Calm Amidst the Chaos

Even when I don’t have a lot of free time in my day, I always make time for my yoga and meditation. Some days that’s a half an hour, others it’s only 5 minutes. I try not to let myself get caught up in an all or nothing mentality. Just because I can’t find the time to do my normal routine, doesn’t mean that those five minutes I do have won’t make a difference.

Today I noticed myself getting caught up in a totally different problem, though. I was exceptionally pressed for time. I had to squeeze my meditation into the 15 minute span before a new client was coming in for an appointment. As I tried to drop into my breath and let the world around me fall away, I couldn’t help but become preoccupied with what was going on in the rest of my office. I was fixating on every little noise, anxiously anticipating the client to show up early and force me to jump up and greet them. I was worried my coworkers were irritated at me for still being closed away in my office so close to our appointment. I considered giving up on my meditation all together. I wondered if it was just a waste of time, if I was too on edge to meditate.

I’ve found myself in this situation many times before. Sometimes I can’t find a quite place or I keep being interrupted or whatever other kind of inconveniences the world likes to throw at us from time to time. Occasionally, I will actually decide to forget about meditating all together. I tell myself that it’s not the right environment or I’m just too distracted or uneasy.

For some reason, the ridiculousness of that reasoning really struck me today. How silly it sounds to say: I’m too anxious to meditate. I can’t meditate because I feel rushed or it’s too loud. These are all perfect times to meditate! Meditation and yoga aren’t things that we need ideal conditions to practice. One of the most beneficial and important parts of these practices is to learn how to use them to cope with hectic times in our lives. Through these practices we can learn how to sit with these moments of discomfort. We can use them to step back from our own drama and distress and simply observe ourselves from a calm neutral perspective.

If you are just beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it may seem impossible to meditate unless you are in the right atmosphere or headspace. Developing a designated area where you can feel calm and relaxed is an excellent way to help you stick with it in the beginning. However, if you have been practicing for a long time like I have, it may be time to challenge yourself a bit more. You’ve laid the foundation, now it’s time to test it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Give yourself a chance to notice what it feels like to be rushed, or irritated, or interrupted. Get curious about this experience. Ask yourself questions. What is happening in your body? In your mind? What is your internal dialogue telling you in these difficult moments? How is that self-talk exacerbating the already tense situation? What might be a kinder or more gentle form of self-talk you can implement instead? This is the perfect time to start changing patterns of thought that are not serving you.

Meditation isn’t always supposed to be easy and effortless. No matter how long you have been practicing, you are going to find yourself struggling from time to time. Going through phases of discomfort internally, externally, or both is all part of the human experience. The incredible experience that we are all here to witness. Meditation is about learning to be present through it all, not just the calm, clear moments, but the rough and tumultuous ones as well.

Hyping Yourself Up

The other day I was texting a friend of mine, and we began to playfully tell one another about how good the following day was about to be. We were saying things like, “tomorrow is going to be incredible” and “we are going to have such an amazing day.” At the time I didn’t really think much of it. We were just messing around. It was almost bordering on sarcasm. However, I noticed something about that “incredible” day that came after. It truly did end up to be one of the nicest days I’ve had in a while. I felt calm, happy, energetic, light-hearted. My anxiety didn’t seem to be bothering me as much as it normally does. I thoroughly enjoyed my day at work and the company of my coworkers. There was so much laughter, so many smiles.

I genuinely think this day was a direct result of that conversation my friend and I had the night before. Even the words alone, without much belief or intention behind them, were able to have an effect of my reality the next day. To me, this was a shining example of the power of mere words. How often my inner voice has the opposite effect on my reality. Without even noticing it I have been ensuring my own discomfort in many experiences. I look towards the future with apprehension and fear. I tell myself that everything that lies before me is going to be so unpleasant, so difficult, so unwanted. Then I end up unconsciously affirming my own expectations.

Since that talk with my friend, I’ve been trying to intentionally get myself excited about my life. I’ve been trying to wake up early and exercise before work the way I used to instead of wasting my whole evening with workouts. Even though I dreaded the idea at first, as I was falling asleep the night before work, I visualized my alarm going off the next morning. I didn’t just imagine the motions that I would go through. I pictured myself waking up feeling well-rested and excited for my renewed morning routine. I tried to feel exactly how wonderful and happy I was going to feel when I woke up. I was somewhat surprised to find that it actually worked. I have been doing this thought exercise as I’m drifting off to sleep each night and this week I have easily been able to accomplish my goal of waking up earlier. And I have thoroughly enjoyed it every day.

