The quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is often attributed to Einstein, Franklin, or Twain, but none of them seem to be the originator of the pithy phrase. Regardless of who said it, it’s running through my head quite a bit because I once again spent a pain-filled week on the floor. Yup, my back went out AGAIN. This time in the middle of the mundane act of putting on a pair of cute lace-up boots … an act that is apparently much more dangerous than I ever thought it could be.
I’ll admit it; I didn’t handle it well. First, because it really, really hurt … A LOT. And then secondly, because I dove headlong into the pit of despair and took frustration, disbelief, and self-pity along with me. All I could think through the tears was, “Why me? Why again?! What did I do wrong?” which, of course, is never helpful AND it’s looking at the situation from a really destructive viewpoint—as if making any mistakes in life makes you deserving of pain and suffering. That’s just complete and utter bullshit, to put it bluntly. Thank the Gods that I have such a loving, caring, and supportive partner in Mike and have a few amazing friends who can help ground me when I’m spinning my way into a spectacular pity party.
It became clear (with their help) that I need to focus on the positive and to recognize that for whatever reason, this seems to be part of my process in transforming my life and transitioning into a period of greater expansion and growth. Would I like this process to be less physically painful? Oh YEAH. (I’ve entered into negotiations with The Universe for just that.) And this is where the quote comes in.
What do I have to do that’s different than what I’ve been doing? What isn’t working? Or what is it that’s getting in my way? Part of the problem, I think, is my tendency to only focus on my lack, or what’s wrong in my life. I’ve got a LONG habit of doing that … I am my worst critic. Much better if I look and acknowledge all the many things that I’m doing that are RIGHT for me RIGHT NOW. For instance, I’ve got my business and marketing plans and I’m doing the tasks necessary. When I’m not lying on the floor alternating between icing and heating my back, I’m steadily adding in the physical activities to help regain strength, flexibility, and endurance. I’m eating the way that seems to nurture my body best. I’m learning to ask for help—and be open to receiving it. I am dancing with patience in a way I never have—but then I really have no choice. It’s find patience or spend every minute of dealing with my back cursing and beating my head against the proverbial wall. And that doesn’t seem like a smart plan. Why add more pain?
I also have to realize that I don’t have all the answers right now and I don’t have to. All I really have to do is listen to my inner voice and pay attention—it’s never lied to me. I need to believe that I can manifest what it is I’m working toward. Decisions need to be made based on how both my mind AND my heart feel around any choice. I’m the one who decides how my life and world unfold. My mind set is key to how I perceive my life. I can view it from a place of darkness and suffering or I can view every moment as an opportunity to give and receive compassion, kindness, and love, as well as an opportunity for learning and growth.
As I write this blog post (on the floor with the laptop propped on a pillow on my belly), I don’t know yet exactly what I need to do differently. I clearly need some meditation/contemplation time to try and figure that out. There’s always a solution, but one must understand the problem first … I’ll figure out what’s blocking my progress in time. I’ve worked with chiropractic, massage, and physical therapy, but another type of bodywork and/or energy work will likely prove helpful, along with some serious self-contemplation time. In the meantime, it seems like I must actively work on cultivating patience, self-compassion, and self-care … all things with which I struggle. So, I guess you could say that if I manage those things, I’m doing something pretty different. But, I’m willing to give it a go as I’m not fond of the idea of fitting the aforementioned definition of insanity. *Deep breath* Let’s see how it goes.
I just received the November issue of Shambhala Sun magazine in the mail. On the cover is, “Get off the Wheel of Habit.” This issue has arrived not a moment too late. I’m at a true place of transition and growth and feeling my way into making more conscious decisions about what I want and need in my daily life, my social life, my professional life, my home, and my health. I assess and see I’ve made some incredible strides forward and can feel a sense of pleasure in the accomplishments. I also see where I am struggling. This magazine’s focus offers a lot of insight and techniques for shifting habits … and helps me recognize some spots I’ve been refusing to really address. Habits can be comfortable after all, so changing or creating them takes a bit of planning.
From Vegetarian to Paleo
Given the health issues with which I’ve struggled in the last few years, I’ve had to make some major changes to heal my digestive system, hormonal system, and the resulting low energy levels. I’m not done yet, but I’ve come a long way, baby! My current Primal/Paleo diet is completely different from the conventional ADA approved food pyramid diet of five years ago, and it’s extraordinarily different from the decade of vegetarianism I adopted when I moved back from Germany and discovered American meat made me vomit. (Seriously, that WILL put off even the most avid carnivores!) It wasn’t until my body started shutting down and demanding the nutrients only meat provided that I caved in (I literally dreamed of meat … and yes, I know, eating meat is very unusual in the yoga world!) It also helped that by that time, the option to buy local, organic, and grass-fed/free-range meat was available. But eating whole, unprocessed foods TAKES A LOT OF WORK … well, certainly more work than someone who got very used to the convenience of the microwave, Whole Foods prepared food counter, and the delicious indulgence of Chinese take-out. But, there aren’t any shortcuts for me now—there certainly can’t be any take-out!—and if I hadn’t developed a few habits to help me with it, I’m not so sure I would have made it.
