Turn Towards the Light

I am great in a crisis. Down to the wire is my jam. I can make things happen fast when I need to. For instance… someone is hypothetically coming to drop by my house in 15 minutes. I can whip my kitchen and living area into makeshift shape so fast you would think I was Samantha from Bewitched with a magical nose twitch.  I can prove it. Just do NOT ask for a tour or to see any bedrooms.

I can claim that my procrastination comes from my calendar being maxed out by work, volunteering, kid’s activities, etc. but if I am being honest I was a procrastinator before I had just cause. It is one of the most frustrating things about me for many people who love me…I am sure of it.

This part of my personality, the part that is always right on time to 180 seconds late for 99.9% of the meetings and/or events I attend, struggled with the concept of self-care in a preventative manner. Deep breathing was always a go to coping skill in an anxious moment, but taking the time to mindfully breathe in the moments of my day that were filled with joy, peace, excitement, etc. was a less natural process for me to adapt to. I have a habit of cramming my day full. I know what you are thinking and YES, I have dug deep and self-examined to determine if busyness is a form of numbing for me…but I conclude that (more times than not) I just really like to carpe the shit out of each day. I like to do “all the things” and live to tell about it.  (That is not to say that I have not been known to use distraction with a list of responsibilities as a way to avoid the tough stuff, I definitely am guilty of running away from struggles.)

Because of these realities of my personality and lifestyle, accepting and implementing preventative self-care has been an invaluable for me. I am perpetually “fine” until I am not. I have a high threshold for stress, but most of the time the straw that breaks my back is seemingly anticlimactic. To prevent these moments of losing it is crucial that I schedule self-care into my day to day activities. For me personally, self-care looks like:

  • Yoga
  • Mediation
  • Working out
  • Being alone
  • Updating my planner
  • Updating our family budget (not fun, but necessary)
  • Getting ahead of my housework (also not fun, but necessary)
  • And of course, God willing…a massage, pedicure, or yummy dinner out that I do not have to prepare every once in a while.

These are the concrete, tangible activities that I go to for reprieve and peace.  These moments provide opportunity to fill my cup, charge my batteries, fuel my engine; I think you get the idea. However, there is also a mindset to acknowledge here. What mindset is indicative of someone who is resilient to stress and crises? Brené Brown has a lot to say about resilience, specifically related to shame. Her book, Rising Strong™, is all about getting up after you fall flat on your face. She says that people who understand their values, are willing to be vulnerable, offer one another and themselves compassion and empathy, and who make an effort to recognize their emotional reactions to life events and process them in a way that allows rumbling and introspection rather that remaining in an emotionally triggered vacuum are more resilient. If you have not been living under a rock, then you have heard about the self-care sensation sweeping the nation, Girl Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis. Hollis discusses real life hurdles, overcoming them and persistently pursuing your dreams. Her mindset is contagious and she is creating a movement of empowered women who want to be better at being authentic and confident…and who want to remember their worthiness.  Hollis says:

“know this one great truth: you are in control of your own life. You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by. Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it too. Stop accepting less than you deserve. Stop buying things you can’t afford to impress people you don’t even really like. Stop eating your feelings instead of working through them. Stop buying your kids’ love with food, or toys, or friendship because it’s easier than parenting. Stop abusing your body and your mind. Stop! Just get off the never-ending track.”

Like many moments in her book, this truth might be hard to swallow. However, there are times that a temporary crisis can turn into a lifelong battle as a result of our mindset and misguided coping skills. Recognizing and EMBRACING the power that we have over our own life is crucial. We will undoubtedly face grief, crisis, stress, heartbreak, trauma and other unexpected and hard realities; however, we are more likely to be resilient in the face of these realities if we take care of our minds, bodies and souls on a regular basis. Making ourselves a priority in the manageable moments, helps us to survive the moments that feel insurmountable. There will be moments that wreck our souls and deplete our resources; this is the dark part of the human experience. Those moments may not be avoidable, but knowing ourselves well enough to recognize our needs in the darkest of moments can lead to healing.

Brené Brown says so beautifully,

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”

We cannot allow the overwhelming, difficult, devastating moments define our entire identity. However, the value of embracing our entire truth, our entire story (even the stuff we wish we could deny) gives us power. When we talk about the parts of our lives that are difficult, we are less likely to be consumed and fall victim to them. When we stop trying to achieve perfection and recognize that we WILL fall short and we DO NEED help, we are going to have the ability to experience increased joy and increased connection with one another.

Crisis often translates into feelings of shame, resentment, failing, not being enough, etc. We have to decide to not be victimized by our struggles. We must learn ourselves, recognize our individual needs, know when we are emotionally hooked/triggered, develop a set of go to coping skills and choose to take the reins when life seems to take us for a ride. The dark days our inevitable, life is a constant struggle. Our time here on this Earth is an opportunity to grow in our faith, cultivate connections and rise above the pain and to choose to embrace joy and peace. Rather than allowing anxiety and fear of what you do not know control your existence, prepare for the tough stuff by fostering resiliency today and each day. Develop your self-care regimen and pursue a mindset of empowerment and resilience. Susan Grimm says:

“Even in the grimmest of circumstances, a shift in perspective can create startling change.”

Our mindset, our perspective can lead us to chase after darkness or confidently turn towards the light. I will be over here looking for the sun friends.

Peace, love and laughter,

Megan

down angle photography of red clouds and blue sky
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Braving Minneapolis

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…Theodore Roosevelt

In the month of June, I had the privilege of attending the Daring Way™ Training in Minneapolis. The Daring Way™ is curriculum based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. Brené Brown has published various books covering the topics of shame, vulnerability, resilience, courage, worthiness, owning our story and so much more. I have been a fan girl for quite some time.  Not only do I enjoy and respect her research, I can relate to her story and voice. She is incredibly authentic about her struggles and background and she does not take herself too seriously. No question…she knows what she is talking about and her grounded theory method leads to many feeling like she is talking directly to them as they read and listen to her thoughts. Yet, she consistently presents as a human being, a flawed yet beautiful and impactful human being. (As I gush about her, you can see what I mean by fan girl.) For years I have wanted to attend this sought after training and, luckily, with the work that I am doing at Wise Health System, I was able to attend this year. My organization sent me because they recognize the value of this work and the impact it can have on our employees and the community.

I arrived in Minneapolis on a Sunday afternoon right as the Pride Parade was wrapping up. I immediately felt the vibrancy and warmth of this city. I checked into my huge hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Minneapolis (got quickly excited about not having to clean for 4 days and the idea of 8 hours of sleep without interruption.) My nights typically involve wrangling my 3 beautifully energetic, adventurous and messy children and then sharing the bed with all of them and their unique and unassuming sleeping positions.

That night I had the chance to catch up with a dear friend, Torie, who is wrapping up her law degree and doing important work in child protection. She told me about her love for the city, her dreams for her career and I felt like I got to know the woman she has become. I already loved this trip before my bucket list training even began.

daring way megan

Day One of The Daring Way™:  I wake up and only have to worry about getting myself ready!!! Wowza. When I drank my first cup of coffee for the day…it was HOT! So far, so good. I catch my scheduled ride to the training and have the pleasure of meeting an incredible primary care physician from Canada named Melanie. The driver pulled away not knowing that he was leaving another lady waiting on transportation behind but we quickly circled the block and came back to get her.  I am so glad that we met in this moment because she became an important fixture in my Minneapolis experience, and I am hopeful, that we will continue to explore this work and life together moving forward.

This training requires an application and pre-work process. I earned my way here and did the work to hold a seat with these impressive folks. Despite my excitement and preparation for this experience, as I hear members of my small group tell their stories and what brought them to this training…I have flooding thoughts of imposter syndrome. I am wondering if I have the chops to be here and I am praying that I have meaningful thoughts to share throughout this time.  The beauty of this curriculum focusing on shame, vulnerability, and living brave is that we all eventually discussed our fears and identified that multiple people in that room were feeling the exact same way. We cover values, relationships, trust, vulnerability, empathy and self-compassion during the activities and conversations of Day 1. This curriculum pushes you to face fears and own the thought processes that keep you from living an authentic life. You gain insight and courage to truly allow yourself to enter “the arena.” Exploring this with the women in my group, led by an incredible facilitator was a gift. Reeling from excitement and inspiration, 5 of us went to dinner at a great rooftop restaurant a few blocks from our hotel.  Three Canadians, a magical gal from San Fran, and I enjoyed conversation about human rights, politics, advocacy and dreams.  Building these relationships and debriefing the content of our training was arguably as beneficial as the training itself. I hope to always have the chance to touch base with these women and witness the amazing work they will do.

Day Two of Daring Way™: This was by far, from an emotionally challenging perspective, the toughest day of training. Shame was central to our conversations. I felt closer to each of the women in our group as we worked through tough topics and offered vulnerability, authenticity and empathy to one another. I was physically and emotionally whipped after 8 hours of shame education and processing, so I opted to spend my time that evening at the free happy hour and ordered an (essentially) free meal because I chose to go the green route and re-use my towels throughout my trip. (I received 2 $5 vouchers in turn for making an environmentally friendly choice – I have taken free meals for less honorable reasons.) Again, I was surrounded by colleagues who were also receiving this refining and thought-provoking training. We talked about parenting, magic, our specialties and, again, our dreams surrounding our practice and individual communities. I relished in this interaction and exchange.  Relationships are so valuable to me and most of my favorite people in life have come to me during these types of experiences.

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Day Three of Daring Way™: We got to enter the Rising Strong™ curriculum on the final day of training. Throughout the Daring Way™, “participants are invited to examine the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are holding them back and identify the new choices and practices that will move them toward more authentic and wholehearted living. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills and developing daily practices that transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.”  When we Dare Greatly, we will fall. In Rising Strong™ participants learn “what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of struggle gives us the power to write a daring new ending. Struggle can be our greatest call to courage and the clearest path to a wholehearted life.” We only partially delved into this material as we learned about expectations and next steps moving forward: four weeks of online training + six months of case consultation prior to becoming an officially Certified Daring Way Facilitator (CDWF.)

I said my goodbyes to my newly developed friendships, small group and my wonderful facilitator (who has an emphasis on mindfulness in her own practice which could NOT have been more perfect.) As I headed back to Texas, I was flooded with excitement to get back to my family, but also with inspiration and ideas about integrating this meaningful material into my practice, organization, blog, relationships and life in general.  My heart was (and still is) full of gratitude. The value of exploring these topics is difficult to express briefly. This work is life changing and the reality that I will be able to bring this work into my practice is ridonkulously amazing.

I continued with the four weeks of online training and am now getting set up with a case consultant to develop a relationship with and learn from over the next six months. I plan to offer groups, workshops, retreats, intensives and individual counseling utilizing this curriculum. My personal growth from this training is evidenced by my ability to realign with my core values, honor my boundaries, walk in authenticity and live brave. I cannot wait to share this with my clients and community. The practice of mindfulness is relevant to this work and discussed in both Daring Way™ and Rising Strong™. Let me know if you are interested in getting plugged in to an upcoming group, workshop, or retreat! You can also look for Daring Way™ opportunities near you here: The Daring Way

Check out my creative project on Shame versus Authenticity!

Until next time my friends.

Peace, love and laughter,

Megan

courage

*This image is from The Daring Way™ curriculum

The Practice of Pause

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. Mark Twain

I sometimes find myself toting a “badge of honor” surrounding my busYness. You know what I mean right?? “Well I have so many things to do and I have taken on so much responsibility, my time is incredibly valuable because I must be the busiest person ever.  I have 3 kids, 1 full time job, 3 side gigs, I sit on multiple boards and committees, but what else can I do for you?”  I squeeze too much into my days and find myself running right on time or 5 minutes late to every meeting, commitment, birthday party, etc. This behavior and lifestyle is fueled by years of well-defined perfectionism and people pleasing.  I feel pulled to say YES to all the things.  All. The. Things.  Taking on more than I can handle is not something I should hang my hat on. Learning to achieve balance in my life is a more valuable endeavor. Thank you Jesus that I discovered the beauty of balance and the power in the pause before I ran myself ragged.

In my journey with mindfulness, self-awareness, and (in lots of ways) awakening…I have learned a few things. One is that I enjoy an active lifestyle. I like going, moving and being productive. I like adventure. I like to get my kiddos out of the house. I enjoy the community-centered mindset of getting plugged in and making an impact. For me, self-care is about achieving a balance of saying NO when I really need to, but also saying YES when I want to and making sure that I do “all the things” in a way that promotes well-being for me and my family.  Something that has been life-changing for me is the beauty of the pause. Taking pause in moments when I feel overwhelmed, when I am triggered or feel a rush of frustration, right before I have a scheduled session with a client, moments before I speak before a room full of people, when I finally sit down to nurse my sweet Maya, when my kids ask me to play with them, when I take a walk to recharge my batteries.  At times, simply taking pause before I commit to or refuse to take on a new task makes all the difference. These (and many more moments) are enhanced or improved by my willingness to practice taking pause. This pause provides a moment to check in with myself, to provide a level of control regarding my brain’s instantaneous capacity to finish the story or create worst case scenarios and it allows me to soak in the beauty and gratitude of each moment. Kristin Armstrong says:

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

That is a perfect way to describe what I have found in my own pause practice. Drawing my attention to my breath. Checking in with my body to learn more about why I am feeling the way I am feeling. Am I truly overwhelmed and anxious, or did I just drink one too many cups of coffee? (oops, often that is EXACTLY the reason) Soaking in my surroundings. Shifting my perspective to move forward in a mindset of awareness, gratitude and openness. What I love is that pause/rest/awareness often produces new beginnings and motivation. It is not about ceasing activity forever, it is about taking the time to be genuinely mindful in our actions and responses. I remember when my sister was first encouraging me to implement meditation into my daily, self-care routine I would think about how I did not have time to stop for that long. There was no way that I could just not be productive for long enough to create a meditative space. I did not understand the ways that mindfulness and meditation can be wrapped into our daily activities. I also had this ridiculous idea in my mind that I had to be forever chill and perpetually relaxed to be successful at mindfulness. Mindfulness is a coping skill. Mindfulness is a way of life that transforms the perspective with which we view ourselves, our surroundings and our purpose. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with productivity, in fact, it enhances performance and focus.

I wanted to talk about some of the methods that I have used to implement pause into my day to day life:

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The STOP Method: I have referenced this activity more than once in my blog, because it is effective and simple.  This one minute breathing space is a guided thought activity that is perfect for a shift in perspective or to relax when you are feeling triggered:

S: STOP what you are doing. Close your eyes. Put your work down or your task away for this moment in time.

T: TAKE a deep breath. Draw your attention inward and focus on controlling your breathing pattern. I enjoy tactical breathing in this space.  Inhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4, Exhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4. Put this on repeat until you feel that you have been able to clear your mind and focus fully on your breath.

O: Observe your surrounds, your thoughts, your feelings. Are you seated? What does the support of the chair feel like? Are you hot, cold, relaxed, tense, etc.? Think about your 5 senses.  What do you hear, smell, feel, etc.? If specific thoughts and feelings are present, take a moment to non-judgmentally acknowledge them. Simply having the ability to define your current emotional state of being is empowering.

P: Proceed into the next moments with an increased level of positivity, awareness and openness.

This method can be used in various ways throughout your day. When you first wake up, rather than grabbing your phone to check notifications, take a moment to check in with yourself and get oriented to your immediate environment.  When you are in the shower, take pause to experience the cleansing and relaxing task at hand. As you are sitting at your desk and you find yourself in a state of distraction, practice the STOP Method to regain focus.

Mindful Eating: In the world of numbing, food is my go to drug of choice. If I am stressed, sad, frustrated or bored, I am much more likely to make bad nutritional choices. Taking pause before I ask for another bowl of chips and salsa, drawing my attention inward as I open the fridge at 10:00 at night, or checking in to see if that bowl of ice cream is meeting a nutritional need vs. an emotional need has created a level of control with my food intake than anything else. Taking pause allows you to check your intentions and motivations. Being mindful of my choices rather than acting in reactive or impulsive ways helps me to honor my values and personal goals. Mindful eating can also enhance the way that we experience flavors and textures of our food. Slowing down to experience meals is a great way to practice mindfulness.

YOGA: On days where I am feeling especially overwhelmed, yoga allows me to create space for mind and body relaxation. It certainly requires the ability to remove distractions as you commit to the practice. This practice has taught me me to build increased awareness of my body and the places where tension and stress might hide. The concepts taught in yoga practice can be utilized in many facets of life and interaction. In my role as Employee Assistance Program Manager at Wise Health System, I have developed a program in partnership with our fitness facility that offers employees a Yin Yoga class during their lunch breaks twice weekly. The goal is to not only provide them will rejuvenation in those 2 hours of yoga practice each week, but also to help them learn how to separate, pause and practice self-care in the midst of stress and demanding work loads.

body stretching yoga beauty
Photo by Roman Davayposmotrim on Pexels.com

Personal Time-Out: Oh the good old “time out.” As a parent, I certainly use this one with my children. This gives them time to breathe, calm down, think about and discuss their behavior with me or their Daddy. I have found that I could use a time-out almost as often as my 6 year old. I facilitate Parent Café’s with the Wise Coalition for Healthy Children which is a great community initiative sponsored by Cook Children’s Hospital. We utilize Nurturing Parenting curriculum and in the Stress Management presentation we hand out magnetic timers. We recommend that parents use these for their own emotional regulation as much as for timing the time-out punishment when their children make poor choices.  Taking pause in moments of conflict, stress and discipline can transform the way that we react to triggers. Whether it is with your spouse, children, co-workers or anyone else try to implement a pause when you are feeling triggered. Rather than allowing fear, anger, embarrassment and disappointment regulate your emotions…take a breath, try to rationally connect the dots in your brain and step away if you need to. Commit to returning to resolve the conflict, but sometimes taking 5 minutes to shift your perspective can be a gift to yourself and to the people in your life.

