What are your misery stabilizers?

Okay folks,

I need to come clean on another addiction that I have. I am a recovering “food” addict.  I no longer use food (very often) to buffer uncomfortable feelings. Occasionally, ice cream is my gateway drug though…

My other addiction? Self development books, self-help literature and courses from Udemy and Skillshare…and podcasts where I learn new things.

I have talked before about how some of us use “buffers” to avoid certain things in our lives, or to avoid feeling what we feel, dealing with reality. Terry Real, (a psychotherapist who has some wonderful books including The New Rules of Marriage) calls substances like alcohol or drugs “misery stabilizers.”

He explains that they can keep people miserable instead of turning to each other, staying engaged, and facing their issues. He explains ways that men and women typically avoid their lives or issues in a relationship and I want to directly quote his words here, because I saw myself in them.

“Men tend to use workaholism, substance abuse, risk taking, gambling, food, exercise, television, the Internet, and sexual compulsivity. Women tend toward love dependence through over-involvement with their children, food, prescription drug abuse, spending, exercise, “busy-ness addiction” and love dependence on a romantic adult.” ( bold emphasis mine)

When I first read about this, and considered my relationship to food, I realized I had been using food (and sometimes wine) as a misery stabilizer in my life and in my relationship. I was using it to avoid what I did not want to face, my truth about not living aligned with my purpose. At various times I have used the others I highlighted as well.

As I started seeing the ways I was avoiding uncomfortable conversations, I began to examine ways in which I inadvertently “learned” this behavior when I was young. My family is squeamish about conflict, to put it mildly. Well, we live in Minnesota… directness is not something we do well.

Do you know the expression “Minnesota nice“? It is not a compliment when someone uses this term. What it means is that someone is nice to your face, but they are actually thinking “You’re full of shit.” Or they will be nice in person, and then go gossip about you behind your back. Yikes.

bingeing
Photo credit link – Hypable

We all have buffers, or misery stabilizers, that can keep us from diving right into an issue, facing our truth. They can keep us from having a difficult conversation, working on our budget, tracking our finances, dealing with the reality of our situation. We avoid and distract ourselves rather than “go there.”

I was doing it this for the last couple days with some of my “homework” for my WomenVenture class on Getting Ready.  It is a pre-requisite for the Small Business Essentials class I will begin in September. We were asked to track all of our household expenses for 2 weeks. I was supposed to start last week, but I was on vacation with my sister, and I self-justified not doing it: “it’s an unusual week, and vacations are not a household expense.”

But really I was avoiding it because looking at the reality my spending habits can feel uncomfortable and annoying. I have saved for this sabbatical, and planned for this time off, but I don’t want to face the day-to-day “chore” of looking at my daily money habits. It feels “graspy” and stingy to me. I have an abundance mindset, and I know I can generate more where that came from… “Why should I have to track the “little” stuff?” my inner brat whines.

Anything we do not want to examine in our lives, however, is probably something worth studying. While I would rather watch Skillshare videos and read self-development books all day, the action of getting clear on my finances and on our money habits is something that will serve us in the long run.

I will put my self-development courses on pause, and start working on my 2-week budget tracking exercise. I resist committing to “Financial Fridays” but it may be good for me for a month or two… Ugh, not there yet. But let me know if you think airing my “dirty laundry” in this area would be helpful to you. I might be able to motivate myself to write about this if own misery is in service to a larger community. Lol.

Are there any things you “binge” on when you are avoiding an important task or conversation? What are your misery stabilizers?

cristy@meximinnesota.com

P.S. If you are also a course addict and you want to try 2 months free of Skillshare, you can use this link to get started. I claim no responsibility for enabling your addiction if you suffer the same affliction. 😉

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday – Integration

This week’s Throwback Thursday is an edited piece from November 2017. It sent a chill down my spine thinking about how far I have come in that time, in writing through these changes in my life. So grateful that this blog has allowed an exploration toward the next part of my path.

***

As I was sitting in savasana today at my morning yoga class, a concept kept arising into consciousness. It was Integration.

I wonder if my search for balance and equilibrium is actually a search for integration. Bringing together my personal and professional lives, uniting my body, mind and spirit, accepting the positives and the negatives. It is all part of one rich and fulfilling life, after all.

Why do I find it challenging? Perhaps my scientific training works against me here. I strive to isolate variables, to design proper controls, to decrease “confounding factors.” It is a noble pursuit, when we want to understand a mechanism for a system.

I then consider another concept from a similar root: Integrity. These concepts both relate to a state of being whole. Stemming from a similar Latin root, these words express what I seek.

