Willingness for Vulnerability

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I’m sitting in a chair, barefoot and holding a warm glass of tea meant to bring some calm into my life. It’s my first time in this place, a mindful community, and the three others there have been kind and welcoming. I’ve needed this, a sangha. It’s been hard to find one that fits. The task before me is a check-in, much like a therapy group, but without feedback or conversation. Just brief attuned listening. Real space to exist for a moment.

I thought perhaps I’d share something mid-level. In grad school, we used to call it a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the trauma you’d share with a therapist and 1 something you’d share with a stranger. After all, I don’t know these people. I haven’t even decided whether this is my place or my community. Why let them know me?

Ready to share something mostly meaningless, it struck me. A question I ask myself perhaps to often: “What would I tell a client do to?”

I’d probably say, “what would happen if you actually shared how you felt? What might you gain? What is there to lose?”

My turn came. I made the brave choice.

I’m feeling grateful to be here tonight. I’ve been spending so much time trying to take care of others that I’ve forgotten myself. I used to rely on my meditation practice to help me be my true self, and when my daughter was born that nearly disappeared. I let it. And now I don’t always recognize myself. I get frustrated for such mundane reasons and then spiral into shame for not being the woman I know how to be. It hurts. I’m ready to find what makes me radiate again. My daughter deserves to grow up with that version of me.

It came easily. And it reminded me of something I so frequently encourage in others. Shame only holds power when you keep it secret. Letting the air and light in sends the shadows scampering.

Not every place or person is safe. And, if you are standing firmly in an open, willing vulnerability, nothing anyone says can hurt you. You are open and willing, so you examine it, integrate what helps you heal and grow, and allow the rest to fall away.

Naming what shames us is freeing. It takes back the power that shame steals from us. The power we sometimes hand over willingly. It says, no I won’t disappear inside. I won’t hide or fight it. I’ll open the door laughing and invite it in. Only then do I have any chance to let it go.

Is there some shame you might be able to bring into the light? Where might you be able or willing to be vulnerable?

Reach out if you need help.

D

Mothering Is My Mindfulness

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It was something I hadn’t planned but immediately realized the need for: Meditation and Mindfulness during Pregnancy. Somehow I knew that it would benefit not only me and my family but also this little human I had decided to grow. So I set up my area in my bedroom, woke up 5 minutes early, and meditated every day of my pregnancy.

What I didn’t realize, is that it was also what would pull me out of Postpartum Anxiety. We go to the doctor’s office and fill out questionnaire after questionnaire to check on our potential for Postpartum Depression, but we’re never asked about our anxiety.

See, anxiety is a healthy, normal thing. Right now in our culture, we are constantly trying to rid ourselves and others of anxiety. Imagine for a moment, though, life without anxiety. Sure, we’d be peaceful. Yeah, we might stress less. But what about those life or harm threatening moments that anxiety saves us from? What about the places anxiety helps us perform better? … Like in mothering?

That’s right. Anxiety helps you be a better mother. Anxiety encourages you to check on your baby, want them near, listen intently to their stories and cries, keep a watchful eye over their playing to keep them safe and to worry over how they’re developing, feeling, and thinking. Anxiety is useful.

Think of anxiety as a person in your car. They’re keeping an extra eye out, helping you navigate and stay safe in treacherous situations. They serve a purpose, so long as you keep them as a passenger and don’t hand over the wheel. Mindfulness can help make that easier.

Meditation and mindfulness is not just for single 20-somethings out on a personal quest. Nor is it just for monks, nuns, or people without kids who have time for that sort of thing. Mindfulness and meditation is for everyone, including moms. Heck, especially moms.

You can read more about mindfulness here.

Meditation is the formal practice of sitting down and becoming fully present. Mindfulness is the awareness you bring to your daily life between formal meditations. You know those moments when you feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed by the changes, expectations, and daily life workload and your kiddo won’t stop eating the dog food? Yeah. Mindfulness is for those moments so that you can pause making lunches, packing diaper bags, and worrying over being late and kneel down. It allows you the space to check in on what’s really important in those tough moments so you can respond in a way that encourages cooperation and relationship. It keeps us from scolding toddlers who are being toddlers, pleading with babies to just be okay for a minute in their lounger, or power struggling with our school kiddos about whether they should wear jackets.

When you get overwhelmed, pause. Take in a deep breath, breathe it out slower than you took it in. Ask yourself a couple of things:

  1. What is the most important thing? (hint: it’s almost always your relationship with your kiddo)
  2. What do you and/or they need right now? (go realistic- a deep breath? a hug? a 30-second dance/wiggle party?)
  3. What are your options? And which is the most skillful one? (you always have options: you can scream at them, ignore them, power struggle, melt into a puddle of tears, or come to their level, acknowledge their experience, set limits around misbehavior, and steer them in another direction)

I’ve saved the best part for last.

