HO HO HOld On!

On December 18th, one week before Christmas, I sat down in Dr. Janice’s chair for my acupuncture appointment.  Dr. Janice felt my left and right wrists, looked at my tongue, and said the 5 words that I vowed would not be said again: “You are carrying much stress.”  And here I was so sure that this would be the year that I rose above the holiday madness.  Surely after peeling off layer after layer of forms that no longer serve me (perfectionism and expectations to name two big ones)  I would be able to enjoy the “most wonderful time of the year.”  It’s so easy to fall back into old thought patterns and behaviors when we are beyond busy and exhausted.  Here are a few lessons that I relearned this Christmas season:

  1. I tend to turn into a Tasmanian Devil when I am hosting a family get together.  My husband has learned to not stand in my path while I am focused and on the move; I WILL run him over.  My breathing becomes short and shallow and my heart rate is elevated.  I get a wild look in my eye and move at a pace that would put Flow Joe to shame. In other words, I become a big hot mess.  In the middle of my completely out of control state, I decided to take a few minutes to take some deep breaths. Upon a few minutes of reflection,  I realized that I was trying to  make everything perfect.  When I thought about it, I realized that this quest for perfectionism was a selfish thing; it was me trying to show off and to appear totally put together and in control.  The unattainable goal of creating a perfect environment for my family was completely robbing me of joy.  I decided to shift my focus instead on creating a comfortable environment, one where we could just enjoy being together as a family.  Then, the tasks became labors of love and my joy was able to return.
  2. Traffic and crowds still totally piss me off.  Obviously, I’m still struggling with this one.
  3. I think if we’re being honest, many of us dread spending time with family.  Some of us may still carry the hope that this year will be different, that this year will be more like the classic movie White Christmas and less like Christmas Vacation.  But, once reality sets in, the majority of us brace ourselves and just try to make it through the hours we are forced to spend with our extended families.  Why can spending time with family be so much more difficult than spending time with friends?  I really believe this is because many of us feel like we can’t be ourselves around our families.  We are still trapped in the roles we began as children and, for whatever reason, are afraid that we will disappoint our families if they see our true selves.  Families know about each other’s secrets- we all know that Uncle Bob is an alcoholic, we all know that Aunt Eloise had surgery and is now addicted to pain medication and is experiencing depression, we all suspect that cousin Tim might have a mental illness- yet we sit around the perfectly set table, smile, and discuss the weather and other trivial matters that mean absolutely nothing; the conversations feel fake and forced. Shouldn’t families be the first ones we turn to when something is wrong in our lives?  Shouldn’t we all feel the freedom of unconditional love?  As I have been able to open up and be more honest with my family, I have had more real and intimate conversations with some of them over the last few months than I have had during my entire lifetime.  Sure, it’s scary to be completely honest; however, it’s completely worth it.  I am proud of my family.  Sure, we all still have a ways to go, but they love me and each other more than I originally gave them credit for.  And, the next time I go through a valley in my life, I’m hopeful I can be real and vulnerable.  I’m almost positive that they will have my back no matter what and will continue to love me and call me their own.  Perhaps your family is the same.

Congratulations on making it through another holiday season.  Stressful, busy times do test our faith and resolve.  They can also make us stronger and wiser, and hopefully, a little closer to the ones we hold near and dear.

~ala

Show Up For Yourself

Today’s post is guest written by one of my dearest friends, Sarah, author of The Experience Collection Project.  In the blog, Sarah writes about the amazing experiences and lessons she is learning from around the globe.  Be sure and check it out!

_________________________________________________________________________

I had been racing around London in the pre-Christmas crowds, finishing some last
minute errands before I left for Germany with a group of friends that evening. A
good friend back home in Texas was texting me; she was in the emergency room
with undiagnosed pain that was possibly appendicitis. I was juggling my internal
list of things to get accomplished, getting from one place to the next (in London this
involves buses, trains, the tube and my own two feet) and trying to make sure I was
home in time to pack — while simultaneously worrying about my friend in the ER. I
felt like a rubber band, stretched towards one thing and snapped to another.

I texted with my friend the entire train ride home while trying to remember to turn
off the boiler when I left so I wouldn’t heat an empty house. When I arrived at the
house I showered and dressed, started cleaning the kitchen (I hate coming home to
a messy house), and throwing last minute items in my suitcase. I looked at the time
and realized I needed to leave if I was going to meet my friends on time.

