Public Display of Excrementing

In China, I saw more than my fair share of people unleashing their bowels in open areas. I’ve pointed and howled with judgment. But today I realized that I do the same thing, except I don’t drop my pants, I drop my jaw.  I’ve been “shoulding” all over the place.

Lately, I’ve been in a foul mood. I feel like all I can see is the negative in situations and in others, especially in myself. It’s felt like the very worst verbal snowball that I have ever created, as one crappy thought sticks to another flake of criticism and complaint. And the worst part of it is that this snowball has been gaining speed and growing, as my only hope is that it reaches the bottom of the hill and stops. But how much negativity can I really generate and collect in my mind, I do not know? It is an incredibly unpleasant experience, especially when I am conscious enough to observe it, yet not disciplined to stop it from exiting my mouth, to begin with.

The irony, of course, is that I have been setting this intention to find more good in life so I can open up to awe. Yet the more I dig into this, the more I see what is wrong and the beauty and joy of life seem to hover beyond this dark cloud, blocking my sun.

This is the worst thought of them all is that something beyond my control is creating this worry and despair, that this mood will stay and become a part of my personality–that I am becoming less agreeable and cheerful with age. No frickin’ way do I want these crappy thoughts to take up permanent residence in my head. I gotta kick these unwanted guests out!!

But what if I am changing? What if I was to embrace my inner-grumpy, to become more curious and kind towards these unloveable thoughts? To look at me as you might see a toddler having a cry over dropping their cracker–despite this absolute trivial brooding, there is an opportunity to have a laugh over the ridiculous self-imposed helplessness of the situation and extend a hand to pick up the cracker.

Change does not have to be about becoming someone else, but about rearranging the pieces of the puzzle in your life in a way that better serves your purpose. Maybe it is not ‘something’ that is missing from your life – it is how everything fits in the bigger picture of your life that makes the difference -Astro Butterfly-

I read that quote the other day and have been examining my mood to see how perhaps this is serving me, that, perhaps I am in the midst of a wonderful transformation, as the pieces of who I am, shift into new positions and will create a new picture of Who I Am. Perhaps what I am experiencing is what people call a “dark night of the soul.” And, although it is awful to swell with such feelings and have a lot of diarrhea of the mouth, the mental muscle I am gaining in overcoming this and the faith that I am developing is creating the most delicious experience of renewal.

And with this insight, although I stand in a gloomy place, there is now an opening, a crack, in which I can put a wedge into to let some light enter, recognizing that this moment can be ethereal if I give it permission to be present in my life. Yes, I can accept this phase, while simultaneously attending my gaze towards the light. There is good in this experience and I have the capacity to find it.

This weekend we intend to drive to Vien Viang, a riverside town in central Laos. We intend to go tubing on the Nam Song River and explore caves in the area. Even though it is impossible to predict the end of this “shoulding”,  I am hopeful that this respite will accelerate the demise of my funk and give birth to a more content and hopeful version of me. If nature is really an antidote to unease, then there stands a chance that I may be injected with revelation and joy, as this dark cloud comes to pass. And, although I feel mentally feeble,  Inshallah, God willing,  I will hold on to the prospect of this possibility.

 

The Pursuit of Awe

The other day I was doing this tortuous hip and thigh exercise routine when the instructor said ” You are going to feel a burning sensation. You’re really starting to engage here.” That word, engage, hung in my mind for awhile and I laughed out loud, thinking how she was trying to frame the pain I was experiencing in a sort of positive light. However, my thoughts bounced in another direction: what does it mean to engage anyhow? I wanted to go deeper into this perspective she was sharing and what it means for me in my life.

Anytime I really “engage” in something, I emotionally connect and focus on it. Often, I experience discomfort, sometimes outright pain. My mind started to list the moments I felt discomfort with “engaging” in life, and by and large, they were times when I was in the process of growth. alivenessEven when my thoughts were dark, it seemed like a seed had taken sprout within me and was breaking through the soil to reach for the sun, as I fended off worry and doubt. But then I realized when I experience some sort of reverie with life’s hidden wonders and was seized with joy, this too was a wonderful form of engagement. It felt like a glorious moment of magic and I become captivated with the endless miracles that orchestrate life.

I recognize that most of the time I am disengaged, absorbed with the routines and mundane habits I have created, the middle between those extremes of pain and joy. Which leads me to this ridiculous goal that I set last year–to experience and document over 100 acts of pure miracle and magic that occur in my life. The point of this goal was to develop a mental practice of detecting the good of life, to bear witness to all the ways that the universe conspires on my behalf with my experience. It’s not the same sort of thing as gratitude, but it was more to do with being captivated and in awe of life. I just called it “ridiculous” because it’s probably been the most difficult goal I ever set. I have 14 moments of “awesomeness”  that I have collected as I strive to develop a “miracle mindset”, and I’m supposed to get 100 by December 22nd (my S.MA.R.T. deadline). Clearly, I have not been engaging with this goal.

