2018 (or Today): New Dawn, New Day

Use every day & every second to begin the life you want. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s.

New Life

I’m not one for resolutions, but I do believe in new beginnings. 2018 is just around the corner. It’s an opportunity for all of us to start a new year with a new attitude and new goals.

I suggest not thinking of January 1 as the day you start a resolution for the year but rather a new beginning of a new life. And if things go right, well maybe we’ll have a better year and a better world to show for it.

In fact, you’ve heard it before, every day is a new day. We don’t have to wait until Monday to start fresh. We can start today. This minute. This very second. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see happen?

Write it down. Start moving toward it at this very moment.

Lesson 1: Don’t wait until New Year’s. Move toward a new life every minute of every day.

Not to sound too sappy, but let’s face it, we’re all sappy sometimes. Let’s make 2018 the year we begin to love ourselves and spread that love to everyone we meet. This past year had its ups and downs. But, for me at least, I feel like I’ve made progress on myself. Yoga, meditation, journaling, eating right, exercising regularly.

Putting effort toward myself, as I mentioned a few posts back, has set me on a new path. It made me realize that I want to give back to the world more in some way. I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter. Who really does in the long run?

Now, I look to take my journey out into the world. Involve others. Find ways to give back. Love back. Make the world beautiful and caring again. Connect to nature. Connect to others. Connect to the universe.

Lesson 2: Taking care of yourself connects you to your purpose and to others. Make the most of it.

I will share the thing that I think has had the most impact on me this year. Hopefully it will help you move toward a new, freer and happier future. Adding just 20 minutes of yoga to my morning routine has made a huge difference in my life.

If you’re like me and you’re not very flexible and you hadn’t done yoga in a while, it can be a challenge. You may not be so sure about going to a class. I wasn’t. So, I started at home. I joined Gaia. I did the basic plan to get me started. It’s cheaper than a single yoga class, and I got more routines that I can complete — and for all levels. It gets you started in yoga at your own pace in your own home, so you don’t mind looking like a fool when you tip over.

But if you don’t want to spend money, look on YouTube. There’s all kind of free content out there. Find an instructor you like and follow them.

Why yoga? I’m not sure I can even answer that question. For me, it just had a huge impact. I feel more connected to my body. I focus more on what I want in life and what I want to let go. Perhaps it’s because many of the practices start off with that question — what do you want to bring into your life and what do you want to let go?

You don’t have to ask yourself the question. Someone else does it for you.

Lesson 3: Yoga connects you to yourself and your goals. If you can, add it to your self-care toolkit.

Plus, as an added benefit, it has sculpted my body more than any resistance training or cardio that I do. I didn’t think it was possible, but it is.

I hope to expand my yoga routine. Become more flexible. Stronger. More open. And I want to use that strength and power to create a new life for myself. And a better world for all of us.

Let’s make 2018 a year to remember. Hell, let’s make today a day to remember.

Happy New Year, everyone. Happy day, as well. Peace, y’all.

Tuning In for Peace of Mind

Using music mindfully to improve your mental well-being

Meditation-6_2823572k

Occasionally on here I may do a book review if I come across something that I think may benefit readers of this blog. I recently read a book that may do just that. I received Tune In: Use Music Intentionally to Curb Stress, Boost Morale, and Restore Health. A Music Therapy Approach to Life in exchange for an honest review.

This book reminded me just how much music means to me and how I’ve used it to cope throughout life. This book is a guide to help you be more mindful of your music consumption and to begin to listen with intention.

From the time I finished reading the first “true story” in the book, I thought about how I wanted to review it. This book touched me so — ever step of the way — that I wanted to do it justice.

Like the author, I grew up a latch-key kid, and there were things about my family life that we’ll just say were less than perfect. Music, though, was the one healer. The one connector. The everything that was good. One of the few things my family could agree on was listening to music in some form or fashion.

Music has always been a significant part of my life, especially when I was home alone as a kid and teenager. Music was my friend, my confidant, my counselor. I know how music impacts me, and I have seen how it touches other.

And music affects the brain in very positive ways. John Hopkins Medicine said that “music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.” They’re not alone in their thinking. If you Google it, you’ll see article after article that supports this idea.

Think of going to a concert. Doesn’t matter the genre of music, there’s always a moment when the whole place joins together to sing a song. I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps every time that happens. Music connects people like nothing else. It heals them. It makes the world a better place. I wholeheartedly believe that.

So I highly recommend this book if you are a music lover and want to use music as part of your self-care regimen. It offers checklists to help you incorporate music into your life with intention and purpose. The stories show real-life examples of how music can reconnect you to people from which you have drifted away. It helps you develop listening lists to cope with different feelings — sadness, anxiety, etc.

In addition to the step-by-step guide for using music as a self-care tool, the real-life stories are extremely uplifting. The stories show how music can help connect families, help rehabilitate, and perhaps the most heart-wrenching, help to say goodbye to loved ones. This book celebrates music as life and as a way to connect us and help us in times of stress.

I would especially recommend this for anyone dealing with aging or dying family members or family with diseases that affect mental abilities. The book highlights the positive impact that music can have on the ill and dying. But more importantly, it shows you how music can re-connect to that person and celebrate their life through the music that made them who they are.

If you love music, trust me, I’m not doing this book justice. Read it. You’ll know what I mean. The stories and the impact of music on these people are amazing. It’s a non-fiction, how-to book with some great real life stories to support the recommendations. So if you’re looking for a great escape, this may not be it. If you want to improve your mood and mental health through music, then this is a good place to start.

