Weekend in New York City

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A PTSD Triggered Morning

Morning of November 27th

Wide awake and pitch black. A quick look at the bedside clock reveals it’s only 4:40am. I still have over another hour to sleep.

My mind races with things I’m excited to do today. I don’t know how I could get them done, but I want to try to fit them in if at all possible. I would love to start the holiday baking. I have a scarf to finish and several more origami boxes for gifts to make. And definitely squeeze in a run. An appointment and work are the anchors of what I need to work around. I mentally strategize about how to make the fun stuff happen. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back this crazy thought process was Clue #1 that I was anxious and trying to vet my energy in a positive way.

Then I remember it’s my husband Daren’s Birthday! Maybe I should get up and make scones to surprise him with? I can do that, then maybe run before logging into work since I’m teleworking today. That would be a fine start to the day.

I forgo the attempt to go back to sleep and decide on birthday scones. Clue #2 that I wasn’t quite right should have been when I went into the bathroom for my Ayurvedic morning routine and I didn’t quite screw a cap back on one of my oils before picking it up again… by the cap. Ugh what a yucky mess. 

I stumble downstairs in the dark all set to make blueberry scones. The three cats are milling for breakfast and are so very underfoot, the sink is sort of full and the dishwasher needs to be emptied, I need to clear these things to bake – all are in my way. 

My heart starts to race. Clue #3. Things not going the way I expect. I take a deep breath and remind myself that nothing I am doing is truly necessary, has a deadline, and are only things I would like to do and are in no way vital.

For a few minutes I feel calm and present as I put everything away, feed the cats and rush over to open the blinds. Why am I rushing??? Clue #4.

I also notice that last night we left a mess of pillows and blankets strewn all about the living room. Pet toys are everywhere. And there is a cat puke to boot! I realize I’m rushing and that opening blinds can take place after I start to bake. Why do I need to keep reminding myself to slow down this morning? Clue #5.

I walk very slowly on purpose back to the kitchen and begin taking out the ingredients and supplies. I preheat the oven. Start the coffee maker (how could I not have done that first thing? Clue #6), and start to assemble what I hope to be scones in a short 20 minutes or so.

Moments later my heart starts to race again. My breath is erratic. Clue #7.

Something is SO wrong. But what? Why last Wednesday evening did my son Tom snap at me when I asked him to keep the dog’s training collar on? I immediately get angry about this even though I didn’t at the time. The look of disgust on his face 10 minutes later when I asked him politely if something was wrong while I was in this same kitchen at this same counter, assembling the makings of a Thanksgiving dish. The look on his face was followed by a loud, angry statement about how he doesn’t appreciate coming home from work and being talked to like that. I quickly looked over to Daren at the time who had his back turned pretending not to hear the conversation.

Like what?” I asked. 

“Forget it ma!, I’m taking the dog for a walk”  as he stormed out the door.

How dare he? At the time I almost laughed it off. Immediately after the door slammed behind Tom, I asked my husband if I said anything wrong. He affirmed I had not in the very least. Hours later while at his girlfriend’s house, Tom texted me to say he was sorry about snapping earlier and that he loves me. The whole episode was just NOT a big deal. So why am I so upset this morning? Clue #8.

I start mixing the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to overmix. As I prepare the counter with a light dusting of flour before turning this beautifully slightly moistened dough to the floured surface, I consider how much I cannot stand when someone accuses me of something I didn’t do, then yells or gets mad at me for it! Kind of the way my oldest step-son stormed out of the house and sent a rash of nasty texts after falsely accusing me of throwing away pieces of his mother’s wedding cake one morning a few months back. Immediately following that incident my husband scratched his head along with me and assured me I did nothing wrong, but after a few days if it was ever brought up again he appeared nervous and shifty; looking like he really doesn’t want me to bring it up ever again. Did he talk to his son? What on earth about that changed his mind so drastically about this incident?

Now my heart is REALLY racing. I feel as if my life is at stake and I need to fight for it! Why am I even thinking about this now? Clue #9

I continue to work, but my hands are shaking, I can’t concentrate. Clue #10.

I want to bring these things up with my son and husband. Unearth them and find out what they were thinking long after the fact, as soon as I see them today– Clue #11.

There are two ways this story could go

  1. I could do just that – what I wanted to do. Talk to them about it. And how might that go? I know how this story ends, but it wouldn’t matter because I don’t want to feel the terror, anxiety and anger I feel right now about it. I want these feelings to go away pronto. I’ll sound angry, because I am angry and super crazy anxious. I’ll let them know I can’t sound kind and gentle when I’m anxious like this – but it will not matter to them. All they will see is an angry mom/wife. They will be defensive. I will plead that I’m just trying to understand and want to talk. They won’t understand me or why I’m bringing it up. I don’t know why either. All I know is that I’m infuriated about this. I’m infuriated about being accused of things I didn’t do and then being treated poorly because of these said non-existent things.
  2. I could remember that I have PTSD and I missed a lot of clues that I was so obviously anxious this morning, I woke up anxious and at some point became triggered in the kitchen.

