Letter to my younger self

After my period of organizing journals yesterday, I opted to read through some few early ones. I was only 18 then, just graduated from high school and readying myself for college. I noticed a few things that made me sad for the young woman I was then.

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Poster found in Appleby Hall at the University of Minnesota while I was exploring campus and doing research.

I had such intense body hatred and frequently chided myself about my weight. I was convinced that no guy would ever want me because I was too fat (even though I was just a few pounds overweight). I was hard on myself about academics and I was very achievement-oriented. I did not cut myself a lot of slack. I seemed to feel lonely and disconnected a lot, while I also craved and valued alone-time.

I longed to comfort that earlier version of myself, the one who worried so much, and felt I somehow never measured up or fit in. I wanted to send her some love. So I wrote a little note that I stuck into the last page of the journal:

Dear Cristy (of times past),

You are lovely the way you are. No need to beat yourself up so much. You will find love someday and more compassion and appreciation for yourself. You will be just fine, and your life will turn out to be more exciting than you can imagine. Try to worry less and enjoy yourself more. Cut yourself some slack. You deserve it. 

Love Cristy (the older and wiser one)

***

It occurred to me that the older version of myself, perhaps 5 or 10 years or more into the future might give the me that same advice. As I continue to practice compassion and extend forgiveness toward myself and others, the burdens of life lighten. As I have begun to know myself better and appreciate the light and the dark, I continue to be curious about what I will discover.

We are always moving forward in life. I do not cling to the past. But now and then, reflecting on those lessons I have learned gives me appreciation for the person I am today. If you were to write a letter to your younger self, what advice would you give? What would your future self tell you?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday: Avoid energy vampires

Happy Halloween!

Today seems like the perfect day to cover the topic of energy vampires. When you first read the title, did you get an image in your mind of anyone in particular in your life? Or an activity that can feel like a “vampire” – sucking the life-blood or energy out of you?

In my experience people or activities can function in ways that give us energy, or sometimes deplete energy. Sometimes this effect is not a result of the person specifically, but perhaps some thoughts we have about the person. For example, we all know that person who constantly complains about their lives. Nothing ever goes right for them. They are victims and life is unfair.

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When we allow some compassion for them, acknowledging their sadness or distress, sometimes it can feel like they “feed” off our sympathy and continue to engage in their sad soliloquy. Other times, we want to cheer them up, so we do a “Tigger/Eeyore” type of interaction, which makes neither person feel better in the end. For me, I allow for empathy, but also acknowledge to myself that I am not the cause of their distress. While I may want to alleviate their suffering, sometimes it is better just to be a compassionate witness, and then move on.

Some activities can feel like energy vampires as well. For me, shopping for clothes has always been an energy-draining prospect. I don’t enjoy it, and I order nearly everything online. Sometimes I do need to go out and shop, but I find myself much happier when I minimize that activity. I also find it easier on the wallet not to shop for things I do not need!

What I find is that when I fill my time with people and activities that increase my energy, I have a lot less time for the others. It may not be possible to avoid them entirely. But it is important to make space for the vitality that comes from being around people, ideas, and activities that energize rather than drain.

Consider the people who fill you with energy, or the activities that bring you joy. How can you spend more time with these people, and do more of these activities? You may need to get creative with this question. I dare you to have fun with it.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wellness Wednesday – overnight travel

Hello Friends,

Tonight begins our trip to London Heathrow airport from MSP.  I will write on the necessity of having a plan when you travel on overnight flights. It can be difficult to stay healthy and balanced when you are throwing your body out of its normal rhythm. But as a frequent flyer I have experimented with a few strategies that make it less painful.

The first bit of advice is this: If you can, try to go to bed early (1 hour at least) for a few days before your trip. Even if you do not drop off to sleep right away, you are allowing your body and brain to relax and get more rest. Stay off your electronics at night. Try reading an old-fashioned paper book, or taking a shower or bath before bed to help transition to sleep.

Getting extra sleep and rest before a trip helps you know that, even if you only get 3-4 hours of sleep (which I would consider a “good” amount for me), you have allowed yourself some quality rest in your own bed.

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Celestial Seasonings

I like to bring some herbal tea on board when I travel overnight. I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea, since it is a nice blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongress, etc. Generally airlines seem to offer coffee and tea, but they do not always have non-caffeinated options, so I bring my own, and they supply the hot water.