Helpful Food Habit: I plan the menu and shop for the entire week and cook/prep several meals on the weekend in order to save time during the week. AND … I created a closed group on Facebook made up of friends who are also striving to find the right balance in healthy paleo/primal type diets. Having support and a way to exchange ideas and recipes makes eating this way a whole lot easier.
The Grizzly Bear is Alive and Well
The change in my diet has affected a lot of healing, but my stressed-out adrenal glands still haven’t figured out that I’m not actually being chased by a grizzly bear. They’re still pretty sure I’m in mortal danger on a regular basis. 13+ years of corporate stress took its toll and finding the patience to heal this issue has NOT been easy and it’s the last big health hurdle I need to get over. It’s impact is felt in almost all facets of my life because sleep continues to be an issue for me, and quite frankly, without adequate sleep, the rest will never be as effective as it could be.
There are foods (primarily sugar) and beverages (primarily caffeine and alcohol) which I need to eliminate in order to give my adrenals as much rest as possible. I’ve cut back on both these things, but I’m Irish and oh me oh my, how I LOVE a good strong cup or two of tea in the morning! However, even I must admit that having a racing heart and shaky hands is probably not something I want to continue to experience. So, I’m going to have to establish a new morning ritual (aka “habit”) to make my mornings feel good. And I need to consciously avoid sugar and alcohol when I’m out with friends or when I’m inclined to indulge because, ‘it’s the weekend!’ That’s a habit that I share with many of my fellow Americans and it’s been strongly established for a long time. If I want to fully heal my adrenals it’s long past time for that habit to shift into something else. I also need to add in certain foods/supplements (sodium is a big one. My levels are low … what happens when you eliminate processed foods!) I know all of this will take time, practice, and a whole lot of compassionate patience. My adrenals have been over-stressed for years. One year away from the stress-filled corporate job isn’t enough time to get them feeling like they belong to a zen monk.
Helpful morning habit: Find or make an herbal tea or chai that I find DELICIOUS to make my morning tea ritual feel good.
Helpful weekend habit: Envision a truly relaxing evening/weekend and determine what that looks like. Decide what activities will support my need to feel indulgent and relaxed while still serving my main goal of healing my adrenals.
The Need to Slow Down
One of the habits I’m trying to bring back is regular exercise, but I’m learning I need to redefine what that means for me. I spent many of my early years running and doing things like push-ups and crunches to maintain physical health, but I’m finding that my body just can’t manage running right now. When I discovered yoga, I *loved* it, but it always supported my other activities. Now, I’m finding that yoga needs to be my primary activity because among many of its great benefits, it doesn’t stress my adrenal glands while I do it (the grizzly is NOT welcome on my yoga mat!) My body, my mind, and my heart want a lot more regular yoga and some low-key hikes (4000 footers are on hold for now). But my need for positive habit creation is running smack into my wall of impatience; going slower feels so … odd. It’s exactly what I need, however, so now I plan my week’s exercise, too. I need to put my activity in my calendar. And just labeling a chunk of time, “exercise”, doesn’t work. I need to put down what I’m doing: yoga class, or hike in Lincoln Woods, yoga at home, or walk w/Lisa. (YES, wrangling a friend into planned physical activity is a grand way to get it to happen!)
Helpful Exercise Habit: Plan each activity for the week and put it in the calendar. Make plans with a friend and have a back-up plan if weather doesn’t cooperate.
What it all comes down to is we’ve got habits, good, bad, or otherwise. We enjoy and reap the benefits of some and struggle with others. Negative habits can continue to erode our visions for ourselves and impact our health, while positive habits can help us live healthier, more fulfilled lives or simply help our day feel less chaotic. I think shifting, eliminating, and creating habits becomes most successful when we apply a mindful quality to the endeavor. Breath by breath, step by step is really the only way to do it. And, of course, cultivating an attitude of compassionate gentleness during the entire process. Creating more stress by beating yourself up doesn’t help. I’ll make mistakes, you’ll make mistakes and it’s ok. In truth, your intention and effort is what counts. Keep starting over, keep putting forth effort and you will effect change.
“On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.” ~Bhagavad Gita (2.40)
I’d love to hear how you support yourself when trying to change or establish a habit.
Perseverance. It’s a word that both inspires and terrifies me. I understand its value—one must have it in order to succeed in most things. It’s a truth that the things we truly want and need, the things that have great worth and meaning to us on all levels, usually require more than just a modicum of perseverance. It’s inspiring to contemplate that my effort and hard work can result in successfully achieving whatever it is that I’ve set out to do. It’s terrifying to think I may be spending so much effort and time working on the wrong thing. I know I could spend an inordinate amount of time spinning around that one … so, instead, I think it’s prudent to regularly revisit what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I take the time to look deeply at what I want in my life—and what I don’t—and ask myself if I’m on the path to achieving my goal. I then honestly assess what I’m doing to get there and determine what I still need to do to bring my goal to fruition. This process usually requires me to look at perseverance—how I define it, how I cultivate it, and how I use it.
