Moving Toward a Healthier Me

I’m a little riled up and I need to get something off my chest…

I’ve spent a lot of time focused on self-improvement and personal growth over the past five years. I’ve made no secrets about this. My own physical fitness has been a significant part of this journey, and I’ve tried a number of different approaches.

I’ve been quite open about my love affair with movement. I’ve done outdoor bootcamps, running, group fitness classes, yoga, and a whole bunch of different home workout programs.

And I’ve even hinted at how I increased my physical activity while severely restricting calories in an attempt to lose weight, inches, pant sizes, and the shame I felt around certain parts of my body being bigger than they “should be.”

But what I’ve never really talked about openly before is how I’ve done a lot of different things with the goal of making my body into something it’s not, and may never be. How I’ve tried with all my might to take up less physical space in the world, with all of my efforts stemming from a deep-seated desire to correct my perceived flaws and imperfections.

Despite successfully losing nearly 20 pounds and close to as many inches in one particularly rigorous cycle of diet and exercise a few years back, buying into the vanity side of the health and fitness industry has left me hollow and jaded. I think I may have actually lost a piece of my soul as some of my fat melted away, but then it just came back again, with a vengeance (the fat that is, not my soul). The worst part is, at the end of it all I still feel as though I don’t measure up to society’s expectations, or my own.

I’ve been on this tireless quest to reshape my body into something that more closely resembles the ideal woman, with toned arms, flat stomach, firm legs, and of course, a thigh gap. But after trying and trying and trying, reaching and striving, grasping and clawing my way through the thick of my own dissatisfaction with myself, I just have to say I’m tired. Like, exhausted.

At the risk of provoking some and offending others, I’m just gonna go ahead and say what’s on my mind: dieting and exercising for weight loss and vanity alone is shallow and short sighted. That’s the simple truth. And I’m pretty sure those who go at it from this angle will find themselves in the same position of repeatedly regaining the weight they lose, just as I have. Because as long as we’re not addressing the underlying issues— the reasons why we eat crap, or don’t eat enough, and don’t move our bodies enough—we’re only masking the problem with a temporary band-aid.

The diet and weight loss industry is built on the fear and desperation of the people it serves; it preys on our vulnerabilities. The industry knows we’re all looking for a quick fix, and that’s why it packages up the promise of a better life for us in a shiny, irresistible package. The industry knows we’ll come back time and time again for more after the initial promise stops working. The industry knows there’s no such thing as a magic pill, but will sell one to us anyway. The long and the short is that anything that’s promising you extraordinary results in a short period of time is too good to be true. Period.

These are the lies we believe when we’re afraid we’re not enough as we are. This is the garbage we buy into when we don’t love ourselves, because we are motivated by our fears.

In my attempt to see this situation from all possible perspectives, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions—from frustration to anger and despair to resignation. And I suppose you could say I’ve reached a metaphorical crossroads in deciding that it’s time for something to change. The world around me isn’t going to budge, so I guess it’s up to me.

The only thing that makes sense to me at this point is the realization that taking care of myself needs to come from a place of love, rather than being instigated by my feelings of insecurity, my hatred of my thighs, and the fear of not being good enough.

Let’s face it, exercise is not punishment for what I look like, or what I may have eaten last night. And it most definitely is not something I should engage in from the standpoint of being disgusted by what I see when I look in the mirror. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this attitude in the past, but I’m really starting to see not only how damaging this is to my mental health, but also how counter-productive it is to continue down this road.

The ability to move my body is a privilege not everyone has in this life, and is something  not to be taken for granted. I want to move my body in ways that feel good to me. I want to take the best possible care of myself. I want to feed myself healthy, nutrition-dense foods, because my body—my physical container during my time here on earth—needs the highest quality fuel to function optimally.

So, if I know what’s good for me (and I’m starting to think I do), I can see how approaching nutrition and exercise as self-care, coming from a place of love instead of fear, could make all the difference. Instead of exercising because I feel like I’m not enough the way I am and feeling desperate to change what I don’t like about my body, I need to change my mindset, instead.

It’s a strange place to be in, and one that I’m not sure I entirely understand yet, but my goal is to cultivate the energy of loving myself as I am right now while being open to improving my health and wellbeing at the same time.

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The words of affirmation that will guide me (please feel free to borrow any of these if they feel right to you) are:
I am active because I love myself.
My body deserves to be treated well.
I feel good when I move my body.
I nourish my body by eating whole, healthy foods.

As I’ve already suggested, the reasons for leading a healthy, active lifestyle run way deeper and are far more meaningful than vanity alone. And according to one article I found online, thinking of exercise as beneficial for reasons other than weight loss helps people stick to exercising more regularly—about three more hours per week than people whose primary focus was solely on weight loss.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with the following list of reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with weight.

