Bring the Inside Out

I just watched this fascinating video on why “today’s music” sucks. The gist of the video was that almost all the biggest pop hits are written by the same 2 dudes. Each popular song has an entire marketing machine behind it, and in truth, they all follow the same formula for success. Admittedly, I do like a good amount of pop songs, but now I’m wondering how much my enjoyment is mine and how much has been shoved down my throat by the marketing machine. The video was pointing out how these songs play everywhere constantly, so after awhile, it grows on you.

I’m eclectic – I will listen to anything but country, and there are even a couple country songs I can tolerate. My first loves, however, are metal and rock. Right now, I’m on a HELLYEAH kick because I’ve been so sad about Vinnie Paul dying. For the last few days, though, it’s been weighing on my mind how metal is ostracized by the majority while pop is so embraced by the majority. I listen to the magic these musicians create, and I’m overwhelmed by the talent, feelings, and places this music can take me. I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but I struggle to understand how a drum machine is more popular than the incredible beauty Vinnie Paul created, or the raw, beautiful power of Chad’s voice vs the autotuned crap on constant rotation. There is so much talent kind of ignored.

Then I wonder, though, if that is actually an industry tactic, to make metal fans believe we’re rebellious outsiders while being fed the same type of formula. Maybe that sounds tinfoil hat mentality though. It just confuses me how a two chord song can outshine the deep complexities of melody, harmony, and a full band experience. In order to hear my favorite music, I have to go to YouTube or Spotify, because it’s never on the radio.

Pop music works for me if I’m in a good mood, bored, or if I’m trying to ignore my problems for a bit. Metal, on the other hand, makes me feel the shit I don’t want to feel. Ponder realities I shy away from. Admittedly, there are metal songs that are just heavier pop, feeding that mentality of fuck ’em all, etc. Despite my eclectic ways, I am picky about vocals and lyrics. Rap, Rock, Metal, Pop all can fall into repetitive traps of “let’s get fucked up and party” I prefer shit that makes me think and feel. The music industry now tells us what we like and plays repeated hits to the point of nausea. Anytime I turn on the radio, I hear the same songs from 3 or more years ago. There’s been no change, save 1-2 “monster hits of the summer” or whatever. 

I love to disassociate from reality. I spent many years feeling like a caged up bird looking in this world. I can still shut myself down effectively to the point I am numb. When that happens, I have no personality whatsoever. The only way I can help myself snap out of it is listening to music. I’ll find the song that sings my feelings until my feelings come back. I love songs that make me sob or make me feel less alone. I don’t often get that depth from Pop music, though. Pop lets me stay in a disassociated state, because it has no emotional resonance for me. My life has been very fucked up for a long time, so fucked up people are who I love to hear. I think everyone is fucked up to varying degrees, but not many like to admit it. Yet, our scars are what make us unique, precious beings in this world. Why do we try so hard to be the same, when not even our fingerprints match another person. This is how creativity changes lives: we tap into what makes us feel like ourselves. The more I can express myself here in writing, I am even more expressive in life. The very things I tried to hide away before are the things people like to read or hear about. Because we all feel less alone when it can be related to.

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My idols have all taken their demons and painted beauty. In Jungian terms, their creative self expression brought light to the darkness, and released them from the past. Every time I create something – hell it can be a good dinner – I feel better. Even then, I fight myself and fight my creativity. I get scared to write, because I don’t know what I want to write about. I feel like an imposter attempting to follow a dream half-assedly. I doubt myself because I can come up with things to write about so easily, and create it in 15 minutes. That makes me believe I suck, it shouldn’t be this easy. But what if that is the essence of our gifts? With practice and expression, it falls out of us like water poured out of a pitcher. What if we all lie to ourselves about our gifts, keeping them pent up inside, leaving us feeling hollow and lost?

I learned awhile ago that the only way I can heal myself is to express myself. Talk about what is actually on my mind, write what is actually on my heart. No masks, no social media perfection, just who and what I am at the time of writing. I’ve grown up admiring band after band, author after author, yet always telling myself I cannot possibly be like them. The proof of my self-delusion is constant: every band I love takes pain and transforms it to something beyond themselves. It’s alchemy, it’s transformation, it is the power of creativity and self expression.

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I’m going to go on a limb here and wonder if the rising rates of mental illness and deaths by suicide is correlated with an inability to express ourselves. Doesn’t anxiety often feel as though you have a million things caged up inside you? Doesn’t depression often feel as though you have no purpose in this life, so why go on?

Isn’t this a war most of us have? Jekyll and Hyde? Yin and Yang? I feel as though I have two diametrically opposed me’s in my life. I feel crazy admitting that, but it’s the truth. There’s one who digs the shit out of life, and the other one that likes to tell me how much everything sucks. Music is the only middle ground for me. Music takes analytical precision (left brain) with infinite creativity and connection (right brain). I suspect most of us suffer from being too left brained, leaving our very notion of creativity up for analysis and speculation.