The Importance of Authenticity — The Cornerstone of Everything

Caring for yourself means staying true to yourself

True self image

Authenticity has been on my mind and what it means to self-care and loving yourself. There is no greater self love than being true to yourself. It’s difficult sometimes in this world of uber personalities and striving for a million viewers. But it is very necessary. Perhaps, if the world is to be a better place, more necessary than ever.

I came across this little article on Inc. regarding authenticity. It’s simply a list of quotes about being authentic, but they are meaningful. Powerful.

Authenticity has been part of my struggle with writing this blog. To be honest, I have felt a little like a sham. I feel like I’m writing as if I know more than my readers. The truth is that I don’t. I tried to portray that a bit in my post “No one knows anything about anything.”

I don’t feel that I quite made the point I was trying to make. But now I am. With this blog, I am going to take the role of humble teacher. I am humble because I am learning with you. We’re on the same journey together. I am open to others’ ideas and opinions. I plan to share some things that I enjoy and work for me, but I encourage you to comment and do the same. We will learn from one another.

Not saying this — that I’m not the highest authority of self-care — has been holding me back from posting. I wasn’t being authentic with myself. Sure, I realize that I may never get a huge book deal or be a successful blogger for owning up to this, but being authentic is more important to me.

I want to make being authentic more important to you, as well. It is critical to loving yourself and caring for yourself. It’s the cornerstone of everything.

Lesson 1: Authenticity is the cornerstone to self-care and loving yourself.

When we aren’t authentic, we lose ourselves. We become a shell of who we really are or a ghost of our true selves. There but not truly there. That’s not good for anyone.

So how do you become more authentic? Well, there are many ways. Each centers primarily on knowing yourself, asking yourself questions and acknowledging when you don’t live up to your true self.

Writing this blog, for example. I sat down recently and I asked myself a few questions. Why was I struggling with generating more content? Is it out of alignment with my core values or is something else holding me back?

I went through a litany of questions. I journaled because I journal about everything. I pondered this question during meditation.

Through questioning myself and identifying exactly how this blog is aligned with my true self, I realized that I am on the path I want to be on. So, then, what was holding me back?

I asked myself more questions. Read back through some posts. Finally, I realized the issue came in my presentation, not in the content or the message. The presentation felt as if I am an authority. I’m not an authority. I don’t pretend to be.

Lesson 2: Question yourself when you struggle with anything. Any struggle will likely lie in a misalignment with your true self.

I have a goal of improving the world one person at a time by helping them practice self-care and mindfulness. Am I the be all and end all of self-care, self-love, mindfulness knowledge? Absolutely not. I’m learning with you. And I simply needed to state that. Not stating it made me feel inauthentic. I was me, but not me.

I won’t go over this in each post moving forward. But it was important for me to state it. To be truthful with you, my reader. Otherwise, I felt inauthentic. And being inauthentic is a roadblock for me. And in reality, it should be for all of us.

It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, however. Sometimes getting back in line with your authentic self means acknowledging a small aspect — that little pebble in your shoe — and removing it. Sometimes, it’s as simple as making a statement.

So I have made my peace. I removed the pebble from my shoe. I can walk forward with greater ease now. I probably will add a statement to my About page. That way I will feel that I have put it out there for everyone to see without having to dig through the site to find this one post.

Lesson 3: Sometimes authenticity simply requires you to state your peace before moving forward. Don’t over-complicate it if it’s not necessary.

If you are looking for more authenticity in your life, here are a few ways I question myself to better align with my true self.

  • Meditate. Meditation is more than quietening your mind. Sometimes it is focusing your mind or diving deeper into the mind. At least once a week, while you meditate, get in touch with your values and beliefs. Consider how you have lived up to these values (or not) over the past several days. What is required to readjust?
  • Journal. Journaling is one of the easiest ways to get answers — at least for me it is. You can ask the same questions as the meditation above. What are your values? Do you live these values each day? If not, how can you incorporate these values more fully into your day-to-day activities?
  • Post your core values. Keep your core values close by and on hand. Post them somewhere that you can see them on a regular basis. Whether you print them out and put them in your cubicle, put a note on your phone, make it a screensaver on your computer. It will serve as a reminder when you least expect it or you can use it to focus yourself when you are struggling with something in your life. Look at it and ask yourself how the situation is not aligning with your core values.
  • Forget perfection. None of us are perfect. We never will be, no matter how hard we try. And some of us try very, very hard. Humans aren’t perfect. To be authentic, remember this. Remind yourself of it when you’re trying to do something perfectly or beating yourself up because you didn’t.
  • Be honest. It seems like a no brainer, but sometimes we forget this simple step. Of course, we’re all going to tell a white lie here and there to spare someone’s feelings or to ease ourselves out of a difficult situation. That doesn’t mean we can’t be honest most of the time, especially if not being honest starts to cause you anxiety. Breath, take a moment, and think of a diplomatic way of saying what bothers you without being offensive. There is usually always a way to do it.
  • Be yourself. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that there is no better way to connect with people and find peace than simply being comfortable with who you are and let that shine. Don’t feel the need to soften your post or make your life look perfect on Facebook or Instagram. If you feel uncomfortable being honest on public forums, don’t share on public forums. It’s not a requirement although sometimes it feels like it is.
  • Don’t worry about what others think. I struggle with this one a bit, although I hate to admit that to myself. I sometimes feel that I’m letting others down if I am my true self — by saying no or disagreeing with them on key issues. Not my close friends, but acquaintances. I care too much sometimes what others think of me, especially those I don’t know very well. But worrying about others’ opinions is one of the quickest ways to lose authenticity. Don’t let it happen.

These are just a few tactics that I use. There are others. I would love to hear how you stay true to yourself. What advice do you have on being authentic?

