Spiritual Baby Steps

"Doing" spirituality in the real world

What’s Your Story?

We all have stories. Stories are what we believe to be true and what we tell others about our lives. Rumi says… “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” I find it interesting that he does not say, “unfold your own story,” or even, “unfold your own truth,” but “unfold your own myth.”

I was listening to an NPR podcast the other day and they were interviewing Tony Robbins. He mentioned something about stories that really struck me. He revealed that he was beaten as a child. Apparently he shared that truth with some kids when he was doing a talk in order that they might relate to him… to understand that even if you have a troubled youth, you can still turn your life around. The point he was making on the podcast was that he had consciously chosen not to perpetuate that story… that he worked hard to create a new story that he had shared with the world. Until that time, and only for the very specific purpose of relating to those kids, he had chosen not to share that story of himself and his life and to share and communicate a new story… one of empowerment and strength rather than victim hood and struggle.

Sometimes I think we get very caught up in what’s “true.” Reality, if you will. But what that realization illuminated for me is that we can choose to focus on other parts of our lives that are just as true and real without perpetuating the parts of our story that do not foster our own growth and development as a human being. Now, I am not advocating for a life of lies. I am not implying that everyone should wake up tomorrow pretending that their past is non-existent and acting as if the sky is green. I’m simply saying that we all have choices. Choice about what to share… what to focus on.. what to pay attention to on a daily basis. In any given day, there are as many, if not more, positive occurrences as negative… so why in the world do we feel so inclined, when asked how we’re doing, to list the 2-5 things that have gone wrong in the day? I know it’s not just me who does this because I walk around hearing of everyone’s issues on a regular basis. I’m not complaining, mind you… I’m just recognizing that we are very much hard-wired to focus on our negative story instead of perpetuating the positive aspects of our day and lives. I’d say we can’t help it… but that might be seen as taking on a bit of victim mentality, no?

What is your story? How do you feel when you tell your story? Does your story focus on the amazing, wonderful events that have shaped your life… or does you get caught up in the negative, difficult details? Do share your story!

Love and light!  ~Rashel

Gratitude Revisited

I’ve read, listened to, and even written about the value of gratitude. How appreciating what you have can make you happy. I believe in gratitude wholeheartedly, and in fact, I think I realized something tonight that helped me wrap my brain around this concept in an even bigger way.

Let me start by supplying some context. I have a nightly ritual with my kids that includes back rub, neck rub, ear rub, leg rub, arm rub, shoulder rub, head rub, and, if they’ve showered, foot rub. It’s quite a process, as you can imagine, and on more than one occasion over the past 8+ years, I’ve wondered what the heck I was thinking in creating such an elaborate ritual. Would it have been so bad to follow the reading with a quick hug and call it a night?  I mean, seriously, it can sometimes take 20-30 minutes for me to put each kid to bed with this particular routine. But, alas, it was the routine we established and, for the most part, it is the routine we’ve followed night in and night out.

Then, a couple of months back, without any pomp or circumstance, it happened. I headed in to my daughter’s room, and before I could even get fully through the door she called out to me, “I don’t need a rub tonight, Mom.” Uh….. say what? I have to say, I was very proud of myself for keeping my composure as I leaned down, and in a cool and collected voice uttered, “a simple hug and a kiss, then, shall we?” Meanwhile, I felt like one of those cartoon characters whose head is spinning wildly… steam coming from my insides… complete chaos descending!! What the heck just happened here? Was this a fluke? A one-time thing? Would our relationship be changed forever?

I know what you’re thinking… calm down… it’s a back rub, lady! But it is so much more than that! It is our connection time. Our nightly ritual where words are shared that otherwise might not get spoken. I’m not even sure what it means to stop, but I know that it feels like my baby is getting ripped out of my arms. And it doesn’t feel good. And, to top it off, it wasn’t a fluke. The next night, and the next, I heard the same thing… “No rub tonight, Mom. I’m good.” But instead of “I’m good,” my ears heard, “I’m not your baby anymore. I don’t need you like I once did. You can go.”

Of course I realize that this is all part of the growing up process. I get that this is exactly what’s supposed to happen and it’s healthy and good. It’s just that… even though it’s one of those things that you know is inevitable… it still catches you by surprise. I’m not sure how, but it just does. And it makes you think to yourself… I should have been appreciating that even more! In fact, maybe I should add belly button, knees and elbows to my son’s routine, since he has not yet banned me from this nightly ritual!

