Self-Awareness 101 — You are not your thoughts

“I think, therefore I am!” Descartes’ quote was great in its time, but I think it overshadows a larger reality. Most of us spend our time fully in our brains. We remind ourselves of what we need to do, the on-going “To Do” lists. We rehash conversations, worry about our futures, count calories, rewrite the past and generally spend most of our days paying attention to the blah, blah, blah going on in our minds.

This overriding tendency is getting much, much worse with the advent of cell phones and the ubiquitous nature of technology. The word generating part of our brains can now also post to social media, send tweets, text, write emails and the list goes on and on and is likely getting longer as you read this.

Truth is, there is a part of our brains that does nothing all day except generate words. It is its entire function. If you are reading this or writing, or having a conversation, that is a good thing. We need it. We have learned to navigate our world by interacting and speaking to one another. Problem is, when we aren’t having a conversation in the real world, we are still paying attention to this voice.

To illustrate this point, I want to ask if you have ever driven home from work,  or to a place you go frequently and when you arrived you have no recollection of the drive? If you have never experienced this, let me just say, it has been used as a defence in court and it was so familiar to those overseeing the case, that it was accepted as a likely thing to have occurred.

So where were you at the time? Likely, completely engaged with the word generating part of your brain. You were lost in your thoughts about whatever the word generating part of your brain likes to focus on. See list above for some examples.

Exercise 1


That sounds abstract, so let me try to explain what I mean. Think of the bolded part above. Reread it if necessary. What actually happens in your brain when you read? For many, but certainly not all, they hear the words in their mind. Read it again and see if that is true for you.

So, if you “hear” the words, who is listening? This is important. You, the real you, is the one listening to the words. The words themselves were just what you were reading on the page. In this example, it is clear that the words are what were written on the page and “you” are the one listening.

Let’s take it one step further. If you are not reading and you are listening to your “To Do” list, for example, you are still the one listening. In other words, the word generating part of your mind is not who you are. Since its entire job is to keep babbling on all day, many of us confuse it for who we are. When it starts to tell us things, we believe we are hearing our own voice. We may be hearing something a fourth-grade teacher told us years ago. You see, it is easier for the word generating part of our mind to keep repeating itself than it is for it to come up with new material.

Exercise 2

There is another way to illustrate this. It has become quite common in cartoons and movies to see someone trying to make a decision. In the movie, a “good angel” will be standing on one shoulder talking into one ear of the character. A “bad devil” will be standing on the other shoulder giving the opposite advice.

You can try this yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you, palms up. Picture yourself in natural, flowing carefree clothing standing on one hand. Now, picture yourself in a tight, very formal, army uniform standing on the other hand.

Take the time to see these two aspects of yourself. Now think of an on-going argument you have with yourself. Let’s see, maybe you are trying to cut out carbs, but love muffins. Or perhaps, you have promised yourself daily exercise but it is cold and wet outside. You know your own struggles, pick something that you can relate to. Visualize these two aspects of yourself arguing their points of view.

Carbs make you fat! I like muffins. You must exercise! I’d rather be warm and comfortable. … You get the idea. Take a moment to do this bit right now. I’ll wait.

I’m sure none of this is new to you, except perhaps picturing yourself standing on your hands. What I want to illustrate is that you are neither of the people standing on your hands. You are the one observing the argument. You are the one listening to the debate. The debate is being created by the word generating part of your brain. You are the one observing.

Why is this important?

This is an introductory blog, so I’ll just focus on the Top Three highlights. Let’s just say, this is really, really important.

1. If you think the words in your mind are you, you may not question what they are saying.

This is a real problem if they are mean, destructive or undermine your self-confidence. Once you realize the words aren’t you, you can question what you say to yourself, or better yet, change what you say.

2. Being lost in your mind means you are not paying attention to your life.

If you “forget” the drive in, you also didn’t notice the cute dog that was playing ball; the beautiful trees beside the road; the sky, clouds, sunshine and you didn’t notice anything going on outside of your mind. This becomes important because you miss opportunities. You might not notice something that may have brought you joy.

3. If you believe you are the words in your mind, you are not honouring your true self.

Emotions get pushed out of the way, body sensations are completely ignored and your experience of the world becomes very limited.

Take some time today and focus your attention on the world around you. There is no need to narrate what you are seeing or to make a judgement about the quality of it or whether it is good or bad. Just observe it. Expand your awareness to the temperature, smells, sounds and sensations of your body. Isn’t that a nice break from the chatter? Your thoughts are not who you are. You are way more than that.

Body Awareness 101 — Hear the wisdom of your body

Appearance and health usually top the list when we discuss our bodies. Perhaps sexuality comes in there a bit, but really, most people do not think about their bodies much more than that. We have been raised in a society where the brain runs the show. There is an understanding that everything should be based on facts, “Just the facts ma’am.”