 

 

Black Hole of Self Discovery

night swimming

So my journey is taking another turn. Not a whiplash-inducing turn, but a turn nonetheless. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve taken a leave of absence from this blog for a little while. See, I went into this black hole of self-discovery. I wasn’t sucked into it. No, I jumped headlong into the abyss.

I’ve been trying to find myself for years. I’ve struggled with my purpose, where my career should go – those kind of things. I have dipped my toes or waded into my waist just to turn around when I couldn’t find answers.

This time, I’m not giving up. This time, I dove into the darkness and, I have to say, I’ve been lost there for a few months now. Searching, floating, but still lost. I’m starting to the see the light. I’m starting to come out the other end of the wormhole. Finding my way to the surface.  The yoga and meditation that I started at the beginning of this year, this journey, helped significantly.

It’s been painful. I’m not going to lie. I’ve had to come to some realizations about myself that quite honestly I wasn’t happy about in the beginning.

See, I decided to see a therapist since I’ve struggled so much with this over the years. Beat myself up because I couldn’t figure it out. Part of that process was taking personality tests. I’ve taken them before many times. I got similar responses. I’m creative. I’m an artistic type. A good writer.

So, that’s how I’ve seen myself over the years. This creative type in a non-creative job. Or semi-creative job, but not the job I wanted. I’ve started writing a million books. I’ve started several screenplays. I’ve written bad poetry. Songs. Taken music lessons. Considered taking dance lessons. Bought paints and charcoals and pastels. Watercolor paper and sketchpads. Year after year. Looking for something that I felt passionate about. Something that stuck with me. Something I felt like I had to do … if I could just find it.

Then came my therapist’s question, “Do you try to be unique and cut options off?” No, of course I don’t do that. How do I present myself as unique? I’m a communications professional. Manager level, not even an executive. I get up and go to the same job like everyone else. I wear clothes from discount stores. I don’t try to be an artist. I don’t try to be special and unique.

Then today it hit me. Today I broke through. Today I cried like a baby. See, in my head, I did see myself as unique. In my head, I was an artist or a writer or a poet. But I’m not. That’s why those things didn’t stick for me. That’s why I started so many things but never finished them. They weren’t my calling.

In my head I thought I had this gift somewhere in me waiting to come out. I just couldn’t find it. And maybe that’s what was meant by a struggling artist. But no. I’m not an artist. Or a poet. Or musician.

I’m just me. I’m average. And when I realized that I cried. A deep, heavy cry. I have put pressure on myself to be this thing. To be some version of creative and it’s not me.

What I am is a doer. I move. I like physical activity. That’s why yoga has been so beneficial for me. Art is doing. Writing is doing. Poetry is doing. But it’s not what I do. It’s not my coping mechanism. That’s what I’ve learned. My way of expressing or getting the angst out of my system isn’t producing art, or writing or poeting … shouldn’t poet be verb? I feel that it should be a verb.

I realized today that I inherited my father’s innate sense of restlessness. I kept talking about feeling trapped to my therapist. To my friends. All my life. Trapped. I felt trapped in jobs. I felt trapped in hobbies. I felt trapped by home ownership. By responsibility. Trapped. Caged. Burdened and restricted.

Why? Because I’m restless. I need to do. I need move. I need to go places. I need to take action. At least some of the time.

So this journey is changing a bit. I’m still focused on getting in touch with oneself and taking care of yourself, but I’m focusing more on yoga and meditation specifically. These things not only get you in touch with your body, push it to do things, make you aware of your body, but they prepare me, at least, for the other “doing” that I must do in life.

I think at the beginning of this blog I mentioned having another blog. A blog about politics. I’m cause oriented. That I’ve always known. I tried to work that aspect into my creative endeavors unsuccessfully. That’s how I struggled. I tried to write with this subtext of politics. I tried to change the world through a poem. And that is all entirely possible. It is. Just not for me.

Writing is the same as talking for me. I’m not much of a talker. I like results. I like to see things happen. I’ve been a writer all my life and that’s why I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. Because it’s not action. Not my action.

Yes, I think I just said it. I’m a woman of action.

So I’m seeing a new life for myself right now. A new direction. Something that ties my need to voice an opinion and protect things I care about to my restlessness. I don’t know where it’s heading to be honest. I’m seeing travel opportunities that incorporate yoga and mindfulness with conservation efforts. Retreats where groups can go and wake each morning to do yoga and meditate, to connect to themselves and then connect to the world around them. Planting trees, taking care of animals, protecting habitats. And it’s part of a vacation. Vacations with meaning. Evenings my include enjoying local cuisines or local arts. Because all of these things are important. I need to feel them. Be a part of them. Experience them. I need to do.

I worked for a nonprofit once. I truly cared about the cause. But I sat in an office and did communications all day. I was still unsatisfied. Because I was still trapped. I wasn’t moving and doing and achieving.

So look for this blog to change a bit. Look for more focus on yoga and meditation. Look for discussion on how getting in touch with ourselves can help bring more meaningful change to our world. Look for discussion on conservation and activism because right now those are the things that I’m focused on. Look for thoughts or opportunities on combining these things. I still want to make the world a better place. I still think we do that one person at a time and it does start from within.

Peace y’all.

A Pretty Good Start

Using self-care to help you find your purpose in life

yoga at home

Do you struggle with finding your purpose or is that just me? I know I’m not the only one, but I don’t know how many struggle with it and for how long. I have always struggled with it. I’m one of those people who try so hard to figure it out that it depresses me. That’s why self-care, for me at least, may be the best thing I could do for myself in terms of finding my purpose.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still looking for my purpose. I have looked for it my entire life. I grew up feeling like I was meant to be doing something … I just haven’t quite figured out what it is.

