A little dose of self-compassion

An entire wall of mirrors, another wall of windows, and a class full of thin, trim, and apparently very flexible 20 somethings has led to a much-needed practice of self-compassion this evening.  As I stared at myself while navigating this part Pilates and part Yoga (PiYo) class, I almost laughed at how ridiculous I looked.  Of course, I quickly wavered between laughter and outright frustration as I tried to figure out how to go from a ‘low lunge’ to a ‘downward dog’ without falling over.  Oh yes, the entire hour was full of self-talk ranging from “what the hell is she doing?” to “oh no, I think I just pulled a muscle” and “holy cow, is that a trick mirror?”  Those thoughts were tough enough, but then it only got worse when I started comparing my moves to the women around me or, gulp, the pencil thin instructor.

It was apparent that my inner critic was way too loud tonight.  All of those negative thoughts and ideas kept me from focusing on the fact that I finished the class without falling and that I got a great workout.  Not to mention that I totally tried something brand new today.  On days like this when I get caught up in what my body looks like, how people may or may not perceive me, and compare my own success to what others are doing around me, I have to be very deliberate and practice self-compassion.

The first step is acknowledging that I’m being incredibly critical of myself.  Next thing is to take a moment and identify the good things about the experience.  Third step is to remember why I took the class to start with, and then re-frame everything in my head like I was talking to a close friend (because I would never be so harsh to a friend).  The final step is to take all that revised information and let it sit in my heart for a few minutes while taking in some deep breaths.

Self-compassion is not always easy, but I do believe it is always necessary.  I think the more we practice compassion for ourselves the easier it becomes to feel compassion for others.  And then, the more we experience compassion for others, the easier it becomes to experience for our own self.  And when we are more compassionate, the more likely we are to engage in meaningful and productive experiences instead of isolating ourselves and feeling disconnected.  So whenever I catch my inner critic chatting away too loudly, I will simply remind myself to take a deep breath, practice some self-compassion, and enjoy the experience for what it’s worth instead of withdrawing and robbing myself of a potentially awesome interaction.  So bring on the PiYo classes and bring on the new and exciting adventures.  With a little dose of self-compassion, I believe we can do anything we set our hearts to.

 

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Learning how to practice patience…

Patience

Patience

Practice patience.  That’s the inspiration card that hangs above my computer at work.  I stuck it there because I need that kind of ‘in your face’ reminder every day.  I often feel like I’m running around, trying to beat a clock somewhere only to find my patience dwindle and be replaced by an excessive supply of worry or stress.  It happens in the grocery line, it happens when I am driving home, when I’m waiting for someone, and most of all it happens within myself.  It’s that internal chatter, telling me to ‘hurry up’ and ‘do this faster’ or ‘I can’t believe how long this is taking.’

The reality is that I’m not even sure what it means to practice patience. How do you practice something you don’t even feel like you have most of the time?  I meet people who make patience look effortless.  I’m sure you know some of these folks too.  They are the people who smile at the ‘slow-talker’ who is taking forever to tell a story.  They are the ones who drive without a hint of frustration behind the guy who has changed lanes 3 times without a blinker and cut them off at least once.  They respond to a hurried apology with “Don’t worry, take your time.”  And they tell you they had to wait at the doctor’s office for over an hour without even flinching.  Who are these people and what drugs do they take to make them so damn calm and patient?

My old perception would be that these people just don’t care and have no ambition.  I would see their lack of concern as aloof and unengaged.  My newer outlook realizes that these individuals are more present than I could even comprehend.  They are totally in the moment and able to appreciate exactly what is happening versus worry about what may happen 30 minutes from now.  They have figured out how to practice patience and make it work for them. I realize that when I’m around one of these more evolved persons of patience I tend to relax more and feel more calm.  I don’t always understand it, but I can’t help but soak up their sense of peace and wonder if I will ever feel that easy about deadlines, long lines, traffic, and all the other nuances.

As I figure out this whole concept, I found a quick way to measure my patience. I just have to stop and ask myself if I am being completely present in this moment.  If I’m worrying about how long this is taking or when I’m going to be done or how fast the line is moving….I’m not able to take in what is happening right now and what it is that I’m feeling and even more, what’s really triggering that feeling and creating this sense of urgency.   Instead, I’m 3 steps ahead and robbing myself of a moment of reflection and insight.  Granted, I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about being present in the grocery line as the lady in front of me piles up her 30 items in the clearly marked “express lane” but I’m starting to lean in to this idea that if I’m there, I should be present. I’m going to try this out for a while and see what happens.  Lucky me, I have plenty of opportunities to practice!

Pause. Breathe. Repeat.

I have a dear friend Ann who lives in another state and I try to see her as often as possible.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago .  During one visit, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Ann and managed to get most of the family there for the big party.  At one point, Jim came up to me and said, “Well, it’s finally happening.  This is it.  I think I’m going to die now.” This alarmed me quite a bit and I said, “Oh, no.  What makes you say that?”  He responded, “Because everyone I’ve ever loved is here tonight and visiting me.  I’ve seen everyone now and been able to tell them how I feel.  That must mean that it is okay for me to go.”  I remember feeling sad that he interpreted this event as a sign from above that it was his time to go and then feeling angry about the illness that was robbing him of his faculties.  But it wasn’t until later that something clicked for me about that moment. It wasn’t his illness that was creating an irrational thought process about his death.  It was the fact that he, like so many of us, get caught up in our lives and it’s only when something tragic or life changing happens that we truly pause and finally cue ourselves to be completely present with the things that matter most.  People.  Connections.  And our relationships and feelings with those people.  His illness had provided a gift of presence that most of us gloss over each day.  So now, I affectionately call moment’s when I’m acutely aware of the blessings and fortune in my life, a “Jim” moment.  Because I think, “Life is alright.  I’m alright.  I’m safe and the people who love me are here.  This is peace.”

