Repeat after me, “I can do this.”

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When I think about positive affirmations, the first thing that pops in my head is the SNL skit from the 90s where Stuart Smalley looks at himself in a mirror and repeats the phrases, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”  Turns out that this is not just a hilarious skit on SNL that once famously featured Michael Jordan, it’s a real thing.  People have been following the guidance of the queen of positive affirmations, Louise Hay, since her first book, “Heal your Body”, was published back in 1976.  She insists “Every thought we think is creating our future”.  This is a very powerful statement considering the average person has 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day.  The question is, what are you thinking about?  Of these thousands of thoughts that pass through our mind in a single day, how many of them are we really aware of?

When I go into mediation, I am amazed by how active my mind is.  It is in the seat of silence that I really notice the constant chatter that is going on all of the time.  I always find myself at the end of a yoga practice, laying in savasana, a pose that only directs you to lay entirely still and focus on your breathing, a mantra, or sensations in the body.  Almost always I spend this time wondering what I am going to have for dinner.  I lay there and redirect my attention to my breath over and over again while my mind goes on and on: “I love sushi.  Maybe we can go for sushi after class.  Did I use that groupon at that place were there’s that one chef in Miami who can serve blowfish?  Wonder what blowfish tastes like?  Poor little blowfish.  I wonder what ever happened to Hootie and the Blowfish.. my god I really hated that album- my mom played that on crap on repeat for like a year. ‘I only wanna be with youuuuu..’ Oh god no, no no no, I am not singing that stupid song in my head now.  Stop stop stopppp.  Hey!  Cut it out! We’re meditating!”  And then the teacher rings a bell indicating it’s time to sit up and finish class.  I walk out of class humming that song I can’t stand and I head to a local sushi joint for dinner.  THAT is the power of our thoughts.

The example of a catchy song perfectly illustrates the lack of control we have over our mind.  Have you ever heard a song you don’t want to get stuck in your head, and the mere suggestion of it sends the voice (or voices) in your head into full song?  Even after the song or suggestion of it is over, you’re still hearing “Rumor has it oooo, Rumor has it oooo…”  I digress.  So, the mind is constantly rambling on without anyone checking the statements being said and often, the thoughts we are thinking are critical and negative.  Why?  Because mind is a problem solver.  And as such, it clings to problems.

Back to the topic of affirmations, the use of affirmations is helpful in giving your mind something to say and repeat over and over.  Since it wants to ramble and chatter on, giving it something to occupy itself with can be very soothing.  Mantra is another type of anchor that similarly can be used to hone the energy of the mind.  Affirmations are like pledges, you see the power of your mind and decide to focus it on what you want to bring into your life: “I trust, I am free, I am safe, I can do it, I am beautiful, I am strong, I am healing”. Mantras are often Sanskrit but can be anything really and the key is that it is repeated over and over again out loud or internally, like a motto.  These can be long or short.  The really cool thing is that repetition of an affirmation can literally change harmful thoughts you may have about yourself or others.

The Dare:  Pick one thing you do not like about yourself or your life. Even better, identify a negative statement you’ve caught yourself saying more than once. “I can’t run, cook, spell, sing, etc.”  Create a positive affirmation to counter that idea; “I can learn new things everyday, I am learning to..” You don’t have to do it in a mirror like smalley.  You can simply repeat whatever the affirmation that is right for you over and over in your head.  Put post-its in places you can see and will remind you of your mantra.  In this way, you can empower yourself to make conscious choices and use your mind to bring what you want into your life.  Give it a shot!

