The Mind-Gut Connection

The Mind-Gut Connection featured in upcoming Lunchtime Learning Presentation

The more I learn about the human body and the world, the more obvious it becomes that every little supposedly insignificant thing matters and everything is inextricably connected. The bad news is there is no cheating your way to health or fitness or happiness. But the good news is, although it may seem harder, the tried and true methods of slowly achieving success are always available to us. If we treat both our bodies and our minds well and show them patience and compassion, health and happiness with inevitably follow. A lot of people will find this obvious and uninteresting, but I’ve never been one to base any of my opinions or actions on good faith alone, I usually require a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms going on behind the scenes.

The emerging science of what’s going on backstage in our own bodies is truly stranger than fiction. Most of us know (although we don’t like to think about it) that our bodies contain lots of microscopic organisms in addition to our human cells. Our skin, our hair, our nails, our eyelashes, and of course our guts are teeming with strange little lifeforms, the majority of which are harmless. It may be a bit unsettling to consider, but the bacteria inhabiting our bodies are actually even more than harmless, they are helpful, even necessary for us to be healthy. Before reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, I thought my vague comprehension of that fact was sufficient. Gut microbes are good for us, case closed. Now I’m discovering that the role these little organisms play in our digestion, day to day life, decision making, and ever our personalities are far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.

Apart from all the implications this information sparks curiosity about in the scientific community, my philosophy centered mind goes straight for the larger existential questions we are now faced with. Who is really running the show? Are we this human form shown to the world, or are we actually the bacteria pulling the strings deep inside our guts? Perhaps we’re just the passive hosts without even realizing it. Or maybe it’s not even possible to make a clear distinction between the human and bacteria cells within us. For now it does appear as if we are one in the same.

Whatever we may be, Dr. Mayer’s book is an excellent example of the way looking deeper into the natural world leads only to more marvel and mystery. The complexity and intricacies of this existence are an endless source of fascination that I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to decode. However, we have now learned at least a bit more about this magical little world within us. So here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting things laid out in this book:

Personality & Decision making

These bacteria in our digestive organs do a lot more than help us break down our food. They are also influencing our mood, disposition, and the decisions “we” make. We all know that our cells communicate and deliver signals and chemicals to the brain, but what I didn’t know was that these bacteria are doing the same. I was shocked to discover that our gut produces the majority of serotonin in our bodies, not the brain. This is one of the reasons we experience that familiar cozy, satisfied feeling after a good meal. This also explains the way our diet affects our mental health. It’s not just a placebo effect. Eating healthy, fibrous, fresh, unprocessed foods really does make us feel better all around.

One of the most incredible things I learned was from a study that showed transplanting the gut microbiome of one rat into the gut of another causes the latter rat to begin expressing a personality and behaviors more similar to the donor rat. For instance, a shy rat given the microbiome of an outgoing rat, will now begin to appear brave. It’s honestly a bit frustrating to realize what a big role the gut microbiome plays in our mental state. Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve faired so well without my paxil is because I’ve been drinking pro & pre-biotics every day since before I began weaning myself off the drug. It makes me wonder what kind of success, if any, I may have had in my battle with social anxiety if I had known this information before starting an SSRI.

Hunger, Satiety, & Weight

The microbes in our guts also have a big part to play when it comes to our appetite. They have a direct line to our brains with the capacity to influence our hunger signals. What I once thought was a definitive sign that my body needed more calories or nutrients, now may very well just mean that my gut bacteria need more fibrous matter and pre-biotics to snack on. These little buddies also have a hand in our sensitivity to our satiety signals, in other words our cue that we are full and want to stop eating. These bacteria are also responsible for how much of the food we eat is absorbed and stored in our bodies.

Just as in the other rat study I mentioned, the same effect can be observed regarding the physical weight of the rats. Give a skinny rat the microbiome of a heavy rat and it will begin to gain weight and vice versa. This is a stunning insight into just how little we actually comprehend about nutrition and how to influence our own body weight. There really is no “one size fits all” diet when it comes to weight loss or gain, and it’s got a lot more to it than just genetics.

The Best Diet for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

This book also gives suggestions about the best foods for us to eat if we want a gut microbiome that keeps us healthy and happy. The author particularly emphasizes that diets high in animal fat lead to a state of constant inflammation and physical and mental health complications. Not surprising. He also says that diets high in fibrous plant foods lead to more helpful strains of bacteria flourishing in our guts. Now it seems obvious to me that the extrapolation of that information points directly to a vegan diet. No animal fat, tons of plant foods. However, this author is clearly attached to his flesh foods, because based on anecdotal evidence of healthy tribal peoples who eat a mediterranean diet (basically vegan, plus fish) he decided to label that the best diet. He gives no explanation on how the fish part is necessary or beneficial. The actual data he provides seems to say the opposite. So I think it’s safe to say eliminating the last “bad gut” food, would be best, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, he goes on to say that even a drastic change in diet isn’t going to have a huge effect on the types of bacteria living in our guts. However, it will change the kinds of metabolites the bacteria we already have produce for our bodies and brains, which is nearly as good.


