A Different Type of Mirror

Consider the idea that our world is reflecting back to us the very parts of ourselves that need acknowledgment and compassion.

We all know the famous line from Disney’s Snow White fairytale: 

“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?”

The Evil Stepmother of Snow White is looking for validation in her magic glass. She is hungry to dispel a nagging fear that she is no longer aesthetically the most desirable.

When we step away from the well-known fairytale villain, we can see the mini, modern day magic mirrors popping up all over social media. No, we aren’t “Evil Stepmothers,” vying to be 
“the fairest of them all.” But our need to be seen in a certain light, what we perceive to be a flattering light, is there for most, if not all of us. And we don’t need an Instagram account to possess a magic mirror: we can look in physical or spiritual mirrors, comparing ourselves to others, wanting everything from our words to our appearance to be portrayed in a way that makes us likeable.

Of course, we want to be liked! We are social creatures; the desire to belong is a human need. Yet somehow, our universal need to be liked, like other universal human traits and experiences, is forgotten. We start to see ourselves separate from others. Our often divisively perceived modern world is a mirror, reflecting back to us the parts of us that need acknowledgment and compassion. We may be able to look at ourselves with compassion, but we forget there’s another side to that mirror: the world reflecting back to us, starving for that same compassion.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun and author who shares an ingenious exercise for fostering compassion and simultaneously, dispel divisiveness in her latest book, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World. The exercise is called “Just Like Me.” 

The Just Like Me offers a quick and effective tool to remind ourselves of our connection to others. The exercise fosters compassion for both ourselves and others, offering us a mental mirror to see ourselves in others.

The “Just Like Me” exercise is particularly helpful when we are in a potentially frustrating situation. Let’s say you are in an airport and your plane is indefinitely delayed. You could start getting all worked up about it (which never gets us anywhere), or you could look around at the other people in the airport waiting with you, “seeing the humanity of all the people” in the waiting area. Holding up that mental mirror to the people you see, knowing they—just like you—were on their way somewhere.

When we hold up the mental mirror of “Just Like Me” we are reminded that our humanity connects us:

“Just like me, that person really wants to be loved.”

“Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer.”

“Just like me, that person doesn’t want physical pain.”

“Just like me, that person doesn’t want hatred coming towards them.”

There’s another benefit to the “Just Like Me” exercise: self-compassion. When we hold up a mirror to humanity, we can see our own fears and hopes. Our kindness for others can be reflected back to ourselves. And when we are more compassionate to ourselves, we are more easily able to feel compassion towards others—a beautiful cycle.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN6hTFfqgd0

Burying Yourself in Dating

Dating while still in the psychological Diet Coke of Denial can be a precarious endeavor, making it that much harder to unearth the truth.

A dear friend of mine recently got divorced. We are talking, recent as in the ink is still drying as I write this. Eighteen years of marriage, two of living together, two kids, two dogs and a house still needing to be sold.

“It wasn’t mutual,” she tells me each time we get together. “I was happy. When he wanted to go for couple’s counseling, I said sure. He kept saying he wasn’t happy.”

Halfway through our lunches, she’ll pull out her phone and ask me what I think of the men she is meeting that afternoon, that night, the next day, and the day after that one.

Before our waiter heads over with the bill, she will repeat those three words from the start of our lunch, “It wasn’t mutual.” No reintroduction to the topic needed; the pain verbally splattered all over her face and hunched shoulders.

“Why do you think he wanted out?” I ask.

“Probably because my ass could double as a pincushion now,” she laughs.

Her laughter is a forced sound that renders both of us uncomfortable. I let the sound fall between us and land with a thud. We both know her ex found her physically desirable and couldn’t have cared less about her weight.

“You know I made that big financial mistake, but I apologized. Geesh, move on,” she said, flipping through the latest Hinge profiles on her phone.

My friend has alluded to the “big financial mistake” for years now, but I still don’t know what exactly she did wrong that her ex can’t move past. We are close and yet this financial “mistake” remains a mystery only clear to her ex.

Ironically, my friend is a private investment banker. Her career is literally about helping affluent customers make sound fiscal decisions. 

