My New July Routines

MY Daily Self-Care Routine | Life Is Now In Session

Happy July everyone! It’s a brand new month full of possibilities and promise. I always love the firsts. First day of the year, first day of the month, first day of the week even. It always feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. July is probably one of my favorite months of the year too, which makes today extra special for me. In just a few more days it’ll be my favorite holiday, Independence Day. There couldn’t possibly be a better time or headspace for me to start cultivating some new self-love routines. Today I wanted to share these new routines with you. Feel free to incorporate them into your day and/or tweak them to better suit your needs.

Morning Goals/Intention Setting:

The first new habit I’ve decided to add into my day starts first thing in the morning. Usually it’s really hard for me to wake up, but this morning I was actually so excited to start my new daily ritual that I woke up feeling great and ready to start a the day. After feeding my fur children, starting a pot of coffee, and brushing my teeth, I went out on my back porch in the warm, morning air. I sat down and listened to the sound of light rain surrounding me. I placed one hand on my heart, one hand on my belly and took five deep, mindful breaths. I wanted to take a moment to check in with my physical body and ground myself, as well as send myself some loving, gentle energy. Then I asked myself these three questions:

  • What do I want to focus on today?
  • What do I want to accomplish today?
  • How can I show myself love today?

I can’t even remember a morning where I took a moment to offer myself this sort of kindness. It took less than five minutes, and it was an absolutely wonderful way to begin the day.

Healthy, Mindful Eating:

Somehow during the pandemic, I acquired some pretty unhealthy eating habits. The main one I’ve still been unable to shake is not eating all day, then eating a day’s worth of food right before I go to bed. Obviously not ideal. Starting today, I am going back to eating regular meals throughout the day. I’ve read a lot of great things about mindful eating so I wanted to sprinkle that into my new eating routine as well. Just like with my new morning ritual, I am going to begin each meal by taking five deep, mindful breaths and really checking in with my body. How am I feeling? What does it feel like to be hungry, for my stomach to be empty? Then unlike what I’ve done practically my entire life, I am not going to watch anything or do anything else at all while I eat. I do put some lofi hip hop on, just to calm my nerves a bit. Then I have my meal while really focusing on the food as I eat it, chewing it slowly and intentionally. Finally, I finish my meals with a cup of my favorite tea (dandelion root). After my tea, once again I close my eyes and take five more mindful breaths.

Even though my lunch ended up getting pushed back quite a bit due to a very hectic and busy workday, I still managed to maintain my new routine. After a full day of eating this way, I already feel a huge difference. It was much easier than I expected to simply focus on my meal and be present instead of zoning out by watching some TV show. It definitely helped me stay connected to my body and feel more satisfied by my food.

Bedtime Routine:

Not only am I going to start my day with mindfulness and intention, but I want to make sure that after a day full of activity, I make time to wind down before bed. This routine will start at 9PM ideally (I usually go to bed by 10) and will consist of:

  • Brushing/flossing my teeth (I have yummy watermelon flavored kids toothpaste for my nighttime brushing.)
  • Washing my face and putting on a moisturizing night cream
  • More tea
  • Gentle self-massage (checking in with body to decide where it’s most needed of course)
  • Evening check-in

Tonight I added some gentle yoga in bed as well since I didn’t have time for my practice earlier in the day. It was such a wonderful end to a peaceful, nearly stress-free day.

Evening Check-In:

I plan to end my bedtime routine and my day with something similar to the way I started it. I want to start and end my days with intentional self love. Lately it’s felt like I’m just this floating mind, full of stress and nervous energy. It’s important to me to make an effort to reconnect with my physical body and make sure I am taking care of myself properly. Just as my morning ritual does, my evening check-in will also begin by taking five deep breaths. Then I’ll ask myself a few more questions:

  • How was your day?
  • What was the overall impression/vibe?
  • What went well?
  • What is something I am proud of/grateful for?
  • How might I use what I learned today to build myself a better day tomorrow?

