Tag Archive for meditation

Willpower: The Big Bullshit Hoagie

This is Wally. He’s my dog nephew. The idea of walking on the beach with Wally can create more of a sense of friendliness in a habit than just logging steps.

I know we haven’t met, but I can tell you already,
There’s nothing wrong with you.

I mean it.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

How do I know that? Because you’re here. Not here at the blog, I mean here on the planet. And if you’re already here, you’ve got the right to be here, in exactly the body you have today. I know that’s pretty disappointing to people. They want the keys to someplace else. People wrote me a lot of letters last week confiding that they had clicked on the title of my weight loss article hoping that I had unlocked some kind of feminist, or not, solution to the problem of the body they were using to read the post. They’d been putting off exercising in public until they privately slimmed down just a little bit or they’d been waiting to get married until they could look better in the photographs, and they were even waiting to go to rehab until they lost 10 more pounds. Because we all know, it is a far more important thing to have the right photographs of life than it is to just live it.

If all of you incredible people are thinking you don’t have a right to be happy living the lives offered to you by the world in the bodies you have right now, the problem isn’t your body. The problem is the world.

It’s such a set-up, right? We’re supposed to police ourselves so hardcore that the policing becomes the fabric of life. Food gets shoved onto teams of good and bad like a high school gym class nightmare. But weirdly, and horrifically, the food talk fades and people begin to use phrases that are even more telling. They don’t say, “I ate some unhealthy things that made me feel sick to my stomach.” They simply say, “I was so bad.”

PEOPLE: You were not bad. You ate some fucking pasta. You didn’t mislead the country into a war where thousands of young people killed and died over an illusion. What happened was a decadent dessert. You didn’t lie to your best friend about siphoning off her kids’ college funds so you could go to Bora Bora with Ellen and Portia. Your nutritional escapades have nothing to do with your moral compass, your ability to accomplish meaningful things in this place, and they certainly have nothing to do with your deep and abiding worth here in this wide community of humans.

Still.
I hear it all the time.
I was so bad. I have no willpower.

Well.
You know what?
FUCK WILLPOWER

Willpower is an abusive tyrant dressed up as a hero with great abs and no emotional capacity to sustain a meaningful relationship. Willpower looks great at the dinner but throws up all over the back seat of the limo on the way home and never tips the driver. Willpower gives at the office but never marches in the street and willpower always dies bitter and pandering to the sky about having just one more chance. Willpower pulls a muscle rolling it’s eyes at you when it sees your hand reach out for just your ninth tortilla chip, then tears its rotator cuff patting itself on the back as it verbally shreds its lover because it’s HANGRY.

What do you like about your friends? Move toward that.

I don’t believe in willpower anymore when it comes to eating,
and I don’t believe in white knuckles.

I believe in habit.

Now a habit you can build in a way that suits your strengths. A habit you can stack up each day, a whole universe of everything that works. And when it doesn’t work, no big deal, just start again from a new angle. Or what about a habit that used to work and then stopped because life changed. Because you had a kid or got a new job or lost your license or you got Lyme or your funding got pulled or some jerk was careless with your heart and the pain came for you so hard and fast you lost your ding dang breath. Well then. Time for a new habit. But there’s STILL not a damn thing wrong with you.

What is this habit building I’m talking about? People, coaches in particular,  have different ideas about how to do this. Now, obviously, I’m not the coach for everyone. I’m very focused supporting people to experience the life they are having WHILE they do the work toward making change. The idea that we should put off living until we get to celebrate that change cuts us all off at the emotional knees. And, it also prevents us from having support and joy while we get there. I’m not into that. We never know how long we get to have this life and so I say, now’s it.

Every client I have is different, each with remarkable personality, talents, and creative acumen. So each person I work with has a different path in building their particular habits moving toward their particular goals. But some things, I think, can be helpful to most people looking to replace the iron fist of willpower with the new model of a habit. So, here’s my jam:

1. Be Reasonable: Let’s say you want a seated meditation practice in your life in a lasting way. Presently, you are not sitting at all. So if the goal is to have meditation in your life for a long time, and ultimately from where you are now you envision a seated daily meditation for 30 minutes with various retreats over time and a regular sangha (or group), beginning with a task of 30 minutes just isn’t a reasonable path. There’s a ton of real estate for you to explore between the nothing of now and your eventual vision. For instance, have a list of tasks that build toward that goal and hook it onto a reliable habit you already have. Like, say, brushing your teeth. So your first task can be to make yourself a comfortable and inviting place to sit. Second you can hitch that sit to your tooth brushing. You know that no matter where you are, you always manage to brush your teeth every morning. That established habit can lend a reliable spine to this new one. Third, begin with 1 minute. Or with a recording of a teacher to lead you through 5 minutes. Build up. These suggestions can be applied to anything from trying to eat breakfast to yoga to writing to walking the dog.

