Blog

State – Not Story.

For someone obsessed with words, this is not an easy concept to drill into practice. This motto relates to polyvagal theory – and it’s the idea that when we are in heightened state (in our sympathetic nervous system), the story we are telling ourselves is not important. In fact, it’s so unimportant and unreliable, we should actively ignore it. Our job is to identify what state we are in, recognize that we are in fight/flight and then help ourselves get our parasympathetic nervous system back online. 

For someone who gets herself very wrapped up in having to understand WHY I feel anxious, it’s a difficult, yet freeing, concept. State – not story. The WHY doesn’t matter, at least for the moment. The only job I have is to have the ‘aha’ moment of noticing I’m spinning, and then to help myself come to a safe stop. Not by analyzing or talking myself out of it, but by doing those state shifting tactics (see State Shifting post for more details). No matter what stories are going on, I need to put is all aside and focus on breathing, self soothing, audible sighing, putting ice on my face – anything I can do to activate my vagus nerve and help myself with what I need most – to re-engage my parasympathetic nervous system. 

For me, I know this is a huge piece of the puzzle that’s been hiding under the box. My mind is obsessed with having to know WHY in those stressful moments – having to make up a story. And without my attachment to that, it eliminates so much of my suffering. Especially if I stop wasting my time with it, and instead can move on to truly helping myself down regulate. My state shifting techniques are important to practice so I have a lot of tools in my toolbox (and can locate them when stressed), but the practice of “STATE – NOT Story” is perhaps even more vital to my wellbeing. Reducing the time between noticing when a screw is loose and grabbing the tool to fix it (instead of getting caught in how it happened)- I’m going to feel a lot more secure. Even if the only tool I can remember and master is breathing, it’s the “state- not story” practice that will be most impactful. You don’t need a million tools, but you do need to go to your toolbox. 

Letting go of the WHY or coming up with a story when I’m in those states has been a challenge, but it’s not the only challenge here. Another part of “State – not story”, relates to when we already have a story. Part of my issue is around wanting to know and being preoccupied making a story – but the other part is when I already “KNOW” a story. 

When we are in our sympathetic nervous system, any story we have playing will feel absolutely true to us. Perhaps it’s a story about how someone did us wrong (maybe even blame of why you are currently feeling stressed/angry/etc), or maybe it’s a story about how we feel or what’s wrong with us (or a situation). The point here is that if you are in a heightened state, regardless of how true or how much it actually makes sense, we will believe the story to be true. It will feel so true we won’t be able to hear legitimate evidence against it. And the more we invest in the story, the more sense we will feel it makes (using everything we think of to work to prove our story). And it seems, there’s really nothing much we can do about it – at that point. This isn’t just in relation to ourselves – this means your child’s story or your partner’s story will all be so real to them that there’s really no point trying to reason or argue or “help them see the bigger picture” or explain your side. You will get nowhere with others or yourselves, until the storyteller is back on solid parasympathetic nervous system ground. 

As scary and frustrating as that it, if we remember to not give our stories too much weight when we know we are flipped, it can help massively. Telling yourself over and over, “Sate – not story”. When we are in fight/flight, it is not the time to evaluate or engage in the story. Again, our only job needs to be helping ourselves (or others) get back to the land of safety and calm. Only then will we even have the capacity to think and feel clearly about our stories. 

When I first arrived in Costa Rica, after a very long and stressful day of travelling, I burst into tears. The story was that I should never have come, that I was an idiot for doing this, that I hate it here, and that I want to be home. Thankfully, knowing that travel is a huge trigger for shifting my state, I knew I was flipped. And even though that story felt so real to me, I also knew I was in a state that I couldn’t evaluate whether it was true or not. I worked on dis-engaging from the story, and focused on helping myself down regulate. People would message me asking about the place, and I set it aside, knowing I wasn’t in the right state to actually answer. It was sad and frustrating to feel like that, but knowing “State – not story” helped me focus on what was important (state shifting) and not get overwhelmed and stuck in the story. And, as you can imagine, once I was back in a calm state, I absolutely loved it here and am so grateful to have made the journey. 

Check in with yourself, get good at checking your state before anything else. And if you find that you’re in fight/flight or freeze, go grab your toolbox.

On Purpose.

This phrase keeps hitting a chord with me. Every time I hear it or say it I get this “YES” punch in my gut. I’ve made it my “word for 2020”, even though admittedly I understand it isn’t one word. And better yet, I know there are words that could replace it, but none of them seem to have the same effect as “on purpose”, so I just decided to go with it. 

On purpose. It means so much to me because I have this desire that’s become almost desperate lately. The need to be doing things and not doing things, on purpose. Choosing with intention. Defining with intention. Nothing by default. In part I feel it is striking an even louder chord with me lately because I can feel my mortality and age creeping up a little faster than creeping. It’s not a new concept for me. A few years ago I redesigned my life, and have continued to do so, based on the premise that I want to live intentionally, fiercely, and right this fucking minute. It’s not that I haven’t felt this before. It’s just another level of it. Another burst of immediacy and surge of importance. 