It was really delightful to sit with myself regularly throughout the day at mealtimes and to start and end my day mindfully. Often times even though I begin a new routine filled with excitement and high hopes, I’ll eventually feel overwhelmed by it. That’s why my goal for these new routines is to treat it more like a little self-experiment. Can I do this for 30 days? How will I feel at the end of the month? How might I be different? What can I learn through this experience? I am so excited to keep the momentum going as long as I can and discover new things about myself along the way. Let me know if you decide to try any of these routines for yourself and what you thought of them.

Writing: A Brief History of Our Love Affair | by Gabrielle Finnen | Ascent  Publication

Mental Energy & Exhaustion

Even though I sleep A LOT, I am always extremely tired. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel rested. It’s a strange feeling to live with. It’s not that I feel physically tired. I mean, it takes a lot of energy to do the insane workouts that I do every day. Now that I think about it, my body very rarely feels fatigued. The tiredness I’m experiencing is mental, not physical. It feels almost as though my body has two completely separate storehouses of energy, and my mental storehouse has been empty for a long time now.

From the moment I wake up in the morning, a battle begins inside of my head. I start listing off all of the different things I’ve got to do before I leave for work, throughout the day, etc. I am critiquing and criticizing myself almost immediately after opening my eyes. I’m experiencing a mental beatdown every minute of the day. It’s no wonder that meditating and doing yoga is such a peaceful time for me. My practice is the one time a day when my mind actually gets to rest and just be.

I am always telling myself that I need to make time to rest. I never seem to be able to keep myself from cramming in tons of tasks every day though. Working full-time, teaching yoga, and taking care of a house all by myself doesn’t leave me much wiggle room for relaxation. But today I realized that at the very least I can try to afford myself some mental rest. There is absolutely no need for me to constantly be consumed by racing thoughts and self assessments. I don’t know how much control over it I really have, given that it is part of my anxiety disorder. However, I’ve also never taken the initiative to try before.

Today my intention is to rest, to surrender to the moment, to just soak in my surroundings, to just be. I’m always too afraid to even try to let go of my constant planning and self-talk. I’m afraid of losing track of all the things I have to do. I’m afraid of forgetting something important. I know that even purposefully putting everything on hold for one day won’t be the end of the world though. Today the only thing that matters is being kind to myself. Today is my day for rest, recovery, and self-love. What could be more important than that?

7 ways to practice self-care during the COVID-19 outbreak | Cincinnati &  Hamilton County Public Library

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

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

I am fascinated by the way our internal dialogue effects the way we exist in this world. It’s another chicken and the egg situation. Do we create these inner narratives about ourselves because they are true or do they become true because we believe them? It’s hard to say. Perhaps at one time it was true, but since that time it has become only a limiting believe, a habit, a pattern of thinking that limits our potential for growth and change.

What are some of the default things you tend to think about yourself? Are these positive or negative thoughts? Is the voice of your self-talk gentle or cruel? How do you think that effects who you are? For me most of my beliefs and language about myself are extremely negative. It is only very rarely that I give myself any credit or positive feedback. I fixate on my perceived flaws and ignore all of the good things about myself. A few of the phrases I’ve noticed myself reciting a lot in my head are: I am so anxious. I am so tired. Why am I like this? I hate myself. I’m going to die. I want to die. Even though the latter three are said in a more exaggerated, sarcastic way (normally when I am cringing from embarrassment) they still must have an impact on my mental health and my self-image.

I would love to experiment with adding some more positive phrases into my daily self-talk. I want to get into the habit of saying things like: I am happy. I am calm. I am enough. I am excited. I love myself. I am talented. I am worthy of love. I am filled with joy. I am overflowing with energy. I am generous. I am kind. How might my life be different hearing these words of love and encouragement from myself every day instead of constant criticism? It couldn’t hurt to at least give it a try and find out. Maybe by changing my self-talk I could start to feel less anxious, less tired all the time. I think it would be even better and easier to overpower my old mental habits if I practice saying these more uplifting phrases out loud to myself instead of only in my head.

