Why Do Some People Annoy Me When They’re #Blessed?

I enjoy when other people are happy. Most of the time. However, every once in awhile, someone strikes me as false- like they’re hitting me with Bright Rays Of Sweet Sunshine Happiness…but my gut is bothered by something. And I never really knew what was bothering me before, but recently I think I can hazard a guess. It’s what I call a duality. Or really,  in these cases, it’s a missing duality.

What is a duality? Well, I believe that a lot of times, two opposite things are happening at once to all of us. Usually we only think that one thing on one end of a spectrum can be happening at one time, but this is false. Here are some examples:

  • Dealing with future goals and being in the present moment at the very same time
  • Being happy and being sad at the same time
  • Something being painful but strengthening at the same time
  • Being upset about something but loving yourself anyway, simultaneously
  • Feeling really scared of something and being okay with that same fear all at once

There are many more of these examples, and it’s an interesting topic that I could write at length about…but I’ll keep it short because thinking about a duality is a counterintuitive way of thinking and I don’t want to convolute things. Dualities are paradoxes that aren’t obvious at first- how can two opposite things happen in our minds at the exact same time? But they can and they do.

So when I talk about ‘missing dualities,’ I’m talking about refusing to allow the second/opposite feeling into ourselves. I figured this out because I used to do this all the time- I’d be sad about something, but instead of acknowledging it, even to myself, I’d cover it up, slap on a smile, and not let it out. I’d push on without hearing the feeling at all- I’d just tell it to go away. I’d be #blessed but not actually happy or centered.

Or sometimes I’d be the opposite way- I’d feel anxious about something, and I’d think to myself “this is all there is. I’m always like this. It’s never ending,” and I’d go on and on about how hard things are…without giving one thought to the strengthening and good things happening at the same time.

When I acknowledged the dualities, I could better look at a feeling and know that it wasn’t the whole picture. I could hear my occasional sadness and know that it isn’t me. I could be happy and acknowledge sadness or fear that still occurs.

Dualities are everywhere. Knowing about them started to clear up what used to baffled me. I’m still working on acknowledging dualities and seeing them when they appear in myself. Maybe hearing about them will strike a familiar chord for you too.

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Is Your Mind Worried About Becoming Jobless and Homeless (or What is Meditation?)

A few mornings ago I didn’t feel like meditating. So I went to Youtube, where I get some of my favorite meditation videos, and typed in ‘Meditation when you don’t feel like meditating.’

What came back were a series of videos about what meditation is. A few of them were created by monks, and were quite interesting. I always love when people talk about what meditation is and is not, because I sometimes get asked this question and I can’t think of the answer exactly- not off the top of my head .

Anyway, this Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche, had a 5 minute video that really clarified a lot of things for me about meditation. I’ll summarize his video here.

First, the problem most of us have with meditation is that there are a ton of thoughts racing through our heads as we’re meditating, and we feel like we’ve ‘failed’ if we can’t quiet them.

But, as Mingyur Rinpoche says, and as many of the best meditation teachers say, meditation isn’t about forcing your ‘monkey mind’ to stop.

We are trying to block all thoughts and emotions and to think of absolutely nothing.

But meditation actually isn’t about blocking thoughts and thinking of nothing.

Or can meditation just about blissing out and being peaceful and open? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I bliss out and be peaceful and open, dammit? What is wrong with me?!

But meditation actually isn’t about doing that anyway, so relax.

Another problem many of us have with meditating is that our minds will start telling us stuff to do during a meditation, such as “I have to call Zach, I have to buy detergent, I can’t be wasting this time- I have to put my expense report together” etc.

But meditation isn’t about following each and every demand of your monkey mind.

So what the heck IS meditation all about then? If meditation isn’t about saying ‘hey GET OUT!’ to your mind and your thoughts… And it’s not about saying ‘okay, yes sir!’ to your mind.. then..?

Meditation is about making friends with your monkey mind.

So what does your mind like and want? AND what do YOU want? These questions need to have the same answer…Because you don’t want to just give your mind what it wants while you miserably follow (i.e I have to miserably think the same depressing thoughts over and over beccause I have NO CHOICE BECAUSE THAT’S JUST WHAT HAPPENS UGHHHHHHH WHYYYYYYYY.)

But screaming at your mind to STOP THINKING STUPID THOUGHTS GODDAMMIT  JUST STOP IT STOP IT RIGHT NOW doesn’t work either. Your mind doesn’t like being yelled at or told to go away or to stop thinking- and it will sometimes royally disobey and do the exact opposite of what you’re screaming at it about.

So what does your mind like? It likes to have a job. “Without a job your monkey mind thinks it’s jobless and will soon become homeless” -Mingyur Rinpoche

Your mind is always active and wants a job. So when you give a job to your monkey mind, it’s a win-win situation. Your monkey mind is happy because it has a job, and you’re happy because you’re the boss. Your mind is your employee and you are the employer-not the other way around. And in this way, you’re free. You liberate yourself from the monkey mind.

