Tag Archives: compassion

DST – Declare it “be kind” week

This week, most U.S. states (except Arizona and Hawaii) will go through the process of the Spring time change. I typically go on an annual rant to my facebook friends about how much I dislike the twice annual time change, especially this one when we lose an hour of sleep. We lose daylight in the morning, and as a morning person I dislike having to get started in the dark again.

For many people, I realize this is a minor annoyance. But for those of us with more sensitive sleep schedules, messing up our circadian rhythms causes real health issues. On Mondays after the start of DST there are typically more workplace injuries and tiredness at the clock change is the cause of more traffic accidents. A Swedish study found that the risk of heart attack increases for the first 3 days following the switch to DST.

So what is there to do with all of these annoying and also potentially serious consequences?

I would very much like it if we abolished the switch, and just used the DST schedule year-round. The energy savings we supposedly gained a century ago when this madness started are no longer relevant. I believe the health risks associated with changing the clocks really are not worth it. Also, it makes things more complex when we exist in a global world with some countries changing time, others not.

But since I am not necessarily able to gather the political will to make this happen, I instead decided a few years ago to declare a “be kind to myself and to others” week. Since I know I will be a bit sleep deprived for a few days, and my body doesn’t like the disruption, I do other things to make sure I take care of myself. I go to yoga, often I schedule a massage, I eat a lot of healthy food and drink plenty of water. I use compassion with myself and realize that if I am tired and cranky, my body needs patience and understanding.

I consider the fact that Spring is indeed arriving, and the light is increasing. I acknowledge that while I need to wake up in the dark for a few more weeks, having a bit more light in the evenings is nice. I try to take it easy on myself, knowing that I love Spring, but seasonal changes can be hard on anyone, and routines need mindful adjustment.

I allow myself to be a little “lazy” at work, by working from home the Monday after the change, and appreciate the privilege I have in doing so. In a week, things will be better. I typically adjust in about 3-5 days, and my cats do so as well, and things will even out.

If others you meet are tired and cranky this week, it helps to remember that some people may feel this change more acutely than we might. Make an effort to go easy on them as well if you can.

I think we can all benefit from declaring a “Be Kind to Yourself” week this time of year, especially to those of us coping with the change. Why not? We should be kind and compassionate on a daily basis more anyway. Let’s just kick it off this week with some mindful and intentional care of ourselves this week. We deserve it.

 

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Only love is real

I have just finished reading “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. This was after recently listening to her audio book Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment from Audible.

Many of the authors and teachers I admire have recommended Marianne’s work and now I know why. She speaks of a spiritual foundation that I know as truth. She explains that only love is real. She explains that:

“Love in your mind produces love in your life. This is the meaning of heaven.

Fear in your mind produces fear in your life. This is the meaning of hell.”

My soul gives her a big “amen” or a “hell yeah”! when I consider the implications of those ideas. This is a truth we all know intuitively but we lose it along the way when our egos decide to do battle with our inner knowing.

There are some rather profound insights on forgiveness and on living in the present that are quite wonderful as well. And there is a very meaty chapter on relationships that I know I will read again because it was so full of wisdom that landed where I needed it.

This consciousness of humans, being able to spread ideas and wisdom through a book, a blog, a podcast, a video…what an amazing miracle we can witness in our time. It can be a great blessing when it spreads love or it can be misused when it spreads fear.

Last night I was listening to the radio and the Harasser in Chief was quoted in a news story, fear-mongering about the immigration system. He was warning us that we are letting in “bad people” and basically telling people to be fearful of our neighbors. I just had to shake my head and what seems like such an obvious tactic, spreading fear, keeping people from their highest purpose, which is to love one another.

We must start to know and understand that we are meant to love each other. We are all connected in consciousness and energy that is continuous rather than separate. Separation is the illusion, and it is a destructive one. When we begin to see that in a larger sense, we are cosmically connected, we can begin to heal the wounds that exist in all people.

