How to Make Better Use of Your Time

How to Make Better Use of Your Time

One of my favorite novels is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let me Go. It’s a sci-fi thriller about the moral implications of human cloning and a few years after it was published, they made a film adaptation. I went to see a screening and afterwards, there was a Q&A with Ishiguro. In that conversation, Ishiguro said something that profoundly altered my view of life and how I approach my daily existence.

Before I go on, let me tell you a bit about my situation at the time — it was 2010, two years after my stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis at age 32 and I was still in the midst of the period where they were monitoring my cancer to see if it had spread and was going to pop up in any other organs. Needless to say, I spent lots of time thinking about my own mortality and the fact that there was a decent chance I wouldn’t make it to 35 or 40.

So, here I was, facing a possible death at way too young of an age, and trying to figure out how to live life with this new “normal” of having an array of genetic anomalies that could cause new tumors at any time. I was searching for answers as to why this was happening and how I could make sense of the last few years where my life had been turned upside down.

Okay, back to the story of Ishiguro’s interview and the insights I had that day.

In order to understand what Ishiguro said, you kind of have to know the plot of the novel. It’s a mystery/thriller and I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll wait right here while you go read the 288-page book….

Oh, hello again! Finished it? Okay, good 🙂

Just in case you didn’t get a chance to read it, here’s my best attempt to give you the necessary background without any major spoilers. In the novel, there’s a small group of humans that, due to technical issues, will only live to be about 35 years old. (Hmm… seeing any parallels with my situation at the time?) This group of people doesn’t know this at first, until someone lets it slip, and only then do they realize they only have a few more years to live.

When asked why he wrote a sci-fi book, Ishiguro replied, “I didn’t see it as a sci-fi book. I came to the idea for this story as I was thinking one day about our lifespan. We only live about 75 or 80 years old, but what if that number was cut down to 30? Or 35? How would we live our lives differently?” He then continued, “I realized that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 75 years or 35 years, that’s still a pretty short amount of time we have on this planet, relatively speaking.”

That’s the line that hit me hard… “That’s a pretty short amount of time we have on this planet.

Whether cancer got me at 35, or I survived and made it to 75, it was still the same question. What was I going to do with my limited time on this planet? 

I come back to this question often. How do I want to spend my time here? This obviously informs my longer-term goals like work, relationships, etc. But it also makes me think about things on a smaller scale.

Do I want to spend my days feeling afraid or anxious about my future? Or do I want to be in the present moment and look around to find something beautiful or amazing in the here and now?

How do I want to relate to the people in my life? Do I want to let them know how I feel about them each time I talk to them, even if it seems silly or overly sentimental?

Do I want to worry about my appearance, my likability, or what other people think of me? Or do I want to dance to the beat of my own drummer, know that I only have that beat for another few decades?

You only have a limited amount of time here. How do you want to spend it? What do you want the general tone of your life to be? How do you want to feel most of the time? Silly? Serious? Meaningful? Loving?

What’s something you can do today that will feel like you made use of your time today? Tell someone you love them? Spend some time enjoying the feeling of sunshine on your face? Or the sound of your favorite song?

This may be my last day here, or I may have another 10,000 days but the question for me is the same.

How do I want to spend my time today? 

For I only have some number of days left. I don’t know how many, so the question is the same … what can I do to enjoy my existence here today?

Please let me know — what are you going to do to enjoy your time here on this planet today?

Xo Megan

What I do when worry takes over

What I do when worry takes over

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying the past few days. My worrying always tends to be about the same, familiar topics and it feels involuntary — I’ll be fine one minute and then suddenly I’ll start with a familiar spiral of worrying thoughts. Like a well-worn path in the woods, my neurons have forged paths through my white matter where they trigger the same fearful thoughts over and over.

Most of my worries are about safety and security. I worry about my business being successful. I worry if I will have enough money when I retire. I worry where I will live in 20, 30 or 40 years. And I worry about my health and if I will have people to take care of me when I get old and frail.

But I’m sure if my life circumstances were different, I’d find different things to worry about. If I had kids, I’m sure I’d be worried about them. If I owned a house, I’d probably worry about a big repair that I couldn’t afford. Even if I had millions of dollars, I might worry about never finding love.

Worry does that. It finds something to latch on to, regardless of our life circumstances. 

But I know better than to let my worries completely take over. I know that they have a sneaky way of amplifying themselves and consuming my day if I let them drive the narrative.

So today instead of letting worry take over or trying to forge ahead by forcing myself to push aside the worry, I took a walk in the park to have a conversation with my worry. 

The worry started its chatter, “Why are you in the park? You should be working on marketing right now. How are you ever going to be successful if you don’t start doing more?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I hear you. What are you really scared of?”

“I don’t want to be destitute and alone,” said my worry “I don’t want to feel like I have to keep pushing and working and struggling when I’m 80 and too tired to do it anymore.”

“But I’m pushing and struggling now,” I replied, “I’m not marketing because you’ve put so much pressure on me and my success that I can’t possibly be lit up and excited about it. What if I didn’t worry about what I was building for the future and instead just did what I enjoyed, right now?”

I reminded my worry none of us know what will happen in the future, life is quite unpredictable, so trying to live there is actually a bit silly. All we can do is live in the now.

“I’m scared,” my worry said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I want to feel taken care of,” said worry, “I want to feel connection and warmth and like I don’t have to do this alone.”

Ah, there it is. My core wound coming up again.

You see, as a small child and all through my adolescence, I had to do some really hard things with little to no support. My mother had a severe personality disorder and if I expressed any need for help or care, it was met with anger, blame, and vitriol, so I learned to do everything on my own. I still struggle with this today, and when I worry, it’s that I’ll be alone on my own again, with my heart broken and no one around to hold me or help me through.

I’m not actually scared of any particular circumstances, I’m scared to feel that heartbreak again.

But I’m not 7 anymore, and I know if I feel heartbreak, I will make it through. It won’t be pleasant, but it also won’t kill me.

So I ask my worry to show me where that heartbreak is in my body. It’s a tightness in my chest and heavy like a stone. I walk through the park and I simply feel it. I don’t make a story about being alone and unsupported in the future, or let it take over my thoughts about work, I simply let the physical sensations arise in my body.

It hurt. I felt so, so alone and so desperate for connection and care.

Then, I turned to my inner caregiver, that part of my awareness that I’ve cultivated over the last few years as a source of love and care, and I asked her to show me what care feels like.

I felt warmth, connection, laughter. I saw times with friends where I’d felt so comforted and loved. I saw the world as a welcoming place. I saw future relationships with people that I don’t even know yet that fulfil me in new and amazing ways.

Suddenly, I heard the birds in the park and I stopped to listen. Had they been singing this whole time? The grass had been freshly mowed and felt like soft velvet under my feet. There were two girls on the swings screaming and laughing their heads off.

“Right now, this world is safe,” I thought, “and I am not doing this alone. I am connected and cared for by my friends, this planet, and even by people I haven’t met yet.”

I could almost feel my brain chemistry change in that moment. Like one set of neurotransmitters had been reabsorbed while another came flooding in.

I felt safe. I felt connected. I felt like all was going to be okay.

I know it’s different for those of us that grew up in severely dysfunctional or abusive situations. I know how our brains developed differently under the constant stress, I know our nervous systems do their best to try to navigate the patterns of extreme highs and lows, and I know that all of that is now a part of my physiological makeup, and why when my worry comes along, it feels so invasive and involuntary.

But you can get to a place where you can feel comfort, safety, connection and care, even with no one else there. You can change the way you perceive the world, and when you do that, it no longer seems like such a scary place.

It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes a willingness to do some shadow work and let some intense feelings arise, but it can be done.

If you want some support in this, a sherpa to help you climb this mountain, then please reach out. You deserve to feel safe and comforted. You deserve to look at the world and see connection and care.

Xo Megan

Mother Teresa was an A$$hole

Mother Teresa was an A$$hole

Recently, I’ve noticed a theme coming up in my conversations with friends and clients — we’re all sick of being nice. By being nice, I mean doing the emotional labor to make sure our message is coming through in a pleasant way, while also scanning our conversation partners to make sure they’re not feeling misunderstood, offended, or disempowered. Being nice is a complex dance of thinking of what you want to say + crafting it so that it sounds nice + making sure the other person is feeling okay about what you have to say + readjusting on the fly if they are not okay. It’s a dynamic that takes so much more effort, intuition, and mental energy than just thinking of what you want to say and saying it.

Why is this happening now? My take is that it’s a byproduct of complex trauma from the pandemic. We’ve all had to expend so much more mental energy to get through this (reconfiguring work and childcare, worrying about getting sick, spending 24/7 with our families, etc) while losing access to so many of the things that allow our nervous systems to return to a calm baseline (connections with friends and family, activities outside the home, alone time, etc). Since all of this leaves us with less mental and emotional energy, we’ve been rethinking where we should spend our energy, and where it’s necessary to put up boundaries so we can protect and conserve the energy we do have.

And one of those boundaries seems to be around being nice.

But this can often be hard, especially for women, because there’s a social cost to it, or we feel guilty. And most of us like to make sure people feel heard, validated and understood.

But I think we need to reframe this. For those times when we don’t have the energy to do the extra emotional labor of being nice, I’d like to propose an alternative that’s still in line with the value of helping people (including yourself!) feel heard, validated and understood, but doesn’t take nearly the mental gymnastics of being nice.

You can be kind

What’s the difference? Well, let me present to you — Mother Teresa.

I think we can all agree that Mother Teresa did some amazing things to help the poor. She created hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and homes for the dying. She spent her life doing her best to help those who otherwise would not have had access to health care, food, and a place to die with dignity.

I remember watching the news when she died in 1997. There was a panel of journalists who were talking about her achievements, and all she did for the poor, when one of them interjected, “But you know, Mother Teresa was, rather famously, an asshole.”  All the other journalists stopped and stared. The first journalist continued, “I mean, she did miraculous things in her lifetime, but she was notoriously difficult. She would fight for what she thought was right, tooth and nail, and she could be quite hard-headed and difficult about it.”

Mother Teresa was kind, but not nice. 

There are other examples of folks who are kind, but not nice. I think Anthony Bourdain and the character of Roy Kent from Ted Lasso also fit the bill. They’re not nice people, and could be described as assholes, but they both have such obviously kind and caring hearts. I think the reason I particularly love the Mother Teresa example is because we don’t have many role models of women who are kind, but not nice.

So when I notice that I need to create a boundary around my emotional labor, when I notice that it would take more energy than I have at the moment to think about what I want to say and figure out how to be “nice” about it rather than just saying it, I find myself repeating this mantra in my head:

“Mother Teresa was an asshole. Mother Teresa was an asshole. Mother Teresa was an asshole.”

And then I just do or say the thing. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I’m nice about it, as long as I know that it comes from a place of kindness or compassion, either for myself or others. Sometimes, there’s backlash and people seem a bit shocked that I’m so straightforward and uncompromising, but after a lifetime of people-pleasing, I’m practicing not caring how other people view me. It’s much more important that I prioritize compassion for myself and others over tone-policing my own words and actions.

I invite you to imagine a life where you are kind but not nice. Where you do and say what you want, when you want, and live from a heart-centred place where you’re free from worrying about anyone else’s opinion of you. Because remember, what other people think of you is none of your business.

Xo Megan

Compassion is the first step

Compassion is the first step

“Before we can be with one another we have to learn to grieve with one another” – Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. At the time, he was speaking about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the fracturing in our Western society in the last few decades, the widening of the ideological divide and the vilification of those on the other end of the ideological spectrum that’s happening on both sides. 

I’ve realized it’s not productive for me to go down the rabbit hole of thinking about all the ways the people I disagree with are wrong or incorrect. I could list myriad ways that I think pro-lifers are wrong or that gerrymandering is a calculated, racist effort to destroy democratic safeguards. You may or may not agree with me —  I’m sure there are some of you out there who are just as certain of their differing opinions as I am of mine. The problem is, that type of thinking doesn’t get us any closer to understanding each other. In fact, it does the opposite and only makes me feel more entrenched in my “rightness.” 

It’s not productive for me to ask what’s wrong with those who I disagree with, but it is helpful for me to ask what they are grieving. 

What is it that makes them feel sad or outraged? 

What is it that makes them feel misunderstood or dismissed? 

What is it that is changing in their world that they’re not ready for, that feels like it’s being forced upon them with no way to stop it? 

I know for me I feel sad and outraged by watching systems of oppression in action. I feel misunderstood and dismissed by daily misogynistic microaggressions. I am watching the world change from one that respects experts as sources of information to one that respects social media as sources of information and I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it, and that I don’t know how to stop it. 

