May I know what I know

I started writing a blog post yesterday about an experience I had a year ago. It was a story I feel I have to tell (and I will: the working title is Invited but not Included) but it rapidly grew to over 1000 words and I believe I was only half way through the telling. Since the medium of blog posting seems to favor shorter, tighter pieces, I realized I may want to instead break it into parts, and tell it in smaller chunks. So while I write the story, and then go back to edit, I will be able to tell how long it will be and then (hopefully) know the point of the story, or the point I am trying to make, and cut out the extraneous stuff.

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to what I really want to get out of blogging and the first thing that comes to me is: writing practice. I want to hone my daily practice here in a way that my handwritten journal is simply to “slow” to capture, even though I do not intend to give that up. I also want to explore certain ideas, concepts, ways of living, ways of thinking, and to allow for feedback, which is really why blogs exist – to get some conversation going on a topic, to be shared and to create some sense of community around ideas. Or at least that is my interpretation of why one might want to produce a blog. It is a way of being less alone in the world, to connect in some way to others, to find our tribe of people with whom we resonate.

Pen and ink - writing

I was doing my customary podcast listen this morning, taking in some thought-provoking and thoughtful insights (from the Robcast and from Hidden Brain) when I realized that I enjoy consuming information, taking in new knowledge and using my brain to puzzle through it all. It is brain candy and I consume it voraciously, like a binge eater consumes sugary foods forbidden from their diet. But sometimes I forget to ask myself what my own soul is communicating to me, or I seem to avoid it somehow. There is some inner knowing, some tickling at the periphery of my consciousness, and I am not allowing that sensation to permeate my being. I am afraid to know,  and afraid that knowing will mean I will have to act on that knowledge. But I have convinced myself that I am not yet ready to know, not yet ready to act.

On of my favorite recent meditations from Insight Timer, the app that I use for tracking my daily meditation is by Anna Guest-Jelley called “May I know what I know.” It is a body awareness meditation in which I scan the various parts of my body, starting with my feet in order to bring them “back online” as Anna explains, when I realize I have lost contact with some part of myself. It honors the fact that our bodies have in them tremendous wisdom, and this helps us know what is true for us.

Truth. Oh boy, this could be another long post. I am sure to come back to it in future posts. But right here I want to say that admitting and absorbing our personal truths can be a difficult and painful process. For some of us, we have gotten used to a lifestyle, a way of doing things, perhaps ways of being in relationship that no longer serve us. By admitting that, or realizing that, we suddenly know that we will have to make a change. Though change can be good, it is also scary for us. Our brain develops habits and patterns of doing things, thinking in certain ways, to be efficient and to keep us safe. But sometimes these habitual patterns actually become destructive, or must change in order for us to grow, and to take ourselves to the next level of consciousness and self-actualization.

For so many reasons, we may suppress these truths and feel unready to know what we know. My current truth that seems to be emerging is that I want to leave the corporate world. I enjoy some parts of my work, and find some aspects quite fulfilling. I also long for something different, because I am waking up to the parts that drain my energy and deplete me. While I always try to focus on the positive, I realize that, to stay in my integrity, I will have to make a change soon. In my youth (20’s) I used to jettison jobs fairly quickly and easily when it turned out they did not serve me. Jobs were plentiful in the 90’s and with a solid college education, I just did not worry about finding the next one, preferably nothing like the last.

I am 43 now and recently re-married. My decisions affect not only me, but also my husband, and so I include him in my speculations and ruminations about what to do next. In the end of course I must make decisions that work for me, that align with my soul’s calling. But I also must consider how these decisions affect my family and loved ones. So a big part of me wants to work on a “side hustle” to find some type of income outside of my day job and allows me to use my creative gifts in a way that my job does not allow, without (yet) jettisoning the job, until I figure out what I *really* want to do next. And another part of me just wants to take a year-long sabbatical, sell all the stuff I do not really need, live on a lot less income (savings) and just rest from the corporate gig, follow my curiosity and see where it leads. That was something I could (and did) do in my single years, because I could and because it did not affect anyone else.

I actually fantasize about being laid off at my current job, and then having a little bit of severance pay (I think it would be about 16 weeks) to take a break and figure all of this out. Then another part of me says it is better and more responsible to be proactive and to figure this out on my own, before the company makes a decision for me. So my mantra in coming weeks will be: may I know what I know. As I meditate, journal and write through this question to figure it out, along with trying “side hustle” experiments, I expect my truth will emerge. And as I allow that truth to fully emerge, I realize it is still my choice what actions to take as a result.

