The Advocate and the Architect

If you’ve never taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, I would highly recommend it. Although I’ve only been able to take the knock-off version that they have available for free online, it’s still definitely worth checking out. It’s almost terrifying how accurate and detailed the results are. I’ll often ask people if they know what their type is just so that I can read about them and come to understand them a bit better. I finally remembered to do this the other day with my new vegan guy.

I was delighted to see that he had already heard about this and knew his type. Most people I ask have never taken the test or even heard about it. He is an INFJ and I am an INTJ. Looks like we must be pretty similar right? Actually that one little letter apparently makes a lot of difference. I suppose it would, given that they F stands for feeling, while the T stands for thinking. On the bright side we do seem to compliment one another. Although I wasn’t able to sense it myself right away, it does seem like he will be able to help facilitate the emotional side of our connection.

INFJs are called the Advocates. Kind of ironic given that’s actually my job title. They are very sensitive, emotionally aware people. Advocates are always looking out for the best interests and feelings of others. Unfortunately this can often lead them to place their own feelings and needs in the background. I was delighted to read that INFJs are generally very committed to their romantic partners and are looking for serious, long-term relationships. Knowing that has greatly helped to remove any lingering doubt about his intentions.

After reading through the details of an INFJ, I decided to reread my own page to refresh my memory. I was immediately amazed and embarrassed. I had forgotten how incredibly accurate this personality type description was for me. I almost regretted bringing it up. Knowing he would read about me, I felt so exposed. I was horrified at what he might think about me. Especially when it came to the “relationships” section of the webpage. While INFJs were lauded for their affinity for emotional intimacy and commitment to their partners, the INTJ’s corresponding page was not so flattering.

A lot of the things I was considering autistic traits, may actually just be traits of my personality type. One of the things that continued to be emphasized was INTJ’s disregard and cluelessness towards social conventions. We don’t like small talk at all, don’t even really know how to have small talk. We aren’t very in tune with our emotions or the emotions of others. We can even offend or hurt someone without realizing it. In my opinion, the relationship section particularly was almost scathing. Paragraph after paragraph explained just how inept INTJs tend to be when it comes to romance and intimacy. We feel awkward and confused by dating, unable to tap into our emotional selves, preferring to look at the world in an utterly rational and analytical fashion. One particular line that struck me what when it said that INTJs often wonder if dating and social interaction are even worth the trouble. I’ve definitely found myself wondering that on more than one occasion.

Even after reading all about my humiliating shortcomings, my vegan guy still came over and hung out with me yesterday. I felt much more relaxed with him this time. We had a lovely cozy day in, just talking and watching movies. He brought me more flowers like a true gentleman. I showed him some yoga poses. We went and picked up a few groceries and cooked a delicious vegan dinner together while listening to one of our favorite bands. Overall it was an absolutely lovely day. He even opened up to me about the details of his past relationships. Even though I struggled, I did the same. I feel very awkward being vulnerable like that with someone, but I feel as though it was necessary.

Unfortunately he also showed me pictures of the new apartment he’s already signed a one-year lease for. I truly am happy for him about his new job, but it still pains me to know he’ll be living five hours away from me by the end of this month. At least I feel reassured about his commitment to maintaining a relationship with me now. Part of me hopes the distance will be good for us. Perhaps it will allow me the time I need to get more comfortable with him before I feel any more pressure to be physically intimate. We are planning on writing letters to one another once he’s moved. That’s one thing I am actually extremely excited about. He seems to be too. He told me he’s been planning out a few things for our letters. I’m not sure what exactly he means, but I’m so excited to find out.

We’ll probably only be able to hang out one or two more times before he moves. I really want to make an effort to be in the moment with him on those days. I don’t need to worry about what will be said or done. I just have to breathe and enjoy his company and trust that I’ll know the right thing to say or do as the day unfolds. No matter what happens, I am still grateful for the wonderful experiences we’ve already shared.