So what does this mean????!!!

Meditation is giving your monkey mind a part- time job.

Just tell your monkey mind, “okay mind, we’re going to meditate, let’s do a job right now, let’s watch our breath.” or “let’s repeat these mantra words.” Don’t give your mind a full-time job…a few minutes a day of meditation is enough.

Also, don’t “punish” your mind if it doesn’t follow the ‘job’ all the time…just simply bring it back to it’s job. Your brain isn’t going to stop thinking just because you’re meditating, but when you give your mind a job and step back, you’ll be able to see those thoughts clearly and let them pass by. Mingyur Rinpoche says it best: In muddy water you can’t see anything, but in still water you can see all the fish swimming around.

So get still. And slowly, slowly, your mind WILL become more peaceful and pliable. And meditation really will bring you to a place where YOU are in charge and are friends with your mind…plus you may start to see some added benefits of newfound love, compassion, and clarity.

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Breathing in the Present Moment in Your Thirties

Whenever anyone talks about being centered and in the present moment, they talk about noticing your breath. I find this disconcerting sometimes, and I recently realized that my inner 12 year old is sabotaging my efforts.

I was around 12 when my family and I were on a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Now, Hershey isn’t super far from New York City, but a lot of Pennsylvania is the opposite of NYC, filled with farmland and fields. While driving to Hershey, I remember noticing how spaced out the houses were from one another and how many cornfields there were instead of houses. So. Much. Nature.

When we arrived, I remember how the air quality was different than in New York City- how it was cleaner, something we city dwellers aren’t used to. We all remarked on this “different air.” All of a sudden, after mulling this air quality thought over for a few minutes, I found it hard to breathe. When I focused on my breath, my awareness shifted to the laboriousness of breathing in and out. “It’s so much harder to breathe when you think about it than when you don’t,” I pondered. I secretly worried I was going to have an asthma attack (I don’t have asthma), or a heart attack (hopefully clean air wouldn’t give me a heart attack.) I didn’t know what to do.

Now, if you know me, you may know that I’m extremely sensitive to talk about medical conditions. I could never be a healthcare professional because hearing about what ails people makes me ill. It kind of sounds funny, but I wish I was joking. Nausea races through my body and the potential of fainting is near when I’m told about the details of someone’s insulin pump or what’s really happening when bruising starts. Conversations about surgeries or bones peeking through skin from open wounds will hasten the likelihood of me sinking into unconsciousness.

So I guess it’s no surprise that thoughts about not being able to breathe correctly, even at 12, sent panic attacks (not real ones, thankfully) through my mind and lack of breath filled up my senses.

I ended up calming myself down by shifting my thoughts AWAY from my breath. I made a conscious effort from then on to NOT to think about breathing. So when I trace back a strange dislike of concentrating on my breath, I come back to very early moments.

Luckily, consciously thinking about my breath no longer makes me feel ill or panicky. I’m just aware of how strange and new it is to WANT to concentrate on breathing. I’m able to be aware of my breath now, with my blockage from childhood fading away every day, because I’m aware that this was a choice I made once that doesn’t work for me now.

Imagine how many strange dislikes we have now that come from very early choices. Question where your ideas and preferences come from. Some choices may have been important at the time, but do they actually serve you anymore? Or do they hold you back?

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You Don’t Have to Go Far to Go Far

Going to Japan last year was one of the best trips of my life. I wrote about Japan a bunch in the posts Must Do’s for a Two Week Japan Trip as well as Working Easy In Your Thirties and  You Can Actually Do That Crazy Thing In Your Thirties. This year everyone asked me where I was going to go next – like I don’t travel enough for work… but they meant travel for fun. I’d love to go on another insane (good insane) major international trip like Japan, but this year I’ve decided to stay in my home city. This is mainly because I travel so much for work and I feel like I need a thorough spring and summer in New york this year. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have some of the same sensational experiences I had in Japan.

I went to Japan solo, and that was part of the magic of the trip- I really got to spend time with myself and explore all the places I wanted to see. Walking for 12 hours a day? I have no problem with that- but other people might. Skipping lunch and eating a beautiful, fancy vegan dinner every night? That wouldn’t fly for everyone but that’s how I scheduled almost every day of my Japan trip. Meeting cool strangers at Airbnbs in Tokyo and Kyoto? I excitedly researched each place I stayed at and ended up loving all of my hosts.

So when I booked work in Boston this week, I decided to make the work trip more fun by applying a bit of my Japan attitude to a city I’m extremely familiar with. I’d never been to Japan before my last trip but I’ve been to Boston countless times. So I decided to go somewhere in Boston that I’d never been before- The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s the site of the most famous art heist in the world.