If you have any advice for me, dear reader, on what has helped you take on big truths in your life, please share them with me below in the comments. Thanks for reading. May you know what you know.

 

Mindful return to daily life

Sunset on Isla Holbox
Sunset on Isla Holbox, a favorite vacation spot in Mexico

Returning from vacation is always bittersweet. The lovely days of enjoying the time without a focus on schedules, plans, to-do lists and routine activities can be hypnotic. I treasure the restoration that accompanies this slow and easy life that allows one to appreciate the luxury that is time, and the abundance that is our life.

When I return to work, I sometimes struggle with keeping the composure that seems to accompany “island time” while on vacation. We visited Isla Holbox while on a brief honeymoon trip after our wedding. It was a location we had visited before, 2 1/2 years ago during February. This time, it was hotter and more humid (77F dewpoint), so that forced me to go much slower than the pace I usually move. Never a fan of heat and humidity, I treasure the crisp autumn weather in Minnesota. But in any case, the island temperature called us to slow down, to walk more mindfully and to adjust our overall pace.

For many years I have been a runner, and in the past couple of years have focused more on developing my yoga practice as a component to living a more mindful, intentional and conscious life. While I still enjoy running and it helps me calm myself in some ways, I realize that slowing down is also a necessary and vital component of my wellness and vitality. Tuning into that “frequency” deep within, that is so easily drowned out by so many other noises in the outer world has become fundamental, not optional, to the way I choose to live.

In returning to work after the wedding and the vacation trip, I am realizing that this is when the “rubber hits the road” as far as putting that mindful, slower, intentional practice to work in my life. Retreats from the world and from the daily routines can help us re-establish a rhythm that is more amenable to those quieter forces within us that wake up only when we really listen. And to listen, we must sometimes turn off the outside influences that may appeal to our minds and our desires for more knowledge, more data, more connections in our neural networks. But in the same way that pruning the old, dead blossoms from a flowering plant helps the other flowers to flourish, our minds seem to require this pruning.

By meditating, and for me this means watching my thoughts come and go, I am able to give myself that necessary quiet space to allow for greater growth in the long-term. Now that it has become a daily practice (sometimes for as much as an hour, but more often, as little as 5-15 minutes) I have begun to understand, and just lightly “taste” the benefits, while opening to new insights. Yesterday while traveling home a number of different situations presented themselves that in the past may have caused anxiety, but I was able to handle them gracefully. I am far from perfect, but I am learning to see how this practice can help me bring some of that vacation mindset back to my daily life and to my work.

Martha Beck recommends a practice of “vacation from predation” which I believe comes from her book, The Four-Day Win. I am paraphrasing and giving my interpretation of this, but what it means to me is to realize that whatever stress we may be feeling, most of us, at any given moment are presently safe. I realize this reflects privilege to say this, and indeed there are many instances when people are not safe, but there is also so much stress and suffering that are added by our minds, by our thoughts about whatever is our current situation. It is actually those thoughts, not the situation itself which cause anxiety and stress. The situations themselves are neutral and to a large extent we can choose our reaction to them. We can observe our emotions and become aware of our thoughts and then realize that the “stories” we use to interpret, filter and process those situations are what drive and feed those emotions.

As I return to my email inbox, the appointments that will pop up on my calendar and the responsibilities of my day-to-day life, I will strive to remember this wisdom and to practice compassion for myself when I do sometimes over-react. My amygdala is trained and has its habits, which require some re-training.  I also have better tools to calm these over-reactions and to keep events in perspective. This makes me profoundly grateful.

Signed, sealed, delivered

Shoes by the fire

The wedding is over and the shoes are off. A weekend of family introductions, gatherings, photos, flower staging, and precious time at the North Shore of Lake Superior is coming to a close. It has been a blast, and we will go home today to prepare for a few days in Mexico to celebrate our “making it official.”

I could not have asked for a better outcome. Our guests seemed to enjoy themselves and I was able to stay present and enjoy every moment. I got emotional during the speaking of the vows, and the ceremony felt light-hearted but serious at the same time. So very grateful and full of love right now. It will be a few days until I get back to this blog because I will be enjoying some together time with my husband. We have known each other for 7 years but a new phase of our relationship is just beginning. It feels so right, this union of our souls and families.

And there is really nothing more to say for now, just to enjoy the intense gratitude of this moment.

