Touchy Feely

I was once referred to as “thin-skinned”. And ironically (or perhaps not), this statement threw me off-guard as I found myself asking, “Really? Am I thin-skinned?” I have always considered the opposite to be true.

Curious of the actual definition, I looked it up and read that “thin skinned” is an adjective used to describe someone as “easily offended by criticism and rebuffs”. For good measure, I looked up “thick-skinned”, which was defined as “not easily hurt by insult; callous, unfeeling, hardhearted; and largely unaffected by others.”

After reading these definitions, I concluded that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, striking a healthy balance of sensitivity while also having the ability to let things go. And while some of us may veer toward one end of the spectrum or the other, most of us would say that we are not entirely thin- or thick-skinned. And personally, I think that is good. Who wants to be considered callous, unfeeling, and insensitive? Conversely, who wants to take everything personally? No one. Most of us would like to be sensitive and empathic enough to be emotionally available to those that we care about, even if that means we are vulnerable at times. Similarly, most of us would also like to have a strong enough sense of self to know which comments or actions to take to heart, and those that we should not internalize.

Yet, while most of us would agree with this optimal balance of sensitivity and emotional resilience, we often forget this as we interact with other people. Why are we told to toughen up when something has gotten us down? Why do we pretend that something has not hurt us if it really has? Why do some of us act as if we cannot be touched by the words and deeds of others? Conversely, why do some of us seem to take everything personally? Why do some of us tend to invalidate our own feelings, or feel victimized by every slight?

Of course, the answers to these questions depend on personal differences. We all experience life differently and therefore have different interpretations of our interactions with other people. What we all seem to have in common though, is that we are all sensitive beings. We are all capable of being hurt, whether we admit it or not, and we all care about the feelings and experiences of others.

Today, I encourage you to examine your feelings, particularly those that relate to the people surrounding you. I hope that you are able to have the softness of heart to be emotionally available, and the strength and the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Too, I hope that you are self-assured and secure enough to be true to yourself, and to know when to take things personally while also being conscious of what you internalize. Know that it is okay to feel what you are feeling, and that it is equally important to be mindful of how you express and act upon your emotions. Remind yourself that you are human, as are your loved ones, and that we are all worthy of love, acceptance, consideration and grace.

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“Unseen Others”

When I was in grad school, I was introduced to the concept of “unseen others” by one of my professors. According my professor’s theory, we all have them. They are the people in the world that we choose not to see because our reaction to them makes us uncomfortable.

I would like you to take a moment and consider who your unseen others are. Is it someone of a different religion, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or socioeconomic status? Perhaps it is someone of a specific profession, age bracket, range of ability, or political belief? Or maybe there are certain appearances, interests, or personality traits that come to your mind.

Regardless of who these unseen others are or what it is about them that makes us uncomfortable, we all seem to have such reactions to a certain group of people. Most often, we avoid our unseen others because we are uncertain of how to relate to them, or we have made assumptions, passed judgments, or developed biases or prejudices against the type of person we believe them to be.

I find this to be such an interesting phenomenon. How curious it is that we have a hard time seeing people as real simply because they are different from us. How unfortunate it is that we short change people because we have unfairly made up our minds about them. What a disservice it is to everyone when we cannot look deeper into one another simply because we are unsure of how to relate to who we think they are. And isn’t it interesting that we tend to validate certain people based on their likeness to our own self-image?

If you have been able to identify your unseen others, I challenge you to consider what it is about you and them that makes them so difficult for you to see. Invite your unseen others to hold up a mirror to you, and take a long look at yourself in the reflection that you see. Ask yourself questions about what you see. Too, ask yourself if you are willing to challenge your beliefs about yourself and the people around you. Are you willing to learn from someone that you have always thought has nothing to teach you? Are you willing to allow them to touch you? Are you willing to reach out and touch them? Are you willing to venture out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons?

Although it can be difficult to deconstruct our personal biases, it is rather easy to approach people with curiosity, rather than judgment. To be kind, respectful, and accepting. It may be easier than we think to have a positive influence and be positively influenced ourselves, even when we least suspect. Just think about a time when you were surprised by someone. How good it feels to be treated as a whole person worthy of understanding and acceptance.