  1. Breaking a sweat is super healthy, as it allows the body to release excess sodium, keeps blood pressure in check, and rids the body of some environmental toxins. Just remember to rehydrate with plenty of water during and after a good sweat session.
  2. Increasing your heart rate with exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart, as well as reduces the risk of heart disease. With heart diseases and other related conditions on the rise, this is a very compelling reason to look after the health of your ticker.
  3. Any weight-bearing exercise, such as running, dancing, or resistance training, will help with bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis that increase with age.
  4. It has been scientifically proven that those who exercise regularly actually live longer. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s just five, 30-minute sessions) can add up to seven years to your life.
  5. If you’re feeling fatigued or lacking energy, consider that exercise can leave you feeling like you have more energy thanks to the effect of endorphins—the feel-good vibes and rush you get after exercise, also known as “runner’s high”.
  6. Stressed out? Working out helps manage and release stress by battling cortisol, the stress hormone.
  7. Feeling blue? Exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood lifter, improving overall mental health and helping stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  8. Aerobic exercise can reduce both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, alleviating mood swings, depression, fatigue, cramps, and even balancing out hormone levels.
  9. Regular exercise promotes improved restful sleep, lowers incidence of insomnia, and promotes higher quality of sleep.
  10. The habit-forming power of a consistent exercise routine is transferable. Some notable improvements you may notice as a result of engaging in regular exercise include increased ability to focus on tasks, boosting creativity, and fostering greater productivity in many areas of your life.

It seems to me these are the real and meaningful reasons to treat yourself well with regular exercise. It all comes down to putting yourself first. Loving yourself and being good to your body are the only “why” you need.

So for the love of all that is good and holy, can we just give the diet and fitness industry (and all the superficiality and lies that go along with it) a great big collective middle finger? Can we all agree it’s time to break up with the idea of being defined by our weight, measurements, and dress size? And wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a walk or ride a bike or do some other type of movement that feels good to us, and maybe eat a few extra veggies somewhere along the way today? How awesome would that be?

I’m kind of done with hating myself. I know it may seem quite radical, but I’m going to try loving myself from now on and see where that takes me.

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What if, right?

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

The Seven-Day Change Experiment

Changing behavior and sticking with it over the long haul is tricky. What I really mean is that modifying habits and having them stick takes equal parts of both effort and mindfulness. In the absence of these, many of my own positive health habits and routines have fallen off the rails. Despite many repeated efforts to get myself back into a healthy groove, the results have been short lived. On the bright side, I’m starting to see the pattern that has been setting me up for failure before I even start…

I’m an all-or-nothing girl.
Totally and completely.

If my nutrition is off, why should I bother trying to fit in exercise?
I haven’t really been on my fitness game, so I’m just going to have that heaping helping of ice cream after dinner. Sure, I’d love to help myself to a giant handful of crunchy, salty chips.
I often drink too much coffee. Rarely do I drink enough water in a day.
My irregular sleep habits are wreaking havoc on my body.
I’m kind of a mess.

I’ve been on a slippery slope to sloth-dom. I started to accumulate some extra weight in all the wrong places. (Why can’t I ever gain weight in my boobs? lol) I’ve been lacking energy and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I know with every part of me it’s time to make some important changes and get focused on my health. But there’s so much to do, and I don’t even know where to start, and it’s all so overwhelming…

Thanks in large part to my all-or-nothing patterning, I’ve repeatedly made the mistake of trying to make too many sweeping changes all at the same time in the past. As you might expect, this approach has only resulted in frustration when I inevitably fall off of the proverbial wagon midway through the first week.

From a growing understanding of the importance of self-compassion and the knowledge that lasting, meaningful changes requires time and sustained effort, I had an idea:
What if I set one small, manageable goal per day for seven days?

This one simple idea—that seemed almost too simple—might just be the golden ticket to getting me started with making the positive, healthy changes I want and so desperately need in my life.

One week. Seven days. Seven goals.
I could totally do that.

Here’s what that week actually looked like for me, and perhaps even more importantly, what I learned from it:

The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Monday – I decided I would wake at 6:00 a.m. instead of my usual 7:00, 7:09, and 7:18 sleep-snooze cycle. I set my alarm the night before, and to my surprise I woke up naturally, before then alarm went off, at 5:57 a.m. Also to my surprise, I didn’t feel overtired throughout the day. Instead, the extra hour in the morning gave me time to focus and get organized, which allow me to be more productive throughout the day as a whole.
My take-away: From this one day I could easily see how being an early riser offers many benefits. For me, the key to successful early waking is to ensure I get myself to bed on time. That means lights out at 10:00 p.m. This is definitely one healthy habit I plan to work on cultivating further.

Decaffeinating My Morning
Tuesday – I’ve tried, with mixed success, to eliminate coffee from my diet on a number of occasions. I even wrote a blog about it here. With that idea lurking in the back of my mind once again, I opted to swap out my usual morning java for a traditional home brewed yogi tea, which is made from black tea and therefore still contains caffeine. According to Ayurvedic medicine, though, the spicy brew is believed to offer a variety of amazing health benefits, including helping with digestion, strengthening the nervous system, increasing energy, as well as supporting joint health and mental health.
My take-away: I enjoyed the yogi tea both for its flavor and health benefits; however, it took quite a bit of work to prepare. I could definitely see myself making yogi tea from time to time going forward, but I think it might be more practical and realistic to consider reducing my coffee consumption to a maximum of two cups per day, limited to the stuff I brew myself at home in the morning, rather than eliminating coffee from my life altogether. I think that might be what they call balance?