With the simple addition of these pause practices; we can be more in tune with and in control of our emotional reactions to life. This practice is full of struggle in the beginning, but just like a new workout routine or rehabilitation for an injured muscle… your body and mind will become more capable of taking effective pause and the process will become natural with practice and dedication.

Where have you learned to take pause in your life? How has slowing down to enhance awareness changed your experiences? I would love to hear from you and how mindfulness is transforming you and your relationships.

Peace, love and laughter,

Megan 🙂

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Photo by Josie Stephens on Pexels.com

Why I Choose Forgiveness, over and over again…

Greetings friends! It has been a little bit since I last made a post. Lots of life has happened. Lots of mishaps…lots of mindfulness. The stories will come, I promise but today I wanted to approach the topic of forgiveness.  I am currently in the middle of training to become a Certified Daring Way Facilitator. This means I will be certified to utilize the curriculum of Dr. Brene Brown in my individual and group therapy, in workshops, etc. I have a difficult time expressing in written word how thrilled I am about this experience and the ability to formally implement her work on vulnerability, shame, resilience, bravery, and so much more into my clinical practice. In today’s online class, we are Rumbling in our Rising Strong process. In brief summary (for full understanding I recommend you read Rising Strong,) when we show up, be seen and live brave we are going to have face down moments. We will fall. We will hurt. We will be brokenhearted. There is so much beauty in our ability to rise following our fall. This week’s content focuses on the portion of our struggle that faces grief, forgiveness, anxiety and criticism. In MY facedown moment there was certainly grief and certainly forgiveness. The curriculum uses a quote by Joe Reynolds, “In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face the pain. You simply have to hurt.” Something has to die: a relationship, a dream, a belief, a home, etc.  In my case, a relationship changed. It did not end, but the old version of this relationship was built of poor boundaries and over-sharing…on my part. The previous version had to die for forgiveness to truly happen. A new, healthier relationship was renewed, but grieving my concept of this friendship as I thought it had been was necessary to genuinely forgive and, essentially, hit reset. I was not cognitively aware of this process as it was occurring. I knew it sucked. I knew it felt lonely and sad, until it felt peaceful and constructive. I did not call this grief and forgiveness as I lived it…but that is exactly what was happening.

I know what it feels like to hold on to hurt and refuse to forgive. It is heavy and burdensome. The pressure of holding onto the pain holds you captive. You cannot move too far from your comfort zone for fear of releasing the pressure of resentment, grudge holding and anger. Anger feels like control. It feels like power. But the hard truth is that when we hold on to the pain and anger, we are only condemning ourselves to feeling tied to the pain; playing the role of the victim. It is not powerful to express our hurt, grief and heartbreak in revenge seeking hatred. It is actually an act of numbing and offloading hurt. We avoid facing the true pain of loss which is necessary in the process of forgiving. We miss out on the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat when our thoughts and actions are driven by our inability or unwillingness to forgive others.

This week’s work led to me to pick up The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. I have discussed the South African word Ubuntu when discussing the interconnectedness of humanity. This word simply describes the concept that we all rely on one another, what is good for one human benefits all of humanity. This book discusses how good for our body, soul and humanity forgiveness is. We are inherently good and pursuing forgiveness is something we do to restore our inner peace and willingness to live a wholehearted life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes:

Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor. When we forgive the person who harmed us, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. Forgiveness, in other words, is the best form of self-interest. This is true both spiritually and scientifically.

There is a great deal of research that supports the science behind forgiveness and physical benefits.  Various studies have findings that demonstrate a link between forgiveness and a reduction in depression, anger, insomnia, reduced blood pressure, pain, headaches, etc. People who hold on to anger and resentment or more likely to suffer from these ailments, the willingness to forgive can be motivated by self-interest. Just the decision to live for you in the present moment feels like freedom from the chains of past hurts.

Tutu says, “To forgive is also to release yourself from whatever trauma and hardship you have experienced and reclaim your life as your own.”  And, sometimes, maybe the person you need to forgive is you. If you are carrying pain, anger and resentment, my hope and prayer for you is that you find the courage to face the hurt head on and achieve healing in your life.

This reclamation and freedom is not only healing but provides the opportunity for deepening connections. While we may have to forgive and release some perpetrators of pain, some people just do not get to hold space in our world.  We will find though that through forgiveness we can achieve new levels of connection with those we love. We, as humans, require connection to thrive. We are built for community and our hunger for connection seems to grow as we experience the isolation and ridiculous standards of personal persona in today’s culture.*

This weekend I watched Moana with my children for the 2700th. I love the music and beauty of this movie, but the story embedded in the narrative about overcoming trauma speaks to me each and every time I watch this movie. Te Fiti is a Goddess that breathes life into the islands, until her heart is stolen by a demi-God and she is overcome with darkness. Throughout the movie, the viewer believes that a terrible monster of fire and fury, Te Ka, is another villain seeking the heart of Te Fiti. What we learn at the end is that Te Ka is actually the angry and broken version of Te Fiti. The trauma of having her heart taken from her brought about darkness and pain.  Through empathy and forgiveness, Te Fiti is able to breathe life and beauty again. Her heart is restored. This scene is breathtaking and I encourage you to watch this movie with this perspective in mind. This is the most tangible and relatable example I can think of to paint a picture of the power of forgiveness.

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Holding on to pain for fear of exposing what lies underneath our heartbreak is devastating to your mind, heart and body. There is a beautiful 21 day guided meditation developed by the Chopra Center entitled “Free to Love.”

This guided meditation is one path that can guide you to forgiving, releasing and restoring your capacity for connection.  Read Rising Strong or look for a Rising Strong course near you. I will be leading a workshop in the near future about the Rising Strong process, let me know if you are interested in attending…this work is powerful.

(for more on my thoughts of societal isolation, check out my previous posts Overcoming Isolation and Constantly Connected.)

Until next time!

Peace, Love and Laughter…

Megan

Overcoming Isolation: How to Survive a Lonely World.

Over the last hard hitting and heavy week, I have discussed, pondered, lost sleep, and discussed some more the concept of surviving in times that feels so hard and so dark. I have tried to wrap my mind around the desperation and brokenness that people must feel before they submit themselves to a story that ends in suicide. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, need for control, or possibly just the INFP in me that wants to find a path towards healing for those broken and isolated souls. I find myself fixated on gaining understanding surrounding the proliferating rate of suicide in our world today. Perhaps the concept of preventing continued suicide is beyond my capacity and reach; however, I firmly and passionately believe that initiating a conversation might be THE answer to just one person’s plight towards healing.

Did you know the rate of suicide increased 25% from 1999-2016? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide was double the rate of homicide in 2016. A New York Times article from 2016 says:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. . .

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.”

Personally, I think there is no coincidence that our consumption of all things internet, social media, etc. rampantly increased at about the same time. I created my Facebook in 2004. About when did you create your social media platform for identity, communication, and entertainment? I was not nearly as obsessed with social media until it was at my fingertips each moment of the day, how many hours a day to you spend mindlessly scrolling, comparing, judging, etc? Let me briefly step off of my soap box to say that I use social media to promote my blog, my side business, to share memories with friends and family…I value the ease and simplicity of communication within this format; however, it cannot be our only source of socialization. Our desire to be constantly connected, I argue, has led to a lack of genuine human connection. I talk about this more in my post Constantly Connected. Despite our ability to be “constantly connected,’ isolation and social isolation seem to be on the rise.

Quick fact about suicide rates, the states with the historically highest suicide rates are Montana and Alaska. Social isolation in Montana is a problem. Due to geographical realities and cultural norms, people are disconnected from one another.  While I recognize that social isolation is not a problem for every community in these  states, I cannot deny the reality that rural communities (typically) provide increased opportunity for isolation.

The fascinating reality of our world today however, is that we can be in a room with 700 people in a city buzzing with activity and have our minds and hearts elsewhere. We are rarely mindfully present in the space we exist. We are engaged in multiple conversations over various platforms at any given moment. We no longer have to be literally isolated by our geography to exist in a state of isolation.

“Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”

We are replacing our previous inclination to engage in community in our cities and neighborhoods with online interaction. When we go to dinner or to a party with friends, we spend a fair chunk of time staring at our phones. Our comfort in communicating with a keyboard is exceeding our ability to have face to face, meaningful dialogue fueled with nonverbal communication and all the delightful feels that cannot be adequately expressed without eye contact. I love my emojis people, but there is not an emoji or GIF that can fully impress the depth of love, the elation of joy, or the desperation of grief. We need human connection. We need vulnerable interactions to truly understand love, joy, grief, and every other exquisite emotion that makes up our human experience.

Not only does our infatuation with social media lead to less face to face interaction, it creates a breeding ground for comparison. The comparison trap leads to either feelings of inadequacy or judgment.  I am either not good enough or at least I am doing better than that guy.   If you follow my blog at all, you know I love Brene Brown – a shame researcher. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Humans are built for and called to community. We are meant for connection. However, we find ourselves avoiding genuine connection, getting lost in the trap of comparison and wondering why we feel overcome with shame and loneliness.

I am not attempting to solicit support for a ban on social media. As I stated previously, I think our digital connection and access to social media equips us with resourcefulness and allows a different type of engagement. However, I think we MUST recognize the value of human connection and find a balance in our lives that leads to feelings of connectedness. I am also not making a claim that digital connection is the sole cause of isolation and suicide in our world today. However, recognizing the shift in culture, the decline in face to face interaction, and the crumbling of community as we once knew it is relevant in this conversation.

As a mental health professional I recognize that mental illness can be a terminal diagnosis. Despite lifelong battles, medication regimen adjustments, years of therapy…some people do not survive. But what if a willingness and opportunity to connect boosted the brain functionality of even a small percentage of those that are at risk for completing suicide, would reaching out make it worth it? Would promoting a conversation about the beauty of human connection be valuable? I think so.

Make an effort to engage in raw, vulnerable, and real interaction with someone today. Rather than comment on a post or stalk their profile, reach out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently. Plan to spend valuable time in person. Plan to be genuinely present and mindful during your time with loved ones.

Check on your people. I love the post circulating that encourages us to “check on our strong friends,” we know that suffering does not discriminate.  If you know someone that struggles with shame, comparison, loneliness, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety or any other human experience that is hard to overcome alone…reach out. Help them recognize their worthiness.  If you are struggling with those realities, release your fears and step into a moment that provides connection. This world is way easier to survive if we are in this together.

Check out the websites listed here:

https://www.crisistextline.org/

http://www.suicideispreventable.org/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

These are great resources for suicide awareness and prevention. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, know that there are so many places to turn for support. We are increasingly capable of overcoming the pain of mental illness with support. Talking about this stuff is hard, but I will leave you with the quote I keep on my email signature. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown. Fostering human connection in our lives might just help us survive.

silhouette of people during sunset
Photo by Belle Co on Pexels.com

Learning to Live with Intention

Intention.

Intentions.

Intentional.

This word, these words…are words that I have often struggled with, but also words that often present themselves during counseling sessions. My personal struggle with the word intentional is that I have never felt like I was intentional enough as a friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc. I am not an awesome gift giver. I typically do not function with a great deal of advance notice, like 48 hours in advance is my average planning time. I may throw something on the calendar further out but the nitty gritty planning and prep happens last minute. This is not a representation of how invested in or how much I care about something, it’s the way I am wired. But I OFTEN say, we may be susceptible  to selfishness, forgetfulness, or other weaknesses but that does not mean that we cannot take steps and make changes so that we are better and ever-evolving humans.

I feel so loved when people are intentional with gifts, gestures, and acts of service. I am quick to compliment what I see as intentionality. Making intentionality a priority for me in regards to relationships continues to present me with a great deal of room for growth. It’s a work in progress. I love with enthusiasm, but planning ahead with creativity is something I am continuing to focus on. Because of this focus, my 2017 One Little Word was Intentional. If you have never heard of the One Little Word experience, check this wonderful website out. This is something I focus on each year.

I chose this word to focus on external relationships; I had no clue that perseverating on the word intentional would change my relationship with — ME. Studying and meditating on the meaning of intention and bringing intention into multiple spaces and places for me led to:

  • Recognize the thoughts that drove my decision and behaviors.
  • Focus on being present in interactions with others.
  • Bring attention with intention to my needs, my rhythm, and my purpose.
  • Appropriately gauge my expectations, in turn, reducing opportunity for resentment.

The perfectionist people pleaser chose a word to improve the way I poured out love but drawing awareness to my thoughts, words, and actions allowed me to grow in my understanding of my inner self. I was over simplifying the meaning and importance of intention. My journey with this word and concept allowed me to recognize the needs and expectations associated with relationships. The coolest part – in gaining awareness of my own needs and expectations, I believe I have become a better friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc.  Not in the way I planned, but in a manner that promotes long term health in my relationships.

Recognize the thoughts that drive you.

Do you ever stop to consider what drives a decision or behavior? Why do you need to have that fight? Why do you need to take that drink? Why do you need to make a drastic change in your life? Why is saying those words important at this moment? What are your intentions? Is there necessity, purpose, or kindness in your intentions? Taking pause to consider the driving force behind our actions is monumental and simple. Think before you speak. Consider the collateral damage of your potentially misguided intentions. If you gather, after taking pause, that your decision is necessary, kind, or purposeful then keep on keeping on. However, if you draw awareness to lofty, selfish, or cruel intentions…maybe it’s a better idea to reflect on how you got to that point rather than reacting.

Focus on being present in your relationships.

Intentionality can be broken down and as simple as eye contact and avoiding distraction during quality time with those that you love. The willingness to focus and give the gift of time to someone is becoming more and more priceless with each addition of technology that makes work, news, to-do list, and noise more accessible. While we all have obligations and responsibilities, setting aside precious moments with your family and friends to sincerely hear them and respond thoughtfully is necessary. Promoting moments of genuine and focused connection helps those you love to feel valued.

Bring attention to your needs, rhythm, and purpose.

Are you intentionally finding moments to connect with YOU? I believe that when we are not in tune with the parts of us that make us unique we become incapable of holding authentic space with family and friends. If we cannot identify our needs, if we are out of touch with our individual rhythm, and if we have lost sight of our purpose…how can we have meaningful connection with others? Talk about imposter syndrome? Journaling, meditation, music, dance, nature, exercise, and a variety of other outlets can help us develop an inward awareness. Find moments to recognize the parts of your heart and mind that feel real to you. Recreate these moments as often as you can. When we grow in familiarity with ourselves, it can help to enhance emotional regulation because of the deeper level of understanding we achieve regarding our feelings and reactions.

Gauge expectations and reduce resentment.

As a people pleaser from way back, I can tell you a thing or two about resentment. Not clearly gauging and communicating expectations, leads to feelings of disappointment and resentment.  Check your expectations. The best example of this I have heard comes from Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. She tells a personal story about parenting. When one spouse is out of town, the other spouse can manage to juggle all the roles and responsibilities with minimal stress. They make it work. When both parents are in town, busy weekends end up leading to increased conflict and frustration. The root of this is when we know we have to make it work alone; we manage with minimal emotional reaction. When we anticipate that having our partner around will make the busy weekend stress free because they will manage half of the responsibilities  AND we do not clearly communicate these expectations…we end up feeling ALL the resentment. We must create realistic expectations and have assertive communication about said expectations. No one is going to read your mind. Without sharing your hopes and dreams for days, weekends, or life in general with the people that you do life with, you set the stage for bitterness and resentment.  This is wrapped up in the word INTENTIONAL, because this behavior was something I had to intentionally implement into my life, specifically my marriage. My hubs is great at a lot of things, reading my mind is NOT one of them. If I clearly express my plans and the role I hope for him to play in those plans…we have the chance to either agree to move forward or make amendments to my unrealistic ideas. This level of intentional and assertive communication has been meaningful in minimizing resentment and enhancing our connection.

In my One Little Word journal, I listed these synonyms for intentional: conscious, purposeful, willful. If we set out to live a mindful life…we must learn to speak, act, live, and love with intention. We have power in choosing our reactions to the waves that crash into our lives. Enhance your awareness, define your values, and live with intention. I am thankful to have had this journey with these words. Exploring these concepts with an open mind led to a complete different end result that I planned on and it was such a necessary lesson for me to learn.

Let me know your thoughts on the meaning of intention. How do you implement intention into your life and relationships? I want to hear from you and I would love for you to subscribe to my blog!

Peace love and laughter,

Megan

photo credit: angiedevon (instagram)

Constantly Connected: Is our internet reliance stealing our humanity?