If you’ve been following my blog or newsletter, you know I launched my business, Wellness Scribe, full-time one year ago. This first year has been fun, incredibly hard work, overwhelming, exhilarating, and one learning experience after another all requiring constant planning, reassessing, strategizing, implementing, and constantly stepping outside my comfort zone … in other words, I’m living the life of an entrepreneur. Given that my goal is to be a successful business owner (of one or more businesses when all is said and done), I can say I AM on the right path toward achieving my goal.
When Patience Wears Thin
But now I’m one year in and my natural impatience is starting to war with the small bit of perseverance I’ve managed to cultivate … and it’s creating some very uncomfortable sensations. There’s nothing quite like being the adult wanting to throw a temper tantrum. I want success NOW. I want a steady stream of clients NOW. I want the steady stream of income that comes from having a steady stream of clients NOW. But apparently, stomping one’s feet and demanding it doesn’t actually assist in manifesting anything. *insert dramatic sigh here*
I’m WORKING HARD and some days things flow and it seems easy, but then there are other days when I think I’m in over my head. I am smart enough to have retained some of my hard-won lessons, so on those difficult days, I know to stop, acknowledge what’s happening, take a breath (or 20), and then reach out to my support system and get the needed boost. And that boost helps, make no mistake. But at the end of the day, I’m realizing that what really makes a difference comes from me and only me.
I talk a lot about self-care and compassion on this blog because it’s a recurring theme and lesson in my own life. It’s become very clear to me that when I allow myself to swim in the overwhelm, or indulge in the stressful spinning that my mind so easily does, I start to struggle mightily, and so does my business. I AM my business, but 15 years of corporate habit has me too often wearing stress like one wears a favorite pair of jeans—way too often. In these moments, I must remember that perseverance applies to all parts of being an entrepreneur … and a human. I must not only be consistent in my actions around my business, but I also must be persistent in taking care of ME. The reality is, the more I take care of myself, the easier it is to persevere in the face of the challenges I encounter in my life and in running my business. Everything of import requires some nurturance and it starts with me.
I find it so interesting that the act of launching and running a business—something most of us probably never equate to a spiritual act—is the very thing that is reconnecting me to my close circle of friends and family and to my own Higher Self. It requires me to explore and define my purpose in life. And I learn daily that I’m NOT an island; I am constantly shown how connected we all are and how we really do hold our Universe and perceptions of it in our own hands. I’m finding that the more I align my actions and thoughts (business and personal) with my core values and authentic expressions of Self, everything just gets easier.
Of course, at this point you may be asking, “just what the heck does she mean and what does that look like?” Basically, finding the perseverance to work toward and achieve your goals is found in the small, daily actions and choices that exponentially add up and carry you where you want to go. In my case, it’s remembering to make yoga and meditation a priority—it gives me the mental and emotional space, as well as the physical well-being I need to keep going. It’s remembering to tuck into an hour-long bubble bath with a good book once in a while. It’s remembering to walk in the woods, connect to Mama Earth, and breathe deep with every step. It’s remembering that I have a support system to turn to when I can’t get out of my own way. And it’s remembering that I need to consistently and persistently revisit WHY I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ll be honest and say, “YES!” I want to make a great living from my business and enjoy some of the physical fruits of my labor, but I’ll also say that money isn’t my main motivator. What keeps me going, what I need to pull out, polish, and keep front and center when I feel my motivation flagging is the fact I want to cultivate a life in which compassion and helping others, while living healthy and well myself, happens every day. I want to live in a world that is healthier, kinder, and more compassionate. Surrounded by a sick system, I want to support the people who are actively advocating and empowering others to take responsibility for their health. I want to help the helpers. The knowledge that my own talents and skill can make a difference in both my life and the lives of others is the fuel of my perseverance.
What do you do to help you keep going? From what well do you draw perseverance?
As we slide into September, I find myself riding a wave of glorious growth and personal development. This isn’t a wave with which I’m completely unfamiliar, mind you. I consider myself a pretty darn spiritual being that’s always questing and seeking to peel away extraneous layers so I can get closer to my true, authentic self and my purpose for walking this earth. However, the thing one discovers when choosing to live this way is that NO ONE IS EVER DONE. Not ever. There’s always more to learn, there’s always another layer to peel away, and there’s always more ways to step more fully into one’s authentic life.
Although I feel I’ve done some impressive work on parts of my life, like many, there are wounds and beliefs that I’ve let fester for fear of looking at them too closely. I’m quite human in this. Sadly, fear is one of the largest driving forces of our human race and I am not immune. BUT, at least at this point in the game, I am aware of when I’m avoiding. This past year has required me to look at a few places I haven’t visited in a long, long time—all to the betterment of myself and my business.
My business coach, who’s also a Ph.D. in Psychology smart chick that she is, has often said that, “Launching a business is some of the best personal development work you’ll ever do.” And darned if I have a counter argument! Leaving the safety of my corporate job with its cushy salary, 4-weeks vacation, and incredible health benefits was a colossal leap of faith for me. I wanted change years before I believed enough in myself to instigate it because this change required me to face my fears and release a lot of really old, untrue beliefs; beliefs that were directly impacting my ideas of my self-worth.
