Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Time Expectation for Change

I’ve recently experienced an “ah ha” for myself in the change process, that is in changing habits.  I’ve had digestive issues for a long time, in the realm of constipation.  About three and a half years ago, my grandmother, who was in her late 80s, was rushed to the hospital and had emergency surgery on her colon, which was blocked. To me, it’s reflective on her life long battle with the same digestive issues I’ve experienced.  Yes, she is late in her life, but it made me wake up to the realization that I need to seriously commit to addressing this physical issue for it to change.

I decided to go the route of Ayurveda as I had started to explore this approach when I was living in India.  I met with Julia Clarke, who is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner in my community (highly recommend her).  I participated in a group cleanse and then tried in incorporate certain parts of the diet into my daily life. I did another cleanse on my own, after meeting with her again a year or so later.  I also sought out some help through doing a number of colon cleanses.  My sadhana or daily yoga practice has included slower asanas, pranayama (breath work), slowing my mind down and affirmation that I repeat throughout my day.  I’ve also been using essential oils specifically recommended for this condition. This combination of practice, which addressed working in all the koshas (sheaths), has slowly but surely been starting to change my struggle with constipation.  Not only physically, but also the mental and spiritual ”blockages.” 

In the past, any slight change in routine like being outdoors all weekend or being in a different house, would disrupt elimination in my body.  It really sucked.  My thoughts were constantly about this, which would create even more stress and anxiety.  When I would travel long distances to other countries, I was prepared for hell in my belly because “it was just how it is.”  

Deciding the suffering approach was no longer going to work and was not going to be helpful in long term health, I became committed to eliminating constipation from my life.  With the above daily practices over the past three years, there has been change for the better. 

My “ah ha” moment (s) have come over this summer.  Going backpacking with friends and being regular the entire time.  Traveling to Canada and being regular.  As a well as realizing I haven’t been thinking about it as much or stressing about it as much.

In this, I feel like I’ve gained some wisdom around truly the time is takes to make change in our long standing habits.  It takes commitment to practices towards change and the acceptance that it will take years, not weeks or even months.  Even changing that perspective is a slowing down.  When I expect things to change quickly, it causes more stress when it’s not happening quickly.  When I accept I’m going to make this change no matter how long it takes, there seems to be more calm and peace with the process…which I’m sure ultimately helps change even more.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Put on your oxygen mask first

"You're afraid your relationship will end if you don't go on a bike ride?" my dear friend, Carly reflected back to me recently.  I laughed.  It's true, my mind has been stressing over this ridiculousness for the past year and a half.

This moment was such a good example of how the mind, MY MIND, creates worry, tension in something that isn't real and it keeps me from being free to grow towards my own truth.  This distraction of how to balance my partner's perceived wants and my assumption about the foundation of our relationship has, at times, kept me from my sadhana, kept me from being present, and kept anxiety and tension coursing through my body - which has caused negative physical issues to occur.  This realization after talking with my friend, immediately resonated with lightness, release in tension in my body and mind, and clarity on what I need to do to continue growing on this spiritual path.

I naturally fall into the caretaker role.  Growing up I took care of my parent's relationship.  A desire to help others from a very early age.  Mediating between friends since I can remember.  Being a counselor by trade.  This is a wonderful part of myself as long as it comes with the balance and clarity of myself.  The dark side of this rears its head when I help to excess, put others before myself, think I  have no value without this role, overbook myself.  When I use it for what it's really meant to be my own self-transformation and caring for myself, the flow of life releases and things just happen.  When that darker side comes out, I'm stressed, - literally my body reacting like it's holding the weight of the world on it's shoulders - running ragged and feeling like there's never enough time.  Some lessons that have helped me:

1)  SLOW DOWN.  I can not stress this enough.  Ever notice that when you aren't able to do this, your body conspires to force you into slowing down through illness or injury?  We are rushing too much and for what?  To be enough in the future.  We are enough, period.  Our minds get so caught up in the "game" of illusion that we believe the material world will solve everything.  The sneaky thing is that it's that very race to accumulate that creates our misery of stress and anxiety and leading to feel more and more "not enough."  Slowing down allows space in our daily life to become aware and make conscious choices that can lead to more peace and contentment.