Still, self-care is helping me. I haven’t given up this time around as I’ve done in the past. I take breaks, like I have the last few weeks from this blog, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. But the breaks are part of my self care — allowing myself some room to breath for a little while. It’s important to do that if you need it.

You see, my workout instructors (all of them — I take several different classes) keep telling me I’m intense when I exercise. I suppose I’m the same way with finding my purpose. When I look back, in reality, I’m that way about most things once I set my mind to it.

When I don’t see the level of progress I want in the time frame I want, I kick up the effort a bit. And I keep ratcheting it up until eventually I snap. Or more accurately, crash. That’s when the depression sets in.

Intensity. It has good points. It’s great for research. It’s great for focus. It’s not so great with nebulous things that may take some time to work out. Honestly, finding your purpose may, in all reality, be a lifelong process. I keep telling myself that to re-frame my thinking. It may always be evolving. I think perhaps it is — at least to some degree.

Needless to say, the last few weeks I have really struggled. Work has been difficult. My job was “restructured,” meaning I have a different job now than I did three weeks ago. It’s more stressful. Job security is not great. The company is going through many, many changes. I could go on.

As a result, I’ve been extremely focused on finding my purpose. You know how it is. Things get rough at work, suddenly your purpose is the most important thing in your life. That’s where I am.

I don’t want to keep hopping from one job to another, which has been the case in my recent past. I’ve decided to hold on for a while and hope I can at the very least figure out the next step in reaching my purpose.

I want to change my life. I want to have meaning. I’m sure there are others out there who feel the same way. I’ve come to realize it’s time to do something else. It’s figuring out the something else that’s the struggle.

The last few years, when I get to this point, I have changed jobs. Then I settle into the new job honeymoon for a few months. Followed by the, “Well, I need to stay here for a little while” phase. Then I start the whole process over again. And I never truly focus on my purpose — not the way I should.

Self care has helped me put a stop to this vicious cycle. Exercising every day helps me set aside any issues at work. I workout on my lunch break, so it’s a good way to break up my day and give me a good push to make it through the rest of the day.

I meditate in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings. I’ve added in yoga a few times a week. All of this helps me focus on what’s important (my purpose) and not on my daily challenges.

I journal, which helps in two ways. One, I try to do some gratitude journaling to help me hone in on the good things in my life. I forget those very quickly when I’m stressed about work. Making this a daily practice (or near daily — I’m not perfect) really helps re-set your frame of mind about things.

In fact, my most recent gratitude entry was about being thankful for my ability to change. Thank God for that, right? I wrote about fear of change being the root of many ills of the world right now. That same fear can wreak havoc in your personal life too. So I am extremely grateful I can change.

So keeping a gratitude journal is helpful. If you want tips on gratitude journaling, here’s a good article from Greater Good Magazine.

The second way journaling helps me in this process is by allowing me to really dig down and discover some things about myself. This helps in both trying to find my purpose and in just understanding myself and some of the things that trigger me or give me a sense of purpose.

I don’t actually write about my day-to-day activities. I really try to figure something out about myself. I try to take a real objective look at myself and my ways of thinking. Eh, intense self care … it’s what I do. But it works for me.

Journaling has also led me to try several new things in my life because I repeatedly expressed an interest in it. Or I rediscover some old things I enjoyed and want to try again. Some of those may become part of my overall purpose and some may not, but it keeps me on my toes and my life more active. That’s always a good thing.

But finding yourself and finding your purpose can take a toll on you. Some people are lucky. Some know what they are supposed to do from the time they come out of the womb or close to it. I’m not one of those people, unfortunately. And if you’re not either, then I highly recommend incorporating some self care techniques into your life. It keeps you on the right path toward discovery, and it reminds you to take a break when you need it.

By taking breaks and trying new things — even if they don’t seem to lead anywhere — help you stay more fluid. You don’t get as bogged down.

Remember my lesson from the very beginning of this blog? My first post was about going with the flow. I’ve forgotten do that myself … as I often do. Try to remember to let things happen, be in the present moment. Whatever road you’re on appeared for a reason.

I went from starting one kind of blog to another and then starting a novel in the process. As you change and you change paths toward your purpose, you realize you couldn’t have gotten to point b without starting from point a. Or, you may realize that all the points along the way will add up to a very unique purpose specific to you.

For me, what I’m discovering is that helping others learn self care is part of my purpose. I’ve started down the road of becoming certified in some fitness programs and looking at certifications in other areas.

Plus, I hope by sharing some of my own experiences in this blog, you can relate to my struggles — which are very real and, I believe, very common. Hopefully, you will also see how self care can help you deal with similar problems in your own life.

Still, my ultimate goal is to make the world a better place, but if we’re all living a purposeful life and loving ourselves, then that’s a pretty good start.

Forget Expectations

Letting go of expectations is the only way to be the best version of yourself.

girljournalingoutdoors

You know what one of the hardest parts about self care is? It’s actually focusing on yourself. Just focusing on you for the sake of helping you. Some many other things come into play in life that somehow even when you’re focusing on you it’s not exactly about you.

Let’s think about exercising and getting in shape for a moment. You decide you want to get in shape. You join the gym, you work out every day. How many times, though, do you think, “If I get in shape, maybe I’ll catch the hot guy’s attention?” Or you want the people at your class reunion to compliment you on how great you look.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with those things. When someone is sincere and says nice things about you, it feels nice. We all seek that from time to time, but self-care should be more than that. Focusing solely on you, however, is kind of difficult. Or at least for me it is. Maybe others don’t have this problem.

The tricky part is letting go of expectations. Letting go of that feeling of “If I do this, then that will happen.” You’re still taking care of yourself, but your intention is somewhere else. That’s not cool in the long run. What if that thing never happens? Will you keep taking care of yourself? What happens if that expectation isn’t met?