The ego – the talking voice in our heads – will never let us feel sufficient. The ego was formed to protect us, keep us alive, and analyze the environment for threats. The ego is our problem solver, so when we stay stuck in ego-based thought circles, we lose connection to our intuition and inspiration. The ego can’t trust that, because there is no past data to support it. If anything, ego compares others to make us feel defeated before we began.

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I’ve been reading a lot on hemispheres. The right brain cannot speak in words, but can recognize faces, images, and so forth. The left brain can communicate and problem solving. The problem stems from the fact most of us don’t understand the ego is your conscious attention. It analyzes everything for potential threats. So then, the ego attacks our creativity in the same way the music industry is attacking music. The ego wants predictable and safe. If they are investing 500k to 3million dollars in marketing, they want a guaranteed hit. The problem is, they just repeat everything. Lyrics, backing tracks, personas, etc. The only way we can truly express our creativity IS to take a leap of faith. That’s not something the ego is capable of doing, but every artist, actor, musician, author, business owner, inventor, etc. had to take a leap of faith to get to the other side.

What the music industry is doing to music is what the left brain attempts to control our lives. Analyzing the past to predict the future outcomes. This makes us completely batshit crazy, because we have no sense of reality. We live in two states: past or future, with no eyes on the present. I’m not surprised that music is this way anymore, because we are all choosing to ignore the present moment in order to feel safe. Life and music have the same purpose: experience. Music has no purpose beyond listening and enjoying. Great music makes you think bigger than your problems. Great lyrics can make you think and feel that you are not alone. Music quiets the perpetual argument of left and right brain, which is what I suspect is the constant chatter going on in my head. Ego doesn’t want us to express our feelings and truth, because that transcends the idea that we are weak and in need of protection.

Music can unite people – how many friends have you made because you both like the same band? I met my husband at Ozzfest. Our relationship started with music, and fell apart when we stopped listening to music. We both were so miserable, we disassociated from our primary coping skill. Music can unite your left and right hemispheres, because both are needed to enjoy the experience. It’s theorized music existed before verbal communication. I personally think life should be like music, a perfect balance between analysis and logic from the left brain, and creativity and expression through the right. “A perfect union of contrary things” is what Pythagoras defined music as. It is math and creativity brought together in harmony. I also think that’s a metaphor for all our lives, but most of us eschew creativity for the safety of logical analysis, which will all tell us creativity is not part of survival, of what needs to be done, etc. The left brain limits self expression because it lacks emotional resonance and looks for sure bets.

How many of us stay in jobs we hate, because we don’t know what to do with our lives? How many of us have something they’ve always wanted to do but told ourselves they couldn’t? I listen to so many metal lyrics telling all of us, essentially, you can do this too. Anyone can do this. The biggest hurdle is the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. Yet failure is a guaranteed outcome if we don’t express ourselves, if we don’t allow our unique gifts come to light.

I don’t have any answers on how to change the music industry from cookie cutter manufacturing personas, lyrics, and beats. I do, however, believe very strongly everyone needs to take their creativity back. As focus and attention span are being undermined, it is harder and harder to find the courage to just be yourself and express yourself however is fitting. Hell, look at the formulas so many of us are trying to follow with blogging. Keeping word counts in certain ranges so people will pay attention. Fuck that, I’m done pandering. I’m just writing what my fingers want to write, and if someone enjoys it, cool. If someone doesn’t, cool. My measurement of success is achieved every time I push “publish”

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I think a lot of us get defeated by measuring ourselves to the end goal. No one picks up a pen and becomes Stephen King or the lead singer of ___. Everything about transforming life, focus, and mental health is a process that is ripe with ups and downs. Life progresses like music. The low notes offset high notes, the progression of chords, lyrics, and beats flow together, just like our lives.

I believe each of us has a gift, and it is our duty to ourselves and happiness to express that gift, whatever it is. I believe anxiety is often unexpressed creativity. If any of this makes sense or resonates, then go back to childhood, pick the thing you loved then, and start there. The best way to not make a dream come true is to say “I wish I had just ____” Look at how the world has changed now, anyone can create an account on WordPress and be able to write. Anyone can create a YouTube channel and put their songs, thoughts, animations, whatever up. There is no barrier into the creative world. If anything, the only barrier to creativity is the belief we can’t do it. The more I express myself authentically, I am getting healthier. I don’t care what happens with my writing, all I care about is that when I write, I have peace. Buddhism taught me to have no attachment to outcomes, and no expectation of outcomes. So I write whatever I feel like writing, because at least I have honored my gift.

What lies are you telling yourself about your dreams? What limiting belief can you let go of to start working towards a dream? What small act can you do today that may influence a better tomorrow? What part of you are you disconnecting from reality? How often do you listen to the opinions of others versus yourself? No one broke through by playing it safe and predictable.

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Quiet Minds are Focused Minds

Coming off the last post I wrote, Pay Attention, I wanted to talk about meditation. Meditation is recommended for a myriad of mental health issues including ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. The problem is that most of us do exactly what meditation will teach you not to do: we are trying to meditate, we are goal setting on meditation, or trying to achieve something. Meditation is doing nothing and being everything.

