Wednesday 27 July 2016


Hey, this is a post I've written for a blog at my current internship site, thought I'd share it here too. Many of these thoughts and ideas come from Kristen Neff's book, entitled "Self-Compassion". 

Very often, many of us find ourselves criticizing and judging ourselves. We may have a loud inner voice that criticizes our bodies, our actions, our choices, or even our feelings. Instead of accepting who and how we are, we focus on what is wrong and how we need to change. We sometimes “whip” ourselves, with the hope that we’ll be motivated to change. However, we may find that that harsh self-talk instead brings on shame and feelings of failure, and we end up less motivated and more “stuck”.

Self-compassion offers an alternative. It offers the possibility for us to stop labeling things as “good” or “bad, and to simply accept ourselves with an open heart. Self-compassion is being able to observe how we’re doing, and give compassion to ourselves, in times that feel difficult and times that feel great. Regardless of how or what we’re doing, to be able to say, “I’m here, I’m doing my best, I’m ok”.

People who are more self-compassionate tend to report less anxiety and depression. Self compassion practices go right to the heart of feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear, and soothe those. The spinning mind, often present in anxiety, slows or stops. When we can be kind to ourselves, those feelings of warmth and safety actually de-activate our body’s threat system, and calm down the brain structure called the amygdala that is telling us we must fight or flee. Anxiety often settles and quiets.

So next time you’re struggling, and that critical self-talk starts, see if you can offer yourself self-compassion, by practicing one or more of these three things:

 #1 – give yourself kindness and care.
This can be as simple as taking a moment to acknowledge you’re struggling, and saying kind words to yourself. Perhaps it’s as simple as saying “This is a really hard time right now. I’m really hurting”. Or it may be more active self-care, such as going for a massage, calling a dear friend, letting yourself have a sleep in, or pampering yourself however you need. 

#2 – remind yourself that encountering pain is part of the shared human experience
Often, when we’re in pain, we think we’re alone. There is something very soothing in saying "others struggle with this too. All humans have painful experiences. All humans make mistakes. All humans feel this at times. I’m not alone."

#3 – hold your thoughts and emotions in mindful awareness
This is that compassionate observer, the noticer – “Oh, I notice that I’m feeling this right now. Oh, I notice that I’m having this thought.” Without judgement.

Can you offer yourself a soft cozy blanket of self-compassion to put around your shoulders, rather than using that whip of self-criticism? For more information and practices, see

Wednesday 22 June 2016

And we're back!

Hello all!

Do you know, the last time I wrote was almost a year ago?! I'm surprised to see that! But it makes sense when I consider the why. I've been on an academic journey this past year, working on my Masters in Counselling Psychology. Which means I've been doing copious amounts of reading and writing, assignments, papers, proposals, and scholarship applications, and the desire to write for fun fled for a while. Alas. I've loved all the academic and reflective writing this program has required. But I realized just today, that I've missed the writing that I do for this blog, and that I love so. So. I'm back:)

Tonight I had a class on campus, and we finished a little earlier. It's a glorious summer evening out there, here in Ottawa, and so I decided to grab a little dinner and go sit Strathcona Park, a sweet park by the river. I sat up on a wall along the river and watched the ducks and geese and other fowl putter around in the shallows. Watched the water slowly roll over the rocks and flow down river.

Almost immediately, the mantra "So Hum" started going through my mind. So Hum is roughly translated, "I am that". It's a great mantra to remind us that we're part of something bigger than our bodies, our emotions, our situations, our circumstances.  I am not just this.

As I watched the birds play and putter, I heard "So Hum" and it continued to pulse in my mind. I am part of something bigger than myself. I am that. The world outside of myself. The flow of the universe. The sweet energy that flows in and through and connects all living beings. I sensed the mantra as I watched the ducks - playful, sweet, cute little things. Then I looked to a seagull, and thought, oh, gross, I'm not like that. And then thought, hmm. I'm part of everything. What is it about a seagull that makes that seem unappealing, as opposed to a cute little duck? Seagulls are pests. Annoying. Scavengers. Needy little dirty creatures. Ah. OK. I don't want to be like that. Connected with that. But to be honest and admit to my humanness, I sometimes act like a pest, a needy little creature to get my needs met. And that is ok:) Seagulls are also playful, they soar beautifully, they're determined, persevering little fellows, their plump smooth white bodies are kind of pretty. So Hum. I am that. Then I saw a beautiful swan. It was more delightful to say "I am that" about the swan:) Elegant, graceful, but also fierce fighters, bossy, demanding, regal and likely entitled. I am that:)

It was a fun little mindful time to connect to all that:) What are you connecting with these days? What is nature teaching you?