But, and here’s where the expansion part occurs… I’m realizing the gratitude can remain, even when the circumstances change. Gratitude for… a daughter who’s gaining independence… a daughter who still accepts a hug and a kiss, despite the release of the full ritual… a daughter who can speak up for what she wants and needs. All good. AND… as I was grateful enough to experience tonight, staying open to gratitude has allowed for openness and flexibility in my daughter… who informed me tonight that she, “could really use a rub.”   

As I rubbed the back, legs, ears, arms, and shoulders, (no feet cause no shower tonight – gratitude or no, I have boundaries!) of my 11-year-old daughter, I felt tired (cause it’s late) and grateful. Consider what you do or have now that you would miss… and decide to be grateful… in this moment… before it slips away. 

Wishing you love, laughter and light!  ~Rashel

 

 

No Pain, No Gain

When I was young, the mantra of my gymnastics instructor was… no pain, no gain. I believed it at the time… but then I got older… got married… had kids… and started to question this mantra. Maybe that’s just for kids… or young people… or athletes… (of which I am none!). Perhaps pain is just an illusory signal that progress is being made… but not necessary to actual progress? I became a big fan of small steps… small changes… no pain!
In my yoga class last week, the instructor asked us to feel into the discomfort of holding a pose longer than what was comfortable. He encouraged us to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. As I took a deep breath, I thought to myself… huh? Good pain…. what the heck is that?! The instructor went on to explain that discomfort is normal as we learn to move into new positions… as we break down muscle in order to build up more muscle. This is how we build strength… how growth occurs.
AHA!
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Building muscle is a great analogy to building a strong, healthy life. Pain is necessary to break down muscle in order that more muscle can build up. However, and this is BIG… you have to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. Good pain helps you grow… while bad pain puts you out of commission. Good pain pushes and stretches just enough… bad pain pushes and stretches too much.
It seems to me that this is perhaps one of our most difficult tasks… distinguishing between the good pain that will help us grow and bad pain that is actually hurting us. In yoga, as in sports, the difference between good and bad pain is potentially a little more obvious. As you bend over to touch your toes… you feel the stretch… the tightness… the discomfort in your legs and thighs… good. As you lean into a stretch or pose and the discomfort becomes painful… well… you guessed it, bad!
In life, this distinction between good and bad pain seems more elusive. I think that others, like me, tend to think that pain, any kind of pain, is bad. And yet… if we apply the muscle building analogy… it’s not that all pain is bad, it’s that we need to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Easier said than done! How long do I stay in this relationship… job… friendship… when does it change from being a growth situation to a bad situation? How do we know? What are the signs?
Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. What I surmise from my yoga/sports analogy is that discomfort is ok, but true pain is never good. I think with some things, it could possibly take some time and practice to figure out where that line is drawn and to recognize where one line ends and the other begins.
Here’s to pain… or discomfort, if you will… as a route toward growth!
Love, laughter and light to you!! ~Rashel

Authenticity Test: My Choice between Liar or Loser

I had a very interesting experience today. I was attending a work meeting. The meeting started off innocently enough. There were 60 or so people – a fairly robust crowd. In lieu of having every person introduce themselves, which would have taken a considerable amount of time, the facilitator led a warm-up exercise to get the meeting started. The instruction was to stand up if you could answer yes to the statement… can speak more than one language… was not born in the United States… has English as a second language (most of the statements revolved around the upcoming presentation on Latino health). The last question was, “have attended the big-deal presentation that everyone is expected to have attended” (big-deal being code for the name of the actual presentation).

Now during the warm-up exercise, there is a mix of attendees standing and sitting throughout. UNTIL… that last question. As I looked around to see who else, besides me, had not attended the big-deal presentation, I noticed that most everyone was standing. Then, much to my dismay, the facilitator decided to further bring the point home. “I noticed that a couple people in the back there were not standing. Please stand if you have not attended the big-deal presentation.”

Then… it happened. Uh…. should I stand? What do I do? All of the various reasons why I had not yet attended said big-deal presentation came rushing to my brain. Do I admit my failure and stand up? (Surely others will see me as a complete loser!) Or pretend that I, too, had done what was obviously the expected action? (Liar, liar, pants on fire!)

The interesting thing is this… as all of the excuses and thoughts about whether or not to “fess up” were racing through my head… and there were lots of excuses… and a lot of thoughts (and doubts)… all the while… I noticed my body standing up. What? Wait? Huh?