 

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 3)

Sunrise after my run today

I woke up this morning at 3 A.M., excited to start the day and looking forward to the weekend ahead. In 2 days I will marry the love of my life, a kind, generous, funny, handsome man who loves me for who I am. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for his presence in my life, and what a gift it is to be with someone who knows (many of) my imperfections and still loves me.

It is so interesting to me that many of us find it easier to love others than to extend love to ourselves. We beat ourselves up sometimes for mistakes we have made, for reasons why we should have been better, we should have said something different, we are not good enough. But we are all good enough. We are all worthy of love. Just by existing, just by being born into this world, we have the grace of being worthy of love. When I truly started exploring this idea and understanding it, I think that was the breakthrough that helped me really begin taking much better care of myself.

Having compassion for myself allows me to give the most love I can to everyone I know. Even though some religions may advocate otherwise, beating ourselves up is not an effective way to change our behavior, and this is borne out by neuroscience research. Being kind to ourselves is always the right thing, and yet we find it hard to do. Being kind does not mean indulging our every craving or fulfilling every desire right in the moment.

Being kind means being mindful of how we feel after eating something which may harm us, and knowing that even though it may taste good in a fleeting moment,  it does not bring us energy and vitality. Being kind means giving ourselves copious rest when we are tired, and connection with others when we feel lonely. Being kind means taking a few extra minutes to sit and cuddle my kitty even when I have housework to do.

There are spiritual and scientific benefits to being kind to ourselves. This is the great knowledge that the great contemplatives have always taught to us – that compassion and love are the center to a life well-lived. I believe this is one great benefit to having struggled with weight in my life. It gives me deep compassion for my struggles and the struggles of others. It helps me see that this body is working so hard to support me, and allow me to live my life. Krista Tippett talks about a yoga teacher, Matthew Sanford, who, even though he has been in a wheelchair for 30 years, says “he’s never known someone to become more at home in his or her own body, in all its flaws and its grace, without becoming more compassionate towards all of life.”

I believe this is what my weight struggle has taught me. In Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, she talks about “if love could speak” and her words are so beautiful, I quote them here:

If love could speak, it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because otherwise you would be uncomfortable and why would anyone want to be uncomfortable.’ Love would also say, ‘Goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast.’

When I consider that in eating more mindfully and living my live more mindfully, I realize it starts with being aware of what we do. It starts with learning to feel our emotions fully, not push them away. Maybe we did not learn to embrace our full range of emotions when we were young, or we had caregivers that were not comfortable with their own emotions, and therefore tried not to show them. They tried not to reveal their disappointments in life, or their grief or their struggles with anger. Did they embrace their joy, and their excitement? Positive emotions are so much easier to embrace, and we want to feel them all the time. But what if contrast is part of the deal?

Brooke Castillo likes to say that life is about half good emotions and half unpleasant emotions, and this is what helps us truly live a full life. Perhaps that is why so many of us suffer. We think we are supposed to be happy all the time. But what if life does not work that way? Our emotions may be a guide to help us lean in the direction of what gives us joy. And that is a beautiful thing, but it does not mean we will never experience sorrow, or pain or grief or anger.

We are human and to embrace all of those emotions, our full range of humanity is to realize the sacred in the mundane. Discomfort is a flag to us about something for which we need to pay attention. By ignoring the body, or viewing it as dirty, or somehow corrupted, while only the spirit remains clean, is a myth.

Unfortunately in many of our spiritual traditions, the body is denigrated. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is a tired phrase I have heard too many times. What if the body and the spirit were intertwined so closely that they worked together to keep us healthy, vital and alive?

When I truly care for myself, in eating good food, honoring my body’s need for rest, or movement or play, my spirit radiates outward to everyone around me. When I reach out for connection, instead of eating to dull my feeling of loneliness, I thrive.

When I go to my favorite yoga class and practice being fully present in my body, honoring it and noticing where the “stuck” parts are, or the tight joints or tissues feel uncomfortable, I come back to myself. I stop abandoning this glorious matter that makes up the collection of what I call “me” – body, mind and soul.

All of them are one, and we are this amazing trinity that is inseparable and yet we divide because that is how human beings understand our world. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is beautiful how curious and interested and insatiable the human mind can be. I certainly celebrate that aspect of my own personality, the ever-present desire to know more, understand how it all works. What a gift, our curiosity and creativity in the way we construct our own worlds in our imaginations.