In summation, the information I’ve learned from this book has completely changed the way I view my body and even my mind. I fluctuate back and forth between being excited and terrified about this new knowledge and what it means. At the very least, this book shows just how important our physical health is when it comes to our mental health. The two are inextricably linked for better or worse. Really all we can do is work with the gut-microbiome we have. They are as unique and diverse as each individual they are house in. Treat them right, give them lots of healthy vegan foods to eat, and they will repay us in kind.

Lessons Learned

There are so many valuable things I’ve learned in my twenty-seven years of life. Working with kids always leaves me wanting to teach these lessons to the amazing little people I meet every day. This is especially true when it comes to the teenage girls. It’s painful to see so many of them who remind me of myself at that age. I want to tell them that high school drama isn’t going to matter in a few years. I want to tell them to let it all roll off their backs and just enjoy their youth. I want to tell them they don’t need someone else’s love to make them happy, that happiness is something we get to choose, that comes from inside us. But I don’t say any of this.

I don’t say it, because all of these things were said to me a million times as a teenager. It’s frustrating to grow up and realize it was all true. So why couldn’t I believe it back then? Why did I have to suffer long enough to learn these lessons for myself? And what is it that finally allowed me to accept these messages? It certainly isn’t just getting older. I know many people that are adults and haven’t yet embraced these truths I now hold so dear.

While I may not have an explanation for all of these questions, I did listen to a podcast recently that shed some light on the situation. Our brains simply learn better through personal experience than they do by being taught by someone else. So no matter how much we want to spare our own children and the young people in our lives from unnecessary suffering by just telling them what we’ve learned from ours, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps that suffering isn’t totally unnecessary after all. This is why Socrates didn’t go around preaching the things he knew. Rather, he asked his neighbors questions, nudging them towards their own truths. This is why therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do. They help you discover these answers for yourself. When we realize an answer or solution on our own, it hits us differently.

I suppose this is also why telling people about veganism never seems to change their minds at all. There is truly nothing I can say to someone that will make them go vegan. Deep down I think I’ve always known this. I think all vegans do to some extent. After all, most of us were once the meat-eaters shrugging our shoulders at all the information we now desperately try to show others. In the same way, I’ll never be able to get a teenager to realize that high school doesn’t matter, that their emotions won’t be this intense forever. I certainly didn’t believe it when it was told to me. It feels like I hardly even heard what these adults were saying at all. If anything, I resented them for acting like my problems weren’t real. As if I was choosing to feel the way I felt. Hell, I don’t think I realized the importance of loving myself and not waiting for someone else to come and make me happy until I was like 25!

While the idea of needing to learn something for yourself for it to stick makes perfect sense to me, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I feel helpless to make any kind of difference at all. I’m left biting my tongue, just hoping that somehow these people will find their way on their own. The hardest part is I don’t even know how to turn them in the right direction. I don’t know the right questions to ask them. I’m not Socrates. I’m not a therapist. And worst of all, I don’t even know how I eventually made these connections in my own head!

With Veganism, I’m ashamed to say, I think it was a total accident. I didn’t have this noble, benevolent change of heart one day. I went vegan for purely selfish reasons. Then once I was already living that way, my cognitive dissonance about eating animals lifted and I was able to see things as they truly are. However, when it comes to my personal life lessons about self-love and letting go, I have no clue how I came around to them. Especially knowing the kind of teenager I was. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become the person I am today. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was because I started a yoga practice. Even when you approach it for purely exercise or weight loss reasons, something about the physical practice clears away the clouds inside of you and teaches you the most important things in life without you even realizing it.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m starting to see how my biggest insecurities and struggles have actually been the things that led me exactly where I needed to be. Both yoga and veganism were only of interest to me at first to the extent that they could help me lose weight. Yet despite neither really doing that, I was given things far more important. Now these things are core parts of my identity, things I practice every single day, things that bring me closer to that all encompassing loving kindness and peace that I’ve always urned for. If I had been born into a itty bitty, “perfect” body I doubt I would have found the things that really give my life meaning. And I certainly wouldn’t start eating animal products again and give up yoga for something as silly as physical appearance.