I have noticed that you are often served meals high in carbohydrates, flour and sugar. While partaking in a small quantity may be fine for you, I always bring little bags of mixed nuts with me in my backpack or purse. Protein and fat help you have less ups and downs in your insulin levels. I get less cranky when I have my own healthy snacks.

Airlines typically feed you at least every 2-3 hours, with maybe a 4-5 hour break during overnight flights. This can feel obnoxious if you want to go to sleep right away, and don’t feel the need to graze like a cow for the whole flight. It serves as a distraction for the passengers. My theory is the extra carbs put people into kind of a “spacey, dreamy” state that makes it easier for flight attendants to keep us calm.

I used to drink white wine with my dinner on the flight. But I realized it did not help my quality of sleep and I felt too groggy upon waking up dehydrated. If it helps you relax or you are a nervous flyer, it may okay. But be sure to drink lots of water or something else that hydrates you.  Alcohol has a dehydrating effect and planes dehydrate you more than you might expect. There is a reason flight attendants make a few extra rounds with water during the flight.

I pack my supplements of magnesium with me that I take daily anyway. For me, 400-600 mg of magnesium calms my nervous system and helps my sleep in general, so I am sure to pack supplements in a place I can access easily on the flight.

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On the newer fancier planes, you will often find advanced video screens with a plethora of offerings of movies, t.v. shows, music and entertainment. While I often enjoy a t.v. show or movie while I am eating my dinner, I try not to overindulge on electronic things at night. Using an eye mask and ear plugs while others are staring zombie-like in front of their screens can be helpful when you want to wind down.

My final bit of advice if you want to wind down and calm your nervous system is to meditate. Nowadays you can find apps for this even on planes, or you can just sit quietly with eyes closed, relax your body and watch your thoughts. Notice the sounds around you, without judging them. I often practice loving kindness meditation. I offer kindness especially to myself and to strangers. “May you have ease of being” is a nice mantra.

Being kind and compassionate on flights, with yourself and others, goes a long way toward diffusing any frustration or impatience you may feel. Happy trails!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

That scared little boy

The next time you see a man belittling a woman or talking down to her, ask yourself what experiences might have shaped that man as a little boy.

Ask yourself whether his scared self was seeking attention and love from a mother or father figure. Imagine whether he might still be reacting in fear and a need to belong when he engages in this habitual behavior. While it is not an excuse, it may help us exercise compassion.

Perhaps his father taught him that his worth was derived from being superior to women. Perhaps his religion taught him that women are inferior beings in need of protection and discipline. He may have learned that vulnerability was weakness so he wanted to be sure never to show that to even his partner. Perhaps the patriarchy reinforces all of these messages.

In fact, it does.

Our fundamental sense of belonging is shaped when we are young children. Around age 7 or so once we have passed through stages of attachment, exploration, identity and competence, we develop an awareness of others. We develop a need for belonging. When we experience early “wounds” at any stage of our psycho-social development, they may later manifest themselves in our relationships, until we are able to become aware and heal them.

scared little boy
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In reading some of Harville Hendrix’s work on relationships, I have come to have greater compassion for dysfunctional behaviors I observe in myself and others. I realize that there are certain patterns we develop to self-protect, and to preserve our identities.

Men who are secure and comfortable with their masculinity have no need to put down powerful women. They celebrate strong women, and they are fine with sharing power. Indeed, they may be relieved at not having to be solely responsible for all important decisions. They can embrace more collaboration and shared leadership.

Women who are secure and comfortable with their own femininity and power can ask for what they want. They know that they are worthy of respect. They take care of themselves. They ask for help when it is needed. They receive and accept help graciously. They believe their desires can be honored rather than repressed.

I am starting to understand that my spiritual journey is a process of learning to trust in my wholeness. I also realize this runs counter to our culture, that nudges us toward buying and consuming one more thing, or many more things. We all seek a sense of belonging and fulfillment in our daily lives. And people are trying to “sell” that to us all the time.

At the root, we must accept ourselves as we are. We must embrace the light and the dark, realize they comprise beauty and complexity. We are part of a divine mystery. It is that unfolding to who we really are in our present moment that is holy. That does not mean we do not work toward improvement. It simply means our worthiness is not conditioned on being anything other than what we are now.