As my eyes slowly took in the room… from the far left… to the far right… not a single other person was standing. My gaze quickly circled back to my boss, who was sitting on the left side of the room. And then my panicked gaze darted back and forth between my sitting boss and the sitting Director of my department. sitting boss… sitting Director… sitting boss… Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

So, at this point, I have a choice. But the choice is not whether or not to experience the moment… because of course I’m embarrassed. That’s a given. No one wants to be called out as the lone person who did not complete an assignment. I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t bother me. The choice is really in the aftermath. Do I spend the rest of the day beating myself up and worrying about what everyone thinks of me? Do I make up stories about how this incident will surely ruin my career and stain my reputation? Or… do I acknowledge the embarrassment and move on, as difficult as that may be. In an absolutely beautiful moment, I might even be able to appreciate my courage to be authentic… to stand up in the face of impending doom and own my situation.

Here’s what I came to realize… at the end of the day, none of us are perfect. And I’m realizing that being authentic is not about being perfect. It’s about being real. It’s about standing up… standing out… and being ok with who we are… imperfections and all. It’s letting go of the need for perfection and recognizing that there is enormous beauty in acceptance.

So from one imperfect person to another, I invite you to STAND UP… take a deep breath… and love yourself fully!  ~Rashel

 

Self Sabatoge… Alive & Well

What keeps us from doing the things that we know are good for us? What makes us stay up late before a big presentation? Wait until the very last-minute to write the important speech that will be delivered in front of our entire department. “Forget” about that very important meeting that your boss has asked you to attend.  Seriously… what gives?

I didn’t blog last week… and this week is pretty much over and I’m just now sitting down at the computer. Now… I know that blogging is not a make-it-or-break-it thing. I do not hold some delusional fantasy that my blog posts keep the world going! However, I have made a commitment to myself to blog every week, and I do enjoy the process of writing very much… so why do I do things that stand in the way of making that happen? What stands in the way of a perfectly good intention?

From everything I’ve read, it’s fear. That pesky feeling that gets in the way of greatness. There’s a reason why that question, “what would you do if you were not afraid of failing” often results in answers that are far different from our current state. We let fear keep us from our greatest selves. We allow the fear of failing to keep us from even starting.

It’s quite frightening the internal chatter that has gone on in my head over the last week and a half…mean things about not being good enough… not having anything worth sharing… not being smart enough, current enough or wise enough to have anything to bother writing about. I know… right??? Mean!! I would never say such things to friends, family, or colleagues. Heck, even a stranger! What gives?

I’m not sure why we do it… but I’m pretty sure most of us do. Self-Sabotage is a common occurrence. In fact, according to Carolyn Myss, author and medical intuitive, the saboteur is one of the 4 major archetypes that every person is born with and deals with during their lifetime. (If you don’t know about archetypes, I highly recommend Carolyn’s book, Sacred Contracts, to learn more).

I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but one thing that I am finding helpful is to just start. I told myself today that I was going to start my blog. Regardless of whether I finished or not, I would bring up the site and get started. If I wrote for 5 minutes and decided to stop, that would be fine. But I would not be allowed to not open the computer, bring up the site and just start.

And what do you know… once I started, it just kept flowing. I will probably always have that small voice in the back of my head the questions whether what I have to say is good enough, pertinent enough, etc., etc., etc. The bottom line is, I must decide to either let it stop me… or to do it anyway. I enjoy writing so much… I am hopeful that I will keep on writing despite the constant doubt and fear. In fact, I hope that all of you will keep on keeping on… despite the fear… despite the doubt… despite the saboteur that constantly rears its ugly head! I’m pretty sure that’s the only way anything creative ever gets done… ever… no really… ever!

Here’s hoping I keep the saboteur in check and “see” you next week!  Love and laughter!  ~Rashel

Focus on Why

I just read the first lesson in mindfulness from the book, “Letting Everything Become Your Teacher” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He says, “In order for meditation practice to take root in your life and flourish, you will have to know why you are practicing.” I couldn’t agree more!

In fact, I would argue that this premise holds true for most things worth pursuing in our lives. At work I teach people about behavior change and one of the main objectives we talk about is helping patients identify their own reasons for change… their motivations… what drives them. You know, instead of telling people what to do… what changes they should make and all the reasons why… which is usually not so effective.

In order for any change to really stick, it needs to be connected in some way to your core values. I’m not saying that superficial reasons can’t drive you… dropping the last 10 pounds to fit into that reunion dress can be a great motivator! What I’ve seen time and again, however, is that to keep it off… and even more importantly, to really incorporate a new practice into your daily routine… you better have more than a superficial carrot or short-term goal to sustain you.

So, the next time you’re looking to make a change… whether it’s a meditation practice, dropping pounds or getting more organized… consider why? Why now? What would be different if you were successful and why would that matter to you? Try to separate the reasons that you think others might want you to make this change with your own reasons for change. There is no “right” answer… just “your” answer.

