Friday, 26 June 2015
But this time, I felt the easy inspiration rise up to do it, and knew that I would and could and felt quite excited about it. I was just coming out of a tricky time of anxiety and spinning mind and continual ruminations and despair about being in that place. And I thought, I want to try an experiment. I've meditated for years, I've read so much about meditation and mental health; I want to see what happens if I take this time every day to calm my mind and sit in quiet.
So I embarked on my own personal journey, my own personal experiment with regular meditation. Not for any spiritual or discipline reasons, but as an exploration about mental health and wellness. To see if it would soothe my racing mind. Partly for me, partly because I want to learn all about what can soothe and heal and help anyone with mental health struggles.
Today is Day 40. I've done it. Every day. Most days I sat at about 6 or 6:30am for 20-25 minutes. In my living room. The early-rising sun was a wonderful support in this, as I know it's much easier for me to rise when it's light out. Some mornings I had a trickier time getting out of bed, and would meditate in the evenings. A few weekend mornings I wandered over to the park across the street from my place and sat on the grass under a tree and soaked up that beautiful earth energy while I meditated. One day I sat in the gentle rain.
Each time was surprisingly sweet. I say surprisingly, because I've had meditation times where it felt like an effort to just show up. But something about this experiment, this adventure of 40 days, made it feel really fun and delicious.
Here's what I noticed. Many times when I sat, my mind was busy. For sure, my thoughts jump around a lot. There is planning. There is daydreaming. There is worrying. There is question-asking. But each time I caught my mind wandering off to a new place, I would notice the thought, occasionally labeling it as "worry" "plan" "thought" "emotion", and then come back to my meditation. Occasionally I would know that the thought or emotion needed a little attention, and I would sit with it and say, do we need to think on this now, or can we think on this after our meditation? Almost always, the thought would simply fade and I would come back to my meditation. A few times the emotion came up and I wept for a minute or two, and I would watch but not get engaged in it, and come back to my meditation. Sometimes I knew what that emotion was about. More often I had no idea where the weeping was coming from, and I felt very calm about that. At this point in my journey, I trust that when I weep, something is being released or healed, and I don't need to know what it's about. Sometimes I knew the weeping was about a sadness, while at other times I knew the weeping was rooted in deep joy and pleasure and delight.
The most delightful part of this journey has been the effects I've noticed in my day-to-day life. So, yes, while in meditation, while actually sitting, my mind is moving, it's busy, there are thoughts and feelings and all manner of movement in there. But outside of my sitting, I've noticed a calming and quieting of my mind. In the last 40 days, I have experienced times of anxiety and worry. But it feels really different. I am aware of the spinning starting, but I am aware that I don't have any despair or dread about it. See, when I am not meditating regularly and the anxiety hits, I despair. It feels very overwhelming, like it is me, and will always be me, and I'm trapped and smothered by it. But for the last 40 days, I've noticed that I can notice my anxiety rising, and it feels real and not great, but there is not the attachment of despair and of being traumatized by it. Regular meditation has definitely changed my experience of my spinning mind. There is more of a sense of watching it. More compassion and love toward it. An ability to notice and acknowledge it more quickly, and a sense of it quieting much more quickly than previously.
I feel really grounded. I feel really confidant. I experience emotions strongly, but seem to be able to sit with them and not attach to them quite as dramatically as I often do.
There is a quietness, a steadiness underneath everything that I'm not aware of when I don't sit regularly. There is still much thought and strong emotions, but somehow it all seems to be injected with a calmness, a deep joy, a feeling of wellbeing. I can come out of the spins and negative spirals pretty quickly now.
I can't say for certain that this is a direct result of the regular meditation. I'm aware that this is also the season of sunshine and lightness and long bright days, and that makes a huge difference in my mental health as well. Maybe I'll have to plan this experiment next February to see if it's valid and reliable when the days are short and dark:)
Or, maybe, I'll keep up this experiment and keep sitting every day.
Because I've loved the experience. I've seen a real difference in how I see the world and cope with life and live it a little more fully and less anxiously. Also, it's giving me precious time with myself, time to sit and be still and feel connected to something very deep and beautiful and larger than the thoughts that race around in my mind. And all of those are very delightful gifts.
