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“What Lights You Up?” ….She answered, smugly.

“What makes you light up?” my therapeutic healing yoga instructor asked as we melted into the mat, nothing more than fleeting thoughts and deep breathing. Semi-meditative, we welcomed flashes of feelings instead of the usual focus of a mantra.

Alistair exuberant, Alex laughing, my parents hugging, Weasley’s run in an open park. Susan’s arm link and brisk walk. Fi’s knowing smile on the top deck of a Lothian bus. Walking out to my sister standing in my living room and seeing a missing piece of myself staring back at me. 

These were all people; this was all love.

“Try not to think of relationships,” she’d urged previously. “Try to think of the feeling- the physical feeling of lighting up.”

The acceleration of a plane taking off, cold feet in hot water, walking into a classroom, the opening sequence of a film, the full-body vibration of live music, the initial crack and smell of a new hardback, hands in Alistair’s thick hair, hands on Alex’s rough cheek, being squeezed in a full embrace, the texture of a scone, the tapping flow of the keyboard, the rush of a roller coaster, the reverence of personal prayer. 

As the exercise ended, we took out our journals.What did our feelings tell us? What makes us light up?

I wrote with ease, with the assuredness of being self-aware. Upon reflection, almost smugness. Knowing oneself and knowing oneself well was something I was oh-so good at. I studied philosophy for fun. I’d taken that existentialism class through the Open University just because I’m the type of person who knows what I don’t know or what I’ll never know. You know.

Smug.

I wrote:

1- People with whom I share love — a short list, but whatever, suckers who don’t like me. ( I let them go; see past blog posts. )

2- Travel. Obviously. That’s my thing. Novelty, exploration, adventure, etc. Finding a good airfare- ding- that lights me up big time. Getting lost in big cities- almost as fun as finding the place.

3- Film. Obviously. That’s my other thing. Everyone knows I’m, like, obsessed. 

4- God (He is first, but came to mind fourth — keeping it real here) 

The rest- water, music, reading, writing, physical touch, adrenaline, contemplation. 

Yep, that was me. I wrote in my journal and listened as the instructor told us to seek the things that light us up. It would make us happy.

Doing things you like makes you happy. 

This class, held in a strip mall yoga studio in a new sub-division, sent me all of the good feelings a person likes. Assurance. Hope. Confidence. I even drove away with a certificate when the month was over- hey, I could teach this if I wanted to.

Half a year has passed.

I’m not as smug anymore. I know what lights me up…the same things that lit me up before. I haven’t changed. Because people don’t change, not really, not ever. I’m still working on the same things I started working on when I started blogging. I’ll probably work on them forever. I can make positive change in my circumstances, but changing me, and changing what makes me who I am, will never change. Probably not.

This new chapter, the one where I accept I don’t know it all, is scary. But since I love novelty, it’s also kind of fun.

The same platitudes pass over and over again through my life, on a loop. Maybe everyone hears them.

Changes begins with you.

You’re the only person responsible for your actions. 

You never know unless you try. 

The first step is the hardest.

People never change.

Change is possible, if you really want it. 

One small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

I have an inkling they’re all true. Just like when my mom used to say to me, “These are the best years of your life but you just don’t know it yet,” when I was a carefree young adult. I dismissed it; my immediate needs outweighed thinking about adulthood. But now I see, it was the truth.  It’s all probably true. The things older people tell us on rotation.

And I…..I  don’t know shit. None of us really do.

We just need to know what lights us up, and keep at it.

We need to do the best we can. 

 

“Whatever it is, it’s okay.”

Last night I attended my final mindfulness seminar. The focus was on acceptance of what is and staying in the present. Letting the moment be and learning how to act in the moment.

We did a breathing exercise where we focused on the physical sensations associated with difficult thoughts or feelings. It was interesting to feel my heart beat faster and notice the feeling where you want tears to ‘spring’ to your eyes. I didn’t fight those feelings….I didn’t give in to them, either. Instead, I breathed and breathed and told myself, ‘Whatever it is, it’s okay. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s okay.’

Acceptance is something I went into mindfulness class NEEDING to learn. I’m always trying to change things, make things something other than what they are, or wanting people to act differently than they do. I’ve learned, sometimes, these are fair requests. Some things SHOULD be different. Some things aren’t fair. Some people SHOULD treat me differently.

