How to be your own friend: a self-compassion exercise

 

lotus flower“I’m only as hard on others as I am on myself”  – Brené Brown.

As you may have gathered from my last post, I’m having a bit of a rough time here. My main source of frustration right now is my body. It’s a recurrent theme and it boils down to feeling inadequate. I think if my shape, proportions and tissues were different, I’d be a much happier person. If only I were someone else, things would be better. 

In my endeavor to understand what is going on with the “monsters” that keep coming at me, I’ve discovered the compelling findings of of Dr. Kristine Neff on the topic of self-esteem and self-compassion. According to Dr. Neff, negative self-talk is fueled by attaching our sense of self-worth to our achievements. When we measure ourselves against an outcome, failure to achieve that goal will inevitably lead to dejection. Neff says that the way to reverse this is by practicing self-compassion.

Neff explains that our current education system has focused on boosting self-esteem through competition and goal-setting, with grave consequences to our sense of worthiness. On her website, she offers some useful tools to help us develop a self-compassion practice. I find these resources extremely valuable and I’ve outlined my favorite exercise below. I like it because it is practical and can be used on the spot, right when you most need it. 

Step 1: “This hurts!”

Acknowledge the pain you are feeling right now. It’s ok to admit that  this moment is hard, uncomfortable and challenging. You can place a hand over your chest, face or belly while you say this to yourself.

Step 2: “I am not alone.”

Suffering is a very normal human experience. We are imperfect, we make mistakes, things don’t always go the way we plan. There are lots of people out there who have experienced something similar to what we’re going through.

*It helps me to name the people I know who are struggling with my same/similar issues. I’ve even started to list those people’s names in my journal, so I can send them good thoughts. It helps me to feel connected and it also helps me keep things in perspective.

Step 3: “What do I need to hear?”

This question it is a great antidote to “What’s wrong with me?!”  Wracking my brain in search of a solution while I’m experiencing inner turmoil isn’t helpful. In fact, it usually makes things worse. 

Dr. Neff even suggests writing out a script you can refer to later on, in an emergency. My script is:

  • I forgive myself for not meeting my expectations.
  • Showing up is good enough.
  • Trying is good enough.
  • I am ok just the way I am.

These are self-care thoughts. This is being my own friend. After all, we are only as kind to others as we are to ourselves.

PS: Watch this video, it’s really good!

About the creative process and the “monsters” that hold us back

Liz Gilbert

In Australia, when the ocean is a mess of waves and foam they say it’s like a “washing machine.” From the shore it certainly looks that way: waves breaking in all directions and tons of foam everywhere. Sometimes, life takes you to a similar place within yourself. It shakes you up and turns you around until everything you thought to be certain is completely questionable. You try to calm yourself down and find a logical explanation to your situation. When that doesn’t work you cry, kick and scream.. still, no relief. Finally, there’s nothing left to do but surrender. This is how my last few week have been.

Yoga puts you face to face with yourself and sometimes what you discover  is hard to swallow. During the last weeks a few monsters turned up to reap havoc in my internal landscape. They are ugly and scary. They love to criticize everything and they’re never satisfied. “If only this were different it would be much better,” they say. They are actively looking for the flaw in every thing, in every circumstance and in me. We have long arguments that feel like and endless ping-pong match going on in my head. It’s exhausting. 

I found some solace two weeks ago at an event with Liz Gilbert, the author of the Eat, Pray, Love book. She was touring this side of the world with her friend (and hairstylist) who just published her own book. On the stage, they had a casual and intimate discussion about the creative process and the obstacles we encounter along the way. They talked a lot about how to confront the ugly thoughts I call “monsters.”

Liz described her “monsters” as abandoned children with grubby faces who clamor for her attention. She said that at a certain point in her life she had to come to terms with them and figure out how to deal with them. She imagines herself as their mother and makes it her responsibility to care for them. It is a metaphor for taking care of herself, for being her own mother.

She also told us that at the start of each new project she writes a sort of proclamation, a formal letter that she reads out loud in her studio. In it she invites Creativity and also Fear to join her on a new adventure. She know she cannot exclude Fear, but there’s one condition. She tells Fear: “You can have a voice and you can have a seat, but you don’t get to vote!” I thought that was brilliant.

