Human Being in the New Year

The holiday season has wrapped up, and I’m just unwrapping. I’ve been drawn to the depths of my thoughts on life, love, and truth. Stepping outside of the student role for a week has had me reading, meditating, and thinking about where I want to be-live-do. I’ve been so wrapped up in “human doing” over being human (or a human being), it’s been difficult to be fully present, and aware of my intentions. I’ve noticed that the light of consciousness touches me, it seems, usually when looking backwards and no longer in the moment.

This year, we saw, a significant divide in our country regarding politics and values. I watched my Facebook feed become a place where people could hide behind the veil of social media, while spewing their words of hate. There was finger pointing towards those who don’t share the same ideas, and posts that were meant to intimidate and create conflict. I want to be clear here, I saw this on both sides, and I’m just as guilty.

I attempted to be involved in an on-line group, “hate not here”, where the intent was for people to come together to discuss their concerns and try to understand each other. This forum quickly transformed into an arena for bullying and disrespect. My faith in humanity dwindled and I began to see that no matter how hard any of them tried, neither side was budging, nor were they listening and processing. This happens quite often doesn’t it? We shut out the words that people speak when they’re values don’t match our own.

I recently had an interaction with someone that left me feeling enraged. I’d been holding these deep-rooted feelings about this person (let’s call him Jack) for months, stuck at the pit of my stomach. The moment Jack made a statement that, in my mind, illuminated the gaping hole in his defensive shield, I pounced. I pounced hard. I noticed my stead-fast patience falter, I became irritable, and the fibers of my filter expanded to allow larger grains of thoughts to escape by way of words and action. I sat stewing about past interactions and feeling justified in my own resentment. In my mind, Jack deserved the mental rocks I threw at him.

I whined, spewing criticisms and complaints to a dear person I know, who stopped me dead in my tracks, to say, “why are you letting this person consume your thoughts and energy?” He went on to say, “I’m not saying you can’t have your feelings, and I can relate to this, so I say this with compassion. It’s hard for me too. It’s just that, the more and more you let this consume you, the more you lose out on being present in other moments that matter.”

I paused, initially frustrated that there was no validation or commiseration. I thought, “just listen and tell me you understand, and I’m right to feel this way.” Often, when this happens, we shut off our ears and lose connection; but this time I chose to remain interested. This is difficult for us isn’t it? To listen to someone’s criticism or feedback without feeling defensive and shutting it all out, or planning our response instead of listening to what they have to say. We often revert into this tantrumming infant, “just love me and accept me!!!” I know I’m not alone in this. Our defensive spine bristles and shoots daggers at those who question our competence or behavior. We shut out the messenger, by disconnecting or by hurting back. The victim of our behavior, ultimately, is ourselves. We shut out those who care to take the risk of offering these nuggets of truth. I’m not suggesting we accept criticism aimed to hurt, rather that we be interested in what is said. I digress, this subject will be discussed at another time.

This pause in my stream of anger allowed me the space to wonder, “why do I let this bother me?”. James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” What was the source of pain for me? I do know, deeply. I have always struggled with feeling as though I needed to prove my intelligence and worthiness. I don’t know where this stems from, but I recognize its presence. Graduate school has chipped away at the poorly constructed self-image I have of being worthy, smart enough, and more importantly-it has given me fuel to question and doubt my own competence. I often felt as though his comments and questions were aimed at weakening my credibility and feelings of competence, instead of with the intention to show support. I realized, I’ve been comparing my knowledge, abilities, and skills to those of the Jack.

I was able to recognize other behaviors Jack demonstrated that ignited feelings of discomfort within me: I recalled the exchanges where his behavior was misunderstood, where he’d later confide in me, stating, “I don’t understand what happened.” It was clear, Jack just wanted to fit in and prove his competence, just as I did. Once I recognized this, I was able to see more clearly. I saw myself, in him, all that I hated about my own insecurities and need for validation. I was able to see his suffering-my suffering, the pain, intolerable.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher of Advaita (nondualism), is quoted to say:

“All you need is already within you, only you must approach yourself with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors. Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of love you bear for yourself, all I plead with you is this: make love of yourself perfect. Deny yourself nothing — glue yourself infinity and eternity and discover that you do not need them; you are beyond.”

Here, he emphasizes compassion toward the self. When we feel compassion towards ourselves we are then able to feel compassion towards those around us. When we fail to see suffering in others, we fail to understand where hatred and anger resides. On a recent Ted Talk, in efforts to understand the driving hatred behind alt-right white supremacists, Theo E.J. Wilson came to the answer, “Why should I be hated for who I cannot help but be?”
He recognizes this feeling, for as a black man, he has been the target of hate, blanket prejudices, and stereotyping. Wilson goes on to discuss his own disbelief in his ability to have compassion for these folks who hated him. Compassion, different than acceptance and sympathy. Compassion is your spiritual duty as a human being, figuring out how you got to where you are, but sympathy is having pity for how you ended up. He can understand their fear and pain; which allows him to see more truth, allowing him to let go of the hatred and be more interested in the unhealed trauma on each side of the racial divide.

