Letting Go of Relationships

I could tell by the crowds on the platform that the train was late and I’d be lucky to fit on board once it arrived. Thankfully, I was able to squeeze in. As the train slowed at the next stop, I recognized someone waiting on the platform. A wave of relief flooded me with the realization there was no room for him. But then he crammed on board. There was nowhere for me to go. It wasn’t until our shoulders were touching that he noticed me. I felt the shift from his recognition that he was pressed against his ex-girlfriend, someone he’d spent over a year with sharing intimacies and love. Despite that, neither one of us acknowledged the other. We endured the awkward ride, painfully aware of the other, until I exited the train two stops early to end the discomfort. As I strode away, I thought how sad so many relationships come to such ends.

I’ve shared intimacies with many people who are no longer in my life. People who no longer know me, yet walk the Earth carrying my secrets with them, and I theirs. For a long time I struggled greatly with abandonment (and am told I still do at times). Rather than simply let people go, I struggled. I clutched my relationships with friends and lovers like water balloons, and as a result many of them burst.

Attachment is a human condition. If only I knew and understood from a young age that it was completely natural for people to come and go, I would not have suffered so in letting go of relationships. If only I’d known that a great many people aren’t necessarily meant to stay in our lives,  I would have been far more grateful for my time with them, rather than mourn my time without them.

We cannot count on anyone staying in our life forever. All that we can count on is change. We adapt to it, or we allow it to hurt us. Change in our closest relationships is such a struggle, though because meaningful relationships are so intricately woven. Identities become linked together and it is easy to forget who we are without the other.

I lost my two childhood best friends, one of them twice. The friendships ended for good sophomore year of high school and it destroyed me. In hindsight, I hadn’t a clue in the world who I was except for the person I was with my two best friends and within our circle. The loss of my friendships in high school is my single greatest trauma for the sole reason that it either directly or indirectly led to every trauma after it. I was a dingy lost at sea without a paddle or an anchor…

As a result I viewed every future friendship and relationship like a lifeboat, to which I desperately clung. I gave meaning to meaningless relationships and settled for friends not worthy of the title. When the relationships inevitably ended, largely due to my neediness, I still mourned them. For anything was better than nothing.

Eventually, and not without great struggle, I matured and created a life for myself. I gained confidence and learned how to enjoy my own company. I even have friends of my very own outside of the amazing friendships I inherited from my husband.

I no longer settle in my relationships. The friendships I have now are a perfect fit and I truly believe I found them when the time was right. I am not at all like the person I was as a child or a teen. To expect all of our relationships to grow and change with us is an unrealistic expectation. If my friendships didn’t end in high school, they still would have ended eventually.

I could have said hello to my ex-boyfriend on the train. Instead I chose to follow his lead. There are some people I’d love to say hello to if I bumped in to them, but for most, there is no point. We no longer know one another, so why acknowledge we once did? For one reason or another, we have let go of one another. It is perfectly natural. And I know that now. People grow and change. We cannot expect all of our relationships to grow and change with us.

Being able to let go of relationships with a sense of love and gratitude is a gift. Seeing my ex boyfriend on the train brought back a lot of great memories. It was a wonderful short-lived time in my life and I am grateful to him and wish him well. I do the same for my two childhood best friends. And another I lived with in Philadelphia. And many others who have come and gone over the years…

I saw my ex boyfriend on the train again this morning. This time, having already written this post, I only thought one thing: how strange that we’ve lived within miles of one another for over a decade and haven’t seen one another and now twice in one week. Again, he ignored me and turned away in the aisle of the train. I smiled slightly to myself and went back to my book.

I had already let him go with peace and gratitude. Now he’s just someone that I used to know.

Leaning Into the Uncomfortable

I stood before Kathy, frozen, as big fat tears welled in my eyes. She asked me the tough questions in her gentle, loving and non-judgemental way. I was “emoting,” as she says. All the complex emotions I often contain were intensified and spilling out of me.

“I’m stuck,” I choked.

“Okay,” she said. “Then let’s just sit with what you’re feeling.”

“I can do that?” I asked, seeking reassurance and permission to not take action; to not do anything. To stay stuck, where it was sorrowful but safe.

“Yes. Sometimes we need to simply lean into the uncomfortable.”

Kathy and I had this conversation two weeks ago. After having become a bit stagnant, the Universe saw fit to give me a good shake. It got my attention.

The New Moon was the very next day. Each new moon I write down a set of intentions for the cycle. Among those intentions I scribbled: Lean into the uncomfortable. 

Leaning

There’s something about the word ‘lean’ that is safe. In yoga we are constantly leaning into the uncomfortable, knowing full well we can pull back when the discomfort becomes too great. It is a way of challenging ourselves, yet listening to our bodies. Until Kathy suggested I lean into my emotional discomfort, I didn’t connect the two. I am often frozen in place, terrified to step into the unknown, the uncertain. I despise the discomfort. It has been my way to run from it, numb it, or viciously attack it. Like so many others, I, too have numbed my discomfort with drugs, alcohol, sex and food. I have hid from it with sleep. I have attacked it by making others feel as uncomfortable as I did.