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Psychedelics

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Yesterday I watched a Ted Talk discussing the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. I clicked on this video absentmindedly, not really expecting it to tell me anything I hadn’t already heard before. To my surprise I was given new insight into why my psychedelic experiences have been the way they are. It also gave me even more reason to believe that psychedelics really do allow us to connect to some deeper consciousness, a divine connectedness. It is a glimpse beneath the veil of our earthly illusions, and the things we think and perceive in these altered states are perhaps more real than the reality our sober minds produce.

I knew that taking psychedelics altered the way our brains perceive the world. I knew that they break down our biases and inner walls so to speak. They remove the shackles of our well worn neuronal connections and allow us the freedom to explore the vast possibilities of our consciousness and perception. What I didn’t know is that this brain state is very similar to one we’ve all experienced before: childhood. Apparently a child’s brain works in a very similar way to a brain on psychedelics. Isn’t that fascinating? I had often described my experiences with LSD as being a child again in a new world. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is fascinating and new. There is so much joy and curiosity and discovery to be had.

As children none of us were too enmeshed in certain ways of doing things or seeing the world. There were many more possibilities open to us. As we age, our brains naturally start to sink into patterns, strengthening certain neural networks while allowing other, less used pathways to shrivel and shrink with disuse. Eventually we begin to feel trapped in our ways of thinking and seeing the world. It feels impossible to change or view the world from a fresh perspective. And in reality, while it is still quite possible for us to change, it will be much harder than it might have been when we were younger.

Imagine a cart being pulled over the soft earth. Once you’ve made tracks in the dirt, it is easier to follow those tracks again. The more you follow those particular tracks though, the deeper they become. Eventually it will be quite difficult to make new tracks or break out of the ones we have been taking. A child’s mind is an image of virgin land, no tracks, no footprints even, just a great expanse of possibility and wonder. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that adults tend to enjoy children so much. While our own minds may feel incapable of breaking free of our patterns on their own, spending time with a child is sure to be full of surprises and new experiences. Children have the ability to pull us in new directions we would have never considered on our own. Kids are funny. Kids are weird. Kids are surprising, unpredictable even. That is the magic of a newly developing brain. That is the magic we may all experience again for ourselves with the help of psychedelics.

This comparison to a child’s mind helps explain a lot of the experiences I’ve had with LSD. The idea that psychedelics are able to break down our preconceived ways of seeing the world only strengthens my conviction that the feelings and truths I’ve experienced in that altered state of mind are real. LSD isn’t making me hallucinate or become delusional. LSD helps me to break through the illusions that I live inside of. It helps me see the world for what it is again, through fresh eyes, with the innocence and imagination of a child. I don’t for a second believe it’s a coincidence that one of the reoccurring perceptions people come away from a psychedelic experience with is that we are all connected. There is a powerful feeling of connectedness, contentment, joy, peace, trust. It is reconnecting with the wisdom of the universe, a deep sense of reassurance that everything is as it should be. There is also the ever present image that everything in life is a cycle, and that it’s okay to have faith in and surrender to that cycle. Now more than ever, I feel confident in that belief.

Alex Grey's “Gaia” | Pinkocrat

I Am Going to Have a Good Day Today

Each morning when I sit down at my desk, laptop in front on me, WordPress open and waiting, I struggle to think of something to write about. I have a list I keep of a few ideas I could expound upon, but a lot of them seem too depressing to dwell on first thing in the morning. I keep losing sight of the reason I started writing again everyday in the first place. This is for me, this is to amp myself up, to get excited, to have fun. I don’t have to find a new fascinating topic to delve into every day. It really doesn’t matter what I write at all. Rather it’s the simple act of creation, of pouring myself into words on a page, with no other goal than to enjoy doing so.

I mentioned before how visualization before bed has helped me to wake up feeling better, more animated in the morning. Today I wanted to try that same visualization but in order to prepare me for the rest of my day. I have taken the next few days off from work because I had some PTO hours I needed to use up before July. Even though I am always excited for a day off, I never seem to let myself enjoy it. I get all in my head about every little moment, feeding my anxiety all throughout the day. I’m hoping that by sitting down, taking some mindful time first thing in the morning to mentally walk through my day, I’ll be able to feel more present and happy as I move through it.