Sitting meditation is challenging. As soon as you start settling, your body will begin whining, your brain will attempt to focus on the whining and create new whining to go along with it. There’s lots of people who struggle with having thoughts about their thoughts, and this noisy charade goes on while they try to meditate.

Meditation will not necessarily silence the mind. In fact, I would go so far as to say, meditation will show you how futile it is to attempt to silence the mind. What you can learn from meditation, is more important: You Are Not Your Thoughts. You are observing your thoughts and focusing on your breath. Quieting your mind is more about not responding to your thoughts vs. not having any thoughts. The most noise in our brains come from us talking back to our thoughts with new thoughts. Meditation teaches to allow the thoughts to come and allow them to go without a response – like an unwanted dick pic from Tinder.

Meditation can happen while you are driving, cleaning, building a puzzle: it doesn’t matter where or how. The principle is to remain connected to your breath either by counting or by observing the natural flow of your breath without influencing it. The same rule applies to thoughts, they can be observed without influence, judgement, or an attempt to make it go away. A five minute meditation is as effective as 5 hours, because there is no race, deadline, or even finish line. Meditation is more effective when there is no goal or expectation. If there is a goal or expectation, then the left hemisphere of the brain is attempting to control, analyze, or add logic to a practice that is attempting to connect you with reality by simply being.

One of my favorite ways to meditate is using Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep. This meditation is done laying down flat on your back with your arms spread out and feet apart, like savasana in Yoga. The biggest challenge in Yoga Nidra is remain awake. Yoga Nidra takes you to a bridge between your conscious and subconscious mind. YouTube has tons of guided Yoga Nidra meditations. This form of meditation is deeply peaceful and relaxing. The meditations can be as short as 10 minutes to over an hour. I typically do yoga nidra in the middle of the day when my energy is dipping, because this is a restorative meditation that will help with energy and calm.

In any form of meditation – walking, sitting, mindfulness, or yoga nidra, the aim is to help focus return. Right now, focus is very difficult, we’re all yanked around by so much stimulation and noise.  But by turning to meditation, it teaches how to utilize your focus by realizing you are the only person who can direct your focus, unless you are letting someone or something control you. Not only that, but old emotions, trauma, anxiety, etc. has space to come to the surface and be healed. There are so many forms of meditation, and the only way to know the best way to meditate is to find your personal style.

Finding your own path can be pretty nerve-wracking and confusing. Group meditations or guided meditations are helpful to start, because someone will help bring the quiet state with verbal cues. At the end of the day, though, only you know how it feels to be in your body and mind, and if you find a particular style of meditation to be frustrating, try something else. Meditation is about just being: not trying, not doing. Open awareness and complete allowing of whatever is just is.

I find now, if I don’t meditate at least once a day, I’m an irritable confused mess of a person. Some days, I can sit for 5 minutes, somedays it’s 50 minutes. It is irrelevant either way. There’s no gold medal for best meditator ever. The more important part of meditation is to practice consistently so you can find deeper states of relaxation and understanding.

By becoming aware of thoughts and emotions, there’s no further need to escape them. If anything, there is a need to express them and heal them. Often, whatever is disturbed on the inside robs focus and leaves us distracted and out of whack. Inner worries, fears, and feelings about self project in our lives and relationships, but meditation creates awareness, and by simply being aware, the situation is changed.

Sitting and doing nothing seems counterintuitive, but in reality, it will increase efficiency and focus. By focusing on breath, it’s easy to bring conscious breathing in any moments of stress or unhappiness. It helps align your focus to what you really want and your best path forward. It connects you with intuition. When our brains are so noisy, we almost never can hear the small voice guiding us from within. Meditation is a do not disturb button on life. It’s a mini vacation for life. So many of us cannot or will not disconnect from life to connect with themselves. This gives no chance for focusing on what is really happening in your body and mind. So often we blame externals for unhappiness, when in all likelihood, unhappiness is sitting within, but being projected on others.

TIPS FOR MEDITATION

  1. Create consistency. Pick a time you can sit quietly for a few moments.
  2. Create a space to meditate. Get a bolster or something comfortable to sit on. Try to find a quiet space, so that you will be minimally distracted while learning how to go inward.
  3. Light incense or a candle. A smoothing scent that you light right before you meditate. It will have a Pavlovian effect eventually, that when you smell that scent, you slip into meditation
  4. Try different forms of meditation to see what resonates
  5. Keep a journal and write any feelings, thoughts, etc. that came to you while meditating
  6. Begin meditation by cultivating gratitude – for good things and bad things, because everything brought you to the now moment, where you are perfect just the way you are.
  7. Don’t make meditation a burden, sit quietly for as long as you can, and stop when you stop.
  8. Don’t focus on what you did or did not get out of meditation, leave your expectations behind.
  9. Don’t judge or criticize your performance in meditation.
  10. Don’t give up. This is not instant gratification. This is a patient practice that can only deepen with consistency and time.