This morning thankfully I went with the latter option. In fact as soon as I came to terms with the very real fact that I have PTSD last summer it was an option at almost all moments when I had this feeling that something was just terribly wrong and at some point it started to feel like my life was at stake. My issue nowadays is that I always feel terrible when I miss the earlier clues. Sometimes I can catch them and breath or take a medication. But today I missed them all before I was fully triggered. 

As I begin kneading the dough I thought more deeply about what I’m really, really feeling. I was likely triggered by Tom’s reaction simply by being in the kitchen in same way with the same light while it was dark outside. That trigger lead to thinking about my step-son months ago, but it really led all the way deep down into the child inside me that became frozen in a certain state 40+ years ago.

Being accused of something that wasn’t my fault, something I didn’t do, or something I couldn’t have possibly known was the norm. It often led to consequences where I was abused, sometimes very badly. My mom was often a bystander, not wanting to be abused herself. She would often look away or side with my father (the perpetrator). Someone standing by while I was unfairly accused hurt even more. Even though he didn’t mean it, Daren keeping his back turned or refusing to talk to me about the supposed wedding cake incident feels like a bystander not helping the child inside me in need.

Since this past summer I learned that long-term childhood abuse is particularly complex if it was at the hands of a caregiver, because as a child your actual survival is at stake. You need your caregivers to live. That terrified part of me has become frozen in time. I often handle situations like this and a handful of others that would have led to abuse in a similar manner. During the initial encounter I’m very strong. I act as if nothing is wrong, as I had to do as a child just to get through the episode. Crying wasn’t allowed, even while getting hit- in fact it made things worse. I learned to deal with an incident by being strong and doing whatever I need to do. The hurt, terror and anger always came later and still does until this day when an old wound is rubbed, some time has passed, and my body feels safe and I’m re-triggered. Which often enough strangely leads me to feel as if I’m in survival mode. My heart, my breath, the crazed thoughts. My lower brain’s alarm signals to me that I need to fight for my rights, get out, get even, I’m being wronged, etc. 

We all have that lower brain (the reptilian one without higher rational thought-like a crocodile). Mine recognizes triggers that were necessary for survival long ago and all our lower brains possess the ability to shut down the executive functioning portion of the brain if survival really is at stake when we need to flight, flight or freeze. It’s how we are built. The problem with PTSD is that sometimes the danger is only perceived and not even real. If the person doesn’t catch it, they have an episode which isn’t pretty. When I’m already anxious before I’m triggered I’m far more likely to not notice. 

While folding blueberries into the scone dough, my higher and lower brain were in conflict. The part that I innately identify as me (more or less the higher, rational thinking part of the brain) was telling myself I was alright, I’m only in my kitchen; totally safe- I am and will be ok.

This part of my physical symptoms of being triggered are where adrenaline has entirely flooded my body. I can feel it’s desperate need to be released. I start to boil with heat. I hyperventilate and often cry uncontrollably. The next few hours are always recovery. Sometimes this happens often – several days in a row. I’m told it’s normal as you are going through PTSD treatment to go through time periods like this. When a childhood trauma victim feel safe as an adult- however many years or decades later, the body begins healing itself through bringing up old cellular memories in order to rid the body of deep-rooted habits/reactions/etc that no longer serve it.

I put the scones in the oven and set the timer. I’m lost. What was I going to do next? Did I make the coffee yet? I’m dazed, I’m confused, I’m sad… I’m just overwhelmingly dysfunctional. Daren comes down. Today I can explain my full thought process. We hug. I cry. I can hardly pick up a cup without almost dropping it. The scones are ready. We enjoy them although I can’t finish even one.

Sounds crazy? Yes, I know. But overall, I’m feeling better day by day. I know I need to go through this to get over/past/through – however it’s best phrased “it”. I continue to be patient and greet whatever arises, being careful to not get suckered into false alarms. That’s the trickiest part. 

But I’m OK. I’m enjoying the healing, one cell at a time.

On childhood trauma

Social Media Disclaimer:

Many people often ask me why I so freely share my troubles. I share because I’ve found shame for so long in not being perfect. I’ve felt for too long like damaged goods I’ve learned none of us could ever be perfect and to even try to entertain such a thing or put on that façade is a set up for failure and takes WAY too much energy. We all suffer and we can only gain strength with connection. So I’m living the change I’d like to see by normalizing what is after all very normal.

