Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Self-love is a Journey.


A lesson I have been working on for some time now is self-love.  It is quite easy for me to love and see all the goodness in others.  It is easy for me to believe in their positive intentions and acknowledge that they are trying to live this life as best as they can; to be the best mother/father, brother/sister, husband/wife, daughter/son, employee, community member they can be.  It's easy for me to have compassion for those who are struggling, recognizing that we all just want to be safe, happy and free.  I can see all of that when I look around me.  But, do I always see that in me? 

When I hear others say it is difficult to love themselves I normally think, "What? C'mon? How can you not love yourself?  What do you wish for yourself if not all things positive?"  However what does "loving yourself" really look like in thoughts, words and actions?  Sure I want happiness in my life.  Sure I want to be safe and free from harm, living in a country that affords me the freedom to live in the way I choose.  Sure I want to feel content in the work I do and loved by the people I surround myself with.  These are all wonderful things to want for one's self, but how can I take it a step further?

Can I sit in silence not wondering what others are doing and thinking about what more I can do to be productive?  Can I just let my body relax and enjoy rest?  Can I scroll through social media and not feel "less than" others?  Can I hear all about all the wild adventures and impressive accomplishments that others are experiencing and delight in these stories, feeling inspired, without projecting back a feeling of unworthiness or inferiority or "not enough-ness" on myself?  Can I close my self-help books and stop striving to incessantly be or do more?  When the day gets away from me and I don't get all the boxes checked off my to-do list, what thoughts occupy my mind?  When my life isn't shaping up exactly as I had expected or hoped for, what is the self-talk I feed myself?  Can I show myself some compassion and understanding; and truly believe that I am doing the best I can?  Can I trust myself and my capabilities, feeling secure that however things turn out, whatever curve balls life throws my way, that I will be able to figure out a way forward.  Do I have the courage and confidence to live boldly and authentically, not letting anyone else's definition of success distract or trick me into being something else?  This is self-love; and it's an on-going journey.

Whenever in my life I have tried to "be good" and do the things I was told I should do in order to be "successful," I was unhappy, stressed out, unhealthy and felt lost.  Following those valleys were peaks when I have thrown caution at the wind and pursued my heart, such as when I turned my finance major into the study of social/economic justice; when I decided to go to the Peace Corps; when I left corporate finance to work in higher education and study psychology, nutrition and mediation; and finally, when I left in March to travel around the world for a year with my partner.  These have been the times when I was actually listening and honoring my intuition; when I was trusting in myself and giving myself the things that my soul was asking for.  However, self-love isn't a straight and narrow path.  There are still many
times when my inner-perfectionist rears its way into my thoughts and tells me I should be doing more, and directs my attention outward to social media to see what others are doing. 

"I should be doing more.  I am not as talented, healthy, put together, driven, clever, etc., as this person or that person.  What am I doing?! Tighten the reins…work more, exercise more, eat healthier, be more kind and compassionate, push harder, write more, etcetera." 

I like to call this mental diarrhea the ode of "not enough."  However, I am catching on.  I am becoming faster and more skillful at recognizing the storyteller in my head and then letting her know that while her stories are super creative and entertaining; and they remind me of the things in life I value; they are only as real and threatening as I allow them to be.  I can have a sense of humor about it all and then turn my attention back to the present moment by recognizing everything right now that is meaningful and positive.  I can be grateful for my life, all the things I created and all the people and things that keep my heart so full.  And, I can recognize with a huge sense of relief that I am, and we all are, forever a work in progress.

When we can be who we want to be, do what in our heart we know we’d like to do, say what we feel, even at the risk of falling on our face or being judged, then we know we're on this path.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pondering the Difference between Empathy and Compassion


I recently listened to an interview with Jack Kornfield, a well-known meditation teacher, and he elaborated an interesting distinction between empathy and compassion.  He said that while empathy allows us to feel each other's emotions, compassion triggers us to act on our empathy; not from a place of pity or egocentrism (to make us feel good about ourselves), but on the basis of shared humanity (we're a global family and all in this together). 

