A daily gratitude practice. To embody gratitude brings joy and equanimity. Gratitude for what we have also opens our hearts and allows us to receive more. It offers opportunities to give our gifts to others and to receive what we need, as well. I notice that whenever I choose to do something “for someone else,” I inevitably feel lighter and happier. I think generosity, being the natural state of the Earth, also feels most natural in us. Gratitude begets generosity.
Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Loren Swift.
Loren Swift has a deep appreciation for the scientific, the psychological and the mystical. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree in counseling from Oregon State University. Previously, she was a licensed psychotherapist working in the field of addiction recovery and dissociative disorders in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has been a certified Nonviolent Communication trainer since 2005 and has worked as a life coach for nearly 20 years, integrating her various backgrounds to support couples and families in finding tenderness, joy and connection through mutual understanding and to support collaborative group endeavors for systemic change. She is also the author of “The Earth Keeper’s Handbook: Assuming Leadership in a New World,” a transformative guide to achieving freedom and fulfillment through healing and reclaiming one’s innate inner power. To learn more about Swift, please visit earthkeepersall.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.
My maternal grandmother was an important mentor for me. We shared interests in spirituality as well as psychology and the desire to help others. I spent a good deal of time exploring on my own in nature as a young child and seeking the true meaning of life. My studies took me into deep personal and spiritual growth opportunities, which naturally translate into wanting to share what works with others.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I spent the better part of the 1980s studying and working with Norma Cordell in Eugene, Oregon, and The Eugene Healing Arts Center. She was a very significant mentor, guide and teacher in the realms of deep inner transformation, compassionate facilitation skills, and earth-centered spirituality through profound vision questing in the high desert of eastern Oregon. The work I did with her and others at her healing arts center became the foundation of my psychotherapy practice in the 1990s. The study and practice of Nonviolent Communication came in about 20 years ago and is also integrated into the foundation of my work in the world.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake might be from the first fasting vision-quest with Norma in the eastern Oregon high desert. After prayers and fasting with our group the night before, prayers and instructions the morning of, we were sent up the mountain to find our special spot and spend the day calling vision. I clamored straight up the red rock canyon wall to a broad flat stone area at the top. I buried my crystal in the dirt nearby and sang my prayers out all day long, fully expecting a meaningful vision to find me. Getting more and more frustrated as the day wore on, near sunset I finally gave up. I relaxed back into the slight bowl of the rock, let go of any expectation to have a vision and continued to softly sing the prayer I was given. Within minutes, a bold and irrepressible vision came bounding out of the western sky right into my mind’s eye. (Of course, we were also given the instructions not to tell our vision to anyone, should we have one).
I learned that expectation is a tightness inside that keeps what I most desire from actually happening. And that holding a clear intention, without expectation and attachment to an outcome, is the true method to accomplishing and manifesting in the world. Creativity is always a partnership.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Gratitude is founded on the deep knowing that our very existence relies on the gifts of other beings.” –Robin Kimmer
Gratitude is the most expedient and simple path to abundance, acceptance and equanimity. Ms. Kimmer’s statement is a reminder that every moment is a gift of life and that everything has already been given to us. To honor the breath as air, our sustenance as water and earth-providing food, is to remember our place in the scheme of life and that our responsibility in return is to gratefully care for the Earth and the life she provides.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m helping to create food security by planting an orchard of fruit and nut trees, to help regenerate the soil by using permaculture principles and making a “food forest.” I’m supporting our local food and farm organization, Sierra Harvest (sierraharvest.org), with their implementation of social justice initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. I’m creating an online companion program for “The Earth Keeper’s Handbook” to support people in integrating the lessons and practices in the book. It entails teaching videos, pdf handouts and live coaching with me. I’m developing a beautiful space for gatherings, to invite people to connect more deeply with themselves and nature. I want to help people remember their authentic connections with themselves, one another and the Earth to be inspired to take actions that are meaningful for them.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
- A daily gratitude practice. To embody gratitude brings joy and equanimity. Gratitude for what we have also opens our hearts and allows us to receive more. It offers opportunities to give our gifts to others and to receive what we need, as well. I notice that whenever I choose to do something “for someone else,” I inevitably feel lighter and happier. I think generosity, being the natural state of the Earth, also feels most natural in us. Gratitude begets generosity.