 

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Hygee (Hoo Guh) & How I Plan to Embrace Winter this Year

I never heard this word until last week. I was starting to plan for the holidays and feeling really festive and excited, until my heart sunk thinking about January and the rest of the winter.
I REALLY don’t like the winter. But it’s an inevitable part of life. If I’ve learned anything this year that is positively impacting my life, it is to enjoy the moment, whatever it is; as this too shall pass. Alan Watts wrote a book called “This is It”. Meaning, as we are waiting for life to start or get better we are actually wasting it- because the whole thing; the good, the bad, the ugly… the joys, sweat & tears… and even traffic is “IT”.
I hardly noticed the winter until the year I was pregnant with Gabby. She was due in June and around February I really started nesting. I had a paper calendar on the wall at the time (who didn’t in 1999?) and on the last day of February I excitedly turned the page and saw the beautiful spring picture for March. My heart filled with joy. I was so excited and ready for spring. I went to bed happily anticipating the coming months. But when I woke up it was still freezing, dark and wet. Weeks later it was still freezing, dark and wet. That same year as the days turned darker and colder in October I realized I am one the thousands I have been hearing in the background who dislike what feels like the never ending season of winter.
20 years later and I’m still a hater. I want that to change, or at least to accept it the way I can smile and catch myself from feeling grumpy during traffic. This is a totally new concept for me to accept even a yucky present moment [most of the time anyway] and tell myself that this is really it! This is life. There is nothing else and even this could be kind of enjoyable when I realize I’m alive and experiencing what exists in the spectrum of living experiences.
So I went to my best ally that I turn to for answers (Google of course) and asked “How to enjoy winter?
Almost every search response turned up this word “Hygee” pronounced “Hoo Guh” (I personally like the way I was pronouncing it in my mind better, but that is neither here nor there). Apparently it’s a Danish word that loosely translates to coziness. The Danish are the well known as the happiest culture in the world, but also have one of the more harsh winters with a population of human settlers. What is their secret?
One can look on their own, I’m not going to go bonkers writing it all out- but the general concept is to embrace it, do all things inside that you’ve been putting off, make time for friends no matter the weather and to indulge in winter foods, clothes and warm beverages. Embracing it means hunkering down and getting cozy. Lots of candles, soft light, and blankets. Also, going outside every day for a bit no matter how dark or cold. Not only is the fresh air and movement of walking a benefit, but the contrast back into the cozy home makes it all the more sweeter.
As I raked leaves at both of our homes this week, covered the stubborn little spring bulbs I recently planted that were poking up, and started to put away the outdoor summer items; I felt a sense of connection the earth and dare I say even slight excitement toward this season for this first time ever.
Being prepared and doubling down on making my home cozier than ever felt right. I ordered non-holiday candles for my windows that I plan to not move until the sun starts to set at an earlier hour next year. I purchased those battery operated string lights for little places in the home near the potted plants I brought in from the outside for the winter for extra light & cheer. I hope to have a fire almost every evening (mental note: need to have the hubby show me how first), so I ordered a ton of firewood just for the occasion. AND I put it in the porch right outside the front door so it stays dry and seasoned… and it is close enough to not groan about having to trek anywhere else around the outside to get it.
What else?
I’m making a list of movies I’ve always wanted to see. Creating a pile of books to keep in living room that I want to read this winter. I am putting together exciting crockpot, dessert and soup recipes to try. I have a list of electronic things I never get to that I want to cross off my mental to do list forever.
I also made a list of things to do on weeknights and weekends that aren’t that exciting to do in the warm months because the draw to be outside is so much greater. Some of those things are to use the sauna we have in the basement, cross country ski (we have a trail within .2 miles from our front door), put together puzzles we bought & never touched, paint, write, color, knit, take online classes to get all CEUs or just learn about somethings I always want to know more about, go to plays and musicals at local theaters, visit museums, try new coffee shops…
Just writing it all out again makes me feel like the whole winter might not be enough time for all these great activities! Could it be that I can enjoy these months? I hope so!
It still might not shake out to actually be enjoyable, but it absolutely won’t be enjoyable if I don’t realize all the cool ways I could embrace and make the most of it. Fingers crossed.
If you are of the many like me who dreads these months and found an idea or two here to make it more bearable – then this was worth the time to write and share.
Here is to embracing it all, because after all, this it it.
~Esterina

 

My wood pile on the porch. This was taken only yesterday after moving a half cord of wood myself and then making a large tarp to keep it all warm & dry. I put kindling in flower pots. Today the scene is full of snow!
Now a day later.
Welcome Winter

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How I’m Choosing Who to Vote For

This past weekend Daren & I went to Harvard for Freshman Family weekend and attended the Keynote address: “The Polarization of America: Can We Bridge the Divide?” with IOP Fellow and former Congressman from Nevada, The Hon. Joseph J. Heck.

I didn’t know the name, but found the talk to be something I can really chew on. Before anyone starts to look Heck up, and bash or celebrate any move he ever made; Heck is Republican and obviously putting his neck on the line by speaking in a highly liberal environment – not only for the parents last weekend, but through many lectures for students during the year.

I don’t like to discuss politics and often do not speak freely as to which party I’m more aligned with, but I’m not a Republican. Most of the audience was not either. However, the talk was wonderful and touched on many reasons why the political divide is kind of inevitable but not impossible to overcome.

