Blogging as Self-help

You may have noticed that the topics I’ve been writing about lately aren’t exactly in line with my original intention for this blog. Years ago when I created it, my goal was to write about veganism, specifically helpful tips for new vegans or vegans in rural areas like myself. It is self evident that even in the beginning this resulted in few, infrequent posts. I was getting too in my head. Limiting myself and allowing perfectionism to stop me before I even started. I believe I went years without posting anything at all. I was too anxious to even think about it. Something that was supposed to be a fun way to improve my writing skills and share with others became just another source of distress.

Since I’ve started posting regularly on this blog again, I decided to write about absolutely anything I felt like writing about that day. I had been doing daily writing for years, but was starting to feel frustrated with the way my journaling always turned out. It seemed like I was just trying to fill the pages with meaningless words in order to get my daily writing over with. I feel like having an audience helps me to stay focused on a topic and actually express myself in a more productive, beneficial way.

I have been using it to explore my own thoughts and follow them to see if I am able to come to any interesting conclusions. It has felt rather therapeutic to me, writing these entries each day for the last few weeks. I can’t guarantee that I’ll continue this new habit, but for right now it is helping me a lot. I’ve really been enjoying contemplating what to write about and listening to lo-fi hip hop as I wander through my own thoughts. It may even be creating something nice for me to look back on some day.

So I do apologize if this blog seems lacking direction now and if you don’t enjoy or understand my seemingly random ramblings. But at the end of the day, I’ve started writing on here again for myself. After all imperfection is far better than radio silence. And I’m proud of this new habit of mine. Proud of myself for trying to remember how to do things for no other reason than my own pleasure and amusement.

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food

For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with my relationship to food. I’ve always loved food which gives me the tendency to eat in excess. Yet I’ve also constantly want to lose weight which makes me restrict my eating. This restriction often leads to binges, which are countered by more restriction. The endless cycle is exhausting physically as well as mentally. One of the many goals I have for myself in 2019 is to begin crafting a healthier relationship with food. I’ve created a list of seven things I believe will help me accomplish this goal. I hope you’ll join me in trying to focus on the following things this year so we can all grow a healthier relationship to our food and our bodies.

  1. Healthy Whole Foods: I have been following a vegan diet for nearly seven years now. However, I somehow still manage to eat a lot of processed foods and junk foods. This year I’d really like to have the majority of my diet consist of healthier fresh whole foods. I want to do this as a gift to my beautiful body for all that it does for me every day. I want to look at this dietary shift as an act of self-love. For the first time I want to change my diet, not to lose weight, but to nourish and support my body the best that I can. This body does so many wonderful things for me. I want it to have the best fuel to continue doing so.
  2. Meal Planning: This is something that I have been trying to do for a while now. I keep getting distracted or too lazy to keep it up for very long though. I’m going to try harder this year to make this a part of my routine. It is so much easier to eat healthy when you know in advance what you are going to eat each day. Most of my poor eating habits stem from being so hungry and tired that I end up eating whatever is easily available. When I’ve already planned my meal ahead of time, I don’t have to dig through my cabinets trying to decide and most likely settling on something high in calories but low in nutritional value.
  3. Meal Prep: Another thing that will help me avoid quick processed foods in prepping my meals in advance. Most people that do this choose one day out of the week to fully prepare their food. I’ve tried this method, but found it wasn’t quite right for me. It just didn’t seem satisfying to always be having left overs in a sense that I had to heat up. So instead I have adapted the concept of meal prepping to better suit my needs. Rather than completely preparing the meals, I just prep all of the ingredients. It’s actually quite enjoyable to gather up all of my fresh healthy veggies and cut them up and neatly place them in the fridge for cooking later. I cut only buy and cut up the amount that I will use in the recipes I have planned for the week. Then even though my meals aren’t completely ready to eat when I come home, it only takes a few minutes to combine and prepare my pre-chopped ingredients. This cuts down on how intense the day I choose to meal prep is, as well as still allowing me to have more freshly cooked meal each day.
  4. Trying New Recipes: Often once I’ve been planning and prepping my meals for a few weeks I get into a rut. I make the same food again and again until eventually I just lose interest in the whole thing. It helps to look for new and interesting recipes to plan for future weeks. This keeps the process from becoming maddening and monotonous. There are so many delicious and easy vegan recipes to choose from!
  5. Drink Enough Water: Another thing I’ve often struggled with is making sure that I drink enough water throughout the day. Many times I have over eaten because I just can’t seem to find anything that really hits the spot. In reality, this is because I am not hungry. I’m thirty! There are so many benefits of drinking more water from aiding digestion to increasing your energy levels. My goal is to start increasing my daily water consumption until I am drinking a gallon of water every day.
  6. Eating Enough: I’ve read a lot about what causing food binges. One of the main factors that I see in my own behavior is eating too little calories throughout the day. Then once your mind and body are at their limits it becomes nearly impossible to resist losing all control and eating large amounts of unhealthy foods. It’s important to keep in mind how many calories you need when planning out your meals for the week. Make sure you calculate how much you need to eat each day to maintain your current weight and lifestyle.
  7. Mindful Eating: Many of the things I’ve read about how to overcome binge eating disorder, have stressed the importance of mindful eating. I can see how this would help your body and mind to be on the same page when it comes to food. If you eat mindlessly while watching TV, your stomach gets fuller and fuller, but your brain continues to say, “I’m hungry,” because it hasn’t truly experienced consuming all the food that you’ve consumed. When you truly pay attention and eliminate all distractions from your meals, your mind has the chance to truly connect with your stomach and feel satisfied by the food you eat. This sounds simple enough, but for some reason it gives me a lot of anxiety not to watch something while I eat. I’ve been doing it practically my entire life. Part of me is afraid to give up the habit that has always given me so much comfort. I want to make a conscious effort to push past this illogical fear though. I know it will be the best thing for me.