Letting go is hard. Focusing on you for the sake of you is also hard. Once you learn how to do it, though, it is so worth it. I still struggle with it myself. I’m just telling the truth here. But that is now part of my self-care routine — making sure I let go of those expectations and focus on doing it for me.

I wish I could say I have discovered some great pathway to focusing on yourself. Loving yourself enough to take care of you just for you and your happiness. I haven’t. You just have to keep working on it, and it gets easier.

The only trick I can give you is that you have to be conscious of it. Be aware of what you do and why you do it. When you start to think about losing weight for the hot guy, notice that you’re thinking it and then try to refocus your thinking toward you.

It sounds simple in some ways, but it’s more difficult than it appears. Consciousness helps. Meditation helps you be more conscious. Journaling helps to be more conscious. Yoga helps to be more conscious.

The more conscious you become the more you learn to focus on you – or at least become aware of those expectations and then refocus. So meditation, journaling, yoga, they have benefits on their own, but the more you add to your self-care arsenal the better you become at caring for and loving yourself. Because every little thing you do adds up to being more conscious about you.

I once hated to exercise. Hated it with a white hot passion. For most of my life, I didn’t really have to exercise to stay at a relatively healthy weight. I’ve had a couple of times where I gained weight and began to exercise to lose it.

Some of that was rightly focused on wanting to be healthier, but a lot of it was wanting men to find me attractive, wanting to fit into society’s idea of a good weight, and all the other insignificant reasons. It was focused on reasons outside of me rather than on me.

I didn’t stick with it, either, I might add. Once I lost the weight, I lost the exercise as well. Because the intention wasn’t directed at me.

Now, however, I truly enjoy exercising. I like seeing how hard I can push myself — some days it is much more than others but still I enjoy the challenge. I like seeing how I can change my body by trying new classes or workouts. I enjoy doing it for me and making my body stronger. I enjoy being able to pick up a niece or a friend’s child and they feel like a feather rather than fearing I’ll pull a muscle in my back.

I have become one of those people who feel guilty when they don’t exercise. And trust me, I never thought I would be one of those people. When I’m in a spin class, I don’t compete with the person next to me. In fact, I don’t even look at the others in the class most of the time. I compete with myself.

But it’s not about perfection. Never let it be about perfection. That’s one of those expectations that messes up so many people — even if your intention is in the right place, perfection simply doesn’t exist.

If there is a yin and yang, a positive and negative to everything, then perfectionism is the dark side of self-care. Or it can be. Don’t let it. This goes for any self-care activity — it’s such a slippery slope.

Whether it’s exercise or skin care or even meditation, sometimes we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. My body should be perfect. Or I want my skin to be flawless.

Simply be conscious of these thoughts and redirect them. Say that your body is as strong or stronger than it was yesterday. Or that you’re simply maintaining your health. Even if it’s, “I wasn’t that focused during meditation today, but that’s OK. I still put the time and effort into caring for myself.” Don’t strive for perfection and don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.

Self-care is all about being the best version of you. Not the perfect version of anything. And the best version of you is only how you define it.

So always remember, forget expectations. Your well-being is about you and nothing else. If you get compliments or even the hot guy, well that’s just icing on the cake.

In the face of natural disaster

I know this will sound crazy to most people, but I’m OK with sounding crazy right now. I am one of those people who believe we are made of energy, and we are connected to one another and the planet via that energy. It is one of the reasons I started this blog without coming right out and admitting it. If our own energy is positive, it will create more positive energy. Yeah, I’m one of those people.

Natural disasters happen. I understand that. But we have experienced two devastating hurricanes here, and Mexico was hit today with its second earthquake in a month. Could all the hatred and anxiety resulting from our political climate have  an impact on our planet and Mother Nature? Yes, I am crazy enough to believe it can. Then again perhaps it is Mother Nature’s way of saying neighbors (or people in general) should love one another and disaster is the only way to accomplish that right now.

I don’t know. I realize I sound nutso. My thoughts are with the folks in Mexico and Houston and Florida and the Caribbean who have suffered these disasters of late, as well as those in Bangladesh and other places around the world who are also suffering similar fates. I realize it is likely climate change, but I also feel that our disconnect with the planet that is causing climate change comes from a disconnect within ourselves. But that is a post for another day.

I simply want to ask that, in the off chance that my weird ideas have any basis in reality, that we all work on ourselves in the coming days, weeks and months. That we love ourselves and take care of ourselves so that we can be more loving and caring to others – no matter their race, religion or place of origin.

Even if it doesn’t have an impact on the disaster themselves, it can at least have an impact on the recovery. When there is more peace, love and compassion in the world,  recovery becomes much easier. There are large swaths of people in recovery mode right now. The least we can do is create an environment where healing and recovery can take place.

 

Skinny Dipping in the Dark End of the Pool

Successful self care embraces the whole self and strives for balance.

shadow

Taking care of the whole…

I’m all about balance. For me, self care has to embrace all aspects of myself. Otherwise I’m neglecting some part of me and well, neglect is not caring. To put it simply.

I try to steer away from too much positive thinking stuff. It has a place in the world. It’s a great motivator. It helps change your perception.

But to truly accept yourself. To truly thrive in this world. To love and care for yourself, you must find peace with all of you. That includes your dark side … or shadow self as Carl Jung called it.

In some ways I’m just getting into what is called shadow work. But in other ways, when I think about it, I’ve always done it. I just didn’t realize I was doing it.

I’m a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe. Horror stories in general. Big fan. Growing up, Poe was kind of my idol. I didn’t look up to too many people to be honest. But Poe I did.