To me, that begins with compassion. I must have compassion for myself, and know that I am doing my best. I must have compassion for others, because they are also doing their best. I work very hard to have compassion for our leaders, especially when they do things to spread fear. I try to empathize with the kind of fear and despair they must feel inside, the wounds that they carry which create their defensiveness. That is very hard, but I will continue to practice.

Only love is real. Everything else is an illusion. This is such a radical idea, and yet it rings true for me. The more I practice love, the more of it is released in the world. It is an infinite resource, and the more that is created, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more we all thrive. The more we all thrive, the more love we are able to share.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

Happy New Year, Friends! I hope by now you have slept off any late night parties and begun 2018 with vim and vigor.

It is very cold here in Minnesota, only -11F as I write this (without wind chill). My husband and I laughed at the NYC ball-drop countdown last night when they were complaining about 12F. Wimps, we said! You don’t even KNOW what cold is.

Then we went to bed around our usual time after a few episodes of the Twilight Zone, an annual tradition on NYE. I used to stay up late, and as a morning person, the result is that I nearly always ushered in the New Year tired and cranky. Oy, SO not worth it to me.

I dearly love my sleep, the older I get, and I refuse to sacrifice it for something arbitrary like midnight. So I let go of that habit when I realized it was not serving me. When I embrace what makes me happiest and most vital, and let go of doing things just because our culture encourages them.

I spent a lot of New Years in my youth trying to start a new habit, or get on a better eating plan, or become more committed to some new activity. I realize that since I look at January 1st as arbitrary, I do better at starting new things on a date I choose.

Perhaps I use a new season, or a new month or a new week. The past year, I started writing daily as of October 1st. 330 days ago I started meditating daily. So that was February. It happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. Coincidence? Perhaps. I also attended a Satsang session at a local meditation center. But I do not do that regularly. It just helped initiate the ritual for me.

What is more relevant to me this year is not necessarily starting something new, but instead letting go of what does not serve me. They say that adding something new is actually much easier than breaking a habit we do not want. I can see how that is true.

But at the same time, there are a few things that I realize no longer serve me, and I will  work on letting them go, replacing them with habits that are more compassionate and that honor my needs. Here are a few:

Self-criticism – this is a hard one. I have a pretty tough inner critic. But I have worked at being more forgiving lately, and realizing that I am doing my best. That’s really all I can do, and I will continue to honor this.

Self-blame – I have been told I sometimes feel “inappropriate guilt.” A mentor mentioned this to me once when I talked about moving onto a new position but not wanting to let my team down. It would probably serve me to let this one go as well.

Judgment of self and others – It really is impossible to live someone else’s life, and understand what they are going through. Empathy is something to practice, for sure. But beyond that, people need to just be allowed to be who they are, without my imposed story-lines of what they should or should not do.

Doing others’s work – There is another manager on my team (a physician) who conveniently does not always follow the bureaucratic procedures we need to follow for things like hiring at work. In the past I would often pick up the slack to be sure things were done correctly. This year, I intend to let him do his work. By himself. Yes, I want to be a team player. But last year I did more than my share. This year I will let him fail when he does not do what is required for managers. His boss (and mine) is ultimately responsible, not me. My husband will be proud of me for this one, if I can follow through on it. He heard me say last December “I’m done!” when it came to another scenario where my colleague’s lack of follow-through put me in a difficult position.

Whew I guess you can tell what pushes my buttons. And it felt great to get that off my chest. The first three of these things, I have worked to let go, especially in recent months and over the past year of committed meditation practice.

It takes some work, awareness and commitment to change old thoughts that do not serve us. For some of them, they have worn grooves into our brains after thinking the old and tired thoughts too many times. It is not because they are TRUE, it is just because we have practiced them. The good news is that we can practice other thoughts! And over them, we then “weed out” those ones that no longer serve us.

Some thoughts I prefer to practice are:

“I have time to do what I need to do today.”  

“I am doing my best, and that is enough.”

“I trust myself and deserve compassion.” or “I trust my body to tell me what I need.” 

