Aren’t they irritating?

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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.

What are you Afraid of?

IMG_3330It is no surprise to anyone that we live in a culture of fear. For the first time we actually have most of our needs met. Good housing, excessive amounts of food and few predators. However, having a low level of fear has been selected for in our evolution. Our brains were designed that way to keep us safe.

There is a part of our brain called the amygdala that is ancient. When I say ancient I’m not referring to your age. I am referring to the fact that it developed a really long time ago from an evolutionary perspective. This fear was instrumental in keeping us safe when we were running away from predators. The amygdala, affectionately called the lizard brain by Martha Beck, has nothing to do all day but send out fear signals. These are experienced as a low level awareness to be careful, that something might go wrong, that we need to be watching out.

Funny thing is that we no longer have imminent danger most of the time. We are sensing this fear and we don’t know why. So, a more modern part of our brain, the centre of our thoughts, tells us stories about what we should be worried about. Brain researchers have done experiments on people that have the left and right sides of their brains separated, an operation that is sometimes performed to stop extreme seizures. If they put a barrier between the eyes and show the person something to only one eye, that side of the brain will see it and the other side will come up with an explanation for it. The explanation often has nothing to do with what the eye on the other side of the brain is seeing.

So we can be sitting in our living rooms, fully fed, protected from the elements and predators (for the most part) and still be feeling fear. The media has taken advantage of this. Our newscasts are no longer providing information; they are strictly feeding us fear. On one morning news show that I used to watch regularly while I was on the treadmill, I was amazed that there was a story about a murder–everyday. The significance of this inclusion became apparent one morning when there were no fresh kills. There was not a current crisis so they dug up an old file on an unsolved, particularly gruesome, murder that had happened many years before. The producers of the show had decided that they would always fill the murder slot, even if there wasn’t one.

The same thing is happening in health circles. You must not eat this. You must eat that. These marketing tools are all predicated on our fear of being mortal. We have been sold the belief that if we just pay attention to the latest finding we will live forever. This is not true. The people that are living to be 110 now were born in 1900. They were living a long time before any of this new knowledge was out there and they seem to have survived anyway.

Within my lifetime every food or food group has been the culprit in bad health and every food has been the saviour. Remember when eggs would kill you? Now they know that they contain a compound that actually lowers cholesterol. The same can be said for bananas that were considered “just carbohydrates” and I can go on and on about this.

Our reality is that we do have a lizard brain that sends out fear signals. Our more modern brain looks around to see what we should be frightened about and can easily find something. But isn’t this exhausting? Wouldn’t it be nicer to recognize that the fear is just a cast off from our cave dwelling selves and that we don’t have to live by its whims?

Here’s how to tell the difference. You feel fear. Notice that you are feeling fear. Hear what your brain is telling you the fear is about. Ask yourself if there is anything that you can do RIGHT NOW to keep yourself safe from the threat. For instance, if you are walking across the street and you see a large SUV careening towards you at an alarming rate the answer would be yes. Right now, I can do what it takes to get out of the way of the vehicle.

On the other hand, if you are worried that you might not have enough money if you live to 115 and you are weeding your garden at the time, recognize it as lizard fear. There is nothing that can be done right now. I’m not saying that reviewing your finances might not be in order, but you cannot effectively do that while knee deep in compost in your back yard. So, see it for what it is. It is lizard fear. It is that low level fear that kept our species safe for centuries. It is not a real fear. Spending time while you are gardening thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong is a waste of time. You could be enjoying yanking out the weeds, improving the garden, enjoying yourself because you are in fact OK.

The key difference here is action. If there is nothing that you can do at this moment to address the fear, it is lizard fear. Acknowledge it. Thank it for keeping you safe. Recognize that you are OK and allow yourself to see how much good there is in your life and have a nice day……

Why Are You Pretending?

IMG_1082It is only a couple of weeks till Halloween. This time of year brings thoughts of candy, lots of scary movies on television, decorations and costumes. It can be fun to dress up as your alter ego or simply something that makes you look fantastic.

While costumes can be fun, pretending to be someone that we are not can be exhausting. We have all learned that it is important to act a certain way in certain situations. The running and jumping that is allowed on the beach simply wouldn’t do in a bank. The hijinks you might pull at a party could get you arrested on a plane. But I’m talking about a more subtle thing.