Focus on your reasons… write them down… and look at them often! You might just find that focusing on the “why” helps push you in the direction of change.

Love and laughter to you! ~Rashel

Planning for the Unexpected

I’m involved in a new project at work. I’ve been having conversations with healthy adults about deciding what they would want if they were in an accident or had a sudden injury, like a stroke, and couldn’t speak for themselves. It makes for interesting conversation. In addition to exploring what they would want, we also talk about choosing a good healthcare agent to speak for them and how to have a conversation with that person about taking on the role.

So far, the people I’ve talked to have been pretty clear about what they want. Some have actually talked to the person they want to have speak for them. Many haven’t actually had that conversation, although they agree that it would be a “good idea”.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
~Benjamin Franklin

What’s interesting to me is that we call this process ‘planning for the unexpected’ despite the fact that dying is one of the few things that is guaranteed to happen. You will die and you should expect that this will happen to you… no getting out of it!

The problem is, we avoid having the conversation because… well… who wants to talk about dying? And even if we’re comfortable with it, it’s not really something you bring up casually in conversation. “Yes, a double mocha, please and oh, by the way, have I filled you in on how I want to die?”

The thing is, when we don’t take the time to have the conversation, we put our loved ones in an awful spot. Besides potentially not having our wishes followed (since we didn’t bother to tell anyone what those wishes were), we also force our loved ones to make decisions when they may not feel confident in their choices. That’s a lot of pressure and often times can lead to guilt and anxiety if they’re uncertain of, or not everyone weighing-in agrees on, what you would have wanted.

I know we’d all like to think that we have plenty of time and that life will be the standard 80+ years for everyone… but I’m going to encourage you not to wait for the ‘unexpected’ — go ahead and have that conversation now!

Thanks for letting me diverge slightly from my usual topics to share my passion about this work! Wishing you love and laughter… and the death you always imagined when the ‘unexpected’ happens! ~Rashel

Acceptance in Action

I often think about acceptance. I really believe this is a misunderstood concept. I know I’ve blogged about acceptance before… the importance of it… the value in it… how hard it can be to master! It came up for me again the other day. I was half-way through a yoga class and began to notice my own self judgment. In a room full of yogi’s in training and full length mirrors… ones mind does tend to wander toward comparison. How in the world is that girl getting her arm to go straight up right now? Am I the only one in the room using blocks today? Why is this still so challenging after years of yoga classes?

What came up for me is how natural it is to think that judgment and criticism will lead to change. Why else would we do it? If I honestly believed that all of the negative self chatter would keep me stuck… would I really continue it time after time? I think there is a part of us that believes if we truly accept… if we let go of self judgment and criticism… that we will sink into a state of laziness, carelessness or general malaise. And on this point, I think we’re wrong.

I took some time to practice acceptance right there in that yoga studio What would it feel like to honor my achy knee… my tight shoulders… my protruding belly? Could I allow myself to be fully present in that moment? Appreciating the act of showing up on the mat… despite being exhausted and sporting a to-do list a mile long. Could I invoke a paradigm shift in that moment… moving from a place of self denigration to self acceptance? And more importantly, if I did… what would it mean for my commitment to yoga… to exercising… to my general health?

You see, I think the issue with acceptance is that we think it’s not possible to both accept and act. I would like to argue that it is. I realized as I stood in that yoga class, hand on block, reaching ever so fervently toward the sky, that accepting my limitations in that moment did not make me want to quit. Actually, if anything, I felt free. Free to just be… to exist in that moment without shame or judgment.

It felt good. And while I’d like to say it transferred immediately and directly to all areas of my life… alas… it has proven to be akin to many other transformational experiences I’ve had… profound and difficult to consistently implement! But it has made me think twice about how we encourage change… in both ourselves and others. If acceptance and change can successfully go hand-in-hand… perhaps we can do away with judgment and criticism altogether, no? It might not come easy, but I believe it’s worth the effort to give it a try. For ourselves… and those we interact with every day!

Love and laughter to you!  ~Rashel

 

Shifting in a Positive Direction

I was listening to a podcast tonight about positive emotions. Something really struck me… and I’ve heard it before but for some reason, it really resonated with me tonight. I’ve struggled in the past with positive affirmations. First of all, most affirmations that I see are usually really exaggerated compared to my current state and secondly, telling myself positive statements that I don’t believe doesn’t usually make me feel better (probably due to reason number one!).

