Category Archives: compassion

Travel mantras

Today I will head home from my work visit to Mexico City.

It is good time to write out some of my travel mantras, as reminders to myself to enjoy the journey.

That’s the first one, actually: Enjoy the journey.

Here’s another one I like: Remember, everyone is fighting their own battles. There are struggles we may not see, that may affect others’ behavior.

The best one, when stress or anxiety come up is: Breathe, just breathe. It is all okay.

When I am practicing mindful awareness of my surroundings, I also like to remind myself of all that I am grateful for: the opportunity to travel, a kind word or smile I may receive as a gift from a stranger, and a life in which I am privileged to see into the window of other cultures as part of my work.

What’s your favorite travel mantra? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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Raw vs. polished: on emotions

This past Saturday I woke up very early in the morning again (2am), brain churning again. On Friday I had a coaching session and apparently my subconscious had been at work. I woke up restless and tossing around thoughts in my head about something that had gotten me riled up during my call.

I got up and tried writing in my journal for a while, getting it all out and spilling it onto the paper so I could stop the brain chatter. Then I tried reading for a while, since the writing just seemed to “stir” myself up more. After a couple hours I tried to come back to bed. But sleep wouldn’t come, and after half an hour I rose again.

I felt like I wanted to crawl outside my skin. I thought about going somewhere for coffee (it was now 5a.m.) and realized that I was trying to escape myself, some deep feeling inside. So I pulled out my journal again, and surprised myself when a torrent of grief, sadness and shame came tumbling out. I held myself as I cried, and I allowed myself to write and capture what was coming out at that moment.

I cried for almost an hour, and emptied the thoughts that were in my mind, grieving mostly for that 7-year-old girl inside me, who learned to eat her emotions instead of feeling them. I allowed myself to feel great compassion for her intentions, which were just to make others happy and not to “hurt others’ feelings.” I allowed myself to feel compassion and grief for my parents, who had both lost one parent that year to cancer.

After that outburst, which scared my husband a little (I reassured him I just had to let out some grief, I would be okay), my mind calmed and my immediate thought was: what is in the fridge that would make me feel better. Then I laughed at myself: ah, I see! That is indeed the pattern isn’t it? Food is comfort, food is there when I have nobody to compassionately witness the pain. But I did not eat anything this time. I’d made myself a cup of coffee during the grief-storm, because having a hot beverage can be comforting.

I went back to sleep for a couple of hours, relieved that this feeling of wanting to exit myself was now gone. When I woke up I wrote a post about “feeling your feelings” rather than eating them. The words poured out into a nearly 1300 word post. But reading it, I felt a sense of that raw pain that needs to settle a bit. I was not ready to post, even after the next day when I edited.

Feeling uncomfortable emotions is difficult. Whether grief, sadness, anger, loss, betrayal, disappointment, they are sometimes hard to process. There is a visceral and deep expression in your body when these feelings come up. Resisting these feelings leads to anxiety, depression and other kinds of problems. Numbing the emotions with food,  alcohol or drugs can lead to weight gain, addiction, and many other problems.

But some of us were not taught as children that it is okay to feel those feelings, to let them move through us and complete themselves. Emotions are like physical vibrations in the body. They are not permanent, they tend to arrive and leave in waves. They can altered by our thinking, and many a person has tried “think happy thoughts” to push those emotions away.

Some of us were told (by a well-meaning adult): “don’t cry, honey” and given ice cream to soothe us. Or when the adults around us were not comfortable expressing their own feelings, as some generations were NOT encouraged to do, it can seem like a foreign world to allow yourself to do this.

But it can also open up a wellspring of joy within you, when you realize that emotions are neither good nor bad. They just ARE, they exist. They are part of being human, part of living a full and rich life. Some of them will be positive, and some will be negative. It is that difference that creates the contrast. If we were happy all the time, how would we KNOW we were happy?