I took a bus down to my tube station and just as I exited the bus, I did a last minute
mental inventory making sure I had everything– and swore pretty loudly in the rush
hour crowd when I realized that I had left my passport at home, a 20 minute walk,
entirely up-hill (there weren’t any buses for about 10 minutes and I didn’t have
time to wait). I ran with my heavy bag on my shoulder all the way back, grabbed my
passport, then ran all the way back to the tube station.

I was flustered and anxious, and sweaty despite the cold London air. I was nervous
about missing my train and furious with myself for forgetting my passport,
something I had never done in my life. I knew it was because my attention was
pulled in a thousand different directions and I hadn’t been present, taking a moment
just to be still.

Later on that evening, in the hotel room, I bent over the sink to wash my face and
felt a sharp pain running down my back from my neck to my right shoulder. It was
hot and angry, and I wasn’t able to turn my head or move my right arm. I slowly
crawled into bed and fell into a fitful sleep, waking up every time I moved.

The next morning, my plan was to run (there it was again…the running) on the
treadmill but I was in so much pain I couldn’t get out of bed. My husband left for his
morning run, and I sat in the bed thinking there was no time for this pain – we were
meeting six friends in an hour to walk around the Christmas markets all day.

I started searching for chiropractors, when I thought that if I just used some of the tools I had (restorative yoga and breathing) I might be able to fix this myself. I knew what had happened – I knew that running around in the crowds had made me stressed, and running up to my house and back with a heavy bag and my purse on my shoulder had put a tremendous amount of weight on muscles and nerves, and I knew that I needed to do some yoga, and stretch and breathe.

I got onto the floor and almost cried it hurt so badly – until I forced myself to
breathe and relax. I realized that each time it had hurt I tensed up, causing the pain
to be worse. I stopped that. I lay down on my back and breathed into the pain.
And I went through a meditation of relaxation. And once I was calm and present, I
started moving through yoga poses focusing on where it hurt.

I sat in child’s pose, moving into cat/cow, and shifting into downward dog. In
each pose I felt the pain but I gently breathed into it and stretched. I turned over
and pushed into a half-bridge, raising my hands as I lifted into the pose, and gently
dropping them as I came down. I matched my breath to my movement.

I lay on my back for awhile, and finally moved into a gentle twist, eyes closed, just
breathing, and I realized that I didn’t have the hot, sharp, pain in my shoulder
anymore. There was still a small ache, but the worst was gone. And I began to think
about why it had happened.

I wasn’t being present, I wasn’t being mindful, I was pushing my body, and my body
pushed back. It told me that I needed to be still. To be present. To show up for
myself, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to show up for others.

At what point in your life do you stop and take in what is around you? Do you take
a few minutes out to stretch, breathe, meditate? When do you make time for you –
just you – for a few moments? Just to be you, in you space, in your tiny corner of the
planet? Just some time to be aware of exactly where you are in this exact moment in
time?

One of my yoga teachers taught me this small meditation:

  • Sit still and close your eyes.
  • Take 10 large breaths in, counting each one after the exhale. Take the
    breaths as slowly as possible, filling your lungs with as much air as you can
    (gently though) and pushing as much as you can, out (also gently).
  • After your breaths, with your eyes still closed, count in your head five sounds
    that you hear. Right now, I hear the garbage truck outside my house, the hiss
    of my fireplace, the sound of my fingers typing on the computer, the hum of a
    car accelerating up the street, and the wind rattling my window.
  • After you’ve counted the five sounds, count four things that you feel: for me,
    it’s the wood under my left food that’s touching the ground, my sweatshirt as
    it moves up and down my wrist while I’m typing this, the cold on my toes –
    exposed to the air, and the keyboard as I press my fingers upon each key.
  • Then, count three things that you smell: I smell the candle that burned last
    night, the leftover coffee in my mug next to me, and the fresh air from having
    the window open while I slept
  • Two things that you taste, for me I taste my coffee and toothpaste sort of
    mingling together in my mouth.
  • Then take 10 more breaths, and gently open your eyes. Say five things you’re
    grateful for, and then begin your day (or end it).