Today is going to be a great day! I got to sleep in so I am feeling nice and rested. What a beautiful gift to be able to dream all through the night and wake up gently of my own volition. It’s a rather chilly day outside so I am going to spend my time warm and cozy indoors. I am going to have a very productive day. It will be a delight to clean up my house and organize things later. It will be an act of self-love. Tending to my nest so that I can feel more at home, more at peace. It will also be a great joy to show off all my hard work to my vegan boy tomorrow when he comes over again. Once my work is all done and the day is winding down, I’ll reward myself with a relaxing evening playing my new favorite video game.

Before I start my cleaning for the day, I have a lot of wonderful self-care to complete. I do most of these things every single day, yet the intention behind them has faded over time. Theses small acts aren’t supposed to be more chores for me to begrudgingly trudge through. These are small gifts to myself, chances to be present, chances to appreciate myself, my life. Today I am going to be mindful of this sweet, loving intention as I move through my to-do list.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the time while I am going about my business, I’m holding my breath! Or I’m breathing very shallow and quick. Today I am going to keep coming back to my breath. How might it feel to breathe mindfully, lovingly for an entire day? Won’t it be fun to try it out and see? Yes, fun. Above all I want to have fun today. I’m going to keep a light heart, a soft eye, a kind energy. I’m going to be curious and playful, grateful for this new day to spend with myself. My yoga practice today is going to be a celebration of this life I’ve been given, a beautiful flowing dance in tribute to my lovely body, my mother Earth. My meditation will be a much deserved rest, a surrender to that sweet mother. As I kindle that inner fire, that prana, with my workout today I will rejoice at all my body is capable of doing for me. The theme for today is passion, fire, playfulness, admiration, devotion. Each a simple word, yet able to bring such powerful emotions bubbling up to the surface.

One last intention to set before I finish up and move into the rest of my day. Today is just one day. I will focus on the time I have, not the foggy future to come. Perhaps I will have time for everything I’ve got swirling around in my busy mind eventually. Perhaps not. Either way, all I am able to do is focus on the day in front of me. There is not enough time for me to do everything. Instead I will concentrate on doing what I can. Doing it well, with deep breaths, and with many sips from the well of my own self-love.

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Kratom Propaganda

I’ve written one post on here about the new “drug” being talked about and sold everywhere from headshops to gas stations, kratom. My last post was about how wonderful this drug has been in helping me cope with my, at times, crippling anxiety. I 100% stand by everything I’ve written about kratom. However, today I wanted to dispel some of the horrific rumors, propaganda, and straight up, bold faced lies I’ve seen about it. It’s Refer Madness all over again.

Just to be fair, I do probably lean on kratom a bit more than I should. Although after years of taking it daily, I will just note that I haven’t needed to increase my dosage at all. I still get the same effects from a rather small amount which lasts for a consistent amount of time. All that being said, for the first half of the day at work today, I have been feeling extremely tired. Not super out of the ordinary for me, I often suspect I may have chronic fatigue syndrome. But just because I am a curious, inquisitive person, I decided to see if it might have anything to do with the fact that I skipped my morning kratom. I know that kratom is related to the coffee plant so I thought it might have similar withdrawal symptoms to caffeine. Not thinking much of it, I decided to google: kratom withdrawal.

I was not anywhere near prepared for the kinds of results that popped up. The first thing on the page was a huge 1-800 number for a drug abuse hotline. “That’s kind of funny,” I thought, but continued skimming the rest of the page. As I read the titles of each website and article that came up, I became less and less amused. After clicking on one from a “reputable” health source, I became downright infuriated.

I wasn’t even sure this mild tiredness I’ve experienced after around 24 hours without any kratom was linked to that at all. Yet these websites and articles were fearmongering in some of the most disgusting ways. Highlighted in bold, snippets of text proclaimed that kratom withdrawal is practically the same as opioid withdrawal! Absolutely outrageous and utterly untrue. Symptoms that were listed included: flu-like symptoms, body aches, hallucinations, even seizures! Of course not even a mention of the slight tiredness I was experiencing.