I am very interested lately in the power of vibrations. There is something so mysterious and beautiful about the way sound waves are able to affect us. Words spoken aloud have much more weight to them then when they are simply said silently in our own heads for some reason. A example of this I’ve recently started paying attention to in my own life is singing. Just listening to music is nice, but it hits you so much more powerfully when you are passionately singing along. Even simply humming a made-up tune can put me in a better mood. Why is that? I’d love to read more about it to find out. Until now I had always felt uncomfortable with the idea of chanting during meditation, but now I am definitely considering incorporating some type of chanting or mantra work into my daily practice.

One of the obstacles I encounter whenever I try to change my self-talk is doubt. Some days it can be really hard for me to feel any truth in the kind words I direct toward myself. If I am not in the right mood, it can even cause my unhelpful inner dialogue to become even louder and more viscous in an attempt to drown out the “foolish lies” I’m trying to feed myself. This makes me almost fearful of trying at times. I worry this backlash is potentially only making things worse. I have managed to overcome this occasionally by first imagining I am speaking to someone I love.

Conjuring up a mental image of a loved one is a great way to prep your mind and heart to be receptive to your new self-talk. Once your heart is feeling open and you’ve tapped into those loving feelings inside of you, it makes it easier to transfer those feelings over to yourself. If it’s hard to say “I” statements in the beginning, it can also be easier to start off by saying “you” when referencing yourself. Even though for a lot of us it may seem impossible at first to shift away from these things we’ve believed about ourselves for so long, I promise that it’s possible. It will only get easier the more we practice. And it’s definitely worth the effort.

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Acupressure & Yoga

I’ve been reading a book recently called Acu-Yoga: The Acupressure Stress Management Book. In the past I didn’t really think much about acupressure/acupuncture. I didn’t know very much about it, so I never really had an opinion of it. I had believed it was somewhat controversial regarding whether or not it was considered “real” medicine or pseudoscience. However, never having tried it or read anything about it myself, I withheld judgement. Only recently did I become interested in the subject. I stumbled upon the topic in a very unusual way, but have practically become obsessed with learning more since then.

I had been watching a YouTube documentary about the history of drugs in the black community. (Unfortunately I am unable to find it now to provide the link.) To my surprise, through this documentary, I learned that acupressure and acupuncture were actually originally brought to the US by the Black Panther Party. In their effort to dismantle institutionalized racism in this country, the Black Panthers utilized these forms of Chinese medicine to help members of the black community detox from drugs like crack and heroin. The most surprising thing of all is that it actually worked.

Given my psychology background, I learned a lot about drugs and withdrawal. So I know how serious detoxing off of hard drugs can be. It’s one of the reasons that make it so hard for people to stop using. The idea that something as simple and holistic as acupressure could get people through their detox absolutely astounds and fascinates me. That was all I needed to hear to believe that there must really be something to this acupressure stuff. Since then I have been researching the practice and reading everything I can find on the subject.

Coincidentally around the same time, my yoga studio got a new book, the one I mentioned earlier. I was so excited to borrow it and learn how to incorporate acupressure into my yoga practice. I have come to find out that acupressure and yoga go hand in hand. They compliment one another. There are many acupressure points I have been hitting without realizing it, simply by doing different yoga poses. However, the second half of the book really goes into more detail about how you can target specific conditions or address certain physical/mental/emotional needs by including acupressure more intentionally into your daily practice.

After a week or so of practicing what I’ve learned, I finally decided to share it with my yoga students in class today. Only one person showed up this morning, sadly, but she did seem to really enjoy the flow I planned. I had to stifle my laughter as she got pretty vocal towards the end. Moaning and sighing from sheer bliss. Hearing these types of sounds from students is probably the best compliment you can receive as a yoga teacher. I was honored to pass on my newly acquired knowledge.