So in coming back to my body, through yoga, through body awareness and compassion meditations, I have been slowly releasing extra weight (~1.5 pounds a month for the past 13 months) and learning what makes me feel good and whole. I have started eating much more fat in my diet and more vegetables. I am not vegetarian (though my spirit often strives to eat less meat) and I do not subscribe to one particular diet plan. I definitely minimize flour and sugar in my overall consumption because I have noticed that powdered and processed foods do not make me feel good or give me lasting energy.

Reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, gave me a lot more scientific and clinical data for how our dietary choices can help us sustain weight loss. As a clinical researcher, I admit that the science always helps me to adopt certain practices. But as a practicing yogi and meditator, I know that I must trust only what makes sense for me. I must always to come back to my own body, to ground myself in my own truth.

This is why you will never hear me advocating one particular diet plan over another. I believe people have the wisdom within them that helps them discover what works for them. For some, it may be a need for more fresh air and time outdoors. For some, it may be to fast one or two days a week and skip breakfast while mindfully learning about their hunger signals. But for all of us, I believe a sustainable weight loss journey begins with love for ourselves. We are worthy. We are enough. We deserve to have optimal health. Those questions can be put to rest. Beyond that, as my yoga teacher Ruth likes to say: there is no hurry. I have been learning that as well. My own journey to know my body and to listen to it will evolve over time. I will continue to learn, and I will continue to practice compassion for myself, even though it is not easy.

Off I go now, wedding preparations are almost complete, and we will head to Two Harbors in about 5 hours. Happy weekend, friends, and many blessings to you.

 

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 2)

“How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human? Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?”

-Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior)

I have always been pretty good at learning things from books, or so I think. I have always valued my smarts, my cognitive abilities, my academic pursuits. I suppose that makes sense, given that I come from a family of teachers. My Dad, Mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles and many in my family were formally trained as teachers, and many of them taught until they retired. Today I view every person as a teacher. Every person I meet may have some bit of wisdom or some lesson to teach, if I stay open to hearing it. But I digress. Some readers may want me to return to the next chapter of my story, and get on with distilling some of those lessons I have learned about body awareness.

When I went back to read the first part of what I wrote yesterday while preparing myself for today, I realize that I revealed a bit more than I thought wanted to share out on the world wide web. It reminds me a little of Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, in which she described a “vulnerability hangover” after she confessed her “breakdown -> spiritual awakening” to a group of what she thought was just a few hundred people. If you have not heard Brene Brown’s Ted Talks on the Power of Vulnerability or Listening to Shame, please do so. I am serious. They are about 20 minutes long, and they are gold. After watching the videos, I bought and read every book that Dr. Brown has written, and a few of them are in my little book pile of recent influential books below.

Book pile
Some favorites I have read in the past year.

I have always had this tendency, when I feel like an author is speaking directly to me, I then go and read all the books they have ever written. This is what happened to me about 14 years ago when I discovered Martha Beck. I started with Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. To this day, when Martha comes out with a new book, I am likely on the pre-order list because I think she is a modern day guru. She basically invented the concept of life-coaching and her wisdom is unmatched when it comes to career exploration and figuring changes you may need to be more aligned with your soul’s purpose.

So I promised more of my story, and I keep trying to deflect and talk about stuff I learned in books rather than stuff I learned through my own experience. Whew, I guess that is because it is so difficult to share one’s personal story when it reveals what we consider something about us that is “weak” or shameful. Brene Brown explains that “shame is an epidemic in our culture” and tells us that empathy is the antidote to shame. When we consider the shame so many of us feel about our bodies, about the things we are supposed to control, about the ways we are supposed to behave but cannot, it is no wonder we are the most addicted, over-medicated, depressed people in the history of the species.

I began realizing that I was using food and alcohol to buffer my emotions, and to not feel the things I needed to feel, in order to point me in the direction of my truths and my my soul’s calling. In my nurse practitioner’s office in July 2016 I realized that, even though my health numbers seemed fine, I was not fine. I knew it. I knew that coming home each night and feeling a strong urge to have a glass of wine was an indicator, and it was a warning sign to me. While I am not an alcoholic, I wondered what I was trying to avoid. Having been through depression before, I realized that I never wanted to go there again. That dark fog has been present in my life probably 3-4 times and it had been years since I had gone there.

So I asked my kind  fiance to help me stop drinking for 10 days, just to see if it would make a difference to my quality of life. The first thing I noticed was: I had some really uncomfortable emotions coming up that I did not want to face. Fortunately a friend at the time shared a similar struggle and desire to give up drinking. She pointed me in the direction of Brooke Castillo’s podcast.

