It’s a new year – 2021 – and we got off to a rocky start. But today, I’m aware of a peacefulness and a feeling of being grounded that has been missing in my life for the last four years. I know I’m not alone. I didn’t realize how much anxiety I’d been carrying in my body until the end of the day on January 20, 2021. We witnessed a magnificent inauguration along with all of the trappings that covid-19 would allow – without incident. I felt profound relief.
The next day, I could breathe and when we took our dog to the beach for a walk, everything felt different. I felt relaxed and realized that even though I was masked and making sure I stayed a good 6-feet away from other walkers, I wasn’t feeling the hyper-vigilance I had become used to. I’m grateful for this.
I set a goal for myself this year – not a resolution but a goal to incorporate mindfulness into all the things that I do. I’m enrolled in an online Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training to augment my coaching practice and part of the curriculum is meditating daily as well as leading multiple types of meditations several times in order to become a knowledgeable and competent meditation instructor and leader. The day after the inauguration, I led an online body scan meditation which was a perfect way to release all of the tension that was being held in our collective bodies. Today, I led an online mindful walking meditation where I instructed the participants to imagine safely walking somewhere they loved within the parameters of their physical capacities and gave the following instructions:
~ arrive and be in the present moment ~ focus the attention on the internal and external experience ~ relate to the body with friendliness ~ breathe in and out as you move, fully and freely ~ feel your feet on the ground ~ notice where you are ~ notice the sensations you are experiencing ~ notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell ~ notice the air ~ is there a breeze or is the air still ~ feel your feet as they make contact with the ground ~ widen your awareness to include the experience of your whole body walking and to everything you are experiencing in your environment from sights, sounds, smells and sensations ~ ask yourself if you can be fully aware and present to walking in the middle of this very dynamic experience ~ beginning and ending with the breath and appreciation.
And then, I took myself and my dog to the beach and practiced this meditation again. I became aware of how connected I am to this interdependent web of all existence in which I reside. The air was cool and brisk on my skin and the waves were dark and filled with the promise of an incoming storm. The people I encountered all seemed happy – or was I projecting my own happiness onto them? I like this meditation.
I’m becoming aware of something new starting to emerge within me. I’m not sure about it’s exact nature yet, but I intend to give this little flame all the oxygen it needs so I can see what happens and where it leads. I intend to pay attention, be mindful and present so I won’t miss the experience.
Research shows that as many as 50% of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10% keep them for more than a few months. Why is that? I searched the internet for studies about why this is, and I found an article by Dr. Charles Herrick, Chair of Psychiatry, Nuvance Health, and it made lots of sense to me ( https://www.westernconnecticuthealthnetwork.org/newsroom/article-listing/new-yearsresolutions#:~:text). He says that we don’t stick with our resolutions for three reasons: we’re trying to break old and entrenched habits; we’re focusing on very specific outcomes; and these changes aren’t purposeful.
Creating new ways of being and thinking require that we change old ways of being and thinking which is easier said than done. Anyone who has tried to stop procrastinating, become optimistic rather than pessimistic, quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more or quit drinking can attest to this. Our habits and thinking patterns are ingrained by years of reinforcement and have become second nature – we always default to them. For example, a smoking or drinking habit may be reinforced by your lifestyle, the places you go, the people you interact with, physical sensations associated with the behaviors, and other rituals such as drinking when you get home from work or whenever you are happy or upset. Your feelings, thoughts, and emotions related to smoking or drinking can also contribute to making the habit satisfying because you like the way it affects you – you’re calmer, you can forget your problems for a moment and you can avoid almost anything, for a while. How about eating, shopping, working or just fill in the blank? All of these are habits have become a way to take us somewhere else, anywhere but here and now.
Often times, our resolutions are very specific – I’m going to lose 15 lbs. by March, I’m going to start respecting my boundaries right now, I’m not going to use my credit cards for a year, I’m not going to drink for a month. What happens when these goals aren’t met right away? I know what I used to do – I’d say, “Oh well, it was just a silly resolution,” and that would be the end of it – resolution forgotten.
When I said that my resolutions were just silly, I was actually saying that I really didn’t matter and, once again, I reinforced my core belief that I was worthless. As I write this, my heart aches for the wounded person that I used to be and then fills with an immense gratitude that I was able to turn all of this around. I often look back and still am amazed that a moment of clarity allowed me to say these words to myself, “I matter, and I deserve to be happy.”
These words opened the door to purpose and when my goals had purpose, they really mattered and became easier to achieve. The other thing I learned during this crucial time in my life was the concept of baby steps. Taking small realistic steps made my goals feel achievable and then doing this work with others provided positive feedback and the reinforcement of my nascent beliefs of self-worth. While working on my goals, I was breaking old habits and changing old patterns of thinking while creating new and healthy ones.
