Tag Archives: Struggle

The Complex and Powerful Beauty of Vulnerability

Vulnerability has become quite the buzz word these days. It is considered rather trendy to talk about vulnerability, and even more so to “be” vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to share pieces of yourself that you wouldn’t normally share.  It is shining a bright light on those darker areas of your life.  It can feel kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off a painful, ugly wound.  Bottom-line – vulnerability usually hurts in some way.  But at the same time it acts as a release that can feel incredibly good too.  Shining that light or ripping off that Band-Aid allows you the opportunity to let go of that thing you were working so hard to hide from everyone – once released you can begin to heal and move on.

Dr. Brené Brown is perhaps one of the foremost experts on the topic of vulnerability. If you have ever seen her Ted Talk on vulnerability, then you understand why. She describes vulnerability this way – “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

And so the catch with vulnerability then is that it requires that you trust the person with whom you are being vulnerable. It is a leap of faith. It is scary and yet freeing at the same time.  To be vulnerable with someone requires a certain amount of courage and it requires letting go of the need to control what people see and think about you.  But if you are able to do that, if you can find a way to be vulnerable with someone, you open the doors to an amazingly beautiful growth opportunity for yourself as well as in your relationship with that person.

But beware the biggest obstacle of them all if you choose to set out on this vulnerability journey – we live in a culture and in a time when we are taught to believe that to be vulnerable is to show weakness, and weakness, of course, is bad. However, as Brené Brown points out, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Such a true and important distinction. Treating vulnerability as a negative or bad thing only serves to make people hold on to their stuff more tightly…to continue putting on a façade for the rest of the world rather than being their true selves.  The strength required to be vulnerable is such that many will run away rather than face it.  Truly being vulnerable is one of the utmost signs of strength a person can display.  It is one of the most beautiful things to behold, and as such should be applauded not scoffed at.

Trendy or not, vulnerability is powerful and freeing, so go ahead and give yourself permission to own your story, all of it, and to be vulnerable in the midst of it.

The Power of No

Danielle LaPorte says it so perfectly – No makes way for yes.

We live in a society of that feeds off an intense need for instant gratification and a fear of missing out. A society in which saying no is virtually out of the question. Saying no means you might miss out on something really big or it could very well result in a loss of or lack of something in your life.  You simply can’t say no and expect to live a full life…or so a rather vocal segment of our modern society would have us believe.  And let’s not forget that we, as a society, judge our level of success by how “busy” we are.  The more things you say yes to the busier you are, the more successful you are, right?  So again, saying no just can’t possibly be an option.

But here’s the harsh reality – unless you say the word no, at least on occasion, you can and will lose the ability to say yes at some point, very possibly at the moment when you really want/need to say yes. Why? Because you are human and can’t do it all.  Because there are only so many hours in a day.  Because no matter how close you get to being perfect, you still can’t be solely responsible for accomplishing everything that needs to be done at home, at work, and everywhere else in between.  It just isn’t possible.  You just cannot say yes all the time.

And let’s be clear – those are merely the facts as they exist, they do not represent a failure on your part. There’s no judgment. There is only the stone-cold reality that when we say yes too often we eventually reach a point when yes can’t possibly be the answer anymore.  If you are always saying yes you will inevitably reach the point where you cannot physically fit anything more into your schedule…into your life…and so it is then that no has to be the answer.  Something has to go before anything else can be added.  Quite a conundrum when faced with the opportunity to do something you have always wanted to do, but you can’t because of all the other things you previously said yes to (things that you may not even really care about).

And who does it hurt? Let’s be honest here – primarily you. And while overcommitting on your part can create problems for others as well, by and large you are the one who suffers from your inability to say no.  So what is the answer?  How do we find a balance between saying yes and saying no?

