How to Play Nice With Erratic Energy (or “You’re Probably Not Having an Existential Crisis”)

erratic energyIt’s confession time.  My time to confess, that is.  I’ve spent the last week positively crawling out of my skin, energy wild and erratic.  This happens every so often, but this time was off the charts.  Nothing would settle me.  I tried going for a walk, grounding, eating a heavy meal, meditating, taking a nap, reading, watching Netflix.  I even tried cleaning my kitchen in a last-ditch effort to prove to myself that I could actually complete a task.  Result: half-cleaned kitchen.  I couldn’t find relief and I wracked my brain to try and figure out what was going on.  Hormones? Astrological tail-spin? Solar flares? Low blood-sugar? Existential crisis?  No, No, No, No and maybe….

The truth is that there was really nothing “wrong” and that’s what I want to convey to all of you.  The truth is that the unsettled feeling that we all get in the pit of our stomachs is sometimes just gas.  But other times, like today, its the feeling of standing on the precipice, of feeling the event horizon of something extraordinary.  That feeling doesn’t mean you have to “DO” anything.  You just have to “BE” and allow the giant tidal wave of amazing universal energy to wash over you.  This can be hard to do, trust me.  My mother used to tell me that I had an “Uber-A” personality.  Sitting still and letting stuff happen isn’t exactly my forte.  Nor, am I guessing, is it for any of you (we’re friends for a reason, after all).

And so the crawling, crazy, slightly manic feeling doesn’t need medicating or analyzing or fixing.  You have been the architect of your life the whole time and it’s been moving forward at a maddeningly beautiful pace (I can feel some of you start to object – so let me stop you and say that it absolutely HAS).  That feeling of not knowing what to do, and not knowing what’s next isn’t cause to chuck the whole thing in, its time to pause and look at this amazing feat and all of the things that you’ve created.  And in that space of reflection, you can find peace.

Big love,

heather

Shifting With Grace (Or, “Let’s not be such control freaks”)

roller-coaster

As spiritual beings, we abhor stagnation – our lives are all about shifting and learning and growing. Of course, on a entirely human level, we often crave control, stability, a sense of security and some degree of predictability. I mean, change is scary, right? What if you, *gasp*, DIED?!?  No wonder so many of us have a white-knuckle grip on our need for control.

It stands to reason, then, if you’re experiencing a bout of significant shifting and growing, you might feel off-kilter, scared or just plain stressed out.  These spiritual changes often come disguised as significant life events like losing a job, ending a relationship, moving or incurring unexpected large expenses.  These events aren’t the Universe knocking us down and taking our lunch money, but are designed to get our attention and move us toward a new path.  For some of us, we may get these “plot twists” every few years or so.  For others, we may get them every other month.  Of course, this can be overwhelming and exhausting if you’re viewing them as punishment.  However, it is important to remember that lessons or shifts are neutral from a Universal perspective.  That is, the Universe doesn’t assign “good” or “bad” connotation to lessons as they are simply the vehicle to our growth.  It is we humans who view things like losing a job or breaking up with a significant other as “bad” and winning the lottery as “good.”  The Universe doesn’t attach such labels.  

So if these things aren’t “good” or “bad” then why do we feel such stress when the unexpected happens?  This goes back to our human, ego-driven need to be stable, secure and ultimately have control over our immediate circumstances.  But, guess what… the need for control is an illusion and a human construct that does us more harm than good.  We fight wars out of our need for control.  We lose sleep over our need for control.  We fight with loved ones over our need for control.  Control is diametrically opposed to the Universal constants of growing and shifting.  

As difficult as it can sometimes be, when we find ourselves in the thick of it, we must take a step back and look at the larger picture.  When something ends, the Universe rushes in to fill the vacuum; allow this to happen.  Don’t hang on to the old, stagnant patterns.  Allow these things to flow.  Granted, this is easy when the flow feels more like a lazy river on a summer day, than an intense roller coaster ride.  But hey, roller coasters are fun, too. Remember, it’s all about perspective. So let go, and throw your hands up in the air; and if it gets a little intense, it’s ok to scream your head off.  Just remember, that no matter what, you’re always going forward. 

