Are You Writing Your Own Narrative?

Disclaimer: Do yourself a favor and if you’re not watching “West World” on HBO–do it. Now.

The show has done an incredible job at blurring the lines of real and artificial intelligence; what distinguishes us as “human beings;” exploring what fundamental human nature is; and whether it’s really just as simple as being put into neat little boxes labeled “good” or “evil.”

A large motif of the show is the concept of narratives and how the AI’s are not meant to veer off the path of their backstories, purpose(s), or loop(s). Modest improvisations are, of course, allowed but if there’s any inclination that they’ve gone off track a bit too far, they get “reset.”

The most recent episode had a scene that resonated so completely with me that after a long (unintended…ok fine, a little intended) hiatus I had to write about it.

The self is a kind of fiction…We live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do. Seldom questioning our choices, content for the most part, to be told what to do next.

When was the last time we questioned our choices? Is this good for me? Is this mindful of me? Is this the right attitude, emotion, or energy I should be emitting right now? Am I surrounding myself by the right people? Am I following my instinct(s)?

To be content is certainly not a bad thing (see previous blogpost: “What’s Wrong With Contentment?”) but too much of it may not ever allow us to go off the well-worn path of our every day and think creatively outside of what we think we know. What are my curiosities? Have I followed them and explored them? What is important to me right now? Do I do things that are in line with what is important to me? Can I see myself elsewhere? Doing something else?

We are inherently a culture of followers and leaders. But, even the leaders were taught to lead by following another leader. Doing what they were told to do and listening, in order to learn. Some of this is normal and should exist as part of a functional society (I am not advocating for anarchy…not today anyway). But, when was the last time you said “no” to the thing you were told to do? When was the last time you made your own rules?

When was the last time you picked up the pen and wrote your own next move, next witty line, next big leap?

When was the last time you were mindful of the current loop you’re in?

Happy #mindfulmonday !

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I’m Coming Out…With My Anxiety Disorder(s)

We are all broken…that’s how the light gets in.

On Sunday, I will be participating in a 2.5 mile walk called “Out of the Darkness.” This walk is specifically meant for suicide-prevention and awareness. One of my coworkers lost her 13 year old son to depression and subsequently suicide. But beyond that, it is to help bring attention to the important conversation of mental health in all its forms. This blogpost, is my way of adding to the conversation.

When I started this blog, it was never meant to be an airing of my grievances (nor will it ever be) but, I’ve had some pretty traumatic experiences in my life. Perhaps no more than the average human being, after all, many of our stories remain untold. Traumas and tragedies of love lost, broken families, physical and mental transformations. And, it is through the sum total of all those traumatic experiences and walking the path of healing that I began to know myself.

And I know this: I suffer from anxiety.

The conversation around mental health, though improving by the day, is still one that is highly stigmatized and not one that is readily accepted. It is deeply engrained in us to bow to societal pressures and social mores set upon us by our forefathers (and mothers). Let’s not forget that women were diagnosed as “hysterical,” and the cause was believed to be a wandering uterus. Now, I may have an anxiety disorder and I may be a woman, but I assure you, my uterus is fully planted in its place.

That being said, I still keep most of the challenges that arise because of my anxiety to myself. Even as I am writing this, I think about the reactions of the people who will read this, whether or not it’ll “come out” at work, whether or not I should be really revealing my personal challenges to the world wide web. Remember everyone, I just told you I have anxiety–this post wouldn’t be authentic if it wasn’t riddled with it!

My anxiety disorders have been debilitating in a variety of ways. To scratch the surface: I’ve felt like not wanting to go to work, I’ve had an inability to rationalize thought, I’ve felt like I couldn’t get off an emotional rollercoaster, I’ve experienced painful and uncomfortable physical symptoms for long periods of time, suffered from panic attacks, participated in incessant and obsessive thought processes, catastrophized situations–you name it, I’m living it and I’ve thought it.

I started therapy over a year ago and have been mud-crawling the emotional trenches for much longer than that. I will be the first to tell you that therapy changed my life. I believe it is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever participated in and I am finally on the path to healing. But, here’s the thing: I will always have an anxiety disorder. It is a lifelong burden that I must learn to manage, to navigate, and to accept as part of who I am.

My friends and fiancé have been crucial as my support system. Through my work to understand my self and how I am a product of my experiences and my anxiety disorder, I have slowly but surely started to learn how to talk about this piece of me.

The next time you people watch, the next time you meet that extroverted person who seems like she’s got it all together, the next time you see or think someone might be struggling, the next time you are annoyed by that person who seems endlessly perky, remember that they too might suffer with their mental health–more than you could possibly imagine.

