tell yourself a different story

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“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I choose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” Cheryl Strayed

I was in yoga the other day loving the practice of inhaling my arms up over head while inviting in any images I wanted to flood my being and environment with. I envisioned a pale pink rose, petals unfolding like the unfolding of a story, bursting with love, light, mystery, healing, and grace. I breathed this into my body, into every cell and part of me. And I breathed out fear. Fear was what I wanted to do away with. Letting go of the fear and letting in the good stuff.

I am in a place right now where the sadness I feel, I am okay with. Sadness is a testament to love. But fear is it’s negative and alluring counterpart. The sadness, I will let visit and have its way with me much like a roaring wave, allowing it to take me under since fighting it is futile, and then watch with awe as it recedes back to the horizon. I’ll accept the waves washing over me encouraging them to whisk away any stagnate, stuck parts impermeable to change. I can’t control the sadness, I simply can’t repress it but I can learn to accept it and allow it. And when the sadness comes and then it goes, it leaves nothing but love in it’s wake.

Now, fear on the other hand, well sometimes, I’ll look at it. And run with it and let the what if’s dance around in my hand as they whirl around stealing my attention with their grabby fingers. But often times this indulging fear leads me down a path of worry and unnecessary struggle. So the fear is a different story and one I am choosing not to give into at the moment.

After completing these particular sun salutations at yoga, I reached for the blocks to place under my hands as I stood in a forward fold and felt grateful for their presence as I laughed at myself thinking about how years ago, I would have scoffed at needing blocks. My ego thought it was a sign of weakness. But now I take all of the help I can get. And yoga as well as life is much sweeter with the support.

 

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the most wonderful present

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Gifts are great. I am not going to lie, I love receiving them, opening them and giving them. Last week sitting next to my mom and mom – in – law while watching Barbara Streisand perform, I felt like one of the luckiest people in the world. Because last year at this time, my mom had just been diagnosed with cancer again. Here we were, a year later, her hair growing back, a smile on our faces, hanging with Babs.

A big sigh of gratitude.

I think I want to stop trying so hard to heal that which I feel needs healing. Focus on the good, what I dream and know is possible. I want to take a break and pause, accept, and appreciate what is. Much of what is is hard to accept. But there is so much beauty, so much to still smile about.

Below is the link to the post I wrote for the moms blog on being present. Check it out if you wish.

But more importantly, please know your being – however imperfect or messy it feels right now – is exactly what your family and the world needs. Your soul, your true self is the most wonderful present you could ever give. Don’t worry about changing. In the words of Elizabeth Lesser, “uncover your soul”. Because your soul it is perfect, absolutely perfect!

Wishing you and yours many blessings and loads of love this holiday season and in 2017!

http://tampabay.citymomsblog.com/2016/12/09/opening-up-our-present-final/

fire it up

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Today my therapist said these words to me, “Fire up your frontal lobe.”

A bell went off.

Why?

Because it helps deal with anxious thinking. And I deal with that from time to time. My hope in sharing this is that it will be of help to you too.

I’ll explain.

But first. Here is what is so wretched and cunning about anxiety, it is fear. It is just fear with a different name. It is fear manifesting itself in the body. In a million different ways. Shaky hands, racing heart, flushing face, irritability, sadness, stuck-ness, tiredness or buzzing can’t catch a breath energy. It is fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of death. Fear of illness. Fear of accidents. Fear of losing someone you love.

Anxiety for me is like this. I am perfectly happy. I am driving around town by myself or hanging out with my family on the couch feeling the quiet joy of a mellow evening at home when whoomp there it is. Oh no things are going smoothly, too smoothly, things are about to get real.

It’s not a full blown panic attack. It’s more insidious than that.

This anxiety is in the background. It is noise. It is internal. It is underneath. It is palpable and at the same time elusive.  It digs it’s teeth into negativity, darkness, and uncertainty.

It feels like something bad is going to happen. That’s it. In a nutshell, that for me is how I experience anxiety.

And it’s total and utter bullshit.

Here is the good thing about it. Anxiety is treatable. Here is where the “Fire up your frontal lobe” part comes in.

Anxiety does not like reason or logic. Anxiety resides in a different part of the brain than reasoning does and reasoning makes anxiety small. Logic, like magic, makes it vanish in a big bellowing cloud of smoke. POOF!

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain associated with analytical thinking and reasoning. So when anxiety starts to creep in, it can be helpful to talk to it. Engage this part of the brain because anxious thinking has no base in reality.

Anxious thinking doesn’t make any sense. Although, it feels very real.