Here’s my favorite part about mindfulness and mothering: it allows me to enjoy it. Not survive it, not simply get through the day. Mindfulness is what makes me love being a mom. It makes me one of those delusionally happy moms we don’t really believe mean it when they say that it’s the best part of each day.

If I’m caught up in thoughts about my house, work, or relationship issues and I have my daughter nearby, I can close my eyes, kiss the top of her head, and breathe in the oatmeal/calendula scent of her conditioner. Suddenly, whatever was happening before that moment is gone. At that moment, I’m home. If I’m worried about her at night, I can sneak into her room, sit by her bed, and listen to her quiet snoring. If I’ve been stressed and disconnected all day, I can use the warmth of the bathwater and the sound of her laughter to melt away stress. I can use snuggle up in the chair story-time to re-connect.

Mothering is my mindfulness.

Could it be yours?

 

Did you know I run The Mom Circle, now at The Family Village? Check out the info on my Services page.

Take care out there,

D

Thoughts Are Like Boogers

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Welcome back to week two! Have you been keeping on top of your exercise plans? If not, stop right now and do five minutes of stretches.

Ready? Okay, then. It’s important that you keep on top of yourself when it comes to doing what I’m asking you to do, even when you don’t want to. In fact, especially when you don’t want to (that’s when you need it the most). As you get further along, you’ll begin to notice that your body needs different sorts of care on different days. Sometimes you need exercise, others comfort, and others company. How will you start to figure this out? Mindfulness.

I often tell people who start with me that if I have two clients with the same presenting issues, one of whom meditates and the other who does not, the one who meditates sees more significant change sooner. Why? Because the more aware a person is, not only of their experience but what is happening around them, the better able they are to process in therapy in order to release difficult feelings and cope.

If you already meditate, make sure you’re getting at least 5 minutes each day. The morning is often easiest, as it’s when your mind is most quiet. If you already do 5 minutes a day, maybe now is the time to make it 10.

If you don’t already meditate, you can start with simple mindfulness activities to ease into it. We often envision mindfulness to be this peaceful experience sitting cross-legged on a beach, hands on knees, whispering “om.” That’s not meditation. At least, not really.

Meditation is the act of recognizing when we’ve gotten lost in our thoughts and intentionally bringing ourselves back to the present. Jon Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.” Meditation is the formal practice, while mindfulness is what we do informally in-between. This being said to explain that mindfulness and meditation are not always awesome. Sometimes they’re grueling, vulnerable, and raw.

This might sound intimidating, but mindfulness and meditation are only grueling, vulnerable, and raw because being human is. Our minds race constantly, wishing for something, remembering something, planning for something. We zombie out on our electronic devices so that we don’t have to face that being human. We fear what our thoughts will become, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear your thoughts.

Why?

Two reasons.

  1. Your thoughts aren’t real. Your mind makes thoughts like your nose makes boogers. You don’t live your life according to your boogers, so you don’t need to live your life according to your thoughts. When we talk about thoughts, we very specifically say “your thoughts,” which means there is a you. YOU are in control. Not your thoughts. You can learn to stop believing everything you think and start feeling in control of your life.
  2. While being human is grueling, vulnerable, and raw, it is also awe inspiring, uplifting, and beautiful. Oftentimes in order to get to the latter we must first gather the gumption to face the former. Life is not all good nor all bad. It is a mix and part of getting control of your thoughts is beginning to create a more realistic view of the world.

If you need a place to start, go with a body scan. I’ll work on recording and sharing some meditations in the next few weeks, but there are a lot of places out there you can find guided meditations (See bottom of blog for apps). Body scans are helpful to begin with because we can use our senses, which helps ground us. The act of feeling our toes, knees, back, or jaw instead of listening to and believing every thought that pops into our heads is an exercise. Think of it as building your mental muscles.

You can also work on just following and observing the breath, without trying to control it. Find the place you feel your breath the strongest in your body (nostrils, chest, stomach, throat) and focus on that one place. No need to count your breaths or change them. You just watch your body as it knows what to do.

Alternatively, you can take a walk and notice, one at a time, your 5 senses. It’s easiest if your walk is slow and deliberate. Similarly, you can scan through your five senses while you brush your teeth (instead of what you probably do, which is review yesterday, plan for today, and worry or wonder).

When you get hooked by a thought, pause, acknowledge it, and come back to your body or your breath. By doing this, you weaken the neural connection that wants you to mindlessly think and you strengthen the neural connection for mindful awareness.

Yes, meditation can change your brain structure.

Any time that you catch yourself in ruminating depressive talk, pause, focus on your breath for three full breaths, and then try to return to your day. You’ll know depressive talk by it’s negative tone. Examples might include, “what’s the point?” “I’m never going to…” “why would anybody…” and any version of you not being good enough. Put a pause on those thoughts.

