Fear & Hunger

Courage comes from craving
deeply held desires inspire us
to face the things we fear
with nothing worth reaching for
it's easy to remain stagnant

a gazelle will risk
standing side by side with a lion
if its thirst becomes great enough
dropping it's gaze from the patient predator
is worth the chance to take a drink

taking risks requires
the promise of reward
eliminating anxiety is not an option
instead I must find something
I want more than avoidance

I haven't felt that hunger
in such a long time
life becomes exhausting
when you're left trying
to just hold the line

Through the Eyes of Another

I don’t concern myself much with what other people think about me. I can never really know what they think, or have any control over it. For me, it’s always seemed like people think better of me than I think of myself anyway. It often feels like everyone around me believes in me more than I believe in myself. If anything, considering what other people think about me makes me feel guilty, as if I’ve been deceiving them. They don’t know how incompetent and weak I truly am. I’ve somehow given them the impression that I’m worthy of respect and admiration.

There are very few people in my life whose opinion I genuinely value. When it comes to most people, I assume they are just not smart enough to realize how worthless I really am. Recently I’ve started to spend more time considering the high regard those closest to me still maintain. Surely I don’t think they are too stupid, or don’t know me enough. Some of them might even know me better or in a different way than I know myself. So what am I to make of their perception of me?

I may not have much confidence in myself, but realizing that people that mean a lot to me do have confidence in me, has been transformative. I’ve been trying to think of myself from this outside perspective whenever I begin doubting or getting down on myself. When I’m faced with something that I don’t think I’m capable of, I think of how a loved one might see things differently. For instance, my friend at work, whom I deeply respect and admire, has complete and utter confidence that I’ll be able to do what he does and interview the kids we see. He seems so sure that I’ll be a great interviewer one day and be just as important in the lives of our clients as he has been over the years. When I begin to feel crushed under the weight of my own disbelief and self-doubt, I think of him reassuring me.

I may not have faith in my own abilities, but when I remember that those I have complete faith in do, I feel so much better. If you’ve never tested out this fun thought experiment for yourself, I would highly recommend it. The next time you are facing an intimidating goal or task, try to imagine someone you love and admire knowing that you can do it. Their confidence will surely be a great support. If nothing else, thoughts like these inspire me to do my very best and exceed my own expectations just to make the people who believe in me proud. It gives me the courage to try despite the intense fear of failure that would normally hold me back.

A Moment to Celebrate Yourself

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I was so nervous about the practical exam I was going to have to take in the morning that I was literally shaking. Not only was I terrified of the exam, but I was terrified that I was so terrified. I can’t even recall another time in my life were I was that afraid. To make matters worse, once I finally fell asleep, I woke up in the early hours of the morning with unbearably painful stomach cramps.

I’ve never had much of an issue with cramping throughout my life, so I was really surprised how badly I felt. My concern only grew as the pain persisted for much longer than I expected. It even seemed to intensify at times. I nearly passed out walking down the stairs to my bathroom. Then I laid on the cold tile floor for awhile, just trying not to throw up. I barely managed to pull myself up to go into the kitchen for water. I seriously considered going to the hospital. Near the end of this episode, I was actually convulsing with each fresh wave of pain. Thankfully, I eventually fell back asleep and still managed to feel moderately rested when I woke up a few hours later.

Strangely enough, I found myself feeling grateful for that painful interlude I experienced overnight. My anxiety about the exam was shrunken considerably. It’s hard to be afraid of a zoom call, when hours earlier you thought you might be dying. No matter what happened, I was just thankful that I was no longer in pain.

I was still a little jittery as I patiently waited for my turn while evaluating my fellow students. When my time finally arrived, I was given (rather unfairly I might add) a scenario much different and arguably more difficult than the others. Despite this, I managed to stay grounded and focused and do an excellent job. It went even better than I could have hoped. After that, the written portion of the exam was a piece of cake. I definitely was the first one to finish and there’s no way I scored less than 100 percent.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that after all those hours and days I agonized about this stuff, it seemed like my overflowing pride and relief lasted only a few brief moments. I noticed my mind already eager to start probing for more possible fears to latch onto and ruminate about. No matter how hard or scary I think something is beforehand, once I get through it, I immediately start downplaying my accomplishment. “It wasn’t that hard.” “It’s no big deal.” “I was just overreacting.” These are just a few of the ways my mind tries to rob me of any and every opportunity to celebrate myself.

Not today though, god damn it. This week has been hell. I’ve been on edge and anxious and afraid for what seems like an eternity. I never thought I would make it to where I am now. I deserve to celebrate. I deserve to feel good about myself. I deserve to be happy and proud. I’m not going to allow myself to minimize this amazing achievement. I’ve work hard. I’ve faced so many fears with courage and grace. I nearly called 911 from the bathroom floor last night! The rest of this day belongs to me. I am going to enjoy the hell out of it.

