Meeting Someone New

Living with crippling social anxiety for most of my life, it is such a strange feeling to not be nervous about meeting someone new. I have a date with a vegan guy I met online this Saturday. It will be the first time we’ve seen one another in person. I think this is an example of a scenario where most people would feel at least a little nervous. But surprisingly even these types of encounters don’t phase me anymore. However, now there are other mental obstacles I face when meeting someone new.

For the longest time, I had basically given up on everyone. It seemed like it had been ages since I met anyone that was even remotely interesting, let alone funny. I began to think that I had just been lucky early on to meet so many wonderful people that have since slowly trickled out of my life. I had little to no hope of finding more people that were able to live up to my expectations. But now I’m starting to challenge that way of thinking. This last year and a half at my new job working with so many hilarious, fascinating, and intelligent people has reawakened my hope in humanity. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, our minds subconsciously confirm what we already believe, even when it’s something we would really rather not be true. I wonder if perhaps at least some of the people I’ve written off in the past few years could have actually been perfectly nice if I’d given them more of a chance.

As I try to mentally prepare for meeting this person a few days from now, I have a very narrow line to walk. I am learning how to keep myself from expecting too much from someone while also not assuming they have nothing to offer me. Normally I have a tendency to do one or the other. When I expect too much from someone, I begin to get irritated when they don’t meet those expectations. Not only am I disappointed, but I actually feel bitter and resentful towards them at times. On the other hand, when I decide that someone will probably just be another boring waste of time, my mind tends to notice only the details of our encounters that support that predetermined idea.

It is hard for me to allow a new person enough time and space to show me who they really are. It can be hard for me to stick around long enough to get to know someone fully before making my ultimate judgement. That is partly because I feel like I am leading them on or wasting their time if I’m not feeling all in right away. I’m worried I am giving them a false impression of how invested I am in the relationship. It’s also difficult for me to stick around because sometimes it just feels like I am trying to force something that isn’t right. I guess I just feel pressured to make up my mind about people after only a few dates. Sometimes I even keep seeing someone because I feel like by doing so I’m giving them a chance, even when deep down my heart and mind have already been made up.

My intuition is something that I question a lot. It seems like I am usually able to tell right away when someone is a really good personality match for me whether it be a friendly or romantic relationship. But there have been times that unexpected people have become essential parts of my life. I never know when I should trust my intuition or when I should challenge it. Or even whether or not it matters. Maybe my intuition and initial impressions are going to influence me either way.

I’ve noticed that it is often easier for me to get a feel for who someone is when I am able to spend time with them in a relaxed, group setting rather than one on one. This way I am able to observe them. I can see the way they interact and react to other people instead of just me. I’ve always felt it was easier to get to know someone when they are around their friends. This is one of the many reasons that online dating is especially hard for me. It doesn’t seem to work well for me to try to get to know someone in a vacuum. But I don’t know what I can do about that. As an adult I’ve found it exceptionally hard to meet new people, especially people that have the same interests and values that I do. I was hoping once I found a partner that was vegan everything else would come easily. Sadly, however, that hasn’t been the case. To my surprise, a lot of vegans still manage to be terrible people.

So as Saturday draws near, I am trying not to worry about what will come of it in the end. I am trying to stay curious, to stay open-minded. I want to allow myself to just have fun with whatever happens. I want to go into it with a light-hearted, playful mindset. With only the intention of discovering what this new person is all about. Perhaps it will be my soulmate, perhaps we’ll become good friends, or maybe it will just be a one time adventure exploring the local trails on a warm sunny day in spring. I am keeping my heart open to whatever the day may hold.

Photo by Tobi on Pexels.com

Stay Open, Keep Learning

Today when I pulled into the parking lot of my yoga studio, I had a happy surprise awaiting me. Due to the fact that I almost never check my email, I hadn’t gotten the memo that yoga teacher training was starting again at the studio. At Yoga H’om the monthly training sessions are on the first weekend of every month, generally from October to April. And this has been the first new round of training since I started teaching there.

I live quite far away from my studio, but still choose to teach there because I love the students and teachers there so much. Usually I don’t have time during the week to make the trip up except to teach my class though. It was such a wonderful surprise getting to see my mentors and meet the new teachers in training.

The tradition is that the trainees take the Saturday and Sunday morning classes, and afterward the teacher stays to discuss it with the new students. I hadn’t had the chance to experience this before today. I still remember a few years ago when I was the trainee and how much I admired and respected the Saturday morning teacher we were to critique. I feel so mystified and honored to now be that person.

I welcomed the chance to hear what everyone liked or disliked about my class and teaching style. It was also nice to feel supported by the teachers that trained me. While my teaching isn’t the same as their own, they still respect that difference and see the value in my personal style.

One thing stood out to me during our discussion though. Just as there had been in my group of trainees, there was one that oozed that “know-it-all” aura. (Not that I haven’t been guilty of being a know-it-all in the past.) It was still interesting to see how that fit into the dynamic of the training and how my mentors responded. I sensed some resentment from the student when her ideas were challenged by the trainers.

