Just Keep Swimming

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I honestly don’t exactly know what I am going to write today or how I’m going to write it but I felt the urge to purge!  This has been such a crazy year and I really don’t think I have given myself the chance to really feel all that I have been feeling–the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the loneliness, the fear…I don’t want to make this a big drama..I simply want to give myself the chance to just be completely real and completely vulnerable, no holding back.

It’s really been one hell of a roller coaster ride!  Never knowing how I am going to feel from one day to the next.  One of the scariest things one can experience is having a health problem.  Other kinds of stress you can get away from but your body…you cannot escape. For a short time, my body felt like a prison.  I really wanted to get OUT!  But I realized I only had one option and that was to keep on going, to keep on swimming.

So each day I put on a brave face and went to work, after the morning nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations and anxiety had passed.  And each afternoon, I struggled through a fuzzy head, inability to focus, fatigue and sometimes sore back.  The worst thing I experienced was a panic attack on the train.  It was an indescribably horrible feeling.  I thought I was going to die right then and there.

I had just one question during that period (no pun intended)–When is this going to END?!  Finally, after about six months, the HRT seemed to be doing its job and I could function pretty normally again.  It was a huge relief!  Like being underwater for a while and then coming up for air.

I didn’t really have time to dwell on the past (which was probably a good thing).  I just kept moving forward.  Perhaps I need to mourn the loss of the person I was so I can really let her go and become the person I am now, the person I am going to be.  Maybe I also have to forgive myself and forgive my loved ones.

At the beginning of all this, I was terrified.  I didn’t know what the hell was going on with my body.  Some of the symptoms were pretty scary.  I was also frustrated by the unpredictability and my complete lack of control.  I was sad that I couldn’t make plans and do some of the things I wanted to do and really sad that I had lost the energy I was known for; energy I thought made me who I was.  It really felt lonely at times, too…no one to talk to, no one who seemed to want to hear about what I was going through.  Sometimes I felt a little crazy;  like people didn’t believe me.  I felt angry at doctors who didn’t seem to help much and angry at myself for letting my body get so fucked up in the first place!!

After several months, my lifestyle had changed completely;  mostly by choice but partly because I had no choice.  I stayed in most weekends.  I had reduced my hours at work.  I was meditating and doing yoga to stay calm,  not consuming any alcohol or caffeine,  sleeping at least nine hours at night, eating super healthy, drinking tons of water, taking vitamins…basically doing everything I could to support my body.  Without even really being aware of it, I had taken back control.  Healing is a very personal journey and I knew my body better than anyone.  It was up to me.

The most valuable thing I have learned from this experience is that no matter how many amazing people you have in your life, essentially, you are on your own.  It is a frightening and yet empowering reality.  The fact is YOU are in charge of your life.  You are accountable.  I quickly realized that I had to stop thinking–‘Why is this happening to me?’  Why doesn’t anyone help me?’  and start thinking–‘How did I contribute to this situation?’ and ‘What am I going to do do about it?’.

I think I am out of the woods now.  (knock on wood!)  Every month, I seem to feel a little better.  The anxiety still creeps back once in a while, I tend to get tired easily and my body doesn’t tolerate much stress… but overall I am feeling pretty fine!  My biggest worry now is how I am going to handle the stress of a new job.  But I have managed to make it here, all by myself, just taking one step at a time, moving forward.  So I guess I’ll  just keep swimming!

In the strangest way, it has been a beautiful experience and I feel such gratitude for everything that has happened.  It has made me stronger, wiser, more compassionate and hopefully a better person.

Young women who are reading this:  Take care of your body and with any luck, it will be good to you!  Women who are going through menopause:  Don’t resist this transformation–embrace the cycles of life.  Let this be a time of self-care and self-discovery.  You WILL get through this.  For anybody:  If you know a woman or have a loved one who is menopausal or has hormonal imbalance, please believe her and support her in anyway you can!  And for anyone who is suffering out there:  Take a deep breath and just keep swimming.

It’s got groove, it’s got meaning…

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What are we doing here?!  That is the ultimate question.

It was a night of vivid dreams and I awoke to the song “Grease” in my head.  I read over the lyrics this morning–“This is the life of illusion.”  And it is.  The reality that each of us knows is very different.  Our whole world depends on our perceptions;  our senses.  But our senses are completely influenced by our thinking and feelings and on what we have seen, heard and touched before.  When we are in our heads, we are really not in the real world at all but in a perceived two-dimensional fantasy.  The way out of this illusion is to live in your body, in the present, without judgement of what you are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting.  This is awareness in the three-dimensional world.