Social media is a driver for my side gig, my blog, and a crutch for relationships that may thrive in a more vibrant way if I did not rely on apps on my phone for the upkeep of those relationships. That is a difficult reality to face, especially when I promote the value of human connection regularly. Rather than scrap-booking or printing photos, I rely on moments or “on this day” features. Rather than texting my friend to ask how her kiddo’s party was, I will just watch her timeline for photos and make a meaningful comment. I check my events tab rather than writing down birthdays in my calendar.  Perhaps social media is the equivalent of cliff notes for human interaction, it brushes the surface and hits the high points but lacks the emotion, connection, and depth for which we are all yearning.

If you talk to me long enough, I might hop up on a soap box about screen time, social media, and how they rob our children of their capacity for human interactions and engaging in meaningful ways. Recently I have been digging into the concept of human connection and our need for tangible, face to face, and meaningful relationships and interactions. In conversations with clients, I have explored the reality of loneliness, the damage of the comparison trap, and how social media can drive home our irrational need for perfectionism. We can easily find ourselves trapped in a battle to save face and match our real lives with our profile. How much do we lose in this fight? I fear that we are losing our capacity for connection, but also ourselves.

In the online article “Why We Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew Lieberman discusses how crucial social connection is to our ability to thrive as healthy humans:

Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems.  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.

We are herd animals. The pattern of behavior associated with screen time and social media obsession leads to isolation and loneliness. If you take a few moments to read my post on Finding Your Tribe, you will learn the impact of meaningful human connection on our brains. Positive and meaningful, face-to-face engagement with loved ones promotes the release of oxytocin in our brains and promotes emotional regulation.  Loneliness and isolation promotes cortisol and leads to our body’s suffering from the ill effects of long term stress. Medium.com has a great article on this topic, this excerpt from The Science of Human Connection and Wellness in a Digitally Connected World says:

Today, modern communication and technology has forever changed the landscape of our human interaction, and as such, we often decline without this type of meaningful personal contact. Today’s highly individualistic, digitally remote, and material driven culture is now challenging all of this, as we turn to science to unlock the mysteries of human connection and wellness in a digitally connected world.

Read that again. We decline when we neglect our need for human connection. Human connection and wellness are closely intertwined. We thrive in community. We rely on human connection. We are starved for physical contact. However, I think we are fooling ourselves into believing that the accessibility of engagement through social media can replace human connection. According to a study conducted in 2002, it was found that online interaction does not replace face to face human connection. In fact, online interaction increases loneliness.

Y’all…Myspace was still a thing in 2002. We have fallen deeper in our reliance on internet based interactions since 2002. While this day in age is progressive, I am not convinced that the current level of remote accessibility should be viewed as merely progress. I have no doubt that the climbing rate of depression and suicide is impacted by our reliance on social media and subsequent neglect of human connection.

As I mentioned from the start of this post…I rely on social media and the internet for my side business, for promoting my blog, and for networking in general. I believe that when utilized in a healthy manner, digital connection and having the world at our fingertips can be beneficial. Access to information and broadened audiences is great! However, as Aristotle says, “the man of virtue is the man of balance.” Virtue can be dangerous when exhibited in extremes. I believe this concept…the art of balance…needs to be applied to our use of social media and digital connection.  The risk lies in the moments when our identity, self-esteem, and worthiness come from our online persona. If our children’s communication is reliant on a keyboard and their faculties are lost in the face of in-person conversation, there is a problem. We need to check in with ourselves (& our families) and practice the pursuit of balance and focus on fostering human connection in today’s widely isolated culture.

One of my favorite words is Ubuntu, a South African term that has no English equivalent.  In essence, Ubuntu means we are all connected. We are all in this together. My freedom is wrapped up in your freedom.  My happiness is wrapped up in your happiness. While we have more readily available information about the struggles that people face on a daily basis and are arguably more aware of pain, hunger, war, genocide, and other evils of this world than we were 20 years ago…we also have the firewall of distance to protect us from emotional involvement. We are removed and desensitized.

We can do better. We are capable of promoting increased humanity in our lives. The Facebook Experiment was a study conducted in Denmark that revealed that people who took a break from social media demonstrated improved well-being and increased positive emotions. This does not have to be permanent, but perhaps avoiding your phone or social media for the first and last hour of your day. Engage with your family. Plan a dinner date with your friend rather than browsing their page for updates. Hold eye contact with the people you talk to. Avoid filling moments of discomfort with mindless scrolling. Mindlessness, disconnection, isolation, comparison, and negative coping skills can all be fostered through unhealthy habits surrounding social media engagement and reliance on digital connection. Engage with living, breathing humans…it will benefit you and those around you!

Take a few moments and watch this video (link below,) this precious child on NBC DFW’s “Tell Me Something Good” segment was encouraged to greet, hold eye contact, and shake the hand of each child entering the school on this particular morning! We need more of this simple, but so meaningful, human connection.  https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/TMSG-Kindergarten-Class-Shake-Hands-Smile-Every-Morning_Dallas-Fort-Worth-483569731.html

 

Are you in AWE of your life?

I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe. – Anne Lamott

How often do you slow down long enough to “smell the roses?” Do you step outside at night to witness the majesty of a meteor shower or a sky full of stars on a clear, crisp night? Can you envision the last time you were in awe of your surroundings? This could be the end of a long hike that brings you to the edge of a powerful waterfall, it could be the first time you saw your child take a step, or it could be the moment you fell in love with your person. Put yourself in that place for a moment right now, recall the wonder and excitement. Man, I wish I could bottle that feeling up and keep it on hand for moments that feel routine, mundane, stressful, defeating. Spray a little awe around in the moments that rob us of childlike astonishment and lead us to forget the world’s expansiveness. What if we could daily acknowledge the brilliance, beauty, and transience of this world?

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I took a little personality quiz on the Greater Good Science Center website today called “The Awe Quiz.” I found that I have a tendency towards engaging in situations that challenge my thought process, make me feel curious, leave me with the childlike awe feelings that we should all seek. I am not sure that I would have had the same results one year ago. Prior to engaging in a journey that encouraged presence and awareness, I think I was missing out on opportunities to live an AWE-some life.  I am thankful for the people in my journey that have helped me to redirect my energy.  I remember the initial moments of resistance when my sister encouraged meditation. I remember doubting the impact and questioning my ability to commit to a new practice. My willingness to engage in moments of wonder and awe is one of the many benefits of living a more mindful life.

I remember being in awe of the sky when I was younger, I have rekindled this love for looking up. Sunrise, sunsets, clouds, the rays emitted from the sun though those clouds, stars, the moon and its phases all remind me daily (and nightly) how brief and ever changing this moment is. It takes mere moments to miss the evolving colors of the setting sun.  I love bringing the attention of my children to the beauty of the sky. I love asking them what they see, what colors stand out? What shapes do they see in the clouds? Absorbing their reactions of surprise and awe is contagious. It is good for the soul. But I wanted to dig into why these moments are so memorable and impactful and potentially how to create increased access to this feeling.

I found an article on the Huffington Post website titled, How Awe-Inspiring Experiences Can Make You Happier, Less Stressed and More Creative. That’s what I’m talking about…let’s dig into this goodness. This article provides various definitions and results from multiple university studies surrounding the emotion of awe.  It discusses a foundational paper:

In “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual and Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University outlined how exactly awe works and what affect it has on us. Awe consists of two qualities, Keltner and Haidt say: perceived vastness (something we think to be greater than ourselves), and accommodation, a need to assimilate the experience of vastness into one’s current mental structure. Keltner and Haidt describe awe as an emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear.”

Awe is the sweet spot between pleasure and fear. I can only imagine the brain’s chemical reaction to these moments. It is no surprise that we cannot exist in these moments perpetually; doing so might remove the component of wonder. I can also gather that what induces feelings of awe for me is not necessarily going to trigger the same reaction in everyone else.  Our experiences with wonder are all unique to the fabric that makes us who we are.

The Huffington Post article goes on the discuss the reality that  experiencing awe provides a healthier relationship with time, boosts creativity, increases our ability to be hopeful and grateful regarding our life, improves our relationship with nature, and aides in transforming our lives.  Abraham Maslow’s description of “peak experiences” seems like another way to describe feelings of awe. He says that peak experiences are indicated by:

“disorientation in space and time, ego transcendence and self-forgetfulness; a perception that the world is good, beautiful and desirable…He emphasized that moments of transcendence could take the form of an intense religious or spiritual experience, but it could also come from the simplest moment of love, beauty or natural wonder. If nothing else, awe teaches us, as Maslow suggests, that there might be something just a little bit magical about everyday life — a realization that can help us engage with life from a place of joy, wonder, and gratitude.”

I recognize a connection to my discussion of human connection in my post about The Importance of Finding Your Tribe when discussing the benefits of awe. When we can have human connections or awe filled experiences that help us get outside of ourselves, we can live happier and more fulfilled lives. When we are not driven only by ego, status, and pride…we are more apt to practice gratitude. Imagine how minuscule the past due bill, lost job, or moment of defeat seems in comparison to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls,  the incredible life beneath the surface of ocean waters, the birth of a baby, the first time your child speaks the words “I love you,” or the intense beauty of the setting sun.  There are certainly moments that take our breath away, moments that give us no choice but to lose ourselves and be completely consumed in that moment. But what if we are missing out on opportunities to experience the simple beauty and love that can leave us in wonder on a daily basis? Our focus could use some re-shifting from time to time. Perhaps we should make time to slow down and look up more often.

My favorite Emerson quote is tattooed on my back:

Live in the Sunshine, Swim the Sea, Drink the Wild Air. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I try to live in this manner but the more I become consumed with duties, roles, responsibilities, and to-do’s the more distracted I become.  The reality is that I am only gaining more responsibilities as my children get older and become more involved little humans. Therefore, my perception needs to shift. Traveling with my family needs to become a priority. Getting in nature needs to become a priority. Looking up long enough to recognize the beauty in how quickly our life is passing by and the value of relishing in every moment that I possibly can need to become priorities. I think we can live in awe and be ridiculously productive and involved in our communities. For me, mindfulness and presence has been the key to this shifting perspective. Releasing situations or stressors that I have zero control over frees up space in my heart and mind for awe, wonder, and gratitude.  The next step is to seek out moments to experience awe.

Find out your tendency towards experiencing awe…take “The Awe Quiz” now!

Looking to experience awe from your desk…check out this gorgeous series of photographs from National Geographic

Images in this post are all courtesy of the crazy talented, Janey Cooper Photography.

Mom Guilt is Real: Let that Shit Go…

Being a parent is beautiful, exquisite, and painful. It challenges you and fills your cup and sucks the life right out of you again. It is a journey full of ups and downs, unconditional love, growth, pressure, and joy. A huge amount of that pressure, we place on our own shoulders. We establish unrealistic standards of perfection surrounding our ability to parent and believe that everything we do must be a manifestation of the fact that we love our kids more than anything in the world!

The cleverest parties, stylish clothes, perfect pictures, well thought out lunches, fresh spring water that I collected myself infused with organic cucumbers that they drink on the way to their private lessons for their select league. The standards that exist today are impossibly exhausting. My kiddos will be plugged in to activities they love.  I will encourage them to drink water. And…they will most likely have lunchables or crustables in their lunch box. Not for every meal, but for packing lunch on a Monday morning, damn straight. Many of you reading this might cringe at the reality of sending processed foods in my kids lunches, I ask you to understand that I choose the battles that I face. I know where I succeed as a Mother and I know what standards will set me up for failure. I seek health and fulfillment for my babies: physically, nutritionally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, etc. etc. etc.  I also seek this fulfillment for myself and my husband.  As a result, there are some areas where I simply cannot pretend to seek perfection. Choosing my battles and firmly prioritizing my parenting values leads to me existing as a more fulfilled mother. I must remind myself daily to approach motherhood with my intuition and my experiential wisdom, meaning I know my heart and I know my babies, and (because of this)  I will make choices that I feel will best serve my family. This looks different for each parent and each child. We are all incredibly unique — hand crafted with our own gifts and flaws and passions.  I challenge you to use those gifts and passions in your parenting style.

Now…let me pause for a moment, as a social worker I have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the reality of neglect and abuse. There are children that are not cared for adequately and who are put in dangerous situations at the hands of their parents or caregivers.  This is NOT wisdom or intuition. This is more often mental health, addiction, brokenness, or just evil. I am never condoning neglecting your babies.

Which leads me to a topic that I refer to often in my practice…guilt vs. shame.  And a bit further than that, helpful guilt versus unhelpful guilt.  Let me use some examples to help make the differences between helpful guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame easy to wrap our minds around.  I am going to use my own life experiences with these feelings because improving myself has been wrapped up in distinguishing between thesefeelings and living a less shame filled existence.

Helpful Guilt:

Yelling. Man I can yell. I have a sharp tongue and a temper. The further out of touch I am with my inner self, the less I pray and meditate, the less I sleep, the less I take care of myself…the more I have a tendency to yell. Some mornings are rough.  I can be short with my spouse and super irritable with my babies. If I sense a level of helpful guilt in the moments, it can help me turn the morning around. When I yell at Rad for saying “Momma I need to tell you something” for the 2700th time in the last 15 minutes and his response is, “I just wanted to give you a hug.”  I feel the ache of immediate guilt. I need to slow down, take a breath, and hear my babies.  They need to listen, demonstrate respect, have manners, etc. but I can also take pause and let them have a voice even though I may have pressed snooze 7 times and am in a frantic rush.  I believe in the power of sincere apologies as a Mom. I am flawed…TRUTH. I do not want to project my struggle with perfectionism onto my children, so when I make a mistake I want to own it with grace. I take a moment to speak rationally and calmly. Then, ideally, we can all move forward in a better manner.

Unhelpful Guilt:

Ok…this morning has come and gone. I yelled. I apologized. We loved on each other and had a good rest of the morning. However, I cannot shake seeing the disappointment on Rad’s face when I yelled. I am allowing myself to believe that he is still sad, just sitting there thinking about how Mommy yelled. He probably thinks I am a terrible Mom. I robbed him of a fun and relaxed day, because every 3 year old boy just sits around over-analyzing his interaction with his Mom from 7:00 AM right?!? WRONG. He has moved far beyond that moment. He knows he is loved. He loves Mommy endlessly. His day is awesome. I need to let my irrational thought process and over-analyzation go. It is just masochism to be that unrealistic about the impact of a brief moment.

Shame:

Now this is where it gets real. Rather than feeling guilt over a mistake or irrationally dwelling on a decision I made, shame is about questioning my worthiness. Shame leads us to question who we are, what we bring to the table, and can impact our core identity and values. Guilt is about what we did. Shame is about who we are. If I allow myself to believe that I am a terrible person. If I journey down a path of self-loathing and genuinely questioning my capacity to mother my babies, I am entering into a shame storm. I talked about my latest shame storm in my blog on struggling with authenticity. Shame is heavy and hard hitting. It gets you in the gut, heart, and soul. It can rob you of confidence and passion. We must not allow the comparison trap of parenthood turn into something that makes us question our worthiness.  We have flaws, but we are and always will be worthy of love and belonging. We are tethered into the fabric of this world and we have purpose.  The National Institute for Clinical Application of Behavioral Health has a chart that perfectly separates guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame:

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I talk about self-kindness often. I believe, as parents, we must be kind to ourselves and live in a space where grace pours out freely.  There is not one thread of my being that believes that we were called to judge one another or to make other people fighting their own battles feel like they are less than because their unique experiences and values make their rhythm look a little different. What I know about my journey in mindfulness, self-care, authenticity, self-kindness, and as a mother is that when I learn to see each human as someone who is carrying their own torch, winning their own war, or overcoming their circumstances RATHER than someone who is doing life better than me…I have way more compassion and grace. Compassion and grace not only for them, but for myself.  Let’s cheer each other on people! I do not want to be the exact same kind of mother or parent as you…I like being unique. I want my kids to be proud of dancing to the beat of their own drums. With standardized testing, strict routines at school, and the comparison traps that kids face with social media…let’s challenge ourselves to not put our own baggage on their already overloaded shoulders. I want my kids to feel more of my joy and less of my need to be a visually perfect parent.

Social media will not be my standardized test for success in parenting.  Fostering kindness, compassion, empathy, bravery, and confidence in my babies will be my standard for success.  You are all doing an incredible job!!! Your babies feel loved and cared for…do you? If the answer is no, I encourage you to give yourself some grace and let your unrealistic standards for yourself go. Let that shit go. The world is crazy enough, you need to be nice to yourself.

wild world

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Finding Your Tribe: The Struggle and Significance of Seeking Connection

I find understanding the body’s reaction to stress, depression, anxiety, intimacy, etc. fascinating but, also, necessary. I am of the opinion that if we wrap our minds around the nuts and bolts of our thoughts and behaviors then we might have the opportunity to feel more in control as we experience certain thoughts and behaviors. What if I told you that there is a physical reaction to friendship? Genuine connection and the ability to share, vent, and connect with authenticity can promote oxytocin production. Building connections with other people helps us to achieve a higher level of happiness and relaxation.

