The Doubt Demon vs The Muse

Vintage typewriter close-up - Memoir, concept of history

The other day, I saw a comment online from a woman who said that she had finally figured out how to make space in her life to write. Now that she’s writing, she has a new demon to face. It’s the voice that keeps asking her, “Why are you writing? Who is going to read this? Who is going to care?” I thought to myself, “Huh, so that guy visits other people, too.” Seriously, how does this doubt demon find the time?

I am now about halfway through a second draft of my book, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the doubt demon. Throughout most of my process, I’d been lucky enough to have other voices, too. They said things like, “You need to write this. Even if no one reads this, the act of writing itself is important and useful.” Instead of silencing the doubt demon, I nurtured that encouraging voice. Maybe that voice is The Muse? I don’t know. I tried to make that voice grow stronger and that worked for me.

That worked for me until I started soliciting feedback on my memoir and someone people asked, “Why am I reading this?” They manifested my most fearful voice into physical reality and that totally sucked. Those comments made the doubt demon’s voice louder than The Muse’s voice for a short time.

Shortly after that, I ran into an interview with the famous memoirist Cheryl Strayed. In it, she says that memoir is most often criticized for being narcissistic. It’s not just the writer who asks, “Why should anyone care?” It’s also the critics. So then, Strayed explains that people recognize their own story in other people’s stories and that makes them care. That’s great. This revelation is especially wonderful for people who are afraid of being too mundane, but it swung me in a different direction.

Several months ago, I listened to a Magic Lessons Podcast (I don’t remember which one, but you should probably just listen to them all, anyway) and the discussion was about how when we first sit down to write our own stories, we always think to ourselves, “My story is too boring.” Then, when we’re done writing, we worry that our story isn’t boring enough.

That’s where I am now. Now, the doubt demon asks, “Why should anyone care about someone who is so weird? How do I become relatable? How can we dull this up a little bit? How can I shrink so people don’t notice how alien I really am?”

My experience with the doubt demon is that it doesn’t exist unless it has something to doubt. It’s the voice of fear and fear only speaks up when it thinks something’s at risk. If something is at risk, then that means we’re trying for something. So, maybe hearing that voice isn’t a reason to go into despair, but it’s an indication that we’re on to something. We’re trying for something.

My Muse voice has shifted, too. Now its saying, “You’re writing this because it needs to be said.” Somehow, when my doubt demon got fiercer, The Muse got bigger, too. A few days later, I saw that dozens of people had responded to that one woman’s comment about her voice of doubt. All of them were encouraging. They manifested her most encouraging voice into physical reality. Maybe that’s what happens when our desire to move forward gets strong enough. It finds a way.

Homesickness

It’s now been a little over a year since I moved to Japan. The year has simultaneously crawled and flown. If someone told me that I’ve only been in Japan for a month, I might believe them. That’s how unfamiliar it still feels to me sometimes.

For the first time in decades, I’m beginning to understand what it means to have a sense of place and a sense of displacement from that place. Back when I was 11 years old, I’d moved from my native state of California to Wisconsin. Displacement had become my way of being. For a long time, I didn’t even know what it felt like to not feel displaced.

I guess that feeling must have dissipated in Philadelphia because now I’m relearning homesickness. I’d lived in Philadelphia for 13 years. I haven’t lived in any other place longer.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Salley Vickers (no relation) about the book Miss Garnet’s Angel. While talking about why she’d set the book in Venice, she’d said something like, “Some days, I have woken up and thought to myself that the only thing that would make me feel better would be to go to Venice.”

Before leaving Philadelphia, I would have had no idea what she’d meant by that.

I miss a lot of specific things in Philadelphia, like West Philly Ethiopian food, all sorts of vegan junk food, hiking the Wissahickon, walking the Schuykhill River trail while watching the various university crew teams practice, certain yoga studios, my dance studio, and on and on. Philadelphia has an endless supply of beautiful places. Obviously, I miss my friends more than anything.

Taken from between the houses on Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley is the US’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. If you look closely at the large version, you can see a cat standing on the corner.