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Don’t Be a Hater
Wednesday – I chose no complaining as my change challenge and goal for Wednesday. I’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to steer clear of this dangerous habit, and since I knew I was going for a morning run with my friend and my husband would be away on a business trip, I would have had the perfect motive and opportunity to get sucked into a black hole of complaining. Instead, by setting the intention and staying mindful of the gravity of the ego’s desire to air grievances in front of a sympathetic audience, I’m happy to report I made the choice to lean into the positives.
My take-away: My life is better and so much happier when I do not dwell in negativity; when I don’t allow myself to indulge in the habit of complaining. Like everything else in life, this is a practice. But with focus and mindfulness, it gets easier over time. I’ve simply come to the point where I’d much rather build my positivity muscle with a focus on gratitude, rather than my negativity through complaining.

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Ditching Devices for Zen Time
Thursday – Knowing it was a school holiday and my kids would be at home with me, I was looking to get a positive start to the day. In the morning, I invited them to put their electronic devices down and do some yoga with me.
My take-away: Have you ever heard the saying: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink? Similarly, you can invite your children to do yoga, but you can’t make them stay and do it with you. This endeavor was a serious exercise in patience for me. I think my daughter lasted about four minutes, and, surprisingly, my son stuck around for about 12. It didn’t take long for me to remember it’s best for everyone if I don’t have any expectations around their participation. After all, they are 10 and eight years old, and they have their own personalities, agendas, likes, and dislikes. And that’s ok. This yoga momma will let it go and maybe try again another time.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green
Friday – I’m a food lover and breakfast ‘eater’, through and through. Those who know me well will probably have heard me say I prefer to eat my food vs. drinking it, but I had a few different reasons for wanting to try a smoothie bowl. Of course, I wanted to see what all the hype was about, plus I’m always looking for ways to get more vegetables into my diet. And finally, I recently came across an article that basically touted the breakfast smoothie bowl as a healthy sundae, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
My take-away: This was a good idea, in theory, but the execution was definitely lacking. The recipe I used called for a frozen banana, so I used one of the many I have on standby for making banana bread in the freezer. This, in a nutshell, was the problem. The smoothie bowl tasted like freezer burnt banana. EEEEEEWWWWWW! I am happy to report I have since tried again with a non-freezer-burnt frozen banana, and thankfully it made a world of difference. The fun toppings are where it’s at and are what will bring your smoothie bowl to life. Using a variety of different flavours and textures for toppings is a great way to add interest, so go ahead and get creative! (I used fresh berries, shredded coconut, Chia seeds, and sliced almonds.) Green smoothie bowls have already become a once per week staple for my husband and I at breakfast.

Expanding Dinner Horizons
Saturday – This was the day I wanted to try a new recipe for dinner, and One-pan Honey Mustard Chicken and Potatoes was just the thing. This sweet and savoury dish offers the added bonus of being cooked all in one pan, which makes preparation and cleanup way  easier. Yay!
My take-away: Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of making the same meals over and over again, which gets boring and tired. It’s nice to try new recipes from time to time, and if they turn out to be a crowd-pleaser in my house, they might just make it into a regular rotation. My husband and I both enjoyed this recipe, but unfortunately my kids were not as enthused (who knows why: they’re kids, they’re weird, they don’t like mustard?). Sidebar: taking time to meal plan and ensure you have all the proper ingredients on hand can be a lifesaver, particularly for busy nights, which is pretty much every night when you have kids.

Drink More H20, Yo
Sunday – My intention for Sunday was to get on board the train at the Hydration Station first thing in the morning and then ride that train all day long. I actually don’t mind drinking water, but my greatest barriers to doing so are 1) remembering to actually do it, and then 2) ensuring I’m never far from a washroom. So I filled up my water bottle and drank, and drank, and drank as much as I could throughout the day. I estimate drinking about three 17 ounce bottles of water, which still falls a little short of the suggested daily intake.
My take-away: I know how much better I feel when I drink water and how yucky I feel when I don’t (tired, headachy, sluggish digestion, etc.). I still have quite a bit of room for improvement when it comes to drinking enough water each day, but I also need to cut myself some slack, because drinking some is better than drinking none, or worse yet, filling up my bladder with coffee and other liquids instead. I will continue to focus on drinking water, and planning to be within 50 metres of a washroom at all times. And if I don’t quite reach my water quota every day, that’s ok, too.

Reflecting on both the successes of my seven-day change experiment, as well as acknowledging the areas that could still use improvement, the following points seem to form a smart blueprint for developing healthy behaviours (both for myself and others):

  • Pick somewhere to start and just do it.
  • Start with small, manageable changes.
  • Avoid overwhelm and maximize success by choosing only one or two things to focus on at a time.
  • Wait until changes are well established into your routine before adding more to your plate.
  • Be gentle with yourself, and remember that progress is more important than perfection.
  • When things don’t go as planned, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over again. A good sense of humour and lots of self-compassion are huge assets.

After this week-long experiment, I can literally see how change is a process that inherently contains both progress and setbacks. Change isn’t all or nothing and it doesn’t need to be. But starting small and focusing on only one or two manageable things at a time, instead of getting swept up in the all or nothing mentality, is a great way to build positive momentum and set the foundation for success.

Truth be told, I’m hoping I’ve stumbled onto the secret-sauce-for-me mindset that will help me foster healthy, lasting changes (at least until they don’t and I have to start again). With that, here’s to getting plenty of rest, reducing my caffeine dependency, focusing on the positive, releasing what I can’t control, eating plenty of veggies, trying new things, and drinking all the water…forever and ever, Amen. And most importantly, to remembering  there will be days when I simply can’t do it all, for one reason or another, and on those days I will remind myself that I’m ok and I can try again tomorrow.