 

Pay Attention

Do you know what your greatest gift, asset, tool, etc. is? Do you know the most powerful part of you? Do you know the one part of you, that if you use it wisely, it will change your life?

It is your focus.

Focus is something most of us struggle with immensely. The climbing rates of ADHD diagnosis in adults and children are testament to our struggles with the power of focus. Most of us pride ourselves on our abilities to multitask, but the reality is multitasking, over-committing, and generally being too busy is one of the biggest reasons we are miserable. (No shit Sherlock). The reason, though, isn’t because we are tired or stressed. It’s because we are maligning our greatest and most powerful gift.

Take a moment and think of people you deem wildly successful, the people you wonder how they did it, or what their secret is. There’s a common denominator: focus. Take a musician: they focused on their gift and passion until it became their reality. They don’t just work in music, they live music. They tour, write, perform, and embody music. How did they get there? “I never gave up, I never stopped believing in myself, I practiced every day…”

Most of us dismiss them as “lucky” or how we can’t possibly do that because “here in the real world…” However, we overlook the simple trick they use that can change everything for us: focus.

Do you fixate on things? Do you ever wonder why sometimes you just want to do the same thing, and other weeks it barely crosses your mind? Do you have interests that you want to incorporate in your life, but you can never seem to find the time?

These fixations are your inner compass, and they are a blessing, a gift, and guidance. Call it God, your higher self, intuition, the Holy Spirit, or channeling divinity. I don’t care. What your fixation or focus is trying to help you with is what you need to do to help yourself to be happy and fulfilled.

When we multitask and overwhelm ourselves, we erode our powerful focus, and like a muscle, lack of use creates weakness and lack of results. Our society loves to erode our focus. How many times do we check Facebook or even just our phones in a day? How many times can you say, “I just did one thing for like an hour.” When you go to work, how many things are you doing at once to be productive. Are you actually productive? How is your energy?

Have you ever watched a kid actually playing? Not video games, I’m talking driving a car on a floor, building a puzzle, or taking Barbie on a date with Ken? The outside world doesn’t exist to these kids. As a matter of fact, the kid doesn’t exist to the kid. There’s no mental observer, “I am making Barbie perfect, but up next I really must see about my muffins in the oven and good God that laundry!” It just doesn’t happen. They’re focused and immersed, which means they, and all their problems (kids have problems too) don’t exist.

What happens then? They’re happier! Have you ever dealt with an overstimulated kid? It’s fucking hell! My kids are constantly overstimulated, then they overstimulate me, and I want to go weep under a blanket for a month, pondering how to simultaneously be a great mom and hermit in a mountain, and if there’s a wawa located in any mountains.

Why wouldn’t we realize if kids can get overstimulated and turn into dickbags, most of the dickbags you encounter in your life (especially yourself!) are also overstimulated, unfocused, and outta their damn mind. We’re all chocolated-up toddlers demanding nap time 24/7!

We lack focus. Without focus, we’re generally ships without a compass lost in a world of circular thinking, rumination, habitual confused behavior, escapism, and in need of that nap.

Or, perhaps, more accurately: our focus is squandered in the wrong place. When you have that rare five minutes of quiet time, what do you focus on? Your blessings, or your problems? If you’re a resident of this planet, I bet problems are the more likely answer, although you’d try to caveat it with, but I’m really happy with my life, it’s just….

Focusing on something is transformative. In that, your focus takes you away from your idea of yourself, or your ego. We all have imaginary worlds we live in, where expectations run the show and expectation and reality are perpetually two ships passing in the night. When expectation and reality don’t align, frustration is a constant. When you focus on something and come away from your chattering monkey brain, suddenly shit makes more sense. Why? Because our brains can’t actually solve problems. Our ego, our idea of ourself, doesn’t do anything but take past data and attempt to answer a question. This just puts us in circles. This is what we all do when we have a problem, and it never actually solves our problems.

If anything, what if we create the outcome we don’t want? If you have a situation, and you’re focusing on the thing you don’t want to happen, how often does the thing you don’t want to happen come to fruition? When it does, do you feel a sick satisfaction that, although you’re miserable, at least you were prepared for it?

What if you made it happen though?

Your focus isn’t just what you’re doing, it’s what you’re creating in your life. Focus on peace, you will find peace. Focus on not wanting to fight about the dirty dishes, how many times did you end up fighting about dirty dishes? Focus on too much, and you end up confused and tired.

If you think about driving: if you focus on not hitting a pedestrian, you’ll find yourself inevitably steering away from the pedestrian you are somehow drifting towards. Where you set your focus is where you go, and focus doesn’t understand not. You’re staring at the pedestrian saying, “I don’t want to hit this 90 year old gentleman carrying his groceries”. Your focus says, “oh you wanna go to that guy? Got it!” Next thing you know, you’re jerking the wheel after startling someone’s grandpa. Google target fixation motorcycles and you can see this concept repeated in thousands of articles.

