Hyggekrog

I made a post on here a while ago about hygge, the danish aesthetic of coziness and comfort. Ever since reading about hygge, I’ve been obsessed. For the last month and a half I have been meticulously cleaning and reorganizing every square inch of my house. I’m actually surprised how quickly I was able to get everything accomplished. All of a sudden I found myself with nothing left to clean. At first I was saddened by this, but then I remembered: hygge. It was finally time! Time to transform my home into a cozy little true expression of my inner self. And I knew exactly where I wanted to start, making myself a hyggekrog.

A hyggekrog, from my understanding, is basically a little corner or small space somewhere in your home that is extra inviting and cozy. Perhaps a window seat full of pillows and soft colors where you like to read a good book in the evenings. Hyggekrogs remind me of being a kid again, making a blanket fort, or a little temporary space just for you. Except now, this is my house and it doesn’t have to be temporary!

For the last few days, I have been buying up lots of nice rugs, pillows, blankets, and fairy lights. There is a room in my house downstairs that is massive, but I never really use it for anything. For the few years I’ve lived here I’ve spend 98% of my time upstairs. Now that I’ve finally decorated it to my liking though, this downstairs living room is my new favorite place.

I laid down a white faux fur rug, propped up tons of giant neutral toned pillows, piled up some super soft, white blankets, and hung fairy lights everywhere. It is the most magical little nook, my hyggekrog. I love it so much. It is so interesting the way the atmospheres around us can have an effect on our inner wellbeing. It is a fun and easy way to quickly get yourself into a more positive headspace. When I sit in my new hyggekrog, I feel like a carefree kid again. Nothing can touch me there. I am so warm and safe and happy. I am so excited to have someone to share it with one day.

You Are Not Your Thoughts

Since I was in high school or maybe even younger, I developed a somewhat strange way of thinking that was comforting. A duality seemed to exist in me at will, and I would imagine my physical body as a cute helpless animal that my mind had to care for. It allowed me to feel compassion for myself. I had the tendency to be quite critical and cruel to myself, but thinking in this way helped me to be kinder and more loving when I was feeling devastated or overwhelmed.

More recently, however, a third part of me has begun to emerge in this strange mental play as well. The seed of this idea was planted by something I read once. I have no idea where, but I’m certain I did not come up with it. As you may have already guessed by the title of this post, the idea was you are not your thoughts. Even while we are thinking, there is somehow also a separate awareness of those thoughts. We aren’t those thoughts, we are the observers of our thoughts. I like to image this is what in yoga is often referred to as the higher self.

This realization has completely transformed the way I see myself. I see my consciousness as something almost apart from and deeper than both my mind and body. This view gives me space from my experiences. It’s as if my consciousness exists outside of my physical body. This physical body also affects the way my conscious is able to manifest mentally. The chemicals that control the way my brain is able to function are affected by so many different factors from my genetics to the things I do and experience each day. But I am not my anxiety. I am not my anger or my doubt or my shame. I am able to observe my body and mind’s experience of these things now from a distance with curiosity and compassion. This space keeps me from getting caught in a torrent of negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. I just observe in stillness and let it settle. And it will always settle if you don’t keep stirring it up.

Maybe this idea is new to some of you. If so, I hope that you play with it in your own lives. I am still learning to utilize this mindfulness every day, but it has helped me more than I could have imagined. My wish is that by sharing what I’ve learned in a new way, it may also help others.

Observe in stillness. 

 

Positivity with Anxiety

I have always been a very anxious person. Recently, however, I have come to notice how that has affected my ability to be positive throughout my life. I’ve noticed myself shying away from not only experiences that are intimidating, but exciting experiences as well. It seems strange, but it almost seems as though a positive experience would inevitably make me anxious at some point. I find my mind racing and reviewing obsessively the good memories as well as the bad. At times it feels easier to back away from everything and just be alone. Because of this it has been hard for me to allow myself to fully be a positive, hopeful, loving, and open person. Part of me has always been waiting for disaster to strike. And this negative energy has the potential to spoil my momentum in every endeavor.

I wanted to share something with you all that may benefit someone in my situation. Something I read somewhere once (I honestly cannot remember for the life of me where) has been very helpful to me in dealing with this dilemma. The essence of the message that really stood out to me from that article was that the brain and body have a very similar interpretation of anxiety and excitement. In other words the brain and body have a similar physical reaction towards a stimuli producing either one. I don’t know why, but this knowledge has helped me reframe my internal dialogue.