There is my little story of my 40 days:) I like this meditation thing. I dig it. It's sweet and beautiful and deep and healing and lovely and grounding. It is something very spiritual for me, which for me is a private thing to explore and enjoy, but it is also a very pragmatic, helpful, rational way to heal and soothe and quiet my mind. I am grateful for it:)
Thanks for reading. I share these thoughts partly because I love exploring and writing about my experiences, but mostly because I hope that by my sharing, some of you might be inspired, or find some comfort or tools that help you, or simply recognize yourself in my stories, which sometimes brings great soothing and peace if you ever feel alone in your experiences or struggles. I'd love to hear your stories or questions about meditation if you want to share!!
Friday, 22 May 2015
When I'm in the midst of anxiety and cynicism and depression, I ragingly hate hearing about positive affirmations, about how if I just changed my self-talk, I'd feel better. I see all these quotes and happy affirmations and I want to scream and tell the authors and posters how foolish and airy-fairy they are. I want to shut it all down and just be in my misery for a while.
And, when something comes along that shifts my energy, like springtime, or hearing a good speaker, or doing some yoga, or whatever, and I can find my way back to that place of lightness and hope and a bit of ease, I hear the affirmations come rising up in my consciousness. Interesting. Maybe they're always there, but I just can't hear them when my dark side is dominant:)
So the last couple of weeks, this is what I've had rise up in me every morning when I wake up:
May my heart be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
It's a little metta meditation, a lovingkindness meditation from the Buddhist tradition. I used to use it a lot in my yoga teaching. It's sweet, I think. And just by repeating it a few times in the morning, it seems to set a really nice vibe for my day. It addresses my heart, my body, my mind and my emotions. I like it a lot.
But I just had a thought... if what we say or think creates our reality, then I don't want to just say "please, may I have this, may I be this". I want to say, "I am this".
So today, I'm repeating this little mantra:
My heart is filled with lovingkindness.
I am well.
I am peaceful and at ease.
I am happy.
Today, I like this affirmation. It seems to be raising my spirit and that's always a delight.
Try it on for yourself if you're in the mood or headspace for affirmations:) what do you think?
Thursday, 21 May 2015
I started doing yoga dvd's in my living room, and one of the teachers did this little meditation at the end of her class, which I've since come to learn is a spinal kriya - you focus on the breath at your tailbone, and as you inhale, you "watch" the breath travel up your spine to the crown of the head, and then you exhale, watching the breath travel down the spine to your tailbone. And you repeat this, over and over. It is a "Watching the breath" meditation. I didn't have the language or knowledge at the time to even really realize it was a meditation, but I loved it from day 1. Years later, with much studying and practicing under my belt, I was introduced to it in a formal, titled way, and understood more of what was happening, physically, mentally, and spiritually with such a practice. But at the time, as a beginner, I just knew I loved it and that it felt sweet and delicious.
As I am writing this, I realize that maybe my introduction to meditation began long before 2004 - that was just my introduction to yogic meditation. I think my introduction may have been a lifetime before that, through the Christian church and my bible-reading, faithfully-praying family. My siblings and I were raised to pray and to read the Christian scriptures. Verses from the Bible like
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
This sounds to me like great instruction for positive thinking, rather than thinking about things that are negative or hurtful. Not so different from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:)
The Bible regularly instructs its readers to meditate on God and his wonders. As do many scriptures from other world religions. There seems to be a constant desire, and consistent direction from all faiths, that meditation is good and helpful and delightful and important.
So I think it's neat to think that my introduction to meditation, and my desire to do so, came from a very young age. I'm forever grateful to my family and Christianity for that!
Now, I'm older. 38. Studied, thought, practiced, evaluated, all that rational grown-up stuff we do. Yoga is my path now. Has been for many years. Many of the meditations from the yogic and Buddhist traditions resonate with me more deeply than from the Christian tradition. I have a meditation teacher, Rolf Sovik, who is currently the President of the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania. He teaches meditation in a way that is simple and clear, and by following the guidelines he lays out, I come into a place of meditation quite easily and effectively. His "techniques" work for me, in that they help my nervous system quiet down before I sit and try to develop stillness in my mind. I need that.
I'm not much of a preacher of one right way - there are so many wonderful methods, techniques, and ways to meditate. Seek. Try some on. See what's right for you, what resonates with you, if you're interested in meditating. I'm just delighted to have found one that works for me.