But now, equipped with new vocabulary I intended to begin to “lean” ever so gently into that which makes me feel uncomfortable. I started small, experiencing my hunger and sitting with it, rather than rushing to satiate it. Every time I felt uncomfortable for whatever reason, I reminded myself to lean into it. I was like a child dipping a toe into water to test the temperature.

This was a start.

Earlier this week, I suffered tremendous emotional discomfort. From the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep I felt it. My first instinct was to call out of work, drink Nyquil and sleep the day away. In times of discomfort we so often resort back to our old patterns of behavior. But after all this work I was able to identify it as that; a pattern. So instead I said to myself, “This is uncomfortable. But we’re gonna lean into it. We’re gonna show up for life anyway.”

And so I went to work.

Throughout the day my thoughts waged war on themselves. In a desperate attempt to quiet them, I focused on my work. I knew the night would be torturous without a distraction and I couldn’t allow it to be food. So in an act of Herculean emotional effort, I signed up for a yoga class after work and promised myself I’d go. During yoga, I continued to ease into the uncomfortable, pushing my body deeper into poses, combating the thoughts that wrestled around in my mind. One of the thoughts was fear over what I would do after yoga…

I know this may seem vague, since I haven’t gone into why I was so upset. But the truth is that it’s irrelevant. If it’s not one struggle, it’s another. Life is full of them. And I need to learn how to lean into them without resorting to destructive and avoidance behaviors.

After yoga, my urge was to crawl into bed. The leaning I was doing was far from restful, and I was exhausted. But instead, I had a good cry in an effort to release some of what I was feeling – another way of experiencing my discomfort. Afterward, I took a hot shower since I knew it would do me good. I dressed comfortably and put on thick, warm socks, a healthy way of easing some discomfort. And since I have learned that life doesn’t stop when we have a hard day (as much as we wish it would), I started making the turkey chili for my work holiday pot luck.

For me, skipping the occasional meal is not an act of destruction, but one of self-care. So I did not eat dinner. I feared that once food entered my mouth, I’d ramsack my kitchen hunting for more like a shark on the scent of blood. I couldn’t risk doing this in an effort to numb my discomfort. And so I allowed myself to feel it. And in order to feel it, I couldn’t eat.

At last, I could go to sleep. I leaned into my discomfort for an entire day without resorting to old patterns of destructive behavior. As upset and exhausted as I was, I couldn’t help feeling an inkling of pride. I had dipped my toe into unfamiliar waters, and survived to tell the tale.


Unfortunately, the discomfort has not passed since. It has shifted. Once again this morning I debated calling out of work. And once again I made the decision to show up for life, fearful that staying home would enable me to wallow in my discomfort and exacerbate a lingering anxiety. I am proud of my choice and grateful for my decision.

It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I’ve realized how much most people lean into the uncomfortable on a daily basis. It amazes me, since my pattern has always been to give in or numb. Every day people with broken hearts, sadness, anger, and tremendous worries get up and show up and continue on with their lives despite their tremendous discomfort. I find it brave and I am in awe of their strength to do this.

I’m working on my leaning muscles so that I may be stronger and better at facing my problems and fears, rather than avoiding them. I will continue leaning into the uncomfortable. And when I’m ready, I will walk. But for now, it is enough simply to lean into the discomfort.

Leaning into the uncomfortable

 

A Mindful Holiday Gift Guide: 16 Great Gifts under $50

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Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week!? I know it’s true because the B101 radio station switched over to Christmas music yesterday and I have a list a mile long of chores to do this weekend. The holidays are officially on the mind. To make everyone’s life a tad easier, I thought I’d give an early gift in the form of a mindful holiday gift guide. Shopping for everyone on your list isn’t easy, nor is giving people ideas for yourself. So whether you’re into mindfulness, or just shopping for someone who is, there are plenty of ideas on this list to get the job done!

 

For the Home/Office:

1. Five Rules for Happiness Paperweight

“This humble 100% lead free pewter paperweight features five simple rules for happiness. Set it on your desk as a gentle reminder each day.”

$36.00 from Uncommon Goods

2. Buddha Board

“Buddha Board is inspired by the Zen idea of living in the moment. You simply paint on the surface with water and your creation will come to life in bold design. Then as the water slowly evaporates, your art will magically disappear leaving you with a clean slate and a clear mind, ready to create a whole new masterpiece.”

$34.95 from Buddhaboard

3. Inhale & Exhale wall prints

$6.00 for both digital prints from Etsy

4. Incense of the month club

Four 15 packs of Premium Quality Incense in different fragrances every month for 3, 6 or 12 months.