So you see, I am grieving. This is the substance of my grief. 

And I also know that those with whom I vehemently disagree are grieving, too. They could answer all of those questions in ways that are just as meaningful to them as my answers are to me. 

If we’re going to try to be with one another, if we’re going to try to find a way back to mutual understanding, we have to start with learning about each other’s grief. 

This is the root of compassion. This is the root of understanding. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that I should lose my opinions and give up my ethics. Quite the contrary,  I’m not willing to compromise or acquiesce to things that, in my opinion, are morally wrong. But I am willing to ask of those who disagree with me — 

How are you suffering? 

What would make you feel more understood? 

What are you unhappy with in your life that feels out of your control? 

What are you grieving? 

And I am willing to acknowledge that although I may not agree with the substance of it, their grief is just as valid as mine. I’m not the grief police, I don’t get to decide what’s worthy or not. 

So, before we write someone off as “brainwashed by the other side” let’s understand what they are grieving, and then listen to them from a place of compassion and awareness, because one thing I know is that when people truly see the humanity in another being, they don’t wish that being to suffer, no matter how different they are from you and me. 

Xo Megan

How to turn hate and fear into love

How to turn hate and fear into love

One of the most difficult things I’ve done is learn how to love the person who abused me.

When I was 26 years old, I made the incredibly difficult decision to cut my mother out of my life. In child abuse survivor circles, this is often called going “no contact” or NC and it was not a decision that was made lightly. In fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

I’d tried everything I could think of — writing her letters, talking things through, therapy for myself, and family therapy with her and my sister. I desperately wanted a relationship with my mom, and I didn’t want to go through life without that type of support. The idea of not having a mom in my life felt so freakish and lonely, so I was trying anything I could to salvage a workable relationship so that I could have her in my life.

Finally, after a typical abusive episode at a restaurant where she loudly told me what I was wearing made me look fat, repulsive, hideous, and disgusting and she couldn’t imagine how I could let people see me in public like that (for the record — it was a nice skirt and blouse that I often wore to the office), I decided I’d had enough.

I was at a loss. How do you go about divorcing your mother? How do you deal with the guilt, the anger, the loss, and the intense emotional pain?

When I asked people who I thought of as older and wiser, the response was often, “But she’s your mother! You can’t cut her off. I don’t care how horrible she was to you, she’s still your mother.” I was told by so many well-meaning people that once I’d had my own kids, I’d understand how you simply CAN’T cut your own mother off. Then, they’d give me suggestions for how to work things out that I’d tried 1000 times before.

No one I knew seemed to have any answers.

And while I know they didn’t understand the depth of the abuse, and the lengths to which I’d gone to salvage the relationship, they were right about one thing. She was still my mother. I needed to figure out a way to relate to her in my own psyche, even if she wasn’t in my life. So what could I do?

About a year later, I found myself at my first meditation training. The instructor was B. Allan Wallace, a Buddhist monk who seemed like he may have some answers. One day I asked if I could eat lunch with him and talk to him about something I was wrestling with, in my life. I gave him a brief account of my childhood, my mom, and all the things I’d tried to do to repair our relationship. To my surprise, even after that brief account, he didn’t try to suggest new ways to repair it or even question my decision to go no contact. He paused for a minute and then said, “Sometimes the only way to have people in our life is to send them compassion from afar. And that isn’t nothing — sending someone the energy of compassion can be very healing.” At the time I thought he meant healing for my mom, but I’ve now come to realize he meant healing for me, too.

So I practiced sending her the Buddhist prayer of Mettā each time I thought of her (which was still many times per day).

“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.” 

I repeated this over and over, through tears, through rage, through confusion, through grief, and through loneliness.

Finally, I started to understand. I could be furious at how she treated me and also have compassion for her suffering. I could be brokenhearted and also have compassion for how miserable she clearly was. I could hate her for what she did to me and also have compassion for what had happened to her to create such psychological instability in her own mind.

And I could do the same for myself. I could feel broken and depressed and also have compassion for myself. I could feel shame and also have compassion for myself. I could hear her abusive voice in my head, now my own inner critic, and also have compassion for myself.

Compassion can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. Fondness or affection is not a prerequisite for compassion. In fact, seeing someone in their wholeness, both the “good” and “bad” parts of them, is a huge part of compassion.

And beyond that, once you feel compassion for someone else’s suffering, even love can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. You can love the part of them that hurts, the part that is suffering, and in this way, you can move towards healing the pain.

“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion–and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”

― Ram Dass

What Ram Dass is saying here is essentially the same thing that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” It is possible to have love in your heart, no matter what someone has done to you.

It took me YEARS to get to a place where when I thought of my mother, I was able to send her love. Now, don’t get me wrong —  I was still angry, sad, confused, and traumatized (sometimes all at once) but at the same time I was feeling all of that, I was also able to feel compassion for her suffering, and then from there, eventually, I could feel love for her.

My mother died earlier this summer. I hadn’t spoken to her in over 15 years, but when I heard she was dying, I went to the hospital to say goodbye. It took 30 minutes of meditation in the hospital parking lot to regulate my nervous system so I wasn’t about to have a panic attack, but once I felt centered, I went in.

I told her I loved her, and I meant it. She asked what had happened, why we hadn’t spoken in so long. I looked at her and said, honestly, “Our relationship caused me too much anxiety. I couldn’t handle it, so I pulled away.” She said she wished it had been different. I cried and told her I did, too.

And then I held her hand and told her all the things I loved about her. And I told her all the things I knew others loved about her, too.

She denied it all. She said, “Oh, come on” and waved me away.

I know mom. I know you never felt worthy of love. I know that’s why you tormented me, and I can see that through the eyes of compassion now. Hurt people hurt people, until we break the generational cycle.

So, I’m here to break that cycle. I’m here to “be a statement of love and compassion.” In many ways, mom, you were the hardest place to do that work. You were the person who did the most damage to me and so you were also the hardest person for me to love. But I thank you for that lesson because you know what? Now that I know how to feel compassion for you, I can feel that same love for everyone I meet.

I understand that loving someone has nothing to do with agreeing with their actions, their beliefs, or their words and, instead, has everything to do with seeing them in their wholeness and that simple Mettā prayer of compassion:

“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.”

Xo Megan

The Four Phases of Spiritual Awakening

The Four Phases of Spiritual Awakening

I had so many responses to my last essay, “You are the boat”, that I wanted to tell you a bit more about what I know about the phases of spiritual awakening. And of course, talk more about the boat!  

The metaphor of a kayak navigating the rapids and how it relates to spiritual awakening first came to me when I learned to kayak about 15 years ago, just after finishing chemotherapy for cancer at age 32. I was going through an intense physical, emotional and spiritual crisis and was looking to understand more about why all of this shit was happening to me. At that time, I had an epiphany where I finally understood the idea of myself and the boat as two parts of the same being — my human self and my spiritual self. My understanding of the other phases came later, as I deepened my spiritual practice.

There are four phases of spiritual awakening in this metaphor. Progression through these phases takes you from being ego-bound and unable to escape your own suffering all the way to understanding that you are both everything and nothing (the manifest and unmanifest) and that, in fact, there is no “you” there to suffer through anything at all. 

So, let’s go through the phases, one by one. 

Everyone got your kayak ready? Got your paddle? Got your desire to be one with the universe? 

Excellent! Let’s go. 

Phase 1: 

When you first learn to kayak, you’re constantly flipping over and it’s hard to control the direction of the boat. This is phase one – where our emotions and belief systems about the world feel out of control, just like the kayak. In this phase, life seems unpredictable, unfair and it feels like no matter what you do, there’s always someone or something that gets in the way. Maybe your boss is really difficult or you’re always rehashing the same fights over and over with your partner. Maybe you just can’t get a break and it feels like the world is against you. There’s also an internal struggle going on as well, and you often worry about what other people think of you or how they will react to your choices. You worry about if you’re good enough and fear people will see through you. Life feels uncertain and precarious and like you’re stuck on this emotional rollercoaster where trauma and drama keep happening in your life, over and over. 

Phase 2: 

Phase two is when you start to learn to control the boat. You learn how to steer the boat right and left, how to back paddle to slow down, and how to shift your weight so that the boat goes where you want it to. In this phase, you’ve learned some emotional regulation skills so that when you feel like life is going off the rails you can do something to “control the boat.” This could be tools like deep breathing, guided meditation, or going for a walk. You’ve been to therapy or learned how to do some thought work, like Byron Katie’s The Work and can now understand that you shouldn’t believe everything you think. You’ve done a lot of work to address the trauma in your past and look at how your thoughts, behaviors and choices come through that lens of your trauma response. Life seems calmer now and you understand that while you can’t control much of what happens to you, you can control how you react to it. 

Phase 3: 

Phase three is when you realize that successfully making it through the rough rapids isn’t about trying to control the boat much at all. It’s about learning to listen to the boat and follow its lead. The boat is designed to float, so if you react to what the boat wants to do instead of trying to control it, you’ll make it through with much less effort and a sense of partnership with the boat. This is when you start to understand that you are a spiritual being having a human experience. There are two parts to you – the human self (passenger) and the spiritual self (the boat). Once you let the spiritual self lead the way, life becomes a whole lot easier. In this phase, you’ve had some experiences with ego dissolution through meditation or with plant medicine and you’ve come to understand that you have a soul or spirit. You also understand that the idea of “you” as a separate being is just a temporary illusion you’re experiencing while you’re incarnated here as a human. In this phase, intuition becomes much stronger and you have a good sense of your “spiritual compass” or karmic area of study you’re supposed to explore during this lifetime. There’s also often a sense of comfort or peace as you deepen your awareness of universal consciousness and know that as an eternal being, you are always safe and nothing can ever really hurt you. 

Phase 4: 

Finally, we get to phase 4. At this point you’ve realized that not only are you both the passenger and the boat, you are also the river. And the rocks. And the trees. And the birds and the wind…. You are everything, all made of the same stuff, the unmanifest made manifest. This is when you’ve reached enlightenment or awakening. At this point, you can easily access a blissed-out state of feeling connected, and all feels right in the world. Even when things are going “wrong” you see that there is a rightness there. You accept all as right and good because if it’s happening, it has to be right and good. There is equanimity to joy and pain and everything in between, it all loses its meaning other than, “it is”.  In this phase, there’s a heightened level of intuition and an opening of deep reservoirs of compassion and love for everything around you. Once you understand that you and everything outside of “you” is the same thing you understand that all there is to do is be love, emit love, and receive love. 

Is there a phase 5? There could be! At my point in this journey, I’ve only been able to experience these 4, but I know that I am an ever-evolving, ever-changing being and I don’t yet know what I don’t know. 

It’s important to note that these phases don’t necessarily go in order and that we often cycle through the phases depending on the day, our mood, our past experiences, and so on. We can also be in one phase for months or years before we experience the next one, and many people never go past phase one or two in this incarnation. This is as it’s supposed to be, there is no here that is better than there, it all just is as it should be. 

I’m curious — tell me how you’ve experienced these phases. Where are you and your boat today? 

Xo Megan

You are the boat.

I’m sitting in my red kayak, paddle across my lap, staring at the class 3 rapids just ahead of me. I’d pulled over to a calm spot on the river to mentally map my path through the rapid. Three days before this was the first time I’d ever been in a kayak in my life. Six months before this, at 32-years-old, I’d been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.

I was on a weeklong program through the non-profit org First Descents where young adult cancer survivors learn to whitewater kayak. We were also learning how to face fear again after having one of the scariest things imaginable happen at a really young age – a cancer diagnosis.

Looking out over the rapid, I calculated which course I should take to try to avoid flipping the kayak. In whitewater kayaking, you’re “attached” to the boat by a rubber skirt, so if you flip, it’s no fun to try to find the ripcord to get out of the boat while upside down, with no air, in the middle of a rocky, turbulent rapid. Like I said – I was facing fear again, but this time it was my choice and not some shitty cancer diagnosis that life had dealt me.

As I stared at the rapids, I had a realization. I was in a boat! (I know – not the most profound realization. Stay with me.) The boat was designed to float, so instead of trying to control the boat, I needed to listen to the boat. The boat knows how to stay upright in the water, all I had to do was feel into which way the boat wanted to go, try my best to be one with the boat, and follow its lead.

So, I did. And it was so much easier than trying to control the boat. I had faith in the boat’s design and its ability to do what it needed to do, I was the passenger and I let the boat do the floating.

I made it through the rapids unscathed and with a newfound understanding. As the adrenalin of the rapid run wore off, I knew that this was about more than just a boat. This was a lesson for life.

Here’s a spiritual truth – if you try to push, resist or control anything in your life, it’s going to be much harder. If you simply trust “the boat” of life and follow where your experiences, intuition and karma lead you, it’s much easier.