My point, we MUST have compassion for ourselves, so we can be more open to love and loving. When we hold hatred for others we hold hatred towards ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sitting here writing and thinking, this is so easy to say, but how do I practice this? How do I offer myself compassion for my flaws and insecurities, so that I can be open to receiving?

I often preach this notion of having self-compassion to my clients and friends, but have difficulty practicing on myself. I recently read, “How to Love”, by Thich Nhat Thanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist teacher. On page 64, he writes:
“To love is, first of all, to accept ourselves as we actually are. The first practice of love is to know oneself. The Pali word Metta means “loving kindness.” When we practice Metta Meditation, we see the conditions that have caused us to be the way we are; this makes it easy to accept ourselves, including our suffering and happiness. When we practice Metta Meditation, we touch our deepest aspirations. But the willingness and aspiration to love is not yet love. We have to look deeply, with all our being, in order to understand the object of our meditation. The practice of love meditation is not autosuggestion. We have to look deeply at our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We can observe how much peace, happiness, and lightness we already have. We can notice whether we are anxious about accidents or misfortunes, and how much anger, irritation, fear, anxiety or worry are still in us. As we become aware of the feelings in us, our self-understanding will deepen. We will see how our fears and lack of peace contribute to our unhappiness, and we will see the value of loving ourselves and cultivating a heart of self-compassion. Love will enter our thoughts, words, and actions.”

As I enter the new year, I don’t want to become a new me, but I do want to continue to better the me who is reflected to the world. So, I am inspired to practice what I preach. I have decided to engage in a daily meditation practice, to grow my mind, improve my tolerance, and to give myself the gift of self-compassion. I’ve chosen to focus on loving-kindness (Metta) and I invite you to join me in this daily practice. I’ll be documenting my reflections via this blog, please feel free to comment on your own experiences.

In this new year, I want to express gratitude to those who continue to show support, share love, and trust their vulnerability with me. To those who challenge my thinking and actions, thank you. Without all of you, I would not grow. I am truly honored by your presence in my life.

New Year, Not a New You

Their BAAAAAAAACK…. the ghosts of New Years’ Past. My Facebook feed is flooded with diet and fitness challenges, “transform your body and your mind, become a NEW YOU”. Cue the screeching tires sound effect. The record scratch. Wait, what???? A NEW YOU???? #SorryNotSorry, but I HATE this idea. I don’t believe that any of us have to become a NEW us. In fact, I’d argue that you are all pretty fantastic, amazing people, who probably need to develop some new habits and self-determination around making some changes. Changes that can be pretty effing difficult when you have a life that’s filled with responsibility and adulting. Chances are, if you’re entertaining the idea of a new you, you’ve already entertained the idea that there is something wrong with you. This makes you “self-aware” and is the source of initiative and motivation.

Many of us will start the New You challenge and fall off half way, or we won’t see immediate results, so we’ll dump the diet-thinking, “what’s the point”. I’m here to help move you toward your goals. You don’t need to become a NEW YOU to engage in healthier habits. You don’t need to become a NEW YOU to change your thinking about health and wellness. You don’t need to become a NEW YOU to feel better or be better. You’ve ALWAYS had that in you, you just need to rediscover and uncover all that is stopping you from getting there.

In order to make those changes, we need to start changing the way we think about things. How can we do this? Through mindfulness and knowledge. JUST knowing about nutrition, makes you more aware of your choices when you’re at the grocery store. Understanding how our emotions and thoughts impact our behavior, helps us become more aware when we are affected by anger, anxiety, ecstasy, grief, and a host of other emotions.

Your thoughts, emotions, and behavior can be changed. Research in neuroscience has shown that our brains are plastic, meaning, our intelligence is not fixed, it can improve and grow. Even more incredible, just KNOWING your brain is plastic and malleable, leads to more self-regulation and perseverance. Imagine the speed and strength of these transformations with the support of a coach, to guide you through the mental and physical exercise to maximize cognitive performance and self-regulation.

Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck, has studied the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people with the same talents. Her findings suggest that these people are largely divided by their mindset. That is, successful people believe that growth is possible, and are focused on the process of learning and growing. People in a growth mindset see effort as necessary for growth and learning, embrace challenges, see mistakes as learning opportunities, and appreciate and see feedback as useful. People in a fixed state believe that you are born with specific skills, and are focused on performance and not looking bad (ego strength). People in a fixed mindset don’t value effort and practice-they want things to be naturally easy, they back down or give up in the face of challenge or struggle, hate and are discouraged by mistakes made, and get defensive when offered feedback.

Mindfulness can help us reach our goals and change our fixed mindset to being a growth mindset.  The more we are mindful of our thoughts, the more we can change our behavior associated with those thoughts.

