mindful mama

The Daily Practice of Letting Go

we_must_be_willing_to_let_go_of_the_life_weve_planned_so_as_to_have_the_life_that_is_waiting_for_us_web

we_must_be_willing_to_let_go_of_the_life_weve_planned_so_as_to_have_the_life_that_is_waiting_for_us_web

“Letting go” can oftentimes feel like a loaded term. Used extensively in the personal development world (hello!), sometimes it can have subtle, condescending undertones.

Like, just do it already and get your awesome on!

I mean really, if we could just let go, we would. Trust me, I get this. And honestly, I run into this dilemma often---actually, pretty much daily.

So I’ve been thinking about this idea of letting go quite a bit. I’ve also been feeling through it.

“Feeling through” means leaning in, pushing into our sore spots and cracking open tightly shut doors. For me, it also means creating boundaries where barriers used to stand. All of this generally ignites feelings of fear, uncertainty and oh-my-god-am-I-going-to-die-now-because-I’m-letting-my-guard-down?-and-shit!-they-could-really-hurt-me-because-I-love-them!!!, kind of thing. My inner critic definitely has a flare for the dramatic.

As this is something I’ve been working on, I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered letting go means. And what I’ve found it doesn’t mean.

Letting go means: softening (as opposed to puffing up or feeling like you’re putting on your armor) allowingopeningbeing (as opposed to doing) putting our heartfelt intentions out there, then letting what may, happen (and not worrying or obsessing about the outcome) facing our fears and moving forward anyway (letting go of the past, our stories, or whatever we’ve been telling ourselves that’s held us back all these years…) finding real, deep intimacy with our partners wearing what you REALLY want to wear getting that tattoo (or getting that one removed) praying meditating moving your body trying the new thing saying no to things that make you feel heavy following your joyline, step by tiny step counting on the people in your life who remind you of who you really are (because sometimes, being in the thick of our own lives, we easily lose sight of our beautiful, authentic selves) forgiveness

Letting go does not mean: being lazy that we’re not taking accountability for our own lives becoming a victim of circumstance allowing all hell to break loose because we aren’t in control of our own lives being passive aggressive---saying one thing because it’s “right,” but really feeling another denying what we really feel and shoving it down/away allowing our lives to be ruled by “should’s”

Letting go, I’ve discovered, is a practice. Not unlike meditation. Not unlike yoga. Not even unlike any other practice you may hold near and dear to you---like running, that saturday morning ritual, writing, or creating. It’s like anything that takes perseverance, lots of failing, and picking ourselves back up to try and try again. Every day.

Let go.

Try again.

Keep going.

Rinse. Repeat.

Watch your life expand. Open. Allow. Things you never imagined possible will start showing up and taking hold. Let it happen. Let go.

Facing Your Fears And Discovering Joy. And Why It's Just As Scary.

fear_of_the_dark_that_casts_our_joy_to_the_shadows I’ve been thinking a lot about joy recently. I’ve also been feeling it. Knowing it. Experiencing it regularly.

These little bursts of joy aren’t necessarily from big, momentous occasions or occurrences. They are generally just here and there throughout the day.

Joy-bursts for me are: moments with my son, with Andrew, with a friend. A noteworthy passage in a book. A cuddle from my dog. Writing. A bite of dark chocolate. Holding a pose in yoga. Simple and very regular things.

Interestingly, it’s at night, before I go to bed, that I feel the most difference now that joy is showing back up regularly. It’s a subtle glow, as if those little joy-bursts throughout the day are helping keep my inner light stoked and alight all day long.

And into the next day.

It’s…wonderful.

But what I’ve come to realize is this: real joy is just as intense and vulnerable as fear.

Expressing our joys and successes is a vulnerable and courageous act.

Because, sharing our joy with others is an act of opening up. It’s again, showing up and being real. Criticism, apathy, or just blank stares could result just as easily as shared joy, happiness, celebration, and understanding.

Recently, I’ve been trying this out. When asked, I’ll share about how good things have been going. That I’m in a really good place. And all the toughness that I’ve worked through has ultimately become a springboard.

And it’s been such a relief to feel genuinely, overall good! This doesn’t mean that I don’t have frustrating moments or bad days---because I do. But I feel more elastic---resilient---with an easier bounce back than before. Hope!

This is a direct result of practicing a few things regularly:

kindness with myself (which then more easily extends to others from a heartfelt instead of dutiful place)

mindfulness (which I can only do if I’m in a headspace of kindness otherwise I get really really annoyed at just being aware that I’m feeling like shit in that moment) and

interconnectedness (girl, you are not alone in feeling this way)

Self compassion.

And it’s been a ridiculously wonderful perk to have these joy-bursts throughout the day!

Yet, there are times when I do share how I’ve been feeling, what I’ve been doing that’s working or the genuinely good aspects of my life---and in return I’ve received defensiveness, shutting down, snark, or passive aggressive criticism.

And it’s these precise instances that scare the hell out of me.

Because it’s in these instances where I can so easily crawl right back into old habits. Worrying about if I said something that hurt someone or was too uncomfortable for someone.

