Tiny Steps to Transformation

martha beck

My inner perfectionist tells me that if I cannot fully commit to doing something, it is not worth doing it at all. If I want to learn French, I need to move to a French-speaking country; or if I want to be a writer, I need to quit my job and write full time. This story is very restrictive and limiting, as there is a low to zero chance that I can be successful. I cannot simply drop everything to focus on my passions without suffering serious consequences. And so…I do nothing. Nothing at all. My interests sit on a shelf for another year, waiting for the time and circumstances to be perfect, and the result is soul destroying.

There are life affirming interests and pursuits that call us from our deepest core. We are called to do them, as they give us joy and meaning. They reflect our unique reason for being here; and if they are not realized, in some form, it is like walking around with a blindfold on. I want to take my blindfold off, so I can fully engage in my life, and live a truly fulfilling existence.

Martha Beck is a best-selling author, life coach, and speaker who specializes in helping individuals and groups achieve greater levels of personal and professional success. She holds three degrees, a BA, MA and PhD from Harvard University. In addition to authoring several books, Beck is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine. Although Martha is a very accomplished woman, she has faced a lot of adversity along the way. This includes grappling with serious health issues, raising a child with Down Syndrome, and breaking ties with her Mormon community. In order to continue moving forward, despite facing many obstacles, Martha uses a technique called Turtle Steps.

Turtle Steps are tiny, easy steps that you take towards reaching a goal. To create a Turtle Step, you identify your end goal, break it up into steps, and then cut each step into half. Continue cutting it into half until each step is so easy that you could do it in your sleep. Start with the taking the first easy Turtle Step. Continue onto the next one. And the next. Follow the step immediately with a reward of some kind. If you repeat the same behavior-plus-reward for four consecutive days, the behaviour starts to become a habit, and you will be able to sustain it with very little effort. This will eventually help you to accomplish your vision.

This approach strongly aligns with the work of James Clear and his recent book Atomic Habits. A habit is a behaviour that has been performed enough times to be performed without thought; and daily habits are an embodiment of your identify. Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become. The more votes you cast, the more likely you are to become that person. For example, if you make your bed every day, you are embodying the persona of a tidy person or if you read a page a day, you are embodying the persona of a reader. Once you believe in a certain identify, your daily actions start to naturally align with this belief.

We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a lifetime. The key is to make the change as easy as possible. James outlines this concept through his two minute rule. He advises to take your goal and scale it way down (e.g. if you want to become fit, commit to doing five push ups, every day for thirty days). He argues that to establish a new habit, you must first master the art of showing up. A habit has to be firmly in place before it can be improved. Until you become the person who shows up every day, there is nothing to optimize. Once you fully believe in the new identity, you can upgrade and improve from there. James also advises never to miss twice. Missing once is a mistake. Missing twice is the start of a new habit; and habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Although the skeptic in me finds it difficult to believe that Turtle Steps or the Two Minute Rule are going to get help me achieve my goals, I know for a fact that I am not achieving anything by waiting for the circumstances to be perfect for full throttle engagement. I recently committed to five minutes of French practice every day by using the DuoLingo app on my phone. I have successfully accomplished my goal for the past ten days and it feels great. This blog is my way of putting my writing dreams into action. I have committed to writing ten minutes each day and producing one article a week. Although it is far from my dream of publishing a book, it is putting me on the path towards realizing that goal; and, more importantly, I am starting to identify myself as a writer. This is nourishing for my soul and worth its weight in gold.

 

Learning to Parent Myself

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

Ninety percent of the time, I consider myself to be a pretty decent parent. I care deeply about my child and I enjoy her company. I help her with homework and participate in school field trips. We talk about the world and make each other laugh. We go on adventures and enjoy each other’s company.

The other ten percent of the time, I feel like a failure. I raise my voice and lose my temper. I am short with her when I should be patient. I say things that I should not. I am the worst version of myself. It is not that I think I should be a perfect parent but I do want to be kind one; and ten percent of bad behaviour feels like it cancels out the ninety percent of good.

When I am calm and centered, I encourage my daughter to take deep breaths when she is angry. I remind her that just because she is mad, she is not allowed to be mean. I bring her in close and hug her when she is misbehaving. Why is it so hard to follow my own good advice, in the heat of the moment?

