Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Neverending Snow, Depression and Creating Space

'These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth, it too, increased.” ~ Gaston Bachelard

I find it fitting to talk about depression tonight.

The snow outside my window just keeps on falling, casting fluttering shadows beneath the lamp post. The idea of spring, of summer, of warmth ... seems a figment of my imagination at times like this. It becomes hard trying not to "resist what is" and curl up under blankets, crying, wishing the cold away.

The "silver lining" is when warmth does arrive, as it inevitably will, I will appreciate it much more. That is one positive those of us who live in four-season climates can embrace. We truly cherish those sunny days.

That same mentality is something I'm now taking and breathing into other areas of my life. If I desire something I don't currently have, I acknowledge that feeling, trying not to judge it, and then let it pass through, like a temporary visitor. I remind myself that when I do come across those desires, I always end up appreciating them that much more. But, just like spring and summer, I embrace them and cherish them knowing they are forever changing and temporary, only to revisit me again some day.

It's a cycle. All of it. Yet most of us get so stuck sometimes. We fall into a rut. For me, that is always what depression feels like ... a rut I fall into, try to fight off or escape from and eventually curl up with. These ruts, I believe, are what happens to us when we resist that natural cycle. And for me, at least with depression, it often led to dark emotions, thoughts, low energy, negative self talk, pain, turmoil and ... sleep. When I was a teenager, sleep was my escape when I was depressed.

In the recent years, I would just let depression overpower me, drown me. And I would be a crying mess, sort of hollow, not present at all in life, absent even during moments in crowded rooms or with family and friends.

Thankfully, those are distant memories in some ways now. I've been tested this year, especially this winter season. Especially on these cold, dark, lonely nights ... when I feel a chill bury itself within my bones. When I hear the bare tree branches creak and moan against the biting wind.

However, something I read awhile back and came across again in my Yoga Journal has finally "clicked." In the past, whenever I felt something I didn't want to, like fear, depression, pain, sadness, I would either repress it and pretend it wasn't there, distract myself or let it completely overtake me.

But I read about space lately, the beauty of space, of making space for things. And I've tried it out these last few nights with interesting results. When I begin to feel this sadness or depression sink in, rather than search for an escape, I've been whispering the word "yes" in my mind and imagining myself creating a space inside me for this emotion. Not letting it overcome me and, yet, not shoving it away or judging it. Just saying the word "yes" and visualizing an opening inside me making way and giving space to what I'm feeling.

It instantly lessens the intensity of the emotion. And it feels a lot less uncomfortable, threatening or negative. It's almost like making room for a guest you don't necessary want there, but you also don't want to be mean to. So you don't resist the visit and then suddenly, they're gone and someone new visits, like a breath of fresh air.

So, the next time you feel something you don't want to, try to stave off your knee jerk, instinctive reaction, your usual pattern. Instead, let yourself create space for it, feel it. You'll notice, just like with the seasons, just like with emotions and life in general, if it has no resistance, it will only be a temporary visitor and will make way for a new one in due time.

And when that new visitor arrives, bringing the sun, you will truly appreciate them that much more.

You'll find you are an open door ... completely unbridled.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Be a Warrior — Tame Your Inner Dialogue

We talk to ourselves incessantly about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk. And whenever we finish talking to ourselves about ourselves and our world, the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we rekindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die. A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his internal talk.
~ Carlos Castaneda

For some reason, I'm compelled to expand on my prior post.

Mainly about the idea of how we treat ourselves on a daily basis and how that treatment relates to how we treat others and the kinds of relationships we have in our lives.

Being a person who has struggled with negative self talk for many, many years, it's only recently I've realized just how powerful that kind of dialogue can be. It kind of ties into a lot of the other posts I've had.

So, I challenge you to wake up tomorrow, just one day, give it one day and take a thought inventory. By this I mean, simply listen to yourself, listen to your mind's constant chatter, which most of us don't pay much attention to, despite those thought trains that are running many of our lives.

Examples, do you wake up and see the life inside you when you look in the mirror? The steady rise and fall of your chest as you take in breath? The feeling of your heart beating, the ultimate symbol of self love — first nourishing itself before nourishing the rest of the body?

Or do you see your flaws, perhaps some gray hairs or age lines, your scars, the extra weight you've been trying to get off, the aches and pains. Then you get ready for the day, maybe you don't like what you're wearing and how it looks on you, maybe you're already thinking about all the things you have to get done, how much is on your list, how unhappy your are with certain things in your life, how you wish things were different, etc.