So, participate in the conversation, own your imperfections and struggles, and always always remember to breathe.

The light in me acknowledges the light in all of you.

The Mindfulness of Exercise

I creak open the heavy door into the small and smelly room. I take a mental count of who has joined me in this soon to be sweaty battle of man (or woman) vs machine.

I climb onto the beast and am met face-to-face with a panel full of choices. Do I want “training”? Do I want “fat burn”? Do I want “keep going until you throw up or die”? Oh wait, that’s not a choice.

I begin a slow walk to warm up. The sound of my “drop-a-beat” workout playlist starts to mirror my increasing heart rate. Reverberating louder and louder in my ears as I pick up speed.

I press the “increase speed” button with my index finger. Beep! Beep! Beep!  I arbitrarily pick a speed that (hopefully) won’t send me flying against the opposite wall.

This is it. I am now in it for the long haul. The long haul being at least 30 minutes.

I try and control my breathing, huffing and puffing feeling things moving that I wish wouldn’t. My legs feel strong, my arms pump rhythmically as I feel the belt move in circles underneath my feet.

The sweat begins to bead onto my nose. And like osmosis is want to do, it travels and collects in my suprasternal notch at the base of my neck–evidence of my exertion collecting in a salty puddle.

My achilles tendon starts to pull. I have a whole new appreciation for that oft-forgotten Greek hero. That spot is a b****.  With every step, it feels like a rubber band being stretched tighter and tighter, tenuously close to snapping.

I keep going. Sweat now running into my eyes temporarily blinding me every few minutes. I am suddenly very aware of my breathing and I wonder whether or not my companions think I’m breathing too loudly.

The muscle in the crease of my elbows is tight. My lungs want to burst. I am so hot, I feel volcanic. I remind myself that when I first walked in, I had goosebumps all up and down my arms because it was so cold. What I would give to feel those bumps again!n

And, I continue. I hit 15 minutes and scream victoriously inside my head “HALF WAY THERE!

And like a wall, a huge red brick wall, it hits me. Suddenly, it feels as if I am 300 pounds and climbing a mountain. Heavy, so heavy.

I slug through, breathing in and out, shaking my arms out, keeping my shoulders down, opening my chest, feeling my feet hit the ground over and over again. Every minute feels like a minute closer to what dying must feel like. Death, dripping all over me. I concentrate fully on surviving my final 15.

3-0 minutes shines brightly onto the panel, I quickly hit stop. My legs feel like jello and the sweat has traveled further south. I wipe the beast down. I collect my things and walk bowlegged and wobbly to the elevators.

And, I realize: I was in the present, in the moment, those entire 30 minutes. Every breath I took in and out was the only thing I concentrated on in that moment. Every step I took was the only thing I could focus on in that half an hour. Getting through that next 60 seconds was the only thing I thought about. Perhaps, could it be–I was mindfully meditating the entire time I was working out and didn’t even know it?!

 

Mindful Living and The Search for Personal Fulfillment

I know that I haven’t blogged in quite some time (close to a month!). I used to feel guilty about it and then I remembered that writing is one of the great pleasures of my life. I never want to feel as if it’s a requirement. That, to me, connotes duty and responsibility and I think we have enough of that in our daily lives.

Additionally, part of mindful living is focus on the present and on one (ok, maybe a few) things at a time. It is so easy to slip into a habit of stressful check-lists in an attempt to exert control and feel productive when stressed or major life events happen. Mindful living, in my opinion, first and foremost asks for a sustained gentle awareness of what matters most to our mind and body from moment to moment. So long story short, I had to get through the past few weeks as mindfully as possible to come back here.

So, I got engaged! It was simple, intimate, and pure. Everything I had hoped for in a proposal. I’m also moving in a few short weeks and will be sharing a space with someone again for the first time in six years. All this to say that keeping myself centered, holistically healthy, present and aware is just as important to me as finding the perfect rug for my bedroom, packing, and organizing.

The other day, I was talking to my life coach (yes, that’s a thing and I would love to be one). We were discussing how each and every time I find my life ramping up in stress (both positive and negative), I knock out my meditation practice. And then she asked me: “Is it because it’s for you?

I paused. And I realized–sadly–that yes, so much of my focus tends to be on my commitments that I made/make to other people that trump anything that I’ve committed myself to. 

I would venture to say that this is a common theme in our lives. How often does the thing that you love, you know betters you, know is important to you, gets moved down to the long list of “everything else?”