I would like to start utilizing this newfound mental tool for the other events throughout my day as well. Rather than dreading the boring, tedious things I do each day like driving to and from work, making coffee, feeding my pets, doing my makeup, I am going to start using visualization to make each of those normally humdrum experiences enjoyable and meaningful. I figure that if I am unable to stop myself from thinking about the details of the future, I might as well start at least changing the way I think about them. I’m working on shifting my internal dialogue from “oh, god I have so much to do, I don’t want to do this” to “I am so excited about being able to do all the things I have going on today.” Even during the times that I really don’t believe it.

I used to view this type of thing as useless self-denial, as a form of lying to myself. And some days it does still feel like a lie. Some days are much harder than others. But that’s okay. I am going to keep trying anyway. Because I’ve realized that emotions are not something that are true or false. They are not solid, immovable facts. They are things that I get to create and interpret any way that I please. The ability to interpret our own reality is one of the most miraculously powerful things we have in this life. I want to train myself to make the most of it.

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What Is Vs What Could Be

Yesterday as I was preparing dinner, a powerful thought struck me. I was feeling very flustered and rushed because I have a quite busy schedule for the next week or so. I was going over everything I still had to do in my head, trying to decide just how much I would be able to pack into the few hours I had left in the day. I decided to go for a run with my dog rather than pull up the weeds in my flower bed or till my garden. When I got back however, I started to regret not having time to do all of it. I glumly imagined another life where I was able to do it all and how happy and successful I might be.

The thought that manifested from this internal dialogue was this: Stop worrying about how good your life could be and start enjoying it for how good it is. Yes! I am definitely going to be thinking back to this thought from now on. Because it’s true. Getting upset with myself for not being able to do all the things I would in an ideal world is a waste of time and energy. I don’t sit around and lament the fact that I am not rich or living in Sweden or an author, etc. There are an infinite number of lives that I might have lived. Millions of alternate realities where my life is different than it is now. It is just as silly to surrender my inner peace because my house could be cleaner or my yard more tidy, as it would be to spend every day mourning the successful singing career I never had. It’s fine to imagine how things might be different, but not at the expense of my happiness.

The next time I notice myself lost in “what ifs” I am going to recite that spontaneous mantra: Stop worrying about how good your life could be, and start enjoying it for how good it is. When I center myself in the present moment it becomes easy to let go of everything else. I already have so much. More than I could have ever asked for. This life is so beautiful and blissful and amazing. I get to learn new fascinating things every day, spend time with the people and animals I love, have new experiences, savor familiar ones. I get to live in this incredible body that does so much for me. I get to have this wondrous, intelligent, curious mind. I have so much in each moment to be grateful for that it’s almost hard to believe I am so easily able to take it all for granted and focus on what I don’t have instead.

This mentality applies equally to both my internal and external world. When I think about myself, hardly even is it anything positive. I ignore all that I am, all that I’m capable of, and instead wish for all the things that I am not. I am always kicking myself for not being able to do more, for feeling handicapped by my mental health, for not being pretty enough, thin enough, strong enough, flexible enough, etc. When was the last time I thought about everything I am grateful for about me? Perhaps I never have. Instead of comparing my body to pictures of strangers, I should be accepting it, respecting it, and adoring it for the way it is. I am so grateful to have this body, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. It gives me everything I need. It cares for me just as I care for it. Where would I even be without it? The same goes for my mind. Rather than use my time to think of all the ways it could be different, I want to celebrate it for being exactly the way it is. My mind is intelligent, caring, creative, curious, hilarious. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I keep focusing on the wrong things. Then the wrong things become everything.

– The Front Bottoms

You feed what you focus on. You give it energy, power, you attract more of it. If you are always looking for what you lack, you will never be satisfied no matter how much you have. However, if you shift your focus, if you begin to ponder your own abundance instead, you will discover that you lack nothing. It will never cease to amaze me, the double sided nature of everything in life. No matter what happens in this life, you have the power to make it serve you, to find a way to be grateful. We are so much stronger than we believe. We have more power than we imagine. It’s all about how we decide to use that power. And there is so much power in the choice to find gratitude for what we do have rather than remain bitter focusing on what we do not.

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The Story We Write

Once again, it’s the beginning of a new month. Even though time is just an illusion, I always feel inspired to try new things around times like this. Especially with spring lingering just on the horizon. This month I’d like to start trying to work on my inner dialogue. I really believe it’s important the way we talk to ourselves. We are actively creating our own reality each moment with the words we use to describe it. Language is such an interesting and powerful thing. Even though I know this to be true, it has still always been hard for me to implement a plan to change my own narrative.