Taken from between two houses on Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley is the US’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. If you look closely at the large version, you can see a cat standing on the corner.

However, my homesickness is less about missing specific things and, luckily, the internet provides me with some contact with my friends. My homesickness is more about having a sense of continuity and familiarity. It’s about feeling like my physical location is contributing to my sense of home. Living in Philadelphia, it had taken me a really long time to feel like it contributed to my sense of home. I wasn’t even sure it did until my physical location changed.

The other day, I taught a yoga class here in Japan. Not only had I not taught yoga for over a year, it had nearly been a year since I’d even done yoga. It’s been a rough year for me and I’ve sacrificed a lot of activities to keep my head above water.

As soon as I went back to yoga, I realized that there is more than one way to keep one’s head above water. Instead of floating with my nose barely above the surface and hoping for no waves, I can swim. Doing yoga, even if it does require more energy, is swimming, not floating.

If a yoga flow could be considered a place, then I’ve been living there for 16 years. Going through my series of familiar poses, I found myself in downward dog, staring at my mat for the thousandth time and something inside of my was triggered.  I know this place.

Over this past year, I’ve done downward dog a bunch of times, not because I was doing yoga, but because it’s an amazing calf stretch.  Out of context, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than a calf stretch.  Within the series, inside of the yoga flow, I went into downdog within a context that means something to me.  What is place, after all, except where your body resides in space?

I’d also not realized that I’d been homesick until recently.  It just hit me all at once. Because I’d grown up hiding the sensation of homesickness from myself, I had automatically hid it from myself, again. Now that I’ve discovered it, I’m grateful. Missing something means that we have had something worth being missed. I couldn’t be happier about that.

By the way, for anyone interested, I have started a another blog that is book reviews only.

Compliance Does Not Equal Safety

A couple of months ago, I came across Dorothea Lange’s censored photographs from the Japanese internment camps and it hit me in a way that I didn’t expect.  The idea of oppression changed for me a little bit.  Had I been alive at the time, I would have personally been in those camps.

I’ve always found racism infuriating, but this added an element of fear to the whole thing.  I imagine that it’s the same kind of fear that most African-Americans live with on a daily basis.  Except for them, it’s turned up to 11, since most of the stuff they fear still happens today.

Of course, I’ve experienced racism in the United States, but being asked, “Where are you from?” over and over again with the absolute clear intention of othering me doesn’t quite have the same impact as unjust imprisonment.

I’m not the only one who is a little more scared these days.  The other day, while walking in a Tokyo city park, an elderly Japanese woman approached me and my husband.

“Can I ask you a question?”  She asked in perfect English.
“Yes,” we said.
“What country are you from?” She asked.
“We’re Americans,” we said.  This seemed to spark something in her.  It could have been anger or excitement, I couldn’t tell.  She pulled out a clipboard and showed it to us.

“Will you sign this?”  It was a petition asking the United States to refrain from using nuclear weapons.  I took a closer look at this woman and realized that she probably knows, first hand, what a nuclear bomb does to a city.

As the woman walked away, my first thought was, “this is a sign of the times.”  I’m sure that she got no joy out of spending her Sunday afternoon searching for Americans so she could get a petition signed, but that’s the kind of fear that people are living with these days.

In 1942, The LA Times wrote, “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched—so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents—grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”  Since I’ve been alive, the mainstream message to Asians is that we should align ourselves with white people against brown people.  They tell us we’re in favor (for now), and we wouldn’t want those tides to turn, would we?  If minorities are kept separated, then our power can’t be combined.

It’s a tool for disempowerment by convincing us that it’s safer to be compliant.  This is an extension of the argument that causing trouble over “politics” is a shameful, even punishable thing.

Saying the words, “it’s just politics” is a lot easier when you think your life won’t be affected politics.  However, I suspect that it’s not going to be long before it’s no longer “just politics” for anyone, unless you happen to be a white Christian cis straight (or closeted) male millionaire.

