Creating An Epic Life: “Careful the Tale You Tell”

When I was on retreat in June at Feathered Pipe Ranch with Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, we shared our stories of the different life passages we’d journeyed through and how these experiences shaped our growth and change. Since then, I’ve wanted to discuss how this relates to leading a mindful life but didn’t know what to say until now. The late Carl Sagan remarked in his series, Cosmos,“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

If you believe that we are spiritual beings having a human existence, then you may think that what we do in this lifetime matters, especially when human existence ( and that of all sentient beings and our planet) may not survive if we choose poorly. In one of my favorite stories, “Into the Woods” the witch warns the villagers, “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” Although we may not consciously be aware of our “stories” and how they are affecting us, we can learn.

Mindfulness teaches us that “with awareness we can respond with choice” instead of “reacting on auto-pilot.” The starting point is to become aware of the automatic thoughts, feelings, and sensations which trigger our bodies and minds without us even knowing. After a month of tuning into her “automatic thoughts,” one of my clients “noticed” that she kept having negative thoughts about herself and when she did start to feel good, felt undeserving of it and resumed her self-criticism.

Recently the same client told me,”I was my worst critic. Now I know that I’m the only person who can change my life. I’m in charge of what I choose to tell myself and my destiny.” Because our habitual “stories” like my client’s “I’m no good” keep playing in our heads, they often happen outside our awareness. When we choose to “pay attention,” to our automatic thoughts and “stories,” we free ourselves to experience the moment we’re in, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.

This week, pay attention to your self-talk and your “stories.” Practice the mindfulness exercise which follows (yes, it’s here this week) to help “Stay in the Moment.” I you are in STL and want to learn more, I will be teaching my “Mindfulness in 5 Simple Steps: How to Stress Less and Live Better” at my practice, Midwest Mind Body Health Center on Saturday August 29 from 10-12:30 am. Click here to “Like” us on Facebook to find out more about this and upcoming events.

Have a good week. Namaste.

My George

When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”

The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.

Here’s an example:

Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.

On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.

“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”

As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.

If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!

Namaste’

 

Start Loving Yourself By Not Judging Yourself

Jack Kornfield, psychologist and founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, tells a story about a group of western meditation teachers who went to visit the Dali Lama. During a discussion about self-compassion, the teachers related how critical and self-rejecting they felt. In fact, several actually used the word self-hatred which the Dali Lama had never heard. After he finally understood what they meant, he replied ” But, no. This is wrong. The way to relate to oneself is with self-compassion and love.” As Buddha said, “You as much as anyone else in the universe are deserving of your love.”

At livingselfcare, this is one of the practices Stacey and I mention often because many of us relate to ourselves with judgement, self-criticism and even self-loathing. A few weeks ago, I was teaching an intro to mindfulness when a new student commented about how during our breath awareness exercise, she kept judging herself and focusing on how she was messing up. Another student, who’s been practicing mindfulness for a while, spoke up and said, “I used to do that all the time when I started. Lately though, it’s gotten better and I can quiet those thoughts more. I try to be kind and patient towards myself like I am with my children and friends. It’s still an effort but that’s okay.”

This week, each time you look in a mirror smile, and remind yourself how precious you are. Remember, each of you is a unique expression of the universe and that’s something special!

Namaste

Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t Forget to Love YOURSELF!

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Validation

Diane’s video reminded me of one I first saw years ago, before TJ Thyne became famous for his role in Bones. It’s not what I expected, and that’s what’s so great about it. It’s a little over 15 minutes long, but I hope you take these moments for yourself and watch the whole thing. And then maybe pass it on… Namaste.

Guest Blogger Sherry Duson, MA – “Speaking of Time”

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgWelcome to Self-Care Month! We’re proud to present our readers with our first Saturday guest blogger, Sherry Duson, MA. Sherry holds Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist licenses in Texas and she’s also a State of Texas board-certified clinical Supervisor for both licenses. She’s about to expand her practice to include The Center for Postpartum Family Health. You can read more about Sherry at SherryDuson.com or on Facebook.