So, now that I have put my attention on this goal, I realize that I have a choice. To brood over this deficiency or to become absolutely obsessed with it. As you might imagine, sitting at this crossroads in my mind, I am experiencing discomfort–who would I be if I was to really take this seriously for the next 2 months of this year?   Would I become annoyingly optimistic and giddy? Is this why I am resisting this? Or am I using other people as my excuse to not make this shift? 

 

Well, at this juncture, I may not feel overly confident of transforming my mental landscape but maybe trying to do something so daring and failing may be a miracle in itself. To stop wading in the shallows of life and go into the deep end, becoming more mindful and devoted to experiencing what seems ordinary in a new light. To have the courage to live in a state of astonishment, cultivating a different and more fascinated perspective, might be a subtle form of insanity, but I shall try to pursue it nevertheless. And now that I have shared this confounded idea with you all, I have the responsibility to make the effort to become awakened by the profound and interesting things that make my life worth living.

Thank you for holding a light of hope for me, as I become okay with the discomfort that awareness brings through this pursuit for awe.

The Menacing Burning Within The Soul

If you jump and leap, don’t leap or jump for the landing. Leap for the experience through the air. -Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

As I prepare for my transition, finishing up my last full month in China, I’ve been wondering if I made the right choice. Preparing to jump into the unknown fills you with a lot of doubt. Is this really the place in which I can develop more of what’s best about me? Will my Judy-ness get an upgrade? What about my family, Ryan and Hannah?–will this be the best for them?

Do you ever feel like you have gambled all your chips at the roulette table at Vegas and you’re hoping that life lands on the Red 6?  Well, the wheel is spinning, isn’t it?

We read Wild in our book club a few years back and she definitely left an impression on me as a writer. She doesn’t mince words; strength and power are something that Cheryl Strayed is really good at articulating in her work. Her memoir and her subsequent work encapsulate this idea of Motherfuckitude, which is a combination of 2 seemingly opposing ideas: humility and faith. And, although the term may upset your modesty, I assure you the idea transcends your opposition.

I’m going to really try and I might fail, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself but I’m going to be strong in the midst of my humility. Forget success and instead put my faith in the work and be really fierce and very exacting. I must demand a lot of myself when it actually comes to doing the work…having a sense of surrender and acceptance that ‘I’m going to do this work and I don’t know where it may lead.

-Cheryl Strayed- (in an interview on the Tim Ferris Show)

bravery.jpgHer words put a ding in my trepidation, making me consider that there could be no way I could fail if not failing forward–towards this furious ache that is in my soul, the one that causes me to be more than I am today.  The one that tells me that I am not too old, too dense, too unyielding, too silly, too pollyannish. Instead, it tells me that ‘life is long and I am young with so much to learn–isn’t that wonderful?’ It berates me until I have no choice but to heed its advice.

Anyone who writes knows how incredibly hard it is to write something that actually is interesting and meets your level of expectation. Anyone who runs knows how incredibly hard it is to run, in the rain, when you’re tired when you’re in pain and injured. Anyone who teaches knows how incredibly difficult it is to plan, to care and to put in the effort when you’re sick when you’re annoyed when you’re disappointed in life. Anyone who parents know how incredibly hard to be attentive, tuned in and patient. I could make a list of any job, hobby or role that we love dearly and are passionate about–there’s a time in which you want to throw in the towel and quit, but you can’t quit because your devotion to it is too strong and your life would be an empty shell without this struggle in your life. With the struggle comes the beauty and the joy.

So I have to wonder–will I expect more of myself in this new environment? As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a blogger?–Can I work at it like a motherf*cker there?  Am I willing to diligently press on when it will be easier allow distractions to overcome me? I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl, that once you surrender to the hardship of whatever craft one wishes to perform, then there is a grit and dedication that arises and overtakes the urge to abandon the task at hand. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that if you were to maintain a steady focus on it, you would eventually persevere. You believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out.

Long before I put all of my chips on Red 6, I had this menacing burning in my soul to have a fresh experience, to hit a reset button. I have to trust that I have made the best decision, that this move serves the highest vision of my creativity.  I wasn’t looking for a j.o.b.–something that I have to clock into- but instead, something that helps me to improve my art–something that I get to explore, experiment with and craft. I also felt this was the best option for my husband as well. So I must have the faith that this will be a fantastic challenge and that will cultivate joy and curiosity in our lives.

