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Penny for your thoughts…

Yesterday I was sitting at the kitchen table with a pensive look on my face, when Tom asked me, “what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about the collective unconscious,” I told him. “and how it relates to dreaming. I read that dreaming and REM sleep comes from a very ancient part of the brain, and I wonder if that means that our original state of consciousness as a species was a state of collective unconsciousness, and then a sort of individual dream state, and then there was the development of an individual consciousness?”

(For those of you who like reading about dreaming and the brain as much as I do, this is a mashup of ideas from Jaak Paanksepp [REM sleep originating from an ancient part of the brain] and Carl Jung [the existence of the collective unconscious and how mythological symbols arise in our dreams from that collective unconscious].)

“Why don’t you blog about things like that?” he asked me.

Good question.

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I have deactivated my facebook account.

I am giving up on writing nice tidy SEO blog posts.

I am reclaiming my ability to concentrate and get things done.

I am going to be honest about the fact that I am going through a fairly major transitional crisis right now. Like the crisis that triggered my Playful Self-Discipline project five years ago, but cutting closer to the quick this time. How do I want to show up in the world, in my closest relationships, with myself? What can I take responsibility for? What is the responsibility of others?

There have been times that I have been doubled over with pain (emotional pain, but pain nonetheless), thinking that having a natural childbirth was easier.

This is where Practice meets Heart. And where the practice is both softening into accepting what is, and sharpening my focus on exactly where I want to go.

 

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Feeling Better, Feeling Worse

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Claire and I started the Autoimmune Paleo protocol in July 2014. One of the things that I struggled with so much in the months that followed was the heightened response that we had to foods that we used to eat with what seemed like no problem. I used to eat almonds daily, but months and months would go by and each time I tried reintroducing them I would have symptoms – restless legs, pain in my shoulder or finger joints, tweaky pain in my inner ear, skin rashes.

The reason for this is that when we eat a trigger food constantly our body tries to cover up the reaction. The reaction is still happening, but we don’t notice it as much. When we remove that trigger food and the reaction stops, the cells that are responsible for covering up the reaction are replaced with new cells that no longer know how to cover up the reaction. If we eat the food after an elimination period, we experience the full force of our body’s pain and discomfort.

I also started learning about Non-Violent Communication and Empathy about six months before starting the AIP, in November 2013. The first time I received an empathy guess that really worked, I could feel my entire body shift. There was a lightness. I could sit up straighter. I felt like the world was a little brighter, like I woke up in that moment. I started practising empathy every week with an empathy buddy, and started learning to pay attention to how my emotions showed up in my bodily sensations.

Giving and receiving empathy was the emotional equivalent of doing the AIP. I started clearing out things that were causing pain, and feeling good more and more often. But the flip side was that now I was really feeling my emotions, way more intensely than before. The mechanisms that had been suppressing them had been dismantled, and now the full force of my emotional pain and discomfort was accessible to me.

There are days when this seems like it was a bad idea. When an accidental bite of red pepper results in headaches and joint pain. When a seemingly innocent remark from someone else results in a spiral of shame, anger and self-hate that takes days to resolve. What is the value of noticing that in its full glory?

There’s a saying in Psychotherapy – you have to feel it to heal it. And I would add that you also need to feel it in the supportive presence of someone who can hold the space for you, whether that person exists beside you in real time and space, or exists in your brain as the experience of being held in that way earlier in your life.

We can’t heal triggers that we don’t know are there, whether they are food or emotional. It takes time, and self-care, and patience. The process is subtle and gradual sometimes. But eventually foods that used to be triggers are digested easily. And situations that used to cause emotional distress are navigated with ease.

I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m on my way.

 

 

 

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Teaching Kids About Personal Boundaries

I’ve been thinking a lot about healthy relationships lately, and as often happens when I’m really focused on something, I’m seeing it pop up everywhere around me. Right now that thing is personal boundaries.

What are boundaries? Personal boundaries are the ability to take responsibility for your own emotions, and to not take responsibility for the emotions of others. My husband sent me this article about boundaries, and it’s a great overview of what boundaries look like in adult relationships such as a partnership, friendship or work relationship. It really started the wheels turning in my head and got me thinking about my own ability to maintain healthy boundaries.

But you know what? Kids can have healthy or unhealthy boundaries too. They learn this implicitly, of course, by being in relationship with their parents and other adults of influence in their lives.

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The other day I got a crash course in my own kids’ personal boundaries. I came upstairs to ask the girls to turn off their computer games, and this request triggered intense screaming and anger from my youngest, who is 6. I mean, yes, I understand that she’d rather keep playing Minecraft or Crayon Physics, but this was life-or-death shrieking and rage. I also know that extreme over-reaction = a pretty good clue that something deeper is at play, but at this point my willingness to stay and find out what was really going on was low. Like pretty much non-existent. I closed the door and let her rage for a few minutes while I rode through my own emotions: (frustration, anger, violent thoughts, desire to check out and do something else, guilt at leaving her alone in her big emotions). When I was ready I went back to her and checked in to see what was going on.

