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

 

 

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.

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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

 

Hating your body into submission?

Best to stop that now. It does NOT work!

Some of us spent way too many of our adolescent years, and perhaps 20’s and beyond hating our bodies. It is not hard to understand why this occurred:

Check out every media publication in the world (practically) that shows women should be thin, beautiful, coiffed, manicured. AND: all of this should occur with the least amount of perceptible effort possible.

Seriously?!?

Body shaming is an epic tradition, especially for western cultures. It is a sad and pathetic tradition and we need to end it now. Why?

body shame
Photo credit link

For one: it does not serve anyone (except advertisers and people trying to sell you something). Taking care of our bodies properly requires that we love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. They are doing the best they can to keep us alive, including storing fat for the lean times. Our ancestors did not always have food to eat on a daily basis, which is why humans (and many other creatures) are adept at storing extra calories in the form of fat.

When you think about it, we have the evolution process to thank for the fact that, if we were short of food, we would be able to survive a remarkably long time just tapping our fat stores. But do we ever give thanks for this handy little phenomenon? Not likely. In the modern world, food is around us. Evolution has not caught up with that reality.

For years as a runner, I used extra mileage to sometimes “punish” myself for bad behavior, i.e. eating chocolate or having some kind of treat forbidden by my diet. I love running but this approach really was not healthy for me, and led to chronic injuries. I was always running from something, and usually it was from feeling any painful feelings, just sitting with the sensations in my body and observing them.

It was not until I started practicing meditation and yoga more regularly and learning to sit with those feelings of discomfort sometimes. Rather than “escaping myself” I learned to come back to myself and to feel compassion and forgiveness for myself. Our bodies do the best they can for us, and meanwhile, they only want us to take care of them.

We can drink plenty of water and get plenty of fresh air. We can eat plenty of healthy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins to keep our brains and bodies in balance. We can avoid sugar and flour, highly processed powdered substances that create unnatural insulin releases into the body. We can get plenty of sleep. We can work out to improve endurance and strength, but know resting is equally important to build healthy tissue.

When we love our bodies, we treat them with care and respect. When we take the time to be grateful for what they do for us every day, we tend to pay closer attention, and to ask them what they need, instead of mindlessly shoving down what the advertisers are peddling.

If you hate your body and think this will help you lose weight, I implore you to reconsider. Loving your precious body, the instrument you were granted to live in while on this earth is the way you can best serve it.

Treating your body with kindness and respect is the best way to get more energy, vitality and health. Give it a try. It might surprise you by rewarding you with a more natural weight without the struggle.

 

Embodying a new self

I have written before about the idea that there is no “better” you – that self-acceptance and self compassion are the key to any big changes we want to make in our lives.

Paradoxically, I think we all grow, develop and change over time, and we do become “better” at certain things. It is not that we become better people. I hold the belief that all of us, just by virtue of being born, are worthy of love, compassion and self-regard. However, we strive to become more of who we are at the core, at a soul and spirit level, that identity is typically muted or hidden in an effort to be more acceptable to others.

Right now I am reading “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza and it is blowing my mind. The title is provocative to me because it goes against the advice we are typically given: just be yourself. While I agree this usually means we should not try to be “someone else,” most of us still yearn to grow and change and evolve to a “next version” of ourselves.

breaking the habit

We yearn for enlightenment, for peace, for a sense of ease in our being. But Dispenza explains how our habitual thoughts become encoded by our neuro-chemical and physical body over time. Our mind and body work together to create our reality, and re-create what we have known and experienced usually in the past. It is only when we become aware of our thoughts, and how they create emotions, which are “coding” for what they become in the body, that we can actively change the reality we are creating.

Dispenza uses the field of quantum physics to challenge our previous assumptions about a Newtonian universe in which there are physical causes and effects, and thus explores the notion of potentials. I really enjoy his explanations of how we can create changes in our lives to move from thinking to doing to being. Though I am only half way through the book, the insight has already exploded my mind in terms of the possibilities.

I have had great skepticism for the self-help idea of manifesting, though I have encountered it plenty of times in the literature I read. I must admit – I am a questioner and anything that is too “woo woo” for my researcher brain is typically dismissed as fluff. But as I consider the neuroscience behind the principles that Dispenza explains, now I understand the theoretical basis for how this may work.

My experiences with meditation, and understanding experientially how my thoughts create my feelings, and how feelings lead to action (or non-action) these concepts are leading me to wild new ideas about how we can create the lives we want. I still have not yet moved to the stage of practice and implementing these ideas fully, but I am sure to experiment with these as I embrace changes in my life going forward.

Hasta luego, amigos!

When life hands you limes, make ceviche!

