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. 😉

 

 

 

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

 

We’re not in Kansas anymore

My sister and I have been on a road trip in Canada, and it is the first time we have crossed this northern border together. It has been a lovely long weekend and we will return by Monday night to our parent’s home to recount our adventures.

I really enjoyed this time with my sister. She is a wise and compassionate person and as a registered nurse, gave me a lot of insight into the healthcare system. We have talked nearly nonstop the whole trip and I really appreciate her perspective. She has noticed some of the charming peculiarities about Canada that I love so much. And we knew we were in a different country with a different culture.

Thunder Bay harbor
Harbor in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Many signs were in English and French. In the U.S., they are typically all in English, occasionally in Spanish or some other languages. Temperature is measured in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, gas is measured in liters, not gallons.

Canadians are friendly and welcoming. They seemed to lack the tension and paranoia that people seem to have in the United States. Canada feels relaxed. We are not sure if this is related to their lack of anxiety on health care. Or maybe they have good government?

They sell “Commonwealth mix” in their convenience stores. They have one-year maternity leaves, from 17 weeks to 52 weeks without penalty. Typically the first 15 weeks are paid. In the U.S. FMLA policy provides 12-weeks of unpaid time off.

Gun ownership is somewhat controversial, but because they do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, they seem less ardent on being able to carry guns everywhere.

As Minnesotans, I believe we have a lot in common with our Canadian “cousins.” But there are subtle and fascinating differences. I know my sister will go back again. And now I have new ideas where hubby and I can vacation in Rainy Lake/Fort Frances area. Gorgeous.

Happy week, amigos/as. I look forward to catching up with you when I get home.

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

 

Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

sabbatical
Photo credit link

Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com