I guess ultimately all we can do for the kids and other people in our lives that are struggling is be there for them. We may not be able to spare them the suffering we all experience in this life, but maybe we can at least show them by example that, though we may suffer, it’ll be worth it one day. We can’t take away their problems or expose those problems as mere shadows on a cave wall, but we can sit next to them and hold their hands while they work to figure it out for themselves. We can only offer our compassion and our unconditional love and acceptance. And maybe that’s better than any lesson we try to teach anyway.

How to be a Healthy Role Model for Children - NurseRegistry

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up

To this day, I have no answer to this question. I never did. I always felt like a weirdo for not having an answer. Everyone else didn’t even seem to hesitate before happily responding: firefighter, policeman, doctor, nurse, etc. My own mother used to be concerned that I always replied: I don’t know. I was confident that someday I would have an epiphany and know exactly what career I’d like to pursue. Someday I’d be able to answer confidently like all the other kids. I was sure of it.

Unfortunately, I was applying to college before I realized that epiphany wasn’t coming. I was confronted with the huge decision of what to major in when I still wasn’t sure what options were even out there or what I would be best suited for. My parents had never been particularly passionate about their jobs, so I never really expected to be either. In my mind, I couldn’t grasp why anyone would actually want to work anywhere. Working in general seemed awful and constricting. I just wanted to live my life. I wanted to be free to do whatever I saw fit on any given day. It seemed like a nightmare to be locked into doing one thing forever. So I basically soldiered onward with the assumption that regardless of which career path I choose, I’d end up hating it.

Thankfully, I have always been very intelligent and can achieve pretty much whatever I put my mind to. I was free to select any major and know that I’d be capable of handling the course material. At first I went for the sciences because I knew that’s where the money was. If I was going to hate my job either way, I might as well make some money. However, after only a semester of that, I decided it was too much effort and stress for something I had no passion for. I gave up on the idea of being rich and decided my quality of life from day to day was more important. I decided to switch my major to psychology since my Psych 101 class was the only one I actually enjoyed.

At the end of the day, I was very lucky. I managed to accidentally fall into the exact right field for myself. Not only do I find psychology and the human brain endlessly fascinating to learn about, I am able to use what I learn and the interactions I have with my clients to help me be a better version of myself, which is also one of my favorite things to work on.

Through my own experience in education and the workforce, I’ve come to realize that we as a society are asking kids all the wrong questions. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even as a child I thought that was a peculiar question to ask someone so young. How the hell should I know? That was always what I was wondering. It’s funny when you really think about it. How many jobs are children even aware of? And of the handful that they do know, how much do they understand about what those jobs actually entail on a daily basis? I used to think there was something wrong with me for not knowing. Now I realize that even the kids who had an answer didn’t really know either. How could they? Does a child that says, “I want to be a doctor,” really know what it means to be a doctor? Don’t the kids that say, “I want to be a veterinarian,” just say that because they enjoy spending time with animals?

Honestly part of the problem is the apathy of the parents and the education system. You might as well ask these kids where they want to go to college. It the job of the adults in these kids’ lives to teach them what is available, to guide them toward goals that they are well suited for. I think instead of asking children what they want to be, we should ask them what they are endlessly curious about. We should ask them what they think they’d be able to learn about every day and never get bored. Then as those interests grow and evolve, parents and teachers should explain to children the different careers that would involve their interests on a daily basis. It’s hard to hate your job when it’s something that deeply interests you.

It’s such a shame all the ways in which our education system fails our children. School is supposed to prepare us for the real world, yet that idea has become a joke instead. I think a lot of people, like myself, have assumed that a lot of these things are being covered at home by the kids’ parents. However, when I began working in the community, I realized that there are sooo many people that don’t have responsible, caring, capable family members to teach them these things. Unfortunately it would be better for us to assume that children aren’t learning anything at home, because a huge proportion of them aren’t.

For the limited time I get to spend with the children I meet everyday, I am going to do my best to ask them the right questions. Then they may at least have a concept of where to start. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I can do at the moment. Hopefully someday I will become a teacher and get a chance to make a bigger impact on the next generation. But if you are a teacher or if you have your own children, try asking them what they are interested in learning rather than what they want to be. Help give them an idea of what options are out there for them and what those options actually look like in practice. Give this upcoming generation a chance to thrive and love what they do in the future.

50 Career Day Ideas and Activities

Default Mode Network

NeuroScience

If you haven’t heard the term default mode network (DMN) before, you’re not alone. Yesterday was the first time I did. Although I still am new to this concept, I wanted to talk about it today. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out first thing. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I hardly know anything about it. What I do know, however, is already enough to enthrall me and make me eager to learn more. So don’t take my words here as gospel. Go read about it for yourself.