Take a moment today and think about what a wonderful thing it is see the goodness in one another. See that we are so much more connected by our similarities, our vulnerabilities, and our very human nature than we realize. Celebrate and embrace our differences as a source of richness, rather than a point of division. Give all people a chance, no matter who or what we assume them to be.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

Have you ever been subject to unkind words, insensitive comments, or criticism? Have you ever felt that something you did or said was misunderstood, misconstrued, or picked apart by others? Have you ever invested your time and energies into something meaningful to you, something that you cared about dearly, only to learn that your efforts would be met with negative feedback? Has there ever been a time where you invited dialog from others, hoping for help and constructive suggestions, and instead received messages about what you have done wrong with no mention of alternative solutions? Have you ever felt judged unfairly or labeled because of a single trait, decision, or characteristic of yours? Have you ever felt that you were, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”?

I am willing to bet that you have. It seems that each and everyone one of us can relate to these feelings. We have all been criticized, fairly or not. Therefore, we are all familiar with the sting of harsh words. We all know that criticism can hurt.

Criticism can hurt, not just because people disagree with us or because there are people that do not prefer us. It is hurtful not only because it points out our mistakes, faults, and imperfections. Rather, criticism seems to be most painful because it leaves us feeling misunderstood, mistranslated, misconstrued. It leaves us feeling short-changed, judged, and undervalued. Quite often we feel frustrated, picked apart, ganged up on. Criticism often leads to self-doubt, insecurity, and self-consciousness. Criticism is deflating. It is discouraging. Disheartening.

And yet, criticism serves a purpose. When delivered with care, criticism can be eye-opening. It can lead to growth, self-discovery, and awareness. Criticism, when constructive, can lead to much better outcomes for ourselves and others. It can help us learn, overcome difficulty, and master our skills. Criticism is necessary for objectivity, critical thinking, and honest feedback. At its best, criticism allows us to better understand ourselves and strive for improvement. At its worst, however, criticism is damaging and destructive.

So how do we handle criticism, if it is such a necessary part of communication and understanding? How do we tell someone something negative, knowing that such a message has the potential to hurt them? Do we tiptoe and skirt around sensitive issues, forgoing such honesty? Do we avoid an opportunity to help someone because it might be uncomfortable for them?

No, we do not. Instead, we ensure that our messages, if they are necessary at all, are delivered with compassion, empathy, understanding, and balance. We give careful consideration so that we are helpful, constructive, and supportive. We may even consider offering suggestions and alternative solutions, ideas, and perspectives and providing an explanation of the rationale behind them. Additionally, we make certain that we understand what it is that we are discussing, and we take into account the perspectives and experiences of the people involved.

So how then, might we better receive such criticism, especially when it is not delivered with care? Do we take offense, particularly if we are insulted? Do we disregard everything we heard about ourselves that we do not agree with? Conversely, do we internalize any and all criticism and assume it to be true? Do we allow it to alter our self-image or our belief in ourselves? Should we apologize, excuse, or deny parts of who we are because they were subject to criticism?

No. Not at all. Instead, I encourage you to listen to criticism with strong ears and considerate it with an open mind. Refrain from all-or-none thinking, and do not assume everything you hear to be true. Instead, adopt an objective perspective when making sense of such feedback, and take it for what it is worth to you. Ask yourself what can be learned from it, if anything, and do what you would like with such information.

Take a moment to consider criticism from a new angle. Recall what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such messages, and show compassion to those that you speak to. Ensure that your words come from your heart, and be selective with what you choose to share with others. As you take the time to reconsider criticism, also reflect on how you might better receive such messages the next time you are criticized. Assume an objective stance if you can, and be selective with what you let affect you. Remind yourself that there is nothing on this earth that cannot be criticized and do not allow yourself to be negatively impacted by the opinions of others. Instead, try only to learn, grow, and evolve from such experiences, or do not allow yourself to be affected at all.

You are unique. You are beautiful. Capable. Loveable. You have a calling, you have dreams, and you should absolutely follow your heart and know that you are a precious rarity. Hold this to be true, revel in who you are, and let no one take that from you. No matter what they have to say about it. Ever.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: February 21-27th, 2016

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week : February 21st-February 27th, 2016

As a mental health professional and an Eating Disorder survivor-and-thriver, I will be one of the first to agree that Eating Disorders are incredibly difficult to understand. Because, really, they don’t make sense on a rational or logical level, which makes them all more confusing and frustrating. And because they are so difficult to understand, and they are so often misunderstood, it is all too common that they are stigmatized, oversimplified, overlooked, and undertreated.

