Meditation 101 — 4 Things You Need to Know

When someone says they exercise, it really does not describe what they do. That’s not to say they may or may not actually exercise, it is just that what one person considers exercise may be the typical day for a person who does not consider themselves an “exerciser” at all. A completely sedentary individual may feel that a twenty-minute walk is exercise, whereas a triathlete would have a totally different set of criteria.

Meditation is the same. Eckhart Tolle prescribes to “being present” as much as possible and he does this instead of having a set practise to sit and meditate. Monks can meditate for hours on end, without moving. There are as many forms and levels of commitment in meditation as there are for exercise. So, when someone says, “I meditate” it really does not describe what they do.

Mindfulness, the scientific community’s word for meditation, has been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of your life and health. In order to reap these benefits, it is not necessary to join a monastery, all you need to feel the initial benefits is five minutes, yes, five minutes per day.

Shutting off all of your electronic devices and sitting alone with nothing to do can feel like a colossal waste of time, but believe me, it is worth the effort. I know, another thing that you are supposed to add to your “to-do” list may seem like a great inconvenience, in addition to having nothing concrete to show for it. There will be no posts to Facebook, emails answered or tasks completed, but it is still worth the time. Some benefits include more restful sleep, less stress and better health. Need I say more?

So here are the basics, Meditation 101:

1. Find five minutes

This is the largest stumbling block to getting this done so I’ll put it first. Take into consideration that it is five minutes. You do not need to change your shoes or shower afterwards. There is no specific wardrobe or equipment necessary. You do not need a meditation room or a special pillow. Just you and five minutes.

2. Become aware of your thoughts

During this five minutes become aware of your thoughts. We all have all of this stuff that goes on in our minds all day. You may have music playing, sometimes affectionately called an earworm. I usually do and I listen and can sing along if I feel like it. Then there is the tyrant that can tell you everything you are doing wrong and how you should be doing it properly. Many people have a parent (not necessarily one of your actual parents) but a voice that tells them what is good for them and how they should behave. In addition to that, you may run other scripts such as counting calories or planning meals; paying attention to your “to-do” list; or planning the next hour, day, week or decade.

You may have any or all of the above and you may have other things in your mind, not mentioned. This background noise will continue regardless of what you are doing. Notice it. Notice it but don’t pay attention to it. If you are having difficulty conceptualizing what I am talking about. Stop now and read this: “Can you hear this sentence being said in your mind?” Were you able to recognize that when you read you were actually saying the words in your mind and listening to them? This is true for most people, but not all.

You are the one who “hears” what you read. You are not the voice you hear, especially when reading! When meditating, try to “observe” the flotsam in your mind. Pay attention, but don’t get pulled in. For instance, if you remember you forgot to take the turkey out to thaw for Thanksgiving dinner, although important, it is not important now. You do not have to engage and think about what pan you will thaw it in, where to put it, whether or not to take the wrapping off… Be confident you will remember to take the turkey out later and let the thought pass out of your mind. Five minutes won’t matter on a 20 lb turkey anyway!

It is helpful to use visual imagery. I like bubbles. Each word becomes a bubble that floats to the surface. The meaning of the word is lost. The word is visualized as a bubble and it just floats up and pops. Cars passing by on a highway, or stones being thrown into water will also work. Use your imagination. The important thing is to ignore the meaning of the word and let it pass away.

3. Pay attention to your breathing

There are a lot of variations on this, but this is the simplest. When your brain wants all of your attention and keeps blathering on, focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Does your chest expand? Does your abdomen expand? Can you tell the air coming out when you exhale is slightly warmer than the air going in? Think about this.

4. To sit or not to sit?

That is the question. Many individuals cannot sit still for five minutes. I mean this literally. They are simply too anxious, too wound up and too restless to sit. If this describes you, choose a moving meditation. It is OK to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, run or any other activity. The one caveat here is you must be doing this activity in a situation where you do not have to pay attention to your surroundings.

Walking into traffic or running on uneven ground where you must avoid rocks and the like, will not work. The goal is to not have to pay attention to that voice that keeps you safe. If you ignore your brain when it says, there is an oncoming train, your meditation will not be helpful. So find a place, like a shopping mall, or a track where you can run or walk without paying attention. The same applies to swimming, cycling any other type of movement you prefer.

If you decide to sit, the lotus position is not required. You may also lie down, but it is more likely you will fall asleep. For stationary meditation, you should be comfortable and it is preferable if you close your eyes. This is not recommended if you are running, for instance.