My friend is in the Diet Coke Denial of the most sacred relationship: the one with herself. Deep down, she knows exactly why her ex can’t move past whatever she did or didn’t do fiscally. Deep down, she knows it was wrong to cover up whatever it is that she did. Deep down, she knows her self-degrading humor regarding her derriere reflects her self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Unfortunately, instead of getting real with herself, she buries the truth and the unspoken shame she feels. Instead of facing fears, she fabricates online filtered profiles of herself from 10 years ago, before her weight gain and financial deceit. She writes about the importance of honesty in a relationship and notes she is “looking for something casual.”

“I just want to have fun,” she tells me.

And then:

“It wasn’t mutual. I was happy.”

Until we get real with ourselves, how can we be ready to date? 

I think of the famous Sir Walter Scott quote:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

My friend, in an effort to protect her already broken heart, is deceiving herself and, by extension, the men she is meeting. It’s a tangled mess only to be cleared up through the inner work she needs to do. Denial is the Chinese finger trap of healing: the more we fight to deny the truth, the harder it is to break free and live the life we are meant to live.

Before You Chose Your New Year’s Resolution…

Motivation is the fuel needed to keep us tackling our goals. Learn how to unearth this often ephemeral feeling.

Each year we see the psychic slate wiped clean for us, the calorie count set back to zero, the goals written neatly at the top of our agendas in colorful, promising ink. Whether it’s learning a new language or giving up nail biting, a New Year brings a highly marketed opportunity to dazzle us with motivation, to “improve”, to grow, to challenge ourselves, to be the best version of ourselves.

But something happens just days or weeks after each New Year. The shiny can-do determination felt in the Auld Lang Syne song (thank you, Dougie MacLean) sounds distant, the once heady anticipation of a New Year looks daunting on the other side, the conviction felt with the palpable count down around the world now seems like a pipedream, the reality of Time marching on with the same challenges before the magical New Year’s Eve.

So how can we sustain motivation long past the bells and whistles of New Year’s Eve? How can we keep chugging along towards the very things we find downright hard? How can we stave off the onslaught of intoxicatingly-convenient-and-must-less-painful excuses in the weeks and months to come?

Many are familiar with the baby step philosophy: taking those small steps that lead to big changes. And while that works fantastically well for many, this doesn’t address the core issue for sustained change: motivation.

My book, The Friendship Diet, explores the metaphor of food and personal relationships: we are starving for affection, we can fall prey to Diet Coke denial with the people we love, we find certain things our partner says or does distasteful. But the diet isn’t only about our romantic relationships. It’s about knowing our hunger, the why behind the things we do with everyone from our partner to our boss.

So, before you ring in the New Year with your mental (or physical) to do list of resolutions, ask yourself a couple of important questions:

  1. Why do I want to do these things? (i.e., lose weight, learn Tai Chi, give up smoking, adopt a dog, take up gardening, etc.)
  • How will my life be different with these changes?

The why is the oxygen supply of motivation. The how challenges our assumptions and potential roadblocks.

For example, let’s say you want to lose weight.

The why may be because you want to look and feel good in your body.

How your life would be different requires you to get specific and real with yourself. It’s no longer enough to think in cliches—not if you want to stay motivated. The more detailed your list here, the more likely your goal will manifest.

So, imagine how a life with weight loss would look and feel. Maybe it’s easier to get in and out of a chair, or you’re no longer out of breath when you take the stairs. Maybe it’s feeling sustained energy throughout the day. Maybe it’s donating your former-sized clothing to Goodwill. Maybe it’s the healthy annual physical report from your internist.

I recently went through this exercise with a colleague regarding her goal of weight loss and the how of her resolution plan brought up a roadblock:

“I can’t give up my clothing. If I give it up, I know I’ll start putting on the pounds again.”

Going through the how caused my colleague to run smack into something she didn’t want to acknowledge. But if we don’t digest the why and how of what we want to change, we are unlikely to remain motivated. 