All that dialogue happens before you're even out the door. Then throw in interactions with other humans, your job, maybe your significant other. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself all day, do you constantly think about how fruitless your efforts seem to be? Your insecurities? Do you think about how lonely you are or how unhappy you are with the person you're with? Maybe how you feel underappreciated by people, like you just can't do enough or be enough. Then you start comparing yourself to other people or wonder "what do they have that I don't?"

How often do we TRULY think positive thoughts throughout our daily dialogue? How often are we actually NICE to ourselves? And how imbalanced are those numbers when compared to the negative thoughts?

As Antoine Rivarol says, “Speech is external thought, and thought internal speech.”

The converse side is the power of dialogue can be just as strong on the other end of the spectrum, when transformed, when changed into uplifting thoughts, into "light at the end of the tunnel" thoughts, into forgiving thoughts.

I've been exposing at times about some of the things I've been through or situations I've been in or allowed to happen to me, dating back to my teen years. How I've had very diverse relationships or friendships over the years, changing my faux identity to fit each one ... and how I've had some very similar ones as well, patterns, etc.

Well, the truth is, it all comes back to how I treat myself. Do I respect my body just as it is right now in this moment? Or am I constantly wanting it to change? Do I respect my heart and my soul or am I constantly masking things, putting up pretenses, beating myself down, manipulating myself, etc.?

And how can I expect others not to do the same to me?

Think of yourself, think of all the things you're unhappy about and then pause for a moment and ask yourself what and when was the last nice thing you thought or said about yourself?

I've been in the process of changing that dialogue for some time now. My counselor really got me going on that path, but then everything else that's come along has been aiding me.

I implore those who read to do the same. You'll likely be surprised how out of whack your inner language is. And it might just explain how you treat others and allow yourself to be treated.

I'd love some feedback.


Monday, March 11, 2013

What Is the Most Important Relationship in Life?

“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.”
  ~ Steve Maraboli

Tying into the whole practice of self awareness, I've been paying attention to my actions, my "self talk" and my dreams a lot more in the last year and a half or so.

I've talked about this more in depth in past posts, particularly about nightmares and dreams and how they are chock full of information about ourselves if we let them be. And about how the love and treatment we allow in our lives mirrors the way we feel about ourselves and what we deserve.

And about how our own actions or judgements on others can tell us a lot about the things we perhaps don't always see in ourselves.

The truth of it is, the things, people, situations and experiences in your life right now can tell you just what kind of relationship you have with yourself. Because in the end, that's the only "permanent" relationship you do have and I think we all might surprise ourselves if we truly examine on a daily basis how we treat ourselves, what kind of relationship we have with ourselves. And yet how we tend to expect others to treat us differently.

Here's the most recent evolution of my own relationship with myself.

As I'd mentioned before, I used to have these dreams where men or sometimes a specific male I knew, would be chasing me, searching for me or trying to attack me and I'd be running and hiding, terrified.

It was around this time I'd walked away from some unhealthy things in my life, one thing in particular, and began dealing with emotions, hurtful experiences I'd been repressing while at the same time trying to let go of emotions and feelings I thought were good ... at least at one time ... and "real."

Between dealing with PTSD and depression, it was a wobbly journey where I stumbled into more unhealthy behavior and patterns and decided it was finally time to get some solid guidance.

I'll never forget the day I walked into my counselor's office, splotches all over my neck from anxiety and sat down on the couch. I nervously fidgeted with the pillow on my lap as I tried to tell her about my dreams and about the feelings I was still struggling with, about letting go of memories, good and bad and about what to do in my present life.

She watched me a few moments and then told me to put the pillow aside, to plant my feet on the ground, but lean back and get comfortable. She told me to close my eyes and she walked me through a 10-minute meditation.

I came out of it calm, peaceful, breathing easy. I came out of it feeling whole, if only just for a few minutes, feeling loved, truly loved inside — feeling life. This hollowed out part of me, the void I'd been trying so desperately to fill was almost brimming.

I remember opening my eyes and looking at her and watching her own eyes change as she looked into mine. Then I remember her saying, "This woman right here. This woman is who we are going to get back to."

That was the beginning ... that was the beginning of a strange, scary, elating, terrifying, inspiring roller coaster ride.

Since then, my dreams have evolved. I began to start facing anyone who was chasing me. Which means I was starting to face myself, my fears, whatever that person represented in me. I would start to talk to him ... So really, talking to this part of myself. The main repetitive message involved forgiveness and it involved believing I was loved and truly cared about.