That’s it! There is no more to it. You can begin to feel the benefits of meditating with just this amount of understanding and five minutes a day. Good luck.

My Brain in the Pool

IMGP0470Breath, stroke, breath, stroke, the rhythmic splash of the water and the bubbles when I exhale become the focus of my mind. I love swimming. It is relaxing for me and a good example of not sitting in the lotus position to meditate. I completely “fall” into the rush of the water, the curl at the turn and my brain shuts off.

I still have thoughts, don’t get me wrong, but swimming is one of those types of activities that you don’t have to pay attention to your thoughts. You can observe your thoughts and then just feel the waves buoying you around. This can be the same in running, walking and hiking assuming that you are not in a place that requires vigilance. Or, you could sit still or lie down and let your mind relax.

We all need to take some time to turn our brains off. It gives them a break. Observe your thoughts for a while. See what you are thinking without making it important. If the thought came into your mind this time, it will return, no need to focus on it.

As little as ten minutes a day is all it takes to begin to receive the benefits of meditation. Better sleep, better concentration, better health… the list goes on and on. Why not turn your brain off today, if just for a little while?

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Post Narcissism — Searching for Normal

IMG_2077One of the questions that I often get on my blog is, “How do you fully recover from a narcissist?” As I am currently in the process, I’ll let you know what I have tried and what has brought relief, but I am not claiming that I am all of the way out of the darkness.

What I can say is that there is more joy now in my life than there ever was while I was living with a narcissist. The act of removing myself from the environment and then separating myself as completely as possible from the drama made room for all kinds of joy and satisfaction to flood in. On an average day I am content, happy and I feel like the world is full of opportunity and promise. That is a good thing.

I have been helped along the way by meditating and journaling. I hesitate to write that because that is where most people stop as though doing those two things results in immediate healing of all symptoms and a reversion to the innocence you once had. This was not my experience.

What these two practices did, in summary, was made me aware of my thoughts and feelings. As these two elements surface, it gave me an opportunity to look at them, see if they were serving me and decide whether or not I wanted to hold onto them. A few examples will help illustrate what I am trying to say.

One thought I had was, “I should’ve acted differently.” (substitute in anything here: faster, more forcefully, more honestly, more decisively, more intuitively, more in defense of myself). Really? This thought does not hold up to examination for two reasons. First, I was doing my best with the information that I had at the time. Second, thoughts like this keep you caught in a pattern of wishing things were different. The past will never be different. Find a way to accept that you acted the way you did and just embrace it. Forgive yourself if you need to. The point is, when you are stuck thinking that things should have been different, you are stuck. Try: “It happened. I am no longer there.”

This sounds like word games, but it stops the inevitable next thoughts that begin to rewrite how things should be now if you had acted differently then. “I wasted so much time.” “If I had acted differently they would have loved me back.” “I should’ve seen my situation earlier and more clearly” blah, blah, blah…. you didn’t. I didn’t. Lets move on.

Another thing I became aware of was all of the emotions that I was still harboring: resentment, hate, love, anger, jealousy, regret, and so on, and so on. These emotions need to be honoured, not analyzed. You feel whatever you feel. Regardless of how bad these things are, they are only emotions. Let yourself experience them as much as you can and they lose their power over you. Allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that surface has allowed me to release decades of old pain. I have remembered how scared I was as a five year old getting my tonsils out in the hospital; how devastated I was when my dog died when I was a teenager and other equally traumatic things that occurred.

The process goes like this. You are present in the moment and you notice the slightest flicker of an emotion. Focus all of your attention on that flicker. If you are like me, you have learned to immediately push these slight emotional whispers aside and pretend they are not there. Try to break this habit. Notice the flicker. Sit with the thought that brought it on for a moment and let the emotion expand. When you fully experience the connection to the memory that holds the pain, you are likely to have an emotional response: laughter, tears, rage… Once you have allowed the emotion to be expressed it is no longer as painful.

I can now remember the anguish of my dog dying without the extremely painful hurt it caused. I had been holding down this pain for over thirty years. Think of how much energy and focus that took!

If you are like me, you may be harboring emotions that should have been expressed a long time ago and not all of them are related to the narcissist that you had in your life. Releasing these feelings is like opening a gateway that lets emotions flow out and creativity, joy and connection flow into your world.

