When We Lift Each Other Up

In the lowest points of my life, I would not let anyone in. It was always the safer, easier choice, to stay small and not even bother trying to experience more than I had or more than I was. The feeling of being unworthy or not good enough was so overwhelming that reaching out to others was the scariest thing to do. That level of exposure and vulnerability felt like it would end the safety net of my world as I knew it and everything would come crashing down. Come to find out, there is more truth to that than I would ever imagine–but in the best possible way.

There are times that we are so sure about ourselves and the world around us that we are convinced there isn’t any other way to exist. When I hear students and trainees I work with tell me they are a certain way and incapable of anything else, I recognize their insecurity in themselves like a mirror to my past and I long to connect with them to help light a new way of thinking.

What’s helpful to recognize, I think, is that we are always going to be motivated by our own beliefs. The choices we make and the habits we create, including the people we spend our time and energy with, is almost always going to be a reflection of how we feel about ourselves, what we judge within ourselves, what we think we deserve and what we think we desire. The thing is, our Citta, or heart-mind complex, is full of memories and experiences that constantly influence us and without fully acknowledging them or taking the time to still all that comes up with silence or meditation it can easily be distracted by stories and illusion.

I come across a lot of motivational reminders in social media that focus all the attention on another person or something outside of the self. The quotes might have to do with not letting negative people bring you down, or how to avoid drama or toxic people. What I’ve come to believe is that, for the most part, people treat other people the way they see or feel about themselves and therefore their drama really has nothing at all to do with us. “Misery loves company” is a saying for a reason.

If that is to be believed, then in reality there is nothing to take on ourselves or to take personally from other people. We do not have to own other people’s thoughts or opinions. Furthermore, there will be some situations in which addressing the treatment is necessary and others in which it is our choice to walk away as we no longer need them–and both of these actions can absolutely be done with compassion for the other person and their journey. “Peace be with you” is another saying and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Looking back I recognize that the times I felt the worst about myself were the times I was surrounded by people who challenged and/or intensified those feelings the most. I truly believe that the people we attract and those who we come across in life show up exactly when we need them and at the very least teach us something and vice versa. The question then becomes, do we avoid, criticize and judge the person or do we choose to learn more about ourselves and our own issues in order to grow?

For me, refocusing my attention towards being the best version of myself rather than on the chaos around me has created a world full of unlimited potential, a tremendous amount of joy, and some of the most loving, inspiring, encouraging, supportive people I have ever known. When we lift each other up we lift ourselves up as well and that can make all the difference in how we experience the world.

When we learn that love, compassion, and kindness never run out when we share it with others we hopefully inspire those around us to do the same. Maintaining that intention of embracing that which challenges us can be the most powerful way to generate peace within our hearts. It is up to others to choose that path for themselves and if they do, we potentially create a cycle of healing that continues on throughout the rest of the world. It’s because of this that I can’t imagine a better way to support ourselves and our own healing than to continuously share that peace with those around us as much and as often as possible.

Busting a Few Myths About Healthy Living

When I started this blog six years ago I was just looking for a platform to share my thoughts on healthy living. As a young teenager, I watched my dad suffer from Type 2 Diabetes and then suddenly pass from Pancreatic Cancer and so I became impassioned about the idea that I could have helped him in some small way. Because I remember fleeting moments of his attempt at “healthy living” and the sadness and misery he seemed to experience in the context of my naive perspective, everything I have searched for in regards to health has been to improve and create balance with more than just the physical quality of life but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual as well.

As it is my passion and, what I believe to be, my life’s purpose to share ideas and hopefully inspire others to live in a healthful way I often find myself in conversations about the idea of health. What I realize more and more is that our society is filled with myths about what healthy living looks like and until we can let go of these false beliefs, we won’t all see the potential we have to live optimally.

Myth: Being healthy means being skinny.
Truth: At our healthiest, overall state we will all still have different body shapes and sizes.
It is inaccurate to assume that a skinny person is a healthy person and vice versa. People lose and gain weight for lots of reasons including mental and physical illnesses I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Because we are all unique in how we build and store muscle and fat, judging a person’s “health” or “fitness” by their weight or even BMI is insufficient and simply doesn’t tell the whole story. This is why I see little worth in celebrating or congratulating someone on any amount of weight-loss. The truth is, it’s not always obvious how one loses weight and I would never want to encourage someone to damage their body, heart, and/or mind with extreme methods just to wear a smaller clothing size or feel valued in such a superficial, insignificant way. I truly feel that treating ourselves and others with kindness is a much better measure of healthy living than the shape or size of our bodies.

Myth: Healthy eating means consuming foods and drinks you don’t enjoy.
Truth: Foods and beverages are meant to nourish us, provide satiety, AND satisfaction–it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
I personally don’t believe there is anything “healthy” about eating something you don’t want to eat. The effects on our psyche when our body, heart, and mind are in such disagreement is just the beginning of why diet culture has messed with our society for far too long. Conversely, the idea that you aren’t being “healthy” if you decide to eat something you do enjoy is just wrong. The way we demonize food just adds a sense of taboo that makes us want to indulge in it more and then we punish ourselves with over-restriction and negative self-talk and the cycle of dieting just goes on and on from there. Sound familiar? I know it does for me.