I have always been a bit sensitive to the pain/anger/frustration of others, and my response has usually been an attempt at compassion, but laced with pity and/or the assumption that I can and must solve the problem at hand (ego).  How would it look like for me to act compassionately based on Jack's definition?  What would it look like if we treated everyone as our immediate family, offering the same level of support we would offer our partner, parents, siblings, and etcetera?  How can you create space for your beloved to feel and process what he/she is going through and decide for him/herself what's needed for healing?  Sometimes a hug, ear to listen, or a word of empathy is the most compassionate thing.  Imagine if we could all make compassion our new way of living.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to Flow like H2O


I listened to an interesting TED Talk by Raymond Tang and he uses the metaphor of water to prescribe a certain way of living.  He says we should strive to be:
(1) Humble - helping to give life to those around us without seeking attention or recognition in return.
(2) Harmonious - finding our way around obstacles, rather than fighting against what we confront in our environment.
(3) Open - willing to change and grow based on new experiences and lessons we learn from others.

In situations where we feel angry, nervous, anxious, stressed or otherwise triggered, he prompts us to ask ourselves, "What would water (H2O) do?"

This metaphor really clicked for me and my intentions for this trip.  In terms of being open, I remember when I was a freshmen in college and just so overwhelmed with my workload and wanting to prove I was "smart enough" to be among my peers.  My aunt mailed me a quote by Wayne Dyer that said, "Be a student.  Be open and willing to learn from everyone and anyone.  Being a student means you always have room for new input."  This quote changed the trajectory of my college years (and beyond) because it reminded me that I was there (and I am here now) to learn; and learning meant (means) that I wouldn't (won't) always get the straight A's.  This perspective made learning fun for me and took the pressure away from having to always get things right.

In regard to the second "H" (harmony), one thing David and I have been working on is establishing self-care habits that we can do together, but that also satisfy our individual needs.  I want to wake up early and he likes to wake up naturally next to me (which is usually a bit later than I am used to) and have time to stay in bed for his mind to turn on before starting our day.  We are both interested in exploring new healthy breakfast ideas and new workout options; and we have been flexible to support each other's wishes/desires/needs.  One day we'll do a short run and a yoga class (Keri); and other days we'll do a HIIT workout in the park with some pull-ups (David).  In all of this I have found that even if I don't always get what I want, I am still able to enjoy whatever we do and I am fortunate to share those things with my partner, lover and best friend.  I have been able to recalibrate and find the fun/beauty/adventure/awe in whatever this experience and each moment brings me/us.  Some days it takes a bit more creativity, but I am still getting all my needs met.

And, humility will be my active pursuit for this trip.  I will strive to remain curious and interested about others.  What can I learn from everyone I interact/connect with?  Rather than spilling myself all over others with my own stories (me, me, me), I will ask myself, "What can I do or say to this person that might leave them better off than when I found them?"  In asking this question, I will apply a sense of empathy and compassion, so I will be guided to share based on what I've heard him/her express, rather than imposing what I think they need.

In what ways will you flow like H2O in your day?  How will you show up to the next moment with humility, harmony and openness?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Control is the Enemy of Joy



Day 11 of 365:  I've been pondering this idea that control is the enemy of joy.  Life has proved to me over and over again that I will never be fully in control.  The more effort I have put into trying to seize it, the more disappointed I have become, as my life continues to arrive on its own accord.  Change is self-evident and the more I can flex and flow, the happier I will remain.  During my travels I can choose to want my morning routines and afternoon adventures to look a certain way, but when it doesn't go according to plan, I can choose to either (1) be angry and upset, wishing the day were fully in my control; or (2) recalibrate and figure out what there is now for me to enjoy.  I think the more I can choose option #2, the better off I will be.

Day 8 of 365: Gardening the Life of my Dreams


David and I were reflecting on this trip and the opportunity it gives us to reshape our lives in whatever way we want.

For much of my younger years I was bound in the core belief that "I wasn't enough" and was always striving to be "successful" (what does that even mean?!) according to the standards expressed by those around me and in popular media. I pushed in the ways I was told to push myself and pursued career paths (finance) that didn't match what interested me (directly serving others) or my skillsets (teaching, managing, …) because I was told that this sort of lifestyle would bring me joy.  But, guess what….it didn't (surprise, surprise).  When I first learned about nutrition and exercise, I latched on thinking it would be my ticket to prove myself once and for all, and I threw myself in the fruitless pursuit of eating the cleanest, most healthy diet and becoming the fittest version of myself.  If my job couldn't bring me joy, I reasoned that my stellar "health" would.  I kept pushing harder and harder in this realm.  However, what I learned is that when you push too much in one area of your life, you're draining other aspects of your life.  Not only was I suffering in my career, but spending all my time obsessing about food and exercise (with all the planning/routines/rituals this required) compromised my relationships and connections with other people.  What I learned from all of this is that, for me, happiness thrives in a space of balance.  I believe balance looks very different for all of us.  We have to look at all the things in our life we value (the things that make us come alive) and make sure those pieces all have a place in our life, and in the appropriate measure.  At times we might find ourselves pushing harder in one aspect of our lives, but eventually the incremental value of our efforts will no longer bring us the same sense of satisfaction as it once did (law of diminishing returns).  If we've cultivated balance in our lives, then we are protected from the loss of our sense of self when the thing we value most goes away.