Or, just going down the rabbit hole of trash talking myself until the initial joy I felt has been squelched.

Good bye, joy.

The internal trash talking is precisely what keeps us from having real, honest connection.

For me, it’s been my first-line-of-defense mechanism for making sure outside criticism doesn’t happen, since I can remember.

And yet, whether or not I trash talk myself, the external criticism can and does occur. Me putting myself down or hiding myself does not stop external criticism one hundred percent. How could it? We don’t control what’s outside of us. So it’s a double whammy when the criticism does pour forth.

This is why being kind to ourselves gets us so much further. You are your first ally and friend. How empowering!

You can always count on kindness from yourself. And when you feel that support from yourself, moving forward in a positive direction is much, much easier.

In the past, if I felt like someone was shutting down because of my happiness, I would have played down how happy I was, skirted the edges of it or simply not shared those parts of myself. All for the sake of making sure everyone around me was comfortable.

In the present, however, I’m feeling the fear and sharing anyway. This doesn’t mean I don’t get hurt or bruised. Because I do. Often.

But the immediate self defeating talk, the worrying about what other’s will think (as an initial motivator) has stopped.

On the flip side, truly sharing in another’s joy takes courage, too. When we feel the twinge of jealousy or irritation at someone else’s joy or success, that is our inner selves asking us to take notice and do some work around those very things in our own hearts.

This has also become a practice for me---allowing someone else’s success to open my heart to possibility. As opposed to shutting it down out of jealousy or fear---because I want those same things.

Surprisingly, this has been easier than I thought. Past lessons and old learned family habits taught me that scarcity was king and there wasn’t enough. So when someone else got something great, it meant that that thing was no longer available to anyone else.

Except, I now know this is backwards.

When we share in each other’s joy, more joy is created. More love is shared. More kindness is activated. Community is strengthened. Abundance.

It’s just up to us to notice. And participate.

Sure, it’s scary to not know what kind of reaction you’ll get when you put yourself out there.

If an unsavory reaction does happen, all it does is help us redirect our energy towards people who do share these concepts. Hello, community! People who share in the value of living life from the heart and believe in the power of kindness and community. Love.

So, who are we to hold back our joy?

Your joy is needed. For you. For us.

You are needed.

Self Esteem and Self Compassion: The Difference Between A Fickle Friend And Everlasting Love

brave_vulnerability_compassionate_truth_pure_loveSelf esteem is self compassion’s fickle (very fickle) friend. It’s kind of like those get-rich-quick scams that seem super shiny. But, we all know what’s at the end of that road. Nothing.

Self esteem for the sake of boosting ourselves up does the same thing. It gives us a false foundation, crashing the minute someone says something we don’t like. Or is even just slightly critical.

Contingent self-worth--- when self esteem depends on success or failure, approval or disapproval---runs rampant in our culture.

We as a society are more and more depending on everyone else to tell us we are okay, good enough, smart enough, doing-it-right enough.

And that’s dangerous. Really dangerous.

As a recovering “pleaser,” I know about this all too well. It’s a tough act to play.

The more we place an overall sense of self worth on success in specific areas in life, the more miserable we feel when we fail in those areas.

The flip side though, is the better we do, the more addicted we become to the self-esteem “high” we feel when we are praised or approved.

This is dangerous too. We want more praise and more compliments.

Yet, as with drugs or alcohol, we literally build up a tolerance so it takes more...and more... of the positive thing we’re after, before we feel that “high” again.

This contingent self-worth can make us do funny things.

Like pursue a career or relationship because we get lots of outside praise and compliments. Initially, it gives a great self-esteem high---then something happens. The “happiness” vanishes, leaving a bottomed out feeling instead.

Huh?

This is why we might give up on something---because we weren’t pursuing it from an honest, inner place---but rather from an externally approved place.

That’s a lot of power to give away, ya know?

We, as humans, show good qualities and sometimes we show bad qualities. Sometimes we are helpful. Other times we are harmful.

But we are not DEFINED by these behaviors.

We change---all of us. It’s part of the human experience. Our emotions are fleeting (in case you haven’t already noticed). Time, circumstance, mood, setting: it all affects us, making us feel very different at different times.

But we so easily forget. The emotion can become all consuming, making us feel as if this. is it.

Self-esteem for the sake of self-esteem---our very fickle friend---is actually no friend at all. So why do we keep pursuing it?

Because we want to be happy.

A very noble and worthy cause! Yet, there’s a better way.

Rather than defining our self worth using judgment and endless criticism---what if we were to define our self worth from our hearts?

I mean, the judgment and criticism just aren’t working. The foundation built on those fickle and harsh ideals cut us instead of contain us.

Isn’t that the definition of insanity---to keep doing the same thing over and over even if it’s not working?

We humans are funny creatures.

Self compassion isn’t a thought, label or judgment. It is a way of RELATING to the entire breadth of who we are---savory, unsavory, all of it. Yep, even that thing you never want anyone to ever know about because it’s so so shameful. Even that.

Self compassion allows us to feel reverence for the fact that all humans have strengths AND weaknesses. All of us. Even you and I.

