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/

What We Can Learn from Butterflies

Humankind can gleam lessons from its fellow neighbor in the animal kingdom: the butterfly.

Several years ago, I had a vividly haunting dream about butterflies. It affected and inspired me so much so that I went on to write a novel about it. I’m more than halfway through writing it, so stay tuned for that book’s availability down the literary road!

For months prior to writing the book, I researched anything and everything I could get my hands on about these mysterious cold-blooded, near-sighted insects. One of the most fascinating aspects of them is their ability to morph from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly.

But are we any different than the butterfly?

I think about the famous sphinx riddle:

What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?

The answer is humankind: we are a baby or toddler in the morning of our life; in the prime or afternoon of our life, we walk upright on two legs, and in the evening of our life, we often need assistance (i.e. a cane) to help us remain ambulatory.

Regardless of how we got here, we are in a worldwide pandemic. We are in the pupa stage of a butterfly life cycle as a human race. 

So, what IS the pupa stage?

It’s a resting stage, “where the animal does not eat or move, although great changes occur….Once all the necessary changes have taken place and environmental conditions are favorable, the butterfly is ready to emerge.” (Source: Do Butterflies Bite? by Hazel Davies and Carol A. Butler).

The pandemic has created a forced pause button on the world; we are currently not much different than the butterfly in its pupa stage. Even the amazing doctors, nurses, janitors, Amazon workers, deliverymen and women, supermarket employees—the list goes on and on—even they are forced to alter their way of doing things. We are all, like the mysterious insect who must morph.

There is no one on the planet that is unaffected by COVID-19. Mother Nature is giving us a no opt-out option. I encourage all of us to accept, like the butterfly in its pupa stage, the new reality we find ourselves in and take a moment to pause and reflect. It is when we reflect that real growth begins.

Dating Myth: The Closing Window

The idea that a woman’s potential to meet a man “before the window closes” creates a fear that manifests in unhealthy choices.

*Ann recently went on a date with a 5’9” man. At the end of the evening, the man said, “I like you. You’re cute. I’d like to see you again. But you’ll need to ditch the heels. We can’t have you looking taller than me.”

Ann is 5’ 8” sans heels. Apparently, Ann’s height directly affects her date’s ability to…er date her (or at the very least, stand beside her in public).

“Were you attracted to him?” I asked.

“He owns his own real estate company and drives a Lamborghini.”

“But are you attracted to him?”

She sighed and made a face like one would when offered leftovers from two nights ago. “It’s different at my age. You’ll see. You have to consider different things than you do in your 20’s and 30’s. So, he’s sensitive about his height and he seems a little needy. But he likes me, and he wants to take care of me. I don’t want to be alone. I need someone like him.”

Our talk went on, covering everything from his clean teeth to his affectionate texts. Still, my friend never did answer the attraction question. 

Ann’s divorce isn’t final. She has three girls to raise and at forty, she says “a woman’s window closes quickly. A man has plenty of time. The window remains open for them.”

But I boldly disagree with my dear friend. The “closing window” is a myth, an illusion perpetuated by the cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This fear causes women and men alike to make choices out of some invisible pressure cooker. It is up to each of us to recognize the myth and do what YOU think works best for YOU, not what the mythical fear whispers (if not screams).

I am not stating that compromise isn’t a part of dating and personal relationships in general. But there is a fine but distinct difference between compromise and settling, between choosing to be with someone out of interest and choosing someone to purely have a “someone.”

Love can be found in the least expected places by people at any stage of life. And while the hunger to experience that love is real, there is nothing lonelier than spending time in the wrong company. 

*Name is altered to retain privacy.

Trigger Happy

Our triggers just might be a hidden gift waiting for us to discover…

We all know the term “triggered” at this point. A good decade ago, the word may have referred to a psychological meaning related to PTSD or some other mental disorder. Yet today, you don’t need letters after your name to be familiar with the slang of someone who gets “triggered.”

According to Urban Dictionary, “triggered” refers to “when someone gets offended or gets their feelings hurt, often used in memes to describe feminist, or people with strong victimization.”

Regardless of whether one is experiencing an emotional reaction based on a genuine trauma or mild offense, the reaction is real: the blood boiling, the heart racing, the urge to scream, cry or express negative sentiment. The individual experiencing the “trigger” is in emotional pain.

But what if we could look at the cause of one’s trigger as an opportunity to grow? What if identifying and acknowledging our triggers could be the first step towards changing? What if we considered our triggers as gifts to open and observe rather than Jack-in-the-boxes to avoid at all costs?

Consider Terry Wright, the sixty-five-year-old woman charged with resisting arrest after refusing to wear a mask at a Bank of America in Texas last month. Wright is certainly entitled to an opinion on the mask issue; she is not, however, legally permitted to go mask-less into a private institution (i.e., Bank of America) that requires a mask for all visitors.