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The Gardner museum is also a simply gorgeous museum. I had no idea how incredible it was until I saw it for myself.

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Wondering the halls of the museum solo, I felt the same wonderment and solitude that I felt in Japan. I remembered the Edo Museum I’d gone to in Tokyo, as well as multiple temples in Kyoto and Koyasan I’d been inside that filled me with reverence and awe. I came into Boston extra early the day before work in order to have this time to myself and it was time well spent.

And both nights I was in Boston I took myself out to luxurious vegan meals (extra opulent for me because I really only eat dinner out alone on special occasions – like when I’m traveling for fun. Neither of the meals were very expensive- they were at traditional Indian and modern Chinese food restaurants- but to me they were indulgent and lovely. I could have been traveling solo in an unexplored asian country and I might have had similar moments of solitary contemplation.

I also stayed at a fantastic Boston Airbnb with a wonderful Ukranian host who had spent the last 8 months in India, living in an ashram and teaching autistic children yoga. She practiced hour-plus-long meditations, and told me incredible stories about her last 10 day vows of silence, the guru (teacher) she had in India, and various meditation retreats she’d been to and wanted to go to. She taught me some breath work she learned in India that helped with her meditations, and shared her vegan yogurt with me (she’s a vegetarian as well). I really feel like I met a kindred!

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The gorgeous cat, Lunca, at my Boston Airbnb

So although I’m obviously a big fan of travel, I don’t think it’s necessary to go very far to experience the intoxicating high of traveling. You don’t have to spend much money or even leave your neighborhood to travel away from your normal routine. If you can’t travel right now, try something new you haven’t tried before instead. Take yourself to a new place for dinner or explore a different area. Talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Investigate a new museum and see how you feel when you’re alone with just your thoughts and your spirit.

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Lessons From a Fever in Your Thirties

I was traveling for work for the last 25 days, and for most of that time I was well- physically at least. Mentally, I was exhausted at times, from both the amount of travel and the sheer magnitude of people and bustle and noise constantly surrounding me at most shows.

But the mental and the physical are intertwined, and during the last week of my travel, I developed a fever while working in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s funny how illnesses sometimes sneak up on you, and my weakening muscles deceived me into thinking that I had always felt so unsteady. I tried to furtively stretch while still on the work floor, but every tendon in my body ached, and it felt more agonizing by the minute to simply stand up, never mind give infinite presentations and answer the slew of questions coming at me. Plus, my stomach was wrestling with my mind as well- telling me it was utterly starving one minute and then agonizingly full the next- right after I’d eaten only 3 bites of something.

My coworkers said I had The Cleve- a mythological disease known to strike first-timers to the Cleveland area we were in: the airport area of despair. You see, almost everyone who’d worked this particular show fell deathly ill at some point at least one of the years they’d worked it. Why? Who knows. The lighting is yellow and dim- sort of despairing. The convention center used to be a military facility, if that adds anything. I googled whether there was something up with the water supply in the area but my search returned nothing. No offense to any of you who may be from/live in Cleveland. The downtown area seemed awesome, but alas we weren’t ever near there.

Somehow I made it to the end of the work day that day, and with the help of lots of zinc and rest that night was able to make it back to work the next day (sick days are unheard of in my field during a show). Even though my muscles ached less and my stomach was slowly starting to unclench, I ended up taking it extra easy on myself for the remainder of the show…and even into this week. I probably should always be taking care of myself so thoroughly, if not more so.

This week -and last- I put myself to bed earlier and sleep in when I can. I eat and chew extra slowly in case my stomach turns on me. I lie in bed and bask in the sheer bliss of a few moments of extra meditation. Sometimes I’m not even meditating- just staring at the ceiling, feeling smooth sheets underneath me. I drink less- well, I drank less last week anyway. We had a Cleveland bowling onesie costume party one night, and somehow I got through that without touching a sip of alcohol. I allowed myself to go very slow as I packed for the next trip. I ran outside extra carefully this week. I spent a few lovely  moments staring out of the airplane window or watching a movie as opposed to trying to accomplish tasks. I let myself breathe. I give myself room.

And as I do, I feel healthier, but I also feel more loved. I’m taking care of myself as if I love myself and as if I’m treasured. And as I do that, all of those things are true to me.

But you don’t need to be sick to treat yourself with love.

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The Feeling of Being In Your Body In Your Thirties

Maybe it’s the meditation. I’ve been practicing for almost two years now so perhaps changes are happening that I don’t even realize. But sometimes, suddenly, in the middle of the day, or late at night, I’m suddenly very aware of the way I’m holding my stomach. My breathe is so shallow it barely reaches below my shoulders, and I’m walking around with an extreme amount of tension. And sometimes, suddenly, I let it all out. Do you ever feel like that?