Politics is the reason atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.  Politics would have been put me in an internment camp.  Politics caused the Holocaust.  Politics has sent people to war and tortured prisoners.  If you aren’t going to stand up against destructive political policies, then are you going to stand up for anything?

When I see people shame others for “overreacting to politics,” I hear, “It’s more important for me to not be inconvenienced than it is for people to have their health, families, livelihoods, and lives protected.”

It also sounds to me like a whine, “It’s not fair that I’m losing social currency for being a selfish jerk!”  But, that’s the whole point of social currency.  Being a jerk costs you social currency because most people don’t want a society full of selfish jerks.

I really wonder about the people who are so afraid of discomfort that their main goal is to bully other people into silence.  I wonder about their personal relationships and their friendships.  I wonder what they think about the people they love.  Do they refuse to hear them, too?  How does that work out?

I’ve always found that intimacy and understanding is created when we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with each other.  It happens in that moment when we’re in conflict and we want nothing more than to not hear what the other person has to say, but we hear it, anyway.  Those are the moments when are our relationships become strong, rewarding, and loyal.

I believe that as humans, we are adapted to crave safety.  We feel the most safe when we feel belonging.  We get feelings of belonging from connection.  Connection does not mean ignoring the pain of others.  It doesn’t mean telling people to not feel horror or fear because of serious injustice.  It comes from listening to people’s feelings and understanding why they believe that conflict is necessary.

contact

How I’m Coping With the Election Results

If you don’t know me personally, you probably don’t know that I am a Hillary supporter. Just kidding. If you’re on this website, then you know that I am a Reiki master and Yoga teacher who lived in Philadelphia for 13 years, which means I’m exactly the sort of person who would be a Hillary supporter. I still am. No one said you have to stop sending love and good vibes to someone just because she’s not running for office anymore.

I would like to talk a little bit about how I’ve been coping with the results of the election. This is not meant to be prescriptive or informative. It’s merely me saying what I’ve been thinking.

I realized that I’ve been living in my own optimistic, inclusive, “things are getting better” bubble. For most of my time in Philadelphia, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by good people almost all of the time.

Yes, I experienced a lot of anger and frustration from Philadelphians, too, but the people that I call my friends from Philadelphia, the people that I really know, are wonderful people. They are more than wonderful. They are the kind of people most people wished that they knew.

I thought the world was becoming a better place. So, to me, the election results felt like a bucket of ice water—that somehow also included fire-balls—mixed with shards of glass, and poison.

This has been so traumatic for me that I am not sure that I have even reached the point of acceptance, yet.

I am also the kind of person who sees anger as cover emotion for fear. We’ve long been a brutal country.  “America” has been a brutal place even before we were officially a country. The fear of our own brutality has us in a deep panic. Whether you’re scared of white people, Christians, non-Christians, brown people, women, LGBTQ people, or merely that someone might take a bite from your slice of pie, there’s plenty of fear to go around.

So, we’re now in a Catch-22. Even if by some miracle we decide to honor the popular choice and put Hillary in the white house, the backlash would be just as bad as what we’re seeing now. There is no solution that would not result in more anger and violence.

Clearly, it was impossible for us to heal the brutality of our own history without this. I believe that if we could have, we would have.  We simply didn’t have enough flowers in the ’60s to convincingly cover up our history.  Instead of moving ahead in solidarity, we tried to drag ourselves ahead while a whole bunch of people clung to our ankles and said, “No!  I am too scared to change!”

After that, the fear went underground.  Since then, we’ve had a big, deeply rooted, infectious boil.  That boil has finally been lanced and we have to let it drain.  Seeing the inevitability of where we are now puts me one step closer to accepting it.  God circled the spot where we’re standing, etc. and all of that.¹

Now we need to heal.

For me, healing has always meant honesty and vulnerability.  Going forward, those things will be my goal.

Right now, I feel like I’m just barely getting back into my body after having been flung far from myself.  I’m moving forward the best I can.

me-and-tree

¹The Place Where You Are Now
by Hafiz

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.

Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
The Beloved has bowed there –

Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.