I had never really connected the dots until now, but I have actually been a lot less anxious since adding this new aspect into my practice. It could be a coincidence, but acupressure is supposed to be extremely helpful for anxiety. One of the best things about it is that you can use it anywhere. Even though it’s possible to do yoga anywhere, like in your car or at your desk during work, it can be somewhat distracting or embarrassing if you know other people can see you. A lot of acupressure points can be pressed without drawing any attention at all. For example, one of the points that is good for anxiety is the fleshy space between your thumb and pointer finger. Pinching this area with the opposite hand is something that you can do without anyone else even noticing.

Whatever your opinion of acupressure, I would highly recommend giving it a try for yourself, even if it’s only pressing a few hand points as you wait in line at the grocery store. It has definitely been a valuable addition to my daily yoga practice and to my life in general. If any of you have any experience with acupressure or acupuncture, I would love to hear from you! How long have you been using it? Has it helped you? How so? Where did you first learn about it? I’m eager to learn all I can so that I may pass it on to others.

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Grounding Yourself

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I feel like the term “grounding” can often be overused and misinterpreted. So before I go on, I’d just like to explain what that word means to me. In my mind, feeling grounded is feeling present. It is feeling secure as well as emotionally, mentally, and physically stable. I’m not sure if that is the definition other people would use, but that’s what I think of when I think about being grounded. That’s what I am going for when I speak about grounding in my yoga classes.

It took me a long time to develop this understanding of the word though. At first it always seemed a bit abstract and unclear. In the beginning of my yoga journey I defaulted to taking this word more literally. Whenever I was told to ground in a yoga pose I would simply imagine the sensation of my feet, legs, hands, tailbone, etc. against the mat. I focused intently on what that connection felt like against each nerve ending. Visualizing grounding in this way for years eventually led me to connect that word with being present in my body in general. I think this is more what the term is getting at. Focusing on your connection to the earth or the mat is just one way of doing that.

You don’t have to focus on your physical connection to the ground to ground yourself. You just have to make an effort to focus on something happening in the present moment. I actually really like a grounding exercise that I learned from Better Call Sal on Netflix. There is a scene where Sal’s agoraphobic brother keeps reciting different details he notices around him. Such as: I see blue cloth. I feel cool air. I smell patchouli. I hear birds chirping. All of these sensations have the potential to create a grounding effect. The subject doesn’t matter. What’s important is to really focus your full attention on what you are sensing or feeling at that moment. You don’t necessarily have to speak these thoughts aloud, but I do find it’s helpful in order to maintain your complete attention.

I love the phrase “monkey mind” because I really think it’s a good representation of the way the mind seems to jump around endlessly from one thought to another. Sometimes it seems impossible to settle on a thought as simple as inhaling or exhaling. I like to imagine when my attempts at this focused attention are thwarted by my mind, that this monkey was about to be caught but becomes even more frantic at the last minute in order to escape. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to gain that monkey’s trust. You mustn’t get frustrated with it when it leaps away from your attempts at mindfulness. Keep trying. Keep coming back. Keep being nice to yourself. Keep offering yourself rewards for your efforts. Keep reenforcing those positive habits. Eventually you will be able to tame your monkey mind.

Grounding is a very important aspect of my yoga practice. In my opinion, anxiety is the polar opposite of feeling grounded. Anxiety feel shakey, unstable, scattered. When you are feeling anxious, practicing grounding exercises is an excellent way to help yourself feel better. That doesn’t make it easy however. An anxious mind makes for an especially crazed monkey. Anxiety is a natural response to danger in our environment, therefore even when unjustified, this anxiety demands our attention. To be able to ignore the discomfort it causes so easily could have been a death sentence were it another time in history. So be gentle with yourself. Even though it’s aggravating and inconvenient, anxiety is just your body’s way of trying to keep you safe. It takes a lot of consistent work to build enough trust with your body for it to believe the mind when it tells the body to let that stress go, that we are actually safe, that it’s tension and warnings are unnecessary.

