Question Games

The questions we ask, the way we ask them, and how often we ask them make a huge difference in our experience of life. 

As anyone who has been around kids knows – there are ways to ask choice questions that give them a sense of control and you exactly the outcome you want. 

There’s a big difference in the type of response and attitude you’ll receive when you ask “Are you going to brush your teeth now?” or tell “You need to brush your teeth now”, then when you ask “Are you going to brush your teeth or put on your pyjamas now?” 

It’s a forced choice, but it still feels like a choice, and this freedom (where it doesn’t feel like someone is telling us what to do) can make a world of difference on someone’s attitude and their desire to follow through.

But did you know you can apply the same technique with yourself? 

When I started my routine of working out everyday in Costa Rica, I started to begrudge it as soon as I woke up. And when I asked myself “Are you going to work out today?” the answer I always had was “uggh! I don’t want to.” And the only thing that got me to follow through were those evil “should” notions. 

The truth is we don’t like being told what to do at any age, even if its us doing the telling. By using question tricks – forced choice- we get the results we want and the sense of freedom we crave. 

So I started changing my question. Instead of asking “Am I going to workout?”, I started asking “Which exercises am I going to do?”. It gave me a sense of choice and permission to “be a rebel” by avoiding the ones that I didn’t want to do that day. It turned out to make a big difference in my attitude toward my workouts, and it lead to me getting more done. Yes, there were days I “just” did floor work exercises, but even they were done with more effort and intention because I felt like I was “skipping out on the other exercises” so I was giving my all to what I decided to do

It’s another lesson in avoiding the black and white. By not clumping it all together I was able to see all the pieces and have more wiggle room. This kind of forced question is choosing between two (or more) good options. It allows us to be flexible with how we meet our value/goal, but secures that we are meeting it. To relate this back to kids, it is the technique you are using when you ask “Are you going to wear your red pyjamas or your blue pyjamas?”. For someone with a health goal it could be, “Are you going to go for a walk or ride your bike?”. Either choice leads to the end goal – of getting healthy or getting to bed. We get clear on why what we are asking is important (that we do some type of exercise/that we get dressed for bed) and we let the choice lie in how we reach that end.

Another thing I did was play with the question of timing. Much like the pyjamas or brushing teeth question, the order doesn’t really matter to us – as long as they both get done. So every morning I give myself the choice of working out before or after breakfast. 

It’s funny to think that these small changes can make a difference, and funnier yet that we can play these games on ourselves and they still work. But they do, I swear.

Another question game we play involves the subconscious questions we forget to ask when times are good. 

For example; it’s easy to notice when a child’s behaviour is unpleasant or you don’t like how they are acting. And it’s easy to comment on it too. 

What we often forget is to notice when the behaviour is pleasant and we do like how they are acting. And we forget to comment on it too.

We also do this with ourselves. 

I woke up at 2am last week in a full fledged panic attack. I remember sitting up, throwing the blanket off, flipping the light on, and then panicking. My heart was racing and pounding out of my chest, I was sweating profusely, crying, and my whole body was shaking. 

Panic attacks are no fun, and waking up to them is even less fun – and much scarier. Not only because the experience itself is scary, but the possibility of it happening again makes it very hard not to dread going to sleep. 

The next day I found myself judging my behaviour of panicking, self doubt, and obsessive thinking. I was focused on my unpleasant/unhelpful behaviour and feelings that happened the previous night. I found myself getting very anxious throughout the day, anticipating night time and worrying about a repeat attack. Not just worrying – expecting. 

And you know what happens with an expectation like that? It happens again. It’s an expectation-fulfilling prophecy. And I really didn’t want to get into that loop.

So I decided to coach myself and take some action to try to create a better outcome.

I realized that my fixation on both the event and my response (that of panicking) was reinforcing beliefs that 1. I’m a panicker and therefore 2. I will just continue to panic. 

Though my mind was getting really apprehensive of going to sleep, I realized that sitting here in the moment, I was actually calm (the only thing that wasn’t calm was my thoughts of what I expected later). 

So I decided to keep asking myself “Are you calm now?” 

Usually I only ask this when the answer is distressing (not that I consciously ask it, but the feedback I take gives me the answer). Much like with kids, we don’t usually ask ourselves “Are they being good now?”, but it’s noticeable that we are “asking” it when the answer is no. 

When I started asking the question regularly, and noticing all the times I was calm, it changed my perception of how I’m doing and even more so – what I’m capable of.

By addressing when I’m calm as well as panicky, it gives me many more opportunities to have helpful thoughts. When you are paying attention to how often you are calm it’s harder to hold a belief about the fact that you “only panic”. 

When you only ask yourself the question when you’re struggling – you limit your mind’s idea of what you can do, what you can handle, and the ways you can be. 

Bringing my attention to all the times I feel calm not only helped me recognize the moments (and how often) I felt calm – – it also enhanced my view of how capable I am of being calm. 

For more impact I gave myself a lot of credit for being calm that day. In theory I don’t believe we should be judging our emotional states or feelings (or taking credit for them), but for the time being it was helpful to give myself positive reinforcement to counter the negative feedback I was putting out there about my time of panicking. 

When it comes to behaviours and actions (not feelings and thoughts) we certainly can use this positive reinforcement strategy to help us even more. This could like “catching kids being good” and remarking on what you like about how they are acting/behaving. In terms of using it with yourself, this could look like bringing your attention to all the times you DO take care of yourself (if your unhelpful story is that you aren’t able to take care of yourself). You could do this by asking yourself “Am I taking care of myself now?” And if the answer is YES, say “Awesome job me, look at you kicking ass at taking care of you!”