Shared Imperfection

4AFB45D5-9B3E-4C24-AE35-EF397E6E67E2Happy Thursday friends!  I hope you all had a fabulous 4th of July weekend.  I enjoyed spending time with family and friends, watching fireworks blast off in the night sky, and consuming lots of unhealthy food and cocktails.  By the end of the long weekend I felt exhausted, worn out, and drained.  Typically, I would go hard on myself for over-indulging.  That part of my internal dialogue – the part that judges and criticizes myself harshly is really a drag.  This part of myself is convinced there is something really wrong with me, that I am a bad person, and that I deserve to be locked in a dark cave somewhere.  When I am not in that space, I can clearly see that those sentiments are not true.  This delusional blabbering about my perceived imperfections is something Carl Jung called a “shadow”.  We live with our shadow, or unconscious part of our personality, and it is a part of ourselves that remains mostly hidden until it starts to reveal itself in ways we might not understand.  Once we can see it, and we are aware when it is operating,  we can begin to heal it.  So this particular “shadow aspect” of myself is something I have recently become aware of and have started to work with. When I see this part of myself activate, I want to numb out, isolate, or disconnect.  Basically I don’t want to deal with it and I definitely don’t want other people to see it because I think it sucks.  It is a part of myself I do not like.  The interesting thing is that behavior is exactly what keeps the shadow intact. And this ties right into the work I am doing on mindfulness and self-compassion.

In the course I am doing on courageworks.com (http://www.courageworks.com/shop/classes/self-compassion-with-kristin-neff-brene-brown), they discuss something called “Common Humanity”.  Common Humanity is an incredibly powerful tool when you’re stuck in the vortex of self-loathing and self-criticism.  According to Kristen Neff,  “The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect, that we are all fallible.”  This piece is crucial to seeing that you are not the only one who feels the way you do no matter how bad you feel.  I know I am not the only one who felt overall low and tired after the long weekend of celebration.  My entire office on Tuesday was in full on zombie mode.

Another tool that’s really helpful for me when I get caught up in my delusions is asking the question, ‘would I treat another person the way I treat myself?’ And the answer is always NO.  If a friend of mine said “man, I feel like total crap for eating and drinking too much over the weekend”  I’d say “give yourself a break/ that’s totally what you’re supposed to do on a holiday/ it’s in the past so move forward with your healthfulness now”.  So why would I treat myself differently?  Am I not deserving of my own kindness and compassion?  Of course I am!  But when I isolate myself, I assume that no one feels the way I do, that I am alone, and worst of all, that no one would understand me.  So this piece of common humanity and connecting with others- through our perceived imperfections- is really a great way to lift yourself up out of that icky mud puddle of self-criticism.  We are all imperfect and talking about our shared imperfection is a great way to heal our own self-judgements and connect to others that judge themselves also.

THE DARE:  What are some ways you judge yourself?  What are some of the things you pick on yourself for?  What would you say to a friend or a child who felt the same way?  How can you offer yourself the same kind of tenderness and compassion?  Can you courageously share a part of yourself you don’t like with a close friend?  As we build more love and compassion for ourselves, we can accept ourselves more fully.  We can re-claim our freedom and release ourselves from old beliefs patterns that do not serve us.

Scratching the Surface: Compassion vs Criticism

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Recently, I started an online course called Self-Compassion with Kristen Neff and Brene Brown”. I watched a Ted talk with Brene Brown and heard about an online academy she was developing called “courage works” a while back. When a friend mentioned the self-compassion course on Facebook, I knew I needed to check it out. The idea of having a self compassion habit/ practice is something foreign to me.  I spent much of my life being self-critical, not self-compassionate. I used harsh self-judgement as a way to motivate myself to be better, work harder, and achieve more. I achieved some measured success in my academic and professional careers but I wasn’t happy. And it really confused me. I “should” be happy but I just wasn’t. Back then, I did a terrible job of taking care of myself. I’d skip meals, work through lunch, and hardly drink water. I was an exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry stress ball. I put so many things and people ahead of my needs: work, boyfriends, friendships, family stuff. After a while that kind of lifestyle started to take its toll. Something had to give.