I first heard about this term while continuing to read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. If you’ve read my other posts referencing this book, you already know where this is going. That’s right, psychedelics. Scientists have discovered a very fascinating phenomenon in the brains of people tripping on LSD or psilocybin. These psychedelic substances inhibit or turn off the default mode network in our brain.

So what is the default mode network? From what I’ve gathered, the default mode network includes many different parts of the brain that are active when we are “in our own heads” so to speak. These are the pathways we are using when we are ruminating, daydreaming, planning, remembering the past, contemplating the future, etc. Basically this is the network that is active when we are lost in thought, rather than focusing our attention on something in the outside world. In the book, it also specifies that this DMN kicks on when we are thinking about ourselves.

This aspect of self-awareness encompassed in the DMN is one of the reasons why we are able to experience “ego death” while using psychedelics, which switch off this network. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that ego death and transcendent experiences are both known to occur while tripping. The DMN, while useful, is also being linked to depression and other mental illnesses. People that spend a lot of time in the DMN are often less happy overall than people that spend less time in this brain state.

I find this very fascinating because it seems to reflect a lot of the advice you hear given to people that are unhappy. “Try to focus on someone else for awhile.” “Rather than ruminating, use that energy to help someone you love.” “Become a more active part of the community.” All of these shifts in focus are actually helpful, but now it seems science is getting a better idea exactly why that’s the case. And I don’t know about you, but I find it more easy to follow through on advice if I know the facts back it up.

Another thing I found interesting is the idea that social media tends to strengthen the DMN. When we are scrolling through Instagram or checking how many likes we got on our last Facebook post, our brains are in the default mode network. Apart from all the other reasons there are to disengage from social media, this one is quite compelling. No wonder I feel happier and less anxious now that I don’t use those apps!

If you’re looking for a way to experience the bliss of brain states outside of the DMN, but don’t want to take a drug to do so, you can try meditation instead. Surprisingly fMRI scans of experienced meditators and those of brains on psychedelics are remarkably similar. Training our minds through meditation can give us the power to focus. That focused attention in itself is another way to get ourselves out of the DMN. I believe that is why the “flow” state we experience when we loose track of time while working on a task that completely absorbs our attention is so pleasant. It’s a great feeling to “lose ourselves” in our work.

I have yet to see any research related to this, but I’m interested to know how the DMN functions in adolescence. I hypothesize that it may play a role in the unhappiness a lot of us experienced during this time in our lives. It also appears to be a time in life when we tend to be the most selfish. We’re learning who we are and what we want, finding our own identities. While this is an important and necessary part of growing up, it also requires a lot of self-centered thinking, which as we now know, can lead to a greater sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As we get older and start to think more about others, the emotional turmoil of youth also seems to subside somewhat.

As this term was only coined in 2001, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about this brain state. A lot more research needs to be done. I’m excited to see what else neuroscience will discover about our brains and how exactly they work in the future. But as I said earlier, I am not at all a voice of authority on this subject. I just couldn’t resist sharing the concept and the things I’ve learned that have got me so excited about it. I highly recommend doing your own research and reading more about the default mode network for yourself. Feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misrepresented any of the things I’ve shared about this network. Also Let me know in the comments if you find out anything interesting that I didn’t mention.

Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

Have you ever had a great idea for a project or personal goal, that seems super inspiring and exciting at first only to devolve into another disappointment as soon as you start taking real steps toward it? This happens to me ALL the time. Everything feels so much easier and more seamless when it’s just an idea. Unfortunately, our minds forget to factor in that embarking on new endeavors is challenging and often not immediately rewarding in the way we imagined it would be. This disparity between imagination and reality can cause us to give up on the idea too quickly.

For example, I just bought myself a spontaneous gift, a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet. For those who haven’t heard of this before, it’s a tablet that allows you to create digital art on your computer. It even came with access to a couple different softwares for making said art. I’ve been giddy about getting this tablet for days. I kept checking all day yesterday to see if it had arrived yet. I couldn’t wait to get home and start creating. I even told my coworkers about it and promised to show them all the cool things I would draw with it over the weekend.

Once I got home and got everything set up and ready to go, I was immediately filled with self doubt. I had hoped the software might be more simple and intuitive than Photoshop. However, the two seem nearly identical to me. There are just SO many options. I don’t even know where to begin. I figured I’d at least be able to do a simple drawing as well as I could with pen and paper, but I was dead wrong. So far I haven’t been able to make a single thing. Instead of drawing, I spent the better part of my evening doing research and watching tutorials.