…So, if you are to know one thing about Eating Disorders, know that they are far more complex than being just about FOOD, and despite what it may look like on the surface, they are not about VANITY, either.

Rather, Eating Disorders are “about” much more complex mental and emotional issues that manifest themselves through food and through the body.

…They are about self-love, self-loathing, self-esteem, and worth. They are about anxiety, depression, and seemingly uncontrollable emotions and moods. They are about addiction, self-medicating, and numbing intense pain. They are about perfectionism, control, or a lack there of. Trauma, abuse, objectification, and victimization. They are about family dysfunction, peer relations, trying to stand out, and trying to blend in. They are about stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms…

The list obviously does not stop here. Because the underlying issues are just as unique as the beautiful soul that struggles. And if recovery is to be successful, they need to be treated accordingly. They do not need pathologizing, oversimplifying or overlooking. They do not need shaming and insensitive remarks and stigmatizing. Rather, they need empathy and compassion. Patience and hope. They need to be supported, taken seriously, challenged, and reminded of who they really are. They need help. And most of all, they need love. Love from others, and eventually, love to and from themselves.

 

Good Things Come to Those That Work Their Bums Off And Never Give Up

By midnight last night, each one of my Sunrise regulars had informed me that they wouldn’t be making it to class for some reason or another.  And while I very much appreciate the head’s up, you bet your bottoms that it created the temptation to cancel class.  I mean, who wants to get their ass up, out of bed and into the cold at 5am, especially when there is no guarantee that anyone is going to show up for class?  I will be honest – not me.

But alas, I did.  I got my ass up and out of bed at 5am, threw on my stretchies, tossed my mane into a bun, had a bit of tea, and ventured out into the morning.  Because when we opened the studio, I had to remind myself time and time again that if I want people to show up, I sure as hell better show up, too.  I have to demonstrate my commitment and dedication to my craft if I have hopes of other people doing the same.

…As I was driving to the studio, I passed by the early-morning runners that I see every Tuesday morning, all bundled up in their reflective cold gear, pounding the icy pavement, also demonstrating a commitment and a dedication to their craft.   And then, as I was sitting on floor of my empty studio, at 6.29am, one of my newbies walked in the door.  Just one.  But she was there.  And so was I.

It was simple.  But it was good. Like a little wink from the Universe that said, “yes”.  I love that.

Hurt People Hurt People

If you have ever been a part of a relationship, I am willing to bet that you have also found yourself amidst an internal struggle that is, at least in part, due to something that has happened within that relationship. Something that was confusing, hurtful, or upsetting. Something that was difficult to let go of, move on from, or understand. As such, I am willing to bet that whatever it was that had caused you discomfort has also had a lasting impact on you in some meaningful way. Perhaps it has influenced how you approach people. Perhaps it taught you a valuable lesson. Perhaps it shaped you in some other meaningful way, for better or for worse. Rarely do we make it through such things without an impact being made.

Because of this, it comes as no surprise that such lesson can be quite difficult to learn. That we may be rendered incapable of embracing a lesson until we are capable of approaching the situation from an entirely different perspective. A perspective that does not focus on the hurt and is instead driven by a compassionate empathy for all that are involved. A perspective that allows us to let go of what may otherwise hard to set free.

When you take a moment to think about the implications of approaching painful circumstance in such a loving way, it is no wonder that many of us undergo a transformation of sorts as we move forward. It is no wonder that we also begin to soften, forgive, and let go of that which has hurt us in the past. I say that this is no wonder, because I believe that when we are able to approach another human being from a point of compassion, we begin to see life through their eyes, instead of through our own, and in doing so, we often gain a better understanding of their true intentions and greater insight into their deeper experiences. Rather than being convinced that we have been hurt by their selfishness or deceit, we may see instead that they were driven by another force entirely. Or, rather than looking down upon them with disappointment, judgment, or condemnation, we may soften our gaze and realize that they are coming from a place that we otherwise may not understand.