Giving ourselves this year to explore is helping us continue to weed out all the things that weigh us down, and cultivate the kind of life that feels most satisfying.  Each day we have the opportunity to experiment….what/when/how much food, exercise, meditation, fun time, work time, together time, solo time, social time, etc.  I am so grateful that we will be able to try new things, create/solidify new habits/behaviors/perspective, and create the life of our dreams.  However, the truth is that it doesn't taking leaving the country to take inventory of our lives and adjust.  We can all do this anytime, anywhere.  What are some of the things you'd like to try weeding out or incorporating more of in your life?  What is one small experiment you can start today?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Here we go! Day 1 -- March 1, 2018 -- Mexico City


Setting Intentions for this RTW (round-the-world) Trip

We've arrived.  Day 1 of 365 days of travel around the world.  It's all still surreal and I am wondering when it is going to kick in that we are not on vacation.  Before I left, my good friend gifted me a pair of small, triangular cat ear earrings (thank you, Carrie) and I thought it was the perfect gift to represent my intentions for this year.  Carrie and I were talking about how one of the best things you can do when communicating others is to JUST be fully present and listen…without trying to solve the problem, soothe the pain, downplay its severity.  To listen without thinking about what to say next or focusing on other things outside the conversation.  To listen with compassion and without judgment.  I was watching a documentary called KumarĂ© where, for an experiment, a young man feigned to be an Indian guru and was able to create a small following.  His "teaching" was completely made up and he taught that he (the "guru") was merely a reflection of the inner guru that we can all find in ourselves.  He was basically telling everyone that he was a fake and that they should look inside themselves (and not to him or other external people/circumstances) for healing.  Yet, these people changed their lives for the better based largely on his inspiration.  Why/how do you ask did this happen and why is it relevant?  It's because KumarĂ© spent 1:1 time with each individual, listening compassionately, with his full presence and without any judgments.  He made each person feel seen and heard; and by doing so, empowered them to make the changes they thought they needed to make in their lives.  As I travel to new places and meet all kinds of different people, I want to listen and learn from them, without judging their way of being or imposing my own.  I want to make others feel embraced by my presence and in return want to remain open-minded to learn what I can from them.  It is my hope I can leave the people I meet feeling inspired, empowered and like they matter.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

LIVE OUT LOUD!

Often I find themes in my life that come to me (through books, podcasts, in conversations or social media), stay for a period of time, move me in different ways and then become replaced by new themes.  Of late, the theme du jour has been the idea of taking the lessons we have held in our minds, and moving them to consistent practice.  I have certainly read a lot about happiness and focus and mindfulness and self-love and forgiveness and patience and productivity, etc.; and knowing how to optimize these things is important, but life doesn't happen in our heads.  How do we take what we learn and make manifest the knowledge in our moment-to-moment encounters?  

In a podcast he gave, Amir Zoghi talked about the ways in which people live as a means to an end.  "I will make a lot of money, so I can…travel, have a big house, own lots of fancy things, gain respect, etc."  How can we live the end itself?  How can we pursue our joy today and not put it off for some future time?  

In connection to the idea I opened with, how can I live what I am learning now, in each moment of my life; rather than accumulating knowledge for some future experience, professional endeavor, or for the book I plan to eventually write?  I find myself rushing through the day, crossing things off my to-do list, so I can get to the things that excite me, like learning about health and well-being and the such.  I read, take notes and even discuss these ideas with friends, which is all helpful and positive.  However, how can I instead embody the lessons and "be the change" to model these things in my life?  What would that look like?  For me, that looks like stopping to give my full attention and listen patiently and with empathy when someone is talking to me.  Recognizing when I am being judgmental and shifting into more compassionate thoughts.  Setting boundaries when I feel drained or want to preserve time and energy for self-care.  Standing up for others against bullies in a kind and loving way.  That means rather than accumulating knowledge for the future person I aspire to become, I will instead be that person in this moment and all the next ones I encounter.