If that scared little boy or girl within us still seeks approval from others or feels unworthy, then we have work to do. For when we truly love ourselves and then may love others fully, we forgive ourselves and others. We accept that we are doing the best we can, and then we can begin to fulfill our true potential.

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

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – watch your language

Do you ever notice what tone of voice you use with yourself when you make a mistake?

We all talk to ourselves (it is part of the human condition) though some people are not aware of what language they are using.

For example: you forgot to pick up your dry cleaning (again) and you wanted that clean shirt for tomorrow’s presentation. Do you say, “sheesh, you idiot, why did you do that again?” Or do you say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll wear a different shirt. I’d better put that reminder in my calendar next time.”

When you realize you did something you did not intend, do you have compassion for yourself?  Do you speak with yourself the way you would speak to a beloved friend? Or do you self-flagellate and add insult to injury?

It matters.

Quite simply, the way you treat yourself has a lot to do with how much compassion you can extend to others as well. If you realize we all make mistakes, that it is not a character flaw, and resolve to do it differently next time, you can learn. If you criticize yourself or use harsh words, you break down your relationship with yourself.

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Language can powerfully shape the way we think. If you speak to yourself with kind and loving words instead of harsh and blaming ones, you honor your being’s inherent tendency for growth and development. When you blame yourself or put yourself down (even if you do not intend, or if it is just habitual) it can erode the trust you have in your own wisdom.

It is interesting how I can observe family members or friends when they do this, but I didn’t realize when I was inadvertently doing this myself. I first discovered this during meditation. I used to “say” things like – oh dear, can you REALLY not concentrate for more than 30 seconds?”

Now when I meditate I say (to myself): hmm, how interesting that I’m thinking about X or Y. Then I gently pull myself back to my breath, or my body, whatever I am focusing on for the moment. Then 2 minutes later when I am planning my work for the day (while meditating), I say: “it’s okay, I know you are concerned about that. But it will be there when you are done meditating. Come back now.” It is a loving voice, gentle forgiving.

If you cannot access your thoughts through meditation, try a “thought download” – take a sheet of paper and just unload all of your thoughts for 5-10 minutes It might surprise you what is in there.

Curiosity and compassion will get you SO much further than blaming and shaming. 

Happy Wednesday, all.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Weighing ourselves down

Many of us find it hard to get rid of objects in our lives that remind us of someone we love, or an experience we have had. So we hang onto boxes of these things, unnecessary objects that weigh us down, simply because we associate them perhaps with a loved one who has passed, or an experience we enjoyed.

But the memory of the person or experience does not require the object to exist in your mind. You can choose return to that memory at any time simply by thinking of of the person or experience. Rather than keeping wardrobes of Grandma’s old clothing, maybe keep a favorite teacup she enjoyed, and put it somewhere that you see it periodically.

The weight of our things in the world tends to weigh on our minds, even if packed away unseen in drawers, boxes and basements. Sometimes people try to de-clutter the main areas of their house by storing things out of their line of sight, but this just postpones making decisions about whether these items serve them.

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Marie Kondo explains that our attachment to things is really about an attachment to the past or fear about the future. To me, there is so much wisdom here. I still struggle with letting go of things that are “perfectly fine” or were gifts from someone. But if they are not things we use or enjoy, then the purpose of the gift (to be received) has been completed. We are free to let go if they will just sit in a box and take up “guilt space” as I used to do.

This practice of paring down and living with less seems to be easier for generations that grew up with more abundance (actually with more excess than was ever imagined in the 30’s or 40’s). But when the fundamental belief is one of sufficiency, letting go is so much easier. I come from a family that likes to hang onto stuff. It has been rather challenging and tricky for me to accept that, in light of my aspiration toward minimalism. I must remind myself that I can only control my own choices when it comes to these matters.

Sometimes the “stuff” that requires letting go is our ability to control other people, particularly family. I may wish for them to be free of all the clutter and items that appear to weigh them down. But then I add extra “weight” by judging and imposing my ideas of how things should be, rather than allowing them to be who they are and make their own choices.

Practicing compassion toward myself and toward others is a necessary part of the process. If I am asked for help in de-cluttering, I will be eager to pitch in. But if the impulse comes from pressure or shame, then I am part of the problem, not the solution.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

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.

travel mantras
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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