Ah it feels good to be writing like this again. Looking forward to doing much more of this. Because it makes my soul sing and shine.

Peace to you all!


Friday 26 June 2015

The Meditation Experiment

41 days ago, I had the thought that I'd like to try a simple, short practice - 20-25 minutes of meditation every day for 40 days. I have to say, before this point, I was not a big fan of "40 days of" practices. I have this strong rebel part of me that doesn't like to be told what to do, doesn't like to conform to much, and doesn't like to have to commit to a long period of anything. Maybe because I think I'll fail, maybe because I push back at anything that feels dogmatic or prescribed. Who knows.

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

personal affirmations

Here's the thing. Sometimes I love and embrace personal affirmations; sometimes I think they're the stupidest mumbo jumbo bullshit ever. It seems to depend directly on whether I'm feeling a positive and strong energy and vibration, or whether I'm feeling low and down and oh so negative.

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

meditation for mental health

I want to write about meditation today, because it's on my mind and heart a lot these days. I started learning about, and playing with meditation in 2004.

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

beautiful bodies

When I think of the word “beauty”, visions of nature comes to mind. Works of art, both visual and musical, come to mind. Precious, unique interactions between humans come to mind. When I try to narrow in on a human form that I would connect with the word “beauty”, it is occasionally an image of a stunning female or male in perfect form. But it is also an image of my beautiful 80 year old grandma before she passed away, with all her wrinkles and folds and the beauty that shone out of her eyes. It is an image of my precious nieces giggling and staring adoringly at each other. It is an image of one average person reaching out to help another average person. My perception of beauty, when I stop to think about it, has very little to do with the representations we've come to accept as beautiful, from magazines and movies and media images, but instead, has more to do with qualities in art, in human interaction, in human connection, and in nature, that bring intense pleasure and deep satisfaction to my mind.
And I must confess that when I feel a connection with these things – heart-stirring works of art; a deep connection with a beautiful human being; moments beside a waterfall or rushing river – I feel the most beautiful. When I am able to slow down in life, able to take a day or two or three to slow down, to relax, to enjoy the sweetness of life, I feel the most beautiful. It is not when I dress up for work, or have a perfect hair day, or find the perfect outfit. Instead, it is when I get to live life fully.  It’s when I get to gather a whole bunch of healthy food and cook a delicious healthy meal to nourish my body. It's when I get a morning to sleep in and luxuriate between my sheets and just breathe into the space of being and not having to rush off anywhere. It's when I have a spontaneous, serendipitous conversation with a stranger or a friend, where deep truths are spoken about and beauty and life shines out of both people.

I am now 38. I would say that as I age, thankfully, my sense of inner beauty affects my sense of my physical body. Yoga has been an important part of my life for about 10 years now, and due to the experiences I’ve had with yoga, I have seen a real transformation about how I feel about my body. The practice of yoga has, wonderfully, increased my sense of acceptance. I still have days where I judge and criticize my body. For sure. But more and more, I sense a kindness toward my body, where it is right now. A few months ago, I had knee surgery. I was unable to do much physical movement for several months. OF COURSE my body changed a bit due to that. Things are softer now than they were when I was doing yoga 5 times a week and running and biking. And I am quietly delighted to sense a peace about this, rather than a harsh criticism of myself. I am able to go inside, and find acceptance. And see the beauty in reality, the beauty in struggle, the beauty in healing. The beauty in loving ourselves as we are, right where we are. Again, not that there aren't days where my inner critic judges the jiggles very harshly. But there is a little more self-love. A little more understanding that “this too shall pass” - our bodies are constantly evolving, and the best that l I can do is accept, and love, and recognize beauty in each stage.
The society that we live in makes it really tricky for us to accept and love and value our bodies. The media bombards us with images of thin, uber-fit, cut, ripped, zero-body-fat-bearing models. We see this in men and women. And the truth is, very very few people in our society actually look like that. The ones who do work very hard at it, eat very specifically, and usually have a reason to look like that. They're often models, actors, or fitness buffs who get paid to look the way they do. And good for them. But society, and the media, needs to stop holding them up as the model for how all people should look. We, average wonderful beautiful people, live busy lives with jobs and families and hobbies and interests that may be about more than just sculpting our bodies. And those other things, the families, the interests, the relationships, the experiences, and the human bodies that carry us around through it all, are what make us truly beautiful. Those things need to be elevated, valued, and magnified as ideals in our society, rather than the body images that are given such value in our society.

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.

 Thank you.

Friday 8 May 2015

not knowing

Someone just posted this quote on FaceBook:

"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:)]