The types and frequency of questions we ask ourselves can make a massive difference in how we view ourselves and how successful we are at attaining our goals. So figure out which questions you need to ask more often, and which you need to alter.

Play question games with yourself – I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you win when you’re rigging the game. 

Cloud Watching (some more thoughts on thoughts)

Our feelings are a direct response to our thoughts. We create our reality with our thoughts.

It’s not like this is a new idea to me, but it does feel more concrete this time around. 

Imagine thoughts as clouds. 

The weather, our moods and feelings, will change depending on what kind of clouds are occupying the sky at that moment. And yet, it’s okay. Even if they are stormy clouds darkening the skies and pouring down on us, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that we need to run for cover. It doesn’t mean that those clouds are an indication that something is wrong. We are feeling in response to thoughts – not reality – not circumstances – thoughts. 

When I have moments of panic that come from thoughts of imminent sickness, I often feel completely overwhelmed as I give those thoughts a lot more credit than they deserve. I believe the fact that I’m THINKING them, means what they are saying is a TRUTH. It goes a bit like this..

“I think I’m going to be sick. Why would I think that? Oh fuck, I’m going to be sick. It must be true, because if it wasn’t true, why else would I even have had that thought to begin with?! No, no, no, I don’t want to be sick.”….and cue rest of a panic attack.

On the outside I can see – that’s me, responding to my thoughts (i.e. NOT reality). It’s hard for me to tell the difference at times like those because I could swear to you that it IS my reality- that the thoughts are second to what’s actually happening. As if my body told my mind what was going on, and now my mind is communicating that FACT to me. And it doesn’t matter how many times that scenario plays out, I react to my thoughts as truths. 

But the truth remains, thoughts are just thoughts. They aren’t powerful, they aren’t indicators of truth, knowledge, or reality. They are just fucking thoughts. And when we can see them as such, they are harmless. It’s only when we can’t see them, when they are unrecognized thought, that they do damage. (So really, it’s not the thoughts that are ever harmful, it’s the process of not recognizing them

And our feelings stem right from our thoughts. As inevitably as rain is the result of a rain cloud.

The beauty about feelings, when we can let ourselves embrace it, is that we truly don’t have to DO anything with them. If the type of thoughts we are having create a cloudy sky, and our feelings are sad or angry or scared – all we have to do is let ourselves feel it and understand that it’s just a normal response to THINKING those things. We can allow ourselves to just feel whatever is there, acknowledging the types of clouds in our sky, and giving ourselves compassion until the sky is a bit brighter. Always knowing the sky could be brighter, and will get brighter (and darker) continually as time passes. 

Enjoy the sun when it’s there, and hold yourself close when it’s not. You don’t need to run for shelter or even take out an umbrella. The rain isn’t going to hurt you. You thinking it will is the only thing that does.

Our thoughts vary and run rapid through our minds – you’ll be familiar with this if you’ve ever tried meditating. And while a quickly passing unpleasant thought can trigger an emotion in you for a second, it’s only when we truly hold onto the thoughts that come up, or continue a thought-parade of a certain thought, that they play a role with our feelings and mood. If we are present to watching those clouds (thoughts) come and go into and out of our conscious, it will be easier not to get caught up in one particular thought and therefore, feeling. Again, this process helps us recognize the thoughts as thoughts, and it allows us to focus on their transient nature. Not to bother getting too caught up, they come and go, no harm, no foul. 

Imagine you’re laying on your back on the grass, looking up at the clouds above. They sky is full of a bunch of different scattered clouds. You look at one and notice it looks like a rabbit. Then you look on to the next one, it looks like a dog. Then you look again, and again at more clouds – noticing the different shapes that appear. You like some shapes more than others; some shapes make you feel happy and some make you feel sad and some make you feel weird. But regardless of what emotion is triggered, you just keep looking up to the sky with curiosity, noticing the different clouds that drift by, and moving on to the see the next ones. 

Whereas having our head in the clouds makes it hard for us to see beyond the fluffy whiteness surrounding us, the process of cloud watching helps us see fully. 

Everyone has times (or lifetimes) when their thoughts are imperceivable as anything but reality. Those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or panic attacks live in their clouds a lot more than most. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we simply cannot see it, and we are caught in a world of cloudy horror. I know there will always be times when this happens, but the goal is to spend more and more time gazing up (observer stance). And the only road to get there (and to be more successful in staying there when the storms come in), is to practice cloud watching while there’s some sun in the sky.

And what is the best anchor and reminder of this?

Go outside and look up.

Light, Shade, and Play-dough

A blank page and a promise. It’s all I’ve got right now. Staring back at me, the blank page, and the promise I have yet to keep. 

I can simultaneously say I miss writing and that I would rather not have this pressure. What is it about this pursuit that is so fulfilling and yet so damning at the same time? I don’t feel this way about yoga, meditation, reading, or even working out. I’m not saying it’s always easy to convince myself of their value when I’d rather be in bed, but it’s a different struggle. 

And the fact that I can even associate the word struggle here makes me question my actual desire to do it. I know it feeds me once I let go, or dig in, or do whatever it is that gets me to the other side. But the longer I go without making it there, the food seems less necessary, perhaps inedible.. or possibly even poisonous. 