I hope that I am able to invest more energy into this type of self-care in 2019. I know that my life would be much improved by the implementation of these practices. I also know that they will become easier and easier to do as I concentrate my efforts in persevere through my anxious feelings about changing my habits. Now the only thing I need to do is keep coming back to this list to remind myself where I need to start. I hope this list can also help those of you reading that struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food. Let’s keep trying to be better together.

You Are Not Your Thoughts

Since I was in high school or maybe even younger, I developed a somewhat strange way of thinking that was comforting. A duality seemed to exist in me at will, and I would imagine my physical body as a cute helpless animal that my mind had to care for. It allowed me to feel compassion for myself. I had the tendency to be quite critical and cruel to myself, but thinking in this way helped me to be kinder and more loving when I was feeling devastated or overwhelmed.

More recently, however, a third part of me has begun to emerge in this strange mental play as well. The seed of this idea was planted by something I read once. I have no idea where, but I’m certain I did not come up with it. As you may have already guessed by the title of this post, the idea was you are not your thoughts. Even while we are thinking, there is somehow also a separate awareness of those thoughts. We aren’t those thoughts, we are the observers of our thoughts. I like to image this is what in yoga is often referred to as the higher self.

This realization has completely transformed the way I see myself. I see my consciousness as something almost apart from and deeper than both my mind and body. This view gives me space from my experiences. It’s as if my consciousness exists outside of my physical body. This physical body also affects the way my conscious is able to manifest mentally. The chemicals that control the way my brain is able to function are affected by so many different factors from my genetics to the things I do and experience each day. But I am not my anxiety. I am not my anger or my doubt or my shame. I am able to observe my body and mind’s experience of these things now from a distance with curiosity and compassion. This space keeps me from getting caught in a torrent of negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. I just observe in stillness and let it settle. And it will always settle if you don’t keep stirring it up.

Maybe this idea is new to some of you. If so, I hope that you play with it in your own lives. I am still learning to utilize this mindfulness every day, but it has helped me more than I could have imagined. My wish is that by sharing what I’ve learned in a new way, it may also help others.

Observe in stillness. 

 

Breathing Through Discomfort

As my yoga practice continues to grow deeper, it is slowly saturating every corner of my life. It is amazing to be able to integrate this knowledge into my day. One of the invaluable things that yoga has brought to my life is an awareness and connection with the breath. There is so much power in the breath.