Peace out.

What changes would you like to make in your life? What have been your successes, setbacks, and learning? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

The Flip-side of Resistance

If I were to pick only one word to describe my life, one word to sum it all up just perfectly, it would have to be: Resistance.

Many of the people, circumstances, and experiences I encounter, I resist. I oppose. I withstand. As far as I can tell or remember, I’ve been resisting most of my life, and if someone were to make my life into a book or movie, it would have to be called, The Great Resistance.

When it comes to actually feeling all my feelings, receiving feedback, and trying new things, my first and natural reaction is to resist. I resist listening to and following my intuition, being consistent with self-care, and accepting love that is offered to me. Allowing myself to fully participate in positive experiences and doing what I know is my calling? Yup, you guessed it—even more resistance! And when I encounter struggle or conflict, I put up resistance with a capital “R”.

As you can see, I take resistance to a whole new level. You might even say I’m the master, Grand Puba, and high priestess of the resistance department. I am literally resisting my own life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a bit like trying to sprint through Jello.

If you’re wondering how that’s working out for me, well let’s just say it’s not really.

I have enough self-awareness to know that simply being aware of my resistance is no longer copacetic. Capiche? (You know what I mean?) The Great Resistance is preventing me from experiencing sustained joy and happiness and blocking me from finding my flow, ya know?

I had a little A-HA! moment when I realized: The flip-side of resistance is acceptance.

This is BIG, life-changing stuff here, people!

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I’m not talking about taking the road of acquiescence, passivity, or even resignation. I’m talking about being able to take whatever comes my way for what it is. Greeting every moment with interest and curiosity, rather than judgment. Setting aside all of my expectations and preconceived notions about what my life should look like in favour of receiving whatever it is. And believe me when I say that for me this is as much about allowing the good stuff as it is about welcoming the negative without a bunch of unnecessary drama and hoopla.

I think I’m starting to get it…

What I need, and what I’ve been searching for all along, is acceptance. I have a choice: I can continue to cause my own suffering by resisting everything, all the time, or I can choose to walk the road of acceptance, instead.

“Acceptance does not mean you agree with, condone, appreciate, or even like what has happened. Acceptance means that you know, regardless of what has happened, that there is something bigger than you at work. It also means you know that you are okay and that you will continue to be okay.”
Iyanla Vanzant

Resistance is a close cousin of fear, so it only makes sense that acceptance is one of love’s siblings. With this massive revelation, I’m setting my sights on seeing my resistance for what it is (essentially, fear in disguise), and gently moving beyond it to a place of loving acceptance—in all ways and with all things.

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Starting right now, I am choosing acceptance over resistance, and committing myself to making acceptance a daily mindfulness practice.

One day at a time, one breath and one baby step at a time:
I will practice accepting whatever comes my way.
I will practice letting go of things I cannot control.
I will practice seeking solutions instead of complaining.
I will practice listening to the whispers of my sadness, pain, anger, and frustration.
I will practice seeing the beauty that exists in the world.
I will practice gratitude and focus on positivity.

Yes, I do get it now.

I accept responsibility for myself—all the good and bad parts.
I accept that I’m human, and I will have both good days and bad days.
I accept that acceptance is a practice.
I accept that this is where I begin.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat the practice of acceptance, times infinity.

See you on the flip side…
of resistance.

Has anyone else chosen to walk the road of mindful acceptance? Do you have tips, an experience, a story, or a comment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to drop me a note in the comments below.

Good Day

Two geese are meandering in the grass near the shoreline.

Several trees are rooted in place mere feet away from the water’s edge, but one in particular catches my eye. It’s early spring, and like so many of the others, its leaves are just beginning to bloom.

But this tree is different than the others. It’s special. This one is my tree.

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I approach, gently placing one hand on its bark; a gesture meaning, “I come in peace”.

My tree looks strong, with five main limbs branching out from its trunk.

I take a few breaths before I slowly begin to move again.

The lowest of the limbs is a little higher than my chest, and looks solid enough to support me.

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I scan to see if there’s anyone around, anyone whose disapproving glances may prevent me from accomplishing my secret mission.

Only my friends—the two geese and my tree—are here with me.

I come up with a quick game plan in my head.

Get one foot on top of the low limb and then hoist myself using upper body strength assisted by the two higher limbs? Can’t get my hand position right and not enough leverage. Ironically, the realization takes me back to the challenge of indoor rock climbing, and the frustration that ensued.

With renewed determination, I take a few deep breaths and try again. The geese are honking, and I imagine they’re cheering me on. Alas, both feet end up back at ground level.

I approach from another angle; one hand on each of the higher limbs that ascend almost as straight up as the base of the tree itself, as I use my feet to scale its trunk.

My grip is slipping again, and just when I think I’m not quite strong enough and will have to let go, I get one foot up into the crook of my tree.

I pause for a moment—to catch my breath and figure out what’s next.

I’ve been afraid of heights since I broke my arm falling off a four-foot structure when I was six. It’s interesting how much I changed and how I learned to embody fear on that fateful day…

I’m only about five and a half feet off the ground, but my heart is racing. Part exhilaration, part fear. The exact ratio of the two is unclear.

I walk my feet forward over the lowest limb, very slowly, testing to see if it will hold.

There’s no discernible movement in the limb, so I lower myself into the crook, shifting my weight forward slightly to settle into this perfect resting spot.

