As you might imagine, every week I get fascinating questions from friends, family and clients about the nature of my work, the spirit realm and everything in-between. After answering them individually, I finally realized that these are questions that could benefit a broader community of seekers...so this column was born.

What falls in my bailiwick, I answer to the best of my ability...and what I can't answer, I pose to my spirit peeps (they usually have very interesting answers). So if you have a question you'd like to ask me (or my peeps), email me!

To start us off this week, I'm answering a question from a friend of mine who is a dancer. I picked her question as a starting point as I suspect it's one we all have pondered at one point or another:

Dear Shamanaytrix, do I really have to meditate to be my best self?
— Caitlin

I love that this question reveals something many of us feel about doing things that are good for us: that it's mandatory. We feel that we have to do this if we want to be better people. And of course, who wants to do something that is mandatory? Where is the choice in the matter? What about free will??

First, let's define what "being your best self" means. In scanning the online advice on this, it's clear that there are many opinions about what "best self" means, so I'll give you my own:

When I am my best self, I am capable of accessing love, forgiveness and humility in any interaction, both for myself and for others...no matter how many of my buttons they might be pushing. My responses are true to how I really feel while holding the other person in esteemed regard. 

In in other words, I am being present with myself and the situation, seeing things for what they truly are (eg, not how my "fight-or-flight" mind wants to see them) and I am responding without falling into old programmed reactions and behaviors.   

Now, do I do this all the time? Hell no. Do I strive to? I do, but I likely achieve it 51% of the time...and the 49% I go on autopilot. Because, let's face it, it takes a lot of work to overcome conditioned responses and behaviors you've lived with your whole life. What's encouraging, though, is that the percentage of awareness has increased over time as I deepen my practice of shamanism and - wait for it - meditation.

Now, meditation and shamanism are not the only practices that can make you "your best self". Really, it's any activity that helps you get out of your habituated mindset: taking a walk in nature, writing in your journal, treating yourself to a nap, creating art, keeping a dream journal - all of these things can help create new neural pathways, getting you out of conditioned responses and into awareness of the present moment. That is, of course, if you bring openness and playfulness to them. If you bring habitual worries about perfectionism or competition to these practices (or any other, including meditation), what has the potential to be restorative can actually just bring more stress.

In fact, it is true to say that if we bring the spirit of openness, self-forgiveness and gentle humor to any activity, it brings us a more evolved consciousness of our behavior, moving us from conditioned responses to attentive awareness. 

There are many online resources that will tell you all about the scientific reasons for the health benefits of meditating, but I'll skip citing those studies and tell you that you can do whatever you want to bring more awareness to each moment. And! I will also say that the fastest road that I personally know of to get out of habituation and into the present is meditation.

For those who have never tried it — or who struggle with non-guided meditation — the video / audio meditation exercise included in this blog is a fantastic starter-kit. It will only take 5 minutes of your day, with brief instructions that are surprisingly easy to follow.

So here's my challenge to you, Caitlin T (and others): do this meditation exercise once a day for a week, then pay attention to how you are responding to challenges in your daily life. Are you noticing an ability for increased patience or focus? Are you noticing your own inner dialogue more? Is there an attentiveness you are cultivating in meditation that you are able to bring to your daily life? And then, of course, report back to me.

I can't wait to hear the results! And until then: om shanti namaste.