Now this is normally the part in the process where I give up. I feel crushed not only that I can’t do what I thought I’d be able to do, but also that I “wasted” so much time and money believing I could. Thankfully, I am no longer the self-defeating person I once was. When I started to feel frustrated and like I wanted to quit yesterday, I just repeated my new mantra: It’s okay to be a beginner. The progress I’ve seen in my drawing over the last few years just from doodling every day has bolstered my self-confidence. I KNOW I can do this. I’ve done it before. I won’t let my ego stop me, just because it feels insulted we aren’t already the best at something we’ve literally never tried before. Sure, it feels good to be the best, but it feels even better to learn new skills and watch yourself get better and better.

My mindset is totally different this time around. I am more determined than I’ve felt in years. I’ve fucking GOT THIS. I know that determination is all that I need. That alone is a guarantee that I’ll master this new art form one day. It sure as hell won’t be tomorrow or even next week. Maybe not even next year. But I will be better than I am today by the time I reach each of those future dates. And eventually I’ll be better than I ever believed I could be. Instead of letting my total lack of ability right now discourage me, I’m using it to inspiring me. Won’t it be so freaking cool and impressive once I figure this out?! How proud I’ll feel. How fascinating it will be to watch my amazing sponge-like mind absorb this new knowledge and build a new talent. Right now, I don’t even know what this new software is capable of. The possibilities are endless.

Rather than running from our sense of inadequacy or feeling so embarrassed by being a beginner that we quit, we can choose to savor where we are right now. I want to remember what it feels like to be this know-nothing novice. I want to remember so that I can feel all the more joy in a few years when I look back on how far I have come. Every single expert was a beginner at some point. Would being an expert even hold any satisfaction if that weren’t the case?

Being a beginner is exciting! You are learning a new skill. What a wonderful way to exercise this incredible muscle we call the mind. That is part of the reason we are here on this earth, to learn new things, to explore, to experience. We won’t be able to do any of those things if we only allow ourselves to do what we’re already good at. Being a beginner is a beautiful thing to be. Choose to enjoy it.

Mantras to Practice:

  1. It’s okay to be a beginner.
  2. I am making progress toward my goals each day.
  3. It’s fun to learn new things.
  4. I enjoy challenging myself and building new skills.
  5. Practice makes progress.
Embracing a Beginner's Mind | Harlem Yoga Studio

Not Knowing

When I was a younger, even friends wouldn’t hesitate to let me know that I was a “know-it-all.” At the time, although I understood this was an insult, I couldn’t really comprehend why. I interpreted it as jealousy or an envious lashing out against my superior intelligence and knowledge base. (Exactly what a know-it-all would think.) What’s wrong with being smart, I often wondered. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that “know-it-all” wasn’t a comment on how intelligent I was. It was a comment about my attitude.

Being a know-it-all doesn’t mean you know everything or even that you know more than the average person. It simply means that you think you do. Intelligence is curious, open, and observant. A know-it-all is self-assured, closed, and domineering. An intelligent person knows that there is always more to learn and there are always people that know more about something than we do. A know-it-all, well, thinks they already know it all. They have nothing left to learn. There is no one that knows more than they do.

Even though I still fall back into my know-it-all tendencies quite often, I’m learning more and more about just how much I don’t know every day. One of the more important lessons that my experience with LSD has taught me is that I don’t know everything. Not only that, but there are aspects of life, reality, and the universe that I can’t even hope to conceptualize. There is so much knowledge out there that I couldn’t even absorb it all if I lived a thousand lifetimes. Not only is there mountain upon mountain of empirical data, there is also the unlimited ways we can interpret that data. Despite all I pride myself on knowing, somehow I still learn more all the time. I couldn’t be more humbled by or grateful for that fact.

I absolutely love to learn. It is one of my greatest joys to find and spread new information. After learning about the mycelial networks helping trees to communicate and send nutrients to one another, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen. I firmly believe that anxiety is a byproduct of an intelligent, but under stimulated brain. My brain is constantly devoting all it’s unused energy to make predictions about the future based on what I know. It is a great comfort to me when I realize that these predictions are not very likely to be accurate given the amount of unknown factors at play. Reflecting on this leaves me feeling a lot less urgency around tending to my anxious thoughts.

Growing up a Christian, I remember being so pleased that after I died I would finally be able to talk to God. I couldn’t wait to ask him all the endless questions I had. I couldn’t wait to one day learn everything about the universe, how it began, and why. Now an atheist, I’m pretty upset that isn’t going to happen. Then again, I don’t really know what is going to happen. Perhaps my consciousness will meld back into all of existence and in a way I will have access to all the answers I’ve been seeking. Maybe the not knowing, maybe the mystery is part of the fun.