And the most recent one, it involved me reconnecting with that person, so, reconnecting with that part of myself again. And this time, I was slightly scared, slightly sad because I'd missed this part of myself, this aspect of me so much and I was slightly excited.

As I'd mentioned in my former post, the meditation practices I've been doing have started to access my subconscious in ways that feel a bit overwhelming, but also healing. And between those feelings that have surfaced and this dream, I realize just how much I've put on lock down since feeling heartbreak.

It's funny ... I sometimes convinced myself that I was "ready" and "open" in the last two years ... but the truth is, I never was. And even before then, I was always terrified of life, of being hurt. And then after I'd opened up finally and dove in, the tumultuous fall that ensued must have been devastating or painful enough for my mind to completely lock down that part of me altogether.

And while I'd catch glimpses of that vulnerable, open, trusting part of me, the freer spirit, it was always temporary. I'd always shut it down ... I still do on my more challenged days.

However, as I've continued this journey and made the breakthroughs I did in the recent months, I've learned that vulnerability is the key to life itself. It's the doorway ... the threshold.

And I know that all the above will work itself out as it's meant to. Because I'm trying to no longer resist life and what's in front of me or try to make it more than it is or less than it is. And all the progress I've made in the last few months is a result of that.

I feel that inside with a certainty even my most doubting thoughts can't penetrate. Am I both scared and excited of what's to come? I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't.

But do I trust it?

Yes. I trust it with every heartbeat inside me. This is my relationship with myself today.

What is yours?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Do We Take So Much For Granted?

“When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren't grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude” ~ Cynthia Ozick

As someone who has taken others for granted as well as felt taken for granted, this particular topic hits home for me in a lot of ways and has been on my mind of late.

Let me circle out for a minute because I think it's partially a result of some of the meditating techniques I've been learning about and experiencing during my training. One of them, Yoga Nidra, has to do with getting deep into the subconscious, the part of us not run by the ego, and is meant to basically help the body heal itself, physically, emotionally, etc. It's a way of tapping into that pure energy, that intelligence that's already there, in our beings, that is not muddied by the mind.

The last few times we did it in class, I felt ... well, I felt some unexpected things. Emotions, pretty much across the spectrum. But in the past, that would have overwhelmed me. This time, it just felt like ... kind of like a release valve was opened inside me. It felt like my subconscious was working out things I didn't realize were still going on and this kind of meditation was unsheathing some emotional baggage I hadn't felt in some time, perhaps repressed for awhile now.

It also made me realize the things I still hold inside, locked away tight. And it got me thinking about some of the negative feelings I used to carry around all the time, every day ... the negatives ways I used to talk to myself, still do sometimes even now, though less and less every single day.

I remember, not that long ago, maybe as recent as a year ago or two, lying in bed after something happened that upset me, whether a fight with someone or just a rough day, and having trouble even listing 5 positive things out loud about myself that I truly believed.

I would look in the mirror, especially a few years back when I was all kinds of unhealthy, and think, "Wow, I thought I was worth so much more than all this. I'm being taken for granted, taken advantage of. I now know what this feels like."

But I'd always take it a step further and spiral into "I don't deserve anything good, I don't deserve to be happy or loved in a healthy way or treated like a main priority," etc. Well, that voice is pretty much obsolete these days. And I can list a lot more that 5 positive things about myself :-) ... but the part about being taken for granted ... that has kind of stayed with me.

Why do we do this so often? We don't really think about it, but we do it almost every day. How often do you take the time in the morning to feel a moment of gratefulness for being alive another morning, or seeing your cat or dog's beautiful eyes another day, perhaps your significant other ... how often do we routinely get up, go about our lives and rarely ever "take in" the things in our lives that could disappear with a blink of an eye.

For me, I used to take my ex (high school and college years) for granted many times without realizing it. And then, in the more recent years, I experienced the other side of that. Same with other friendships and relationships in my life. Even my family, parents, brother, etc.

All of the recent teachings and practices I'm experiencing talk about present moment awareness and compassion and gratefulness. I've been thinking about some of the ways I'd taken others for granted in the past, the ways I'd talk to someone and expect them to just deal with it or the times when I was talked to abusively and the other person just figured I'd take it and still be there the next day.

How often do we snap at people we care about? Or ignore people on a daily basis we actually truly care about when we stop and "take them in." There is a quote somewhere about how the things we point out in others are things we only strengthen in ourselves. So I've been definitely paying attention to the things I begin to point out in others lately and instead, stop myself and focus on how and when I do those very same things myself.