So this post is to encourage you to explore your emotions, and allow them to come up, even the negative ones, as they come up. Don’t reach for the chocolate or the ice cream or the glass of wine. Just name them, feel them, and allow them to pass through you. They will not destroy you, and you can endure them. Numbing them out and staying “asleep” to your inner experience is what a majority of people do in our culture.

Being aware takes effort, patience, and great compassion, but it rewards you when you truly begin to know yourself. Believe me, it is totally worth it. You are worth knowing.

 

Hating your body into submission?

Best to stop that now. It does NOT work!

Some of us spent way too many of our adolescent years, and perhaps 20’s and beyond hating our bodies. It is not hard to understand why this occurred:

Check out every media publication in the world (practically) that shows women should be thin, beautiful, coiffed, manicured. AND: all of this should occur with the least amount of perceptible effort possible.

Seriously?!?

Body shaming is an epic tradition, especially for western cultures. It is a sad and pathetic tradition and we need to end it now. Why?

For one: it does not serve anyone (except advertisers and people trying to sell you something). Taking care of our bodies properly requires that we love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. They are doing the best they can to keep us alive, including storing fat for the lean times. Our ancestors did not always have food to eat on a daily basis, which is why humans (and many other creatures) are adept at storing extra calories in the form of fat.

When you think about it, we have the evolution process to thank for the fact that, if we were short of food, we would be able to survive a remarkably long time just tapping our fat stores. But do we ever give thanks for this handy little phenomenon? Not likely. In the modern world, food is around us. Evolution has not caught up with that reality.

For years as a runner, I used extra mileage to sometimes “punish” myself for bad behavior, i.e. eating chocolate or having some kind of treat forbidden by my diet. I love running but this approach really was not healthy for me, and led to chronic injuries. I was always running from something, and usually it was from feeling any painful feelings, just sitting with the sensations in my body and observing them.

It was not until I started practicing meditation and yoga more regularly and learning to sit with those feelings of discomfort sometimes. Rather than “escaping myself” I learned to come back to myself and to feel compassion and forgiveness for myself. Our bodies do the best they can for us, and meanwhile, they only want us to take care of them.

We can drink plenty of water and get plenty of fresh air. We can eat plenty of healthy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins to keep our brains and bodies in balance. We can avoid sugar and flour, highly processed powdered substances that create unnatural insulin releases into the body. We can get plenty of sleep. We can work out to improve endurance and strength, but know resting is equally important to build healthy tissue.

When we love our bodies, we treat them with care and respect. When we take the time to be grateful for what they do for us every day, we tend to pay closer attention, and to ask them what they need, instead of mindlessly shoving down what the advertisers are peddling.

If you hate your body and think this will help you lose weight, I implore you to reconsider. Loving your precious body, the instrument you were granted to live in while on this earth is the way you can best serve it.

Treating your body with kindness and respect is the best way to get more energy, vitality and health. Give it a try. It might surprise you by rewarding you with a more natural weight without the struggle.

 

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

Love over fear

Yesterday, I started practicing a new mantra, as I began to consider my actions in light of love or fear. This came from some reflection on yesterday’s blog and a conclusion I came to in seeing my work situation in a new way.

I started asking: “How can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?” It became apparent to me, when I realized that in leaving my current position in the next few months, I am not leaving my team. I am showing them what it is to be brave and to take on a new challenge. For months, I have been worrying about that, anxious about who would “look out” for them when I am gone. But by staying in department that constantly demands more from them, without providing the resources, I am just keeping a broken system intact. It’s like being a brick in the wall. But it may be a wall that needs to come down. Staying there is not an act of love, on a long-term basis.

Acting out of love rather than fear seems to require that we “re-wire” our brain in new ways, because it will probably seem familiar to us. We are used to doing things the way we have habitually learned to do them. Learning a new way requires practice and commitment.

I took a break from my work and headed to the gym for a quick treadmill run, to clear my head and get my endorphins flowing over the lunch hour. I practiced my new mantra: how can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?