Do you ever feel, suddenly, amazed to be in your body? I feel like this especially after recovering from being ill or from being hurt in some way- that’s the easiest time to feel it. If you’ve ever had a headache for forever, you might know the grateful feeling after the pain is gone. If you’ve twisted an ankle, or injured your knee, the sudden happiness that comes over you when you start to walk and feel better can be akin to nirvana.

But sometimes I feel this way randomly, without warning. I feel the walls of my apartment- bumpy on my fingertips, the wood floor underneath my feet-cold and indented.  Sometimes when I’m outside I feel a nervous pang as I let my stomach go, realizing I’ve been holding it in for awhile. And then I feel my breathe rush deeply into my entire ribcage.

It’s kind of fascinating and strangely new to feel my body, even though it’s always been there. I’ve already had 32 years with my warm shoulders, my darting eyes, my bony feet. Yet it’s taken this long to scratch the surface of unfurling my numb senses and letting myself be.

Does any of this sound familiar to you guys? Do you also feel you’ve just scratched the surface of “being aware of what your body feels like” or does that not sound familiar? Are these sensations important to you? Have you been working on becoming aware of how you feel in the moment? It’s one of those things that was never a priority for me before, so I’m wondering how others feel about it. Do you feel like awareness is something that’s come to the surface more in your thirties? I definitely do…I wonder if it’s because in our twenties we’re way more consumed outward appearances to others and not nearly as concerned with how we feel within ourselves…

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What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!

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The Beauty of Following in Your Thirties

I’m concluding my last night in Miami and it’s been a great trip. Tomorrow’s gonna hurt because I have an 8am flight to my next job in LA, so I’ll try to keep this short.

I’ve been to Miami before, and I’ve had both good times and bad here. The bad times consisted of blurry clubbing alcoholic nights that I felt forced to partake in. I had one trip here where I was dragged out to a club practically every night, and I had to buy a whole new clubbing wardrobe at the Miami H&M. If you know me, you’ll know I’m not a clubber- so I was following the crowd because I wanted to make friends and not function in complete isolation.

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This is the first time the city was really amazing for me, and it’s because I followed through with what I really wanted to do. The show that I worked was late-shifted, so there were days I started work at 4pm and got out at 11pm. This allowed me to go to sleep at 2 am and wake up at 10am, still getting 8 hours sleep while remaining a night owl. I was able to enjoy my free hotel breakfast outside in the heat of a sunny outdoor patio, and then meditate and then go running on the beach afterwards. I was able to rent bikes and swim and see the city and walk for hours by myself. I was also able to go out to nice dinners with close friends, and see some family I have nearby. I also didn’t end up drinking a drop of alcohol during this particular trip in Miami, for no other reason than I wasn’t around other drinkers. Instead, I had one of the best slices of carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life. In short, this trip was the anti-party. My visit had quite the goody two shoes, squeaky clean feel for a Miami trip…but it was exactly what I needed right now.

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And I loved this Miami. I loved it because it’s here that I really feel like I’ve gotten a small percentage of the feel of giving zero fucks about what people think (something to strive for always, but especially in your thirties). I hung out with the people I loved and enjoyed and was nice to the acquaintances, but didn’t go out of my way to follow what they were doing. Instead I followed my yearning for being with myself and the beach and talking to my closest friends. I fell into a nice healthy rhythm and felt amazingly self-sufficient, yet socially happy for a long stretch of time. It was an amazing balance.

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It gives me hope that you can follow what you really want to do and not have to be swept along by others….and even by the scary, uncertain parts of yourself. Sometimes my own feelings get in my way and I feel like I can’t trust myself or find balance. But here I just followed what I really wanted to do, while staying in touch with the people I cared about, and things fell into place. Maybe it’s the warm weather or the beach or the movement. Or maybe it’s something else.

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Are You Using Only 10 Percent of Your Power in Your Thirties?

We all know that the widely believed scientific fact about us using only 10 percent of our brain has been proven to be a myth. Hopefully you know that we use 100 percent of our brains (well, most people anyway). If you don’t know that we use more than 10 percent of our brainpower, now you do. Here’s even more info proving the old myth wrong.

However, even though we’re using our brain’s full capabilities, sometimes I feel like we’re only using 10 percent of our full power in general. We have at least thirty years of habitual behavior behind us, and it’s very easy to fall into the same patterns.

One of my newest consistent habits has been practicing meditation. It’s an interesting new habit, because I’ve been pretty consistent about it, but it’s still very new as far as consistent habits go. I’ve been meditating for a little over a year now, whereas I’ve been brushing my teeth for over 31 years, traveling consistently for 8 years, making vegetable juices and smoothies for 6 years..you get the point.

What I’m saying is that new habits are hard to create, but when you create them and stick to them they start getting easier and will become a consistent part of your life. The issue with this is that bad habits also become easier and more consistent parts of your life the more you practice them.

