A Fresh Start for 2017

How are you feeling about entering the New Year?

The turning of the year has always been an opportunity for a fresh start. Whether last year was the best year or the worst year, it is now over. Time to let it go and embrace the new, whatever that may be.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

I like to use this as a time to reflect and evaluate things. What is working? What is not? What do I need to release in order to make room for something better? What is missing from my life? What annoying things do I need to get rid of? Are there bad habits I need to stop? Good habits I need to foster? It’s time for a change, so what needs to be different?

Winter is a time that calls us to go inward and reflect. It’s cold outside. It’s dark. It’s comforting to curl up with a nice, hot cup of lemon, ginger tea, lean back against some cushions and think about how we want to go forward with our lives.

In 2017 there is a huge change coming and I don’t know what exactly it will be but it has me unsettled. When things are beyond our control, and so much of life is, it’s helpful to take charge of the things we can. The best way I know to channel that anxiety into something positive is to create my own landscape for what I would like to see. It is my form of prayer.

Every New Year’s I have a ritual that I do. I have a special journal set aside for this purpose where I write my aspirations. Here’s how it goes.

First, on a piece of scrap paper I write down everything I want to let go of and I put GOODBYE at the top of the page. It can be anything. Bad attitudes. Five pounds. Clothes I never wear. Feeling guilty. Anything that is not serving me that I can actually let go of. I write these things down and then as an act of release I burn the paper. Goodbye.

Next I look at my list of things from the previous year that I asked for. Always fun to do this part. I love to see what I wanted that actually happened. I check all of these things off. It’s amazing how many things I ask for do happen. Intention is powerful. It’s not magic. It’s being clear and focused, so that when the opportunity comes up to bring in something I want I act, rather than let the moment pass.

The first list I write down in the journal is also part of reflection. “Thank you for…” I write down everything that I’m grateful for that happened in the past year, whether it’s something I specifically asked for or not. It’s interesting to realize that great things happened that I didn’t see coming. I published a book. I met some wonderful people at a writing retreat. I found a fitness program that has transformed my body and my health. I am reminded that life is full of possibility. It’s so important not to forget this.

And finally…”2017 Hello…” and the big list begins.

I frequently like to do this at a quiet restaurant, where I can get a glass of wine or champagne, order something special from the menu and have my precious, solo time to write and reflect. (I don’t do the burning part in the restaurant. I save that scrap of paper for later.) There’s something about whisking myself away from my family that gives me the peace of mind and uninterrupted time to treasure this practice.

Later in the month, I make a collage for the year. This is another practice I have been doing for over 30 years. I love creating collages for important things I want to see in my life. I have done them for career, for love relationships and I even made one when I was looking for a house to buy so I could find just the right place. They work! Again, it’s not magic. Spending time paying close attention to what you want and taking the steps to visualize it helps you recognize it when it’s in front of you. Make sure you have the right magazines to find the images and words that you want to put in the collage. I have been known to buy a particular magazine just to cut up for this purpose.

This year I’m going to make two collages. One will be personal, for my life. The other will be for our country and the world. I don’t have a lot of control over the future, but I can voice my hope, with cut out pictures and words. This is my positive vision for the world.

No one can take away our dreams and our visions.

Or our sense of humor.

Happy 2017!

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Self Care During Times of Uncertainty

It has been months since I’ve written a blog post. After publishing my book “Successful Strokes – A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business” last March and spending energy promoting it, I needed to take a break. I have three other books partially written but haven’t decided where to focus my attention. So, taking my own advice, I decided to take time off and just do nothing for a while. For me, doing nothing means taking lots of walks, spending time in my garden and getting lost in a book.

I was starting to feel relaxed. Allowing that void to be empty, knowing that creative ideas would soon form.

Then the election happenedYoung beautiful woman with reddish hair sitting home by the window with cup of hot coffee wearing knitted warm sweater. Christmas tree with decorations and lights in the room, snowy winter outside and I was totally unprepared for the result. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Really? How could this be possible? There must be some mistake. Is this really going to happen?