I could tell you a priceless secret about
Your real worth, dear pilgrim,

But any unkindness to yourself,
Any confusion about others,

Will keep one
From accepting the grace, the love,

The sublime freedom
Divine knowledge always offers to you.

Never mind, Hafiz, about
The great requirements this path demands
Of the wayfarers,

For your soul is too full of wine tonight
To withhold the wondrous Truth from this world.

But because I am so clever and generous,
I have already clearly woven a resplendent lock
Of his tresses

As a remarkable truth and gift
In this poem for you.

~Hafiz

Translation by Daniel Ladinsky, The Subject Tonight Is Love

I copied this from Operation Meaning.

I’m Highly Sensitive

I found out that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.  This is an actual category of being, like being left-handed.  HSP’s brains work differently and therefore we experience the world differently.

dog-sleepingSo far, I identify more with being HSP than any other personality categorization or temperament scale I’ve seen.  Before, I’d always suspected that I somehow inherited some dog or cat DNA.

HSP senses are more sensitive.  To us, the world is intense and more nuanced.  I smell everything, I hear everything.  Fluorescent lights feel like an assault.  I’m constantly aware of moods, relationships, conversations, and the energy in a room.  I currently work in a chaotic place in an open-floor environment, so you can imagine how much fun that is for me, right now.

I started reading the book The Highly Sensitive Person, and the author theorizes that there’s an evolutionary advantage to HSP’s.  We’re about 20% of the population.  In a hunter-gatherer tribal situation, it would be a huge survival advantage to have members who can detect subtle changes in the environment.

Finding out about this has resulted in some positive and some negative emotions.  Shortly after this discovery, I happened to be browsing youtube and I saw a video entitled something like, “I just found out that I’ve had Lyme Disease for 17 years.”  That’s how I felt—like I just found out that I’ve been sick all along and no one told me.

To be clear, though, being HSP is not a disease or a disorder.  It just feels like one.  The world is not set up for HSPs.  For most of my life, I’ve been acutely aware of the disadvantages of being me.

HSP is an inherited trait that can be detected in infants, so I’ve had plenty of practice coping with it.  Unfortunately, it also means that I’ve had a lot of shame around my coping strategies.  For example, sometimes I go the bathroom just to get away from the stimulation in my environment.  When I get overwhelmed at work, I go sit in an empty conference room and breathe.

Last week (before I knew anything about HSPs), I sat in an empty room drinking a cup of chamomile tea.  I slowly climbed down off the high shelf of anxiety and simultaneously chastised myself for being so sensitive.  I’ve had to do a lot of inner work just to allow just myself these breaks.

I also sat alone in that room thinking that I would someday find a way to make it stop.  I had long believed that I would “fix” myself and then everything would be fine.  Now I know that that’s probably never going to happen.  It’s disheartening.  I will never be “normal.”

However, that means I can take the next step in self-acceptance, which is a relief.  This self-acceptance means that my coping strategies do not make me a freak.  Now, I’m no different from a left-handed person buying herself some left-handed scissors and notebooks.

Since finding out, I don’t feel the same compulsion to block my reactions the environment or pretend (especially to myself) that I’m not affected by it.  Because I’m not in a constant state of resistance to my environment, I’ve been less stressed about it.

I’m still identifying the advantages.  I’ve long focused on the disadvantages because I’d assumed that everyone experienced the world like me and that they were just better at dealing with it.

While riding my bike to work this morning, I thought about what it meant to navigate the world in an HSP way.  It occurred to me that I have avoided many dangerous—possibly lethal—situations because my intuition has nudged me the other way.

I’ve long recognized my ability to keep myself safe, even if I never knew how I did it.  It gave me more confidence going into unfamiliar environments because I knew that I was really good at protecting myself.

Finding out that I’m HSP has meant that that there’s potential for being less intolerant of other people.  I’ve spent a lot of time really irritated with people because I believed that they were willfully ignoring something.  Now I recognize that it’s much more likely that they just don’t notice it.

If you think that you might be a Highly Sensitive Person, visit this website, where you can take a self-evaluation.