$45.00 for 3-month subscription from Wildberry

5. Soothe the Soul Yogi Candles

“Bring balance and calming energy to your home with these scented soy candles.”

$28.00 from Uncommon Goods

For the Book Lover:

6. Questions For Life: Two Year Guided Daily Journal For Intentional Living

With The Questions For Life two-year guided journal you can reflect, express gratitude, capture your happiest moment, and answer a self-discovery question in only minutes a day. Get in the habit of slowing down and reflecting on each day while getting to know yourself better. Soon you’ll be enjoying the simpler things in everyday life, living more intentionally, and feeling happier!

$18.99 from Amazon

7. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“In the forty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern Zen classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen.”

$11.06 from Amazon

8. Present Over Perfect

“Written in Shauna’s warm and vulnerable style, this collection of essays focuses on the most important transformation in her life, and maybe yours too: leaving behind busyness and frantic living and rediscovering the person you were made to be.”

$13.79 from Amazon

9. Mandala coloring books

For centuries, mandalas have helped those seeking peace and inspiration find balance in their lives. Now, with Stress Less Coloring: Mandalas, you can use these sacred circles to calm your mind, relieve stress, and manage anxiety in a therapeutic way.

$9.89 from Amazon

For the Yogi

10. Recycled plaid yoga blanket

“Our thickest blanket, made of recycled fibers in Mexico, is a wool-free and economical way to support your restorative yoga practice.”

These are the blankets my yoga studio uses and there is nothing thicker or softer! You would need four of the traditional style Mexican blankets to add up to the height of just one of these. Perfect to use as a bolster in restorative yoga or to drape over yourself in savasana. One of these is on my list, too!

$39.95 from Hugger Mugger

11. Elephant Yoga Pants

“The perfect pants for yoga. Our women’s yoga pants are crazy soft and stretchy with a loose cut and elephant print accent pockets.”

$28.00 from Elephant Pants and a portion of their proceeds are donated to help save elephants!

12. The Body Temple: Kundalini Yoga for Body Acceptance, Eating Disorders & Radical Self-Love

“Written for both the total beginner and and the advanced yogi, The Body Temple: Kundalini Yoga for Body Acceptance, Eating Disorders, and Radical Self-Love guides you through a nurturing practice of yoga, meditation, mantra, and miracles”

$25.09 from Amazon

For the Fashionable

13. Meditating Sloth t-shirt

How cute is this!?

$20.00 from Etsy

For Nourishment

14. Golden Milk Chai Mix

“Jahmu Instant Golden Milk, an organic ginger-turmeric instant chai tea mix, was inspired by the traditional Indonesian elixir, Jamu, and the ancient Ayurvedic beverage Golden Milk. With its certified organic ingredients and higher concentrate of vitamins and nutrients, Jahmu Instant Golden Milk is easy to make and an excellent alternative to the time consuming task of making Golden Milk from raw ingredients.”

The quick and easy way to make golden tumeric milk!

$16.00 from Spirit Voyage

For the Body

15. Zum Bar soaps & lotions

“Open your shower doors of perception to oh-so smellacious Zum Bar Goat’s Milk Soap, the best natural high since the birds discovered the bees.”

So many fun scents and colors. Soap bars $5.95 from Indigo Wild

16. Aromatherapy stress-away stick

“A perfect size to carry with you on your travels. Apply to wrists or temples for stress-relief. Made from almond oil, jojoba oil, beeswax, pure steam distilled essential oils, gem and flower essences, Vitamin E.”

A perfect stocking stuffer! I keep one of these in my desk drawer and dab a little under my nose when I start to feel stressed. The aromatherapy calms me instantly.

$7.50 from Herbiary


I hope this list helps you cross some items off your list! Wishing you a happy, mindful, and low-stress start to the holiday season!

How To Find Peace After The Election

If, like me, you are feeling profoundly disappointed over the results of our election, please know that you are not alone. It is natural in the wake of this tragedy to feel afraid, angry, confused, and deeply saddened. But these are the negative emotions that allowed such a result to occur in the first place. It is our job now to find peace in the aftermath of what has been a deeply dividing, hostile and hideous race for the presidency. All I can do is share with you what I plan to do to find peace after the election, and hope that you will join me in choosing positive emotions over negative ones. These are the six things I intend to try in order to begin to heal from this madness.

1. Unplug from social media.

The news crushed me in the early hours of this morning. It felt as if a sinkhole opened in my chest and had been filled with concrete. I scrolled through my Facebook feed and the weight of everyone’s disappointment felt like sandbags piled on top. A gloating post felt like a knife in my side, and made me think more judgemental thoughts. Aware of what was happening inside of me, I logged off. It is my intention to avoid all social media until things settle down and most of all, until my feelings settle down.

We don’t need to read our feeds to know what is going on. Here’s a spoiler alert: many people are profoundly hurt and angry, and many people are gloating. Take my word for it and avoid it.