In the spirit of becoming the YOU that has always been there, I challenge you to give mindfulness a try. If your goal is to shed some body fat, practice mindful eating. Notice the texture, taste, and chewing of your food, the sensation of being hungry or full, and the emotions you’re experiencing just before and after eating. When you crave a snack, notice what you’re doing. Are you trying to avoid completing a difficult project, do you need a break, are you feeling stressed, or depressed, or anxious. Notice the feelings, acknowledge their presence, and understand the function of snacking. Practice mindful grocery shopping, when you feel the desire to purchase junk food, what are you feeling-do you really want it, or do you think the way it tastes will make you feel a certain way. Will you punish yourself afterwards for eating too much?

If your goal is to become more organized, practice mindfulness. Have a loose paper floating around, instead of sticking it in a pile for later, notice the feelings you’re having about it. Have a closet filled with clothing you haven’t worn in years, practice mindfulness-what’s holding you back from tossing the trends of yester-year?

I’d love to help you find the YOU that has always been there. Contact me for mind-body coaching and we’ll work together to design a plan that works best for you!

 

#GOALCHASERS

Studies show that you’re more likely to accomplish goals when you put them in writing!

Guess WHAT????? I created a space for you to put your goals in writing and throw it out to the UNIVERSE!!!!

LET’S HEAR THEM!!!

Dear Destiny….

goal chaser girls

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Hi there from Cloud Nine….

I’ve been flying high here for about three months now and am just so glad you could join me. Life is fine and there are GOALS to MINE, Goals that are ALL MINE! The competitions are over, but the GRIND never ends! I have more than a lot on my plate; these days I’m carrying platters! I continue to be amazed by the generosity and kindness that has been thrown my way. There has been some hate, but without hate we wouldn’t know LOVE….

Memorial Day weekend marked the decoration day of remembrance of those who passed serving in our military. It also serves as a day to celebrate the life those gave so that we can have the freedom in which we are  able to live. LIVE-did you hear that-LIVE. Too often I hear people talking about what they would do if they hadn’t chosen X, Y, or Z as a career-(the safe path) or if they didn’t have kids they would….. or if they hadn’t had an accident they would… or if … if… if… if…

I’ve been thinking a lot about these what if… or if I never did this then I would do that, if I didn’t have a pension then I’d surely leave my job for… if I didn’t have to be poor I’d…..

Well here it is folks-the what if then section of your lives… what if you DID quit your job to pursue your passion? What if you did carve out an extra hour a day for the gym? What if you did leave the comfort of a pension or relationship? What if?????

I recently had an experience that blew my mind… It’s kind of private, but let’s just say that I recognized that if I had not been so afraid of rejection, failure, loss of a friend, or humility; I may have been in a very different position in life. The outcome of that experience is yet to be determined, but it ignited something within me that was powerful enough to say, “FORGET THE FEAR… IF YOU NEVER TRY, YOU WILL NEVER KNOW”. I decided right then to go after my life goals-thanking fear for protecting me, but asking it to respectfully step aside while I CHASE THIS GOAL. You see, I’ve been working as a school psychologist for the past 13 years-in a city school. I LOVE my students and my co-workers, but I don’t LOVE the system. I have wanted to go back to school to get my PhD so that I could have a greater impact on the system. Here’s the kicker-I never thought I was smart enough or that anyone would actually want me in their program-let alone actually fund my existence there. I was afraid that the loss of my salary would be too much-too scary to live off of ramen and rice and chicken again, too scary to not have my full pension, and what if I didn’t like it? I had this house and a mortgage, a car payment, and some other menial debt. Where will I live, how will I survive, what will I do after??? It was all very frightening-PLUS I have this family-my real family and my friend family- FRAMILY…  I love all of you so dearly-you just have no idea what kind of marks you’ve made on my heart and soul.

You know what I did? I said, “to hell with it… just TRY-you’ll figure it out”. I wrote to a bunch of program directors for school psychology and counseling psychology PhD programs and had a phone interview literally two days after my serendipitous encounter. The program director said, “you sound like a great candidate for our program, please apply.”  The next week I was taking the GREs, and three weeks later I was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I threw myself into my body building training and directed my focus on me-being selfish and telling people what I needed instead of tip toeing around and pleasing others. I felt like I was recapturing myself-holding myself in high regard. I declined parties, beer, and wine in order to chase the goal.

 

Two months later I stepped on stage and competed in my very first ever body building competition and the judges determined that my physique was worthy of a Pro-Card-which means that I can now compete as a professional in the DFAC circuit. In October I will have the chance to compete in the WORLD finals in Miami in October. The very next week I won my second competition. I was so shocked by it all… I really just wanted to place-winning was such a bonus!

 

Fast forward and rewind… yesterday I put a “FOR SALE” sign up in my front yard.

  •  in a couple months I will be packing up a U-Haul and driving 641 miles to Chapel Hill, NC
  • in four months I will be traveling to Miami to compete in DFAC World Finals
  • in three years I will be crossing the stage wearing a beautifully adorned hat, with new letters attached to my name PhD.

This has been such a joyous yet sad and scary experience… which makes it all the more exciting and vibrant. I FEEL like I’m living… This is LIFE and I am a GOAL CHASER…. (might even catch a few in the race). I finally understand what it means to “enjoy the journey”.

 

 

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