It also gives us the ability to be mindful that our thoughts, like our emotions are fleeting. Even after the thought is over, the feeling gone, we are still who we are. Amazing!

Our mind will always try to convince us that IT is the only source of truth.

Fickle, fleeting thoughts.

But our truth lies in our hearts. Try it. Feel deep down inside, it’s there. You might not have an “exact” answer but you’ll probably feel a stirring.

Get inside your hut.

Inside your hut is where you can truly perceive interconnectedness. That we’re all just humans experiencing and breathing. You and me. All of us.

“Unlike self esteem, the good feelings of self compassion do not depend on being special and above average, or on meeting ideal goals. Instead, they come from caring about ourselves---fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are. Rather than pitting ourselves against other people in an endless comparison game, we embrace what we share with others and feel more connected and whole in the process.” ---Kristen Neff, Self Compassion

Healthy self esteem is often a result of practicing self compassion.

But working on self esteem alone will only continue the big ups and downs. The scrambling. The searching. The feelings of low self worth. Ultimately, it leaves us foundationless.

So why not try the alternative. Kindness. Caring about ourselves as fragile and imperfect, yet truly wonderful.

Let’s stop the harsh comparison, pitting ourselves against one another.

Let’s instead embrace what we share, feeling connected. And whole.

Let’s be kind.

To ourselves.

To each other.

We’re all on this very human journey together.

Revel In Kindness, Change Everything

we_must_learn_to_treat_ourselves_as_well_as_we_treat_others Your best friend comes to you in grief after she went through a tough break up.

You see a scared child in the mall who is lost and help them find their parent.

You help the older gentleman at the grocery store pick up the bag of dried beans he accidentally dropped and scattered across the floor.

You do these things without thinking, without question. You not only listen, but you are present with them, as it is: feeling the pain, the fear, and finding the humor in the beans.

So, why is this so hard to do for ourselves?

(And if it’s not hard---bravo! But please let me know what your daily practice looks like! Seriously.)

When it comes to compassion, it seems much easier to do for others than ourselves. But what we’re missing here is that we, too, deserve our own kindness and compassion.

I think the term “self” in self compassion can be off putting for some. It can feel like it’s selfish or narcissistic to be focusing that much kindness inward.

After all, there’s a rut in our cultural thinking that goes something like this: taking care of ourselves means that we’re not doing what’s really important---taking care of others.

The idea of sending myself kindness and compassion in it’s truest sense, used to really turn me off. I used to think of it as just “positive thinking.” And straight positive thinking used to piss me off to hell. Already feeling unheard and unseen by myself and everyone around me (hello, law of attraction), I would start down the “positive” road only to feel even more unheard because I wasn’t saying what really needed to be said. Instead, I was sugar coating it. Yuck.

And not saying what really needed to be said---especially to myself---was a recipe for closing off and closing down.

For most of my adult life, I was pretending that everything was sorted out, fine, on track. Little did I know that this became a defense, like armor, that bruised and harmed others. It also kept me from actually pursuing what I love and enjoy. Because, you know, everything was so perfect.

This armor not only hid my true, vulnerable self the world but it didn’t allow me to see the vulnerability in others. It made me squirm at the fragility of my fellow humans---pull up those boot straps, for gods sakes, and get on with it!

I think that’s why accepting our own fragility---our most vulnerable selves---truly opens the heart. Until we can see ourselves, how can we really see another?

Once I started practicing vulnerability (and opening my heart), I was terrified, first and foremost. But then, something amazing started to happen. Because I understood what it honestly meant to wish myself well, send myself real kindness, and to truly accept my faults---it wasn’t hard to extend these same feeling to others. Even people who I’ve had a difficult time with in the past.

After all, even they want happiness at the end of the day, too, just like me. Compassion.

And happiness takes many different forms---not just the smiling-all-day-long kind of happy. Happiness includes joy, most certainly, but also a sense of purpose, meaning, fulfillment and peace. We could even go so far as to accept with peace our being unhappy---therefore still being happy in the face of our own unhappiness.

This hasn’t happened for me yet. I’ll let you know if and when it does.

We all want peace and happiness. We all want kindness and belonging. We all want safety and love.

Even the people we don’t like. Even they want those things.

And this is where self compassion comes into play. When you turn your kindness inwards and send yourself the same attentive kindness you would show your best friend, a scared child, an elderly person in need, you can feel and then take very tangible steps to alleviate your own pain.

When your own pain is attended to, you are caring for your most fragile self. Being vulnerable with yourself.

Then, you can offer that same kindness and attention (aka: compassion) to everyone---even those people who are difficult.

Want to be a great parent? Send yourself kindness. Often.

Want to be a great partner or friend? Feel each other’s feelings. Be each other’s container. Judgment only happens when hearts are closed. Open your hearts. Be vulnerable.

Want to be great at your job? Listen more. Respond thoughtfully. Practice good boundaries.

These suggestions are all interchangeable.

And they’re all components of self compassion.

Revel in kindness.

First for yourself, then others.

What does kindness look like for you today?