I think everyone has ADHD to varying degrees. ADHD is not a lack of focus, it is a lack of focusing on what someone else wants you to focus on. This is why school age children have these letters. The little bastards just don’t want to sit in a chair for 8 hours listening to someone talk about shit they’re not interested in. I don’t know any adults who struggle like that 🙄 Hell, this is a longer post: how well are you getting through it? Are you still reading? We all try to write less to keep our readers’ attentions because none of us have any!

ADHD, when framed properly, is a superpower, and we all have access to it. How many artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs have either ADHD or bipolar? How many stories have you heard where some wildly successful person sucked at school? Why is this? Their focus didn’t give a shit about anything but their focus, and they listened to it. An incredible musician can’t be incredible if they don’t play their instrument constantly. That’s great, because that was their focus. An inventor doesn’t give a shit about anything but making an iPhone. That’s great, because that was their focus.

We all have this to varying degrees because no brain is the same. Your focus could be as simple as wanting to drink a cup of tea and write in your journal. You put it off because your busy, and you end up grumpier than usual, because you didn’t do what you wanted to do. That urge did not come from your brain, either. We all know there’s a place in us that we can’t quite put into words, and when we don’t listen to it, it becomes a “man, I wish I had just….”

Focus is key. Our egos love to plan, dictate, tell us or shortcomings and problems. When we listen, we find lots more shortcomings and problems, and we create more of the same. Why? That’s where the power of our focus was squandered. If you do sit and journal with your tea, you may just find the answer to the question that’s been bugging you. If you go to that class you said you didn’t have time for, go to the gym, write the blog, etc: epiphanies can happen. You didn’t think of it, no amount of rumination did it. It wasn’t until you used your focus to not focus on creating problems did you, in fact, see through the problem.

Once I tapped into focusing on what I want versus what I didn’t want, life got better. Don’t get trapped by instant gratification. I didn’t practice yoga once and I am a billionaire with no cares in the world. My problems are exactly the same, I just see them differently. For me, focus and fixation come in approximately 1-2 week bursts. This week, my fixation has been practicing yoga nidra. This is something I had practiced when I started meditating, but didn’t know what it was called. It just made sense to lay down, close my eyes, and chill the fuck out. The week before was yoga. I pick one focus – whatever is pulling me the most – and I let that dictate my week. I’m busy, and I’m a mom. I don’t have tons of time. I keep my practices simple, I don’t let them become a guilt factor or burden. I just let it be my focus. Everything still gets done, but I redirect and focus on the fixation of the week when I start ruminating. Some weeks it’s cleaning my house, or writing, or journaling. I call my week whatever fixation I have, and it is my compass. I cut back on the shit I don’t need to make time for the shit I do. I can’t and won’t do everything I want or should do, so I pick one and I let my day focus on that. If it’s a yoga week, I plan my schedule around getting to yoga. If it’s a writing week, I wake up and write before I get distracted, etc.

What have you been wanting to do? What do you keep putting off? Where is your focus being squandered? If you had more time, what would you be doing? Start focusing on these questions, and I’ll bet things begin shifting. Keep focusing on the things you don’t want, and don’t be surprised when you told yourself so. Your focus will create your reality. Start using it to your benefit. What can you focus on today? Hit me up in the comments, this is my current fixation, and I want to talk more!

Up next, I’ll give you some more personal examples of my focus and fixation, a couple steps I took to get my focus back, and what changes I’ve observed since. Thanks for reading, and share the love if this was enjoyable, relevant, or semi coherent.

First Friday of Summer!

Beautiful thoughts for today!

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Be someones sunshineGood morning🌅 and happy Friday y’all! I hope you had a pleasant week and I know you must be looking forward to the weekend!! I want to wish you a wonderful day and remind you to stay cool as you can in the summer’s unrelenting heat!

I hope today we can all try to be the☀ sunshine for another person that might be in a darker place in their life. All it takes is one person to make a dramatic difference to someone else that might be suffering. After all, we never really know what the person standing right next to us is dealing with, so maybe we can help bring them some happiness they were lacking.  Spreading love❤ and compassion can go a long way and maybe this could end up being a chain reaction that inevitably spreads throughout the entire world! Wouldn’t that be absolutely fabulous? I think…

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Using Your Body to Discipline Your Mind

Yesterday was Summer Solstice. At my yoga studio, Shanteel, we did 108 Sun Salutations to welcome summer. This was my second time – the first was for Spring Equinox. It’s a very challenging practice, taking about 2 hours to complete. It’s also deeply healing and eye opening.

Yoga is not about getting in better shape, although it helps. It’s not even about getting in proper postures, or looking like the Instagram pictures. Yoga teaches using the body to discipline the mind. I think when any of us are doing something repetitive and challenging, our brains love to comment on its difficulty and our inability to do it. If we listen to the chatter, the difficulty grows exponentially. Every ache, muscle, etc becomes screaming resistance.