Along with therapy, yoga, meditation, and writing helps me deal with anxiety. Avoiding an abundance of sugar, alcohol, and too many carbs helps too. Not watching the news or violent shows helps. Exercise helps. Distraction helps. Nature definitely helps. And medication too can help when needed.

And reasoning helps too. Reason with that shit. Fire up the frontal lobe, the analytical part of the brain that doesn’t bye into all of the fleeting emotional crazy talk . Catch yourself. Hear yourself going down that path. Observe it, become witness to it and then say Sayanora anxiety!

Anxiety, I hear you. But I am not listening. I‘m watching you go. Away in that puff of smoke. Away in a balloon. Thanks but no thanks. 

I’m going back to my breath and enjoying this beautiful sunshiny day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a way to be here

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“It’s clear to me that a crisis like this requires us not even to think of G-d. Like the writer says, to go beyond thinking. Into a place of forgetting, even. Maybe even beyond creating, receiving, aligning. Maybe this sort of crisis requires the individual to unlayer down to our most true naked nature. Where there is just the beating of the heart. And the breath. Held by love.” – Laura Munson from This is not the Story You Think it is.

Yoga.

What I like most about yoga is this: My teacher’s soft voice like a lullaby.

And the sound of her feet sticking to the floor as she moves generously from student to student dropping lavender oil on our palms. I can’t help but hope she comes over and presses those healing hands onto my shoulders in savasana, melting the stress away with her alchemy and warmth.

In those moments, I am reminded of what it feels like to be a little girl, safe and secure as the adults work magic around you. Drifting off to sleep, you can hear them talk in hushed voices in the room down the hall. My dad is there too; big, soft palms gently caressing my face, putting me to sleep.

It works every time.

I like feeling stretched out like a lazy cat laying in the sun. Like there is more space between my shoulder blades and rib cage. I like feeling like there is room to breathe.Like I just grew three inches in length.

I like that my neck no longer feels stiff and my hamstrings no longer tight.

I like that when I am drowsily rolling up my yoga mat, the one that has a big bite mark on the side from when my rambunctious puppy ate it 3 years ago, that I feel like I have visited my therapist as well as the spa.

I like that yoga is a reset button so even if I had Heathbar Crunch yogurt yesterday and afterwards, I may just have a piece of pumpkin bread, I am still detoxifying and exercising now.

I like it best when my teacher says, “Find a way to be here.” Because sometimes here really hurts. Especially when attempting a split. But there is always a way to be here.

Find a way to be here. I repeat this to myself today in class as I smell the gardenia, and the lemongrass and ginger. Find a way to be here, I think, when here feels like my heart is breaking. Find a way to be here, I think, even when here is tight and chaotic. Find a way to be here, I think, choosing to pick a new narrator of my story because anxiety is no longer welcome.

But the soft ocean waves of others breathing as it rolls in and out around me, inviting in light, softness, authenticity, and grace certainly is.

This is the way to be here, through breath, through our beautiful breath that whispers to us, also in a hushed voice, that we are whole, and never truly broken.

the gift you give yourself is the gift you give others

froggy happy“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is silencing the mind.” – Carolyn Myss

My current state of mind is all over the place.  One minute devastated, the next minute hopeful.

The news is heartbreaking.

But I am reminded of a Mr. Rogers quote that always lifts my spirit, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

There are many earth angels among us, and there is a lot of goodness in this world.

But I still want to cry. And I want to make things better. It feels infuriating and overwhelming when humans repeat the same mistakes over and over again. But worry does nothing other than take you out of the precious moment you are in.

This is when I try to breathe. To just pause and breathe.

The other day while on a walk with my family, we stopped for a “mindfulness moment.” This has become a bit of a habit that we practice whenever on a long walk. It is a way of checking in with ourselves and one another.

My son – having heard me talk numerous times about how I love to be outside among the trees, water, and animals – asked me if there was anything else that gave me this same feeling as being  in nature.

I identified what it is that I most love about being outdoors. I love the freedom, the openness and vastness, the lack of walls, boundaries and rules; the natural light and color.

And what I most adore about being in nature is that sense of steady peacefulness. It feels like a break, an escape. There is nothing to figure out, no problem to solve. It offers a glimpse into the understanding that we are all connected and all navigating this messy beautiful world together. In this place we take turns being the helper and the helped and we are never alone. Everything somehow feels alright.

Nature teaches me compassion, empathy, resilience, and humility over and over again. It creates feelings of awe, magic, and hope. It adjusts my perspective reminding me that I am just one spark in a sea of stars.