First, let’s briefly discuss the depressed brain. Serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol are vital to our emotional regulation. Serotonin is the “feel good” neurochemical, oxytocin could be called the connection or bonding neurotransmitter, and cortisol is directly related to stress.  A depressed brain has increased levels of cortisol, decreased serotonin and oxytocin, and demonstrates dysfunction in the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus is responsible for holding memories and controls cortisol, the amygdala facilitates emotional responses. The depressed brain releases cortisol at higher levels which can increase the size of the amygdala and, in turn, disrupts our ability to regulate our emotional responses and also hightens anxiety and fear. Due to the level of anxiety, irrational fears, sleep disturbances, etc. isolation becomes a natural reaction to depression. You can feel increasingly insecure and anxious about interactions, you are lacking in bonding chemicals, and you probably lack the energy to pursue social interaction. Unfortunately, isolation simply promotes the cycle of depression.  Creating opportunities for human connection can serve as a meaningful coping skill to manage feelings of depression.  Oxytocin is released when you feel bonded or connected. Interaction with a good friend, hugging someone you love, breastfeeding your baby, intimacy with your partner…these are all great ways to promote oxytocin production in your brain. Oxytocin supports serotonin and helps to calm hyperactivity of the amygdala.  Oxytocin can help to deter feelings of depression.

So back to friendship…I have found that as I transitioned into career, marriage, and family mode I have struggled to achieve a healthy balance when considering human connection. I find myself in ruts where my priorities seem to be centered on my to-do lists. Task oriented and productivity focused, I miss out on opportunities for connection.  Rather than snuggling my babies for 10 extra minutes, I get up and do the dishes. Trying to find intimate moments with my hubby becomes increasingly difficult as we achieve new milestones with our growing and involved children.  But the area that I found myself neglecting in the most severe manner was friendship.

I think about my college years when my friends made my world go round. I had multiple dear and precious souls who were seemingly attached at my hip. These relationships were formative, defining, and memorable. When I think back on moments from these years, there are consistent human connections that drive how these memories flood back into my brain. The food we ate, the perfume my friend wore, the bars we went to, the apartments and homes we lived in…I remember the people in these memories far more vividly than the places and details. And sensory encounters with familiar smells or sounds help me go back to these moments of vulnerability and connection often.

The struggle that I (and I am sure many of you) face in the midst of juggling career/marriage/parenting is finding this level of connection in my friendships today. Nothing can replace those defining years of transitioning from a child to an adult…but how can we achieve oxytocin promoting connection and vulnerability as adults?

Prioritize Friendship

Make a point to foster your current relationships and build new friendships. Who would you call for an impromptu coffee date, a concert, a trip to the local winery, or just to chat about life? If you cannot think of someone, perhaps finding your people is something you could make time for. Trust me, I have allowed insecurity and fear keep me from building relationships with people in my adult years. I tell myself all the reasons why someone would not want to hang out with me:  they already have found their circle, they will judge my worldview or parenting style, I will judge their worldview and parenting style, they might think I am not __(choose your insecurity of the day)__ enough. However, I have found that often times the people I fear reaching out to happen to be just as hungry for connection and if they are not and reject you …they are not right for your life anyhow.  The morale of the story is you must promote your own social life. Make a point to set aside time to connect with adults who remind you of your identity outside of the many hats you juggle.

Call your friend. Schedule lunch, dinner, drinks, coffee, or a phone date. And if you have a difficult time justifying adding these times to your calendar…remember that it is literally good for your brain. These connections and this time building your relationships promote oxytocin and helps deter or fight depression and anxiety. Consider it part of your self-care regimen.

Find People Who Promote Your Vibration

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
C.S. Lewis

I recently shared a quote on my Facebook page from Lalah Delia that says: “The way you consistently treat, think, and talk about others is your vibration.” I think there is so much truth to this, what energy are we emitting? Are we spending our days talking negatively about people or are we nourishing our minds with conversations of dreams and ideas? Are you lifting ourselves with positive self-talk and sending out good vibes and thoughts to those around us or are we sinking into over-analyzation, insecurity, anger, or resentment? Do you vibrate with positive energy and light for others to breathe in or do you suck the life out of the room?

Evaluating our own vibration and choosing to surround ourselves with people who help us achieve a level of authenticity is life-changing. Choose to surround yourself with people who encourage you to be a better version of you! Choose those who demonstrate compassion, empathy, vulnerability and allow you to do the same. Choose to spend time with people that allow you to feel light and shiny when you leave their presence rather than wondering what you could have done better to improve that connection. I hope you have experienced the moments where genuine connection reminds you that you are not alone…there are people out there who dance to the same rhythm as you; you just need to find them.

vibration

Authenticity and Trust are Musts

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”  Brene Brown

I have absolutely been in situations where I try (with everything in me) to force friendship. I laugh at things that are not particularly funny, I keep quiet about reactions that might ruffle feathers, and I find myself walking away from these encounters wondering what is wrong with me. I over-analyze why it did not go well and why I do not feel connected to them. Sure, you have off days and tough interactions sometimes…but I genuinely believe that finding people who you naturally connect with is necessary. It is so affirming. I love having those friendships that allow me to settle in, react honestly, and be the truest version of myself.

Vulnerability requires a level of trust.  If I have been hurt or betrayed by someone, I am less likely to reveal my inner most thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Forgiveness is beautiful and possible…it may just take time. Simple tokens of consistency and concern prove that I can trust people in my life. I continue to work on my ability to demonstrate intentionality and consistency in my relationships, because I know the value of what Brene Brown would call “Marble Jar Friends.” (Check out the video embedded at the end for the perfect anecdote to understand the meaning of Marble Jar friends.)

I am lucky to have these relationships in my life. These authentic friendships also benefit the hopeless people pleaser in me…I do not have to work hard to please these people, because they are MY people. They are such shining and refreshing lights in my life.  I will choose to continue to foster the friendships that I have found and be open to new people who could come along and impact change in my heart, mind, soul, and life. Thank you to my tribe for being MY people…I hope that I am worthy of the love and light I receive from you and that I am sending the good vibrations back to you!  xoxoxoxoxo

 

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

 

 

 

Surrendering and Resilience

Surrender and resilience are both words that come up frequently in my line of work. As a social worker, mental health professional, and employee assistance provider the meaning of resilience and the art of fostering resilience is woven into so many of my days. At first thought, resilience is about strength, hardiness, steadiness, ability to withstand pressure. During an exquisite Yin Yoga session, the concept of surrendering flooded my mind as the instructor urged us to settle into the pose, surrender to gravity, and allow your body to go where it needs to be.

Breathe. Surrender. Breathe. Let go. Breathe. Surrender.

The concept of elasticity is important to the definition of resilience. Elasticity is the ability to return to previous form, the ability to bounce back.  Elasticity allows you to bend without breaking.

Have you ever seen the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” It makes for a great laugh. The goal of the protagonist, Peter, is to travel to Hawaii to get his mind off of his adulterous ex-girlfriend. In one scene, he takes a surfing lesson. Chuck, his surfing instructor, keeps encouraging him to “do less.” “The more you do, the less you do.”  This guy is hilarious and has all the chill. While his methods are questionable, I think what he is aiming to get Peter to accomplish is the art of release. Peter needs to surrender to the flow of the waves. He needs to release his grip on his heartbreak, fears, failure, regrets, questions, and whatever else holds him back from being in sync with the ocean and, more importantly, with himself.

I think we can all relate to the moments of life where we insist on holding on with white knuckles to control, expertise, success, being right, being seen as we wish, and the other traps that comparison and the need for power can lead to. Right? Have you been there? Holding so hard to something? Being too rigid in your thought process? Building a wall between you and moving forward in life and relationships because of your need for control or perfection or avoidance of vulnerability?

When we white knuckle life, we can miss out on the moments or perspectives that help us bounce back after heartbreak, failure, or trauma.  In Yin Yoga, the more you are able to surrender to the pose, the more your body benefits from the stretch. This practice not only begs for physical surrender, but emotional and spiritual as well. In this case, the less you do…the more you do. Surrendering your thoughts and preoccupations creates a meditative experience that is truly rejuvenating. Letting gravity and breath carry you through the extended posture hold creates a necessary release of toxins and emotions.  When you face resistance, breathe through the discomfort and allow time for your body to release into the position you are seeking.

These lessons must carry over into our day to day lives to be optimally beneficial. We must learn to release our expectations, judgement, resentment, and fears. We must learn to breathe through the uncomfortable and trying times. We must grow comfortable with the idea of letting go of control when we know we do not truly have any real control from the start. We cannot continue to white knuckle time, money, and power and also hope to experience true joy, gratitude, and love.

In pursuit of resilience in the face of critical stress, trauma, grief, loss, and work/life balance we must aim for elasticity. It is possible to hold on to values and convictions while also taking pause to see the world through the lenses of others. It is possible to be ambitious and motivated while also making self-care a priority and releasing the binds of perfectionism. It is possible to speak your truth, but walk in grace and empathy to allow others to find and proclaim their truth. It is possible to be vulnerable, and brave, and steadfast, and flexible all at once.

I encourage you to take a moment to surrender the thoughts, fears, regrets, shame, etc. that hold you back. What creates tension in your body, mind, and soul? Close your eyes imagine the heavy weight taking form, floating to the sky, and leaving your sight. Surrender the parts of your life that make you feel powerless; holding tighter will only make you grow tired. Practice the art of surrender. I hope that letting releasing whatever binds you today help you to bounce back to your intended path.

Find a Yin Yoga class near you to help you manifest the practice of surrendering in your life.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

 

 

Bloody Noses, Broken Bones, & Bodily Functions

Motherhood is full of excitement. My journey as a mother has been particularly eventful over the last few months. If you have been plugged into my blog for some time, you might know that my youngest has had a couple of extended hospitalizations lately. She is well now, but kept us on our toes for her first year of life. Last week was wild and crazy in the life and times of the Adams Family. Let me tell you about it and explain the radio silence over the last nine days.

On Friday the 13th, we traveled to Cook Children’s for the THIRD time in 4 months. Now if you have any superstitious bones in your body you might believe tough times come in 3’s and, well, no explanation is required for Friday the 13th. I am not even a superstitious person and those circumstances had me feeling pretty extra that morning.  This trip was for our Rad Man. Our 3 year old boy had a trampoline accident, and I was convinced before arriving at the Emergency Room that his tibia was fractured. This notion was confirmed and we left the hospital a few hours later with a hard splint and firm non-weight bearing instructions. Imagine any 3 year old boy’s ability to be compliant with these marching orders for an extended period of time.  Yikes…we figured we were in for it.

Let’s take a step back to earlier in the week. Our first born, sweet, and serious Lennon fell off the monkey bars and bloodied her nose. I got a call from the nurse, all was well, no need to panic. When I see her after school, she (Lennon not the nurse) informs me that she will probably have a black eye from the fall. She was bummed to wake up with NO battle scars. She also has developed an obsession with a walking boot I have from a minor surgery years ago…she loves putting it on and walking with crutches. It is the same kind of fascination with wanting glasses, braces, or wanting any distinguishing mark that sets you apart from the pack. Lennon is the oldest of 3, she feels every emotion intensely, and her intelligence and focus make her a really low maintenance child. For all of these reasons…there are times when she has to scream (literally or figuratively) for attention. When I am present enough in the moment to realize that this sweet 6 year old (who most of the time behaves more like a 12 year old) needs some tender loving care…the attention seeking moments are easy to deter.

It is also relevant to add that I had a fever for the first time that I can remember in years on Friday and Saturday. It takes a lot for me to claim that I am not feeling well, but I was NOT feeling well, certainly subpar.  Productive coughing always makes me feel like I am on my “A” game too, optimally attractive and classy.  I try to be grateful for the spring weather as my allergies cause me to hack up whatever is filling my chest and head with congestion. I find obstructed breathing to be extremely irritating.  I like to believe that I can handle stress well, but agitation and febrility upped the ante.

So welcome back to Friday the 13th. Boy-child with a hip to toe splint is lying flat on his back for all the hours.  Sweet six year old is crying out for TLC and to be set apart from her brother and sister who tend to generate a lot of excitement.  The joyful one year old is actually the easiest and breeziest one in the mix…just loving life and eating all the food. Oh wait…she did have one projectile vomiting episode but that was while she was at the babysitter’s house and (PRAISE JESUS) that did not continue at our already wild house.  Cody was present and helpful for all of these moments, but there is certainly something about Momma in these situations.

I did not handle the entirety of this weekend well. I threatened more punishment than I followed up on. I was strung too thin. I did not make presence a priority and I was reactive rather than preventative in my parenting style. I was experiencing stress and handling it poorly. I was not using my body’s reaction to stress for good…I was letting everything pile up. And then I was frustrated with myself. Overanalyzing Lennon’s need for attention, feeling terrible for and owning Radly’s pain, griping at Cody to take my stress away as if he could read my mind, and feeling guilty for allowing Maya to eat way too many rice puff snackies.

I am so thankful for my profession and the work I get to do daily, because it helped me quickly recognize the shame storm that I voluntarily entered into. The fact that I was sick and sleep deprived definitely allowed me to get to a place of shame, stress, and reactivity but the beauty in recognizing it was that I could turn it all around. I could slow the pace, adjust my expectations, and prioritize mindfulness and self-care.

I told Cody that I was going to take a bath, one of my favorite things to do but something that rarely happens. I turned on a Chopra Center guided meditation and soaked in a bath with essential oils for about 30 minutes. Then the kiddos came in the bathroom, but that was great. I welcomed their interaction with me. The ability to hit reset on my mindset changed the game!  The rest of the day was more productive and went smoothly.  I did not get everything that needed to be done completed. But I was much more capable of being in the moment with my family. I also felt proud and excited to not only recognize the need for change, but to be able to draw on the right tools to create change.

I cannot promise much about raising children because each tiny human is unique and the rapid evolution of their preferences and personalities make each journey exciting and unpredictable. I can promise that you will not always get it all done! I can also promise that you are going to be way too hard on yourself. Perfection should not be the goal in parenthood.  The ability to tune in to your children is priceless. Take moments to hear their hearts and fill their souls. And give yourself some grace and space when you need to hit reset!

These precious babes are building their self-image, world view, and learning how to treat others based heavily on their interactions at home. Yes…this feels like pressure, BUT choose to feel empowered by this.  If nothing else gives you motivation to remove distractions and make mindfulness a priority…think about the impact that these moments of awareness could have on your family. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”  Even if the moments filled with bloody noses, broken bones, and bodily functions; when we feel like we have lost all control over the situation…take pause, bring your focus to the present moment, and move forward in love and grace!

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,
Megan

Monday, Monday…

Let’s chat about this morning for a moment shall we? I have been up since 4:00 AM because that is when Maya decided she wanted to greet this Monday morning! Happy and hungry (she continues to nurse at night, but is a sucker for routine and seeks a warm bottle within moments of opening her sweet, blue eyes,) her feet hit the floor early this morning! I woke up pretty easily, I prefer laughing and happy to whining and resistant any day…so out of bed I hopped.

Bottle. Check.

Dry diaper. Check.

Back to bed we go? Not so much!

Here comes Rad Man with Kion in his arms, “Mommy will you watch a movie and ‘nuggle me.” Of course, I am happy to oblige. Precious boy. So we watch a little “Boss Baby” and snuggle in the living room. I am not giving in and making my coffee yet, because it is only 4:40…there is still the opportunity for maybe a few moments of closing my eyes. After some extended snuggle time, I get up take my vitamins, drink my coffee, and get ready for the day. Maya is snoozing again at this point but Rad is going strong.

Then I realize…we are out of formula and I did not turn in my defensive driving when it was due Friday. YIKES. Ok, I am still ok. Both of these things are manageable. I will make a quick run to the store and make a phone call when I get to the office. We are still going to conquer this week.

Finish getting ready for the day. Tell Cody I need to run to the store. He is doubtful of my generously packed list of to do’s this morning but bids me safe travels as I load up Rad in his adorable CatBoy “kajamas” (that is what he calls them) and off to the store we go.

I advise him on the way that this is a fast trip. No toy section. Just formula and out. As we approach the only – open – register behind a lady (no judgement, all LOVE) with 57 cans of cat food…I realize that I am not making the impossible happen. Rad ends up with a sponge bob ice cream and we are 7 minutes behind schedule as we walk out.

Call Cody. “Sorry I am making you late babes. Tell them it is my fault.” This is when the box breathing comes in. I can feel the physical reaction to the stress of this morning building up. My heart rate is a bit increased, my cheeks are a little flushed, and I feel the jitters in my stomach as I get onto the highway headed back home.

Inahle. 1…2…3…4.

Hold. 1…2…3…4.

Exhale 1…2…3…4.

Hold 1…2…3…4.

Repeat multiple times on the drive home.

Rad is tickled with his ice cream, I am rationalizing the fact that he is eating ice cream at 7:10 in the morning by telling myself that he has been up for almost 3 hours and already ate 2 bites of a somewhat nutritional breakfast so we are good. It is all good.

On our way home we acknowledge the stunning sunrise. The sky is full of bright orange and yellow greetings on this crisp morning.

Get home. Wake Lennon up. She not only looks like me, she sleeps like me. (Anywhere and for as long as you will let her.)  She gets up and ready with little resistance in comparison to other Monday mornings. Hallelujah!!!

Out the door.

Drop Maya off.

En route to school, we say our daily mantra “I am brave. I am strong. I am kind. I am important.” Hugs, kisses…Lennon is off to have a great Monday, kindergarten style. Her pony tail is appropriate for Monday. Held together by a string…ba dum tss. #cheesyjoke #laugh #youknowyouwantto

Take Rad to Mimi and PaPa’s. Where he spends his days calling the shots and being covered in love.