The key is to set and honor boundaries for yourself. If you follow any of Brené Brown’s work then you are likely familiar with this statement from her on the importance of boundaries, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Your time, your health, your sanity, your talents, etc. are important so you need to be mindful of your “Yes’s and No’s” such that you are honoring your wants, needs, desires, and limitations.  Again, it is not about any kind of  failure on your part, rather it is about being honest with yourself and not overcommitting.  Saying no on occasion to things that don’t feel right, don’t resonate, don’t align with your personal mission is not only okay, it is essential to being able to say yes to all things that are meaningful to you.  Commit to the things that light you up, to the things you are passionate about.  Don’t say yes out of guilt or some misguided sense of obligation to someone else.  Say yes because it means something to you.  If you do that, not only will you find that you are no longer overcommitted, but you will also find yourself in a place of great joy and happiness.

The Double-Edged Sword of Life

To experience life, indeed to live it fully, one must open up to all it has to offer. But opening up requires being vulnerable, trusting, taking risks, and becoming attached, to some extent, to things that are impermanent, as all life is impermanent. The net result is either something amazing or something painful.  This is the double-edged sword that we call life – you can’t choose your outcome, so to experience life is to risk one or the other of these outcomes with no guarantee of certainty in any given moment as to which you will receive.

I imagine most, if not all, of us are familiar with this concept from our own very real and personal experiences. And despite how many times we find ourselves at the crossroads of life, feeling the pain or pleasure of this double-edged sword, we forget just how good, or how bad, it can be until we are once again in its midst.

When it is good we never want it to end. When it is bad, we can’t wish it away fast enough, though it tends to cling to us all the more. The quintessential example of course comes to us through our relationships.  When they are good we savor them, desire more of them, can’t get enough of them.  Yet when things go wrong or come to an end, the pain can feel unbearable.  Even when the circumstances are such that we have not personally done anything to directly cause the painful outcome…even when we can find no fault with the other person or persons involved or the choices they have made, we still wrack our brains as to what went wrong or what we could have done differently…we still feel the immense pain of the situation.  As a result we often feel a pull or desire to retreat or to withdraw from life – a natural reaction for a species still controlled by the fight or flight response to outside stimuli.

And so it is, this dance we do with life and the double-edged sword that follows life wherever it goes. Do you dare to accept the dance? Do you trust that what you fear will be the very thing that will somehow set you free, or do you play it safe and not take the chance?  And after you get stabbed by that sword, do you dare to try dancing with life again?  How many times do you allow yourself to be stabbed by that sword before you call it quits?  All good questions, but none come with easy answers, hence the struggle surrounding this dance.

I’ve done the dance. I have been stabbed by that double-edged sword more times than I care to count. It hurts the same now as it did the first time I was pierced by it.  The fact of the matter is that no matter how many times you get stabbed by the double-edged sword of life, it will still hurt, immensely.  And each time I find myself asking the question, now what?  Surely it would be easier and safer to just curl up into a ball and shut out the world.  It would be so much easier and safer to say no the next time life asks me to dance.  And there are moments when I seriously consider these two options – there’s comfort in them for sure.  But those are the easier answers…and I am not so sure opting out of life really is an option, as life always seems to find a way to coax us back onto the dance floor.  It may take a little time.  I may have some wounds to lick, lots of  tears to shed, and an aching pain in my heart that needs time to heal, but I’ll come back to the dance floor again in time because in the end I know in my heart of hearts with each dance, regardless of the outcome, I am learning and growing…I am becoming a better person, hard as it may be to believe in that moment of pain.  Oh but if only it didn’t have to hurt so much along the way, but such is the journey called life I suppose.

It’s easy to become bitter and angry when that double-edged sword stabs you. But I choose love. Love for the person or persons who made the choices that caused the hurt…love for life in general despite this never-ending dance it makes me do…love for a universe that would have me continually experience this roller coaster of the highs and the lows of life…love because in the end that is all that really matters.  Life may challenge me, life may try to pick me apart at times, but I will be strong, I will learn from what life gives me, and I will work hard to find the lessons in it all.  And so, give me some time to rest, to feel all the things I am feeling, and to catch my breath and then go ahead and cue the music maestro…so that we can begin our dance once again, as this dance with life is all we really have and I have no choice but to make peace with it.

Opening Up To The Possibilities

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Life presents us with a seemingly endless array of possibilities every day. From the opportunity to meet new people, to buy new things, to enter into new relationships, to travel to new places, to try new things, to accept new job opportunities, and to learn new things, every day we get the chance to openly accept, or reject, any of a number of new possibilities into our lives.