It is amazing to me how easy it is to be an unfiltered version of yourself with those that you love most. To explode when you are angry or to say all of the things that come to mind with wild abandon. We feel safe together, so we let it all hang out; rather than showing the restraint we do with those who are not in our inner circle.

In paying attention to these moments, I notice that it most often occurs when I am tired, stressed or overloaded. There is no opportunity for me to stop and pause when I am running dry; as there is nothing left in my reserve tank. I am realizing that in order to be a better parent to my daughter, I need to start being a better parent to myself: offering up attention, love and care, rather than judgment and frustration.

As an independent parent, it can be difficult to find time to rest and decompress. Life is busy and there are many moving parts. It is hard to slow down. If I do not make space for myself on a daily basis, however, the fragile balance tips. Over the last little while, I have been testing out some strategies for better managing the stresses of daily life:

  1. Movement:The first thing that helps is a commitment to regular exercise. I need to move my body every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk at lunch or a free online yoga class at home (doyogawithme.com). Movement in any form is medicine: for the mind and body.
  2. Meditation:A regular practice of meditation is a good tool. Sitting still and paying attention to my breath for ten minutes a day, first thing in the morning, gives me an anchor in the moments when I later feel ungrounded. Deep, belly breaths really help to take the edge off of a difficult situation.
  3. Rest: My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and I cherish it; I am also realizing it is essential that I have time to rest and to be alone. I aim to get her into bed early each evening; both so she can rest after a long day and I am left with a pocket of time to myself. After she is asleep, I can take a hot bath, watch a show or read a book. I also like to go to bed early myself, as it is essential for my energy levels and overall well-being.
  4. Reflection: When I am not at my best, I often regret the things that come out of my mouth. In the moments of frustration or anger that arise, I am working to create a small space between the emotion and myself: to pull back and reflect. Who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want my child to remember it? Does this behaviour feed connection or separation? Although it is difficult, it really helps to shift the dynamic.

I feel fortunate that there is an opportunity, each and every day, to start new and recommit to being a better parent, partner and friend. Love is amazingly resilient, forgiving and patient; but is also needs to be fed a steady diet of kindness, tenderness and joy.

An important first step is to start by acting as a parent to myself: to make sure that I am fed, cared for and rested. To give myself time for things that fill me up and build my capacity to pause in those difficult and challenging moments. If I do not, and I allow myself to run on empty, I am guaranteed to tip over into the dreaded ten percent.

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This article was written for the June 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Vacation Now

Traveler Girl Walking On Tropical Beach In Sunset. Vintage Photo

I love to go on vacation. After a few days of decompressing, I switch off and relax. I sleep. I read books. I laugh. I eat good food. I spend time with the people that I love. The sole focus of the day is enjoying the next meal or activity. There are no chores or obligations. There is a quality of light and spaciousness. It is fantastic and I cherish the experience.

When I return to “real” life, I often feel like I am on a hamster wheel. I go to work. I come home. I cook. I clean. I care for my daughter. I grocery shop. I run the laundry. I chip away on the never ending “to do” list (which seems to always be getting longer). I squeeze in time for friends and family. I catch my breath. Rinse and repeat.

I was speaking with a colleague recently about his long weekend. We swapped stories about how we spent our time. I shared how I had pulled apart my garage and reorganized it. He told me how he spent time being still. Still? I asked him for more details; and he shared how he schedules time in each week to be alone. No obligations. No activity. Just rest and stillness. I was intrigued.

He explained that the key to success is to schedule it in like any other activity and then fiercely protect it. It is easy for other obligations to feel more important; but when you are drained and exhausted, there is nothing left to give. Making time to rest is ultimately a gift to those you love (and yes, he does have a young child, and he is an independent parent, so time is precious).

I have been thinking a lot about his advice and my lack of ability to slow down during my “regular” life. Why can I do this for myself during a vacation and not as an ongoing practice? I realized that there is no real good reason except habit and commitment. It does not need to be a full afternoon or long period of time to be valuable and nourishing. A half an hour, here and there, is a good place to start; and it feels much more manageable.