One of the secrets of a peaceful life is to respond to what’s in front of you rather than trying to push, resist or control. There are so many aphorisms that teach us this: “What you resist persists” or, “People make plans and God laughs.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals or go towards what makes you happy, fulfilled and inspired. It means that you should detach from HOW it’s going to happen.

When I was in my boat, I knew I wanted to get through the rapid. But HOW to get through – which path I take – that’s better left up to the boat, the boat knew how to stay afloat.

I started to use this perspective shift in my life when I got home from my kayaking trip. “Trust the boat,” I would think as a new obstacle came my way. I would lean into what felt right, or what was the easiest path forward right in front of me, and just do that, without overthinking it.

It was so much easier.

Now, the easiest path forward wasn’t always how I’d wanted things to go. I had to release a lot of feelings of control or preference about how things unfolded. But knowing that there was a larger force in my spiritual self that knew how to stay afloat through this “life” thing and having faith in that awareness was simpler and felt more right than trying to push and control.

As I’ve learned more about myself and the nature of our existence, I now know that the reason I can trust the boat is because not only am I the passenger, I AM the boat. And the river. And the rocks, and the sky and the birds and the trees. I am all of it, one consciousness.

As you deepen your intuition and your ability to communicate with your spiritual self, you can feel this too. It’s not difficult, it’s just a matter of switching from trying to control and plan to sitting and listening.

Feel into what your life wants for you.

It’s right there, waiting for you to listen.

Xo Megan

You are a spiritual being having a human experience

 Years ago, when I first heard the phrase, “You are a spiritual being having a human experience,” it felt comforting and like I was being given a pass from having to feel the burden of being human all the time. Oh yes, that’s right! This is just an experience, something I’m going through, something temporary.  

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot more about our reality which has helped me more deeply understand this maxim. The first big leap in understanding came during my NDE, and since then I’ve been shown even more through meditation, channeling, and spirit journeys. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to travel to the place where we are all pure source energy connected with All That Is. Lemme tell you, it’s a really lovely place. If you can, you should go sometime. Five stars – highly recommend!

Here are 4 things I now know are absolutely true for all of us spiritual beings having a human experience:

1. We are limited in our perception of reality. So, here’s the deal – you have a fancy monkey brain. Our human brains are pretty awesome in terms of higher-level cognition and problem solving compared to other types of brains here on Earth, but they’re still limited in what they can do. Imagine trying to teach algebra to a chipmunk. It could be the smartest, most dedicated chipmunk student ever, but it wouldn’t ever get it. That’s sort of the way we are, too. We simply can’t conceive of some of the complexities of our reality.

We only have 8 senses, so if we’re looking for confirmation of this reality through “evidence” from our senses, we won’t always be able to get it. Did you know that there are extra patterns on flowers that only bees and other creatures that can see in the ultraviolet spectrum can sense? Yep – all around you, every day here on Earth, there are things your senses can’t perceive. So why would we think we’re capable of perceiving everything that exists? We already know we have to rely on ways other than unaided, direct, sensory experience to understand things like ultraviolet patterns on flowers, so why wouldn’t there be other things in our reality that we can’t perceive? Fortunately, there are things like meditation, plant medicine, and intuition that allow us to get glimpses of these aspects of our reality.

2. We agreed to all of this – not every single detail, but all the major plot points and narrative or focus of our life story. Before you incarnate, you know what you’re getting into. In fact, oftentimes we have many incarnations in order to work on the same issues. It’s almost like we’re studying a specific subject at university. We’re here to look at a certain issue or theme from many different perspectives and through diverse experiences. Each lifetime is an opportunity to look this issue in a new way and our job here is to grow in our experience and understanding of these perspective shifts.

3. When we come here as humans, we often experience this world with a feeling that something is off — we feel disconnected or unworthy but we can’t quite figure out why. When we incarnate, we experience ourselves as separate – separate from each other and separate from Source.  However, this is just a perception, just an illusion, so that we can go through life learning and expanding by having different experiences from everyone else. And while our souls are very excited to come here and be a human for a while, we feel that separation – there’s a part of us that remembers being interconnected and contiguous with all that is and now we can feel that we’re not. This can cause us to think that we’ve been abandoned or we’ve must have done something wrong to cause this feeling. However, this isn’t all bad! This feeling of separation, and the unhappiness it can trigger, are one of the main reasons people start on the spiritual path and eventually remember who they really are – a hologram of source energy.

4. Our perception of suffering is because we have an ego. I know that 1000 spiritual teachers have said this 1001 times, but our ego is the big source of our suffering. If we didn’t identify as having an ego or “self” then there would be no way to experience our ”selves” feeling hurt or suffering (or joy or serenity, for that matter, since it’s a package deal). Our ego/self experiences suffering when we have a desire, hope, or expectation that something would be different that how it is.

But here’s the thing – having an ego is part of the package of being a human. We can lean into the spiritual aspect of ourselves and transcend the ego for a while (or even for a lifetime for fully realized humans, those lucky rascals!) but our day-to-day experiences here on earth are a like a swing of the pendulum from ego self to spiritual self and back again.

Once I knew that there was a place without ego, where I couldn’t experience shame, anger, sadness, disconnection or hurt because there was no ME to experience this, I realized that all my suffering was only my current perspective from a place of being a human. In our spiritual state, as our eternal Selves, we are one with everyone and everything. We are connected as one consciousness, one being. So, I cannot be hurt by you because there is no you or me. We are part of the same thing – the everything.

This is why unifying with source felt like calm, eternal bliss – no perceptions or stories coming from ego. No feelings of disconnection or worry about judgements from others, since there were no others. And while I didn’t experience “emotions” in the same way as I do here as a human, there was a deep calm and a feeling of being accepted and loved unconditionally, not because I was “worthy” of that love and acceptance but because that was just a fundamental state of being part of universal consciousness or source energy, there was no other way to feel or be.

I’d love to know if any of this resonates with you. When I learn about these things, there’s a feeling of remembering the way things are, rather than learning something new and I think, “Oh yes! That’s how it is. I remember now.” How does all of this feel to you?

Xo Megan

Do you know how to be proud of yourself?

The other day, my mentor asked me, “Are you proud of yourself?”

I had just finished running my new course, Unconventional Tools for Healing, for the first time and was telling her how pleased I was to get some really lovely feedback from the participants.

I stopped for a moment and reflected on her question. I answered honestly, and felt myself holding back tears as I responded:

“I don’t think I know how to be proud of myself.”

The first time I ever remember hearing, “I’m proud of you” from any of my family members was in an email from my father after I’d finished cancer treatment. I’d been writing a blog throughout my treatment and he responded to one of my posts, telling me he was proud of me.

I cried big, wet tears for about 20 minutes. I didn’t realize how long I’d been waiting to hear that from him.

The insidious fallout for children of emotionally immature or abusive parents is that we often don’t learn what it feels like to take a moment to be proud of ourselves. If we’re hyperfocused and hypervigilant on being the good girl or boy and keeping all the plates spinning in the air, we never learn to stop and take stock of what we’ve achieved.

That moment of feeling pride is important. It’s a moment of rest, reflection and integration before starting the next task.

But in the day in and day out nature of extreme emotional caretaking, there is no rest and there is no moment to reflect.

If this is what “normal” was for you as a child, then stopping, reflecting, and being proud of what you’ve achieved can feel uncomfortable and perhaps even a little anxiety provoking. There’s no awareness of the importance of resting and feeling proud of your achievements before taking on the next challenge.

Here are some signs that you might never have learned how to rest and integrate:

  1. You feel anxious of uncomfortable when you have nothing to do. Your brain wants to know, “what’s next?” and you quickly find something to busy yourself. (This can also manifest as ADHD.)
  2. You think that your achievements are just the bare minimum of what you were supposed to do. I finished chemo? Well, I had cancer I was supposed to. I launched a successful online course? Well, I was supposed to, that’s what you do when you have your own business.
  3. You think that all of the success you’ve achieved might be because of a fluke and not because you worked hard and deserved it. The good things that happen to you are courtesy of chance. The bad things that happen to you are your responsibility.
  4. You don’t think your needs matter or are worth taking into account and this includes your need for rest and integration.
  5. You feel that you are not enough. You feel like you have to go above and beyond every time and that nothing you do is ever quite good enough.
  6. You think that you are too much and you need to work on toning it down.
  7. You believe that if you take time to rest, you will be chastised for being lazy, needy or selfish.

If any of these feel familiar, then please let me be the first to tell you:

Rest, my child.

You deserve to rest.

You deserve to take time for yourself to reset, realign, and heal.

You deserve time only for yourself, with no responsibilities for anyone or anything else.

And furthermore, I am proud of you. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve lived a life that’s anything special or you’ve done anything particularly praise worthy, I am proud of you.

I am proud of you because you have made it this far through some pretty tough shit. You’ve survived some things that probably temporarily broke you, and you’ve picked yourself up and put the pieces back together.

YOU did that. And that’s pretty amazing.

So, please, hear me when I say I’m proud of you.

And now, let us rest.

Xo Megan

“You’re sick because you want people to see you as a person, not an object.”

I heard this sentence so clearly as I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago. I’d been reading Ram Dass’ Be Here Now just before I fell asleep and I’d had vibrant, psychedelic dreams about the nature of consciousness. (I guess that’s what I get for reading Be Here Now right before bed.) I don’t remember the dreams per se, but about an hour later I woke from a very vivid dream to those words:

 

 “You’re sick because you want people to see you as a person, not an object.”

 

 As with most spiritual epiphanies, it was accompanied by a download of emotions, memories, and instantaneous understanding. 

 

Here’s what I understood at that moment:

 

 I was raised by a narcissist. One of the hallmark traits of that disorder is that narcissists see other people in the same way most people see objects. To narcissists, there is no qualitative difference between people and objects. And objects only have value when they are useful – there is no intrinsic value to an object beyond the usefulness that we assign to it.

 

One of my lifelong struggles has been to be seen and valued for who I am. Since I didn’t have a parent who saw my intrinsic value and reflected it back to me, which is something all humans (especially children) need, I have struggled to learn how to find this, recognize it, and take it in.  As a child, I never learned how to be seen as a person with valid needs and innate value; instead, I received the message that I was just an object that may or may not be useful on any given day in someone else’s orbit.

 

When I was a child, being sick allowed me to be a useful object to my mother AND get her love and attention.  She could take on the role of “long-suffering caregiver” and get attention from her friends who felt compassion and admiration for her, and I, in turn, would get her time and energy directed at me. It was as close to a “win-win” as our dysfunctional relationship could get.

 

I’ve had chronic fatigue for more than 10 years as a long-hauler side effect of chemotherapy. I realized in that moment of epiphany that being sick has been a way for me to have a “reason” to ask for love and support and a “reason” to deserve care. Since I didn’t believe that I deserved love and care just because, my body co-created an illness so that I could feel justified in my need for connection and care.

 

I know that this isn’t just a feature of my childhood – our culture at large objectifies us and measures our usefulness against other objectified humans:

  • How nice to look at are you? 
  • How productive are you? 
  • How pleasant to be around are you? 
  • How good of a provider are you?
  • How reliable are you? 
  • How appreciative of a sick/poor/disabled/marginalized person are you? 

These are all measures of us as objects – as things that are either useful to others or not. It’s a losing game because there will always be someone who is more “useful” than you, there is no object that can’t be compared to something more useful.

 

 But I am not an object and neither are you. 

 

I’m a human being, not an iPhone — I don’t need to have a “usefulness” to be valued. I am valued and loved simply because I am, because I exist. In fact, the more that I come home to “I am” and let the rest go, the more that people show up in my life who want to love, support and care for me. The more that I come to see that I don’t have to create stories about why I am valuable, useful or worthy, the more that my intrinsic value shines through and others can see it and honor it.

 

 I need to stop creating stories about why I am valuable in order to truly know why I’m valuable.

 

 Well, isn’t that a paradox.

 

 I’m going to use this mantra in the next few days and see what happens:

 

 “I am not an object. I do not need to have a usefulness. I am valuable because I am.”

 

 And if you are feeling any of this too, know that I see you. You are whole. You are already valuable. And if you can’t see that quite yet, please know that I already do and I already love you just because you exist.

 

 xo,

Megan

 

Questions for Saul: “What Do I Do When I Feel Stuck?”

 If you’re new here and unfamiliar with Conversations with Saul, I channel a collective of spirit guides who prefer to be called Saul.  They are  representatives of universal consciousness (aka Divine Source), here to answer questions that we as humans may have as we navigate through this incarnation. You can learn more about how I began channeling Saul here.