At first I began to concentrate on my breathing during my daily workout. Just like in yoga postures, I am often able to find a beautiful balance of effort and ease (sthira and sukha) as I am doing vigorous exercises. The connection to my breath assures that my muscles receive all the oxygen they need. Instead of focusing on how difficult my workout is, I am able to focus on full, deep, and steady breaths. I experience less discomfort (often even finding pleasure) as I push my body to its limits. In addition, time seems to fly by as I find a flow-like state. I find excitement and gratitude for what my body is capable of.

After seeing the benefits mindful breathing could have in my physical experiences, I began to utilize it to benefit my mental state throughout my day as well. I started to notice my breath in moments when I was experiencing something emotionally difficult. I realized that when I am feeling extremely stressed my breath is very shallow. Sometimes it even feels as if I am holding my breath! Once my mind has shifted to my breathing and I begin to breathe slowly and fully, I immediately feel much calmer and less overwhelmed. It’s incredible how much this has helped me cope with challenging emotions. Even my experience of mundane daily tasks, like vacuuming and doing the dishes, has become more pleasant.

I am still struggling with and improving my awareness of my breath every day. I am so grateful that my yoga journey continues to give me new perspectives and new things to focus on in each moment. I am so excited to be able to share the things I learn and give my future students the life changing gifts that yoga has given me. I am so lucky that in a few months I will be certified to teach this ancient, beautiful, and profound practice. Until then I am going to continue learning and growing and enjoying this beautiful journey.

Just breathe. ♥

Positivity with Anxiety

I have always been a very anxious person. Recently, however, I have come to notice how that has affected my ability to be positive throughout my life. I’ve noticed myself shying away from not only experiences that are intimidating, but exciting experiences as well. It seems strange, but it almost seems as though a positive experience would inevitably make me anxious at some point. I find my mind racing and reviewing obsessively the good memories as well as the bad. At times it feels easier to back away from everything and just be alone. Because of this it has been hard for me to allow myself to fully be a positive, hopeful, loving, and open person. Part of me has always been waiting for disaster to strike. And this negative energy has the potential to spoil my momentum in every endeavor.

I wanted to share something with you all that may benefit someone in my situation. Something I read somewhere once (I honestly cannot remember for the life of me where) has been very helpful to me in dealing with this dilemma. The essence of the message that really stood out to me from that article was that the brain and body have a very similar interpretation of anxiety and excitement. In other words the brain and body have a similar physical reaction towards a stimuli producing either one. I don’t know why, but this knowledge has helped me reframe my internal dialogue.

In the past, I would often become very distraught at the sense of anxiety that exciting and welcomed experience seemed to produce in me. I would begin questioning why it was I was feeling that way. My anxiety would build as my mind began to race with thoughts of how strange and broken I must be. I felt guilty that I wasn’t enjoying myself, that I wasn’t grateful. I worried that I would never be able to fully enjoy anything. However, after realizing why it was possible that my brain may have trouble distinguishing between anxiety and excitement, I no longer fell into that cycle of toxic thoughts. Now instead of spiraling into my feelings of anxiety I tell myself a different story. I am not anxious. I am excited!

This change in the narrative allows me to lean into what I’m feeling instead of frantically trying to push those feelings away. Thinking to myself, “I am excited,” usually even makes a smile spread across my face. I can almost feel the bubble of tension break and send shivering tingles down my spine. I am excited! I’m reminded to not be so serious and let the child in me be happy for a moment. It’s almost as if what I’m feeling is the energy or prana being created inside me that needs to be let out. And I let it out by just allowing. Allowing myself to really experience what I am feeling. Instead of bottling it up and trying to press it down inside me.

I hope that you can use this trick yourself and that you find as much relieve in this shift in perspective as I have. I am going to use it to allow myself to be more positive. I no longer have to fear this strange sense of urgency that arises within me when things are going well. I was mistaken to think this was a signal of danger and dread. My body and mind had gotten so use to that pattern. It was just a little confused. Now I remember though. That feeling is excitement. It’s the urge to express that energy. I hope through continuing to learn and grow, we’ll all stop stifling our energy and share it openly and joyfully with the world.

