in a military family – my Father was a career Naval officer and along with my Mom our family included my two sisters, Martha and Mary. Typical of military families, we moved every year or two. By the time I was in high school, we had lived in about 10 places…a variety that included Texas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Maine. There are downsides and upsides to that kind of life. On the one hand, you’re not from anywhere, don’t have roots or life long childhood friends. On the other hand, you are exposed to different environments and groups of people, and are comfortable with changes.

By the time I was in high school, we had moved to Millington, TN, just north of Memphis, where my Dad did his last tour of duty, then retired from the Navy. So I stuck around that area for awhile. I went to high school then college at the University of Memphis getting a Bachelors in Business. I really dug the college lifestyle of partying and culture, so I continued on to grad school, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as I had to study all the time and was living at home instead of the dorm, but I wound up with a Masters in Mathematics.

While working on my Masters, I landed a job writing computer programs for an investment brokerage, which led to me spending the 80s and 90s working in the financial business developing software. By the mid-90s, I was working as a consultant, and one of the companies I worked for sold their software application to a company in Los Angeles and referred me as someone who knew the system. And so I came to L.A. for that project, loved it, and have been here since!

In 2001, I started working for the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund, a group that pays royalties to musicians who work in movies and television and I’m going on 10 years there. I started out as their first in house programmer, but as the department has grown, I have evolved into the manager, discovering first hand that directing people and communicating with management requires different skills from programming.

Meanwhile, back in the late 90s, I decided to quit drinking for a year to see what it was like (I had been a big partier for a couple of decades), and found I suddenly had all this free time! I decided to find an activity that would keep me out of trouble, and I heard someone talking about what an intense workout yoga was. I thought “What’s that about?” My image of yoga was a bunch of eccentric people twisting themselves into pretzels.

I had been practicing meditation for years and knew yoga was somehow related, so I tried out a class and was immediately hooked! I loved the blend of strength, flexibility, balance and meditation, and have practiced regularly since then.

In 2006, I had a life threatening experience when I was attacked by knife welding thugs and had to stop practicing for a couple of months, then go back to the basics as I healed. My recovery spurred a momentum that inspired me to ratchet things up and I took teacher training, and started teaching classes, which I still do to this day. I’m finding that I’m getting as hooked on teaching as I got on practicing…if I go for a week without teaching a class, I really miss it!

So that is a brief account of my journey… I started life as a Navy Brat and somehow wound up today an Urban Yogi!

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The Yoga of Spider-Man!

Suddenly it makes sense! When I’m practicing yoga, I’m living out my Spider-Man fantasy!

Last night, I went to a special screening of the first two Spider-Man movies

Spidey Asana!

at the Aero Theatre, which included a question/answer session with Spidey co-creator, Stan Lee. I grew up reading the Stan Lee comic books and the movies are, in my opinion, the best superhero flicks ever made and nailed the spirit of the classic comics to a tee!

As the movies progressed, I noticed how much I identified with Peter Parker (Spidey’s alter ego) and his troubles fitting in at school, anxiety with girls he’s interested in, problems with finances and work, and regret over mistakes he made in his past.

Then he becomes Spider-Man and realizes that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ and he becomes a better person by using his ‘gift’ to protect people. He also really DIGS swinging around town on his webs, performing acrobatics, and pushing his edges!

On my way home from the movies, I was really fired up about going to yoga class the next morning! I realized that by jumping into handstands and twisting into arm balances, I was evoking my inner Spider-Man! And like Spider-Man, the strength that I get from yoga generates a capacity to be a better person!

So maybe all those comic books we read as kids served as blueprints that are manifesting in our lives today! Think of it…Spider-Man as yoga guru! Thanks, Stan!

What did you absorb when you were younger that may be manifesting in your life today?

Excelsior!

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A Simple Technique To Turn Regret To Positive Change

Do you beat yourself up at the end of the day? I often have found myself going to bed at night with regrets about things I didn’t do that day that I wished I had, or lamenting things that I wish were different about my life and feeling that time is running out to change things. The result of this is to reinforce negative thoughts, which makes positive change all the more difficult. Lately, I have been practicing a technique I call ‘inventorying’ that effectively blows these negative thought patterns away. Here is how it works:

• First, list your disappointments for the day. For example, I may put that I spent too much time web surfing, I didn’t write a blog article, I didn’t attempt to speak to someone because I was lost in my own thoughts, etc. Now the purpose of this is not to beat yourself up, but to identify specifically your problem areas.

• Second, list your ‘uplifters’ or items that gave you positive feelings during the day …accomplishments, things that made you feel good. I may put that I solved a problem or got an application working at work, I had an enjoyable conversation with someone, I practiced yoga or went to a Toastmasters meeting.

• Third, as time goes by, analyze trends in your disappointments and uplifters. For example, socially anxious me always has regrets about not taking an opportunity to speak to some people, and feels uplifted about having conversations with others…even trivial conversations with a sales clerk in a store. Or I’ll feel bad when I go for a week without blogging and good when I write a blog article.

• Based on the above steps, develop action items. For myself, based on noting my regrets at not talking to some people and my pleasure and even the most trivial conversations, I realized that I should make it a point to talk to people whenever I get a chance. That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most people, but it is something that changes my day! Or…since I regret spending too much time web surfing and am uplifted by solving problems at work, I realize I’m using web surfing as a procrastination activity to avoid dealing with problems, which has a double negative effect–the disappointment of wasting time web surfing and the lack of uplift from solving a problem or developing an app. So when I skip the surfing and do something productive, I’m actually having more fun!

I have found that spending about 10 minutes a day, usually in the evening, following these steps results in changing my mindset from beating myself up to positive intention…a much better way to end the day. I may repeat the same disappointments as change takes time, but the action items begin to shift into habit and positive change occurs. How about you? Do you beat yourself up? End your day with some positive intent!

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