My adrenaline, which had settled into a nice, quiet tide pool was suddenly churning in tsunami waves. Suddenly all I saw in my Facebook feed were articles that scared me to death. I felt sick. My stomach was in knots. I no longer needed to watch my diet as I had no appetite. It was immobilizing. All I could feel was panic and a sense of dread.

I want to live in a world that works for everyone. Unrealistic? Maybe, but truly, that is what I want. I know we are a very long way from that ideal, but I have seen over time that the quality of life has improved in countries around the world and slowly things have been getting better. The thing that blindsides us is that technology and communication have made information so much more accessible than it ever was, so we hear about more terrible things happening than we ever did. But, in general, people have more freedom and a higher quality of life than they did, say, 50 years ago.

Things were getting better in our country, too. The economy was better, there was more advancement on human rights and equality.

Then I woke up to an election that favored a man who wants to set us back 70 years, back to times of terror and struggle, who wants to undo so much progress we have made over hard fought battles.

I have been seriously distraught, unable to write or make anything. I even thought maybe I’d start working on a sewing project but realized my creative juice is zapped.

Anyone else feeling like this?

As I sat with this, I knew that it is not healthy to allow oneself to turn into a tight little ball of fear and that I had to keep going somehow, so I tried to analyze what was going on.

I feel like I just woke up in the middle of a dystopian novel. And it’s a cliff hanger.

And that, dear friends, is what’s driving me crazy.

Right now we don’t know what to do because we aren’t sure what’s going to happen. And so we read the scary headlines and we panic and despair.

Uncertainty is hard. When there is a crisis, we figure out what we need to do and we get to work. The surge of adrenaline gets channeled into action. If we see a vicious storm coming, we batten down the hatches and lay in a supply of food. Right now it’s unclear what to do and yet we want to do something.

It is emotionally overwhelming to focus too much on things over which we have little or no control. The key to mental health, is to take action on things where we do have some control and that’s what I’m doing now.

I have taken some steps to cope, and I’m sharing them in case you’d like ideas of how to get through these times as well.

  1. Take breaks from the news and social media. This has become a major habit of mine, since I’m constantly checking to see what my friends have to share. New rule: no news or Facebook after dinner. I do not need to see upsetting articles as I’m winding down from my day and preparing for sleep.
  2. Do small, simple tasks that make you feel better about your life. For me, that amounts to tidying up my house, cleaning out drawers and going through piles of accumulated papers to make my environment clean and orderly. I have been getting my garden ready for winter, pulling weeds and mulching the beds. It gives me peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment to see messy things get tidier.
  3. Connect with friends. During stressful times it helps to channel more love. I’ve been calling people I haven’t spoken to in a while and making dates to get together and that makes all of us feel better.
  4. Do random acts of kindness. Hug people. Smile and chat with strangers. Help whenever you can. As much as possible.
  5. Donate to organizations and causes you believe in. I started a few recurring monthly donations to human rights organizations and other places I want to support. Even tiny donations add up and feel good to do.
  6. Do simple tasks you enjoy. Cooking has always been a way for me to express myself and I especially love to cook during the cold winter months. A couple of times a week I whip up something hearty and satisfying for my family. It’s productive, its fun, and it’s appreciated by others.
  7. Focus on things you can control. Back in August I started a fitness program that combined healthy eating with exercise and I have religiously kept that up, sticking to a healthy eating plan, doing frequent brief workouts and walking eight thousand steps each day. So far I’ve lost 9 pounds and am almost at my goal. The walks are especially helping as I love walking among the trees and enjoy the patterns of fallen leaves as I go down my neighborhood streets.
  8. Read good books. Just finished “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes. She’s the writer for the TV shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” It’s hilariously funny and very uplifting.
  9. Participate in things that uplift you spiritually. I occasionally attend Center For Spiritual Living, a non-denominational church that recognizes all religions and spiritual paths as having value. I’ve been going more often.

All of this is helping. And hey, I just wrote a blog post.