I am aware that there is a big movement to make kratom illegal. My sister even donates to an organization that is fighting that legislation. However, I had no idea how bad this misinformation campaign had actually gotten in the last few years. It makes me sick. I am especially bothered by how easily the general public is eating it up. Even some of my family members have repeating back outlandish propaganda to me about kratom. They hesitate when I explain to them that it’s just like refer madness, but still don’t seem to stop believing the lies they’ve heard. I can’t believe that the same bullshit is working all over again.

Just like with marijuana, the government and pharmaceutical industries don’t want this drug to become popular because it will cut into their profits and prevent people from needing other expensive medications and medical care. Even though kratom has the potential to help the opioid crisis in this country (as it can help users with detox and withdrawal) the media would rather liken it to the opioids themselves and scare people away from it. I guess the opioid crisis isn’t worth solving unless someone can make money off of it.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Despite my already disillusioned, cynical state, I continued to be shocked by the backward depravity of society. Even though weed is legal now in many states and has been proven to help with many mental and physical issues, the scaremongering about this medicinal plant is still going strong as well. It may sound like just another conspiracy theory, but I don’t believe all of the news stories about weed being laced with fentanyl either. Unless you are actually trying to kill someone, it makes absolutely no sense why anyone would put that in the weed they are selling. Why would you risk killing your customers? Why risk drawing the police’s attention for nothing? Why would you add a more expensive drug to another drug for free? It’s nonsense. I know a lot of people that smoke and sell weed. I even know quite a few people that have done fentanyl and heroin. I know it’s just anecdotal evidence, but none of them have ever even heard of such a case happening in real life. Even a recent case of a local high schooler “overdosing” on fentanyl that was in a weed gummy, turned out to be total bullshit. She just got way too high and freaked out. I’m willing to bet all of these stories are just rumors, if not purposeful propaganda to scare people away from using cannabis.

I am so tired of the masses being mind controlled and manipulated by false information. I used to think in this miraculous age of technology that could only continue for so much longer. But after the Trump presidency and all of the lingering, idiotic lies from that fiasco, I’ve utterly lost that hopeful outlook. It almost seems like the internet has made everything worse in some ways.

Even though I am just one random person, I just had to speak out about this. Kratom is a miracle drug that has helped me so much in the last few years. It breaks my heart to think that people will be prevented from receiving this same help due to lies and misinformation spreading like wildfire. I won’t be surprised when kratom is eventually made illegal just like cannabis was. I’m definitely going to keep stockpiling it for myself for when that time comes.

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Altruism

For the majority of my life, I’ve considered myself a pretty selfish person. It’s not something I’m proud of or anything, just something I’ve recognized about myself. As I get older, I identify with that label less and less. I am still definitely more selfish and self-obsessed than a lot of the people I know, but not nearly as much as my past self. I think selfishness is something we all grow out of to some extent as we grow older. Although I’m not really sure why that is.

As far as my own personality goes, I think I’ve changed because the more I’ve experienced in life, the more I’ve learned that it feels good to be “selfless.” I say that almost ironically, because I’m not really sure if there truly are selfless acts in this world. Regardless of what our reasoning might be, we all have our own motives for doing everything that we do. In the end I truly believe that we are all connected anyway. We are all one. So by helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Even if in the moment it looks as though we’ve put ourselves at risk or denied ourselves something for the sake of another, all that truly means is that we value the way it feels to help more than whatever it is we may lose in the process. I just think some people are a little bit more honest and in tune with their intentions than others.