I’ve had some really big bad habits forever. These include habits like:

-Procrastination on big, important things

-Relying on what other people think to determine my happiness

-Fear of confrontation

-Time management issues

When it comes to big, bad habits, change can seem frightening. But we have to remember that changing bad habits only takes many small steps.. and a lot of courage. It’s not easy to change bad habits, the same way it isn’t easy to create good habits. As I said before, the old habits we have have been going strong for over 30 years. But as I wrote about in the post “It Hurts. So What?”, sometimes you have to be courageous and get through the painful things in life day by day and bit by bit.

Deepak Chopra said during one of my guided meditations, that sometimes we’re standing in a river but we’re trying to drink from a thimble; It was an eye opening metaphor. When I feel like “I’m never going to manage my time better..I’ll never do what I really need to do!” or “I don’t know how I’ll ever do bigger and better things! Life will always be the same!” I think that I’m drinking from a thimble while standing in a river- I’m trying so hard to gulp every last drop of water from the tiniest cup but I’m too habituated in fear and desperation patterns to see that I’m standing in a river flowing with water. Wouldn’t it be funny if my fear and desperation while looking into the tiniest thimble blinded me to the river of possibilities that I was standing right in?

This can be seen even in the smallest cases- for example, yesterday I was logging in to the WIFI at the Marriott where I’m staying for work. Every day my computer logged me off the WIFI and I had to log back in again. It was really frustrating until I realized that I was selecting a button that said ‘Log in for ONE day.’ There was a drop down menu where I could’ve selected “log in for TWO days.” Or even “log in for TEN days.” I just habitually kept clicking ONE over and over and over.

Seize your power on both large scales and small…it’s all about creating new habits and breaking old ones. Don’t settle for the old habits that probably make up about 10 percent of what you can do. Stop looking into the thimble and see the damn river all around you. I swear it’s there! Don’t keep doing ONE mildly okay thing when you can have TEN great things!

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First Thing in the Morning in Your Thirties

For most of my life, I never really had a morning ritual. Well- I never had a morning ritual that went much beyond putting on my makeup and getting my hair into some sort of acceptable outside-world style.

Then, as I went through my twenties, I started adding new parts to my morning ritual. I got into making green juices in the morning, and then- even better- I got into making green smoothies. I purchased a french press and started making my own coffee every day as well. Lots of liquids. And then I figured out a way to style my hair even quicker than before (by forsaking straightening my crazy waves into heat-damaging oblivion every single day).

Yet even when I had a handle on my morning routine, it always felt like a means to an end. I got nothing super important done in the morning. I usually saved that stuff until the afternoon, when something more pressing usually came up and interrupted it anyway (like lunchtime. Or drinks out. Or a new bunch of emails to return. You know, the important stuff…)

This summer, I hit a wall. I was sick of the days passing me by while some of the most important things I wanted to do daily remained undone. So I started a ‘most important things on my list are the first ones’ habit. And it really started to work.

I’d get up, start some coffee, eat an apple, and meditate (which is very important to me). Then I’d put on my gym clothes and go running or to the gym (also very important). Then I’d come back, make a smoothie, and tackle my to do list or go to work. In this way, I was meditating daily and also getting to the gym before interruptions took over. The first thing in the morning habit really worked. Even though I’m a night owl.

The hardest part has been expanding my morning ritual into other important tasks. It was easy to meditate and run and then get through a to-do list of smaller items like ‘wash dishes. email so-and-so. send invoice.’ It was much harder to meditate and run and   then tackle larger and more important to dos like ‘rewrite resume. practice presentations. watch videos and research new job prospects.’ I was just talking to my friend Janna about this; For whatever reason, the reallly important tasks that could further our lives and careers have been getting pushed by the wayside and out of our days entirely. And this has been happening for a while… kind of sort of like always. Especially on work days where there’s not much time left in the day to tackle tasks other than getting to work.

Our new idea has been to start using the ‘first thing in the morning’ ritual to include these big important tasks right away…and I think it’s best to only focus on one Very Important Task daily.

So to recap, instead of trying to kill a whole to-do list, I’m going to prioritize one big important task a day and only try to do that, starting in the morning. First, I’m still going to start my coffee and have an apple and meditate. Then I’m going to work on the chosen task for an allotted period of time. Only THEN will I tackle the other items.

I think choosing only one large item a day to work on first thing in the morning is helpful. When there’s only one thing to think about, it’s easier to stay focused and not accomplish absolutely zero big important tasks in a day.

What do you think? Do morning rituals help you? How do you accomplish the really big important tasks and not let the days pass you by?

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The Stones Are Talking To Me (or What The Heck Are Those Things??) in My Thirties

The other day my theater company, Mission to (dit)Mars, ran a meditative writing workshop called Poetry in Stone. We do Meditative Writing workshops every summer with a wonderful mindfulness meditation guide named Emily Herzlin. She’s fantastic and always extremely calming.