We can all think of examples of people that hid the fact that they were homosexual and pretended, to most of the world, that they were straight. But how are you pretending right now? Do you pretend that you care about recycling but only because of the peer pressure? Do you buy stylish clothes so that you will fit in? Do you go for a drink even though you do not really like alcohol? All of these examples seem less extreme but they can take a toll on your energy level.

If a certain amount of your attention has to go to remembering who you are trying to appear to be, or trying to keep pronouns straight, you are wasting energy. You are in fact, lying. You are not being honest with the people that you interact with. This forms a barrier because they cannot really get to know you if you are pretending to be someone else. It also sends off that vibe that you are being dishonest. On those occasions when you forget that you are pretending and slip into the comfortable behaviors, people will notice and they will see you as disingenuous.

To get to the bottom of this ask yourself why you are pretending to be someone that you are not. How does it serve you? What does it protect you from? In order to decide that you must pretend, you must first decide that you are not OK how you are. Is that true?

Give yourself a break today. Recognize that you are OK the way that you are. Try to relax and behave the way that you would behave if no one was watching and see what happens. You may find that you have more energy at the end of the day and the world did not collapse.

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

Stranger than Fiction

100-0201Stranger than Fiction” a movie I rewatched recently on Crackle because I enjoy the messages in it. The movie takes a stab at determining if self-will or destiny reigns supreme. It asks, “How do you want to live your life?” Ultimately, it examines the relationship we have with ourselves and the world around us. As a Coneiya (ko-NEY-yuh) practitioner, this is one of the things that I teach awareness of.

We can get so caught up in the conversations we have with ourselves that we completely miss the life we are supposed to be living. In the movie, Harold Crick counted and calculated every aspect of his life and experienced it through numbers; 32 teeth brushed 76 times. Then he became aware of a second voice that was not his own, “With better vocabulary.

Symbolically, this second voice could represent the fact that the voice in our heads is NEVER who we are. It can be difficult to realize this because it is our closest companion, but it is simply the word generating part of our brain, doing what it does best, which is generating words. When you are having trouble making a decision, who are you arguing with?

It wasn’t until Harold found out that his death was imminent that he was shook out of this trance. This is apropos because many people are ripped out of this self talk delusion because of a great loss or tragedy. The delusion is thinking that the voice in our heads talking to us all day is very important, perhaps the most important part of who we are. It is not. These words are just a series of things that we’ve decided to say to ourselves, like, look both ways before you cross the street. We repeat truths in neuronal assemblies like deep treads in a well worn road. The trick is to get out of the rut and start taking control of how you steer.

Another message that I like in this movie comes from a man helping Harold during this difficult time in his life. The man suggests that Harold enjoy his life to the fullest in the time that he has left. This inspires Harold to buy a guitar and learn how to play it. It is important to include the things in our lives that we enjoy.

That is so obvious that it feels silly mentioning it, but too often we get so fixed in our patterns that we don’t even stop to think about how we would want to spend our time. We decide that we will do all of the things that we enjoy when we retire or win the lottery or at least not today. Adding joy to your life today is much more satisfying than listening to all of the things that you have gotten into the habit of telling yourself.

How do you want to live your life? What have you done today that was enjoyable? How much of your life is routine? Are you telling yourself that it is not OK to focus on what you love?

Harold had become unobservant. He was counting everything around him and calculating instead of engaging in his life. What are you focused on? How much you eat, shop, drink, watch television? What you SHOULD be doing with your time? Those rumours you heard? Time to wake up and pay attention. Cool movie. I recommend it.

 

 

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!

Winning the Game of Life

20130812-092555.jpgThere was a poster demonstration for the summer students that stayed on campus to do research this summer. While attending the session two things became obvious. First, science has moved along so far, so fast, that I am way out of date. The second thing that I noticed is that I’m on the “other side” now. A classmate of mine was there and he mentioned that when we were in school, there were a lot of “old farts” that were teaching us and taking us through our rounds. We are the old farts now. It happened so quickly.

It is astonishing, when you get to a certain age, to look back and realize that it went by in the blink of an eye. Getting caught up in the day to day activities, meeting deadlines, planning for the future and focusing on all of the matters that need attending each day, blurs the passage of time. Then, almost suddenly, you realize that years have passed.