I’m excited! ♥

Sharing Suffering and Success

I stumbled across an article the other day that proposed an interesting thought experiment that I’d like to share with you all. I get so excited when I find a point of view that I’ve never even conceived of before. There is nothing better than reading or hearing something and experiencing almost a physical sensation of a shift inside your brain. Maybe I’m the only one that gets that sensation. Never-the-less I am eager to try out this new perception in my every day life. I am hopeful that it will be helpful to me and anyone reading this.

Through my readings on meditation, I have often come across the idea of imagining sharing your love and happiness to loved ones, strangers, and even enemies. This is often considered loving-kindess meditation. I’ve practiced this quite often when I meditate and it has certainly been transformative often leaving me with tears of love and joy. However, these types of practices, while helping me to grow more loving and patient, haven’t really helped me deal with and accept the times in my life when I am overwhelmed by negative emotions. I knew I needed to find a healthy way to acknowledge these feelings rather than avoid them.

The article that I read proposed that whenever you are feeling things like uncertainty, fear, pain, or sadness to imagine you are experiencing these things in the place of someone you love or even someone you don’t know. This was such an amazing idea to me. Although I don’t literally believe that I will be sparing my loved ones suffering by experiencing it instead, this helps me somehow. It has always been hard for me to lean into my unpleasant emotions. Thinking of them in this way allows me to accept those feelings more easily. It is helpful to think of others in this world that experience these same things and send them love and relief for a moment.

I am so excited to be entering this new year with such a wonderful new tool in my mental tool box. I hope that this allows me to live my life with more ease. I am so grateful to have access to so much information that I am able to use to improve my experience on this earth. I am also grateful for the chance to share what I learn with anyone who wants to listen. This year let’s all try to not only share our love, our happiness, and our success with others, but also our suffering. Let us lovingly take on the burden of another to lighten the world’s.

Setting Clear Intentions

I have always been a very logical person. I never really bought into things like the law of attraction or summoning certain scenarios into being through your thoughts alone. It always seemed too good to be true. However, once my mind started to wrap around the way that such things could actually occur I became very curious. For many people it is enough just to hear that their positive thoughts and wild dreams will come to fruition as long as they believe them and keep their focus on them. In my case that always just seemed unfounded and foolish. This false perception kept my from allowing myself to fully believe in the power of my own will.

When you lay out the idea logically, though, it holds true. If you focus your energy on cultivating a more grateful existence, your mind will naturally begin to find more things to be grateful for. If spent time everyday on a certain goal, you will inevitably reach it. Even if only your perception has changed rather than the world around you, it is still certainly worth the effort. I don’t usually put too much weight in anecdotal evidence, but never-the-less I have seen the power of my positive intentions manifested this past year. The hardest part is setting clear intentions and keeping your focus.

Most of us, I’d imagine, would say that we know what we want out of life, that we have a set of goals. However, once you actually start to organize and verbalize these things it becomes apparent that it may not be as clear as you thought. It’s important to take a step back once and a while to evaluate. There may be things that we are putting energy into that really isn’t that important to us in the long run. There may be goals we aspire to meet that we haven’t really been taking steps towards achieving. It can help to create some means to record your progress in different areas so that you can see how far you have come. Before I began recording my efforts in different areas I would often lose sight of how much I had already achieved in the shadow of how far I felt there still was to go. Another way this can be helpful is to reevaluate a habit that maybe in hindsight isn’t realistic or isn’t helping you to reach your goals.

I am grateful for this shiny new year that has just arrived to give me the inspiration to keep pushing forward. It is an interesting and confusing feeling to know exactly what you need to do to cultivate happiness and fulfillment while at the same time being resistant to the change that requires. I need to remember to be patient with myself. Instead of pausing, paralyzed in the face of the huge changes ahead of me, I need to press onward one step at a time. I need to lean into the tension of knowing that this will take a long time and be mindful as I implement more and more small changes into my daily experience.

I want this year to be even more transformative than the last few have been. I want to calm my chaotic mind be setting clear intentions regarding what I would like to learn, experience, and create in the coming months. For once I feel confident that I will reach my goals and gain so much insight and happiness in the process. My mantra for this first month of a great new year is going to be a Buddhist quote that I stumbled upon a few days ago. I hope that it can inspire us all to be present, grateful, and joyous in each moment that this year has to give us.