Why would I look up to some alcoholic, opioid-addicted writer? Because he made the dark side of human nature OK. Or at least worthy of acknowledging. And, unfortunately, his addictions were the unhealthy solution for dealing with his dark side.

Even as a child I knew I wasn’t the only one who ever had a terrible thought. We all have them. It’s part of being human. To deny that is to deny yourself. So when I discovered Poe … well, the world opened up.

Poe took his dark side, the evil parts, the hidden and taboo and put them out there for the world to see. I appreciated that. In fact, as I got older maybe I appreciated it a little too much.

You could say I went skinny dipping in the dark side of the mind. I dove in, buck naked and didn’t come out for a while.

I studied psychology in college. Most of my college life was as a psych major. Part of my interest was wanting to help others, of course. But the other part of it was wanting to understand the dark side of human nature. I particularly wanted to work with serial killers and child abusers and the like.

I had a unique ability, I felt, to dive deep down into the dark side of myself and of others. To understand their motivations. People felt comfortable talking to me because they could be honest – dark side and all.

I try not to judge anyone for having feelings — good or bad — because we all have them. Like I said in my last post, people’s change of fear is their dark side. And if they don’t cope with it, then the begin to hate and threaten. So I think too many people are letting their dark sides rule them and not finding the proper balance.

But anyway, back to my swim in the dark end of the pool. My theory was that I could use my skill to help catch and profile serial killers. And, that weird, undyingly hopeful side of me thought I could help “cure” them, as well. I thought I could make them feel more understood and therefore I could actually work with them.

For some reason I’ve always felt that I could fix the unfixable. A bit of arrogance on my part, I suppose.

So my trip to the dark side was strange. I realize that. But it was my thing.

Even after college and after changing majors, I still had a fascination with it. I began writing a novel about the “making of” a serial killer. I really dug deep in the research. I tried to think like a serial killer. I kind of lost balance a bit. I started having nightmares. I was skittish all the time. So, I had to step away from that for a while.

Funny fact, though, I turned in a story idea in college for a script writing course I took. My idea was to tell the story of a likable serial killer. Hello, Dexter. Why didn’t I act on that idea?

But that’s the thing about your dark side. A lot of creativity comes from the dark side. Whether you’re coping with pain or you have fascinations with or fears of taboo topics or whatever it is, when you face it and challenge it in a healthy way, you open up creatively.

Think about it. How many songs or novels or poems do you love that are purely, straight up sunshine? There are a few, of course. But most of them, come from a world of hurt. A world of darkness. A world of pain. A place of dealing with the negative. The longing. The disappointment. The unworthiness. And it’s quite beautiful, don’t you think?

Poe. I still friggin’ love Poe. People can say he was a hack writer. I don’t care. He told a good story. Stories with real human qualities. I love Poe.

But the dark side, for many, is the reason they struggle with the “positive thinking” movement. It’s not realistic. The world is not all sunshine and rainbows. And that is absolutely correct. It isn’t. And it never will be and it shouldn’t be. If it were, we would be off balance. And, quite honestly, we would be kind of boring.

I’ve always fell into that line of thinking of “the weather is better in heaven but the company is better in hell.” So, 100% behind that.

So self care means embracing both sides of yourself. Embracing your whole self. Working with the dark and light sides to reach a balance.

In fact, I didn’t get into meditation and journaling (well, I’ve always journaled but…) to be positive, per se. I got into it to not be too negative. I told myself, “Your are your problem. You have to deal with your worry and constant chatter in your head.”

In other words, I let my dark side, my demons, guide me to improving myself. For me it was to strike a balance within myself. Not to be Mary Poppins.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to be Mary Poppins, but life is more fulfilling when it’s in the middle. Not one extreme of the emotional spectrum or the other.

By accepting your fears or your demons, as well as your strengths, you find yourself more able to cope with the world. You’re not denying any aspect of yourself. You begin to look at yourself, your life, the world as a whole. It’s a much more centered and grounded place to live from.

You see, mindfulness and self care are all about striking a balance. Not being something you’re not. But being entirely you. All you and nothing but you. The whole you.

So, take a walk on the dark side. Start to understand the fears and weaknesses that motivate the negative aspects of your life. I think you’ll find it beneficial.

 

How’s about a Meditation Amendment?

Mindfulness is the key to managing change and the fear of it.

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Change. A lot of the world’s problems right now boils down change. There are the ones who tolerate it vs. the ones who don’t.

The distrust and hate we’re seeing in the world is coming from fear. The fear of change. The ones who are afraid of it … and it’s not their fault. We all have a certain tolerance for change. But the ones who have a low tolerance for it are afraid their lives will never be the same. That they may lose some aspect of their lives as they know it.

It’s a legitimate fear. I’m not going to belittle it. Although I’m pretty good with change most of the time, I understand it to some degree. I’ve a had a time or two that I didn’t deal with it well. And what got me through those times was meditation.

A few years back my employer needed to make some cuts. I knew my job was one of the ones potentially on the chopping block. Unfortunately, I enjoyed that job. I was there for 5 years, and in all honesty, I had planned on retiring from there. Doing that same work. Never getting promoted. But I was good. Happy.

Alas, the housing bubble, along with some warm winters and cool summers, brought on some hard times for the electric utility industry. Now my company was good about it. I can’t complain. They basically gave us a heads up 1 year prior and said, “Hey we can’t make any guarantees next year when we submit our budget. We won’t discourage you from looking for other opportunities.”

So, I took the obvious hint. I looked for jobs.

But it was a stressful time. I had changed careers for that job and liked my new career. And it’s such a niche area of expertise that there are few to no jobs in that arena. I was being forced to return to my previous career. I wasn’t too happy about it.

