The Competitive Yogi

I’m a pretty competitive person. Ask anyone who’s ever played Taboo, SceneIt?, or Catchphrase with me. 

I want to beat the person who is running faster or harder than me on the treadmill, the person planking longer than me, or the person sweating more profusely than me (weird, I know).

One struggle I continue to have is being competitive in yoga classes. Yoga and mindfulness in their purest essence is about radical acceptance of your mental and physical state in that moment. 

I have days where I practice and am able to look truly inward and let the rest of the world fall away. And then, there are days where this dialogue runs through my head:

“Dammit, her headstand is so good.”

“He’s got an amazing cobra pose, I can barely lift my head up tonight, ugh!”

“Why am I so out of breath this time, I’ve done this class a hundred times?!”

“Why am I sweating so much more than everyone else?”

I then realized that all of the dialogue is actually couched in judgments of myself. That in those moments I am very far away from acceptance of the other people around me and, least of all, acceptance of myself.

In yoga, one of the core principles is that even if you are a “master yogi” you are always practicing to improve and working to accept varying mental and physical states–as if your whole life you’re surfing an endless wave on it’s peaks and troughs.

I am only in competition with other people if I make it so. 

I am only in competition with myself if I make it so. 

What if the real competition is about not competing at all and is actually about letting go of any comparisons, judgments, or preconceived notions of what is supposed to be?

The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance–it’s enough.  Brené Brown says: “…we…hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving….”

What if we stopped competing at work? In romantic relationships? At friendships? With strangers? With other women or men? At the gym? On the highway? 

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Spongebob Insomnia Pants

This is a #laterpost in honor of all my friends and colleagues who suffered from evil insomnia in the past week…or ever. The picture below is an accurate representation of what I look like when dealing with insomnia. Enjoy!

It is 4 am on Friday morning. Saturday morning.

My eyes are burning, bloodshot, my head, my eyelids feel heavy. Yet, I feel like I could run a marathon (ok who am I kidding – 3 miles max).

I am painfully aware of how awake I am and have been since my head hit the pillow.

Insomnia is the place where literally the darkest secrets, the biggest fears, the greatest worries like to take up residence and play out on a never-ending loop in your head.

I have watched an entire movie.

I have read 100 pages of a 200-page book.

I have followed my breath.

I have counted sheep. goats. cows.

My fiance lays next to me–annoyingly deep asleep. He seems to have cajoled his subconscious tonight. Even with my incessant turning on/off of the lights and shifting of pillows and sheets he remains un-moving, serene, asleep.

I simultaneously want to shake him awake and tell him that sleep is impossible and it is his duty as my future husband to suffer alongside with me. And yet, I also don’t want to wake him up for fear that this insomnia is contagious (plus that would be rather rude).

I do not know why tonight of any other nights I find myself restless and at the mercy of the elusive sleep cycle.

I have already started to think about going to the gym once the sun rises (ew.)

I have already started to think about how I will need to take a nap today to survive.

I am writing this in the hope that my insomnia was triggered by something that needs my attention–maybe, just maybe–if I can figure it out, my subconscious will let its Freddy Krueger like-grip go and let me drift off to sleep.

I am also aware that I may just be having bad luck and can’t sleep a wink right now for no good reason.

I’m not sure which is more infuriating.

Everything in this room is optimized for a good night’s rest. Crisp fresh air from outside, cotton sheets, standing fan to fill the room with just the right amount of white noise, ambient lighting, dream catchers of all types, the stuffed animal crammed against my chest.

But the paranoia of all the things that could go wrong continue with every excruciating second, and minute, and hour that passes by.

I feel trapped, desperate for it to be an hour where I can move around and not continue on this obvious illusion of sleep. Two? Three? More hours?

Will I make it that long?

Will I sleep at all tonight?

Will I figure out why?

Will the Benadryl help?

Will my eyes ever want to close?

Will my body become heavy? Still?

Will this help?

Why can’t I relax?

What if nothing helps?

Running on the Treadmill (of Life)

treadmill - USEI fell into a trap. 

I don’t have a name for it yet, but I know it’s easy to fall down this trap over and over again.

It sounds like this:

“I don’t remember the last time I slept well.”

“Work is crazy, so much going on, I am exhausted by the end of the day.”

“I am so stressed out–too many commitments, not enough hours in the day.”

I am in the trap of manufacturing stress. 