How To Get There: Start Where You Are And Take One Step At A Time

what_you_do_is_who_you_become Living in a city like Washington DC, it can be challenging to not get sucked into it’s overall cultural structure. Like a giant fishing net of anxiety blanketed over the entire beltway, people live here mainly to work. The majority are here because of career---as a stepping stone in politics, lifers in the Federal Government, or working with one of the many many private companies or nonprofits, all of which directly profit from the government in some way.

The energy here is heavy. Fast, but heavy. Like a very wet blanket that won’t shake off easily.

So naturally, it can be challenging to see (and feel) beyond what life feels like without a wet blanket weighing things down.

Imagine! What freedom!

Yet, it’s possible. There are enclaves and pockets of wonderful people doing wonderful things sprinkled throughout the city.

They just don’t make headline news. That’s saved for the politicos.

As a mother who is taking care of her son full time, that constant high strung energy can be stressful. It’s a practice in and of itself to keep focusing my attention back to the present moment, what’s important right now. Otherwise, it would be easy to get swept up in the frenzy.

Recently, I’ve had more conversations about career and work than usual. Which is a lot because it comes up fairly frequently. These conversations have been with friends from every area of my life, completely separate from each other. And it’s usually broached with the same question, in varying degrees:

“What are you going to do about work?”

I have the same thoughts. Constantly. Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing?

We tend to express our inner anxieties as external questions to those around us. When we ask: what are YOU going to do about X, it really implies that we are thinking about the same X in our own life’s context.

With that in mind, and my own questions about this topic, my girlfriends inquiries have given me pause.

It’s a really vulnerable place to be---unsure, exploring, understanding. Doing incredible amounts of inner work. With nothing tangible (physical) to show for on the outside.

Except, for me at least, through this work I am discovering more happiness. Greater ease. Fulfillment. Joy, even. (!!)

Striving for more on the outside isn't always the answer.

What if we were to let go a bit?

Yeah, that idea scares me, too.

What if we were to let our explorations take us where they may? Our interests open new doors of insight or delight? Our questions lead to more questions...and then to more questions?

Maybe we’d find what we’d love---and that we love ourselves in the whole messy process. Self compassion. Digging deep. Going in.

Letting go doesn’t imply giving up. It doesn’t mean we stop exploring.

It means taking one step at a time.

Letting go of the whole, huge outcome while still moving forward.

The other night I started researching self-compassion courses and trainings. How can I GET this even more? Really understand it? You know, how can I use this as my tool of service to help others?

The more I searched, the more my hut started feeling like a big cold lump in my gut. Hey, it said, slow down. One step at a time. Relax. You have a job right now (Little Mister) and it’s not going to last forever. Enjoy! And, trust. You’ll get where you’re meant to be going. One step at a time.

So, what can we do about that new career (relationship, life issue, insert-major-life-category-here)?

Start where you are.

Then, trust.

Trust yourself.

Striving for more on the outside is not the answer.

Go within.

Trust what you find there.

And take one. step. at. a. time.

Onward.

----

My dear 12 friends who read this: this is my last post on The Pinecone Baker! But don’t worry, I’m migrating everything over to triciamartinowen.com and the next post will be coming from there. It’s still in infancy stages---very simple, no about page or logo (gasp!) yet---but, I figured I need to walk my talk about the perfectionism thing. It’s not perfect and I’ll be working on it little by little. Speaking of walking the talk, I also felt like I needed to do this concerning vulnerability, too---which is why I’m switching to writing under my name, instead of using a really cute domain. Changes! Eeek!

So much love to you and gratitude for you. Each of you. Many, many, many thanks for being witness to my journey back to center.

Perfectionism Feeds on Fear and Fear Alone

perfectionism_tree There are a lot of things I’m afraid of:

snakes---more specifically snake FANGS and VENOM criticism---yes, even from you hairy spiders---oh lord scary movies---the Exorcist gave me nightmares for TWO DECADES isolation---being utterly, truly alone with no one who understands me. Terrifying. the dark---it’s true being judged---but, WHAT IF THEY DON’T LIKE ME??? A constant work in progress weird bugs with crazy looking pinchers---earwigs anyone?! abandonment---so so scary night terrors---my son has these and they scare ME not getting it right---hello, perfectionism

It’s that last one that I want to talk a little bit about today. Not getting it right. Also known as perfectionism.

As a fully struggling and recovering perfectionist, it’s sometimes hard for me to pinpoint exactly where I could ease up on myself.

Enter, my relationships.

Because our closest relationships are our most intimate mirrors to our “stuff,” it’s the people I love and cherish most who give me the gift of understanding where my perfectionism makes life a bit more challenging than need be.

Perfectionistic tendencies become sharp and blinding, especially when I’m under stress. The exact time when it would be really beneficial to soften into kindness, I’ve gotten into the habit of getting even more critical and to control the outcome.

For example, my son’s sleep (or lack there of) has brought up a LOT of these perfectionistic tendencies. Since he was tiny and dealing with reflux issues, we as a family have been struggling to figure out how best to get the rest we all need.

You know those people who can go for weeks on four hours a night? That is not us.