The process involves questioning everything. Asking myself what I truly want out of relationships, life, career, time. Getting past the automatic responses, getting underneath and digging into what I want without defaults and social norms. It’s not an easy process, and it can be difficult to define without relying on the things we usually rely on to help us define. It’s also a liberating experience, to be in a place where you truly acknowledge that it’s all up to you. You get to decide. You get to define. You get to choose for whatever reasons you wish to do so. Possibilities feel endless and you can feel like a genie with the ability to grant infinite wishes.

Designing your life, on purpose, is also a daunting task. It can be overwhelming and those endless possibilities can leave you stuck if you let it – almost, if not as much, as feeling as if you have no choice at all. Listening is key, and taking your time. Letting yourself dream without getting held back by not knowing how to make it happen. 

Not all of my goals with living on purpose are so huge. Some of them involve getting back into a routine of only checking my email twice per day. I want to be more intentional about how much I use my phone, check email, and check in on social media. I want to check out – on purpose. On the flip side of that, I want to check in on purpose to. Check in with others intentionally, and check in with myself intentionally too. 

As one of my previous posts mentioned, I’m working hard on shifting my state on purpose (engaging my parasympathetic nervous system). It’s another practice, going along with my whole “on purpose” life goal. 

I’ve been spending a lot of evenings on the beach watching sunsets here in Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful experience listening to the waves, and watching the sky turn into a colourful masterpiece. There’s something truly magical about it. I find myself feeling the sand, the water, watching the sky in awe. I look around at others and I see most of them with phones in their hands, holding them up to capture the moment. And I have no judgment here, just the realization of the difference of being in a moment and capturing a moment. I understand the desire to capture the moment. I’ve done it, and the only reason I wasn’t joining those people are because I had a previous discussion with myself about my purpose of going to the beach to watch the sunset that night – and on purpose left my phone at home. Being there on purpose only happens when you actively choose to do so – unless you accidentally find yourself there at random (like when your phone’s battery is dead when you pull it out of your bag). I still think there’s value in capturing, and I plan to do it, but I want to make sure I am intentionally choosing to do so. 

Last night I decided to bring my phone with me for the purpose of taking out my phone and joining the masses in trying to get a good shot of the beauty behind my screen. To capture it, on purpose. What I find very fascinating about this process of being so deliberate – is that even when you are doing something that you may otherwise not feel good about – you actually have more joy and feel good about it when you have actively chosen to do so. I find this true whether it’s checking social media, watching Netflix, or having a Coke. When I’ve decided that I want to do it (not just in the moment, but planned in advance) I feel a sense of joy associated with those activities that otherwise is lacking. 

On this note, it doesn’t matter so much what is being decided, just that I am doing it completely acknowledging the choice I am making. Whatever I do, and however I do it –  I’m doing it on purpose. 

For a minute I was questioning how this all sounds. Is my whole “on purpose” motto just a desire for having more control? It feels pretty control-y when I think of it as trying to decide every moment and action I take. However, deciding and controlling are two different things. I’m not trying to control my environment, other people, or what happens. I’m trying to focus on decisions I have regardless of what’s going on. Whatever happens, I get to decide how I want to respond. We don’t always have control over our reactions – but there’s always a choice in there somewhere – even if it’s in how we’re responding to ourselves about how we reacted (like after a panic attack). And as long as I’m actively deciding and not being driven by auto-pilot when there is a conscious driver in the seat — that is me living, on purpose. 

Transformers Blow

Accepting what I don’t have control over. I did what I could; I booked to stay at a place with confirmed reliable internet. I booked in a populated area that is known for good internet (some have said “the best internet in Costa Rica”), and reliable power. I did what I could, and yet I have been here for a week and have been truly unlucky so far. The router at my place needs to be replaced (thanks to me it is getting replaced though), and tonight before my online class a transformer blew up the road from me – rendering me completely unable to teach my class. If it wasn’t for a very expensive text message and help from an awesome friend/coworker I wouldn’t have even been able to let my TA and class know what was going on. The other residents here said “this has never happened before”. It’s just how lucky I am I guess. So much so that they’re now calling me bad luck! 

I’ve been having a really tough time not stressing over the possibility of my inability to come through on my responsibilities. I attempt to lower the risk as much as possible, but it is ultimately out of my control and yet completely renders me helpless to fulfill my duties and expectations others have of me. And I feel like a failure. I feel like I’m letting people down. I feel like I’m ruining my reputation. Thankfully, this class, has been the first thing that I’ve been unable to fulfill, but the fear it will happen has been plaguing me. The loss of income is one thing – with my whole income currently dependent on power and internet, but the thing that stresses me more is how I am not coming through for others. 