Society has made it a competition of who is the busiest, the most sleep-deprived, the most overwhelmed, the most overworked, the one with too many commitments to name. I’m sure this isn’t #breakingnews, after all, we have a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to obesity, sleep, and stress levels.

Taking care of one’s self comes not only second, but third, fourth, or nowhere to be found on the long list of things “we just have to get done.”

But somehow on this continued treadmill run we partake in day in and day out, we’ve stopped noticing that we’re off the treadmill. We’ve stopped noticing that we are actually still. Standing in that moment, gasping to catch our breath.

In an age of glorified “busyness” we have identified and attached our self-worth (and how people view us) with extending ourselves beyond the point of emotional, mental, and physical health.

If I am constantly tired, overworked, and stressed–I must be important, right?

When was the last time you asked someone “how are you?” and they answered, “great!”?

My answer is usually something along the lines of “I’m okay.”; “Fine, just busy.”; “I’m good, just tired.”

If you answer “great!” that would mean you are eating well, sleeping regularly, managing work-life balance, and coping with your stress–all things that isolate you from the greater whole of our human race of our favorite latest craze: “I’m so busy and so tired.”

It’s decidedly not trendy to feel great. It decidedly does not make your life seem important and time a precious commodity that is just constantly escaping you.

Quite frankly, I don’t want to be trendy in anything besides my clothes. And I want to start responding to “how are you’s” with “great!”

Perhaps if I am mindful of my overzealous need to be busy then the things that are truly inspiring and fulfilling will be what make me feel great.

Maybe the next time I step off the treadmill, I’ll notice that I’m standing still and I’ll catch my breath before I step on the next one. Won’t you join me?

The Healing Power of a Memoir

I am writing my memoir. Well, I started about a year ago and really got going and then like all creatives, I lost steam because it was emotional and difficult and I criticized every word I put down.

Memoirs happen to be my favorite genre of literature. Particularly, the ones that depict a seemingly unrealistic heroine / hero that overcomes some of the most tragic things a person could encounter and then publishes a New York Times bestseller.

I guess you could say that’s always had some appeal to me. The idea that I could somehow write it all down for the world to read (boy, I’m ambitious aren’t I?) and it would be this incredibly cathartic act that simultaneously solidified me as a writer with a real voice!

The latest memoir on my list, The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, has a cover-page review:

Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art.

I feel that same urge and pull to tell all the sad (and joyous) stories of my life and create that narrative into “art.”

But, it’s paralyzing. It’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s exhausting. And, reliving the most traumatic times of one’s life isn’t exactly something even the most tortured writers run to. I too, am a big fan of shoving it all down and dealing with it…later. Much later. 

I finished The Glass Castle and the next book I picked up, I’ve had since December: A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promise of Spiritual Life. So you may be wondering: what does this seemingly spiritual self-help guidebook have to do with a memoir?

The opening line of this book begins as such:

I have emphasized my own personal journey, because the greatest lesson I have learned is that the universal must be wedded to the personal to be fulfilled in our spiritual life.

Well then.

I have always deeply felt that any pain and suffering that a person not only endures but ultimately heals from should be shared. How good does it make us feel when you speak with someone who can not only sympathize–but empathize with our personal journey? How good does it feel when we’re the ones who can say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”?

Memoirs have this incredible power to tell stories of trials and tribulations of the protagonist that can make our trials and tribulations feel small and trite, in comparison. But, they are also an intimate way to feel less alone. Seeing ourselves in another person’s narrative with a healing and happy ending can provide real comfort.

We get in our own way when it comes to sharing our own narratives, we are always our worst critics, or focused on not wanting to “live in the past.” If we just opened ourselves, we could have an opportunity to impact another person’s life even in the tiniest way.

Any time I am asked about the legacy I hope to leave behind, my answer is always the same. I hope that the people I’ve met, loved, cared for, felt like I made a difference in their life–big or small.

BRB – going to work on my memoir.

Positive Thinking Is Hard

I used to be a hardcore pessimist. The kind who had a hard time believing in the good in anyone, the kind that could find the morbidity in the most joyous of moments, and the kind who was convinced that if you prepare yourself for the worst which is always bound to happen–you’re better off in life. I was a real treat to be around, the real life of the party!

I’ll be the first to admit that level of pessimism comes from a deep-rooted personal misery that can be a challenge to overcome. Misery does love its company and for a good while I was hell-bent in bringing everyone down in the blackhole I had setup camp in.