When my girls were young, I would ponder what it would be like when they were in school during the day, then, when they no longer needed constant supervision. These periods seem to be long and lingering. Now, grown, with lives of there own, the past is just a memory and all of the milestones that I used to anticipate have passed and have largely been forgotten.

It goes so quickly. Conversations now are often about someone that has retired from working or have left us completely. It is a new perspective. The questions of career, marriage and children are largely behind us and this opens new opportunities and presents a sadness.

I liken it to a board game. At the beginning, the dice are thrown and how well you do early makes a huge difference in how the game plays out. If you manage to get the good properties or sets of properties early, you are set. Now, most of the properties are owned by a few of the players and it is just a matter of a few more dice throws before someone comes out a winner. The game has played itself out.

This sounds melancholy and sad, it is anything but. The trick is to have enjoyed each move, to have savoured the time and any lucky throws you had while the game was being played. It is good to know that there may still be some get out of jail free cards left in the pile.

There appeaars to be a certain amount of responsibility to share this perspective with those that are younger. To let them know that it does pass really quickly and that they need to stop, take stock and see if they are on the right path. It is too easy to travel down the wrong road for a huge amount of your life and have it disappear into memories.

Our generation was taught that a certain amount of “paying dues” was required for success. This entire notion seems dated. With the tech boom and a constantly shifting economy, it is difficult to argue that doing anything, for any amount of time, that you truly despise is worth while.

There is the reality that we all must have money to ensure food and shelter, but how much money is enough money? Are we really playing a cosmic board game where whoever has the most property wins? Or are we playing an ongoing game with the winners being those who realize early that enjoying the game means that you’ve done what you came here to do?

With the frantic pace of life, that continues to speed up, I fear that large numbers of people will grow old before they realize that this is not a dress rehearsal for some future performance. The dance is now. Life does not begin when you graduate, lose weight, get the promotion or have the baby. Life is now. This is it. It is important to stop, take stock, look around and realize that today is all we have and tomorrow is not only forever elusive, but holds no guarantees.

I may still be reeling from the loss of Robin Williams. He is a man that I never knew, but I somehow expected him to always be there, creating more comedy, contributing to the happiness in the ether. Many people that I have loved are no longer in my life. They have either gone onto the next thing, or are simply memories, even though I may see them again in the future.

Anyhow, this is the mood I’m in. As I dash through my days quickly and each year ticks off, I feel somehow responsible to make sure that those around me realize that life does end. We don’t know how long we have or how long those that we love have. So stop, assess and enjoy.

My classmate and I made a futile attempt to explain this to the young students that we were talking to at the time. We told them of how fast it went. We discussed how the tables had turned and we were now the “old farts” and we tried to impress upon them that they too, if they were lucky, would become the next group of “old farts”.

With the summer sun shining, a new school year on the horizon and hopes and dreams of the future, I fear our message was lost. They had too much to do, too much too see and too many dreams for the future to realize that today is what is really important.

Respecting Body Signals

IMG_0231Like Pavlov’s Dog I immediately began to drool when I received the notice for the annual HK5K in my inbox yesterday. Immediately I began to plan my training schedule and start to think about how much work I would need to do and when I would have to make a commitment to doing the work. Then, I had to revisit my promise to myself. I have made an agreement with myself to love myself and treat myself properly. In coneiya, it becomes clear that we cannot punish ourselves, put ourselves down or disrespect ourselves if we are “one”.

Last year was a disaster. I was pumped up to do the run and my daughters had agreed to do it with me and then the world conspired to make sure that I wasn’t ready. I had a two-week bout of unexplainable diarrhea that came and went and left me feeling drained and tired. I never found out what caused it, but I was definitely under the weather. Add in company from out of town, unexpected knee and foot pain and it was a disaster waiting to happen — but I had already said that I would do the run and I was allowing myself to be pulled along by the commitment that I had already made to my daughters.

This year, it will be different. Isn’t that the final war cry of the about to be defeated? I decided that instead of looking externally for a workout schedule, like I did last year, I would develop my own. In my mind, and based on some of the training plans that I used decades ago as a competitive swimmer, I would aim for a 10% increase in distance. This is very easy to calculate when you are on a treadmill because you can actually watch the distance tick off and then stop when you complete the right distance.