In the past, I would often become very distraught at the sense of anxiety that exciting and welcomed experience seemed to produce in me. I would begin questioning why it was I was feeling that way. My anxiety would build as my mind began to race with thoughts of how strange and broken I must be. I felt guilty that I wasn’t enjoying myself, that I wasn’t grateful. I worried that I would never be able to fully enjoy anything. However, after realizing why it was possible that my brain may have trouble distinguishing between anxiety and excitement, I no longer fell into that cycle of toxic thoughts. Now instead of spiraling into my feelings of anxiety I tell myself a different story. I am not anxious. I am excited!

This change in the narrative allows me to lean into what I’m feeling instead of frantically trying to push those feelings away. Thinking to myself, “I am excited,” usually even makes a smile spread across my face. I can almost feel the bubble of tension break and send shivering tingles down my spine. I am excited! I’m reminded to not be so serious and let the child in me be happy for a moment. It’s almost as if what I’m feeling is the energy or prana being created inside me that needs to be let out. And I let it out by just allowing. Allowing myself to really experience what I am feeling. Instead of bottling it up and trying to press it down inside me.

I hope that you can use this trick yourself and that you find as much relieve in this shift in perspective as I have. I am going to use it to allow myself to be more positive. I no longer have to fear this strange sense of urgency that arises within me when things are going well. I was mistaken to think this was a signal of danger and dread. My body and mind had gotten so use to that pattern. It was just a little confused. Now I remember though. That feeling is excitement. It’s the urge to express that energy. I hope through continuing to learn and grow, we’ll all stop stifling our energy and share it openly and joyfully with the world.

I’m excited! ♥

Sharing Suffering and Success

I stumbled across an article the other day that proposed an interesting thought experiment that I’d like to share with you all. I get so excited when I find a point of view that I’ve never even conceived of before. There is nothing better than reading or hearing something and experiencing almost a physical sensation of a shift inside your brain. Maybe I’m the only one that gets that sensation. Never-the-less I am eager to try out this new perception in my every day life. I am hopeful that it will be helpful to me and anyone reading this.

Through my readings on meditation, I have often come across the idea of imagining sharing your love and happiness to loved ones, strangers, and even enemies. This is often considered loving-kindess meditation. I’ve practiced this quite often when I meditate and it has certainly been transformative often leaving me with tears of love and joy. However, these types of practices, while helping me to grow more loving and patient, haven’t really helped me deal with and accept the times in my life when I am overwhelmed by negative emotions. I knew I needed to find a healthy way to acknowledge these feelings rather than avoid them.

The article that I read proposed that whenever you are feeling things like uncertainty, fear, pain, or sadness to imagine you are experiencing these things in the place of someone you love or even someone you don’t know. This was such an amazing idea to me. Although I don’t literally believe that I will be sparing my loved ones suffering by experiencing it instead, this helps me somehow. It has always been hard for me to lean into my unpleasant emotions. Thinking of them in this way allows me to accept those feelings more easily. It is helpful to think of others in this world that experience these same things and send them love and relief for a moment.

I am so excited to be entering this new year with such a wonderful new tool in my mental tool box. I hope that this allows me to live my life with more ease. I am so grateful to have access to so much information that I am able to use to improve my experience on this earth. I am also grateful for the chance to share what I learn with anyone who wants to listen. This year let’s all try to not only share our love, our happiness, and our success with others, but also our suffering. Let us lovingly take on the burden of another to lighten the world’s.

Setting Clear Intentions

I have always been a very logical person. I never really bought into things like the law of attraction or summoning certain scenarios into being through your thoughts alone. It always seemed too good to be true. However, once my mind started to wrap around the way that such things could actually occur I became very curious. For many people it is enough just to hear that their positive thoughts and wild dreams will come to fruition as long as they believe them and keep their focus on them. In my case that always just seemed unfounded and foolish. This false perception kept my from allowing myself to fully believe in the power of my own will.

When you lay out the idea logically, though, it holds true. If you focus your energy on cultivating a more grateful existence, your mind will naturally begin to find more things to be grateful for. If spent time everyday on a certain goal, you will inevitably reach it. Even if only your perception has changed rather than the world around you, it is still certainly worth the effort. I don’t usually put too much weight in anecdotal evidence, but never-the-less I have seen the power of my positive intentions manifested this past year. The hardest part is setting clear intentions and keeping your focus.