I've had interesting experiences with meditation. Times when I'm so into it, I just want to do it forever. Times where I want to meditate for spiritual reasons. Definitely times when I let my meditation practice go for weeks or months because I just want to stay in bed. Right now, I'm coming back to a more regular meditation practice, for mental health reasons. I'm experiencing pretty high levels of anxiety right now, and have been for a few months. I've re-remembered that when I meditate regularly, the anxiety doesn't necessarily go away, but I don't feel despair or fear or terror about my anxiety. When I practice regularly, I am mindful of it, but don't have the devastating emotional and mental reactions about the anxiety that I do when I'm not meditating. I'm letting go of the strictness of the rules around a meditation practice (how long for, what techniques to get into it, etc), and am just sitting and meditating and watching my mind as I do. Sometimes the meditation time feels really chaotic. My mind is very busy, even during meditation. And that's just an opportunity for me to watch, to observe, to learn more about myself, to notice. To not get drawn into the stories or reactions of my mind, but simply to notice. With compassion. And the best thing about it for me, is that it really affects the rest of my day. My mind is still very busy, and worries try to take over, and my body does still manifest the symptoms of anxiety. But somehow it feels a little more quiet. Less desperate. I'm able to see and notice what's happening, and take a moment to breathe. To send love to myself. To be aware of my thoughts and feelings. All that precious cheesy stuff we do to keep ourselves moving forward:)
I think that's all for today. I am grateful for meditation. Right now, I feel like it's saving my life from the pain and terror of extreme anxiety.
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
I was recently part of a photo shoot, in which I had to get naked. This photo shoot, and this piece of writing, are part of this beautiful project that two people are doing, about positive body image. I decided to go for this photo shoot after knee surgery, a time where my body was less “fit” than other times in my life. It was important for me to have the pictures done at this time, because I wanted to explore what it was like to accept my body as it is in this moment. I hoped the photo shoot would be a place where I could experience some playfulness, and freedom, in taking my clothes off in front of a camera, and seeing what would be expressed by working with a photographer who wanted to explore and promote positive body image. I hope that my pictures show some of the ease and acceptance that I'm learning to have about my body. I hope that my pictures express some of the peace and joy that I experience about my body through my yoga practice. I hope that my pictures reveal that a body that has some body fat, and some curves, and some jiggles, is beautiful. It is the container that carries everything that makes me, me. It is the vehicle that allows me to experience the beauty of nature, of relationships, of art, of living. For that, I am deeply grateful for my healthy, strong, always-changing, beautiful body.
Friday, 8 May 2015
"I need to learn how to be content with simply not knowing and be at peace with the notion that everything does not need an explanation"
Hey, this one hits home for me. "But why? Why is it like that? Why do I react like that? Why is he like that?" My go-to way of operating, partly due to Western ways of thinking, partly due to what was modeled for me, and partly to ease my own discomfort, is to question. To dig, to analyze - the rationale being that in understanding and seeking explanations, it might make things better, more palatable; it might take away pain or confusion or uncertainty about a situation.
If someone treats you poorly, you dig into their past to come up with a reason for why they are such a dick. If you experience pain about something, you analyze it to figure out the deep why. If there is uncertainty, you do everything you can to figure out the what/why/how to settle that feeling of unknowing.
Because unknowing is uncomfortable. Because facing the blunt reality of this life can be difficult. Because we do anything to escape from or ease pain. It's normal, and likely a survival mechanism.
But what if I could learn to be content with simply not knowing? What if I stop seeking an explanation for everything?
Right now I'm aware that I have a desire to be in a loving intimate relationship with a partner. It's not happening for me right now. And I'll tell you, I sometimes experience a lot of sadness and occasional pain about that. [I don't think I'm seeking comforting; I don't think I'm reaching out for anything with this confession, I just want to share my experience of being human, one that I imagine many can relate to]. And I have spent a LOT of time analyzing why. Therapy. Chats with friends. Journaling. Digging, seeking an explanation.