In fact, I am going to keep right on celebrating this entire weekend. I’ve earned a good rest and a reward after how much I’ve pushed myself past my comfort zone. I can’t wait to tell everyone about this incredible achievement. I’m gonna relax, get drunk, and go to a mother fucking psychic fair on Sunday with my best friend. Hell yes. I’m amazing. I am so worthy of celebration.

Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.

Inviting the Critic In with Courage and Curiosity

“You’re not enough.” “You don’t deserve this.” “You are weak, broken, a burden on everyone.” These are just a few of the familiar mantras that my inner critic seems to be whispering to me under her breath every waking moment. For most of my life, I didn’t even recognize this as a voice. I didn’t hear the phrases themselves. I accepted these perspectives as simple facts. I never even thought to question the deeply held belief of my own unworthiness. I was unworthy, obviously, and that was that. I lived my life from these painful premises for most of my time here without even the slightest inkling that I had the option of challenging them, or respond in any other way.

More recently, now that I’ve recognized this hateful, critical voice inside of myself, I have tried to shut it out, to silence it. That has not been very helpful either. While I now know I should question these opinions I have of myself and try to determine if there is really any true basis for them, it doesn’t make them feel any less true or unchangeable. The voice hates me and I hate the voice. I spend my mental energy in this gridlock a fair bit of the time. No resolution, no relief. Perhaps a different tactic is in order.

I see you Mara. Come, let’s have tea.

The Buddha

This is a quote from Buddhist mythology in which the Buddha, instead of trying to avoid or destroy Mara, the demon god, he invites her in. This serves as a lesson for how we must respond to our own inner demons. The struggle to resist them and cast them out is only multiplying our suffering. We shrink away from our self-defeating, self-judging thoughts in fear, shame, and sorrow. We cover our eyes and close our hearts to our own harsh words in an attempt to protect ourselves. But we don’t need to hide away. We don’t need to fight. These thoughts, our inner critic, is a part of us. We cannot outrun her. What might happen if we invite her in instead?

For me, ideas like this, that feel so contrary to my natural instinctive response, are revelations. It feels as though the clouds have parted over my heart and mind and I am able to gaze at a clear blue sky I had forgotten could be there. The mere thought of opening myself up to all that I want to reject within myself is healing. I can almost imagine the look of shock, bewilderment, and finally, gratitude of my inner critic as I welcome her too, into my heart.

The next time I find myself despairing and berating myself, I am going to try this new method. I am going to tap into my bravery, my courage, my curiosity and turn towards that suffering voice inside my soul. I am going to extend my hand, to invite that voice in, to ask questions and learn more about her. Responding to the unpleasant parts of ourselves with denial and rejection is exacerbating the problem and intensifying our suffering. If we can teach ourselves to open rather than close, to reach out rather than pull away, to offer loving kindness instead of rejection, that will bring us closer to that calm, steady, inner serenity and acceptance that we all urn for.

I am going to work hard to cultivate my courage and my curiosity. I am going to keep trying to be brave enough to embrace every part of myself, even the parts that might feel hurtful or hateful. Love is always powerful enough to disarm hate. I intent to prove this to myself one day.

Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

Sit With It

When you notice yourself starting to feel overwhelmed, remember one thing. It’s okay to feel that way. There seems to be a constant pressure to make every moment of your existence pleasant or pleasurable or exciting. It is easy to forget that there is still value in the more difficult moments. There is nothing wrong with having an off day, month, or even an entire year. We don’t need to hurry ourselves to get out of these low periods in our lives. Often it is that very desperation to avoid our feelings that causes them to be such a burden on us. I would definitely say that my panicked reaction to noticing that I’m anxious or worrying that something will make me anxious is far worse and occupies more of my time than the anxiety itself.

It’s easy to skip a day of meditation or shorten my practice when I am feeling particularly jittery or restless. Even if I do make it into my seat, it can be an irresistible temptation to fidget, twist, stretch my neck, etc. Sometimes it’s impossible not to give in and allow some gentle movements as I’m first settling in. One of the things I’ve learned, however, is that resisting those urges can lead to a very meaningful, reassuring, and nourishing practice. Letting our minds trail off in thought or moving our bodies around are excellent ways to distract us from what we are feeling. Sometimes it feels like I am afraid of having any free time, because I won’t be able to avoid myself. But the beauty of these moments is what happens when you force yourself to face them.

