Making Choices

With aging parents, the responsibility for care often falls upon one child; and it is usually the one who lives close by. In the case of my family, it is me. My siblings live away in other cities, some far and some near; I am the only one who lives in our home town. As the situation amplifies on the ground, I have been struggling with feelings of disappointment and frustration when help does not show up in a way that I hoped or expected.

It is interesting how the brain desperately wants to categorize things into right and wrong, black and white. In reality, there is often no clear right or wrong. There is just the choice that you make with its reverberations; and the choice that the other person makes, with its own separate impacts.

In a chaotic and stressful situation, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to control the uncontrollable. To date, I have been trying to micro-manage the choices of my siblings, by asking for specific assistance. When it did not show up in that form, I have struggled. It recently dawned upon me that I need to get out of their lane and back into my own. My focus needs to be on tending to my own relationship with my parents and leaving my sisters them to do the same. How do I want to show up for this situation? What can I willingly contribute? What can I give from my heart? The rest is none of my business.

As a recovering over-functioner, I have slowly come to the realization that there will be gaps: things will fall through the cracks, or drop, from time to time. It is not on me to hold together all of the pieces. It is for me to hold onto my own pieces and leave the others to tend to their own. This does not mean that I will not continue to be there for my family members. It is just an acknowledgement that I am only responsible for delivering my own part. I cannot do it all and, in reality, no one is asking me to.

A Lotus Blooming

“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.” ~ Masaru Emoto

This week, I have been paying attention to feelings of expansion and contraction. There are days where I feel open, joyful and a part of an energy greater than myself. I easily connect with other people and I make great progress with projects. I am creative and full of ideas. Everything feels streamlined and fluid. I experience ease and flow.

And then there are days where I feel small, vulnerable and afraid. I second guess every decision that I make. The world around feels large, frightening and menacing. I cannot see solutions. I am stuck in the mud and I cannot move forward.

There is little tangible difference between the two kinds of days in terms of form: I wake up; I go about my business; I return home; I sleep. The cycle of activity is essentially the same. It is the outside situation that changes and my perception along with it.

On the days where I feel expansive, things are going my way. There are little wins or moments to celebrate. I receive praise or acknowledgement. I am facing no obstacles. On the days where I feel contracted, I am reacting to a situation or a person that is unpleasant. There is an issue to be overcome. I am grappling with a challenge or inner battle. The common thread is that the outside factor controls the inside response.

Equanimity is defined as a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. It refers to the power of observation and the ability to see without being caught by what you see. When well-developed, such power gives rise to a great sense of peace.

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.” ~ Ajahn Chah

In Buddhism, equanimity is a protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. Becoming attached to or excessively impacted by success, praise, fame or pleasure can cause suffering when life changes direction. 

There are seven qualities of mind that are recommended to help cultivate a sense of equanimity:

  1. Integrity: When you live and act with integrity, you feel confident about your actions and words, which results in the equanimity of blamelessness. 
  2. Faith: If you have confidence in your own abilities, then you are more likely to meet life’s challenges.
  3. A well-developed mind: Much as you can develop physical strength, balance, and stability of the body in a gym, so too can you develop strength, balance and stability of the mind. This is done through practices that cultivate calm, concentration and mindfulness, like meditation.
  4. A sense of well-being: It is easy to overlook the well-being that is easily available in daily life. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea or time spent with your child can be a training in well-being.
  5. Wisdom: Wisdom is an important factor in learning to have an accepting awareness, to be present for whatever is happening without the mind or heart contracting or resisting. Honest awareness of what makes you imbalanced helps you to learn how to find balance.
  6. Insight: One of the primary insights is the nature of impermanence. In the deepest forms of this insight, it becomes apparent that things change quickly that you cannot hold onto anything: eventually the mind lets go of clinging. 
  7. Freedom: This comes as you begin to let go of reactive tendencies. 