2) PRACTICE or SADHANA.  My guru, Prasad Rangnekar, states this over and over.  Those practices that help to create awareness and allow us to slow down are what I've found to help me take responsibility for my reactions in daily life.  Today, as I write this, I sit in Hibbings, MN, never a blip on my radar before.  I'm on my way home from a workshop in Canada with my guru.  Just as I stepped through security in International Falls, MN, the flight was cancelled and the adventure began.  Watching everyone around react with anger and stress, I knew I had a choice.  This situation has happened and I can be upset or accept this reality and see this as an opportunity to 'chill out' and practice.  By going with the flow, my body's stayed relaxed, I've been able to nurse the cold I acquired, and enjoy the peace of the day.  In the past, my mind would have shot into the future, worried and worried, dwelled and dwelled, and created an alter reality that doesn't exist.  My daily sadhana has helped ground me and meet challenges with more objectivity and seize the moment.  Why not just enjoy the challenges, which actually ends up dissipating the "challenge" since it's a label my mind created.  Just like smiling when in Utkatasana helps the body and mind relax into the pose.

3) BREATHE.  Breathing longer, deeper breaths helps to create space in the body and the mind.  It literally jolts the brain out of its flight or fight response so you can think more clearly and objectively.  Try it on the mat.  Hold the breath in any pose. Then take long breaths with a focus on lengthening the exhale.  Notice what happens.  It's been life changing for me.

You owe it to yourself to use kindness, compassion, and care taking towards yourself.  These powers are worthless otherwise.  Just like the safety talk on an airplane - you need to put your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Facing the Tension to Move Through and Discover the Truth

I recently had a day where I was struggling with my old ‘buddy,’ anxiety.  For me, it’s a racing mind, jumping around about all the things I need to do, muscles tightening especially in my shoulders and jaw, and it’s hard to sit still, especially to just breath…which is exactly what I need to do to bring my mind back to the present moment.  I was starting to teach a new class that day, so my anxiety was centered on this.  I went to work at the mental health center that is my main occupation.  Between seeing clients, I would notice the tension in my body and do some gentle stretches and take deep breaths.  It helped to keep the sensations manageable.  I had about an hour between the end of my work day and the beginning of the yoga class.  So, I went for a walk to take advantage of the beautiful day.
I walked slowly and deliberately along a beautiful creek. Taking some breaths I asked myself, “what is underneath all this worrying!”  I looked at my surroundings…the green grass, budding trees, gently running water.  Then I found it…self-doubt.  “Am I good enough?”  That sneaky thought  that has kept me from doing things in the past and creeps in when I start something new or push my comfort zone.  So, I put it out to the universe, “Am I good enough?”  Instantly, looking at the spectacularly green grass along the path, I heard, “Is the grass good enough?”  I laughed because that’s such a ridiculous question.  Grass is grass, it is what it is, there’s no such thing as grass being good enough.  I looked around and realized it was true for everything I saw.  I almost laughed out loud. It’s a ridiculous question!  Even about me.   
I have to admit, I’ve been catching that rascal of a belief trying to rear its head a few times since then as I’ve been taking on new endeavors.  But now I’m able to come back to that moment to remind myself that “good enough” is irrelevant, not even a question worth putting time into.  No different than any other living being, I am what I am and don’t need to be anything else.  It will take practice but the seed of this new understanding and the unlearning of the untruth have begun.

Question your thoughts and beliefs as they are most likely a storyline that’s ridiculous in many ways.   And, the truth will be obvious because it will fill you with a sense of peace.  Untruths bring fear, anxiety, and negativity.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Purpose of a tree

Purpose or Dharma has kept creeping into my life.  Thinking about my purpose can get me reeling and feeling lost.  So, I've been thinking about the purpose of trees.  I've been using medicinal grade essential oils/ essences regularly over the past year. First to address immunity and then slowly other physical ailments.  They've been wonderful to work with and have helped me so much.  I'm drawn to the fir/spruce essences.  In using them, I've been more aware of their presence around me in the environment. Sometimes I've talked to them during my ski touring this winter, thanking them. It's made me contemplate their purpose.  I keep coming back to the word 'giving.'  They give and give and give.  They are part of the earth ecosystem that allows the air we breath to bring life to so many other beings.  They are homes themselves, resting spots and provide housing materials for us humans.  Their roots hold the top soil for other plants and trees to grow. Their essences are healing.  Everything about them is love.  I'm reminded of the book, "The Giving Tree," by Shel Silverstein. In this book, a tree and a boy become friends. As the boy grows, what the tree provides changes.  The man struggles with his own purpose, confused and the tree gives and gives, all along just wanting the man to be happy.