But what can I do? I can tell them I’ll make it up to them. I had an idea earlier today to send out emails to all of my students and clients warning about the possibility of these things and how I will be doing my best to avoid it; however, if it happens I promise it will be made up for in whichever way they prefer. Unfortunately when I arrived back to my place to send those email, the power was out. I still plan to send them out as soon as power is restored. For my students I’m missing class with as I type, it won’t be hypothetical and I’ll be adding an apology and a plan to make it up to them. I guess that’s how I keep my integrity here. I have no power over the power. It’s ridiculously frustrating, but it is the truth. And this is the truth even if I was in Canada. Somehow, because I chose to come to Costa Rica, this feels more on me. But then again, if I was in Canada that is also a choice, is it not? And funnily enough I wouldn’t even think to say “well, I chose to be here, so this loss of power from a snowstorm is on me”. Our brains are funny things. 

I’m reading a book right now on decision making, and how we very often falsely use “resulting” to determine whether we made a good decision or not. That is when you base the quality of decision on the quality of outcome. It’s exactly that that I’m doing when I think I made a bad choice coming here, or that it’s my fault and I should have seen this coming. Really though, the result of missing class tonight has nothing to do with the quality of my decision to come here. I need to remember that. If I had a flashlight or candles I’d be reading “Thinking in Bets” right now until it is seared into my memory.

So, aside from warning them, telling them I’ll make it up, and then of course doing it, what can be done? I think I need to acknowledge that there’s a limit and once I hit that limit, I need to let it go. Let it go and not sit here and suffer. Not decide that I need to sit here staring at my computer, which I should be on teaching right now, punishing myself. If I could let it go, I may focus on trying to figure out something I can eat or do something valuable like meditating. 

What is it about feeling we are being bad if we find joy in these times? If we let it go and enjoy ourselves by using the opportunity for good? Why does even the idea of that make me feel like it would mean I’m not truly sorry it is happening? The truth of course is it really doesn’t change how I feel about the situation. I am still frustrated, disappointed, and upset that circumstances occurred and made me unable to fulfill my duty to my students and coworker. That won’t change whether I sit here willing the power to return and cursing myself for it, or whether I sit on the porch and mediate. And it doesn’t make it any less bad for others. It isn’t like they are benefiting from me stressing out. There’s nothing I can do to make it less annoying for them now, and the only benefit I can provide is from my actions after the fact. I must trust that people will have faith in me to make it right, and that even if they don’t, I will come through as that is the only way I can prove myself. Though I struggle with the idea of people feeling let down and angry with me, I cannot control it, and I can only do my best. At this point, it means trusting that I will do what I can when I can, and whether or not it’s enough for them, it must be enough for me. 

By now class is probably over. I’m very sad I missed it. I was really hoping that at least the power would come back during class, and I’d get to complete it and apologize to them directly and timely. How can I redirect the anger to the situation and not to myself? When it comes to others, I will absolutely own my part and make it up to them because I don’t want them to have to suffer because of this, and I am the teacher/professional here. But for me, for now, how do I stop myself from owning something that really doesn’t belong to me? I did what I could, but it still feels yucky. I think the distinction that’s important here is to acknowledge that this situation feels yucky, I don’t feel yucky because I did something wrong. It just sucks. And I know in my heart I can be proud of myself as long as I do my best. Just like I would be of anyone else. 

And with that, can you please go fucking meditate now?!?

State Shifting

Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is actually one of my main goals for this year. I want to be a master state shifter. And very much like I’d imagine as I picture this as a Star Wars movie, in order to be a master state shifter, I’m going to need to train.

I find the practice of state shifting absolutely fascinating. State shifting, for those not familiar, refers to shifting between safety, fight/flight, and freeze. The practice of state shifting, is doing things to deliberately help yourself change your state. To change from being in our sympathetic nervous system to engage our parasympathetic nervous system (of course, it also goes the other way, but most of my efforts are in the service of down regulation). 

I usually delve into a topic that intrigues me by reading more about it. This hasn’t been the case with Polyvagal Theory, or the practice of vagus nerve stimulation and state shifting. In part this is due to timing, my inability to get books from amazon before I left the country, and space, having already overfilled my suitcases with books and food. So this time it’s different. It may not have been planned to be different, but it is and I’m grateful. I can see how reading about it more will be fun and I will do it once I’m back. For now though, I’m going to do what I often fail to do – at least until later. I’m going to actively pursue the topic through experimentation. Actually applying the ideas and the strategies I’ve learned. And I’m super excited about it. 