It becomes a mind over matter situation, and yoga demonstrates this perfectly. As I was thinking how hard this was, I was struggling until I caught myself. I went to child’s pose, rested, and changed my internal monologue to a simple “I can do this”. I whispered it to myself as I was in downward facing dog. Eventually, thoughts ceased and all that remained was the sensation of my body, with my eyes closed, moving through the postures. I became focused solely on alignment and positioning, and allowed myself to just move without commentary. I stopped when needed for water or rest, but I was acutely aware of how many more sun salutations I did, how few rests I took, and how much my practice improved since spring.

I didn’t have to modify by dropping my knee in lunges, I could stay up. I was keeping my elbows hugged in for transition. More importantly, my internal monologue became kind and encouraging as opposed to critical and belittling.

Nowadays, it seems difficult to hear ourselves think. I didn’t notice it until I started meditating. I never noticed how critical and mean I was. On the outside, I was so nice to everyone, but on the inside, I was downright mean. This sets you up for terrible projections. If you are constantly criticizing and hating yourself internally, you’ll project those feelings unconsciously on the people you love. Their words and interactions will be perceived with negative intents where none were present. It’s inevitable.

It’s only by bringing awareness to the mental chatter that you can change it. Yoga helps because as much as you may feel good after a practice, it’s rare you want to contort your body in bizarre ways, sweat in places you didn’t know you could, all while trying to breathe and quiet your mind. My mind loves to tell me how hard it all is, yet not once have I lost a limb or died in practice. I generally get sore and relaxed.

This experience carries into day to day, as you become more aware of your monkey brain and realize that your thoughts are messing with your reality. Sure, my house is messy, but in my thoughts, it’s an insurmountable Mount Everest of dishes and laundry, my kids are bound and determined to drive me insane with messes, and I’ll never ever know what it’s like to be done cleaning. In reality, some music and a few hours of focus gets me where I need to be.

I never would have thought I’d be capable of 108 sun salutations. I remember struggling to even commit to 3 as I practiced on YouTube. I was scared of even joining a yoga studio. I thought I was too fat, too this, too that to join a studio. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the classes. Yet, there I was, in reality, flowing through 108 sun salutations with my community.

If I had listened to my brain, I wouldn’t have a family at Shanteel. I wouldn’t have found my home, where I go to find myself daily. I wouldn’t have found my strength or beauty. I would have just sat around letting my brain kick my ass, as opposed to kicking my ass on the mat to see how much further I can go beyond my thoughts.

Last night was even more special for me. I promised myself I was going. I negotiated if I had to miss regular classes, I’d go. Because this is the week after my period, which means it’s depression week. Awareness of my cycle has helped me plan around my hormones. I know these weeks are tough for me. My energy is low, my mood is typically low, and life is harder than usual. My house is a mess, because I didn’t have the energy to keep up. My kids are home, and I had to let them do screens more than I’d like so I could rest more than usual.

Normally, depression weeks are harder to practice yoga for all these reasons. I’ve promised myself to try to get to 2-3 classes/week versus my normal 5-7. I’ve promised myself to rest without judgement, and listen to my body without criticism. I had to nap most of the day yesterday, but I got to the 108. All day, I was thinking of reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t. All day, my brain wouldn’t shut up, and all day, I had to ignore it, because I promised myself I was going.

Depression used to be a call for mania, where I would force myself to hide everything away and pretend everything was great. I’d pile on activities and do anything to distract myself and hide it. Depression was 75% of the time for me. As I pushed, intrusive thoughts would begin screaming at me, I’d become suicidal, and driving would be a challenging experience of internally telling myself why driving into a phone pole or oncoming traffic was a terrible idea. Once I stopped that insanity, and allowed myself to feel depression, I became aware of how debilitating it was. I felt sad for all my body has been through as I fought. Once I accepted depression as a state I go through, episodes become shorter and less debilitating.

After about a year of regular yoga practice, almost 2 years of regular meditation, etc etc. I just did 108 sun salutations while I was having a bout of depression. This practice is about releasing what no longer serves you. What no longer serves me is telling myself I can’t be everything I want to be. What no longer serves me is being a slave to my thoughts and endless brain chatter. I am way, way stronger than I think I am. We all are. The only true limits that exist are the stories we tell ourselves.

Everyday Miracles

I’ve been reading A Course in Miracles for the last week or 2. I’m absolutely loving it. I’m also loving reading again. I think in the last month I read more books than the last year combined. After I finish this, I have an Alan Watts book to read.

I think what I love about A Course in Miracles is how it’s helping me frame a lot of what I’ve intuited or connected on my own between the studies of Eastern philosophy with my Catholic roots. There are many who warn westerners from attempting to adopt eastern cultures because it’s such a dramatic shift from our upbringing. The Dalai Lama even said to use Buddhism to enhance your traditional practice, not replace it.

ACIM is kind of like this. It’s written from the perspective of Jesus talking to us now and explaining all the things we misunderstand. I’m also listening to Bill Donahue on YouTube explaining the Bible in these terms, asserting Jesus had learned his path from studying Buddhism and Hinduism, and his references are to heaven being inside, ala nirvana and meditation being the key. That when He says “I Am the way, the truth, the light” he was not referring to himself, but the concept of God as in I Am that I Am, or as Krishna described in Bhagavad Gita: the eternal Brahman that rests in all of us. The interconnected spirit that unifies us all. Or the great Tao, which is translated as The Way.