When we have false beliefs about what is going on around us, we will also have false beliefs about ourselves.  And when we hold false beliefs about ourselves, we will have more false beliefs about our world.  It’s a never-ending vicious cycle and life becomes “wrapped up in trouble, laced with confusion.”

All of our lives we pick up information and file it away in our brains.  Like Post-it notes, we remember bits and pieces and as these notes accumulate, we start to categorize them; forming our basic view of the world, the people in it and ourselves.  Before mid-life hit me, I thought I had a pretty good idea about who I was and what I was doing.  Now I feel like I have no idea!  I am looking at all of these Post-it notes that I have collected over the years, wondering why I have some of them and contemplating which ones to toss out.

Does the girl I thought I was really exist?  (Well, actually nothing exists since everything is in a constant state of change.)  Being in the middle of nowhere is a scary place to be but I can choose to think of it like a blank canvass, where anything is possible.  Once we are able to drop all the ideas of who we think we should be, we can be our true selves–“We start believing now that we can be who we are.”

I think the truth is, my life really has no meaning except the meaning I give it.  I was not put on this planet for any ‘purpose’.  We live, we breathe, we die–that’s it.  Ah, but I do believe there is something that connects us all together.  Essentially we all come from the same source of matter and therefore, we share the same energy.  Despite the fact that your life means nothing, you ARE a unique piece of this energy and you CAN make a difference in the world.

The way to give your life meaning is through intention and integrity.  Who you were belongs to yesterday.  Who you are today, in this moment, is all that matters.  To maintain your wholeness, it’s essential to find out what qualities and behaviors are valuable to you.  Also, it is vital to live every day with AWARENESS and FEARLESSNESS.   Without these two key aspects, you will either remain in denial or stuck in stress, worry, anxiety.  True peace requires awareness and true joy requires fearlessness.

I have just thought of a daily ritual that I am going to try and I will share it with you.

In the morning when you first get up:

1.  Express your gratitude–Name at least five things that you are thankful for in your life.  (your home, your health, your family, your heart beating, the sun shining) Really feel this gratitude.

2.  Set an intention for your day–Do you want to be more patient, more honest, more compassionate?  Maybe you see yourself running five kilometers or completing a report before the deadline.  Think of three qualities or behaviors you would like to focus on.

During the day:

1.  Take some time-ins–Take time to connect with your breath and the moment.  Simply feel your breath in your nose and in your belly.  With each inhale, feel your presence and with each exhale, let go of all fear.

2.  Notice if your body feels tense or if you have pain anywhere.  Send your breathe to these places for healing.  Release the tension.

Do these several times a day–in the shower, on the bus to work, after lunch–try to create mini rituals so they become like second nature to you.

At night when you go to bed:

1.  Look back on your day.  Is your integrity in tact?  Reflect on your thoughts and actions.  Were they consistent with your intention for the day?  How could you be even more inline with your values?  Forgive yourself for any missteps, for being imperfect–you are human!  Go to bed with a smile on your face and be ready to start fresh tomorrow!

Quotes came from the song ‘Grease’ by Frankie Valli (written by Barry Gibb)

Reflection in the mirror

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Loving and truly accepting yourself is not something that you achieve once and have for the rest of your life.  It’s something that you DO every day.

About ten years ago, I thought I loved myself but actually whatever level of self-love I had reached soon turned into self-indulgence.  I led a rather hedonistic lifestyle for a while; totally in denial about the harm I was doing to my body and my emotional well-being.  There’s nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence occasionally if done with awareness of the possible consequences but regularly ‘rewarding’ yourself by drinking too much, spending too much or doing some other unhealthy activity is a sign of avoidance.

Loving yourself really begins with taking care of the temple you dwell in–your body.  Eating foods that nourish your body, doing some exercise, getting enough sleep and taking time for yourself are all ways to express love for yourself.  These actions should not feel like dull chores but rather like enjoyable pleasures.

Loving yourself also means truly accepting ALL of your emotions and allowing yourself to FEEL them.  I was an expert on rejecting my own feelings.  I swept them under the carpet and hoped they would go away.  Most of the time I didn’t even realize I was sweeping!  But feelings don’t just go away unless you recognize their presence, say ‘hello’ and offer them a cup of tea!