What experience have you had with your struggle to transition? What are you willing to leave behind and what did you want to “pack”, in a metaphorical sense?

Plasticine

It’s the second law of thermodynamics that everything moves toward entropy; so you know that things aren’t going to remain static and things are going to be changing. And no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life, you need to learn how to not only learn how to cope with change but actually how to harness it and leverage it.

-Dr. Norman Doidge

Most of us grew up thinking that our personality and inclinations begin the calcify process when we are about 7 years old and are solidified when we are in our early 20s. But that myth has been absolutely disputed and proven wrong–if you change your mind, you can change your body and transform the quality of your life. We’ve heard countless stories of what seem like anomalies of people getting over incurable disease or other disabling health issues with a thought–one thought–that they could be a better version of themselves.  When we think a thought over and over again, it begins to harden into a belief and our beliefs become our personality which determines the intensity and consistency of our moods from day to day. However, we are merely one thought away from growing, from healing, from becoming a new and improved version of ourselves, and neuroscientistfocus meme.jpg like Dr. Norma Doidge (quoted above) is demonstrating this in spades. They are showing that these beliefs literally rewire our neural connections and, indeed, we are plasticine in nature, with these new ideas shaping our bodies, ergo our reality as well with new synapses being constructed and old ones being pruned. This is a wonderful and simple explanation of your fantastic plastic brain explained, giving a lot of insight into how your brain changes.

Jean Piaget, one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, suggested that one’s intelligence is essentially knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, implying discernment of our experience and wagering a risk to grow. Carol Dweck adds to this definition by reminding us to keep an open mind to meet challenges and put in the effort to overcome them as the essence of evolving one’s vision and developing life mastery. Her research on “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” is catching on in schools and businesses, and is having a significant impact on changing the way people learn and companies conduct business. It has given license for people to take risks and make mistakes because doing so literally grows your brain and develops you cognitively.

On a personal level, earlier this year, I decided to apply the 2 minute rule to cultivating change in my physical health. I made it a daily goal to get some exercise and agreed that I could spend at least 2 minutes a day towards this goal. I believed that this small investment of time would be worth the effort and could create change. What’s interesting is that, over time, what appeared to be drudgery has now turned into a natural desire. My 2 minutes has easily turned into 20 minutes. And what is fascinating is how it has improved not just my physical state, but also my mental state. I am beginning to not just feel more emotionally content but my attitude has shifted to agreeing that I’m worthy of something better. In other words, I exercise because I’m worth it, and this self-improvement has made a great contribution to my quality of life. I’ve had to detach from who I have been in order to give birth to who I can become. The change in my waistline is just an inevitable outcome of these new physical and mental habits. And it all started with my thought that 2 minutes, well spent, could have health benefits. Now I believe this with every fiber of my being.

This is just one example, but this shift in one area of my life has cultivated momentum in transforming other areas of my life–a snowball is in motion, as I wonder what else do I think is impossible for myself which might actually be a probable outcome if I change my beliefs around it. I double dog dare you to experiment with this concept yourself–change a thought, repeat the new thought over and over again, make a new habit around it and observe the results. I think you will be surprised at you uproot long held beliefs and recreate yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember, you are plasticine.

the Beginning or is it the End?

Here we go again. Another MOOC. This time has been Sit Less, Get Active which butterfly-lao-tzuis offered through the University of Edinburgh. I’m not an athletic person, in fact I think most sporty things I like to do involves sitting like biking and canoeing. I noticed about a month ago that I started to get pain in my right hip, which I later learned was caused by sitting too much. I literally have a ‘weak ass’, which causes my hip pain. Fact.

Well something like an irritation is a gift in disguise.

Recently I was listening to a talk about some of the content that is in the book Spark by John Ratey, in which he talks about the importance of exercise for our brains. Our brain is like a muscle, so when we exercise, it too gets a work out which contributes to a decrease in diseases such as dementia and ADHD. However, he explains that from an evolutionary perspective, our brain was designed for movement; so in effect, if we don’t move it (as in our bodies), we experience cognitive decline from our sedentary lifestyle.   Dr. Ratey illustrates this point with an explanation of a Sea Squirt (pictured here), which is a little piece of coral which breaks off and looks similar to a sea horse. When it does this, it develops a primitive bsea-squirtrain and neurocord in order for it to move, swimming for roughly 12 hours, until it sits down, takes “roots” , in order launch a new coral. What is fascinating is when this creature finds its new spot, it literally eats its brain, which gets reassimilated into the new growing coral structure. As I take in this example, it provides greater fodder for movement and exercise in my life.