There is power in knowing that I can break the cycle of expansion and contraction. I can live more intentionally and cultivate an inner peace and equanimity. The first step is to take on the role of observer in my daily life. What is triggering me and causing a reaction, both positive and negative? How can I start to sink beneath the waves, rather than riding on top of them? How can I locate my centre and stay grounded, despite what it taking place around me? These are some of the questions that I will be investigating in the weeks and months ahead.

Endless Summer

The transition from summer into fall can be a challenging time for families. The free and easy pace of the lazy summer months suddenly shifts a hectic school schedule. The days start to get shorter, darker and cooler. There is a general sense of sadness for the loss of freedom: from parents and children alike.

When we move from one season to another, it often changes the way that we engage with one another. In the summer, it is easy to pack up a picnic and head down to the beach for dinner or enjoy the extra hours of evening light playing at the park. There are road trip and camping trips to look forward to. We live in our flip-flops and swimming suits on the weekend. Everything generally feels fluid, happy and expansive.

In the fall, there is a shift into the “all business mode” of school and organized activities. We are suddenly confined by a rigid schedule and our time is spent shuttling family from school to work and from activity to activity. There is very little time for unstructured time, play and exploration.

This fall, I am trying to make a conscious effort to do things differently. The seasons will continue to evolve, and our family schedule with it; but there is an opportunity to be more intentional about how our time is spent together once this change occurs. It just requires time, attention and practice.

Here are some ideas for bringing the playfulness of summer into your fall routine:

Dance: Start the day with laughter and movement. As a part of your morning routine, put on some music and dance with your child. Take a few minutes to express yourself and move your body. Be silly and let loose. It is guaranteed to make you smile.

Eat: Sitting together at the table to enjoy a meal is proven to provide a wide range of social and health benefits for the whole family. It is so important to take the time to connect and communicate. To add a bit of fun, try hosting a picnic dinner on the floor of your living room once a week. Let everyone choose something to bring.

Play: It is easy for the evenings to become dominated by homework or television. Make the effort to schedule a screen-free family night at least once a week. Take turns to choose activities that you can share together, such as puzzles, board games or taking the dog for a long walk.

Explore: Be a tourist in your own town during the weekend and explore local parks and sites. You can choose a different adventure each time. There are great walks at Mt. Doug Park and Thetis Lake and fun monthly events at local museums, such as the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Royal BC Museum.

Rest: Try not to over schedule your down time. Make time for rest and unstructured activity. Follow the summer time freedom model. It is too easy to fill up every moment with activities and chores. Leave a few hours during the evenings or weekends to read, play or nap.

It is easy to change seasons without a lot of thought for how it impacts your family. With a little bit of effort and practice, you can bring some summer fun with you as you transition into fall this year.

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

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Clean Cosmetics

I have posted a few times about my passion for clean cosmetics. Being informed about what you put onto your skin is essential for your overall health. It is also important for the environment. The ingredients contained in products are not only absorbed into your skin (the body’s largest organ); they are eventually washed down the drain and into the ocean. Our choices affect both us and the ecosystem. Animal welfare is also an important consideration, as many companies test their products on animals or use animal bi-products as ingredients.

I have recently come across a few new companies and products that I am excited to share with you. I have not been paid to endorse any of these items.

Loma Hair Care:

Loma products are Paraben, Sodium Chloride, Gluten and Soy free; and they use Sulfate-free cleansing. They are vegan friendly and they never test on animals. All of Loma’s packaging is recyclable. They require a minimum of 25% post-recyclable plastic in their bottles; and their manufacturing facility generates very little waste.

Loma sources, formulates, manufactures, and fills all of their own products in the United States. They investigate their ingredients and raw materials to ensure there are no traces of harmful materials.

My family uses their daily care duo. It is both gentle and effective. I purchase the large size bottles from my hair dresser and they last us close to four months; although it is an up-front investment (around $30 per litre bottle), it is good value as this quality product is very concentrated and you only need to use small amounts.

Forget Beauty:

My sisters introduced me to the Forget Beauty line. Designed by a holistic skin care expert, this Vancouver-based firm focuses on hydration as a key tactic of healthy aging. Forget Beauty is a natural cosmeceuticals product; they merge natural skin care, eastern herbs, and top-quality, cosmeceutical-grade actives. They are also cruelty free.