Even when we are trying to make decisions, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list. We all know the drill. You take a piece of paper and write ‘pros’ on one side of a line down the middle and ‘cons’ on the other. Then, you describe in words the good and bad aspects of any decision. Sure, fine, whatever…

Unfortunately, this method excludes a huge amount of knowledge and information. Consider for a minute, you are reading this blog. Your brain is likely focused on this, or perhaps someone or something in your immediate environment also vying for your attention. Your brain might be drifting off thinking about other, possibly more interesting things.

Whether you are paying attention or not, you have sensory perception in your skin, your digestive tract and your muscles. Your ears can hear (my apologies if you are deaf), you can taste your mouth, see with your eyes, smell with your nose etc., etc. This information is sorted and what is considered the most important is presented to your awareness by your brain.

Everyone has experienced noticing an odour when you walk into a room and then it seems to disappear. The odour is still there it is just that once it was acknowledged, there was no more need to think about it and have it at the forefront of your awareness, unless the smell is outrageous or is tied to food, pleasure or some other meaningful information.

What we tend to forget is that all of that data was collected and sorted through even if our brains did not prioritize it and make it important in the moment. This vast storehouse of experience and information is not necessarily something we can put into words. Think of a bad smell. If you tried to describe it, without referring to other smells, it is almost impossible. Words fail us. It is not possible to capture the full experience or meaning of something with words alone.

But, we have decided to restrict our decision-making process to providing arguments, which are words, for and against any choice. Let me suggest another alternative.

By learning how to listen to your own body, you can tap into all of the information that is there that may or may not be part of your conscious experience. Your body speaks to you through sensations. These might be felt as heat, cold, shaking, trembling, tightening, loosening, aching or tingling. There are many more ways to describe body sensations, but that list gives you a taste of the diversity. Just like the bad odour, we largely ignore these sensations until we run into problems.

Tightening of the shoulders can lead to headaches, muscles trembling can lead to being exhausted and tightening of the digestive tract can have all kinds of digestive consequences. This is when we are forced to acknowledge the way our body is responding to the situation, but we can learn how to pay attention.

*Special note to Martha Beck, this is based on her body compass 

This is how to tune into what your body is communicating to you:
1. Get into a relaxed position

It doesn’t matter if you are sitting, standing or lying down, but you need to be able to relax completely. You will not get good results if you have to adjust yourself and move around during the exercise.

2. Remember a bad memory

When I say remember a bad memory, I’m not talking about telling the story you have written about the event. Let me illustrate. Say, your dog ran out in front of a car and you saw her get hit. The story would be the last sentence I wrote. I do not want you to rehash this story, perhaps adding in the type of car or how your dog happened to be on the road. What I want you to do it “be” there.

Remember the day, the weather, the lighting. Think of whether or not there was a breeze. Were other people around? Were there smells? How did you feel right before it happened? Were there any sounds? Get right back into the memory, relive it. This exercise may bring up unreleased emotions. It is always good to let them out. If you find yourself crying, be happy that you are releasing emotions. Go with it. Let them out.

3. Scan your body

Now that you are re-experiencing this memory, scan your body. Start at your toes and notice anything. Are they cold? Do you feel the floor, or your socks? Go slowly up your legs and notice anything. If they are completely relaxed notice that. If they are uncomfortable notice that. Continue up your body. Notice everything. Be sure to not miss any body parts. Is there any tightness, coldness, pain? Make note of all of the sensations coming from your body. This is how your body says “no”.

4. Shake

I mean this literally. You have built up negative energy in your body. Get up, shake, move around, dance if you feel like it but physically move your body until it no longer feels like you are re-experiencing the bad event. The emotion attached to the experience may hang around still, but you want to move your body and let that part of the energy go.

5. Repeat

This time use one of your favourite memories. The same thing applies. You do not want to tell the story of how wonderful the day was, you want to re-experience the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere.

The only mistake I have seen people make here is they go to one of the classic, “BEST DAYS” of my life which is often a wedding, or the birth of a child, or winning the award. These may work if you are being interviewed about the best day in your life, but often a wedding is stressful, there can be a lot of fear, pain and worry during childbirth and winning that award, took a lot of work and a lot was at stake, so these are not good examples.

What you are looking for is a day when you felt loved, happy, or content. One of the times when you were completely at peace and things were OK.

6. Scan your body

Repeat what I described above. Start at your toes and look for any sensation in your body. Make note of what you feel. This is how your body says, “yes”.

7. Using the information

Now that you have an idea when your body is trying to say yes and when it is trying to say no, you can apply this to everyday life and decision making. Instead of setting up ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on a page, sit and picture yourself making one decision and check in with your body. Then, picture yourself making the opposite and see what your body has to say.

Learning this technique will allow you to tap into what your body knows and what it is trying to communicate to you, even if it can’t be expressed in words. If you practice paying attention, eventually this information will be available in real time. Like when you are asked if you want to go to a party, check in and see what you really want to do, your body will know.