One of the most important things I learned here was that emotions are just vibrations in the body. They pass like waves, and they are fully endurable. Those of us who afraid to feel our emotions sometimes may have learned that emotions are dangerous. We are not “supposed to” feel sad, angry or disappointed. But these human emotions are universal. We may not like them, but we all feel them. When we learn to embrace all of our emotions, knowing that they will not destroy us, we become in tune with the messages of our body, which are delivered through our emotions.

Geneen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God: an Unexpected Path to Almost Anything was recommended to me by a therapist and it spoke to my concerns about the constant weight struggle. Years ago (in college, in fact) I had read Feeding the Hungry Heart, back when I was first learning about how I had used food to numb my emotions. It was my first clue into why I struggled so much with food. But at that time, I learned the lesson academically, not through mindful work with my own experience.

Working with a therapist on some of the issues I had around commitment and vulnerability in relationships, I realized what I really was trying to avoid. I was trying not to be seen for who I was. I was trying not to show up as an angry, hurt or vulnerable, and trying to push down the reality of those feelings.

As I started fully awakening to the possibility that I would not always have to use food to calm my feelings, I began to use my awareness of when I wanted to eat, especially outside of mealtimes, and what that was telling me. When I went to the fridge prior to a uncomfortable 1:1 call I needed to make to a direct report, rather than eat, I took a moment to reflect and ask: what is making me uncomfortable, that I want to escape my emotions and eat instead? I started tuning into that thought stream and doing a “thought download” (handwritten journal entry) every time I felt that urge to eat,  to explore was was really going on in my head. It was no coincidence that I had been studying meditation for about a year before that, and starting to learn how to calm myself and observe my thought-stream without getting caught up in it.

When I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Love Warrior in December 2016 I felt as if she was speaking directly to me. I went on a vacation with my sweetie in Hawaii, where I was able to go to a wedding of two close friends from college, marrying each other after 20+ years of being a couple. I had lost about 12 pounds in the 4 months before that, and I brought a couple of books along to read on vacation. Glennon was putting in words things I had not yet even begin to understand, about my relationships, about my struggles with food and my fear of vulnerability. I must quote her because it is too good to paraphrase (from p 113 of her book):

We’ve spent our time together talking about everything but what matters. We’ve never brought each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life along. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt…At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Preach, my dear.

Dear Reader, it is now time for me to go to work again. I had thought this might be a 2-part series, but now it appears that it may have to extend it one more day. (Who was it who said: I could have made this letter shorter, but I ran out of time…?)  I still have not explored how yoga has helped bring me back into my body (and out of my head, where I tend to live). And this entry is far over a thousand words, which I think may be the limit for a concise and readable blog post. Do you have comments? Do you have feedback for me? Feel free to share anything you would like in the comments section below. Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote books. I have an Amazon affiliates account that may pay me something like a penny per book if you do end up clicking through my site to order something. But that is not the point of the links – I really just want to share some of the learning I have done and the teachers that have guided me along the way. 

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 1)

My journey:

I have had an ongoing struggle with weight and weight loss since about age 11. When I look back on that time, I realize that it was not because I was overweight then. Rather, it was I was entering a time when my body was changing. I gained some weight and the awkwardness of adolescence made me feel uncomfortable, uncoordinated and out-of-control. By that point, I was a bit taller than most of my peers, and beginning to put on some weight,  as preteens do.  I was not sure how to handle the confusing feelings of being aware of boys while at the same time feeling “too big” and like there was too much of me.

Body awareness image

It was the 80’s and the height of the fitness and aerobics craze. It was the “me generation” and a time when Reagan was President, and image became key for our identities. Greed was considered good, and materialism was rewarded. Weight watchers had been founded in 1963 and was catching on, Jane Fonda released her first exercise video in 1982. In 1988 Oprah Winfrey walked onto the stage with 67 pounds of fat in a wagon to illustrate the weight she had lost on a liquid diet.

On a cultural level, women were told that the right way to BE in the world was to be thin. All the women in my family dieted together. Grandma, Mom, my Auntie and just about all the women I knew were always on some type of diet or another. Looking back, I realize I was not only responding to the messages around me, but I was just trying to fit in. Even my Dad had a regular exercise regimen, which I believe was partly stress-relief and partly body consciousness from the opposite framework. He had always been skinny in his youth, and he wanted to be stronger and more muscular.