2. Practice metta meditation/send loving kindness into the world

Many of the people who allowed Trump to win this election did so because they are afraid and angry and have been feeling threatened. They acted out of fear. The people who fought to prevent this atrocity are now feeling just as afraid, angry and threatened. That is A LOT of pain and suffering. Our country is crying today. I will be practicing metta meditation and sending loving kindness out into the universe to my loved ones, but also to my enemies, so that love may enter their hearts and guide their actions.

3. Be the voice of kindness and compassion

Never before have I felt so much lesser for the simple fact that I am a woman. I have tried to imagine what it might feel like today to not only be black, not only to be a black woman, but to be a black homosexual woman. I can’t imagine. I have tried to imagine what it might feel like to have been assaulted by Trump and to have come forward and for my assaulter to be elected the most powerful job in America anyway. I can’t. I have tried to imagine what it might feel like to be a Muslim and to fear for my family’s safety. I can’t.

What I can do is be kind and demonstrate through my actions that I support woman, the LGBT community, and that I do not live in fear of Muslims or anyone that appears to be of Middle Eastern descent. I can demonstrate that my ideals do not align with those who have elected this bigoted, racist, sexist man to the Presidency.

4. Try to forgive

On Thanksgiving day I will be at a table surrounded by people who voted for Trump. This thought makes me lose my appetite. I cannot make excuses for my friends and family members. In this election, it means something if you supported this man. But I refuse to disown friends and family members over this like I have seen some people say on Facebook.

I cannot justify the behaviors or actions of people who aligned with this man, but I can remind myself of their ignorance and fears. I can attempt to convince myself that they simply did not know any better and/or acted from fear, not intelligence. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, and it is our responsibility to be informed citizens, but the simple truth is that some people have deep rooted resentments and fears, some that they inherited from their parents, and are incapable of seeing around it. I cannot control what they do, but I can control what I do. And I will practice compassion and attempt to understand.

5. Remember that laws won’t change overnight

Yes, things are uncertain and scary. But the simple reality is that Trump can’t single handedly reverse laws overnight. We won’t wake up in January and learn that marriage equality has been reversed, that abortion is now illegal in all 50 states, and that Muslims are being rounded up and put in prison. Have faith in democracy, the process, and our other elected officials.

6. Focus on the positive and what we can control

Life is going to go on. We can dwell and allow our anger and disappointment to consume us, or we can make the best of a shitty situation. I can control my response and so I am choosing to practice these six things, and focus on my journey to lose weight, live a happier and more peaceful life, and work toward my goals. Trump can’t take that away from me. People who voted for him can’t take that away from me. Only I can take that away from me by allowing negative emotions to distract me. I choose not to allow that.


Writing this post was a difficult decision because I am risking alienating or offending some of my readers. I hope you’ll understand why I chose to write this anyway, like I am choosing to attempt to understand why some people voted for Trump. This journey is one to wellness and compassion. Many of us are wounded today. I felt a personal responsibility to face this fact and to share tools for how to find peace after the election. There is a lot of hurt out there in the world today. And if I can make one single person hurt a little less, then I have succeeeded. THAT is why I chose to write this post today.

It is my deep hope that we can all move on from this and heal our wounds. We can achieve that through practicing kindness and compassion, the only cure for for our gravely ill world. If this post resonated with you at all, I ask that you PLEASE share it far and wide, so that others may be comforted by it. We all need some peace today.

I send my love to you ALL.

 

How To Say No To People: A Simple Stress-Free Strategy

Many of us, for all sorts of reasons, have trouble saying no to people. We have become a culture of yes people. We aim to please, agree with the best intentions, but often inadvertently take on more than we can handle as a result of our desire to never disappoint. Eventually, we become resentful and stressed. Perhaps worse, is that we often end up putting our needs second in order to accommodate others. But I’m here to remind you that it is absolutely okay to say “no.” Keep reading to learn how to say no to people without apology or explanation.

The truth is we love to help people and say yes to them! It makes us feel special when we’re asked for help or to get together. We have a knee jerk reaction to say, “absolutely!” But how many times have you later regretted something you agreed to in the moment? Even if it was with the best intentions? I’m willing to bet it’s been loads of times…

We need to put the momentary high of being wanted aside, and take time to consider what we’re being asked. There is no need to respond immediately. Anyone who doesn’t respect your need to think about requests doesn’t respect you or your time. And that’s not someone you need to be bending over backwards for.

Weird Al Yankovic (of all people) has a saying in his home: “The day will come.” He and his wife say it when weighing whether or not to agree to things and that’s because he acknowledges that everything sounds pretty great at the time when the commitment is still in the future. But the day will come eventually, and he acknowledges that considerations need to be made.