This is an ongoing exercise that is allowing me to go deeper and deeper into who I am at my core. The true me. The complete me. Which brings me to another truth. In order to survive where I was living, I learned to hide parts of myself. The parts that were taunted, belittled, ridiculed or unwelcome. This is a survival technique that anyone that has lived with a narcissist learns. The first time you put your heart and soul into choosing and arranging fresh flowers in a vase and you are told that they are in the way, a waste of money and a waste of time, is the last time you allow yourself to indulge. Pick your own example. I know there is one.

I have been paying attention to things that I enjoy. Little things like small flowers, good music, colour, art and writing. These are things that I have always enjoyed, but the toxic atmosphere of living with a narcissist blocks your connection to these things. I became so focused on just making it through my days, behaving in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat or provide fodder for an attack and trying to figure out what was going on, I lost all connection to myself and my desires. I lost a sense of who I was.

I have been gradually reclaiming these things but it takes paying attention to today. If your mind is preoccupied with regret, unexpressed emotions, thought patterns that keep you trapped in a past that was confusing and painful, you will not get to the present. It is only in the present that you start to enjoy yourself, to notice the joy in your life and reconnect with the parts of yourself that got shoved aside when you were in survival mode.

The Narcissist Survival Guide is now available

A Good Reason to Make Meditation a Part of Your Life

IMG_5178Especially in North America, we are all about the logical, scientific mind. We are quite confident that if you can measure it, test it and quantify it, “It” is real and worth our attention. We are driven by accomplishments and the accumulation of stuff and it feels like we are all in a great race to be the biggest, best, richest or most powerful.

These “goals” are often future illusions that are created in our minds and accepted as a real reality of who we are and what we want. But, stay with me here, what if we were wrong? Maybe not completely wrong, but at the very least misguided. What if the ultimate purpose of our lives was to enjoy ourselves, to live in harmony and to be compassionate towards one another? Would that be such a bad world to live in?

In every moment we have the choice to be driven and focusing on the material world or we can be peaceful and recognize that there is always a connection with everyone and everything else. We are not alone and we do not need to be struggling all of the time. This may seem like a foreign concept to some, but it is something that can be achieved. It can be experienced by simply making room in your day to stop thinking. Stop the mind chatter and allow yourself to just experience being. In spiritual circles this is referred to as meditation. In scientific circles this is referred to as mindfulness and in religious circles it is referred to as prayer. Call it whatever you want. It is the opportunity to stop the daily race into the next moment and hang out in this moment for a while.

Why would we want to do this? I don’t think anyone can explain it better than Jill Bolte Taylor; so I’ll let you watch her video and I’ll meet you back here in a few moments.

http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

How was that? Did that give you any incentive to learn how to connect with your right brain? Well, if it did, let me give you some tips. First, this must become a daily practice. I know that we are all told that we should do many things everyday and they feel like just another chore, another check box to mark off, but this one will actually create more space in your life. Taking time to do nothing has the ability to actually make you more productive, improve your health, your attitude and your sleep, so in the long run it does not take up time, it actually frees up time.

There are many different ways to get in touch with your right hemisphere. The “classic” example is to sit quietly and to clear your mind. This is almost impossible for most people. Our left brains are so dominant, that we need to actively learn how to not pay attention to the word generating part so that we can experience the other side of our brains. It is sufficient to let your mind talk and talk while you are sitting but to just observe what it is saying. Sit outside of the thought, as it were. Notice the thoughts that are occurring but do not get engaged in what the thoughts are saying. This requires you to activate the right side of your brain, which would be doing the “observing” of the other side of the brain, and how it goes on and on.

It is not necessary to sit. You can do any activity that is methodical and does not require you to think too much. This could be walking, swimming or any other simple movement. You could do yoga poses or lie on the floor. Lying on the floor can be effective because it is probably, not necessarily, something that you don’t often do. It is also difficult to get up, unlike sitting, making being still easier. Any activity that does not require much thought will work. Even doing housework can be made into a meditative activity as long as the focus is on the activity, not the words that are going through your mind.

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” recommends writing morning pages. She says that you should write three pages daily. The pages are not thought out structured sentences. The writing is stream of consciousness writing. No one is ever going to read these pages.

Hopefully, you have seen why connecting with your right brain is something that is worthwhile. Give different types of meditation a chance and see what works for you. Do it daily for a while and watch how the quality of your life improves. Good Luck!

Some Like it Hot

IMG_0056Is it Hot Enough For You?

Do you remember shovelling snow, hating the slippery roads, wearing layers upon layers and still being cold? This heat wave is the weather that we were all looking forward to as we stepped into deep water secretly hidden under a thin layer of ice, soaking us through to our socks. True happiness comes from knowing one’s self and getting in touch with how we truly feel and what we truly want.

