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:)]