I’m proud and happy to say that I have steadily managed to peel away and discard a lot of these untrue beliefs. One of the most recent breakthroughs is around money. My parents did many things right, but they themselves were never taught how to have a positive and healthy relationship with money, so how could they teach me? I watched my Dad work three jobs so Mom could be home with the kids. This taught me both the value of hard work and commitment, but it also taught me that making a living and having nice things was freaking hard work all the time. As a child, I never saw ease around making money. And when we had it, it seemed to disappear quickly due to some unplanned event, be it a car repair or the real estate market crashing … there was always something. Thankfully, my folks learned a few things along the way and have managed just fine BUT the lessons of my youth stuck.
I grew up into an adult who perpetuated struggle around money. I never had enough and after my divorce (in my early 20s) I accrued a very large amount of debt while making very little money. (Seriously, NEVER EVER live on your credit cards—it’s a really bad idea!) What amazes me is that it wasn’t the secure job that changed my relationship with money; it was the colossal leap of faith which finally allowed me to release my old beliefs around money and get out of debt. Starting my business, investing in myself by hiring a business coach and needing to decide on pricing for my services demanded that I put a value on what I do.
A CEO Emerges
As September is technically the one year anniversary of launching Wellness Scribe full-time, I needed to assess the past year and begin planning for the next. I needed to decide what was working, what needed improvement, and what needs to go. I couldn’t be emotionally charged over these decisions—I’m the CEO and CFO and numbers are numbers. And the numbers painted a very clear portrait—I’ve been undervaluing myself all over the place and it had to stop.
Now, I will totally allow that everyone learns some variation of this lesson in their first year of business. But for the first time, I honestly looked at the festering wound of my self-worth and relationship with money and saw how it was impacting my business decisions and also how easily it could be healed. Fear and old beliefs were the only things holding me back from recognizing and acknowledging that I offer a tremendous service and value to my clients. It was time to release fear and fully step into my role as business owner—I’m not just an employee anymore. The truth is, the things I find easy and fun to do are NOT so easy or fun for many others; and there are a number of things I’m not particularly skilled at that take up a lot of my time and effort. As quickly as I can, I’m delegating those things out so I can spend more time serving my clients by doing what I’m really good at—helping them with their messaging and marketing communications. The fact that I truly do want to see my clients thrive and grow and know abundant success in their businesses just makes it more fun for me.
It’s All Energy
So the lesson I’ve finally absorbed on a visceral level and that I’d like to share with you is that money is simply another form of energy exchange. I perform a service and am given energy in the form of money as payment, or I hire someone to do a service and I pay them. It’s all energy exchange. I value what others do for me and am quite willing to offer fair market value for it. Why shouldn’t I expect the same? This lesson will take some nurturing as I do have a number of folks in my larger acquaintance that sometimes seem to loudly have issues with people who have money (often on public platforms like Facebook.) Consciously or unconsciously they’re making big assumptions and judging. I’m not about to argue that there aren’t many incredibly wealthy people doing some incredibly wrong things. But there are also other incredibly wealthy, moderately wealthy, and average income earners doing some wonderful things. The bottom line is, money isn’t “bad” and having money doesn’t make one a bad person. Just like everything else in our lives, its energy and what we choose to do with it is the bigger and more important question. As for myself, I’m going to apply another tidbit from my business coach: “The more successful you are, and the more money you earn, the more good you can do in the world.”
Here’s to doing a whole lot of good in the world!
What are your thoughts on money and success? Have you struggled around these issues?
All my life I’ve vacillated between restraining my natural exuberance in order to “fit in” or allowing my creative self full expression … which I was sure would mean rejection. As a child, my Grandmother often told me to, “quiet down” or “there’s no need for such excitement/drama” or “don’t make a spectacle of yourself.” These words informed my choices for a very long time. In truth, I was a shy geek of a girl who loved reading books, but inside there was a stage performer eager to express herself. But without a role model as creatively dramatic as I wanted to be, fitting in became more important to my adolescent self than taking a risk and walking onto a stage. So I forced myself to be outgoing in a “socially acceptable way” and wave pompoms on the cheerleading squad. I’m not belittling cheerleaders (it’s a lot of work!), but if I had to do it all over again? I’d choose differently.
I’m now 45 and to be honest, it wasn’t until I was hitting my 40s that I began to realize that (good manners and common courtesy aside) it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. But it’s incredibly important that I have a good opinion of myself because without it, I can’t move forward. If I waste energy worrying about somebody else’s negative opinion, or judging myself so harshly that I make choices that keep me from stepping out onto whatever stage I want and living my whole dynamic self, life becomes stagnant. Fun, excitement, and fulfilling experiences and relationships are sacrificed. And frankly, my dear, that’s just not how I want to live.
This theme was top of mind after spending a full day at the beach with my family, specifically my nieces and nephews (5, 7, and two 8-years old twins.) I watched these adorable, curious, funny children and couldn’t help but contemplate on the effort it takes to raise them so they are kind, considerate, generous, thoughtful, resourceful, and independent human beings while also nurturing their individual, quirky expressions of creativity and personality. My nieces and nephews, without effort, personify creative expression; kids that age often do. Every discovery was the most amazing thing EVER. Impromptu performances were given to their captive audience of adults and gourmet delights were cooked up from sand and plastic buckets (they were delectably delicious!) Each of these children has his or her own approach to the world, and as of yet, they have no inhibitions around expressing it. I hope that continues to be the case as they grow older.