Big Boys Don’t Cry

IMG_3598Whether it is expediency in parenting or preparing us for the reality of our world, we all learn before we are too old that it is not OK to express all emotions in public, if at all. The phrase, “If you cry I’ll give you something to cry about,” was commonly used when I was a little girl. It was understood that boys were not allowed to cry at all, because, “Big boys don’t cry.”

Anger and rage are treated the same way. A woman that gets angry is summarily dismissed as a bitch and a man that explodes is often seen as violent and out of control. The immediate death of a politician is any show of uncontrolled emotion, except of course, passion.

There is an excepted amount of emotion that can be shown in public. Excitement, laughter and contentment are all commonly seen. But our society is very uncomfortable with someone crying in the grocery store for instance, or a couple having an actual argument in public. If you showed true anger in a store, you would be gently escorted out. Don’t even try it on a plane!

Unfortunately for many of us, it is difficult to recreate the feeling and express the emotion later. It might have been terribly frustrating at the time and you may have been furious, but it was not OK to scream at the idiot, but now, it is over and it is not always possible to recreate the response.

A similar thing has been said about our stress level. Our bodies were designed to respond to a threat. There is a whole series of events that occur when the threat is perceived and then we relax. Unfortunately, the stresses in our society are often things like sitting in traffic, waiting in line ups, forcing ourselves to spend our days doing jobs in unnatural situations, like sitting in front of a computer for most of the day or serving customers that come in all shapes and sizes. These stresses don’t have the sudden hit of a lion jumping out at you or the immediacy of slipping on the edge of a cliff.

The result of all of this is that we go through our days feeling things that we cannot act on. We feel emotions that we cannot express and we feel stress that does not have a definite beginning or end. When the traffic finally moves, we do not have the same relief as having the tiger walk away or getting purchase on a cliff. Instead, we often enter a building that has poor air quality and a chair for us to sit in.

So many of us have learned to ignore the emotions in the first place. We are no longer aware of the stress hormones in our blood and we no longer even recognize that something made us angry or sad.

The funny thing with emotions is that if we don’t express them, they park themselves in our bodies and stay there. In order for an emotion to move through us we have to feel it completely. We have to let the energy build and escape, as it would have naturally if we had not been taught to repress it.

When these emotions get trapped in our bodies they continually try to break out. Many people have experienced a disproportionate emotional response to something minor. You forget something and really let yourself have it on the way to work. Or, you drop something and become furious. This does not mean that you are going insane or losing your mind, it is just these pent up emotions are trying to be expressed and when they see a little crack in your veneer, they try to get out.

People that expertly contain all of their emotions often end up with sicknesses. Trapping pain in your body causes your body stress and you become ill. Many a cancer survivor has realized, only after becoming sick, that they were terribly unhappy in their lives and did not allow themselves to express, or acknowledge their own pain.

So what to do, what to do? You need to express the emotions that are in you. This does not mean that when the cashier gives you the wrong change you yell at them in public, or that when someone cuts you off in traffic you get out and confront them on the street. We are still responsible for our behaviours regardless of how we are feeling.

What I am suggesting is that you take the time to feel the emotions that you do not allow yourself to feel while you are in public. If you need to cry, wrap a blanket around yourself and put on some sad music and cry. If you need to rage, get a pillow, some time alone and yell and scream into it. If you are glad or proud honour it through creating art or music or indulging in movement that works to fully allow yourself to express the emotion and celebrate it.

It is probably worthwhile to point out that worry is not an actual emotion. Worry is a form of thinking. It might be attached to an emotion, but it is not a true emotion. I am not recommending that you take time out to worry. If you are worrying, you need to identify the thoughts that are causing the worry and write them down. When you see them on paper it is easier to recognize them for the thoughts that they are.

Worry is either about changing something in the past and wishing that it did not happen or being concerned about something that has not happened yet. You can spend all of your life arguing with your past and it will never change. Byron Katie likes to make the point that you will lose, but only all of the time.

Worrying about the future is just as futile. Worrying does not stop bad things from happening. It does nothing to prepare you for the bad things that might happen. If you need to think about what you can do if a certain eventuality occurs, think about it, make a plan and then stop worrying.

So here is your assignment. Find some time when you can misbehave. Get the appropriate supplies and indulge in actually feeling some of the emotions that you have not allowed yourself to express. This can be painful. This can make you feel “out of control” but that is the point. The pain that you will feel while expressing your emotions is a fraction of the amount of pain that you cause by trying to suppress the emotions, but it does occur all at once. The eventual result is often a feeling of lightness. You may find that you feel happier than you have in a very long time and that is an emotion that you can express, even in public.