8 Steps to Living Guilt-Free

One of the repetitive themes that seems to play out in my sessions with clients is their struggle with guilt and how to live guilt-free.  In some cases this is guilt associated with a major life event, but often this sense of guilt is rooted in the mundane.  Things like feeling guilty of blowing your diet or saying “no” to something.  Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a rather large waste of your precious energy.  Here’s how to break out of that guilt complex once and for all:

guilt trip1. Self-forgiveness

Really.  Understand that you are perfectly imperfect and that you are a human being.  You’ve also come programmed with years and years of patterns so if you lapse back into an old thought pattern or habit that is not desirable, don’t beat yourself up.  Recognize what’s happened and resolve to make a better choice next time.

2. Self Care

This may be counter-intuitive to some people, especially those who new to setting up healthy boundaries (more on that in a sec…).  But we tend to beat ourselves up and get into unhealthy mental spaces when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable.  The easiest and most effective way to recharge and gain a better perspective is to practice self-care.  Self-care doesn’t have to be an extravagant day at the spa (although I won’t stop you), it just needs to be something that you do for yourself and solely for yourself.  And don’t you dare associate guilt with this!  After all, how can you give to others if the well is dry?

3. Internal Inventory

What is an internal inventory, you ask?  It is where you sit down and do some soul-searching and decide what is in your life in a priority and what is not.  It is helpful to remember that we simply can not be everything to everyone at all times.  While we are infinitely powerful spiritual beings, we are not omnipotent: you can’t be in the boardroom and at soccer practice at the same time.  This is where we have to choose the things that we really do value and stick to it unabashedly and unapologetically.

4. Setting Healthy Boundaries

Ah, yes.  My favorite.  Many of us are so programmed to be care-givers and nurturers that our natural tendency is to say “yes” to everything.  Is this realistic?  Of course not!  How can you be PTA president, Team Mom, Neighborhood watch captain, Realtor of the year, etc. etc. etc. without sacrificing things that are the most important like your health and time with your family?  The answer is that you can’t.  Set realistic boundaries of what’s important to you and what matches your internal inventory.  For example, one of my clients was having a hard time sticking to a work schedule that allowed time for her family.  She would feel guilty about saying no to clients and go out of her way to accommodate them.  While we all want to allow more abundance in our lives, the reality is that the feeling of loss associated with lost time with family was more disconcerting than the guilt of rescheduling a client.  And in reality, most people are accommodating and understand when someone has family commitments.

5. Self-awareness

So you “mess up” and you’re feeling guilty.  First, see #1 on this list.  Then look at the feelings that come up when you begin to feel guilty about something. What triggered it?  Can you remember when you first felt guilt associated with the trigger?  Where in your body do you feel this?  By analyzing these feelings you can begin to see patterns and identify triggers.  Over time, you will be able to erase these patterns from your life.  How great is that?

6. Conscious living

This goes hand-in-hand with self awareness.  Be conscientious about what and who you allow into your life and what you spend your time and energy on.  If that person, event or thing doesn’t thrill you, bring you closer to your divine purpose, complement your lifestyle or strengthen your bonds with the people who are the most important to you, proceed with caution.  Don’t be afraid to say no or to go your own way. Employ self-awareness to this, too.  For example, does the thought of going to The Party of The Year thrill your socks off or make you cringe?  Answer honestly and proceed accordingly.

7. Gratitude

Ok, so everyone should be doing this.  You can not simultaneously feel guilt and gratitude at the same time.  It’s impossible.  Say for example you find yourself feeling bad for not going to the aforementioned Party of The Year.  Immediately begin to think about what you are grateful for in that situation. Like how you have time to dedicate to your writing or you can call your mom or snuggle on the couch with your special someone.  These are choices that can deeply connect you with others and they should be celebrated in favor of bemoaning your lack of party-animal-ness.