I may set a few goals this year with my husband, because I want to work better as a team when it comes to things like money and savings goals. That will undoubtedly be a topic for a future post, as I examine my own obstacles in learning this new practice.

But for now I feel satisfied with letting go a few things so I can welcome in more compassion and love for myself and others. I’m ready, 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

Go easy on yourself

This time of year can be difficult, especially for anyone dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that may originate from the lack of light and lack of fresh air.

Symptoms I experience are typically insomnia, sometimes anxiety or changes in my mood or appetite. Many of us have increased cravings for carbohydrates, and we may feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

For many years, I have used exercise, dietary strategies such as a vitamin D supplement in the morning, magnesium at night. I try to get enough vegetables for their anti-oxidant properties and fiber, but in Minnesota nothing is fresh this time of year, so it can be difficult.

Getting enough healthy fats in my diet more recently has been a wonderful benefit to my health overall. I have learned more and more on how balancing our brain chemistry with healthy fats is really important. Right now I am reading “The Chemistry of Calm” by Dr. Henry Emmons, and there is some wonderful advice there on how to overcome anxiety. Dr. Emmons presents the information from both Western and Eastern traditions and I strongly encourage you to check it out if you want more scientific background on drug-free ways to overcome anxiety.

I still struggle with insomnia periodically, usually when the seasons change and/or when I am under more stress. I know how important sleep can be for good healthy, so I try valiantly to get more, and sometimes it still eludes me.

Over the years, I have learned some strategies which help. It is a learning process, and I have to accept that it takes some time to change old habits. I am undoing a pattern that was established (and possibly reinforced) for 25-30 years. I may not unlearn it overnight. But due to the remarkable neuroplasticity of our brain, we are capable of training ourselves out of old patterns.

The biggest factor to remember is to have compassion for ourselves, and not to label ourselves as “anxious” or to consider ourselves flawed in any way. Instead of saying, “I am an anxious person” try instead: “right now I am struggling with anxiety and I am learning how to manage it.” Thus, the condition is temporary and not a part of our identity.

It is important not to identify too strongly with any label, as this may convince us we a permanent, unalterable condition. The truth is that we have far more capacity for change than any of us realize. And this learning how to manage our struggles is where wisdom is born. Nothing is wrong with us. This is the human condition.

About half of our life may be happy or joyful (or maybe slightly more). But about half of or life will be negative emotions. This contrast is what makes life so rich and interesting. If we can go easy on ourselves, realize that sadness and feeling down sometimes are a part of life, then we can truly appreciate the joyful moments.

Compassion for ourselves and for other people is really the engine that helps us live a good life. We sometimes have that inner critic that resists compassion, questioning if we deserve it, speculating that we do not. If we come from religious backgrounds where original sin was a big part of the emphasis, this may be harder for us.

It may take some time and practice to cultivate compassion for ourselves. But it is possible. And with this self-compassion comes the ability to have compassion for others as well. In this time of holiday festivities and dark, cold, weather, that can go a very long way.

If you are struggling with SAD, anxiety or depression, please get help from a trained mental health professional, and/or seek support from the people you love. It is not a time to “go it alone” when you are dealing with this stuff. Sometimes families are not as understanding, so try to find someone who can help you get the support you need.

 

Holiday hell

Holidays can be stressful for people, and for some, they can be a sad time if they have had a loss or any painful memories. Family dynamics can be challenging, and many of us love our families but struggle with the amount of expectations for this season.

Facebook and the Hallmark channel give us the idea that people are living finely-polished perfect little lives. But the reality is that those experiences are carefully curated (on FB) and designed to market things to you.

I enjoy certain parts of the holiday, the food, some time to visit with family and having extra time off from work to sleep in (if that is possible, which is hard for a morning person like me). But since cutting way back on sugar and flour, realizing these tend to mess up my sleep and make me feel like crap, it can be hard to turn down treats that are offered.