The next time you notice yourself feeling uneasy or anxious try this. (I’m going to try too.) Say to yourself aloud, or silently in your head: Thank you, my lovely body for this warning, but I am okay. You don’t have to worry. This is a great way to lovingly acknowledge how you are feeling without resisting it, avoiding it, or becoming upset about it. Then in order to show your body that you are truly alright, find five things in your immediate surroundings that you can direct your focus towards. They could be one thing for each of the five senses, five things you can see, or whatever combination that works best for you. Try to breath deeply and remain in the present moment as you recite the details about a few things around you. Go slowly, really try to concentrate on each one. It may feel silly and weird at first, but I highly encourage you to try saying your list aloud at least once. Notice how verbalizing each detail feels different than when you simply say it in your head. Does it help you stay more focused, less focused, or something else? Does it make you feel more grounded, less grounded, or something else?

If you are having trouble thinking of things to focus on, you can intentionally add a few things to your environment to help you. For instance, you can light a candle or some incense and focus on the smell. Focus on the flame flickering or the graceful spirals of the rising smoke. You might play some gentle, calming music that you enjoy. You might make yourself a cup of your favorite tea. You might put on a favorite article of clothing and pay attention to the way the material feels against your skin. You could even take a bath or wash your face and focus on the way the warm water and soap suds feel.

I genuinely hope that these suggestions and ideas will help those of you struggling with anxiety to find more ease throughout your day. I know that anxiety has the potential to be debilitating at times, and all of this is much easier said than done. Even so, if you only take away one thing from reading this let it be that you are worth it. You are worth the effort. You are worth all the practice that it takes to get you where you want to be. You deserve to live your life with happiness and ease. If nothing else, ground yourself in the certainty that these words are true.

You are worth it, my darlings.

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Loving Kindness & Our Bodies

Even though I began intensely working out every day over a decade ago in an effort to lose weight while still being able to eat as I pleased, it’s no longer only about weight loss. What I once use to dread each moment of has become one of the things I look forward to most days. It is incredibly invigorating and empowering to witness just how much my body is capable of. I may not have every achieved the body that I had been seeking, but I did discover something even better: a newfound love and respect for the body I have.

I once saw a quote that read: Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. I think about those words a lot. They have almost become a mantra. When I begin to feel frustrated that my body still doesn’t look the way I want it to and wonder why I even bother with all of my exercise, I remind myself that regardless of the end result, I’ve come to enjoy my daily workout.

For me, exercise has practically become a moving meditation. It helps me reach that blissful flow state. I lose myself in exquisite motion. I don’t really know how to dance (nor do I ever really try to), but to me my workouts are almost like dancing. It truly does feel like an act of celebration for what my body can do. It is so fun to witness this body become stronger, faster, more coordinated. It’s truly incredible. Just like in my yoga practice, I am now able to do things I never imagined I could ever be capable of. It makes me feel proud of this wonderful body of mine.

It’s a rare thing for me to acknowledge the beauty of my own body, not necessarily for what it looks like, but for all that it does. Besides that, it is a perfectly beautiful body visually as well. I know I am too hard on myself, accepting nothing less than perfection, a mirror image of the models and actresses I see everyday on my screens. When I take a step back though and imagine how my body would feel, being taken for granted and criticized and belittled at every turn, never acknowledged for the marvel that it is, it makes me very sad.

Today I wanted to take a moment to be mindful of just how lucky I am to have such an amazing body. It does so very much for me every day, and I don’t give it the credit it deserves. I want to carve out more time in my life for sending loving kindness to this physical form I have been blessed with to house my soul. I would not trade it for any other body in the world. It deserves to be treated so much better. Sometimes I like to think of this body as a precious animal that I have been charged with the care of. I have certainly not been giving it the care that it needs or deserves, especially this past year.

