Raising my vibration calling good things in conjuring the confidence to step boldly into a blurry future Transcending shame and the thick soot of regret the alchemy of self actualization requires trust and patience Faith isn't feigning certainty about the most fortunate fate it's the conviction I'll be okay no matter what comes A new coat of courage with tags still attached no refunds, no returns the high cost of change Shedding the illusion things can stay the same the chance to choose transformation before you're caught by it Growth can be uncomfortable but it's best not to fester for long in skin that has become too small trapped inside stagnant complacency Cracking myself open to discover what lies within offering compassion and forgiveness to all I find
I tested out a little journaling exercise the other day that I really enjoyed, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. As you may have picked up on from my poems yesterday, I went to a wedding this Saturday. Even though I was really excited, there was still a lot of anxiety surrounding that day. I’ve only been to one other wedding in my entire life. It was also going to fully take up one of my only days off for the week, which for me is a huge trigger for my anxiety. The night before I decided to lie in bed and journal for a bit before going to sleep. But instead of just letting my thoughts flow freely onto the page, I decided to try doing it a bit differently.
Normally I would have started writing about how anxious I was and how irritated I am at myself for being so stressed out about something so silly. I didn’t really feel in the mood to ruminate on the negative feelings I was already experiencing though. Instead, I started to write from the perspective of how I wanted to feel. There was a part of me that was excited and happy and looking forward to the next day. So I let that side of me take the reigns and remind me why I had nothing to fear. It felt like the way I used to write when I was a kid excited for a field trip or something.
I wrote about what a beautiful day it was going to be, how I was going to feel spending time with people I love, and all the little details about what the day would consist of that I was going to enjoy. I felt much better after I was finished. I really believe how well the wedding ended up going was directly effected by my positive focus the night before. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. I definitely want to start doing more journaling like this in the future.
I hope you give it a try and it is helpful to you. Let me know if you’ve done this before or if you have any other journaling tips/tricks to put you in a better headspace. I’d love to hear how you like to journal or what you’ve discovered or created that you find useful.
I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.
We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.
I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.
My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.
It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.
Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.
It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.
It’s no secret that I am an extremely cynical person. On the surface this may seem confusing to those around me, given that I put so much effort into fighting for social change and self-improvement. Why bother if you don’t believe that there is any hope of creating any lasting, large scale impact? Why be vegan if you fully believe we’ll never be able to liberate animals, that the earth will perish long before human beings make the connection? Why do social work every day if you believe human beings are inherently bad, that the system is corrupt and won’t change? Why advocate for a leftist agenda if you also acknowledge any political system will inevitably be taken over and coopted by bad actors if given enough time?
The reason I keep fighting, isn’t because I think I can change the world. In fact, I feel completely confident that I won’t. I fight because I have to. Even if failure is the only possible outcome. Giving up is still not an option. As long as I am here, as long as I’m still breathing, I will keep advocating for the things I believe in. I will keep fighting for those that don’t even have the privilege of a voice of their own.
Despite my resignation to the hopelessness I feel on a large scale, I do find personal fulfillment and meaning on a smaller scale. Very few of the child abuse cases that I work on ever go to trial. My clients, my coworkers, and myself are constantly faced with the sobering reality that many of these pedophiles and domestic abusers will walk free, that they will go on to victimize more and more people, that they may never ultimately face justice. Even so, a criminal conviction is not the only outcome that I consider a success. I’ve had many kids tell me that my coworkers and I are the nicest people they’ve ever met. And they meant it. I believed them. Sometimes I get to be one of the ONLY people that would even listen to them, the first person that believed them. Sometimes this is all someone needs, more than they thought they would ever get. I get to hold their hand as they let go of the external repercussions and focus on the possibility of inner healing, the only thing that they actually do have the power to influence.
Even though I have no hope that I’ll see the end of animal agriculture, even though I believe I will, instead, see the end of the earth, I will continue to do everything in my power to spread the vegan message and protect animals. Every person that goes vegan, every person that buys an Impossible Whopper without mayo instead of a Whopper, every person that switches to plant based milks, makes a difference. Maybe not in the bigger picture of the oppressive, abusive industries across the world, but to even a single animal. That matters.
I may not believe that I can change the world, but I do believe that I can change the lives of the people I meet everyday, of the animals that I DON’T eat. Just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean what I can do doesn’t matter. Take pride in the small victories. Why should it matter than you couldn’t end all oppression? You were there for someone in a vulnerable moment, in their moment of need. Maybe you didn’t change the world. But you changed the world for one person and that’s just as good. All we can do is offer our love and compassion, and that’s enough.
Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.
When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”
There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.
I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.