One part of it really hit home for me and is something I plan to always consider as well as one can. That is the gumption of a candidate. Heck didn’t even use the word gumption, but at times and once during the Q&A he said something to the affect of considering individuals who can stick to their morals well enough to say No to power.

We need to generally hear an individual’s viewpoint on important issues whether it’s equal rights, gun control, the right to choose, immigration, etc. However, even more so it is important to consider whether or not the individual has the ability to work with others (even others on the other side) to come up with solutions that find common ground, andto have the gumption not to flip in order to please power, keep friends, take money, or even just to wrap up a session and go home.

Candidates need to have an answer on hot topics, but it doesn’t mean they are so ridiculous about it that they will no longer adhere to common sense. Party lines and rigid yes/no answers on issues make it nearly impossible to be seen or understood as something in between. Additionally, few topics are so black or white. The topics and national problems that are on the table took years to get to. They just cannot disappear overnight. It’s tricky stuff.

Take gun rights for example. Me personally – I don’t “believe” in guns. When I hear a candidate is a ‘gun person’ I look to their opponent. But in reality a candidate has to answer yes or no if they believe in ‘gun rights’, and that doesn’t answer a whole lot unless you really hear from them or look into their background.

But what does gun rights really mean? A part of me understands the other side. Just because I mightnot have one, I’m not sure I should or even want to have the right to tell someone else what they can or cannot have. If we outlawed them tomorrow what would that solve? People will still have and use them, likely often as much as they do now. We don’t have the money or man power to go into everyone’s homes to remove them. People are not going to turn them in because they are illegal. Drugs, prostitution, child porn and human trafficking are illegal but that doesn’t stop those who want to do these things from doing them. How can anyone tell a 19-year old minority single mother living in a shady neighborhood that she needs to give up her legally owned gun that makes her feel safe so she can shiver and be anxious walking down the block when she had previously felt safe, secure and that she had some power over her life? She wouldn’t be voting on my side even though she has a very rational point.

What I would love for our politicians to do is look for common ground and not give in to nonsense that power & bullying will try to instill. They need gumption to do that.

I have not a single statistic in front of me but would be willing to bet that most people in either party do not want to see one more mass shooting- like EVER. Guns are a part of the issue – of course. But does any majority really, really believe in the right to have a semi-automatic gun or weapons of mass destruction as part of no constitutional restrictions? Are any liberals really trying to take away any and all power to bear arms? Maybe some people fall into these categories, but again – I’d be willing to bet it’s a small percentage. Those persons in that small percent are not the individuals I would like to elect to pass our laws. The individuals I would like to represent my vote would have common sense and not give in to power or bullying of a smaller percent.

How can a healthy minded, willing Democrat work with a healthy minded, willing Republican to come up with potential solutions about how to prevent what we all want to prevent? We have to be willing to compromise, understand one another’s view and create a solution with them that works for all. There are many issues I don’t agree with 100% but understand the other side. It’s not easy and/or black and white.

This is where we the people come in. We do our due diligence and look for the truth in the people we have the power to elect. We understand and look past silly time limits during debates, simple colors to show which party the candidate is aligned with, and the one-liners on all these hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of political signs all over the place.

My first reaction to what I just wrote if I wasn’t writing it would be some defense about “Who has time for this?” But I need to even question my own silly gut reaction. Because if not this, then what actually matters? Isn’t this our right? Our ancestors fought hard for this power and we take it for granted, bemoaning that we don’t have time and just hope, wish and pray that the right people will be elected. Or we just vote down the party line and ignore the alarm signal that someone might not be looking out for the majority or have common sense.

So get involved! Even if it’s too late – at least do a quick google search before voting tomorrow. But do vote. And vote for someone with GUMPTION and common sense. We have the power. Only when you believe you don’t you actually don’t.

 

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Rainy November Morning Walk in New England

Cambridge, MA

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On the Possible Spiritual Aspect of Halloween

I have always loved the autumn. The cooler air, the deep-rich colors, the shifts in daylight; and yes –the heavier, warmer foods and attire that are part of the shifting season package. My ‘Vata Dosha’ (the who? something my yogi friends would get & isn’t to relevant at the moment) is supposed to really not like this time of the year. And even though my body has a serious cold intolerance (I mean SERIOUS), I have still always felt some sort of magic in the air, chills not withstanding.

Somewhere between the cooling temperatures that take place a few weeks post Labor Day and Thanksgiving, sits Halloween – smack dab in the middle’ish of it all. I realize that it’s become a very commercial holiday laced with sweets and costumes, but there had to be a reason that it’s celebrated at the time it is.

I’ve briefly read in the past it was a Pagan tradition that the church latched onto to help converts to Christianity experience something familiar. I knew about the European tradition of the Jack-o-lantern. And last year when my husband and I were in South Africa on Halloween Day, I wondered why it wasn’t celebrated much in the Southern Hemisphere.