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

I had a realization today that I hope will stick with me. My whole life I have been compounding my suffering in social scenarios by blaming myself. There have been countless times in my life that I have been rejected in some way that left me feeling unworthy and unsure of myself. It took me a long time to realize that I was building on to those negative feelings by critiquing and criticizing my actions and interactions with that person. My inner monologue begins to not only feel slightly by the other person but by myself as well. It seemed impossible to avoid the power other had to pull on my heartstrings.

What I have begun to realize though, is that the pain I feel from the situation pales in comparison to the pain I make myself feel in the following days, months, or even years by internalizing the scenario and finding all the ways it was my fault. I end up suffering so much more than I would have because instead of the comfort and support that I need from myself in these moments of rejection, I have been trying to punish myself. I tell myself that I was stupid to expect anything else, that I should have known better, that I’m an idiot. I tell myself I was an idiot for trusting, for loving, for showing someone myself, for trying. And that hurts more than anything, feeling that way, that you aren’t worthy of the happiness you desire.

Instead of doing that, I want to stop adding to my suffering. It’s not stupid to show compassion, to love, to trust, to hope. I want to do more of those things, not less. If someone takes advantage of those things, then that is a reflection of who they are not who I am. All I can do is keep trying my best and striving for the things that I want in this life. I’m not foolish to believe that someone could love you even if it turns out they don’t. Falling for a false facade doesn’t make you stupid.

It’s okay to be sad when something upsetting has happened. But from now on I’m going to try harder to tend to that suffering with self-love rather than adding on to it. From now on when I’m suffering I am going to be gentle with myself. Let myself sleep. Give myself fresh, healthy foods. Meditate a little longer. Have a slow and mindful yoga practice. Give myself something I like. Allow myself to do something I enjoy. Focus on all of the things that I have to be grateful for.

The older I get the more I am realizing the importance of the relationship I have with myself. The most important person I can have on my side is me. I believe that I love myself, yet my thoughts can be so cruel. It’s time I begin to speak to myself just like I would anyone else that I love.

Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥

 

Bullet Journal Spread: December

I have definitely lost a bit of motivation regarding my bujo this month since it’s about to be a brand new year. I am more eager to begin my bujo for 2018 and make the first pen marks in my Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. This is the brand I most often seen being used for bullet journaling. They are a bit pricey so I wanted to make sure I was going to follow through with the habit before investing my money in a fancy journal. After a very productive year of journaling (in a notebook that was not necessarily sturdy enough to handle it), I am confident it is worth the money.

Even though it’s basically half-way through the month already, I wanted to go ahead and show you guys my bujo spread for December. I hope you like it!

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The photos in the last week of my November spread do not belong to me. I found them on Tumblr as I often do to jazz up a weekly spread if I’m feeling anxious rather than excited about coming up with something to doodle.

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I particularly like how my goals and tracker page turned out this month. Sadly I have yet to fill anything in because I wanted to get a photo first in the natural light, forgetting that when I get home from work it is always pitch black now. Oh, the delightful fun of the winter months. I can’t wait for the sun to return to me.

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I tried to make the theme cozy winter bunnies, but all the red ended up giving this first weekly spread a more Valentine’s Day vibe. (Oops!)

This month I experimented with adding a positive affirmation to each week’s spread so I could practice replacing the negative thoughts I have throughout the day with something more loving. Whenever I catch myself in a loop of toxic thinking, I try to change this automatic dialogue into a more beneficial one. Repeating uplifting mantras in moments of stress and self-doubt really does do a lot to alter your mental state and view of the situation.

I hope that you are all having a splendid December so far! Also, to any of you that may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder like I am, don’t be too hard on yourself. It can seem hopeless when, after making steady progress, you find yourself sliding backwards into bad habits. Just know that you are doing your best, and progress is always sprinkled with periods of plateaus and slight regressions. Just keep moving forward, and I promise that your energy, your creativity, and your enthusiasm will return with the warm air, green scenery, and sunshine. Hang in there a bit longer and don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for still trying when things get hard. ♥