In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.
Ever since I began my “self-improvement journey” I’ve struggled with toxic self-love. I’ve heard this term used to describe a few different things, and it seems counterintuitive at first, so let me just start by defining what I mean. For me, toxic self-love is when my best intentions become new ways for me to criticize and cut myself down.
Here is an example: I’ve been practicing yoga for years now. I started with just seven minutes a day and for a while I was doing 30-60 minutes. However, recently I’ve found myself being too busy to do more than 15 minutes of yoga on my lunch break at work. Yoga is about self care, self love, self exploration, mindfulness. It’s not about a rigorous, unbending routine. Nevertheless, I’ve been super hard on myself about doing less than I once did. It’s ironic, actually. In the end, what’s worse for my mental health, missing 15 minutes of yoga or berating myself for it for the rest of the day?
Often the very routines I cultivated to manage my anxiety become sources of stress instead. I’ve always had a hard time avoiding that “all or nothing” mentality. If I don’t do an hour of yoga and meditation every day, than I might as well have done nothing. If I don’t eat with perfect mindfulness, then I might as well scarf down my food as fast as I can. This kind of black and white thinking has the potential to be more detrimental than if you had never started the practice at all. It seems like when I do manage to find time for a 60 minute yoga flow, I don’t give myself any credit. I think, “Well of course, I don’t get a pat on the back for doing what I’m supposed to do.” However, if I only have time for 5 minutes one day, I agonize over what I failure I am.
This is toxic self-love. It isn’t loving at all. Self-love doesn’t mean I’ll love myself when I’m perfect. Self-love means I’ll love myself where I am right now. I’ll love my flaws and imperfections. I’ll love myself when I don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning. I’ll love myself when I gain 5 pounds. I’ll love myself when I’ve made a big mistake. Self-love is unconditional. Toxic self-love says: meet these standards first.
This pressure we put on ourselves to perform and keep up with all our positive habits every single day without exception, ends up making us forget why we began these habits in the first place. Was my goal to check a box, to be unwaveringly consistent? Or was my goal to be happy and to take better care of myself? Regularly reminding ourselves of our intention is so important, so that we don’t become sidetracked while going through the motions.
It’s also important for us to pay attention to the way we talk to ourselves. What kind of language are you using inside your own head? One of my worst mental habits is saying “I have to.” This is probably one of my most repeated phrases each day. I have to workout. I have to do yoga. I have to meditate. I have to eat healthy, mindfully. I have to go to work. Honestly this phrase probably comes before most of my thoughts. It’s no wonder I always feel so stressed and exhausted.
My entire life might be completely transformed by gently correcting myself when I notice this phrase coming up. I don’t have to, I get to. It’s even a more accurate and truthful statement. I genuinely don’t have to do any of the things I do. I choose to do them, because I enjoy doing them. It’s only after months and years of repeating to myself that I have to that I lose sight of the fact that I want to. When I give myself permission to not do the thing, that’s when I finally allow my natural desire to bubble to the surface.
Sometimes I even catch myself thinking that I don’t deserve to feel calm and content, because I didn’t do a certain thing. I feel my anxiety welling up and think, “Good. That’s what you get for fucking up today.” How sick is that? I am purposefully withholding happiness from myself as a punishment. It’s wild to realize the “self-love” I practice is so harsh and domineering. Often I’ll even beat myself up for beating myself up! It’s madness!
True self-love is gentle, kind, forgiving. It’s recognizing how far you’ve come. It’s acknowledging the things you’re still struggling with and being okay with that. Even though I still have things to work on, I am proud of myself for all the progress I’ve made. Before I wouldn’t have even had the mental clarity to recognize the ways I’m being too hard on myself. Instead of perpetuating that cycle with more self-criticism, I am excited to use all of the tools I’ve gathered over the years to show myself more loving kindness. When I notice a negative thought arise, instead of seeing it as a cue to become upset with myself, I can see it as a cue to be proud of myself for even noticing it at all. It’s a beautiful opportunity to practice softening, to practice opening my heart even wider. I am so grateful for the chance to keep growing in my journey toward peace, happiness, forgiveness, and love. I sincerely hope you will try to offer yourself that same grace on your own journey.
The other day, I was exposed to Covid and feared I would have to quarantine the very weekend my boyfriend was supposed to come home for a few days. I wrote a post about it earlier in the week, right before I went and got tested. In that post, my focus was on learning to sit with uncertainty. All at once, a four day weekend I had been looking forward to for over a month threatened to disappear in an instant. Not only had I been exposed to Covid, but there was a tornado near where Nate was away at training. Nate was sent home early, with the caveat that he may also have to go back early, spoiling our plans.