I am going to start scheduling in “stillness” time in each week and see how I do. I will give myself some rules, such as no phone or computer. I will focus on activities that are quiet and introspective, such as reading, walking, listening to podcasts, knitting or zen colouring: all things that I really enjoy. My ultimate goal will be to cultivate a regular practice of rest and spatiousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

The Power of Words

krysenclark

I came across a statement this week from Krystin Clark via social media: “I am not a single mother. I am an independent parent.” It stopped me in my tracks. As a woman who has defined myself as a single parent for the past three years, I was struck by this reframe. It is subtle yet powerful.

Self-definitions have a significant impact on well-being and state of mind. To identify as a single mother brings up images of vulnerability and fragility. A lone woman facing the world with her child. To identify as an independent parent is a statement of strength and assurance. It says: “I can do this on my own. I can stand on my own two feet.”

This pivot has caused me to stop and think about other ways I am limiting myself through self-definitions and self-talk. What are the stories that I assume to be true? How can I create space for something else? Words are either powerful tools or weapons, depending on the context; and they must be used with care. It is important reflect upon them regularly or we run the risk of boxing ourselves into a corner without even realizing it.

marie.png

Fear of the Unknown

Royal Self

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver – In Blackwater Woods

I am currently in the middle of another period of great personal upheaval in my life. Family members are aging and unwell; relationships and situations that once felt strong, solid and unshakable are shifting and moving. Life is looking me squarely in the eye and saying: “Nothing remains the same.”

My natural inclination is to resist change. My tendency is to choose the familiar over the unfamiliar. I like to create systems, map things out and control my environment through order. This false sense of security works for me until the ground shakes and throws me off balance: revealing that everything is fluid and ever shifting. I am slowly realizing that my resistance is at the core of my discomfort: making a very difficult situation even harder to navigate.

The human brain is not comfortable with the unknown. It likes to create stories and imagine what will happen next, rather than sit in the vast and open discomfort of unknowing. The stories we create do not protect us from what is to come; they only result in generating unnecessary worry and anxiety. 99.9% of the time, what we imagine will happen is not anything close to what ends up taking place.

Almost 2600 years ago, the Buddha uncovered the root of human suffering; and he outlined his discovery in the four noble truths. Here is a brief summary of them, as summarized from this article by Ronald Alexander, and his book Wise Mind, Open Mind:

1st Noble Truth: In life, there is suffering, because of the impermanent nature of things.

Humans have developed great capacity for denying a simple truth: nothing stays the same. Even if we do everything “right” and exercise every precaution, we will still face unexpected loss. It is important to learn to let go, and try to create space for what is actually unfolding, however uncomfortable.

2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is due to attachments and expectations, to grasping and clinging.

Clinging to the past, or avoiding the process of grief or acceptance, creates suffering. Grasping for a future set of circumstances identical to the past holds you back from discovering what better roads lie ahead, outside of your sight. The desire to backtrack or reconstruct will likely result in your walking around in circles, lost in the dark woods, instead of peering around corners to find new paths. When we can completely let go and stop struggling against the reality of the current moment, it allows us to embrace the groundlessness of our situation, and relax into its dynamic quality.

3rd Noble Truth: It is possible to end suffering by giving up attachments (clinging) and expectations (grasping).

There is no such thing as a permanent sense of happiness. We must broaden our definition of what we need in order to be happy; this includes letting go of habits of clinging and grasping to the past and expectations for the future, as well as the need to control external circumstances.

4th Noble Truth: The way to end suffering due to clinging and grasping is through balance and living in the present.

It is important to balance a thirst for something better with an acceptance of what is taking place, right here, right now. Balance allows you to live in the present moment and trust that your acceptance will clear the way of confusion and distractions: showing you how to move forward into happiness again. The paradox of change is until you can accept what is, you cannot move into what might be.

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There is much to be said about the power of gratitude. It helps to focus the mind on the tiny, beautiful things unfolding in front of you, rather than to allow it to jump into the unknown. Lately, when my thoughts start to rush ahead, I make a conscious effort to bring myself back to the present moment, and to really notice what is around me: the sound of birds calling outside of my window; the beauty of my sleeping child’s face; the enjoyment of walking my dog. I remind myself what I am grateful for in my life and what is working well. It does not take the fear away but it does help to anchor me in a groundless situation.

