Preach what you practice

Yesterday I was thinking of the common expression “practice what you preach” and considering why it is an admonition of sorts. Probably because it is easier to tell others what to do than to take our own advice sometimes.

So let’s turn that one on its head and instead preach what we practice. It occurred to me that I am trying to do this on my blog. There are certain things that really help me to live a better life: meditation, yoga, writing, eating real food, choosing love over fear, etc.

I love to experiment with practices to see how or whether they work for me. If they do, after some time and testing, I adopt them as part of my daily or weekly routines. Of course, you will have to practice them yourself to know if they work for you. I am not saying they will. But I really do like to “preach” some practices that work.

Blogging has led me to some really fascinating and insightful people online. The ones I enjoy most do this very thing: they preach what they practice. They share what works for them. They show some vulnerability in admitting they are not perfect, that they have made mistakes. And they invite others to learn from their experience as well.

Today I just want to thank a few of them that I read regularly and have given me feedback on my work as well. I am grateful that the internet has enabled this kind of virtual connection and that like-minded people can collaborate on this great experiment of life.

Steph at Make More Meaning is doing some fascinating things with minimalism. Jessie at Hoosier Mystic is doing some significant personal work. Julie de Rohan has given me some great shout-outs as well, and I appreciate her support. And also raynotbradbury is a source of creativity and delight, so check out her humor when you have a moment.

I know there are more of ya out there, and I thank you for your comments and contributions to the world of ideas and this ever-expanding universe that is the blogosphere. Cheers & happy Friday!

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Inside Out

What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? 

What if you woke up tomorrow and you saw the world in a completely different way? For example, what if you learned that reality is in your imagination, that you generate your world. It is not some objective truth “out there” but rather constructed by your inner world, and projected outward.

Kind of a radical idea, no?

And yet, what cognitive scientists and linguists like George Lakoff tell us, human beings use mental frames to explain their reality. We can observe facts or circumstances in the world, and when they do not fit our frameworks, our way of explaining the world, we simply dismiss them as exceptions. We cling very strongly to our beliefs about how the world works, and this helps us to live and make decisions.

Sometimes our beliefs are actually wrong. Beliefs are really just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. They may come from what we were taught growing up. They may be reinforced by societal programming. They begin to seem like reality because maybe everyone around us holds the same beliefs.

It can feel very threatening when we begin to question our beliefs. There is a biological reason for this. Our brains like to be efficient and avoid pain. So we develop neural pathways that serve as “shortcuts” that help us make choices and decisions about the world. This way we don’t have to evaluate all of our more automated activities, like driving to work, or walking down the hallway. These are automatic skills we develop and practice all the time.

It is a healthy to question our beliefs now and then, and it has radically changed my own life. When I realized that beliefs are a choice, and I can consciously choose new beliefs, my head kind of exploded.

First you have to be conscious of your beliefs. I will use food as an example, because it is easy to understand. I spent most of my adult life, until about 3 years ago in fact, believing that consuming fat in my diet would make me fat or keep me fat. It is easy to understand how I would form such a belief: nearly all the dietary guidelines recommend a low fat diet. The food industry has perpetuated the idea that sugar is fine for us, but we should consume “x” as part of a low-fat heart-healthy diet.

Imagine my amazement when instead of battling my body and brain’s natural inclination to consume fat, I began to add much more of it to my diet. I switched from skim milk to whole milk (gradually of course, going to 1%, 2% and then whole). I started using butter and olive oil liberally in my cooking. I went bananas for avocados (which I have always loved, but thought I should limit because of fat content).

As it turns out, over the past 18 months, I have lost 20 pounds on a high-fat diet. The loss has been sustainable and easy to maintain. At the same time, I cut way back on sugar and flour, because those powdered substances did not make my body feel good, when I started paying close attention. I defied all the conventional wisdom on eating three meals and several snacks a day to avoid low blood sugar.

Snacks really are an emotional event, they are not required for survival. They are not necessary for people in places where food is abundant and obesity runs rampant. Our bodies are well-adapted to periods without food, and our ancestors fasted regularly. Once we add back natural fats to our diet and ditch the foods that give us unnatural insulin spikes (flour, sugar and processed foods) we actually start becoming fat-adapted. Our bodies use ketosis to burn fat stores for energy, rather than just blood sugars.

Imagine my amazement, and my anger, when I realized there is a belief perpetuated that keeps so many people struggling with their weight. Sadly, there are public policies that perpetuate this incorrect belief and help perpetuate obesity and illness in our population. It is not about calories in and out, it is about insulin resistance.

But back to beliefs: what if I had not questioned this conventional wisdom, and had just accepted it as truth? The belief did not serve me. It actually was causing harm to my body and brain health. When I listened to my body, and paid attention to what made me feel more vital and energetic, I began to understand.

So lately I have been exploring other beliefs: what if money is not hard to earn? What if I am capable of certain things I never imagined? What if the ideas I learned by example in my culture were just plain misguided? Do these beliefs serve me? What if I adopted a new belief on that particular front?