Body Tweaking

My latest self-care practice, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is that I signed up for a fitness program. Yes, the kind that you pay for. I was determined that my nemesis, those stubborn ten pounds, were not going to get the best of me. They have slowly creeped up over the past few years and I have dismissed them, excused them, helped hide them and accepted them as a new normal. Ten pounds may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you’re 5’ 2” it’s quite a bit.

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not fat shaming myself or being obsessed with a certain look. I could feel it dragging me down. I was losing my juice. I could see how easily we gradually succumb to sluggishness. As we age we need to take care of these little things before they become big and turn us into lethargic sloths.

I was about ready to find the tree limb on which to crawl and spend the rest of my days when this program popped out at me. I checked it out and it seemed healthy, in line with the way I live so I decided to give it a try. Clearly I was not succeeding on my own.

I signed up for the 8Fit app because it both includes meal plans, fitness workouts and the shining crown – a Personal Trainer. Yes! A real human with whom I can email and ask questions! There are short video workouts to do as many times a week as I can.  You grade each one as easy, perfect or difficult and they keep tweaking what they give you by your feedback. It’s pretty cool. The rest of the time I walk until I reach at least 8,000 steps, as the app has a built in pedometer.

I like the idea of a trainer I can actually work with. Reaching goals is so much easier when I have someone to be accountable to. It seemed worth a try for $79/year. They offer a money back guarantee during the first week, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Except hopefully a bit of blubber. I can squeeze that roll on my stomach with my fingers and I say nasty things to it, as I try to drive it away. Hopefully this will be more effective than that.

So, the plunge is taken and I am diving in and giving it my all. Everyone who knows me will think I already eat healthy, but one thing I’ve already learned is that I eat too much fruit and the excess glucose turns to fat. Who knew? Those sweet, heavenly mangoes, and my precious homegrown raspberries, turning to ugly fat? I shivered in horror. No, please don’t take my favorite foods away!

I learned that sugars, even natural sweets found in fruit, need to be balanced by protein in order to be used by the body. Otherwise they will turn to fat. That was quite a revelation! At night I frequently grab a handful of figs or an apple, thinking I’m staving off hunger responsibly. Now I balance fruit with nuts or cheese.

I thought I was doing a good job tracking my calories with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, but I cheated. I did not track all my fruit. Or that occasional piece of dark chocolate, or the slice of cheese and cracker that I ate in a ravenous stupor when I came home from work famished. I was definitely having an affair with undocumented foods.

By The Numbers

My delightful 8Fit coach, Alice tells me not to focus on the numbers but to pay attention to how I feel. Is she serious? I know she means well, but I have so many feelings going on at any given time, all I can say, is that they are extremely unreliable. Bloated, blubbery, excited, hopeful, disappointed, frustrated, exhausted, despairing, fierce, resilient, hopeful (again), grateful, alarmed, worried, relieved, elated, sleek, fat, acceptable, unacceptable, fit, hippo. Basically every body image and emotion possible, depending on my mood. Each of these feelings takes only a second to come and go, meaning that in any given minute I can cycle through 60 of them. They are highly unreliable.

When I turn a certain way I can look at myself in the mirror and my waist looks positively thin. And at 26 inches it’s not bad. But right above that is a roll of blubber, which I never had before, an unwanted guest in my body that has definitely overstayed its welcome.

Whereas the numbers are scientific. The number on the scale gives me a data point. It can be 128 pounds of fat or 128 pounds of muscle, but it tells me what I weigh and over time I can watch those numbers go up or down.

Same with food. I track my calories and I have used the 8Fit meals as a guideline, but being fiercely independent I ultimately design my own. The program has given me some new ideas, like blending Greek yogurt with uncooked rolled oats at breakfast, something I never thought of before. I like that I get oatmeal combined with protein. I add some fresh fruit to that for sweetness, chia seeds, flax seeds, and some chopped almonds. Nine almonds. 63 calories of almonds.