Plus, the company offered unheard of benefits. Pay was awesome. Raises were awesome. I worked from home as much as I needed. They trusted me to do my job and to do it well.

Leaving was not in my plans.

So, for the first time in an extremely long time the fear of change got to me. Probably more than it ever had before.

I gained weight. I developed high blood pressure. I had migraines at least once a week. I worried about losing my condo. My car was 10 years old. The job market was non-existent. No one was paying anything.

It was hard. I was angry all the time. Paranoid. I didn’t trust any one. It was bad. And I knew I had to do something or I was going to have a breakdown or a heart attack. And that’s not an exaggeration.

So, I began to meditate. I only did a little, 5-10 minutes, from time to time in the beginning. I wasn’t disciplined about it at all. I’ll be honest about it. But, in my opinion, it’s better to do it two or three times a week than not do it at all. Especially if you are feeling stressed.

Slowly but surely my anger started to drop. I became a little more disciplined about it. Eventually, I found another job. I was feeling better. Life was looking pretty good.

Then I stopped meditating. I didn’t think I needed it any more.

Turned out, I wasn’t too happy with the new job. I gained even more weight. My blood pressure went even higher. I was doubting myself. My abilities. My future. I became depressed. My health hit rock bottom. I was calling in sick quite often.

One day, about two weeks before the Christmas holidays (a bad time for me in general), I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I officially stopped functioning. Now, most of it was due to some medication I was taking for an infection, but I had never been that low. Ever. And I don’t ever want to go back.

After I got off the medication, I got serious about meditation. Within the next 6 months, I had gotten to the point that I was meditating twice a day. 30 minutes in the morning and at least an hour before going to bed at night.

My weight stabilized. My migraines went away. My blood pressure dropped – still needed my meds, but it dropped. I slept better.

More importantly, though, my mindset began to change. I still didn’t love my job. Meditation isn’t going to make you love something you don’t. But it will help you look at things differently.

With meditation I started to think about where I wanted to be rather than where I was because you start to control your thoughts more. Or focus your thoughts more.

See, I worry. I’m a huge worrier. So meditation for me is to quiet my mind to a certain degree. For others it’s more of a visualization thing. I use it for both, but many times, it’s to stop the voices in my head. Especially the negative voices.

Ultimately, it led to me quitting my job without anything else lined up. Now, talk about change and taking a risk. That was a major change. A major decision. I had never quit a job before without another job lined up. I still think it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

And my world was just fine. I was calm and peaceful. I kept up my meditation and coworkers noticed how happy and peaceful I was. That’s a long way from where I had been just a couple of years prior when I was told I had a year to look for a job.

Mediation did that. It gave me strength. It gave me power. Freedom. Confidence that I could survive anything that came along.

So when I see what’s happening in the world. The hate, the concern about the future. The fear of change. From a certain perspective, I understand where the feelings come from. It’s the same feelings I had when I was forced to change jobs. Anger, paranoia, fear, worry. The list goes on.

And then I think of how meditation helped me. It makes me wish there was a mindfulness law … or a meditation amendment. This country and this world could be a better place. It truly could be, but we have to find some peace within first. Find the ability to cope with the change that is frightening so many at the moment.

And the funny thing is that you don’t even notice that it’s happening. It just happens. But then one day someone points out your anger or some other bad behavior, and you know something is up. You usually don’t even know that it is a fear of change until you are able to look at in retrospect.

But the world is changing all the time. Right in front of us. We can’t stop it. We can’t control it. But if we want to get to a point where we treat one another as human beings again. To stop the hate. To balance our fear of change. To feel better about ourselves, our lives, our country. Everything. Then, meditation is a clear and simple solution. It’s the easiest of first steps.

I recommend it. And in the beginning, it won’t be easy. You will struggle with it. You’ll feel awkward or incapable or something. I’m not going to lie to you about it.

It takes effort to rewire your brain. But it’s so worth it. Just stick with it — a few minutes a day every other day or so. Then add a little more time and add other days. There are resources everywhere online. Maybe I’ll post some good ones one day, but for now, just Google it. Please. The world needs it right now.

 

No one knows anything about anything

Or society needs a new operating system (my philosophical purging)

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So I’ve taken a break on this blog for a little while. An existential crisis reared its head. I get those from time to time. I began to wonder if this whole self-care, change the universe one person at a time thing was worthwhile or realistic. Who knows? Maybe. I think so, but I don’t know.

My existential crisis, though, got me to thinking. Mindfulness and being kind, loving and compassionate are my ultimate goal here. But I think to get to that point, to really have peace of mind, we have to start thinking differently.

That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Our old ways of operating aren’t working for this society any more. As a result, it’s having a greater impact on our physical and mental health.

The truth is that no one knows anything about anything, but they are quick to tell us how we should behave. We’ve been told a lot about life. We’ve accepted things forced on us by society. By religion. By political parties. By family and friends.

You should be married with kids and love your job and have great hobbies.

We read a bunch of self-help books. One tells you to fake it until you make it, while another says only be your authentic self.

But these soothsayers are telling you what works for them or a few people they’ve worked with. But, ultimately, we have to find our own truth. Our own happiness. Our own whatever it is we’re seeking. And we define that. Or we should. But right now, most of us don’t. We look for answers somewhere else.

My existential crisis was focused on being more, doing more. Deciding what I want out of life. But that’s part of the problem with our society. There’s all this pressure to “do” in some form or fashion. To be noticed. To excel. To produce. To be successful. To be something.

What do I want out of life? I want to be happy.

But you can’t just be happy.

Why not? Why can’t I just be happy?

Well, what is it that you do that makes you happy?