Yin Yang Wikipedia image

It is not so much about work/life balance, which always reminds me of a seesaw. It is more about bringing it all together, not having to isolate parts of myself in certain  contexts, but rather bringing my whole self to every situation. I like the yin/yang concept, and the idea that we have complementary parts within us. I have written about this before.  Perhaps that is what this blog is about, to integrate the “mexi” and the “minnesotana” parts more meaningfully, in every part of my life.

What if we viewed the entire natural sphere as an integrated whole, all part of some vast and intricate web? Everything, everyone and all of the in between is connected. We are not binary – one against another, us against them. We are all part of this vast universal story, ever changing, ever growing, ever recycling the parts that need to evolve to something new.

This brings so much peace to me, embracing both my darkness and my light. It means acceptance of what I am, where I am today in my journey, not chiding myself that I am not further along. Change unfolds gradually and when I “push” instead of allowing, it often sets me back. I am eager to know what is next, to see around the next corner. But I need not worry.

My soul works and plays at integrating. It seems to do this better without the fretting of my ego or mind. When I pay attention to the ease and the grace that comes from sitting still or small movements, I can feel integration physically. At the same time, I notice myself acting with greater integrity in the world. This feels like a true definition of success for me.

***

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – judgment vs acceptance

Once in a while I find myself tempted to tell other people how they should live. I get all “judgy” about what they should do, or what I would do in their situation. You don’t do that, do you?

Oh, who am I kidding? Many of us spend our lives judging other people. This is human, perhaps. I must extend myself compassion for the tendency to insert my opinion into other people’s business. One of my favorite wise teachers, Brené Brown, talks about how good it can feel to judge other people. It’s like a pig rolling in mud, she explains in one of her audio books. “Doesn’t it just feel so good?”

Our need to judge and criticize other people comes from our desire to mask some type of shame about the way we feel about ourselves. If we feel bad about our inability to keep our space clean at home, it is SO easy to become judgmental about some other person’s difficulty. We think: “Sheesh, how can they live like that? Do they have a hoarding disorder? Narcissism? (insert criticism here)” We may be bad, but at least we feel we are better than someone else.

While I feel embarrassed to admit how often I judge people, I want to come clean here for the sake of exploring this tendency and understanding what this judgment says about me.

When I first learned to meditate, I was astonished at the thoughts that seemed to flow rather continuously through my fevered brain. Now I react with more curiosity rather than with admonishment or shame. Thoughts appear. Then we react to them, or just observe them and let them go. It takes a lot of practice not to judge ourselves, or judge and evaluate our thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity instead. I am far from perfect at this, and I’ve been practicing for 556 days in a row.

Judge Judy
TV personality Judge Judy – photo credit link

I realize that holding space for people, particularly those that you love, or those who can easily push your buttons, can be a sacred act of mindfulness as well. It is difficult to withhold judgment and just meet people where they are. It requires great compassion and self-awareness of our own internal critic and the ways in which we constantly compare ourselves to others.

In the case of family, friends or people we care about, sometimes we long to give advice to “help”. But often our best option is to listen, to care and to ask if we can be of service, rather than to offer unsolicited advice how to solve the problem.

If we simply tell people what to do, they often sense our judgment and discomfort. If our advice comes from a place of love and compassion, they may be able to hear it. If not, I think it is best for us to “clean up” our thoughts before launching into our opinions about the issue. Often we gossip to others about what these people should do instead of confronting the issue directly. That is not a good idea either.

Adults can behave however they wish, and we cannot control them. This is a radical idea for some of us. But we can only control our own thoughts and emotions. Trying to control other people is typically a recipe for disaster. While we can sometimes have a positive influence, typically we must lead by example rather than judging, condemning and shaming.

This is a lesson I write to remind myself. I have learned and re-learned it many times. When I focus on things I can control, my own actions and results (and generally the preceding thoughts and emotions), I have more peace, freedom and equanimity.

But oh, sometimes judgment is so very tempting…

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

via How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

Okay, this blog is somewhat self-promoting, because Julie de Rohan mentions me in her post. But the topic is so relevant and I agree so strongly with the the concept that I want to share it with my readers as well.

Julie de Rohan
Photo cribbed directly from Julie’s blog 

Julie is a psychotherapist in the U.K. who works with clients who struggle with overeating issues. As this is a struggle I have faced (and also probably 70% of the women I know) I always find her writing and insights to be right on target.

I have recently re-listened to a favorite resource on this topic, an Audible book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. Every time I explore another layer of this issue, I realize how much relationship with food is a microcosm of my beliefs about the world. But not until I excavated this issue in my writing and my meditations did I start feeling peace toward it.