I realize that there is a place I go to when I yearn for this similar sense of calm, balance and ease.

And all it requires is a little stillness.

Years ago, before having my son, my doula (which is an emotional support person,) asked me how I handled pain. I realized that sometimes distraction was helpful like watching a funny movie or going out with friends. At other times venturing inward felt necessary.

These are the times when we just need to step away from the battery of external and internal noise and focus on a peaceful place within.

The great Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, talks about the many benefits of creating a gap. She writes, “We can stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We can allow space into our state of mind.”

Sometimes it is easier to connect to this space than others. But it is always there and always available to us when we are feeling lonely, scared, and anxious. Or joyful, grateful, and relieved.

She also writes, “You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that the blessings, the magic, the stillness, and the vastness escapes you.”

For me this restoration of soul happens when I simply pause for a few minutes during the day and consciously tell my thoughts and list of things to do that I will get back to them. Then I focus on nice big belly breaths…inhaling through my nose while pushing my belly out and expanding my chest to the count of  3 – 5. Then exhaling out of my nose, belly back towards my spine for a longer count.

That space, that stillness born after the exhale and before the next inhale, can feel like both nothingness and everything-ness. It can feel like a flash or an eternity (mostly just a flash for me at this point.) It is the sweet moment right before the next thought arrives and it’s a blissful little window for my soul to peek through and make its presence known.

Right now as I practice accepting that my days, my hair, my kids hair, and all of our emotions may be all over the map, I am working on letting go of expectations and the need to try and understand why things happen the way they do.  I have no control over these things.

But I have control over how I choose to look at the situation before me. If I can find my breath, I am better equipped at staying focused, present, and even joyful.

I am just trying to breathe and find nature inside.

And it helps to remember, when feeling a bit un-tethered, that there are always angels in our midst. Like the 92 year-old angel dressed in purple that I met the other night at the retirement home while my son and daughter, along with their classmates, sang Christmas carols.

This earth angel with the sparkly blue eyes told me she still felt like she was 10 and that every morning when she wakes up, she prays to be a blessing to someone else.

I believe if we take moments periodically during the day to pause, breathe and count the blessings all around us that we, too, can be blessings to others.

We become more of who we are and peacefully present to the nature within and all around us.

And our presence may just be the best present we can give.

Wishing you and those you love peace, freedom, health and happiness!

 

Children Naturally

Love Life 

from the Parents Tao Te Ching by William Martin

Your children naturally love life

Their love of life is so spontaneous

and unconscious.

It delights in every nuance of light

and color.

It wonders at every shape

and form.

It dances in their bodies

without self – consciousness.

They are not taught this love.

It cannot be taught,

only lived.

If you live this love for your children

you will guide them,

but never demand a certain response.

You will welcome them,

but never smother them.

You will give birth to them,

but never possess them.

You will nurture their dreams

and guard their self-respect.

They will honor you naturally,

not because of who you are,

but because of who they are.

Don’t worry about how your children treat you.

Concentrate on how you treat yourself.

If your children see in you

a sincere celebration of who you are,

they will return eventually

to their natural joy,

in themselves and in you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the only way out is through and the only way through is in

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“If we view our bodies as bridges that carry us from our inner life to the outer world, then pain often gives us insight as to where the bridge is experiencing the most stress. Pain lets us know where we might crack, where our lives need to be reinforced and rested, in order for us to keep bringing our inner and outer lives together.” – Mark Nepo

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend’. It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’ – Nayyirah Waheed

I have had no less than an acupuncurist, a yoga teacher or two, a graduate school professor, a random man from Israel on the streets of Amsterdam (this happened before (not after) visiting a “coffee” shop,) and an older woman who I was interviewing for a volunteer position at Hospice, tell me that I was “in my head.” I took this to mean too much in my head and not in my heart or body.

It is true, especially when I am nervous. I tend to forget about my body and talk from the top of my throat and forehead. I also have the tendency to over-think, replaying even small occurrences over and over. (Did that waitress really just slam my glass of water on the table?) All of this over-thinking leads to insecurity and self-doubt. And this gets really annoying and cumbersome.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being cerebral, but it is helpful, healing, and certainly more interesting to experience life from our whole beings.

So what is it that causes us to flee and detach ourselves from the rest of our bodies and operate entirely from our heads?

There have been moments when I have been too scared to be in my body for fear of what might be revealed when I land there. Or moments when I was not aware enough to realize I wasn’t in my body in the first place.