I am always so worried about how others judge my appearance. Even more than usual today since I am going on my third date with my vegan guy. I am always worried that I’m not good enough. That I will miss out on opportunities, friendships, love because of that inadequacy. Today I am reminding myself just how absurd that notion really is. Do I really want friends or a partner that love me only for my looks? Or who would think less of me if I looked differently? If the people I meet in life can’t accept and appreciate me for who and what I am, that is their loss, not mine. I will love myself boldly, inside and out, even if no one else in the world will do the same. I can’t control how others perceive me. All I can do is keep working to cultivate a more positive perception of myself. In the end that is all that matters anyway. Learning to love myself exactly how I am is all I’ll ever need to be happy.

Channeling Your Inner Child

I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that said: I think the key to a happy life as an adult woman is to channel your inner weird little girl and make her happy. There is so much truth behind those words. Without realizing it, I have been doing exactly that. By setting goals for myself to write and draw everyday, I am actually giving myself permission to enjoy the hobbies I use to enjoy as a young girl. For as long as I can remember I loved to create through these two mediums of artist expression.

Even though I have already been unwittingly following the advice of that post, doing it with a conscious intention of taking care of that strange little girl inside me, makes it feel all the more special and rewarding. At some point as I began to grow up, I started to need a reason behind everything that I did. Which seems strange to me, given that ultimately nothing really matters except what you decide matters. Did I have a reason to play Pokémon and Hamtaro for hours? Was there a good reason for printing out stacks upon stacks of Sailor Moon pictures I found online to color? Was there a purpose to all of the magical time I spent playing outside in nature with my sister and friends? Were these experiences any less important, any less meaningful, because I didn’t have a direct, practical goal in mind?

Perhaps this resistance to doing anything without a clear purpose is merely an excuse, a lingering symptom of mild depression. After all, what better reason is there than to make yourself happy? Sometimes it feels as though I’ve forgotten how to make myself happy, how to enjoy my life from one moment to the next. Only once I’ve begun a project, given myself the time to lose myself in it, do I feel true joy and freedom. It’s taking that first step that is always so very difficult. For example, most days I simply dread the idea of beginning my yoga and meditation practice. I contemplate cutting it short every time. But when I actually sit down and begin, it always becomes the very best part of my day. Despite this, that initial dread never seems to go away.

For a lot of my life, I relied on inspiration to spur me onward. Without it, I felt like there was no way I could continue with anything I was doing. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that most of the time that inspiration follows rather than precedes my actions. Most days I have no idea what I want to write about when I sit down to begin. I never know what to draw in the evenings. Yet I’ve learned that if I just force myself to start, I can surprise myself with what I’m able to create. I think that is what art is all about, surprising ourselves. Most of my best creations were not the result of careful planning and intention. They were spontaneous accidents that allowed me to unconsciously share a piece of myself with the world that I didn’t even know was mine to share.

So when I’m struggling with that stubborn resistance before beginning something, I’ve found it very helpful to remind myself that this is a gift for my inner child. It’s almost like the joy you get from playing with a child, in fact. As an adult, you may not be very interested in the game itself at first, but to see the happiness and pleasure in that innocent little face makes it worthwhile. It makes me so happy inside to imagine my younger self in my place, happily typing away, working hard on stories that will never be published or even read by others. To imagine that little girl I once was drawing anime without a care in the world, her excitement at how good we’ve gotten at it.

Channeling my inner child is one of the best ways for me to remember how to be in the present moment. It reminds me how to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. I am so grateful for the children I get to meet everyday at work. Their lighthearted energy has been a great help to me as I work to reconnect with the child within myself. I am able to see myself in them and remember what it was like to be the age they are now. They inspire me to keep the child in me alive, to keep her happy, to keep her close. It’s definitely something worth practicing.

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Meditation on Death

Due to my morbid obsession with death and dying this past week, I started looking for some books to read in order to better cope with these grim ruminations. After a little searching, I came across a book that seems perfect for me. It’s called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Joan Halifax. I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters yet, but it has already been a great comfort to me.

This book approaches the subject of death from a Buddhist perspective. It highlights the different ways that western and eastern cultures deal with death. It calls attention to the way the fear of death dominates western culture. We do our best to hide it away out of sight. We live most of our lives without ever thinking about the fact that we are all going to die some day. Avoidance seems to be a primary part our lives, especially in America.