Liz encouraged us to continue forth with our creative work and to “get it done!” She reminded us that our art “doesn’t have to be good, helpful, marketable or pleasing. It just has to be Done. Get it done!” 

 She ended with these words of wisdom:

“What differentiates a life of suffering from a life of learning is a sense of belief that life is your friend. Do the work. Repeatedly. Build a life of meaning.”

Here’s to to a life of learning. Onward!

Byron Bay Yoga Intensive: Week One Recap

medusa

I was looking forward to posting this just to let you know I’ve arrived at my final destination and I’ve already started the second year of the Committed Practitioner Intensive with my teacher and classmates. If you have no idea what I’m talking about read this post.

Practicing again with everyone has been a delicious homecoming. The energy in the room is powerful, it carries you further than where you can get to on your own, I love this feeling of being held and supported. Even though it’s intense, our daily practice feels sweeter and more mature than last year.

Another thing I’m enjoying is discovering how last year’s course has affected each of us. It seems as though last year’s experience was quite powerful for everybody and we have brought it home in very different ways.

Outside of the shala my first week and a half has been a bit of a bumpy ride. I was certain that returning here would be really easy… But it’s not! I feel far away from home and from the all the people and places that are part of my daily routine. I feel uncomfortable with my surroundings.. especially the wildlife!

Here everything is bigger, including the spiders. There’s these ones in particular that, although harmless, are terrifying to look at. They’re called Huntsman spiders: the larger ones are almost the size of my hand. They’ve got long legs and they move really quickly. Ugh!!

To my Australian host my attitude is probably pretty ridiculous, these critters are no threat to her. In fact she will graciously remove them for me with an ease I find both admirable and incomprehensible. Me? I run screaming from the room every time I see one.

Scary spiders aside, nature has also shown me it’s cute face. The other morning two wallabies (small kangaroos) jumped right out of the woods and bounced across the street a few meters ahead of me. It was an amazing and exciting sight. What a treat, I saw none in the 3 months I was here last year, and I trek that same path 4 times every day.

Starting next week the course will get progressively more intense and time-consuming. I won’t be able to spend as much time on it as I have while in Barcelona. Also, I don’t really want to! I need to be here. I hope you will forgive me for updating less frequently between now and the end of April.

Bye for now 🙂

Video journal of my trip to Australia

Hello, English speaking readers!

I’m off to Australia again soon to continue my yoga studies. Here’s a vide-collage with sights and sounds from last year’s trip to Byron Bay, Australia.

Enjoy!

How to overcome fear

When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.

~ Pema Chödron

girl sitting on a park bench

Fear is a tricky thing. It has many faces and it shows up when you least expect it to. It can look like indecision, insecurity, doubt or what my family calls analysis paralysis, overthinking something to the point of becoming completely stuck.

Last year, when I got the news that Dena Kingsberg had accepted me into her three year yoga training in Australia, I was terrified! I could not begin to imagine what it would be like to go as far as Australia to practice ashtanga yoga every day. Was I strong enough? Committed enough? What if Dena and I didn’t get along? What if, once there, I’d realize I had made a huge mistake? The stakes were high!

Mainly, I felt undeserving of this opportunity. I felt I might prove to be a total disappointment to her and to myself. I felt I was depriving anaother, more deserving, practitioner of a great opportunity and that there was something fundamentally wrong with me for even wanting to go. Why this obsession with ashtanga yoga? Why couldn’t I content myself with practicing yoga here at home? Why did I have to travel to the end of the world? Was I being fickle? Deluded? I felt small and vulnerable to people’s opinions, so I chose to only share my big news with a small circle of friends, those I knew would support me.

flowersLucky for me, my friends are awesome! They patiently talked me off the ledge many times. They reminded me of my priorities and of the personal journey that had brought me to this place. They reminded me that I really wanted this opportunity and that I was free to turn around and come home if it didn’t work out. No biggie! Then they reminded me of the most obvious: this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I shouldn’t pass it up.

It seems that the closer I come to something I truly want, the bigger and louder my fears get. When it came to accepting Dena’s invitation, saying yes was the hardest decision of all. I had to accept that there was no way of knowing in advance what my experience would be like. I had to make peace with the fact that I could be making a terrible and costly mistake. I had to forgive myself in advance. I had to accept that this is what I wanted and it didn’t make me a bad person. Once I said yes, there was no turning back:
I learned to live with my fear and move forward despite it.