Ever since I was pregnant with my daughter, I have struggled with melasma, a hyper-pigmentation of the skin; and, as a forty-four year old woman, I am mindful of caring for my face as it ages. I recently started using Forget Beauty’s three layers of hydration and illumination kit to help with both of these issues.

The vitamin c powder included in this kit is designed to help revitalize the skin and improve overall skin tone; it is combined with the Awakened Hydrating Serum for application. The Nurtured Replenishing Oil and Immersed Nourishing Moisturizer assist with hydration and replenish tired skin. I am already noticing an improvement in the overall tone and brightness of my face, as well as a reduction in fine lines. Although purchasing the kit is an up front investment ($235), I expect the product to last me five to six months. New customers also receive 10% off on their first purchase from the site.

What clean products are you using and excited about? I would love to hear about them.

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Be Seen. Be Real. Be You.

“The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth. Telling you story. And never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging does not require you change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.” ~ Brené Brown

A few months ago, I wrote about how, after being in a relationship for over twenty years, I have started to explore dating again. I am investigating the unfamiliar territory of the online dating space: something that did not even exist when I was last single. There are so many of different web sites, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start or what to do.

It is a loud and busy environment. It is also not set up for deep and meaningful encounters. Swipe left if you “like” someone and right if you do not. Capture yourself in a short and pithy bio, with posed photographs on the beach or hiking in the mountains. Be cute and alluring and most importantly…vanilla. In other words, reflect back to the other person what they want to see, not who you truly are.

One of the more challenging aspects of this experience so far is learning how to hold onto myself and my own unique sense of individuality in such a public forum. To be vulnerable. To truthfully state my interests and hobbies, even though they may be judged as quirky. To openly share my values and stand behind them, even if this results in alienating prospective partners.

It may sound strange that being open and honest is a challenge for me; but I spent a large part of my adolescence and young adulthood in hiding. I perfected the model of survival through adaptation. I was a master of reading the preferences of my peer group and then camouflaging myself to my environment. Being publicly exposed and potentially judged awakens my natural tendency to conceal who I really am. It brings our the primal desire to fit in and to be accepted: even at the sacrifice of my most authentic self.

The good thing is, this time around, I am able to spot the pattern and lean into the discomfort rather than lose connection to my true self. For me, it is less important to find a partner than to honour the person that I have become. In my heart, I know that the right person will show up at the right time. It may be that I encounter him online or through my social circles. It does not really matter. What remains key is that I allow myself to be vulnerable and truly seen throughout. The gifts that live on the other side of fear are far more valuable than gold, as vulnerably is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy.

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Black and white…more often grey

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

People and relationships are complex. The brain naturally seeks to sort things into black and white categories: good and bad, right and wrong. This simplistic view is almost never accurate. There are too many shades of grey in the world. It really boils down to interpretation and personal preference.

It is important to see a person for their whole self: to note both their generous and self-serving attributes. To step back and pay full attention, over a long period of time, to what they say and what they do. It is all to easy to focus on one behaviour or the other; to paint a simplistic picture. This is a “good” person. This is a “bad” one. Humans, however, are not one-dimensional creatures.

We all have the ability to be both generous and selfish. Thoughtful and thoughtless. Both. And. The level of acceptability boils down to your personal boundaries and values. Over time, it is possible to learn to navigate the complexity of the grey: to choose the people that you bring in close and those you purposefully keep at a distance. To do this skillfully requires a willingness to both see and accept people, with all of their layers of complexity, not just a simplistic version that you create.

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Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

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Strong not Skinny

For most of my youth and early adulthood, I struggled with body image issues. I consumed a lot of popular culture; and I wanted to emulate the women that I saw idealized in television, movies and magazines. I held myself to an impossible standard and I believed the lie that being skinny guaranteed access to happiness, love and success.

Over the years, I have learned that this is far from the truth. If you do not hold peace and acceptance inside, it does not matter what you look like on the outside. No one else can make you feel worthy and valuable. This belief needs to come from yourself.