The best part about this book is that it is written as a resource for everyone, in any stage of life. It can benefit teenagers, the elderly, caregivers, medical professionals, healthy people, and people that are terminally ill. This book reminds us that death is a natural part of life. It is something that has the potential to bring us all together. It is ultimately the great equalizer. It is a phase of life, a culmination of everything we have experienced here, a right of passage, a necessary darkness we will all pass through one day.

One of the ways I believe this book will help me is by preparing me to be there for my loved ones when they die. I still feel tremendously guilty about how little I was around my grandmother as she was slowly dying from cancer a few years ago. For the most part, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. I saw her when we went to my parent’s house on holidays. It was painful just to look at her, to be in that room with her. Even though it was actually the room I grew up in, my childhood bedroom. What a sad, beautiful mixture of things that have gone on within the walls of that room.

When I sat by her bedside those last few times I saw her, I felt paralyzed, petrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask her so many questions. But instead I sat silently at her side, waiting for any opportunity to leave. I still wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was she afraid? Did she resent us for not being there for her? Did she find peace? Did she have regrets? Were there things she wanted to tell us, but didn’t? Did we leave her feeling alone? Unloved? What is normal, what is acceptable to say or do around a death bed? Is anything? Does it even matter?

I think our society’s fear and avoidance of death leaves a lot of people to regret their incompetence when dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you avoid something all your life, how can you possibly be expected to handle it when it is in front of you? When it can no longer be avoided? When my other grandmother passes, when my parents pass, I want to be ready. I want to be everything I wished I could have been for my dad’s mom. I want to be brave enough and comfortable enough to discuss these difficult topics with them. I want to be prepared to give them everything that they need, even if they are unable to ask for it when the time comes.

Being with Dying provides exercises to help us work through our aversion and fear of death. The first meditation it suggests is to contemplate both the best and the worst case scenarios for your own death, in as much detail as possible. I want to have my grandmother and my mom do these exercises with me at some point. I want to know everything that I can do to make their deaths peaceful and comfortable and meaningful. However, even the thought of writing such a thing down seems terrifying to me. At the same time, that terror is quite fascinating. To confront this reality, the certainty of death, why is it so very painful? Why does my mind want to avoid even the thought of it at any cost? Do people in other cultures feel the same way? Or are they able to embrace this inevitability with grace and humble surrender?

I think my greatest fear surrounding death, is simply not knowing. It is the ultimate loss of control, a nosedive into a vast unknown. Perhaps it is less daunting if you believe in an afterlife of some kind. But it seems impossible that anyone could have total conviction as they are facing down their own end. There must always be some doubt, some uncertainty. It is not only not knowing what happens after we die, but not knowing when or how we will die that is frightening. I suppose a lot of people are also deeply afraid of death being painful. As someone who hasn’t experienced hardly any physical pain yet in my life, I find this hard to imagine well enough to be afraid of. Besides it always seems like pain can be escaped, even if that escape is death itself. However, that not knowing, that final surrender, will always be there.

I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I am hopeful that it will give me the tools I need to prepare myself for this stage of life, this end of life. Not only for myself but for those around me as well. Even if you think I’m nuts for believing the science that says soon the oceans will be dead along with all of us, I would still recommend this book. Regardless of when you imagine death will touch your life, the fact remains that it will, no matter who you are. It’s much easier to avert our eyes as long as possible, but if you are ready to face that fear head on and take the steps you need to in order to be prepared, Living with Dying seems like a great place to start.

Please make the wonderful effort to show up for your life, every moment, this moment – because it is perfect, just as it is.

Being with Dying
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No Connection

The night before last, my internet connection suddenly stopped working at my house. Unfortunately my service is through Comcast, so it still hasn’t been fixed despite my attempts over the phone to receive assistance. At first, I felt utterly lost and helpless without YouTube and Netflix. While I do have data on my phone, I live in the middle of the woods so, as you might imagine, I don’t have great signal.