2. Friendliness: What do you like about your friends? What qualities make you want to stay in a certain relationship or at a particular dinner party? Take those qualities and move them into your habit building. Like dressing up? Maybe your exercise can be tennis, which can often showcase a really killer outfit. Maybe you like to yell. How about deadlifting or kickboxing? Hate cooking but really want to gain some skills to have a little more say over how your nutrition at home is happening? Add friendliness to the task at hand. Find a pal you have who actually LOVES to cook. You have one. I swear. Tell them you’d like some help and do some cooking together. They can help demystify the kitchen as well as provide company while you learn. Or maybe you want a habit of cleaning your apartment weekly. Make a playlist that is SO GOOD, it feels like a friend, and you can cut a deal with yourself to clean for, say, 15 minutes of that playlist. I often find Back in Blackis a good song for this list. And by the time you get to 15 minutes one of two things will ave happened. You will either be 15 minutes further down the road to a clean apartment OR you will be enjoying your genius playlist so much you continue spiffing up the joint happily.

Willpower is fickle. A habit, you can grow.

3. Willingness: If you can feel it in the very core of your being that you don’t actually want to do the thing you’ve set yourself up to do, trust yourself. You know that feeling better than anyone. Change the shape of the task until you feel willing. Get support in finding a version of your task you are willing to do. Like for me: at some point I wanted to run a marathon. Looking back, it’s clear to me that the ONLY thing that made that possible was the fact that I wanted to do it. My body is in better shape now but I’d never be able to finish another marathon because I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO. I’m not willing to put in the time or the pain or even the entry fee. I do want to continue my running practice, though. And having a distance kind of task to support that goal really helps me with structure. So I need to find a task I am willing to do. Because 26.2, for this gal, not gonna’ happen.

There’s more, but just begin here.
Get Reasonable.
Be as Friendly with yourself as possible.
And just be Willing.
See how this goes and let me know.

You don’t have to white knuckle your way through life. The universe is going to hand us so many challenges, so much pain and struggle already, that it really doesn’t need us to help it along.

I am not saying we shouldn’t strive or toil, or that everything should be, or will be easy. And some days even the most established habits are a total drag to show up for. But as the habit is built and the result of that habit is that we feel better in our lives day in and day out, we begin to believe in it. In ourselves. In our humanity and also in our bodies, where that humanity exists. We begin to approach ourselves with a shot glass of kindness not just in these habits, but in our most brutal and punishing days, when we need it the most.

Don’t feel like running? Put on a gay bandana. WORKS EVERY TIME.

Meditation Station: You Never Have to “Get Good At It”

Collect things from a walk

You’ve heard like a million different people talk about meditation. They call it a practice or getting on the cushion. Some people do moving meditations, some do it while jogging. People do it in groups and they do it outside, on beaches and overlooking cliffs. People do it on the subway, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the gym after yoga. Some have serious practices, others just do a focus on a candle, or their breath. Eyes are closed or soft focus and down. Some have hands in lap, some on knees. There are tons of formal traditions, and you can find one that works for you.

OH.
But maybe that’s the thing.

Maybe you’ve been looking, and none of them are for you so far. You’ve read about the benefits in stress reduction, you’ve seen friends morph into calmer people, lose their road rage and even eat with more peace. But when you’ve tried, it’s been too WHOAed out or massively uncomfortable, in fact, serving to HIGHLIGHT your own discomfort in your own body and just here, on Earth. Or when you’ve gone to groups to get instruction, you feel a “joining” pressure or a keen awareness of how bad you are at it. Or you think you don’t even have the right goddamn outfit for it. Yet again and again, something tells you there’s an important benefit to be had. Perhaps a thousand benefits.