Turns out that Claire had followed Bea’s suggestions of what game to play and which things to do while she was playing, and then handed over her game to her sister for a considerable amount of their allotted screen time so that Bea could help her get through some tricky levels. “Bea is being mean!” she screamed. “I didn’t really want to play that game but I said yes because she asked me! I thought she would be mad if I didn’t let her play! AHHHHHHHHH!”

Hello, opportunity to learn about boundaries.

In order to not allow others to overstep your boundaries you need a few things:

  1. to actually know what you want
  2. to believe that you are allowed to choose for yourself and that it’s safe and OK to get what you want
  3. to be able to check in and see if a request from someone else matches up with your own wishes, or if it is something you can freely give with joy

This is what Claire needed to be able to do. She gave in to her sister’s request because she wanted to “be nice”, but then she was ultimately disappointed that she didn’t get her full amount of time to play her own game. Sound familiar?? I’ve been here myself for sure.

The flip side of boundaries is knowing how to find your own power without overstepping the boundaries of others. This requires a few things too:

  1. to actually know what you want
  2. to believe that everyone has the right to self-determination and is entitled to make their own decisions
  3. to be able to take responsibility for fixing your own problems and owning your own feelings, without trying to fix others or getting them to fix you

Once you start looking, you might see blurry boundaries in all kind of relationships. They often come in pairs:

  • the victim and the fixer
  • the giver and the taker
  • the controller and the doormat
  • whenever you get sucked into being “guilt-tripped”

Blurry boundaries can be cultural, and can also be inherited from our own families of origin. If you notice this kind of intergenerational pattern, be gentle with yourself. When we are small we adapt to fit what our family expects of us, and this is something our brains do to protect us. It keeps us safe when we are small, but can be stifling when we grow up and then feel stuck in those same patterns. In order to break the pattern we need to be able to notice that it’s safe to make different choices now, and then practice doing that in a safe environment with supportive people.

It can feel somewhat cold or uncaring to think about setting good boundaries, but unless we are truly giving out of joy and receiving with gratitude, resentment and a feeling of dis-empowerment can build up in our relationships over time. Good boundaries are a source of personal strength and self-esteem, and help us take responsibility for the direction of our lives. Goodness knows those are things I want for my kids, and things I’m working towards for myself too.

 

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2016: The Year of Heart

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The past couple of years I’ve chosen a single word as an intention for the year ahead instead of making resolutions. For me, lists of goals and resolutions are easily abandoned, but a single word follows me through the year in a more fluid way. I also find it easier to hold a single word more lightly, letting it be a guide but not something that determines my success or failure.

2014 was the year of Harvest, which unfolded as a year of working to improve my follow-through on projects and gratitude for the bounty in my life.

2015 was the year of Practice, which kicked my butt in many ways. Practice is hard work! But I loved having Practice as my intention because it wasn’t about being successful, it was just about getting in there and working at it. If I was honestly trying, I was practising. In fact, Practice was such a great intention word that I considered keeping it for a second year in a row. I never really want to give up my practice. So this year’s word is layered over top.

2016 is my year of Heart. As I was reflecting on possible words and intentions to choose for this year ahead, the word Heart came up and I simultaneously felt a strong draw and resistance to it. That’s my cue to dig in. Well, I sat with that resistance for a few days before deciding, but that mix of strong feelings usually means I have something juicy to learn there.

Why the resistance, I wondered? Isn’t Heart a lovely thing to focus on for a year?

Yes, some things in the heart are lovely and warm and sweet. But there’s also vulnerability and hurt and smallness. There’s honesty. And pain sometimes. There aren’t really many places to hide when your heart is out there in the world.

This is my practice.

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A pause at the end of an exhalation

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These days around the solstice feel like they are suspended outside of time. Like the moment between the end of an exhalation and the beginning of an inhalation; a pause at the turning of the cycle.

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2015 was my year of Practice. I practised a lot of things: being vulnerable, tuning into my emotions, playing the ukulele, singing, giving empathy, showing up truthfully, working through conflict, doing yoga. I cried a lot. I came face to face with a lot of my own stuff. It was hard.

I also made a lot of progress. One day my heels actually touched the ground during downward dog. Another day I was able to ask for a specific kind of emotional support when I was really hurting and actually felt better afterwards.

Woah. Growth is possible. Healing is possible.

Practice actually works.

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I feel like 2016 is going to be a turning point. I’m already feeling the shift out of little-kid land. Claire’s got her big teeth now, and the girls have a checklist on the fridge of things they each need to do before they can play Minecraft. Bea’s going to go to school part-time starting in January. I’m registered to take Psych 388 Introduction to Counselling by distance education starting in January.

I’m starting to feel the first twinges of nostalgia for the days of play-doh and afternoon naps. But I’m trying not to linger there, because then I might miss fully living these days that have their own kind of magic.

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I’ve been mulling over what my word for 2016 will be. Honestly, I feel like Practice could be my word for the next 10 years and I would still be reaping the benefits. What else is there to do but continually practice?

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That’s what these in-between days are for. Mulling. Celebrating. Resting. Taking stock and setting new intentions.

A pause before the next inhalation begins.

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