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

Find Neutral First

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:

  1. It’s okay to feel anxious (depressed, angry, sad, etc.)
  2. Whatever I manage to do today is enough, even if it is just existing.
  3. I know I am doing the best I can even if it may not appear that way to others.
  4. Everyone deserves to be loved.
  5. 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.

6,733 Girl Looking Out Window Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images  - iStock

A Letter to My Sister

Dear Sarah,

I’m not sure if I’ll actually decide to give you this letter, but I knew I had to write it either way. I just have to put these thoughts down into words. Even though our family has never been very outwardly affectionate, I have always had a deep well of admiration and love for you for as long as I can remember. We may be pretty close in age, but I’ve looked up to you my entire life. All I ever wanted was for us to be friends, and it means the world to me that we are now.

It’s hard for me to come up with the right way to phrase everything I want to tell you. I guess primarily I just want you to know that most of the aspects of my life that I am now so proud of were introduced to me by you. You are the reason that I draw. If it wasn’t for you, I may have never found an interest in that hobby. I can still remember how good you were with colors and blending even when we were still using crayons. You should see the way I show off the paintings I have of yours to everyone that comes to my house. I know you don’t even use it anymore, but I’ve shown so many people your website. I am just so proud to have such an incredibly talented sister.

Even though mom and grandma raised us, you have always been my primary role model. One of the most influential times in my life was living with you again at mom’s when you came back from Florida. I doubt you’re aware, but a lot of the “self improvement” things you brought back with you during that time shaped the course of my life in the years since then. Remember when I first started writing pages with you every morning? Even though I no longer do that exact practice, that may have been the first daily self care habit I ever had. I can trace back a lot of my beneficial daily routines to that time.

You were even the reason I started doing yoga! Doing those poses in the rec room with you all those years ago was probably the first yoga I ever did. I was so impressed when you showed me that you could plant your palms flat on the ground in a forward fold. It was the first time I realized that maybe yoga really was something regular people could become good at, not just famous internet influencers or people that had practiced it their entire lives. I would have never become a yoga teacher if it wasn’t for you opening that door for me.

Another major part of who I am today that I want to thank you for is veganism. I’m not sure I even knew what a vegan was before you. I know it took me a while to get it, but once I did you were the anchor that kept me sane in the beginning. You showed me so many delicious new options. You were pretty much the one that taught me how to cook, albeit indirectly. Your culinary skills are another thing I can’t help but brag about to everyone I know. I cannot wait to have Nick try the Gross Sandwich. I’m sure I would have struggled so much more with a vegan diet if it wasn’t for you feeding me for the first couple years.

You have so many amazing talents. I am so grateful that I have had you in my life to constantly inspire me and challenge me. I would not be half the person I am today if it weren’t for you. I just want you to know how much I love, admire, and appreciate you. And how much I always have, even when on the surface it seemed as though we didn’t like one another very much. You are an incredible, funny, intelligent, creative, and unique person.

Finally, I want you to know that even if Val and I pressure you to make more art again, the things you create aren’t what give you value. You could never touch a pen or a brush again and I would still love and respect you just as much. I’d still be just as proud to be your sister. I only want you to be happy, because you deserve to be happy. You have no idea how much it fills my heart with joy to know that you’ve found a wonderful man who loves you and can be by your side. Not only that, but the fact that he has an incredible young daughter for you to help raise. Alice is so lucky to have someone like you in her life to learn from and look up to. I guarantee you have already permanently altered the course of her life for the better. She may write you a letter like this herself one day.

With love and gratitude,

Your Sister

20 Best Sister Quotes - Quotes About Sisters

Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mantras to Practice:

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

Free Self-Care Apps

For the last few days I’ve been exploring the App Store in an attempt to find some free mindfulness, meditation, and journaling apps. I expected that a lot would be limited and offer a more robust, premium option. At first I was thrilled at all the options there were. Then I realized that most of them were disgustingly dishonest. They appeared to be free, at least partially, only to reveal upon download that you had to sign up for a monthly membership to access literally any of the features. After downloading over a dozen different apps only to be disappointed, I decided to share the two I did manage to find.