Thinking we can gain weight simply by giving away our former size is magical thinking. We are all susceptible to irrational logic like this when we delve into the potential landmine of how. The key is to recognize the mental panic for what it is (our brains valiant effort to protect us) and stay the course.

And the why behind our motivation offers a conduit to potential discomfort as well. After all, the reason behind wanting to lose weight might stem from a childhood memory of bullying and bear no reality on the present. My colleague can still hear the taunts of a kid in school call her “Pillsbury Doughboy.” By tuning into the why behind her weight loss goal, she gained awareness of the potential tricks our minds can play. 

“I can still remember my cheeks burning every time he called me that.”

Naming the why, dispels the false narrative. Naming the why allows us to better tackle the potential hurtles of the how (i.e., donating her now baggy clothes to Goodwill). Any negative emotion (i.e., shame) from the past does not need to journey with us into our present or future. And when we can change the feeling behind an experience, our resolution potential is limitless.

Wishing you and healthy and rewarding New Year:-)

Sheri

Want to Face Your Fear?

Most modern-day anxiety is a by-product of our ancient brains. Like the whac-a-mole game, the mind’s alarm system is doing what it’s designed to do. Discover what happens when you don’t play the game.

There are countless tips and tricks to consider when it comes to overcoming a fear. Everything from imaging exposure to the big “F” to taking it on the anxiety-producing source in increments.

Let’s say you have a fear of elevators. You might imagine pressing the button to the elevator, hearing the doors swoosh open, and stepping inside the machine, all while you remain at home. Or perhaps you stand in front of the elevator one day and the next, press the button to go on, observing any anxiety that shows up (i.e., a racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.) with each increased exposure.

Whatever tactic you choose, there are two things worth noting:

  1. You have to SIT WITH any discomfort to overcome said fear.
  2. The fear isn’t real.

Fear is generated by the thoughts we think based on the experiences we have. Fear is your mind playing tricks on you in order, (so the mind falsely, well thinks) to protect and help you survive.

There are those who love a scary horror flick and loathe the idea of public speaking. Yet both activities manifest some kind of adrenaline. It is the mind’s interpretation of each event that makes all the difference, determining which you perceive as fun and which as frightening.

The brain is an organ, no different than the heart or kidneys. It has a job. It thinks. Our ancestors depended on the mind to protect us, flooding us with flight-or-fight catecholamine activity to help us survive a grizzly bear heading toward us. 

But we are no longer living as our ancestors did. There are no wild beasts coming after us as we sleep in a field. Our brains, however, have not adopted to our modern-day world of indoor plumbing and central air. 

Our brains aren’t cruel. They are like puppies with a new chew toy. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes (author of Just a Thought):

Our minds are “a very smart machine that isn’t always wise, but it loves you.”

Fear can’t sit still when you face it. It changes form. The emotion we feel is real, but the thought behind it can change. You can talk to your busy mind as you would an overtired child whose had too much sugar:

“I know you [mind] think I’m in danger, but it’s really okay. I got this.”

If you sit long enough with the fear, the fear will morph into something new. The fear of touching an elevator button will change to the fear of getting on the elevator to the fear of allowing the elevator doors to close. Your mind will continue to generate new ways to protect you since that’s what a mind does.

Discomfort shows us “psychological experience is being mistaken for something solid, personal, and true…. When we get lost in our mind’s narrative and temporarily forget who-we-are, which we often do, we feel discomfort. Discomfort is the built-in alarm that alerts us to our misidentification.” Dr. Amy Johnson

Take comfort in the discomfort; allow your beautiful mind do what it is meant to do, knowing it is manufacturing worst-case-scenarios to unnecessarily protect you. Watch it compare, compete, create negative bias, warn, exaggerate, and sit with any negative sensations that may arise within your body. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you notice new fears pop up. Just like the original fear, your higher self knows they are all illusions.

*Source: Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind

Did You Hear Yourself?

Something as simple as paying attention to the words we frequently use can potentially alter our psychological and even physical states for the better.