Here I am now, grown woman in a tree. Not a care in the world—except for maybe how to get myself back down to the ground. But for now I’ll just stay up here in my tree, enjoying the view for a while.

From my sturdy perch, I look out beyond the thick of branches over the water. My thoughts are consumed by the simplicity of nature. Its sheer existence is breathtakingly beautiful.

Birds are singing to each other in the manner of call and reply. The water is still. Grass on the verge of turning green. Sky above, earth below.

In these precious moments as the trees and shrubs begin to emerge from their winter slumber, there’s a prevailing sense of calm, and a palpable sense of hope for the future.

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A penny for my thoughts?

Despite my struggles to get here, I feel strong and supported.
I feel as though I’ve come home.
I am at peace.

The auspicious nature of this day far exceeds finding two quarters in the grass on the way back down.

It is neither luck, nor coincidence.

It is all meant to be.

Every detail unfolding exactly as it was written in the grand design of it all:
The geese and the tree. The struggle and the climb. The perspective and the view.

The journey and the destination.

No doubt in my mind I’ve arrived here, in this place, on the wings of an idea called freedom.

I’ve waited a long time to be here and to feel this.

I know there is immeasurable joy to be found in simple pleasures, like riding my bike and climbing my tree. Remembering what it feels like to be a kid.

There’s so much life here, and I finally see I’m part of it.

Now that I’ve found this place, I’ll definitely be back again.

Good day? Yes, I suppose you could say that.

Signs of Spring

Anyone who lives in Alberta will attest to the fickle nature of our weather. It can be hot and sunny one minute and then a full-scale blizzard the next. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Hence, marking the change of seasons using the traditional method of calendar dates can often be futile and meaningless.

Case in point: the calendar told us spring officially began on March 21, but over the past month and a half we’ve had a substantial amount of distinctly more fall and winter-like weather (including a few good snow storms), interspersed with a small percentage of shades and hints of spring. As I’ve already mentioned, this isn’t a departure from the norm, but year after year we Albertans somehow expect things to be different. When will we ever learn?

Despite my familiarity with the predictable unpredictability of our weather patterns, I am also impatient, and was beginning to feel as though Mother Nature was going above and beyond simply playing hard to get. Our spring season was being an outright tease, holding out and intentionally eluding us all. And even though I generally try my best to not allow the weather to dictate my moods, I was a little bummed out by the constant gloomy skies and cooler temperatures.

But all of that changed for me today.

As I raked the dead grass and leaves from the front lawn, sun shining down on me and birds chirping overhead, I paused to observe the Schubert Chokecherry Tree in my yard.

I noticed a series of glossy green shoots bursting forth from its branches. I admired the darling buds, not only as visible signs of life, but also the beginning of something new and inexplicably beautiful. In that moment, I understood how each one inherently holds the promise of transformation, both for itself and the greater whole of the tree from which it grows. And until the time comes for these buds to explode with new life, they  continue to lay in wait, simply trusting the intelligence of their instincts.

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And just like that I was filled with renewed hope. My faith in the divine timing of the universe—and my life and the seasons—was restored. Yes, sometimes it is that simple!

It’s exciting to bear witness to the natural world in action, and to be reassured that seasons of waiting and trusting are rewarded. And just as I am confident the buds on my tree will surely bloom into a show of breathtaking purple leaves, I understand the relevance of this observance as it applies to the current season of my own life.

Growth happens at the cellular level.

Transformation takes time. Important changes need to be allowed to simmer below the surface in order to work their way into being.

Renewal is largely invisible to the human eye, but the process is an absolute prerequisite for the physical manifestion of change.

There is no need to rush the buds to bloom. Only they can decide when the time is right to make their debut.

I know this much is true. I see the signs of spring all around me, and I feel it in my bones.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for your wisdom and showing me there is a season for everything.

Some things truly are worth the wait.

 

Resting in The Ease of Being

It’s the final eve before our last day of our Maui family vacation. My daughter, son, and husband are all snuggled into their beds. I’ve just done some pre-packing to make life a little easier for myself tomorrow, and as I sit down with my feet up and a glass of red in hand, I am called to reflect on the last dozen days we’ve spent together here .

Maui has been good to us. Our accommodations were great. The weather has been fantastic. We’ve had some phenomenal food, including our fill of some of the freshest ocean-caught fish. We’ve enjoyed fun activities, and the wonderful company of family and friends, both old and new.

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And as I sit here sipping my wine, I can’t help but ask myself, “What has been the real story or theme of this vacation?” This is not a simple question to answer. Sure, I have some definite ideas on the subject, but it’s complicated, and I’m not even sure I fully understand. In any case, I’ll do my best to explain…

It’s an idea that seems to be following me around lately, wherever I go—even 5,000 kilometers from home across the Pacific Ocean. It first appeared a few months prior to this trip when a friend and I were discussing the contrast between the states of doing and being. The conversation centred around how we’d both been caught in the trap of constant doing, and were consequently feeling the effects of our (somewhat self-imposed) rat race; the pressure of accomplishing our goals crushing us with the constant plaguing thoughts of inadequacy and not measuring up to the world’s standards or our own potential. To put it bluntly, we were both a little…miserable.

The remedy to the loss of self and suffering that accompanies the extreme state and preoccupation with doing, we concluded, must be found on the flip side. That glorious place where thought subsides, stillness prevails, and we are…well, we just ARE. The shift to the state of being is synonymous with a move from being led by the thoughts in our head to following the truth of our heart.