Finally, after what feels like a full day’s work I am off to my other full time job.  I have the pleasure of serving as the Employee Assistance Provider for a hospital system. I get to serve the many employees of our organization and help them through crisis, struggle, or just simply helping them be the best and truest version of themselves. Each day is an honor and a refining challenge. I can genuinely say, I love my job.

I walk into work and make the trek to my office from employee parking. Part of me thinks it’s laughable to be the girl who didn’t remember to turn in her defensive driving for a ticket that she got in February and made a 6:45AM run to the store for formula because I forgot it on each of my 3 shopping trips over the weekend AND ALSO be the one who people come to for guidance, advice, and therapy. But a much larger and kinder part of me thinks that crazy mornings like today and the mishaps that come along with life in general are strengthening my ability AND willingness to demonstrate empathy.

Practicing mindfulness has not changed the reality that my life jam-packed to the brim with hilarity, excitement, chaos, and messes…but it has transformed how I experience these moments.

Breathing in Maya’s 4:00 AM joy for life.

Squeezing in the ‘nuggle time with my little man.

Appreciating the patience and kindness of my husband.

Extending kindness to the woman with cat food and the cashier despite my realization of being late.

Being truly present and Lennon and I say our mantra for the day.

And practicing SELF-KINDNESS.  Laughing rather than taking myself too seriously, and rolling with the flow of what this day happens to bring.

Sure, I still have moments of stress but breathing through them and checking the tone of my self-talk has been a game changer.  I have also learned to redirect the thought processes that lead to unrealistic expectations about me and those I live and work alongside. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown talks about the unfortunate reality of expectations and the resentment they lead to.  She says, “Disappointment is unmet expectations and the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.” I am choosing to not set myself up for repeated disappointment. That does not remove the potential I see in myself and those I live and work alongside…it is simply a manner of reframing that promotes increased emotional health.

On most Monday mornings, the wisdom or absence of grace is defining. Should I choose to walk in unmet expectations rather than grace, my ability to receive moments of mishap with ease will falter. Should I choose recognize the humanity and humor in the hurdles as they pass (in the countless forms that they are revealed) I can survive and hold tight to my enthusiasm for life. Life has never been a gentle breeze, but that does not mean that I cannot appreciate the gentle breezes as they pass…and they will.

 

 

I know I have said it before, but thank you for visiting and honoring my moments of reflection. This continues to be a refreshing journey for me. Taking the break from my daily routine to share these thoughts with you is helping to fill my cup.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

 

Megan Adams

The Influence of Attitude

Have you ever stopped to acknowledge the energy you bring into a room? When you think about the meetings you attend, your group of friends, the people you work with, or your family can you identify the “influencers?” Who sets the tone for interaction? What attitudes and behaviors impact the ability to effectively communicate and sustain enthusiasm for whatever interaction you might be in the midst of? I am sure these questions have you thinking of the people who either inspire or snuff out excitement. Do you have someone in your life that can immediately impact your state of mind or opinion? Perhaps you are an influencer. What I find so interesting is that the power of influence can create positive and sustaining impacts or it can drag now productivity and contentment. How do you begin to assess your capacity for influence and create opportunity to be more inspiring, guiding, and swaying in your approach to relationships and teamwork?

Dictionary.com defines influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.” Synonyms for influence include – inspiration, guidance, effect, sway.  There is no question that our attitudes, thoughts, decisions, behaviors, etc. create a ripple effect. I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) often when engaging with clients who struggle with negativity, poor self-image, lack of meaning in relationships, and for many other scenarios. Simply put, CBT helps people recognize the impact of their thoughts on their feelings, their feelings on their behavior, and their behaviors on their thoughts.  We discuss methods of Thought Stopping and breaking the cycle of destructive thought processes.  In my experience, adding the concepts of mindfulness into this conversation is helpful.

A mindful person is increasingly aware of their destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they are occurring. A distracted and disengaged person can get stuck in a cycle of negativity before they realize it. Mindfulness not only helps to increase awareness of where we are physically and emotionally from moment to moment, it strengthens your brain’s ability to create emotional control over situations. Your brain is better equipped to redirect your negative or destructive thoughts if you are engaged in the practice of mindfulness. The Betari Box method describes the manner in which – your attitude has the potential to impact your entire team, family, department, organization, etc.  We can affect or be affected by the people that surround us. My attitude impacts my behavior which impacts your attitude and then, in turn, your behavior which can either drive home my anxiety, negativity, or resentment OR it can redirect my thoughts. The beauty in both CBT and The Betari Box lies in the ability to end cycles and create a rebirth of positive, rational, and productive thoughts, feelings, and actions. Drawing in your awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to others increases your chances of redirecting these destructive cycles.

When we focus on our ability to impact and influence others, there are a number of things to consider. I believe that checking our intentions is always vital to the success of influence. Authenticity and good intentions carry us quite the distance in the art of building meaningful connections. Once we have established that we have good intentions as we move forward in effort to create change or influence people…we need to build rapport. In the Psychology Today article, “The Art of Influence,” the author states that “Divining someone else’s motivations requires empathy.” Understanding the motivations and desires  of the people we are connecting with (or even better sharing those motivations) creates connection and common ground. To accurately assess what drives someone, you often have to develop an understanding of where they have been and what they might be in pain from, in fear of, or grieving. Empathy provides affirmation and, again, connection.

In another article I came across while I was digging into the idea of influence, The Subtle Art of Influence, the author states “To elevate the relationship to that level [of influence], focus on three activities: listening, offering help, and building trust. Try to see things from their point of view, and look for common ground and opportunities to share each other’s expertise.”   The common thread in all of these articles and pieces of advice is connection. Human connection.  Relationship building. We stand to have a greater influence when we work on building genuine and meaningful relationships with people.  Sure we can temporarily motivate, “light a fire,” intimidate, or belittle people without connection but to create opportunity to inspire or have an effect on their character or development…a connection is necessary.

While I was writing this post, I had my Madeleine Peyroux station on Pandora playing. The Julie London song, Sway, began to play. At first, I giggled at the coincidence. But then I paused to listen to the words.

Like the lazy ocean hugs the shore
Hold me close, sway me more
Like a flower bending in the breeze
Bend with me, sway with ease
When we dance, you have a way with me
Stay with me, sway with me
Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you

It is natural to be influenced by and to influence others. Just like the flowers in the wind or the tides impact on the beach…we, as humans, naturally have an impact on each other.  The connections we build can change our worldview, impact our resiliency, harness our focus, or adjust our willingness to trust. I am sure you can recollect moments where you felt so connected to someone (romantically or otherwise) that time slipped away and background noise diminished. Connection is powerful. We can influence one another’s decisions and experiences. Imagine just changing the way someone feels about themselves in a given moment and how that feeling can stick with them and impact their self-image.

“Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. Your every act can open hearts and minds.”  David Deida

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I believe that we have the capacity to not only decide HOW influential we can be, but we can choose to make this influence positive and uplifting. Acknowledging the responsibility that comes with influence challenges us to keep our attitudes, judgements, words, and behaviors in check.  I know that my responses to situations and people have been greatly impacted by my ability to experience these situations and people AS THEY HAPPEN. Being present and aware transforms my reactions and my ability to control my emotions.  HelpGuide.org has a great article on the Benefits of Mindfulness: Practices for Improving Emotional and Physical Well-Being that says:

By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.

I encourage you to continue to work a mindfulness practice into your daily life. Deepening connections and building emotional resiliency are both vital to our ability to influence and decide how we are going to BE INFLUENCED. Decide to shine and inspire today.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

 

Being a Mindful Mom: The Total Truth

I have not written as much this past week, my life has been jam packed. Saturday in particular was crazy busy. Softball, birthday parties, wedding. Each event too far from the previous for any level of convenience. Early to the softball game, late to literally everything else. Food on the run. Changing clothes on the run. Making plans for childcare on the run. We hustled through almost every step of the day. We forgot to get a gift ahead of time and thanks to the late ball game…I had my kid hand the newly 4 year old cash for his present, nope not even a card. I had to make the struggle filled choice of being an additional 10 minutes late or settling for no card, no gift, and a mere 35 minutes late. Yup, not my finest moment. My kids made it to the super cute zoo party and got to feed the goats and eat the monster cupcakes. Half of Maya’s cupcake landed right above my left boob, and it was black icing so you could barely see it right?! Between the cash, the icing, and the half hour late arrival…I am pretty sure people are envious of how much our family of five has it together. Like who wouldn’t want to be us? But…we laughed, we explored, and we made memories. We may have seemed like a mess but we showed up to enjoy the moments and we showed up for the sweet family that invited us.

I have zero doubt that as the kiddos get older, our lives will become increasingly insane. More games, more parties, more jam-packed weekends. More moments that may or may not make people question my competency or ability to plan ahead or just my overall presentation. My daughter will not always have a bow on her head; my son may WILLINGLY and with my consent wear 2 un-matched shoes; my house will not always be pristine; and there will be some weeks where fast food or cheesy tortillas happen more than once, or twice, or however many times is necessary for us to survive that particular moment of life. I may not be the most organized and I may continue to pile up things in the garage waiting for a free weekend with the right weather to have a garage sale. My kids may get to school right before the bell rings 90% of the time. But I will show up for them, love them deeply, and try my best to teach them about joy in the present moment which is hard to do in the current world of distraction and constant stimulation.

Becoming a parent brought a great deal of self-criticism to the surface. Sometimes I add more to my plate than I should. Sometimes our schedules seem ridiculous, but I want to show up.  I want to create fun memories with my babies and teach them how to show up for people. I have this fear that writing a blog focused on mindfulness will send the false image that I am always at peace, always in control, and that I have mastered the art of being a mindful mommy 24-7. This is so stinking far from my reality. I may or may not drop the F bomb in front of my children and I lose all the chill from time to time. I have a temper and I get overwhelmed and I get tired and I do not take care of everything I need to each day. I think my husband may have courageously uttered the words, “Where is your mindfulness now?” the other day.  These are all the reasons why mindfulness has been so necessary for me, why self-care has been so meaningful for me, and why the willingness to be authentic has been so refreshing and freeing for me. I do not want to feel shame for the many ways in which I fall short on a day to day basis. I want to pour into my children and husband, but also been incredibly honest about MY needs. I want to walk alongside other mothers, fathers, women, and men that recognize the need for more truth in our lives and less judgment. I want to empower my children to love themselves and release the need for perfectionism. I want to achieve the balance between building meaningful connections and people pleasing. Seeking joy, experiencing moments of peace, spreading love and kindness, and honoring the worth that each and every one of us bring to the table has encouraged me to share my thoughts in this forum.

Being a Mindful Mommy is, perhaps, the opposite of achieving perfection. It is about recognizing your limits, being authentic and speaking truth about your needs and desires, and taking moments to dive into self-care. To adequately achieve these things, we must be in connection with ourselves. We must quiet the noise and check in with our bodies, hearts, and minds.  We need to risk being 5 minutes late to let our kids LITERALLY smell the roses and we should totally join them. We need to breathe in our surroundings and stop missing out on the beauty of each passing moment. The gluttony of busyness can be all consuming and I am so personally guilty of this sin, but I have recognized that missing out on the beauty of BEING PRESENT is not worth being 100% consumed with tasks, duties, and distractions. It is necessary to collide with the reality of the numbing nature of busyness. Perhaps we are running from shame, fears of inadequacy, lack of intimacy in our relationships, depression, etc. Filling our days with to do lists provides distraction from the battles we genuinely need to face and conquer. Brené Brown says “When you numb your pain, you also numb your joy.” This is a tough truth to face, but the healing that can emerge from confronting the dark parts of your story that you insist on running from can lead to exquisite joy and refreshing peace.

I am not sure that I will ever have a moment in which my plate is completely empty…but that is exactly what makes my ability to seek out the quiet moments to allow myself to be still even for just a few moments each day so valuable. I have challenged myself to breathe in my surroundings, relish in joy as it happens, and call a time out when I feel myself becoming overwhelmed. Each of these challenges looks different for each of our unique lives, but I ask you to join me. Be present. Be mindful. Be authentic. Confront your fears. Release the expectations of perfectionism, release the desire to people please, release the belief that you need to be all things to all people…be present and enjoy what is immediately around you before this moment is gone.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

Understanding Our True Self

I am currently participating in a 21 guided meditation through The Chopra Center. This particular meditation, “Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body, and Spirit” is a collaboration between Deepak Chopra and Oprah. I am on day 7 and loving it. Oprah and Deepak talk through the concept of balance, lightness, and shedding the heaviness that interrupts our joy, self-kindness, self-awareness, and wakefulness on a day to day basis. Today they spoke specifically about the role of self-care in the pursuit of balance and lightness. The most beautiful parts of my journey with mindfulness have been the moments that allow me to acknowledge (with kindness) parts of me that previously led to insecurity or discomfort. In today’s words, Deepak shares that self-care must be about “inclusion rather than denial or rejection.” Self-kindness is not about pretending we are perfect or allowing ourselves to continue on unhealthy or inappropriate paths. Self-kindness is wrapped up in loving ourselves enough to grow and acknowledging our areas needing growth without judgment. The Centering Thought for today is “My true self leads me to an inspired life.”

Let’s explore ways to understand our true selves. The first step is awareness. Awareness of our bodies and minds helps to guide us to a deeper level of understanding about who we are, what needs we have, and what speaks to our souls. Clearly…mindfulness and meditative practices are a key step to achieving a heightened level of awareness. Implementing practices that encourage us to press pause on our hectic and fully consumed lives to come into a moment of stillness and peace in effort to acknowledge where we ARE in the MOMENT helps us find presence and understanding. There will not necessarily be an AH-HA moment when it all clicks and your questions about who you really are will finally be answered. It is more visceral than logical in my opinion. The questions, fears, experiences, trauma, heartache, failures, etc. all muddy the waters that separate us from remembering who we are outside of our habits and experiences. I think Deepak says it best:

We are the thinker behind the thought, the observer behind the observation, the flow of attention, the flow of awareness, the unbounded ocean of consciousness. We spontaneously realize that we have choices, and that we can exercise these choices, not through some sheer will power but spontaneously. Through meditation, we gradually bring harmony, laughter, and love back into our soul and, in the process, rediscover our unconditioned self, which can never really be lost.

Life can leave us feeling lost. The busyness of the day can leave us feeling numb. Our habits, addictions, and fixations can lead us to a place of shame and discontentment. We so easily exist in a place of unbalance. When we quiet the noise and distractions both literally and figuratively…we get closer to rediscovering the parts of us that get lost though our worldly experiences. I encourage you (with everything in me) to pursue a practice that encourages these moments. There are so many methods, outlets, and guiding points to get you there. From The Stop Method I previously introduced, to the Body Scan Meditation, Yin Yoga, to The Chopra Center Guided Meditation and a million other resources…find a mindfulness practice that fits your lifestyle and personality. The benefits are uncanny. Not only do you achieve increased balance emotionally and spiritually…your body can achieve a greater sense of balance. The impacts of chronic stress can be relieved. Studies have shown that mindfulness slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, provides relief for chronic pain, lowers cholesterol, reduces the level of stress hormones and toxins in your system, enhances immunity, and so much more. I had multiple influences in my life’s journey that encouraged this practice. I was resistant and stubborn. I told myself I was “bad” at meditating and got stuck in a place of judgement rather than opening my mind to this opportunity. Now that I have been able to reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness, my only wish is that I had been open to this lifestyle sooner. I was craving the stillness. I needed to get back in touch with who I was underneath the baggage of my past and fears of the future.

When I think about the idea of TRUE SELF, I think about children. I am surrounded by my own dynamic and vibrant children so often that they are often on my frontal lobe and in my thoughts. Children are brave, joyful, excited, non-judgmental, and decisive. They are inspired. They are hungry for life experiences. I want to not only get back to the parts of me that laugh out loud and dance without hesitation; I want to inspire my children to cling tightly to their true selves. I want them to be less jaded and influenced by the outside world. When I struggle with committing to my self-care and mindfulness practices, I remember the inherent value that this journey has provided me and my family.

Outside of mindfulness, there are some other fun ways that I have gotten to know myself more and obtained a deeper understanding of what makes me tick. One of my favorite practices (in my personal life and in my counseling practice) is the Meyers Briggs Type Inventory. I was able to take the full version of this inventory in graduate school and taking this test was such a meaningful moment for me. Not everyone wants to invest in the cost associated with the official inventory, so the alternative is the 16personalites.com. This is a brief quiz that will let break down different components of your personality and provide you with 5 letters that make up your personality type: Mind (how we interact with our surroundings,) Energy (how we see the world and process information,) Nature (how we make decisions and cope with emotions,) Tactics (our approach to work, planning and decision-making,) and Identity (how confident we are in our abilities and decisions.) Taking this test provided me with a great deal of insight into how I engaged with others, where I get my energy from, why I view the world the way I do. I definitely recommend taking some moments to head over to 16personalities.com and giving this test a go! I think you will find it both affirming and encouraging. It is nice to recognize the unique components of your personality in the type you fulfill and it helps you feel connected and understood. Clients always ask, “Did I get a BAD personality type?” And I always respond, “There is not a negative type. The world goes around with all kind of kinds. Our purposes, preferences, and personalities are unique and suited to our purpose. We can always grow and learn to engage our strengths in a purposeful way, but there is no BAD personality.” I happened to be an INFP and have been each and every time I take the quiz. The accuracy is mind-blowing. I LOVE to search INFP on Pinterest to find new quotes, articles, and comparisons that speak to me or make me laugh. Try it out and tell me your thoughts.