What To Consider

So, think requests through carefully. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the time commitment?
  • Do I have all the necessary information to make an informed decision?
  • Will agreeing in any way be a detriment to me or my family or other commitments I’ve already made?
    • Just because you have one free night doesn’t mean that night is better spent filled. Sometimes we really need a quiet night on the couch.
  • Might agreeing cause me stress later?
  • Am I free?
    • Check your calendar. Don’t forget to check the day before and the day after! Maybe you need time to recover from or prep for something else, even though you’re technically free.
  • Is travel time involved?
  • Can I afford to go out?
    • I’m often tapped out by the end of the pay cycle and have had to cancel dinner plans because I couldn’t afford it.

Taking the time to make these considerations prevents a lot of potential stress later when/if you need to cancel or rescind your agreement. Even worse is when you find yourself with no way out and end up with the stress of fitting something in that there just isn’t any room for.

So what if providing the help or making the plans just isn’t beneficial or possible? Well, then you need to say no.

How To Say No to People

We are terrified of anyone being disappointed in or by us. Therefore, whenever we feel we’re running that risk, we tend to do all we can to prevent it. I believe this is why people have such a hard time saying no without apologizing, over-explaining or even straight up lying.

No Apologies

Apologizing typically suggests wrongdoing. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being able to accommodate someone. You didn’t do anything wrong and you didn’t let someone down (if someone does feel let down, I PROMISE that has nothing to do with you and only to do with their own attachments/expectations). Since you didn’t do anything wrong, there is no need to apologize.

I know apologizing is a nice way of letting someone down gently or expressing regret and if you’re using it that way, then go for it! What I’m saying is not to lay on the apologies so thick that you could win an Emmy. There is also no need to “promise to make it up to you!”

Just decline. It’s fine. Everyone is fine. And if they’re not, again THAT HAS ONLY TO DO WITH THE PERSON ASKING, not the person declining. (If this sounds familiar, you may want to check out these 11 Quotes to Remember When Faced with Toxic People.)

No Explanations

You don’t need to explain why you can’t do something. I repeat, YOU DO NOT NEED TO EXPLAIN. I know people who do this and it’s awkward for everyone involved and usually ends up with someone’s foot in their mouth. You don’t need to justify or explain why you can’t or don’t want to do something. It’s none of anyone’s business why you came to that decision or what you have going on.

No Lying

I am not a fan of lying. I like to believe that anyone in my life can handle the simple truth that I don’t like concerts or have something else to do. But I know that people feel like they need solid excuses (see above, no explanations) when declining invitations so they tell lies like “I’d love to, but it’s my grandmother’s birthday.” Or “I’d love to, but my Aunt from Oklahoma is coming to visit.” These lies often involve family because people know they can’t mess with family obligations. But it’s just silly to lie, and runs its own risks.

Then What do You Say?

So if you don’t apologize, explain or lie, then what’s left? Surely, you don’t just want to give a curt “no” and walk away. Thanks to my friend, Amy, I have a solution.

Just say “I have a commitment.”

It’s brief, vague, honest, non-explanatory, non-apologetic, and to the point. You may be wondering, “But what if I don’t have a commitment, and I just don’t want to go?” Then you have a commitment to honoring yourself and not doing something you don’t want to do. How beautiful is that?


In a culture where we tend to put ourselves second (or third or fourth), glorify busy, and spread ourselves too thin, just remember that you will only ever be able to do as well as you feel. If you live and breathe for others and run yourself ragged, and are stressed and negative, believe me, everyone rather you stay home and take a nap. No one wants to feel like a burden. It is the story in our head that people want us to say yes to everything at whatever cost. The people who care for us don’t want that. We often forget that simple fact. After all, do you want your best friend up until midnight baking brownies for your party and then driving two hours with a headache just because when she agreed she forgot that she had a work dinner and could not possibly foresee that she wouldn’t feel well?

Of course not! Then why do we tend to forget that when it’s us making the brownies and driving with the migraine? Be honest with yourself and others.

It’s okay to put yourself first. And it is absolutely okay to say no to people.

When and Where Inspiration Strikes Me

Inspiration isn’t something you find; it’s something you hear. Many people wonder when and where inspiration strikes. It strikes when our minds are quiet enough for the sweet voice of an exciting idea to break through. Therefore, it is extremely important we identify ways, times, and places when our minds are quieter in order to be inspired. Once we know what quiets our mind, we need to give ourselves those opportunities to allow for inspiration to speak.

Being Inspired

At the time of this writing, I was in Vermont on retreat. The sun hadn’t yet fully risen and I was seated at my friend, Amy’s kitchen table. There were exactly three sounds: the clacking of the keyboard; the hum of the refrigerator; and the ticking of the wall clock. My mind was perfectly quiet. I had just woken up from a deep, ten-hour sleep. I was there to get away, to rest, to work, and to be inspired.

Last time I was in Vermont I wrote R.E.T.R.E.A.T, a post about the benefits of getting away. Last time I was there I also went paddle boarding for hours around a beautiful mountain lake. It was there in that quiet, out in the middle of the water, that my mind was quiet enough to hear the idea for a novel break through loud and clear. I wrote 50,000 words of that novel during NaNoWriMo. It is that novel I continue to work on now.