I grew up going to Catholic School. Halloween for me was exciting, not just for the trick-or-treating, but because the next day was All Saints Day and we had no school.

I also know that Mexico celebrates this same time with a Day of the Dead celebration Día de Muertos.

Saints? The Dead? This kind of had something in common, right?

This year I volunteered to teach a yoga class on Halloween evening. While considering how not to avoid saying anything about the day of the year it is in class, I went on an online hunt to find the spiritual meaning behind this tradition. I found it fascinating enough to share what our elders were thinking when they established this time of year for this tradition.

“Our ancestors could viscerally feel shifts within nature, and so they anticipated internal shifts within spirit, mind and body too”. Symbolic Meaning of Halloween

I learned that Halloween really isn’t celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere because it’s the seasonal shift from warmth to coolness that makes the veil between our world and others thin. Southern hemisphere witches actually do celebrate this tradition on April 30th, which makes sense; as that time of year is equivalent to what we are experiencing now.

The thin veil between worlds would make it possible to more easily honor and connect to those who have passed – hence Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

But why a thin veil now?

I couldn’t find much online, even on what I would consider to be ‘junky’ sites. From my own spiritual understanding of nature, it actually does make sense that it is now. We just experienced the summer and have all that strong “yang” type energy starting to dwindle away. The mix of some warm days and the associated energy fusing with the cooler days (literally thinning the atmosphere), often finds us less physically motivated and more likely to slow down and look within.

It’s an interesting time of year from the Ayurvedic perspective the way I understand it, in that we are entering a cyclical time of destruction with the plant/tree life ending and the preparation of the cold-frozen season. Additionally, at this time the 5 elements are in a balance for a short period (earth, water, fire, air and ether). The balanced elements and accompanying life part of the year change to the ‘death’ part of the year would make it ripe for our body, mind and spirits to connect to all that is in the circle of the universe where that life/death cusp transforms in a balanced way.

As above so below – in that the laws of nature are the laws of nature everywhere, in the heavens as is on earth. Birth/early life (Spring), high point of life/mid-life (Summer), elder ages/dying (Fall), the magic in between that prepares for new life even though it looks like there is nothing there (Winter). Winter then prepares us for spring and so forth. There is never a new stop or end point, it just goes around and around and transforms from season to season.

So without getting any more wonky than I’m starting to sound I’m going to end it here. If you’ve followed my attempt to explain my crazy point – Great! And if not, that’s ok too. Maybe a seed you would like to cultivate has been planted. Or perhaps this is just all a bunch of non-sense that many of us like to dabble in while we have fun celebrating Halloween, watching scary movies, and dressing up as something we normally wouldn’t. It’s all in good fun.

In preparation for my yoga classes this week I think I’m going to just focus on Embracing the Unknown and the lessons Halloween can perhaps provide to us.

Embracing the unknown (bullets taken from the same above linked article)

  • Facing the scary, hairy thing under our beds.
  • Not freaking out about death, but honoring it.
  • Knowing our deepest renewal begins with surrender.
  • Embracing the concept that both life requires the presence of both light and dark.

 

Enjoy All that Nature has to offer!

Peace

 

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On Navigating with Love

There are some experiences in life that seem almost magical or other worldly as they happen. Sometimes it is when you meet someone and you get a sense of ‘deja vu’ or a flash of unexplained feelings. Or when you hear or read something that just seems to strike some sort a cord within you about its unexplainable truth.
One of the dozen or so times this happened to me is when I had first read that the soul is the connection to divine (God, nature or whatever you chose to call all that is). I was so moved by this simple statement. The truth of it was so obvious to me at the moment, that it sparked one of those other worldly flash feelings. The article discussed how the soul doesn’t dish out advice like our loud, animal mind brains do. But if you ignore or quiet the monkey brain and ask your soul for advice, the right answer is always there waiting to be heard. 
Wow. Yes. 
I knew that somewhere but didn’t realize it until then. A few hours later after mulling it over I posted something on Facebook about it- a short quote I made up as my own interpretation of this. It had very few “likes”. Guess my Facebook tribe didn’t get it. 
Not long after I heard a podcast about the moral compass. The speaker explained how we experience negative emotions (depression, hopelessness, anxiety, etc) when we aren’t living according to our moral compass.
Right- that makes sense too! And in my own interpretation I understood that moral compass connection to be through the soul which is connected to all that is. When we can’t hear or follow that sound advice and live against it, we feel unhappy.
Then, not long after I started to better understand the deeper meaning of the yoga I was attracted to. The focused attention of breath and movement quieted the monkey mind. Meditation and quieting the mind is a ticket to really hearing sound moral advice from my soul- that without question always knows the right and loving way to be in this world.
I feel so inspired to write this morning because when I opened my email amongst the midst of things was the start of a sentence that caught my eye strong enough for me to open it. It read “God does what God is: Love. God does not love you if and when you change. God loves you so that you can change!”The email was a few paragraphs long. It is a daily mediation that I signed up for from the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who wrote a book I recently finished called Falling Upward. 
The email this morning brought the message of the soul and compass home for me. The email referenced one of the famous lines of the Bible where man is created in the likeness and image of God (the divine, nature, whatever you connect to spiritually). That likeness is LOVE.
One paragraph states “Love is who you are. When you don’t live according to love, you are outside of being. You’re basically not real or true to yourself. When you love, you are acting according to your deepest being, your deepest truth. You are operating according to your dignity.
Love… Love it. To me that says it all.
Maybe, just maybe… the allegory of the apple and ensuing suffering was having doubt about pure love. Not living by the advice of the soul. Not having faith in all that is. 
The soul knows. Perhaps we should listen a bit closer. It’s always there- the good angel on our shoulder, NOT jumping up and down loudly like a child with a pitch fork such as the little fiery red guy on the other shoulder. Maybe listening to it really is a key away from fear & suffering.
Hey… it’s worth a try! 

