Anxiety As a Friend

Avoiding our emotion is an American past time. We pass this down from one generation to another, adding on layers of fear and shame as we go until not only are we afraid to cry or be nervous, but also afraid of the way others will judge us for feeling these ways. I learned the other day that other countries don’t have the same desperation to escape even mild sadness the way Americans do. There is much more complexity and grey area to the range of emotion overseas. Many countries have words about feelings that cannot even be accurately translated into English. The nuance simply doesn’t exist here.

It’s also interesting to consider the wise advice from centuries ago in the east, such as the idea that trying to avoid our suffering only causes us to suffer longer, is just now being proven by science. Unsurprisingly studies show that people that view most of the emotions besides happiness negatively are more likely to end up being unhappy. In other countries there is room in the language, in the culture, for happiness to reside alongside things like grief, sadness, anger, anxiety. We have convinced ourselves in this country that all these emotions are mutually exclusive.

One of my blog notes was listed as “writing about anxiety as a friend” for months now. After initially writing the idea down, each time I read it I was perplexed. What on earth could I have possibly meant by that? I find it humorous now that I remember my intention. It’s hard for me to even hold this perspective in my mind for too long. I have spent my whole life viewing my anxiety as the enemy, my kryptonite.

I’ve just started to give myself permission to look at it another way. If I imagine my anxiety as a separate entity, I am able to look at it more objectively, to offer it compassion instead of impatience and disdain. When I start to feel that tension building in my chest, pulling at me. I imagine instead a small child, maybe even myself as a child, tugging at me instead. “I’m scared,” she says. And instead of shaking her off roughly and pressing on or running away from her, my response is now to crouch down, to take her hands, to tell her it’s okay, we’re safe. It feels so good to just offer your emotions acknowledgement. To say to them: I see you. I hear you. Thank you. We’ll be alright.

For most of my life, my anxiety was a cue that it was time to start thinking about all the ways things could go wrong or all the reasons I am a broken person. I took it as a signal that something is wrong out in the world as well, that I should hide myself away. I’ve realized though that there are many other ways to interpret these uncomfortable emotions. Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

Yesterday my office was putting on a Halloween fundraiser. I was to attend to help out with selling raffle tickets and to stay afterward to clean up. Although I was excited, I was also anxious about this all week. I was worried about having such a busy Saturday, about whether or not I’d even be able to stay awake all night after waking up at 6AM. Now, while these were valid concerns, they weren’t things I could run away from or avoid. They were things I had to face. My anxiety wasn’t telling me that I would fail or that things would go badly, it was just saying “I’m scared.”

And it’s okay to be scared. Being scared doesn’t always mean that we should run away. Sometimes it is just a signal from our bodies that we need some extra love and reassurance. Let yourself know that you’ll be there, that’s you’ll be okay, no matter what the outcome. When I try to avoid my anxiety that dense little ball of tightness in my chest seems to become bigger and bigger until I can hardly breathe. It demands my attention, but I am doing everything in my power to look away. What a miraculous difference I feel when instead I turn toward that feeling. Just holding our emotions in awareness seems to let them relax.

It’s time for us to do the work to change our response to unpleasant emotions. Some day I hope that we can all see our emotions as an opportunity to offer ourselves kindness, instead of reasons to run away from ourselves. You don’t have to do anything in particular to offer kindness either. It’s whatever kindness looks like to you. How would you comfort that small girl on your sleeve? Maybe she needs a hug or a hot drink and some time to sit and breathe. Maybe she needs rest or a reward. There are countless ways for us to give ourselves loving kindness. In my experience, just having the intention of kindness is enough to make a world of difference. Even if that just looks like saying to yourself, “I don’t know how to make you feel better, but I want to. I love you. I’m here for you.”

Anxiety is not our enemy. Anxiety is a small friend, asking for support. Let’s practice offering it that support instead of neglect or displeasure. Anxiety is just a feeling, just a message from our bodies. We are the ones who have the power to interpret that message. We’ve been mistranslating it for so long, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to see it for what it really is. Anxiety is not a cue that you are in danger or damaged. It’s a cue that you are in need of tenderness and love in order to keep going. Things that we all need. Things that we can all easily learn to give to ourselves. Things that can help us associate anxiety with self care instead of fear. Tend to that little child inside of you today. Don’t turn away. She’s a friend.

Child Adult Holding Hands - Public Policy Institute of California

It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

When Self-Love Turns Toxic

Self Love with Sigrid Tasies — Jodi Plumbley - Bespoke Boudoir + Portrait  Photographer

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.