8. Be Brave

Taking these steps will be tough at first.  Saying no will take practice.  Not going on habitual guilt-trips is going to take some un-learning. But you can do it.  Start small and work your way to bigger things.  Once you get the hang of it, this will all be second-nature to you.  Take just the first step, be brave.  It’s worth it. I promise.

love and light,

–h

Love, anyway

love-anyway-shevon-johnsonFor those of you who read this column regularly, you know that I write and speak from a deeply personal place.  It is my sincerest wish that I can translate the lessons that I have been given in my life into a medium that can help you.  At least, that’s the plan.  I often make an example out myself unintentionally.  Recently, in my day job, I rescued a cat that had been stuck in a wood pile for several days.  The little creature repaid my kindness by nearly biting through my finger.  After ten days of guy-wrenching antibiotics, the lesson to the men on my team: Don’t be like me; wear thicker gloves.  (The cat’s doing fine, by the way, and has found a forever home… )

And other times, I’ll share here a particular struggle in which I find myself.  Lately, I’ve found myself in a Battle Royale with my own fear.  More specifically, with a deeply rooted fear of intimacy and of trust with another human being.  I’ve been standing on the precipice of something great and truly amazing – the chance for an exceptional life.  And yet, I can’t dive in.  I can’t accept what’s in front of me.  Of course, this relies on the participation of a partner and the trust that I will be loved and cared for unconditionally.  But therein lies the rub, I suppose.  I can’t accept that even on the outside chance this ends up hurting like hell, in the meantime, it will be extraordinary and well worth the gamble.  For you regular readers, you know that I preach that Fear is the opposite of Love.  In Fear there is no Love, and in Love there is no Fear.  Only the ones who have stood here on the edge before know that making this one particular leap is the most terrifying thing that you can ever do – that proverbial “Leap of Faith.”

Upon finding myself in this dilemma, I did what (I’m sure) everyone does: I came home, poured myself a glass of chianti and cried my eyes out.  I sobbed and begged for guidance: What do I DO?  What CAN I do?  Why the fuck am I so petrified?  As I sat there in a state of abject pain, The Voice broke through.  It’s message: “Love, anyway.”  Well, I have to say that that stopped me cold.  The Voice was right, of course (as always… it’s so smug sometimes…).  What else is there to do but love?  What other answer is there?  If I didn’t want to be scared anymore, isn’t the most obvious answer to just love what I was scared of?

I don’t have to tell you that this is easier said than done.  You probably also won’t be surprised that I haven’t made my leap of faith yet – gosh, I’m being so human.  But I’m getting closer.  And when I finally close my eyes and jump, I know that I will be safe.

Resistance is futile

change-I’m about to ask you to do something really, really scary.  Ready?

Ok.  I want you to, just for a minute, let go of any preconceived notions that you actually have any control over the outcome of anything in your life.  Period.  Are you terrified yet?  At minimum you’re pretty uncomfortable.  But let’s keep going and I’ll explain.

What I’m talking about here isn’t little mundane choices we make daily.  For example, I know that if I choose to eat as much chocolate and drink as much wine as I can hold, no matter how bad the day was, the next day is going to feel like hell.  This is basic causation.  But this cause and effect doesn’t necessarily extrapolate to the larger world or to cosmic rationale.  There are people we all know who, despite having it all “together” and being “good people” have suffered the greatest heartache.  And still we know others who, to our minds, may be polar opposite of what we think of as a “good person” and skate through their lives with the greatest of ease.  There is no universal equality when it comes to security.  In fact, in her book “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodron says, “To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic.  To seek for some lasting security is futile … One has to give up hope that this way of thinking will bring us satisfaction.”