But one thing is that you just never have to be good at it. It’s an entirely private situation. Even in a room on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when I went to a group and cried the entire time because I was such a wreck, no one gave a shit. People are busy with their own practice, finding their own present moment and your experience is all yours. Some days the time will fly by and others it will feel like fucking torture and your back will ache and your brain won’t settle and all will be desperate and sorrowful. That’s just how shit goes. The thing is, you’re only in this life once, and meditation is your practice at showing up for it. So the next time life hands you utter joy or benevolence or beauty, you can sit still for it, take it in. You can be here with people before you get that call that they aren’t here anymore. You can be here, in your skin for all the things the body does. You can have more of your life and less of your fantasy doom. That’s what worry is. It’s living through all the fictional devastations that aren’t really happening and often don’t. But we worry, we focus on them, and live through in a way anyhow, and miss the actual moments we could be living. You’ve heard all of this. And here’s the thing. No one meditates to be become a good meditator. There are no ribbons. No grand prize. There’s just you.

So without claiming to be an expert or a meditation teacher, without claiming a tradition or a particular school, I thought I’d share some of the different things that have helped me to start when I lose my way, which is often, and the reasons vary from convincing myself I have no time to convincing myself I have no outfit either. But I do. I have the time. Any outfit will do. I can do it anyplace and it’s free so I can afford it.

ROCKS

I try to begin the day by sitting quietly for ten minutes alone or with someone else. If I’ve been off my game, I start with one minute. Just One. Little. Collection. Of. 60. Seconds. I do it before I do anything else. Before I brush my teeth or look at my work email or eat breakfast. I just go sit. I made a place in my house for this. I sit facing a little box I covered with fabric and on that box sits a collection of things that remind me I am connected to a larger world. I have turkey feathers from walks, gemstones from deep in the ground, old letters from friends and family, photographs, and a box full of little slips of papers I wrote my nagging troubles on. I sit and I think about my continues blessings and I thank something somewhere for them, and then I think of nagging troubles and I write them on paper and put them in the box. I have been writing some things on those papers for years. Because there is no timeline for healing from things or getting past pain or irritation. Do not let people outside yourself set a timeline for your emotions. Do not listen to the voice that tells you “I should be over this by now.” You’re not over it. It takes how long it takes. Just write it down. Put it in the box.

I set the timer on your my phone for 1-10 minutes. I sit quietly and  on a cushion, but you can sit in a chair or even lie down. Most people don’t recommend the lying down because you can fall asleep, but shit, I’ve nodded off sitting up, to so I say whatever gets you there, do that. When I sit, I imagine a red string from my sit bones up through the tip of my hairline holding me steady. I think of the dignity on my body that I am grateful still functions mostly without pain. I let rigidity go. I Relax. I just breathe. I think about the things that happened to me the previous day, collect those images and wrap them up. I mean I literally imagine collecting them and wrapping them in a parcel. I put them down and name them “the past”. Now I think about the million things I have to do today and my worries about tomorrow and next week and when I get old and when the dog dies and I wrap those up. I put them down in their parcel and label them “the future”. Then I am in the present. I try to focus on my breath, (you can also use a candle, a photograph, a drawing, a divination or medicine card, or any point of your choosing). When my mind begins to wander, which is almost immediate and very often, I notice its path, and gently return it to my point of focus. I very slowly breathe into all the parts of my body starting at the top of my head. I move down to my neck and bring breath and attention to it. My shoulders. Ribs. My arms and elbows and fingers. I breathe into my back and my liver, my kidneys, my gut and my butt. I breathe into my thighs and knees and shins and ankles. Finally, I get to my feet and my toes. If at some point I have an itch, which I always do, I try to just notice it and let it pass. It always does. The same with aches: I breathe into them and watch them pass. By the time I finish this process I will have spent at least one and maybe ten minutes or more with myself quietly. Sometimes I use this time to set an intention for the day. Maybe for my work or my relationship. I also might send out love or wishes for people suffering, sick or with loved ones passing.

Sometimes if I feel particularly edgy, I pick a word guide either from a tarot card or this list I keep. Having a solid starting place can help me to find the calm and focus for my breath. You can use these words as anchoring focus for any day you choose.

Imagination                                        Exhilaration                                         Faith

Healing                                               Power                                                 Grace

Passion                                               Joy                                                     Security

Intention                                             Thrill                                                  Acceptance

Vibrancy                                              Authenticity                                        Sympathy

Creativity                                             Fascination                                         Humility

Affection                                              Celebration                                         Confidence

Remorse                                              Gratitude                                            Relaxation

Wisdom                                               Wonder                                               Empathy

Risk                                                     Happiness                                          Inspiration

Clarity                                                  Kindness                                            Delight

Loneliness                                            Confusion                                            Humor

Abundance                                           Curiosity                                              Exploration

Grief                                                    Worry                                                  Rapture

Adventure                                            Forgiveness                                         Openness

Success                                               Panic                                                   Honesty

Fear                                                    Sensuality                                            Integrity

Trust                                                   Intimacy                                              Doubt

Release                                               Dread                                                  Appreciation

Anger                                                  Warmth                                               Renewal

 

I also really like to listen to recorded guided sits with teachers who have done this a long time. Having someone else keep time and help me to focus is a real gift. You can find all kinds of teachers on the interwebs. I have my favorites and you will find yours. I am not going to suggest any here because I bet your own inquiries will lead you to your own place better than I could.