Thanks so much for exploring this issue, Julie. You write about it (and many other topics we share in common) in such an accessible way.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Walking the labyrinth

This Wednesday I had a morning appointment in Saint Paul, and I decided to make a stop at the College of St. Catherine in order to walk the labyrinth.

labyrinth walk
Photo credit link – Meditate in a Labyrinth

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I realize I should have taken a photo while there but I was without electronic devices on my walk, so I did not. However, I found a great article on how to meditate in a labyrinth, so I am cribbing a photo from that, and the link as well.

I did not use the methodology described in the Wikihow page, since I found that later. I did use it as a meditative experience, starting from the outside and walking toward the inside. Then I spent some time on the inside, taking a few deep breaths, and slowly walked back out again. I walked barefoot, and did not worry too much about the acorns in my way, though I did nudge away a few small branches that had fallen along the path for the next person.

My intention was to reflect, and consider the big changes happening in my life, the opportunities that are ahead, and any possible fears that come up. It was a walking meditation, a slow and intentional walk back and forth through the “folds” of the labyrinth. It occurred to me how I knew just a bit about meditation last time I was there, more than a decade ago, but walking through it had a sacred feeling.

labyrinth visual.JPG
Photo credit link – Fractal Enlightenment

As we traverse through life, our paths are not linear. Some of them meander and fold back on themselves. Some of them seem to go in circles, and we wonder: Are we in the same place AGAIN? But really we are never in the same place twice. Even if an event seems similar, or we seem to repeat a mistake we have made before, we are not exactly the same people this time.

Our lived experiences give us a different context. This is why I love the work of Marion Woodman so much. She understands that many of us learn in a non-linear way. We forget things we have learned, or sometimes we must re-apply lesson we have learned, but in a different way, or in a different relationship.

Our learning and wisdom are never lost, even though it may seem like we did not absorb a lesson the first time. Maybe we are able to see the situation in a different way, and are ready to learn. Maybe there was resistance the first time, and we were not ready for that lesson. We receive multiple opportunities and invitations for our souls to expand and grow.

This is why I appreciate the labyrinth and the symbolism of using it as a journey both inward and outward. We can incorporate our soul’s voice and also our “outer” experiences along the path. This integration ultimately leads toward wisdom.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Throwback Thursday: Noticing

This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.

***

I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.

Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.

people on phones
Photo credit link

I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.

This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.

What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.

I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young.  It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.

airport travelers
Photo credit link

As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.

During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.

After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people  find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.

It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us? 

I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wellness Wednesday – Forgiveness

How easy do you find it to forgive people? 

How easily do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do something wrong? 

I just finished reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and I found the premise fascinating. She believes that what we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us. What we give out, we get back. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and thoughts can be changed. We can change our attitude toward the past. To release the past, we must be willing to forgive. Also, she claims that “all dis-ease” comes from a state of unforgiveness.

She goes on to explain that forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior. It is just letting the whole things go. I agree that there are few advantages to holding resentment against someone for past actions. The past is over, and the more we time we spend on holding onto that resentment, the worse our health seems to be.

An article from Hopkins Medicine explains that unresolved conflict or chronic anger can put you in fight-or-flight mode, which results in changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. These changes increase risks of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.

forgiveness.JPG
Photo credit link –  Mindful.org: Forgive Your Imperfections

Forgiveness is an active process in which we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. Karen Swartz, M.D. director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says forgiveness is a choice. “You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.”

Even if the person never apologizes, and you simply resolve this by journaling or through your own reflection, by letting go of expectations, you will not feel disappointed. When you start to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, and that the action probably had nothing to do with you, and rather is a reflection of the other person’s capacity (or lack thereof) for love, you can move on.

While it is not easy, forgiveness will help you heal and move on with your life. Sometimes talking with a therapist or a trusted friend to receive a “caring witness” to your pain can help. But at some point, then it is time to let the past go. Remember: you are not hurting the other person in refusing to forgive, you are only hurting yourself by carrying that negative energy into your future.

A quote I love from Louise Hay’s book is:

Love is always the answer to healing of any sort. And the pathway to love is forgiveness.

Give it a try and watch your overall health improve as you develop a regular practice of forgiveness. Check out “You Can Heal Your Life” if you want exercises and affirmations to support this process of letting go.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

 

Unstructured time

Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.

clem in boat
My hubby, captain of the fishing boat

It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).

Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.

I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.

I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.

pelicans on big wolf lake
Pelicans out on Big Wolf Lake. Taken August 6, 2018.

There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.

Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully.  I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com