What changed: I put my phone away and began looking into people’s eyes, smiling if they met my eyes. I paid attention to my body while I ran, instead of feeding myself mindless distractions with my iPod or phone. I used my run as more of a “breathing meditation” rather than an excuse to check out from my life. (It was a little hard with all of those video screens at the gym to provide distraction, but I focused on my breath and body anyway).

When I got back to my desk, I focused on bringing more love and less fear to each interaction with my coworkers, each email, each phone call. I kept asking myself that question: how can I act with more love in this moment? It kind of radically changed the amount of work I was able to get done, and the purposefulness in which I was able to complete the work.

When my husband returned home, I talked with him about my discovery, and then had a conversation about a topic I had been avoiding. I had not been sure how to talk about it. I was honest about feeling afraid before, and about how that has held me back sometimes. He was very open, and he was hearing me. He did not make me feel ashamed about that. He listened and he supported me. I felt much closer to him than I have in a long time.

It brings tears to my eyes as I write this, because I realize how often I have been acting from fear rather than acting to bring more love to all my interactions. I am extending compassion to myself also, knowing this is conditioned behavior, and it is not a character flaw on my part. I am exceeding grateful to recognize it now, and to be able to start consciously “un-conditioning” that automatic behavior. While it feels familiar, it does not serve me. It does not serve anyone.

When we choose to act to bring more love into our experience, rather than to react out of fear, we radically change the orientation of our lives. We bring different energy into our relationships, and into our spheres of influence. Some people may respond in confusion, as they are not used to this type of interaction. But most are grateful for this approach, and feel our caring.

I will try again today, as I am conducting interviews for an open position on my team, to use this mantra. I will need it as much for myself as for others. But I am eager to see what a difference it may make.

 

 

 

 

There is no “better” you

I have been noticing a lot of flyers this year in fitness centers and around bulletin boards that invite people to “become a better you.” I really dislike this slogan. Let me tell you why.

You are just fine the way you are. Right now. No exceptions. You are worthy of love, compassion and forgiveness. Just because you are human. In this moment, and always.

Are you perfect? No. Are you human? Yes. You are an imperfect human being in the process of growing and becoming, as are we all. And that is a beautiful thing.

Are there some things you wish to change about yourself? Probably. Most of us want to lose weight, make more money, become more patient, perhaps become better partners or spouses. And this is fine. But this does not mean we become “better” as people. If we cannot accept that we are fine, and worthy of love and compassion, in this moment and always, it will be much harder to grow and change.

What bothers me about this “better” you is that it implies the you RIGHT NOW is not enough. But that is never true. You are enough. You are doing your best and that is always enough. You are worthy. Always.

You will not become “better” if you lose weight. Perhaps your health will be better, and you will have less discomfort in your body and more vitality if you lose weight. Those are all worthy goals, and by all means strive for those goals if they are important to you. But you must accept yourself and who you are in this very moment to allow transformation to occur.

Does that sound paradoxical? I thought so at first when I encountered this idea. If I’m not striving and trying and working toward it, how can I be “better” at it? Certainly skills take practice, and many of us learned that working hard is the answer, or the way to riches, or even the way to God.

When you have goals that are important to you, absolutely you should work for them. Put the time in every day if you can. But realize that there is no “better” version of you that awaits. You may feel better about your skills, and you may accomplish great things. Wonderful! Congratulations!

But the YOU remains the same, lovable and worthy. Flawed and imperfect. And marvelously human, adaptable and growing all the time. If you accept all parts of yourself, the good and the bad, you begin to feel such compassion for yourself and others as well. 

No person is better than another. We are all just doing our best, even if it seems like not everyone is trying. We actually are doing the best that we know. Try this belief on for a bit. When I really came to know this as true, it gave me so much peace. And ironically, parts of me began to change as I embraced this acceptance.