8 key signs that you are lacking in self-love - Life Coach Directory

Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Scheduling Creativity

Don’t wait to be compelled to do great work.

Richie Norton

I’ve always been a creative person. As children, my sister and I spent hours drawing every day. I honestly probably have my parents’ relative poverty to thank for that. When you come from a family that doesn’t have the money to take you places and buy you new toys all the time, you learn how to entertain yourself with creativity. Not only did we draw constantly, we even made little clay figures, modeling them after Pokémon, or what have you, that we couldn’t afford. It’s funny how the things you once felt cheated by in life become the things you are most grateful for and vice versa.

Anyway, for the majority of my life, my creativity was dependent on “inspiration.” Initially, this wasn’t hard to come by. It is easy to feel inspired and excited by simple things when you are a child. However, once I got into high school, that inspiration started to dwindle. This could also have been a result of my increasing anxiety causing me to start overthinking my process. Whatever the cause, I began creating less and less. It didn’t seem worthwhile to make the effort if the outcome wasn’t going to be something amazing. My ideas weren’t good enough, in my opinion. I wasn’t good enough.

Eventually I stumbled upon the fact that many great artists and writers had struggled with the same issue of motivation. It wasn’t that history’s greatest works always spurred from incredible ideas or the energy of inspiration, rather they came from dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many writers swear by having a writing routine where they write a certain amount every day, regardless of if they feel like it or have anything interesting to say. Despite this, I continued to resist this idea for years. Only recently have I begun to see the value in this method.

The hardest part for me, is accepting that you will certainly create more, but each work may not be as incredible as ones that have been passionately inspired. However, with this regular practice, when inspiration does strike, you will be able to use the skills you have been honing to produce the best version of the work you’ve been inspired to create. In addition to that, inspiration will find you more often if you work at it instead of just waiting passively for it to find you.

Since I began writing and drawing every single day a few years ago, it is stunning how much I’ve improved. (I actually don’t know if my writing has really improved, but my drawing definitely has.) Perhaps more important than the higher quality work I am able to produce, is what I have learned along the way. I’ve learned that the outcome, the product, of creativity isn’t what I’m really after. There is a special joy in producing something from within our own minds and seeing it materialize in the world. Writing and drawing and other artistic endeavors are not a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. They are like dancing.

Dancing is certainly a form of art, but unlike other artistic modalities, these is less focus on a “product” and more focus on the experience in the moment, whether or not their is an audience. Capitalism has obscured and cut down the spirit of creativity within each of us. It has taught us that only certain people are “talented.” Only these talented few have any right to spend their time in artistic pursuits. And even then, only if they are intending to market their work in some way and make a profit. Never simply for personal fulfillment or fun.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself “creative” or “talented” I believe that artistic expression is an essential, inherent part of being human. I also believe that it is one of the only ways that we are truly free. Don’t allow anyone to take away that freedom. Don’t allow the world to sever the connection to your imagination. I guarantee you that you friends and family would love to see what you are able to create, irrespective of how “good” it may be. Few things make me happier than seeing the drawings that the children I work with make. Some of my favorite art has been made by my best friend who I’m sure wouldn’t consider herself very talented.

Talent is irrelevant. Art is a glimpse into the mind, the soul, of another. There is an inexplicable intimacy to art. That is what makes it beautiful. So please, express yourself freely in whatever way that brings you joy. Share yourself with the world. Make creativity a regular practice. Even if only for yourself. It’s worth it.

17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity

Giving Yourself Credit

As I was driving to work the other day, I couldn’t stop beating myself up for all the things I wanted to improve, but was still struggling with. Then I realized something, I’ve come so far in the last few months. Not very long ago, I would have been smoking two cigarettes on that half-hour drive to work. Now, I hardly even have any interest in smoking my vape. Some days I completely forget about it until late in the evening.

I started thinking about how rarely I give myself credit for the things I do accomplish. Once I reach a goal, there is never a moment of celebration. I go straight on to the next goal. I switch automatically from criticizing myself over one thing to criticizing myself over something else. In the back of my mind, I always think I’ll be happy, I’ll be able to congratulate myself once everything is perfect, once I’m perfect. It’s hard to acknowledge that that “perfect” moment, that “perfect” me, will never exist. There will always be things I want to work on and aspects of myself that I want to improve. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be proud of where I am right now.