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On Fear and Suffering

“Man suffers most through his fears of suffering”. —Etty Hillesum

I am beginning to understand how important it is to accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as a part of life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it really is part of being human and our existence. Once we begin accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as natural and ordinary; we can experience a more balanced outlook on the way things are. Once that balanced outlook is realized; we still have fears, bad days and down days – they just seem to have less power and debilitating effects on us.

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In a blog I wrote a few weeks ago “On the Fluctuating Gunas ”, bad things happening to our around us, doesn’t mean something is wrong with us. It’s just part of the flow of life.

What is even more astounding is that as humans we have the capability to truly accept the entire flow of what life is. In our most enlightened form it’s possible to not be affected at all. From a Christian biblical perspective – symbolically, the lesson of Jesus on the cross is to help free us from suffering through demonstrating that at even the WORST, we have nothing to be afraid of if we chose to embrace what is.

Acceptance = Non-Suffering

We can’t fight what life throws at us. It’s fruitless. We will lose by fighting and trying to avoid it every time. It’s a law of nature, but it doesn’t mean that we should lie back and be pushed around by life. In the same way we cannot win by swimming against the tide or sailing against the wind. We have to use nature’s forces intelligently to still navigate where we would like to go using what is there at the time and not just wishing the tide away.

What’s worse is that wishing the tide away means not enjoying life as it is happening. We waste time that would otherwise be enjoyable by being scared of the unknown, thinking things are supposed flow easily – then being miserable when they don’t.

Will Smith even quoted the version of the below phrase in a great YouTube video I watched not too long ago. This is the abridged >2 min version, but the point is well taken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSIo4JMzcbM

 

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FDR said it best years ago. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

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Years ago I read the book “Who Moved My Cheese”. It was cute enough. I was in my 20’s and it was my first exposure to hearing about accepting change. One of my favorite lines is quoted below. I remember it gave me chills because there actually would have been quite a bit I would be doing if I weren’t afraid.

On the Harvest and our Minds

Always do your best. What you plant now you will harvest later. 

Og Mandino

In the yoga classes I’ve taught this past week, the theme I have been focusing on is “The Harvest”. The chosen reason is the time of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially where we live in New England. The purpose of this theme however is not about the crops we need to harvest before the first frost (which was last night), but all ‘seeds’ and ‘harvests’ for the future.

Not sure what it has to do with yoga? If you are still with me, please allow me to explain.

A seed is just a seed all by itself. A lettuce seed alone has nothing but the potential to become lettuce. If I plant lettuce seeds in the ground in the month of April (appropriate for our Connecticut hardiness zone), there is a decent chance it will grow lettuce. But if I plant a cucumber seed in April, it will absolutely not grow into lettuce, and there is a slim chance will grow at all. Cucumber seeds can only thrive after the last frost. Hence, it would be best to plant them in mid-May for any hope of having a cucumber in August.

So far I have a seed, dirt, and weather that will hypothetically allow me to harvest cucumbers. Seeds, dirt and weather are not that insanely different from the potential we have as humans to manifest goals or create the type of life we desire. In churches and other spiritual communities and texts we will often hear the phrase “As above, so below”.

What does that mean? It means the physical world is not all that different from the mental and spiritual worlds. Even though we can’t see those other worlds, the laws of nature are consistent.

Like seeds, our thoughts are just thoughts alone. The properties of a thought will only bring forth that thought. If I’d like to lose 10 pounds, it’s only a thought or wish until I do something with it. Additionally, wishing it will not yield me a promotion or the improvement of a relationship that I’d like to enhance… obviously. With me so far?