If we have suffered from any kind of abuse, trauma, or illness, it might take real practice to feel secure in the body again. And sometimes fleeing the body is purely a matter of survival. This is why it is essential to be gentle with ourselves and move slowly and softly as we go inward.

Living entirely in the head causes us to worry more, feel less, and become infatuated with the future. However, when I integrate my mind with the rest of my body, I am more in touch with the entirety of an experience; the big picture in addition to the smaller details. I am more connected with what is happening right here, right now. The worry diminishes and the real me has space to just be.

I read somewhere recently that anxiety is really just another thing to do. And most of us don’t need another thing to do! But that is what our minds gravitate towards…doing. They like to be busy and preoccupied with something, anything. Our heads talk, but our bodies listen. And when we listen to our bodies, we experience that feeling, not fleeing, is the way to heal.

The word healing has been swimming in my consciousness a lot recently. The kind of spiritual and emotional healing that is less about a cure and more about creating space for acceptance, compassion, and gratitude for all that is. Knowing that everything we experience, even being in the doldrums, enables us to reach our next pinnacle.

This kind of healing might take a lifetime of practice, patience, and perseverance. And at the heart of healing is the movement towards wholeness and wellness. This is not often a linear experience where we progress from one level to the next and sometimes it may even feel like we are stalling or have taken a giant step backwards.

But we cannot heal or be whole without integrating all parts of ourselves. Our whole selves meaning our minds, hearts, and bodies, are like plants that grow when we shower them with appreciation, light, and kindness. Nothing can reach its full potential in a neglectful environment.

Psychologist, Harriet Goldhor Lerner, writes that body wisdom comes through feeling and sensation, not through thinking and figuring out. And Eugene Gendlin, a psychology professor and creator of a process called Focusing, says, “While we’re making a list of pros and cons to help us decide which way to go, we probably already know the answer in our gut but are not ready to hear it.” He refers to this feeling as a felt sense.

So how do we develop this felt sense or body awareness? How do we take the plunge from our heads to our bodies and get more intimate and more comfortable with this inner landscape? How do we begin to heal in this way?

While healing can be a solo endeavor, I have found that a collaborative effort such as being a part of a helpful and supportive community, class or support group; talking with a trusted friend; working with a therapist, doctor, holistic healer, shaman or spiritual teacher; can help us feel validated, inspired, and certainly less alone.

The author of the book, Snake Oil; The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling by Becca Stevens writes that healing isn’t magic. Healing requires faith and work. And often this healing work requires us to integrate our hearts and souls with our minds.

Our bodies are our allies and can be our greatest signal when something is wrong. When we develop body awareness, we encourage health, creativity, and profound healing. Then we are also more genuine and compassionate friends, listeners, and healers for others.

Below are some suggestions for ways to get into our bodies:

1. Bodywork. Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Acupuncture, and Massage are hugely helpful at alleviating physical discomfort as well as relieving and releasing deeply ingrained tension, stress, and sticky emotions.

2. Move. I have found over and over again that a warm, cozy, and slow moving yoga class led by a nurturing teacher is a most helpful way to get back into my body. In yoga, the instructor often reminds the class to bring awareness and attention out of the head and into the heart. We are encouraged to direct our consciousness to all the different places in our bodies. Yoga teaches us to relax our muscles and our weary heads and hearts. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system. This in turn slows down the heart rate helping us to feel calmer and more at peace in the body. In addition to yoga, physical practices such as Pilates, Tai Chi, Authentic Movement, and Nia (an intuitive kind of dance centered on connecting to the inherit joy in the body) are about moving with prana or the life force in the body. Exercise, in general, as you are likely aware, helps release positive hormones and gives our mood a sure fire boost!

3. Sing! Singing encourages us to be in our bellies and engage our diaphragm, the umbrella shaped muscle in our abdomen so essential to our breathing. My friend and voice teacher, Elisa, teaches her students to “breathe into the pit of your stomach.” When we not only sing, but also talk, from the pit of our stomachs with our feet firmly rooted to the earth below us, the depth of resonance and courage that comes out is a much stronger and more confident sound.

4. Stillness. Sit in stillness, meditate, listen to a guided visualization, or try yoga nidra (yogic sleep) at a yoga studio or online. These practices bring awareness to the breath as it swirls in and out of the nostrils like a cleansing and refreshing breeze. And walking meditation, if it feels too anxiety-inducing for you to sit still, can be a great way of getting out of the head and bringing attention to the feet and legs as we feel the healing earth energy beneath us.