Myth: I should work out to lose weight even if it sucks and I hate it and I keep getting hurt and it makes me miserable, etc….
Truth: Being physically active is more effective and sustainable when it’s something that makes me feel good and something I enjoy doing.
Similar to eating for nutrition, fullness, and pleasure, I don’t believe there is anything “healthy” about any physical exertion that isn’t in some way enjoyable. The thing is, some people will try being physically active for one reason–to lose weight–and then that creates a series of pitfalls that will cause them to suddenly stop. By being motivated just to lose weight some will go too hard, too fast and then injure themselves rendering them unable to continue for some time and so a steady, healthy habit is never created. In other cases some won’t lose weight fast enough and then they feel discouraged to keep going at all because they are only motivated by that one thing.

It takes time for our bodies to figure out what we’re doing when we change our lifestyle and going from one extreme to another won’t ever change us overnight in a safe and healthy way. What’s more effective is for us to try as many physical activities as we can and explore ourselves and our bodies. If we get to know who we are again with an open curiosity as we once had as children we can then keep doing the things that spark something inside of us because it’s fun and we feel better because of it. Becoming physically fit, whatever that looks like for each of us, will then be a side effect of the self-care lifestyle we have created by searching for inner joy instead of something as meaningless as weight-loss.

When I recall memories of my dad and the little time I had with him relative to my years as an adult, I try to remember him at his best. I envision him at his happiest, with the most joy, and peace as I can. But the moments that I remember him in pain, sad to be measuring out food he didn’t really want to eat, and as I think about all the things he could have invested in during his last few years are what motivates me today. I do not wish that misery on anyone. When I recognize the physical, mental, and emotional challenges I see in others I want nothing more than to help inspire and encourage any amount of change. As a teacher, writer, and advocate for truly healthy living, it is my hope that I do.

Healing Through Community

There was a time in my life that I felt like I had nothing but questions and absolutely no answers. I found myself alone, in a relatively unknown town, questioning who I was, what I was doing, and why I kept making decisions to repeatedly get me in situations where these same questions kept coming up. I felt like I was trying really hard to understand what I was doing “wrong” to keep feeling so lost. Even with years of therapy under my belt, I still felt completely clueless and had no direction.

This is the downward spiral that has a way of taking us deeper and deeper into more of the same stuff. It’s easy to get stuck in a loop in our heads. The mental patterns of questioning why things are the way they are then grow into feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and instability–all of which stem from the judgment of the situation and the self.

What almost immediately follows that judgment is an overwhelming feeling of shame and embarrassment for who we are, where we are, and the false idea that we “should be” someone or somewhere else. It is because of this shame that we often find ourselves unwilling to open up to those around us. We may even find a desire to shrink back into ourselves, not willing to come out, to be known, or to be visible to the world.

If we can find the courage to break out of the false security that we feel when we hide from being seen by others, we find the power of healing through community. First we establish with ourselves that we are worthy of being seen and heard, that we matter, and that we have value. Then that belief feeds into those we spend our energy with from day to day. The community that helps us to heal will be one that challenges us but most of all one that helps us to feel safe to be who we are, one that we can trust, and one that helps call us out on our own stuff in order to help lift us up.

It is through connecting with others that one first begins to understand the principle of Ahimsa which is the practice of non-violence or non-harming. On some level we understand early on that there isn’t a benefit to harming those around us. Even as children, we know we need each other and we don’t want to see each other hurt. We know on a deep level that we are stronger together than we are on our own and it is a natural desire to want to connect. What’s fascinating is that many of us are better at identifying harm towards others more than we are at seeing how often we harm ourselves.

The practice of Ahimsa absolutely includes refraining from physical violence to those around us but what about the more subtle ways we hurt ourselves and others? The way we tell our stories, the way we gossip, the words we use in thought or in the form of a joke, the way we treat and talk to ourselves and each other are also significant parts of this practice.

Being part of a strong community that encourages support, that helps to lift each other up, that gently calls each other out for falling back into unhealthy patterns, that understands kindness and love can be more powerful and extremely terrifying at the same time is, in my most humble opinion, absolutely essential to self-healing.

Without allowing ourselves to open up, to share that which scares us the most, we can easily stay stuck in our heads, playing the same loop of thought patterns that have us convinced that we are alone and no one else will ever understand. By avoiding the discomfort of vulnerability we also miss the opportunity to test our true courage, the choice to strengthen our resolve, and ultimately to let others in.

Because self-love and self-acceptance can often be found first in how we treat one another, take a moment to recognize if you are talking to yourself the same way you would someone close to you. Remember that you are worthy of the same kindness that you afford others. If you find yourself without a community in which you feel safe and that you can trust, notice first your beliefs about yourself, your value, and your worth. Those who are meant to support your journey of growth will reveal themselves to you in time but it will be up to you to do the work, make the effort, and let yourself be seen.