There are many ways we can do this, by activating our vagus nerve. And, as it turns out, they are much more effective than being told to “calm down”. The techniques I have stumbled across while doing my initial research and learning are:

  • breathing exercises (especially where exhale is longer than inhale) 
    • some people practice the opposite in a fast paced way to shift into fight/flight but this is not something I have tried, I find my body goes there enough unintentionally 😛 )
  • anchoring to safety (visualizing a time when you felt safe)
  • singing, chanting
  • audible sighing 
  • being around animals
  • being in nature (some studies have found even having plants near you inside can have an effect)
  • long distance looking (where you are focusing on looking at things in the distance, not close up as we often do with our screens and reading)
  • cold showers 
  • ice on your face/back of neck
  • heat; warm drinks, warm blankets
  • smiling
  • hanging (arms over your head)
  • sitting/lying on the floor 
  • squatting down/changing body position
  • walking barefoot
  • laughing
  • playing a wind instrument/blowing bubbles (anything that involves a long exhale)
  • connecting to other people (allows for co-regulation)
  • meditation
  • using calm tone and nice language with ourselves (showing compassion)

This list may not be extensive, but there are plenty here to play around with. Since I am on a hiatus from the Canadian winter, I am dedicating some time to experimenting.

What I find interesting while looking at the list, is that there are many things that are more a part of my daily life while I am in Costa Rica (and to some extent during summer months at home). Being in nature, being warm (from the weather), walking barefoot, lying/sitting on the floor, and spending more time long distance looking (for birds, etc) are natural for me when I’m here. Perhaps these things alone give me a greater sense of being grounded in a safety state. No wonder I crave this environment. 

So far I’ve been making sure to meditate, do breathing exercises, practice compassion, change my body position (including doing heart openers), have cold showers (so far has been more like start and finish with cold shower), and use ice on my face/neck. 

I have been trying audible sighing, but I have noticed a block when it comes to doing the more audible ones (sighing, chanting, singing, etc). I am letting my self consciousness of other people hearing and judging stand in my way, and though I am not okay with that, for now I am just noticing and letting it be. Years ago when I was at Earth Dance, there was a lot of practicing of free sounding. At first I was so uncomfortable with it, but over the days it became freeing. I left Earth Dance having learned how freeing and healing it can be to let go of tension in that way. Over the years I’ve clearly gone back into my silence and my discomfort for it has come back full force. This research about the vagus nerve is enticing me again to explore this practice, and conquer my discomfort with it. 

The ice has so far been my favourite technique that I have tried. Or, perhaps, my favourite out of the “new” ones. I find it has an instant affect on me, where I feel calmer and more settled. I have tried this mostly when my body is already very warm though, like after exercise in this plus 30 weather, and when I’m in a panicky state (which also raises my temp). More experimenting to be done, but it’s proven helpful enough to keep in my toolbox (or freezer :P). 

It is not my goal to avoid shifting out of safety, I know this will never be the case. I understand it is part of life and healthy to be able to shift through all of the states on a regular basis. I do, however, hope that with practice and go-to strategies, I can help myself shift back into safety more quickly, and that knowing I have tools to do so will empower me even more. Doing hard things is empowering, and knowing you can handle hard things is even more empowering. Being certain of my ability not only to handle the hard things, but to handle them like a Master State Shifter – who knows what kind of opportunity comes from that level of empowerment. 

I Dropped My Bike..

Well.. that didn’t take long. I purchased a brand new motorcycle yesterday, a much bigger and heavier bike than I’m used to riding. I took it out today, very cautiously, just down my street to practice stopping and going, and to get a feel for this new beast. I had it in a parking lot and stopped on a bit of a downhill slant; it started tipping to the right and I pushed to keep it up, just enough to tip it the other way and, not being able to catch the weight, down we went. 

Not even a day old and it’s scratched and the clutch is bent. My legs are bruised and sore, but my confidence is what has been truly crushed. 

I’m having a really hard time not believing I made a very bad call on purchasing this bike. I love it – it’s all black and dragon-y red. I wanted this to be my dragon-mobile, and now I’m not even convinced I will ever be able to ride it. I’m having the thoughts that I misjudged my capabilities, and my physical limitations. I know people say you get used to it, and it might just be about practice and getting my body used to supporting the extra weight. I know I had similar doubts about my first motorcycle when I started riding it last year. I couldn’t even start moving without stalling. I know I’ve been caught in this doubt before, but it’s hard not to believe that these thoughts are more legitimate. And maybe they are. Honestly, I suppose it’s just too soon to tell. 

But I also know that dragons grow from their scars. I suppose it’s only natural that this is where I start with this dragon bike. You can only rise if you fall first. 

It all tracks together, that’s just life. I know the high of my purchase yesterday, is naturally accompanied by the challenge that it presents. I know that the crush of failure will actually help me grow. Knowing doesn’t help it feel less crushing though.

I stood there, staring at my brand new shiny bike, on its side, dripping fuel. And all I could do was stare. I like being strong. I weight train four times a week. I can deadlift my body weight. I can squat more than my bodyweight. I can leg press 180lbs. I am strong. But it didn’t matter. 