5. Create. Writing has been my personal saving grace when it comes to getting me back into my body. Exercises such as writing to and from pain or joy can bring understanding to what your body truly needs in order to heal. If we are angry, disappointed, and feel like we need to get “something off of our chest,” do it in a safe, therapeutic way by creating with your hands or through your voice. Any kind of creative exercise – whether it is signing or using your hands by sculpting with clay or play- doh, painting, or gardening – can also be helpful.

6. Engage the senses, notice beauty, and experience pleasure! Eat something you enjoy without guilt. Watch a beautiful movie, admire nature, try essential oils, listen to a song you love, wrap yourself in a soft warm blanket – treat your body like a sacred temple that deserves to be lovingly tended to.

7. Professional mental health care. A therapist familiar with somatic techniques such as Focusing is especially helpful when healing from a traumatic experience, depression, and anxiety.

8. Name feelings. Identify an emotion without attaching any judgment or criticism to it. Just saying fear if you feel fear helps bring awareness to what and how you are feeling. It is very hard to have sincere empathy and compassion for others, if we don’t know how to identify what we are feeling first. Otherwise we are too wrapped up in our own stuff to really be able to listen and “be there” for others.

When we live from our bodies as well as our minds, we operate from our power.

And being in our power is living from love. Go with love!

A tribe of our own

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I recall being in a yoga class years ago listening to the visiting instructor talk about her “tribe.” She wasn’t Native American or African. I felt a little confused. Who were these people in her tribe? How did she find them? I wanted one. Shoot, I felt defeated…I came to yoga to feel stretched out and relaxed but left feeling sad about not having a tribe.

Then, last summer when I was at a retreat for school, I met with my new cohort for the first time after switching to the “creativity” specialization in my graduate program. The minute I stepped foot on the property a year before, I somehow felt like I was home, even though I was hundreds of miles away from where I live.

As I sat in an introductory circle with fellow students, some in chairs, some on the floor, I smiled as I watched one male student munch on carrots and hummus like a little woodland creature. There were musical instruments lying in a woven basket by my teacher who couldn’t find her notes but had the coolest beaded necklace on. People talked out of turn. Someone cracked a joke.

And then standing up, holding hands in a circle like the “Whos in Whoville,” we began to sing. And that is when it dawned on me, I had found my tribe. I felt like I could get up and do the “African Anteater Ritual” from my favorite 80’s movie, Can’t By Me Love, and no one would have found it odd. In fact, they most likely would have joined me.

Just before my retreat, while visiting with a dear friend in San Francisco, she too spoke of a friend of hers who had recently changed her graduate school specialization. This friend was feeling conflicted with her chosen path during a rotation in medical school. Her supervisor intervened and advised her to think about the kind of personalities she wanted to spend her long and challenging days with. Whom did she want to learn with, grow with? She suggested she, too, do some soul searching to find her tribe.

Just a few weekends ago, my family and I got to experience my mom’s tribe. We sat in the family room of a quaint cottage she rented on the beach with three of her closest girlfriends. She often talks about their time together as “therapy,” and I can see why. Laughter is true medicine for the soul. And it was so much fun to be in their presence. My seven year old son was even laughing out loud. It made me smile to see my mom with her people. She looked youthful and sun-kissed. After cocktails at lunch and listening to them discuss the men who walked into the restaurant, I realized it was actually their spring break. My husband and I started referring to them as “The Golden Girls Gone Wild.”

On the last day of their ten days together, my mom called to tell me there was a frog in their toilet. Apparently it hopped out and was jumping all over and falling off the walls. My only advice for her was not to lick it. Now that I think of it, maybe the frog thought he had found his people too and was just waiting for a smooch from his princess.

Then yesterday my brother sent me a wonderful article called, What You Learn in your 40’s by Pamela Druckerman from the New York Times. It too was about finding your people. She referenced an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. He spoke about his favorite part of the Emmy Awards being when the comedy writers went onstage to collect their prize. “You see these gnome-like cretins, just kind of all misshapen. And I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.” Druckerman goes on to say that by your 40s, “you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

I wish I could reach out and tell every lonely teenager or adult for that matter, to just hang in there. We all feel misunderstood from time to time. And there may even be times like when I moved across the country my junior year of high school; I didn’t know anyone and had to rely on myself as my own tribe. But eventually the day comes for us all when we find our people, a tribe of our very own. And it is a glorious reward for hanging in there and never giving up.

Here is the link to NY Times articlehttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/opinion/sunday/what-you-learn-in-your-40s.html?_r=0