I Choose

The longer I live, the more I realize just how much about our lives and the way we experience reality is a personal choice. Our upbringing, our genetics, and our environment definitely contribute to how easily we are able to choose one thing over another, but we all have a choice. Some people may be naturally inclined to view things more negatively than others. For these people, it will always take more effort and practice to see the good in other people and situations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

I think I was born a with a friendly, happy, and positive disposition. Even so, as I grew older I began to lose touch with that lighthearted, open nature. Encounters with heartache, pain, and rejection caused me to close my heart little by little in an attempt to protect myself, to shield myself from the world. I started to view myself as a pessimist. I was the stereotypical “emo” kid throughout high school. The longer I stayed in that “woe-is-me” mindset, the more I started to identify with it. Suffering became an essential part of me. For years now I have been working to redirect myself back down a more positive path, a path that feels more true to who I was meant to be, and who I want to be. (I plan to keep that emo aesthetic though. I love me some black clothing.)

Currently, I am at a stage where I am able to clearly see both sides of that coin. I can see the negatives, the pessimistic viewpoint I would have once had, but I can also see the positives, the option I have to view things in a different way. I used to think one way was more true or honest than the other, but now I see that reality is all about perception. There is no right or wrong way to experience the world. It is always a choice. At times this can lead me to feel frustrated as I struggle against that doom and gloom voice I spent so many years feeding and building up inside my own head. It can be easy to get stuck feeling hopeless, feeling unable to change, a lost cause.

When these doubts begin to bubble up I try to remind myself just how far I have come. I never could have imagined that I would be able to become the person I am today. All I can do is keep moving forward and trust in myself. It may be a slow and arduous process, but it’s worthwhile. Truly, it is the only kind of self-improvement that matters. You can tell yourself you will be happy once you get a promotion, make more money, lose more weight, build more muscle, move somewhere else, but even after reaching all of your goals, you are still the one you have to face at the end of the day. It is easy to think that changing external circumstances will change the way we think and feel inside. That inner voice loves to complain and blame this or that for all of our problems. However, those upsetting and limiting thoughts are the real problem. This is always where we must start our journey, inside ourselves.

Even after seeing so many people achieve the things I want to achieve in life and continuing to be miserable, I find myself thinking those same accomplishments will bring me happiness even if it didn’t for them. We always think we are the exception. But those things we desire are ultimately just distractions. They are excuses for why we aren’t able to be happy right now. It can be difficult to admit that we are the only reason we aren’t happy. Happiness comes from within. It has been ours since the day we gained consciousness and it will be available to us in each and every moment until the day we die. Even when it feels impossible for you to allow yourself to be happy, just know that it’s because you haven’t spent enough time practicing. Sometimes I even think of this practice like a game. When I find myself facing something exceptionally upsetting or challenging, I ask myself: are there any positives I can find in this situation? Just like the hag stones I scan the riverbank for, the more time you spend searching for certain things, the easier it becomes to spot them. When I first tried to find those special stones, I felt like I would never find one. I wasn’t even sure if there were any to find. Yet now I am easily able to pick up two or three as I walk along the shore without even trying. At first it might feel like there is really nothing good about different parts of your life, but the more you practice looking for the good in things, the easier it will become and the more abundant those good things will seem.

It can be hard work, training ourselves to be happy, but it is possible. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I say these words for myself as much as for anyone who happens to be reading this. We are capable. We are powerful. We have everything we need inside of us. Don’t be afraid. You are safe. You are loved. You are enough. Even if at first you don’t believe it, keep repeating these uplifting, empowering words to yourself. Eventually they will become as true and real to you as that negative inner dialogue that many of us have become accustomed to. It may not be easy, it may take a very long time, but I promise you, it will work. And it will be worth it.

Finding Joy in the Smallest Things

This post is to remind me that today is a beautiful day. I am grateful to have it laid before me. Why should I waste these precious moments of life worrying about the distant or even not so distant future? I am here now. I want to enjoy it.

I got to stay home and sleep in on a cold, snowy Friday. What a perfect start to the day. My silly little pup got out of her collar and had a run around the neighbors yard this morning, which gave me a laugh. It also always warms my heart when she so loyally returns to me upon my call. I also decided to finally try some chocolate flavored coffee grounds I got myself for Christmas. They make a delicious cup of coffee as expected.

All of these small joys are usually forgotten as soon as they happen. Over the years I have trained my mind to overlook such simple moments of bliss. It makes sense. The brain is focused on keeping us alive. It is hard-wired to hone in on threats and danger so that we may avoid it and live to see another day. It is up to me to work on that wiring. I must teach my brain that we are safe. We don’t have to waste our energy on fear-filled vigilance. We can focus on the good in this life instead.

Even a lot of the things that I become anxious about, don’t have to be negative experiences. I can choose to focus on overcoming the fear rather than the fear itself. For example, I have to make some phone calls for work today, which always gives me a lot of anxiety. But rather than concentrate on how afraid I am, I can focus on how wonderful it is going to feel once I’ve accomplished this quick, simple task. How proud I will feel. How relieved. How glad I will be that I did my job well for an organization that I dearly love.

Even as I write these words, I realize that directing the mind toward positive things is much easier said that done. A small voice in the back of my head always scoffs at these hippy-dippy positivity posts. But I have let that part of my mind have full reign for long enough. I am ready to wrestle with it from now on if that is what it takes to steal away some small moments of happiness. I won’t give up. This is my life. And even if it isn’t always easy, I am going to keep fighting for the freedom to enjoy it. I will keep nursing these pools of love and gratitude within my heart until they are as vast as oceans. I will let their rhythmic tide carry me.