Next week, my aunt will take a plane trip with her adorable eight-pound dog. For the past few months, the “meat” of our conversations has involved her dog:

“I’m so nervous. I’m not sure the dose is enough to make her [the Maltipoo] sleepy for the plane, but I don’t want to give her too much.”

“I’m worried she [Maltipoo] will get sick on the plane.”

“I’m scared TSA is going to change their ruling and say she [Maltipoo] weighs too much, and then they’ll make her go in with the luggage.”

My sweet aunt’s focus on her adorable canine is understandable. Yet, I wonder if she ever noticed the Robin’s egg blue of the sky in late August or the turning of the leaves in October. Chances are, her tapestry of fear and worry prevented her from enjoying the giggles of her grandkids, or the aroma and taste of her morning java.

Last week, I counted the number of times my aunt used words connoting fear around her dog. This was a 10-minute conversation. How many times did she utter fear-based language? 8. Here were her words: scared, anxious, anxiety, concerned, and worried. These were highlighted and interchanged with qualifiers like awfully, terrible, worst, and horrible.

My aunt is a kind woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She cares, often so much so, that she loses sight of her own wellbeing. She literally loses her mind to the things we can’t control (i.e., the upcoming plane trip with her Maltipoo).

When we focus externally on the world around us, without taking stock of how we interpret it, we can lose our way. Hyper-focusing on the what ifs in our external world prevents us from appreciating where we dwell in the present.

Scientists have long written of our inability to multitask:

“We’re really wired to be mono-taskers, meaning that our brains can only focus on one task at a time….When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing 

two things at once, but instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching.” Dr. Cynthia Kubu

So, my aunt may look like she’s washing the dishes, or playing with her grandchildren, but she’s really not there. She is distracted by the what ifs, focusing on the very thing that is neither here nor in her control.

The topic of my aunt’s hyper-focus of what ifs is currently her dog, but the subject has changed over the years: a friend’s cancer diagnosis, the pandemic, the presidential race, personal finances—you name it, she’s articulated it in detail and at length.

Regardless of the topic, it is one steeped with those fear-connoted words above. The effect of those words on her psyche is powerful and ranges from insomnia to overeating.

There is a power we all possess in the way we interpret the world around us and the words we use. Even if my aunt doesn’t believe it, a simple shift in mindfulness, in focusing on what is literally in front of her, can help stave off her what if Doomsday scenarios. Since we can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn’t it be better to notice the sound of the rain outside your window than the idea of something terrible happening in a future that hasn’t arrived?

Mindfulness helps us slow down and recognize the words we use both aloud and silently. Here’s a quick exercise to see mindfulness in action:

While you’re reading these words, become aware of your forehead. Is it tense or relaxed? Notice your shoulders, are they back or rolled forward, loose or tight? Take a moment to breathe into your forehead, your shoulders—even your jaw. 

How do you feel? Chances are, while you were focused on the activity above, you didn’t worry about feeding the dog, responding to an email, or second-guessing what you said to a colleague yesterday. You were blissfully present.

When we are present, we appreciate more, we slow down, we become aware of the words we and others use. Listening to ourselves and other—not just hearing but truly listening—is a powerful honing device for the soul.

 Source: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/

The Silent Thanksgiving Guest

The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you always. You bring this guest with you to the table. It is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience.

Thanksgiving always conjures up the image of tables laden with ruby cranberries and plump, caramel-colored turkey, replete with pumpkin pie. Family is gathered around the table, hands extended to pass a generous bowl of sweet potatoes. A cozy fire flickers in the background as laughter bubbles up around the autumnal room.

Well, that’s the image anyway. The Hallmark-meets-Williams-Sonoma-catalogue of the idea of Thanksgiving. The Norman Rockwell of family, of loving comfort and filial security.

The reality is often quite different. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association:

“Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling ‘extreme stress’ come holiday time.”

The reality can involve anything and everything from experiencing the recent loss of a loved one to not getting along with your in-laws yet having to break bread with them.

The change in routine, the potential long-distance travel, the anxiety-provoking reunion with family members—some or all of the external factors can make the cozy image of Thanksgiving morph into a Haunted House of horrific possibilities, where you will be thankful for just surviving the family gathering.