One – Breathwork: Breathing Exercises

Breathwrk | Breathing Exercises

After seeing the other options out there, I am even more impressed than I initially was by this incredible, completely free, app. This app has a smooth, pleasant, minimalist design. It’s very easy to navigate. There are so many options available for anyone interested in pranayama, whether they be an experienced yogi or a total beginner. I think this app would be great for kids as well! There are short breathing exercises available to help you get into whatever kind of headspace you’d like. There are targeted practices for energy, relaxation, sleep, focus, etc. Each exercise also comes with calming background music and a guided visualization to help you focus on your inhale and exhale and make sure you are extending or holding for the suggested amount of time. It also contains breathwork courses, progress trackers, and reminders. There is a premium version, but it is not pushed on you, nor is it really necessary to experience all the wonderful benefits.

Two – Instar Affirmation Writer

Instar Affirmation Writer App Ranking and Store Data | App Annie

This app is another super helpful tool to have if you are trying to work on becoming more mindful, intentional person. Not only does this app give you a handful of free affirmations and the ability to save them to a catalogue that you can break up into categories, it also teaches you how to craft your own personalized affirmations. As you type out the words, the app will give you general prompts such as, “first person”, and highlight the positive areas of what you’ve written in green and the less beneficial words in red. These might be words we often use without thinking such as: have to, should, must, etc. You are given the option to add a photo and record an audio file of you speaking the affirmation as well. Not only does this assist you in making affirmations that resonate with you and your personal goals, it also helps us recognize our self sabotaging language and be more mindful of the way we speak to ourselves and others. This app allows you to take an active role in reframing your mind.


Given how much time and effort I had to put in just to find these two free apps, I appreciate them all the more. There is nothing more irritating than trying to find support and tools for self-improvement and finding sickening marketing tactics and thinly veiled manipulation instead. I highly recommend you download these two, honest, helpful apps if you are interested in using technology to help you incorporate more mindfulness into your day. Support developers like these that are actually offering a worthwhile service to people that need it, instead of using their vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of someone and make a quick buck.

Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

Martha Beck: Ways You're Sabotaging Yourself

Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

It’s Okay

You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.

Nightbirde

The other day my friend at work showed me this video from America’s Got Talent. At first, I was just watching to be polite. I didn’t have much interest until this small, beautiful woman began to sing. Immediately her voice struck a cord in me. I got chills all over my body. I nearly began to cry, her voice and her words were so beautiful. Then just when I thought I couldn’t be any more moved she said the words I quoted above. Absolutely perfect. I felt like it was a sign from the universe that I just so happened to hear her words and her heartfelt song that day at work.

Then just as the power behind those words began to fade from my mind, they were reinforced by a video I watched earlier today. I was learning about Fyodor Dostoevsky, since I love to read classic authors. Somehow I haven’t read any of his novels yet. The video talked about the morals of a lot of his stories. A reoccurring theme was the idea that suffering is something that follows us, no matter how “advanced” our civilization becomes, no matter how many ways we seem to overcome suffering in society as time goes on. A new type of suffering will always emerge to take it’s place.

This is quite easy to see all around us. Compared to most of human history, we are living in a magical age of ecstasy and abundance. We have found the cure or at least treatment for most of the diseases and ailments that have plagued humanity throughout our existence. We have technology to make every aspect of life more convenient. Advancements that wouldn’t have been thought possible even just a few decades ago. Yet somehow we seem to be suffering as much as ever. Now instead of physical illnesses, we suffer from mental illnesses. Rather than hunger pains, we moan about social injustice. No matter how many problems we solve, new ones arise to take their place. The more we try to “fix” things, the more clear it becomes that suffering is an inevitable part of existence.

The point of Dostoevsky’s stories isn’t that we should despair at this fact. Quite the contrary, in fact. Just like Nightbirde so eloquently stated, the point is that we can’t keep waiting for life to stop being hard before we allow ourselves to be happy. We are so easily distracted by the little issues that pop up along our journey. We delude ourselves into thinking, if it wasn’t for this, or if only that, then we could really be happy. We toil away in an effort to solve all our problems and finally reach that perfect life where we will be happy forever. But we shouldn’t fall for that intoxicating delusion.