The podcast was discussing a snippet of an Esther Hicks talk. The main point was that in order to get to a more positive state, you don’t have to get to the ultimate end point, you just have to shift in a positive direction. I’ll give you a personal example. Lets say one of my coworkers (only because I don’t want my family to get mad at me), is really irritating me. In the past, I may have used a positive affirmation such as, “I am all loving and totally accepting of all people, including all of my coworkers.” The problem is, I really don’t feel that way in the moment and just because I say it doesn’t necessarily make me feel it. So, the point of the discussion was that we just need to feel for a slight shift in thinking. I could definitely think to myself, “Even though this coworker is irritating me, she is not the most irritating person I’ve worked with.” That feels better than my initial thought and, the important part, I do not feel an immediate resistance to the statement like I did with the exaggerated positive affirmation above.

Our minds tend to continue moving our thoughts forward. So, lets look at how each of these statements might progress after the initial thought.

  • Sheila is really irritating me today. I can’t believe she actually said that in our team meeting. Who does she think she is? She certainly isn’t helping herself with comments like that. I hope she asks for feedback from me this year because I’m really going to let her have it.
  • This is not the most annoying coworker I’ve ever known. I’ve definitely worked with more difficult people in my day. Maybe I’m just learning how to handle myself better? Nah… I don’t think she’s really as bad as Larry was. Now, he was bad. Sheila’s actually ok on most days. Maybe she was just having a bad day today. We all have bad days once in a while. Maybe I should check in with her and see how she’s doing.
  • I am all loving and totally accepting of all people, including all of my coworkers. NOT! That’s a joke. Who is really all loving, anyway? What does that even mean to be all loving? I certainly don’t FEEL all loving toward Sheila. I am so judgmental. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be nice and get along with people?

Now, obviously the actual thoughts could go any number of ways, but you get the point. A slight shift in thinking can impact all future thoughts and lead you down a completely different path. Also, consider how you would feel with these various streams of thought… definitely better with some than others. In the first one, I feel even more irritated. In the second, I’m actually feeling empathetic toward my coworker which is good for both of us. In the final statement, I’m totally beating myself up. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty clear on which path I want to wander down.

So the biggest obstacle that I can think of not to make the slight change in thought is not realizing that you’re on the path until you’re neck-deep. So, next time we’ll talk more about how to recognize the fork in the road when you’re at the start of it. Until then, I encourage you to pay attention to your thoughts and see if you can make the slightest shift toward happy.

Love and laughter to you!  ~Rashel

Good Enuf is the New Perfect

When did being good enough become not enough? I can’t think of anyone I know who’d be excited to get a “good enough” review. Everybody wants to be the best. Or at least, great! Everyone walks around completely frustrated with what they didn’t get accomplished instead of being satisfied, let alone happy, with what they did. Is it just an evolutionary thing… that we had to focus on the negative in order to survive and now we’re just fostering a bad habit that is no longer serving us… or is there more to it?

Why is this tendency to walk around feeling that we are never good enough so prevalent? I think somewhere along the line, we took the notion that anything is possible a little too far. While it’s true that there are people who can do great things… I don’t necessarily believe that any person can do anything they want. Not every kid who wants to get into Yale makes it. Not every person who wants to be a famous actor or singer will make it big. If you think about it, that’s a heck of a lot of pressure on the person thinking that if they just try hard enough, they can be and do anything they want. All of a sudden, there are no boundaries, no guidelines… no reality checks.

Now, this might seem like an odd way to start back on the blogging circuit! I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic, stepping on the dreams of our youth. But the truth is, this whole ‘gotta be the best’ mentality has stopped me cold on numerous occasions as I’ve thought about getting back to writing. What if it’s not good? Or worse, really bad? What if no one cares? Are we creating a world where people are afraid to fail? And if failing isn’t part of the process, then you certainly aren’t pushing yourself to do anything great… because greatness comes with lots of learnings (aka failures). Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly (or close to) the recipe to greatness… try, good enough, try, fail, try, good enough, try, fail, (fail, fail, fail), try, better, try, fail, try, great!!

Make no mistake… allowing yourself to be simply ‘good enough’ takes courage… it requires feeling the fear of not being good enough and doing it anyway. It’s recognizing that good enough gets you into the arena… while waiting to be perfect keeps you in the stands. I’m realizing that, at least for me, a whole life of good enough is better than a list of regrets for things that didn’t happen because I was trying to get it perfect or scared I wouldn’t be the best. So, I’m going to hold the fear of not good enough, not long enough, not relevant enough, not witty enough… and I’m going to click the ‘publish’ button anyway. Because in case you haven’t heard… good enuf is the new perfect!

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