A friend of mine recently suggested I implement another weekly feature in keeping with the idea of “rhythm” for my writing. Right now I do a Saturday Share and a Sunday haiku as regular weekly posts. I love the idea of Wellness Wednesday!
I had some trouble connecting to the internet from my hotel from Mexico this morning because the wi-fi has been a bit spotty and very slow, so I will save the content to be launched next week. But in terms of why Wednesday and why Wellness, I will provide a couple of thoughts here.
First: Wednesday is commonly known as “hump day”. Once we’ve gotten through Wednesday, we are on the downhill side of making it through a work week for most of us. Sadly, the implication of this is that we must struggle to get through a work week only to be released into the world to do what we want. I suppose if more of us loved what we were doing every day, and had meaningful work, maybe we would not be so eager for the weekend.
Or maybe we would, because there is an intensity to the work week that we typically do not experience on weekends. It is okay to look forward to that break and to our leisure time, although wishing away a work week probably means we ought to reconsider the work we are doing.
So, smack-dab in the middle of the week is Wednesday!
What better time to remind ourselves of healthy practices and strategies and to check it to see how we are doing on cultivating these habits?
Personal wellness and well-being are the cornerstone of a life well-lived, and they are achieved through conscious choices and daily actions. Planning is usually required to make sure we are able to schedule those activities and habits that keep us on track. But when we make this commitment, we gain so much energy, freedom and joy.
It starts with our thinking, which drives our emotions, and thus determines our actions and therefore our results. I look forward to sharing a few of my n=1 experiments here (as I have done in the past) and hopefully hearing from you on your successes in this area as well.
Last week after my coaching session, I began considering my the original motivations for entering into this process. One big one is that I want to make a career change this year. Another one is that I want more alignment and intimacy in my relationships, including my relationship with myself.
I have been doing a lot of work on this areas in the past couple of years, and I am proud of the progress I have made. But there are always more layers to peel back, it seems, and I was kind of shocked to catch myself in a lie that I’d been telling to myself, and also speaking out loud.
The lie was “my job is killing me and I may need to leave it.” In truth, my job is not killing me. My job is paying me good money. The tasks I am responsible for are becoming less palatable to me, that is true. But it is MY THOUGHTS about the job that are causing pain, not the job itself. When I admit that to myself, I feel less desperate and graspy about finding something new. And I dig deeper to find the sources of that pain, and unearth a more true set of facts that are driving my unhappiness about the current reality.
It occurred to me though: how did I not catch that lie to myself before? One of the homework assignments I am working on with my coach is to review my “Mary the Martyr” voice in my head that plays sometimes when I am making decisions. In working on the dreaming assignment, I realized I was a little “blocked” at even coming up with dreams in some areas. I had a whole list of things I am supposed to do, supposed to want. All those (probably parental figure) voices say to: “you should be grateful for what you have. Wanting more is greedy.”
But wanting more is what we do as humans. For me, it is not always in the material sense. I want more in the sense that I want satisfaction and fulfillment in the work I do. My husband and I eventually want to buy a house. I want to go on that 1-year anniversary honeymoon that we started planning last year. I never stopped wanting that, but I put in on a shelf thinking “I need to do the responsible thing” instead of getting what I want.
What I was doing was probably channeling all of those “good girl” admonitions I learned my whole life, rather than being honest about what I really want this year. I’d also created some internal and relationship drama about needing to find a new job by this fall in order to put off this goal that I’d dismissed as frivolous and unimportant. But when I considered the reality of the desire, and wanting to do this with my husband as an experience we plan and do together, I re-assessed the timeline with regard to job change.
Granted, there are always short-term and long-term goals we have in our lives. Sometimes we have to put off the short term goals because a longer term priority will benefit us in the long run. But when I am honest with myself about how my thoughts interfere with my desires sometimes, it can release a lot of energy.
Last Thursday, as I dug deeper into those thoughts and beliefs that were causing me pain, I realized I have control of some of those thoughts. I can release them, though not without awareness and intention. I started considering other “lies” I may be telling myself, to keep myself from experiencing disappointment, or doing what is expected of me, rather than doing what I believe is right, more aligned with the truth.
Having integrity within ourselves is a powerful source of energy. We are weighed down by the stories we tell ourselves and the excuses we make for our behavior that may not be honest. When we question some of those “usual story-lines” we may realize they are not actually true! They are just habitual thoughts, when, once examined, can be pruned out of our consciousness to make room for more joy and peace.
What about you? You don’t have to tell us all, of course. This is between you and yourself. Are there any lies you are telling yourself that do not serve you?
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.
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.
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.
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!
I am amazed sometimes when I go quiet and meditate at the thoughts and mental chatter that run through my head. It reminds me that while I aim to clear physical clutter in my life to help me with less external distractions, the mental clutter is also worth sweeping out.
We all have thoughts and beliefs that run though our minds like old tapes, playing the stories we learned over time. They are a product of what we learned as young people, explicitly or implicitly by what we observed around us. Many of us do not question these thoughts and beliefs. They become part of us, and influence how we live our lives.
But I have been questioning my thoughts and beliefs much more regularly these days. Why is it we believe “there is never enough time” to do the things we love to do? Is that really true? What if that is a convenient excuse for not taking the risks in our lives that would allow us to live more fully in our joy?
What if we turned those thoughts around or tried on different thoughts than the worn-out ideas that make us feel tired and defeated? One of the amazing things about meditation practice is to realize that we have much more choice over our thoughts than I had realized was possible.
Our thoughts drive our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions and therefore determine our results. When we realize we are not our thoughts, but can decide consciously whether to think certain thoughts, we take back control of our lives. We realize our circumstances do not determine our reality. It is our thoughts about those circumstances that have substantially more power.
Human beings are wired for story, as Brene Brown tells us. We strive to make sense of the world so our minds develop stories to explain and interpret circumstances. We all do this, and it is an adaptive phenomenon for human evolution. But sometimes these stories do not give us a complete picture, and need revision. The challenge is that we have told ourselves these stories for so long, they seem like truth.
It is worthwhile to examine personal narratives and long-held beliefs that no longer serve us. I write a daily journal in which I often do a “thought download” when I feel agitated about something, since I realize that is usually an indicator that I am “spinning” thoughts that do not serve me. That is often enough for me to become conscious of some thought causing pain and to question that thought.
Byron Katie teaches a practice of inquiry, in which you question a thought or belief and ask yourself 4 questions:
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it is true?
How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?
Who would I be without the thought?
Then she encourages one to try some “turnarounds” of the thought if we realize we cannot absolutely know that thought it true, or we realize it causes us suffering. This is worth practicing if you suspect some of your thoughts may need sweeping out or cleaning up.
What is beautiful about this practice and these realizations is that we begin to understand that changing our thoughts is easier than changing our circumstances. We do not have to find happiness and contentment “out there” somewhere. It is within our grasp, and can be realized inside of ourselves.
Also, when we change our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, we act and behave differently. We act with more love and generosity, and we begin to attract these qualities around us as well. We begin to see that grasping onto things makes us close down, while opening and sharing allow us to tap a well of resilience within us.
As you consider sweeping out the clutter of your physical life, take some time also to sweep the clutter that may be residing in your mind. See how much benefit this can have in your relationships and in living a more joyful life. I know you will not be disappointed.