Most of us, I’d imagine, would say that we know what we want out of life, that we have a set of goals. However, once you actually start to organize and verbalize these things it becomes apparent that it may not be as clear as you thought. It’s important to take a step back once and a while to evaluate. There may be things that we are putting energy into that really isn’t that important to us in the long run. There may be goals we aspire to meet that we haven’t really been taking steps towards achieving. It can help to create some means to record your progress in different areas so that you can see how far you have come. Before I began recording my efforts in different areas I would often lose sight of how much I had already achieved in the shadow of how far I felt there still was to go. Another way this can be helpful is to reevaluate a habit that maybe in hindsight isn’t realistic or isn’t helping you to reach your goals.

I am grateful for this shiny new year that has just arrived to give me the inspiration to keep pushing forward. It is an interesting and confusing feeling to know exactly what you need to do to cultivate happiness and fulfillment while at the same time being resistant to the change that requires. I need to remember to be patient with myself. Instead of pausing, paralyzed in the face of the huge changes ahead of me, I need to press onward one step at a time. I need to lean into the tension of knowing that this will take a long time and be mindful as I implement more and more small changes into my daily experience.

I want this year to be even more transformative than the last few have been. I want to calm my chaotic mind be setting clear intentions regarding what I would like to learn, experience, and create in the coming months. For once I feel confident that I will reach my goals and gain so much insight and happiness in the process. My mantra for this first month of a great new year is going to be a Buddhist quote that I stumbled upon a few days ago. I hope that it can inspire us all to be present, grateful, and joyous in each moment that this year has to give us.

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

I had a realization today that I hope will stick with me. My whole life I have been compounding my suffering in social scenarios by blaming myself. There have been countless times in my life that I have been rejected in some way that left me feeling unworthy and unsure of myself. It took me a long time to realize that I was building on to those negative feelings by critiquing and criticizing my actions and interactions with that person. My inner monologue begins to not only feel slightly by the other person but by myself as well. It seemed impossible to avoid the power other had to pull on my heartstrings.

What I have begun to realize though, is that the pain I feel from the situation pales in comparison to the pain I make myself feel in the following days, months, or even years by internalizing the scenario and finding all the ways it was my fault. I end up suffering so much more than I would have because instead of the comfort and support that I need from myself in these moments of rejection, I have been trying to punish myself. I tell myself that I was stupid to expect anything else, that I should have known better, that I’m an idiot. I tell myself I was an idiot for trusting, for loving, for showing someone myself, for trying. And that hurts more than anything, feeling that way, that you aren’t worthy of the happiness you desire.

Instead of doing that, I want to stop adding to my suffering. It’s not stupid to show compassion, to love, to trust, to hope. I want to do more of those things, not less. If someone takes advantage of those things, then that is a reflection of who they are not who I am. All I can do is keep trying my best and striving for the things that I want in this life. I’m not foolish to believe that someone could love you even if it turns out they don’t. Falling for a false facade doesn’t make you stupid.

It’s okay to be sad when something upsetting has happened. But from now on I’m going to try harder to tend to that suffering with self-love rather than adding on to it. From now on when I’m suffering I am going to be gentle with myself. Let myself sleep. Give myself fresh, healthy foods. Meditate a little longer. Have a slow and mindful yoga practice. Give myself something I like. Allow myself to do something I enjoy. Focus on all of the things that I have to be grateful for.

The older I get the more I am realizing the importance of the relationship I have with myself. The most important person I can have on my side is me. I believe that I love myself, yet my thoughts can be so cruel. It’s time I begin to speak to myself just like I would anyone else that I love.

Shifting Your Focus

One of the main things I have been trying to cultivate this year is a stronger ability to focus on the positive. Now that I’ve learned the mind is like a muscle and can be strengthened with the repetition of exercises I have been using this knowledge to improve my life. Whether we set a conscious intention to do so or not, our minds are always doing these exercises. It’s up to us to decide what we want our experience in this life to be. The things you focus on and the habits and patterns you repeat each day make your brain “stronger” in these areas. It’s important that we spend our time nurturing positive mental states rather than dwelling and feeding negative ones.