As a forty-three year old woman, my focus is now on cultivating strength and joy within, rather than trying to fit into any external ideal of perfection. I aspire to be of service to my family, friends and community; and my aim is to age with grace and dignity. I can only do this if my body and mind are strong, fit and healthy.

Living in this stressful and busy world, it is extremely helpful to have daily practices that anchor and ground you. In order to do this, I follow a low inflammation diet and I practice a range of strength practices every week. Here are some of the ones that I enjoy the most:

Meditation: Meditation is a practice that spans across cultures and it takes many different forms. It is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. The basic premise is that you create the space for your feelings and thoughts, allowing them to come and go: observing them with curiosity and not hanging on to any one thing. The timing varies on what works for you. You can do it in as little as five minutes a day and in almost any place: while sitting, walking or washing the dishes. The key is to use your breath. To explore how to meditate, there are great free tools available, such as Headspace app.

Walking: I love to go for long walks. I walk for an hour or more, a few times a week, to get my heart rate up and to build muscle. I love being outside, breathing in the fresh air and spending time in nature. Even in an urban setting, there are often trees and greenery to enjoy. This is the time that I most enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favourites at the moment are: Rich Roll; Marie Forleo; The Tim Ferris Show; and Coffee Break French.

Yoga: Yoga is not only good for the body, it is also nourishing for the mind. It is an amazingly versatile practice, which offers everything from restorative to power-based options. You can do it in as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day. I love the idea of growing into a ninety year old woman who can bend over and touch her toes. Yoga is my anchor and I highly recommend that you explore it. The great thing is you no longer need to find a studio to try it out. There are some fantastic free resources online that you can now access at home. A few that I like are: Do Yoga With Me and Yoga with Adrienne.

Bootcamp / High Intensity Training (HIT): Muscle density is important for healthy aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase the risk of falls and fractures. Building muscle does not mean bulking up; it is about creating an overall lean body structure and maintaining a healthy, stable body weight. I really enjoy taking a bootcamp class in my local community. The trainers are fantastic, kind and encouraging; and there are participants of all different ages and abilities. I am in and out of there in forty-five minutes; and the class is different and varied every day. If you do not want to go to the gym, there are also some great free resources online that you can follow at home, with a mat and some hand weights. I enjoy Christine Salus’ HIT workouts.

How you you like to stay strong? Tell me in the comments below.

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Befriending Resistance

In my effort to live a healthy and creative life, I am learning to become intimately familiar with resistance. The more I move towards living in alignment with my heart, the more resistance shows up. It stands with its hands on its hips, demanding to know: “Who do you think you are?” It pushes me down the safe road, rather than the one that requires risk and growth. Sometimes it is vocal, opinionated and yelling in my face. Other times it is quiet, stealth and whispering in my ear.

Resistance does not want me to exercise. It is angry every time that I put my runners on at lunch time. It puts its heels down and starfishes its arms out as I move towards the door. It tells me that I am too tired or I need to finish my work. It encourages me to go out with a friend instead or give myself a break. My saving grace in those moments is the knowledge that that I never ever regret going and I always regret missing it. This becomes my mantra as I push past it and go.

Resistance tells me that I deserve to eat chocolate cake and drink wine when I am out for dinner. It taunts me, it tells me to loosen up and enjoy myself more. It can be very persuasive and charming when it wants to be. It likes to think of itself as the life of the party. When I wake up in the middle night with an upset stomach or a racing heart, it is nowhere to be seen. It is these moments that I can finally hear my body speaking and I am reminded why I choose not to eat certain foods for my overall health and well-being.

Resistance is dismissive of my desire to write and be creative. It lays a heavy blanket of sleepiness on my shoulders and it gently encourages me to crawl back into bed for some extra sleep, rather than keep on trying. Or it laughs at my mistakes and awkward attempts, in an effort to shame me into giving up. It takes everything in my being to keep going: a trust in the knowledge that this is something I need to do. Even so, getting the words down on the page often feels like moving through mud. This is why it is so important to break the process into small, turtle steps so I can keep showing up. Once I find my flow, I am reminded of why I need to do this work, and how it fills me with joy.