Do you ever find yourself running through your day at a pace that leaves you exhausted?  Are you frantically trying to cram in more errands or mark one more item off of your to-do list, only to find it leaves you depleted and spent?  For most women, our relationship with “time” is a complicated one. This leads me to an item of self-care which I believe is not discussed often enough, which is our conscious use of TIME.  Perhaps it is a remnant of the deeply embedded American work ethic, but many of us corrupt the quality of our days by taking on more to do than is realistic, and then carry a mantra of negative self-talk about not getting enough done.  This year might be a good time to re-think your relationship with time, and make the adjustments necessary to help you feel that you run your day instead of it running you.

I would challenge you to find a pace which is realistic for YOUR UNIQUE SELF, based on an honest assessment of your energy and stamina and a conscious decision to adjust accordingly.  If you have no idea of how much is too much, you may need to start with a little self-discovery.  Begin by taking inventory of your well-being throughout the day. Take a break every two hours and take a quick check of how you are feeling in that moment.  Just give yourself a number on a scale of 1-10. Notice how it changes throughout the day. If you start your day at a high number and then it deteriorates throughout the day, ask yourself why.  The answer is often some sort of self-judgment about your perceived lack of accomplishments.

Once you know a bit more about how you feel during your day, consider the tasks you lay out before you.  Are you asking yourself to conduct your day with a sense of nurture and self-preservation? Or is guilt driving your choices, making you feel badly about every lack of accomplishment? One way to figure this out is to ask yourself what you would say to a good friend if you saw her going through her day at a frantic, maybe even damaging pace. If you really loved your friend, you might say something like, “Wow, you are really hard on yourself! Why don’t you slow down and relax? You don’t have to do it all today. I am concerned about you, and I don’t like seeing you so stressed out!”  Now, consider being your own best friend.  Cultivate that feeling of love and nurturing towards yourself.  Chances are if you can do that, you will be more forgiving and less judgmental about what you do or don’t accomplish.

Finally, ask yourself how you would like to feel at the end of your day.  Do you want to be able to have a little patience and reserve left over for your family and loved ones? If so, it may require altering your day, so that you can do just that.  Connection with others requires some energy and patience.  If you have run yourself ragged all day, chances are nothing will be left over for those you care most about. Make the adjustments necessary to be your “best” self with those who matter most to you.

In closing, I remind us all that an important feature of self-care is to take responsibility of those aspects of our daily lives that we have control over. Your schedule is probably one of those things  Sometimes the reason we over-extend ourselves with commitments and appointments is because we are afraid to ask for help, or can’t admit we are doing too much. Once we set a realistic expectation for our day based on what we know of our personal energy capacity, we need to work to quiet any guilty feelings which accompany it, and tell ourselves that it is okay.  Perfection is not the goal.  Going through the day using a pace that works for us and those we love is a goal worth pursuing!

Happy New Year and Other Musings

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I’ve heard so many people say that they are glad 2013 is over. Since time is an illusion, logically, December 31 doesn’t really change much when January 1 arrives. We still experience a constant flow of present moments. However, many people use the new year as a chance to either “start over” or change something for the better. Resolutions are posted all over social media and discussed by the water cooler. For an interesting take on New Years Resolutions, read this article from Psychology Today.

This holiday season was challenging for my family and me, as there were many losses (pets, friends and a family member). I must admit that I am still in a bit of a funk – just not feeling “quite right.” I am an empath, meaning I tend to absorb feelings from people around me and even the general energy of the larger community. I am acutely aware of this, yet my not-rightness is still hanging around.

I could just be doom-and-gloom about it, but that doesn’t do me or anyone around me any good. Instead, I am trying to ground myself in the present moment as often as I can. I may generally feel “off,” but RIGHT NOW I am A-OK. I also know that “this too shall pass,” and am processing things as they come up in my journal or with my therapist. It’s hard not to feel impatient or wish that this would just go away. However, I know there are lessons to be learned in this situation, and if I don’t stay present, I may miss them. This didn’t change with the passing of 2013.

As this new year starts, I wish all of you a wonderful 2014 and encourage you to slow down, breathe, stay mindful and enjoy the small things in life that make you smile. If you’re having a hard time finding something to smile about, check out the links below. Laughter is truly great medicine and these funny sites can help you switch from yucky to joyful in a matter of minutes!

Namaste’.