That night as I talked with Nate on the phone, I could hear the unrest and discomfort in his voice at all these sudden changes. Neither one of us knew what would happen in a few days time. I tried to remain hopeful while also making peace with the worst case scenario. No matter what the outcome was, I was prepared to stay positive. For the first time in a long time, I had complete faith that the universe would deliver me exactly where I needed to be, even if that wasn’t where I had wanted to go.
When I received my email with a negative test result yesterday evening, I felt overjoyed. At nearly the exact same time, I also got word from Nate that he would still be allowed to keep our plans. Not only that, but now we would have an extra day together. It felt as though the surface tension of uncertainty had finally broken. All was well. I was relieved, grateful, and even felt proud. I was proud of myself for being able to surrender to the unexpected. It felt as though my trust in the universe had resulted in a reward. When all these issues first arose, I told Nate that we had either been blessed or cursed. Only time would tell which. Turns out that we were blessed.
I feel so reassured and even emboldened by the events of the last few days. I had been able to surrender to the universe, to the unknown, and I had been rewarded for my faith. Normally it is quite hard for me to lean into unexpected situations. But this experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: that it is okay to trust. I have everything that I need. I have always had everything that I need. I will always have everything that I need. The universe has and continues to take such excellent care of me. I am so grateful.
One of the things that I don’t see addressed enough when people talk about affirmations or positive self-talk is where to start. It always sounds so easy. Just say: I love myself, I am perfect just the way I am, good things are coming my way, etc. But what if you simply can’t make yourself believe those things no matter how many times you repeat the words? Not only will repeating these phrases half-heartedly not help, but it can actually be harmful. If saying “I deserve to be happy” is immediately followed by a flood of negative thoughts, you’re doing more harm than good.
This was something I really struggled with in the beginning of my spiritual journey. I am still working my way up, taking baby steps. Sometimes it feels like the self-help gurus out there don’t really understand or remember what it’s like to be lost and depressed. When you’re starting from so far behind, some of the affirmations people offer can seem laughable. The sad part is, I think most people are on the opposite side of this positivity and self-care movement. Feeling so far away from, and misunderstood by, the people in these better head spaces only serves to discourage those that are struggling the most. It feels like they are in a different world all together.
I used to be one of these people. My sister, whom I love dearly, still is. That’s what has inspired me to write this post and speak out about this troubling disconnect between self-love/self-care advocates and the people that need their help the most. We need to establish a middle ground in between these two extremes of perception in order to bridge the gap. Otherwise, even the people that work up the courage to try to step out of their negative mindsets will find the very practices designed to help, discouraging instead.
I’m here today to help the people like me find a foothold. If you are looking to improve you mental health, your self talk, your self image, or all of the above, it’s okay to start small. I mean, really small. Especially when it comes to affirmations, the important part is finding an affirmation that you can actually believe. Start where you are. Try out a couple different, fairly neutral affirmations at first. So take the example I gave earlier: I deserve to be happy. If that stirs up resistance or negative emotions inside of you, try tweaking it a bit. What about saying: everyone deserves to be happy. Sometimes more general phrases like this are more palatable. As you progress and become more comfortable with that phrase, you might try adding on: therefore, I also deserve happiness, or: so do I. Maybe one day you will feel confident saying: I deserve to be happy, but if not, that’s okay too.
Here are a couple other affirmations for you to try if you’re just beginning an affirmation practice:
- It’s okay to feel anxious (depressed, angry, sad, etc.)
- Whatever I manage to do today is enough, even if it is just existing.
- I know I am doing the best I can even if it may not appear that way to others.
- Everyone deserves to be loved.
- This feeling will pass. Nothing lasts forever.
Feel free to use these or come up with your own affirmations that feel true to you. The final tip I’ll offer is, do what you can. And let yourself be proud of how ever much that is. Sometimes we get so fixated on how much other people are doing that we don’t feel we have any right to be proud of the “small” things we do. But we all have our own struggles. Regardless of how different or “trivial” our struggles might look compared to someone else’s, we know how hard it is. Let yourself celebrate the small victories. Because those small victories add up. If you want to start yoga or meditation, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for a studio membership, buy a bunch of fancy props, or even dedicate an hour of your day to practicing. I started my yoga journey with just 7 minutes a day. Does even 7 minutes sound overwhelming? No big deal. Try 1 minute, 1 deep mindful breath, or even just 1 pose. This is your journey, your life, and you can take it as slow as you need to.