ACIM talks about miracles being an everyday occurrence. Jung talks about synchronicity being a confluence of events that places you exactly where you were meant to be. Ever run late and bump into the right person at the right time? Think of someone and they contact you? Think of a song and hear it? Call it what you’d like, but these are always present if you’re observant. Constant reassurance that life is working for, not against you: if your perception is attuned. If you believe everything is terrible, you’ll also prove yourself right.

I could go on forever. Philosophy is my passion. It was about a year or so ago now I stumbled on my dead husband, Alan Watts and my life changed completely. A big part of my psychosis was this ever present fear that I was going to hell because I did not follow Catholicism appropriately. This actually was described by Carl Jung in his observations of his patients, and he postulated many mental illnesses are manifestations of spiritual crises. There’s actually a tick box when you’re admitted to the mental hospital for spiritual crisis! It was checked for me last January.

Oddly enough, or cool enough, I realized just last night that when I was in the hospital, there were a number of patients experiencing the same break as me. All of us were released rather quickly after being able to sleep for a few days and regain our bearings. When I was in the hospital, I had a homeless woman tell me (she didn’t know who I was or anything about me) that my sense of humor and way of expressing myself would help a lot of people. She said it was time to stop Doubting myself and get to work.

Miracles do happen. We often overlook or forget them in the absence of rational explanations. Me connecting with Watts started this journey into philosophy and the journey back to wholeness. It was a random YouTube auto play, and yeah, I definitely think it was a miracle.

Don’t be a Slave to Should

5 years ago, I went to the hospital for bronchitis. Over the course of a week, my “normal” life was flipped upside down. The hospital cold turkey’d me off the lexapro I was taking, because I had finally accepted after decades of hell that the depression was more than “just being lazy” or “needing to stop being a baby”.

Lexapro withdrawal can be pretty severe. The hospital mistook my withdrawal symptoms for a worsening cold. They were giving me klonopan and finally asked me (as I’m laying in a hospital bed) why I wasn’t taking the lexapro. Things worsened. I started having panic attacks, I couldn’t walk myself to the bathroom from being so dizzy. The albuterol for breathing made me felt like I was on speed, and my cough was so bad, I burst blood vessels in my eye and started having migraines. Things came to a head when I called my mom at 5 am hysterical because I could no longer pee and had a catheter. After I got discharged, I was a wreck. I had never had a panic attack before that hospital stay.

When I was discharged, I had them constantly. I had no coping skills, I had never seen a therapist or psychiatrist. My panic attacks can make me twitch and stutter. This hospitalization led to my first stay in the mental hospital, because nothing could stop the panic attacks. Ativan, Xanax, Klonopan, nothing helped. I began hearing, what I described as, voices telling me to kill myself. Many years later, I’d learn these were intrusive thoughts, something I had deemed myself as crazy for since they started happening when I was a teenager.

5 years later, I am a walking DSM-V. I don’t take any shit from doctors, because I’ve been through too much to be talked down to. I advocate for myself by speaking intelligently about my symptoms. By referring to intrusive thoughts as “voices”, I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder at the mental hospital. That is schizophrenia and bipolar combined. I was put on a cocktail of anti-psychotic medication and basically was so drugged, I practically drooled on myself. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared and convinced I was crazy as I was then.

Crazy is the word that I’ve run from my whole life. I think the biggest hurdle to treatment is not knowing that what you deal with on a daily basis doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if you only ever saw the sky as green. How could anyone help you see or understand it’s actually blue? The way my brain works is how it works, and I blamed myself for all the faults and problems. This is how suicide can come to be. I’m nothing short of blessed that my suicidality never succeeded, and that went on until literally my last hospital stay in January 2017, as I was trying to strangle myself with my hoodie strings in the horsham clinic bathroom.

It’s difficult to convey what it’s actually like in my brain. Five years ago, I was forced to start talking. I didn’t tell the doctors about the constant bulimia combined with hours at the gym, because I was obsessed with not being fat. I didn’t talk about how I was working 80 hours a week, cleaning my house constantly because it had to be right, and in constant fights with my husband. I blamed it on the hospital stay. I didn’t tell the doctors how much I wished I was dead, or how most days I cried before I got out of bed, cried in the shower, and cried myself to sleep. I definitely didn’t tell them how afraid I was of being crazy because deep down I knew I wasn’t okay.

5 years later, none of this is my reality, and I am really glad that hospital stay fucked me up so badly. I don’t know how else I could have been forced to say the three words that can change your life: “I need help.”

We all like to think we can handle it all. Kids, jobs, home, life, society etc. but the truth is, we all need help. None of us can do it alone. Yoga has shown me just in the last few months how I still don’t like to ask for help – even from a brick wall, foam block, or a cloth strap. I don’t like to go to child’s pose. But Monday night, I was forced to child’s pose, because my body was done, like my mind had been done all those years before. I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I just knew I needed to listen to myself and take the help of the floor.