In being, we are more likely to see the beauty around us, to find joy in simple pleasures, and to be content with the presenting reality, whatever it may be and regardless of whether that reality is considered good or bad. When we are in this state of being, we are more responsive to the richness of life in each moment, and more able to trust in the unfolding of the universe, opposed to feeling the need to manipulate and control situations to satisfy the needs and preferences of the ego. In being, we do not try to impress others by pretending to be something we are not. We are not looking to “be” any certain way; we just are the truest version of ourselves, pure and natural.

Given the sharp contrast between doing and being, it’s not hard to see how people get lured in by the charm of going on vacation; the saviour of taking a break from the craziness of their everyday lives and the busy-ness that comes to define not only their schedules, but also their identities. For many, vacations are the most personally and socially acceptable way of slowing down and moving from doing mode to just being.

It’s more acceptable to relax on vacation, versus the constant challenge of doing—the state of mind that focuses on getting things done, driven by what is desired, required, expected, or feared—that dominates the way we live in western culture. In other words, it’s not expected that we accomplish much, if anything, on vacation, whereas we have a never-ending list of duties, responsibilities, obligations, and goals in our day-to-day lives. We are almost always striving to achieve something, not only because this is how our society is run, but also because it is how most of us have come to define ourselves (based on the ego).

Seeing the polarity of doing and being as two completely opposite ends of a spectrum has highlighted for me how it’s not desirable to spend too much time at either end. Rather, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each and to be aware of my own natural tendencies in order to stretch and flex myself from one side to the other, as the situation dictates, or even to find the middle ground when necessary. You know what they say about too much of a good thing, right?

“Life is an immense happening. You can go on a trip, you can go on vacation, you can go to the other side of the earth, but you can’t escape life. You can go to the moon, but you still can’t escape life. You can’t escape existence.”
~Adyashanti, Falling Into Grace

Having said all of this, I feel like I’ve achieved a healthy balance of doing and being over the past 12 days, and that I am inching ever closer to uncovering my authentic self because of it. I also believe this time of learning and self-reflection has been an important part of my metamorphosis. As I undergo these important changes below the surface, I can feel myself becoming more self-aware and aligned with the truth of who I am.

And so I find myself here in this very sweet vacation-induced spot that rests delicately in the balance between the doing and the being. From this beautiful place, I’d like to offer a quick recap of a few of my favourite moments from our Maui vacation:

  • All the awesome “un-ness” of being on vacation—being completely undone, unscheduled, and unplugged (to a greater degree than normal) has allowed me to unwind and has been undeniably relaxing and rejuvenating, like a magic reset button for my central nervous system. Aaaaaaahhhhh.
  • I am grateful for having had the luxury of doing what makes my soul happy (and not feeling guilty that I should be doing something else instead), such as reading while lounging poolside, yoga, running, daydreaming, dining out, and napping.
  • Being wrapped warmly in a soothing blanket of the sun’s rays. I bow in reverence to the mysterious healing power of the sun—its light and heat a balm to my soul, not to mention how it melts away my hard, jagged edges and transforms me into a kinder, gentler version of myself.
  • Witnessing the ever graceful beauty of the palm tree port-de-bras, as the fronds dance and sway gently in the breeze, reminding me that it’s better to bend under pressure, than it is so to break from resistance.
  • The tranquility of going with the flow of floating above a coral reef teeming with colourful fish while entrusting my safety to the universe, given the strength and direction of the current.
  • Traveling over 5,000 kilometers from Edmonton to Maui to get together with a friend, who happens to live about five kilometers away from me at home.
  • Having a first-hand appreciation of the meaning of “Maui midnight.” Given all of the fresh air, activity, and time spent outdoors, I don’t think I was ever awake later than 10:00 p.m., and that’s saying something cause just staying awake until 9:00 in Maui is a feat in and of itself!
  • The commanding presence of the surf and sea. You can’t help but be in awe of its power and the emotion it evokes. I dare you to try.
  • The magnificence of the vegetation and trees along the road to Hana, branches growing toward each other from the outer banks of steep valley gorges to form a lush canopy of green. Their beauty is surpassed only by their majesty.
  • Being reminded that all living things, in their natural state, are a reflection of love. I am comforted in the knowledge that love is the natural state into which I was born and also where I will ultimately return, in this life and beyond.
  • Knowing how amazingly blessed I am to experience all of these things, as well as to be able to witness, with sincere appreciation and gratitude, the significance of it all.

So as the sun sets on yet another magnificent family vacation, my final parting thought is one of deep gratuitude to the island of Maui for sparking my inner fire and allowing me to see the natural beauty in all living things, for showing me the importance of balance, and for helping me to remember I am love.

Mahalo
xo

 

 

Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person

I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I think February needs to be the new January.

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As you may have guessed, January 2017 was less than stellar in my books. I started off with some fantastic intentions (I do not make New Year’s resolutions), but the universe clearly had other plans of taking me down another path.

And I’m just going to be really honest here: I felt profound sadness. It was hard, and I did not do most of the things I said I was going to do. And then I got frustrated and angry with myself, and my sadness responded by doubling itself. And then some other stuff happened within my personal circle, and in reply my sadness tripled. And then more craziness ensued in the world, and my sadness multiplied exponentially. I felt as though I had the weight of the world sitting on my chest, crushing my tender heart and making it difficult to breathe.