The fact that I’m not their parent, or anyone’s parent for that matter is irrelevant: I AM a role model. This wasn’t something I consciously thought much about before, but recently Mike’s sister sent me a note in which she thanked me for being ‘a strong, beautiful woman’ and said she loves the fact her girls can look to me as a role model ‘for being true to who you are and living a fulfilling, wonderful life.’ Her statements stunned, awed, and humbled me. Not being responsible for raising a child, I’d never really thought about the positive impact that I can have on others simply by living authentically. Mike’s nieces are all in their teens, but they still need positive female role models—we all do! And when I think on the concept of being a role model, it fills me with so much determination to be the best person I can be—for the first time, I’m actually afraid of being less.
If I live my life small, if I make choices that diminish me just so I “fit in” to some social circle, or allow myself to feel less than some other professional so therefore not deserving of the same success, what am I teaching our nieces and nephews? Nothing good.
We all take our motivation and inspiration from different places. And we need those things to keep us going when fear pops up and we encounter resistance to stepping into our full, dynamic selves. If the knowledge that I’m a role model helps me authentically express myself, live as creatively and fully as I can, and make conscious choices to achieve my goals, I’m happy with that. And I hope I can help others realize the same. The world desperately needs us all to step up and be who we truly are. Playing at anything else isn’t what we’re meant to do. So, go ahead, express yourself. Madonna and the Universe approve.
Lately, the idea of community, what one needs from it, what one contributes to it, and how to create it have been on my mind a lot. There have been such huge shifts in my life in the last few years, with many things still in flux, my sense of community must also shift. More now than ever, I’m conscious of who is in my life and why and I’m purposefully asking, ‘Who are the people that make up my various communities? Who do I want in my life? With whom do I want to work? Play? Live? Worship?’ I’ve reached the age and stage of my life where I don’t want to rely on the happy accident. Life can be serendipitous, it’s true, but I also think consciously choosing with whom I spend my time and share my experiences is worth a little extra time and effort.
Merriam-Webster defines community broadly—it’s both a group of individuals joined by common interest and the society at large … and several definitions in between. Family is often our first community, whether by birth or design and it’s there we start to understand what works or doesn’t for us. We begin to recognize need versus want and find the comfortable place in the middle. Outside our immediate family we often find those who most resonate with us, but this can change as we do. Most of us end up with a small community of intimate friends and a larger community of casual friends. Then there are the acquaintances and colleagues that might make up our professional community and many of us also have a spiritual community to which we belong. Some of these groups and individuals may overlap, but for others there won’t be any mixing at all. And some of these groups seem to naturally evolve in a way that makes it seem as if we have no control over their makeup. But, I think we have choices.
My life has gone through some radical changes in the last few years and as I look at what I’m working toward and what I want to manifest in my life professionally and personally, it has me seriously contemplating on how to consciously cultivate the communities that will support and help sustain those desires. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” That was an eye opener, but it makes sense to me; I realize I need to be pretty picky about with whom I’m spending my time. I think we ALL need to ask ourselves, ‘Are the people with whom I surround myself supporting me? Positively challenging me? Are they ambitious? Are they caring and generous? Will they offer me emotional/mental/physical support as I learn, grow, and develop both personally and professionally? Are they people I can support similarly?’ Asking these questions and honestly looking at the answers will bring a consciousness to how we cultivate community in our lives.
Beware the Energy Vampires
It’s not always easy, of course. Sometimes this consciousness means we need to sever relationships because misery loves miserable company. If there is someone in your life who is a vampire (not the sparkly or Spike-like blood-sucking variety, but rather the one who drains all your energy every time you spend time together) that person needs to go. If you turn to someone for feedback and you’re never given anything but the dark view of things, that person needs to go. Creative, positive challenge is a good thing; it keeps us sharp and learning. But if all you’re met with is competition and one-upmanship, how does that help either of you? If someone turns every discussion into an argument, determined to drill the fact there’s only one way to look at something, then that person needs to go.
All that being said, I am NOT suggesting you ditch the friend who’s going through a rough patch—we all have those times in our lives. But you need to watch for a pattern—is the negativity and energy drain a temporary rough patch or actually that person’s normal? If negativity is a person’s permanent way of being, and if you can’t have a positive effect on that person or that person is unwilling to work on him or herself, ask for help, or change things, does it make sense to allow yourself to be pulled down, too? No, it really doesn’t. So, notice who leaves you feeling drained after interacting. Who’s call are you reluctant to take? With whom do you keep delaying plans? Those are the folks you need to consciously look at; the fact that sometimes these negative folks have faces we’ve known for years and are people who’ve long held a place in one of our communities becomes irrelevant when we look at the bigger picture. Day to day life can be challenging enough without turning your quest to move forward, learn, and grow into a daily battle.
So, with as much love and compassion as I can summon, I intend to continue consciously choosing how I cultivate community. I want to interact with people with are willing to learn from each other, offer support during good and difficult times, share experiences, nurture connections, and in general help all of us keep growing and expanding in our minds and hearts. How about you? How do you define community and where do you feel a sense of it? Do you consciously make choices about who to let into your life or who must go?