In this morning’s workshop, someone asked Saul a wonderful question about what to do when we feel stuck.   I have often asked myself this same question, and I’ve heard it from so many people as they try to make their way forward in life, so I thought it would be helpful to share Saul’s wisdom here. 

Being stuck is actually a need for rest and reflection.

You can watch the video for Saul’s full answer, but if you’re pressed for time or need to be strictly sound-off, here are the two pieces of advice Saul gives for what to do when we feel stuck: 

  1.  Ask if what is actually happening is that you need a period of integration, download and rest. This is a natural part of any cycle as we can see when we look at any living system, such as watching a plant grow, the cycle of the seasons (hello, winter!) and many other natural processes of growth and rest. Sometimes being stuck is actually a need for rest and reflection, which is why you don’t feel inspired to move forward. The belief that we have to always be in a phase of productivity and forward momentum is not part of the natural cycle, but rather a by-product of patriarchal, capitalist extraction culture. (That last sentence is my added commentary on Saul’s wisdom – I’m much more of an SJW than Saul.) 
  2. Ask if you are reacting to fear. This could be fear of making the wrong move, trying something new and failing, feeling overwhelmed, or making a mistake. If this is the case, you can use your intuition to decide what to do, and Saul gives some solid advice on how to do that in this video. 

If you’d like to learn more about Saul, or have a chance to ask them a question, you can find out more here.

Take care and be kind to yourself today. 

xo,

Megan & Saul 

 

How a Belly Rub Led to My Psychic Discovery

I didn’t always know that I had psychic abilities.

But, when I was about 25 years old, I was lying in bed one night, absent-mindedly running my hands over my belly. This was something I automatically did to self-soothe and relax.  When my hand moved over this spot on my left side, all of the voices in my head that tick through my to-do list or rehash that last conversation I had—all of that suddenly went …silent.

And I then I heard my own voice, but very calm and very secure. It said “there’s going to be something wrong there.”  To say I was taken aback would be an understatement.  I didn’t know what it meant or what I should do. Should I go to the doctor and tell her I was hearing voices telling me there’s going to be something wrong there– I mean I didn’t know what they could even do with that.

So, I just filed it away, and for the awhile, I paid close attention to that spot, testing to see if I felt anything, but nothing.  There was nothing . . .  until about 5 years later.  And then, it was the same thing.  I was rubbing my belly, relaxing and calming myself after a long day. My hand drifted over that spot, and the same thing happened.  All of the voices went quiet, and I heard my own voice say “there’s something wrong there now,”—which, as you can imagine, freaked me out a bit. Okay, a lot.

What do you do about that? How do you tell a doctor that? Usually when you tell your doctor you’re hearing voices, they don’t recommend that you listen to the voices. So I filed it away, and six months later I started to experience excruciating stomach pain.  But not in that spot, a little lower down.

So I finally saw a doctor, and another doctor . . . and another. They thought I had IBS, and then colitis. They kept giving me all of these medications to try but nothing worked. Finally one day my doctor said “ok, lets do this test and see what we find.”

So, after the test, they woke me up and said–“You have colon cancer.”

I was really freaked out, as you can imagine. I met with different doctors, different oncologists, and finally had surgery to remove the tumor. Afterward, I asked the surgeon where the tumor had been, and he told me where it was– and it was in the EXACT spot where my hand had been when I heard that voice.  My voice.  So I asked him if he could tell how long the tumor had been there, and he said “well, I’m probably guessing about 5 years.”

I was floored.

A) How did my body know 5 years ago that there was cancer there just starting to form, and B) how did it communicate that with me as my own voice in my own head?

I went through chemo and radiation, and after I finished treatment, I was super curious about how it all worked. I enrolled in classes on intuition and intuitive healing, and was immediately hooked. I had been Pre-Med and graduated with a BA in Science– but this system made so much more sense to me, plus I was getting all of these cool downloads about how the body works, both for myself and when I worked on other people. Soon after, I started using my skills as a medical intuitive to help other people.

That was 10 years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I diagnosed my own cancer. Kinda crazy huh?

xo,

Megan

 

 

Why It’s So Hard To Rest And Relax

The other day, my mentor asked me, “Are you proud of yourself?”.  

I had just finished running my new course, Unconventional Tools for Healing, for the first time and was telling her how pleased I was to get some really lovely feedback from the participants. 

I stopped for a moment and reflected on her question. I answered honestly, and felt myself holding back tears as I responded: 

“I don’t think I know how to be proud of myself.” 

The first time I ever remember hearing, “I’m proud of you” from any of my family members was in an email from my father after I’d finished cancer treatment. I’d been writing a blog throughout my treatment and he responded to one of my posts, telling me he was proud of me. 

I cried big, wet tears for about 20 minutes. I didn’t realize how long I’d been waiting to hear that from him.

The insidious fallout for children of emotionally immature or abusive parents is that we often don’t learn what it feels like to take a moment to be proud of ourselves. If we’re hyperfocused and hypervigilant on being the good girl or boy and keeping all the plates spinning in the air, we never learn to stop and take stock of what we’ve achieved. 

That moment of feeling pride is important. It’s a moment of rest, reflection and integration before starting the next task.  

But in the day in and day out nature of extreme emotional caretaking, there is no rest and there is no moment to reflect. 

If this is what “normal” was for you as a child, then stopping, reflecting, and being proud of what you’ve achieved can feel uncomfortable and perhaps even a little anxiety provoking. There’s no awareness of the importance of resting and feeling proud of your achievements before taking on the next challenge. 

Here are some signs that you might never have learned how to rest and integrate: 

  1. You feel anxious or uncomfortable when you have nothing to do. Your brain wants to know, “what’s next?” and you quickly find something to busy yourself. (This can also manifest as ADHD.) 
  2. You think that your achievements are just the bare minimum of what you were supposed to do. I finished chemo? Well, I had cancer I was supposed to. I launched a successful online course? Well, I was supposed to, that’s what you do when you have your own business. 
  3. You think that all of the success you’ve achieved might be because of a fluke and not because you worked hard and deserved it. The good things that happen to you are courtesy of chance. The bad things that happen to you are your responsibility.
  4. You don’t think your needs matter or are worth taking into account and this includes your need for rest and integration.
  5. You feel that you are not enough. You feel like you have to go above and beyond every time, and that nothing you do is ever quite good enough. 
  6. You think that you are too much, and you need to work on toning it down. 
  7. You believe that if you take time to rest, you will be chastised for being lazy, needy or selfish. 

If any of these feel familiar, then please let me be the first to tell you: 

Rest, my child.

You deserve to rest. 

You deserve to take time for yourself to reset, realign, and heal. 

You deserve time only for yourself, with no responsibilities for anyone or anything else. 

And furthermore, I am proud of you. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve lived a life that’s anything special or you’ve done anything particularly praise worthy, I am proud of you

I am proud of you because you have made it this far through some pretty tough shit. You’ve survived some things that probably temporarily broke you, and you’ve picked yourself up and put the pieces back together. 

YOU did that. And that’s pretty amazing. 

So, please, hear me when I say I’m proud of you. 

And now, let us rest. 

xo,

Megan

The Simple Buddhist Practice That Transformed My Relationship With My Narcissistic Parent

When I was 25 years old, I attended my first meditation training. At the time, I was struggling with how to have a relationship with my mom. My mom was a malignant narcissist, although I didn’t know that label or diagnosis back then. Back then, I was a young woman trying to figure out how to have a decent relationship with mom – so I could have someone in my life who could support me, love me, and help me figure out the turbulent transitions of young adulthood.

I hadn’t yet realized that my mom was unable to do these things for me due to her mental health issues, and I was still trying to think of ways that I could repair or improve our relationship. I felt a huge weight of “fixing” our relationship on my shoulders. If only I could figure out the right approach, maybe we could become closer and have the type of relationship I needed.

After class one day I asked my meditation teacher, B. Allan Wallace, if I could speak to him about a difficult relationship in my life and get his advice. He listened as I explained my situation. I think he knew, even more than I did, that there was no way to have this woman in my life in any way that wasn’t damaging or toxic.

He told me that sometimes the only way to have a relationship with someone was to do so energetically. To send them compassion from afar rather than trying to work out how to be together in real life. He told me that there was a way of healing my relationship with my mom that didn’t involve finding the right approach for ways to repair or improve anything.

He introduced me to the idea of Mettā, which is often translated as “loving kindness.” He showed me how I could send this prayer, this energy, towards my mom as a way of having a relationship with her.

Mettā goes like this:

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness. 

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

He taught me how to bring my mom to my mind and send her this prayer. He said that this was a valuable, important and effective way for me to have a relationship with her.

And so, I did.

The amazing thing about this practice was that it immediately shifted my thoughts about how I didn’t want to give up having my mother in my life, to realizing that this was a way that I could that would bring me no harm. It gave me a sense of agency in a situation that had seemed dire and hopeless only moments before.

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

I sent her the prayer often. I sent it to her when I felt furious and crushed by the hurtful, eviscerating words she said to me. I sent it to her when I felt deep sadness that I didn’t have the type of mother I saw my friends have. I sent it to her when my mother’s friends called me, demanding that I tell them what she had done to deserve such “horrible treatment” from her daughter. I sent it to her when I desperately wanted her in my life and didn’t know how to fix that.

Slowly, I started to heal.

I realized that I could separate from her and still have compassion. And that was indeed a type of relationship. My teacher was right, sometimes, it’s the only one we can have with someone.

Compassion is unique in that it can exist in the same moment as almost any other emotion. I can be angry and have compassion for the reasons the other person was mean to me. I can be traumatized and have compassion for the suffering that must have happened for them to know no other way than to hurt me. I can feel rage against the systems of social oppression that have convinced people it’s okay to think of other people as less than, incompetent or undeserving and still have compassion for the immense fear of losing egoic power that drives that behavior.

I still rage and cry and fight against all of this. And at the same time, I have compassion. It’s a weird paradox.

But then again, being a spiritual being having a human experience is a weird paradox.

I’ve continued to keep this practice as part of my daily life as a way to feel connected, held and interwoven with my fellow souls. Yesterday, I was at the market and the man working at the register looked especially tired. I felt the weight of his life in that moment. I looked at him and exchanged the usual pleasantries, but in my mind, I was sending him the energy of Mettā:

“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

I do this when I pass people walking down the street, whether they are smiling or looking sad. I send it to people I read about in the news or on social media. I send it to the people I see intentionally instigating fear, divisiveness and hatred in our society today. (That last one is a challenge, but when I dig deep I know that all humans do deserve to find happiness and be free from suffering. Much of their hateful behavior comes from a misdirected attempt to alleviate their own suffering, I know.)

So, I have a request. I’d like to invite you to join me. Find at least one person per day to whom you can send Mettā. Look them straight in the eyes and think to yourself, “Hello, my fellow human traveler. I see your messy humanity, just as I see my own. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness. May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”

Let me know how it goes. I can only imagine a world where everyone sends this energy to everyone else they meet every day. I don’t know exactly what that world would be like, but I know it would have to be a more loving, understanding and compassionate place.

 

xo,

Megan

 

PS – If you want to try a Mettā meditation, you can find my version of it here.

The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have

We all have “inner critics” — that voice in our head that’s less than supportive, doubting, and sometimes even mean. 

Our inner critic feeds off of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and shame. This is often an echo of the way that we were spoken to as children or a reflection of the value system we grew up in, like valuing hard work or piousness and thereby shaming “laziness” or “bad behavior.”

The main problem with the inner critic is that it keeps us from having a healthy version of the most important relationship we’ll ever have —  the relationship with ourselves.

When we can learn to be our own cheerleaders, wise mentors, and caregivers, it makes life so much more pleasant. When we develop inner mentors and inner caregivers, we improve our relationship with ourself and see dramatic changes in how we interact with the world.

How do we convince the inner critic that they are wrong and that we truly are worthy, wonderful human beings?

One of the ways we can improve our relationship with ourselves is by consistently demonstrating our love and care for ourselves and by asking others to help us, too.

This is just like you’d do with a romantic partner – relationships need to be looked after and tended on a daily basis, and the one you have with yourself is no exception.

One way we can work on our relationship with ourselves is through our “love languages.” We each have a ranking of which love languages makes us feel most loved, valued and appreciated. The five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

 You can find yours here: Take the quiz!

(Mine are: “receiving gifts”, “words of affirmation” and “acts of service”)

 

 Once you have found your love language profile, here’s what you can do to improve your relationship with yourself.