Hiking Mt. Kanetsukido

A swell of emotion came up to strangle me.  My throat felt tight and constricted.  I was in the middle of a 5k run.  This has been happening to me, lately.  I’ve been supressing stress and anxiety and letting it build too long without release and it comes up unexpectedly during exercise.

I felt like I might cry.  I took a deep breath and on the inhale I said to myself, “Its ok.  Whatever happens here is totally fine.”  A gnat hit the back of my throat and bounced down my gullet.  I gagged, “including bug eating,” I added.

I felt proud that I didn’t even break stride while facing such adversity as bugs hurtling themselves down my throat.  That’s when it started to rain.

“Man, World, you really like to challenge me, don’t you?”

This catapulted me back to Mount Kanetsukido.

My husband, Adam, and I love to hike.  We even met on a hike.  Mt. Kanetsukido was our first real hike in Japan, and it rained the entire way up.

A few weeks ago, we’d hiked along the cliffs of the Izu Penninsula, but that was more of a path.  It was paved.  We’d passed women wearing skirts and kitten heels.

Not only did the trail to the top of Mt. Kanetsukido go through some serious forest (one might even call it a jungle), but it was steep and there was a summit.  Also, there were lots of spiders.

On our way out that morning, we stood on the platform for the train and watched it pour.  We were on the wrong platform because we took the wrong bus, so I was feeling anxious that our first hike wasn’t going so well.

KIMG0357

Our-post hike destination station.  This place also required paper tickets.  Our pre-hike arrival station is not pictured.

Our destination station wasn’t equipped with transit card readers and we had to buy paper tickets.  The rest of the trip went smoothly, though, and the rain had stopped by the time we’d arrived.

Our first hiking stop was a pond with a nearby shelter.  We’d walked to a grocery store between the station and the pond and sat in the shelter to eat our snacks.  The pond was one of the ugliest and murkiest that I’ve ever seen.  A fence circled it and multiple signs warned us not to hang out, fish, and for the love of god, don’t swim.  There was a pretty nice new bathroom nearby, though.

Parts of Japan in the summer feel straight up like the Amazon jungle.  The heat and humidity will totally disrespect your personal boundaries.  The bugs and frogs are so loud that they can cause hearing damage.

KIMG0338Shortly after we left the lake, it started sprinkling again.  The forest was dense enough that we got lots of tree cover as we ascended.  The way up was immediately steep and dark and spider webs seemed to cross the path every few meters.  I was in front, so… yeah.

I had to stop and rest a couple of times on the final set of stairs to the summit.  My glutes hurt for days afterwards.  I was spurred on by the steady rain that was turning into a downpour.  We collapsed in the shelter at the top.  In it, three Japanese guys were listening to a baseball game on a transistor radio while they also waited out the rain.

KIMG0346We sat for about an hour and watched the rain, clouds, and mist float by.  We conversed with the men using broken Japanese (us) and broken English (them).  They told us all about the amazing things we would be seeing if we weren’t socked in by clouds.

I was uncomfortable spending the whole hike wet, of course, but I also felt like the water was renewing, rejuvenating.  Mountain mist is magic.  Mountain rainwater is medicine.

We descended into a valley and continued towards a temple along a path that was lined with 500 carved Buddha statues.  At the first statue, my foot came out from under me like I was standing on ice.  I told Adam to watch his footing.  A few meters later, his foot slid out from under him creating a slick mud track.  He told me to watch my footing.

KIMG0347

The first Buddha statue

The descent was eerily dark and the insects were raging even though it was shortly after 4pm, but we got out of there without a major fall.  The Buddhas seemed unimpressed, but then again, they were made of rock.

KIMG0348As for me, I loved it.  Since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been in survival mode.  Although we live in the countryside here, this was my first chance to be fully in the woods.  There was so much about that trip that was rough—the rain, the incline, the spiders, the eerie darkness in the middle of the day—but it opened me up in a way that I haven’t been open since coming to here.  Somehow, being challenged in nature helped me drop my guard.