We don’t generally question that little narrator inside our heads as we go about our day. Often times we don’t even take notice of the things it is saying. We’ve become accustomed to the phrases it repeats over and over again. For most of my life I was completely unaware of just how important this voice was when it came to how I saw myself and how I moved through my daily life. We become so used to the things this voice has always said, that we can forget that we have the ability and the responsibility to continue challenging them as we grow and change.
I realized the other day that one of the things I often tell myself is, “I can’t.” I can’t handle this. I can’t do that. Etc. etc. I don’t like to test that assumption though even when I should. The reason I don’t is because I’m so afraid to fail. However, I’m just putting the emphasis on the wrong thing. Sure, maybe I really can’t do whatever it is. But won’t it be interesting to find out? Maybe at the very least I could change that inner dialogue to: I can’t do this yet.
One of the many lessons I have learned through my yoga practice is that trying and “failing” at new things is how we grow. It’s how we actually become able to do those hard things one day. If after the first attempt I made at a headstand, I determined once and for all if I could do the pose, I wouldn’t have ever learned how to do it. Lots of things in life are just like learning how to do a headstand. You’ve got to take the time to kick and flail your legs up over your head so many times before you get the hang of it. You’ve got to give yourself the extra support you need in the beginning, like a wall, so that you feel safe enough to try. Rather than focusing on the end result, which usually isn’t the perfect headstand you hope to attain some day, it’s more important to focus on the process.
Curiosity has always been a close companion of mine. However, as I’ve gotten older it has gotten harder to remember to tap into that curiosity. No matter what is going on around me, I can make the choice to stay curious. This energy really helps me to stay present as well. There is a bit of levity in curiosity. One of the new mantras I’ve been working with is, “let’s see.”
When you hear that inner voice telling you “this is too much” or “I can’t do this,” try responding to that voice with “let’s see.” Staying curious, being present for the process, focusing on learning. These are the ways that we can find more ease and excitement in our lives. There is always something new to discover. There is so much depth, so many overlapping layers to this life. Make sure you find the time to invite some curiosity and joy into your day today. If you notice that automatic voice in your head, try responding to it with, “let’s see.” Explore new ways that you can learn and test your limits today. Accepting whatever the outcome may be with compassion and grace, being open to the many different forms “success” can take. Knowing that either way, you’ve learned something new, and perhaps even added one more building block towards your goal.
The other day, my best friend told me that she has declared summer 2021 as self care summer. This really made me happy to hear and inspired me to make my own summer about taking better care of myself too. After finally reaching the tentative ending of an extremely tough year fraught with isolation, neuroticism, sickness, and stress in 2020, I think we are all feeling a bit frazzled and out of touch with our higher selves. In order to balance that out, it will be nice to spend this year, especially the summer months, coming back home to ourselves.
It felt like the first half of 2016 was the last time I really had my shit together. I was really getting deeper into my yoga practice. I was eating super healthy plant based meals. I had my own apartment for the first time and was working my first full-time job. I started doing HIIT workouts. I was hanging out with my friends regularly. For the first time in my life I was really feeling good about myself. Then my ex came back into my life briefly and blew that all to hell in a matter of months. Since then I’ve been struggling just to get myself grounded again.
2020 was probably one of the worse years of my life. As I’m sure it was for a lot of people. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a more unhealthy place mentally. I still haven’t fully recovered from all the bad habits I cultivated during that year. My new relationship has really lit a fire inside me for self improvement though. Yet it’s somewhat different than the self improvement I’ve been passionate about in the past. I guess I shouldn’t really even call it self “improvement.” It’s more like self love and self acceptance.
In the past, my goals were always focused around improving myself so I would be more desirable to others. I wanted to live a healthy balanced life, not for myself, but so that I could attain some ideal, unrealistic body and self image. I still have a lot of the same goals all these years later, but this time there are different intentions behind them. This time around I want to focus on how my body feels rather than how it looks. I’m ready to start doing the work to get myself back to a better place mentally.
I’ve set up so many artificial barriers for myself. When I’m allowed to eat, what I have to do every day, and in what order. I’ve created a prison within my own mind. It sounds silly to say, but when I remember that I can actually do whatever I want it feels so liberating. I’d almost forgotten that my life doesn’t have to be this way. I’m working on keeping that truth close to my heart. I want to reconnect with this beautiful body of mine and treat it with compassion and respect. I don’t need to have each and every moment of my day planned out. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit in stillness and enjoy being alive.
I want to work on being more present in my day to day life and actually get excited about being alive again. There was a time when I thought the things I’m doing now would make me happy, and maybe they did for awhile. But nothing in life remains the same for long. These habits are no longer serving me, and even though I don’t know what will happen if I let them go, I know I can handle it. And so can you. So here is your official invitation to a summer of self care. Let’s raise our frequencies together.