Back in 1994, psychologist Thomas Moore wrote that your living space is a three-dimensional self-portrait. Its less-than-pristine places mirror tangles in your mind and energy, and you can’t clean up one without cleaning up the other.


Some of the bits that were edited out of Martha Beck’s column for Oprah magazine.

Aren’t they irritating?


If you ever notice yourself in a situation where you find someone’s behaviour irritating, stop and write it down. We all know the feeling of being rubbed the wrong way. The person acts in a way that gets under our skin and we dislike them because of it. If you experience this you’ve struck gold.

There are, for purposes of this discussion, two parts to the way you experience the world. One is through sensations in your body and the other is through how we explain our world to ourselves using words. The sensations part does not have direct access to the word generating part of our brain and must communicate through body signals. It is more difficult to hear and understand messages that are communicated this way, but that is where the irritation comes in. You experience the other person as irritating because you are trying to tell yourself something that you have noticed about them.

Sometimes a person can be irritating because they allow themselves to do things that you don’t allow yourself to do. They aren’t following the rules, as you understand them. It may be that you are trying to tell yourself that you are too strict about the rules, not allowing spontaneity and joy to enter your own life. The body  is trying to tell you this  and the emotion of irritation is how it is delivering the message.

Another friend found people that were preoccupied with how busy they were irritating. Then she discovered that she had entered a part of her life that was causing her to be too busy. The message may be subtle and easy to shrug off like any unpleasant encounter, but it is worth listening to.

Take a moment when you have a chance to reflect, and read what you have written. Try to write down, as well as you can, what irritated you about this person. Why was that irritating? Why do you feel it is unacceptable? How do these judgements relate to your own decisions? This irritating person may be just what you need to understand yourself a little better.

Stress Eating?

IMG_0057You are on your way to check out the new fish that are arriving today at the pet store and a car rear ends you at a stop sign. Then, you get there to find out that they haven’t arrived yet and you see your lover petting kittens with someone that you don’t know. You rush out of the store and run into an old nemesis and exchange comments and then you rush home and dive into the refrigerator and eat until you enter a coma. Stress eating? Maybe…..

Stress eating is often confused with other types of over eating because the situations that bring on these bouts of uncontrolled eating are often very similar. The actual underlying cause may not be.

Stress eating can be defined, in broad terms, as any time that you eat when you really don’t need to eat. The eating is in response to stress and usually involves eating way past the point of being full and may include favourite, high calorie foods.

Let me back up a little. Our society is focused on a few very superficial things. These include symbols of wealth that are expressed as possessions, youth and beauty. Beauty is fairly narrowly defined and always includes being underweight. I purposefully do not use the word thin here, because the models that we see on runways, the way that women are airbrushed in magazines and the “beauty” image is one of being underweight.

The average model is 5’8″ tall and weighs 110 pounds. This gives a whopping BMI (body mass index) of 16.7. If your BMI is less than 18.5 you are considered underweight. So our standard of beauty, for a woman at least, is a body type that is underweight.

For the purposes of this explanation, lets divide ourselves into two parts. There is the biological part, your body, that focuses on keeping us alive, meeting our needs and finding things to take pleasure in. The other part is our brain. It too will find things to take pleasure in but it is also the “trainable” part that learns all of the rules. The brain is worried about what other people think and has learned the proper way to behave. The biological part cares less about that and just wants to protect and enjoy itself.

If you are feeling a lot of pressure to approach the weight of a supermodel, your brain will tell you how to do this. There is no shortage of information about diets, pills, surgeries, elastic bands, exercise clubs and juice fasts to help you lose weight. We have been convinced that if we just follow an eating plan and make a few life style adjustments, we too can look like a cover girl.

The problem arises when the biological part becomes fearful for its life. In any situation where the body is in fear of dying, it will do everything that it can to stay alive. If you doubt this, try to hold your breath for three minutes. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

How did that work out for you? Were you able to hold your breath that long or did your body just decide that it was going to breath anyway? The same thing happens when we try to reduce our body weight below what our bodies are comfortable with. Our biological part is not comfortable with the weight of the supermodels, remember they are actually underweight.

We go on a diet, or a “lifestyle” change or a “cleanse”–the meanings are the same the names have just been changed–and our brains are firmly in control. Then we find out that we can’t buy any new fish for our aquarium and that our lover may not be faithful to us and our brains lose control for just a moment. Our brains become preoccupied with the drama that is going on in our lives and WHAM, our bodies take over and try to replace all of that essential body weight that we have been trying to remove. This is not emotional eating, even though it has the same triggers.

Emotional eating occurs when you are feeding yourself properly and the above happens and you are in so much pain that you don’t know how to make the pain go away. You have learned that eating can take your mind off of it and so you start to eat so that you can focus on the food instead of feeling the emotions.

So, if you think that you may be an emotional eater, first ask yourself if you feed yourself properly most of the time. If you are constantly trying to lose weight, you may not be an emotional eater at all; it is just the body taking over to avoid starvation. Can you blame it for trying to keep itself alive?