Trees aren't pondering if they have enough leaves or are tall enough.  They aren't pondering if life is better on that other hillside on that other mountain.  Aspens aren't wishing they were lodge pole pines or spruce trees.  They just are.  Their dharma is to grow and give, to be their part of the earth ecosystem in order to sustain all other beings.  They have been an integral part of the earth ecosystem since life exploded onto earth.  Species of trees have come and gone, but trees and plants continue to sprout forth, being part of the whole, sustaining life.

Trees also have to receive in order to keep growing and keep helping.  They need the sunlight, the rainwater. They also need forest animals to help spread their seeds.  Some need fire in order to open their seeds for the next generation to take hold.  They seasons to go through their cycles of growth and rest.

So when I come back to my own purpose or dharma, thinking about trees makes me wonder about my part in sustaining the whole.  I'm a natural helper and giver, but I know that I can do it in a way that's not sustaining, it's draining and then my system shuts down, unable to give. It takes vigilance, awareness, practice to find the balance between give and receive.  I can't always be the helper and embracing this (the moments it happens) actually helps me to be the best helper, reach higher potential.  When I don't embrace this my body, mental state and spiritual being are all compromised.  The less negative talk and self-judgement, the more space for self-love and compassion, and feeling peaceful, content starts to happen more and more.  I'm learning that purpose isn't an outcome or a destination, it's an ebb and flow...changing but ever moving me closer to being part of the balance of the whole.  For us humans, we seem to be moving further and further from this with our fast paced life, attachments to our screens of every size, and disconnecting more and more from interactions with each other, with nature, with the whole.  We cannot exist without all other beings and we are not superior.  We have our own special part and our purpose is truly to connect with our special part of the whole.

Just like the trees.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Identity Crisis

Identity: “who someone is; the name of a person;  the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different.” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

Crisis: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention.” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

When looking at these definitions, an identity crisis is when the belief or qualities that we define ourselves as “who we are,” are challenged, changed, lost, etc. and our minds perceive this as a highly, dangerous situation (maybe even life or death) that shuts us down.

I had one of these periods in 2003-04.  I was in my mid-twenties and enjoying life. I was an avid rock climber, defining by self as “rock climber.”  “Hi, I’m Twyla and I’m a rock climber.”  I lived to be out on the rock any spare moment, month long climbing trips in the spring and fall between seasonal jobs, I was good at it, it fed me, I loved it.  I loved it because it was just me and the rock.  Having to work through my own thought and emotional ups and downs, facing my fear, working through a climbing “problem.” It felt so good to figure out how to work through moves and make it to the top.  Building trust with my body and my mind.

I was transitioning to graduate school that summer.  Driving from Alaska, where I had spent the winter with my dad and step-mother, and heading to Fort Collins, Colorado.  With a climbing partner in tow, we stopped in Squamish.  Land of granite.  I was so excited.  It was a challenging place for me, not used to slab climbing (using friction to keep your feet and hands on the wall rather than holding and standing on prominent features in the rock).  I also got to try some crack climbing, which I was just getting comfortable with.  A few days into it, I was climbing a harder climb, when I heard a “crunch” from one of my fingers.  I had done something to a tendon in one of my fingers, making it sore and needing to take a break.  I was done climbing in Squamish for this trip.  So we packed up and headed to Idaho, where we met some other climbing friends at City of Rocks.  A couple days had passed and I decided I could still climb, but needed to be more mellow due to my finger.  I jumped on a climb the first day, about half way up, hear heard a “pop” this time. I knew I had really hurt my finger.  I was bummed.  I ended up supporting my friends as they climbed more and I just looked on.  

It was a small injury that started a shift, a transition.  I had to take some time off climbing (really hard), and was able to get back in by climbing cracks, since it didn’t put as much weight on my fingers, but the “awesome climber” I defined myself as, started to feel “not good enough.”  Insecurities making their through the cracks in my identity.

Then, I started graduate school.  I was going to school and working three part-time jobs, one being at a local rock gym.  I was trying to pack in studying hard, working hard and getting in the mountains one to two times a week, a significantly less amount of time than I had been used to doing.  In contact with my climbing friends in Wyoming, I kept hearing about their adventures and upcoming trips that I was unable to join in due to my new schedule.  I was torn between the life I had been leading and loved and the change I felt pulled towards in finding a more rewarding career, working with people.  By Christmas time, I was exhausted emotionally.  I had a fight with my father and it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”  I became depressed.  

I’ve always struggled with some seasonal depression, so with everything added on top, that winter I found myself barely able to get out of bed and function.  I went through the motions, with negativity filling my head.  I started to wonder why life was worth living. There was a part of me saying, “Suck it up!  Just get on with it!  What’s your problem.”  My now long time partner and I had just started dating and I couldn’t understand why he’d want to hang out with such a depressed person, though I was good at hiding how I was feeling to the world.  I went on like this for four months.