Focusing on external circumstances like the weather (what can we control less?), especially if we aren’t enjoying them, can be a bad habit that is often used to avoid paying attention to what we are feeling. Do you find yourself shopping when you don’t need anything and spending more money than you have? Do you eat when you are not hungry and past the point of being full? Do you need a drink in order to face your day, or perhaps several? People do many things to distract themselves from their feelings. If you do anything habitually, that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing as much as you do, you may be trying to avoid your emotions. Click here to read more…..

In order to truly get in touch with what you want it is necessary to stop thinking about what should be making you happy. It is easy to get pulled into the idea that the next promotion, the next purchase, the upcoming holiday is what will make us happy. These are all future events and are not happening now. It is important to become aware of the less tangible, more satisfying aspects of your life. Especially in North America, we are all about the logical, scientific mind. We are quite confident that if you can measure it, test it and quantify it, “It” is real and worth our attention. We are driven by…click here to read more….

I want to welcome you to your life. Some things can be changed, some cannot. The trick is to experience your life to the fullest and to allow yourself to indulge in your passions. So stop thinking so hard and doing so much and enjoy the weather before the snow returns.

Can Stress Be Good For You?

IMG_4985As our understanding of how stressful our lives have become expands, more and more people are talking about meditation, leisure, slowing down and living in the moment. It is generally believed stress can hurt you and you should take every opportunity to reduce it in your life.

In a very two-dimensional way, this seems obvious. If you are worried, on edge and generally unable to relax, it must make you sick or at least tired. We can all think of someone who is so stressed their health and possibly their life has fallen apart. But this belief misses a larger truth. Many of our great accomplishments, enjoyable activities and even some of the pivotal and positive things in our lives are inherently stressful.

Worrying your true love will refuse your offer of marriage may be stressful, but that does not mean you should not ask. Standing up in front of a group of people to give a presentation, is also stressful, but it may be invigorating. People choose to sky dive for heaven’s sake!

So what is really going on? Kelly McGonigal, a doctor who studies the impact stress has on us has made an interesting discovery. In her TED talk 

she explains that if you “believe” stress is bad for you, it does more harm to your health. Simply put, it is our own brain’s interpretation of the effect of stress that ultimately determines how likely the stress will be harmful. Her study demonstrated that if you experienced a stressful event you were 43% more likely to die the following year ONLY if you believed stress was harmful for your health.

In contrast, those who experienced stress but did not believe it was harmful, actually had a lower risk of dying than people who had the least stress. Woah!! That is not what we have come to believe. Could this be because doing interesting things, taking chances, putting yourself out there makes life interesting and more enjoyable, even though it is stressful? I think that may be the case.

Is life worth living if we are constantly trying to be as risk and stress free as possible? I think not. We all know what that would look like and it would be incredibly boring. So, think of your heart pumping and your breathing increasing as your body prepping for action, not as something that is bad for you. Get out there. Take a chance, do something exciting, it may even reduce your risk of dying…

The Most Important Moment is Now

IMGP1996

As science and spirituality continue to merge on many fronts, one of the more interesting discoveries is that meditation is being “discovered” as a treatment for many psychological disorders. Not only are people with serious problems benefiting from this practice, many people with everyday issues like anxiety and overeating have seen benefits. In addition to that it has been shown to slow some of the effects of aging (Epel, 2009 and Turner, 2010).

Now, stay with me here, I’m not going to tell you that you have to sit in the lotus position and say OOOvHHHMMMNnnnn for hours on end. Meditation, or as it is referred to in the scientific literature, mindfulness, can be achieved just by ignoring your brain for a while. The definition of mindfulness is generally thought to have two parts: focusing on the present moment and accepting what is without judgment (Coffey, 2010 and Bishop, 2004).

The key to all of this is that you must make this moment the most important moment. Worrying about the future, fretting about the past, planning what you need to do next, rethinking upsetting conversations, must all take a back seat. The moment of meditation needs to be the most important moment–while you are doing it. You can get back to worrying about what you are going to do if you happen to run into someone that you don’t like, or whether or not you should buy a dog or two cats–later. For now, recognize that everything is OK and that you do not have to do anything or plan anything for the next fifteen minutes. You may find that you do not want to go back to worrying when you are done.