In my pre-motherhood life, rest was one of the main tools in my self-care toolbox. It helped me stay centered, grounded, thinking clearly and feeling whole. In grad school, I rarely stayed up past 11. I did my best work in the pre-dawn hours, usually awake to see the sun rise with my cup of tea and some creative endeavor in front of me.

As a mother, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to this no-sleep (or just less sleep than I’d like!) regimen. Going to bed later than I’d like because I stayed up to eek out a little creative project, talk with Andrew, read a book---simple pleasures that, when indulged in for too long (as in over an hour), would leave me reeling the next day. Even if we went to bed at a decent time, say 10pm, we would be woken up 1-3 times per night, up for the day by 5:30am.

As the sleep debt kept getting bigger, my patience wore thin, and the perfectionism ogre’s sharp jaws clamped down tight. And didn’t let go. In fact, I’m still prying those teeth out, but at least it’s not the death grip any more!

Getting enough rest for all of us is an issue. And the irony is not lost on me that my son is now having night terrors. In harder moments, I blame myself, feeling deep shame over “not getting his sleep right” or not doing SOMETHING, anything right. After all, being tired is one of the main reasons kids have night terrors. So isn’t it all my fault?

Sigh.

Last night, he had his worst night terror yet. We had just gone to bed about 45 minutes prior, each needing some deep rest because we are all getting over a virus. Being roused from that early, waking-dead-deep sleep, we decided he probably needed a diaper change (our sitter earlier that night couldn’t find the nighttime diapers so put two regular diapers on him). We assumed he was probably just uncomfortable.

Turns out, he was having a night terror. Andrew went in and tried picking him up. Screaming and thrashing, Little Mister was inconsolable and wild. I was called in to help. Trying to change his diaper was impossible, but somehow, we managed. He wouldn’t calm down, continuing to scream and thrash. Somewhere a voice reminded me “turn on the light.” So we did.

With the glow of the lamp in the corner brightening the previously shadowy room, we both sat next to Little Mister while he continued his inconsolable screaming. He wouldn’t let us touch him, much less get near him. This went on for about a half hour.

We spoke in low tones, telling him everything was going to be okay, he was okay, mama and dad were here, over and over. Finally, it was as if he woke up (because that’s what happened---night terrors are different from nightmares, and you are totally asleep through the whole thing. It’s way more traumatic for the parents!). He looked at me finally, started crying again. I was able to reach out and ask him if he wanted to cuddle. He scrambled up into my arms crying, but not thrashing or kicking. He was back.

It was so extremely difficult watching my son struggle like this---or what I perceived as a struggle. I couldn't do anything other than wait it out. No action, nothing. Just waiting for the storm to pass (one in which we had made worse by trying to change his diaper then physically comfort him in the beginning) while using a soothing tone of voice, comforting words.

I found myself having lots of conflicting emotion during this eternal half hour. Everything from: this needs to be over now! what else can I DO? oh my god, we didn’t DO THIS RIGHT from the beginning, so now it’s worse! And on and on. Blame started rising up, my chest tightening, my jaw setting. I could feel my own anxiety spilling forth…

But then, I stopped.

Kindness.

Be kind, I heard:

You are scared. This is scary. This is so hard. You and Andrew were in a deep sleep. Neither of you knew it was a night terror. You will know next time. This will end soon. Everything will be okay. It’s okay to be scared.

While my spoken words to Little Mister were soothing him, I was having this internal dialogue soothing myself. It was kind of strange, but so helpful.

And then, I felt...better. Not great, because the situation wasn’t ideal. But I was able to stay calm and out of the funnel of negativity and self-flagellation. While cuddling him, I was able to think clearly, focusing on getting my son comforted and back asleep. I also wasn’t worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get back sleep---an issue I’ve had for the past year. Because of “restless mind.” You know, when you can’t sleep because you’re woken up in the early morning hours and the thoughts. just. won’t. stop.

Kindness to yourself will help with that.

Self compassion didn’t make this situation less scary, or try to sugar coat it with positive thinking. It didn’t make things better on the outside like making my son feel better or stop the screaming.

What it did do was give me the comfort I needed in order to go forth and offer that comfort to my family. It took me out of myself---from feeling isolated in my own fear and like I was responsible to DO SOMETHING NOW, because otherwise the world was going to end (perfectionism)---to seeing how we were all experiencing this together. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. There was no blame. We were all scared and worried. We could and would figure this out. It was going to be okay. Kindness.

Be kind.

With yourself. With others.

It works.

Every time.

I promise.

The First Step To Wholeness: Self Compassion

love_turned_inwards For the next few weeks (possibly longer), I’m going to be exploring the practice of self compassion in daily life. It has already been revolutionary for me in ways that I’m only beginning to understand, much less be able to explain. But I’ll give it a shot!

All thanks to Little Mister handing me the open book to the page titled: cultivating compassion for yourself.

---

I’ve started jogging. This felt huge because I’ve always identified as a biker. Biking for me, is like freedom. Running just has never had the same zeal. Boring, is more like it.