I spend more time in a state of anxiety, worry, or otherwise feeling overwhelmed much more than I would like to admit.  And it becomes too clear when, out of the blue, I have a “Jim” moment.  I can’t help but reflect on a couple of these moments that happened just this week.  The first one happened on my way home as I was talking with my Mom and the second was after spending a laughter filled evening with two of my close friends.

In each of those instances I was able to share how I was feeling, what my worries and fears were about and, in turn, receive love and support. With my Mom it was more of an emotional purging and she responded with love and understanding that sometimes can only come from your Mom.  I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for her support.  With my friends, it was more about the pure acceptance of me that brought so much joy to my heart. They receive me exactly as I am without judgment.  I am able to speak my heart and not worry they are going to look at me like I’m crazy.  Okay, they still may look at me like I’m crazy but we laugh while they are doing it! They remind me what true friendship really looks like.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for me not to be present in my own life.  I often start thinking about some task that I haven’t done yet or some schedule issue that I need to resolve.  I worry about things way outside my control or get caught up in some downward spiral of negative thinking.  But the wild thing is that when I’m present and totally engaged in a moment with someone I feel more alive and true to myself than any other time. My heart fills with joy and it is almost like I’m receiving some miracle drug of sorts that makes whatever current challenge or fear seem more bearable.

I notice that as I take better care of myself and express my true feelings, I have more of the “Jim” moments and become aware of how grateful I am to have people in my life that mean so much to me.  When I am fully present in my daily interactions I am more open to embracing and expressing gratitude.  It is happening more with my family, my friends, with my work, and especially within myself. I hope that I will continue to get better at recognizing and cherishing these moments until one day it is simply the natural state that I exist.  Until then, I will use the simple and effective strategy to increase my awareness…it takes 3 steps: pause, breathe, repeat.

 

The power of hope is stronger than the turmoil of worry

When is the last time someone asked you, “What are you hoping for?”  And how often do we spend time thinking about our hopes and dreams?  I say things all the time like, “I’m hoping for a quiet day today” or “I hope traffic isn’t backed up this morning.”  But I don’t really think about what it means to be hopeful when I’m saying these things.  I have things in my life I think about often, including work, financial security, my parent’s health, the people in my life, emotional stress, the tragedies that occur each day, and my overall state of well-being, but what I get from all that is a lot of time worrying and not so much time hoping

And let’s be real, who can blame me?  The media and our culture tell me every day a host of things to worry about including health, politics, the BPA in plastic, global warming, gas prices, community violence, and the unstable economy just to name a few.  I stopped watching the news on a regular basis because I just couldn’t stand it any longer.  Each broadcast seems to start with a highlight of something violent, traumatic, and/or otherwise tragic.  I don’t know if I have ever seen a news hour with a promo of  “This is going to make your heart sing…so stand by and get your daily dose of uplifting news.” Or better yet, how about “Look, we are about to give you some really overwhelming and scary information but we promise to end out the news cast with solid strategies to reduce your anxiety and improve your sense of calm and peace.

I can’t help but wonder what we are doing to our younger generation when we subject them to all of this worry instead of instilling more hope.  If I ask a teenager what they hope for.  They may start off by saying something like “I hope I’m rich and famous someday.” But when I go ahead and ask them a couple of more questions, like “So if you’re rich and famous, what will that mean for you?”  or “What if you were rich and famous right now, what would be different?”  It takes a few rounds of creative questioning, but eventually I hear “…because if I have money and fame then I won’t have to worry.”

The reality is that we have been conditioned to be more comfortable in a state of fear, worry, and angst than we are in a state of peace or hopefulness.  Not to mention that we are constantly being told that we need more money and everything is getting more scarce and the concept of ‘enough’ is almost unheard of.  It’s so sad that we are programmed to respond to the routine question “How are you?” with a dismissive, “Oh, I’m fine.  Thanks.”  Because then we end up in this place where we don’t really share our insecurities or worries nor do we create a space to resolve them with acts of hope.  This is a common place I like to call turmoil.  Unfortunately, I know this space too well.

So how do we get out of the turmoil and make a left turn towards hope?  I believe we have to start by acknowledging what it is that is really worrying us so much and then invest time and effort in figuring out how we are doing address it.  And a major part of this process is: 1) being honest about what it is that we are wanting, and 2) defining what reasonable steps we are willing to take in that direction. The raw definition of hope (according to Dictionary.com) is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.  And an effective way of feeling that something CAN happen is to identify at least one strategy that puts us one step closer to our stated desire.  So figure out what you need and then create movement in that direction.

Essentially, when we make goals…we promote hope.  And I believe it’s not just hope for ourselves, but for other people too.  I know that when my friends start showing me their accomplishments or telling me of their goals, I start thinking “Dang, I need to get off my butt and do something useful too.”  Now, it does help to have awesome friends who inspire you to be better and challenge you out of your comfort zone, but even if your friends are not lighting fires beneath you; think about how you can be the source of that fire for someone else as well as for yourself!

Of course, I can’t make goals to control things like illness, tragedy, or even how someone will react to me, but if I create strategies that help me address stress, sadness, and other overwhelming feelings…I can at least have options to explore when these things happen.  I guess what I’m getting at is that I realize I can’t control all of these external things happening, but I always have a choice on how to respond.  I can choose to respond with worry, fear, and anxiety or kick all that to the curb and respond with hope, love, and faith.  Those are the things that promote my feelings of safety and security which increase my state of hopefulness and ultimately, my well-being.  Yes, I admit; it’s much easier to say it than to do it.  But as always, this is my reminder that doing it feels much better than just talking about it.

Peace.

Afternoon by the river

Afternoon by the river