The one guarantee in this life is change. I cannot influence or control this reality; but I can determine my reaction to it. If I can begin to allow for the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds, it creates space for me to be present in the current moment. This opens up the possibility of discovering solutions and a path forward. Putting one foot in front of the other, I trust that this difficult period will eventually end, as everything eventually does; and I will emerge out the other side, back into the light.

 

 

 

Joy & Vulnerability

Freedom woman with open arms silhouette in sunrise against sun f

As I have written about in previous posts, I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I recently watched her new special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and it is a great reflection of the her decades of research on shame and vulnerability and the path to living a whole-hearted life. I highly recommend that you check it out.

In watching the show, I was reintroduced to a concept that I have been thinking about all week. I would like to share with you, as it really resonated with me:

When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.

When experiencing overwhelming feelings of love, we are at our most vulnerable; and it can trigger a dress rehearsal for tragedy. Brené outlines the example of a parent standing over his/her sleeping child. In that moment, the parent is filled with deep joy, followed by feelings of terror that something will happen to take the child away from him/her.

Worrying about things that have not happened does not protect us from pain. These thoughts only prevent us from truly experiencing the beauty of the moment before us. The next time you are worrying about “what ifs”, Brené suggests that you follow it with an acknowledgement that: “I am feeling vulnerable.” This creates space from the worry and brings you back into the present moment: revealing it to be a thought, not reality.

She encourages cultivating a regular practice of gratitude, as the most grateful people are the most joyful. When fear is triggered by joy, she suggests making a conscious effort to remember the things you are grateful for: then speak your gratitude or capture it in a journal.

Lastly, she outlines how to appreciate the ordinary moments. In a culture of scarcity, we are taught to seek the extraordinary; this leads us to miss out on the beauty of the ordinary moments unfolding before us on a regular basis. Take note of the small things that you appreciate about your family, work and friends: the fresh smell of your child’s hair after a bath; laughter at the family dinner table; the enjoyment of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It is these things that help us to connect with joy on a regular basis, appreciate the present moment, and lean into the discomfort of not knowing the future.

The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we will have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen; and the remedy for fear is gratitude.

 

Is it true, kind or necessary?

Little Girl Closed Her Eyes, Praying Outdoors, Hands Folded In P

My ten-year old daughter is facing friendship issues more regularly these days. Kids who have been in school together since kindergarten are forming groups and leaving one other out. They are telling tales and talking about each another behind their backs. Although considered to be “normal” adolescent behaviour, it is not ok. Little girls can be mean if left to their own devices and it is important for us to guide them.

I have been talking with my daughter lately about the fact that we cannot control other people’s actions but we can control our own. She finds this very frustrating, as she wants the world to be “fair”. I explain that her integrity is grounded in her own choices of words, actions and people. Nothing else. The rest is out of our hands.

In working through this issue with my child, I am reminded of the parable of three gates:

In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance. Eager to share some gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to hear a story that he had just heard about their friend. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass through the three gates.

The first gate, he explained, is truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “Well, I heard about it from the butcher who heard it from a client, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You do not know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “Well…not really. If our friend heard about it he would be very upset…”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true and it is not good or kind. One gate still remains. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

I have always liked this parable as it underscores the importance of being mindful about what comes out of your mouth before you speak. Too often words flow out and information is shared without thinking about the consequences. This is how people get hurt.

Although I cannot protect my daughter from friendship drama, I can support her as she navigates her path through it. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Keep coming back to these three questions, my love. They will help to guide you through. They will move you away from the friends who gossip and towards the ones who choose kindness and integrity. These are one who will love you unconditionally, treat you with respect, and celebrate your unique and beautiful self. These are the friends that matter.

 

Head vs. Heart

Rear View Woman And Split Blackboard With Heart And Brain Symbol

I am a sensitive empath with a strong internal fight or flight instinct. I feel and sense the world around me deeply; this can be challenging when you live in a busy, aggressive and loud world.

In order to better navigate this reality, I am working to build upon my inner strength. To create a place of stillness and grounding that I can turn to when things are chaotic: to cultivate more equanimity and peace within. This starts by learning how to shift from living in my head to living from my heart.

Throughout my adult life, I have gained success and praise through building up my analytical skills. The task-orientated, linear part of my brain is highly developed and it is hard for me to switch it off. It writes lists and organizes things. It reflects on what has happened and plans into the future. It is pragmatic and efficient: seeking security and safety through establishing structure.