Let me give you a personal example of this.  A few years ago, I was in a terrible relationship.  And yet I clung to it for security like it would feed me and keep me and protect me.  Instead it drained me, battered me and nearly killed me.  And yet I didn’t want to see what was happening.  I had planned, you see.  I had planned on a family and a marriage and a happily ever after. I was 32.  This was it, dammit.  But it wasn’t.  It fell apart, and rather dramatically, I might add.  The more desperately I clung on to try to control the inevitable outcome, the greater the lesson built up to show me that control was a moot point and my resistance was not only futile but making things a whole hell of a lot worse.  I resisted the truth and ultimately resisted my path and my own Truth (capital T, thank you).  You see, the “good” in my life fell apart and became “bad.”  At least that’s how I saw it.  Really, though, I was shedding a lot of “bad” and made room for the FABULOUS (all caps, thankyouverymuch).  But that’s not what I saw.  I just saw what was present and resisted any change.  I had the foolish notion that I was in control of everything and that if I just clung on to it hard enough, I could manifest the “correct” outcome.  It doesn’t work like that.

Nothing is constant.  Life is always changing.  The “good” will go “bad.”  But the good news in this is that the “bad” will also go “good.”  I was talking to my friend the other day in the midst of his most desperate hour in his atrocious divorce.  He said to me, “I think this might be the worst thing.” All I could think to say to him was, “Guess what?  That means the next thing automatically has to be better.  You got to the bottom; you’re only going up now.”  The amount of resistance that we feel from something is equal to the emotional energy that we put into the response.  So, if we label divorce or losing a job or moving as “really bad,” well, we’re automatically going to think it sucks.  Likewise, if we label marriage or getting a good job or even winning the lottery as “really good,” then we’re automatically going to be really freaking terrified.  It goes like this:  Big Emotion = Big Resistance = Ridiculous attempt to control our lives.  Does any of this seem like a good use of energy to you?  Me neither.

Am I saying don’t feel big emotion or have an emotional response to change?  Absolutely not.  I’m saying take a step back and look at change (ALL change) in the larger context of your life.  What response does this trigger?  Will a “loss” usher something else in?  Will a “gain” allow you to expand your magnanimity and share with others?  When something shows up to rock your world, let go of the good/bad dichotomy and see if there is a larger message in the change.  It is all change.  Yes, everything falls apart.  But at some point it comes back together, too.  It always has, and it always will.

Love, heather.

The Pitfalls of Planning

I really love trying to find lessons and synchronicities in everyday life.  Even the most seemingly uncomfortable and irritating situation can lead to learning experiences and epiphanies – in fact, they are the most fertile ground.  And I can think of nothing more irritating and uncomfortable than a bad date.  I’ve had a few, but a few weeks ago, I came home from the worst one on record, plopped down on the couch and laughed and laughed.  Here’s how it went: After arriving late, he proceeded to launch into a diatribe about how he hates his parents, why he won’t admit that his own brother is gay, and that he lived with his mother until his late 30s.  All red flags, really.  But even before the appetizers arrived, he had started planning out our lives together.  Everything from what we would do the next weekend, to where we would have dinner the next night, how long we were going to date before we got married, where we would live and when we would retire.  By the time the check arrived, he had decided that I would likely need to give up my cats since he was allergic.  Whoa.  Seriously?  So I did what any self-respecting girl would do: I ran for it.

In the calm and sanity of my cat-infested living room, I debriefed.  Why was planning so patently ludicrous and down-right frightening to me?  Well, probably because I don’t really do it.  Planning out every nuance is exhausting and completely unnecessary.  That’s not say I don’t have goals; I do – lots of them.  But I can’t plan the minutiae of how they will manifest.  I can only work hard, follow my passions and live in the moment trusting that the future will be absolutely perfect.  Sometimes I get a little uptight about what’s coming, especially when it’s an outcome or a relationship that I’m particularly interested in.  But if I waste time obsessing over every single “what-if” then I’ll have missed the whole point.  And the point is that we enjoy the ride on the way to the outcome; it makes it that much sweeter to see how the Universe has plotted and planned to work for you, instead of you working against it.  It’s exactly the same thing as being “in the flow.”  I sometimes need to remind myself of all the things that I tell my clients which is this: I could never in a million years have planned the life I have now.  It is perfect and amazing and full of love and laughter.  So if I couldn’t have even planned this, what on Earth makes me think that I have any idea about how to plan what’s coming next?  It’s impossible.  I must simply allow myself to move through space in my own time all the while following my heart.  That may sound silly, but its worked for me so far, and I’ve never been happier.  In fact, I’d like to think that this process has allowed me to co-create my own miracles.  And that’s just amazing.