While this all is very inconvenient and frustrating, it has also been a blessing of sorts. Being forced off of the internet for over a day has been therapeutic. Initially, my stress level went through the roof, but after a while, I adapted. I dug out my old laptop with all of my saved music and video files to supplement my normal background noise. (Some habits are hard to let go of.) However, despite using my computer for ambient noise, without the internet offering up unlimited possibilities, I didn’t feel as tethered to my screens as I normally do.

In fact, it actually allowed me to spend a lot more time outside, where I want to be spending my time. Normally there is an internal struggle as I try to decide whether or not I want to pause my internet browsing to go do my yoga and meditation practice outside, or go for a run, or do yardwork. Even though I know how much I always end up enjoying myself when I am in the fresh air and sunshine, there is still a lot of anxiety around the act of putting down my technology to do so. Yesterday that struggles was gone. Why shouldn’t I go outside? Finally, there was nothing holding me back from the reawakening world outside my door.

It felt so good to feel the warm sun on my skin and smell the wind. I pulled up all the weeds from my flowerbeds, which I was surprised to find brought me great enjoyment. It was so delightful to feel the cool, damp earth and the soft, green leaves between my fingers. It’s easy to forget just how immersive the outside world can be. There is so much to explore and examine even in the relatively bland nature surrounding a house. No matter how much time you spend in the garden or the woods, there is always something new to discover. Yesterday I was overjoyed to come across a strange long blade of what appeared to be grass with a small plump green bulb dangling off its tip, as if barely connected at all. I have no idea what it is, but I’ll definitely be checking back in on that plant to try to find out.

For days now I have been anxiously dreading the chores I had to do in my yard, but somehow without the internet to beckon to me from inside, I had one of the best days I’ve had in awhile doing so. I was even enjoying myself so much that I ended up doing more than I planned on. I got out my weed whacker. I started some seeds for my garden. I set up some simple décor on my back porch. I cleaned off my trampoline and swept the sidewalk. I even strolled through my yard and collected patches of moss to put in my potted plants. Something I have been wanting to do for awhile in the hopes it will help the soil stay moist and suitable for my succulents.

All of this time spent outside, especially gathering the moss, left me feeling so happy. It reminded me of being a child again. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I used to imagine one day I’d be a flower arranger or design landscapes for gardens. In preparation for this, I would gather moss, wildflowers, pretty stones, and any other attractive, interesting things I could find around my yard and create small little arrangements with them. I like to think they were the original fairy gardens that have become so popular now. Finding myself outside gathering moss again allowed me to reconnect with that childlike wonder and joy that has remained dormant in me for so long.

Thanks to my yoga and meditation practice, what once would have been an absolute nightmare of an experience, leading me to a total meltdown with lots of hysterical crying and complaining, actually turned out to be something to be grateful for. It has even been empowering in a way. It feels good to know that I don’t have to rely on the internet for enjoyment and entertainment. I have more than enough within me to make my own contentment. It also reminded me of the peace that this lack of technology allowed. Things seemed quieter before the internet. My mind seemed less busy, less distracted. And with that focus, with that stillness, came a simple serenity that now seems lost to us.

While the internet and our other advancements in technology have made the world a better place in a lot of important ways, it has also robbed us of a lot of what we once had in life. Somehow by providing unlimited possibilities we have surrendered our freedom. I can’t help but wonder what the world might be like if it had stayed the way it was when I was a child. I have to imagine that my, if not everyone’s, mental health would be much better off. Perhaps humanity would have been able to remain at least a little closer to nature and one another than we are now.

I’d like to say that this experience will cause me to take regular breaks from my devices in order to remember this newfound freedom, but I don’t know that willpower alone will be enough to break those chains that tether me to technology. As for now, all I can say is I am in no hurry to fix my faulty internet connection. I am more than happy to spend a few more days disconnected.

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