Opening up to any one of those possibilities can sound inviting, even exciting. Yet they can also feel quite daunting and scary. Opening up to those possibilities usually means a release of control.  A deviation from the safety and security of the norm.  It is, often times, a matter of trust as well.  And it can also require a rather large leap of faith on your part.

So many doubts.  So many fears. So many questions. How do you know which are the “right” possibilities to be open to?  How do you know if it is the “right time”?  What if you choose “the wrong one”?  What if it “turns out just like last time”?  It can become an endless dialog in your mind…one that can paralyze you and render you incapable of opening up to any of the amazing possibilities that come your way.

It’s a balance…a dance. Trying to be open to the possibilities that life presents you with, yet trying also to be mindful to choose things that will best serve you. And unfortunately there is no one system, procedure, or formula to help you make these decisions.  It’s different for each of us.

But consider these thoughts…perhaps in them you can find some helpful guidance and thus allow yourself to be open to the possibilities before you:

  1. Know yourself, trust yourself, and follow your heart – always be true to yourself and honor what you need
  2. Don’t over think it or second guess yourself – sometimes you know the answer…even if you can’t explain how or why you know
  3. Let go of the attachment to any one outcome or expectation – only pain and suffering come from attachments to expectations and outcomes
  4. Know there is a lesson in everything so there is no wrong choice – regardless of the choice you make, you will learn what you need to from the situation
  5. Face your fear, knowing that the worst that can happen is you learn a valuable lesson – release your fear as it is irrational and will only serve to prevent you from learning, growing, and experiencing life

I speak all these things from personal experience, both past and present. There may be joy and there may be pain. There may be laughter and there may be tears.  But there will always also be valuable lessons to help you grow and become a better person – never lose sight of the importance and value of that.

Dare greatly and take a chance. Be open to the possibilities life sets before you. They may not be what you were expecting.  They may not even be what you had hoped for.  And they may not come at a “convenient time”.  But they are what you need in that moment for one reason or another – trust in that and stay open all the amazing possibilities that come your way.

The Bittersweet Taste of Disappointment

Disappointment – the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

We’ve all been there. And that definition just about sums it up perfectly doesn’t it? That feeling of sadness or displeasure all because a hope or expectation comes crashing to the ground.  It’s sobering, frustrating, and even maddening at times.  There’s so much raw emotion wrapped up in that one word – disappointment.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 4 years studying meditation, mindfulness, and, to some extent also, Buddhism.  Interwoven in all of these things is a message of caution about attachment, for it is through attachment that we bring great suffering and misery to ourselves. When we attach ourselves to people, things, ideas, or situations we become very invested in how things progress or turn out between us and those people, things, ideas, or situations.  Of course what we often neglect to remember in the midst of all that is that we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves.  And as a result things seldom work out the way we wanted or expected them to turn out.  Hence disappointment.

For me, my study of meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism was an attempt to understand this oh so familiar cycle in my life and to learn how to release my tendency to become so easily and deeply attached in this way. I understand that if I become less attached to people, things, ideas, and situations then ultimately I will be disappointed less often, and in turn be on that emotional roller coaster less frequently. This was a very appealing concept to me.  And so I set about practicing non attachment each day – I meditate, I offer prayers and intentions, and I reflect on my choices and my feelings as they relate to other people, things, ideas, and situations, all in an attempt to attach less and be present more.

Sounds so simple, and in the midst of those daily practices I dare say it even can feel like it is relatively easy. However, life is relentless in its continuous hurling of curve balls. So just when I start to think I’ve got this non-attachment thing down, I find myself in or near a state of disappointment over something.  Grr!  Snagged again!  So, what am I to do?  Well, the healing process I have come to rely on recently is that I first feel the feelings and really look at them and where they are originating from.  Then I acknowledge the attachment I have assigned to the situation – it is important to be honest about that fact that I got attached in some way.  And finally I meditate and offer up prayers and intentions all focused on my continued work on nonattachment.  What I do not do is become angry with the other people involved in the situation – they are not to blame for my attachment.  I also do not berate myself or become angry with myself.  I know those things are not helpful and I also know I am still learning and growing – non-attachment is not easy.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I no longer become attached or no longer feel disappointed about things, but I am finding that the journey to reach that point is powerful, filled with amazing growth opportunities, and completely worthwhile.