Remembering this on my run opened me up again, and I didn’t cry.  I felt joy.

I found out about this hike on the Trekking and Hiking : Japan Facebook page, where you can find the detailed instructions on how to hike Mt. Kanetsukido here.

My Wounded Voice

Can we talk about my fear of using my voice?  I have been learning about it, lately.

My lesson began while I was working on an essay that talked my ability to speak up.  I had trouble because I hadn’t explored the issue enough myself.

As I contemplated this, I was given the push that I needed.

I watched a youtube video on a controversial subject—racism against Japanese-Americans.  As a Japanese-American, I thought I had some insight to add to the discussion, and I added it.

This terrified me.  I didn’t want to offend the video makers, whose channel I like and watch regularly.  I didn’t want to get dragged into some online flame-war.  Most of all, I didn’t want to be targeted as being a subversive person who goes against mainstream (i.e. white) opinions.

I rarely ever comment on videos, at all, and never on controversial subjects.  For the first time in a long time, I didn’t act like my voice wasn’t worth the battle.

My ego rattled its cage doors for a day or so, and this made me miserable.  Then, I saw it.  If I wanted to understand my relationship with my voice better, this was my opportunity.

Instead of worrying about that particular situation, I turned my attention to my limiting beliefs about my voice.  The two main ones were:

  1. If I can’t communicate a perfect message, then I shouldn’t communicate, at all.
  2. If my perspective will cause conflict, then it isn’t worth saying.

I’m sure you can imagine the number of times I’ve tortured myself over the first one, considering how often human beings communicates imperfect messages.  I do it constantly, and beat myself up about it constantly.

Ironically, I have also spent a lot of time wondering why I’m so frustrated that I rarely feel heard.

To illustrate how insidious limiting beliefs can be, I will also mention that the only reason I noticed these patterns because I broke them.  The fear and anxiety that I felt from doing something different showed me that I had been stuck in a pattern.

To heal these limiting beliefs, I tried to go back to the first time I started feeling fear and anxiety about offering my perspective.  This goes back to my childhood (where most of our wounds originate).

We moved to a new state the summer before my sixth grade year.  That move landed me closer to my extended family and a whole bunch of cousins that were around my age.  Before the move, I lived in an urban area, I went to a huge school with big classes, and I was often lost in the crowd.

The new place was rural with a small population.  My extended family was a clan that accounted for everyone.  We had safety in numbers, and I was being acknowledged as a person.

But, then I had to go to school.  My new school was small.  It took me a long time to wrap my head around the knowledge that there were twenty kids in my entire grade.  I did not get lost in the crowd, I was the crowd.

My voice box erupted.  I was enthusiastic about my cousins and my new environment.  I needed to express that.  I felt more comfortable in a smaller class, so I expressed it constantly.  I chatted the ear off of the wrong person, and she criticized me to the other girls.  That’s how sixth graders handle it, you know.

Pretty soon I was ostracized for being an annoying person who talks too much.  This is when I learned the danger of a small class.  In my old, big school, if something went wrong with one group of kids, a kid could simply find another group.  In a small school, that wasn’t the case.

My alienation probably only lasted a week or so, but, for me, the lesson stuck.  As quickly as I had opened up, I closed down again.  After that, I only spoke when absolutely necessary, especially around my classmates.

This is only one of many wounds surrounding my voice, but when I asked myself about the first time I felt fear and anxiety for using my voice, this event stepped forward.

To work on it further, I did Reiki on my Throat Chakra—the chakra associated with self-expression.  In doing this, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the voice that I’ve had so far in this world.  It has expressed my needs when I’ve really needed them.  It’s helped me express my feelings.  It’s spoken up to protect me.  It has done all of this despite its wounds—pushing forward through the pain and trauma.

It was a powerfully healing experience, but I’m still working on it.  I’ve started commenting more online as part of my therapy.

This is not uncommon.  I have observed trauma around their voices of many.  Some people can’t express their opinions, even more often, they can’t express their feelings, or they feel creatively blocked.