So, how can we experience the feeling those Folger’s House coffee commercials exude around the holidays?  And what are those feelings anyway?

According to coach and speaker, Dr. Amy Johnson, feelings are our interpretation based on the interplay between our left (thought) and right (feeling) brain:

“…feelings are fluctuations of energy to which our mind attaches words and stories. Our left-brain interpreter labels and defines the energy dancing through us. So, when we talk about feelings and emotions, we’re experiencing two things: the movement of energy plus our mind’s commentary on that energy.” Dr. Johnson, Just a Thought

Let’s apply Dr. Johnson’s left-right brain awareness to a potentially stressful Thanksgiving situation now. Your flight to visit your family is delayed. You speak to your aunt on the phone to let her know about the delay.

“You’re not going to make it?” she asks.

“I don’t know. The flight’s delayed.”

“Are you wearing your mask? Are people wearing masks there?”

“Yes.”

“This is terrible.”

“I’ll call you when I know more.”

“Yes, call me as soon as you know.”

You recognize words (left brain) that come to your mind when you reflect back to the talk with your aunt: judgmental, anxious, bossy.

You recognize feelings: tired, nervous, frustrated. 

But now, aware, you can interpret your feelings a different way. You don’t need to tell the same habitual story about your aunt and her effect on you. You can interpret your feelings as excitement to see your aunt and her frustration at the situation as a hunger to see you. 

Remember: our heart races when we are on a roller coaster and in physical danger. It’s our interpretation, our mind’s deciphering of the left-brain language our mind uses that makes the difference.

Thanksgiving, steeped in years of familial habits—er, traditions, offers a powerful opportunity to practice Dr. Johnson’s mindfulness while in the company of loved ones who just might (inadvertently) push a habitually hot emotional button (or two). 

So, when you find yourself stressed about how moist the turkey is or upon hearing the banter in the family room grow louder with politics, go inward, and consider a different interpretation for the energy you are feeling. The labels we give our experiences aren’t “real”; it’s only the mind “doing what minds do” that makes it feel real. Each of us has the power to create a different interpretation.

The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience. You can make peace with this guest at any moment—not just this November 25th. Figuratively break bread with your mind’s interpretation of what you are experiencing. Our feelings manifest in our body as energy; when we consider our left brain labels through a different lens, we can change our very experience.

Source: https://www.claritychi.com/holiday-stress/

Ferberizing Your Teen

Ferber-izing is a self-soothing technique where young children are taught to self-comfort when it comes to bedtime. The Ferber Method is a behavioral tool also to be considered for older children.

A mom is in the mall with her toddler and preschooler. The preschooler sees the Tollhouse Cookie sign, the image of a drool-worthy chocolate chip cookie displayed against the familiar yellow background. Her preschooler points to the confectionary delight and says:

            “I want a cookie.”

The mom sighs. “No.”

            The preschooler whines, “But mommy, I want the cookie.”

            “It’s almost dinnertime.” Mom reasons.

            Now the toddler, bound in his stroller, points to what his older brother wants. “Cookie.”

            “No. No cookies.” (Mom looks like she needs a nap.)

            Now both boys are whining for the cookie. The preschooler stomps his foot. The toddler bears an expression that is akin to someone losing his puppy.

            Mom gives another audible sigh and says, “Fine. Only one cookie each.”

            The only seconds ago storm of emotions felt by the young children is gone, their grins bright enough to light up the sky.

            End scene.

            Unfortunately, the scene above isn’t fiction. Years ago, that very event took place with me as the observer, my friend as the mom to her two young boys. I remember silently judging my friend:

            How could she just give into her boys? Doesn’t she understand that she’s teaching them to walk all over her? 

            Of course, it’s easy to judge when you aren’t the one who’s sleep-deprived and in the line of proverbial fire. After all, it wasn’t my kids puffing out their adorable cheeks in frustration, their large, innocent eyes begging for a little treat.