I know myself well enough to see through the layers of thick nonsense and hindering thoughts, my bullshit meter is highly effective at this point, so the idea of its unimportance slinks away like a defeated animal – or perhaps one who simply isn’t intruded upon. 

I’m pretty good at taking action in my life. Hell, I would say my entire life is a product of such actions. Struggling to act despite knowing better drives me nuts. And leaves me staring at blank pages – or more often than not – avoiding the page altogether. 

I’m on my second venture of escaping the reality of my Canadian environment – winter. It’s part of my ideal lifestyle and another example of the action I take. It’s amazingly healing to be here, even when there are no obvious wounds to tend to. I’ve grown a lot and felt a lot through my last few years on this planet. I notice a difference between myself this year and that of the girl here last year. It’s a kind of reality I could quickly dismiss, knowing it cannot always be, but it is for the moment. And if my will and determination have anything to do with it – it will continue to be so at least a month every year. I refuse the idea of seeing this as a vacation. I do not let thoughts of “real life” make this into something fake. I know in my bones that this is part of my way of life – and however temporary in the grand scheme, it is still a reality to soak up in its entirety. 

Light and shade. The concept we usually know of as good and bad, but milder and smoother to touch. I like this concept, the way of seeing everything for the positives and negatives, without taking much hold on those labels. Light and shade. Everything is both, nothing is simple. Acknowledging and accepting both sides of the tree is far better than joyous – it’s real. And real is beautiful when you let yourself watch. 

Even sunny paradise has its shade. Bug bites, cold showers, and empty beds. I struggled to hold this for awhile. I rejected the ideas of there being down sides to here, and when I wasn’t rejecting them I was convinced that their existence meant that this was the wrong choice. Even on the plane ride here I kept shutting out thoughts; convinced that if I leaned into how much I miss his embrace, I’d be left with no will to go where I was headed. 

We often try to calculate the light and shade to determine whether we are making the right choices. The pressure we put on ourselves to figure out the impossibilities of the future – the eventual total sum of light versus shade, and which one will overcome the other – and therefore which decision was right and wrong. We cannot know. And the idea that the calculation is even an accurate one is flawed, and keeps us counting. 

We need to go beyond. See the light and shade, and don’t keep score. The light and shade are not directives, they aren’t observed to be evaluated or labeled or tallied. They just are. It’s the simple matter of being. All things, all experiences, and people – light and shade. And the light and shade they emit changes. But there is always light and shade. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it simply is. 

I forgot how much easier it is to get words down typing versus scribbling (I cannot call what I do by hand writing). It allows for a flow, a space uninhibited by the judgment that lies between thought and pen on paper. Perhaps its why this feeds me more. 

I’ve been spending my time indulged in books since I arrived – having the space to go within the pages and within myself is a huge part of the reason this place is my paradise. To spark both, I read “the space within” by Michael Neill. It offers many insights into life and our human experience, so much so that I read it twice (and took notes). Highly recommend.

One idea that sticks with me is that Thought is pure creative potential, a creative energy (like play dough), and that our thoughts themselves are simply whatever is formed out of the play dough. We live in a world of thought, our reality is shaped by our thoughts, including our feelings (as our feelings are a reaction to our thoughts). The idea is that our thoughts are simply forms in play dough, that they are not “reality”, and that there is always more play dough ready and waiting to be formed into something new. 

I imagine being a kid, sitting at the table and watching as my Mom stirs the ingredients of her homemade play dough recipe. I wait as she kneads it into a massive blob, and then dumps it out onto the covered table before me. It smells of tartar and is still warm to the touch. A blob of infinite possibilities. 

I spend hours making different shapes and things, not worrying about the appearance of my creations. I create, then squish them and roll them back into nothing. Ready for their next form. 

As an adult, whenever the chance of playing with play dough arises (which it does in my profession), I stick to what I know – balls, snakes, and worms (which yes, are just snakes with a different name). I get caught up in my habitual thinking, even when it comes to judging my play dough skills. Getting caught up creating the same thoughts over and over looks a lot like a big pile of snakes, worms, and balls.

The infinite possibilities that used to be a given, are now very defined and limiting. So much so that even looking at a blob of untouched play dough still results in the same ideas coming to mind of which of my three things I will try to make first. I’m missing the whole point – the truth that play dough (much like the energy behind Thought) can be shaped into anything.

“Thought creates our world, and then says “I didn’t do it”” –

David Bohm

We don’t have to get caught up worrying about the forms that are created (our thoughts); they are no more powerful than the miss-shaped blob with ears I’m passing off as a dog. If our thoughts are simply creations, as innocent and harmless as shapes in play dough, it doesn’t matter if those thoughts are scary monsters or teddy bears. A thought about all the horrible things that could happen has no more power in it than a thought about ice cream.

It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been thinking a certain way; there’s always a fresh batch of play dough ready to be shaped into something new. Whereas unrecognized thought demands our attention and fills our consciousness; when we can see our thoughts as thoughts, we remember the infinite possibilities, and we can stop seeing our current thought-formed-reality as the only option. 

“We live in a world of thought, but we think we live in a world of external experience. The mind is not a camera, it is a projector.”

Michael Neill

I like the idea of playing with the play dough and seeing what I can create. I can see how this analogy could easily be taken as a call to try to control which thoughts get created, but that isn’t the point here. Yes, we can create certain thoughts, but thoughts also just happen, and trying to control which ones appear usually leads to an increase in the ones we don’t want. It’s like shrieking when a kid shows you their play dough snake, and then asking them to stop making them. Well, you can be assured there will be lots of rolling going on. Instead of wanting to have our hands in everything that gets created, we can play with the blob in our hands and not worry about what is happening with the rest. 