I hate the times we are reminded that it doesn’t matter. That, despite being strong and fierce, it’s not always enough. It’s so frustrating to be face to face with our vulnerability like that. I still have the scars from the time I was dragged down the pavement by my two dogs. I am strong, and I want that to be enough. It’s what I have control over. Especially coming from a place where I didn’t believe I could be strong, to now be at a place that my strength is part of my identity – that I made it so. The times I’m slapped in the face with my own limitations challenge me to accept the burn with grace.

I don’t need anyone, I don’t need anyone. I just need everyone, and then some.

Halsey (Clementine)

I didn’t even need to try to know that there was no way I’d be picking up 370lbs by myself. It’s so hard feeling that helpless. Dragons don’t like feeling helpless and vulnerable. I did have an incident on my Grom where I laid it down trying to back it out of a gravel parking spot (I wasn’t even on the bike). That bike, being much smaller, I was able to lift on my own and get on my way without much more than a bruised ego. 

Apparently this bike presents a new challenge and opportunity in vulnerability. Thankfully a man got out of his car and helped me lift it back upright. Dragons like feeling strong and capable of being the provider of what they need. And for the most part, this has been valuable – learning and growing to be able to be strong and fierce for myself. I am learning that others are more paramount to true wellbeing and safety than I had appreciated, or been willing to accept. I guess dragons must learn to balance between dependence and independency. Maybe this bike is too heavy. 

I fell. I know I will get back up. I’ll wipe away the tears. I’ll fix the damage. My bruises will heal. I won’t give up, and I will see a way forward that doesn’t rely on the current black and white view of my stress response. I’ll ask for help and support. I’ll find the courage to build up my strength, my skills, and humbly accept what I can’t do as an opportunity to connect. 

Maybe the ashes from where this dragon will rise are just what I needed to choke on today. To not only learn to accept begrudgingly, but welcome and appreciate the beauty of our interdependency in this life. To keep practicing this delicate balance of personal and social safety. To rise from this, scratches and all, as a powerful fierce dragon who rides proudly in a pack. 

Signing up for Heartbreak

August 10

It’s not often we willingly take on pain and loss. In fact, most of us usually do our best to protect ourselves from it. And when it’s not possible to protect, we like to trick ourselves into believing we won’t have to face the loss by not acknowledging it. Even though there is no true stopping pain and loss in our lives, we certainly try to do our best to make it so, or believe it so (and push the thoughts far out of our mind when they sneak in).

I recently signed up to foster kittens for the SPCA. With the joy, love, and opportunity to contribute, also comes guaranteed loss and heartbreak. 

I have been taking care of four beautiful baby kittens for the last two weeks. Mora, Kent, Kirkland, and Daisy. They are hilarious, mischievous, and the sweetest little beings. Four kittens purring and cuddling you at once is an experience that fills my heart with so much joy it overflows. 

Before they came into my life I knew giving the kittens back would be hard, but when I thought of fostering I put more emphasis on the time with them and the joy and love. Coming home from their vet appointment last Friday (where they told me they’d be ready to be brought in the Monday morning) I was so overwhelmed with grief and sadness that I couldn’t stop the tears. 

In theory it seemed much more acceptable than in practice.

I started hearing myself take these feelings as feedback that I wasn’t strong enough to do it, but thankfully I was able to catch myself and be a voice of reason through the tears. “Of course you can do it, it will just be really hard, painful, and very sad.” What I meant when saying this, and what people often mean with, “I can’t do that” is that they can’t do it without experiencing discomfort, pain, sadness, etc. And when we are programmed to avoid pain and sadness, it makes sense that if something requires pain and sadness, we will tell ourselves we simply cannot do it. 

This whole experience has got me thinking about my relationship with pain and loss, and my willingness to have it and feel it (and why or why not to even embrace it).

What do we miss out on and how do we limit ourselves, when we decide that experiencing pain and loss is on the “can’t do” list? How would things be different for us if we embraced it, if we actively went for experiences that no doubt involve pain and loss? If being strong wasn’t about being able to do things without pain, but in fact it was doing things that involved pain? I know I can survive the heartache I will feel when it’s time for these munchkins to start the next part of their journeys. I know I will live through it. It really isn’t a question on being able – it’s a question of being willing to feel all the yucky and painful feelings that will arise without making an evaluation of the experience being bad/wrong or myself being too weak for it. 

After coming to grips with the reality that I only had a few days left with my babies, I got an email telling me their siblings tested positive for Panleukopenia and since they were exposed they would now be on a hold – and with me for longer. I was happy to have more time with them, but so worried about their health. Panleukopenia is highly contagious (especially with littermates) and has a 90% fatality rate. My worry about losing them moved to a whole other level after this news. I was so scared they would die, and I’d worry every night I’d come down to find them sick or dead in the morning. The thoughts broke me down into a sobbing mess. It’s been such a rollercoaster of worry, relief, sadness, joy, and overwhelming love that I feel with these kittens every day. 