I encourage you to take the time to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your personality, your values, and your true self. Self-care is dependent on inclusion. To obtain balance, live out self-compassion, and live our best lives…it is necessary to have self-awareness. Be inspired by your truest self today. Life out your dreams and pursue your goals with the inspiration of knowing your inner self. Release the expectations of others, fears for tomorrow, and shame from yesterday…actively pursue an understanding of who you are in the truest version of yourself.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

The Essence of Enthusiasm

Not one time in my life experience have I completed an interview that my enthusiasm was not mentioned.  As a baby social worker, I loved this! This meant I brought a fresh perspective and excitement to the table; I saw it as strength. Recently, when someone refers to my enthusiasm it has made me curious about how seriously they take me. It is often mentioned with a coy smile or giggle, like the word enthusiasm could be replaced with naivety as if what they truly wanted to say is “just wait until you actually have a glimpse into the real world.” Regardless of my actual level of exposure to the harsh realities of the world, people will continue to draw assumptions and develop their personal opinions.

I recently attended a meeting where the lack of enthusiasm in the room was palpable and painted on (almost) every face at the table. What a bummer of an hour? Trying to put myself in their shoes, I thought well perhaps they are confused, distracted, stressed, or feeling like this hour is a waste of their time. But I could not help but continue to think about the reality that their inability to engage with eagerness would guarantee that they would continue to be confused, distracted, and certainly make meetings like this a waste of their time. This also had me curious about what it would take for someone to serve as a catalyst for change in meetings like this or in the broader spectrum of culture shifts or organizational change. My brain was rapidly firing with….enthusiasm about enthusiasm.

But prior to developing a plan to harness and spread enthusiasm like wildfire the world over, I wanted to learn more about the word enthusiasm. What are the roots of this word and how does the word make people feel?  How do people respond to enthusiasm? What makes people enthusiastic? Does enthusiasm fade?

First…I found connection between children and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and innocent positivity seemed synonymous to people. In searching “enthusiastic characters in fiction” the first result read “characters who are overly optimistic.”  From the get go, my search demonstrated that enthusiasm is linked to silliness or irrationality.  I found reference to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh who is as annoying to other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood as he is enthusiastic. Goofy was also deemed enthusiastic.  I love these characters, but I am not sure that I find them to be inspiring.

So then I began to dig into the history of the word. Earl Nightingale says, ““The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word “entheos” which means the God within. And the happiest, most interesting people are those who have found the secret of maintaining their enthusiasm, that God within.” Ok, this is more what I was trying to find. Passion, faith, excitement; perhaps unexplained at times, but not silly. God within is certainly more inspiring.

The definition of enthusiasm is intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval. Synonyms for enthusiasm include eagerness, warmth, fervor, zeal, ardor, passion, and devotion. The antonym for enthusiasm: indifference.

When I think about fictional characters that I believe depict enthusiasm, I think of Bunga from The Lion Guard. He is small in stature, but brave, confident, fierce, and funny. He is enthusiastic about life and about protecting his land. What he lacks in size he makes up for with grit and enthusiasm.  But he also can crack a joke, sing a song, and make sure everyone is having fun.

So why is enthusiasm in a professional setting so “refreshing.” Why isn’t it the norm? Why aren’t more folks enthusiastic about the work that keeps them away from their families all day every day? Why do you need a third cup of coffee before you can tolerate someone who is passionate or comes to work with fervor?  Why do you dread Monday morning? Why is enthusiasm linked to a childlike mindset?  Why is enthusiasm linked to innocence?

Maybe it is because we have become habitually out of touch with our true, inner selves. Have we gotten so caught up in the ideas of success and status that we take ourselves too seriously? We are focused on titles, recognition, money, tasks, and material possessions that we have lost sight of what it means to be truly fulfilled. I know the days that seem hard to muster the energy and focus to get through are days when I feel distracted by fears of failure or preoccupied with financial stress. When I feel genuinely excited about an opportunity for connection or to make an impact…I get a rush of energy. I am filled with passion and purpose. I am enthusiastic.  Enthusiasm is light, airy, and energizing. It feels good to be fueled by the essence of enthusiasm.

Back to the original question: How can we harness enthusiasm or create culture shifts where enthusiasm is the norm rather than an outlier state of mind? Now let’s be honest, folks have to buy into the process of creating an enthusiastic culture. But assuming there is buy in, I believe these concepts could create some positive change.

  1. Mindfulness – Without being in touch with your true, inner self, how can you know what will fuel your spirit? What is your calling? What ignites passion in you? What is your soul hungry for? Implementing a mindfulness practice into your day to day life can help you achieve increased enlightenment. Personally, my practice has become very spiritual. My prayer time and mindfulness practice are intertwined. Mindfulness helps to remove the distractions of expectations, insecurity, and stress from my mind and allows me to be still and more in touch with what I value. My ability to be enthusiastic is dependent on my values being protected and engaged in the work I do and the activities I involve myself in. For ideas on how to begin to implement a mindfulness practice, check out my Daily Dose of Mindfulness post.
  2. Trust – Taking ourselves too seriously is a defense mechanism. For people to have the comfort and faith to allow their inner selves to be shown there must be a level of trust. If you have been vulnerable in the past and have regretted this vulnerability either due to disappointment, betrayal, or being made fun of it might be a struggle to allow your true self to be shown. Because I believe enthusiasm is wrapped up in our values, passions, and dreams…I believe that it is vulnerable to wear your enthusiasm on your sleeve. If your excitement is not well received you may develop the need to be guarded. Creating organizational change based on the concept of building trust can be quite the undertaking, a great read to give some ideas about how to make this happen is The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.  However, that doesn’t mean that individuals cannot do their part to serve as a catalyst for change in day to day activities.  Trust yourself and your instincts. If you have enthusiasm about a meeting, connection, or opportunity share it! Enthusiasm is contagious and your willingness to be vulnerable may be the inspiration for others to peel back their protective layers of status and power. This may not always be true, but the right people will be lit up by your passion…be on the lookout for people who perk up when you are enthusiastic rather than shy away or roll their eyes. Their hesitations say more about their insecurities than your potential.  A brief thought on encouraging enthusiasm in your children…LISTEN. When they are tugging on your shirt tail with excitement to tell you something, try your best to pause for a moment and HEAR them. You can be the catalyst that encourages your kids to listen to their inner voice and act on their passions. I know this can be a challenge when you have limited time and limitless responsibilities, but model being still for them.
  3. Turn Towards the Light – I use this phrase often in my counseling practice in many different contexts. I use it to explain cognitive behavioral therapy and changing your negative thought processes. Turn away from the negative thoughts that weigh you down, make a choice to engage in positive and rational thought processes. I also use this phrase when I talk about toxic relationships. What relationships feel heavy, dark, and foreboding? Choose to surround yourself with people who inspire you and reinforce a positive self-image. I try to focus on the concept of choice in the way we feel, think, and behave. We can actively create scenarios that are more uplifting, positive, healthier, etc. Or we can actively choose or passively exist in situations that drag us down, deplete us, or leave us feeling empty. The idea that enthusiasm is something we can actively choose makes perfect sense to me. We can make the choice to implement practices and activities that light us up. We can engage in experiences that keep us excited about life, work, and our families. We can decide to honor our true selves, our set of values, and our dreams. An article from the Technical University of Munich discusses the concept of phototropism:

The growth of plants toward light is particularly important at the beginning of their lifecycle. Many seeds germinate in the soil and get their nutrition in the dark from their limited reserves of starch and lipids. Reaching for the surface, the seedlings rapidly grow upwards against the gravitational pull, which provides an initial clue for orientation. With the help of highly sensitive light-sensing proteins, they find the shortest route to the sunlight – and are even able to bend in the direction of the light source.  “Even mature plants bend toward the strongest light. They do this by elongating the cells of the stem on the side that is farthest from the light. This type of light-oriented growth is called phototropism,” explains Prof. Claus Schwechheimer from the Chair of Plant Systems Biology at the Technische Universität München (TUM).

Plants actively grow in a manner that increased access to life-giving sunlight! If we find the moments that provide that life-giving light, we should actively create increased access to these opportunities. Maybe children are more commonly associated with enthusiasm because they haven’t been tempered by disappointment and expectations. Children are still in tune with their inner selves and naturally turn towards the light.  I hope that each day I have at least one moment that ignites childlike excitement, passion, and enthusiasm in my soul. We should all be so lucky.

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Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

I write and speak often about self-care. Self-care is not always luxurious, but it is necessary. I have said before, it may not be a bubble bath with a glass of wine. It might be more beneficial to spend time getting caught up on paying bills or doing laundry. Having our lives in working order is as much self-care as the moments we take to relax and treat ourselves.  A bubble bath will always be way more enticing than laundry, but feeling  caught up or ahead on the many to-do’s that fill my list certainly takes a load off my shoulders.  Self-care is multifaceted and requires intentional effort. Today, I want to talk about the way we speak to ourselves, the truths we tell ourselves, and the way in which we support ourselves in moments of pain.

I saw a post on Facebook once that seems to come to mind often when I am discussing being kind to ourselves. It said something along the lines of, “Make a list of the things you love…how long did it take for YOU to come to mind?” The goal of the message was to help people realize that they did not think about the importance of loving themselves. How often do you think about loving yourself or demonstrating self-compassion? Do you struggle with the concept of showing yourself compassion?

Kristen Neff authored the book Self Compassion, in this (highly recommended) book she describes in detail 3 elements of self-compassion: 1) Self-Kindness 2) Common Humanity 3) Mindfulness. Neff is clear in distinguishing where self-compassion ends and self-indulgence begins. The best metaphor that I can draw on is that of parenting. When we demonstrate compassion to our children, we do not let them go on feeling sorry for themselves, throwing tantrums in moments of distress, or seeking inappropriate or destructive coping skills.  If my first-born Lennon falls down in softball, I check in with her to make sure she is ok. Given there are no major injuries, I acknowledge her pain but encourage her to keep working hard towards her goal of finishing practice or winning the game. I am kind in my approach with her and allow her the necessary moment to check in with herself and make sure all is well. I do not chastise her or yell at her for falling, but I do encourage strength and bravery as she moves forward from that moment.  When I “fall down” or make a mistake at work, as a parent, or as a wife I, at times, do not naturally offer myself the same kindness, patience, and compassion. I often chastise myself or get stuck analyzing why’s and how’s rather than focusing on moving forward in the moments as they pass. I get stuck criticizing myself rather than acknowledging my own pain and fostering growth and learning from those tough moments.  I get stuck in the cycle of perfectionism and shame, which is the opposite of self-compassion.  However, when I cultivate moments of kind awareness when I am struggling or hurting, compassion pours out of me with increased ease. When I slow down long enough to non-judgmentally recognize the humanity in failure and the inevitability of disappointment from time to time, I find it more natural to move forward with self-compassion.

So why and how does this relate to mindfulness? Now I just (briefly) discussed kind awareness and non-judgmental recognition. That is the essence of mindfulness: taking moments to remove expectation and criticism, to simply exist in the moment. Social Workers are trained to “meet people where they are.” We are taught to remove labels and previously determined expectations. We are taught to actively listen and engage in learning with clients as we assess their language, nonverbal communication, and other cues to help determine a treatment plan. How ridiculous would it be for us to not check in or engage in learning to establish their course of treatment? What if we scolded them from the get go and just advised that they just get their lives together? I would be willing to bet they would NOT be coming back for a follow up session.  So why is it in parenting, in marriage, in a work setting we show others kindness and compassion with ease but we face such difficulty in embracing our own needs with this kind of openness and love?

Maybe this lack of self-compassion is driven by perfectionism or shame?  Perhaps our ideas about what success looks like for us are too rigid. We might have ourselves in a box and falling outside of that box confuses us about our identity or image. Maybe we are terrified of failure? Could it be that we just do not put effort into actively loving ourselves?

Regardless of the hurdles that create a lack of self-compassion in your life, there are steps that you can implement to cultivate increased compassion, kindness, and love in the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself in difficult moments. The first step is to allow moments of that kind awareness that we previously discussed. Meet YOU where you are! How are you feeling in this moment? Receive your feelings with love and let go of judgement.  If you find this kind awareness difficult to achieve, try implementing a mindfulness practice into your daily life. I enjoy guided meditations and use them frequently in my personal mindfulness practice. Having the assistance of a guided meditation helps me hold my focus and set aside certain periods of time where the only goal is presence. The Self Compassion  website has multiple guided meditations that are 5-25 minutes, meaningful, and easy to implement into your practice. I also love The Chopra Center and have purchased multiple meditation experiences that help guide and direct my practice.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it not only allows the space to gain familiarity with yourself it also helps to increase the gray matter in your brain associated with compassion. The Harvard Gazette discusses a study in the article “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain” the findings of an 8 week study of individuals who implemented mindfulness meditation practice into their daily lives. They “found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”  We can exercise and enhance our brain’s capacity to demonstrate compassion more naturally and with ease. That is too cool!!!!

I challenge you to recognize the potential impact of mindfulness and self-compassion in your life. As you gain self-awareness, take time to recognize the tone of your self-talk and your tendency to criticize yourself. Make the decision to change your tone and demonstrate increased love and compassion in your struggles. Recognize that you deserve the same kindness that you show to your loved ones and continue to charge down your path with bravery and strength!

Until next time!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

Cultivate Joy

I recently posted about the importance of intentionally seeking out moments to be grateful and extend gratitude. Today, I want to discuss the idea of cultivating joy. What exactly does that mean? Let’s break the words down together…

The Merriam Webster definitions are:

Cultivate: 1: to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops; also: to loosen or break up the soil about (growing plants) 2 a: to foster the growth of b:  to improve by labor, care, or study: refine 3: further, encourage 4: to seek the society of: make friends with.

Joy: 1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety  2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss 3 : a source or cause of delight

When I think of gardening or farming, I think about the disruption of stasis that is caused by cultivation. Previously protected, guarded, and hardened by the passing of time or from weathering, the ground is turned upside down.  The soft and fertile innards of the soil are left out for all to see. However, this interruption opens the ground to growth and production. The image of my mother planting flowers with my children also comes to mind. Yaya had purchased multiple flats of flowers for her back yard. As they were taking the flowers out of the plastic trays each individual plant was growing in, Yaya explains to them that prior to re-potting they must gently break up the perfect square of soil to which the baby roots are clinging. This is so that the roots can be more open to latching on to the new soil and expanding beyond their previously protected, but limiting, square.   The flower would not have chosen the disruption; it would have been content to exist in the small, safe square. But…the fact that this flower was taken from this limiting space and allowed to experience the vastness of the new pot means that the flower will have the chance to achieve a potential that could not have been possible with its previous circumstances.

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What if our hearts are wrapped up in a similar manner? We have been nourished enough, adapted to our safe places, and weathered storms. We are fixed and in stasis. We are fine. We are safe. We get by each day. We do not need disruption.

But are we experiencing JOY? Are we delighting in each day? Have we cultivated our hearts, opening them up and preparing them to receive opportunities to find all that we desire?

Mindfulness can be vulnerable. Genuinely becoming aware of our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being (or lack thereof) is daunting and scary. It can feel like we are turned upside down and left opened up for all to see. But, I argue, that just existing is scarier.

Sometimes we have to break up the monotony of our daily routines and to do lists to find a more meaningful existence. Over a year ago, I found myself in a state of mind that allowed me to never check in with my body. I would be experiencing symptoms that could be explained by dehydration or lack of sleep and not even realize that my simple, basic needs were being neglected. I was closed off to new relationships. I was suspicious and guarded. And the most difficult pill to swallow is that I was UNAWARE of that state of being. I was caught up in the rat race of life and numbing with busyness. I was desperate for disruption. I needed to begin to CULTIVATE gratitude, joy, delight, friendships, my marriage, my motherhood. It all needed to be gently opened up to growth. I needed to foster the opportunity to possess the joy that I desired.

Status quo is comfortable…I so get it, but it’s also boring and bland. Life hardens us. I think about how full of bliss babies seem to be and then I think about the reality of life hardening us over time. Heartache, trauma, disappointments, grief, etc. create a durable exterior that feels like it could withstand any storm. But just like the earth, opening up our hearts, minds, and souls encourages and fosters LIFE.

In a previous post, I discussed Shauna Shapiro’s lecture stating “what you practice, grows stronger.” I also (OFTEN) refer to Brene Brown’s ideas of wholehearted living. Research shows that practicing mindfulness and living in gratitude fosters increased joy and compassion. We feel more connected when we open up. We feel in community when we speak up. We are more nourished when we remove the barriers that otherwise smother us. And when we practice this art of opening up often, it becomes more natural and easier…we become stronger despite the initial vulnerability required by this way of living.

Today, I encourage you to take a moment to think about your protective barriers. Are these preventing you from truly experiencing JOY, growing your roots, and embracing the potential that life offers? Loosen these barriers and get out of your limiting, plastic containers. Foster opportunities to breathe in happiness and be nourished by delight.