Love and light,

–h

Staring down the Shenpa

“I am a train wreck,” I said to a friend of mine one day.  “What the hell?”

“You’re not a train wreck,” she said patiently.  But, as I felt she was biased, I didn’t believe her.  “What do you do when these things crop up?  How have you been handling it?”

“‘Handling it’ seems like kind of a pipe dream,” I countered. “I’m a basket case.”

“No you’re not,” she said calmly (again with the obligatory platitudes).  “You seem to have named these feelings.  That’s good.  You’re observing them.”

“Well then how come it’s not getting better?  It’s worse,” I said.  I was getting fairly desperate at this point.

“Because you’re just observing them,” she countered.

“Are you saying I’m copping out?”

“Yep.”

Dammit.

It seems like somewhere along the way from personal devastation to near-recovery, I had developed a few defense mechanisms to deal with the really deep and ugly stuff.  The stuff that we all have that’s lurking around in our depths; its been down there so long, it doesn’t have a name.  It’s just a bulky mass in the darkness.  And when it moves around, it knocks us off balance.

So what was I supposed to do about it?  I was effectively thrown sideways and felt as though I was watching my sanity slip.  Whatever I was doing wasn’t working.  It was the equivalent of a scared child trembling in bed, transfixed on the closet door, waiting – just waiting – for the monster to come crashing out.  I had to get out of bed and fling that door open, but I was just too damn scared of what was actually in there.

Luckily, I was not the first person to feel this way.  It turns out that Tibetan Buddhists are experts on this kind of thing, and have many practices that they teach to scared, half-crazed souls such as myself.  My friend told me about Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun who teaches meditation (among other things), and her recording “Getting Unstuck – Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality.”  I was game to try anything, so I went home and downloaded it.

Even after years and years of mediation, I had never done a Buddhist meditation on mindfulness.  There are many significant differences from other practices, the biggest (for me) is that you do this practice with your eyes open.  You can’t run. You’re there. It’s intentional for many reasons, but for me it meant that I very literally had to stare down what was going on inside my head.

But what made this recording really resonate with me is the teaching on shenpa – or the things that hook us and drag us down or lure us off into fantasy so that we don’t deal with the issues at hand.  The things that are so painful, ugly or disconcerting that they start us on the downward spiral towards numbing the pain with defense mechanisms or addictions just to be able to escape from them for a little bit.  And I was staring down some big-time shenpa.  This was what was pulling me into insanity, making me feel frantic and out of control.  The source of the shenpa is irrelevant to this discussion, its the process of working through it that I want to share.

Coincidentally, shenpa is the exact same thing that sneaks up on you in meditation.  Sometimes it pokes you, sometimes it takes you by the hand and drags you down some fantasy road or another.  And sometimes it mauls you like a Bengal tiger. I fell into this last category.  So there I went, armed with Pema’s recording and a frantic mind, I decided to sit through the practice to see if it would make a big difference.  Immediately I hated it.  This is mostly because the second I sat down and tried to focus on my breath I began hyperventilating – not good.  But, as Pema teaches, you must stay.  As big and painful and horrible as it is, you must stay with it.  You can not name it, rationalize it, escape it or destroy it.  And so I stayed.  I sat  for many hours over the next few weeks and stared at this shenpa until I got to know every crevice of it.  Over time it began to soften and melt a little bit, as though my gaze were warming it.  Little by little, it faded into the background – not gone, not completely.  Just a more manageable piece and something that didn’t have power over me any more.

That was a significant event for me, but also a deeply hurtful shenpa.  I have more; so do you.  And that’s ok.  What is important is that it is very possible to move through it and, as Pema says, face “naked reality.” You need only have enough self love to recognize that you must face these fears head on.  Be brave.

Namaste.