Before I knew what I do now about the way our brains work, I thought I was basically in the passenger seat when it came to my reactions to different things. I thought that my genetic code and my past experiences left me basically no choice in the way I felt and experienced the world around me. I used to roll my eyes at those overly positive, happy people that would say things like, “You have to make yourself happy, you can make your own happiness. You can love yourself.” It seemed utterly impossible to me. I always thought it just didn’t feel right. Why should I pretend I’m happy if I’m not?

Now I see (and have also experienced) that there is actually power in “pretending” for awhile.  It’s actually more like practicing. And don’t get me wrong I’m still practicing every day. What I didn’t understand before and what I feel I need to share to help other people like me understand is that it gets easier. At first it may seem dishonest, but what you are doing is creating and strengthening new pathways in your brain. It can be quite difficult, especially if you have very strong negative pathways your brain has been using for most of your life.

However, I think that it’s a good thing even beginning to notice when I am practicing negative self-talk and catastrophizing a situation. Now even when those thoughts inevitably come up I’m able to distance myself from them somehow. I try not to buy in to those thoughts. I keep myself from being caught in that current and spiraling deeper into that harmful cycle. More importantly I’m learning to nip those thoughts in the bud and use them as a signal that I need to be there for myself in those moments. I see myself struggling and I know that instead of allowing myself to wallow, I need to comfort myself. It’s a moment to take a deep breath and think about what it is you’re wanting from the world in that moment, the lack of which is causing you distress, then give it to yourself. Because you already have the potential for all of it in your amazing brain. All the confidence, all the beauty, all the love, all the creativity, all the abundance, all the gratitude, all the happiness. They are all yours to create. All you need to do is practice them. It’s just like learning a new language. You just have to keep practicing.

This year when I catch myself thinking things like: I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’m fat. I’m lazy. I’m worthless. I’m unloved. I’m unhappy. I’m going to stop and instead change that dialogue to: I’m grateful. I’m safe. I’m beautiful. I’m intelligent. I am loved. I am enough. I’m strong. I am happy. Gratitude has been one of the areas I’ve been focusing on a lot and it’s incredible how much easier it has gotten to notice little things to be grateful for in ordinary things like the sun’s warmth on my skin or catching sight of a cute squirrel in my yard. I can find something to be grateful for even in awful things, like a chance to start again, or a new direction, or an important reminder.

A few really bad things happened to me yesterday and I’ve been very down on myself because of them. I can see myself falling back into familiar patterns. I’m not worried though, because now it’s so much easier to get back up and brush myself off and love myself anyway. In 2019 I want to get even better at being there for myself and giving compassion and love to the world. I hope that we can all do that together.

Let’s keep practicing ♥

The Importance of Reflection

I’ve been really struggling with accepting myself recently. While awaiting the return of a potential love interest, I am consumed with this feeling that I won’t be good enough for this person. I feel as though I’ve run out of time to improve myself and now I am going to spoil an important moment with my imperfections. While I can’t help but try to franticly make changes to myself due to this, realizing I don’t have enough time anyway has brought me to reflex on how far that I’ve come already.

Today I did a beautiful yoga session and meditated in the grass covered in sunlight. I completed vinyasas and held poses I never would have dreamed of myself practicing a few years ago. My meditation wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. Yet I’ve integrated this practice into my everyday life and I have become a better person for it. I practiced Spanish even though I’m making incredibly slow progress. Regardless of my improvement, I’m proud of myself for my persistence. I know because of it, I’ll get to my goal no matter how long it may take. I read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames and gained more insight into how to be compassionate to myself and with others. I did an intense workout that my body would not have been nearly strong enough to complete in the past.

If the version of myself I was in high school knew who she would be at this point only a handful of years down the road, I think she would be very excited. So I should be excited about the journey ahead of me and enjoy it. I’ve already accomplished so much for myself. I am definitely a better person than I used to be and that’s all that I can truly compare myself with.

I don’t know why it has always been so hard for me to be proud of myself or feel that I’ve been or done enough. Part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to enjoy my successes thus far, I’ll become lazy and stop progressing. But I think it’s important to acknowledge where you are now and be happy with it. I’m still working on figuring out how to do that. I’m happy that I’ve even been able to notice this behavior and be mindful of it. Even that is something I was never able to do in the past. I know that I’m on the right path. I just need to remind myself not to get too anxious about the distance ahead of me. Because regardless of the what the future holds, it will definitely be better if I practice loving and accepting myself now.

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Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Promoting Loving-Kindness & Mindfulness Instead of Veganism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you all my abundant love and encouragement. ♥

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