I don’t want this to sound cynical. I’m not trying to argue that no one is motivated by anything other than self interest. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping someone else. I think it’s quite beautiful even. It’s just one of the many ways this world provides us with a perfectly symbiotic relationship with all other life. It’s so bizarre to think that what was once a playground taunt “what goes around comes around” has actually been a profound truth all along. I’m not sure how I feel about karma because it is more focused on past lives. However, I do believe that we can feel the direct impacts of our own actions coming back to us in this life.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this idea today is because of the impact it can have on our mental health. It seems like despite the sunny warm weather returning, my mental health hasn’t improved like it usually does around this time of year. I’m not sure whether it’s because of this ongoing pandemic or what I’ve learned about our oceans recently, but something has been weighing on me quite heavily this past year. Yesterday, my best friend since third grade messaged me and expressed that she has been feeling the exact same ways that I have. Her anxiety has been worse than ever, she’s having panic attacks, depressive episodes, fits of rage, etc. While it truly broke my heart to hear how much she’s been struggling, comforting her did help me remember something very important that I’d nearly forgotten.

Sometimes when we are drowning in mental illness and focusing on all of our problems, it becomes hard to think about anything or anyone else. We get sucked into this painful, self-defeating vortex. Although it may seem impossible in these moments, one of the best ways to pull ourselves out is to try to focus on others for awhile. Even though it feels like you have nothing left to give, give anyway. One of my favorite quotes is, “the heart that gives, gathers.” A simple, yet powerful truth. There is nothing more uplifting or fulfilling than being of service to others, especially those you love. It’s nice to feel needed, to feel that you are a valuable part of someone else’s life, to see that you are capable of contributing to the lives of your friends, your family, your community.

When you fixate on something, it often grows and becomes larger and larger the longer you do. The same goes for your problems. A day spent focusing solely on my anxiety level is guaranteed to be a difficult day. As I spent hours on the phone with my friend last night, my own anxiety couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was even grateful for my own experiences with mental illness as it allowed me to better understand my friend’s suffering. I was so happy to be able to be there for her.

We briefly discussed the idea of “burdening” others with your distress or personal issues. Both of us have a tendency to be hesitant to speak up about our problems to those we love. It seems cruel to make them share our pain, even if it would lighten the load for us and provide much needed comfort. Even though I often feel this way, I do believe there is also another way to look at it. Perhaps it is a gift to share our troubles with our loved ones. After all, I didn’t feel burdened by talking to my friend about her struggles yesterday. I felt honored and thankful that she would come to me for help. It made me feel better to help her feel better. It is a beautiful experience of bonding and trust to be vulnerable with someone else.

The next time I am starting to feel overwhelmed by my own inner world, I want to remember what my friend reminded me yesterday by coming to me with her despair. I don’t need to be afraid to also share my difficulties. And even more importantly than that, sometimes the best remedy for those difficulties is shifting my focus to helping someone else instead. To remind myself that there is so much more in this world than my own suffering, that I am capable of more than suffering. I am even capable of easing the suffering of others, and that is something I am truly grateful for.





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The Fear of Mediocrity

I like creating because it fills an emptiness that used to be there. It’s so simple, and so lovely, that humans are like this. That we want to build with our hands. That we want to assemble and construct. That we derive joy from stacking pieces together, and stringing words together, and assembling colors on a page, and moving, and singing, and baking and knitting. Humans love to build little worlds around them.

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This quote is just a segment of a long post I read on Tumblr this morning about the fear of mediocrity. It was so cathartic to realize that other people struggle with their creativity in the same ways that I do. I identified so much with what this person wrote. I can remember criticizing my own art for as long as I’ve been creating it, even back when I was a child. Nothing I drew or made was ever “good enough” despite the fact that I had always been praised by the adults around me. My sister and I both always performed above the developmental level of other children at our age, especially when it came to drawing and art. But given that my sister is three years older than me, I still compared myself to her and felt that I wasn’t good by comparison.