There are many benefits to possessing these skills, especially in a world that values productivity and efficiency; but the logical part of myself lacks warmth, spontaneity and joy. It is rigid and uncompromising. This part of myself reminds me of a grouchy old lady. She complains and she is dissatisfied; she is always looking for improvement. She points out what is not going right and what she does not like; she worries about things incessantly. She does not live in the moment or start from a place of gratitude. She suffocates creative, playful impulses: considering them to be “silly” and “unpredictable.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can learn to reconnect with my body: to reclaim the intuitive, emotional part of myself that lives and breathes in the present moment. To do this, I have been investigating embodiment practices. A few of them include:

Internalizing the Positive: In his book, Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson speaks to the negative bias of the brain. The brain preferentially scans for, registers and recalls unpleasant experiences. In order to change this, he suggests actively looking for good news, particularly the little stuff of daily life: the smiling face of your child; the smell of fresh coffee; a pleasant conversation with a friend; a small victory at work.

More importantly, Rick suggests savouring the experience. Be in that moment and really take it in. Do not let you attention move to something else: hold it for up to 20 seconds. The longer something is held in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons fire and write together: creating a stronger trace memory. He also suggests focussing on the feelings of your emotions and body sensations since they are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill the body and be as intense as possible. This helps to teach the brain to focus on and remember the positive in any given situation.

Cold Immersion: Throughout history and across cultures, cold bathing has been used to promote multiple beneficial effects for health such as improving the immune system, cardiovascular circulation and lowering inflammation; it is also shown to boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. It is counterintuitive but it is actually a really effective way to start the day. As I stand in that cold blast of water each morning, I am forced to be in my physical self. I am aware of how this amazing body has kept me alive over the last twenty-four hours: breathing each breath; pumping my heart; repairing muscles; creating new skin; moving me through the world. There is no where else to be in that moment. The cold does not allow your attention to wander. I am filled with awareness and gratitude. Before I know it, it is over. I turn on the hot water and start the day with fresh slate. The recommended timing of cold immersion varies from minutes to hours. I can only manage thirty seconds but it is enough.

Movement and Sound: When I was little, I loved to express myself through singing, dancing and making music. As I grew older, I became increasingly self-consciousness and they played a smaller and smaller role in my life. Now that I am in mid-life, I am learning to re-embrace these forms of self-expression to foster a stronger connection with my heart. The wonderful thing is there is no one right way to do it. You just find what works for you and go for it. I have personally been enjoying two mindfulness practices: kirtan and 5Rhythms. With roots in the Vedic anukirtana tradition, a kirtan is a call-and-response style song or chant, set to music. There is little distinction between the performers and the audience.  The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back.  A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes.  As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself.  All voices merge together to become one voice. And when the music stops, your mind is quiet. 5Rhythms is a movement meditation practice devised by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. It puts the body in motion in order to still the mind. Fundamental to the practice is the idea that everything is energy, and moves in waves, patterns and rhythms. The five rhythms (in order) are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. When danced in sequence, are known as a “Wave.” A typical Wave takes about an hour to dance.

Finding ways to shift from living in my mind to living in my body is an ongoing practice. There is no set destination or mode of arrival; it is simply a process of constant effort and cultivation.  The techniques listed above are just a few of the ways that I am exploring this concept; but they are not all of them. I also enjoy the benefits of meditation, yoga and walking in nature, amongst others. It is less about the form and more about the intention. How can I move into living more in the present moment? How can I come home to my physical self? How can I learn to feel as much as I think?

I am curious to learn how you are learning to live more from your heart. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

Maybe good…maybe bad…it’s all in your perspective

Rear View Man In Front Of Many Different Doors Choosing One. Dif

I have always appreciated the parable of the Taoist Farmer, as I think it offers a valuable perspective on life:

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky to have a horse to pull the cart for you!” his neighbours told him. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. “Oh no! This is terrible news! Such terrible misfortune!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky. Now you will be rich!” his neighbours told him. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no! Such bad luck, all over again!” the neighbours cried.“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men in the village to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind due to his injury. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

In each instance, the farmer does not judge the action as either good or bad. It just is. I like this story as it reminds me that even when a difficult thing happens, there are various ways to look at it. There is much benefit in being open and curious to what comes, rather than reactive and resistant.  Even if something looks scary at first, you do not really know what it is or where it will lead you; a situation that looks unmanageable could reveal hidden strengths.