This was a huge endeavor under any circumstances but this year, especially, the year of COVID-19, any thoughts of resolutions are more difficult to prioritize. We’re all looking for comfort and are drawn to what we know, even if what we know isn’t good for us. All the more reason to make goals that are significant or meaningful, healthy and holistic, accountable and actionable, risk and results oriented, and partnered: SHARP.
This leads to the question of how? How do I know where to start and what matters most to me? I’m a believer in the power of journaling and meditation and have been able to find clarity and insight as the result of journaling, just for myself, and mindfulness meditation. I recommend this as a starting point, and I also recommend working with others. This may be the time to consider working with a coach – someone who can intuitively pinpoint those sticking points or the most natural places to focus your attention. Someone like me. If you’re reading this, why not give it a try? What’s stopping you?
It’s raining in Santa Barbara! We haven’t had any significant rain for 8 months and we’ve all been feeling antsy. This is not just a teasing rain but the type of thirst-quenching rain that makes all who live here breathe a sigh of relief as we inhale newly cleaned and refreshed air. I can hear the soil sighing gratefully as it soaks up the moisture, the plants are expanding with joy and all of the creatures that pass through my yard are relaxing, knowing water can be found.
What a beautiful metaphor for what we are experiencing right now. We are leaving a terrible year behind – diseased, literally and figuratively, drought-ridden and riddled with fear by being bathed, cleansed and nurtured with life-sustaining rain as we move into a new year. The rain has created a sense of hope within me and I can imagine myself walking arm in arm with courage, ready to face a new year.
I wish you all a joyous and purpose-filled new year and I hope our paths will cross as we navigate this thing we call life.
I’ve been preparing for my upcoming online conversation about “Weeding Out Negative Self-Talk” and I began to think about my own experience with this and when it was that I first realized how much I put myself down and described myself in incredibly negative terms. I distinctly remember a time about 10 years ago or more – I had called my therapist for an emergency phone conversation. The particulars don’t really matter but I was falling apart, crying and blaming myself for circumstances and outcomes that had really never been in my control. I was using would’ves, should’ves and could’ves left and right and saying things like this: I’m the worst parent possible; I should have known better than all of the professionals I consulted; I’m incapable and stupid; I’m a failure and everything is always my fault. After my therapist listened to me rant for a while, she said this to me – “Megan, you are so mean to yourself.” Her words stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t speak because I knew it was true and then it was just the cleansing tears that flowed. I was very mean to myself, always believing that I should know how to do everything right and to always know what’s best and to be able to say the right things and to have everything turn out perfectly. And, of course, I set myself up for failure at every turn and could find no compassion for myself – only recrimination.
It was in that moment that I realized just how much my own negative self-talk impacted my well-being, physically and mentally. And, in that moment, I made my first efforts at letting go of my abusive self-talk and I began the process of learning how to find self-compassion and turning my negative thoughts into positive ones. I also had to let go of my need for perfection, which was a topic of one of my previous talks.
So, there was lots of work to do and sometimes it was very hard, but I could not deny the relief I felt when I was able to successfully let things go and to allow myself to be a vulnerable and imperfect human being. And, my successes grew, compounding the relief and the benefits and actually changing me and the way I thought and behaved.
It began with awareness which became an awakening and the discovery that I could indeed change this pattern of thinking. Finding the courage to take the actions needed to change was hard but not impossible. Only a little bit of courage is necessary to open the door to change. I’ve finally fallen into a pattern of flow with only occasional obstructions – obstructions that might set me back for a moment or even for a while but today the metaphor I can use to describe what happens is like river canoeing. Smoothly moving with the current except for some small rapids or a boulder or two along the way. A little effort might be necessary to change direction and I might have to paddle a bit harder through the obstructions and suddenly the water and my canoe can smoothly flow around to the other side. I have the capacity now to recognize it when I’m treating myself unfairly and speaking to myself harshly and I can stop, breathe, change direction and show myself some compassion.
If you’re reading this and want to attend my upcoming online event on November 7, 2020, titled “Weeding Out Negative Self-Talk”, I’d be honored to have you attend. I’ll be talking more about my experience, how I changed and how you can change, too. If you go to the Events section of my website, you’ll find the registration information there.
In previous posts, I wrote about the first five stages of change, as I’ve identified them: awareness; awakening; discovery; courage and action. The final stage, which is the goal, is flow. When looking at Positive Psychology, a flow state is the state of mind in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. And isn’t living one’s life a 24-7 activity where being fully involved, present and enjoying the process the ultimate goal for all of us?