Now, I meditate, and really like it- but I’m pretty new to meditation– I’ve only been practicing for about a year. The way I usually practice is at home alone with a guided meditation and/or or some music. It’s fairly rare that I practice in the outside world (read: not in my bedroom), but our meditation workshop got me doing just that.

One issue that arises while in a meditation workshop that’s both outdoors and with other people -plus involves writing -is that there are a lot of distractions. I was even distracted walking to the workshop. Thoughts kept crossing my mind like “I don’t know how to do this. I’m really scattered today. Where am I? I don’t feel peaceful. Oh no, I don’t feel peaceful! It’s ok! It’s not ok! No, feel how you feel! No, feel peaceful, goddammit!!” Those were all thoughts I had before I even got to the workshop.

This particular workshop was at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria, Queens. I’d never been there before and amazingly, neither had anyone else attending our workshop, other than Emily herself.

The Noguchi Museum is kind of like being inside one of those rock gardens where you scrape around sand with a tiny rake. Only there was no sand. There were only rocks. And us. And trees. And stairs. Stairs that led up to many rooms… of more rocks.  Huge rocks seemed to grow out of the ground.

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After all of us introduced ourselves, we spent some time in the outside (yet inside) part of the museum. Emily told us to put our phones away and attempt to not look at them throughout the 3 hour duration of the workshop. I felt both relieved and afraid.

We did a standing meditation. I rarely meditate standing up (by rarely I mean never). I became very aware of how much my feet ached. I became very aware of how my necklace kept hitting my collarbone. Then we finished our standing meditation and walked through the museum in silence, guided by Emily.

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The museum is puzzling because some of it is outside, some is inside, and part of it seems to float completely in an in-between world of inside out. There’s a room that is walled-off yet open ceiling. There’s a room that’s simply an outside garden. There’s a room that seems like a concrete garage. There are rooms that are very hot. There’s a room that is very cold. And then there are middle rooms…dare I say they’re more like ‘typical’ museum rooms…whatever that means.

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The stones confused me. They’re everywhere. I went into the museum with no preconceived notions about what the stone sculptures meant or why there were big abstract rocks all over the place. I didn’t know who Noguchi was or even that he was a person (he’s a person. But I thought Noguchi might be a place that birthed a collection of different sculptures). My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back. I felt myself walking. I felt myself breathing. I looked at the stones. They reminded me of people. They reminded me of old memories. They reminded me of nothing.

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We went off on our own. I sat for awhile, in the very cold room, by one medium size stone…the only one I found recognizable. It was in the shape of a foot. I stared. People took dumb selfies with the foot stone. My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back.

I wrote. Stream of consciousness.

Spaceship stone
Foot Stone
Surface of Mars
Music
Tin
Rhinestone
Granite
Music
Metal
Lead
Cold
Music
Whispers
Metal pieces in my hair
Tin in my ear.
Breath. Air. Foootsteps. Nerves.

photo 3I stared out the window behind the foot stone. My mind wandered. I felt proud of myself for coming to the workshop. I was amazed at my meditative skills. I felt mad at myself for thinking about meditation instead of being meditative. I brought my thoughts back. People took more dumb selfies with the foot rock. I became aware of a yearning to check my phone. I didn’t. Instead I wrote.

I don’t want to move
I want to rest my stone feet
Still with the air
Frozen over with warmth inside
There’s a foot rock
Bandaged over
Stopped
Dead
But behind the glass in front of it
and me
The warm tree world waves outside

Everyone loves the foot rock
After it worked so hard
and is now dead
It’s a funny corpse
Huge and lolling

I lost my inner battle and checked my phone. There were no important messages and I felt angry at myself for lack of willpower. I stalked to a different part of the museum and sat in a warm corner by an abstract desk sculpture. I stared. The desk sculpture was the only other sculpture in the museum that had a recognizable shape. People took photos of the desk and kept asking me to move my outstretched legs. I shifted and fumed at them..then I fumed at myself. I felt like I’d lost the peacefulness I had gained during the hour without my phone. I brought my thoughts back. I felt my breath go in and out. I wrote.

My warm living skin against the preserved wood floor
I am only a small corner
The desk just a piece
Sparkled metal, dusty
I am not home
Nobody’s home
The desk is empty
And I watch- close from afar
How it stands without me

I feel better here
Open space
Square window
Living flesh against wood

Phone’s warmth disappears
As my eyes open
A sickness comes from my bag
In my corner
Others come and go
Bending, filling, waving, capturing

By the end of the workshop I felt calm and in my body. I felt this way for a long time afterwards…even now I feel the calming sensation of that workshop. Of course, my phone still distracts me. My feet still ache. I still feel tense. I still chide myself for texting while walking.