What about you?  How do you feel about using your voice?  What are your limitations?

If you enjoyed this blog post, please like, share, or comment.  It really helps me out!

Ruminations on Gratitude

You may have noticed that there was a pretty large gap in my blog posts this past year.

A year ago I got engaged. We decided that we didn’t want to wait too long to get married. We’d been living together for six years at that point and were completely done with our foot dragging.  So, I took four months to plan a wedding, while simultaneously working on my MA thesis, and finishing up my Reiki Mastership.  All three of those things culminated this past Fall.

So, my only explanation for my absence is that I got busy.  After the busy time had passed, I collapsed for a couple of months, and by the time I regained consciousness, I was out of the habit of blogging.

The reason I’m bringing up the wedding, at all, is because part of our wedding experience inspired this post on gratitude.

The very last thing we did for our wedding was an exercise in gratitude—we wrote our thank you cards. We wanted to make sure that every guest got something written to them personally, even if it was something small, expressing our gratitude for their presence on our wedding day.

I insisted on it, and my husband ran with it. At first it looked a lot like a very long chore, but in the end, we’d stumbled onto an exercise that enriched our experience much more than we had expected. We experienced gratitude in a deep, all-encompassing way that we don’t have in our regular daily lives.

Gratitude has gotten enough press, lately, that most of us believe that it is an important ingredient for a satisfied life, or at least, that’s what we’ve heard. We hear it so often now in yoga classes, meditation retreats, and “spiritual” teachings—the word “gratitude” has become almost fetishized.

One 2013 article summarizes, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting positive effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation.”¹

That sounds pretty good, right? But, how do you get there?

To answer this question, I went to Robert A. Emmons, PhD, who is not only one of the authors of the article quoted above, but the person behind a good number of the gratitude studies that have been coming out these days.

Emmons tells us gratitude is a conscious choice and practice. His first suggestion is have a daily gratitude practice, and the easiest way to do that is to keep a gratitude journal.

I read somewhere (perhaps another article based on Emmons’ work) that gratitude journals work better when you choose to write several sentences about a few things, rather than make a long list of one sentence thoughts on gratitude. I’ve searched, but I have not been able to find that particular article or study.

Perhaps the longer ruminations work better because a list makes us start writing down a bunch of things that we think “should” make us feel grateful, rather than focus on the few things that actually make us feel grateful.

Trying to feel grateful for something that doesn’t make us feel grateful is a good way to make ourselves feel guilty about not being good enough. Haven’t we had enough of that, by now?

Even if the list is short, work with what actually makes you feel grateful. Write about it.

I think Dr. Emmons sums it up pretty well as he discusses one of his case studies in a paper of his:

“Her gratitude was not a selective, positive thinking facade, but rather a deep and steadfast trust where goodness ultimately dwells even in the face of uncertainty. This thanksgiving was grounded in the actuality that true gratitude is a force that arises from the realities of the world, which all too often include heartbreak, sometimes overpowering heartbreak.”¹

¹Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22020

Get Warm and Heal with Turmeric

Since spring seems to be taking its sweet time getting here, I thought I’d share something that’s been keeping me warm this winter.  It’s warming, it’s tasty, and it’s healing.

I’m sipping it as I type this.

Raw Turmeric over white background

Turmeric

 

Sometime mid-winter, Sarah from Holistic Habits posted a video (posted below) on how to make a turmeric-ginger elixir.  At the time, I was ready to try anything that would get me through until spring, and it’s been a life-saver.  The spicy sweetness of this drink makes my guts feel like they’re getting a warm hug (is that gross?).

In her video, she tells us that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, but honestly, I would drink this even if it had no health benefits because I love the taste of it (although it did cure one of my headaches).

After watching her video, I did some research into turmeric to learn more.  I found one study that was done by James A. Duke that compared the effectiveness of turmeric to the effectiveness of various pharmaceuticals.  The study concluded: “…safe and inexpensive turmeric is a viable contender with pharmaceutical drugs for preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, scabies, and a range of other ailments.”