When my marriage fell apart three years ago, it broke me open. And although it was one of the most painful and frightening times of my life, it also offered me many gifts: gifts of community; gifts of insight; gifts of growth. I would never be where I am today without having made it through that experience, so I cannot think of it as only negative. It contained elements that were both negative and positive; and in many ways, I am grateful for it.

I have been reading Byron Katie‘s work lately to try to help inform my perspective and shape my response to challenging situations as they arise on a daily basis. She teaches about the importance of investigating the present moment and identifying the thoughts that are causing you suffering. This is done through asking four questions of inquiry:

Question 1: Is it true?
This question can change your life. Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true?
This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person (or the situation) you’ve written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list, and be specific.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Imagine yourself in the presence of that person (or in that situation), without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel? Which do you prefer—life with or without the thought? Which feels kinder, more peaceful?

Turn the thought around:
The “turnaround” gives you an opportunity to experience the opposite of what you believe. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

All of this speaks to the power of the mind and thought in shaping our world experience. We can cause ourselves great suffering or joy, all in the way that we choose to view a situation. And although I have a lot of work to do in shaping my own thoughts and reactions, it is empowering to have the tools to pull them apart and investigate them: rather than being at their mercy.

 

The Body Speaks – Are you Listening?

young women in lotus pose

I really enjoy Liz Gilbert’s work. She is a prolific novelist. Her books, Big Magic and The Signature of All Things are two of my favourites; and she is best known for her mammoth best seller, Eat, Pray, Love. Liz is also very active on social media and I like to follow her on Facebook and Instagram. She posts thoughtful, inspiring and deeply personal content. She is the living definition of Bréne Brown’s concept of daring greatly, inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena quote. Standing in the arena of life: she presents herself with honesty, openness and vulnerability.

A few years ago, Liz posted about her journey to recover from a knee injury (click link below to read the full post). In it, she shares how her pain started around the time of her divorce. It was relentless, real and debilitating. After seeking every medical option, one day Liz finally just asks her knee what it needs from her:

I literally spoke to it. I got very quiet, and very sleepy, and I said, “Tell me what you need from me, dear knee. I’m listening. I’ll do whatever you say. Surgery? A replacement? More gentle care? More acupuncture? A change of diet? Reiki? Just give me the word.”

Then I got very quiet, and my knee told me what it wanted. I heard the answer in the depths of my mind, as clear as day. It said, “GO FASTER.”

Go faster, said my knee. Go running. Go climbing. Go dancing. Use me. Jump up and down on me. I am a KNEE. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am wondrously designed, said my knee. I am not a weak point, but a strong one. I am part of your body, and I want to be used. I am not a symbol of your divorce. I am not a sign of aging. I am not a problem. Don’t baby me. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being treated like a Victorian invalid lady who has to take to her bed because of her fainting spells. I am not weak. Stop this. Please, please, please — said my “bad” knee to me — please stop using me as an expression of your weakness, fear, and emotional fragility. Please talk to your therapist about whatever troubles are ongoing in your mind, but don’t blame for everything. Please just trust me. Please just use me as I was designed. Use me as a freaking KNEE.

This post has stayed with me over the years. I find it fascinating how the body often manifests mental pain through physical expression, such as a knee; and how the body will heal itself completely, if it is given a chance.

For many years, I have experienced my own digestion and low energy issues, with a slow and sluggish system. This resulted in my carrying around extra weight and living with a feeling of general exhaustion, which I have spoken to in previous posts.

A year and a half ago, I went to see a naturopath to try to find some answers. I tried the traditional medical route, with no luck, so it seemed like a reasonable next step. After a thorough analysis of my history, he asked me to consider trying an anti-inflammatory diet.

Many major diseases that plague us today — including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s — have been linked to chronic inflammation. One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store.