To be honest, I do not really enjoy the gift-giving that comes with Christmas (in my tradition) anymore. I find it stressful and prefer the Thanksgiving holiday because it is more about gratitude than getting more stuff than you need. I’m old enough now that I typically buy things for myself that I want, so when people ask for “gift lists” I guess I am spoiled enough that I just don’t NEED things.

holiday hell

Here in Minnesota, a combination of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to dark winters, and a lack of time outside during the cold, can be especially challenging. I have coped with this difficulty in different ways and I will list 5 of my personal favorite tips here:

  1. Get as much rest as possible.
  2. Use a morning light-box to get some full spectrum light for 10-20 minutes each morning.
  3. Take a vitamin D supplement daily to replace a nutrient nearly all of us in these northern locations need in order to have a healthy immune system and happier mood. (I take 2000 mg per day from October to May, 1000 mg June to September, per my nurse practitioner’s recommendation. Please check with a doctor if you have any conditions in which Vitamin D would not be favorable).
  4. Manage your expectations – holidays are not all joy and happiness. For a lot of people they are hard work, expensive and involve a lot more gatherings than we introverts really enjoy. We love our families, sure. But it gets to be a little much, so please have some patience with us.
  5. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others. Everyone is fighting their own personal battles and we do not know what others are facing, since they are not always willing to share and broadcast their pain on social networks.

Here is a link to an article on Medicinet has some more facts and information about Holiday Depression, Anxiety and Stress. Psychology today also has an interesting article with more resources that I found helpful.

Realize that if someone you love is a little down that it does not really help to tell them to “cheer up” or “look on the bright side.” They are probably trying, and letting them know that the holidays can be hard for anyone, that you still want to spend time with them even if they are not full of holiday cheer.

Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. That would be my best advice for dealing with any “holiday hell” you may experience. Have compassion for yourself and others. Realize you and they are doing their best. Have gratitude for clean water, good food and maybe a cozy time to reflect on the year ahead.

Feliz Navidad

 

 

 

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 3)

Sunrise after my run today

I woke up this morning at 3 A.M., excited to start the day and looking forward to the weekend ahead. In 2 days I will marry the love of my life, a kind, generous, funny, handsome man who loves me for who I am. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for his presence in my life, and what a gift it is to be with someone who knows (many of) my imperfections and still loves me.

It is so interesting to me that many of us find it easier to love others than to extend love to ourselves. We beat ourselves up sometimes for mistakes we have made, for reasons why we should have been better, we should have said something different, we are not good enough. But we are all good enough. We are all worthy of love. Just by existing, just by being born into this world, we have the grace of being worthy of love. When I truly started exploring this idea and understanding it, I think that was the breakthrough that helped me really begin taking much better care of myself.

Having compassion for myself allows me to give the most love I can to everyone I know. Even though some religions may advocate otherwise, beating ourselves up is not an effective way to change our behavior, and this is borne out by neuroscience research. Being kind to ourselves is always the right thing, and yet we find it hard to do. Being kind does not mean indulging our every craving or fulfilling every desire right in the moment.

Being kind means being mindful of how we feel after eating something which may harm us, and knowing that even though it may taste good in a fleeting moment,  it does not bring us energy and vitality. Being kind means giving ourselves copious rest when we are tired, and connection with others when we feel lonely. Being kind means taking a few extra minutes to sit and cuddle my kitty even when I have housework to do.

There are spiritual and scientific benefits to being kind to ourselves. This is the great knowledge that the great contemplatives have always taught to us – that compassion and love are the center to a life well-lived. I believe this is one great benefit to having struggled with weight in my life. It gives me deep compassion for my struggles and the struggles of others. It helps me see that this body is working so hard to support me, and allow me to live my life. Krista Tippett talks about a yoga teacher, Matthew Sanford, who, even though he has been in a wheelchair for 30 years, says “he’s never known someone to become more at home in his or her own body, in all its flaws and its grace, without becoming more compassionate towards all of life.”