I’ve learned that when you run from things, they keep chasing you. It becomes an endless race that leaves you exhausted. There is no true escape. On the other hand, when you ground yourself in the moment and allow your fears to catch up to you, they often dissolve in your gaze. It is so strange to be human, to be this unnatural animal living in an artificial reality. The mechanisms of evolution that have led us to this place, given us these bodies we now have, no longer seems to serve us. We are fish out of water. Yet we are the ones that have removed ourselves. We have created technology that allows us to breath on dry land, yet our physical forms continue to send signals of danger and death with every breeze.

While these signals are meant to protect us from real danger, sometimes the signals themselves become the thing we fear most. When we simply allow those feelings to wash over us, something amazing happens. We realize that these feelings cannot harm us. Subconsciously it seems like stress alone will suffocate us, so we continue to run from it every day. Once we finally decide to stop running and sit down to face these feelings of disease, we see that we have nothing to fear. We will survive the stressful moments. We will survive heartbreak and embarrassment. These emotions may never be easy, but we don’t have to let them control us either.

Meditation can be similar to exposure therapy. When a person is put into contact with an irrational phobia, this shows their body and mind that their phobia won’t really harm them. Then the fear can finally begin to dissipate. Meditation can be scary for this very reason. This is what makes it so hard for so many people. The fear of the unknown or even the fear of ourselves keeps a lot of people from every venturing to begin a meditation practice. Even after years of practicing every day, I still get nervous at the thought of sitting in that stillness. But it is always worth it. It is difficult to face your fears, but we must challenge ourselves to do so. We’ve got to have faith in ourselves in order to carry on. We must trust that we will make it through and that we are capable of handling whatever this life brings to us. Even when it seems impossible, take a deep breath, and try to sit with it.

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Vegan Dating

Yesterday I had my first date with the vegan guy I met on Veggly. It’s one of the few vegan dating apps I’ve found. It has a lot of glitches and isn’t perfect by any means, but it gets the job done. It allows vegans to find other vegans, and that’s good enough for me. I can’t imagine they were able to put a lot of money towards development, so I’m grateful for whatever I can get.

Anyway, I’ve met a few guys on this app in the past. The first date is always a gamble. And not in the sense that you might imagine. The gamble is whether or not you will ever hear from them again afterwards. I’ve been completely ghosted more than a few times. It’s hard not to take it personally, but I’ve learned not to waste time wondering why or getting angry about it. After all, I’ve done my fair share of ghosting. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s true.

Yesterday I tried to keep my mind on the present and just enjoy our walk on the trails together. It was a beautiful day, and I was pleased to find I had good company. I knew once we parted ways that may be the end of it. Either way, it was so refreshing to have another vegan to talk to, someone who truly understands my point of view, politically, dietarily, and environmentally. A very rare find in my neck of the woods. Which is why I generally have to search for vegans about an hour away in the city, like I did to find this one.

It’s hard to gather a full impression of someone from speaking with them for only a couple hours, but as far as I could tell, I like him. Then the question became if I would ever hear from him again. I try not to get my hopes up. To my surprise, he messaged me again a few minutes after I had returned home. He even wants to set up another date this coming week, which pleases and terrifies me at the same time. I’ve made a lot of progress over the last several days, but even so it’s been hard for me to divert from my normal routine. Although it is a much needed challenge for me.

My friends and family always seem perplexed at my insistence that my partner be vegan. It’s really hard to explain to them without coming off as aggressive or offensive. The only way I can think to properly explain it always sounds like I’m being a jerk to my non-vegan friends. No one seems to understand the vast moral divide between vegans and meat-eaters. Trying to explain it always leave me sounding harsh. But the truth is often harsh, and I don’t know how else to put it.

What I want to say when they ask me why I don’t want to date non-vegans is this: Would you want to date someone that eats children? Puts dead baby legs in the freezer? Or someone who ate cats and dogs? Buying bulldog flesh at the market and barbecuing it on your grill? Sharing your kitchen with gruesome death? Being reminded of ignorance, selfishness, and suffering at each and every meal? You can see why this type of response wouldn’t go over well with the questioner. Instead of understanding, it just illicits resentment.

That is why it is so refreshing that my new vegan friend, Nick, understands. It’s hard to explain how nice it is to speak with someone who you don’t have to edit yourself around. I don’t need to water my opinions down so I don’t upset or offend him. I can speak my mind. Not only that, but I can be heard and understood while doing so. Dating a meat-eater is accepting that your partner will never truly understand you. Because if they did they would no longer continue their died of death.

All of these things contribute to my excitement about Nick. He even ended a two year relationship because his partner refused to transition. To me that shows that he truly has the courage of his convictions. I greatly respect that difficult decision. Hopefully things will continue to go well between us. For the first time in a long time, I am excited to see what the future holds.