It’s quite a depressing thought actually, to imagine really knowing all there is to know. What a dull life that would be. Curiosity, mystery, discovery, wonder, these are all parts of life that make it worth living. It is such a joy to know these experiences will always be available to me. There will always be surprises awaiting me, new mysteries to puzzle over, new discoveries to be made, breathtaking moments of wonder and awe.

We are especially fortunate to live in the time that we do now. With the internet, we can easily find out more about anything we’d like to know. At any moment there is the potential to learn something that completely changes the way we see, interact with, or understand the world. Isn’t that an incredible notion? We tend to get weighed down by the monotony of day to day life and lose sight of that fact. It’s helpful to remind ourselves every now and then. I find that the concept of not knowing is enough to spark curiosity, creativity, excitement for what’s to come, as well as gratitude for what is.

As you move through your day today, try to take notice of moments that surprise you. Savor any new knowledge you’re able to gain. Contemplate how “not knowing” plays an important role in your life. Reflect on the times in the past when you learned something that completely changed the way you perceive yourself, others, or the world. Let the mantra for today be, “anything could happen.” Then allow yourself to be curious, excited, and open to whatever does.

Discover a Bestselling Mystery & Suspense Series | Novel Suspects

Forgive Yourself

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life agonizing and lamenting some awful decisions I made. Thankfully as time continues to pass, I’ve been able to gain the space I needed to find perspective. Eventually we are able too look back on our younger selves with compassion rather than shame and regret. We begin to realize that we have to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know.

As a child, my family had five dogs at one time. We lived out in the countryside and a lot of our dogs ended up with us because people would drive down our road and abandon them there. Ultimately we were being kind in taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they had all their shots, etc. But my parents would not allow them to live inside the house. It still haunts me to know that those dogs spent so many cold winter days and nights with only a plastic dog house filled with hay to keep them warm, chained in one small area for most of their lives. I still live with a lot of guilt about this which manifests itself in the form of reoccurring dreams where dozens of animals are confined, sick, dying, starving, and forgotten in dirty cramped cages.

I had always blamed myself for the way those dogs lived. Although my sister and I constantly pleaded with my parents to let them live inside, their response was always that if we were so concerned about it, we could give them away. Given this decision I always felt I should have allowed them to find new homes that would have treated them more properly. I was too selfish to do what was right. One day my sister made me realize something though. She said, “That was not our fault. We were children. We shouldn’t have been expected to make such a difficult decision. We loved those dogs and we did our best.” Until that conversation with my sister, I had never really considered the fact that we were merely children. I still have to remind myself of that fact from time to time. Now I’ve even begun to look back at my adolescent mistakes and realize that I was just a kid.

Only since finding another person that I truly love deeply and unconditionally, have I been able to look back at my time in college without immense pain and regret. For a very long time I thought I had destroyed my life. Even though the boyfriend I had back then was incredible and still one of the greatest loves of my life, I cheated on him. Not only that I cheated on him with two different people. Neither of which gave a single shit about me. Ultimately I broke up with that boyfriend in order to continue to explore what else was out there without guilt.

I can’t say what might have happened if I had stayed. All I know is that the years that followed were filled with disappointment, frustration, and heartache. But with my extremely limited romantic experience, how could I have known what I would find? How could I have known that the relationship I had was so uncommon and wonderful? If I hadn’t made the mistakes that I did, I may still be unaware of that. In the end, I’m grateful for the painful lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes. They have allowed me to become the person I am today and to be with another amazing person whom I love dearly.

I’m sure that I will continue to stumble and fall as I move along this path called life. There will be many more difficult lessons for me to learn. I only hope that part of me can remember that despite the pain, time will transform it into something worthwhile. I can recover from my mistakes, learn from them, even be grateful for them one day. But we don’t have to wait for that shift of time and perspective to be kind to ourselves. Punishing or belittling ourselves over our mistakes does not serve us. If nothing else, mistakes are an opportunity to practice self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is also a reminder to be gentle with others as they make their own mistakes.

It's Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral | Time

Changing Adversity Into Opportunity

No one enjoys facing hardships in their lives. Whether that hardship is losing a loved one, a breakup, or even something more harrowing like losing your home to a natural disaster, we all have our own hurdles to overcome. Through most of my life I had that “woe is me” attitude. It felt like my life was so difficult. I was the stereotypical dramatic teenage girl. I never really took the time to wonder if there might be a different way I could view the challenges in my life. It’s especially hard in the moment.

It can be helpful to prep ourselves for the inevitable hard days ahead of us. One way I like to do this is to look back on past negative experiences. Usually once we’ve put some time and space between ourselves and the event, it is much easier to put it in a new context. A lot of things that once seemed like they’d be the end of me have become moments I look back on with pride. Without a lot of the negative experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t be nearly as strong and resilient as I am today. In hindsight, they were blessings rather than burdens.