We can approach all our thoughts with a playfulness, knowing they aren’t to be taken seriously. It’s just a play dough snake, after-all. 

Letting All Voices Be Heard

It’s not fair!

I visualize this statement as a small child, in tears, stomping her feet and yelling, before crumbling to the floor exasperated.

I spend a lot less time than I used to stuck in thoughts like this; however, they do still come up. Recently I’ve been thinking about this thought- that voice inside stomping its feet- and our tendency to blow it off, judge it, and dismiss it – deeming it a voice we shouldn’t be indulging by letting it be heard.

I get it. Staying in that frame of mind for long periods isn’t helpful for us dealing with reality, as we all know life is simply inherently unfair. Due to this, it feels nonsensical to even go there in our heads. And let’s face it- when we do- we feel like we’re being childish. It’s embarrassing for a lot of us to even admit we have those thoughts. If we are aware that life is unfair, how can we be feeling upset that it isn’t fair??

Well, here’s the thing. Feelings don’t make sense. They don’t play by our rational brain rules. They just are. And that childish voice having a tantrum of “it’s not fair” is experiencing a very real upsetting feeling. That voice has every right to be heard and the feeling is valid.

Acceptance isn’t only accepting the situation, I have found my practice of acceptance is also around the feelings that are true for me. That I must accept that even despite knowing life is unfair, it still feels like it should be, and it hurts.

Better yet, the more we hear and validate that voice, the less it impacts us. If we can say, “You’re right. This IS fucking unfair. You have every right to be sad and pissed!”, those feelings and thoughts will start to go on their merry way. Because we heard it (and didn’t ignore). Because we let it be (and didn’t judge). Because we validated our full experience. Because we gave ourselves permission to be with that upset child, and allowed ourselves to comfort them.

“It really sucks that this is happening. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.”

(Side note: I recently validated a kid using “that sucks” and his response was “I’m not allowed to use words like that”.. oops! 😛  )

Can you hear that voice? Can you let all the voices be heard; even if you believe they’re being a bit irrational or self-indulgent? Can you see yourself validating and comforting that child?

Can you see what happens if you tell that voice “You’re right, it isn’t fair. I’m sorry you are going through this” and giving them a hug?

Hearing it. Letting it be. Validating it. Comforting. 

Not just for the “unfair” voice, but all the voices inside. 

Are you ignoring or dismissing voices (feelings) that want to be heard?

Let’s start listening more and see what changes. 

Thinking. Feeling. Digesting.

When was the last time you chose to digest? That you apologized for doing it? That you beat yourself up for digesting?

Of course you wouldn’t.

Because digestion isn’t something you control. It isn’t something you are choosing to do or not do. You aren’t responsible for how your body digests or that it does it at all.

According to my trusted Psychologist we should be considering thinking and feeling in the same way.

Our thoughts and feelings just happen. They are reactions that happen to external or internal stimuli, that we are not in control of. They are natural. They aren’t bad or good, they just are. 

We don’t need to apologize or feel badly that we had a particular thought or feeling, just as we wouldn’t apologize for breathing or digesting. Thinking and feeling are just other types of body functions. 

Sure, we can influence our thoughts and feelings. Likewise, we can influence how deep our breaths are or how well our digestion goes. But the fact that some thoughts and feelings just show up is not something we have to own. In fact, it’s silly to think we could (then again, it’s just a thought, so I don’t have to feel silly for thinking it 😛 )

How would your view of your own feelings and thoughts change if you could let go of the criticism and judgment that come along with them? If you can view them as the same process as breathing or digestion, how would you approach them differently? How would you respond differently?

When my psychologist brought this up, I was skeptical and figured he was just giving me an out because he’s nice. It was really hard to relinquish ownership. I was so used to feeling guilty or upset about the thoughts and feelings that I had. Deriving meaning (sometimes as proof that I’m a bad person) and judgment (sharing often that “I know I shouldn’t feel that way”) from my emotional reactions and thought processes. Once I was able to internalize what he was saying, that all emotions are just emotions, that thoughts and feelings come up without us “doing it”, I was able to feel some freedom and space there. It’s a lot easier to practice leaning into your emotions when you don’t have to own their presence. 

It’s easier to find compassion for yourself when dealing with intrusive thoughts and emotions that are hard and upsetting when you don’t add on top of it the guilt for having them, and the judgment on yourself for struggling.

Letting it be and noticing. Like you would watch your breath in a meditation. Not judging the inhale and exhale. Not feeling badly for how fast or slow you’re breathing. Just letting it all be there, as the natural process it is, and being present to whatever shows up.

It’s difficult to release our hold on feelings and thoughts as most of us closely tie them with who we are (much more so than our digestion or breathing patterns). When we look deeper we can see that we aren’t our thoughts and feelings. We are deeper than that. We are the ones noticing and observing ourselves having those thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Take a moment to notice what thoughts are coming to your mind. See how you are the one watching the thought, a whole other level from where that thought is. Pretty meta, huh? 

So if these thoughts and feelings are not us, then what are they?

As the observer you notice and experience body sensations, breath, thoughts, feelings, etc. 