He asked me to cut out caffeine, sugar, grains and dairy; and although it seemed extreme, I decided to give it a go. I was at the end of my rope and ready to try anything. This left me with planning my meals around:

  • non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and dark leafy greens
  • high-fiber foods, including beans and lentils
  • some whole grains, such as quinoa (a seed)
  • protein-rich foods, including lean meats, fish, soy, legumes, and nuts
  • fish with a high omega-3 fatty acid content, such as salmon, sardines, and herring
  • foods that contain antioxidants, such as berries
  • sweet potatoes, which have a lower GI than regular potatoes
  • water, especially as a substitute for sweetened drinks
  • unsweetened herbal teas

After following this regime for the last year and a half, I have lost over thirty pounds and my energy levels are significantly better. I am not always perfect at following it but I am pretty consistent (85-90%). In addition to changing what I eat, I have a consistent exercise routine that includes regular yoga, meditation, walking and boot-camp classes. All of this has contributed to an immensely improved sense of well-being.

Aside from the physical transformation, I have learned to listen to my body. I realize now that it was previously communicating with me; but I was unable to hear it. The weight and sluggish system were crying: “Hey! Something is not right. Please help me. Something needs to change.” As I was feeling sad, stuck and trying to hide from the world after my divorce, it was telling me: “I need nourishment. Move, laugh and love more. Allow yourself to be seen.”

As many western women, I have struggled with food and body image issues for most of my life. For me, it started when I was twelve years old and beginning puberty; my changing shape was petrifying and I felt very out of control. Food became synonymous with comfort and it acted as an emotional band-aid. I became disconnected from my body and it was an enemy.

This slowly began to change for me when I became a mother. I was amazed at how my body intuitively knew how to knit together a little human being: from a few cells to a fully formed baby. It led me patiently through each an every step, from birthing her to nursing her: even creating milk perfectly formulated for my daughter’s needs in our climate. It was absolutely miraculous and I was humbled by the experience.

Learning how to be thoughtful and loving with my body is still new territory. I now try to approach each day and choice by asking myself: “Will this feed disease or fuel health?” Rather than treating my body as a separate entity, I bring it in close, act as a friend, and make choices that will build strength and enhance wellness.

I am motivated by a few things that I know to be true. I want to age well and to feel strong when I wake up each morning. I want to feel comfortable and connected to my core self: to be a good mother and role model for my daughter. I want to love myself so I can love others. These are important factors for negotiating a new relationship with my body going forward: one that is built on respect, love, connection and trust. It is a day by day practice but I am committed to the process and the journey ahead.

 

A Juggling Act

Juggle

As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls flying through the air represent my various identities – mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member – and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite: this is a fact. As I walk along this parenting path, I am realizing more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes – what is most important to my family and me? What do I need to live my best life?

Most recently, I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I was jumping right into a schedule of “to do’s” on my precious days off. It left little, to no, time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest; and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there is no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

I asked myself – Why am I doing this? What is most important to me? After some reflection, I identified the following:

  1. To be an engaged and loving Mom;
  2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well;
  3. To keep us safe and protected;
  4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me).
  5. To cultivate more joy and fun.

I then reviewed the activities I was doing most weekends; and it turned out a lot of time was time spent on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (e.g. changing sheets), a lot of it could wait until another time.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions: like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy; I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour intensive meals (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie), I know I am also investing in meal preparation offering value and time savings (e.g. two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

Lastly, I started to on-line grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store; and my monthly grocery bills have greatly reduced since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and in our local neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still really busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings where I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

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This article was written for the April 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Podcast Passion

podcast

As I have talked about in earlier posts, I really enjoy listening to podcasts, especially when I am out walking or spending time working in the garden. There are so many good shows out there on virtually every topic. I particularly enjoy ones that delve into topics on writing, creative inspiration, health and well-being.

A few of my favourites at the moment are:

A few episodes that resonated with me recently are from the RobCast. He interviews his wife Kristen Bell on strategies for living with anxiety (episodes 226 & 227). She presents some great self-care suggestions, as well as perspectives on how to befriend the emotion, rather than push it away. I also really enjoyed the two Rob did called “An Anatomy of Restlessness” (episodes 230 & 231). He unpacks the feeling of restlessness and how it is an important message and catalyst for change. Lastly, I loved an interview that Rich Roll did with the screenwriter, Brian Koppelman, on how he broke through his own mental blocks to become a writer. It is really inspiring and contains some fantastic, actionable ideas for how to bring more creativity into your life, if you want it.

What are your favourite podcasts? I would love to hear what they are and why you love them.