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Two weeks ago, my back went out and I found myself in constant pain and discomfort and on the floor alternating between laying on ice or a heating pad. AGAIN. Funny enough, one week after launching my business full time in August 2013 (yes, one year ago almost exactly), my back went out in a severely painful way. I was literally on the floor most of the month of August and struggling to manage the most basic of tasks, so my business was put on hold until Sept. It was the perfect storm made up of my fear of going out on my own meeting the Universe’s desire to see me STOP pushing so hard for a little while after 13+ years of doing nothing but pushing. It wasn’t fun; instead, it was agony, frustration, and feeling utterly betrayed by my body. But in truth, what it really was, was an amazing situation that began to teach me how to ask for help because I simply had no other choice.
This time around, I’m grateful to say the situation isn’t quite so acute (not quite past it yet.) That being said, it’s not comfy, either. I had to slow down again, re-make friends with my nest on the floor, accept that the progress I’d made rebuilding strength was taking a hit, and acknowledge I had to start looking at what my body was trying to tell me. Instinctively, I knew I couldn’t accept that my back going out (in my sleep, mind you!) was merely a coincidence. First, it was the one year anniversary of launching my business and I had been doing a lot of contemplating about how that was going (and judging myself harshly) and second, I was beginning to reach out and re-seek a spiritual community after having an integral part of my spiritual practice ripped away … I was no longer willing to lie to myself that the disconnection I’d experienced over the last couple years was ok. So, I concluded that although there are physiological issues that need attending to (chiropractic, massage, and PT visits help with that), there’s clearly an energetic/emotional/spiritual element that was trying so very hard to tell me … something.
In the past, I’ve prided myself on the fact that I would often get “intuitive flashes” of what I needed to do, hear, or accept. This time? Yikes. I just couldn’t get it. I felt almost as if my subconscious had willfully put on blinders in order to NOT look at whatever it was that was throwing my first and second chakras into a painful tailspin (literally! My tailbone wouldn’t stay put, LOL!) And because I’d recently been in this position and I’ve learned a little bit about asking for help in this first year of business, I knew that’s exactly what I needed … what I still need.
My partner was right on the front lines, thankfully. He reminded me to stop and let him help. Seeking some clarity and understanding, I pulled out my much-neglected tarot cards. (Great tool for glimpsing and understanding our subconscious motivations.) BUT, I only understood some of it, so I went with my gut and asked a dear friend within my spiritual circle for help understanding the message. A couple days later, when I found myself losing my shit one late afternoon, unable to stop weeping because of frustration, pain, and complete overwhelm over everything on my plate, another loving friend offered an ear, a shoulder, and some insightful advice—be compassionate with myself and ask for help. On her advice, rather than “toughing it out” as I would have in the past, I let my mentor know the situation and she provided a nurturing way for me to still participate in her two-day business mastermind while providing space and the means to still care for my back. Because I allowed others to help me in large and small ways, and I let go of my self-reliant resisting, I rapidly got the message over, and over, and over again from different sources in slightly different ways.
In hindsight, it seems simplistic. But personal growth and development never feels that way. I had created a maelstrom of unrealistic expectations and married them to my fears and feelings of inadequacy, wrapped it up in a bow of low self-worth, and stuffed it all down deep so I wouldn’t have to look at any of it. The problem with that however, is that stuff never stays buried. And believe me, you launch a business and you will meet your crap … in Technicolor. I was so busy protecting that ridiculous package, I couldn’t hear or see anything good, nor could I hear praise. If I let in any of the compliments commending my work, skills, talent, or know-how—in all arenas, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual—I shut it down and kept on going. But then I was shut down. In that moment, I knew there was nothing to be done but surrender.
What it all comes down to is that I matter and I have much to offer my business, personal, and spiritual communities. What I think, say, and do matters. WE ALL MATTER. I wrote recently about working with a self-compassion meditation and this latest drama tells me that particular meditation is something I need to hold close and work with for quite some time to come. When I let my defensive stance drop, when I let go of fear of rejection and dismissal and instead remember my own divine roots connecting myself to Spirit, it allows me to start listening to what others are saying to me … and it’s revelatory. Unless I want to start calling everyone I respect and love a liar, I’m going to have to start receiving what they’re offering: love, compassion, respect, empathy, understanding, support, and help. It’s no less than what I try to offer others (as much as this learning spirit in human form can), so why do I question when others want to offer the same? Life is challenging, exciting, and full of painful ups and downs. But it offers us gifts large and small if we are open to receiving them. And when we’re not sure we can do that, we must remember to ask for help because truly we can get by with a little help from our friends.
Somehow it’s August already. (I’m honestly not sure how that happened, but time does seem to turn much more quickly now than it ever did when I was a young child.) The advent of August also brings (to those of us who celebrate and note it) Lughnasadh (or Lammas). This holiday is a lush one, abundant and full. It has us celebrating with profound gratitude the things we’ve achieved, the gifts we’ve received, the experiences we’ve had, the talents we’ve developed, and the things we’ve learned… It’s time to begin to reap what we’ve literally and figuratively sown.