- Empathy and self-empathy. Self-empathy is the practice of respectfully remembering what really matters to you, accepting this about yourself with kindness and understanding, and thus, to humanize yourself to yourself. Empathy is to have room inside yourself for seeing and sensing someone else exactly as they are, without wanting to change them in any way or expecting them to be different than they are. Self-empathy and empathy can bring us to acceptance, which is how we find our common ground and can fruitfully engage with conflict.
- Embodying the quality of life, or value, that matters most to you in the situation. (Chapters 3 and 6 in “The Earth Keeper’s Handbook” go into this practice in detail). To name the essence of what is motivating you to feel, think and respond as you do, gives you a powerful tool for freedom and transformation. For example, say you want respect from your boss or spouse or child. Take a few minutes to recall a time when you experienced full respect. Breathe the living energetic qualities of respect into yourself. Let go of the memory and continue to embody the energetics of the quality of respect. Once you are fully saturated with and immersed in the quality of respect, then imagine what you’d like to do in the original situation. Since you already are experiencing respect, it becomes simple to sense how to respond with authenticity and care at the same time.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Slow breathing and embodying gratitude. This practice engages my heart with my mind, using the breath to remain self-aware. The ensuing state allows the autonomic nervous system to relax and intuition and creativity to thrive.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
Daily physical exercise; daily stretching; breathing through the nose and not the mouth.
Of course our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing are all intertwined and each affects the others. Daily 30–45 minutes of walking, biking or swimming, for example, keeps all systems tuned up and functional! The motto, “use it or lose it” comes into its own as we age, in particular. I feel so much better all day long after a short but energized walk in the mornings.
Daily stretching or yoga help so much with flexibility as well as strength. I overused my body in my youth both in athletics and physical labor, and therefore suffer from degeneration in some ligaments and joints. Stretching and yoga are my baseline practices so that I can enjoy more rigorous sports and activities like hiking, kayaking and backpacking.
I’ve recently read the book, “Breath-The New Science of a Lost Art,” by James Nestor. It is a treasure trove of research and science into the absolute importance for our health and wellbeing to breathe through our nose, even when sleeping. And, the importance of breathing less, that is, more slowly with longer exhales so that carbon dioxide actually stays in the body longer. It seems counter intuitive, but non-Western, ancient breathing practices as well as modern science prove it to be essential for optimal health as well as to heal chronic conditions.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?
Drink more water, especially when first feelings of hunger arise; eat more high-density fats; eat only when hungry, and then whole, organic, unprocessed foods as much as possible.
Our brain and all of our tissues rely heavily on healthy fats for optimal health. In fact, cholesterol is absolutely necessary for all cellular functioning. It is important for us to have healthy fats at hand to snack on when hunger hits so that we don’t reach for the closest or easiest thing, like processed foods. A handful of nuts, preferably raw and organic, or roasted if need be, fits the bill perfectly. Cravings for sugary, processed foods evaporate when we eat the healthy fats we need.
I sometimes simply have a handful of nuts, a big glass of water and a piece of fruit for lunch, for example, or dinner, if I’ve had a bigger, late lunch.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
A healthy diet, rich in nutritious fats like coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado and olive oils, plenty of exercise and good rest are great indicators for emotional wellbeing. That is to say, self-care is primary for emotional wellbeing and equanimity. On an airplane you are told to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else. This is a perfect metaphor for life. With self-care practices in place, we are balanced and well-resourced to respond to others with kindness and compassion. In other words, we are able to live true to our values.