Is there something wrong with me? Am I giving off some horrid energy that keeps me single? Do I not actually want a relationship, though I think and feel that I do, and that's why I'm single? Am I hideous and unlovable? Is there more work I need to do on myself before it'll happen? Do I need to fix me? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Do I have deep horrid unresolved issues about my parents' relationship that I need to address? What is wrong with me? Why? And what can I do to fix whatever is wrong?
These are the thoughts that go round and round in my mind. I don't know if any of you out there relate - I imagine many single people who want a relationship have similar thoughts. Maybe. And sometimes there are things we need to address and look at. But I can say with honesty that I've done a lot of work, looked at issues, embraced healing, am pretty aware of past habits and patterns and beliefs. And still, I'm here.
For whatever reason, this is the life I get to live, and right now, up to now, it doesn't include another person as a life partner.
It does make me feel sad at times. I don't understand it. My friends and family tell me they don't understand it. But, maybe, "I need to learn how to be content with simply not knowing and be at peace with the notion that everything does not need an explanation".
I don't know why I'm single. And maybe I can learn to accept, to sit with the feelings, to make friends with how life is right now, in each moment, and not have to dig so deeply for an explanation.
Some things just are the way they are. Accept. Breathe. Cry, rage, laugh, mope, play, sing, notice, be. What the fuck else can you do?
[As an aside, I'm definitely not saying it's all bad to be single. There are many fabulous, fun things about being single, as there are many fabulous, fun things about being in a relationship. There are also many challenging and difficult things about both lifestyles. That's not the topic of this blog. I'll save that for another day:)]
Wednesday, 8 April 2015
I feel great. I feel clean, I feel well, I feel healthy, I feel great. 12 days of only eating healthy, whole foods, and my body is a happy place to inhabit!
I don't think this cleanse is for everyone - the eating habits are probably pretty great for most people. Cut out sweet tropical fruits, sugar, flour, dairy and alcohol; eat mostly alkaline-forming foods, and reduce acid-forming foods (I'll include a list below). But the cleanse part, the herbal pills and drops that you take for 12 days, may not be good for everyone. They clean you out, with the laxative and diuretic properties; it might be a great idea to check with your doctor before you do it. Some of the herbs may affect people in different ways. You need to cut out any vitamins or supplements you take normally, and the effects of the pills likely affect any other medication you're taking, so don't enter into this without doing some research first.
But for me, I'm really glad I did this; feeling good.
I woke this morning thinking, oh fun, I can eat chocolate if I want to. And then I thought, I don't know if I want to. I've worked hard to feel this good, and my body loves it. I don't want to put shit in my body anymore. I've lost some weight; I feel good. I don't want to throw it all away now! Maybe the occasional treat.
I've just now had a chocolate. The first taste was delicious. and then the following two or three bites it took to finish it felt like an explosion of shocking sweetness in my mouth. Not actually the pleasant experience I thought it would be. More of a "ugh. this is so too sweet". And now there is an odd aftertaste in my mouth that I'm really not enjoying. Oh no, what if I've ruined my desire and enjoyment of unhealthy fake processed foods?!?! :) what a funny thing - my taste buds have changed in 12 days for sure - they've only had the sweetness of fruit for the last couple weeks, and this introduction of chocolate was not the joyous celebration I thought it would be. hmmm.
So, going forward, I think I'm going to stay with this eating plan. I think I'll commit to another 15 days, which will take me right up to my vacation to Curacao. I won't take anymore pills or drops - just stay with the healthy eating plan. Though I may take a cheat day now and then. I read somewhere about someone who eats as they wish on Sundays - I might try that plan. 6 days a week of these awesome eating habits that make my body feel amazing, and 1 day to splurge if I want to. I'll see how that works for the next couple of weeks.
So, fun readers, thanks for reading along on this little journey with me. I will testify that clean whole healthy eating makes me feel friggin fantastic!!!
Here's the lists of foods to eat and not eat for this fun plan. Have fun if you decide to jump in, and please write me and tell me all about your story! I'd really love to hear it!
And wishing all health and wellness for you all as we move happily into Spring!