If this whole idea is new to you, or if you want to take your “observer” practice further to let go of the ownership over thoughts/feeling – the practice of labelling is a great way to start.

The idea of labelling is to label (surprise, surprise) thoughts and feelings as separate from you. To gain some distance so you can see that you and the thought are not the same.

Say the thought “I’m not good enough” comes to mind. Labelling would sound like this; “I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough”. And to take it even further here, we can specify how this whole “thinking” thing is really just an experience, not something we are actively doing. This might sound like; “I’m experiencing the thought that I’m not good enough”, or if you prefer, “I’m noticing the thought that I’m not good enough”. 

Another way to practice to start seeing thoughts and feelings as the same as breathing and digestion would be to incorporate them into a body scan. If you scan through your body and notice all the different sensations, make sure to add in there what thoughts or feelings you are observing as well. The more we pair them, the easier it will be to incorporate this new learning and apply how we approach our body to how we approach our thoughts and feelings.

Try it out for a day, or a minute, and just see how this mindset changes your experience of your experiencing. 

I Don’t Feel Like It

I really don’t know what to say. And it’s not just here. I’m lacking a lot more than words lately. Motivation. Belief. Energy. I’ve been feeling rather defeated. And surprise surprise, really sick and panicky.

I need to write this out. I need to figure it out. I’m trying to feel out what I’m missing, and what I’m yearning for.

One of those things is certainly the sun. It was a lot easier to feel free and bright and inspired when it was sunny and warm. Not to play the “victim to my circumstances” role too much, but to say I’m looking forward to summer (or actual spring) is an understatement. So there’s that. It was easier to feel those things and get more fresh air when it could be done in flip-flops and a bikini. But just because it’s not easy now, doesn’t mean I get to throw in the (beach) towel. It’s still my responsibility to find ways to give myself what I need. One way I’ve been doing this is by making an effort to walk the pups. Putting effort into becoming a pack leader is very mindful work. It gets me out in the fresh air. And, I can wear my flip-flops if I really want to.

One thing I have been keeping up (which is probably the reason why I’m not just lying in a lump) is my sleep, yoga, gym, and eating relatively well (though this could use more improvement). What I’ve lost grip of is meditation, writing, and reading. And, I think, adequate challenge, fun, newness, and creativity.

The thing is, even though I know that, when I think of doing those things, I feel blehhhhhhh. It’s hard to find the motivation to do them. An inner battle between restlessness and defeat.

And it’s the same with business. I keep trying to figure out my way forward, yet simultaneously believing all roads are dead ends and fighting the urge to just pull over instead. I feel a loss of control over where I’m driving, a loss of belief that my actions will lead me where I want. It’s hard to put effort and enthusiasm into things when you feel that way. I know one of the biggest things I probably need in this front is a change in mindset. So far, I just feel stuck in a car that breaks down no matter how many times I fix it (ironically the same as my actual car).

A way forward from here. 

A phrase I often use with clients – “Given that this is your reality, where do you want to go from here? How can you move forward from here?”

I know this is my reality. I’m not ashamed that I’m here and I’m not hiding it (clearly). I’m accepting that this is how I feel, this is what I’m doing and not doing. I also refuse to stay here.

Finding a way forward is a must. My coach-mind kicks in and tells me I know what I need to do. And that I need to commit to doing it.

Gratitude practice to help switch my mindset. Appreciation for what I’ve already accomplished. Meditation practice (even when I don’t want to), to help ground myself and connect to inner self to keep me more mindful and centered.

Intentionally bringing energy and enthusiasm into my daily life – in small things to start (like cooking supper or how I greet people) to increase joy and enthusiasm for life itself (to later apply to business). Seek out new things to try (flavours, activities, routes, etc) to switch it up and get my mind out of the funk it’s in, to increase sense of aliveness and possibility.

To keep fucking writing even though I won’t like what it says.

To take it all as feedback, and feel it, to keep finding my way forward.

To remind myself that committing to doing it means “not feeling like it” is just something to notice – not something to (not) act on.

Maybe walking on wet gravel in flip-flops is how I get my grit back 😛

Acceptance, Enjoyment, Enthusiasm?

(Originally written March 13th, in the San Jose airport. Unfortunately the wifi wouldn’t work to post it, so here it is now.) 

It’s official. Dragons are migratory creatures. I always suspected it was so, but now I know for sure. There is no way this was a vacation. This is just the marking of a new way of life; a life that involves migrating south for a month or two while winter is roaring on in Canada. Just like a bird. This dragon is migrating.

My time in the Delicious Coast was precious. Enlightening and enjoyable. I read 11 books (almost 12), practiced yoga and meditation daily, kept up my weight training, and spent time poolside and walking the paths. I woke up to no alarm, ate simply, and had ample time and space to just be – and connect.

Now I’m on my way back to Canada; and it turns out it’s going to be quite a journey. My flight to Toronto was delayed two hours, and my flight to Halifax was cancelled. Now I’ve received notification that they have rebooked me on a flight for two days from now and there’s nothing I can even try to do until I get there. Forget that I have not budgeted for two nights in Toronto and that I have zero winter clothes with me. I’m noticing a lot of “I wish my reality was different” thoughts right about now.

This morning, before I left for the airport at 5am, I wrote on my arm three words. Three words that I have been trying to choose between at each moment. Acceptance. Enjoyment. Enthusiasm. 

In Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” he discusses how in order to be in the present moment we can bring at least one of the following to each situation; acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm. I have been keeping these words close to me to work on this practice. Today it’s pretty easy to know which one I’m going to choose and work hardest on; acceptance. But I wrote them all there to help me acknowledge the choice. And perhaps see if I can bring enjoyment into any moments. As I write now, I do notice that I have some enjoyment sitting here writing, using my suitcase as a footrest, in a quiet, people-less section of the airport.

This practice certainly keeps me in the moment. Even when I am creating suffering or having a really hard time accepting – I can notice this and see my choice (there’s really only three choices, and they’re written in ink on my arm.. pretty hard to miss). It’s quite impossible to fool yourself into thinking there’s this other “out of my control misery” when you can read exactly what your options are. It doesn’t make it easy mind you, but it does make it clear that my suffering is coming from my rejection of the present moment.

Things right now feel overwhelming, uncertain, and disappointing. In order to bring some calm to my acceptance, I’m trying to focus on my resilience and resourcefulness. I know I can figure things out, even if I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I have to remind myself that no matter what, I do believe in my resilience, and life is what it is.

I take a deep breath, look down, and ask myself. So which one am I going to bring to this moment? 

Pain & Suffering

aka “What happens when you meditate in a tree in Costa Rica”

I’ve been exploring the ideas of suffering these last few weeks. Through reading the yoga sutras and re-reading the Power of Now, I’ve been trying on another perspective on the whole suffering thing.

Pain is inevitable. Both physical and emotional pain is going to happen to us, as long as we all shall live. That’s life. And yes, pain is painful. However, whether we suffer is up to us. We create our suffering by thinking, wishing, and resisting our current reality.

Yes, breaking our leg sucks. Or being broken up with sucks. They are painful and the sensations we feel from them are real, and they hurt. That is experiencing pain. Then, when we add in our judgment on what happened, what is happening, and how we feel, our pain becomes more than pain – it becomes suffering. When we can’t stop thinking about how much we wish we weren’t sick right now, that we want to be experiencing a different reality from the one that we are- this is where we suffer most.

Most suffering comes out of the agony we create over our current reality not matching our wished-for reality. It isn’t from the sensations we feel at the moment, but the ones that arise from our thoughts and judgments about those sensations/what they mean.

We have to experience pain. We might as well face that one. But the idea that we can reduce our suffering – that has me intrigued. Noticing thoughts come up in our mind is a part of being mindful, and in the present moment. Letting those thoughts create suffering for us is optional.

We can do this with our emotions too. I don’t know about you but I know I’ve had many more painful thoughts about my emotions than I have pure sensations from the emotion itself. When we stop struggling, accept it, and feel it – it is a relief. Even Especially when it’s a “bad” emotion. The opposite – avoidance, judgment, fear, minimizing, projecting, etc etc etc – is suffering.

Noticing them doesn’t mean suffering. It’s in noticing (becoming the awareness behind the emotions/sensations/thoughts) that we get the space needed to detach ourselves from them. We can experience pain and yet not suffer from it. When we notice sensations and thoughts for what they are (sensations and thoughts) we can unidentify with them, let them be, and stop any further suffering that would be created by attaching to them.

This is quite liberating when you think of it. Hard as fuck, but liberating. If we have the power to stop suffering, no matter what is happening in our current reality, without having to change our current reality – that is truly relieving. 

So, back to meditating in a tree in Costa Rica. From pure bliss to pure pain, in a matter of moments.

This is a bullet ant. They have the worst sting of any insect on the planet. Apparently they can be found in trees. It got me three times. And for the next 14 hours I was in intense pain. Thankfully I had an ice pack, but every time it wasn’t frozen, I was in bawl-my-eyes out pain. Even after the 14 hours, it went on hurting for another ten. They aren’t kidding when they say that a bullet ant sting lasts 24 hours I guess.

I’ve only ever once been stung by anything in my life, and that was just last summer when I stepped on a bee walking barefoot (apparently my embrace nature ways have a downside :P). 

This was NINE hours after getting stung!

I was in a lot of pain. And yes, there was some suffering. But I tried to notice how I was creating that part. I had worried thoughts about whether I would need medical help, if whatever got me (I didn’t know for sure at the time) was poisonous and would have other effects on me, and a bunch of other related worries. This created much suffering, now it wasn’t just about the pain and feeling those sensations – it was dissecting what they meant, worrying about the future, lamenting the past (that it happened), and very much wanting to change my current reality. All of these thoughts didn’t help the pain, they only made it worse. I’m proud to say that for the most part I could detach from them and see what I was doing, and although I didn’t reduce my suffering completely, I was able to stay calm and strong while dealing with my present moment. Alone, in a foreign country, I might add. I’m not going to lie, I feel super tough now (that’s just my ego talking 😉 ).

 

Do you know your suffering triggers? Where you are more likely to reject the present pain and create suffering from this rejection of reality? Mine are plentiful; a big one is certainly around sickness, yet I even notice how I create suffering with smaller things – like while driving (in the form of road rage).

I encourage you all to notice how and when you create suffering for yourself. In the small things and the big things.

Is some of your suffering tied up in an identity you have about yourself that you wish you didn’t (ex. I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I can’t …, I’m not …,etc). Perhaps most of the suffering you actually experience from those are the thoughts and judgments you have about their existence. How would your suffering change or diminish if you could whole-heartedly accept yourself for whatever you are, in the moment?

