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?

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.