Using this mind-frame, try to practice viewing even current dilemmas through the same lens. Surely it will be a bit harder, but it’s worth the effort. When you find yourself facing difficult moments, notice where your thoughts go. Mine usually revert back to that tried and true narrative of, “no surprise, this always happens to me, I can never catch a break,” or “why me?” Rather than allowing yourself to get swept away by these unhelpful thoughts and the emotions attached to them, get curious instead.

Try asking yourself some pre-prepared questions. It can be good to keep these questions written down somewhere easy to access when you need them. When a situation arises, we will likely be too emotional/upset/frustrated to think clearly and come up with ways to spark our curiosity on the spot. A few go to questions may be:

  • Why is this particular circumstance uncomfortable for me?
  • What is this experience/person trying to teach me?
  • How might I someday be stronger because of this?
  • In what ways can I see this as an opportunity?
  • What aspects of my personality does this scenario emphasize?
  • Do I like these aspects of myself? Why or why not?
  • How might I use this moment as a way to strengthen/lessen these parts of myself?

By staying curious, we cancel out a lot of the immediate anger or dismay that we normally experience when faced with something unpleasant. It’s almost as though our interest has the power to short circuit our outrage. When we look at these struggles through a less emotional lens, there is a lot we can learn about ourselves, others, and this beautiful world we live in.

Sometimes the most important lesson we can learn from our issues is that it’s okay to feel upset, angry, sad, anxious, etc. While these things may be unpleasant, they are just feelings, and we are on this earth to experience the full scope of them. When we make a big deal out of the feelings in general, we end up making our suffering even worse than it has to be. If you find yourself unable to get curious about how this situation may teach you something useful or give you an opportunity for self-growth, at the very least remind yourself that it’s okay to feel upset. All things pass, and so will whatever you may be facing in your life right now.

Types of Adversity: Six Examples & How to Overcome Them • Andrew Roche

The Brain-Gut Connection

By now, most people know about the gut microbiome. Maybe not the term, but we have a vague understanding of things such as probiotics and antibiotics. It’s very trendy to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods like kimchi in an effort to nurture our gut bacteria. I mentioned in another post how wild it is to find out we are nearly equal parts human tissue cells and germ/bacteria cells. On my way to work this morning as I listened to a podcast episode all about the brain-gut connection, I found out some even more startling and fascinating information.

Every day science is learning more about the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. It’s quite the complex subject, far more complicated than simply pro and anti biotics. I learned today that there are also things called prebiotics and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the fibrous material that the gut bacteria eats, and postbiotics are the waste materials that the bacteria excrete, which actually ends up being beneficial to our physical as well as our mental health.

I was shocked to discover what a huge role our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Further research may even uncover that this is the root of all our mental illnesses. Of course, as a vegan, I was intrigued to learn what kind of a difference a plant based diet would have on all of this. I know that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics to keep them “healthy” even in atrocious conditions. My initial instinct was to feel even more sorry for the animals themselves. Not only are they physically suffering, but god only know what those conditions, PLUS an obliterated gut biome is doing to them mentally. I hadn’t even considered the implications of this on human health. Not only does consuming meat fill us with carcinogens, growth and stress hormones, and cholesterol, it is also destroying our gut biome with the antibiotics absorbed in the flesh of the animals we consume.

Initially, I felt pretty smug about this. Just another reason veganism is the only healthy diet. However, I knew that my mental health, while much improved by a vegan diet, wasn’t completely cured by it. As the podcast continued on, it explained that while meat contains antibiotics, so do the fruit, vegetables, and grains that we eat. Apparently Raid was originally patented as an antibiotic! Raid is also something that, despite all the awful things we know about this poison, is still used on virtually all the crops commercially grown. I suppose organic crops may avoid this, but honestly I don’t know. Call me a skeptic, but I never believe things labeled as “organic” are actually grown organically.

Many of you may take away from this information that we need to balance out our antibiotic ridden diet with lots of healthy probiotics. However, it’s not so simple. Apparently probiotics, though still good for us, are not actually helpful in the ways we intend them to be. Instead, it’s more important for us to focus on consuming foods that are rich in prebiotics. This provides our gut bacteria with the fibers they need to flourish. These foods include things like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and bananas.

Perhaps even more interesting than all of that information is the link between the gut microbiome and hunger/cravings. Hunger seems pretty simple. When our stomachs are empty, this space sends a signal to the brain that we need to eat, right? Wrong. It’s actually the small friends (and foes) in our guts that are giving us these signals. In a study, subjects were told to fast for 14 days, only consuming water and a prebiotic solution. Despite consuming no actual food, the subjects reported having no hunger pains or cravings throughout the 14 day period. The gut bacteria was well-fed by the prebiotic solution, therefore no hunger signals were being sent to the brain.