There is nothing that can stop us from being happy. Happiness and joy are our birthrights. They are a part of us. They are as much a part of existence as the suffering we keep trying to avoid. Suffering does not disqualify us from also experiencing moments of bliss. In fact we can be joyous despite our suffering. And doesn’t that just make our joy all the more potent and delicious? We are so incredibly powerful in that ability to defy all that stands against us. Just as we can always find something to be upset about no matter how great our circumstances in life, we can also find happiness no matter how destitute we may find ourselves.

Nightbirde’s song, “It’s Okay” is a testament to that inspiring truth. Our joy, as well as our suffering, comes from within. In this way we are all truly free. External circumstances cannot dictate our internal experience. I find one of the greatest challenges in life to be remembering that. No matter how many times we are taught that lesson throughout the course of our lives, we always seem to revert back to blaming the world around us for how we feel. In doing that, we are giving away our greatest power, our power to choose in each moment. It’s time for us to take our power back. We can choose happiness or we can choose suffering. It’s not always an easy choice, but it’s always there for us if we’re willing to look for it.

Becoming the Observer

I am large. I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

I have always loved that particular quote from Walt Whitman. As I grow and change, I always come back to those words of his with a new insight or depth of understanding and resonance with them. I found myself contemplating that quote again a few days ago as I was meditating. Normally we tend to identify with one version of ourselves. We play the role that we have given ourselves in our own story. We become overwhelmed by our emotions, only imagining ourselves as the one feeling the emotions, not realizing that we can choose to be another part of ourselves entirely.

To better explain what I mean by this, take the example from my meditation the other day. I began to feel tension seeping into my body, winding up my muscles, shortening my breath. My initial instinct is to succumb to these stress reactions. “I’m anxious. I’m so anxious. I don’t want to feel anxious. I’m wasting my meditation. Why am I so anxious? I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I can’t even relax while I meditate. What is wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me.” This is the death spiral of thoughts that come over me when I start to notice my own anxiety.

The pathways craved out in my brain supporting the habit patterns I exhibit internally in response to anxiety are quite strong. It isn’t always easy to switch to a different aspect of myself when confronted with these difficult feelings. Occasionally, I am able to flip a switch inside my own head, though. After taking a moment to come back to my breath and surrender to the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing, I felt a significant shift. Suddenly I wasn’t the anxious girl, full of frustration and despair at my own inadequacies. I became the neutral, yet compassionate observer.

Suddenly I was the witness, the me outside of me, the higher self within me, watching lovingly, offering that other self understanding and tenderness. A healthy amount of space existed between me and the emotions I was experiencing. I could see that we weren’t one and the same, I and the anxiety. I began to tell myself that it was okay to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It was okay to be scared and stressed out. I didn’t need to run from those experiences. I could choose to hold space for them instead. I could choose to accept them and surrender to the moment, even if that moment wasn’t what I wanted or expected.

This internal shift is something that we can all learn to utilize with practice. It’s not the same as denial or disassociation. It wasn’t that I was using this other version of myself to run from or ignore the anxiety I was experiencing. In fact, it was just the opposite. I used that other version of myself to create a safe space for me to acknowledge those feelings while at the same time being emotionally available and separate enough to also offer myself comfort in that moment.

This concept is quite hard to explain, but it can be easy to practice. The next time you feel overwhelmed by a situation or an emotion, try this: When you catch yourself falling into unhelpful thought spirals, pause. Return to your breath. Take a moment to just explore the feeling. What does it feel like in my body right now? Then instead of thinking: I’m so anxious, I’m so sad, I’m so angry, etc. Change your internal dialogue to: I am noticing that I am anxious, sad, angry, etc. This shifts you from the perspective of the one suffering to the one observing from a distance. It helps you disentangle yourself from the more visceral reactions and gives you a bit of space so you don’t feel as overwhelmed and consumed by the way you are feeling. It’s much easier to be the observer and be able to offer your other selves comfort.

This technique may not always work to find relieve from difficult situations and emotions, but it is always worth a try. Shifting which “self” you identify with is also a practice. Don’t get upset with yourself if it seems hard or even impossible at first. I hope this explanation hasn’t been too confusing. Let me know if you would like any further clarification or what your experience with this type of mental exercise has been.

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