I know my mentors picked up on the same vibe that I was sensing. They always seem to purposely be a little harder on those types of trainees. But I know this isn’t out of spite or anything like that. They simply want to teach this person how to be wrong. How to be open and keep that humble, curious, absorbent beginner’s mind. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced one might be.

I used this as a reminder for myself as well. I am someone who can also get caught up in my own preferences and opinions, getting hostile towards anyone or anything that dwells outside of them. Even though this time around I was the teacher helping the new trainees, I didn’t feel that way. I was learning and growing from our conversation just as much as they were. I was merely in a difference part of the classroom of life, a different seat, allowing me to see new things that I wasn’t able to before.

What I’m trying to say here is this: Never stop learning. Each day, each moment, each person is an opportunity to learn something new. No matter how much you think you know already. That’s one of the most beautiful things about this life. There is always more to soak in. Make sure your ego doesn’t prevent an open mind and, of course, an open heart.

Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

img_0140

The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥

 

Promoting Loving-Kindness & Mindfulness Instead of Veganism

ee64c4076ab5753aed6153a8157fc13d

When I first became vegan I was extremely motivated to push others to become vegan as well. I did this by sharing the unbelievable information that I had been exposing myself to. I shared videos, scholarly articles, statistics, quotes, and powerful personal statements about my transformation and new perspectives regarding animal agriculture and carnism. It is even the reason I began this blog. I was certain that if others only knew about the things I had learned that they would have no choice but to eliminate meat and dairy from their diets in order to alleviate their cognitive dissonance between being a good person and participating in the ending of innocent lives.

I quickly became disheartened and emotionally exhausted in this fight. I couldn’t believe the backlash I received. So many people felt attacked and angered by what I thought were straight forward facts. I got into argument after argument with people online desperately trying to change their minds or at least the minds of those reading the exchange. Yet, I never really felt as though I was getting anywhere even though some of my more open minded friends did contact me and tell me that they were inspired to transition to veganism because of me. I was continuously being eaten up inside by my own resentments and disgust with humanity for all the atrocities it refused to acknowledge.

As this strenuous and emotional effort began to overwhelm me, I had to reevaluate my actions in order to preserve my sanity and emotional wellbeing. I felt immense guilt about not putting enough energy into fighting for the animals of this earth that I dearly loved. I just didn’t know how I could make a difference on their behalf. I turned to working on myself through mindfulness and meditation. These practices have recently led me to a powerful realization.

Instead of directly encouraging others to accept that their current lifestyle includes cruelty and that they need to change, I’ve decided to take a different approach. I remember watching a video by Gary Yourofsky where he explained that it didn’t matter how aggressive or gentle you were with your activism. People would listen to you when they were ready. So how can we get others ready to listen?

I think that by promoting the practice of loving-kindness and meditation that inevitably veganism will follow. This approach now seems much more logical to me. No one wants to be told that the way they are currently living and have been living for their whole lives is wrong. It is a natural reaction to become defensive and try to justify ourselves in some way. I can still remember not long ago being on this side of the argument myself. If someone is ready to change they may listen. Otherwise you are only creating a wider division and more tension between these opposing perspectives.

I used to believe that the facts were all that were needed. But after so many conflicts I realized that you can find studies to backup whatever you wish to believe. It can be incredibly difficult to decipher which studies are funded by those with vested interests and which have flawed methodology, etc. So rather than trying to force change, I want to try something different.

I want to give people the tools they need to be strong enough and loving enough to make changes on their own. Unlike directly promoting veganism, encouraging others to practice loving kindness and mindfulness does not create the same violent reaction and need for defensive tactics. People can easily become interested in these practices for their innate ability to improve all of our lives. More and more people are discovering the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, and loving-kindness meditation. I believe that veganism is the natural response to the shift in consciousness these practices cultivate. It, at the very least, creates the right awareness to allow others to become ready to receive the message of veganism.

By promoting these ancient and beautiful heart opening exercises, I am able to contribute to the movement without destroying myself in the process. I hope that more vegans will begin to adopt this peaceful approach and accept that most people cannot be swayed by hard facts and aggression. Rather they are swayed by the example we all can set by living lives of tranquility and compassion. The energy you emit is the energy that you will receive back from the world around you. Let’s let go of our anger and anguish at the injustices others are perpetrating and instead embrace all that is with an attitude of acceptance and loving awareness. Let’s show others what our world can be if we all just open our hearts to the possibilities.

It is still hard for me at times when I begin to dwell on the immense amount of suffering our fellow earthlings are experiencing every day. But I don’t want to add more anger, despair, and aggression into our world. I want to fill the space around me with love and light, encouraging others to do the same.

The task before us to save our earth is daunting. But we cannot allow ourselves to dwell on the negative. We must continue to fill ourselves with hope, contentment, and gratitude. Others will reach this realization when they are ready. Let us help them prepare. Let us teach the world through example. We can only truly try to improve ourselves. And in this way we can change the world.

Sending you all my abundant love and encouragement. ♥

13697104_1177726072272508_8770236885422987313_n