The possibility of them getting sick still tears me apart, but I was able to find some peace with acknowledging that even if they were to get this virus and die, I will know that I gave them the best life I could have. That they were loved with all my heart, had the best care, and had loads of fun. Thinking of what I can do and why it’s still so worth it, despite any outcome, allows me to breathe just a little easier. 

August 18

Today I dropped off these sweet babies and my heart is aching with pain. I could hardly get out the words to tell the workers at the SPCA who I was dropping off because I was choking back so many tears. They are still healthy and thankfully seem to be out of the woods for catching the virus. I’m so grateful to be losing them in this way. They are going to have their surgeries tomorrow and then be put up for adoption. I miss them terribly. I know their forever families will be so happy with them and I hope they have the best lives they possibly can. I will always cherish our time together and they will always hold a place in my heart.

Sometimes we are brave enough to risk the chance of pain and loss; otherwise, we really wouldn’t have much in our lives. But often to take those risks we want to make sure it’s quite likely that pain won’t happen. Or we try to limit ourselves, holding back and not getting “too attached” until we “know for sure”.  On the other hand; to go all in when the pain and loss is not only possible, but guaranteed, seems like another story. Fostering has opened my eyes to this story. And though it’s a tear jerker, it’s well worth the read. 

This is so hard, harder than I even imagined, but it’s the kind of hard that I want in my life. Because without the hard, I couldn’t have had all the joy and love. I hope to keep fostering, and giving love to others who need me, for as long as they need me. 

Through this process I have discovered on a whole new level the kind of person I truly want to be. How I want to love and connect and contribute. To love without ownership. To love without needing to hold on. To love without limits, despite knowing our time is limited. To make room in my heart for more relationships than will fit in my life. 

I want to be someone who willingly breaks my heart wide open; who actively seeks opportunities to connect and love, unrestricted by fear or outcomes, and faces the pain and loss that will come with that bravely and authentically.  

As I sit here tonight with a heavy heart, missing the kitten cuddles I grew accustomed to, I’m committing. Committing to living with a broken heart. Committing to living a life where I keep breaking my heart open, trusting that it will keep beating, and discovering whether it might even beat harder. 

Mora with my new kitty-proof, and inspirational, foster cup <3

The Rabbit Hole of Tug of War

I’ve been struggling with obsessive thoughts lately.  And the more energy I give them, the worse it gets. I keep tricking myself into thinking that putting more energy into them will help me figure them out and get passed them, and yet I end up even further down the rabbit hole. 

Being trapped in unconscious thinking -where we don’t realize it’s just thoughts – and then being caught in the thought trap of “working it out by more thinking” – is a rotten place to be. It is a vicious cycle. If we think of a calm mind as a blue sky, this cycle is like a tornado in that sky. The more I feed it, the larger and more destructive it becomes. 

When I can remember that all I need to do is stop adding to its fury by thinking more and more about it, then I can get a better perspective and I’m able to sit in the blue sky – even when the tornado is still around. The sky is vast – the farther away I get, I get out of the tornado’s path, and the blue sky is again visible. 

All of my obsessive thinking lately has revolved around a specific phobia -emetophobia. I have struggled with it for years (i.e. as long as I can remember – hello panicking preschooler memories). Currently I’m still functioning on my daily responsibilities – but I’m obsessively researching online, worrying and obsessing over upcoming travel, and my mind is constantly playing out all the scenarios in my life (including on tv) that I have felt sick, witnessed sickness, etc, etc. This disturbing reel even plays when I’m sleeping, along with new dream-created scenes.

I’ve had times over the years where I’ve tried to address this phobia head on – even as far as exposure therapy. What I have found over and over again however is that the more focus I have on it – the worse it gets. The more I’m obsessed, the more I’m impacted to downright debilitated, the more I act out of fear, the smaller my life and mind becomes. The only times I’m able to say this phobia hasn’t been a big issue is when I am focusing on living my values, acting intentionally on what I want (not basing my decisions out of fear and avoidance), practicing seeing thoughts as thoughts, and dropping the rope. Understanding that the monsters and thoughts and fears can be there, that I don’t have to do anything, and that I can just continue to do what is best for me. 

Well, I caught myself playing tug of war again.

It’s frustrating when you realize you’ve been playing tug of war again. Our minds are so good at convincing us that its worthwhile, that we should be doing it. That this time is different for x, y, z reasons. It justifies its destructive actions, and we believe it. It’s hard to deny as I can see the truth in it. There is truth there – I do get motion sick and I am travelling soon. However, all of the thoughts about being motion sick and how terrifying it is and how afraid I am and how desperate I am to avoid it at all costs – those are just thoughts. That is my thinking. And from afar I can see that it is all of that stuff that I’m truly reacting to. It’s my fear thinking. It’s how scary I’ve made it out to be that it is so gripping that my heart is racing just writing about it now. And though I may look like I’m spending my time valuably looking up ways to avoid motion sickness on my upcoming travels- it keeps my mind on the subject and builds the monster up. It’s like it’s no longer even a game of tug of war, I’m laying face first into the dirt having already lost, and yet continuing to hang on and let the monster drag me wherever it wants. 

