welcome february’s light a heart fire challenges!
a few weeks ago a dear friend gave me the generous gift of a few days at her unbelievably stunning beach home. i used the time for some much needed solitude and writing, sitting at a wall of windows looking out over the oregon surf. when the sun set a fire in the fireplace was all i wanted. trouble was, i’d never learned to build a fire and i had no kindling with which to work. after a flurry of texts from my friend, the viewing of multiple youtube videos about fire starting, and several failed attempts, i finally reverted to “presto logs.” over my 3 night stay i came to learn that using these logs strategically, placing them on top of “real wood” that would catch the flame over time, made for a beautiful, long lasting fire.
february is a hard month for many. on the heels of multiple holidays and in the midst of the damp and dragging winter, the frilly hearts of valentines day leave many cold. making things worse, in the u.s. we face the ramp up to an election season that is sure to fill the airwaves of the internet and the hallways of our offices and homes with contention and name calling.
it’s time to take the month back. time to do whatever we can with whatever we have to build a fire in our own hearts and let the warmth spill out to those around us. to that end i offer some simple, humble ideas of how to use what you have to build larger flames of love and compassion. just like i used presto logs to build a “real” fire, the suggestions here utilize creative invention and techniques to help stoke the love that’s already aflame within you (c’mon...you know it’s in there!).
below you will find 16 challenges, on february 16 13 more challenges will be offered to get you to the end of the month. they are written to be under-taken, one a day, for the month of february but can be used in whatever way works best for you. each challenge requires at least 10 minutes but most can be expanded if you’d like. some will involve setting an intention of sort in the 10 minutes and then acting out the action throughout the day. the only supplies you will need (on some days) are a writing tool and paper. if you want to get fancy you might like to have a white board marker or washable marker and a few notecards or paper you’d write a special note on. don’t stress over these things. just use what you have. the whole goal is to expand your heart, grow your compassion for your self and others, and kindle the fire of love in all its forms...a great place to start is in employing a “good enough is good enough” attitude about the entire enterprise.
if you want to post comments or photos about the heart fire you’re stoking on instagram, mark them with #lightaheartfire and/or tag me (instagram: @drdoreendmtwitter: @doreendodgenmfacebook: doreen dodgen-magee, psy.d.) if you’d like.
february 1: write a love note to your mind and/or brain. thank it for the ways that it has served you. ask it what it needs to be more healthy while at the same time expressing compassion for it’s limitations.
february 2: use your digital super powers to do research on non-profits or ministries that are doing loving things in the world around topics/people groups/causes that you care about. read some stories of how they express care. find inspiration in the wild and bold ways that they take risks to show love actively. let your mind wander about how you might stretch yourself in the coming days to love a bit more boldly specifically in the areas that call out to you.
february 3: make a list of activities of experiences that make you feel alive. list at least 20 of these, making sure that the list is diverse. some items should require planning (e.g: go to a movie) and some should be able to be carried out spontaneously (e.g: apply a therapeutic muscle rub or aromatherapy lotion), some should cost (e.g: eat at a restaurant i love) and some should be free (e.g: spend an hour in the library reading magazines i would never buy myself). post this list where you can see it and commit to utilizing it several times a week.
february 4: give something away today. if possible, make it something you own but don’t use but that you know that someone else might love and be blessed by. it could be a coat to someone sleeping outside or a home decor item you know your friend has eyed. it might be a treat you bought yourself or a book you’ve loved that someone else might enjoy. if you can’t think of something you already own, make or purchase something (small...it’s not the price or size that matters). notice how it feels to give something of yourself to someone else.
february 5: write a love note to your emotions. ask forgiveness for the ways you misuse or ignore them. thank them for the ways that they educate you. express empathy for those among them that are often experienced as being too much or too strong and ask them what they need to be able to quiet down or feel attended to.
february 6: honor someone with words. tell them you love them by brainstorming the character traits and other facets of their personality that you appreciate. don’t think too hard and don’t omit silly thoughts. write them down, doodle around them if you want, then either give them the piece of paper, take a photo of it and text it to them, or call them and tell them voice to voice the things about them that you love.