On my birthday, all my new friends in Colorado went up to Devils Tower to camp, hike and rock climb with me.  I had wanted to go there for quite awhile.  Four of us went rock climbing, I was feeling positive.  Then, negativity came up in the climbing partner dynamics.  By the time we got to the top, I was filled with a mixture of joy about being on top of such an amazing rock formation and anger at feeling MY birthday climbing experience had been ruined by the group dynamics.  As we descended, I dwelled more and more on the negative aspect of the day and by the time we got to the bottom, I was engulfed by negativity.  I climbed into my tent, curled up in a ball and refused to get out.  My birthday celebration happened without me.  Those who know me, know my birthday has been my favorite day of the year for most of my life.  Not celebrating with my friends meant I was in a bad place.  I finally asked for help and went to a counselor at the university.

It was a little while longer until I realized how much the slow spiral down was related to identity, who I thought I was.  The change that occurred in my life at that time and how I was dealing with it (out of fear and insecurity), kept me from realizing that I’m still ME despite no longer living the life of “rock climber.”  This identity challenge allowed past identity challenges that I hadn’t dealt with come to the surface, feeding the fear and self-doubt even more.  It was overwhelming.

It was a good lesson in how facing the reality of change, allowed me to begin a healing process, that was about healing years of fighting change.  The more we cling to who we think we “should be,” “ought to be,” “supposed to be”...the more misery we create in our lives.  We will always be ourselves...it’s the process of getting through the fantasy we have created about who we really are that can be painful, depressing, overwhelming, anxiety provoking, filled with anger.  When we can come to joy, trust and faith in the change process, while being aware of the fear, sadness, and loss, moving with change happens much more easy.  Plus, we grow and learn so much more.  

Change is ALWAYS happening and we can’t stop it.  Do you choose to embrace it or fight it?

My name is Twyla and I enjoy rock climbing, as well as an infinite number of other things.  I climb for enjoyment, to not prove who I am to the world.  And I’m much more content.

Friday, 22 January 2016

I am not perfect, I am a human being too

I'm always startled when I have a client state, "You struggle?!  You just seem to have it put together and figured out.  I assumed nothing was wrong in your life."  This happened yesterday.  I smiled and replied "I'm a human being just like you, with my own struggles.  I do my own work so I can be better at helping others work with their struggles."

It's a good reminder about something we all do - comparing our lives to others and usually assuming they have it all together, while we are just floundering.  As a mental health counselor, listener and observer, human being, I can honestly say we all struggle.  No one is "perfect."  In fact, being human with all of our strengths and challenges, IS perfect (mull that one over).  When we compare, we are judging, and keeping ourselves stuck in a cycle of negativity that just keeps building.  To escape our own negativity, we start projecting on others, lashing out with anger, judgment and resentment.  Those layers of negativity push us further and further from meeting ourselves with love and compassion.

Why am I human?

- Even though I''m a mental health counselor and I deal with anxiety, seasonal depression, feel hurt, have self-doubt and fear.  I'm not immune.
- Embracing all the above, I've learned I have choices with the voice I go with, I can be kind to myself and give myself a break, I can be flexible with myself - not just for others, I can practice gratitude, I can pause and take time for myself...the list of choices and ways of coping is endless.
- I fall prey to "not good enough" and when I do, I've learned this is when my mind races, I push, I stop the coping tools that help me stay centered, I feel tired, and my schedule is jam packed.
- I'm learning!  The more I incorporate daily practices - physical, mental and spiritual, I create change, feel more content, and "not good enough" doesn't come around as much. I love the saying, "It's a practice, not a perfect."

We are all human!  The more we embrace all that comes with it, realize we aren't alone and actually quite normal in our sufferings, meet ourselves and others with kindness, and make a conscious effort to come from love and compassion rather than fear and anger - we will be able to meet life as it is, with more equanimity.

When you find yourself assuming another person has it all figured out, remind yourself they are human too and we can all learn from each other.  Commit to yourself that judgment, taking things personally and beating yourself up don't have room in your life and start the process of evicting them from your mind.  It's a process...