This time last year, I was a heavy smoker, I was deep in the grips of an eating disorder, I was more depressed and anxious than perhaps any other time in my life. I have made so much progress since then. More than I ever thought I would be able to. I had nearly lost all hope of redemption. Now it’s been months since I’ve bought a pack of cigarettes. Not only have I been recovering from my eating disorder, I’ve been practicing mindful eating. My mental health overall has improved so much that I’ve even started taking a lower dose of my anxiety medication. Soon I am going to be dropping it down again, and hopefully will be able to wean myself off of it completely in the next few months. I’ve also taken my art to the next level by buying myself an electronic drawing tablet so I can more easily edit my drawings. Despite my initial fear of failure, I’ve gotten surprisingly good at using it.

All of these things are incredible achievements that I deserve to acknowledge and take pride in. I may not always meet my goals as quickly as I plan to, but I keep trying anyway. I am always working to improve myself and my life. My commitment to the effort alone is worth being proud of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this hesitancy and difficulty regarding giving myself credit for the good things I do. From a young age, many of us are taught to be humble. And while that may be a virtue, it’s also important to be able to acknowledge your talents and accomplishments. Not only will that make a significant difference for your mental health, but it will also make it easier for you to keep pursing your goals. If you never allow yourself a moment of rest to appreciate all you’ve done, how can you expect yourself to maintain motivation to continue moving forward?

Today, give yourself the gift of self-reflection. Particularly, try to reflect on all of the positive changes you have been able to make in your life. Just for today, try to focus on the things you’ve done or are currently doing well. Remember that it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. The things you still want to work toward will be there waiting for you tomorrow. Today you deserve to rest and enjoy how far you’ve come.

Challenge

work-life balance: Men struggle as much as women to maintain work-life  balance - The Economic Times

I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.

Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.

I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.

I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.

After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.

Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.

I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.

A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.

When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.

The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.

Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.

What You Damn, Damns You

Anger Meditation in Four Forms - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

What you damn, damns you.

What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness.

Paul Selig

Paul Selig was the guest on the podcast I was listening to as I drove home yesterday. At first I was skeptical. He was described as an author and “medium.” He talks about “channeling” these other voices and entities that tell him what to write in his books. Anytime I hear outlandish claims like this, my defenses immediately go up. My first instinct is: this is a charlatan, a grifter, a scam artist. I am angered at the audacity of some of these so called mystics and the way they blatantly take advantage of their trusting, if not naïve, followers.

After listening to him speak for awhile, I did hear a lot of interesting ideas. Whether or not he actually believes he is channeling spirits that tell him these things, I have no clue. However, a couple of the things he ended up saying really struck me. Particularly the quote I shared above: What you damn, damns you. What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness. I even tried to look it up to see if this quote could be attributed to anyone else, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. This actually makes me curious to read at least one of Paul Selig’s books, in case there are anymore insightful tidbits like this.

I wanted to talk about that quote today and dissect it a little bit. It reminds me a lot of the famous Buddha quote: Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I never really realized that this idea could be expanded to encompass practically all negative emotions. Often we lash out at the world around us, thinking subconsciously that our refusal to accept someone or something will help us maintain distance from it. But in fact, that hatred, that anger, that denial, that distaste, actually allows the very things we want to avoid to have more of an effect on us. It is equanimity toward all things that will set us free.

Take a moment to reflect on some of the things (or people) that you hate. How does thinking about these things feel in your body? Perhaps you notice a tightening in your chest, a narrowing of your eyes, growing tension in your shoulders. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely not pleasant. Now consider how these thoughts affect whatever it is you’re thinking about. I’m guessing it doesn’t affect it at all, right? So why do we continue to lower our own vibration for the sake of anger, hatred, etc.?

Sometimes it genuinely feels as though we have no choice. We’re made to feel these emotions. That’s how I thought about things for most of my life. And at times, it’s still hard to remember I have a choice. It definitely takes a lot of practice to resist that spark of fury when someone cuts you off in traffic or offends you in one way or another. I may not ever be able to eliminate these visceral reactions from my life completely. However, just reframing the way you see things is the first step. It makes a huge difference. I used to cling to my anger and avoidance. I claimed it as part of my identity even, defined myself not only by the things I loved but by the things I hated as well. It wasn’t just hard to let go, I didn’t want to let it go. These negative feelings felt important somehow.

Just noticing my own thought patterns and emotional reactions has made my life so much easier. While I’m not able to completely avoid getting angry or upset, it is a hell of a lot easier to calm myself back down and let those feelings flow through me without clinging onto them. Now I have much more energy to direct toward the things I love, the things I’m grateful for, the things that bring me peace and joy.