Anyhow.
I hope you try it.
Again.
And again.
And then again.

August Book Group Launch

Happy Birthday to me!
I mean soon.
Not yet.
But you’ll know because I’m a LEO
and that’s how we roll.

I’m turning 44 in August. I like to spend some time leading up to my birthday thinking about the past year and seeing where I’ve been. Because I don’t keep a daily journal (I just never have for longer than a couple months at a time) I take a look back at photographs, I look through emails and I talk to my friends and family about what they’ve seen as well. Bearing witness is an enormous part of my life and I am truly grateful that I have trusted and beloved people I can look to who also do the same for me. Maybe it was growing up Jewish. I’m not sure exactly, but something about seeing and being seen is a lynchpin of my spiritual practice and ritual. I have come to believe that consciously witnessing and also letting myself be seen deepens my practice of true solitude.

So this year a ton happened for me, not the least of which was an enormous relocation geographically and also in terms of pace. I moved from San Francisco to a tiny town of 711 people in western Massachusetts. The next town over, you know like when you say, “I’m going into town”, has a population of 18,168. I changed major things in my personal movement practice. Plus there’s a garden out in the yard now that spits up salad like a champ. Thanks, Ginger!

One of the things I have loved getting back in touch with is reading a book. On paper. And I’ve been re-reading some heavy hitters that have absolutely changed the fabric of my life. For my birthday year, I decided to start a book group. Each month I’ll facilitate a small group of people and we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the book.

The book for August will be Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. I love this book so much and return to it in pieces often. What I’m looking forward to is reading it again, cover to cover, in this hammock.

Because I really want to chew the fat on this thing, please be committed to spirited participation and discussion before claiming a spot. Also I am going to try and make each month’s group full of new people if there are a lot of people wanting to participate. These groups are my year long present to myself and they are free for all of us. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you, in advance, for making my year.

 