For whatever reason, following Bank of America’s mask policy to wear a mask for a mere visit triggered Wright. It triggered Wright enough that she perceived herself as a victim: 

“Hold up! Hold up! Some old lady [Wright] is getting arrested here!”

Wright’s trigger created more misperceptions:

This is police brutality.” The video cam shows no police brutality and audibly offers several bank witnesses flat out disagreeing with Wright.

Yet there was one form of brutality: Wright’s cruelty to others and herself. Her inability to reflect on her actions and continue to see herself as a victim instead of an agitator is the true crime. 

The irony: Wright stated on a phone interview, post her childish scene at the bank (and Office Depot shortly after):

“My civil rights were violated.”

One of the first definitions of civil is “cultured and polite, as in someone who is civilized.” Wright’s behavior was the antithesis of what it means to be civil, to think about others within the community and our interconnection to each other. Wright was too steeped in pain, lashing out at others instead of reflecting inward.

The next time we feel triggered, consider an alternate choice; consider the opportunity for growth. Ask yourself:

What is the lesson here for me?

What does my potential reaction say about me?

Is there another way to perceive this situation?

Is there another way to react in this moment?

When we consider a potential trigger to be a blessing instead of a curse, our perception changes and so does our reality.

*Sources: KPRC 2, Vocabulary.com, Urban Dictionary

Proprioceptive Thinking: The Sixth Sense

Lost your way? The Proprioceptive Question will guide you to the answer.

Proprio what? And what the heck does it have to do with a 6th sense??

Last summer, a dear friend of mine (Steve Bernstein, author of Stories from the Stoop) introduced me to a gem of a book: Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice. Co-authors, Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Simon offered a form of meditation through proprioceptive writing. Through a powerful yet simple ritual of writing to baroque music on unlined paper, we possess the ability to create a conduit between our inner and outer world.

But not all of us are writers. Some of us find meditation in running or baking or gardening. So, I began to wonder: Could the proprioceptive method work in other forms of life?

Proprius is Latin for “one’s own” and typically refers to our body’s proprioceptive system. We are regularly taking in life through our five senses, transmitting whatever information comes into our brain, processing “from the inner world of our bodies, the world we alone inhabit.” (Metcalf and Simon). It’s this proprioception that allows us to feel our bodies, as our own. It’s why, when we have a stroke or illness, we can sometimes lose the feeling of literal embodiment. 

The 6th sense is the invaluable gift we all have to synthesize our five senses, reacting to the world around us on a physical, mental and spiritual plane. But we often lose awareness of our 6th sense, even take it for granted while we are healthy. We run on autopilot and can lose the gift of self-reflection.

Enter proprioceptive thinking—a cognitive and spiritual launching pad for those moments when you’ve lost your way, when you’re uncertain about a relationship or a situation, when you’re anxious or depressed. While proprioceptive writing involves handwriting to slow down and answer the proprioceptive questions throughout what is known as a Write, proprioceptive thinking is an opportunity to ask a proprioceptive question—either aloud or in your mind.

So, what is “the” proprioceptive question?

What do I mean by _____________________________?

Think of the above blank as your metacognitive/spiritual Mad Libs:-)Into the blank goes whatever is going through your mind as you draw, talk, swim, cook. 

I’ll give an example from my own life now. Today was spent collecting pathetic drops of water from the spigot outside my house. I was trying to garner enough water to flush a toilet in my home.

My proprioceptive question is:  What do I mean by pathetic?

By asking the proprioceptive question, I am slowing down, using language as a tuning fork for my intuition. Slowing down literally awakens our gut (and our gut is lined with millions of nerve cells that actually “talk” to the brain).

At heart I’m a writer. I can ask the proprioceptive question in my head, but the revelations flow from my pencil.

What do I mean by pathetic? I mean it’s three days without a shower or running water. Pathetic that so many people are living without water and heat and electricity for days now. Pathetic as in sad. Houston, we have a big problem. 

I encourage you to consider the proprioceptive question when you are feeling stressed or confused. The question just might recharge your inner compass. 

The Validation Dish

There’s something I notice lately, something women tend to do more than men. Something girls tend to do more than boys. I’ve seen manifestations of this affliction most of my life: the apology without real cause, the explanation that is typically unnecessary, the quick laughter to mask the hurt. But it wasn’t until recently that I noticed a visual/auditory pattern as well: parenthetical statements.

Huh?

Hear me out. The other night, I was out with a group of women, and I noticed a regular pattern, subtle but distinct, to the banter of us. Statements like:

“I haven’t felt the same since I got COVID, well, I think I haven’t felt the same.”

“I just want a man who is, you know, kind. I don’t need to care about his looks, not really, you know. I just want him to be, I don’t know, nice.”

“I told him I was still reading, so why did he turn off the light. That really pissed me off—that’s bitchy of me, probably it is, right? I don’t think he meant it to be mean, but I was reading in bed, so it’s like I don’t matter, right?”

You see what I mean?? I felt this out-of-body aha moment that night, noticing a specific kind of halting cadence to our statements, like a toddler learning to walk, but not quite ready to let go of the furniture.