Flow is the result of successfully moving through the previous five stages of change and finding yourself in a state of being that is, in fact, changed and comfortable in that change. Your new state of mind and your behaviors reflect the changes you have worked for and they are your new status quo – your new comfortable and reliable norm. Flow can be seen as a metaphor of water flowing with no resistance. You are no longer erecting barriers in your life or creating paths of resistance and know what to do and how to do the right thing. You are no longer “acting as if” and you’ve learned how to “let go and let live” as the saying goes.
“Life is like a river. The way of life is to flow with the current. To turn against it takes effort but the current will carry you if you let it. Float with joy and ease.”
It is July 2020 and I’m celebrating an anniversary – 13 years of sobriety. I’m so fulfilled today and so proud of this achievement that I often have to ask how this perfectionistic Atheist managed such a transformation? How did I go from feeling so angry, afraid and hopeless to being filled with such purpose?
When I agreed to enter treatment as the result of my husband’s relentless insistence, I felt a brief moment of true relief and peace because I knew I had become an alcoholic and was begrudgingly making the decision to get help. This moment was immediately followed by a tremendous amount of fear and shame. Fear of having to admit to being less than perfect, shamed by the fact that everyone would know that I had failed in every possible way and, of course, fear of the unknown. To make it easier, I told myself that I was just doing this to get my husband off my back and that I’d have a 28-day break from him – which I really needed. I had no intention of admitting to my alcoholism or to staying sober for the rest of my life.
However, when I was confronted with an assignment that asked me to consider the concept of a Higher Power, all I could say was, “Oh, God!” I was contemptuous about all things spiritual and religious, but I was also still quite the perfectionist and doing my homework assignments well and submitting them on time was my MO. An interesting thing happened while I was working on the assignment. I was outside and found a bird’s nest on the ground. Then I found several hazelnuts in the area, which became the eggs and then I started thinking about how I could clearly see a Higher Power at work in nature but that I was excluding myself from this realm. WHY? And why was I thinking about this instead of slamming the door shut on this concept? I was allowing myself to stray from my rigid thinking because, for the first time that I could remember, I felt safe and understood. I felt that I could explore this and, without realizing it, discovered the first inklings of spirituality. Did I have a have a Higher Power just waiting around for me to wake up and say “Grace?”
Eventually, I realized that I was equating religion with spirituality and that, in fact, they are very different. I was also beginning to realize that the comfort I was feeling was an awakening of my true spiritual nature – a spirituality that naturally exists within all of us, only needing connection to be ignited.
At that moment, I understood how I could believe in something greater than myself – through connection with others, my small spiritual flame could grow, and I would be able to be part of something much bigger and better – I would be part of the interdependent web of all existence. I no longer had to fake the assignment – I had actually completed steps 2 and 3 with honesty and integrity. I did not have to believe in someone else’s God or make one up for myself. The recognition of my spiritual nature was enough.
The realization that my life was not wasted occurred during my second month in treatment while on a Labyrinth walk. We attended a workshop titled, The History and Meaning of the Labyrinth. I assumed, as many people do, that labyrinths and mazes are synonymous and before the workshop began, I was engaging in morbid reflection, equating my entire life to the metaphor of being stuck and lost in a maze. The Workshop Facilitator began by explaining the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. She said that mazes have many entrances, exits, paths and dead ends. Labyrinths, although resembling mazes upon cursory observation, have only one path. In spite of the winding nature of the labyrinth, you cannot get lost if you follow the path. When I heard this my interest was piqued.
When our lecture was finished, we were invited to walk a large labyrinth painted on canvas in an adjacent room. I cleared my mind and set an intention of just being open-minded. As I began my walk, I found myself, reflecting on my life and letting go. Each turn in the labyrinth seemed to represent different times in my life. When I reached the center, I was calm and able to receive an intuitive message that my life had not been wasted and that I was not at a dead end. The paths I had taken were the ones I needed to travel in order to be at the center of that very labyrinth, right then and there. I felt the freedom of a release of psychic burdens that I had been carrying for a very long time. I meditated, mindfully, in the center of the labyrinth and when I felt ready to leave, I experienced a mounting sense of energy, forgiveness and joy. In the space of three hours, my whole perspective had changed from one of despair to hope. I had experienced something transformative.
Buoyed with my newly discovered spirituality and filled with hope, I was able to admit to my alcoholism and to leave the safety of the treatment center willing to do the hard work that I knew would come. I wanted to strive for the ultimate goal – emotional sobriety. That meant taking a look back and identifying the changes I would need to make. I needed to accept responsibility for my behavior and quit blaming others. I needed to be humble and teachable. I needed to change my thinking, work with others and learn to love myself.
With these goals in mind, I began to tackle huge issues with chronic and clinical depression, shame and codependency as well as developing a supportive community that would allow me to be an Atheist and not try to force anything upon me. It wasn’t long before I realized just how consumed I was by the “would’ves, should’ves and could’ves.” They were like a very large dysfunctional family taking up space in my head and each of them had “or elses” attached. I know now how they found what they thought would be a permanent home in my head but I’m happy to say that they received eviction notices a while ago and when they try to convince me to let them move back in, I’m strong enough to respect myself and my boundaries and say “no.”