It is funny when you think of this broken down. Say for example you are in emotional and sensational pain because you are experiencing anxiety. If, say, you are at the top of the CN tower outside taking a stroll, there isn’t much judgement there. And consequently, no additional suffering (there was some of course – I was certainly having the thoughts of preferring to be back inside). Now imagine you are having those same feelings, but in a grocery store. How much more suffering are you going to experience? Will you now be suffering not only from the anxiety, but also from your judgments and thoughts about how wrong it is that you feel that way? You might even be beating yourself up for not being strong enough to deal with regular life. And because of this additional suffering, you will probably go on to suffer much longer than the actual anxiety feelings last. You will keep suffering because you will keep having those thoughts about yourself. The shakiness is gone, but your suffering is still going strong.

How different could our experience be if we could accept our current realities, and stop adding suffering to our pain?

(These are concepts I’m still working around in my mind.. or awareness.. or what have you :P, so I am in no way implying any of this is absolutely true, or true for you. What I know is that it’s a concept I want to continue working with, and that I have already had glimpses of less suffering from its implementation.)

Fierce Love <3

 

 

 

Are You Dancing?

 

The “thing” isn’t coming, it’s here. Right now. In your face; like the rain that washes over me and soaks me in bliss and awe, while I listen to thunder crashing around me on the top of the mountain, barefoot.

I didn’t “get caught” in a rainforest thunderstorm, I put myself there. I saw the storm coming in over the mountain; the dark clouds noticeably moving toward me. I noticed the commotion of the birds in response to the oncoming commotion of the sky. I am called to embrace the experience, and make my way up the mountain. It starts pouring (adding boldness for lack of a more intense description), a kind of pouring I’ve only experienced in the rainforests of Costa Rica. I am instantly soaked to my core – including my phone- so I rush back to my casita and put down my phone, take off my useless slippery flip flops, and enthusiastically make my way up the mountain barefoot and euphoric. I stand at the top of the mountain side, as one of the trees, letting the rain overcome me and the thunder mesmerize. So connected and simultaneously in awe of nature – so indescribably alive.

It’s a feeling I used to only feel momentarily on crazy adventures, or at times of intense distress or rarely in quiet, serene moments. Back when I used to equate my life to something I was getting to, something I was waiting for. So much waiting. So much wasting.

I looked at the present moment as a nuisance, a means to an end, or an evil thing I had to suffer through to get to this hoped for desired future where I would get to enjoy life – I’d get to live. What’s funny, in a way that isn’t really “funny” at all, is that I was in the norm. What I was doing was not only socially acceptable – it was promoted. If people don’t subscribe to the belief that “life starts at retirement” why would they work so hard to get there? Why would we try to get the outcomes if not for being told they matter, and in fact, to believe they matter more than your enjoyment of living now. 

When my life outlook was shaken with first hand knowledge of what it looks like to not get that life that you are working for, and second hand knowledge of what it looks like to lose your life before you supposedly get there, it changed me. For the better. I cannot hold the future the same way I used to now, which means I hold the present with much more care. 

This is where my motto comes from; live now and live fierce. It’s a desperate plea I wish for everyone in this life, and it’s an internal drive I never let slip too far from my mind or heart.

Living your life merely for the future is incredibly sad to me; I cannot help but feel like it means they are giving up their life, that they will someday look back and wish they hadn’t waited. That they could have been living the whole way here. And what a dance their lives would be if they were dancing the whole way. Not sitting it out – waiting. There’s no protection or prize for the wallflower. The song will end when it does. You aren’t changing that, you’re just missing the dance.

This isn’t to say I don’t believe in planning or future goals; I just cannot justify putting your needs and wants on a longterm hold for that far off time. I believe you can live your best life while reaching for an even better version of it. Without dissatisfaction, without rejecting the present moment, without having to give up presence for productivity. 

If you aren’t dancing yet, what are you waiting for?

The answer doesn’t really matter. The issue is the waiting. If you see it, do something about it now. It’s the best decision you will ever make in your life. In fact, it is the decision that will be the start of your life. I’m not even asking you to give up the “thing” you are waiting for. All I’m asking is that you dance on your way there.

Let’s dance our hearts out until we have to take our final bow, and we’ll do so with much more grace, ease, and content. No need to grasp it or struggle, as we’ve been embracing it this whole time. I imagine having a smile as I bow to life – like the one plastered on my face when I was allowing the thunderstorm to overcome me. So genuinely alive and in awe of life. 

Embrace

I’ve been reading the Yoga Sutras and have been thinking a lot about Raga – the clinging to past pleasure, and how this elicits duhkha (suffering). Raga is a huge player in the suffering most of us experience. When we cannot have something we desire – a repeated pleasure – we feel pain and discomfort. Even before it becomes a past experience, raga can play out in the moment, when we fear we will not experience it again.

In order to avoid suffering, we must let go of the attachment to previously experienced pleasure. Accepting the impermanence of feelings, moments, and experiences. Letting them be without having to be again. Letting go of those good times that gave us joy without struggle or remorse.

Not trying to recreate past pleasure or comparing our current experience to better ones we had before. Just letting things move along without grasping for pleasure or being disappointed when it fails to come.

I don’t know about you guys, but this feels like a monumental task. The possibility sounds alluring, yet I start to crumble under the weight of it.

Because I’m in paradise and have lots of time to ponder these ideas, I’ve come up with a few ways I will work on this practice. The practice of non-attachment to past pleasure, of reducing suffering due to the idea that pleasure won’t happen again, and the acceptance of impermanence.