When I was hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains this past July another wonderful idea came to me. I haven’t yet shared that idea here, but I will soon, believe me. I started working on that idea the day after I got home from that vacation and will have something to show the world for it soon.

In my mind’s eye, inspiration looks to me like a glowing young, sweet girl. Our thoughts, to-dos, anxieties, observations, and judgements look like bickering adults. I imagine loud adults around me yelling over one another like brokers during trading hours. Poor sweet inspiration is trying to push her way through the sea of legs, saying “excuse me” in her sweet voice, but she goes unnoticed and is unable to get through. Only when I can eliminate some of those adults is when and where inspiration strikes. She walks up to me gracefully and glowing, tugs my shirt so I stoop down, and whispers in my ear.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her latest novel, Big Magic that ideas swirl around us, trying to get our attention. Most of the time they go ignored because we’re shopping, brooding, pondering or watching television.

“But sometimes—rarely, but magnificently—there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. The idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you. It will send the universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration (chills up the arms… nervous stomach… that feeling of falling into love or obsession.) You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea.”

Does this sound familiar? I certainly hope so!

It’s so important we not only identify these times and places when we’re open and relaxed enough (sitting in a hammock under a full moon, perhaps?), but that we recreate them. Let’s make it as easy as possible for sweet inspiration to whisper in our ears.

When and Where Inspiration Strikes Me

1. The beach/ocean/bodies of water

For the majority of my life I thought the ocean held an exclusive power, but I have learned that lakes, bays and rivers are just as magical for me. Going to the water recharges, refreshes and relaxes me, as I wrote in this post. There is such beauty in water and it reminds me what is truly important in life, hence quieting that which is not. Water casts a spell on me allowing inspiration to speak.

2. The mountains

I become more of a mountain-lover after every trip to higher elevations. The fresh air, the views, the life! It does something to me. Also in western, NC this past July was when I was inspired enough to quit smoking once and for all. (It’s since been 67 days that I’m 100% cigarette-free!) The mountains are quiet and spacious with so little congestion. They are a place where we can breathe.

3. When meditating

The saying goes that we talk to the universe when we pray, but we listen to the universe when we meditate. This is the ultimate in quieting those bickering, loud adults in my mind and allowing the universe to speak to me. Some beautiful things have come across my quieted mind during meditation.

4. When cleaning (focusing on a project)

Cleaning, and other projects like wood working, gardening, etc. require our focus. Focus is another form of meditation so it’s no wonder that our mind is quieted enough to hear inspiration speak. Instead of thousands of thoughts running through our minds, there are more like dozens, so inspiration is able to reach us easier.

5. In nature

I specifically mentioned water and the mountains because they are extra special to me, but truthfully all of nature is inspiring. Walks in the woods, bicycle rides along tree-laden trails, sitting in parks… Getting outside for fresh air and away from distractions like electronics and work is so beneficial to clearing the mind.

6. Libraries and coffee shops

As a writer, I am also inspired when I surround myself with others who are focused and quietly reading and/or writing. It’s as if everyone’s energy sort of plays off one another resulting in a super focused, meditative atmosphere. Whether you’re a painter or a musician or whatever else, surround yourself with like-minded people or those who are doing something similar. If you can’t be surrounded by them, surround yourself with their art. Go to a symphony or to a museum. Take in the work and energy of others.


Those are the places and times I know for a fact I can hear inspiration speak.

When was the last time you felt inspired? What were you doing? Maybe you were out walking or running? I’m usually too busy daydreaming and battling with myself to keep going to hear inspiration when I run, but maybe that’s the perfect time for you. The point is to identify those times and places when and where inspiration strikes YOU and recreate them as much a possible.

 

I Went to the Water

Elizabeth Gilbert recently reminded her readers of the healing powers of water in her post, Go To The Water. “When an animal in the wild has been injured, it has only two strategies for how to heal itself: it can rest, or it can go to the water.” I have always respected and utilized the ocean for its magical restorative powers. I have been in a funk lately. Although I craved a trip to the beach, I passed on all my opportunities to go. Gilbert’s post came at a perfect time. It reminded me that the ocean was precisely what I needed. And so I went to the water.

Throughout my life I have enjoyed a special kinship with the ocean. The beach is my favorite playground, where you can still find me splashing in tide pools and excitedly digging for shells. I have gone to the beach in the middle of the night and in the middle of winter, whenever I needed to see my friend and find peace in her majestic and powerful company. Water was precisely what I needed to restore my mood, motivation and to find inspiration.