During these last thirteen years, I’ve moved through many highs and lows and have experienced the beautiful process of deep change. I now find myself in a loving and supportive relationship, I earned an MA in Psychology as well as certification as a Labyrinth Facilitator and as a Life Coach. All of these profound transitions have not only given me much joy but have also provided me with a purposeful life allowing me to work with others in deep and meaningful ways as well as knowing that physical and emotional sobriety are possible when in spiritual connection.
Action begins with the first small step and then another. One day at a time. Action begins with belief in yourself, the support of others and spiritual connection. Once one muscle is moved another is engaged and so it goes – momentum follows as long as we stay in the present. Retreating to the past or trying to control the future will slow or even stop the actions that must happen now, today.
There are important things to consider during this monumental stage of change. The actions you take and the goals you set for yourself need to be attainable, realistic, and healthy, holistic and kind. Staying in touch with your mentors before making any significant decisions will help keep the process moving smoothly and prevent unnecessary detours and also provide necessary moral support and connection.
Keeping your expectations in check and somewhat fluid is important, too. Expectations must be open-armed and not rigid for too often our expectations don’t resemble the actual outcome. Staying detached from the outcome allows for the acceptance of what is and the realization that even though things turnout differently from what you envisioned, all is as it should be.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Deep change and the actions necessary to facilitate this type of work is hard. It’s rigorous, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Take time to reflect on the progress that is being made, no matter how small. Forgive yourself often. Share with others frequently and accept their praise completely – no ifs, ands or buts about it!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You
Where do we go to find courage? I know for a fact, that we can’t look outside of ourselves – we have to find courage within. And how do we embrace the fledgling courage we find there when fear is working very hard to slam the door on it?
In my previous posts, I wrote about awareness leading to an awakening and the discovery that change is possible. In combination with these early stages of change, a growing realization and acceptance of our spiritual nature is the key that unlocks the door that has kept our courage hidden. Spirituality cannot exist in a vacuum and is not true and authentic if corrupted by a narcissistic ego. The spirituality, of which I speak, occurs in a state of humility with a supportive and understanding community.
Before I chose sobriety, I experienced an actual visceral feeling of internal emptiness – a void that I couldn’t explain. As I surrounded myself with those who understood me and supported me, that void literally began to fill up. It was as if my spiritual pilot light was finally beginning to burn properly. I was beginning to feel myself glowing from within.
With this support, courage can grow, and the balance begins to tip in the stand-off between fear and action. The determined realization that change must occur, no matter what, starts to grow, overshadowing the fear that has always won out before. Fear of the unknown is powerful and without the conviction that spirituality brings, it’s easy to talk yourself out of moving forward with changes. It’s easy to convince yourself that things aren’t so bad, and the voices of our personal gremlins start getting louder and louder, trying to drown out the nascent and weaker voice of courage.
During this stage of change, I remember frequently wanting to return to what I knew – the familiar – even though it was toxic and soul crushing. My newly recognized spirituality and belief in myself helped move me through these feelings and my weak courage “muscles” were exercised. And so, the courage grew and was strengthened and allowed me to see the next stage – action – as a true possibility.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ― E.E. Cummings
In my last post, I wrote about the second stage of deep change – awakening. As we awaken, the awareness of our spiritual nature grows as well as our awareness of what needs to happen to transform our lives. This leads to the very important stage of Discovery.
Discovery is, in part, personal as well as practical. The discovery that you are worthy of positive change and that your life will be better as a result is important, certainly, but the practicalities of how to facilitate the changes that are necessary loom large. This is the time you find yourself making statements like, “I’ve got to do something about this – this is serious”, or “Something has to change.” But how do you actually do it? Where do you go? Who do you talk to? These questions are huge and often create overwhelming emotions. Giving up and retreating seem like reasonable options during this time.
It is also during the stage of discovery that we often become aware of our interconnectedness and spiritual nature. I had already moved through the stages of awareness and awakening when I agreed to enter treatment for alcoholism. I knew I had a problem and was receiving intuitive messages that I was worth saving but I was yet to discover how many people were able and willing to help me and that I was not alone nor unique. As I sat in groups with many other women suffering from addiction, I was amazed to feel so understood. I felt safe and was able to be vulnerable and to speak the truth for practically the first time in my life. In those early months of recovery, I found a willingness to be willing to continue the process of discovering more and working on uncovering the person I was born to be.
I know now that it takes time to know it takes time. Recovery, like life, is a process of ongoing discovery and the key is to be open to receiving the gifts that discovery brings.