  1. Find your top 2 love languages and do (or pay someone to do) at least 2 things per week for yourself. For example, buy yourself a small gift (“receiving gifts”), use a grocery delivery app (“acts of service”), get a massage (“physical touch”).  Make note of the ones that bring you the most joy so you can do them again!
  1. ASK for others to do things for you in your love language.  For example, ask a friend to tell you 3 reasons they value your friendship (“words of affirmation”), ask a friend to surprise you with a gift sometime in the next week (“receiving gifts”), or ask your partner to do the dishes every night this week (“acts of service”).

 

This may feel weird to ask at first, but we have to get used to asking for what will make us feel loved. Plus, studies show that taking care of others increases people’s happiness. So we’re actually making THEM happier by asking!

Once you’ve made it a habit to buy yourself flowers every Sunday like Lizzo or get a massage each week no matter what, you will be well on your way to learning how to value yourself and understand that you deserve to be treated well and are deserving of all the love.

 

xo,

Megan

 

What Kind of F*er are You?!

Determining your sympathetic nervous system response type

 

If you’re looking to recover from childhood trauma or C-PTSD then I want to know what kind of F*er you are. 

No, not that kind of F*er! I mean, yeah, sometimes even I’m the asshole, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. 

Your particular F*er type is derived from the 4 types of sympathetic nervous system response, also known as the “4 Fs” in physiology.

When we’re in a stressful situation, our nervous systems switch from calm parasympathetic mode into stressed out sympathetic mode. Stressed out sympathetic mode is super useful for getting us out of a potentially harmful situation, like almost being hit by a car or seeing a rattlesnake on a hike. 

But what happens when most of life is a potentially harmful situation? What happens when you spent your childhood feeling neglected, scapegoated or silenced? It turns out, your nervous system acclimates to this and decides “stressed out” is just how it is. So instead of having your normal state be the calm, serene parasympathetic mode, your “normal” state becomes a stress response. 

This is what causes the true damage of C-PTSD. Over time, this stress response becomes a trauma response, and we experience much of life as if it’s unsafe or harmful. 

One of the pillars to healing trauma is to retrain your nervous system to have a more healthy baseline, a “normal” that looks like being in parasympathetic (calm) mode most of the time instead of sympathetic (stress) mode. So, it’s really important to know what kind, or type, of stress or trauma response you tend to have. 

This is where the 4 Fs come in. 

The stress or trauma response is divided into 4 types:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Fawn (aka Appease) 

To determine which kind of F*er you are, take a look at the following descriptions, and see which one(s) fit you best. Sometimes, we tend toward two response types, so there may be more than one that fits. 

Fight: If you find yourself having a short fuse or easily getting annoyed at people or situations, then you may have a strong fight response. A healthy fight response is designed so that we can attack when threatened, like when someone fights back when a mugger tries to grab their purse or wallet. But when the fight response becomes a trauma response, we tend to go into anger/fight/annoyed/dismissive mode whenever we feel slighted, ignored, or threatened. It sometimes even surfaces to preemptively avoid a potentially triggering or stressful situation, aka “strike first and ask questions later.”

Flight: Are you someone who finds a good reason to suddenly leave your new job or break up with the new person you’re dating? Do you find that the thing you *knew* would be the right next step for you never seems to be right and isn’t what you thought it would be? Then you might be have a flight response. 

via GIPHY

The flight response is designed so that we leave a potentially dangerous situation, like when someone yells “fire!” in a movie theater. However, if most of life was a dangerous situation, then the flight response can become a trauma response. This is especially true if the dangerous situations you were in as a child were emotional abuse, gaslighting or manipulation. You learn that emotional closeness is inevitably followed by betrayal or heartbreak, so you learn to leave as soon as something starts to feel good or emotionally nourishing. While this is an unconscious response (nobody thinks,”this relationship is awesome! I think I’ll sabotage it.”) it is something that you can often see as a pattern in hindsight. 

Freeze: Many predatory animals (including humans) are much better at perceiving movement than form or color. So in order to avoid being caught or attacked, many prey animals (including humans!) have developed a hide and freeze response where they become very still, hyperaware, and try blending into the background in the hope that the predator won’t be able to perceive them, and will eventually give up the hunt and go away. When this becomes a trauma response it can look like introversion, dissociation (depression, ADHD, or frequent daydreaming), or shyness (social anxiety or agoraphobia). Many times, this is a preemptive freeze response, where if we check-out-before-we’ve-even-checked-in, we can avoid any potential dangerous or triggering situations. 

Fawn/Appease: So in keeping with the “F” theme, the 4th F is fawn, but TBH I like appease better — it’s a more accurate descriptor. Have you ever had a creepy guy say something that felt awkward or kind of freaked you out? Like, your spidey senses say, “let’s get away from this guy and make sure he doesn’t follow?” but instead of punching him in the face and running away (hello, fight and flight!) you smile and say, “Yeah, haha. You’re totally right. Thank you!” and then you say it was nice to meet him, and you gotta go meet your friends or something like that? Then you have experienced the fawn/appease response! (Interestingly, this 4th sympathetic type of response was only added a few years ago when researchers started studying how women respond to stress and found that it was different than men’s response.) What happens when this normal stress response becomes a chronic trauma response? It can look like people pleasing, HSP or high empathy, sensory processing issues, codependency, or a fear of conflict or confrontation.

My F*er type looks like freeze with a big side helping of fawn/appease. What does this look like in my life? Here are three examples from yours truly. 

When I was little, I was painfully shy. I was scared of meeting new people (especially adults), and I would run behind my mom, grab onto her leg and start to cry if anyone talked to me. This shyness was a trauma response of both freeze and appease. The “freeze” part was running, hiding and refusing to speak. The “appease” part was putting my mom back into the center of attention as the “good mom” who was protecting her child. (A good survival strategy for being the child of a narcissist is to always put the focus back on them, in any way you can.) Fortunately, I’m not shy anymore, but I can easily see how this could have become social anxiety or even agoraphobia if I hadn’t addressed it. 

I’ve also noticed that my hearing is really damn good, I can often hear sounds that are too quiet for most folks. I know this is from “freezing” and listening very closely (hyperawareness) from my bedroom whenever my parents came home. I became a expert in listening to determine their mood: How were their footsteps sounding on the floor? How forcefully did they open or close the door? Which room did they go to and what were they doing in there? 

I’m still working on the appease response of people pleasing and fear of conflict. This is a big one for me as the fear of retribution or angering people is still embedded in my nervous system, and I don’t want to do or say anything that could potentially upset or disappoint people. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” because this used to mean always being as perfect as possible and never making a mistake in order to minimize the chance of retribution, but I’ve been working on allowing myself to be a messy human and sometimes miss the mark without fearing repercussions. 

Why is your F type important to know? There are two main benefits.

The first is you can more easily and quickly recognize and address the trauma response when it comes up. For example, if I know that I am avoiding sending an email because I’m worried about the recipient’s response, I can say to myself, “Ah! That’s my appease trigger” and I can use one of my tools to comfort, soothe and care for  that inner child part of me. 

The second is that it helps you figure out how to “complete the stress response” so you can get back into that calm, parasympathetic mode. For example, after a stressful day I often pick solitary “freeze” activities to reset my nervous system where I can be quiet, still and alone, like meditation, reading, watching movies, or crafting because I know that my nervous systems feels most safe in these activities and will be able to unwind and clear out any residual stress. If I were more of a “flight” type, then going for a long drive might help me reset into parasympathetic mode. 

I hope this helped you identify your mix of parasympathetic responses and I’d love to know what type of F*er you are!

Drop me a note, and let me know because I like hearing from all you F*ers out there. 

And don’t forget — while you may be shy or short-tempered or a chronic daydreamer, YOU ARE AN AMAZING GOD(DESS) WHO HAS SURVIVED SOME EPIC SHITSHOWS. I see you in all your human, messy glory and I love and admire you all the more for it. Rock on, my warrior friend. 

xo

Megan

Two Questions That Changed My Life: “Do I have C-PTSD?” and “How do I heal it?”

A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned they had C-PTSD. I’d never heard of this before (PTSD, yes. But C-PTSD? Nope.) 

I looked it up, and when I saw the definition and symptoms, I immediately realized, “Oh FFS — that’s me. I have this.” 

C-PTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and although it shares similar characteristics with PTSD, there are some marked differences. While PTSD happens as a result of a one-time or shorter duration traumatic event, like serving on active duty in a war zone or  surviving a physical attack, C-PTSD occurs when people experience trauma from on-going experiences such as childhood neglect or abuse, domestic abuse, human trafficking, or living in a war-torn or extremely impoverished region for more than a year.

Some of the symptoms experienced by people with C-PTSD include: 

  • Avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma
  • Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma
  • A negative self-view: Complex PTSD can cause a person to view themselves negatively and feel helpless, guilty, or ashamed. They often consider themselves to be different from other people and don’t know where they fit in.
  • Changes in beliefs and worldview: People with C-PTSD may hold a negative view of the world and the people in it, feel a loss of trust in themselves or others, or feel that the world is a dangerous place. 
  • Emotional regulation difficulties: These conditions can cause people to have extreme emotional reactions to some situations. They may experience intense anger, fear or sadness that seems highly disproportionate for the given situation. 
  • Hyperarousal or hypervigilance: they are in a continuous state of high alert or feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop” much of the time.
  •  Relationship issues. Relationships may suffer due to difficulties with trusting and interacting, and because of a negative self-view. A person may develop unhealthy relationships because they don’t know or never had models for a healthy relationship.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or being able to nap. Difficulty concentrating or increased procrastination. In some cases, ADHD can in fact be caused by C-PTSD. 
  • Detachment from the trauma: A person may dissociate, which means feeling detached from emotions or physical sensations. Some people completely forget the trauma.
  • Preoccupation with an abuser: It is not uncommon to fixate on the abuser, the relationship with the abuser, or getting revenge for the abuse. 
  • Reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.

 

As I looked over this list of symptoms, I realized that I have (or had) all of these. I grew up in a home with some pretty gnarly emotional, medical, and physical abuse– and it had left its mark. 

When we spend a long time in traumatic situations, especially as we’re growing and developing, our very smart body-minds adapt for survival. Entire systems change and adapt in order to be able to survive and keep us safe: our nervous system, vagal system, immune system, digestive system and the microbiome, emotional regulation and response, cognitive processing–as well as all of our energetic systems like meridians, the heart torus field, chakras and more–shift and adapt to what “normal” is in this traumatic world. When we are finally free of the traumatic situation, we now have a whole body-mind that needs to be retuned to be able to thrive in a non-traumatic world. 

So, how do we heal this? 

While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” fix for embodied trauma and C-PTSD, I can tell you what’s worked best for me. 

  • Therapy. Find yourself a good trauma-informed therapist and talk this shit out. I’ve been in therapy off and on for most of my adult life because the sneaky nature of trauma is that it can rear its ugly head in new situations all the time. 
  • Meditation. I first learned to meditate through a study at UCSF on “Cultivating Emotional Balance.” It took YEARS AND YEARS of practice before mediation became something that was easy for me but, damn, it was worth it. I can switch my mood from anxious to joyous in 20 minutes and can stay present and grounded in even the most triggering of situations now. One of the benefits that isn’t talked about enough is the changes that happen when we’re *not* meditating. Somehow that daily practice of 20 minutes of meditation has ripple effects outside of that time, too. I can now get into that meditative headspace immediately at almost any time of the day and feel the same effects of calm, peaceful joy that come from being in the present moment (aka mindfulness.)
  • Books. I read self-help books all the time. I’ve found that there are two types that help me the most. There are books that give advice and teach you tools for a certain issue, like hypervigilance or perfectionism. These are helpful for when my symptoms arise and I need a tool or strategy to deal with them in the moment.  And then there are autobiographical books that are written by people who went through something similar to me.  These are sooooo validating and helpful and make me realize that what I went through was wrong and horrible (I tend to normalize things and underreact to trauma). They remind me that I am not as much of a freak or weirdo as I may imagine, and that other people have gone through the same thing and have had similar feelings and responses. (I mean, I am a freak and a weirdo, but in a totally awesome way, not in a social pariah kind of way.) 
  • Energy healing. Oh boy. This was so profound for me that I totally switched my life path and career so I could dive head first into learning all about this. Energy healing is so magical because unlike therapy or medication, it helps the body heal on the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual levels all at once and in parallel. I originally started going to an energy healer to mitigate and heal side effects from chemo. One day about 3 months in, my practitioner said “Oh, you’re ready to transcend anxiety.” I looked at her and laughed right in her face. I’d been anxious since I was 3-years-old, and that’s probably just because I couldn’t remember back any earlier than that. But she did her thing and you know what? I left that office PROFOUNDLY less anxious. It felt like I’d had a 50-ton boulder lifted off me. My hypervigilance decreased markedly, my mood was more joyous and I had far fewer anxious, looping thoughts on a day-to-day basis. It was like 10 years of therapy in 3 months. So, I decided to figure out how that all worked. I’ve have spent the last 15 years studying different modalities and learning all that I can about the beautiful intersection of body, mind and spirit so that I can help others with their healing process, as well. 