            There’s a technique, invented by Richard Ferber, called The Ferber Method or Ferberization. The technique’s goal is for young children to learn self-soothing—specifically regarding “sleep-training,” by allowing children to cry for specific, predetermined intervals before receiving external comfort.

Watching my friend next to the Tollhouse Cookie Company with her young children made me wonder if we can’t extend this idea of “Ferberizing” to our daily interaction with children.

So, I applied The Ferber Method to my own children over the years, allowing them to sit with the very things they did not want to sit with in an effort to grow. Some examples include:

  • If my son wanted pancakes, having him crack the very eggs he feared cracking.
  • Bringing my child to an animal shelter when he was reluctant to be near or touch dogs.
  • Apologizing to another child he hurt (despite never meaning to)

And then…they were teenagers…

Who knew teenagers could use some Ferberizing??

Ferberizing is based on the idea of self-soothing. Teens face a panoply of challenges and stressors that foster a great need for self-soothing.

Only the shape and form of Ferberizing looks different than it does at 5 or 10 years old. Young children may have the tantrums that parents can resolve to walk away from (i.e., the screaming meltdown in the grocery store); teens may turn to drugs or alcohol or fall into a bad peer group for self-soothing.

What can we do? We can be present; we can listen without judgment; we can remind them we are there for them and support them, loving them unconditionally.

But here’s the tough part:

We have to accept where our kids are, regardless of where that is and what that looks like. And just like those young children at the Tollhouse Cookie Company, we need to let them experience their physical, verbal, or spiritual tantrum in order for them to grow. We need to let our teens figure it out (while reminding them we are always there to listen and advise—when asked!).

The instinct is to want to fix, to have our children grin like my friend’s young kids did once they knew cookies were in their imminent future. But the “fix” is a short-term gain with long-term consequences. Sure, the cookie will taste sweet in the moment, but the lessons learned were:

 If I make enough noise, I get my way.

Mom is easy to walk all over.

Mom’s job is to please me.

Teenagers are much more subtle when it comes to “pushing” for what they want (i.e., money, a car, a later curfew, etc.) Get comfortable with your own boundaries while letting them know you are there for them—a balancing act, for sure. The more you put the onus on them, the more you are nurturing their autonomy, their ability to self-regulate. 

What’s Your Story?

          There’s a major player in our lives that is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

The other day, my friends drove about twenty miles for us to meet for lunch. When I asked them how the drive was both simultaneously responded:

            “The traffic was horrible.”  

              “It was good.”

            One car, one trip, and two completely different experiences.

            We can see these alternate reactions from a young age. A mother tells her children they can’t have a cookie now. One child howls, like something heavy landed on her foot, the other shrugs her shoulders and continues playing in the figurative (or literal) sandbox.

            Then there’s the difficult, harrowing experiences, like those who lived through and experienced life in a concentration camp during World War II. The inhumane conditions of life at Auschwitz; the incomprehensible cruelty, abuse, violence, and firsthand witnessing of genocide caused many to lose the will to live. Then there were those survivors like Elie Wiesel who wrote:

            “We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats [gas chambers] over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.” -NIGHT

            Wiesel was only fifteen when the Nazi’s deported him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau—only fifteen when, on their first night in the camp, his mother and younger sister were killed in the gas chambers. And yet, his spirit spoke of helping others, of survival, of help as the oxygen for their survival.

            Many Holocaust victims did not find helping others as a means to survival. Many victims were lost in incomprehensible fear and depression. Same situation but a very different experience again. 

            What causes us to react so differently to similar situations? What causes one person alone on a Saturday night to feel sorry for himself and another to relish his own company?

            A major player is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

            Take a moment to think about something that happened today. If an unpleasant experience arose for you, consider the following:

  1. What were you thinking about the situation at the time?
  2. Is it possible you could consider perceiving the situation differently?
  3. If you answered yes to #2, how does the alternate perspective(s) make you feel?

   When we grow mindful of our inner dialogue, we are less likely to fall prey to negative thinking and more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and others.

Where Are You?

When we react to another’s drama, we run the risk of losing ourselves.