Oh The Holidays…

As the song The Twelve Pains of Christmas points out in its own humorous way, not everything about the holidays is merry and bright.  There are those things that we find to be stressful and frustrating.  And let’s face it, the holidays bring up many emotions – not all of the emotions are ones we enjoy experiencing, especially during a celebratory time like the holidays.

So how do we get through the holidays if our experience with them is filled with anxiety, anger, or angst?  How can you learn to be on the offensive and not the defensive?  How can you see the holidays as not just a challenging time, but also as an opportunity for growth, change, and healing?  How can you learn to be present in the moments such that you are grateful and enjoy yourself?

In general, being honest with yourself so you can clearly identify your triggers along with a willingness to see things differently are keys to a successful emotional shift.  Having a few tips and tricks up your sleeve when you head into those otherwise stressful holiday situations can also make all the difference.

  • If family togetherness is more than you care to handle, try these ideas:
  1. Prepare yourself before you go – in many cases the things that upset us the most with our family are things that happen every time we are together, so expect it and don’t hold on to it. Let it go as soon as it comes.
  2. See those family members who push your buttons through the eyes of love – remember they are doing the best they can given where they are on their own journey, and while that doesn’t always take away the sting of some of their comments it can help you release those things rather than hold on to them unnecessarily.
  3. Don’t take things personally, rather be filled with compassion – they may be struggling with their own feelings about the holidays or other things in their lives and as such may not be able to relate to others in a kind or loving way. Develop and use a mantra, such as “I am love, you are love”, to help you release those things when they happen.
  • Crowds not your thing? Try these tricks:
  1. Do some deep breathing or meditation before you head into a crowded place – get yourself to as calm and centered a state as possible before you enter the stressful situation.
  2. Have a strategy to do what you need to do in that crowded place and then leave – a little pre-planning is invaluable at times like this. Get in, do what you came there for, and get out – there’s no need to stay any longer than necessary as it will only add to the stress of the situation.
  3. Consider alternatives – do you have to go to that crowded place, or can you go somewhere else? Do you have to go at a specific time or can you go at a less crowded time? Consider all your options – don’t just do something because it is what you have always done or is what everyone else does.
  • If you get frustrated with that crazy, busy schedule created by all the holiday happenings you have to attend, then try these tips:
  1. Learn to say no when you can – it is tempting to say yes to all the holiday get togethers but your sanity is important too so consider not going to everything you get an invitation for. Maybe alternate your attendance each year between the events you really enjoy and let the hosts of those events know you appreciate the invitation and plan to come next year if invited.
  2. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them – honor yourself and your loved ones with boundaries that give you the time you need for yourself as well as for holiday festivities
  3. Get creative – if you are one of those lucky people with multiple family members to visit on any given holiday, think of creative ways to bring everyone together in one place (like maybe your house) instead of running to 3 and 4 places. In many cases your other family members will appreciate the opportunity to not have to be the host all the time – it can be a win-win for everyone.
  • Feeling miserable because of too much food (sugary and otherwise) at the holidays? Try these suggestions:
  1. Re-set your portion size for the holiday – knowing there will be many tempting foods to partake in, consider rethinking portion sizes so even if you eat more things than you planned, by eating smaller portions you have a better chance of not actually increasing the overall volume of food you intake.
  2. Sample rather than eat – use the holidays as a time to try things, which means samples not full blown meals or portions. It’s okay to try things, but we want to try not to overdo it.
  3. Love yourself no matter what happens – practice forgiveness. It is okay if you had more than you wanted to have – it is a special time of the year. Recognize what happened, accept and love yourself, and let tomorrow be a new day.
  • If you struggle with the “keeping up with the Jones” syndrome and get stressed trying to outdo your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the area of decorations, cookie making, gift giving, gift wrapping (you get the idea), then take a deep breath and consider these options:
  1. Let go of the need to compare – do what brings you joy, not what makes you the talk of the family, neighborhood, or office
  2. If you can’t let go of the competition, then give yourself permission to ask for help from friends or family to accomplish all these things you want to do-
  3. Consider how you can turn that competitive spirit into a positive force – think creatively about how to join forces with your “competitors” to do some amazing things for others this holiday season. Turn it into a little friendly competition that benefits others in the process.