This exercise is meant to make you completely and totally aware of where you
are in the moment. It’s your latitude and longitude, your place on earth at this
precise second. It forces you to be still. Because when you’re not, when you become
distracted and tense and short-sighted, and something else (like my back-pain or
illness or an accident) will grab your attention and force you to be still whether you
realize that is what’s happening or not.

Next time your plans are derailed, stop and think about why? And take a few
moments to shift your consciousness, to become aware of where you are. Meditate,
breathe, and take 5 minutes to be mindful and show up, just for you.

~sb

Enjoy the Ride

Enchanted Rock

My husband and I recently went on another camping trip.  This time, we decided we would “rough it” a little bit more by hiking two miles with all of our gear to make it to the most remote campsite the state park had to offer.  There were no comforts of home- only a designated area in which to pitch a tent.  We were ecstatic that we were the only ones in the area.  After 10:00 PM, we were sure we would be the only ones for the night and went to bed.   A few hours later,  I started to hear voices of pre-pubescent boys heading our direction.

Our new friends, the Cub Scouts

I quickly shook my husband to stir him from his deep slumber.  He stumbled for the lantern, unzipped our tent, and came face to face with an entire cub scout troop getting ready to set up their camp a few hundred feet from ours.  So much for our peaceful night, right?  In the wilderness, every little noise carries and so we were entertained by the woes of 12 year old boys for several hours.  How could we not laugh over this new adventure?

Perhaps one of the reasons I love camping so much is that is forces me to give up control of many of the things that I struggle to stay on top of during my every day life.  Time takes on a new meaning.  I wake up with the sun, eat when I am hungry, and go to bed when I am tired.  There are no TV shows I want to finish, no technology to distract me, no phone calls to answer.  There is no house to keep clean, no laundry to do, no shower to take.  I have a day to spend however I want to spend it.

For me, giving up control of every day responsibilities is the easy part.  Isn’t this why we go on vacations in the first place?  The hard part is realizing that there are things that I will never be in control over, no matter how loudly I yell or how big of a fit I throw.  I can not control the fact that a cub scout troop decided to come to our private camp site.  I can’t control the weather.  I can’t control the coyotes that I hear howling in the distance (even though I really wish that I could because that’s pretty scary).  I have to realize in the camping environment that I am one with nature.  I can’t change it.  I can only adapt to it and do the best that I can.

Isn’t this the way it is with life?  There are things that we can certainly control- when we wake up, what food we put into our bodies, where we live, where we work, who we spend our time with.  Then, there are those things which we have absolutely no control over- traffic, lines, weather, how others react, what other people think, certain diseases, etc.  We realize that there is a difference between things we can and cannot control, but how many of us allow those things which we have no power over dictate our emotions and our thoughts?

I am learning that when I try to control the world around me, I am taking away fluidity and replacing it with rigidity.  I am realizing that while predictability and order bring a feeling of safety, they also remove any chance of spontaneity and color to my day.  Worse, by fighting to remain control, I lose my own fluidity, my own spontaneity, my inner spark, and saddest of all, my ability to grow as a person.  By trying to control that which I cannot control, my entire attitude and emotional well being hinge upon chance.

Instead of allowing myself to become stressed when things are not happening the way that I envisioned, I take a minute to determine whether or not I have power over the situation.  If I do, I try to fix that which is bothering me.  If I realize I have no control, I decide to shift my thinking.  I choose to let go of any anger, stress, or negativity, realizing that these emotions will not serve me at all.  Instead, I choose to adapt and do the best that I can with what nature has dealt.

We have all heard the expression that life is like a river.  How are you choosing to live your life?  Do you go with the flow of life, growing excited as your realize that the river is twisting and turning, growing bigger, getting smaller, trusting that the river is going in the exact direction that it was created to travel?  Or, are you constantly trying to fight the current, trying to control where the river is going and how fast it should flow?  Are you consistently in a state of exhaustion and stress because you find yourself constantly swimming upstream?  Or, are you so afraid of the river, of life, that you are holding on to a tree branch still attached to the land?  You can feel the river moving beneath your feet yet you are so afraid of living that you refuse to let go of the side and never go anywhere.

Our life is precious and short.  As you become conscious of your thinking, set an intention  to stop trying to control your life and instead start truly living your life.  Change that which you can and need to change.  Accept that which you can’t.  Realize that there is freedom and joy in trusting the Creator.  Enjoy the ride.

~ala