I am a very stubborn person when it comes to my beliefs and ideas about things. I am quick to anger when challenged, even by myself. It is hard for me to accept that the way I have been interpreting the world around me isn’t necessarily the only way it can be interpreted. Whenever I try to speak to myself more kindly, that harsh inner critic is repelled. Why are you lying to yourself? It says irritated. Even though I know if I keep trying the words will feel more true to me eventually. It’s hard to overcome the initial feeling of being fake.

This month, instead of going straight for self-talk like I usually do, I want to try to change my inner dialogue in general. I think that might be an easier place to start. For example, I often feel stressed when I am “forced” to do something, whether that be by someone else or myself. I am always reciting the phrase, “I have to…” fill in the blank. I know I don’t really have to but that’s just what I’ve always said. I’d like to start there. Instead of repeating to my friends, family, and myself, “I have to go to work everyday this week” I want to say “I GET to go to work everyday this week.”

It doesn’t seem like a huge change, but I’m willing to bet switching out those two words will lead to so much more happiness and gratitude in my life. “Have to” makes me feel rushed and forced. “Get to” is a reminder that I am ultimately grateful for the opportunity to do the things I do everyday. I am grateful for my wonderful job. I am grateful for my strong healthy body that lets me workout everyday. I am grateful to have coffee to make in the morning and sweet baby angels that need me.

It will be interesting to start being more mindful of the ways I say things to myself and to others. I probably say “have to” even more than I realize. I’m sure it will be nice to remind myself more often that I don’t have to do anything really. I am doing the things I do because I want to and I want to spend more time focusing on how grateful I am that I get to, that I am able to. I am the one writing this story. And the character I play is not a poor servant of others, the universe, or even that voice inside my head. I am free. I am happy. I am so fortunate. I get to live this amazing, wonderful, fascinating, exciting life. It’s about time I started reminding myself of that.

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Love Without Fear

A book I recently finished had a chapter near the end that touched on the idea of unconditional love. It tied this love that we are all capable of and that most of us have experienced at some time or another to the idea of inner divinity. We have often heard from spiritual or religious texts that we all contain a godly essence, a spark of the divine. This book suggests that we are experiencing a direct connection with that higher self when we feel such deep love. That in fact, this god or higher consciousness or whatever it might be, is this love.

While I don’t particularly believe in any religion or in a deity of any kind, I thought this was a beautiful and profound sentiment. There is certainly something transcendent about those moments when we lose ourselves in that feeling of unconditional love. It’s as if nothing else in the world matters. There is a sense of peace and clarity in our hearts and minds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to always be able to feel that way? To always love with our entire being in every moment? To look at everyone you meet with the tenderness and compassion that you would look at your own child? It is an intoxicating idea. How different life would be!

Many teachers and texts have suggested that it is indeed possible to reach that state. Perhaps we’ve even walked among those who have. This made me wonder what it is that keeps me from feeling that love all the time. What is holding me back? Eventually the answer I came to rest upon was fear. It is scary to love. To love that deeply, one must allow themselves to be vulnerable. And being vulnerable can be quite difficult. To be vulnerable is to accept the possibility, perhaps even the inevitability, that you will get hurt.

Logically my mind agrees that this is a worthwhile risk. After all, love is what matters most in this life. The benefits of giving love freely far outweigh the risks in my opinion. However, my heart is still fearful. It shrinks away from the pain of loss, of rejection. I always beat myself up when I feel I have squandered my love on someone who doesn’t appreciate it. I tell myself that I was a fool, that my love has no value, that it has been wasted, that I should have expected such an outcome from the beginning.

In reality, the negative self-talk that follows is more hurtful than any loss or rejection could ever be on its own. I’d like to work on changing my internal dialogue so that I am able to strengthen my connection to that divine love within. There is nothing to fear. There is no shame in unrequited love. It doesn’t have to hurt. It is the ego that recoils in pain. It says what is wrong with me? Am I not good enough? Does my love not matter? Am I not worth loving in return? But none of these things really matter. I can work on shifting my focus from those questions to the experience of love itself. It feels so good to love. That feeling is enough. I don’t need to be loved in return in order to experience the pleasure of giving love.

Each moment of life seems as though it would be sheer ecstasy with a heart that open. I don’t want to keep myself from that any longer. Especially because of fear. I have been given this beautiful gift of life, and to show my gratitude for that fact, I want to give love endlessly. It is this grateful heart that can carry me through anything if I just let it.

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Who Am I Really?

Years ago I stumbled upon the title of a book called The Untethered Soul. I don’t remember when I heard about it or why it interested me, but the other day as I was going through some of my old notes, I found it again. Even though I’m currently reading three different books, I decided to go ahead and look it up anyway. I’m so glad that I did.