Eventually, through lots of hard work, the extreme pessimism faded and I hated everything less and less as I matured emotionally (and in age). I now refer to myself as more of a realist. Not quite the person who will always tell you when you’re bleeding profusely that “everything is going to be okay!,” and equally not the person who will tell you “welp, it’s been good knowing you…but you’re probably gonna die.”

But, old habits die hard. My 31 year old neuron pathways default to the negative pretty automatically when faced with a decision/situation. And so, I must very intentionally exercise positive thinking. Here are some examples:

  • What if my quality of life suffersimproves?
  • What if people are disrespectful? kind?
  • This is going to be a waste of my timean interesting experience. 
  • I’m not going to like this and I’ll be miserable! okay!
  • I’m not mentally strong enough to handle change. I am…

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept that is most often defined as an outcome that causes itself to become true due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.

So, if there’s some belief that self-fulfilling prophecies can happen…is it possible that the act of quite literally striking through the negative can be a powerful and intentional way of driving more positive experiences?

 

Honor the Process of Processing

I am not one of those people who can just “let things go” very easily. I love resolution, I prefer confrontation if it is a means to an end, and I have to talk things out ad nauseam to process, re-process, and for good measure, just make sure I processed it all the way through one more time. Doing this, of course, whilst singing an off-tune version of Frozen’s “Let it Go” just for emphasis.

Healing or the act of catharsis can often feel like a long drawn out process with no light at the end of the tunnel. Just when it feels like the incident, the hurtful words, the memories, the ghosts that haunt seem to loosen their grasps ever so slightly, something else will trigger that all over again.

And, then, the vicious cycle continues. The processing restarts and the guilt settles in for having to continue processing something that as an advocate of mindful living and meditation-teacher-in-training, I should have let go by now! You see what I mean?

This past week, I’ve tapped into my life gurus as I walk (really, I’m crawling) this path to healing. I was reminded that the things people say echo in eternity. And, that I should honor my process and honor my outrage (or insert other negative emotion). Beyond that, this book I’m reading had some incredibly salient advice about the concept that when people hurt us, we (most often) are not to blame but we are responsible. We are always responsible for how we choose to react and choose to continue the narrative. And, finally this gem from the Daily Stoic:

“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

One of stoicism’s fundamental principles is that we all have a “citadel of the self”: a fortress that we’re constantly building and strengthening. That fortress can only be breached by us, when we let an opinion or a thought go past the walls. Whether that happens—whether we give ourselves over to someone else’s judgment, opinion, slur, thought, action—is a choice.

Sensing a theme here? It’s about choice. I cannot choose what happened to me. I cannot choose that my process takes longer than most. I cannot choose that I will never receive resolution in the ideal way.

But, I can choose to honor my process. I can choose to stop contributing to the negative narrative. I can choose to re-build and become stronger than ever. I can choose to know my self and not let anyone breach my fortress, my citadel.

Practice Does NOT Make Perfect!

Practice: often defined as doing one activity or another with some semblance of frequency and consistency in an attempt to improve said practice. 

“Practice makes perfect.”

In any mindfulness class–whether it be meditation, or yoga, or any variation thereof your attendance will often be called “your practice.” One of the most fundamental and foundational principles of yoga is accepting that you come to the mat with an understanding that there is always something to learn and improve on in your practice. Therefore, never really reaching a state of “perfection.”

But, there’s the rub:

When you first start writing your name, you practice and practice so you learn your letters and and the right curvature of each one.

When you play a sport, you practice diligently, consistently, frequently in an attempt to perfect (or at the very least significantly improve it).

Most of our lives, we have been told that if we just keep at it that our practice will pay off and we will–in a sense–get to the point of perfecting the craft, the art, the sport, etc.

I have been practicing a headstand now for the better part of a year. 

I still can’t do it.

I have broken several things attempting to do the damn thing.  And, it’s driving me insane. There are probably hundreds of gifs that could be made of flailing and yelping as I tumble back to gravity as quickly as I get to that final toe off the ground.

“You’re so close!” my yoga teacher tells me…every single week.

I have struggled with the concept that I may never actually be able to do this and that I must continue to practice with an acceptance of possibly never getting there, and that acceptance doesn’t mean I’m giving up.

Hell, I knew I was never going to be good at math and I accepted that real quick and haven’t looked back since!