It’s hard to get out because when you’re in it, it seems like the answer is elusive or absolutely going to be complicated. It’s at this point I start wondering whether I need to try something to tackle my phobia so I can get my life back (which is where I go down another rabbit hole of looking for solutions to emetophobia -which again, makes the monster even bigger and intensifies my panic). And then I remember the wisdom in what I already know – the practices and perspectives that have given me strength, comfort, and ultimately the freedom to live the life I want to live. 

Seeing thoughts as thoughts -not me, not real, and not something I have to do anything about. As scary or lovely as they are, I can let them be. 

Practicing observing those thoughts and feelings, and letting them go without attaching (and coming back when I realize I did get attached). The more we practice this in general, the more able we are to use it with the really hard thoughts that come up. I can see how the situation I’m in now could be simply a result of needing more ongoing practice with this. My plan now, with a trip only five days away, is to spend a lot of time doing observer-stance meditations, practicing labelling (defusion strategy), and listening and reading things that reinforce the perspectives of thoughts as thoughts, and all of the wonderful ACT principles. 

Focusing on my values, my strengths, my deeper wants and needs, and being committed to living my life – not avoiding fear. 


Getting stuff out of being in a place you maybe shouldn’t be.

I went to a motorcycle riding academy this weekend on a race track. I’m pretty much as new as a rider as you can be. And I’m on a tiny bike. 

The first day I got very caught up and wrecked by all the “You shouldn’t be here” “You don’t belong here” input. And not only did that tank any confidence I had, it made me feel so beneath everyone else and like I was in the way and an inconvenience (at best) for being there. 

The academy was not what I expected. I thought they would be going over basics of maneuvering your motorcycle; the proper way to brake and shift, perhaps some emergency procedures to get out of harm’s way if there’s debris or an accident in front of you. I expected to be taught more and learn more skills. I never came to this course to learn how to race, I came for the “learn to better control your motorcycle on the street” part, so that was a disappointment to me. 

On top of that, people in my riding group (the SLOW group) were often complaining of having to go too slow (because of me) and it was embarrassing and frustrating. There was nowhere else for me to go (whereas they could have gone up a group) and it made riding that much more stressful because I was constantly worried about holding others up and having to hear the negativity. As much as I try to work on being comfortable when people are upset by me, it still feels extremely uncomfortable and yucky, and not the kind of hard emotional work I can balance with a motorcycle between my knees. 

After my first ride around the track I almost called it quits. I was terrified. Some of the corners were terrifying and my lack of skills and experience were evident, and I was quite afraid and sure I wouldn’t be able to keep myself safe. I was fighting back tears, and not all that successfully. 


I left the first day feeling sick and convinced I wouldn’t go back. 

A shift happened when I looked at the whole picture. I saw the responsibility that belonged to others, and stopped putting it all on myself. Before signing up for this, I had asked all the questions – I told them how new I was to riding and they said it would be good for me – and I even persisted and asked “is there too slow for the track?” And was told NO! So, if that were their answers before taking my money, then that’s what I’m going with. It’s not my fault if I’m where I shouldn’t be – that part is on them. And due to my lack of skill (and lack of acquiring any more) I decided that I will go as slow as I need to to keep myself safe and try to learn things I can apply to my everyday riding while doing it. I stopped worrying about the people behind me, and the comments in our post-ride discussions. I might have been in the wrong place because of misinformation from others, but it was now my responsibility to get something out of that not-quite-right place I was in. 

Which got me looking for what I can take away. I asked questions that were probably so novice others were rolling their eyes. I asked for feedback. I asked for more instruction. I did learn my lines better the second day; however, lines are for racing – not the road – so as happy as I was to be doing better on the track, it still didn’t feel like enough. So I kept searching and trying things – using my front brake smoothly, timing my shifting, and leaning my bike/weight. I think the biggest takeaway is that I will have more confidence in leaning my bike more on the road now that I know I can do it without falling. 

The even bigger lesson though – that I have found comes up over and over – is to be able to accept when a situation isn’t what you wanted or needed, and to bring yourself to a place where you still get something out of it. To feel all the feelings associated with that; the disappointment, the anger, the frustration, the sadness – to be able to hold those without owning it all (as I was on day 1 when others were expressing their feelings towards my lack of speed and skill), or without being so focused on blaming others that you can’t receive anything from them or have any good experiences (like I would have done if I decided to just be mad at the organizers/teachers and not be friendly or ask them questions or for feedback, or to have simply left being resentful).

I am proud for going back on day 2. I am proud that I was able to hold the entire experience and not leave feeling like it was a waste or with my confidence tanked. And, bonus for leaving with all of my bones in place and my bike intact 😉 . 