“I’m not a runner. I just can’t/won’t do it because of...” was part of my usual line. My neighbor and friend, Caroline, is an avid runner. Monday nights we go to a yoga class at our neighborhood gym. Before class we have time to catch up---recounting our weekends, celebrating each other’s little victories and reveling in both of our son’s amazing growth.

Running is always a part of her daily and weekly routines. Reps. Up Martha Custis. A huge hill that has no mercy for walkers or small engined cars, much less runners. But she does them. With her jogger.

She, along with a daily self compassion practice started, have inspired me to revisit this “boring” form of exercise.

It was a gorgeous day out. Little Mister was still sick with a bad cold but we desperately needed to get outside. The stroller seemed promising. Let’s just go for a little “jog.”

I strapped on my “running” shoes (after digging them out of the back of the closet, not worn in almost three years), put Little Mister into the stroller, clutching sliced apples in his little fists, and off we went.

Did I mention my stroller ISN’T a jogger? This was going to be interesting.

We jogged. And then we kept jogging. Looking down into the little plastic window in the stroller’s awning, I could see Little Mister’s head bobbing, his fists still clutching half chewed apples. He seemed like he was in a kind of trance.

I felt that way, too. Because I just. kept. going.

“I wonder if you could make it to the next street,” I’d ask myself. Then, I would.

“What about across the bridge?” Yep.

“Let’s try up the hill! Why not? What have you got to lose? Just try…” Okay.

When I finished running---around five miles total, which included running half way up Martha Custis!---I couldn’t believe it.

My legs were shaky, my heart was beating fast, but I felt good. Really good. Because I had just done the unthinkable. Or, what I had perceived as unthinkable.

The coolest part? I had proven that my initial negative thinking was simply self limiting. I CAN do this! I chimed.

This burst of confidence, and just trying something different, is the result of my daily self compassion practice I’ve begun.

After starting this practice, I thought, hey, I better learn more about what this self compassion thing really is about. I had scoured the internet reading everything I could find. But I wanted to dig deeper.

A few days ago, I started listening to Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. Talk about digging deeper! I’m only about half way through but already feel a deep, profound shift.

Neff’s extensive research about self compassion is delivered thoughtfully, punctuated with stories of her own vulnerable life experiences throughout. She balances delivering some pretty heavy material with a side of well-done humor.

A few things that hit home for me were the traps we set for ourselves in our thoughts. Neff quips something like, “well, at least I KNEW that I was being a harsh, judgmental bitch. Now I can fully JUSTIFY beating myself up, making myself feel guilty and really really bad. Because what I had said to that person was so terrible, my guilt is reasonable. So is feeling bad for days. I deserve it.”

But she continues on, explaining how when missteps and mistakes are made, this is PRECISELY WHEN SELF KINDNESS is most needed. Self kindness, turns out, is a component of self compassion.

This is where I struggle. I can easily find myself in a swirling funnel of self-doubt, loathing, and mean spiritedness. And that ain’t easy! But when I started practicing self kindness during these moments, a huge, wonderful shift began to happen. Mega. Insane. Let me repeat: WONDERFUL. It’s changed my life.

Culturally in the west, we’ve been programmed to be kind to friends, family or neighbors, even strangers, when they’re in a place of need or down.

But ourselves? A ritualistic beating up is a cultural norm. Society continually shows us that strength of character---the proverbial stiff upper lip---includes sucking it up (beating ourselves up) and carrying on. Showing ourselves kindness is just plain weird.

Yet, kindness opens our hearts to our suffering, giving ourselves what we need in the moment. A gentleness, a softness. Kindness.

It’s rare we see anyone publicly tending to or listening to what their real needs are in the moment. And by publicly, I mean in the media.

Listening to ourselves---especially our most vulnerable selves---I do believe deserves the respect of a quiet, safe space. But it doesn’t need to be taboo, either.

“Self-compassion is a gift available to anyone willing to open up to themselves. When we develop the habit of self-kindness, suffering becomes an opportunity to experience love and tenderness from within.” --Kristen Neff

The gift is unbelievably worth the initial pain, even shock, that’s felt when we first open up to ourselves. Truly.

After all, how can we honestly love anyone else unless we love ourselves first?

Love turned inwards allows our light to burn bright for others.

Lead the way with your bright light. Shine. You’re needed just as you are.

How To Give Space To Your Thoughts And Why It's Actually Awesome

true_self_compassion My eyes scrapped open, like they were sandpaper instead of skin . My right shoulder, the arm I predominantly carry my son with, throbs pain up into my neck as I try to roll over and look at the clock. I lift my head a little.

It’s 4:30am. Again.

For the third week in a row, he’s been waking up well before the birds. He had gotten into the habit of needing Andrew to rock him back to sleep in the wee hours.

Except, even the rocking stopped working. The minute he was put down, he’d cry and want to get up for the day. So Andrew would be stuck in the chair with him until he needed to get up for the day and get ready for work.

Something, obviously, needed to change.

What do we do? How do we change things? What’s our first step? OH. MY. GOD. MAKE THE FUSSING STOP AND LETS ALL GET SOME FREAKING SLEEP ALREADY.

It’s in these early, exhausting, painful hours that I face my absolute toughest critic. It’s a nightmare really. And it’s created by none other than, moi.