So I calculated increments increasing by 10% and put out a schedule of running every other day, except of course, where I already had plans in place. I fleshed out my schedule to four runs a week by adding in smaller runs, where necessary, the day after or before another run. These smaller runs would be one half the length of the previous run so they should be easier.

The schedule was complete and it gave me a full two weeks before the race to determine if I would be capable of running the full 5K before I had to commit to the race. There would be no need, this year, to tell anyone that I was training, until, of course, I was certain that I could do the run. If I never got to the level of running then no one would be the wiser and I would have established a pattern of exercising on the treadmill that would continue – theoretically – into the fall when I have to close the pool and I begin my desperate search for a new form of regular exercise.

So day one, I napped. Now, I know that that seems ridiculous, but I am trying to treat myself like I care about myself. This is in stark contrast to societies messages of “no pain no gain” and the like. I do not think that it is simply your force of will that gets things done. Coneiya teaches us that it is when your mind and your body agree and respect each other that the most lasting progress is made.

Anyone that has ever dieted and lost weight, short term, can attest to the fact that the iron will of your brain sooner or later fails. There is simply no way that most of us can use the army sergeant part of our personalities long term. Self-flagellation, self-criticism and unrealistic expectations ultimately lead to self-hatred, insecurity a sense of failure and loss of hope.

That is not where I wanted my new running schedule to take me. Last year, buoyed on by peer pressure and the belief that I could just put mind over matter, I ran the 5K with my daughters to end up ultimately hurting myself and then doing very little physical activity for several months afterwards. This is not a good thing.

So I napped, felt refreshed and then strapped on my running shoes. I have a sweet set up in my bedroom. The treadmill is off to the side and I can see the television from where I run so I put on Netflix. Did you know that all of the seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation are now on Netflix? True story. If anyone can support me through my run it is Jean Luc Picard. But I digress…

The plan was to run one kilometre. I have run much more than that in the not so distant past so I was not worried. I did the required three-minute warm up and turned up the speed to represent a slow run. This is always a point of contention with me, myself and I. At what speed are you running? If you are doing a slow jog at the speed of a walk, is that considered a run? I chose a speed that was moderate to low based on my personal experience and began.

Nothing went well. The first thing that I noticed is that one kilometre was not only out of reach, but was not even a consideration on the first day. I determined that I could go half a kilometre and then maybe a break and then run the remaining bit in as many pieces as it took. My logical mind was busy doing calculations. I could stay on my “schedule” if I just did the kilometre in pieces. I know from experience that I improve quickly once I am making an effort, so it is just a matter of doing the work.

Wasn’t gonna happen. Not only did I not make it to half a kilometre, it was difficult to make it twenty percent of the way. I struggled to get up to the even number, which is a testament to how foolish I can be. It is just as easy to remember any number, but I insisted with myself that I get to the even number. It took all that I had.

Then I walked. I was still convinced that I could walk until the blood flow regenerated my body and my breathing decreased somewhat and then I could do perhaps another twenty percent. If I did a total of five of those I would’ve run my kilometer even if I had to walk in between. My brain just does not stop doing these calculations.

Wasn’t gonna happen. Well, after a short walk I tried to run again, at a slower speed, (is it actually running? – can’t say) and I only made one tenth of a kilometre. So now what to do, what to do? I walked again. I was exhausted and I was aware that my legs were too weak to push myself too much further. That is the mistake I made last year. Despite knowing that my legs were getting wobbly I continued and hurt my knee — my good knee. I lived to regret that and I was not willing (or capable for that matter) of continuing the exercise.

So, I made a deal with myself. I would finish the kilometre. Yes folks, I managed the kilometre. One kilometre with a combination of sixty percent walking and fourty percent running was all that I completed. The good bits are that I did not hurt myself. Even this morning, the dreaded day after, I am a little stiff but not in pain. I respected myself and I am proud of that. Being a highly competitive person it is difficult to admit to this failure, so publically in my blog, but I’m trying to be honest. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can’t run a kilometre after not running for over ten months.

My new perspective on this is that I’ll continue. If I respect my body signals and do not hurt myself, I will continue to run on the treadmill. Isn’t that better than giving up or having to stop because of injury? Having running as a regular practice is a good thing even if I never run in a 5K for the rest of my life and I haven’t told anyone yet. I’m confident that my daughters don’t read my blog.

So wish me luck! My second day of training I am aiming for 1.1K. I hope that I can run more than 40% of it!