Next that thought is planted or ‘sown’ in my mind. The mind is not so dissimilar to the soil that we plant our seeds in. The thought that I would like to lose 10 lbs in a mind racing with anxiety, wrought with depression, or full with a stressed out ‘To Do’ list will only go into a abyss of other competing and negative thoughts. Similar to how planting a cucumber seed in sand, in the snow, or even in April; the mind’s condition would not be right to help a positive thought manifest into the raw potential it has.

This is where yoga comes in.

Yoga is not soley about moving around in different poses (or asanas). Yoga means to ‘yoke’. This sacred Sanskrit term is used to signify the connections between spirit, mind and body. Whether we are moving through poses, meditating, chanting, doing breath work, etc; what we are really doing is creating a connection of our physical body to our mind and spirit; creating a sense of equilibrium between all three – which are really one beautifully operating unit. It’s difficult to have anxiety when the mind, body and spirit are yoked in meditation or savasana (that last pose in most yoga classes where you actually enjoy laying around doing nothing for a few minutes).

When we are in balance, the mind is clear. When we sow thoughts in a clear mind, it is akin to planting seeds in proper conditions. When the mind is not clear, thoughts will still grow in murky conditions. These conditions often generate unwanted outcomes. For example anxious thoughts will thrive and create even more anxiety in a busy mind. The mind is constantly creating whether we get involved with what is put in or not. Analogous to how weeds will grow without involvement.

Yoga helps clear the mind through pointed focus and awareness. Focusing on breathing while mindfully moving from posture to posture in an average American yoga class (which is what comes to the minds of most when they picture yoga) helps us to stay in the present moment and pay less attention the wandering mind. When we are on the mat and feeling the slight shifts and sensations of our bodies, we are connecting our physical body with our inner selves. While sitting in a posture for a short while, if the body is relaxed and the mind wanders; it becomes very clear what is in there as thoughts arise.

A beautiful characteristic of yoga is that the habits we build on the mat will begin to stay with us off the mat.

A remarkable trait about thoughts is that you can change them.

If we don’t like what is coming up, we don’t have to actually keep thinking them. With a little practice of strengthening the mind, we are able to notice thoughts that aren’t aligned with the life we want and modify them.

Ignoring or changing unwanted thoughts and clearing our minds creates the proper soil and weather conditions to grow an aspired thought into reality. This will give us the boost to perform the last and third step of harvesting what we would like.  That last step is the physical work.

If we plant cucumber seeds in mid-May and walked away… maybe we will have some cucumbers, but not likely. Chances increase if we ensure the seeds are properly watered, have the right amount of sun, and weeds are kept at bay – at least initially. As the season progresses and cucumber buddings begin to grow and get stronger, we still need to keep an eye on them; but weeds and unexacting sun and water levels are less likely to halt the progression of physical cucumbers.

We have to do the work. Once new habits are built and ingrained into our neuropath ways and routines, less focus needs to be put on sustaining the desired result. Keeping 10lbs off is easy with good habits because we essentially reap what we sow. Physically and mentally. If you don’t have a crop harvest right now, it only because you didn’t plant seeds and nurture them in the spring.

The laws of nature as we know it work the same in the mind/spirit world.

Yoga helps us to create the harvest (albeit “life”) we want by cultivating a healthy mind-body-spirit connection. The take home – mind your thoughts, as they can and will create the life and harvest you have.

NAMASTE

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant

Robert Louis Stevenson

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On Why I Love Teleworking

Teleworking really isn’t for everyone. There are so many people that I talk to who tell me they could never do it. If you even think it’s not for you, it’s not. However if it’s something you have the opportunity to do and are considering, allow me to share why it works for me and how I feel it is beneficial to our workplaces. I now have a full year under the belt of at least one day a week. A few months ago I moved to two days, And most recently since my office has been under construction all my work time has been at home.

For starters I can sleep in much later. When you eliminate the commute time, parking & walking an additional quarter of a mile to my office, and the time I was spending before work to shower, dress and primp for the day- I am able to sleep in over an hour longer than I was before. I could stand to sleep in even longer, but I get up to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, a healthy non-rushed breakfast, and a short meditation session before I log in for the day. My morning routine is so much more pleasant, I no longer feel tired all the time, or dread getting up.

Next, I’m unbelievably comfortable for a variety of reasons. The most striking is in the attire I can wear. When I dress after waking up, I put in comfy workout clothes so I can go for a lunch run later in the day. Also my desk, chair and surrounding workspace at home is completely suited to my height, likings and taste. I can control the temperature of the room. Throughout the day my cats and dog come to visit, hang around and sleep on or near me. Their presence reminds me I’m home if I briefly get swept away in workplace politics. Not to mention that looking at them and petting them just seems to soothe my soul.

I move around much more. My chair swirls and doesn’t have weird side bars that give my legs bruises when I curl up in my chair as I type away. I’ll take stretch brakes and do some reinvigorating yoga poses that I wouldn’t dream of doing at the office. When I get up to make cups of warm herbal tea throughout the day, instead of walking across the room to the microwave like I do at work, I walk down a flight of stairs and don’t feel grossed out by the water supply or my surroundings. But my favorite is that I use my lunch break to run. I used to use that same break to walk at work. This required changing my shoes, never being appropriately dressed for the weather, and worrying about getting too warm. Now I can perspire as much as I’d like without worry.