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Balance

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Once again it was teacher training weekend at my yoga studio. This month they are learning about balancing postures. I think these poses have the potential to be particularly special teaching tools. We are able to learn so much about ourselves through them. They help us build strong stabilizing muscles. They allow us to connect with our center. They help us develop focus, perseverance, and grace. They help us create beautiful shapes with the body. And they also lead to profound insights about who we are and how we deal with life on and off our mats.

One of my favorite sayings in yoga is: the mat is a mirror. Our yoga practice is a little microcosm of life. When we are performing our asanas, when we allow the mind to be still, when we watch our thoughts, our reactions, we are able to learn a lot. One of the most important things balancing postures showed me is how I deal with frustration. I can still remember following along with challenging advanced yoga videos online and getting absolutely infuriated when I wasn’t able to keep up or move through the poses in time with the video. I was literally almost in tears I was so angry. One day I was able to pause long enough and find enough space to see this. Then I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Why on earth was I getting so mad? Why was I acting so vicious and serious? Why was I being so hard on myself? It all seemed so absurd.

This lesson has stayed with me ever since. I still catch myself becoming upset sometimes when I keep falling out of a balancing pose, but now it just makes me smile. It’s just a reminder to be gentle with myself, to come back to my breath, to remember why I’m here. Falling out of a handstand is just as important as holding one. Maybe even more important. What does doing a pose perfectly teach you? “Failing” to reach your goal is much more helpful for our internal and external growth. When we fall, we learn to fall safely. We learn where are limits are, when to honor and when to challenge those limits. We learn how to keep trying. We learn new things to focus on. We learn how to forgive ourselves. Aren’t these the reasons we keep coming back to our practice? Isn’t that why it’s called a practice? All of these things are so much more valuable to our lives than being able to balance on our hands upside down.

Yoga is a constant reminder that this life is truly about the journey, not the destination. It reminds me of something I saw recently online. It was commenting about how messed up those posters are in schools that say things like: Failure is not an option! How silly that sounds. Failure is always an option. Failure is just another part of the journey, not the end. Failure is full of lessons. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s not something we should fear or try to avoid. It is necessary. And it’s a perfectly acceptable part of life, no matter what stage of it you find yourself in. We shouldn’t be teaching our children to fear failure but how to embrace it and learn from it. There are so many poses I am able to do now with ease that I never would have imagined I’d be capable of a few years ago. If I wouldn’t have allowed myself to try and fail dozens if not hundreds of times, I would never have found out what amazing things my body could learn to do.

It makes me wonder how many opportunities for growth I’ve already passed up in this life simply because I was too afraid of failure to try. It is these types of thoughts that make me believe that yoga is the best gift I have ever been given in this life. Yoga allows you to realize that you are holding your life in your own hands. It is a soft lump of clay that you can form anything you want out of. Hardships, suffering, failure. Things that once seemed so impossible to face, I now see as lessons, puzzles, mysteries, or riddles. What can I learn from this? Can I find the glimmer of light on the horizon of the darkest night? Can I learn to accept and fully experience whatever this life presents to me? Can I find joy and ease even when it’s hard? If you’re someone who loves to learn like me, you’ll be happy to know that there is a lesson in everything if you look for one. Better still, when you are looking for your own lessons, you will find exactly what you need most.

There is still so much left for me to learn and discover in my yoga practice as well as my life. I’m sure there are even more things like what I’ve discussed today that I will encounter along this strange and beautiful journey. Things that will change me forever. Things that will challenge me, surprise me, test me, and remold me in ways I am unable to imagine as I am now. I can’t wait to keep practicing, to keep searching, learning, finding balance, falling, failing, laughing, and getting back up.

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I Can Do This

Every time I sit down to write, most of the ideas that come up are about what is going wrong in my life. How can I fix myself? Why am I the way that I am? But I don’t want to write about those things. I don’t want to ruminate on my shortcomings and oddities any longer. I get to write my own narrative. I get to create my own story. The story of a desperately anxious young woman that is frozen in place isn’t the one I want to tell.

Sometimes after years of following these kinds of thoughts and description of yourself, it can feel foolish to try to think of yourself in any other light. But it just takes practice. I have had years of telling myself “I’m afraid” or “I can’t.” It is going to take a little while for a new narrative not to feel forced. This new narrative is also true. I just have been choosing not to see these more positive parts of myself.

I may be anxious most of the time, but I don’t want that to define me. I am also resilient. I am strong. I am intelligent. I am creative. I am funny. I am capable. I am loving. I am loved. I don’t have to focus on that fear. There is so much more to me than that. I want to build myself up with the way I talk about myself, not box myself in or tear myself down. There is nothing wrong with me. I am splendid just the way that I am. I can do anything I want to do just the way that I am. I don’t have to wait and hope I change some day. Today is a beautiful day, and I am lucky enough to be here for it. That is all that matters in the end. At least for today, I am going to move from that deep well of gratitude within me.

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