If I walk at least 8,000 steps the app tells me I burn 250 calories,. This is in addition to the calories it takes for me to run my basic bodily aliveness. Since there are 3500 calories to a pound, if that’s all I manage I will at least lose ½ pound per week, or eight pounds by New Year’s. The app’s brief workouts also burn a couple hundred calories so that will help, too. What I love about the workouts is the strength training. I’m using muscles that I normally do not challenge and I realize how weak I’ve allowed myself to become. I don’t really like standard exercises. I would rather walk or dance. But it feels incredibly good to be getting stronger and fit.

The really rewarding thing about this? It’s something I have control over. There are so many things I have put effort into that did not yield the results I was hoping for. Most of my creative endeavors are like that, especially the ones where I tried selling something I made. But this is something where it’s scientifically laid out. If I take in a certain number of calories and burn a specific number of them I ought to get results.

Without a clear plan we fool ourselves.

We tell ourselves lies. We sweet-talk ourselves into falling in love with our fantasies, into those things we want to be true. Especially when we feel lost and don’t have the energy to make changes. We know exactly how to turn our heads and not look at the parts we don’t want to see.

But now I have Alice. I even sent her a photo (I took “before” photos as another motivator to keep on track) so she knows just what that belly roll of fat that I want to get rid of looks like. She is incredibly supportive and helpful and we are slowly getting to know each other.

So we shall see.

Radical Self-Care Step Five – Rest

Is It Nap Time Yet?

This is the hardest self-care step for me because it means that I have to stop my usual frenzy of activity and really slow down. I talk a good game but in reality I am always in motion. Between all the things I have to do and the things I want to do it’s really quite a challenge for me to stop and just be still.

But, oh my goodness, it is so necessary.

Watercolor Molly & Grace

We are like bees buzzing around an endless array of flowers, getting caught up in the colors and aromas and we can get lost there, always buzzing, never resting.

And yet, magical things come from rest.

To do nothing is a powerful act. To be, to rest, to let go. Letting the swirl of energy that is constantly driving us come to a halt. Taking some time to stop and evaluate what we’re doing gives us a chance to prioritize what’s really important. It also gives us time to recharge our batteries and it strengthens our immune systems.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to take one day a week just for rest. No goals. No chores. Not even scheduling a fun activity with a friend. A day for true rest. Reading, gardening, taking a nice long walk, even curling up on the couch and watching a movie. For me, rest requires not engaging, which is why I don’t make plans with anyone on my rest day. But your mileage may vary. The important thing is to give yourself a true break, where you aren’t “on” and nothing at all is needed from you. It’s quite a luxury.

A day of rest gives you a chance to just be yourself. You aren’t playing a role (parent, spouse, friend or whatever you do for a living). You aren’t responding to anyone. It’s a day to truly nurture yourself, to allow yourself to be 100% okay just as you are. Nothing else required.

When I was in my 20’s I went on a long trip for several months to Southeast Asia. I happened to arrive in Bali the day before what they call “quiet day.” On that day everything on the island is shut down. No cars or buses run. No restaurants are open. No fires are lit. It’s a day where the entire island hits the “off” switch. All food has been prepared in advance because no cooking is done. A local person explained to me that they do this so malevolent spirits will think everyone has left the island and they will move on. I thought it was wonderful that this whole culture observed a day when absolutely everything and everyone came to a halt and rested.

Even the bible talks about having a day of rest each week. Many spiritual traditions honor a day of rest. Clearly, there is something to this.

Think of it as a way to re-boot. You know that when you re-boot things they work better. As the deeply down-to-earth writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

This is what I’m talking about. We all need some time to unplug. When we can’t screw up because nothing is required of us. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds delicious.

 

What is Radical Self-Care?

Part of the secret to radical self-care is knowing exactly what the right recipe is for your unique, particular needs. If you think of your life as a dish at a fabulous culinary feast, what are the ingredients that make it as delectable as possible? What spices and seasonings are going to make it taste both delicious and satisfying.