february 7: come up with a mantra or meaningful phrase that you can repeat to yourself when you feel discouraged, lonely, or low. one flavor of such statement might be: “feelings are a state of my being, not traits of my being. i will respect them and i will also move through them.” another flavor might be: “i have what it takes.” and, yet another might be: “drop and give me 30. i am strong and WILL get through this.” quotes from others might also work. some of my favorite are: “you can never go down the drain.” mr. rogers “I have not given you a spirit of timidity but, rather, one of power, love, and self control” the bible and “it’s always darkest before the dawn. the sun WILL come up tomorrow.” you get the drift. practice this phrase, write it a bunch of times, commit it to memory so that you are ready to be compassionate with yourself the next time you might lean toward self loathing or defensive poor behavior toward self or others.
february 8: with a white board marker or a washable marker, write the an expression of love, compassion, or care on the mirror that you most look at yourself in. either write it big enough that it takes up the entire mirror or specifically placed so that it covers the space where your face or body rest on it. some ideas: “love,” “you matter,” “you are important,” “show compassion toward object in this mirror.” stand in front of this mirror and gaze at yourself for the rest of the 10 minutes. practice shifting your attention from your own image to the word you have written and practice taking in the affirmation to your core.
february 9: practice sending loving kindness to the world. take a 10 minute walk around your block or in the neighborhood you live, work, or go to school in. with each step look up and around, noticing the sites and sounds around you. in your mind and with your emotions engaged as much as possible, imagine yourself actively wishing for or sending care, love, and grace to all the living things you are seeing. these may be people, animals, or plants. you may even encounter businesses or corporate presences. to each of these, practice reaching into the love that you have within you and scattering handfuls of it about you as you walk. (this sounds crazy but is a deeply powerful experience if you give it the space to be. you are basically being a presence of love in the space where you walk.)
february 10: write a love note to your body. thank it for all the ways it serves you. find ways of being compassionate with the parts of it you dislike. express empathy for its pains and limitations.
february 11: greet people that you meet with intentional welcome and grace. spend a few minutes right now setting the intention to make eye contact with as many people as you can today, smiling and greeting them with a warm welcome. even if you say nothing you can communicate a great deal of love and warmth with eye contact and a smile. go from this intention setting time into the world and see how much warmth you can share throughout the day.
february 12: write a note of respect to someone that you radically disagree with. at the end of this exercise you can toss it, save it to read when you feel particularly frustrated with this person, or deliver it to the person. for now, however, just try to find at least one thing that you can agree with this person about and three things that you respect about them in particular. write these down in list form if you just can’t make a narrative work.
february 13: learn to soothe yourself. take a few minutes to think about a time in your life when you have been or felt hurt. imagine as many details as you can about this time and the feelings that it birthed. now turn your attention to being your present day self and reach back to the hurt self and offer it soothing and comfort. how do you best receive comfort and care? lean into this as you give it to the pre-existing hurts of the past.
february 14: get grounded. take your shoes off and stand somewhere where you can feel the earth beneath your feet. if it’s too cold or wet outside, step into your bathtub or sit on your counter and put your feet in the sink and let just enough water fill the bowl to let your feet feel it. focus on how it feels for your feet to touch the earth or elements. breathe in love and grace while also imagining the very ground where you stand sending sturdiness and groundedness to your being. literally breath in fresh air through your nose and take in solid rootedness from the ground. let yourself be loved in this way today.
february 15: light a candle (or, if you don’t have access to one in your embodied space, you can light one online here). while gazing at the candle imagine a people group or part of nature that is hurting. it might be an entire country or a specific family that you know personally. it might be a place or an animal species that is facing hardship. using the candle light as a focusing spot, pray for or meditate on send love to this hurting entity. if you are a God person, hold this hurt before the Light of God. if not, send love toward and to it. let your heart connect with the hurt of your identified group or object, feeling the pain it feels.
february 16: surprise someone with appreciation. leave a note of gratitude for the server or dishwasher in your coffee cup when you leave your table at the cafe. use sidewalk chalk to make a welcome mat outside of someone’s car door in a parking lot. use your washable or whiteboard marker to write “you’re brilliant” on someone’s car window or the mirror in your office bathroom. leave a note on your roommate’s pillow or sneak one into your office mate’s bag. do whatever simple thing you can to make someone’s day. if you can make this spontaneous, even better. don’t plan too much. just commit to doing this today and let the right opportunity present itself.