And so I started my day with water. I drank water with lemon first thing. Then I meditated to the sound of crashing waves. Throughout the day I drank tea and plenty more water. I had ingested the water, and now it was time to go to the water. The beach was beautiful and nearly empty in early evening, especially after Labor Day. I raced across the sand and threw my things down, stripped off my shirt, and jogged into the ocean’s welcoming embrace.

healing powers of water

The transformation was instant, as if the water had purified me of the lingering negativity that had plagued me as of late. I swam and laughed and floated, submerged in the water. Afterward, I took a long walk in the shallows and enjoyed the waves as they lapped against my feet. I had no more cares. The water had washed them all away.

Gilbert recalled a quote from Isak Dinesan: “The cure for everything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea.” Isn’t it the truth?

First thing this morning I jogged, completing my 24 hours enjoying the healing powers of water. I had drank the water, I had felt the water, I had listened to the water, and lastly, I sweated the water.

I believe in water. And I am now healed.

bird on beach in ray of sun

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Balance: A Place Between All & Nothing

I’m a Gemini. Most of my life my twins have been polar opposites. I go to extremes: all or nothing, indulgence or deprivation! I’m spontaneous and compulsive. I have often struggled with balance and middle ground. I drove my Mom bonkers as a young adult and was (mis) diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I had two settings: on and off. Whether eating, drinking, partying, falling in love, or studying: I either didn’t go near the roller coaster or I rode it all the way until I was physically ill. It never occurred to me that I could do things gradually or in moderation. Thankfully, I have learned how to pause, but old habits die hard and balance is still a constant struggle.

Riding the Swings

A few weeks back I went to happy hour. My intentions were to have two drinks and be on my way. Several glasses of wine later it was time to go, but I didn’t feel done. The imprint of my old behaviors kicked in and I wanted more. As I walked alone to my train stop, every bar enticed me. One sat at the corner of my train stop and I spontaneously took steps toward the door. Mere feet from the entrance I stopped dead. What am I doing? I stood there, frozen as if I had seen a ghost. So many thoughts collided in my inebriated mind, but two questions rose louder above the noise: What do I want in there? What am I craving?

As soon as the embarrassing truth to those questions came to me, I practically ran down the steps to the train as if the bar might shout after me and change my mind. It wasn’t more alcohol I craved, but something else, and a bar wasn’t the place to get it. So I went home and went to bed. I woke up the next day not with the familiar feeling of shame or regret, but with pride.

I told my best girlfriend, Kathy about my success. “I know it may not seem like that big a deal, but it feels like a huge deal.”

“It is a huge deal,” she said. “You didn’t get on the coaster. You went on the swings and when you were ready, you got off.”

I love that analogy.

Pause

I was able to avoid walking into the bar for two reasons: mindfulness and cognitive therapy. Most of my life I have acted without even a millisecond to think. The amount of times impulsiveness has caused me harm far outweighs the number of times it has benefited me. When we allow our emotions to take over and don’t pause to think is when we say and do things we often regret.

Pausing takes practice. My pause muscle is one I have to strengthen, just like my resistance muscle. It’s not easy to stop, breathe, and think, especially when your adrenaline is pumping, you’re inebriated, or your emotions are heightened. But every single time I am able to do this, I am grateful and proud. That’s what cognitive therapy and mindfulness are — being aware of yourself and your thinking.

Balance

Balance is a daily struggle but something I have much more of in my life these days. Balance for me is leaving happy hour when it ends, not after midnight. It’s eating some chips then putting the bag away for another day. It’s productive in the morning and lazy in the afternoon. It’s a big lunch and small dinner. It’s expressing my frustration without picking a fight.

It’s ironic: I don’t even like roller coasters. I do love swings, however. How nice to be able to get on, but stop when I’m ready rather than be at the mercy of the ride. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

I can live life on my own terms.

Don’t Lose the Moment

Kathy and I went hiking in Delaware this past Sunday. The weather was gorgeous. Blue skies, a cool breeze, low humidity. The only sounds were those of our chatter, the rustling of trees, singing of birds, and the occasional honk of a bull frog. I felt free. No traffic, no notifications and updates, no noise, no stress… My cell phone was tucked into my camelback only because it’s also my camera. I mentioned to Kathy I wished I had left it in the car. Even though it was on silent it seemed to radiate a low frequency annoyance. I still felt tethered.

We climbed out on some large rocks to soak our feet in the ice cold water of White Clay Creek.

Jess & Kathy White Clay

It was marvelous to be out in the woods. Although civilization was only a few miles away, it felt so distant. Nothing could hurt us, as long as we stayed present. And I am grateful we did because little did we know that one peek at the news or Facebook would have hurtled us right back to reality. It wasn’t until hours later in my car that I would learn about the attack in Orlando, Florida and my heart would break.

Had I known sooner, I would have carried the weight of sadness in addition to my camelback and shadow would cloud the clear skies above us. And so for that reason, I am glad not to have known. Ignorance is bliss and I see little reason to know of the horrible things that happen in this world as soon as they happen.