In a few short years, I have made a lot of changes, my quality of life has dramatically improved and I learn more about myself and the life I want to live every day.  Cue the self compassion course. So, if anyone feels or has felt resistance to the concepts of self-care, self-love, and self-compassion, it’s this girl right here.  It used to sound so self-indulgent to me. But here’s the thing, at some point I had to ask myself if what I was putting myself through was really worth it.  Self-judgement and Self-criticism had gotten me far but it also cost me a lot.  What I find SO GREAT about this course is that it is grounded in scientific evidence.  I mean it’s great to love yourself and be kind to yourself just for the sake of it, but what if you learned that shifting your relationship with yourself in this way also made you more likely to succeed in any and all areas of your life?  Based on what I have been learning, that is precisely the case.  Talk about an “A-Ha Moment”.  How many people feel guilty when they make a mistake?  I know I do.  Our errors and mistakes shatter our notions of perfection.  So often when we face our imperfection, we crumble.  I used to think that guilt was a valuable teacher; a necessary part of learning and growth was that you felt like complete shit at times.  The evidence presented in the course and in Kristen Neff’s book, “Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”, reveals that the complete opposite is true.  When we treat ourselves harshly, when we scold ourselves for not getting it right every time, we actually inhibit our capacity and potential for growth and success.

The Dare: List the ways you are critical and judgmental of yourself.  How do you find self-criticism to be helpful in your life?  How would you feel if you let go of all your judgements of yourself?  What would your life look if you were more compassionate towards yourself? This can be a very challenging exercise.  Take your time and be honest.  And most importantly, try being kind to yourself.

 

Thursdays Just Got Special

Good day readers!  It’s been a while.  The truth is between the hustle and bustle of the workweek, my social and personal commitments, and a long list of other must-do’s, the task of expressing myself here has been neatly tucked far away into a box I’ve labeled “things I love to do but don’t have time for”.  Well today, I am pulling that box off the shelf and getting my ass back on track.  It has occurred to me that if I feel that I don’t have time to do the things I really love doing, then I am doing something wrong.  By spending the majority of my time doing all the things “I need to get done” for work, family, friends, etc. I am neglecting the very things that fulfill me the most.  My beloved yoga practice, writing, and research are the first things on the chopping block on a busy day.  I clearly have some room for growth in terms of priorities.  I have hit the mute button on the dreamy, creative, expressive side of me in favor of my pragmatic, analytical, logical side.  And that is not working for me anymore.  In stepping back to see what’s really going on here for me I realized that, at some point, I decided doing something for the love of it wasn’t really enough motivation for me.

In a world that’s driven by concrete deadlines, hard due dates and observable results, inspired creativity is like an elusive vapor that is no where and everywhere at the same time.  And I think for me, framing it as something that I want to get done but that isn’t ever due,  extinguishes the embers before I’ve even begun to let my words start to glow.  So, I have decided to start giving myself some deadlines.  Which means, you will be seeing more regularly scheduled posts this summer- every Thursday.  Excited? I am.

The Dare: Be honest about your own wishes, dreams, and desires.  What do you want to create in your life?  Give yourself a deadline and see if that helps motivate you and re-prioritize those things that you want to do just because you want to do them.  That’s surely reason enough but in this crazy world, a due date might be the little push we all need.

Sing your heart out

Music is and has always been a big part of my life.  I love how a great song can bring a memory back into focus so vividly.  Every time I hear Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, I can feel the carefree happiness I felt when my best friend and I would cruise around Miami in her mom’s old faded red BMW convertible screaming.. “find out what it means to me”.  I can feel the salty, heavy, summer air in my face and the car jerk forward as she switched gears. We sped across the bridges of Key Biscayne and sung as loud as we could.  No bills to pay, no job, no mortgage, just teenage freedom, and tests, and formals, and finals. Man, I do not miss finals. But I digress.. There’s a certain blissful joy that comes from singing your heart out.  No matter what you sound like, it’s just fun. Of course, most people are so afraid of being judged, they only allow themselves to do it when they’re alone, maybe in the shower, or maybe one random night at someone’s karaoke birthday thing.  Hey I get it.  I used to care too.  But not anymore.  You know why? Because singing is straight up fun.  The way I see it, having fun is like the main reason we are on this planet.  Plus, bad singing is like bad dancing.  It’s almost better when you have zero actual talent.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hearing talented people do their thing. But there is a certain power in saying “I don’t give a shit about what you think or what I think, I’m gonna get up and sing!” You have a voice for a reason.  Use it.  Whether you sound like some lunatic from the American Idol auditions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLSLFflLbk4) or like Christina Aguilara’s grammy tribute to James Brown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcyjMPNpEm4), just do it. Because either way, you will have fun and make people smile at the same time.