If you see some of yourself in what I wrote here, please know that you are not alone, that there are people and groups and tools to help you heal. And please know that I see you, I know it’s been so hard, and I think you are an amazing triumph of nature to have survived and thrived the way you have. It’s no small feat, my friend, and I am so very unabashedly proud of you, wherever you are in your healing process. 

Xo

Megan

 

COVID-19 Vaccine Prep Sessions Now Available!

Now offering (due to popular demand!): COVID-19 vaccine prep sessions

I’ve been doing vaccine prep sessions informally with current clients, but I’m getting referrals from friends of clients who have heard about the great results my clients are having and want a session for themselves. So, I’m happy to offer these to everyone (yes, you!)  as a one-time session.

I’ve developed an energy healing protocol for all the major vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca) to help prepare your body both for the vaccine itself and for the immune response that will naturally follow. I tailor this protocol to each individual by muscle testing and taking into account individual health history, as well.

Clients report having only mild side effects from the vaccine as well as having an increased sense of calm and well-being and a decrease in anxiety and worry surrounding the vaccine. And who doesn’t want that? 😉

If you’re interested in booking a session, I recommend making the appointment 24-72 hours before your first vaccine appointment. Sessions are 30 minutes and are priced at $99.

To book in using my online booking system, please click here:

COVID-19 Vaccine Prep Session with Megan Caper

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to answer them.

What I’ve learned about growth mindset from binging British reality TV competitions

Lately, I’ve been working on unhooking from praise and criticism in how I evaluate myself and my work. I’ve been examining my own unhealthy relationship to praise and how I’ve chased “gold star stickers” as validation for most of my life.

This started in elementary school when I would get praise for doing well academically. There’s a meme that made the rounds a few years ago that was so spot on for me, it made me cringe in recognition. 

Oh yes, all of the above. 100%

The challenges that “gifted and talented” kids face later in life can be explained by Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset vs fixed mindset. A growth mindset is where you believe intelligence is malleable and can develop and grow over time. A fixed mindset is one where you believe intelligence is fixed and static. It turns out that  when we praise kids for specific abilities or achievements (“That was a great essay!”, “You’re so smart!” or “You’re such a good athlete!”) as opposed to attributes or intrinsic qualities (“Wow! I’m impressed at how hard you worked on that!” or “That was tough but I’m proud of how you stuck with it.”) we inadvertently stunt their growth mindset and drive them towards a fixed mindset. 

Ability-based praise leads kids to believe that labels like “you’re so smart” are true for them and these attributes quickly become part of their self-identity. While this doesn’t seem bad at first glance, when we attach too strongly to something as part of our identity/ego, we then become terrified of it being stripped away. This causes us to default to a fixed mindset in order to preserve our precious identity and we learn to fear the inevitable failures that come as part and parcel of a healthy growth mindset. If trying something and failing becomes something that threatens who we think we are, then failure becomes a painful ego distortion rather than a normal part of learning and growing. The result is that the kids who were praised for abilities are much less likely to want to try challenging tasks than the kids who are praised for attributes, and are more often up for a new challenge. 

As one of the “gifted and talented kids” my parents praised me up, down and sideways for my academic achievements. They bragged about it to friends. They told me I had such a bright future ahead of me as a result. They pulled me out of one school and put me into another to better match my intellectual prowess. It quickly became part of my identity and a great source of my self-esteem. 

However, the problem with self-esteem is this — what happens when we can no longer do esteemable things? What happens when for some reason or another, we can’t perform at the level that we’ve come to expect? 

Let me tell you, it feels like crap

It feels like shame

It feels like existential failure

This became suddenly and abundantly clear to me when I lost a good deal of my cognitive function due to “chemo brain” almost overnight. My memory, information processing abilities, recall, vocabulary, and other markers of intelligence were all severely impacted by chemotherapy and I found myself unable to be the “smart kid” anymore. How could I be the smart kid when I couldn’t even process what someone was saying to me, let alone remember any information that would help me craft a response? 

Common words eluded me. Facts and figures and ideas that I’d known by heart were murky at best. And my auditory processing was shot — if someone said something to me verbally rather than writing it down, I had no memory of it. Which made me feel like an idiot when I couldn’t remember something they’d said to me mere hours before. “Don’t you remember? We JUST talked about this, Megan.” 

It was a huge slap in the face. And while I’ve recovered a good deal of my cognitive abilities, they’re still not what they used to be. But that sudden loss allowed me to look at my core identity as “the smart one” and how deeply it had been ingrained in my sense of self and ego. Only then could I look at whether that served me or not, and make some conscious decisions about what I wanted my self-concept to be. 

So, what’s the antidote to this relentless quest for the gold star fix? And what does it have to do with British reality TV? 

I realized after chemo brain hit me hard that I needed to shift my identity to be about attributes rather than abilities. For example, I have a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning rather than “I’m smart.” Or, I am compassionate, curious and open-minded about those in my life rather than “I’m a nice person.” Can I love reading and not be smart? Sure can! Can I be compassionate with someone’s suffering and still have good boundaries and say no? You betcha. 

During the pandemic, I’ve been binge watching two British reality TV competitions: “The Great British Bake Off” and “The Great Pottery Throwdown.” These shows touch me in a way that I couldn’t quite name until one recent episode of “Pottery Throwdown.” One of the contestants, Roz, was asked to do a task that was way out of her wheelhouse. She finished the task but came in last in the judging. As she’s speaking to the judges about coming in last she says she’s embarrassed. Keith, one of the judges, looks at her with tears in his eyes and says, “Never feel embarrassed, Roz.” 

What he’s saying to Roz here is that she should be proud of herself, she should be proud of her attributes of persistence, resilience and grit rather than be embarrassed about her abilities (or lack thereof) at this specific task. You can see the interaction here: 

 

My love of these British reality competitions comes from the culture on these shows of being proud of trying your best, going out of your comfort zone, and being resilient and gritty. These are valued more on these shows than whether you came first or last. It’s not about the gold star or the winner’s ribbon, that’s just icing on the cake. (Yes, I made a baking pun, just for you my fellow GBBO fans.) The core values of these shows are about how extraordinary it is for people to show up with uncertainty, put in the effort, and try something new without knowing how it will turn out.  

No wonder I love these shows, they’re models of growth mindset that I desperately need. They feed the part of me that wants to see this in action, the part of me that wants to soak up all of these examples of how to value attributes rather than abilities like a sponge so I can turn around and do the same for myself and others. 

Here’s my challenge for you this week — try to think of a time when someone praised you for your attributes rather than your abilities. What did they say? How did it feel? 

If you can think of one, please comment on this post or email me at megan@megancaper.com and tell me about it. Like I said, I need more models and ideas for how I can do this more for myself. 

Xo Megan

P.S. For more on this subject:

Tara Mohr “Playing Big”

Carol Dweck “Mindset”

Alice Miller “Drama of the Gifted Child”

Why it’s hard to ask for help

Hi My Friends —

This week, I’ve been practicing relying on others and asking for help. This is a particular challenge for me as I’ve always been one of those people who thinks, “Oh, it’s just easier if I do it myself.”

I realized recently that the reflex to “just do it myself” is a sneakily disguised defense mechanism —  if I tell myself that no one can do it as well as I can and it would be easier if I do it myself, what I’m really doing is avoiding asking for help or reaching out for support.

Because relying on others and asking for help and support is uncomfortable for me.

I first realized how much I avoid relying on others when I was going through chemotherapy in my early 30s. I had a hard time taking people up on their myriad offers of help. I felt like it was an imposition or that I was asking too much, even if it was something they offered. I would tell myself,  “They don’t really have the time or energy to help, they’re just trying to be nice.” (I know,  the logic fails here, but our belief systems about our own worthiness don’t often pass the logic test.)

So, I started an experiment. When somebody offered something — to bring me a coffee, to clean my house, to run an errand for me — I said yes. I was very sick after all and I certainly needed the help. I didn’t think let my brain think it though, I didn’t let my inner critic tell me they were “just trying to be nice and didn’t really want to do it” and I didn’t qualify my “yes” with a “but only if you really want to” — I simply said YES.

Eventually, as with all things we practice enough, this became a habit. I am now able to let someone pick up the tab or bring me a coffee without my inner critic telling me they don’t really want to and are just trying to be nice. I can actually enjoy the feeling of someone wanting to take care of me, to do something for me. I can let that feeling wash over me and it feels good. I can actually let that love in now and feel what it’s like to be cared for in that way.

I now realize I need to take this to the next level. I need to not only accept help when it’s offered, but also ask for help. Especially to ask for help from people that haven’t offered it to me before or who I don’t know very well.

This terrifies me. 

You see, I grew up in a household where if I asked for something I was told I was selfish and ungrateful. That I was self-centered, bitchy, and cruel. Essentially, that I was unworthy of whatever it was that I needed or wanted.

Asking for help was fraught with peril. Putting myself out there and admitting I needed help was often met with anger, and so I came up with the strategy of not asking. I did everything myself because that was emotionally far safer to do.

I now know that this wasn’t normal, and that asking for what you want and need from family and friends (and even strangers!) is part of the deal, part of what we’re supposed to do as humans in relationship with each other. But knowing that something isn’t normal or healthy and acting upon what I know IS normal and healthy are two different things.

So I’m practicing. I’m practicing asking for help, and then feeling that inner child brace for anger and dismissal, and letting her know it’s going to be okay. I tell her the people I have in my life love me, want to help me, see my brilliance and magnificence and want to help me make the most of it. And then I practice asking for what I need and feeling supported, loved and cared for in return.

I’m practicing letting my heart fill and feeling the tears come to my eyes when someone says “yes” and helps me in a way I believe I don’t deserve.

It’s okay to have needs. I am worthy. I deserve help, support and kindness. 

If you’re someone who has trouble accepting or asking for help from others, I invite you to join me in practicing this. Practice letting others offer to take care of you first, and then practice ASKING others to take care of you. I know this can be hard to do for those of us that didn’t have a positive experience with this as children, either from our parents or from a society whose systems of oppression that told us our existence was “less than.” But I know it’s worth it. I know we all need and deserve to feel loved, cared for, protected and valued.

You are worth it. I see it and I know it. People want to care for you, it will bring them joy.

Why not give them a chance?
Xo Megan

PS — if you know someone who needs to hear this message, can you forward this to them? (See? See how I did that? I asked for help! From total strangers! Go me!! 😃)

Feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster lately? I think I may know why.

Notes on the Pandemic:

I was driving home from a hike with my dog the other day when the anxiety hit. I had just spent an hour hiking on a beautiful trail by the ocean, listening to an audiobook, and feeling pretty damn good. But as I got in my car and drove home, I felt a familiar tightening in my stomach. Oh hello, anxiety.

I wasn’t anxious about anything in particular, although my mind quickly found things it could grasp on to: I haven’t finished my taxes yet, I need to order a birthday present for my friend and have it shipped, I need to set up an appointment with the vet, etc. And while I admire my brain’s ability to find things to be anxious about, this isn’t my favorite place to spend time.

This sudden mood swing wasn’t an unfamiliar pattern and lately I’ve noticed it’s been worse than normal. One day (or hour) I’m fine and then the next, I’m anxious or depressed.

What is going on? Is this some sort of spiritual upgrade or slow ego death that’s making my emotions swing from one extreme to another?

And then I realized, oh no – this isn’t a spiritual upgrade. This is my ability to maintain reliable emotional regulation breaking down in the face of an entire year of pandemic and lockdown.

Emotional regulation is the ability to “influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express our feelings.” Good emotional regulation looks like being able to put things in perspective, comfort ourselves, and find support in friends, family or activities.

So many of my usual coping strategies that I use to stay even-keeled and release the pressure of life have been thwarted by the lockdown and the pandemic. I can’t go to cafés to work and people watch, I can’t go to movies and plays, I can’t hang out with friends and laugh and hug and physically support each other.
One whole year of being deprived of so many of my best strategies for helping me influence which emotional state I’m in has finally taken its toll. The result is an emotional rollercoaster unlike that which I’ve felt in my recent adult life.

Once I realized this I was able to take a deep breath, send some love and compassion and appreciation to my poor body and mind that has been through so much in the last year, and give myself permission to be a bit more of a mess than I usually am.