This book wastes no time. It gets right down to the important questions. Who am I? I’m sure most of us are familiar with the quote by Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” We all understand that feeling of have multiple sides of ourselves constantly fluctuating and shifting position and perspective. But which one of these various personalities is really us? Is it the first voice that makes a statement or the second voice that contradicts it?

Sometimes it’s nice to imagine that we are the culmination of the best of these voices. We are the voice that says loving, compassionate things. The voice that guides us to make “the right” decision. Yet the voice that says hateful, hurtful, ugly things, well that one isn’t us at all. For me however, I’ve felt the opposite for a lot of my life. I’ve felt that the negative voice is truly me, that the kinder voice is just a lie I tell myself, something I wish I was. It would be interesting to see how many other people identify with their internal voices in this way and how your perception of what voices are “really you” effects your life and relationships.

Regardless, The Untethered Soul, points out that we are missing something as we struggle to identify with one voice over the other. Who is listening to these voices? Who is it that is trying to decide which one is “really me”? That is us! We are the one who listens, the one who watches, the spectator, the witness, the awareness.

Even though I’ve heard this sentiment multiple times, the way it is explained and talked about in The Untethered Soul, has really reached me in a profound way. Even though it’s hard to even hold this idea in your head for very long before getting swept up in your internal monologue again, it is quite a relief to realize. I don’t have to feel so deeply attached to the things my mind is constantly babbling on about. I don’t have to get upset by what it says. I don’t have to feel guilty for a cruel thought, or self-righteous for a lofty one. I can just watch, an impartial, curious observer. These voices are not a reflection of who I am. I am something else entirely.

Keeping in mind that I had gained all of this from merely the first three chapters of the book, I am so excited to see what the rest of the pages contain. Even though I’ve just started reading, I can confidently say I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in these types of philosophical questions, or anyone looking for some respite from that pesky cacophony of voices.

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Self-talk

This morning when I began to feel anxious like I always do, I became aware of the things I say to myself as this is happening. Usually I try to talk myself down. I’ll repeat to myself that I am okay, that everything is okay, that I don’t have to feel anxious right now. Sometimes I’ll try to reason with my anxiety, going over in my head all the reasons that I should be happy or why there is no cause for distress. As you might imagine if you’ve read some of my other posts on here, this rarely helps.

However, today for some reason, I thought of a different way I might go about talking to myself when this happens. I recalled hearing about the different ways different people prefer to be comforted when they go to someone else for support. Some people do like to be reasoned with. It is reassuring to be given some answers, options, or direction from someone outside the situation. Some people prefer to be cheered up. Others just want to be heard and acknowledged. I would most likely group myself with the latter.

Oftentimes I will even get frustrated or angry when someone tries to cheer me up or tell me how to solve my problems. It sounds silly, but when someone tries to give me solutions I feel insulted. Do they think I wasn’t smart enough to think of that myself? The problem isn’t that I haven’t figured out what to do, rather simply that nothing works. I know the other person is just trying to help, to somehow fix things. I, myself, am usually one to try to offer advice when someone comes to me for comfort, even though I don’t like that response when I am the one upset.

Today when I was feeling extremely stressed, I stopped my usual habit of telling myself I’m okay, and asked myself: how would I want a loved one to speak to me right now? I certainly wouldn’t feel much better if all they said was that I was fine, everything was fine, and I had no reason to be anxious. I know all of that already. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that I am anxious. Rather than try to convince me I’m okay, or give me advice on how I could lessen my anxiety by practicing breathing exercises, for example, I would just want them to be there for me.

So that is exactly what I did. I was there for myself. My inner voice shifted. It stopped repeating the mantra: You are okay. You are okay. Instead it said: I know that you are feeling anxious right now. It’s alright to feel anxious. I still love you. I am here for you. You are still worthy. You are still loved. Always. I wrapped my arms around myself in a self-hug, as I sometimes do. Cooing to myself softly, swaying gently in my own arms. In the past I’ve also found it helpful to hold my own hand, giving it a squeeze of reassurance. Even just imagining some form of physical comfort is beneficial.

It actually made me feel a lot better. I think it is because it’s harder to negate a feeling (going from anxious to not anxious) than it is to shift your focus, to replace that feeling with a different feeling (focusing on feeling anxious, to focusing on feeling love.) Trying to stop being anxious is like trying not to think about a zebra. Now it’s all you can do.

From now on I am going to try to remember today’s little lesson. Don’t try to reason with your anxiety. Just be there for yourself. Just remind yourself that you are loved. You are enough. You aren’t alone. You will always, always have yourself. And that is an incredible, beautiful, comforting thing.

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