Perhaps practice could take on the new meaning that practice is well…just that. Practice, is something you do with intentionality and at the end of it, know that you did your best and your body saved you the perfection you think needed to achieve.

Alright, headstand you win, but I’ll always win when it comes to corpse pose. 

 

Why It’s Important to Stand Up For Yourself

For those of you that know me, you’ll think of me as an extrovert. For those of you that really know me you’ll know I’m an extrovert with extreme introvert tendencies. And, for those of you that don’t know me…well now you do.

Recently, I was villainized (I know, not a word, but just roll with it) pretty seriously in the work environment. So terribly, in fact, I felt as if single-handedly my hard work, dedication, and character integrity were being called into question. As you can imagine, this felt professionally and personally quite devastating.

After the initial shock wore off, I found myself taking the particularly passive route. I didn’t confront the situation, I didn’t take any kind of action verbally — I kept quiet and kept at it. But, the thing is, the accusations that were handed to me were so serious, so manipulative, and so hurtful that I continued to stew.

Stewing is another super ineffective way to deal with an unpleasant situation. It involved silently seething day after day about something that was wrong and unjust but I never actually did anything about it. Sometimes it felt like the safer option, not to rock the boat, or revisit something that’s technically “already happened.”

But, why wouldn’t I? If I felt so strongly that an injustice had been done to my character, why in all the universe, wouldn’t I stand up for myself? 

I’ve always prided myself on someone who calls people out on their shit. But, what I realized (slowly at and the ripe age of 31) is that I don’t nearly call enough people out when that “shit” involves me. 

It’s easy to opt for the “easier” option, the one that doesn’t make waves, to keep your head down and just keep going. There are always a number of ways to cope with a challenge or something that feels unjust. Whether it’s aggression; passive aggression; aggressive passiveness; just straight passivity; or any combination thereof.

But here’s the thing–people will treat you exactly the way you allow them to. Caveat: some people are just bigger assholes than others but there’s no doubt that you absolutely have a say in any narrative that includes you as a main character.

It is important that we are mindful of what we are allowing others to say about us.

It is important that we are mindful of whether or not the situation is asking us for increased self-awareness or for us to stand up for our self. 

It is important that we are mindful that betrayal should not be tolerated.

So be your most authentic self, lead with kindness, and most importantly lead with kindness for yourself. After all, she’s all you got.

Solace

I’m just going to leave this right here…

SOLACE

is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or one another, in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the beautiful, imaginative home we make where disappointment can go to be rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation. Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate wisdom to come to the fore, the part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leading us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the bird-song in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost.

Solace is not an evasion nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going; appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part.

Consolations, David Whyte

‘Nuff said.

“The Realm of Hungry Ghosts”

If any of you have been following this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that Tara Brach is my inspiration and my meditation guru (in an unofficial capacity). If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have this blog, I wouldn’t be training to become a meditation teacher, and my life would be significantly less mindful.

Beyond having some of the most peaceful guided meditations, my girl also does some amazing talks that help us really think about our actions and our thought processes. One of her recent ones, titled “The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” really resonated with me.

The realm of hungry ghosts sounds ethereal and abstract. But, what Tara explains and unpacks is the age-old concept that desire is the root of all suffering. In fact, desire is not the root of all suffering, it’s tied to existence and being. It’s as Tara says, getting caught in the desire is the real root of suffering.

As human beings we have attachments, addictions, and cycles that feed off themselves that eventually don’t allow us to feel for one moment that we’re exactly who we are supposed to be right now. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly seeking out approval. Whether it be from our parents, from our bosses, from our friends, from our significant others, etc. The need to be continually satisfied, statements of “it’s not enough, I’m not enough, it’s not good enough” are frequently visited even if they’re not articulated as neatly as in those phrases.

But how liberating would it be to free ourselves of the desire to always be more than what we are right now? Or where we are right now? How freeing would it be to believe that we are exactly at the place we’re meant to be in this moment in time. How peaceful and calming would it be if we could instead of following our thoughts of “not-good-enough-ness” that we pay more attention to the space in between those thoughts. Somehow finding a way to acknowledge them and let them go in one beautiful fluid motion.

What if we stopped feeding our hungry ghosts, our dysfunctional attachments, our addictions, our need for constant reassurance, our negative self-talk?

Perhaps, those ghosts, could start to starve.