Shouldn’t our practices, our interests, our hobbies, our training that provide fulfillment in more ways than one be just as much a priority as that project that has an upcoming deadline?

YES. It should! My practice is for myself and therefore a priority.

Do you prioritize your personal passions and curiosities in the same way as your duties and responsibilities?

Perhaps, your dedication to your personal fulfillment would allow you to be a better employee, daughter/son, mother/father, boss, significant other, friend, and partner.

Perhaps, the betterment of you is for the betterment of all.

Happy #mindfulmonday !

 

To love is to be vulnerable

The act of vulnerability is one of the most difficult things a human must do. That along side being able to say “I don’t know,” and not go immediately searching for the answer(s).

I’ve had my fair share of toxic relationships: platonic and romantic. I do believe there is a time in one’s life where self-awareness and the love for yourself trumps the need to continue relationships that are unhealthy or unyielding.

To be your authentic self in love means that you are authentically vulnerable with your partner. This is absolutely utterly terrifying for most everyone I know. But it’s especially terrifying for the people that have been through a traumatic heartbreak (or 2…or 3). Because the idea of moving on is difficult enough, the idea of truly being vulnerable and revealing the wounds–some still gaping, some scarred hideously–is one that is intimidating on all fronts. Plus, who’s to say this person won’t do the exact same thing.

I once read that vulnerability is accepting of the uncertainty of the human condition and of life itself. Here’s an excerpt:

The hope for unconditional love is the hope for a different life than the one we have been given. Love is the conversation between possible, searing disappointment and a profoundly imagined sense of arrival and fulfillment; how we shape that conversation is the touchstone of our ability to love in the real inhabited world. The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child;, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.

In essence, because we live in a conditional world, the concept of unconditional love is an inherent risk we are taking on and moreover an unrealistic expectation. This conditional world in which we live in means there is no possible path where we will not be met with some kind of heartbreak, difficulties, and joys that is under the great umbrella of “love” (and subsequent vulnerability). We must embrace helplessness with the condition that we are choosing to do so to give ourselves the chance of experiencing authentic love.

So, all of you, love without regrets, love fully, love freely, love authentically, love mindfully, and above all, just love

My 30 Day “Just Be” Challenge

Ever have a day where you leave work and the entire time you’re walking, driving, metro-ing, biking, you’re consumed with a replay of a rough day at work and a series of frustrating conversations? Even though you’ve physically left the building and are at last blissfully solitary, you find yourself somehow still present “there” and not present “here.”

This happens to me a lot–almost on a daily basis. Compartmentalizing or practicing mindful containment in my life is not my strong suit. When something has bothered me, it affects me and permeates every aspect of my life. My mind replays the moment, conversation, email, text, etc. My body tenses, my breathing becomes shallow, and my concentration wanes. I become stuck in a cycle of reliving something when I am no longer being asked or required to participate.

Why is this so hard?

Before you know it I’ve walked half a mile to my car and not once bothered to take a deep breath, be grateful that it’s the end of my day, or listened to the sounds of the birds or the wind rustling through the forested trail. I’m completely wrapped up in the same stuff I have been all day. A work day is no longer 8 to 10 hours because there is a never-ending dialogue that’s rehashing anxieties and stressors long after you’ve left the physical office.

In my latest life coaching session on my journey as a recovering control freak (see this recent blogpost) she challenged me to a 30 day challenge of “just being,” “just living.” As I’m sure you can imagine, I had lots of questions about that. What do you mean “just be?” Am I supposed to not go into work? Do I stop making plans for things that are happening in the future? Do I stop running errands? Do I only do things I want even if they aren’t healthy or the “right” thing to do?

The first 48 hours of this “challenge” have been absolute hell. All the ideas of being zen-like, peaceful, and calm, going with the flow, floating through my days saluting the sun and breathing deeply has literally flown out the window. This is what the first 48 hours looked like:

Restless sleep.

Recurring dreams continue about going back to college and running around it because I’m trying to reach a goal or be on time for a class or help my roommate win a scholarship and subsequently meet Phil Collins all while profusely sweating (yep.)

45 minutes to get into work on Day 1. I live 5 miles away.

Lock keys in car while still running on Day 2. Have to pay for roadside assistance.

Retrieve car, A/C seems to be broken. It’s the beginning of summer. Get home smelling ripe.

Stress eat.

Stress clean.

Feel guilty about stress eating. Think about going to the gym. Remind self that the couch is far more welcoming than the gym.

Meditate.

15 minutes into the practice decide to call it quits.

Feel guilty about quitting after 15 minutes.