And of course, as I say this, please understand that I do not mean to minimize any pain that has been experienced, nor excuse any wounds that have been inflicted. I only mean to say that it does seem to feel better, and therefore take us farther, when we are able to invest in love and compassion and allow our pain to be transformed, rather than submerge ourselves in negative and destructive emotions.

So today, if you find yourself revisiting a painful relationship, I challenge you to consider the alternative perspective. Attempt to understand what may otherwise be unfathomable. Reject the victim mentality and let go of blame. Instead, hold fast to your optimism in humankind and have faith in what you believe to be good.

Lent 2016

As many of you probably know, this year’s Lent season begins today.  Traditionally, many of us honor Lent by making a sacrifice of some sort, abstaining from something, fasting, or removing something that we will miss during the 46 days leading up to Easter.  Ideally, the commitments that we make as we honor Lent are made with self-improvement in mind, as we look within ourselves and discover what we may do to better ourselves and our lives as a whole, which, quite often, includes eliminating something from our lives, temporarily or, sometimes, permanently.

And because the intention behind this releasing of obstacles is to better one’s self, I fully support it, no matter one’s spiritual background, denomination, belief system.  Yet, I recognize that we do not all approach this season in the same way, so I enjoy reading up on it.  And as I did so this year, I came across,  yet again, the idea of using the season of Lent as a time to release something old so that one might create or embrace something new in their lives.  And I love this idea.  I love the idea of setting the intention to give up something that no longer serves us, so that we may embrace something that does.  This idea is called a Positive Lent, which refers to making the commitment to add something into one’s life in a positive manner, rather than emphasizing the idea of foregoing something else.

In my reading, I came across an article by Reverend James Martin, who suggested that those who acknowledge the Lenten season approach the season differently this year and instead do something positive for themselves, or the universe as a whole.  Specifically, followers of this thought are encouraged to practice a “positive” Lent  rather than a “negative” one that emphasizes sacrifice and abstinence, by taking the time to do something good, or as he writes, to “bother to love”. Instead of giving up behaviors or habits that you are trying to kick anyway, why not focus on doing something positive for yourself, or more importantly, for others.

Reverend James quotes Jesus in the Gospel, saying “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.” So whether you are Christian or not, why not take these words of Jesus literally and bother to share the love that has filled your heart.  Show compassion and mercy to those you encounter.  Pay attention to your loved ones, and bestow loving-kindness upon them. And do the same for yourself by embracing your own goodness, and allow others to do the same for you.

…With this said, perhaps you are not ready to replace your current Lenton season with another approach, or perhaps you do not celebrate this season at all.  And if so, that is okay.  Yet, nonetheless, give this idea some thought during other times of the year, and reflect on how you might benefit from letting things go, so that you may let other things come, which, really, is the heart of this lesson.

So, if you feel moved to do so, take the opportunity that is this Lenten season, and invest your energies in doing something positive.  Be kind.  Do good.  Bother to show your love.  To yourself, and all beings.

Beastly Beings

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We, as humans, no matter how evolved we become, are animals. We were created to adapt, evolve, and thrive. So much of our existence revolves around drives that are so basic to every animal in the world: food and water, shelter and safety, learning and development, companionship and belonging. Of course, we were also created to have a life that is more advanced than other animals, but really, when broken down, that is what we are. We are primal beings, with primal needs, motivations, and desires.

We are instinctual beings, just like everyone else on this magnificent earth.

Think about that for just a moment. Think about the things that we just seem to know how to do. The things that we learn as we go through life, whether they are taught to us or not. The things that just come naturally to us as human beings. And while tuning into some of these intrinsic messages may be difficult at times, the bottom line, however, is the same: we are instinctual beings.

So, if this is correct and we are such instinctual beings that move toward that which feels good, and away from that which does not, why do we have such trouble trusting our instincts? Why do we often struggle to decide if we should listen to what our hearts are telling us, or if we are better off heeding the advice of our heads? Why do some of us feel as though we “lack” intuition or that gut-feeling that seems to inherently guide others?