Another vital aspect to loving yourself is living a life that is consistent with your attitudes, beliefs and values.  If you value ambition but you are acting lazy, you will sense dissonance which will cause you to feel frustrated.  If you are working at a money-hungry company but you believe helping those less fortunate, you will most certainly be miserable.  If you feel strongly about having children but your partner isn’t interested in kids, you are setting yourself for disappointment.  Be brave and bold enough to make those tough decisions.  Get unstuck and embrace change!  I guarantee that living in accordance with your true self, living with integrity, will make your soul smile!

Most importantly, loving yourself requires awareness– awareness of what you are thinking, and feeling, how you are behaving and reacting and how you are treating yourself and others.  Uncovering the truth, YOUR truth, is the only way to fully accept yourself and the only way to live in harmony with yourself.  One thing I noticed after waking up was how often I was judging myself and other people.  Why did I always have to categorize things instead of just seeing the world as it was?

I realize now that the judgements I make about others usually says more about me than it does about them.  When we see someone who has a personality trait that appears completely opposite from us, we may react with jealously or disgust.  We may secretly want to be more like that person but pretend that we don’t or we may have that  characteristic but deny that we have it.  For example, I am a very tidy person and my friend is messy.  I might judge him negatively for not being neat but underneath that I am actually envious of how well he tolerates disorder.   Another instance could be I am feeling angry that my partner is behaving selfishly, but what I am really doing is rejecting my own selfishness and projecting it on to him.

It’s all tied together.  You can really only love and be loved as much as you love yourself.  The people we are close to are our mirrors.  They can teach us about ourselves and give us greater self-awareness.  Take an honest look at yourself.  Once you are at peace with yourself and who YOU are, then you can truly love others, without judgement.  Choose to live with love and awareness rather than fear and denial.  This will not bring you instant ‘happiness’ or gratification but it will bring you long term peace, contentment, health and harmony.

I give acknowledgment to the website–‘tiny buddha’–which has lots of great articles.  Check it out!

Higher Ground

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Yes!  You guessed it.  I had a dream!  I was on a small beach (Thailand?) and there were big waves.  I wanted one of those floaty things.  I didn’t want to lose my keys so I attached them to my pocket.  I remember eating some fish.  The last part, I was dancing gently on the sand to UB40’s song, “Higher Ground”.  I felt peaceful, calm and carefree.   I woke up with the song in my head–The more I learn, the less I know about before…

Waves symbolize emotions and can represent potential and power.  The fear of losing my keys suggests I am afraid of losing control of myself.  Eating fish is supposed to be ‘food for the soul’ or spirituality.   These symbols I just looked up now.  What I am about to write now poured out of me and into my notebook earlier this morning .

I’ve been thinking a lot about nature vs. nurture and soul vs. personality.  What is a soul?  What is spirituality?  Can we ever reach our fullest potential?  I realized sadly that what I used to think of as my personality is actually mainly controlled by hormones and other biological functions.

However, the good news I discovered is that my identity did not depend on my body.  I am not merely a personality.  There’s a part in me that has remained the same since I was born.  This is what I refer to as my soul.  I don’t think the soul is some whispy, transparent form that comes out of my body when I die.  To me, my soul is my essence.  It’s what some call a higher self–a wiser element that knows what is right for me and makes good choices.

The funny things is, if I had always acted in accordance to my higher self, I wouldn’t be here writing this right now.  (well, probably not)  My bad decisions have been just as important as the good ones and have made me who I am today.  I don’t think humans are meant to live intotal conscious awareness all the time (well, maybe a few are) .  If we did, what would be the point of living?  Everyone would make perfect choices and never make mistakes.  No one would ever feel sad or dissatisfied or disappointed.  And without sadness, how could anyone feel happy?  Without fighting, how would we know what peace was?  Without fear, how could we love?  There must be darkness in order for light to exist.

Inside of each of us, there is the lower fear-based self (ego) and the higher self which acts from love.  I believe people on a spiritual journey have been woken up;  some perhaps only for a short time, others maybe for longer.  What they have in common is that they are all in a process of transformation, on a quest of questioning.  Spirituality is simply a search–it’s seeking that higher ground within yourself.

I feel very fortunate that the circumstances in my life have opened my eyes.  It’s kind of like someone has turned on the light.  Even though I sometimes feel cheated, like I can’t do what I’m ‘supposed to’ be doing, the reality is I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.  All I need to do is TRUST, keep my eyes and mind open and keep taking one step at a time.  I have been fearful lately that I would not reach my highest potential but I now realize that it doesn’t really exist.  If I did have a ‘highest potential’ and I reached it at age 55, what would I do after that?!