But overall, the stones stay with me. Their solid masses remain mysterious, yet somehow familiar. I feel the strange relaxation of stones growing out of the earth. I feel the strange relaxation of writing about stones growing out of the earth. I bring myself back. I feel their presence. And then I feel my own presence once again.

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Temptation in Your Thirties (Or, What About Those Times When Only Nutella Will Do?)

I remember the good ol’ days when I had no idea what the heck Nutella was. Those days are fuzzy and feel like they happened in another life.

Then I went through a period where Nutella was my kryptonite. It’s so delicious and tempting, I could eat the whole jar in just a few days if it was in my apartment (ok, maybe more like 2 days…or maybe even 1. Eek!). I used to stare longingly at the Nutella in my kitchen cabinet. I wanted it so badly. I had to use every ounce of my willpower to avoid it.

But then I discovered a funny thing- if I didn’t buy Nutella and didn’t have it in my apartment, I wouldn’t eat it. I couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t there to eat.

In my thirties, the Nutella lesson has become a life metaphor for many things. I started making it a habit to keep my phone ringer on silent while meditating first thing in the morning. That way, nothing can come up and interrupt my meditation- it’s just the first thing I do. I also blog at least twice a week- and I have an accountability agreement with Jane: she writes, then I write, then she writes, then I write. It’s good to have that kind of system set up.

I think that by your thirties, you’re really beginning to know yourself- your strengths and weaknesses, what you can tolerate and what you can’t, where you can push yourself and where you cannot. If you work with your strengths instead of against them, and you take your worst weak points out of the equation as much as you can, your life will run smoother. There are ways to really start working well with yourself in your thirties the way you never could before.

Setting up habits is super helpful, and can help remove kryptonite situations from your life. It’s hard to remove your kryptonite until you know what it is.. but once in your thirties, you know yourself better. So you can set yourself up to remove bad temptations from the equation and make way for good temptations to come in and make your life way more fun.

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Meditating Doesn’t Last- So What the Heck’s the Point?

I’ve been really into meditating every day in the morning, before anything has had the chance to distract me. It’s been a good habit, because if I didn’t make it a habit, I wouldn’t always want to do it.

You see, I realized something interesting about the practice of meditation.

Sometimes meditating feels great and strengthens me and makes me feel positive. Other times I feel distracted and jittery and distant. Sometimes I start out really into meditating and then get distracted by to-do list thoughts. And other times I start out with distracting thoughts and slip into a very peaceful state. Occasionally it’s a back and forth.

On the days that meditation feels good the whole time, or at least by the end, there’s never a guarantee that the next day’s practice will feel as good. There’s also not a guarantee that the meditation energy will “hold” and that I’ll continue to feel good the next day without meditating again.

In this way, I feel like meditating is extremely comparable to brushing your teeth or showering. You need to make a habit out of it. It doesn’t bring goodness that lasts and lasts without its own continuation. Showering once is great for the day- and it’s better to shower only a few times a week than not at all (though I’d still go with once a day). But it’s way better to shower every day or sometimes twice a day. Same with brushing your teeth- after brushing, you feel all minty and fresh. But your teeth get dirty again, and you need to be in the habit of removing the dirt.

I think sometimes when I get down and feel like meditating doesn’t work, I forget the simple fact that it’s more of a habit than a one time thing. You’ve gotta keep removing the dirt. Brushing your teeth regularly prevents tooth decay. Meditating regularly prevents soul decay- or more accurately, it enables soul growth. If I make it a part of my life, my life grows.

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Am I Any Closer to Self-Acceptance Yet?

Jane recently wrote two posts on Self-Acceptance: Radical Self-Acceptance and The Paradox of Self-Acceptance. In her latter post she asked a question that I ask myself almost every day:

“How do we completely accept who we are, but also self-improve?”

I’ve grappled a lot with the idea of dualities: two ideas that seem conflicting, but actually go together. In the road leading up to my thirties, I’ve desperately wanted to accept myself right now while still working on a better version of myself. This feels really hard to do without beating myself up for not yet being the person I’m working towards being.

Meditation, as Jane also mentioned in her last post, is definitely helpful. In fact, I believe that’s the main point of meditation- to get yourself into the now and accept yourself now, even while knowing that there is no choice but to grow and evolve. A lot of this is talked about in my favorite meditation podcast, Learn To Meditate, from the Mediation Society of Australia (but I will also try Headspace. Thanks, Jane!)

How to self-accept yourself completely in the now but still change at the same time is one of those questions where the answer has always felt like a slip and slide; However, this year I found a great way to look at it which always brings me back to center:

Think about a tiny oak tree seed that will one day grow into a giant oak tree. The potential for a giant oak tree is always inside the small seed, but the seed hasn’t yet grown up into what it will be. Do we hate the seed for not yet being an oak tree? Do we beat it up? Do we say “why aren’t you a giant oak tree yet??” Of course not.