One last thing. It’s normal to have negative first reactions to meditation. I didn’t like it AT ALL for the first six months. Ten years later, it’s my best friend. Here are 5 common struggles with meditation:

  1. “I can’t seem to do it right.” Don’t worry about this. Any time you recognize that you’re lost in thought, you’re doing it.
  2. “It just makes me fall asleep.” Sometimes this is an avoidance thing your mind does. Other times your body is just trying to tell you it needs more rest.
  3. “I can’t stop thinking!” It’s okay. You’re not really supposed to STOP thinking. Instead of that, make your goal to focus your attention on breath, body, etc. Also, you might find that the moment you sit to meditate your mind lights on thought fire. It’s not that you suddenly start thinking more, it’s that you are now aware just how much you already think.
  4. “I get cramps/tingling/itching when I try.” That’s normal. Again, some of this is a distraction technique your mind will use. Sometimes your nose isn’t itchy, your mind is. Other times you might just be really feeling your body when you normally spend a lot of effort ignoring its cues.
  5. “I get really anxious/agitated when I try.” Normal again. Part of this is the fear that we might not do it well or that we’ll uncover some deep darkness. Again with your intention, work on making your goal focusing your attention on your body or breath instead of trying to calm down.

Now it’s your turn! In addition to more maintainable exercise, it’s time to add meditation to your daily self care routine. Here are some apps to help:

Calm

Headspace

Smiling Mind (Free and has versions for Teens)

Stop, Breathe, and Think (There’s also a kid version)

 

See you next week!

D

The Only Way Out is Through

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I describe it as a monster. Something that you can try to visualize outside of yourself, removing the belief that it is actually something about you that’s flawed. I’ve seen it depicted as a dark cloud following someone around, heard it described as wading through thick mud, and felt what I call the darkness.

Let’s talk about how to get out of depression.

I often use the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. Over and over in this beautiful children’s book, they come across barriers to their adventures. In the midst of each, they repeat “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” That, ladies, gentlemen, and the like, is my prescription for getting out of depression. But what exactly does that mean? Let me walk you through Danielle’s Directions through Depression.

Depression typically wants for you to sit on your bum, binge watch streaming tv, and eat loads of carbs or sweets. It wants you to pull away from your friends, responsibilities, and goals. We used to believe that depression was simply a chemical imbalance, but some have more recently suggested that depression is a spiritual and mental tactic of turning toward yourself to learn and grow. That perhaps depression has a purpose.

Yet, in our current day that purpose seems to get a little lost. Nowadays when we turn toward ourselves, we tend to bring a tiny computer with us so as not to have to face ourselves. But see, that’s our problem. How are we to learn from our depression if we’re unwilling to face what needs to be seen?

The things I’m going to recommend are not going to be terribly novel to you. I’m going to tell you the things that you’ll need to do, and you may hear in your mind, “no thanks,” or “I’ve tried that,” or “that sounds like a lot of work.” My answer to these are the same – I know. I know you’ve probably tried, maybe even for several weeks or months. Maybe you did a little of this, or a little of that. For many people, depression becomes a lifestyle. Changing habits of any kind, let alone an entire way of being, takes effort. It takes countless repetitions, time, and perseverance.

And you know what? You can do it.

Here are the 9 things you need to do to move your way through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug
  6. Sleep Well
  7. Participate
  8. Volunteer
  9. Find the Passion

Over the next nine weeks, I’ll walk you through step by step. As we build this plan together, the goal is to continually add to your repertoire. Week one, for instance, I’m going to tell you to get some exercise. But that doesn’t mean during week two, you stop exercising and start meditating. Each week you’ll need to focus your energy into that week, while also continuing each previous lesson. It builds upon itself until you’ve created a new lifestyle, got it?

One last thing. Each week I’m going to be telling you to do things you don’t, in fact, want to do. That’s the point. You’ll have to do them anyway. You’re welcome to curse my name as you do, that’s fine. So long as you’re still doing it.

If you’re stuck in depression, what’s in your comfort zone is no longer good for you. That might be isolation, binge watching tv, binge eating (or restricting), staying up all hours of the night, feeling victim to your own mind, and avoiding silence at all costs. I’m going to ask you to step outside your comfort zone. Yes, if you’re comfortable, you’re not changing. Let’s get to the magic zone, that place where we do good things for ourselves that are wildly uncomfortable and force us to grow.

It may be helpful to have an expert support you along your path. In order to create lasting change, you have to commit to changing every day for the next two years (and not just the commitment, but the action). If you find that your efforts have been short bursts up to now, reach out for help.

I’ll say it again. You can do this. Time to let the light in.

See you next week.

D