How many times has a push notification on your phone ruined a good time? Whether a news report, an upsetting e-mail, a Facebook feed full of updates that another musician has died… do you ever wish you had just left it alone and remained in blissful ignorance? At least until the end of your date, or the movie or the party? This is all part of being present and in the moment. And if you’re truly present you won’t go looking for irrelevant news on your phone and run the risk of learning something upsetting which will utterly change the moment.

Had I checked the news after I snapped the above photo, I would have drastically changed the moment from two happy friends splashing their feet and smiling in the sun to two solemn adults sitting quietly and sad, their thoughts on violence and loss. I’m grateful I didn’t do that.

The world can wait. Had I checked in while sitting on that rock it would have been only out of habit or impulse, not need. I would have forfeited my rare view of nature for the familiar view of my cellphone. When do we ever really NEED to know what’s going on elsewhere? I can only think of a few examples…

If you’re happy, content or at peace, prolong the moment as long as possible. Don’t go looking for trouble. If you’re spending the day with family or at the beach among friends or even if reading alone in the local park, be present and be there, not online. You can catch up later. There’s often nothing to gain that couldn’t wait, and a lot to lose… like the moment.

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A Reminder to H.A.L.T: Four Questions to Ask Yourself

I’ve come a really long way on this journey to living a happier and more peaceful life. If there was a sign in my house that noted how long it’s been since my last meltdown, two years ago we would have worn down chalk resetting it to zero. But a year ago the number for days without a meltdown was respectable. Recently, every day was record breaking! Until last Friday, when the sign would have been reset to zero. All because a seat belt tried to murder me.

Seriously.

During my thirteen minute commute home, no matter how many times I adjusted the goddamn belt across my shoulder and chest, it shifted up to my throat. With each adjustment and inevitable slip, my body tensed, teeth gritted, and knuckles whitened against the steering wheel. The sensation of edged polyester pressed into the side of my neck from jaw to clavicle felt like the filthy callused hands of a demented stranger wrapped around my throat. My heart rate increased, face flushed and eyes narrowed. I hated my new car with its ill fitting seat belt, blamed and despised my large breasts for existing, and was most likely the angriest a person has ever been throughout history at a SEAT BELT.

Blocks from home, I unbuckled the belt and threw it behind me. Within seconds the obnoxious ding of the seat belt alarm pierced my ears like a screeching child. I hunched forward like a madman as my hands clenched the wheel while steamy breath escaped my flared nostrils. The thought of speeding into a brick wall may have crossed my mind.

Finally, I raced up my driveway, threw the car into park and killed the engine. The only sound that remained was that of my rapid breathing.

My husband, Mike witnessed my arrival from the garage and approached cautiously. He stood beside the window for a moment. “Are you okay?” I heard muffled through the glass.

I opened the door. “No,” I grunted through gritted teeth.

“What happened?”

Too angry to speak, I sat there as Mike waited apprehensively.

“My seat belt strangled me!” I finally blurted. I demonstrated the violence by pulling the belt across my throat and pantomiming my strangulation. “See? I can’t stand it!”

Without a word, Mike reached inside the car and adjusted the seat belt height with a gentle push downward.

“Better?” he asked.

I burst into tears, flooded by relief and gratitude.

As surprising as this may sound, my meltdown wasn’t about attempted murder in the car by seat belt. I know, right – you’re SHOCKED! My little incident in the car was simply the straw attempting to break the camel’s back. The truth is I was tired, hungry, and it was my fifth day without a cigarette so I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms AGAIN. I had been driving the car for just shy of two months, and although the belt needed adjusting occasionally, it never agitated me to the point of contemplating expediting my own death.

My point is: no matter how mindful, zen, self-aware, or peaceful we become, we’re still going to have moments when we lose our shit. We’re human! We experience fluctuations in hormones and chemicals, hunger, exhaustion, annoying relatives, bosses, spouses, etc. and there will be times when all these things collide and we JUST.CAN’T.TAKE.IT.ANYMORE. We’re not perfect!

The skill comes in acknowledging what’s really at work. Remember my post Learning to H.A.L.T. about checking in to see if you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? If not, give it a read. The other skill is not allowing inconsequential annoyances to snowball into a careening mass of destruction.

In the past, I may have refused to even tell Mike what was bothering me, then found a reason to be upset with him. Soon we’d be in a horrible fight that would become about EVERY infraction ever committed, which would turn into a fight about fighting. Once that fizzled out in sheer exhaustion I may attempt to get changed and then decide I hate every article of clothing I own, which would inevitably turn into me hating my body and then myself.

Good times!

All could have been avoided had someone (or me) just given me a snack and a blanket. There’s a reason it works for kids. We’re not that different, folks… If you find yourself behaving like a toddler with a temper tantrum or a crazed madwoman, take a time-out. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself: am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired? Where am I in my menstrual cycle – could my hormones be off? Did I forget to take my medication today? There are reasons why we behave irrationally and I guarantee you they don’t have to do with what you’re blaming.

I suppose I owe my seat belt an apology…