It’s okay my sweet bodymind, I’m here for you. This has been an exceptionally hard year. Rest if you need to. Play silly games on your phone if you need to. Do the rest of your work tomorrow if you need to. This is hard, and we can do hard things, but we must do them without pushing or forcing or shaming ourselves. We must do them with love and patience and care.

So be kind to yourself, my friends. Self-compassion is one of the golden keys to happiness and I think we could all use an extra dose right about now.

Can you ace the ACE test? Why a high score might be bad news.

When I was 32 years old, I found out about ACE at one of my lowest moments.

I had been referred to the social worker at the UCSF Cancer Center to help me find charity options to help pay for my cancer treatment. We talked a bit about my current work and financial situations, as well as my health and family history.

After I gave her the lowdown she stopped, put down her pen, pursed her lips and asked, “Have you heard of the ACE study?” I nodded my head no. “ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences. They’ve found that people who score a 4 or above on the test are at an increased risk for cancer and other diseases. Let’s see how you score.”

I’m a 4 on the ACE scale. Not the worst score possible, but enough to statistically put me between 400 and 1200% higher risk for things like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, smoking, broken bones, depression, and COPD than people with ACE scores in the lower range.

So what’s the connection? From what the scientists have found, there are several different causes.

Early childhood trauma or neglect causes the brain to become wired differently and the “fight or flight” mechanism is left permanently in the “on” position. This causes the body to be constantly flooded with cortisol, and too much cortisol is no bueno for the body. It causes an inflammation response which is the underlying cause for everything from weight gain to fibromyalgia to cancer.

Another connection is epigenetics. We all know about DNA, but our DNA isn’t necessarily always “turned on” or translated into proteins.

Let’s look at an example from evolution. Since we all evolved from the same cells, you have genes in your DNA for all the body parts and functions of every species we’ve evolved from. For example, all land creatures evolved from fish. You have a fishy great great great great great great….great great grandpa somewhere in your evolutionary history. Fishy grandpa had DNA that coded for gills, which allowed him to breathe underwater. Since you’re not a fish, you don’t need gills, but you still have the gene for gills in your DNA. (In fact, at one point in your embryonic development, you had gills. But just for a hot minute.) Now that you’ve evolved into a land mammal, you don’t need gills. So, that DNA isn’t turned on in humans.

This is epigenetics – the ability to turn on or off certain strands of DNA. In people with high ACEs, certain genes that allow for certain diseases may be turned on as result of the adverse childhood experiences. Or certain ones that protect from diseases may be turned off. This is especially true if your mom or dad had substance addiction issues or were going through trauma when you were conceived and in utero.

Believe it or not, our genes can be affected even if mom or dad had trauma way before we were even conceived. More recent studies show epigenetic information is passed down just like genetic (DNA) information. Epigenetic information can encode not only for physical changes, but also for psychological characteristics like hopes and fears.

The last connection, and the one I’m most interested in, is belief systems. Belief systems can be passed down culturally, epigenetically, or in the case of many ACE households, by having a parent repeatedly and consistently tell you that you are not good enough, worthless, unloved, or unwanted. No matter how resilient you are, if you are 5 years old and are told you are not good enough or unlovable by the head honcho in your life, it ends up worming its way into your subconscious.

So, how does a belief system end up giving you cancer? There are two mechanisms by which this works.

The first is that our bodies are inextricably intertwined with our emotions and our belief systems. Emotions, belief systems, and self-concepts are not merely patterns of neurons firing (although that’s part of it) but they are also housed in our organs, connective tissue, and even our bones. If you have a belief system that you are weak and worthless, this can easily play out in your immune system and you can be one of those people who are constantly sick and unable to fight off even the smallest virus, which can lead to chronic infections with things like Epstein Barr, the main cause of fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalopathy (a.k.a. chronic fatigue).

If you believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with you and you are unlovable, your body may not attack the routine cancer cells that crop up daily in your system. Or it may fundamentally integrate that voice of your mother or father telling you that you’re not good enough, and your immune system may start attacking your own perfectly good body parts, causing an autoimmune disease, just to prove mom or dad was right.

The other mechanism is sort of like the evil twin version of “The Secret”. Many physicists now agree that consciousness and observation have a huge role in creating our reality. We can use this to create and manifest all sorts of crazy and amazing things, but the reverse is also true. We can also create disease and terrible circumstances. If it’s true that you can manifest abundance and joy in your life, you can also manifest lack, unhappiness, and disease. Manifestation isn’t just something that happens in the outside world, it’s and inside job, too. You can manifest a disease just like you can manifest getting fired.

For example, people who have had a spouse die have a 66% greater chance of dying within the first three months after their spouse’s death. Grief, loss, and the fear of being alone manifest incurable disease in their bodies.

Conversely, in a study of people who have gone into spontaneous remission from late stage cancer, the one factor that all the subjects had in common was a realization that they were connected to a larger consciousness. They had a realization that they were connected spiritually to everyone and everything and they had all the resources from that vast and all knowing consciousness to fight their disease. At some point soon after that, their cancer disappeared. The change in their consciousness manifested spontaneous healing.

In my work I’ve found that a two-pronged approach to belief systems has helped to heal many of my clients. First, I get to the root of the belief system. I find out family history and what type of adverse events they experienced and then I “tune in” and find the exact phrase or set of beliefs that their body has decided to act out through their illness or disease. Most of the time, we all want to just feel listened to, validated, and loved. Once we do that on a cellular level, the body feels like it can release the old belief system or programming. At that point we can replace it with another belief system that is better for the client’s health and highest good.

The second way is to reconnect or remind the client’s body of its spiritual nature and connection with the Source. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. But despite our physical appearance, we’re all still connected to Source Energy (or God, or Universal Consciousness, or the Big Wow) and the deeper that connection, the less chance that these human fears and beliefs can resonate and set up shop in our physical bodies, causing imbalance or disease. Once I reconnect the direct line to Source, clients start to feel calmer, symptoms start to resolve and general well-being improves. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

 

 

If you’re interested in finding your ACE score, here’s a link to the test:

http://www.theannainstitute.org/Finding%20Your%20ACE%20Score.pdf

 

 

 

 

Energetic body systems: how your hidden body affects your health

Did you know that you have a second, hidden body?

We’re all aware of our physical bodies and can name the various body systems: cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, etc. But you have a whole other set of body systems that affect your health just as much, your energetic body.

Your energetic body consists of systems that have energetic components but don’t have a physical form, such as your chakras, meridians, Wei Qi, and the layers of your aura. These systems work in tandem with your physical body to help regulate everything from hormones to your immune system to blood flow.

How can a body system be invisible and still affect your health? To understand this, you need a little bit of quantum physics (Just a little bit! I promise it will be painless.) What we think of as physical matter is just very small, sub-microscopic particles vibrating at certain frequencies that we perceive as a solid, physical matter. However, there is another type of energy, vibrating at a different frequency, which does not appear to us as physical matter. These make up your energetic body systems. They are made up of the same sub atomic “stuff” as your physical body, just vibrating at a different frequency.

Think of it this way, we can only see light that is emitted at certain frequencies, known as the “visible spectrum,” but there are many frequencies of light that humans can’t see. However, other creatures can. Did you know bees can see light in the UV spectrum (which we can’t) and are able see patterns on flowers that human eyes can’t see? In the same way, the energies of these physical body parts are vibrating at a frequency that most people can’t see or perceive. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, and they have been measured and validated, and can and do affect our physical bodies and overall health.

Since the basis for both the physical and energetic body systems is vibrating energy, they interact at a subatomic level as one holistic system. That’s how energy medicine works – if you change the energy of a system, you change the physical aspects as well. If you work with the energetic systems to get them back in balance, they interact with the physical systems and bring them into balance as well.

Traditional western medicine has yet to acknowledge these energetic body systems and only looks at the physical systems as the cause of disease. In doing so, they are missing half the picture, if not more. This is why traditional medical treatments only work for some people and some illnesses. Imagine if doctors only looked at patients from the waist up. They’d be able to treat many illnesses, but if you had a problem with your bladder or colon, they’d miss it entirely. That’s what happens when a traditional doctor tries to cure an illness that’s based in one of the body’s energy systems, they only look at the physical systems and miss the energetic aspects entirely.

As a medical intuitive with background in both western medical science and energy healing, I work with both physical and energetic systems to see what is causing a client’s disease or imbalance. Like most Americans going into medicine, I first trained in the traditional western modality: Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, neurology, etc. However, once I found out about energy systems like chakras, meridians and body psychology, the “mystery diseases” I saw in my patients were no longer such a mystery. In looking at both the physical and energetic systems, many of my patients who were unable to get a consistent diagnosis or treatment from traditional medicine are now able to understand their disease and find reliable treatment that integrates both their physical and energetic body systems.

If you’re struggling to find the cause of your disease and you’ve been unable to get a consistent diagnosis from your doctor, it may be time to consult someone familiar with ALL of your body systems. Traditional western doctors mean well, but they’re often missing crucial elements that can cause disease. Your energetic body may be the key to finding your health again.

How to find a lost cat from 3,000 miles away

I want to share a sweet story with you about something that happened to me this last New Year’s Eve. It involves the coldest day of the year, a lost cat 3,000 miles away from me, and the way social media can connect us in the best of ways.

It was around 5:00pm west coast time on New Year’s Eve and I was surfing around Facebook when I saw this post:

 

 

 

My heart sank.

I know that feeling of panic when a pet escapes, and I live in sunny Southern California where it never gets below 50 degrees! I immediately responded. Molly told me her cat Mickey had gotten out at about 7am and they’d been looking for him for hours. They’d been all around the neighborhood, calling for him, but with no luck. A cold front had moved in to upstate New York that afternoon and they were expecting -30 degree temperatures. She was terrified he wouldn’t survive the night. I had Molly send me a pic of Mickey to see if I could make a connection.

I got into my psychic headspace and tried to get Mickey “on the line.” I was immediately able to get a connection with him and saw him under a porch or set of stairs, looking out at the snow. I told him that his mom and dad were worried about him and that he needed to come home. He said he was further away from home than usual. I asked how far, and he said about 10-15 minutes from home. I showed him that there was a warm house waiting for him and that his mom and dad were waiting right by the door for him, as Molly had told me. I told him night was coming on and it was only going to get colder as it got darker. He agreed and said he knew he needed to get home.

I relayed all this to Molly, told her I thought I’d convinced him to come home, and asked her to let me know what happened.

About 10 minutes later, I got this message:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey had come home! I was elated. I truly felt like I was given a gift to help reunite Mickey with his family.

I have to admit, I super snuggled my kitty Charley that night and gave some extra treats at dinner

Fast forward a few months, and Molly asked if she could interview me about animal communication. She was kind enough to post it on her site, which you can read here.

Animal communication is always rewarding, but this was an especially gratifying situation. I’m so glad that I happened to be on Facebook that night, that Mickey was open to communicating with me, and that he made it home safe and sound.

The secret to being a better person and improving your relationships

I’m going to let you in on a secret for how to be a better person. It’s easy, fast and has been scientifically proven to improve your relationship with yourself and others.

It’s called Mettā meditation.

I first came across Mettā, or Loving Kindness, meditation years ago when I was first studying Buddhist meditation. The first time I practiced it, I was blown away by the effect it had on me. My whole physiology changed. It’s a simple meditation where you send heart energy outwards, but sometimes the simplest things are the best. It has greatly changed how I view myself, my friends and family ones, and even strangers. Simply put, it has made me a happier, better person.

Mettā meditation is a simple, guided meditation that has profound effects when done on a regular basis. According to an ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon, if you do Mettā meditation regularly, it has some pretty awesome side effects:

One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One’s mind gains concentration quickly. One’s complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and – if penetrating no higher – is headed for the Brahma worlds.

Now, I can’t really attest to the fact that “neither fire, poison, or weapons” can touch me after practicing this type of meditation, but I can tell you that my capacity for being open hearted and loving with myself and others has increased more than I could have imagined.

It’s really not hard to do. Here are instructions for a simple Mettā meditation practice. (I’ve recorded a more in depth version of this meditation that you can access for free ***here***, if you’d prefer to listen along as I guide you.)

  • Sit or lie down somewhere where you wont be disturbed for about 15 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and feel your heart filling with love and compassion.
  • Imagine this love and compassion as a light building in your heart. Give the light a color.
  • Imagine someone you love dearly standing in front of you. Send them the light from your heart while you send them the prayer:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Now imagine someone who is an acquaintance. You know there name and a little bit about them, but you don’t know much about the details of their life. Imagine them standing in front of you and send them the prayer:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Next, imagine a stranger. It could be someone in your town or halfway around the world. Bring a detailed image of them to your mind and say:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Finally, imagine someone who has hurt you or wronged you. That person also has had good days and bad, experienced love and loss, just like you. See if you can open your heart and tell them:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Now see your heart fill to capacity and beyond with love and the wish for all beings to be happy. Send this love from your heart to the world, see all the people on this planet striving to find happiness and avoid suffering. Send them your love.
  • Slowly open your eyes and notice how your heart is still filled with love and compassion.