Step away from dieting and try something new. Develop a new relationship with yourself. Here are some resources.


Right Brain/Left Brain — Chapter 7

I am in my office again. I just finished a pretty easy week at work. I was only covering my own desk, which meant that I had a reasonable amount to do. There are definitely ebbs and flows of work and this was a particularly light flow.

It is 6:00 p.m. EDT and it is pitch black outside. I wish that they would recognize that there has not been justification for Daylight savings time for over a hundred years and remove it. It is such a great example of how we deny the fact that we are animals in praise of our “greater knowledge,” from our logical brains. Daylight savings time throws entire populations into jet lag without even a change in sun patterns to help them adjust.

I first experienced an understanding of this disconnect in grade four when I had a crush on my classmate. It was during this time that I decided that my brain would be in charge instead of my natural inclinations. I had to take control of how I was acting. By nine years of age I had already learned that what my logical brain wanted should take precedence. Now I am spending more time trying to reconnect with what I actually want, not what I “should” want. I find this interesting.

It has long been known that the brain has two hemispheres. These look almost identical and it can appear as though they would do the same thing but they do not. There is a great video by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor during which she explains her experience after having a stroke that knocked her left-brain “off-line” so to speak. She explained that her right brain is connected to a greater knowing, a connection to the energy that is all around us.

At the risk of over simplifying this, the left-brain is the logical, thought producing hemisphere. It spends its entire day generating words that form thoughts. These repeating messages occur over and over again until we believe them. This is the part of the brain that says things like, “You shouldn’t do that”. The right side is more of the artistic side, but I like to call it the animal side. It is the part of the brain that knows how to survive and what it enjoys.

So we get ourselves into situations where the two sides of our brains are arguing. I was already having this argument at nine years of age. It occurred again when I was trying to decide whether or not to resume my marriage. Funny thing. The right side always won. This is true in other aspects of my life. The vision disturbances and the crying were both my body, or my animal side telling me that I was not OK despite the fact that my logical brain could come up with all kinds of quantifiable arguments about the logistics of leaving.

Stop for a moment and consider the fact that you are reading this sentence. To most people, this is experienced as “hearing the words” in your mind. As you read this, you hear the words, “As you read this” in your mind. Is this true for you? Is this how you experience reading to yourself? If it is, I have a question. Who is listening? Let me propose a possibility. It is not our bodies, our animal side or our right brain that is in control. It is also not our thoughts, the words that we tell ourselves or our left-brain that is in control, it is you, the one listening to your brain read the words.

One of the ways that this conflict plays out in our society is through all of the rules that are shared about how we should live that if followed, take us further away from the knowledge that we instinctively have about how to take care of ourselves. The media goes crazy condemning foods and then exonerating them. Telling us how much sleep, exercise, food and television we should indulge in. It does not take a genius to see that this is not working. It might be time to get back into our bodies and begin to listen to what they are saying.

Our bodies need to be cared for, not tortured. The food restriction, the belief in things like, “no pain, no gain” and our crazy schedules do not respect the fact that our bodies are where we live. We need to learn to listen to the messages that they are sending us about play and rest; enjoyment and focus; hunger and movement. Reconnecting is the key, not learning the newest fad.

All bodies will want to move. It may not be “exercise” but they are designed to be doing things. Our bodies know what they want to eat and when they are full. Also, we know how much sleep we need. In our overbooked lives, it is easy to let our left brains convince us that what we need to do is more important than taking care of ourselves. These brain over body arguments all need to be reexamined.

Recognize that the part of you that is listening to this as you read it to yourself, can see both sides. You can hear the left brain spewing rules about how you should behave and the right brain desiring more freedom. You know what you actually want and taking time to be quiet in wordlessness will help you connect to this knowing more and more.

This is an excerpt from my book, “I Woke Up In Paradise”.

Read the entire book.
Read the entire book.

The Art of Decision Making


As she got into the car, her entire face lit up. As a mom, I had seen this before and knew that she loved what she saw and how she felt sitting in the car. Her brain, the left side of her brain, that is, had told her to buy the other car. So, we went and drove the other car and well, three other models. If you’re making a decision you might as well be as informed as possible — no arguing that!

It had come down to the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. A spread sheet was constructed to carefully balance the money that each would cost, insurance, differences in gas consumption and the ratings of each. Now it was decision time. Money, reviews and reports have a way of making us all feel secure. We are comfortable dealing in defensible facts. The truth is that even if we make the most recommended selection, there is still the possibility of choosing a lemon, having bad luck or simply regretting our choice. Logic does not necessarily guarantee the desired outcome, especially when it is a choice based on enjoyment of a product.