…It is because our instincts are so often over-ruled by our intellect. So often, we are encouraged to trust our heads instead of our hearts. We give greater merit to logic and reason because they offer better evidence or proof than any other alternative. We tend to overlook the power and insight of emotion and intuition because these feelings are seen as less objective and therefore less concrete. We live in a society that undeniably favors the science of logic and discounts the science of emotions. Because of this, we tend to forget that there is a connection between the two. That each preference, tendency, or approach to life plays an equally important role for us as human beings. We forget that each is just as valuable, useful, and important as the other. That they are interdependent to one another and integral to our well-being.  That there is no reasn for the war between the head and the heart.  We have both for a reason.

On this day,  perhaps practice a bit of mindfulness and listen to your whole self, giving merit to all of the messages that you receive. Recognize the thoughts and ideas that dance through your head. Acknowledge your feelings and consider them valid. Tune in to your body and observes whatever sensations arise. Take heed of all these messages and integrate them into one.

A Beautiful Reminder

To the BEAUTIFUL beings of LIGHT that welcomed me into their sacred space tonight: THANK YOU.

Thank you for sharing what you did. Thank you for allowing me to witness your transformation as it unfolded.

…I am both humbled and inspired by your beauty and grace, your courageous strength and resisilience. You are an inspiration to me! And tonight, you have touched the depths of my heart.

LOVE and LIGHT to each and every one of you.  The spirit in me honors the spirit in you: Namaste.

For more on tonight’s event:  {Your Story Isn’t Over Yet}

Be Bold

“Sin boldly,” wrote Martin Luther, the German priest and theologian that is the namesake of the Lutheran denomination.

How confusing this quote seems at first glance. How confusing it is that a priest, a man of God, would instruct Christians to sin and to do so with abandon. Yet, when this quote is brought back into the context from which it was taken, it makes a bit more sense. After announcing that Christians should sin, and that they should sin boldly, Luther then instructs them to have an even bolder faith in Christ, rejoicing that these sinners shall be saved.

Being the non-traditional spiritual being that I am, however, my interpretation of this quote is a bit different. Instead of only believing that I should sin boldly, that I should have blind faith, I believe that I should live my whole life boldly. That I should live the life that brings me peace, fulfillment, and happiness.

And I think that you, my daring birds, should live boldly too.

…Take just a moment and reflect on what that means to you. When you think of living a bold life, what do you think of? Do you think of living a life that is free of fear, doubt, and apprehension? A life that is full of adventure, that is action-packed? Do you think of living life only for yourself, without any regard for others? Perhaps you think of living life as an outsider, as a rebel, a rogue. A bold sinner, even, in the words of Martin Luther.

Or perhaps living boldly means none of these things to you. Perhaps, when you think of living a bold life, you do not think of danger, adrenaline, and rebellion. Perhaps instead, you think of doing what you love, making time for play and self-care, and prioritizing your loved ones. Perhaps you think of having sound values, beliefs, and conviction. Of standing up for yourself, for others, and for what you believe in. Maybe living boldly to you means living with integrity, capability, perseverance, and grit. Of speaking your mind, expressing your feelings, and saying exactly what you mean, and meaning exactly what you say. Perhaps it means fostering meaningful relationships, with yourself and with others. It could even involve refraining from judgment, pessimism, and encouraging compassion, forgiveness, and lovingkindness. A life that keeps your heart and your mind open to new ideas, growth, awareness, and insight. Of realizing your goals, and chasing your dreams. Perhaps a bold life is one that is liberated, courageous, and genuine. A life that allows you to be free to be exactly who you want to be.

I encourage you to consider what it means to you to live boldly. Reflect on who you are and how you express yourself to the world through word and deed. Think, for a moment, about how true you are to yourself. Ask yourself what it would take for someone to water you down. How easily you can be reined in. How boldly you live your life. Perhaps, a bold life means that you are in agreement with Martin Luther, and you fully intend to sin boldly and have bold trust in your faith. Or, perhaps it means that you intend to live boldly, trusting in yourself that the life you are living is the life that is for you.

No matter what this bold and brazen life looks like to you, however, I ask you to indulge yourself. Go ahead and life the life of your dreams, and do so with courage and valor of heart. Do not apologize or excuse the person you are or who you are not. Instead, revel in your uniquebeauty and enjoy exactly who you are at this moment, in this lifetime.

Live boldly in this lifetime, for any other option is not truly living. Spread your wings as you embrace yourself. Chase your dreams, be true to yourself, and feel yourself come alive.