I allowed this self-criticism to stifle my creative energy for many years of my life. That fear of failure can become crippling. It keeps you from trying new things. It holds you back from the hobbies you love, but aren’t “exceptional” at. I still remember reading something before that was talking about the way other cultures find it odd when people from America for instance say they “can’t sing.” What we mean to say is we don’t sing well enough to be comfortable doing so. But this idea is simply bizarre in other places in the world. Singing is just a natural part of being human. Just as all birds sing, all humans are capable of song as well. So why not allow ourselves to? The same can be said for dancing, writing, drawing, building, etc. All of these creative endeavors are a natural part of human existence. It is terribly sad that the vast majority of us seem to cut ourselves off from our own creative drives out of shame or fear.

If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me that they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. It truly breaks my heart to hear that. Yoga isn’t about doing fancy, impressive poses or having a perfect, flawless body. Yoga is a spiritual act of self-love. Yoga is about presence and healing and showing up for yourself as you are. Yoga is a beautiful journey inward, a dance with your own soul. I’m tearing up right now just imagining how many people have denied themselves the right to practice yoga because of how they look or the real/perceived limitations of their bodies. I was nearly one of those people myself.

I can only imagine that this strange and sad phenomenon has gotten worse with the advent of the internet. It has certainly made me feel worse about my own creations. Before the internet, I may have seen incredible anime or animal drawings in books or something, but even though these images were far out of my league, it never bothered me on a personal level. The people who contributed to these books were much older than me, I could tell myself. They are professionals. It is their job to draw. There is no need to compare myself to them. However, now with Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Pinterest, etc. we are able to see the best of the best from people around the globe that aren’t necessarily older than us, or professional artists. For some reason this is much harder to cope with.

DeviantArt particularly was a place I used to love to visit. At first I was inspired. How incredible it was to see the vast amount of amazing artwork regular people like me were creating and sharing with the world! But soon it became more about how far away my skills were from theirs. I started to feel that I would never be able to create anything as good, so I should just stop all together. It made it hard to find the fun in drawing anymore.

Even though for the past year I’ve been working to incorporate creativity into my everyday life again, I still struggle with this fear of mediocrity. I constantly have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter at all how good my art is compared to other people. It doesn’t even matter if what I drew yesterday is better than what I’ll draw today or tomorrow. It is the act of creation itself that matters. It is the beauty of making something where there was once nothing at all. That alone is something to marvel at, something to be so grateful for being able to do. Everything else is just a distraction, a misdirection, insignificant chatter of the mind.

I don’t write these posts to be the best writer in the world, or even a good writer, to be honest. I do it because I am a writer. I like to write. It brings me joy. And that’s enough. I don’t draw to compete with anyone else, even the person I was the day before. I don’t do it to make money or to prove something to anyone else or myself. I do it because I am human. I do it to manifest my unique, miraculous consciousness into the world. Because we are all here to create, no matter our skill level or medium. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough, especially yourself.

Moderation

When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.

One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.

For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.

Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.

I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.

Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)

Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.

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Grounding Yourself

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I feel like the term “grounding” can often be overused and misinterpreted. So before I go on, I’d just like to explain what that word means to me. In my mind, feeling grounded is feeling present. It is feeling secure as well as emotionally, mentally, and physically stable. I’m not sure if that is the definition other people would use, but that’s what I think of when I think about being grounded. That’s what I am going for when I speak about grounding in my yoga classes.

It took me a long time to develop this understanding of the word though. At first it always seemed a bit abstract and unclear. In the beginning of my yoga journey I defaulted to taking this word more literally. Whenever I was told to ground in a yoga pose I would simply imagine the sensation of my feet, legs, hands, tailbone, etc. against the mat. I focused intently on what that connection felt like against each nerve ending. Visualizing grounding in this way for years eventually led me to connect that word with being present in my body in general. I think this is more what the term is getting at. Focusing on your connection to the earth or the mat is just one way of doing that.

You don’t have to focus on your physical connection to the ground to ground yourself. You just have to make an effort to focus on something happening in the present moment. I actually really like a grounding exercise that I learned from Better Call Sal on Netflix. There is a scene where Sal’s agoraphobic brother keeps reciting different details he notices around him. Such as: I see blue cloth. I feel cool air. I smell patchouli. I hear birds chirping. All of these sensations have the potential to create a grounding effect. The subject doesn’t matter. What’s important is to really focus your full attention on what you are sensing or feeling at that moment. You don’t necessarily have to speak these thoughts aloud, but I do find it’s helpful in order to maintain your complete attention.