In addition to this, what kinds of foods we crave can also be linked to our gut bacteria. Some bacteria like to eat very sugary, fatty foods. Rather than having anything to do with “willpower,” our ability to choose healthy foods has a lot to do with what types of bacteria we have in our gut. The good news is, that if we can manage to resist these impulses to eat sugary, processed foods for a few days, those pesky bacteria will die out, taking the cravings along with them.

I was so blown away by all of this information, that I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen. Of course that means I had to make a post about it. Considering I only heard about this stuff a few hours ago, I wouldn’t recommend you simply take my word for it. But I do encourage all of you to look into it for yourselves. I certainly plan to do lots more research on this topic myself. I may even order the book The Energy Paradox by Dr. Steven Grundy, who was the guest on the podcast I listened to today. I absolutely adore learning new, helpful information like this. The implications of this knowledge are potentially life-changing.

A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection |

My Values

I’ve never really taken the time to sit down and really think about what my values are in life. I have always been a very passionate, outspoken person when it comes to my opinions and beliefs though. Today I wanted to get more clear about what exactly it is that matters to me, so that I can better embody and serve those things every day. I’d like to come up with five values to always keep close to my heart as I move through this world.

1. Justice

When I think about values, justice is the first thing that comes to mind. I have always been unable to tolerate injustice. I guess I never really grew out of that phase of childhood where you constantly scream, “It’s not fair!” I’ve learned that life isn’t fair, but that never stopped me from wondering indignantly, why not? I used to be a very patriotic child as well. I was so proud to live in a country which I had been taught valued justice and freedom above all else. When I came to find that actually wasn’t quite an accurate portrayal of America, my patriotism faded, but I held fast to those ideals. Justice is even one of the reasons that I am a vegan. Not only is it horrendously cruel and idiotic to treat animals and the planet the way we do, it is also extremely unjust for us to place our species above all other beings.

1. Non-violence

My next value is one that comes from the Yamas in Yoga philosophy. Non-violence goes farther than simply not physically fighting people. Violence can exist even in small actions. Our words can be violent, the way we treat our bodies, buying animal products, etc. I’m still learning every day how I can better embody the essence of peace and compassion in everything I do.

3. Nature

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a “value,” but for my purposes, I’d also like to include nature among mine. The natural world is the most beautiful, precious thing that has ever or will ever exist. I was lucky enough to grow up with dense woods and a stream practically in my backyard. The happiest moments in my life have all been enjoyed outside among the lush green abundance of this living, breathing world. I believe this is also a dying world due to human interference, but nonetheless I hope to honor and protect it as much as I can while I’m here. I’d at least like to do as little harm as possible. I know I still have a long way to go in this regard. Perhaps one day I will proudly include myself as part of the zero waste community.

4. Creativity

Creativity has always been one of my greatest joys. I have loved to draw, write, and make things from the moment I learned how. There is something so miraculous in the act of making something from nothing. Our ability to imagine and create such a myriad of different things is maybe the only thing I do marvel at about humanity. It is possibly our one redeeming factor. Not only do I love to create, I love to watch others create as well. Few things get me more excited and interested than seeing what other people are able to come up with. It is like being able to see a glimpse of that person’s inner world. I love to be surprised at the fascinating things others make that I would never have thought of. It is such a shame to me to know that some people go their whole lives believing they “aren’t creative.” I believe that everyone is creative by default. Society has unfortunately led us to believe that we must be exceptional at things like drawing, painting, or writing in order to do those things at all. I love to encourage the kids I work with to keep creating even if they feel they aren’t “good at it.” Creativity is about self-expression and enjoyment, not talent.

5. Knowledge

The fifth and final value I want to talk about today is knowledge. Learning and intelligence are two of the most important things in my life. I am always eager to gather more knowledge for myself. I truly believe that the more we know the better, as individuals and as a society. One of my favorite things to do is read. It’s amazing how much I am able to learn and discover from books whether they be fiction or nonfiction. It is also a delight to share any new information I happen to gain with others. It’s unbelievable that no matter how much knowledge I accumulate, there is still an unlimited supply of new things to learn.

——————

For now, these are the five values that I want to focus on. I am hopeful that know that I’ve written them down, I may be able to be more mindful of them as I go about my day. What are your values and why? Do you think you are living by those values? Why or why not? How might you better adhere to your own values in your every day life? Let me know! I would love to hear what kinds of things are most important to you.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com