Relive work for past 48 hours. Anticipate all work to happen in the next 48 hours. Replay frustrating conversations and decide how I want to respond to them in all future instances from now until the end of time.

Reminded by my own handwriting on sassy whiteboard about my challenge / affirmation for the next 30 days and realize that I have to just be.

…30 days feels impossible.

I’m Always California Dreamin’

About 6 years ago, I fell deeply, euphorically, head-over-heels in love with California. I vowed on that trip that I would find my way back as often as I possibly could and I wouldn’t be that person continually saying “in the next 3 years when I’ve done this and this has happened, I’ll make the move.” I promised to move as soon as I could.

And then 6 years passed.

I am nowhere near moving to California. I have accomplished many other things I wanted to do and have been encountered with other obstacles, challenges, and joys that have stopped me from the “big move.”

Every time I hear of someone that I know either presently or in the past moving to California, I experience soul-crushing sadness. Deep disappointment. Melancholic jealousy.

Why them and not me? California is MY dream. 

When will my time come? I’m already 30. 

Will I be stuck here forever? 

California is where I belong.  

Can I be truly happy here if I’m not in California?

This feeling is so intense that it is often hard for me to keep a straight face when the “We’re moving to California!” announcement gets shared. I flinch, I flinch every time.

My mindful-zen-yogi-namaste mind knows that each of our individual paths will unfold as they are meant to. And that timing isn’t everything. And that California may be a lot of people’s dreams…but somehow, I’ve become possessive (and subsequently not very mindful) about this.

Each time this strikes, I am not present because I’m thinking about how I’m not in California. I am not present because I am focused on other people living out my dream while I’m seemingly stuck in my half-baked one.

I put California on a pedestal.  A pedestal that is a dangerous, for as the Buddhists so wisely remind us: desire is the root of all suffering. By focusing our attentions on the possibility of a seemingly impossible dream, are we, ultimately either in a state of disappointment or setting ourselves up for disappointment? Is this one singular dream, really, truly, the single most important key to my happiness? 

Guess what? When I ask myself that question, I am met with a clear answer. That soul-crushing sadness turns into a smile and I am able to sigh a deep relaxing breath because I am able to acnkowledge the love, happiness, and light that surrounds my life today, right now–palm trees or no palm trees.

The Bell Curve of Vacation

We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.

In my humble opinion, going on vacation looks a lot like a bell curve. There is all the preparation, anticipation, and even stress that goes into getting ready for the big trip. Wrapping up work projects, cleaning the house so you don’t come home to a giant mess, making sure you have all your travel reservations taken care of, double-checking a packing list and somehow still worrying about inevitably forgetting something.

There’s all this build up to the peak of that curve. And then you are at the peak, the crescendo, the great bliss of vacation. Of no responsibilities, of no alarm clocks, of no meetings, of no adult responsibilities that sound like: “I have to go grocery shopping,” “I have to go to the gym,” “I have to pay my Comcast bill.” You are in almost every way vacating your current life for an adventure that you are writing in real time.

It is a well-known fact that the United States doesn’t have the greatest vacation policy for most employees. My mother, a fiercely proud French woman, was aghast when she first learned of the policy here.

“What do you mean I have two weeks for the first two years?!”

After all, she hailed from a country that started you out at 6 weeks minimum. Not to mention a country that as of most recently,  legalized a law that just made it illegal for your boss to contact you after-hours. The French (and I know many other cultures) never lived to work, they worked to live. So, vacation was precious to me once I learned how hard it was to accrue and how quickly it can go away.

I just returned from vacation and I was riding the bell-curve-bliss pretty hard. I had driven through some of the most scenic states on the East Coast; seen majestic and mysterious animals that we still to this day know so little about; and made it to a country where French was spoken but I didn’t get on a plane. In every way, this vacation was magical–like so many others

As I drove back closer and closer to home, I realized that something was happening to not only me, but my S.O. as well. The closer we inched back home, the more tense we physically became, the more on edge we talked to each other, the more frustrated we got with tiny things. The closer we got to home, the less mindful we became of our actions. The closer we got to home, we started to come down that bell curve at an alarming speed. Careening back down to reality and to all the responsibilities of LIFE. 

We came crashing down hard. Our conversations changed from awe and “look, how beautiful!” to “I really don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” and “I’m so worried about what to do about x, y, and z.” Because as quickly as we vacated our lives, we had to go back.

I felt my shoulders and jaw muscles tense. My brow furrow. My breathing become shallow and quick. All the cars, the noise, overwhelming and overstimulating. And, I looked at him and said: “We have completely lost being in the moment, our vacation isn’t even finished yet, and we’re already dreading tomorrow and the next day–hell, even the next week!”