This must have been weighing on me this morning, because I had a panic attack first thing. No twitching, no stuttering, no two week hospital stay. 10 minutes of meditation with alternate nostril breathing every hour, yoga nidra, and letting the kids be lazy while I

Took care of myself, without guilt trips of

What we should or could be doing. I know what I need, and I know if I don’t listen, I can go to the hospital. There’s no more fighting through it for me. The kids will see me

Have bad days, and they will see me

Cope, and God willing, they’ll follow the example I set now. There is nothing like the self induced hell you create when you push yourself beyond your capacity while telling yourself it should be better. Some days you can barely be mom, let alone super mom. Some days, you do let the kids be lazy because you gotta be lazy.

Don’t be a slave to should. Honor yourself and ask for help. Even if it’s an iPhone or Thor ragnarok on a nice day. I need help is not weakness, it’s strength. Like a muscle, we all get torn and broken, but only with rest can we truly become strong.

Thanks for reading ❤️

Happy Anniversary?

I haven’t shared this pic in a few years. Evan and I have been (in all technicality) married 12 years today. 3 years ago, but really probably 5, our marriage disintegrated. Or exploded. All of my worst nightmares and fears came alive. I didn’t want to be a single mom, I didn’t want to have a failed marriage, Christ, back then, I couldn’t fail period. I had to be perfect. In the last five years: I have been to the mental hospital 5 times, I cheated on my husband with a man I met in the first mental hospital, and our marriage became an exercise in masochism and sadism. Evan and I turned what once was overwhelming love – reading our posts for all our anniversaries could make me cry if I wanted to – into overwhelming hate. Our lives were the manifestation of misery: internally and externally. In the course of those years, in addition to my hospitalizations which were usually 2 or more weeks at a time with 3-6 months out of work for recovery, Evan lost his job for 3 months, I had to be out of work with no disability or pay of any kind, oh right and we have 3 kids. I don’t know how we survived the amount of stress we endured.

When the fight happened, I was relieved. Things were so bad, I was thrilled our marriage was over, but embarrassed about how it all went down. I was embarrassed about the affair, I was embarrassed about all my dirty little secrets not being kept anymore.

Sitting here now, I don’t have a single shit to give. Everything in those paragraphs are the past, and it is the vehicle that brought me to the present. In the present, I am back living with Evan and our family is together. I could say that’s a failure too: I “couldn’t handle” being a single mom, I went batshit crazy, etc. But failure is a beautiful part of life that puts you in the present. The present is always where we need to be, and it is always perfect.

Evan was there for me in the darkest nights of my soul. I was screaming about demons on my radio and people on the internet coming to kill me. He was there. He told me to come live with him when I realized I didn’t trust my own mind anymore, and I couldn’t afford my place while being out of work on disability.

How many couples could go through the hell our marriage went through? How many could come back to being each other’s best friend and support system? When we separated, once the emotions calmed down (and the court orders lifted – it was that bad) we promised each other we would figure this out. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life raising the kids and hating their daddy. I couldn’t conceive of holding on to anger that long. We promised each other we’d be friends for our own sanity and the kids. We didn’t want them seeing anymore fighting or anger. Our family suffered enough. We never divorced, we did all the custody and everything between us, and we let ourselves heal.

I never stopped loving Evan. He never stopped loving me. A year ago, we were terrified. I was moving back in and we were both scared it would be terrible. Things had gone so badly, what if….? I have a storage unit full of my stuff from Brookside, because what if I had to move out? A month ago, we started moving some of that into the house and getting rid of old stuff like our 12 year old couch. Because everything is great. A year ago, I couldn’t see me typing this. I couldnt see me happy and glad I moved back in. I couldn’t see Evan and I talking about a future or even an us.

Then I see my face in this picture. I see how blue my eyes are. I know how nervous I was to be getting married, I was 5 months pregnant with Tyler. This is my favorite picture of me. This was the happiest day of my life, and I was marrying my best friend. One thing the last 12 years has taught me is an expectation is a built in disappointment and this can work both ways. I expected my marriage to fail, because I focused on the negative. I expected my life to go to hell, because I fought everything I am, because I hated myself.

The girl in this picture is beautiful, but she wasn’t actually happy. Her insides were tortured, her mind was tortured. She loved Evan a lot, but she also thought Evan was going to make her happy. The woman typing this exceedingly long memoir is beautiful inside and out, she still loves Evan, and she knows the only person who can make her happy is herself. So her smiles are bigger, her words are truthful, fearless, and without judgement. She doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about her, because she used to think a lot worse, and she made her life a living hell hidden behind masks and lies.

12 years ago, I married my best friend. It was the best decision I ever made. Today, I am raising my kids with my best friend, and through the insanity of this journey, I have found my other best friend: me. There are no words to express my love and gratitude for this life. It’s beyond my expectations – thank God. A lot has changed in 12 years, but the one constant has been love – even if sometimes it was standing upside down as hate.