I am so much more focused and productive. I’m not distracted by idle chatter or sharing my own nonsensical stories. There are no crazy alarms going off, constant overhead announcements, or loud trash barrels rolling by as I try to converse over the phone. I don’t see or hear the dings and distractions of other people’s computers, desk phones and cell phones. I don’t overhear anyone else’s personal or professional conversations. Two job roles back I worked for 7 years in a corridor that had a one person, non gender specific restroom right down the hall from my desk and around the corner from the transportation department where the drivers would pop in and out all day to use the facilities. The noise of a flushing toilet and horrendous smell would permeate my senses all day. One of my favorite funny memories from that job was when my then boss who had an adjacent office to mine said “Not only do we have to put up with a bunch of sh!t, but it actually has to smell like it too”.

Along the lines of focus, I pay attention during conference calls like I never had before. Unless I have a part to play in a conference call meeting, at work I find it nearly impossible to pay attention. I’m in front of my computer and always multitasking. Now I use conference call times to walk around the house and do some mindless work. I’ll sometimes sweep, start dinner, grab the mail, or do some other random things. Because I’m physically moving while mentally listening and not trying to do two mental activities at once, I am paying far more attention than I ever had on calls before. I’ll often unmute my phone and pipe in or stop to take notes in my email. That is something I hardly ever did at my desk.

It’s overall healthier too. I am in touch with what is going outside weather wise because I have windows. Many spaces I have worked in over the years have had no windows or access to the outside. Sometimes on a sunny day I will take my laptop out to the deck and actually feel the sun on my skin. The air quality at home isn’t ‘iffy’. I’m eating better too. At the office if I forgot my lunch or decided I am not in the mood to eat what I brought, I would stand on a long cafeteria line and purchase something overpriced and not quite as good for me as the things I have at home.

At the end of the day I log off and hop into the shower. I’m dried and ready for the evening before I would have even been on I-91 sitting in traffic and feeling extremely agitated.

Monetary savings in food, gas and clothing. Comfort. Healthier atmosphere and food. More sleep. More time. All good stuff huh?

Enough about me, this can reap great benefits for employers as well.

For starters there is likely less unexpected or short term notice time off. Snow days are just as productive and not to mention safer on both ends. If an employee doesn’t feel well but slugs into the office, other employees get sick, then they get their children sick. Then the children need to be stay home, be picked up from school or not be allowed in daycare, which is more time off for others. An employee without a telework agreement who opts to stay home will cost the organization a full day of work. An employee with one who opts to work suck from home loses the organization very little. Additionally, a doctor appointment in the middle of the day before telework for either my children or myself used to mean a whole morning or afternoon off. Usually the afternoon because trying to find a parking space by 8am where I work is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Speaking of parking and space, allowing employees to telework creates both! Office space in many organizations is at a premium. Even having everyone telework 1 day a week [staggered] would free up 20% of office and parking space.

There is overall less wasted time through the day. Lines at the coffee shop, lines in the cafeteria, waiting for elevators, looking for an open bathroom, being in a queue just to warm up food in the microwave, that 3rd Wednesday if each month where the computers reboot for what seems like infinity… just to name a few. Not to mention a lot of time chit chatting and socializing. Yes, there are times the remote connection kicks me off; but the overall time sucks favor the employer with all the other time wasters that happen in the office.

Safety is always an issue. When I was the strategic planner for VA Connecticut, one couldn’t imagine the number of complaints that would come in every week about air quality, requests for asbestos checks, mold checks, ripped carpets that folks trip over, furniture with sharp edges, etc. When it rains or snows someone was always bound to fall- meaning a visit to employee health, days off, workers comp… all kinds of stuff no employer really wants.

Employees are happier when they aren’t rushed, eating well, sleeping more, saving money, moving around, and feeling like their employer is doing something mutually beneficial for both of them. How can you go wrong?

Well… many things can go wrong. That could be a whole other blog. It may be comforting however to know there are some strong, sound advice, policies and guidelines out there. My organization for example has trainings required by both the employee and supervisor before beginning. Additionally clear expectations are required to be written up, and it comes with the caveat that either party can terminate it at any time. Why not swipe some of these best practices from a person or whole organization that does it well? There are hundreds of articles on the web and in HR journals around the world about why it’s a win-win for all to adopt it, and nearly none on how terrible it has gone.

For now if you are thinking about using an existing policy or implementing one in the workplace, these are some of the reasons I would humbly advocate for it on both ends. I am sure I’m missing many more benefits! Please don’t hesitate to pipe in or comment if you know of any. Horror stories are welcome too!

 

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One of my “co workers”
View from my desk