Someone asked me the other day, “Why ‘Radical Self-Care?” “What do you mean by the worwoman relaxing on grassd ‘radical’?” The word ‘radical’ means extreme. And I choose to call it radical self-care because sometimes it really takes an extremely big effort to take good care of yourself. Particularly if you are in a profession or play a role in your life where you are taking care of others, it can be almost wrenching to stop giving, step back, take a breath and figure out what it is that YOU need in order to recharge. And the next step is to set aside the time to do something just for you. It is very easy to get burned out when you are giving all the time and even though intellectually we know this, it still remains a challenge. So how do we do this?

I’m sharing with you what I have learned on this wild trip through life. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt (pink Himalayan sea salt, of course) and tweak it so that it works for you! Know that your life may require different ingredients but what I hope you get from these posts is the importance of knowing what your unique flavors (needs) are. And that it’s really essential to give that to yourself. This may sound simple on the surface, but we spend a lot of time doing what is expected of us. And we can get caught up thinking that our entire value has to do with living up to everyone elses expectations. This can be so deeply ingrained that we don’t even realize it.

After quite a few decades of working very hard to please others – clients, partners, friends, family, you name it, I started realizing that I had to take control of my own well-being. Because no matter how much I did it never felt like enough. I had goals that were difficult to attain and even when I did they didn’t satisfy me like I thought they would. Basically I had bought into our very driven culture, even though I had carved out a professional niche in the field of relaxation. Ironic, isn’t it?

I began making a point of doing simple things to slow down, disconnect from my own self-imposed hamster wheel and started treating myself with the same quality of care that I have given to others. And here in these posts I have broken it down into steps.

Hey, I write these posts as much to remind myself as I do to remind you.

Please come along with me and use these posts to jump-start your own loving practice of radical self-care. Let these thoughts be the catalyst to give yourself the life you deserve. In essence it is very simple. And this means that true inner contentment is totally within your power.

Radical Self-Care Step One – Journaling

“Tell me Everything” She Said. And I Did.

One of the tools I have used for as long as I can remember is journal writing. From the very earliest age in high school when the entries were more like poems of coming of age torment, I clung to my tiny notebook. It was as though it were part of my body, clutched tightly underneath my arm. Certainly, it was part of my soul.

As time evolved, so did the journal. Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way” recommends that we write three pages every morning. She even suggests that they be pages we don’t ever read again, so rather than try to do a beautiful piece of writing, she advises us to let every bit of icky goop just pour out, so that, in essence, we could be free of it. It was from her encouragement that my journal became my “free therapist.”

Now my journal writing has become a session for transformation. After writing, I am never the same. It is the place to pour out the swirl of contradictions that do their gyrating dance inside me. Thoughts of desire, hope and angst are released into those pages, clearing my head, opening my heart.

JournalBut there’s something else that happens when I write in my journal. Thoughts and ideas that completely surprise me come up. Just like in a person-to-person therapy session, when you are speaking and suddenly you have insights that surprise you, because for the first time you are actually verbalizing a feeling, the same sorts of light bulbs go off when journal writing.

For a couple of years I was in college, training for a completely different profession that did not at all suit me. I was doing this because the economy was crashing and I was terrified that I would not be able to survive as a massage therapist. They were the hardest 2 years of my life. So tough, that when it was over the only way to cope with the craziness was to write a book about it, which I will someday publish. The way I managed the stress was with a journal writing routine. Every Sunday morning I went to a local café bakery, got a cup of tea and a cinnamon walnut croissant and wrote in my journal. It was a holy ritual where I wrote about my tough week. I ranted about the things I was hating. I voiced my fears. I wailed about my absolute total misery.

Each session ended with a list of things I was grateful for and a list of prayers for the coming week. It kept me sane. Because, you see, even though I was in an environment where I did not fit at all, each time I wrote I came back to myself. The journal helped remind me who I was. And even in the midst of recalling the worst weeks, I remembered the parts of myself that I loved. In fact, writing in that journal was a pure act of self-love. Some part of me was saying, “Here, let me take care of you. Have a nice cup of tea and a croissant and tell me everything.”

And that, dear friends, is the way we use the “Free Therapist” journal to heal. Do you journal?

P.S. I love to hear your comments and please add where you are from. Thanks!