We are always growing and learning.  There is no end where we go–“WOW!  This is it!  I am the best I will ever be!”  Each of us is on our own path.  The key is to have respect for yourself and the process.  We need to be easy on ourselves and easy on others, too.  Life is not easy but you can feel at ease when you let go of trying to resist or control things.

It’s okay to feel lost and not know where you are going.  When we surrender to this ‘unknowing’, and look at ourselves from a higher point of view, a higher ground, we can feel this sense of ease.  Just observe and be curious.  No one knows where they are going.  All we can do is get up in the morning and try to live that day as best as we can, with TRUTH and COMPASSION.

I will leave this entry with the chorus of “Higher Ground”.  If you don’t know this song by UB40, go listen to it!!  The lyrics are beautiful and it will make you feel good!

Every hour of every day I’m learning more
The more I learn, the less I know about before
The less I know, the more I want to look around
Digging deep for clues on higher ground

Muddily Ever After

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I saw a pig in my dream.  Apparently, a pig symbolizes my misconceptions–in reality, things are not at all how I imagined them.  The pig could also represent the man in my life.  I am always stunned at how these interpretations are bang on with what I am currently thinking or feeling.

Marriage was the pig!  Recently, I have been pondering what a marriage means and the many misconceptions I have held.  The biggest myth that I  believed is that marriage is some kind of happily-ever-after fantasy where you finally find the man of your dreams and then everything is hunky dory til you die.  (definitely too many princess movies out there warping the minds of little girls, but that is for another post)

They say that long term relationships take ‘work’ but no one tells you how hard it really is to find the right balance between holding on to yourself and losing yourself.  If you hang on to yourself too tightly, you will never be able to experience deep and soulful intimacy with your partner.  Yet if you completely lose yourself in your partner, you will never develop a deep and intimate relationship with yourself.

At the beginning, a relationship appears to be so pure and clean.  When I ‘fell in love’, everything felt so perfect.  My partner was godlike to me and I wanted so desperately to keep him and be loved by him.  At this point, I focused on all of our similarities and shared interests.  I think I was comforted by the idea that I had found someone so compatible with me.  “Ahhh. I am not alone.  Someone WANTS me.”  Our relationship was so simple and easy and peaceful–smooth sailing!

As things progressed, I started to notice some bumps but I tried to put them out of my mind.  I was so afraid of losing him that I did whatever I could to please him.  I didn’t want anything to disrupt our quiet and happy existence together.

But after years of shoving down my true feelings and sometimes my true self, I was about to come to a rude awakening– a crisis was looming and it had to be faced.  The choice was:  1.  continue to suppress my emotions while trying to keep the marriage status quo and risk losing myself completely  OR  2. express what I was REALLY thinking and feeling and risk upsetting my partner with the possibility of  losing him.  Neither choice seemed very appetizing but I decided to go with door number 2.   The thought of losing myself had become more frightening than the thought of losing him.

Eventually, all long term relationships will experience a crisis;  likely a few.  They are not meant to be a journey of continuous smooth sailing.  Just because the waters get a little rough, doesn’t mean that it is time to bail.  This is when things get dirty (and weirdly fascinating)!

Get ready to roll around in the mud and do some wrestling–not only with your partner, but with YOURSELF!  You may think your partner is being a greedy selfish pig…but then you look in the mirror and discover that YOU are a stubborn, selfish pig, too!!  The tricky part is maintaining that balance;  when do I just let go and accept my partner as he is, maybe allowing him to be a bit of a ‘pig’ or letting him ‘win’ and when do I need to grasp onto my integrity for dear life, stubbornly insist on my needs, perhaps looking like a ‘pig’ to my partner.

Knowing that it’s okay for the relationship to get messy has helped me see our partnership from a different perspective.  I was never alright with things being chaotic or out of control.  I hated confrontation and fighting.  But now I am getting much more comfortable with speaking my mind and speaking my truth with less fear about how my partner will react.

Tension will inevitably build up in a long term relationship.  Like tectonic plates under the ground,  shifting and small earthquakes will be felt;  and once in a while a big earthquake will shake your world and very foundation.  It’s going to get muddy and messy, tense and uncomfortable at times.  Learning to live with temporary tension and learning to go through crises takes practice, patience and a whole lot of courage.

It’s breaking through these tough, dirty spots that develops a stronger, more passionate relationship;  a relationship where each person has a little more compassion and forgiveness.  These crises give people the opportunity to explore themselves and get to know themselves at a deep level.  After wrestling around in the muck, you will emerge with a truer sense of yourself and your partner.  And when you can share your TRUE self with your partner, without desiring approval…that is real intimacy.