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Future Worries

Last night as I was falling asleep, I couldn’t stop worrying about something that, depending on the state of the pandemic this summer, may or may not happen in July. Even though that’s nearly half a year away, I was sick with anxiety about it. I couldn’t relax.

However, in the middle of my worrying, I had a realization. Why was a worried? Presumably because I feared being anxious or uncomfortable in this future situation. Yet by pre-emptively worrying about it months ahead of time, not only would that not change the reality of the situation when it finally arrived, but would ensure I was anxious and uncomfortable in this very moment as well. Fixating on the past or the future does nothing but steal the peace we could find in the present.

This train of thought led me to also understand that there will always be a time in the future to worry about. Or a memory to miss from the past for that matter. If we don’t teach ourselves to prioritize and be mindful of the present moment, that anxiety, that sadness, will always remain.

Peace is only to be had in the present. It is always here waiting for us, waiting within us. Why waste it? Difficult times are sure to loom on the horizon. But there is nothing to be done about them until they arrive. I always feel like if I don’t worry about things before they happen, then I won’t be prepared when they do. But even I know that is ludicrous. Anxiety and worry do not make you more prepared. They just extend your suffering. To truly prepare, it would be best to stay grounded in the present. To allow myself time for peace and rest, so that I may face the future when it comes with strength and confidence and a firm connection to that peaceful place within myself. Besides, who knows who I will be, where I will be, when that future does finally arrive? I will not be the person I am today, the person I am right now. I must have faith that whoever I have become by then will be ready.

So I will let the future come in its own time. There will be plenty of time to agonize over it when it arrives if I still feel the need to. In the meantime, I am going to practice learning how to more fully enjoy the present. I am going to give my brain a new system to follow. Whenever I notice myself becoming distraught over something yet to come, I will practice pivoting away from those thoughts. I’ll ask myself: How does it feel to exist in this body right now? Do I feel heavy? Light? Is there tension in my jaw? My shoulders? Can I release it? Can I relax into this body? What is my breath like? Short and fast? Long and deep? How does it feel to breathe all the way down into my belly? How does it feel to pause between inhales and exhales? Can I feel my heart beating steadily in my chest? Can I hear it pumping away? Can I feel gratitude for these things I so often take for granted? Can I remember that the future is not guaranteed? Yet I have this precious moment in the palm of my hands. What a crime it would be to waste it.

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Shifting Your Focus

One of the main things I have been trying to cultivate this year is a stronger ability to focus on the positive. Now that I’ve learned the mind is like a muscle and can be strengthened with the repetition of exercises I have been using this knowledge to improve my life. Whether we set a conscious intention to do so or not, our minds are always doing these exercises. It’s up to us to decide what we want our experience in this life to be. The things you focus on and the habits and patterns you repeat each day make your brain “stronger” in these areas. It’s important that we spend our time nurturing positive mental states rather than dwelling and feeding negative ones.

Before I knew what I do now about the way our brains work, I thought I was basically in the passenger seat when it came to my reactions to different things. I thought that my genetic code and my past experiences left me basically no choice in the way I felt and experienced the world around me. I used to roll my eyes at those overly positive, happy people that would say things like, “You have to make yourself happy, you can make your own happiness. You can love yourself.” It seemed utterly impossible to me. I always thought it just didn’t feel right. Why should I pretend I’m happy if I’m not?

Now I see (and have also experienced) that there is actually power in “pretending” for awhile.  It’s actually more like practicing. And don’t get me wrong I’m still practicing every day. What I didn’t understand before and what I feel I need to share to help other people like me understand is that it gets easier. At first it may seem dishonest, but what you are doing is creating and strengthening new pathways in your brain. It can be quite difficult, especially if you have very strong negative pathways your brain has been using for most of your life.

However, I think that it’s a good thing even beginning to notice when I am practicing negative self-talk and catastrophizing a situation. Now even when those thoughts inevitably come up I’m able to distance myself from them somehow. I try not to buy in to those thoughts. I keep myself from being caught in that current and spiraling deeper into that harmful cycle. More importantly I’m learning to nip those thoughts in the bud and use them as a signal that I need to be there for myself in those moments. I see myself struggling and I know that instead of allowing myself to wallow, I need to comfort myself. It’s a moment to take a deep breath and think about what it is you’re wanting from the world in that moment, the lack of which is causing you distress, then give it to yourself. Because you already have the potential for all of it in your amazing brain. All the confidence, all the beauty, all the love, all the creativity, all the abundance, all the gratitude, all the happiness. They are all yours to create. All you need to do is practice them. It’s just like learning a new language. You just have to keep practicing.

This year when I catch myself thinking things like: I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’m fat. I’m lazy. I’m worthless. I’m unloved. I’m unhappy. I’m going to stop and instead change that dialogue to: I’m grateful. I’m safe. I’m beautiful. I’m intelligent. I am loved. I am enough. I’m strong. I am happy. Gratitude has been one of the areas I’ve been focusing on a lot and it’s incredible how much easier it has gotten to notice little things to be grateful for in ordinary things like the sun’s warmth on my skin or catching sight of a cute squirrel in my yard. I can find something to be grateful for even in awful things, like a chance to start again, or a new direction, or an important reminder.

A few really bad things happened to me yesterday and I’ve been very down on myself because of them. I can see myself falling back into familiar patterns. I’m not worried though, because now it’s so much easier to get back up and brush myself off and love myself anyway. In 2019 I want to get even better at being there for myself and giving compassion and love to the world. I hope that we can all do that together.

Let’s keep practicing ♥