So, when the facts are balanced how do you make the best choice? Stop thinking about it. The art of making a choice occurrs when you cannot make the choice based on facts. You see, the left side of your brain, the part that talks to you all day, commenting on your surroundings, reminding you of appointments, saying things verbally, loves logic. It can compare and contrast, balance and negotiate. But in this situation it was not helpful.

The right side of your brain can be more difficult to pay attention to because it does not speak in words. It speaks in body sensations, “gut feelings” and intuition. The best way to connect with the knowledge that is stored here is to meditate. Never one to sit still and think about nothing for long, I didn’t even bother to suggest meditation to my daughter. So, I tried to help her access this “knowing” of what she actually wanted in other ways. I suggested asking herself first thing in the morning, before she had completely awoken. I tried to get her to pay attention to the reaction her body was having to each choice. In general if you feel loose, relaxed and open your body “agrees” with your decision.

At one point, I flipped a coin. The decision was that the Mazda would be heads. The idea is not to go with the coin, it is to access how you feel in that moment when the decision has been made for you. Are you elated or do you regret the coin toss? These can be subtle reactions or more pronounced but the exercise helps you access what you truly want by letting chance make the decision and allowing you to observe how it makes you feel.

I would love to say that all of my ministrations put her in alignment with her true feelings and she went on to buy the car that I knew she loved. But, the truth is that she picked it because her fella thought it was “ball’n”. What’s a mother to do?


Aren’t they irritating?


If you ever notice yourself in a situation where you find someone’s behaviour irritating, stop and write it down. We all know the feeling of being rubbed the wrong way. The person acts in a way that gets under our skin and we dislike them because of it. If you experience this you’ve struck gold.

There are, for purposes of this discussion, two parts to the way you experience the world. One is through sensations in your body and the other is through how we explain our world to ourselves using words. The sensations part does not have direct access to the word generating part of our brain and must communicate through body signals. It is more difficult to hear and understand messages that are communicated this way, but that is where the irritation comes in. You experience the other person as irritating because you are trying to tell yourself something that you have noticed about them.

Sometimes a person can be irritating because they allow themselves to do things that you don’t allow yourself to do. They aren’t following the rules, as you understand them. It may be that you are trying to tell yourself that you are too strict about the rules, not allowing spontaneity and joy to enter your own life. The body  is trying to tell you this  and the emotion of irritation is how it is delivering the message.

Another friend found people that were preoccupied with how busy they were irritating. Then she discovered that she had entered a part of her life that was causing her to be too busy. The message may be subtle and easy to shrug off like any unpleasant encounter, but it is worth listening to.

Take a moment when you have a chance to reflect, and read what you have written. Try to write down, as well as you can, what irritated you about this person. Why was that irritating? Why do you feel it is unacceptable? How do these judgements relate to your own decisions? This irritating person may be just what you need to understand yourself a little better.

The Importance of Respecting What You Want to Eat

IMG_0612I feel like lessons are being taught. For example, I made a soup out of the left over vegetables. This is something that I do. I love these soups. They are all unique, so never boring and they give me this sense of satisfaction. No food is going to waste. I have found a way that even the water that I keep my carrot and celery sticks in is going to go into a food. It is decidedly nutritious, delicious and frugal. These are all of the great things when it comes to food.

So, the problem this time was that the soup was not all that good. There was a flavour that made it unpleasant. I tried adding cheddar cheese on top of the first bowl that I had and it was nice, but not delicious. Then, I tried to add chicken bouillon to the soup to give it more of a soup base taste. The truth is that it didn’t help. I continued to eat a bowl of this soup essentially once per day, being careful to boil it frequently enough to make sure that it did not go off and to refrigerate it when necessary.

This boiling and refrigeration technique has been in place for over a decade. A good friend went to Ghana, where refrigeration is rare, and they had a technique and understanding that you needed to bring a soup to a boil and cover it with a lid and it was OK for another day.

So, I was using a combination of boiling and refrigeration. This was a large pot of soup because there was a lot of food in it. Now, of course, the amount of soup kept decreasing because I was eating bowls of it. But, I was not really enjoying it, so I kept trying different things to make it better. The last thing that I tried was adding in gravy thickener. I only added this to one bowl so that I could try it without ruining the soup and it was nice, more like a stew though.

So yesterday, I came home for lunch and I microwaved a small bowl. I have been keeping a food diary to see what foods give me an upset stomach and which ones give me heartburn. So, I knew to not take too much. Apparently, the size of your stomach is about the size of your fist. I had taken the time to measure the size of my fist and it was about a cup. I poured this amount into the bowl so that I would have a visual reference to know how far 1 cup filled the bowl and I had put less soup into the bowl than that.

So for the non-scientists in the crowd: The way that you measure the size of your fist is to fill a glass or bowl or some sort of container right to the very rim. Put in enough water that any more water would spill out over the top. Set this into a very large bowl or pot. The idea is that when the water spills out of the top of the first container it will be captured by the larger container.