The dare: This is really about getting out of your comfort zone.  Baby steps-If you sing in the car, roll down the windows.  Relax, it will be fun.  People are going to be amazed by your awesome daringness!!  At the very least they will be amused.  You can tell what my commutes are like. Haha! If you really want to go for a gold star, sing right out loud without your metal car armor. Dare to sing in public.

 

Anxiety Sucks and Sleep is Precious

I was watching a TV show last night: one of the characters asked a table of friends to share “what keeps them up at night”.  One of the dinner guests responded that she falls fast asleep the second her head hits the pillow.  To which another guest said ‘Oh come on! You never wake up in the middle of the night? There must be something out of your control.’

I found this exchange really interesting.  A good friend of mine has told me many times that all your problems seem worse at night. If you start thinking about issues that need resolution or things that just need to get done, there is really nothing you can do about it in the middle of the night.  Plus, it’s dark and quiet.  No distractions from those icky feelings.  It’s just you and your headiness face to face and it SUCKS.  Earlier this week, I woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep.  This is beyond rare for me.  Although I am no stranger to anxiousness, I am a champion sleeper.  Seriously.  If sleeping was an Olympic sport, I’d me a gold medalist. So, the fact that I woke up in the middle of the night to watch my fears dance around in my head, taunting me, and keeping me awake, really pissed me off.

My dear uncle has been in the hospital for about two weeks now.  To sum up, he went in with one problem which exacerbated an existing condition and also brought up a third gaggle of issues.  Not my kind of dominoes.  Basically it was a clusterfuck of health issues and an emotional roller coaster for him and everyone involved.  The great news is he’s doing much better today than he was two weeks ago.  Shout out to all my friends and fam for their prayers and support.  Not out of the woods and a big procedure on the horizon but things are better.  Progress.  So you do the best you can.  And you watch your family members cope in their own way.    But still, it’s tough to accept.  Everything is so out of your control that it’s easy to get stuck with your fears and just feel helpless sitting in your puddle of tears.

It should really come as no surprise that this stuff would disturb me- it would disturb anyone.  But I’m me.  I do a good job of allowing myself to move through my emotions and stuff.  I meditate.  I practice yoga.  I have more tools in my toolkit than most and guess what.. it still affects me in ways I don’t want it to.  There are things I just don’t want to accept.  If this were your story, beloved reader, I’d tell you to be patient and gentle with yourself; to celebrate that progress is being made and that you’re doing a great job of taking care of yourself throughout it all.  But when it comes to me, myself, and I, we are not nearly as accepting and kind.  Huh?  Messed up right? Damn right it is.  Oh Casey..

And then I catch this show and this character claims nothing keeps her up at night.  How full of shit?!  And I would have said the same thing for most of my life.  Everyone has woken up in the middle of the night with some shit that’s making them crazy.  Finances, health scares, relationship problems, work issues, family disputes, disagreements between friends, passing a test, contract closings, home construction, whatever.  Life can be stressful.  We have all lost sleep.  And if you haven’t, write a book because you are keeping some amazing secret to yourself and everyone would love to know what it is.  Seems to me like what you don’t want to deal with will come out to play at some point or another.  And even when you meditate and leave the gate open for all, including the unpleasant things, that doesn’t necessarily mean that is when you can work on them.  They might wake you up at 4:30am like “hey now is a good time to be open about how freaked out we are that we have no control”.  My only wish is that next time it happens, I  can meet myself with compassion and not judgement.  It’s ok to be scared.  It’s ok to be mad too but I think it’s probably more useful to not be an asshole to yourself.

The dare: The next time you wake up in the middle of the night with churning thoughts and feeling things you don’t want to feel (hello resistance), pretend it’s your favorite person in the whole world that woke you up.  Treat yourself as you would someone you deeply love.  Soothe yourself as you would someone else.  Show up for yourself.  You deserve it.  And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, good for you! A special dare just for you, get started on that book ; )

 

 

 

 

 

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One breath at a time

The first month of 2016 has been jam packed.  I have been a busy little bee these days.  Work has been in full swing as the first quarter of the year is off to a bustling start.  Between that, prepping food to eat healthier, keeping up with daily errands and squeezing in time for exercise and self care, this bee has been feeling overwhelmed.  We live in a world where multi-tasking has become so normal that when you see someone doing only  one thing, with their full attention, it’s almost offensive.