For the tiny seed to become a giant oak tree, time is always involved- plus water and soil and care. That’s the way it is and the way it has to be. There is no rushing it. There is only caring for it. All we can do is love and accept the seed for being what it is and let time, nurturing and growth take their course.

You can still accept yourself and know that you’re a small seed growing into a giant oak tree.

At the same time that you love the small seed that you are, give yourself the nurturing energy, patience, and love needed to grow into the giant oak tree that’s been living inside you the whole time. Your best self is already there!

 

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The Paradox of Self-Acceptance

Remember last week when I wrote about “Radical Self-Acceptance“? Yeah. Well. That’s really hard. I mean, duh. I knew that. But besides being hard, something always bothers me about this concept of 100% self-acceptance.  How do we completely accept who we are, but also self-improve? This week, I asked my therapist this question. I asked him how to reconcile these two opposing ideas. He said that he gets that question a lot, which immediately made me feel better because clearly the answer (if there is one) is not obvious. Anyhow, I got kind of lost in his answer, but basically he said something about harnessing the energy of self-acceptance and “playing around with it.” Typing that now I realize it sounds kind of ridiculous, but in the moment it made sense. Or, some kind of sense. I think what he meant was that accepting ourselves give us the freedom to change things up and take risks.

Do you have any idea how to reconcile these ideas? I’m still working on formulating my own opinion, so I have nothing concrete to share at the moment.

Meditation has made me ponder these questions a lot more lately. A few folks have asked me where to begin with a meditation practice, and I’ve recommended this amazing app called Headspace. It’s free to start, and there’s a ten day free trial with 10-minute practices everyday. There are also neat little videos along the way that clarify complex concepts. The man who leads the meditations has an incredibly soothing, Australian accent and I believe he used to be the voice behind an app called Buddify, which I loved a few years back. It’s $12.95 a month after your free trial, but in my mind, it’s a small price to pay for solid, guided meditations.

To happy pondering and self-acceptance!

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Phone a Friend

Phone a Friend

“Have you meditated today? Maybe that would help.”

“I DID meditate, actually. Twice, Jane! I meditated twice already!”

It’s a rare day I meditate twice in a row, especially before noon, but the other day it felt necessary. I woke up in an anxious and out of sorts mood. Ironically, I’d been having a great week. I’d been writing a ton, seeing lots of friends and family, had been off from work for awhile, had run 10 miles the day before, and was blazing through my to do list.

I should be able to calm myself down now that I’m in my thirties, I kept repeating to myself- I should have it together by now- I’m a frigging adult! All my days should be happy and bright! After all, I meditate these days. I’m in the flow of love, dammit!!

But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough.

So I called Jane- my trusty co-blogger and best friend- and talked it out. I went through all the reasons I felt anxious…most of which were silly and repetitive. It actually took a lot of digging to get to the reasons- at first I was like I have no idea why I’m anxious..why the hell am I anxious???

But then things started to become clear as I talked.

Do you want me to make you feel better about any of your anxious days and actually list some of the dumb things that were upsetting me? A little schadenfreude for ya? 😉 Ok, for you I will.

  • I was upset that someone asked me to choose a new restaurant and I couldn’t think of one..not the perfect one, anyway. This made me anxious. (I told you…so ridiculous!)
  • I felt like I didn’t meditate ENOUGH…or that I couldn’t absorb my meditations. (Ahh, whyyy??)
  • I felt like there was still so much I. Had. To. Doooo. (And my lists included crazy long items like ‘find your real passion’, ‘go after new sources of income,’ ‘complete hours of online marketing classes,’ ‘discover meaning of life’, etc (okay, maybe not exactly that last one…)
  • I felt like my days off were passing me by and I kept getting sucked into Google and Facebook vortexes (ahh, this STILL upsets me now, haha..)

But when I called Jane and just talked on and on (even when it was repetitive), I started to feel better. I calmed down a bit.

Even though none of the things on my crazy to do list had gotten done while I was talking, and Jane had heard it all before, it just helped to talk.

And it helped to have someone just listening. Happily. Patiently. Again. And again. And again.

Thank you, Jane.

Do you have friends like that? Or maybe a family member? A coworker? Or even a therapist?

I try hard to be that kind of friend. Because I really think it’s everything to be heard when you’re feeling anxious..or even when you just want to talk about nothing. Even if- ESPECIALLY IF- you feel like you’re being repetitive. Or ridiculous.

There are going to be those crazy weird days, even if most days are good…even if you’re a spiritual, flow of love optimist. It’s the way of the world!

So phone a friend when it happens. Talk it out. It may actually make your day better.

  • This is probably not the phone you'd want to use, though.
    This is probably not the phone you’d want to use, though.
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