So I dieted and I exercised. Looking back on it, I am glad that I saw exercise as important, and cultivated it as a habit. Today it remains a very important part of my mental health and stress-relief to run, do yoga, walk, or move in some way to calm my anxiety at times. But if I had to give advice to my young self it would be: accept yourself, and do not worry about what all others are doing. Stop dieting, stop trying to use food to control your anxiety about yourself, and exercise as a punishment for your “bad” overeating behavior.

Avoiding feelings and desires

I realize today that my emotional overeating came from that early attempt to restrict my food, to diet and to reign in those “bad” behaviors that I seemed so prone to repeat. Control of food became a way to deal with the anxiety that I had started to feel that I was “not enough” or “not right” or not the way I was supposed to me. I know that many girls and women can relate to this, and a lot of research shows that girls suffer from a large self-esteem gap during adolescence in comparison with boys.

The cultural messages we receive through movies and other media is that we are supposed to be beautiful and contained, princesses to be rescued by the prince. Also, in families we often we receive the message that we should be helpful and serve others. We do not receive a lot of guidance on how to pay attention to our needs, and to honor our bodies, or even how to embrace our feelings. Our mothers were often taught that their role in the family is to serve, not necessarily to honor their needs and desires. So many of us wanted to be “good girls” and to do the right things, and we were rewarded for this. I know I am not the first woman to confess to this time as being the origin of perfectionism.

Depression, perfectionism and insecurity

In college I struggled with some binge eating (though I was not into the purging part, which would have made that bulimia) when I would face periods of intense insecurity about my ability to succeed at a very challenging college, surrounded my peers who were very smart. In high school where I graduated salutatorian of my class, I had always known I was a “smart girl” and it had become part of my identity. I was rewarded for being “in my head” and not necessarily paying attention to my body.

When I went to college, my identity was no longer as the smart girl, while surrounded by so many talented people, so I felt a bit lost. Senior year, I went through depression as I struggled to figure out who I was, and what I wanted. I had a scary period of time in which I felt like there was a “fog” in my brain, and a Dean that I consulted to figure out what was wrong told me, “it’s not as if you’ve been struck stupid!” Actually, that’s exactly what it felt like, my cognition was disrupted and I literally was not able to think or use my brain the way I always had. Fortunately I had studied enough psychology to realize I needed help, and I found a kind an wonderful counselor, who helped me navigate this intense period of growth and change in my life.

In my early 20’s after college and after years of yo-yo weight struggles, I gave up on dieting, and focused instead on running, biking and trying to do things that made me feel good generally. I had moved to California after 4 years of living in Pennsylvania and graduating from Swarthmore College, and I was done (for a while) with trying to achieve academic success trying to earn high grades. One thing I realized was that my body seemed to be a barometer for how my life was going. When I relaxed and enjoyed my life, my weight and body seemed to normalize. I was never “skinny” but I did not struggle with my weight very much for a period of years.

Running to manage anxiety

From about 2007, when I joined my current company, I started running more regularly and doing yoga, which was offered on lunch hours at the onsite gym. I had been running off and on since I was 15 or so when I entered my first 5k. Running was a way to control my weight, but also manage feelings of anxiety and restless (and manage A.D.D. which I did not realize I suffered from until 2006 while trying to finish a master’s thesis, which is a story for another day). Off and one I had suffered injuries whenever I increased my running mileage too much, and it was not until I discovered yoga and figured out how to balance out both sides of my body, that I really was able to run longer distances than 10k without getting injured.

Coming home to the body – yoga and meditation

Yoga helped me become more balanced on both sides of the body and to become more aware. Practicing it 1-2 times a week helped me become more aware of my core and more balanced in my fitness, which is more difficult with running, since it is more about the lower half of the body.

About a year ago I realized that I was putting on some weight that was not coming off. Typically my weight tended to fluctuate 6-8 pounds up or down in a given year, depending on whether it was outdoor running season or winter, when I typically get less activity because I prefer to run outside, though I was using treadmills somewhat, because a sedentary lifestyle has never allowed me to manage my brain chemicals.

The weight struggle was starting to rear its ugly head again as I was promoted to a managerial role at work, and I was expected to show up in meetings, and be responsible for clinical operations for Latin America. I had wanted this role, and campaigned for it, and the new responsibilities and leadership really forced me to confront some personal challenges, and grow personally in my understanding of myself.

Compassion for myself, my body

I realized that I had begun using food and alcohol to avoid uncomfortable feelings, and that I had lost touch with my body. I had used running as a coping mechanism for my chronic anxiety but the problem was that I was not aware of what was causing that anxiety. I had blamed my circumstances: a micro-managing boss, a workplace with a workaholic culture, my own lack of focus and self-control.