I was left with no other choice than to acknowledge the feeling. I had to speak the words aloud, “I am sad. I am sad and I don’t even know why.” And then I had to feel it. But a miraculous thing happened. I felt the sadness, and then I also felt it dissipate.

There is no question in my mind that we’re living in a precarious, chaotic, and seemingly irrational time. The craziness of our world is a lot to process, never mind trying to achieve anything beyond the act of getting yourself out of bed in the morning. Needless to say, I think we should be awarding medals to everyone who made it through January. Like, seriously. If you’re reading this and you survived, I salute you. (Bonus points if your sanity is still intact.) Virtual high fives and big squishy hugs, all around!

The way I see it, a new month is the perfect antidote for the confusion, hurt, and disappointment that seemed to dominate my introduction to 2017. That’s why I’m taking a personal Mulligan. A do-over. I’m pressing the reset button, wiping the slate clean and starting anew, with a fresh perspective, renewed enthusiasm, pure energy, and a positive attitude.

But I’m also able to look back at the past month with a sense of appreciation—for teaching me, although painfully at times, some valuable and much-needed lessons. In retrospect, I can see how all the crappy stuff that happened was the universe’s way of getting all up in my face and creating the prime conditions for me to recognize my own self-destructive patterns. And, if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure I heard the universe call me out.

A small, yet incredibly powerful voice from somewhere deep inside me began to ask: “How serious are you, really? How bad do you really want this stuff? When life gets hard, are you going to curl up into a ball, or do you want it bad enough to actually fight for it? What are you going to do now? How will you respond?”

January, in all its cruelty and harsh insensitivity, was a severe blow to my tender heart. In the past I may have been inclined to just crawl back into my bed, pull the covers up, snuggle in tight, and hide for a while. But after reflecting on both my experiences and reactions, and taking into consideration what has been working for me and what absolutely hasn’t, I’m pleased to say I’ve learned a thing or two—or maybe even eight.

And because sharing is caring, I’ve decided to post these lessons here, particularly for those of us who lean toward the more sensitive end of the spectrum, as my essential tips for surviving in this crazy world when nothing seems to make sense and the world seems to be slipping off its axis:

Begin with awareness

As with just about everything else in the known universe, surviving (and thriving) as a sensitive person in this world begins with awareness. What I’m really talking about here is self-awareness and having a clear understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. When you work on developing your own self-awareness, it allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your response to them in the moment. Self-awareness really is the first and most important step toward creating what you want and living as the master of your own life. When you take a step back and witness yourself as an objective observer, what do you notice? Whether you are interested in stopping a specific kind of emotional reaction, changing beliefs or behavior, quieting the critical voice in your head, or creating more love and happiness in your life, you must begin with awareness.

Make self-love and self-care the top priority

I’m sure I’ve talked about this at least a thousand times, but this message is so important it bears repeating. And I will continue to shout it, loud and proud, from the rooftops, over and over again, until everyone who needs this message gets to hear it. Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are absolutely essential. Who is going to take care of you, if not for you? Do not expect anyone else to do it for you, because if you do you are giving away your power and making yourself a victim. Sorry, I know I am starting to get a bit preachy here, but it’s only because I believe so wholeheartedly in the necessity of taking good care of yourself and loving yourself above all else. You can only take care of others if you take care of yourself first. You can only love and have successful relationships with others if you love yourself first. You and your needs are important, and you need to ensure your thoughts and actions line up with that reality. Do something nice for yourself everyday, just because you are you and you deserve it.

Feel all feelings

This is a doozy for anyone who identifies as a highly sensitive person, because we have so many feelings and experience them with great intensity, but it applies to everyone, all the same. By their nature, emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. It is so essential that we allow the energy of our emotions to move through us, rather than stuffing them down inside, numbing out, or denying the experience. Stifling emotion can actually be very detrimental to your well being—both physically and emotionally. Granted, it takes work and practice to feel your feelings, and can be a little uncomfortable, particularly in the beginning, but learning to identify feelings and exploring into the messages they bring us is an invaluable survival skill. Simply start with the awareness of noticing and then allowing the feelings to naturally come up and out, without controlling them. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, sometimes physical expression is called for. This might mean finding a safe place to scream into a pillow, letting the tears flow, or even kicking and punching into the air (make sure you have a large enough space around you to do this so you won’t hurt yourself or break anything). Turn on your favourite music and dance as if no one is watching to allow the energy of your emotion to move through you. Journaling and talking with a trusted friend, family member or professional are also great options. Although the context was entirely different for Shrek, no truer words have been spoken and the sentiment is the same when it comes to emotion: they’re “better out than in”.

Be realistic about goals and intentions

Another honesty alert: this is a really big one for me. As a highly-driven and self-critical perfectionist, I have a pattern of biting off more than I can chew, which usually results in overwhelm and frustration because I just can’t do it all. In follow up to this, my next tendency is to get mean and chastise myself for all of the places I’ve fallen short. I am seriously living and learning this in real time, right now, and so I speak from the heart when I say it’s best to be honest, practical, and realistic with yourself when it comes to setting goals and intentions. Even better, remember to keep it simple: start with one small thing at a time and allow yourself to fully master it so you can use your accomplishment as a building block to further success. Remember to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals, and break down the big stuff into smaller chunks with detailed action plan steps. In this way, you will be better able to see your progress in terms of the baby steps you make along the way. Please trust me when I say this can be very encouraging, as every bit of progress made in the direction of your goals counts as a win. I’ve recently started making lists again, and it’s truly incredible for keeping me focused and on track. One last note on this topic: please be very kind and extra gentle with yourself, and remember you are aiming for progress, not perfection.