I love the phrase “monkey mind” because I really think it’s a good representation of the way the mind seems to jump around endlessly from one thought to another. Sometimes it seems impossible to settle on a thought as simple as inhaling or exhaling. I like to imagine when my attempts at this focused attention are thwarted by my mind, that this monkey was about to be caught but becomes even more frantic at the last minute in order to escape. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to gain that monkey’s trust. You mustn’t get frustrated with it when it leaps away from your attempts at mindfulness. Keep trying. Keep coming back. Keep being nice to yourself. Keep offering yourself rewards for your efforts. Keep reenforcing those positive habits. Eventually you will be able to tame your monkey mind.

Grounding is a very important aspect of my yoga practice. In my opinion, anxiety is the polar opposite of feeling grounded. Anxiety feel shakey, unstable, scattered. When you are feeling anxious, practicing grounding exercises is an excellent way to help yourself feel better. That doesn’t make it easy however. An anxious mind makes for an especially crazed monkey. Anxiety is a natural response to danger in our environment, therefore even when unjustified, this anxiety demands our attention. To be able to ignore the discomfort it causes so easily could have been a death sentence were it another time in history. So be gentle with yourself. Even though it’s aggravating and inconvenient, anxiety is just your body’s way of trying to keep you safe. It takes a lot of consistent work to build enough trust with your body for it to believe the mind when it tells the body to let that stress go, that we are actually safe, that it’s tension and warnings are unnecessary.

The next time you notice yourself feeling uneasy or anxious try this. (I’m going to try too.) Say to yourself aloud, or silently in your head: Thank you, my lovely body for this warning, but I am okay. You don’t have to worry. This is a great way to lovingly acknowledge how you are feeling without resisting it, avoiding it, or becoming upset about it. Then in order to show your body that you are truly alright, find five things in your immediate surroundings that you can direct your focus towards. They could be one thing for each of the five senses, five things you can see, or whatever combination that works best for you. Try to breath deeply and remain in the present moment as you recite the details about a few things around you. Go slowly, really try to concentrate on each one. It may feel silly and weird at first, but I highly encourage you to try saying your list aloud at least once. Notice how verbalizing each detail feels different than when you simply say it in your head. Does it help you stay more focused, less focused, or something else? Does it make you feel more grounded, less grounded, or something else?

If you are having trouble thinking of things to focus on, you can intentionally add a few things to your environment to help you. For instance, you can light a candle or some incense and focus on the smell. Focus on the flame flickering or the graceful spirals of the rising smoke. You might play some gentle, calming music that you enjoy. You might make yourself a cup of your favorite tea. You might put on a favorite article of clothing and pay attention to the way the material feels against your skin. You could even take a bath or wash your face and focus on the way the warm water and soap suds feel.

I genuinely hope that these suggestions and ideas will help those of you struggling with anxiety to find more ease throughout your day. I know that anxiety has the potential to be debilitating at times, and all of this is much easier said than done. Even so, if you only take away one thing from reading this let it be that you are worth it. You are worth the effort. You are worth all the practice that it takes to get you where you want to be. You deserve to live your life with happiness and ease. If nothing else, ground yourself in the certainty that these words are true.

You are worth it, my darlings.

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The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

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Sketchy Sexual Experiences

I was talking to my friend the other day on the phone. I wanted to know some of the less discussed details about the beginning of her relationship with her now husband. When did they first kiss, how long did they wait before having sex, etc. Even though I know that these things are highly personal milestones in any relationship, I felt like it would help me to have some idea of the timelines for other people. Discussing this with her was highly therapeutic for me. I realize that I don’t need anyone else to justify my decision on waiting to have sex. In the end it’s my decision and whenever I choose to have sex with a partner is valid. Yet it did help me feel more confident and reassured after hearing someone else’s perspective and experience.