I find myself getting so caught up in the “go, go, go” that when it’s time to just sit down and chill, I tend to jump into the next thing.  I see this as an imbalance in myself.  Dr. Wayne Dyer has a quote that reads “I am a human being, not a human doing. Don’t equate your self-worth with how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, then when you don’t…you aren’t.”  Read that a couple of times just let that sink in.  We tend to tie our self worth into how much we do and how well we do it.  Most people I know consider productivity to be a positive quality.  Obviously there is merit in completing things and doing them well.  Accomplishment is a great feeling.  But the drawback is that you can train yourself to forget how to relax, how to be still, how to be quiet.  Even when I’m “relaxing”, I catch myself checking emails, doing research on the internet or planning what I’m doing the next day.  So, even when I’m unwinding, I’m still doing a lot.  No wonder I feel overwhelmed!

I’ve had a pretty consistent meditation practice for a few years now.  I laugh every time I hear someone say they “can’t” meditate.  Mostly because they would usually benefit from it so much.  The people who think they “can’t” are typically the one’s who need it the most.  They think they can’t sit still and be quite for any length of time- even 5 minutes.  5 minutes is not a lot of time.  It might feel like a long time, but think about how fast 5 minutes goes by when you’re browsing the internet, shopping, or commuting somewhere.

What is meditation anyway?  Well in my book, mediation is simply training your mind to concentrate.  There are so many different techniques and the common denominator is focus.  Bringing your focus back to this moment,  your breath, a mantra, an affirmation, a flame, a scent, or holding something and focusing on that.  At any given time, your body is having a sensory experience.  For the most part, the only time you are aware of that experience is when you want to change, or do, something.  My body feels cold and what do I need to do to change that.  I smell a pleasant fragrance and I want to find out what the source is.  I smell something bad and I want to get away from it.  My co-worker’s music is bothering me or I really like it.. you get the idea.  This is all happening lightning fast.  Mediation is about stepping back and not reacting to it.  Watching the mind.  Observing these thoughts and reactions.  Observing the desire to move or do something and coming back to stillness again and again.  In this way, you train your mind to learn to be less reactive, less impulsive, and more focused.  This is a tool to re-learn how to really, deeply relax, restore, and replenish.

When I find myself feeling that overwhelm I mentioned earlier, I know I need to slow down and come back to my meditation practice.  Often times, I get so busy I start sacrificing that time for myself so I can take care of something else.  In essence, I ditch my self care time to DO something that I perceive as needing my attention more.  And then I end up here.  Feeling drained.  It’s ok.  It’s good.  For me, mediation is coming back, over and over again. So even this cycle is a sort of mediation too.  I am aware that I have been distracted and now I am coming back to my practice. The final point I want to make here is that whatever comes up for you during your mediation: calm, peacefulness, restlessness, anxiousness, boredom, or any judgement, it’s all good.  There is no right way or wrong way to feel.  Just observe it and let it go.

The Dare: This mediation exercise is called the 5’s.  A teacher of mine gave me this handy tool years ago and I still use it to this day.  This meditation is breath-focused and I love it because you can do it anywhere at any time.

Gently inhale for a count of 5, hold the breath for a count of 5*, and gently exhale for a 5. Repeat for 5 minutes.

*If holding the breath brings up any anxiety or discomfort, just skip that part and inhale/exhale for 5.

Ideally you want to do this with the eyes closed but for beginners or anyone who thinks they don’t have time, you can do this anywhere with the eyes open.  I’ve done it while driving, waiting for an appointment, at work, in a meeting, at dinner, in bed.  The possibilities are endless.  Something is better than nothing. Give it a shot! Physiologically, this exercise is proven to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and promote an overall state of calm and well-being.