That made me wonder some more about turmeric.  Surely, if it could do all of that, it must be exceptionally powerful.  Could it be safe in all forms, for all people, and in all doses?

So, I found another resource, from Dr. Greger, he runs a website called nutritionfacts.org.  He made a video on turmeric (posted below).  He starts off giving us fair warning that not all pill-form supplements that are labelled “turmeric” necessarily contain turmeric (nutritional supplements are not regulated).  About three minutes in, he tells us exactly who should avoid turmeric, even though that, for the most part, he agrees that turmeric is generally safe and can be very healing.

I will issue my own warning, though, especially because this elixir also contains a lot of ginger: If you’re not used to eating raw ginger or raw turmeric, then start slow.  These roots not only have a really potent flavor, but they can potentially upset your stomach at first.  Our bodies often react negatively when we suddenly dump something new into them.  Give yourself time to adjust (this is true for anything new).

James A. (Jim) Duke. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. October 2007, 13(5): 229-234. doi:10.1089/act.2007.13503.

My Most Powerful Tool for Transformation

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t believe that transformation is a lightning bolt, but something that is earned with consistent effort.  But consistent effort isn’t easy.  It can feel like a long uphill slog.

Your desired change might be making a dietary change, exercising more (or at all), daily meditation, or maybe you’re trying to write a book!

If it’s hard to do, there will come a day when you say to yourself, “I’ll just skip this once.”  Once turns into twice, then three times, and the next thing you know, you haven’t done your new practice in about two months.

Because it feels so hard, we assume that the solution must be incredibly complicated.  Part of the reason it feels complicated is because our brains complicate it for us.

Whenever we’re trying to create a new habit, we’re asking ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone.  On top of that, we were gifted with brains that are powerful problem solving devices.  So, when we’re faced with going outside of our comfort zone, our brains say, “Ok, I’ll do you a favor, I’ll find a way for you to not have to do this,” and then it’ll come up with a lot of reasonable sounding justifications that allow us to stay within our comfort zones.

For example:

“I don’t have time today.”

“I don’t have the energy.”

“I’ll feel better tomorrow and I’ll put in twice the effort.”

“I’m too tired to even think about it.”

“I’m not sure this even works.”

“I’m a lazy/anxious/depressed person, and it’s just too hard for someone like me.”

…and lots of other solutions that your very smart brain finds for you.  We’ll even put more effort into finding a reason to not do something than it takes to do the thing we’re avoiding.  This is how passionately our brains want to keep us comfortable.

The way to get around this mechanism is to bypass it altogether.  Don’t listen to any judgment that your brain makes about the activity.

As soon as you start judging the practice, you will find reasons to not do it.  Once you have decided on your desired change, and have created a reasonable plan for achieving that change, then simply do the practice.

Is it that easy?

Practically speaking, we know it’s not.  Despite telling yourself not to make judgments, your brain is designed to jump in with solutions whether you want it to or not.  You have no choice—the judgments are going to appear before you’ve even thought about whether or not you want to make them.

Chances are those judgments will be reasonable explanations as to why you shouldn’t have to do the thing that makes you uncomfortable that day.

However, when this happens, you do have the option to disregard it, and instead, mindfully approach the practice.  This means that you put all of your focus on what you’re doing in the present moment, and nothing else.  Keep crowding out the judgment with mindfulness and get through the practice.

If you end up with poor results, such as a bad workout, bad meditation, or even a resentful meal, this does not mean that you failed.  You succeeded by staying consistent and that consistency will lead to better results in the future.

Of course, none of this can be done unless you trust your practice.

You can’t trust your practice until you know that its right for you.  So, before you start a new habit, take the time to figure out what change will truly work for you.

woman-tourist_FB_version

This should be something that will sustain you if you sustain it.  For example, a mildly challenging exercise routine or a dietary change that is not too strict (usually focusing on adding something good, at first, before eliminating something bad)—practices that you know will improve your well-being and make you feel better.  Once the practice starts making you feel better, you will find motivation in that.

What about you?  In what ways have you maintained consistent practices in your life?