Working at a child advocacy center for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot more about sex and consent than I expected. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of some of these teen girls who we see here. Their stories all sound so similar. They tell us they didn’t want to scream or make a scene. They second guess and doubt their own intuition and perspective. They are ashamed. They blame themselves. They don’t know what to do. They feel bad for their abuser even, at times. After a while, something finally clicked inside of my head and I began to see my younger self in a lot of these girls. Some of the scenarios they describe sound so familiar.

When the Me Too Movement first started a few years ago, I felt somewhat conflicted. I saw everyone around me sharing stories of times they had been abused or disrespected by men. It seemed like all women had at least one story. Yet after searching my memories, I felt I didn’t have any of these types of experiences. I felt lucky, of course, grateful, but I also felt confused. Why didn’t I have any of these stories when so many other women did? I couldn’t find a satisfying answer. Of course my self-hating, low self-esteem mind told me that it must be because I’m not attractive enough to be assaulted. Which I know is offensive and ridiculous.

Since that time, I’ve thought about a lot to different sexual encounters I had growing up. It feels weird to say, but looking back, I feel like I was victimized at least twice without even realizing it or acknowledging it. How can that be possible? I’ve asked myself that question, and I still don’t know. Maybe the only separation is whether or not you feel like you’ve been traumatized. That doesn’t seem right to me either though. Just because a lot of the kids we see at our center are in love with their abuser or even enjoyed the sexual experiences they’ve had, doesn’t mean how things happened wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean these adult men haven’t broken the law and done egregious things. Does the fact that at the time I was complacent or believed I deserved what happened because of the situation I put myself in make what happened to me acceptable? I don’t think so.

It’s not as if I want to go after these boys from my past or have them prosecuted. Although I’ve come to accept I wasn’t to blame for what happened back then, I don’t necessarily put the blame on those boys either. I think what’s more important is to address the toxic, sex-phobic culture we were raised in. The culture that led me to believe being drunk and alone with boys meant it was my fault if I was then sexually assaulted. The culture that taught these boys what they did was normal, perfectly alright behavior. This is what I want to address. I don’t think the boys from my past had any intention to harm me or even disrespect me. They were just doing what young boys are expected to do. I doubt they viewed themselves as sexual predators, nor do I necessarily want them to. I just want us all to learn together how we can communicate better and respect one another so we can facilitate healthy sexual experiences, especially for teens and young adults.

During that phone call with my friend, we talked a lot about my sexual promiscuity when we were in college. Her impression was that I just had a high sex drive, that I was being care-free and having fun. She seemed surprised and somewhat saddened when I told her that actually wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know myself well enough, didn’t understand relationships enough, to make the right decisions. Given that my first sexual partner was someone that I was dating and who I was deeply in love with, I didn’t really grasp the correlation between love and sex. Desperate to feel that same emotional intimacy, that spiritual closeness, I found myself confusing it and conflating it with physical intimacy. I really didn’t have desire for the actual act of sex with most of the men I’ve been with. What I desired and hoped to obtain from sex was actually love and tenderness. As you might imagine, it took me a long time to understand and process the pain of never finding it.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to teach our children how to have these important conversations surrounding sex. The more prepared we make them, the easier it will be to talk about with their partner when the times comes. I wish I had been wise enough, brave enough, to ask more questions of my partners before having sex with them. Questions like: what does sex mean to you? where do you see our relationship going, if anywhere? do you have romantic feelings for me or are you only interested in a physical relationship? I always made the mistake of just assuming we were on the same page. Then I felt heartbroken and wronged upon discovering that wasn’t the case.

In addition, we need to emphasize that while no means no, only an enthusiastic, informed yes is true consent. Pressuring someone until they eventually give in is not consent. An obviously reluctant partner that hasn’t verbally said no is not consent. It is so important that we all work to improve society when it comes to its ideas and understanding of the complex issues surrounding sex. I only wish I could go back in time and share this new, deeper understanding with the young girl I once was. Instead I will try to help other young girls avoid my same mistakes.

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