You all know the expression: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. It really means that you can turn the circumstances of your life into opportunities.

On my Monday trip to Mexico, I ended up in a bit of a situation – my flight arrived 30 minutes after the appointed time. When I reached Cancun, which was my intermediate stop on the way to Mexico City (I know, I know: I usually fly through Atlanta) I discovered the next flight was in a different terminal.  Then I discovered that the shuttle between the terminals only runs once every 20 minutes, which meant I would definitely miss my connection.

In the “olden” days as I will call them (before I started meditating and actively managing my emotions) I would have had a mini panic attack. I’d missed my flight, my cell phone wasn’t working and I was in a foreign country. Ack!!!

But this time around, I told myself: when I get to the terminal I will explain what happen and surely Delta will help me get booked on the next flight. There have to be several a day from Cancun to Mexico City. Sure enough, that was what happened. I’m not sure of Sky Priority status mattered or helped, but I did find some kind people right away who helped me get on the next flight which was due to leave 2 hours after the originally scheduled one.

ceviche and guac

I was left with actual time to have a late lunch or an early dinner, whatever you want to call it. I ordered my favorites: ceviche and guacamole and just settled in for an hour at the airport while waiting for the next flight. There was no panic, I didn’t stress over the hours of time I would miss. In fact, arriving in Mexico City around 7:45 instead of 5:45 means there will be considerably less traffic. There was no real harm done.

Later that night I had a chance to practice more mindful trip behavior as well. It turns out the taxi from the airport took me to the wrong hotel. My colleague had assumed I was going to the other address, so she told me “Colonia Escandon” rather than the location I had booked which was “Colonia San Jose.” So there was a difference in what I had paid at the airport versus the total amount due.

The driver was very kind about it, explained that I could pay him the difference. Only I didn’t have any pesos, and he did not have a credit card reader. Fortunately the hotel had an ATM, so I was able to get some local currency to pay him the difference.

These may seem like unremarkable incidents to a frequent traveler, and they are in many respects. But in my less mature days, either incident would have sent me into a mild panic (my mind racing to: “What the F*** am I going to do?”) instead of just calmly figuring out a solution to the problem.

Perhaps I am giving my meditation practice more credit than it deserves for this sense of peace and calm I have while traveling. It could be that I am a mature traveler, I know sometimes things go wrong. I focus on what I can control, not what I cannot. But I still think mindfulness practice has allowed me to slow down and think more calmly in situations that used to put me into a tailspin.

Reason enough for me to keep practicing every day. Have a great one, friends!

Soma + yin

On Sunday I was getting ready for another work trip, this time to Mexico City and Guadalajara for the week. I had signed up for 2-hour soma and yin workshop at Tula Yoga in St. Paul and I am grateful that I made time for this.

tula yoga
Tula Yoga is in St. Paul

Last November I had attended a similar workshop at Tula. I remember being surprised at the small movements making such a difference in how I was feeling in my body, particularly in my shoulders and lower back. We are so accustomed to “large” movements in our exercise classes. Sometimes we throw our bodies around a bit recklessly trying to keep up with our classmates.

Soma yoga has a therapeutic effect that is powerful, especially for those of us who have habitually “trained” our bodies to hold stress and tension. We may not even realize it, this type of tightness and tension that gets held in our muscles, and affects our fascia, that connective tissue that supports all parts of our body. I first noticed it when I began getting regular massages a few years ago. There is a knot in my upper back, near the shoulders that tends to grow and tighten up over time.

It feels awesome when it is “worked out” or today, as I was doing some shoulder movements I realized it released again. Goodness knows, we all have times when our bodies “hold” our tension, in an attempt to protect us from harm. But as we navigate our lives, which may contain stress and busy-ness, we may forget how to relax these muscles. The tension becomes what we think is normal, and as my favorite teacher, Ruth often says, it may not be that simple to relax.

We have every intention to relax, but if we have spent months or years holding tension for much of the time, it just may not come naturally anymore. I have become much more mindful through breath and through yoga practice when I am holding tension, or even holding my breath! Now that I now how to focus on the breath and observe it, even that can help me relax my body when I am in a “thought spin out” which I am learning to recognize.

relaxing kitty
Photo credit link

After about an hour of soma practice, we finished with a yin portion, long holds of a few poses that were much easier to release after soma. Ahhhh, wow. Felt SO good. I typically take a yin class once a week, but with the soma preparation, I got so much more out of these long holds, and was able to release my body more easily.

I will have three travel days in the upcoming week before I return home next Saturday. I am grateful I had time to nurture myself this weekend with yoga. It is one of the best things I do to take care of myself, especially with these gentle and mindful practices. I am now ready to face the week’s challenges. Namaste.