You know what makes me happy? Sitting on my sofa staring out my french doors at the evening sky. No television. No radio. Just me and the night sky. I’m good with that. Or, when I had a pet, rubbing the little pink pads of his feet until he stretched out his claws. That made me happy. Still makes me happy just to think about it.

But you have to do something to be happy. A job. A career. A hobby.

No, I don’t. I really don’t.

The pressure to perform in our society is ridiculously stupid. I’m lazy. In fact, I excel at being lazy. And as long as being lazy makes me happy and doesn’t impact my health, then that should be OK. But it’s not for most people. I should want to be more. Be pro-active. Be social. Go out more and do meaningless stuff.

I disagree.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying simple things or with being humble and low key. We say we should be this way, but when you actually tell someone that’s what you want out of life … well, then you’re wrong. Or there’s something wrong with you. You must be depressed or anxious or something.

No. None of those things apply here. But it’s not the norm. It’s not what people expect of you based on our culture and society, so it’s unacceptable. And therefore it starts to have a negative impact on you.

I quit a job a few years back without another job lined up. People thought I was crazy. Eh, maybe I was. But it was the right choice for me.

After I did it – I even gave them a few weeks’ notice – everyone started commenting that I looked like a completely different person. I looked happy and relaxed. I didn’t know if I was going to pay my bills the next month, but it was one of the best feelings I had experienced in years. After I left, everyone kept saying they wanted to do the same thing. They didn’t, but they wanted to. And my manager, after he saw the change in me, said, “That’s the way it should be. If you’re unhappy, you should be able to quit.”

Yeah, my point exactly. Society tells us not to do that. It tells us to not be who we are or do what we know is best for us in certain situations. We should hold on or tough it out. But, I can tell you, sometimes its best to go against the norm.

Now I’m going to say some things here that people aren’t going to agree with, but I feel that it needs to be said. We live in a society of group think. And group think is killing us and our peace of mind.

Whether its politics, religion or some other societal monitor, we are told what to do and think. Let’s look at religion, for example. If you belong to a church but you disagree with something said or done, then you are in the wrong. Perhaps even a sinner. And you are led to believe that you are bad for thinking for yourself or living based on your own experiences.

Religion creates a lot of judgement whether people want to admit it or not. And hypocrisy, I might add – at least that’s been my experience.

To me, religion more than anything should be a personal thing. I don’t get going to church. Many folks go to church because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do not because that’s what they want to do.

God will ban me from heaven if I don’t go.

I don’t understand that kind of God. And again, the church and the originators of any belief didn’t know anything about anything either. Call me a blashphemer if you must. They were the self-help gurus of ancient times. They had no proof. No concrete evidence. It was their opinion or their perception. They didn’t know anything with any certainty.

Well, this is what I think, and he agrees, so everyone should believe this way.

To me, if anything in the world should have a singular, personal perspective, it is religion. You know what’s right and wrong, especially when it comes to yourself and how you live your life. That should never be a group think kind of thing. And it should never be used to judge another person or how they live. And no one should ever feel guilty about not living up to a religion’s group think standards.

Growing up, my family didn’t go to church much. Mostly because the church goers told my dad that he would never get into heaven because he loved money too much. He grew up during The Depression in poor, rural north Georgia. Of course he loved money. I didn’t learn that little church fact about my dad, however, until the day we buried him.

Not going to church and not being saved (I grew up Southern Baptist) tormented him. I saw him cry over it many, many times. He worried about it his entire life. And it was all because some group who didn’t know anything about anything told him he wasn’t up to snuff based on their interpretation of the Bible and of my dad.

My dad gave more money to people than anyone I know. He rarely got paid back, but he helped a lot of people. Yeah, he loved money. And yeah, it was a weakness, but we all have those, right?

But he believed he was a bad person. Not worthy of God’s love because he loved money. All because the church said so.

Group think. Not thinking for ourselves … it a source of mental discourse and it’s only getting worse.

We have to start thinking for ourselves. We have to start looking at the world differently – from our own perspective and our own viewpoint. These religions and these philosophies that were created thousands of years ago and our societal norms  don’t serve us well any more. They are becoming divisive rather than creating balance.

We need to think of new theories, new philosophies, new religions. Or, at the very least, update the old ones … just like an operating system for your computer. Modern society needs a new operating system. There needs to be a focus on individual responsibility and individual thinking.

The world changes. People change. Beliefs change. But these “institutions” for lack of a better term never change. Never grow. And as the population grows, so does group think. Now, we’re seeing more and more hate in the world. More and more judgement. Less and less compassion. We’re not thinking for ourselves. We are falling prey to group think.

We have to start thinking about what’s right for us as individuals and forget the norms. I mean, we need common rules of law but the way we live our lives should be based on  our own perspectives. What we feel in our hearts. If not, we’re going to keep trying to live up to someone else’s ideal or some group’s standards. And we’re going to alienate more and more people who don’t fall in line with the group’s philosophies.

That’s why self-care matters to me. Why I think it’s important.

It gives us time to think. And to think deeply for ourselves. It removes us from group think. We develop our own perspectives and instincts. We think more deeply about the world and how we operate in it. We develop our own flow. We do what’s right for us and make ourselves happy. And when we’re happy as individuals, then those around us are happier and so on and so forth.

Of course, I don’t know anything about anything either. But I know what’s happening in the world right now is not right. And group think plays a big role in what’s happening.

So, if we’re going to change the world, we must realize that no one else knows anything about anything. We have to figure things out for ourselves. Make our decisions based on our own instincts and experiences, and not live up to what some group says we should be doing or thinking.

If we do this, it will clear the mind of a lot of negativity. With less negative personal speak, we see greater inner peace and individual happiness. And if we are happy individuals, then we can become a happier society.