Now, slowly, you don’t want to create waves, lower your fist into the first container. If you have set it up properly, the water will begin to spill over the top of the rim and it will be caught in the larger bowl or pot. Once you have submersed your hand right up to the wrist, stop. Remove the container that originally held the water. Now, pour the water that overflowed into the larger container into a measuring cup and you know how much space your fist took up. For me it was 8 ounces.

I have been learning the importance of not overeating, because after paying attention to it now for a very long time, when I do overeat, even a little, the pain in my stomach and my discomfort is immense. There is no question that the extra few bites are simply not worth it. Add in the possibility that what I have eaten is dense, versus liquid, and the time it takes to feel better is considerable.

So I had less than 1 cup of soup in the bowl. I began to eat it and the potatoes that I had recently added were quite nice. Overall though, it is not something that I would choose to eat. I loss interest quite quickly and decided that my hunger was gone and that was enough. So, there is no possibility that I had overeaten. None.

Before I started to eat, while driving home to have lunch, my stomach was growling. There was such an intense hunger that I was sneezing. Oh yeah, have I mentioned that I sneeze when my stomach is unhappy? Apparently, it is a recessive genetic trait that has only been studied minimally because, quite frankly, no body cares! If my stomach lining is irritated, for instance, think about eating candy that is extremely sweet and possibly sour, on an otherwise empty stomach, or eating too much, or being over hungry, I sneeze, repeatedly, but I digress.

So, I was hungry and I did not overeat. These are two very important criteria for me to follow when eating. I began to feel uncomfortable. By the time I got to the corner of Downey and the Hanlon, I knew that if the light did not change soon, I would have to open the driver’s side door and vomit onto the road. Let me explain that this is not only a very busy intersection but also a particularly popular intersection, because it is the most direct route out of my neighbourhood. I regularly see one or more people I know, at this intersection while waiting for the light to change.

I made it through the light and turned right onto the old Hanlon road and parked. This is the original road that was ignored when the highway was built beside it a very long time ago. It has been left in place and is now largely an off leash dog walking area that runs up the side of the new highway.

I made sure that the car was in park, turned off and out of the way, which seemed to take a lot of thought and care. It was as though I had forgotten how to do all of these automatic things and now I was going through a checklist. Yes, pull off of the road, watch for the potholes! Put the car into park. There. Now, shut it off. Let’s see, I’m off of the road, the car is in park and it is shut off. OK, now I can vomit.

I walked over to the side of the road and found some rather tall weeds. I suspected that the courtesy of finding tall weeds would not be appreciated by many of the passersby, but it is the thought that counts. At the very least, people were less likely to see that I had been there. It would be unlikely that this would be visible by someone walking along the road.

However, I could not forget that this was an off leash dog park and a few weeds were not going to fool a dog and that sniffer they have.

So, I vomited. The first few heaves were just dry air. It was a relief to have the pressure off of my stomach because it had felt as though it was going to burst while I was waiting for the light to change. Then it came, first in small amounts and then in larger ones. It appeared as though the only thing in the soup was carrots. There was no sign of potatoes and all of the liquid was that orange so characteristic of the carrot. I had not realized that there was that much carrot in the soup.

I continued on. I had an appointment in less than an hour.  The man that I had it with is not the sort of guy that you just drop in on and say, “How’s it Hanging?” So, I was reluctant to miss our meeting. It had been scheduled for a few months.

When I arrived, I found out that the meeting was cancelled. Fine. I went home.

The way home did not feel as bad because I was on my way home, which is always good, or at least now that I’m divorced is always good, and I managed to make it without needing to pull over to vomit. I did take the precaution of staying off of the highway. The sidestreets are easier if you have to hurl. Simply having a place to pull over can be a large advantage.

I plugged in my phone, put my food back into the fridge and walked up to my en suite. I undressed, hurled again a few times and went to bed. This time the acidity of my stomach was the main component of the vomit and it burned my throat and the inside of my mouth. I slept for over three hours and I felt OK but not great when I woke up. I did not vomit again and managed to eat some nuts in the evening.

All of this was to say that I didn’t want to eat the soup. Why did I force myself to eat it? What is it that I still need to learn about not eating things that I don’t enjoy? It felt as though I was being taught a lesson. If you don’t want to eat it don’t. That sounds simple but there are a million messages from the other direction including the classic, “People in China are starving to death” which somehow justifies North American obesity by contrasting it to a great lack in another part of the world. How does my eating this help those in China? I guess I’ll never be able to ask that question now.

I came from a family of plate cleaners. I vividly remember my father telling me with great disgust how a woman that he was having a meal with left a couple of fork fulls on her plate. This was ridiculous to him and totally unacceptable. I was supposed to concur with this story, but rather it illuminated the messages that I had been given as a child. It is imperative that you eat what is on your plate. Let’s not forget, this is not a plate that I have filled myself. This was a plate assembled by some other person, an adult. An adult that likely felt that if they could get me to eat a large amount then they would not have to bother to feed me as quickly after this particular meal.