As the sleep debt got bigger and bigger, each early morning prompted even more internal criticism, more internal judgment. Her list got longer, harsher. It was down right mean. Now, not only was I exhausted, I was beat down.

Way down.

Next to my bed, I have piles upon piles of books. They're mostly overflowing out of a big basket under my side table. It’s filled with a variety of authors Nora Roberts, Sylvia Boorstein, Cheryl Strayed, Dan Siegel, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day, during this very long slog of sleep deprivation and foggy mental capabilities, Little Mister started rooting through said basket. He pulls out Mindful Motherhood, by Cassandra Vieten.

He liked looking at the cover---an illustration of a sweet mama-baby pair, swaddled against each other, each with a little smile.

He handed me the book, open. On the page was the section titled: Cultivating Compassion For Yourself. Point taken. I brought it downstairs with me to look through. I hadn’t read it since my ninth month of pregnancy---a far, far cry from the realities of ACTUAL motherhood.

On the first nice day this spring, with the warm sun shining and melting the recent snow, we went outside to play. I brought the book with me. Grabbing a highlighter, I sat down on our next door neighbors lawn chair while Little Mister played in the mud.

After reading a few pages, I highlighted: “Have others in your life ever changed as a result of you being increasingly harsh or judgemental towards them?”

Sitting back, I was a little startled, then curious about why I chose to highlight this first.

Looking closer at the question however, it made perfect sense. The thought of being intentionally harsh, critical and judgmental to anyone else makes my stomach turn. Especially as a means to make someone or something change.

So why would I go ahead and do this to myself?

Silence. A bird was chirping near by. Little Mister was happily babbling and splashing in a puddle in the yard.

It was a good question. Very good.

Reading on, she clarifies:

“True [self] compassion sees the situation clearly, acknowledges the pain or grief that gives rise to the situation, and then takes realistic action to address that pain and grief. That might mean getting counseling. It might mean asking for help in other ways. It almost always means taking some action that prevents further pain and grief.”

As a recovering I-gotta-do-it-all-myself person, this was a good reminder. Vieten continues:

“Compassion is good for you…[it] acts as a buffer against emotional states such as anxiety and depression, rumination, and thought suppression, as well as promoting positive emotional mindsets, such as greater happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity and exploration, personal initiative, positive emotions, autonomy, competence, and relatedness.”

Gosh, yes, please. Let’s do this! I thought. SELF COMPASSION is where IT’S AT!

Sometimes there’s this wiser, older voice that will pipe up when I’m having serious doubts. It’ll say something along the lines of: who said you have to know how to do everything, anyway? Girl, that’s a lot of pressure! The point in life is to LEARN. You gotta start somewhere and so here you are! You’re not your thoughts anyway, honey, so let’s move on.

Good point, I usually reply back to myself. For some reason, the voice that says these wise things to myself sounds like a boisterous, go-get-em old southern woman.

Andrew’s great grandmother, Ma, I imagine sounded like my inner-compassionate voice. She was a tiny woman, with big, 70’s style glasses. There’s a picture of her and her sister in his parent’s hallway. Taken at a Sear’s photography studio years ago, I imagine she’s telling the photographer to get a move on with it, that the lights are hot and she has got A LOT to do today. It’s the spark (not a sparkle, not just a light, but a genuine spark. A deep, seen-it-all spark) in her eyes that tell me she was a woman to be reckoned with.

I look at that picture every time I visit Colorado. She tells me, in no uncertain terms, to get a move on with it. Life is short and you’ve got important things to do. No sense in moping around, girl. Worry? What good did that ever do? You’ve got a life, so live it! Come on honey, let’s go!

I have no idea if Ma was really like that or if she’d ever say something like that to anyone. But I’d like to imagine so. Spirit. Spunk. Self-compassion.

self_compassionate_individuals_web

“Like mindfulness, self-compassion is not just a form of positive thinking---cheering yourself up or reframing everything with a rosy glow...Self-compassion refers to the ability to hold difficult negative emotions in nonjudgmental awareness without having to suppress or deny negative aspects of one’s experience...Because self-compassionate individuals do not berate themselves when they fail, they are more able to learn, grow, and take on new challenges. This makes self compassion, which overlaps with mindful awareness, a great ingredient for becoming a new mom.” ---Cassandra Vieten, Mindful Motherhood

The other day, while on the bike at the gym, I felt my super harsh inner critic gaining speed along with my strides. My throat constricted, my heart started racing even harder, the tears welled up in my eyes. I was spiraling, walking (or riding) directly into my inner critic’s judgments.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I remembered: you are not your thoughts. Notice, I am thinking. I am thinking these thoughts. But you are not your thoughts.

Over the next 50 minutes on that bike, I practiced this. The judgment would surface and I would just notice. The criticism would start winding around my gut, and I would pull back, to watch.

And it worked. It always does---which still surprises me. But it’s a practice. A constant, daily, hourly, minute by minute practice.

I’m given ample opportunities to practice, too. AMPLE. Our early mornings are getting easier. I no longer feel like the living dead most of the time. That’s huge. It’s also given me space to problem solve the issue more. See a different perspective. That and talking to my girlfriend Megan!