I kept thinking, most men would articulate those sentences, sans those parenthesis—they would be the figurative toddler standing, teetering, falling and getting right back up without any need to grab onto a nearby chair!

Those same statements, uttered from the mouths of men might sound more like this:

“I haven’t felt the same since I got COVID.”

“I just want a woman who is kind.”

“I told her I was reading, and she turned off the light. 

#3 would be a clear conclusionary statement or likely would not be articulated in the first place because our imaginary gentleman wouldn’t need the big V: validation.

If you are a man reading this, feel free to disagree. After all, this is an opinion- piece and I am speaking in generalizations. There are women out there who possess the confidence to speak without a barrage of caveats weighing down their sentences; there are men who throw pauses into their words like a trapeze artist on a balance beam!

It’s one thing to be uncertain and articulate that uncertainty. It’s another, more subtle yet dangerous thing to crave validation or worse yet, lack faith in yourself.

Here’s what I know:

My friend’s breathing is more labored post COVID.

My friend wants to meet a kind, nice man who she is attracted to and deserves to be attracted to.

My friend was pissed that her husband turned off the light when she was reading.

When we sit with how we feel, when we accept all of our emotions, we no longer feel the deceiving call for external validation.

Whatever your gender, I challenge you to pay attention today and notice how you speak, how the sentences form on your tongue and in your mind. Embrace your inner compass, without the need to justify, apologize or gain the approval of others.

 External validation is a hunger that never satisfies. Go within for approval and you’ll never starve.

The Dish of a Hard Lesson

Our harshest teacher is often where we find our greatest strength.

We all have someone or something in our lives that pushes us to do the very thing we may not want to do or don’t think we can do. Today, I ask you to consider the following idea:

Our greatest teachers or lessons are often the ones that involve falling to our knees.

Why is this? Why can’t we get the lesson or experience like one would experience a massage? Why is our greatest teacher often the person who makes us feel ready to pull our hair out?

The Universe works in mysterious ways, but it is always working in its own intricate and beneficial way. We are like fish in a bowl, looking out at the world around us but only having a limited perspective of what reality is. Hindsight often offers us a better view in our respective fishbowls.

When I reflect upon the very things that I was certain would break me (the death of a loved one, the belligerent colleague, the litigious ex), it is hindsight that demonstrates time and time again, how each hardship, each challenge caused me to push past my comfort zone and grow. Each seemingly impossible situation or person caused me to get up off of my figurative knees and figure out a way. Had the person or situation not felt so overwhelming or heartbreaking, I would not be the strong, capable person I see myself as today.

We all arrive on this planet loving ourselves. We never see a baby embarrassed about the size of their derriere! But over time, many of us are taught to doubt ourselves. That doubt attracts us to all kinds of lessons and teachers. Once we get the lesson, the problem or problematic situation disappears.

Some of us—like myself—needed some tough lessons. It is once I thank those teachers that I notice they start bothering me. 

I encourage you to consider a figurative dish in your life—a person or situation that is challenging you (You know, the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise or the ones that make you feel like your heart is breaking and will never be whole again.). Serve yourself an alternate perspective: what if this person or situation is here to teach me another way? To show me an inner strength that was dormant until now? To help me realize what really matters and what I need to let go of?

When we thank our hardest teachers, we receive the invaluable gifts of peace and growth.

The Roula and Ryan Show: The Gift of Belly Laughs

Thank you to The Roula and Ryan Show for having me on!

Last week, I had the pleasure of plugging my book among the auditory company of Roula Christie,  Ryan Chase and Eric Rowe on their Houston-based morning show, Roula and Ryan.

It was surreal hearing the familiar icons of morning radio, the very voices that accompanied me on many a pre-pandemic commute, INTERACT with me on air for all the world to well…hear.

My newly released book, The Friendship Diet: Clean Out Your Fridge, Get Real with Yourself, and Fill Your Life with Meaningful Relationships that Last is self-help meets stand-up comedy. I have a background in comedy/theatre as a performer, so knowing I was heading onto the often funny, always honest Roula and Ryan Show, I knew I had found a temporary auditory home. I’m also a school teacher and therefore know that the best classroom management involves a dash of comedy. Roula’s taunts can be heard in the link below, egging me on to reveal the dare-we-say-it “v” word (class clowning at it’s comedic genius pinnacle:-)

Humor, when honed with compassion, has the ability to lower our defenses and make self-reflection less scary, more palatable. We are more likely to digest emotional nutrition when it’s served with a spoon of belly laughs—hence, the audio clip I’m closing this post with (AND a big reason behind The Friendship itself—the connection between edible and emotional nutrition runs deep).

So thank you, Roula, Ryan and Eric for giving me a comedic audio space to promote a much-needed dose of humor and insight in our current crazy world.

Here’s the audio file. The belly laughs commence at 8am on July 21st, 9:36

https://www.krbe.com/thebestofroularyan/