Don’t dread the holidays – take them back on your own terms. Try some of these ideas and be open to enjoying your holidays a little more than maybe you have in the past. Make a few small changes in how you approach the holidays and who knows, you might actually have a happy holiday this year!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

To Meditate Or Not To Meditate, That Is The Question

“The quieter you become the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

In our normal, everyday consciousness, our mind is filled with a constant flow of thoughts. It can become quite noisy and even sometimes overwhelming. I often refer to this as the hamster wheel inside my head…that is a hamster wheel with an ADHD hamster hyped up on too many espresso drinks! These continual thoughts can be about the past or the future. We might be replaying events and conversations in your mind (dwelling on the past).  We might be thinking about what’s going to happen at our next meeting, activity, or event.  We might create fantasies about what life will be like when our dreams are fulfilled (aka future tripping).  Or we may conjure up scary scenarios about our worst fears coming true (good old-fashioned worrying).  It is very seldom that are we sitting still in the present moment.

In meditation, the goal is for your awareness to move from the noisy activity of your mind into the quiet “gap” between your thoughts. This takes practice – you don’t just sit down and clear your mind of your thoughts the first time you try it. I liken it to learning to play an instrument.  You can’t pick up an instrument for the first time and expect to play a complex piece of music like a master.  You have to start with the basics and practice (and practice and practice), slowly improving your skills and learning increasingly challenging pieces of music.  Similarly, meditation is not something most people are able to master when they sit down for the very first time.  It takes practice to reach that gap between your thoughts and stay in it for any length of time.  Some days will be better than others…some types of meditation will work better for you than others will.  But sadly many people expect that they will quiet their mind in their first or second attempt and when they don’t they declare that they can’t meditate or that meditation doesn’t work, and thus they quit.  I have seen that happen so often.  People give up due to incorrect assumptions or understandings or as a result of unrealistic expectations.

But consider this story from India in which the mind is compared to the trunk of an elephant, which is naturally restless and undisciplined (just like our minds). When an elephant walks with his trainer through a village during a special celebration or event, his restless trunk swings from side to side, knocking over things, impulsively grabbing things, and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A wise, experienced elephant trainer will give the elephant a short bamboo stick to hold in his trunk prior to walking through the village so that the elephant’s trunk has something to hold on to and is focused and calm. He is no longer distracted by the sights and sounds in the village market because his trunk has something to hold onto…he has something to focus his attention on.

Likewise, when we meditate, we need to give our minds the equivalent of a bamboo stick – something that will anchor our attention so that our mind doesn’t trample through our consciousness, being carried away by inner and/or outer distractions. There are a variety of options to choose from (different types of meditation offer different “bamboo sticks”), including focusing on the breath, tuning into the sensations in your body, and using a mantra. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try a variety of meditation techniques until you find what works best for your monkey mind.

When you meditate, you experience the silence of the mind when it is not stuck in the past or the future. By its very nature, meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can relax as well. This relaxation is extremely healing for the whole mind-body system. People may come to meditation for many reasons, but it usually includes the ability to reap some of the many benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Reversal of aging at the cellular level
  • Reduced feelings of stress
  • Increased feelings of relaxation and peace
  • Expanded experience of healing emotions (i.e. love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and gratitude)
  • The ability to respond consciously rather than reacting in a conditioned way
  • Increased focus, memory, and ability to learn
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased addictive behavior

The benefits of meditation can be both immediate and long-term, but either way they are numerous and powerful. Meditation is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself both personally and professionally.

Adding meditation to my daily routine has been the single most important thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it to others enough. Invest in yourself – take some time to explore the various types of meditation in order to find what works best for you and then make meditation a part of your daily routine. Whether you meditate for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, the benefits you will reap from implementing a consistent meditation practice are totally worth it.