 

So, with that in mind, I consider this revelation as a new beginning for me, in which I start to reshape my mindset to not see exercise and movement as an inconvenience but more like an opportunity to transform my mind, as well as my body. Perhaps too, it will put me on a path of self-discovery, in which I see my personal development in a more holistic way–literally re-creating who I am, cell by cell.   Needless to say, I’m excited by the prospect of transformation and hope that this too inspires you to get up and move, just as you were genetically designed to do.

Keep breathing. (And Keep Moving!)

 

The Ultimate Power

“Words only weigh as much as the air used to breathe them unless you give them the ultimate power.”–my mind has been musing over this quote from B.A. Hunter for nearly a week now.  I’m often amused by what comes out of my mouth when I am in a conversation, but more often it’s the words that are unspoken, bobbing around as my thoughts, that are the most elusive. Obviously as I try to “quiet” my mind, it leads to a deeper exploration of  my mind’s “search engine”, as I observe the needs, beliefs, and emotions that seem to color my perspective of reality. What am I focusing on? Because what I focus on gives it meaning, and that meaning produces emotion; this emotion produces my action. What’s my model of the world?–how do I feel about the state of my world.

henry-ford-airplane-quoteWhich has got me thinking about my auto-pilot: how can I create a positive mindset that is programmed and automatic? After watching Habit’s 101 , I made it a daily dedication to study how I can create proactive habits in my life. Now that I recognize that my mindset mostly dwells on the past, and my past=my future,  I can set the intention to get new habits of mind that promote the changes I wish to see in my life.

So then focus becomes my ultimate power and my point of change. Noticing that I have a pessimistic view point seems to be the most obvious place to start. You can’t change what you aren’t aware of, right? Then once I am aware of it, I have the opportunity to pivot when I encounter a negative/ non-self serving thought. It takes deliberate practice, but with effort, comes the change. This is where the rubber meets the road!

In order to transform my perspective, I have to DECIDE that I can do this– reframing ‘impossible’ to I’m Possible–cheesy but true. Currently my confidence comes from finding some ideas that inspire nudging me in the right direction. Here are some strategies that I have found and am willing to try out:

  • Generating positive emotion by exploring possibilities with “What if”.
    • Example: What if I made that goal? What if I had more time?
  • Dr. Daniel Amen has a a strategy for countering what he calls “ANTs” (a negative thought).
  • Tony Robbins suggests that we can DOUBT IT OUT! He says “we doubt we can succeed when we should doubt that we could fail.
    • Pondering 5 Reasons why the “worst” may not be true.
    • Finding “exceptions” to the rule.
  • Influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s research on our thinking processes, David Casti suggests redirecting those mental movies to transform guilt and regret with using the sentence stem: “Next time, I intend…..”
  • Change the focus from having resources to being resourceful. This cultivates appreciation and considers how contributions are being made for improvement.
  • And I love this idea from Brian Johnson about playing Angel’s advocate and finding “what can go right” in a situation.

You know what I find so ironic and cool, that the minute I start researching how to modify my mindset, I find a warehouse of resources and tools that are out there. Most of them are super simple and take minimal time.  I also find exercises like the ones I’ve listed not only mind-opening but also alter my emotion and lift my spirit. Win-Win!- I dig it!

So,  I’ve decided to amplify this approach by using  my new favorite app: Way of Life. I understand that what I measure, I can improve; so if I keep track of it, then I suppose “shift happens”.

Until next time….Keep Breathing!

 

 

Life in Clouds

fullsizerender-30As I peered out my window this morning, this was my view: a dense mist permeating. Although we have been experiencing the effects of Typhoon Nida, it is not unusual to have misty days like this. It not as heavy as fog, but you feel like you are walking in clouds.

However, as I studied the neighborhood, wondering if I would venture out today, it hit me–this awareness that I have been feeling like clouds. I don’t know how to really describe this, because it’s something that you can’t put your finger on, something that is obscure and unsettling.

And because of this, it has been like trying to coax a 2 year old child to leave a playground to get myself to meditate. I have to grab myself by the arm and force myself to sit my butt down to meditate. And this feeling doesn’t want to budge.

Appreciating that life if full of ebbs and flows, I recognize that this too shall pass. But now that I am aware of this feeling, it is a bit of relief. Now I can find a strategy-cloud-maybe not to make it go away in an instant but a way in which I can be okay with this not okay feeling. To observe this storm inside and to not judge it as good or bad, just a Now.

Maybe my focused breath can talk reason with my inner 2 year old and I get curious about where and how this cloudiness saturates my thoughts. Who knows, maybe life in clouds will prove to be an important part of my personal and spiritual growth?

So perhaps there is a rainbow in this experience.

Keep breathing.