You are the BEST YOU right now. And that is enough. Let go of the struggle to become better. Work on acceptance of who you are. See how this changes your energy and your life.

 

Emotional hangovers

Do you ever find yourself lashing out at someone you love in a fit of anger at some perceived injustice? But then you realize that it is really your own thinking that is causing the drama, not that other person. In fact, that other person is helpful and loving, and really your anger is misdirected.

Oh, how I wish I did not have to confess to this kind of “emotional childhood” in my own life. I do a lot of work on myself, in meditating daily, doing yoga, journaling and doing “thought downloads” to figure on what’s really going on in that head of mine. And still, there are emotions like anger that feel so powerful sometimes, that it is hard to step back and get some perspective while we are “hooked” by them.

It can feel powerful sometimes, when we are angry. It can feel useful and justified too, especially when we perceive some injustice that has been done to us, or someone we care about. But does being caught in anger actually help us? Or does it do more harm than good?

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön refers to this tendency as “shenpa“, the hook that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. It is usually involuntary and gets to the root of why we suffer as human beings. It is that urge that attaches us and causes us to withdraw and perhaps retreat into blame, anger, jealousy, etc, instead of remaining present and calm in the moment.

Some of us have struggled with early programming in which we reached for food or a drink to calm those uncomfortable emotions as they came up. We were taught not to show anger (very common for women) or to stop being upset over something. So this habit takes some unlearning. It takes deep compassion and awareness to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, to allow them to come up, and to recognize the thoughts and stories we are telling about the situation.

When I recognize I am caught in anger, and I can observe it and breathe into it before I lash out, usually I realize it is not the circumstance “causing” the anger, but rather my thoughts about it. For example, if I feel that I am telling my husband and important thing, and he is looking at his phone, I could choose several reactions. I could get angry because I think he is not paying attention I could tell myself a story that he doesn’t care about me. I could yell at him and tell him he is not listening.

Or: I could calmly tell him that I want to talk with him about something important, and ask if we can talk without distractions. Usually he is very willing, and he realizes when something is important to me. Sometimes he is tired, and he does not really feel like working out my latest angst when it comes to my big career change, or the latest drama at work. I get it. I know I obsess and talk a lot about my work these days. Big decisions ahead. And I tend to analyze things to death, in case you had not already gathered that from reading my blog.

One thing he said from a discussion which really stays with me: “I don’t know how to help you.” I realized what I wanted was not help, it was empathy and understanding. When he came over to put his arms around me to tell me he could understand I was suffering, and wishes he could do something about it, I finally melted. I immediately felt bad about my behavior. Here is a man who loves me very deeply, and I was not angry with him at all.

If anything I was angry with myself. I wanted to find the courage to express certain things at work, but not be affected by the “political” ramifications of those truths. I had invented a story in my head about being trapped in a situation that “is not fair” and where I was the victim. But a day and a half later, after some yoga and reflection and a better night’s sleep last night than right after my anger storm, I have more clarity.

I am not trapped in a situation. I choose to stay in a job which provides me many benefits and much flexibility to develop new skills and challenge myself in new ways. I know that the current position is less of a fit for me now that I have begun exploring what my heart and soul are asking. But it is still my choice, whether I stay or leave. At least as the moment, though it’s not a good sign that I keep yearning for an “exit package.”

What I realize today is that I have enormous gratitude for my kind husband and all of his patience and support for me. He is on my side, and he cares deeply for me. My storm of anger was misdirected, probably because he is a person I trust to reveal the more “raw” side of myself. Isn’t there a country song with a line about “we only hurt the ones we love?” I am extending myself compassion right now, as he has so often done for me, when I do something I regret.

It does help to beat myself up over this behavior, yet I feel myself doing that as well. Compassion is hard, but I typically feel it for other people easily. It is SO much harder to extend it toward myself. Yet I will practice that now. We all deserve compassion, and I am no exception. I am human. Flawed. Imperfect. But still worthy of forgiveness.