As I become more familiar with resistance, I am realizing that it is not going anywhere soon. It is my constant companion on this journey; and the more I push against it, the harder the struggle becomes. I used to think that resistance got an automatic say in my actions and choices. Its voice is so loud and persuasive, it is hard not to give it a decision-making role. I am realizing now that this is not the case. I am ultimately in charge. The choice is up to me.

If resistance is here to stay, I have decided that the best tactic is to try and befriend it. It is attempting to provide me with information and play a role in my life. If I extend it some friendliness, it may be of assistance. I now see that the directions it provides me can be helpful. I just need to reconsider how I interpret them. When resistance shows up, it provides me a clear road map of where to go. I just need to take its advice and head in the opposite direction. It really is that simple.

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Boundaries of Love

When I was little, I was taught that love is defined through sacrifice and service. You give everything to others and meet their needs first. You agree to any request that is made of you (unless it is unsafe or dangerous). You do not put yourself first, as tending to your own needs is inherently selfish.

As I lived the first part of my life following these rules, I gave without limits. I said yes when I meant no. I tried to be the “perfect” friend, daughter, wife and colleague by being accommodating, generous and helpful. I gave and I gave and I gave; and it led me to a place of resentment, exhaustion and burn-out. I was an empty shell and I had nothing left.

Over the last few years, I have been exploring the importance of establishing healthy boundaries. A boundary is most simply defined as what is ok and what is not ok for me. It is about understanding where I end and you begin. It is not about building walls or creating separation from other people; it is simply about establishing and maintaining respect.

As Dr. Brené Brown discovered through her decades of research, people with the strongest boundaries are the most compassionate: as true generosity cannot exist without them. When they say yes, it is a true yes. When they say no, it is a true no. In considering a request, Brené asks herself: “What boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity and make the most generous assumptions about you?” Empathy is not feeling for somebody it is feeling with them. Empathy offered, along with boundaries, is infinite and sustaining. If you have done your work, and set clear boundaries, you can tread water forever.

Not sure if you have weak boundaries? Here are a few of the tell-tale signs: sharing too much too soon; feeling responsible for other peoples happiness; possessing an inability to say no for fear of rejection and abandonment; having a weak sense of identity; basing how you feel about yourself on how others treat you; feeling disempowered and allowing others to make decisions for you. This can lead to feeling of total powerless and a victim mentality. A red flag for crossing your boundary is using the word “should”. For example, “I should let my sister borrow my car, as my dad expects me to.”  

There are two kinds of boundaries:

Physical: Protecting your body and your sense of personal space.

Emotional: Protecting your self-esteem and your ability to separate your feelings from another person’s feelings. An emotional boundary allows you to be impacted by other peoples thoughts, feelings, actions, while still maintaining your own unique beliefs, behaviours and sense of responsibility. 

The process of learning to set a boundary is iterative. You do not master it in one day. It takes time, patience and practice. It also requires a lot of courage. It is scary to say no. In our society, we are encouraged to worry about what other people think of us and we generally want everyone to like us. This mind set, however, comes with a hefty price.

To set a boundary, state it clearly, calmly and with with as few words as possible. Do not justify your response or apologize. You do not need to convince anyone of anything. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for how the other person reacts to you setting a boundary. Acknowledge their feelings but do not take them on. Brené Brown suggests choosing a mantra. She personally uses: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” A mantra reminds you that you are making a choice that is critical for you well-being – even if it it not easy. 

As I practice setting boundaries more and more in my own life, I am getting clearer on what I can give, while still remaining in my integrity. This feels really good. Learning to set boundaries is truly an act of love: both for myself and others. It is not easy work but it is important. I am committed to practicing this new skill set so I can continue to give with my whole heart for many years to come.

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Dr. Terri Cole provides guidance for setting personal and emotional boundaries.

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 spaciousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

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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.

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