 

Forgiveness

IMG_1610What does it mean to forgive? It seems to have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. In some circles, it means that one person forgives another person. I personally was not very comfortable with this definition because it didn’t feel right to me. Who was I to determine that I was in the right and they were in the wrong? Who writes these rules? Is there an appeal process?

Another popular meaning is that you absolve the person of any blame. It is a sort of a pardon or a way to free the accused from the need for punishment. Does this mean that it is OK if someone has hurt you? Sometimes people insist on the other person apologizing before they will forgive them. Is the other person taking the blame necessary for you to forgive? This doesn’t ring true for me either because it gives someone else too much control over how I feel. Another view on this is that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else.

We can spend a lot of time discussing whether or not someone “deserves” to be forgiven or whether or not enough punishment has been doled out, or enough time has passed, but failure to forgive someone is only harmful to you. The lack of forgiveness is not hurting the person that has not been forgiven. The individual that is the focus of your hate is often totally unaware of the fact that you hate them and that you are refusing to forgive them.

If you consider the possibility that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else and see it as a way to free yourself from the pain that holding onto this blame is causing you, then you enter a different space. Oprah likes to say that forgiveness is giving up the hope that things could have been different in the past. This has nothing to do with what happened to you. It does not mean that what happened is OK. It does not mean that it did not happen. It means that it did happen and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Forgiveness becomes the act of accepting that something bad did happen and that is just a fact. There is nothing that you can do to change that. Spending today wishing that it had not happened or dreaming about how your life would be different if it hadn’t happened, is not going to make you feel any better.

Lets not forget that anger is often holding down other emotions. Below anger there is often pain or fear. For those of you that tried to express your anger to help release it after reading “Big Boys Don’t Cry” you may have found that there was another emotion underneath. This is common. As a society we are more comfortable feeling angry and disgruntled than we are feeling vulnerable. When you peel back the anger, you find the core of the problem and it is painful. This is now what you need to experience in order to release it.

Hanging onto the anger allows you to feel like you are protecting yourself from the pain or from feeling uncomfortable. It does not protect you it just forces you to spend your life feeling angry.

Holding onto blame and refusing to forgive can be used to avoid another situation that causes you pain. You can hold onto the anger in a way that keeps you from trying again. For instance, you are up for a promotion at work. A co-worker gets the promotion instead of you. You are hurt and embarrassed and instead of feeling this pain, you become angry.

The anger can be used to protect yourself from further pain. “I didn’t want that stupid job anyway.” “I will never forgive them for hiring that person instead of me!” “I don’t want to have to work nights and weekends anyhow.” “I am not as much of a ‘suck-up’ as the person that got the job and I’m glad about that!” All of these statements point to the fact that it is easier to keep the anger, to use these negative thoughts and accusations to keep the pain below the surface. Also, by convincing yourself through anger that you did not want the job, you can avoid trying again and the potential for being hurt again.

A better use of the anger, in the situation above, would be to recognize that your emotions are showing you how important the promotion was to you. You might use that as a trigger to start looking for jobs that could provide advancement. Acting on the anger is much more productive if the action you take is, in fact, productive.

But we began this whole discussion with forgiveness, so I will come back to anger that is in place because of something that has happened to you. You may feel that someone is responsible, that someone hurt you or failed to provide what you felt that they should provide. On the other hand, things may have just happened and you are angry that they turned out the way that they did. This would apply to events that occurred without anyone doing anything, like death of a loved one, loss of your home in a hurricane, your job being replaced by a machine — that sort of thing.

In any case the past is the past. This sounds ridiculous to even state because it is so obvious, but we do spend a lot of time wishing our pasts were different. “If I had only been loved as a child, I would not have to shoot heroine everyday.” “If I had been able to afford university, I wouldn’t have to sell pencils for a living.” “If my dog hadn’t been hit by a car, I wouldn’t be afraid to love again.” The core of each of these statements is that the past is interfering with your ability to live the way that you would like to be living in the present. The past is robbing you of your life.

This is when forgiveness is crucial. It has nothing to do with what happened or who did what to whom, simply a recognition that there is no way to change what has happened so it is best to make peace with it so that you can enter your life. There is nothing to stop you from getting a new puppy, kicking your drug habit and increasing your inventory to include erasers as well.

 

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.

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