Taking things or people for granted is just one example I decided to point out. But there are so many others.

The truth of it is, nothing is permanent. And, if we get outside our heads enough, we will more easily appreciate and cherish those in our lives, including ourselves.

You don't have to be on the other side of the fence to know what something feels like. All you have to do is reach your mind out and imagine being on the receiving end of the energy, emotion or action you are expressing in that moment and you'll know everything you need to know.

We have all heard people say, "You never know what you have until it's gone."

Well, let's change that.

Let's know what we have while its still here ...


Sunday, March 3, 2013

What Does "Letting Go" Really Mean?

“I realize there's something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they're experts at letting things go.” ~ Jeffrey McDaniel

Letting go.

So many meanings behind those words. Some people view them as giving up or losing something. Others view it is letting loose or dropping something.

But they've been uttered to me, around me, near me several times the last few weeks, even months. And as someone who does believe in the quiet, whispering language all around us, the kind many of us never listen to, I'm choosing to pay attention.

During my last yoga training weekend in February, one thing my teacher said a few times was "let go."

She said it more than once and in different contexts, but the meaning in the end was the same ... let go, release, trust.

We did several physical poses that week coinciding with those words. Some of them we had to partner up for, but the underlying theme, at least to me, was this trust in the letting go process, putting your trust in others to hold you up or gently let you down, etc.

It got me thinking about how much tension we consistently hold in our minds and bodies almost every minute of the day. We don't even think about it because we are so used to it, our minds are so used to spinning those wheels.

One example I can pull from class is this exercise where you stand behind someone and ask them to shrug there shoulders and hold it. Then you hold their upper arms and ask them to release. When you let go of their arms, if they had truly "let go" and released their tension, their arms would immediately drop.

Almost everyone's did not.

Another quick example for me personally. There's a balance pose called "Crane" where you crouch down, lean forward slightly so your elbows are bent and are supposed to balance your knees on your triceps so that your entire body is balled up, your feet off the ground and everything balanced on your hands. I never understood why I couldn't do this one after so many years of mastering other balance poses.

One day, we talked in class about mental blocks we instinctively put up and don't realize it. Which is why yoga block props come in handy for some poses. A light bulb went off. So the next time I tried this pose, I put a pillow on the floor in front of me just in case I fell forward. And suddenly ... off the floor I went, easily!

I never actually touched the pillow, but knowing it was there removed the mental block I had anchoring my toes to the ground, causing my arms to always waver and shake.

It's like we are constantly bracing for something ... in protection, fight or flight mode, or perhaps just holding onto every care or worry, every fear and emotion in our physical beings. Imagine being those muscles, that brain, constantly taut with exhaustive energy, sapping the good and replacing it with ailments, emotional strive, physical disease. No wonder we have so many illnesses, both mental and physical, in our species.

But when we DID let go in class, when we did trust in the letting go, the peace and feeling of life that ensued was awe inspiring.

Now shift gears a moment and think of other things we hold onto, besides tension ... possessions, people, the past, the future, relationships, friendships, anger, pain, resentment. Why is it so hard for us to "let go?"

Because letting go is surrender. And surrender is terrifying to the ego, to the mind. Because those people, things, relationships, are all the mind identifies with. But what if letting go can be thought of as letting go of a mask, of a false self, a disguise ... letting go of what isn't real to embrace what IS real?

What if surrender was not thought of as giving up ... but rather, giving in?

This isn't to say the people and relationships in our lives aren't "real," but the false sense of identity or permanency we have with them is a farce. The people,  possessions, relationships, degrees, careers, titles in our lives ... those things are never really ours to begin with when you truly think about it.

Imagine if we viewed everything outside of us as temporary ... because the truth is, everything outside of our energy, souls, spirits, IS temporary, even our own bodies.

But it's so hard to let go of things we find meaning in. I know this more than most can imagine. However, what I've come to realize is, the meaning and realness I find in those people or relationships, that friendship or experience is energy ... and energy is continuous, long after the tangible person or experience is gone.

Yet, ironically enough, and perhaps by design, this makes me appreciate and cherish the sources of that energy so much more while they are here with me.

So, in letting go, we merely shed the falsities and let in what is true and real. And eventually we are able to stand without a pillow beneath us and give into gravity.

Eventually we are able to surrender to life.

After all ... as C. JoyBell C. says, “Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.”