Mindfulness is a great practice that can aide in your journey towards cultivating joy. Mindfulness can create a level of awareness and understanding that allows you to take steps toward living a more wholehearted and joyful life. And I truly believe that we each deserve more than simply existing.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

 

Authenticity vs. Expectations of Others

I often try to evaluate my intention behind messages. I ask myself: What is the goal? Is it kind or necessary? How will this message be received? What personal biases fuel this message? While I find this evaluation and exercise necessary, I also think it shines a HUGE SPOTLIGHT on my insatiable need to be a people pleaser. I, incessantly, insist on making sure I am going to create minimal waves. I want to be warm and fuzzy, well received, and relatable.  This, at times, comes into conflict with my ultimate desire to be AUTHENTIC. Authenticity is invaluable in my opinion. Authenticity breaks down barriers and fosters a level of rapport and empathy that is impossible without an element of raw sincerity. Making waves provokes original thoughts and ideas. What is that quote??

“Well behaved women rarely make history.” – Lauren Thatcher Ulrich

Despite my belief in the value of authenticity and taking risks, I find myself doing this dance with my ability to remain raw.  I want to put genuine thoughts, struggles, and insecurities out there to be consumed and for people to relate to, but I want to summarize my outcries with #askingforafriend. I desperately want people to understand how connected we all are and how much stronger we are together, but I also really want you to believe that I have it all figured out and am good flying solo. What is that? Where does that prideful nature come from?

Just 2 weeks ago, my sweet Maya was hospitalized for the second time in her short 11 month life. This comes at the tail end of a rough year. As a good friend says, a real shit bag of a year.  Maya joining our family was beautiful and just what we needed, I tell our Maya story in my very first blog post. She is pure joy. But because of the unplanned nature of her joy, I took unpaid maternity leave.  My husband and I were also working to keep our family business open during this time; we closed the doors in late summer after digging ourselves into a bit of a hole, or like a gaping and overwhelming hole filled with darkness and debt. Then my husband rocked the stay at home Dad gig for a while, spending precious and unpaid days with our kiddos.  We lost our sweet and far too young cousin, Bailie, in an accident that shook our family to its core; it might not ever stop shaking.  Then hubby got a job, an exciting one that he genuinely enjoys. Yay! Then Maya experiences her first, week long hospitalization for a rough case of RSV. Soon after, my father –in-law receives a long-awaited diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia after struggling for a few years with unexplained symptoms; another moment that rocked our foundation, especially my husband’s. Not only will it change his daily life, it also limits Mimi and Pawpaw’s capacity to keep the grandkids while we work. Each of these moments took an emotional toll, but the unfortunate reality of finances and debt, is that despite heartache and hardship…bills keep coming. Just continuously, every month, without fail.  Maya getting admitted to the hospital again, for an entirely different reason, was just defeating. Watching my baby experience such an intense level of pain and rely on an IV for hydration (again) was no gut wrenching, exhausting, and left me feeling helpless.  But…again, it was also financially devastating. My husband does not have paid time off with his job and I had used mine up for the many reasons listed above.  You can always find me saying “it’s always worked out before and we will figure it out this time,” in these situations but this time I was losing grip on my ability to trust that this would be true.

My friend/co-worker that is privy to the reality of our struggles over the last year, with great thoughtfulness and generosity, launched a Go Fund Me campaign for our family. My initial reactions were: tears, shame, unworthiness, and wishing that I had any reasonable justification to decline this inclination of hers.  Tears because of the kindness this offer required. Shame because not very many people knew the difficult place we had been lingering in and I was unconvinced that I was ready to open this up to the world. Unworthy, because as a social worker, I am keenly aware that so many people are hurting, who I am to ask for help? But ultimately, I could not justify turning down her offer. My kiddos would benefit from a little help from our friends. We would get by with a little help from our friends. (I had to toss some Beatles in here to lighten the mood.)

So it was launched. And people, good and loving people, came to our side and showed us humanity. However, I continued to fight an internal battle with shame. I had a full on shame storm one Tuesday afternoon. This level of vulnerability was tough. This level of authenticity was tough. I felt like I had all my weaknesses and failures out in the open for each and every person to judge and form an opinion on. I wanted to give everyone a hug but hide out for a month all at the same time. A public campaign for assistance is not easy for an introverted, perfectionist. Not. Easy.

But despite my issues, people continued to send love and prayers and helped in so many ways. And did people judge and form opinions? Oh goodness, I am sure they did. But that is the risk with authenticity and vulnerability, there will always be critics and naysayers. There will always be someone rooting for you to fail. And, TRUST, this says so much more about that person and their insecurities than it does you and your willingness to be real. Friends, family, strangers all made me feel worthy. They helped me see that I had a larger community than I ever imagined. It wasn’t only monetary donations that made me feel this worthiness and connectedness; people reached out and sent encouragement in a multitude of way.  I learned a LOT about what it means to love people. I learned a lot about HOW to love people. I learned a lot about what it means to LOVE MYSELF. What I found was that my pride and desire to wrap my weaknesses up in Kevlar came from allowing the expectations of others to drive my decisions too often. “If they see my struggle, they may not appreciate my value. If they see me fail, they may not find me as intriguing. If they see me broken, they won’t believe in me anymore.”

I am not perfect. I do not have it all together. I fall and fail often.

But….

I will always seek to love the imperfect. I will always seek to comfort those who are hurting. I will always do my best to help people get back up and hold their head up high after defeat. And I will do my damndest to teach my children to live with this kind of love.

This experience with authenticity taught me that I need to also love, comfort, and encourage myself despite the ugly and hard to understand realities of life. Perhaps my joy and enthusiasm will continue to be inspiring despite the messiness of life? Maybe even more inspiring? And the people that matter will love me too.  They will see passed the dark and ugly parts of me and help me turn towards the light. The Lotus Flower (the flower depicted in my logo) does just this; it grows from the dirtiest, grimiest, darkest places. It reaches up towards the sun and presents with unique and vivid beauty. Maybe we can all reach high up towards the light and when we cannot get our heads above the muck, a helpful hand might reach out to us and we will get there together?

I am grateful for this lesson and the many people who quickly came to our side when we needed to feel connected. Thank you for helping us hold tightly to hope in our struggle. I thank God for putting the right kind of souls in our path and will pay this love forward every chance I get.

I have been working on this post for longer than I typically work on entries…again, for obvious reasons. But today, Brene Brown shared this image on her Facebook page. It was exactly the courage I needed to share these thoughts with the world.

March Download

(you can download this image at brenebrown.com)

I will forever recommend reading Dr. Brene Brown’s books The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong for those who struggle with vulnerability, getting in the arena, and picking yourself back up in face down moments. Check them out, trust me.

Until next time…

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan 🙂

Mindful Awareness and the 5 Senses

During my counseling sessions, I consistently try to leave clients with a practical tool that they can appreciate the justification and implementation of in their daily lives. Mindfulness feels impossible to achieve in the beginning, but every step towards mastery provides growth and change. I said before, mindfulness is and continues to be a practice for me! I am not a master or a guru. I am simply trying to live my best life and, although, that is laughable on most days…I am still doing my best. I can also tell you that my compassion, awareness, and presence have been forever impacted and improved by implementing this knowledge into my life.

I have previously mentioned the importance of utilizing mindfulness in interactions with my family. One method I use often with my kiddos is to help them tune into their five senses. The senses, like the breath, are relatively straight-forward to tap into when you are seeking a focal point for your mindfulness practice. Despite the seemingly straight-forward nature of using this as a tool, I believe we do not take moments to appreciate what the world may bring before us in this manner. We are horribly distracted.

In a New Yorker article, Joshua Rothman reviews the book “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” (written by Matthew Crawford.)  He discusses Crawford’s description of distraction as making a choice or taking control. Rather than patiently waiting for the light to turn green, I am going to scroll through social media. These commercial breaks are bumming me out; I am going to check my snaps. I am going to listen to the latest episode of The Bachelor while I work because I am not a slave to my 8-5. Crawford says, “Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.” It keeps you busy and less affected by the boring, slow, hard, or tough moments that we face on a day to day basis. I appreciate rebellion. I am a rebel by nature; I love autonomy and do not appreciate feeling controlled. When I feel like I have lost my grip on my world, I will go get my hair changed or a new tattoo. I seek out moments to feel empowered and in control of the situation. But the reality is, more often than not, my rebellion is merely a distraction from the uncomfortable path towards healing what has gone awry to make me feel as though I have lost control in the first place. Perhaps we all should meet the tough stuff head on rather than pour energy into the art of distraction?

Rothman also does a great job of discussing Crawford’s idea that our distracted culture could be the result of experiencing emptiness in regards to our spirituality. We are out of touch and disconnected. To fill this gaping hole in our souls, we become busy. We numb our pain with distractions. Crawford says, “Distraction is the opposite of joy, which becomes rarer as we spend more time in a frictionless environment of easy and trivial digital choices.” Again, perhaps it is time that we tune into ourselves, our souls, our nature, our spirituality and make steps towards feeling and experiencing life more wholeheartedly.

I believe our 5 senses can help us achieve a life with more wholehearted consumption of our immediate and tangible surroundings. This practice can aide in actively removing distractions and enhancing awareness. I often refer to a brief walk into work from the parking lot as I began to practice mindfulness. That particular morning I had a few moments to spare before I needed to get in my office (this is rare…do not be fooled, I am running late 99.09% of the time) so I played a brief guided meditation on my Chopra Center app.  As I walked into the hospital, I noticed vegetation and life that I never previously acknowledged. There was beauty that I was missing each and every day. I did not have a desire to disrupt my peaceful walk with mindlessly looking at my calendar for the 20th time that morning, I just allowed myself to relish in my surroundings.

There are so many moments where drawing mindful awareness to your 5 senses can enhance your experience. How often do you truly breathe in the aroma of your meal and take time to absorb the flavors of each bite that enters your body? When is the last time that you took the time to recognize the way that the warm water feels running down your back in the shower? Have you taken the chance to turn the television off and set your phone down so that you can hear your children laugh and play? How many times have you driven somewhere and not seen any of the beauty between point A and point B? We are missing our lives as they pass us by friends. I challenge you to choose moments and embrace the full experience with your whole heart and your 5 senses.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Going for a walk or run? Try it without the headphones. Implement a sensory experience in something you already make a priority. What do you hear with each step? Leaves crunching. What is the temperature? How does the sun feel on your face?
  • Grabbing a cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning? Take time to feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, breathe in the aroma of your refreshing and awakening drink, enjoy the flavors as they are introduced into your body. Take moments to breathe and enjoy these moments of heightened awareness.
  • Time for dinner? Appreciate the appearance, texture, aromas, and flavors of your meal. Mindful eating has various benefits, not only will it make your dining experience increasingly enjoyable it can help you recognize the point in which your body is satisfied minimizing over eating and discomfort.
  • Having a conversation? Remove distractions, make eye contact, observe the person’s nonverbal communication, and genuinely hear their words. This can remove unnecessary misunderstandings and create a more compassionate interaction.

Tell me what practices your implement and find helpful! I am excited to hear from you. Until next time…

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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Sleep…

I tried and tried to develop a pithy title for a post on sleep. Some ideas I had…”Sleep: A Love Hate Relationship.” “SLEEP: The Forbidden Dance for Mothers of Babes.” “How to Enhance your Sleep Life.”  Let’s be honest, at this exact phase of my life, 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep sounds like the most desirable and sought after thing that I can dream of. If I had 8 hours of uninterrupted and blissful sleep, I think I could probably take on the world. I was ALWAYS an awesome sleeper. I could take a nap anywhere and my sleep started the moment my head hit the pillow at night. But then my precious babies (whom I wouldn’t trade for gold) came along, and they need to nurse at night, or pee at night, or have a drink of water at night. When you multiply those needs times three, they can really add up. I give my lack of sleep credit for weight gain, increased anxiety, and memory loss. What I sought to determine was whether or not this credit was due. Was sleep, or the lack thereof, able to cause such palpable symptoms in my journey towards quality of life, mindfulness, and self-care?

In my research on the impact of sleep in our ability to improve our level of functioning and enhance mindful awareness, I came across a “Whole Health Changing the Conversation: Neuroplasticity and Sleep Clinical Tool” created by the Integrative Medicine Program, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in cooperation with Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, under contract to the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, Veterans Health Administration.  This document is highly clinical in composition, but does an excellent job explaining how the body views sleep deprivation as stress. In my clinical practice, I often discuss the impact of chronic stress on the body. Your body has a natural reaction to what it associates with or as stress. This reaction is preparing you for survival. It dumps chemicals that (if needed) can make you more reactive, faster, stronger, etc. However, when you are not in a situation where you have to run for your life or fight your way to survival, these chemicals can cause damage. These chemicals also keep you awake and alert. So you can understand how stress and sleep deprivation become a cyclical battle. Understanding that your body is equipped this way is fascinating and helps you to understand the importance of stress-management, rest, and healing for your body. This tool also describes why sleep is essential for neuroplasticity:

Neuroplasticity is defined as change in the brain’s structure and function due to experience. The brain was once thought to become immutable after a critical period of development in early childhood. Now we know that the brain is constantly changing in response to experience and disease. Given the fundamental importance of sleep in the biology of all life, it should come as no surprise that sleep has major effects on the brain through neuroplastic mechanisms.

Neuroplasticity is essential for healing, the creation of and maintenance of memories, creating new pathways for information to be processed, and in maintaining overall brain health. Neuroplasticity is what creates the opportunity for a stroke or traumatic brain injury victim to learn to walk again. The brain is literally capable of finding a new route to process information and commands. Can we please take a moment to applaud our incredible bodies and what they are capable of…?

Outside of understanding the science behind sleep and the brain, I also wanted to start a conversation. Am I alone in the world? Who else has this battle with sleep? Is anyone else out there longing for improved sleep? So, naturally, I asked the question on Facebook. I quickly got a multitude of responses. People expressed that they identify with the struggle. People marketed the products they sell that can promote rest and relaxation. People recommended routines and habits that promote resting well. People expressed that they had found the solution to getting 8 hours of sleep with children. Long story short…I am NOT alone in my ongoing journey towards improving my sleep. It was encouraging and provided me with lots of ideas and set out on a whole new path of research and discovery.

Taking from my Facebook conversation, interactions with friends, my personal experience, and research I wanted to provide you with some tips to improve your sleep.

  1. Consult your physician: I always want to make sure that everyone takes their physical struggles to their family provider. Make sure there is not an underlying reason for your inability to wind down. If you feel concerned about blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, etc. it is important to implement self-care but also have an ongoing conversation with your provider to be safe and cover all your bases.

 

  1. Develop a Routine: this for me has been the ultimate struggle as a mother. I am spontaneous and disorganized. However, my ability to stay on top of housework, laundry, appointments, practices, projects, bills, etc. etc. etc. has been dependent on creating a doable level of organization and routine. This is crucial at night. Routines create positive habits, but also create signals that tell your body what is coming next. This routine can be as involved as including dinner time, bath time, one cartoon, warm milk, brush teeth, read book, prayers, lay down. Repeat nightly.  Or it could be as simple as spraying a lavender linen spray or rubbing essential oils on your and your children’s feet to create a signal that appeals to your sense of smell then reading a bedtime story. An important term used in my description of routine is Whatever routine you choose to implement must be achievable for the long run. Similar to a diet (or any lifestyle change for that matter) you want to create a realistic opportunity to be successful.

 

  1. Promote the body’s ability to relax: There are so many ways to achieve this. Multiple folks expressed their belief in the impact of essential oils, using oil on their body or diffusing oils in the room (some specific oils mentioned were cedarwood, vetiver, and other blends specific to essential oil companies.) My family and I certainly use oils; I absolutely believe this is a path to promoting relaxation. I have a lavender and chamomile linen spray that I crave at night now. I love breathing it in and my kiddos love it as well. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can also help. Box breathing, the body scan meditation, or certain music enhances your mind’s willingness to slow down and can aide in your pursuit of sweet sleep. Exercise and nutrition can also play a role in promoting rest for your body.

 

  1. Remove sleep disruptions: I shared wonderful dialogue with a dear family friend Jeannie Nichols, who is also a Licensed Spiritual Healer and Raindrop Specialist about this exact topic: the importance of removing distractions that interrupt the ability for our brain to rest.  For instance, falling asleep with the television on is a sleep deterrent. “The light fluctuation is disruptive to sleep,” says Nichols. I also read an informative article regarding blue light exposure and its impact on our sleep written by Michael J. Breus, PhD a.k.a. “The Sleep Doctor.” I recommend reading the article, “The latest on blue light and sleep” in its entirety. Breus summarizes his thoughts by saying, Nighttime blue light exposure is indeed harmful to sleep and circadian rhythms. And taking steps to manage blue light exposure—including using red light sources during evening hours—can make a real difference.”

 

  1. Be open: Life can throw you curve balls and you might have to adjust your routine or day-to-day priorities from time to time to achieve wellness. My relationship with sleep has been heavily impacted by the introduction of those three precious and dependent souls that are my children. One day they will not be as dependent. One day they may not want to snuggle so close. One day they will be headed out to conquer their own version of the world. I will, then, have complete and total access to 8 hours of sleep and my full short term memory capacities. For now, some 2:00 AM snuggles may not be the worst thing in the world. I fully believe that so much of our ability to cope with life’s trials is wrapped up in our willingness to open our hearts, love others, and love ourselves.