If you notice yourself ruminating about the things that irritate you today, try to remember that you are the only one being affected by these thoughts and feelings. Hating the slow driver in the left lane in front of you, doesn’t do anything to that driver. It doesn’t bother them, nor does it make them drive any faster. So why are you making the situation even more unpleasant by punishing yourself? Can you let it go? Do you feel resistant to letting it go? Can you get curious about why that is? Don’t be too hard on yourself if this is challenging at first. I still struggle with it all the time. The important thing is that you’re aware and you’re trying. That is something to be proud of.

Lessons in LSD

On Labor Day, after spending the morning hiking through beautiful new woodland areas and visiting my grandmother, my boyfriend and I decided to spend the last several hours of his visit on acid. I’ve been so eager to have another trip since I’ve been reading about psychedelics for the past few weeks. This time I was determined to take at least as much as I did on my first trip, which was five hits. A lot of the experiences described in the psychedelic studies were due to high doses of the drugs, likely much higher than even what is contained in those five tabs. As summer was beginning to wane, I felt long overdue for a spiritual, transcendent experience. And I was so happy to have my beloved there by my side.

I am always surprised by just how natural the effects of LSD feel. It feels like coming home. It feels far more real than my sober reality ever could. It feels like waking up, cradled in the arms of mother earth, of the universe. Never has the mantra “everything is as it should be” felt so true. Static electricity seems to fill the air, connecting me to everything, supporting me, energizing me.

We spent the first moments of our trip gently stretching on our yoga mats in the sunlit grass. Every sensation seemed amplified and completely new. What a joy to move this miraculous body! How good it feels to explore myself as if for the first time. Every breath was orgasmic. Crisp clean air, expanding my lungs, flooding my blood, my brain, with oxygen. So simple, so satisfying. I doubt I stopped smiling for even a second.

One of the first things I always notice when I trip is my habitual thought patterns. “What’s next?” I’m always asking myself. Planning the next moment, rather than enjoying the one that I’m in. Searching for satisfaction outside of myself instead of inside. There is no judgment muddying this self-reflection, only interest and amusement. How strange it is to not be able to see the perfection of the present while sober. It seems so obvious, so unavoidable on acid. Never has it been more clear that these feelings of ecstasy come from within, that I have the power of happiness inside me always, regardless of my external circumstances.

After reveling in and exploring our own bodies for awhile, we moved inside to explore and enjoy one another. I’ve always cringed at the phrase “making love,” but for the first time in my life, I truly felt that was what we were doing. There was no anxiety, no shame, no hesitation, no expectation, just pure presence, pure love. At times I truly lost myself. There was no separation between our bodies or our souls. As we laid silently in one another’s arms afterward, I felt that no words could accurately express what had just passed between us. Perfection is the only one that comes close. Thankfully, it also felt like no words were needed. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and oneness with all the universe. My heart was overflowing with unconditional love for all of existence. It seemed as though we were only given distinct forms in order to experience the miracle of coming together again.

We spent the rest of the evening gathering tomatoes from my garden, making dinner, snuggling, laughing and watching YouTube. At one point we attempted to be creative. I was dying to write. Poetry seemed to be endlessly streaming through my head. However, when I put pen to paper, I couldn’t seem to find the right words. These realizations, the beauty of existence, these transcendental truths were so clear in my mind. Yet there were impossible to express accurately with mere words. Despite my best efforts, psychedelic experiences are largely inexpressible. At best they translate into platitudes and clichés. So here’s a vague representation of what I always come away with:

  1. Everything is as it should be.
  2. Everything is a cycle, spiraling out endlessly into infinity.
  3. I have everything I need inside of myself.
  4. Love and laughter are all that matter.
  5. We are all one.

These are by no means new ideas. However, the psychedelic experience allows me to perceive and appreciate these truths in a deeper way. This appreciation and poignancy perseveres long after the effects of the drug wear off. I would liken it to splashing your face with water in the morning. It’s a splash of gratitude and energy for the soul. It’s a reminder of who we really are. A confirmation that all is well, that we are exactly where we should be.

Perhaps the most striking and fascinating of the lessons I’ve learned from acid are the idea that everything is a cycle. This can be frustrating, but also quite comforting. It truly gives me the gift of believing that death is not the final ending. There is no ending, only new beginnings. Psychedelics give us something that unfortunately we cannot share with one another through language. It is something, I believe, everyone should experience for themselves. It’s a remedy. It’s a revelation. It’s a rebirth.

Mind menders: how psychedelic drugs rebuild broken brains | New Scientist