*Inflammation Station Part 2: The Sweet 16 of Stress Reduction

You probably began reading this article because you feel, not just stressed out, but also TRAPPED in that stress. Your life is so packed up, there is no time to edit anything out, change any commitment, or find any space at all to make it to a goddamn yoga class with a mat strapped to your back on a crowded city bus. Or maybe you have too much to do to make the kids are getting their needs met. Or things at work are over the top tight now. You’ll find a way to tae care of yourself as soon as it slows down. But here are some ways to take care of yourself and your stress levels TODAY. NOW. Just pick one from the list and start there. Then  maybe two. Mix it up. Let yourself be healthy.
1.   
Breathing – Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important meeting, when it occurs to you that you’re actually not breathing? If you look further, you might also notice that your heart rate is above normal and your temperature has risen. Taking deep breaths lowers your blood pressure, delivers oxygen to the far reaches of your body, and relaxes your alarm system into peace.
2.    Exercise – You do not have to be bench pressing Toyotas or climbing Mt. Shasta to reap the incredible rewards of exercise in terms of stress management. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, your body’s own personal Dr. Feelgood chemicals. It also elevates your mood and self-confidence, while improving your sleep and increasing your overall daily energy reserves. Start slow. But start now.
3.    Creativity - When we engage in an act of creation, we can achieve a kind of focus similar to the concentration achieved through a meditation practice. Allowing yourself the time and space to focus on knitting a scarf, spinning a ceramic ewer or crafting a hilarious blog helps you to be present with yourself without tripping out on the future or the past. The act itself slows the pace of things and your body responds by relaxing, counteracting the effects of toxic stress.
4.    Schedule time for Yourself – Your calendar has a ton of things in it. Sally’s birthday dinner, a presentation for the marketing department, a training HR is sending you to attend for a whole weekend,. What it probably doesn’t say is “Wednesday from 2-3:30. Take self for a walk along the water. Read new detective novel on my favorite bench in the park. Go to the fencing class you’ve always wanted to go to.” Prioritize time for yourself at least once a week. Making this commitment actually strengthens your commitments to others, diminishing your overall stress levels of feeling, ironically, overcommitted.
5.    Interspecies Pals – Hang out with your dog Gus. Or your cat Parsnip. Or your fish Thelonius. Being with animals not only provides us comfort, but often it highlights simplicity and strips down the stress we labor under. Food. Shelter. Love. And a nice swim, except maybe for Parsnip.
6.    Sleep Getting a good night’s sleep can improve our concentration, our effectiveness and our energy levels. Try to lay off the liquids 2-3 hours before bed so as not to interrupt your slumber with an insistent bladder. Cut off the caffeine about 7 hours before you turn in. And try to get in bed the same time every night. Keeping yourself consistent with your pillow will begin to ratchet down your stress levels.
7.    Hilarity – Go ahead and laugh your ass off. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins. Laughter also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
8.    Stretch – Yoga is great for stress. But look, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It’s ok to hate yoga. Really. You don’t have to tote a little mat around town or invest in Lululemon wardrobes to reap the benefits of stretching. Just go ahead and start your day by doing five minutes of stretching and see how things go. You will be in more alignment, more embodied, and begin your whole day grounded. Literally.
9.    Dance and Sing –You can go out with friends and get lost in the thrill of a great sound system or stay home and get wild with whatever blows your dress up. Abandon and fun in a totally physical sense decrease your stress levels and free you from the tangle of daily irritation
10. Eat a Healthy Diet – Start your day with breakfast. Always. Starting your day with complex carbs, slow digesting fuel, will keep you full and energized for your morning. Keep your diet balanced, your consumption of refined sugars limited, and pile your plate with colorful produce. A balanced diet of whole foods and produce keeps your stress levels down and your blood sugar stable. This results in a more consistent energy and mood throughout the day.
11. Get loud about it – According to a recent study in Great Britain, work-related stress can be relieved by up to one quarter by letting out a good scream. Get primal. Just let it rip.
12. Call a Friend – You don’t have to do it alone. Call someone you trust and air out your stress. Let people go through it with you. The bonds of your relationships will strengthen, you can get it out of your head, and ultimately, you will take solace in human connection, an experience proven to reduce stress.
13. Gratitude – Studies show that cultivating gratitude can be one of the greatest weapons against stress out there. Keep a gratitude list by your bed and each night or morning (whichever suits you best) write down three things you’re grateful for. Everything from your new socks to a stable of wonderful friends. Begin cataloging all the things about life that rule, three at a time each day.
14. Get your Financial House in Order - If looking at finances gives you sharp emotional vertigo, schedule five minutes a day to begin assessing where you are. Just 5. And at the end of five minutes, move on with your life. Engaging yourself slowly and daily will build confidence, shake you quite gently out of denial, and put you on the road to making choices based in reality. Soon five minutes will turn to ten and then fifteen and healthy choices on that front will lead to peace and recovery in other venues.
15. Delegate – Do you hate spending so much time at the laundromat? Drop it off. Does looking for parking make you nuts? Take public transportation or treat yourself to a walk. Does paying bills drive you crazy? Set up automatic payments. I am not saying these are the right answers for you, I am just saying there ARE answers for you and you can take action to strip stressful things from your life.
16. 1979 Time – This is my favorite. Turn off your phone for an hour a day. Walk away from your computer. Close Facebook. Turn off the television. Just one hour a day. Read a poem. Go look at a tree or the sky. They get more and more fascinating if you let them. People really can wait an hour to hear from you or get an email response.

Think of all these things like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles or a fascinating chain reaction of good stuff. If you get a good night’s sleep, you wake with more energy and feel inspired to make yourself some steel cut oats for breakfast. Once that happens your morning is fully fueled and your cravings for sugar and caffeine diminish. Highs and valleys even out and your blood sugar stays healthy throughout your day. You take yourself away from your desk at lunch and sit outside in the sun reading a battered copy of Moby Dick you always meant to get to. That lights your creative spark and you plan a quick picnic dinner for your sweetheart and the two of you enjoy a pleasant evening together with no texting or TV reminding you why you are lucky to have companionship in your life. That leads you to remember other ways your life has delivered gifts like how your dentist told you your teeth look great.

The Domino effect works in both directions. Set yourself up for some serenity today. The world will do its part to offer you stress, so don’t keep helping it out. It’s doing just fine and it completely supports your new plan to give yourself abundance. And so do I.

*The original version of this first appeared in the WONDERFUL blog, MindBodyGreen