You know those days that make you feel like you’re walking outside on a soap opera set? The sky is the color of a robin’s egg, the air feels fresh and smells like autumn. That was today.

Unfortunately, the picture-perfect weather didn’t prevent two people in their cars at an intersection from fighting. My car idled just behind one of the cars as the drama unfolded.

One man got out of his truck.  I couldn’t hear him, but his arms were flailing. The other man got out of his car, a menacing expression with some kind of metal pipe in his hand.

My stomach and shoulders tensed up, and I felt a prickly heat across my chest. 

My teenaged son beside me looked calm, gazing at the scene before us with the aura of a modern-day Yoda. 

“Mm…I wonder who got there first.” He said with the pondering stillness of a Buddha.

The men were standing close to each other now. The tension between them fierce.

This is how it happens. Death by stray bullet. Gunfight at intersection, news at 11…

The above is where my mind went. I felt a strong, irrational urge to tell my son to duck. 

“It doesn’t really matter who got there first,” I said.

And just like that, the angry men returned to their cars, and we made our way to the intersection, the tense moment behind us.

Hours later, I am thinking about today’s tense moment. In a way, I wasn’t much different than these angry men: I wasn’t enjoying the beautiful day, I was lost in a moment of what if anxiety—another flavor of negative emotion. It was only my son who could observe the scene without taking it in.

We go through our daily lives, exposed to a myriad of “angry intersections”—moments when our environment is tense. At those moments, we can observe but we don’t need to react or become the stressors around us. Easier said than done. My son helped me realize that I’d stopped observing and started reacting; his non-reactive reaction reminded me that we all have this choice within us. 

When we try to detach and observe—even the negative reactions around and within us—we spend more time living in the moment. We can enjoy the beautiful day without getting sucked into another’s angry intersection.

What Were You Thinking?

There is a beauty found in our unfiltered thoughts…

The other day I found myself craving sweet and salty—something that happens when I am feeling that all-too-common yearning for comfort food. Thanks to a regular routine of meditation, I caught myself in the moment and put the bag of chips and ice-cream away (after having a healthy serving-size of each). The practice of meditation has helped me grow still and aware when I’m not meditating, helping to prevent those eating-without-tasting moments while binging through Netflix shows.

            Later that night, I gave myself an exercise in “walking back the cat.” Knowing I crave comfort food when stressed, I let loose on the page all that had transpired that day. There was the morning traffic commute, complete with a firetruck that caused drivers (myself included) to jut into made-up lanes, the new deadlines at work, learning about a family member’s need for surgery, and the discovery of a broken toilet in our home. Those were the highlights.

            But each one of those highlights offered another opportunity to delve deeper. I could easily name each of those items and not have gotten to the root of my voracious cravings. It was the writing, the action of slowing down and putting pen to paper that helped me uncover my thinking—the very source of where the figurative cat first began its steps.

            Reflective writing gives us the opportunity to hear our thoughts. Earlier that day, I’d agreed to do something that was not only time-consuming; it was also impractical and unnecessary. 

            What was my voice whispering at the moment I said “Yes” aloud? “I want to please. This is what matters most. I don’t want to disappoint.” Yet moments after I uttered that one syllable, I walked away feeling heavy, trapped like a bird in a cage.

            Listening to my thoughts, I was able to walk back the cat and pinpoint the moment my catecholamine activity kicked up several notches: the moment I betrayed myself, agreeing to something I didn’t agree with.

            Thanks to the above exercise, I have since altered my “yes” to “no.”

            This Saturday, October 30th I am hosting a workshop through and for the iWRITE Youth Club, specifically designed to ignite your inner compass through a specific form of reflective writing. Thanks to the inspiration and teachings of Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Simon, the webinar: Reflective Writing: Finding Insight, Empowerment, and Peace will offer a simple but transformative tool to connect the outer experience of our daily lives with the often-dormant terrain of our inner world.

            Here’s a link to register: https://iwrite.org/product/reflective-writing/

            Meditation can be practiced in many forms. Meditation in writing gives us a chance to grow present, fostering awareness, creativity, compassion, and peace.

            I hope to see you soon:-)