I'm not perfect, I'm human and I'm so grateful to have this experience each day. It's something to celebrate!!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Powder Days

I was proud of myself today. Living in the Vail Valley, skiing is a big deal and powder days even bigger.  Saturday we awoke to a surprise that Vail ski resort received nine inches of snow.  So, the decision was to change the original plan to skin (climb up the mountain with skis on and skins that stick to the bottom of the skis that allow you to glide forward but provide friction so you don't slide back) up the other local ski resort and instead hope for a day of powder skiing.  Whew, was it wonderful. Skiing through knee high snow brings out my inner child.  Each turn, like sinking into white clouds of cotton puffs, then being pushed up and out into the next turn.  Floating...  And, also a lot of work on my thighs.  By the end of our four hours, my thighs felt like wiggly jello, ready to give out at any moment.  A tired feeling like that of a child having had so much fun fully playing and then boom, falling over.

Today, I decided to to an early morning skin, get a few runs on some mellower terrain, and then head home to rest and relax.  As I was getting ready, my partner came downstairs to tell me, "Vail got another foot of snow!"  He was excited and thinking his day of driving two and a half hours with some of his students to volunteer in Denver would probably be cancelled due to the road conditions.  Without hesitation, I told him I was good with my plan and I didn't think my legs would handle much more powder.  In the past, I would have ignored that inner voice, deciding better to "go hard" and "push myself" for that awesome powder.  Greg ended up going to Vail and having a ball.  I did my skin and ski at Beaver Creek, done by 10:00am, and had a relaxing day.

The more I allow myself to pause...listen, the more I'm able to hear a soft inner voice, guiding me.  It has my best interest in mind, moves me towards love, compassion, my best self.  My struggle now seems to be with finding balance with "the doer" and this inner self.  Not ready to give up "the doer" and "the doer," when used for its talent, helps me move towards some amazing things.  It's helped me have so many awesome life experiences.  I am grateful for it.  It's when I let it take over, frantically planning, worrying, controlling.  Too much external, not enough going inward.  That's my journey right now, the path of going inward while living in this spectacular reality, filled with so much.  Trying to be with it more as a dance rather than something that 'has to be done.' Letting go of as much expectation as possible to open up to learning and growing.  Connecting with that inner child!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

2016 - my year of consciously slowing down

Over the past few weeks, the holiday season, I was aware of how much I truly need (mind, body and spirit) to slow down.  Since my yoga teacher training in March and April of this past year, things have started to slow down naturally with a daily sadhana. My teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, was adamant if we learned nothing else, to start slowing down in our lives. My slowing down has been first about awareness.  Aware that I just spent eight hours focused on work, completely neglecting myself, only find myself dehydrated and stiff from sitting and forgetting to drink enough water.  Aware that I just booked every night in the coming week with something, with no time to just relax and let go.  Aware of thoughts going into the future, keeping me from being in the present, living fully today.  Aware that when I take time to sit and be still, I feel more peaceful, more connected to everything around me, content.  Aware when I take time to come back to my spiritual practices, other things I thought were important, suddenly aren't and I can let them go.

So, 2016 has started to become my year of slowing down in my actions, my planning, my doing.  Looking at my schedule and starting to prioritize, seeing areas I can cut back on, seeing areas that if I add will help with slowing down.  Finding moments in my doings to pause, notice, breathe, go inward to take a break from the outside.  Being keenly aware of my thoughts that get restless, that push me to do more, move more, add more. I've been doing some "harm reduction strategies" with those thoughts recently.  Like a shopaholic, going from buying, buying, to window shopping only or looking at catalogs and then throwing them out...then one day, the desire to window shop or look at catalogs slowly wanes.  Thoughts say, "You don't know what you're doing, let's sign up for another teacher training.  I'm bored, let's figure out a weekend getaway." I've allowed myself to peruse options in these areas, gotten feedback from others, then waited for 2-3 days till the urge has left and I think about money I've saved, come back to more spiritual focuses and smile at those past thoughts.  My hope is one day those urges will be less intense, come less often and even disappear.

I'm very good at scheduling and planning.  I've worked hard the past eight or so years to keep the planning in check.  I've gotten to the point where, more times than not, a weekend is open and the decision of what to do is made Thursday or Friday.  At times, I keep possible events or activities in mind, then wait to see how I'm feeling when the time comes and then decide if I can commit or not.  What I've realized is that I can use this skill to help plan slowing down.  Carve out time to write weekly, put in my calendar a day of silence, have an evening routine that includes sitting for 30 minutes before bed. Be intentional about time that is about being and enjoying.  If I type something into my Google Calendar, more likely than not, I will follow through.  It becomes a commitment.

In the moments I've slowed down and noticed, my mind is more at peace, my body is able to recover and relax, and I'm connected to my spirit - full of love and joy.