Limit exposure to negativity

The bottom line on this one is that you basically should not, under any circumstances, listen to the haters. I know this is hard, considering the prevalence of negativity, doom, and gloom that seems to be all around us at the moment. But again, when we begin with the awareness of where negativity is coming from in our lives—be it a specific person or people, or mainstream and social media, we are better equipped to take action to protect ourselves from it. Please do not underestimate the fact that all of the sensory impressions we take in have an impact on us, and there is definitely a danger in being overexposed. We can become anxious and angry as we gradually and unknowingly take on the negativity as our own. for this very reason, coupled with my sensitivity, I’ve personally made the conscious decision to steer clear of the mainstream media for some time, and have also found it helpful to limit the amount of time I spend on social media platforms recently as well. I encourage you to take note of how you feel after spending time around certain people. Ask yourself what your triggers are. Listen to what your heart says and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your wellbeing.

Acknowledge the darkness and counter with the light

Yes, there is darkness in the world. Acknowledge and accept the reality. Know the truth of it. Even understand the necessity of it. Then find a piece of positivity to counter balance the darkness with a little bit of light. There are two ways I like to do this. This first is practicing gratitude, and before you go grumbling about how terrible everything in your life is, know you can always, always, always find something to be grateful for. Once you start looking for the good stuff by cultivating a gratitude practice, seeing it gets easier, and you’ll be re-wiring your brain in the process. Make practicing gratitude a daily habit, and watch what happens in your life as a result.

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The second tool for focusing on positivity is using mantras and affirmations. Repeating a personal mantra or affirmation is a way of feeding the subconscious with encouraging thoughts and messages. Come up with a set of personal mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself many times a day, whether you’re encountering challenges or just want to set the tone for a positive experience throughout your day. You can also write your mantras/affirmations on sticky notes and place them in various places where you will see them throughout the day, such as a bathroom mirror, computer monitor, or on the dash of your car.

Always choose love over fear

Consider this scientifically proven fact: Fear is accompanied by a contraction of energy and vibrates at a relative resonance of 100, while love is an expansion of energy that vibrates at a relative resonance or speed of 500. Even if none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, all you really need to know is that it’s always better for your actions to be underpinned and motivated by the energy of love, as opposed to that of fear. This is the simple science behind the reason why it’s always preferable to align yourself in support of something, instead of being against the opposite. This point, perhaps above all the others, is worth keeping at the top of our minds during these tumultuous times.

Allow time for rest

As humans, many of us have a crazy compulsion to stay in perpetual motion. We literally push ourselves to the point of exhaustion—and beyond, functioning on caffeine and fumes. We get antsy when someone asks us to sit still for a moment. There’s always just one (or maybe two or five) more items on our to-do list that have to be addressed, like, immediately. We view rest as something for the weak and meager, rather than an essential component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. So, in case you haven’t picked up on what I’m putting down, I’m just going to spell it out for you: the importance of investing in rest cannot be overstated. Taking a five-minute break away from a hectic day to meditate and reset your nervous system can be extremely beneficial, translating in stress reduction and increased feelings of peace. All you need to do is set a timer for five minutes, close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and just keep coming back to the breath, over and over. Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose—except for maybe anger, depression, anxiety, insecurity, and fear. In fact, I bet you’ll start to notice a difference with a consistent practice of as little as five minutes per day.

Once again, I speak from personal experience when I say the dangers of not getting enough sleep  are very real. When I am operating on a sleep-deficit, which is pretty much anything under eight hours a night, I am more emotional, cognitively impaired, and less able to deal with life in general. I’ve noticed the same to be true for my children and other adults with whom I interact on a regular basis. Although my children (and many others who suffer from lack of sleep) are reluctant to admit, they are more acutely sensitive and less able to deal with routine challenges and setbacks when they are over tired. The good news is that when you take control of the reigns by strictly enforcing a set bedtime for yourself, you will slowly and gradually begin to feel better and be more productive. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my mood and motivation levels as a result of sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule for the past five days, and I intend to continue to be fiercely protective of my bedtime because I don’t enjoy the consequences.

My apologies for the excessively long post, but I feel it was important to address all of the tools and strategies that are helping me along—and that I hope will help you, too. Do any of them resonate with you? Which ones? And is there anything you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you.

One final note: As some of you may have read in my last blog post, the word I chose for myself in 2017 is metamorphosis. To be quite frank, one of the reasons I struggled as much as I did in January was because I chose this enormous theme for myself, and then I started to feel overwhelmed, and ultimately like I was writing cheques my ass couldn’t cash. I seriously began to question myself and feared the possibility that I would never fully become the metaphorical butterfly. But when I go back and reread the words I’ve just written—when I apply these concepts to my own life and couple it with the knowing that good things take time and anything worth achieving usually doesn’t come easily—I am more confident than ever that I definitely made the right choice.

So, I may not be ready to emerge as a butterfly…yet.
It’s just that I am still becoming.

All my love, always.
Andrea

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