In order to meditate you must sit, walk, run, swim, bike, lie down or ski. Well anything that you can do that allows you to disengage your mind. Walking in heavy traffic, for instance, would not be suitable because if your mind was not engaged there is a good chance that you would be pulled back into thinking about your surroundings pretty quickly and abruptly. The key is that it needs to be an activity, or no activity, that allows you to “turn off your brain”.

I am not going to tell you that you have to stop that word generating part of your brain that has nothing better to do than jabber all day about this and that and all of the things that you have to do and what happened several years ago at the beach when that large….but I digress. What you need to do is not pay attention to those thoughts. When words come into your mind (and we both know they will) simply observe them and pay no further attention.

It can be helpful to visualize the words as bubbles that float to the surface and pop, or as cars speeding down a highway off into the distance, or any other visual that you may find useful. What we are trying to avoid here is paying attention to the words. So, if you suddenly remember that you haven’t fed your pet fish, recognize that it won’t matter in the next 15 minutes. You will remember again. If you start to think about how angry the clerk made you at the store, see the words individually, don’t get pulled into the story, just observe that you had a thought and let it fall away.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 6.12.48 PMThe key is to just be aware of the fact that your brain is generating words and to not care about what they are saying. Right now, in this moment, it is not important. It can be helpful to focus on your breath and keep bringing your attention to your breath. If you are moving during this time you might focus on each step or each stroke. You may just pay attention to all of the sensations coming from your body and the words being generated by your mind. Just accept them and do not engage with them. Do not criticize yourself for thinking, just notice and bring your attention back to your body or your breath or your movement.

The next step is to start to notice other things. How does your body feel? What are the sounds and smells around you? Is it cold, hot, midlin? Take note of these things, but don’t get engaged. For instance if you realize it is too cold, it is not the time to get a sweater. You can wait until you are done, you won’t freeze to death in 15 minutes (not in a place that you’ve chosen to meditate in anyhow). This is a great exercise in learning to observe your thoughts in a way that allows you to see how transient they are and that they occur even when you are paying attention to something else. But, more on that at another time.

So to recap, you want to be focused on the moment and to accept it for whatever it is–even if your fish is starving to death. Meditating in this way for 15 minutes a day is all that it takes. What is there to gain from doing absolutely nothing for 15 minutes everyday?….well, a lot actually. Meditation, or mindfulness, has been shown to decrease stress, depression and illness. It has been shown to slow the aging process and it is key in helping to break bad habits such as smoking or gossiping. So, by taking the time each day to recognize that the most important moment is now you can improve your life. Now that is easier than dieting or exercising wouldn’t you say?


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Right Brain/Left Brain — Chapter 7

http://pixgood.com/left-and-right-brain-art.html
http://pixgood.com/left-and-right-brain-art.html

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.

Post Narcissism — Searching for Normal

IMG_2077One of the questions that I often get on my blog is, “How do you fully recover from a narcissist?” As I am currently in the process, I’ll let you know what I have tried and what has brought relief, but I am not claiming that I am all of the way out of the darkness.

What I can say is that there is more joy now in my life than there ever was while I was living with a narcissist. The act of removing myself from the environment and then separating myself as completely as possible from the drama made room for all kinds of joy and satisfaction to flood in. On an average day I am content, happy and I feel like the world is full of opportunity and promise. That is a good thing.

I have been helped along the way by meditating and journaling. I hesitate to write that because that is where most people stop as though doing those two things results in immediate healing of all symptoms and a reversion to the innocence you once had. This was not my experience.

What these two practices did, in summary, was made me aware of my thoughts and feelings. As these two elements surface, it gave me an opportunity to look at them, see if they were serving me and decide whether or not I wanted to hold onto them. A few examples will help illustrate what I am trying to say.

One thought I had was, “I should’ve acted differently.” (substitute in anything here: faster, more forcefully, more honestly, more decisively, more intuitively, more in defense of myself). Really? This thought does not hold up to examination for two reasons. First, I was doing my best with the information that I had at the time. Second, thoughts like this keep you caught in a pattern of wishing things were different. The past will never be different. Find a way to accept that you acted the way you did and just embrace it. Forgive yourself if you need to. The point is, when you are stuck thinking that things should have been different, you are stuck. Try: “It happened. I am no longer there.”

This sounds like word games, but it stops the inevitable next thoughts that begin to rewrite how things should be now if you had acted differently then. “I wasted so much time.” “If I had acted differently they would have loved me back.” “I should’ve seen my situation earlier and more clearly” blah, blah, blah…. you didn’t. I didn’t. Lets move on.