Wow. It nearly makes my head explode, to consider about the possibilities. I am working right now on questioning my beliefs about money. I am sure to share what I learn in future posts.

But I challenge you also: What do you accept as true in your life that may not be serving you? Are there some beliefs that need cleaning out in your life? Consider the possibilities. I dare you.

 

 

 

My favorite guy

My husband is an amazing man with a kind heart and a wicked sense of humor. Last year we were apart on Valentine’s Day because I was traveling to Peru for work. Actually about half the past few years we are apart, because I tend to travel in February. This year I managed to postpone my trip until Feb 19-24 so I could be home on Valentine’s Day.

While I was headed to dinner with my work associates, I happened to check the email on my phone and he had sent me a series of 7 messages called “7 reasons why I love you.” We had been together nearly 7 years, and it brought tears to my eyes to read these beautiful messages.

Hubby typically expresses his love through acts of service. If any of you know Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” you know that people tend to express their love in particular ways. I tend to be in the “words of affirmation” camp, and we both express love through physical touch as well. But this surprised and pleased me so much, when he expressed his love for me in my love language.

Valentine

This is the first year we are celebrating Valentine’s Day as a married couple. He surprised me by having some luscious chocolate dipped strawberries and a dozen red roses delivered to me yesterday. He has always been so thoughtful and kind. He is terrific at picking out gifts I will enjoy, and he is generous with his time and talent to our families in so many ways.

Last February when we set our wedding date and began planning for the big event, it was a big breakthrough for me. I had been processing some of my old baggage about marriage in therapy, which is something I highly recommend when necessary.

But one day it was like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized what a great privilege and gift I had been given: this man loves me, despite my flaws and imperfections. He wants to commit to working through our struggles and being with me for the rest of my life. Sometimes I’m not even sure *I* have the patience to be with myself to work on my own neuroses. If I miss the boat on accepting his love, and giving it freely in return, I will miss the universe’ invitation to really grow in our relationship and develop spiritually.

So today I want to express gratitude for my favorite guy in the world. He is a great partner and is patient with me and with my struggles. I am so honored to call him my husband and I am so happy we get to be together.

I hope you have someone in your life that you love, and that someone that loves you. Tell them how much you love them. Being loved and accepted begins with yourself of course, but it is such a sweet bonus when you find someone who loves you for you. What an amazing and delightful miracle.

 

Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

Why Now?

I speculated with my husband a few weeks ago about why the #MeToo campaign has really gained traction now, finally, after all these decades of bad behavior. I have a theory that so many women of my generation watched what happened to Anita Hill, and said, “shit, that is NOT worth it” and remained silent.

There are factors like “social proof” in terms of watching other women reporting harassment and abuse, and having nothing happen. Or worse, you see how coming forward hurts others careers when speak up, so you decide it will not help your career to report.

But then when the Harasser in Chief took office, there was a cascade of old trauma that came to the fore, and women started to think, why NOT now? If we cannot lash out at the most powerful predator, at least let us expose the ones that are within reach. That was my theory, anyway. I also saw a possible tipping point after the Harvey Weinstein story really took hold, an unleashing of all these incidents that could no longer be joked about or contained.

why now ashwini tambe photo.JPG

Photo credit link – article from Ashwini Tambe

When I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast entitled “Why Now?” published on February 5, 2018, I was happy to note there is an actual term for this concept from social science called “horizontal action.” It originates from the concept of “horizontal violence” where it has been found that in colonial regimes, when people cannot lash out against the ruler, they lash out against people in their own lives.

When the pressure builds up and cannot blow the top off of a problem, it comes out sideways. Feminist studies professor Ashwini Tambe explains that “the election of Trump has served as a trigger, and it has provoked a great fury and impatience because he represents for many people the ultimate unpunished predator.” Horizontal action is a way that women have channeled in their lives their anger at the misogyny that has been building for far too long.

“It is so unbelievable that we have a president, who is the leader of the free world and does not care about the rights of women” (quote from the podcast). When someone who has bragged about kissing women and touching them against their will as though he owned them becomes our leader, we find ways to bring at men to account who committed other offenses.

This totally makes sense to me.

The podcast also describes other phenomena like “preference falsification” which blinds regimes to their citizen’s growing dissatisfaction. This describes how it seems surprising that the Wall came down, even when it looked like the Soviet Union may have been strong.

Please listen to this episode of Hidden Brain. I think it really helps to explain the psychology behind the secrecy of the abuse, and the reason many women stayed silent. We should not discount the trauma that shut people down who are in vulnerable circumstances.

We also need to keep speaking up and setting new norms around behavior, even though we may be perceived as “ugly” instead of polite. Women have been held back by centuries (perhaps millennia) of intimidation, oppression and violence.

It is time to hold men accountable and call out behavior that is wrong. At least, seeing how many women are doing this around us helps us know we are not alone. It is time to stop blaming victims for their inability to speak up earlier. We can all be a part of the solution to this problem now.

 

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.