Historically, Lughnasadh is a Gaelic seasonal festival that marks the first harvest—the sun is high, the gardens are lush and growing well and we begin to harvest what were seeds just a few months ago. Although few of us truly depend on our own agricultural skills beyond perhaps a small vegetable garden plot, the concept of reaping and sowing is one we can apply to all our lives. We can ask, where in my life do I feel abundant? Where are my efforts yielding fruit?
At this time of the year, it’s great to celebrate accomplishments and honor the efforts that went into the achievements, but it’s also a good time to check in and see what perhaps is being neglected. We all make our resolutions and set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the year, and now’s the time to ask if those goals and resolutions still serve you and if so, where are you in meeting them?
For me, this year has been an exciting year full of ups and downs. I set a number of goals for both my business and my personal life. And when I look at those goals, I realize that some are in very good shape, and others … well, not so much. It’s time for me to really look at what I expected to do this year. Some of it makes a whole lotta sense, some goals were good but perhaps a bit unrealistic, and others were made from an ego place that really isn’t serving me anymore. So, what to do? Well, I’m not going to beat myself up. With all the meditation and self-compassion work and talk I’ve been doing lately, that doesn’t seem like anything I ought to do. No, instead, I’m going to re-energize myself around the goals that make sense and will help me continue to move forward. I’m going to let go of what isn’t working and see if there are better ways (or goals!) to pursue.
This year, my harvest doesn’t come without some difficulties (first year in business after all), but I’m so proud of the work I’m doing and the work I’ll continue to do that I’m just allowing myself to tip my face up to the sun and feel the joy of the season. I got my hands in the dirt, I planted the seeds, and now I can see the growth and my future harvest. I can say that I am utterly grateful for the effort I put in daily to build my business. I’m beyond-words grateful to my partner, Mike, for supporting me in this endeavor. I bow in gratitude to all those who support, guide, teach, remind, prod, and brainstorm with and for me. I’m grateful for my crazy, loving, and fun family. I’m grateful for you who are reading this right now. I could write all night the things for which I’m grateful … but I’ll stop.
The point is, gratitude makes it so much easier to notice where there’s abundance in our lives. Otherwise, we habitually take note instead of the problems, the discomforts, and the challenges. So, take a few moments right now and be grateful for all the blessings in your life. Take time to relish the places in which abundance shows up. And if you are loved, you are abundant!
What are you working toward? What brings you joy now? Where does abundance show up in your life?
“The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” ~Henry David Thoreau
I’m hitting the end of week 6 of my meditation study and I think I’m finally experiencing a bit of traction in my practice. (I was so excited about the meditation techniques we learned, I haven’t been tempted to skip at all!) This past week’s class taught us a variety of new meditations, or rather, new anchors on which to focus since the objective is the same with all the meditations—calm the mind and train it to not be so reactive to thoughts, emotions, and situations. We’re being taught so many different paths/techniques because everyone will “click” with something different and the point is to walk away with something we want to continue for the rest of our lives.
This week, among other meditations, we learned a couple heart- and mantra-based meditations (Karuna and Metta). These have proven profound. I’ve worked many times with Metta before and I always love returning to it. It allows such a softening of the heart toward oneself and others. (And worthy of its own blog post so that’s all I say about it for now!) But it was the Karuna practice that surprised me. Karuna is self-compassion, cultivating a tenderness with the intention to heal suffering. We were given a few suggested phrases with which to work (but you could create your own if you resonate with something else):
I allow myself to be imperfect.
I allow myself to make mistakes.
I allow myself to be a learner in life.
I forgive myself.
May I be free from suffering.
Similar to Metta, the idea is to work with yourself first, cultivating self-compassion because otherwise, we just fall back into the all-too-prevalent pattern of always giving until we’re depleted and there’s nothing left to give. Instead, this works to shore you up, create an inner strength based on compassion before sending compassion out to others. When you’re ready, you turn the phrases toward those who might be challenging to you.
These simple phrases can have profound results. We all joke these days about being our own worst critics, but it’s really not funny because it’s TRUE. So many of us mentally and emotionally beat ourselves up all the time over the smallest things, and in turn, we start to judge others the same way creating tension, stress, disconnection, and suffering—and I’m no exception. (Catch me while driving the car sometimes … I’m not thinking nice thoughts!)
To give oneself permission to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to be human is powerful. Forgiving ourselves can become one of the most important things we ever do. Because if we do, then we give ourselves permission to be authentic, to expressly be who we truly are … the masks come off, and the chains that bind us begin to unwind. We can begin to feel, to be vulnerable, to be present to life and to those in our lives. The reality is life is messy and imperfect and when we try to pretend otherwise, it usually hurts.
When I started the Karuna practice, repeating the self-compassion phrases felt like having my Mother rub my back when I was ill as a child; it was lovely and comforting, and I did so for quite a bit of time. I then decided to try focusing those compassion phrases on a few others in my life and it was like a dam finally being broken—it provided such a release of old hurts that I found myself sobbing while a well of love was opening up in my heart. The combined forces of compassion and forgiveness gave me a gift I couldn’t have anticipated.
I will keep working with both Karuna and Metta because these meditations will help me remember one doesn’t grow and learn when everything is perfect. The lessons and growth come from mistakes, from picking oneself up off the ground, brushing off the muck, bandaging up the wounds, and then figuring out how to keep on going in a way that better serves. If we’re present and willing to show ourselves compassion, then we’re not as likely to make the same mistakes. Instead, we grow and move forward.