While all of those may have contributed, I had not realized that my own thoughts were the cause of much of my bad feelings. When I began meditating and becoming aware of my “thought stream” I realized that that was a lot of negativity and self-blame occurring just below the level of my consciousness.

When I began to understand that I had been using food to calm my discomfort, and to push away those negative feelings, I realized I had a lot of work to do. But fortunately, the mindfulness practices, yoga and meditation were all beginning to start to integrate for me. With the help of a therapist who was kindly working with me on various relationship issues, and the practice of yoga with a favorite teacher Ruth Silva, and my growing regular practice of meditation, I began to gradually realize some changes I wanted to make in my daily practices. Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God (I have the audio version), and also the podcast The Lifecoach School with Brooke Castillo.

This post is already becoming a bit longer than intended, so there will be a part 2 (and maybe even a part 3) for this exploration where I continue to tell my story and distill down some of the lessons I have learned on body awareness and compassion. Stay tuned for that on Thursday as I realize I need to wrap up and head to my “day job” now. Cheers! 🙂

 

 

She moves (in mysterious ways)

My sweetie and I went to the U2 concert this past Friday night. It was an awesome experience, despite the acoustics of the US Bank stadium, which were a bit lacking for such a concert. (Fortunately he was prepared and gave me earplugs in advance which cut down significantly on the musical distortion of the speakers.) What fascinated me most were the visual elements added to the show, the imagery used and the political elements of his message.

u2-joshua-tree-concern-photo.jpg
From September 8, 2017 concert

Granted, Bono’s music has always contained an element of social critique (many artists I respect have this in common) but this was more than I expected. For me, it was a welcome addition to what I had expected would just be an entertaining night of rock and roll.

Bono commented that he had been one the “dreamers” in this country, the immigrants who want nothing more than to participate in the ideals of America, the freedoms we have come to enjoy, the opportunities that draw people here. In light of this week’s news on the President’s announcement regarding the intention to replace the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, we know what this commentary intended to convey. The faces used in the videos were diverse in age, national origin, race, and gender. The montage of the women painting the U.S. flag while at the same time showing a woman in a flag bikini with a lasso to me conveyed the contradictions in our national symbolism. There is complexity and messiness in a land of 50 states unified by an idea, by a commitment to a set of ideals, some of which have been challenged in our recent political milieu.

The concert also featured a historical compilation of women and faces of our history. Bono commented on the necessity for women to rise up, with the men that are in their lives as well, and to claim the power that they rightfully have. While I am paraphrasing his words, the impact they had on me was visceral. Here is a feminist artist, using the power of his stature and popularity to speak on issues that matter to him, and to so many of us. The video background had a quote about the power of the people not being in the hands of the people in power.  It is all true, and something we forget at times, when our major media trains all of our eyes on the troll-elect and the legislators that fight with him. Granted, we must pay attention but we lose sight of where the real power is, in every day people and every day acts of bravery and conscience that we all face.

As a feminist I believe in equality of the sexes in political, economic and social terms. I know that as women, we must stand up for these principles. But I know that we are not alone in this, men and women but stand up, must insist that we can do better. This country can do better. Or as Paul Wellstone loved to point out: “we all do better when all do better.” This is more true today than ever, when our globally-connected world makes sure that the fact of humankind and indeed the planet is ever more dependent on acting in harmony and acting out of mutual, rather than self-centered interest.

It troubles me that so many women, so many immigrants, so many people of color, so many who do not fit the “norm” of the dominant culture do not feel safe. On the flip side, I try mightily to empathize with a white family in middle America that sees their schools and infrastructure crumbling, and at the same time sees many more brown faces in their communities, they feel insecure. They do not know what is happening in their world. While they may not see that their schools would possibly close without these young immigrants arriving, or that many of the jobs these families are doing are helping to bolster the fragile economies of their towns, they are also struggling. When I read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance last year, it really helped me see this more clearly. Both political parties in this country have ignored for far too long the needs of working-class Americans.

What if we challenge the idea that it is “us against them?” What if we strove to find the commonalities between people? What if we emphasized the shared goals we all have for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? In what ways might we come together toward a better world, toward a country where people did not have to fear the future, but instead could see how our unity is our strength?

To me, what feminism brings is a way to acknowledge the value of ALL people, of all contributions and all that is precious in this world. It is in the process of inclusion and inviting more balanced representation in our political discourse and politics that we transcend the limits of our current reality. We challenge the limits of our imagination when we consider what is possible, and work together toward a better future. She moves in mysterious ways, and indeed, she (America) moves us to consider how we might be a part of re-imagining some better world that serves us, instead of dividing us.