How does one capture and bottle that feeling of bell-curve-bliss in everyday life?

What is so awe-inspiring is not the scenery or the amazing adventure of a vacation, but it is truly living from moment to momentThat, above anything, is the foundation of mindful living.

So I challenge us to try and remember that feeling of living moment to moment. Opening our eyes and taking in the beauty that is around us, even if it is driving to work every day, or picking fruit at the grocery store, or the simple satisfaction of taking a deep breath once a day.

Until the next vacation!

 

 

Forget Not That The Earth Delights to Feel Your Bare Feet

You know when you have habits that help soothe and relax so that you can unwind and unfurl yourself from whatever tough meeting, uncomfortable conversation, hellacious commute, or long day you’ve just had?

I’ve got one (well, I have many). And, I’ve finally realized why this particular one is so freeing to me.

The first thing I do when I get home is change into my most comfortable loose-fitting clothes (this is pretty average for most women because hello! we can’t wear yoga pants to work…well most of us can’t). But, the best feeling in the world? Taking my shoes off and feeling the ground beneath me. Barefoot, I feel it reminding me that I am home. I am here now. I can breathe deep and let go.

And then I started doing this at acupuncture. I would wait for my acupuncturist to be ready for me, I would walk in and sit on the chair in the dimly lit incensed room, sigh a deep breath and slip off whatever shoes I was wearing. Wiggle my toes and feel immediately grounded. Ready and open to discuss what healing practices would be good for me today.

And then…I did this at work. Before I hear a collective “ew!” from all of you, I’ll have you know I was in the privacy of my own office and my feet were hidden underneath my desk. Also, I’m obsessive about keeping my feet clean and pretty, so I’m the ideal person you want taking their shoes off in an office environment. But, besides that point, today I was asked to work on something creative. Unfortunately, creativity has left my job by and large over the past few years so I was excited that this assignment (as mediocre and small as it was) was asking me to tap into something that has recently felt largely dormant. As I found myself (sneakily) slipping my shoes off, wiggling my toes, and feeling the ground beneath me and breathing deep, I felt the pressure of the assignment lift and let my imagination take over.

There’s something incredibly powerful in feeling the ground beneath us. We are so busy walking, rushing, running, everywhere. There’s a reason why in yoga, “mountain pose” is standing at the top of your mat, feet rooted into the earth while you stand tall and open like the majestic mountain you are meant to be. Perhaps the reason why babies can never keep shoes on their feet is because they aren’t meant to be confined to shoes. Perhaps, we were all never meant to be confined to shoes (p.s. – I have a serious shoe shopping addiction so just know that this was painful for me to write.)

All this to say…take off your shoes. Feel the earth underneath you. Feel the wood of your floors. Or the well-worn carpet of your bedroom. Or the shag rug in your living room. But feel it, scrunch up those toes, wiggle them around, press your heel and balls of your feet into the ground and then stretch them out. And remember, that in that very moment you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Rooted into the earth.

Note to Self: Let that Sh** Go

We are the product of our collective experiences. Many of my experiences growing up included a complete lack of control/say around any life decisions. As you can imagine this turned me into a force to be reckoned with later on in life — I am the Queen Bee of Control Freaks. It served me well (and sometimes still does). I don’t give up. I fight for everything I want. I push myself hard. I’m unafraid to do whatever it takes to get the outcome I *think* I want. But here’s the thing about that:

My past is impeding on my present and I am fixated on my future.

Also, I’m EXHAUSTED.  Imagine that, it’s exhausting constantly trying to remain in control of every possible scenario, conversation, and situation!

Mindful living is largely reliant on living in the present moment and letting go of control. That’s the irony of it all, control over one’s life is largely a misconception because so much is out of our control.  I grapple with this day in and day out. I’ll keep convincing myself that I will let it all play out the way it should, but…then…I won’t. And, through every effort that wasn’t met by any response at all, it fuels the fire of needing to control the situation.

I’ve been working through some affirmations and pledges that I’m hoping will help me (and hopefully all of you) in letting go:

Acknowledge the thought and let go.

I hear this and move on.

No one is taking any control away from you, you are choosing to step back and away and let go.

Shift your focus.

Happiness sometimes means letting go of the life we imagined.

There is freedom in accepting what can’t be changed.

Perhaps this is the ultimate mindfulness lesson — to learn how to wrestle and conquer this bear to be truly present in the moment. To learn how to climb over this mountain with tools I’m learning how to use.