Let it Be

I think I live inside my head less. It’s a calmer existence, but my fuck is it ever making writing harder. When I was alone, the only conversations I was having was with myself. My time was spent connecting to the noise, creating it, or quieting it down. I had a lot to say about it because I spent a lot of time there. Now, for better or worse (I like to believe there can always be a balance, even when it comes to getting caught in thinking traps :P), I haven’t been living inside my head as much since I returned from paradise.



I’ve been really engaged with life and the “doing” aspects of living. I’ve also been reading and listening to more of Michael Neill and connecting to the ideas of essence of being and the belief that it is beyond thought. Very similar to the observer stance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the idea is that from this place you can see thoughts as thoughts, and you understand that they aren’t powerful, directive, truths, or really anything you have to worry your pretty little head over, and they sure as fuck do not have to stand in your way. Now, living with this front and centre has lead to me not giving many fucks about my thoughts (though I’ve still had many). By not investing in them I’ve had an easier time lately just being, which is a nicer place to spend time, but a harder place to write from. 

I know I want to write more about my experience of Costa Rica, and explore living a Pura Vida life even when I’m not there. But for now, it can wait. This is something else I’m learning through my new understanding of myself and life – that things must wait until they are ready. That we can understand and accept that we don’t know the answer; that we won’t know until we know, and that we can trust that at sometime we will know and then we’ll know. Not to push it, not to struggle. Of course I don’t mean we don’t try to figure things out on our own or brainstorm or anything like that. What I mean is, if we really don’t know, we don’t force it. And we don’t struggle with it.

When reading “The Space Within” by Michael Neill I was introduced to the idea that our productiveness/creativity/performance is not something we have to go after to access, but instead, something that is always there and all we have to do is reduce the distractions.

performance = capacity – interference; In other words, when we eliminate interference, we perform closer to our full capacity.”

Michael Neill (The Space Within)

This is something I can apply to my business as well as my writing. Struggling to make an idea come up, or forcing yourself to try to write something particular, is simply not a way to access it. Instead, let it be. Accept you don’t know yet, that no ideas have come up yet, and that the quieter and more accepting of it just being there unwritten, and unknown, is the best way to ensure the ideas will be created. As a doer, an over-thinker, and an obsessive list maker – I find this one challenging. And yet, it’s so unbelievably freeing when I remember its’ truth. 

As the Beatles said… (sorry, not sorry for getting this stuck in your head)

“Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Oh, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.”


Transition

Leaving the silence behind. During my time in Costa Rica I had ample time to reflect and space to be creative. I built up lots of enthusiasm and was excited to get back home and start putting into practice the ideas I had developed.

And then I got home. 

I’ve been home for two weeks now and I’m only just starting to feel my energy pick up and feel like I have a grasp on life. The difficulty of the transition took me by surprise. 

I was so excited to bring back Costa Rica with me, and so excited to grasp the life I was missing with all I had once I got back- and then I was so tired and overwhelmed all I felt like doing was huddling into a ball in my bed. I was very caught up with trying to keep up with regular life. It was hard not to feel like I failed.

The truth is that I didn’t fail, I just didn’t allocate any time for transition. Despite the want to be at my best the moment I stepped off the plane, the reality was very different. The only thing I really failed were my own unrealistic expectations. 

It helped just realizing that it is a transition. It’s not that I just “Can’t do regular life anymore” or that “I have lost everything I gained in Costa Rica”. It just simply is a transition. An in-between time of readjusting. If I can allow for the space to transition, it brings into mind a possibility of creating the type of transition I want. Giving full permission for the process to happen. And deliberately setting myself up to have a good transition – as its’ own special time that has its’ own purpose and value. 

It was yet another good learning experience. To have patience, compassion, to identify what I wanted to implement and the permission to hold off on the actual implementation. To know that I still have access to everything I had before, and belief that with time and recuperating the energy and enthusiasm would re-ignite. If you can accept what your now is (especially when it’s different than what you expected) it gives you a new chance to create what you need. Letting go of your previous expectations and responding to what you need in the moment. Even when that doesn’t involve changing your action – a huge shift happens when you fully embrace with compassion what you are doing (like relaxing on the couch). When you not only do it, but you let it be okay (or even good) that you are doing it. 

There are still things I haven’t started but I can feel my energy rising, and I am doing more and more (which is also doing less) as time continues. Trusting the process of the transition and myself in the process.

Seeing transition in this new light also reminds me of the other transitions that occur in our lives that this mindset could also prove to be helpful. We have many small transitions throughout our days and weeks, and bigger transitions that occur in our years (and lifetime). Are we approaching these transitions with acknowledgement of their value? Are we being mindful of what we need during the transition – or are we jumping to being in the next phase/activity? Can we give ourselves the permission to actually transition or are we expecting to be fully into the next thing without intentional time and space for the in-between?

If we can see transition as a necessary and valuable space between – how can we best anticipate them, allow space for them, and get the most out of them?