 

 

Cycles of Life

I am entering into a new phase of my life in only 9 days. I will get married to a wonderful man I have loved for ~7 years. We have lived together for the past 3 years, and this helped allay my fears of entering into marriage for the second time in my life, at age 43. He proposed to me in 2015, and it took me a little time to get comfortable with trying out marriage again. Back when I was divorced in 2005, I really did not think I cared for the institution, and doubted I would marry again.

I was fairly happy just living with my fiance, and I really was not in a hurry. It is something I repeat to myself now, when I start to feel rushed in my life: there is no hurry. So many of us want to rush from where we are to our “next big thing.” But I have realized that when we allow life to unfold more naturally and organically, there is nothing lost. On the contrary, being present where we are, in this moment, is the only way we gain our lives back. When we drop the comparisons, stop worrying about what we have not yet accomplished, or wish we had done, we truly live. We stop squandering time on things that do not matter, and we mindfully focus in on those things that are most meaningful to us.

I have been practicing meditation and mindfulness off and on over the years, but starting studying more seriously in January of 2016. According to my Insight Timer App, I have meditated on 301 days since May 2016 and 216 consecutive days since February 5, 2017. What I can tell you is this: it is making an enormous difference in my life. In observing my mind, and calmly, compassionately and curiously being mindful of my emotions and my body, I am learning so much more about myself than I thought possible.

There are cycles to life. They are daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, sometimes hourly. When one copes with some form of attention deficit, those cycles can be rapid, and changing, and frustrating. Thought loops can arise with an almost obsessive quality to them. But when we learn to observe with curiosity, and realize that WE are not our THOUGHTS and that they come and go, this allows tremendous freedom. These thoughts are not dragons, and we do not have to cling to them. They are like clouds in the sky, moving along past us, some slow and others fast, some fluffy and light, others dark and foreboding.

Brain science tells us that we have a bias toward negativity, due to our “reptilian” brain’s need to keep us safe, and to be on the alert for threats in the environment. I find that comforting, when I am tempted to criticize my negative thinking as I observe it. No, it’s okay, it is your brain’s way of keeping you safe and being sure you can prepare to outrun the predators, and outwit your enemies in time. But fortunately our frontal cortex, the part of the brain that tempers and moderates this negativity, is creative and imaginative. It allows us to see possibilities where we may have seen trouble. It gives us the freedom to interpret the facts of our environment in different ways, and the ability to select responses that may serve longer-term interests, not just avert short-term danger.

In my current cycle of life, I still have fears about what the future holds. Meditation has helped me feel less fear, or at least not to worry about the fear, but to accept it as part of being a creature of this earth. It has allowed me to surrender more to my current and real experience rather than trying to escape it or deny it. I have been exploring and studying the ways in which I used food or alcohol as a way to escape discomfort, perhaps as a way to numb feelings I did not want to acknowledge.

Once I stopped buffering with these substances (thanks to Brooke Castillo, who introduced me to this concept) I really began to deepen my meditation and yoga practices. Then I was able to detect feelings in my body, and really examine the thoughts that were leading to those feelings. It is an ongoing journey for me. But as I understand and see my own cycles, patterns, and rhythms, I feel so much less afraid, so much less hurried. I am on a path that works for me, and the reason I know is that I am living it. I do not need to worry. I do not need to get somewhere by a certain time. My life is best served by being right here where I am, aware of what is around me and within me. It is good to honor those rhythms and cycles.

We enter into fall, and the weather is cool here in Minnesota. I have always enjoyed this change of season, this cooling of the heat and humidity, the precursor to the beautiful colors we enjoy now. I love the renewal and change of the seasons, which help remind us that there are cycles and seasons to slough off the ‘dead matter’ and there are cycles and seasons to grow new leaves and branches. The past year has felt like a sloughing off of so many burdens, so many mind-traps that kept me prisoner to a busy pace of life without stopping to question my priorities.

I expect this coming year to be a time of growth in my relationship, as we enter into a new phase of our lives. I look forward to the new adventures and the birth of our new family life together. It feels like a new beginning, and is another reason why I felt called to start this blog. I want press the “pause” button on the cycle every now and then, but that is not really possible. The cycle always continues to flow, but preserving some of the resonance and beauty of this moment, and of this transition, feels worth of the attempt.