How much better would our lives be if we could regularly view ourselves and others through the window of compassion? How much easier to learn those lessons without the internal resistance and berating of ourselves? How much more rich could our lives be? How much more authentic? How much more loving?
Have you practiced a heart-based meditation? What was your experience?
“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.” ~Walt Whitman
I had an interaction the other day on Facebook that left me feeling disturbed, a bit angry, disappointed, upset, and frustrated. I often try not to get into the political arena on social media because it’s all so polarized and it’s almost impossible to have any sort of reasoned discourse; there’s always someone who will take offense, misread or misunderstand what you said, or who’s triggered into some impassioned response whether positive or negative. But, I’m human and I react just like everybody else. And a combination of things—NPR and various other news reports on the 50K+ of children stranded at the border and several posts from other friends in reaction—served to compel me to react as well and share someone else’s post about it. I made a statement when I shared, but given the result, I realize that although my intention might have been good (expressing compassion), by sharing someone else’s interpretation of an event rather than simply voicing my own words around the situation, I wasn’t practicing Right Speech—and there were consequences.
Communication has evolved in ways that the Buddha could never have foreseen. Social media, blogging, texting, emailing, and phoning are all ways we talk to, with, and at each other beyond face-to-face conversation. And my latest social media communication frustration got me thinking about how we communicate in general and online. I do think that many of us are pretty sure that we are communicating well when we do, whether we’re sharing our latest status update, the funny video with a cute baby and a dog, the picture of our gourmet dinner, our take on a particular way of eating that we’re sure will cure all your ills, our joy or sorrow over personal milestones, promoting our business products and services, commenting on books or movies, sharing an incendiary image and article because it supports our personal viewpoint, or sharing the latest inane meme. In my opinion however, I don’t think we are communicating well at all. I think most of us—myself included—could do with a refresher on the Buddhist concept of Right Speech.
Right Speech (samma vaca in Pali) is part of the moral discipline portion of the Buddhist Eightfold Path along with Right Action and Right Livelihood. Practicing Right Speech at a time when vitriolic prose runs rampant through social media, radio talk shows, and late night comedy can be a pretty tough path to follow. It’s SO EASY to get caught up in our passions around perceived and actual wrong doings, opposing political views, and the over-arching negativity that seems to rule the media; if it’s negative, horrific, and distressing, it clearly must be news. And we must remember that a good part of Right Speech is listening well. And these days, we’re being talked AT more than ever … and we’re doing it, too.
Hateful and violent words can harm just as easily as hateful and violent action. There are children killing themselves because of cyber bullying … they’re not necessarily getting beat up physically, but mentally and emotionally, they’re bruised and bloodied. There are children who suffer with profound hunger, physical abuse, homelessness, and addictions that aren’t killing themselves. Emotional and mental pain seems to be the harder to endure. It’s always been the case that words, written or spoken, can bring peace or war, union or division, anger or joy, compassion or hatred, love or indifference. What you say matters.
So, what actually IS Right Speech? The Buddha divides right speech into four components:
- Abstaining from false speech (don’t tell lies or be deceitful)
- Abstaining from slanderous speech (don’t speak in a way that causes harm or enmity)
- Abstaining from harsh speech (don’t be rude or abusive in your language)
- Abstaining from idle chatter (don’t talk about others; don’t speak without purpose)
The idea is that by practicing Right Speech you can avoid the pitfalls of Wrong Speech which are conflict, division, confusion and suffering … all plentiful in the world.
At face value, it doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to practice, right? But really, if we truly look at what the Buddha meant behind each of the characteristics of Right Speech, we see how challenging it might be in today’s world. For example, someone may post a negative comment about some entertainer’s performance/album/movie. Can you refrain from commenting? We often find sarcasm funny and witty, and it sometimes is, but it can also be hurtful and mean when directed at an individual’s opinion or personal expression (whether choice in clothing, hair style, makeup, etc.) Can you refrain from sarcastic remarks about people? Chit chat, aka meaningless chatter, is a staple of social interaction. Can you avoid saying, “How are you?” unless you really want the answer? When someone poses an opinion with which you disagree, and you feel you must respond, can you do it with kind and compassionate language rather than rude, dismissive, or argumentative language?
For myself, at this moment, I’m holding the frustrating Facebook exchange in gratitude because it helped me remember that *I* am responsible for what I say, think, and do. How I react, how I interact—verbally or via the written word—is important. It’s truly not about being a Pollyanna and pretending that there aren’t problems in the world, but rather I think we must be compelled to look deeper and figure out how to help, not hinder; figure out how to find some compassion for those embroiled in the many disastrous situations we hear about–whether we find said situations morally wrong or not. And finally, we must find some allowance for others to have different opinions and consider that they’re not necessarily wrong and we’re not necessarily right; the answer is usually somewhere in the middle. And honestly, at the end of the day, Mom had it right. If you can’t say anything nice, it’s much better not to say anything at all.
What do you think? Can you pick one characteristic of Right Speech and practice it for a day or a week? I’d love to hear your experiences with it.