Section 1 (eat less than 20% each day) - Protein/Acid forming foods:
Section 2 (eat as much as you want!) - Alkaline forming foods:
To be avoided entirely:
lours or flour products
Dairy products (may have butter)
All fermented foods (wine, beer, vinegar, soy sauce, black tea, miso)
*coffee, green tea and herbal tea are acceptable, max 2 cups a day
**barley, kasha, bulgar, spelt, kamut, amaranth, oats, and rye whole grains are allowed as part of the 20% list as they are acid-forming
***cook and use lots of olive oil, flax oil, sunflower oil or coconut oil (my new favourite!)
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
I made it through Easter weekend, a feat unto itself! [I feel ok with a little bragging after this one]. not even one bite of chocolate, though I was so so friggin tempted to break!! so much chocolate all around me... and desserts... my aunt had pecan maple pie, which normally I could take or leave, but man, my mouth wanted it so badly. But I didn't. nope, not even one bite. I'm seriously impressed with my self-control:) there's that wee bit of bragging I'm allowing myself:)
I've had some delicious meals since I last wrote. I didn't have to work Friday (Good Friday, a holiday), and took the opportunity to make myself a fun breakfast of sweet potato fries and eggs with spinach and garlic - delicious!
For lunch, to keep me fueled for writing a paper for this class I'm taking, I made a quinoa salad and guacamole. For the quinoa salad, I cooked up some beluga lentils (tiny, black, I think a fun combination with quinoa), added tomatoes, lots of cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The guacamole was ripe avocado, tomatoes, lemon juice, a touch of olive oil, and a finely-chopped shallot. I ate it with brown rice cakes.
It was a perfect feast, and filled me up till dinner, which was leftover tilapia and brown rice I had from a couple days before.
Saturday I headed to visit family, and that night I made a chicken stirfry with all kinds of veggs and coconut milk, over brown rice for my sis and parents. Yum. They enjoyed it, and were happy with how full and healthy and content they felt afterward.
Sunday was a tricky day for me. The fam went out for a beautiful Easter brunch at a hotel near by. And let me tell you, they put on an amazing brunch. The first thing displayed as you entered the room was a table laden with about 15 different desserts, cakes, pies, squares, treats. Oh jeez. Here we go. The buffet had everything from shrimp cocktails to eggs benedict, exquisite pastries, salads, bacon, sausage, breads, spreads, cheeses and a huge freshly baked ham. oh my goodness. Thankfully they had tons of veggies, roasted and raw, beautifully baked salmon and lean prime rib, so I did feast on those things. I had one cheat, the second of these 12 days - I ate a shrimp. Shellfish is not allowed in this cleanse. But I made a conscious choice to eat one. and it was so delicious:) Otherwise, I was solid though so so very tempted! But thankful for the delicious variety of options, to be able to eat well and healthily even at a buffet. A little bit of cantaloupe somewhat satisfied my sweets craving. I was so so longing for all that chocolate cake though!!
Sunday night was a feast at my aunt and uncle's - cheeses and spreads and crackers for appetizers, a big ham, scalloped potatoes, pecan pie, and the always-wild-fun family easter egg hunt which ends with everyone gathering piles of chocolate eggs. But there were lots of fun green salads with nuts and seeds, and I made a big quinoa salad, and my mom made a dish of mashed sweet potatoes, and so I feasted on healthy choices. I made my second conscious decision to cheat at this meal, by eating a very small piece of ham. Two cheats, on Day 10, both little bits of protein. I was ok with these decisions, so close to the end. My body is now processing and digesting food quite well and effectively. I didn't bend to the deep cravings for all that chocolate that surrounded me, but I brought a little home, which I will enjoy over the next few weeks, a wee little bit at a time:) I can't wait for the taste and experience of those first few mini-eggs!
Last night I cooked a meatloaf with ground turkey, spinach, onions, garlic, and quinoa, some sweet potato fries, and a big bunch of steamed broccoli with a bit of coconut oil and salt and pepper. That's lunch for today, with a bit of guacamole for snack time I think.
Tonight I will take the very last of the herbal pills and drops that have been my companion through these 12 days. My plan is to enjoy a little chocolate tomorrow, and to have little treats and splurges occasionally, but to try to stay with this type of eating. I feel so good - so clean, so clear. My body feels tight, and like it's working properly. My mood is fairly stable, and I haven't once felt hungry, in these 12 days. I've lost some weight, and have tons of energy. Putting good things in my bod seems to be a good thing, all-round!
I'll write one last hurrah tomorrow, in celebration of the end of my cleanse. See you then.