Another thing I became aware of was all of the emotions that I was still harboring: resentment, hate, love, anger, jealousy, regret, and so on, and so on. These emotions need to be honoured, not analyzed. You feel whatever you feel. Regardless of how bad these things are, they are only emotions. Let yourself experience them as much as you can and they lose their power over you. Allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that surface has allowed me to release decades of old pain. I have remembered how scared I was as a five year old getting my tonsils out in the hospital; how devastated I was when my dog died when I was a teenager and other equally traumatic things that occurred.

The process goes like this. You are present in the moment and you notice the slightest flicker of an emotion. Focus all of your attention on that flicker. If you are like me, you have learned to immediately push these slight emotional whispers aside and pretend they are not there. Try to break this habit. Notice the flicker. Sit with the thought that brought it on for a moment and let the emotion expand. When you fully experience the connection to the memory that holds the pain, you are likely to have an emotional response: laughter, tears, rage… Once you have allowed the emotion to be expressed it is no longer as painful.

I can now remember the anguish of my dog dying without the extremely painful hurt it caused. I had been holding down this pain for over thirty years. Think of how much energy and focus that took!

If you are like me, you may be harboring emotions that should have been expressed a long time ago and not all of them are related to the narcissist that you had in your life. Releasing these feelings is like opening a gateway that lets emotions flow out and creativity, joy and connection flow into your world.

This is an ongoing exercise that is allowing me to go deeper and deeper into who I am at my core. The true me. The complete me. Which brings me to another truth. In order to survive where I was living, I learned to hide parts of myself. The parts that were taunted, belittled, ridiculed or unwelcome. This is a survival technique that anyone that has lived with a narcissist learns. The first time you put your heart and soul into choosing and arranging fresh flowers in a vase and you are told that they are in the way, a waste of money and a waste of time, is the last time you allow yourself to indulge. Pick your own example. I know there is one.

I have been paying attention to things that I enjoy. Little things like small flowers, good music, colour, art and writing. These are things that I have always enjoyed, but the toxic atmosphere of living with a narcissist blocks your connection to these things. I became so focused on just making it through my days, behaving in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat or provide fodder for an attack and trying to figure out what was going on, I lost all connection to myself and my desires. I lost a sense of who I was.

I have been gradually reclaiming these things but it takes paying attention to today. If your mind is preoccupied with regret, unexpressed emotions, thought patterns that keep you trapped in a past that was confusing and painful, you will not get to the present. It is only in the present that you start to enjoy yourself, to notice the joy in your life and reconnect with the parts of yourself that got shoved aside when you were in survival mode.

The Narcissist Survival Guide is now available

Can Stress Be Good For You?

IMG_4985As our understanding of how stressful our lives have become expands, more and more people are talking about meditation, leisure, slowing down and living in the moment. It is generally believed stress can hurt you and you should take every opportunity to reduce it in your life.

In a very two-dimensional way, this seems obvious. If you are worried, on edge and generally unable to relax, it must make you sick or at least tired. We can all think of someone who is so stressed their health and possibly their life has fallen apart. But this belief misses a larger truth. Many of our great accomplishments, enjoyable activities and even some of the pivotal and positive things in our lives are inherently stressful.

Worrying your true love will refuse your offer of marriage may be stressful, but that does not mean you should not ask. Standing up in front of a group of people to give a presentation, is also stressful, but it may be invigorating. People choose to sky dive for heaven’s sake!

So what is really going on? Kelly McGonigal, a doctor who studies the impact stress has on us has made an interesting discovery. In her TED talk 

she explains that if you “believe” stress is bad for you, it does more harm to your health. Simply put, it is our own brain’s interpretation of the effect of stress that ultimately determines how likely the stress will be harmful. Her study demonstrated that if you experienced a stressful event you were 43% more likely to die the following year ONLY if you believed stress was harmful for your health.

In contrast, those who experienced stress but did not believe it was harmful, actually had a lower risk of dying than people who had the least stress. Woah!! That is not what we have come to believe. Could this be because doing interesting things, taking chances, putting yourself out there makes life interesting and more enjoyable, even though it is stressful? I think that may be the case.

Is life worth living if we are constantly trying to be as risk and stress free as possible? I think not. We all know what that would look like and it would be incredibly boring. So, think of your heart pumping and your breathing increasing as your body prepping for action, not as something that is bad for you. Get out there. Take a chance, do something exciting, it may even reduce your risk of dying…