When I arrived in Byron Bay, I couldn’t stop telling myself: “Thank God I came!” I couldn’t believe I’d almost missed out on this amazing adventure. The last shadow of doubt vanished completely on the first day of class. Dena’s presence, her reassuring tone and her graceful, uncontrived elegance immediately reminded me of why I was there, of what had drawn me to her. My fear was now replaced by tremendous, heart-breaking gratitude.

Thank God I went!

It was the experience of a lifetime. It was really, really hard and really, really rewarding. I sweated more during those three months than I have in my entire life and it was worth it. I learned a lot about myself and about yoga and I met many amazing people from all over the world. Still, looking back, the hardest part of the whole trip was showing up.

What about you? What is the texture of your fear? When does it crop up and how do you overcome it?

Finding Peace in Everyday Life

One of the amazing things about living in Byron Bay was the unbelievable beauty and magnificence of the nature there. It was immense, lush and majestic. It presence added breath and depth to my life and to the yoga practice. It helped me tune into my own nature, calm my mind and cultivate a state of open receptiveness that was both nourishing and fulfilling.

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Shortly after I arrived in Byron Bay I moved into the yoga shala for a week. The accommodation I had booked online from Barcelona turned out to be a disaster and my new home wasn’t available for another week, so in the interim my teacher offered me a spare room in her shala. I was stoked!

The Center of Balance yoga Shala is a beautliful and peaceful place, backed by woods at the end of a quiet street. Because I had no internet and didn’t know anyone yet, my time was filled with silence. I’d catch myself zoning out, mesmerized by the sounds of nature all around me, they were beautiful, strange, exotic and unfamiliar. I had never listened to such a loud silence!

Each hour of the day offered a different soundscape. In the morning tropical birds welcomed the day with their scandalous racket (listen to them here!) At noon the droning sound of the cicadas was almost deafening. In the evening it was the frogs chirping and later on at night I’d listen to the eerie creaking of the bamboo patch. And, if I listened very carefully, I could hear the comforting sound of the ocean further away across the main road.

Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.

As I listened, I noticed that the quieter I got inside, the more I could hear; I couldn’t think and listen at the same time, listening required attention. My mind would slow down and my inner dialogue would lose substance, I felt nourished and fulfilled without doing anything! I loved this place of wonderment. It taught me that contentment was not dependent on doing anything as much as it was the result of just being present and relaxed.

Back to reality!

In contrast, my everyday city life in Barcelona is the opposite. I struggle to find a sustainable balance between being soft and present and and carrying out my work and social obligations. I either feel like there’s not enough time in a day for everything I’ve got planned, or that I don’t have the energy to do it all! I spend too much time preoccupied with what comes next and distracted from what is happening now. Since I’ve been back my mind has grown more scattered and my wandering thoughts feel important again.

Because city life is stressful, it’s important to consistently remind oneself to slow down and do less. It is times like these when it’s helpful to recommit to your daily (yoga or meditation) practice and review the fundamentals. In my yoga practice I apply this by letting go of my ambitions and returning patiently to the quality of my breath: is it smooth, soft and free of strain?

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Another way I’ve found to remind myself to slow down is to bring nature indoors. According to Chinese medicine, the liver is one of the organs most susceptible to stress; I learned that one can nourish their liver energy by surrounding themselves with green, leafy plants. If you come to my house you’ll see I have plants indoors and now you know why! They infuse the place with a feeling of peacefulness. Though I don’t naturally have a green thumb, once I figured out that each plant needs to find it’s preferred spot we get along just fine.

Lastly, I like to remind myself to pause and listen to the sounds around me; though they may not be as exotic as in the antipodes, they do snap me out of habitual thought patterns and back into the appreciation of now. As I write this, for example, I can hear the spring rain falling gently outside, far away thunder grumbles intermittently as car tires roll on the wet asphalt. It is a simple, everyday luxury to just pause and be with these sounds for a few moments.

What are your personal rituals and practices that help you slow down and re-establish a sense of peacefulness in your everyday life?

 

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