The class didn’t give me some magic tool to all of a sudden stop wanting change. Acceptance isn’t about resignation. Acceptance is becoming fully aware of difficulties, feelings, and situations and responding in a skillful way, a thoughtful way, and a way which accepts our own feelings and acknowledges them as valid before making a next step.

So to you, dear reader, I say: Whatever it is, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. Allow yourself your feelings.

I know acceptance is something I will be working on for a long time. It won’t come easily to me. But one idea resonated with me deeply and immediately. It is best described in this quote from Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

As a class we pondered that space. That amazing, powerful space between stimulus and reaction. Nobody can fill that space but you. It’s all yours.

We can’t control the stimuli all the time. We can’t always control our circumstances. But we can always, always, choose our reaction.

I’m going to apply this idea to the greater issues surrounding me – my civic duties, my marriage, motherhood, my career. But on a micro level, this can be applied to how we respond to a negative comment. How we respond to temptation. How we respond to the urge the sit on the couch instead of walk all the way to the car and drive to the gym!

I’m about to go on blog hiatus for two weeks – I’m heading off to London on Thursday and then onto Scotland to graduate with an MA in Creative Writing. Until I’m back to my normal routine, I’ll leave you with another quote from the mindfulness seminar. It’s a different topic than acceptance, but it goes right along with not falling into resignation.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity.

Day Six: Mindfulness

yogarantsandraves credit
credit: yogarantsandraves

I am currently in the middle of a six-week mindfulness seminar. Every Monday night, I sit around a boardroom table with five strangers and a therapist while we practice breathing, meditation and yoga and learn all about the power of the brain and the power of breath. And wow, is there power in both!

I don’t think any of us in the group are taking the seminar for weight loss, but the principles of mindfulness apply well to all areas of life. I’ve learned so much each week, it’s hard to keep track of it all. I’m hoping by improving my inner self, I can learn and adopt behaviors which will translate to how I treat my body as well.

Here are some of the takeaways I’ve gotten from class so far:

1. Our minds are so often racing ahead into the future (such as worrying and planning, two things I do a lot of) and reflecting on the past (and not always in a reliable fashion), that it’s often hard for us to keep our minds in the present. Too little of our time is spent in the present, and that’s what life is made of – a bunch of little slices of the present, moments which fade quickly into memories.

We were tasked with focusing on deriving pleasure from moments this week, and really focusing on what the moment was doing for us. I had my most ‘mindful’ moment today after giving my son his bath. It’s usually loud and chaotic to get him dressed and dry, but today he let me scoop him up in his towel and lay him on the carpet of his room. He stared up at me with the sweetest smile while I spoke to him and dried him off, focusing on rubbing his legs and feet and enjoying how he looked up into my eyes as we spoke. Our conversation was about peeing dinosaurs – his toy dinosaur was dripping water – but the content wasn’t important. In that moment, my little boy and I were connecting and touching and smiling and focusing on each other. And I’m grateful I knew to be mindful of that.

2. Why do we believe the thoughts our minds present to us? It’s automatic to do this. We take our thoughts literally, and either agree with them or argue with them. And how hard is it to fight off a thought?! It’s nearly impossible to just will a thought away. But really, our thoughts are just part of an ongoing process of relating and reacting. They are neither true or false. They are just thoughts as we relate to them.

I feel this knowledge is important because we experience so much in our minds that is never actually reality. I’m talking about worry, guilt, shame, self-doubt – all which invade our thoughts and block out the real experience of NOW. And how much of those feelings are just projections of a reality that only you inhabit?

This can be applied to weight loss. I’ve yet to learn the secret to will power (and if someone has it, please tell me), but I do know I let negative thoughts interrupt my attempts at healthy habits.

3. Breathe is powerful. My husband knows I’m a fan of deep breathing. I’ve taken enough yoga and CBT and done enough stress reduction research to have felt I was already a deep breathing guru. I was wrong! There is so much more to breathing than I knew. Did you know that taking a really deep belly breath does something to your vasovagal nerve which then sends out serotonin? I knew that taking a deep breath was relaxing, but now I understand the actual science behind how it works and I’m amazed. Breathing is a mini anti-depressant. I also love how deep breathing blocks out anxiety and anger (for the duration of the breath) because your body can’t breathe rapidly and shallowly while you’re doing deep breathing. It literally cancels out the stress response.

I used to lie in bed at night and do the one nostril breathing technique to relax me before sleep. I’m sure my husband will love the addition of center point breathing, etc. Ha. Well, with any luck, I can get him to join me in some heavy breathing before bed….

(Haha)