 

So, for now, I will mindfully and lovingly meet the needs of my children and give myself grace as I continue my dance with sleep. Sweet dreams until next time friends.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

 

Megan

 

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Self-Care with Intention

I find myself speaking with clients about self-care regularly in my counseling office. I provide internal Employee Assistance services in the hospital where I work. My clients are helpers, nurturers, shift workers, and are always at risk for compassion fatigue. What I know to be true as a social worker, mother, wife, and human in general is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. I’m less engaged, less empathetic, and less helpful if I’m neglecting my own needs. Self-care is necessary.

When I say self-care I am not only referring to massages and bubble baths…don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a massage literally any day someone offers one, after 7 years of pregnancy, nursing, or co-sleeping I’m pretty sure lower back pain is a part of my personality. Spending some time treating yourself may be exactly what you need, or it may be slightly less luxurious. Self-care may look like creating a budget so the weight of financial stress seems more manageable. Self-care may mean introducing more home-cooked meals or fruits and veggies in your diet if you’re a serial consumer of all things fast food. Self-care may look like getting in nature, feeding your spiritual self, working out, having a GNO (or boys night out,) reading books FOR FUN, writing a blog, or anything else that nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

In an article on Psych Central, clinical psychologist Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, describes self-care as

“essential for achieving his goals. These include being present for his family, engaging fully and empathically with his clients and staying healthy…self-care is anything that affirms and strengthens [his]physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

I love this explanation of self-care. But what I also want to draw attention to is the value of self-awareness when determining what your self-care regimen will look like. When is the last time you really checked in with yourself? Are you feeling frayed, overly sensitive, exhausted, insecure, negative, disconnected? Often these feelings disrupt our ability (or even willingness) to have and maintain healthy relationships. It’s takes away pressure to blame other people or our circumstances for these emotions. It feels good to numb our negative feelings with unhealthy coping skills. It takes sincerity, honesty, and vulnerability to truly determine what is lacking and what aspects of your life require attention and energy. Sometimes recognizing your needs may come easier if you have open communication with your loved ones. Let me set you up for success wit this though…if Cody (my hubby) just approaches me out of the blue and recommended some self-care, it may not be received how he intends. I may react with frustration or become defensive. That’s where “permission slips” come in. This is another profoundly perfect recommendation by Dr. Brené Brown. Give someone you love and trust the space to have a meaningful conversation with you if they recognize that you are overly stressed. Discuss with this person what you look like under more stress than you can handle. I am usually irritable and crave cheese…if I am making microwaved nachos and biting your head off, it might be high time for me to take a moment to check in and see where I’m lacking in the self-care department. If the permission slip conversation happens ahead of time, it will make you feel empowered and in control rather than embarrassed or judged. And the reality is, sometimes the people closest to us see the impact of stress on our personalities and bodies before we even realize what is going on.

Let’s talk about another hugely important reality of self care…it is NOT selfish! As I mentioned before, you CANNOT pour from an empty cup. I am more successful at work and more present at home if I am a healthier version of myself. I need to remind myself of this often. Mom-guilt is real and can hold some seriously irrational space in my brain. It can make me feel anxious and preoccupied with guilt for spending time on me. This robs me of much needed peace and relaxation. My love language is Words of Affirmation, so sometimes (similar to the permission slip i just spoke of) it helps for someone I love to reassure me that it’s meaningful and necessary to take time for myself. The more I learn about the value of meeting my own needs and the more in tune with my unique rhythm I become, the less reassurance I need. I recognize the beauty of feeding my own soul and take opportunities to do so.

My sweet Maya is still in the hospital. We are hoping to head home today but this experience has been tough and exhausting. She was dealing with an excessive amount of pain that robbed her of her otherwise dreamy, magnetic smile. Yesterday was the first day she was more like herself. I was tired and needed some moments alone. I also desperately needed to venture out of the hospital room. I, without feeling guilty or obsessing over the potential of missing a doctor or nurse, left Maya is the very capable and loving hands of her Daddy. I walked around the cheerful and busy hospital and eventually found their meditation room. I spent some time here to practice mindfulness, talk to Jesus, and gain some energy in the best introverted way possible. I knew Maya and Cody could hold down the fort and I also knew that Cody would be headed home to be with our older kiddos that night so the refueling of my engines was needed. It may seem insignificant but it made such a difference for me. I felt more control over my emotions and the ability to continue to extend kindness to wonderful nurses caring for my baby despite my severely limited sleep over the last 4 nights. Here is the beautiful and relaxing space provided for quiet, personal time at Cook Children’s Hospital:

Self-care does not have to be ground-breaking to be profound. Listen to your instincts. The more opportunities you take to truly know yourself, the more meaningful your self-care regimen will be. I hope that you will spend some time figuring out what self-care could look like in your world!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Attitude of Gratitude

Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert, talks about the principle of creating habits in a way that resonates so profoundly with me. “What you practice grows stronger.” If you practice complaining, frustration, shame…those actions and feelings become stronger! You create a level of comfort with these negative emotions in your brain. It becomes natural to react to moments and scenarios in a negative or self-defeating manner. Each and every moment of our lives we are processing information, creating pathways of information in our brains, and conditioning ourselves. It happens regardless of your awareness of whether these information pathways are beneficial or harmful. We can change the brain and the way we process information. There are many examples of this related to mindfulness, EMDR, and other therapies or practices that help to transform our thought process. Another word for what I’m talking about it neuroplasticity.

So now we know that we have the power to change the way our brains function, let’s do something with this power! In a future blog post, I plan to discuss in detail the ability of mindfulness to increase the grey matter in various parts of your brain. Learning to turn inward, check in with ourselves, and become more mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions can be a powerful tool in opening our hearts and improving our interpersonal relationships. Emotional regulation was one of my most needed and sought after personal benefits when I discovered mindfulness.

This morning I had the opportunity to not only watch, but genuinely absorb the news. Let me explain that…we have transitioned to a minimal television environment at home. We cancelled our satellite services and just watch what is available to us through Netflix and Amazon TV. It has led to way less background noise and distraction. I was able to watch the news this morning because my exquisitely happy 10 month old, Maya, was admitted to Cook Children’s last night. It seems to be a gnarly virus that led to a very sick, weak, and dehydrated baby girl. We are here for (hopefully) just a couple of nights to get her hydrated and on her way to a full recovery. Maya was also in the same unit of this hospital for a week over the Christmas holiday. She has been dealt a rough hand of illness in her brief life, but she is a trooper and has won the hearts of many nurses in this place.

So as I’m laying with Maya this morning, watching The Today Show, Maria Shriver begins talking about her new book, “I’ve Been Thinking . . .Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.” Shriver interviews multiple influencers about the importance of gratitude, meditation, focus, compassion, love, and other values in corporations and communities. I loved many things about this segment and immediately added Shriver’s book to my reading list. But the emphasis on gratitude is what really peeked my interest this morning. This brief Today Show article, “Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health,” discusses the many benefits practicing gratitude:

“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”

There are also UC Berkeley and UC Davis studies that discovered the major health benefits of living a life of gratitude. One benefit is a 23% reduction in Cortisol, a stress hormone associated with several health issues.

Maya is sick and that sucks. I’m sad, worried, and preoccupied with the what if’s. But I intentionally take moments to re-focus my energy on being grateful that she is healing and improving, grateful that she has an acute and treatable illness rather than a chronic, life threatening condition, grateful for the excellent care she is being provided, and grateful for my precious husband, family, and friends who make moments like this more bearable.

Focusing on gratitude can be simple! Find a method that fits with your personality and interests. I love the idea of a gratitude journal. You can either create a routine of spending 5 minutes each day writing down things that you are grateful for or maybe just keep a journal handy to write down moments of gratitude as you recognize them. Shriver talks about thanking God each morning for her blessings, I love this and practice this with my babies. There are lots of methods to choose from, the point is to create a habitual practice of viewing life through grateful lenses. To practice gratitude so that your grateful heart grows stronger.

Life is hard. People experience incredible loss and difficult experiences on a daily basis. Having the ability to be grateful and positive isn’t only about “silver-lining” our realities. It’s about making a point to recognize the blessings and beauty amidst the pain. It’s about intentionally turning towards the light. Gratitude is empowering. Gratitude can help us find the calm in what looks like pure chaos. I hope this helps you create an attitude of gratitude! I know I have so much to be thankful for. Thanks for visiting and spending this time with me.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Your Daily Dose of Mindfulness

I started out this journey by sharing a bit of myself with you. Authenticity is of great value to me in my personal and professional life. I hope to keep this space sacred, authentic, and meaningful. I appreciate your open and kind reception of my story and am so glad you decided to join me again. Thank you!

I briefly shared with you the value that mindfulness has added to my crazy, unpredictable, and messy life. It helps me regain control of my emotions on a moment to moment basis. It invigorates the creative side of my soul. This practice has increased my ability to be present and engaged with the people I love the most. I am such an incredibly far cry from perfection in this practice, but I am enjoying the obvious benefits of my ability to achieve presence.

I want to create more understanding of mindfulness and introduce you to simple and practical applications of mindfulness that I have discovered and recommend to clients who come into my counseling space.

Time passes with unforgiving speed and tenacity.  Time is just that…tenacious. It is persistent. It exists despite our ability or willingness to acknowledge the moments as they fly by. We cannot stop the passing of time nor can we slow it down; however, we can implement practices that allow us to breathe in the moments in a way that enhances our awareness? Enhancing our awareness (not only of our immediate surroundings) but of our impact on the world around us and our impact on one another.

According to Huffington Post article, “The Mother of All Parenting Epidemics—the Preoccupied Mind,” the average person experiences 35-48 thoughts per minute. With that many tabs open in our brain throughout each minute of the day, how are we expected to focus on what is right in front of us? Our rapid firing brains seek constant stimulation. We have conditioned our brains to function in a manner that often creates an unnecessary stress response in our bodies. This can lead to health problems, desensitization, anxiety, anger, and many other undesirable realities. Taking the opportunity to control our thoughts, enhance our awareness, and slow our systems down, if only for a few moments a day, can counter the potential risks of cumulative stress. This is precisely what mindfulness can do for us.

The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something or the mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley defines mindfulness as:

maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, out thoughts tune in to what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Mindfulness serves not only as a tool to balance the constant state of stress that we are exposed to, it offers a multitude of benefits. According to the American Psychological Association those include, but are not limited to: reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, increased intuition and insight, increased immune functioning, and increased wellbeing.

I have certainly been able to recognize the tangible benefits in my life. For instance, I am a little less clumsy. If you know me at all, you know that tripping and spilling (most frequently coffee and/or salsa) come with the territory of being in my presence. Come to find out…this can be a telling sign that reveals stress, distraction, or being overwhelmed in general. My mind was often elsewhere. Now that I am able to be more present in each moment, I have achieved a new level of grace. Another seemingly silly but handy benefit, I have not locked my keys in my car in months. This is a more common occurrence in my past than I would care to admit in this moment. Outside of many medical and psychological benefits, it creates less bullshit (I tried to come up with an alternative here, but this seemed to embody my point most accurately) on any given day. Instead of spiraling out of control from a stub my toe and burn my toast kind of morning, I can hit reset and take advantage of the new and fresh moments moving forward.

Ok, hopefully I have you convinced that this mindfulness stuff is worth a shot. Here are some simple, beginning ways to give it a go…When I am helping my children tune in, become aware, and practice brief mindfulness, I encourage them to bring attention to their 5 senses, one at a time. “Close your eyes. What do you hear?…What do you smell?…What do you feel?…Can you taste anything?…Take a few deep and slow breaths. Now open your eyes, what do you see?” This is quick and simple. Anyone can take a few moments and create a level of awareness and openness that gets lost in the mix of our packed schedules. Únother simple practice is the STOP Method. It is a one minute, breathing space that allows you to hit reset. (S)top when you realize you feel that your thought process or emotional reaction is out of control; (T)ake a breath; (O)bserve what is tangible in your surroundings and in your body finally; (P)roceed onto new possibilities.

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I am also a fan of guided meditation for beginners. I will go into further detail about my favorite websites and sources for guided meditation in a later post. For now, perhaps the above brief and straight forward exercises will help you tune in and take control of your moments.

Something to keep in mind: Mindfulness is an excellent tool for moments of anxiety, stress, or anger. However, like prayer, mindfulness is beneficial in times of joy, happiness, and peace as well. Relish is the beauty of your day-to-day life. Breathe it all in.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

Continue reading “Your Daily Dose of Mindfulness”

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful, inner resources for light, transformation, and healing.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

14691913_10102972191156983_4053140346840941566_oPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas

Let me start by telling you what mindfulness is NOT. Let me also provide a disclaimer, MINDFULNESS for me is a practice. This is not something I have mastered or can claim total mastery over. I can tell you a series of moments that made me realize the importance of implementing new practices, new habits, and creating a new normal for me and mine. I had written down (with sincere intention) “try meditating,” “slow down,” “breathe,” “get your shit together,” etc.  You get the idea…I wanted to take control of my time, my mind, and my emotions. I just needed to find the right motivation and the right tools.

One Sunday morning, I found myself filled with fatigue, stressed to the max, and feeling incredibly nauseated — the kind of nausea and anxiety that would appropriately follow a night of drunken debauchery. That was NOT what Saturday looked like for me , though . Not that I can recall with exact detail, but I am quite sure it was a Saturday night full of cartoons, s ippy cup re-fills and trips to the potty . My most valiant attempt at sneaking in some REM sleep between my two sweet,  perfect, and rest resistant children with whom I PROUDLY co-sleep failed. It only took me about 5 minutes of considering the potential causes for this not-so- newish feeling and about 5 seconds of checking my boobs for tenderness to realize….”Oh…here we go again.”

Quick background: We were already blessed with our oldest , beautiful girl, Lennon Hadlee (now 6) and our little, heartbreaking , wild man, Radly Dale (now 3) and had  NO intentions of having a 3rd kiddo . In fact, if I could have talked myself into taking the necessary time off of work , I would have gone through with a hysterectomy approximately  one month prior to conception. My husband and I used natural family planning and obviously had no freaking clue what we were doing.

So here I am…30 and slapped right in the face with how much I did not have control over. I am fighting a lifelong battle teetering between perfectionism and flat – out rebellion. You can imagine how laughable it is to hope for any moments of perfection or true rebellion when growing the third tiny and totally reliant human in my, seemingly, very capable and fertile uterus . And, in hindsight, I would not change a thing because our exquisitely happy and loving Maya Rowan (now 10 months old) was exactly what our family needed.

This loss of control did not only come from the news of expecting again . It came from the mounting stress of trying to breathe life into our family business. It also came from trying to keep my career in focus and explore opportunities for growth and expansion in my skill-set and practice as a social worker and mental health professional. It came from the difficulty of juggling the many hats I w ear and the strain of trying to be all things to all people.

T he raw and vulnerable emotion I was struck with over the next couple of months were certainly the makings of a “face down moment,” as Dr. Brene Brown describes in her must read, Rising Strong. – Now , please, do not take offense to my emotional reaction to my third pregnancy. I have faced loss in life; however, loss related to pregnancy  is not a journey I have faced. As a l abor and de livery social worker, I held hands of mothers, nurses, and doctors who faced  this devastating los s, but the gift of life and children was breathed into me without tragedy. I never — for one second –have taken  this gift for granted. But I d o (and did) have to face the reality of my life going off my planned course. I had to rumble (another Brene Brown term) with what this meant for me, my marriage, my career, and my family in general. The next couple of months led to isolation in various forms . As a true INFP the introverted part of. my personality was clinging to any opportunity to regain energy and get through the days that were otherwise filled with exhaustion, vomiting, and thoughtfulness. I knew I needed to make self – care a priority and develop new coping skills , but I was also exhausted .

During this time, I also started my journey to become a LCSW and began equipping myself with an expanded skill – set in order to offer clients that I would eventually see as an Employee Assistance Provider Solid counseling services. I found Mindfulness Based Stress Recovery to be a practical and straight forward approach to the mediation and togetherness for which I had been yearning. The simple practice  of allowing myself the space to be present with my body and have moments of checking – in without judgment or expectation was and is freeing. It helps me escape the many ties that bound me and allo ws me to proceed into new possibilities with peace and clarity of mind.

I know enough now to realize that being completely out of tune with my body, feeling stressed & anxious 24/7, and having a fuse shorter than I’d care to admit were pretty obvious signs that I was in desperate need of a mindfulness practice. So here I , 32 and continuing to lead a life full of surprises — ups and downs. The key difference now is that I feel like I can truly ride th e highs and flow with the lows because I am no longer clinging on for DEAR LIFE to hang-ups that do not serve me. I experience  counter productive and laughable days full give me more energy and more peace. I am so excited to create a forum for  authentic moments of expression .  I hope that you will enjoy this journey with me. Thank you for readi ng; come back soon.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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27752289_10104143337300723_7195242945544797387_nPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas

Living Mindfully

Good morning!

I just wanted to share the opportunity I was given to be a guest on the Decatur Public Library Podcast. I had the opportunity to define mindfulness, speak at length about the benefits, guide a brief STOP method practice and offer advice about starting your individualized mindfulness practice.

The definition of mindfulness I have devised is, the practice of holding space to offer loving, kind aware as to your present reality.

Recording this was SO fun!! I hope you enjoy and find it to be informative.

 

 

Living Mindfully – Long Overdue Podcast