The practice of mala beads. When I purchased my self-love mala beads three years ago I knew how to use them for meditation and setting intention. I knew about the different types of beads and the meaning associated with the stones. What I didn’t know was that the practice of mala beads also represent a practice of accepting impermanence. Of letting things go when it’s their time. Of taking it as a sign that it is no longer for you – even if your attachment to it feels strong and desperate.

I love my self-love mala beads – there haven’t been many days since I purchased them that I haven’t worn them. They have given me a sense of strength and compassion. A reminder while I forged new territory of mattering, self-love, and self compassion.

While rushing around the house getting ready for my trip, they caught on a doorknob and broke. My heart sank. I looked at the broken piece and went straight into figuring out how to fix them. Determined that I was going to put them back together so I could act as if nothing had happened. In this process I remembered someone telling me over the years about how when a mala breaks it means something. It signifies something. At first, I dismissed that memory and wanted to forget I had even heard anything to do with the breaking of mala – that all this was, was a piece of jewellery that I could fix and put back around my neck where it belonged. It sat on my counter for a few days – and on my to-do list – with my plan to fix it strong in mind. As time went on I kept thinking of what I had heard about there being a meaning behind a mala breaking.. and I finally gave into the intruding thoughts and looked into it.

Malas breaking signify that it is time to move on, that you no longer need that mala, that it’s time for a new intention, and the practice of accepting this transition and letting go is part of it. Practicing the reality of impermanence.

I’m not going to lie, after reading that I wasn’t fully convinced I should let MY mala go – I had a lot of resistance to this idea. Sure, I get it and in theory I love it and see the value – but I really didn’t want to let go of my favourite mala.

I see this as a type of raga – where I want to hold onto my past pleasure with this mala, and the resulting suffering I’m experiencing because it’s broken and I need to let it go. All the more reason to let it go.

So I’m leaning into the resistance, noticing the suffering my attachment has created, and comforting myself through the process of letting go. I did bring my self-love mala with me on my trip – but with a different intention. An intention to let it go. To mark the end of my need for a self-love mala, and not only accept it, but celebrate it.

Another way I see this practice playing out in my life is being present in the moment. 

A beautiful brightly coloured bird lands on the railing of my porch. My first thought, “Oh shit, I don’t have my phone. THIS is why you should always have your camera ready, Jeana.” And then I pondered that. My preoccupation of trying to capture the moment was robbing me of the actual moment. For a picture that would always only be a picture. A photo of a missed opportunity. Unable to soak in the real experience, and proof of raga in motion. The driving force behind this of course being that I would be trying to preserve it for the future – to prolong the pleasure of this moment into the future. A simple, yet clear example of attaching to pleasure and how it could create suffering.

So the lesson for me – not to have my camera ready – but to always have my eyes ready.

The second unique bird I saw, a day after this aha moment, was a magnificent toucan – and this time I was ready. I let go of the thoughts of getting my camera, whether I would see more creatures, and even thoughts of how I would share this with others. I let it go and returned back to the moment. I fully engaged myself with taking in the toucan’s beauty and the gratitude of getting to experience that moment.

Embracing the moment. Not grasping at it desperately or looking for ways to control the meaning it will have or deciphering whether it could happen again. Not worrying about the impermanence, simply letting it be in this moment, on that branch, just a beautiful bird that I get to watch.

I had never seen a toucan before. Funny how the universe can test you.

The present moment can be a funny thing when you’re experiencing so much joy you don’t want it to be contained to that single moment. I often feel this way while going on adventures, or riding on the motorcycle. I’m enjoying myself so much that I can’t help go to how to get more of it; I find myself dreaming up the next adventure, or thinking of more rides we could take. It’s raga that makes me want to have a commitment to make the experience a tradition while I’m in it. That having that moment isn’t enough, I want to make sure there will be more, so I can relax into it and not fret about never experiencing it again. In this I am rejecting the idea of being present, and I’m fully attaching myself to the idea of past pleasure. Of giving into that desire to hold onto the good feelings I have now by planning and dreaming of identical future experiences.

Why is it so hard to just accept and enjoy?

There is a sadness that accompanies the joy when we acknowledge that this moment is also the end of this moment. And there it is again, the suffering due to attachment. I’m going to keep practicing being in this experience without planning more experiences like it. I’m going to bring myself back into the moment at hand, than fretting over how to make it last or repeat. And if there’s sadness in the moment because I let go of those ideas, then I will feel the sadness and have it be a part of this moment – until I reach the point where I can truly detach myself from raga.

The third way I see myself practicing this crazy concept of being unattached to pleasure is in changing how I approach my interactions and relationships.

I’ve sat here, at my computer, multiple times over the last two days, trying to find words to explain what I mean by applying this non-attachment of pleasure to relationships, and yet I lack the words. I cannot fully describe what I mean or explain how I will apply it. And yet, I knew I didn’t want to take this point out. I could have easily erased the last paragraph and left it at that. But it feels powerful. An idea, that even incomplete, is significant and should be planted in all of our minds. I continued coming back to the journal entry I wrote while first thinking of this, and feeling this sense of love. I couldn’t get past it or elaborate on it, yet I feel it holds within it everything I mean.

“We love each other with whole hearts that understand personal legends and being a whole person – and yet, it’s a love that feels so deep and moving that it’s even bigger and more pure than that of desperate mending or completing. We aren’t grasping each other – we’re embracing.”

Let’s loosen our grip and embrace.