With all this practice, I’m getting quicker at noticing before I slide down that slippery slope. I watch. I breathe. Always breathing. And it’s getting easier (halle-freakin-luja!!).

Give it a try. If you’re struggling---like I have been---with being bogged down by inner criticism, you might be amazed, too.

Notice. Give space. Breathe.

And then remember: I am not my thoughts.

The Link Between Boundaries, Barriers and Compassion, Demystified

most_boundaried_people_are_most_compassionate There is a vast difference between boundaries and barriers. VAST. EXPANSIVE. Huge.

When I first learned about the concept of boundaries almost a decade ago, I had a hard time figuring out how to put them into practice. Not because I didn’t agree with the concept, but I first had to get over old thinking where the term “boundary” was used in conjunction with “negative discipline.”

While boundaries are used as a form of protection when something negative happens, they are also used in the wonderful, beautiful daily business of living.

It’s a way of living honestly. In our truths. Vulnerably.

Boundaries allow clear communication to happen. Barriers shut down communication.

Setting healthy boundaries takes a lot of courage. It all stems back to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Acknowledge any pain. What’s truly hurting deep down. Is it really someone or something “out there” or is it something within?
  2. Identify your triggers.
  3. Acknowledge how much you can and can not handle. What are your limits? This is especially tough for those of us---myself included---who think they should do it all.

The bravery it takes to even get to this place is tremendous. GINORMOUS. Did I mention it takes guts? Yeah, those too.

After getting clear (see above), the intention of setting a boundary will naturally come from a place of making communication clearer. A compassionate beginning. Nothing messy or twisted. Just, clarity.

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Boundaries allow everyone to be on the same page. Everyone knows where the other stands which brings in clarity. Clarity allows next steps to be taken by everyone, because there are no mixed messages.

Sending mixed messages is a sign of using barriers instead of boundaries. We are stuck, so to speak. There’s no clear path forward, no movement on either end.

Being on the receiving end of someone’s boundaries which provoke or make us angry isn’t easy, either. But everyone knows where everyone stands. That understanding gives parameters for what there is to work with. Clarity.

Personally, I’d rather work with clarity, as opposed to confusion or mixed messaging, ANY DAY. I've been in that confusing space of mixed messaging---both on the receiving end and as the messenger---and it didn't feel good in either position. In fact, all it did was cause pain for myself and for others.

So where does compassion come into play? How is it, as Pema Chodron states, that “the most boundaried people are the most compassionate?”

Doesn’t compassion mean to do good, be good, and be open and loving to any and all?

Nope, not even close.

People who have strong boundaries have, quite simply, done the work. And they continue to do the work. They understand and feel their pain, they know their triggers and they know exactly where their limits are. They know themselves and they are clear about what they need or what they don’t need. Plain and simple. Not easy, but very straightforward. This is also known as self-compassion or self-love.

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

The key words used are “honestly and gently.” Compassion!

Boundaries set us free. They are also evidence of our inner work made tangible to the world. This can be a very powerful, and empowering, message we send out.

That message says: I am worth it. I know and love myself enough that I can not and will not accept X. Here are the parameters I’m willing to work with to move past X. But if X doesn’t stop, then so will this form of our relationship.

Many times, when talking about setting boundaries, the example of physical abuse is used. Of course, this is a prime example where boundaries are so very necessary. But there is a huge spectrum where boundaries are beneficial, physical abuse being at the very far end. This means it could be something seemingly minor, but still necessitates a boundary.

It could be at work. It could be with a friend. It could be with a family member. I could be with yourself, even.

Example: I’m going to find a new route to walk to work because the pastry shop is too tempting for me. I’ve made a promise to lower my sugar intake. I know that if I smell those pastries, I will stop in for one! I’m going to honor my promise to myself by not putting myself in temptation’s way.

A simple boundary to keep yourself on track and healthy.

They key is to recognize when you’re feeling drained or anxious. This is usually the first tip off that a boundary hasn’t been addressed and is being crossed. Of course if you’re feeling angry, frustrated, rage, depressed, or afraid, then there are most likely some boundary issues happening that haven’t been addressed, as well.

If you’re struggling with boundaries, you are not alone. This is a skill that develops and refines itself over an entire lifetime. Each time a new boundary is needed, it’s an opportunity to flex that muscle of self-compassion. To send a powerful and empowering message to yourself: yes, my dear, you are so worth it. You are loved.

Next time you’re confronted with setting a boundary, try remembering:

Healthy boundaries set up clear communication. (Sweet!)

Healthy boundaries take courage to create. Start with being vulnerable with yourself. (You can do it!)

Healthy boundaries can stop unnecessary suffering in it’s tracks. For you, of course, but also for the entire situation.

And they are WORTH IT for the clarity and forward momentum they inspire. For everyone.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Thank you, Pema.

My mission is to leave the world in better condition than how I found it. I’d be grateful if you shared this post with someone for whom it may make even a tiny bit of difference. Let’s start creating that positive ripple effect, together! Big hugs xo