I know when I leave off self-care for long, I come up short on resources to be the person I want to be in the world and with others. I feel more irritated, get annoyed more easily and lose connection with myself.
I need good rest, healthy food, regular exercise to have access to wise choice-making, to being able to choose how to respond rather than reacting.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.
I have read that smiling in fact, does positively affect our sense of wellbeing. I have adopted the practice of holding a smile on my face in general. I do notice that I feel more positive and more open to others when I do and that others feel more relaxed and trusting when they see a smile on my face. I’ve also noticed that with the public mask-wearing, feelings of isolation and mistrust arise at least in part due to the fact that we cannot witness each other’s smiles.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
Again, our spiritual wellbeing is intimately connected with our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. They all act in concert to support our spiritual wellbeing.
Self-care is primary to our spiritual wellbeing. Without it, we do not put the practices in place that support our spiritual, and all levels, of our wellbeing.
Next, slowing down is crucial to our spiritual wellbeing. Meditation may be important in large part because it invites us to sit still for a time, breathe slowly and connect with ourselves internally. I wonder about the advantages of discovering how little we can do each day, rather than pushing ourselves to do as much as we can every day. Our being is fed when we do less and do it slowly and deliberately. Stress is generated when we attempt to do more than we have time and resources to attend to.
Close the gap between our ideal self and who/how we are in the world. In other words, be the change we seek to experience in the world. The embodiment practice described before is a very simple, clear way to live into being who and how we most want the world to be. In other words, take full responsibility for how we show up and what we bring to the world in any and all interactions.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?
I am a clear and strong proponent for being in nature as much as possible! The natural world is ultimately, who we are and what we are made of. Some friends and I practice a “medicine walk” regularly. This is a time to walk slowly and deliberately in nature with a specific question or intention in mind. For example, I may intend to listen to what nature has to tell me. Or I may ask, what strengths do I have or need to approach this (a certain) dilemma? Anything on your mind or in your heart is good fodder for time in a medicine walk. We meet together at first and state our intentions or requests to each other; then we go off on the walk alone for a given time, say 30–60 minutes; then we come back together and share what we experienced in response to our intention or question. This is a more “formal” way to venture into nature. Of course, more often, simply taking a walk or a hike or sitting by a river or waterfall will bring us the healing benefits of the natural elements. I find that time in nature feeds me on a very deep level, keeps me balanced emotionally and mentally and spiritually connected.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think broad spectrum regenerative agriculture is the fastest way to repair and rebalance the Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystems. Ending mono-agriculture that uses petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers will sequester the most carbon the fastest and recreate healthy, vibrant and diverse soil biomes — what life on planet earth depends and thrives on. It is also the cheapest and fastest way to grow the most and healthiest food to feed more people. Vertical farming is another technique that saves space and water and is particularly beneficial in cities.
Communicating these ideas is the first issue and educating people on their virtues is the next. This means learning how to understand and listen to people with diverging perspectives. My strength lies in supporting clear, open communication across differences and exploring the common ground we naturally inhabit. Finding our common ground is the basis for collaborative endeavors and expedient results. Since the Earth is our shared home, learning to care for her is tantamount to caring for ourselves.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Dr. Zach Bush or NBA Warrior, Steph Curry. Zach Bush is already educating farmers across the US in regenerative farming techniques. I’d like to find out how I can support his work further. And Steph Curry cares so much about others as well as himself. I’d love to know if he’s open to supporting healthy food and healthy food systems in BIPOC communities. The Chef Anne program is designed to collaborate with public school kitchens to bring in healthy meals. My local food and farm education organization, Sierra Harvest, has a school program that teaches kids about healthy food and organic farming and connects our school system’s lunch program with healthy meals. The nationally acclaimed, Chef Anne program, could be reproduced in school systems throughout the country with the support of other caring people and financial contributions.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Twitter and Instagram: @earthkeepersall
Email: [email protected]
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.