My grandmother would walk around after our Christmas dinners or large family meals and empty the large serving bowls onto people’s plates. Now I mean large here. She often had several tables end to end in her basement with assorted chairs up each side and large bowls of food. Bowls that would look suitable on buffet tables in a restaurant. This woman was accustomed to serving meals for a family with nine children and possibly some invited guests. So when she was making a “big” dinner it was actually a “huge” dinner.

I have a particularly vivid memory of having a huge bowl of corn scraped onto my plate. It was understood that I could not leave the table until this was finished. Any protesting would be met with stories about people that my grandmother had watched starve to death during the depression. She would talk about people that became so frail and so thin that the slightest cold would kill them. It was assumed that it was much better to have the extra weight from overeating than it was to not eat when I was over full.

I also remember being forced to sit at the kitchen table, when I was quite young, until I had finished my meal. In one particular memory, I laid my head down and pretended that I was asleep. I did not want to eat the food on my plate and I couldn’t leave the table until I did, so I might as well pretend to be asleep. The good thing was that a parent, and I don’t recall who now, carried me up to my room and I was never forced to eat the remaining food.

So yes, I know that I shouldn’t eat past being full and I know that I shouldn’t eat something that I don’t actually want, but I am still climbing over the mountain created by my upbringing. Vomiting after eating something that I didn’t want to eat in the first place will probably go a long way towards blasting a hole in the side of that mountain. That is for sure!

Unconscious Decisions

IMG_1683Going deeper and deeper into knowing and understanding myself is important to me. Who was it that said, “An unexamined life is not worth living?” To me, it is more than that. Discovering oneself can be the greatest and scariest adventure that a person can go on.

I often coach people that have put up barriers to their own happiness. One of the reasons that coaching is so valuable is that it is easier for someone on the outside to see that the barriers are self-imposed. We all tell ourselves stories about who we are, what is important to us and how we should act in the world. But, the truth is, these are just stories. When I observe one existing in the psyche of a client, we haul it out, brush it off and shine some light on it. Once exposed, the power of the story diminishes and sometimes belief in the story completely dissolves.

Now it seems a bit hypocritical to not examine my own beliefs in the same way so I continually try to see these stories and rid myself of them. But, here is the problem, it is much more difficult to see them in yourself. You go through your day making large decisions and small decisions both consciously and unconsciously and it is not always easy to see that you are basing these choices on subconscious beliefs that you might not even be aware of.

One of the ways that these stories can be unearthed is by journaling. But if you are a veteran journaler like I am even this starts to lose its effectiveness somewhat. Recently, I started to examine each of my behaviours individually and tried to determine why I did what I did. So, I threw a small notebook into my bag and I started to write down things like, I bought some groceries and then I tried to write down why.

The first thing that I had to guard against was the apathetic, “because I needed groceries”. That is the story. That is the left-brain, the logical, planning, learning, socially acceptable part of your brain, telling me a story about why I went for groceries.

The more in depth analysis looked at the fact that I had enough food in the house that I could go for days without actually shopping, so “needing” groceries was just a story. So, why did I decide today, not in a few days, not later today, but right now, to buy groceries?

Another story popped up. “I was near the store and it was the most convenient time to buy them.” Closer examination blows this one out of the water as well. If I didn’t actually “need” them as discussed above, then the fact that it was convenient does not get to the heart of the matter.

So, why did I go in? What was my actual motivation? Then, slowly, the truth starts to surface. I wanted a particular item. “OK, why did you want the item?” This is when it gets interesting.

As it turns out, I was looking for a particular feeling, a way to bring pleasure into my life and the particular item was not in the house, so I told myself that I “needed groceries and this was the most convenient time to get them.” When in fact, I wanted to look forward to eating something just because I knew that I would enjoy it, so I went in.

These are very different things. We all eat for enjoyment, but this was a prophylactic shopping. I was not planning a specific meal; I was taking steps so that I would be able to find pleasure in eating. Now, I am not critical of this, but lets face it, there must be another layer to this.

Deep, below the surface of this story line about needing and convenience was a larger truth. I had recognized that I would be alone, with nothing to do in the near future and instead of calling a friend, thinking of an activity or taking another action to make sure that I could enjoy myself at the later time. I went grocery shopping for something that I knew I would like to eat.

So the underlying belief here was that if I have time when I’m alone and have nothing planned to do, the best thing for me to do is eat something delicious. Well, let me see here, that one is worth taking out and shining some light on. Don’t you think?

This type of journaling is going to be added to my repertoire. I need to unearth these habits and see where they originate. It might be scary and leave me open to finding out things that I don’t like about myself, but it is an adventure worth pursuing.