I believe this is what my weight struggle has taught me. In Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, she talks about “if love could speak” and her words are so beautiful, I quote them here:

If love could speak, it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because otherwise you would be uncomfortable and why would anyone want to be uncomfortable.’ Love would also say, ‘Goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast.’

When I consider that in eating more mindfully and living my live more mindfully, I realize it starts with being aware of what we do. It starts with learning to feel our emotions fully, not push them away. Maybe we did not learn to embrace our full range of emotions when we were young, or we had caregivers that were not comfortable with their own emotions, and therefore tried not to show them. They tried not to reveal their disappointments in life, or their grief or their struggles with anger. Did they embrace their joy, and their excitement? Positive emotions are so much easier to embrace, and we want to feel them all the time. But what if contrast is part of the deal?

Brooke Castillo likes to say that life is about half good emotions and half unpleasant emotions, and this is what helps us truly live a full life. Perhaps that is why so many of us suffer. We think we are supposed to be happy all the time. But what if life does not work that way? Our emotions may be a guide to help us lean in the direction of what gives us joy. And that is a beautiful thing, but it does not mean we will never experience sorrow, or pain or grief or anger.

We are human and to embrace all of those emotions, our full range of humanity is to realize the sacred in the mundane. Discomfort is a flag to us about something for which we need to pay attention. By ignoring the body, or viewing it as dirty, or somehow corrupted, while only the spirit remains clean, is a myth.

Unfortunately in many of our spiritual traditions, the body is denigrated. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is a tired phrase I have heard too many times. What if the body and the spirit were intertwined so closely that they worked together to keep us healthy, vital and alive?

When I truly care for myself, in eating good food, honoring my body’s need for rest, or movement or play, my spirit radiates outward to everyone around me. When I reach out for connection, instead of eating to dull my feeling of loneliness, I thrive.

When I go to my favorite yoga class and practice being fully present in my body, honoring it and noticing where the “stuck” parts are, or the tight joints or tissues feel uncomfortable, I come back to myself. I stop abandoning this glorious matter that makes up the collection of what I call “me” – body, mind and soul.

All of them are one, and we are this amazing trinity that is inseparable and yet we divide because that is how human beings understand our world. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is beautiful how curious and interested and insatiable the human mind can be. I certainly celebrate that aspect of my own personality, the ever-present desire to know more, understand how it all works. What a gift, our curiosity and creativity in the way we construct our own worlds in our imaginations.

So in coming back to my body, through yoga, through body awareness and compassion meditations, I have been slowly releasing extra weight (~1.5 pounds a month for the past 13 months) and learning what makes me feel good and whole. I have started eating much more fat in my diet and more vegetables. I am not vegetarian (though my spirit often strives to eat less meat) and I do not subscribe to one particular diet plan. I definitely minimize flour and sugar in my overall consumption because I have noticed that powdered and processed foods do not make me feel good or give me lasting energy.

Reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, gave me a lot more scientific and clinical data for how our dietary choices can help us sustain weight loss. As a clinical researcher, I admit that the science always helps me to adopt certain practices. But as a practicing yogi and meditator, I know that I must trust only what makes sense for me. I must always to come back to my own body, to ground myself in my own truth.

This is why you will never hear me advocating one particular diet plan over another. I believe people have the wisdom within them that helps them discover what works for them. For some, it may be a need for more fresh air and time outdoors. For some, it may be to fast one or two days a week and skip breakfast while mindfully learning about their hunger signals. But for all of us, I believe a sustainable weight loss journey begins with love for ourselves. We are worthy. We are enough. We deserve to have optimal health. Those questions can be put to rest. Beyond that, as my yoga teacher Ruth likes to say: there is no hurry. I have been learning that as well. My own journey to know my body and to listen to it will evolve over time. I will continue to learn, and I will continue to practice compassion for myself, even though it is not easy.

Off I go now, wedding preparations are almost complete, and we will head to Two Harbors in about 5 hours. Happy weekend, friends, and many blessings to you.