This is a great meditation to do in the morning as it starts you out with such a good vibe for the day. There’s nothing better than going through your day shining your light on everyone you encounter and giving them the gift of love and compassion.

Xoxo

Megan

It’s the ME show. Staring ME!!

Hundreds of years ago, people mistakenly assumed that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. We now know that’s not the way it is, but it was easy to see why people thought that way — that’s what it looks like from our point of view here on earth.

However, humanity became very attached to that perceived importance as the center of the universe, so much so that when Galileo questioned it, he was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. (With no DoorDash to deliver Thai food, I might add. That was the true punishment.)

There’s a tendency for people to do the same thing. Just like when we look up at the sky it appears that the sun, moon and planets are revolving around earth, when we look out from the eyes in our heads and see the events happening around us, it appears that much of it revolves around us. And we become attached to that percieved importance in a very similar way. 

I often assume that what’s happening around me must involve ME, simply because that’s what it looks like from my point of view.

It’s the “Me Show” starring… ME!!

Each of us is starring in our own Me Show. Everything we see, feel, and experience is as the star of the show. As life unfolds around us, it’s easy to see what’s happening as a cause and effect of our own actions (or lack thereof). We notice how people act, or how events unfold, and because we are seeing it only through our own eyes, it’s easy to assume that it must be because of something we did.

Now, stop for a minute and think about the fact that everyone is starring in their own Me Show. Everyone thinks what’s happening in their world is mostly a cause and effect from their own actions.  So, everyone thinks that the world is a reflection of them, and their actions.

But we can’t all be the star of the show. It just doesn’t add up. 

When you react to someone or make a choice that impacts someone, how much of that is because of them and their actions and how much of it is because of how you feel and what you think the best course of action is? I would argue that most of what you feel and how you react is because of your own internal state: feelings, past experiences, trying to make something work out the way you’d like, etc. But, the person who is impacted is naturally going to assume that it has to do mostly with THEM and their actions. Why? Because they are staring in their own Me Show, too.

So, why does this all matter?

If you stop to realize that your coworker who just sent out a condescending email or your mom nagging you is acting out a dramatic arc of their Me Show, you see that it probably has little or nothing to do with you. This allows you to let it go.

That’s their drama, not yours.

You don’t have to be a supporting character on their Me Show. You can choose to let them play out that dramatic arc without you.

Reframe it for yourself – their actions are much more likely a statement about their own internal drama than anything to do with you.

So, take a deep breath, remember that we are all spiritual beings having a (messy) human experience, and send them a little love and compassion.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three ways to turn off your inner critic

My inner critic likes to try to bring me down.

“What if you really suck at that? You should just give up now.”

“Do they really want to hang out with me? Maybe they’re just being nice.”

“I can’t even compete. Look at how amazing everyone else is. I’ll never succeed.”

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.

Sigh. Why does she talk to me like that?

We all have inner critics saying variations of the same things. So, what can we do? Here are three ways I’ve found to shut that voice down and feel better about myself.

1. Realize that EVERYONE has an inner critic.

Oprah? Has an inner critic. Tim Ferris? I’ve seen him talk about his inner critic! Jennifer Lawrence? Inner critic, I guarantee you. That person you feel you can’t compete with because they are so awesome? Super crazy inner critic.

Just like everybody poops, everybody has an inner critic. So, when you feel intimidated by someone or like you can’t compete, try to remember that they are struggling with the same thing you are. You are completely, wonderfully, perfectly normal for feeling like this. It’s part of the whole human experience shtick. You are an amazing, deserving, loving person just like everyone else, despite what your critic says.

2. That’s the hurt part of you talking. Ask why he or she is saying those things.

Sometimes I get into a loving dialogue with my inner critic. I know that that voice comes from a place that feels hurt, sad or less than. When I’ve asked my inner critic why she says these things, I’ve heard some interesting answers.

“I’m just trying to keep you from making a mistake and feeling disappointed.”

“If you truly believe that he loves you, you’ll have to give up the self concept that you’re unlovable.”

“If you don’t rock the boat, you’ll be less likely to alienate people.”

3. Understand that what the inner critic is saying is likely from an old tape loop that’s playing over and over, but isn’t relevant to who you are now.

You’ll notice that there are themes to what our inner critic says and the particular times he or she pops up to whisper nasties in our ears. If you look at that what and when you hear your inner critic, you’ll see some patterns.

Is it around work? When? Is it talking to bosses? Or when you want to share an idea? Is it around friends? Or in your romantic relationships? Look to see if you can spot the patterns.

Then ask yourself, “Is that true about me? Was it ever true about me?” Sometimes you’ll find that your inner critic has latched on to an old narrative. For example maybe you didn’t have many friends in high school. But now you do, so why is the critic still making you feel insecure around your friends? Or maybe you had a terrible relationship with your father and felt like you disappointed him, and now you feel that way about any boss or person in charge.

If you do find these patterns, here’s an exercise to help let them go.

Sit quietly and close your eyes. Imagine your inner critic sitting across from you. They may look like you or they may look entirely different. Ask them for a peace treaty. Tell them you want to come to an agreement about your highest good. Tell them that you want to find happiness and the causes of happiness and they are running a script of an old unhappiness that isn’t true anymore. (Note: at this point, they may rant and rave about how you don’t deserve happiness. That’s fine, that’s just what they do. If this happens, send them pure love and ask them once again to listen.) Show them what you know in your heart – that you are a kind, amazing, passionate person who is looking for success, happiness and human connection. Ask for their help in achieving this. Tell them it’s only sapping the energy you could be putting toward finding these things when you have to rehash old patterns or old hurts through their criticisms. Ask them if you can leave the past in the past, and live in the now. See them nod in agreement. It’s time to move on. Take a deep breath again, and open your eyes.

3 Steps to Fail Successfully

I hate that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realize I’ve messed up. Or when I put something out there in the world and all I get in response is crickets.

Feelings of doubt and worthlessness creep in. “Uh oh”, I think, “That’s not good.”

I failed. I tried, put in my best effort (or maybe not even my best, maybe I even half-assed it) and it flopped. I’ve let myself down, I’ve let others down.

This isn’t a good feeling.

So, how do you get past that? How do you learn to fail and not let it get you down?

1. Acknowledge that it was your best effort.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”  Maya Angelou

Many people miss he first part of this quote, I’ve seen it online as “When you know better, you do better” many times, but that’s actually missing the point. “I did then what I knew how to do…” That’s really saying that given the circumstances, your knowledge, your emotional state, your options at the time, you made the BEST effort you could given all of those contingencies. Notice that I didn’t say your best effort. Given the perfect circumstances, a lifetime of wisdom, and a feeling of complete calm and confidence, you could have undoubtedly rocked it. But this is real life. Perfection is an idea, not a reality and you are living in reality. So, don’t just look at the failure, look at what you were dealing with when you put in that effort and give yourself some slack. You were doing the best that you could do then. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.

2. Salvage the good parts and learn the lessons

A failure can make you feel like crap for a while, but you know there are some nuggets in there that worked and some that you can improve next time. Once you can forgive yourself and process your emotions around the failure, it’s time to take it apart and try to see which parts actually were successful (I promise that there are a least a few parts that were good!) and which parts need to be reworked. Forgive yourself AGAIN for doing the best you could in that moment. It’s okay that there were parts that worked and parts that didn’t. That’s how we learn, you try several times, keep what’s working, and revise the parts that didn’t work as well.

3. Be resilient

Lastly, and most importantly, try again. Studies have shown that the most consistent indicator of success is resilience, knowing how to try again after you made a mistake. Doing anything (especially something new) is a process, a learning experience. You’ll be less likely to make mistakes after many attempts, but that first few tries can be brutal. None of those people you’re comparing yourself to started out doing things as well as they do now. None. Of. Them. Most likely, you just aren’t aware of their first (and most likely crappy) attempts because of exactly that! They were crappy and unsuccessful. But I guarantee you that that’s where they started, just like you. So, yes! You are just like your mentors and biz crushes, because you start out doing now what you know how to do, and when you know better, you’ll do better.

What toxic varnish remover taught me about goal setting

I’m sprucing up my home office and bought an old wood side table off Letgo. It’s an ugly piece now, it’s got super shiny varnish over a terrible color wood stain but I see it’s potential. Hello, little new table friend, you are going to be stripped of your atrocious stain and painted a nice robin’s egg blue!

I am full of inspiration and creative juice as I pick up the paint, varnish remover, etc at Home Depot. I’m a genius! It’s going to be amazing! I’m going to create a shabby chic masterpiece!

I get home and suddenly the excitement is gone. The inspiration is faltering now that I actually have to do the WORK. But I gather my grit, get some gloves and an old towel, and take the table and varnish remover outside and start to work.

About 10 seconds in, I realize this is going sideways really fast. The varnish remover is eating through my cheap-ass latex gloves. And it’s burning my skin! (My precious! It burns us!) I rush into the house, wash my hands, and find some actual work gloves.

Take two.

I finally finish stripping the varnish. It’s not fun. It smells like a chemical emporium, my arms are sore from all that rubbing, and even with my best effort I can only get off about 80% of the varnish.

I decide that’s it for today. I’ll deal with the painting tomorrow.

I’m much less excited about the painting after having to cope with the varnish remover. Why isn’t this as easy and painless as it was in my mind when I first started looking at used tables for sale? At that point, it was going to be a home improvement adventure! Each step would be easy and the results would be better than I could have ever imagined, right?

But, I started this project and I’m going to finish it, goddamit.

I gather the paint and the brush and I get to work. Hey, wait a minute. The painting part is actually kind of fun. This isn’t nearly as bad as removing the varnish and I’m actually feeling creative again. I’m creating something new! This feels super satisfying!

The next day I go out to see how it dried. I can see how there are some parts where it needs a second coat, mostly because I didn’t remove the varnish completely. I berate myself ever so slightly for not spending more time on that step and therefore saving myself time here, but then I remember how much that step sucked and I decide to be kind to myself for doing the best I could in that moment. It’s not a big deal to go over the whole thing again with another coat.

Guess what? It didn’t even need a whole new coat. Just some touch-ups here and there which were super easy and somehow even more fun than the first coat. It’s like perfecting something that I did a pretty damn good job of the first time around. I’m so excited that I even painted a little green vine with leaves around the top edge of the table.

The initial excitement I felt is back. Look, I made something! And it’s cute! And I’m proud of it!

Why am I telling you about my (let’s face it) silly home improvement project? Because it made me realize something about any change we make in our lives. First, we get the idea and it sounds awesome. We see the outcome in our minds and it seems wonderful. We think, “this is going to be great!” and we start planning and visualizing. Planning and visualizing are fun! Buying the goodies to make it happen is fun! Bringing them home and looking at them is fun!

But starting the actual work? Uh… suddenly not so fun.

Making a change, be it a home improvement project or self-improvement project is hard work. The hardest part is undoing what we have in place and making room for the new, better thing. The hardest part is getting started and removing the varnish. It’s always more work than we thought, sometimes it eats through our metaphorical gloves and burns us in a way we didn’t expect (but I took precautions! I put on gloves! Why aren’t the gloves protecting me?) and we always need to go back and revise some of what we did in order to keep moving forward. Starting a new project is hard and it takes grit to keep going once we realize that this isn’t going to be as easy IRL as it was in our mind when we first got the idea.

The idea is still strong though. Life will be better if I can get through this and move toward that goal.

And it does get easier. The first few steps are always the hardest. Once I got that varnish off and committed to the project, I gained momentum. And then at a certain point, it became fun. Isn’t that always the way with life, too? Once I start to see how this is all coming together, that the work I did at the beginning is actually leading me toward the goal I have in mind, that’s when the fun starts and I can get in that flow zone.

The finished product? Eh, it looks okay. I’m not gonna be selling my refinished tables on Etsy anytime soon, let’s just say that. But, I’m proud of myself. I got through the initial disillusionment that this was going to take some hard work, I even got through the initial steps where you get burned and have to deal with some toxic stuff, and I finished it.

So, remember as you make your grand plans to improve your life and yourself, it will take work. It will not be as easy as you imagined. Things will go sideways and you’ll have to change course a bit. But as you go along, it will get easier. At a certain point, it will even get fun! And in the end, you’ll have a cute table, or whatever your thing is that you worked on. You will feel pride and love and happiness toward yourself. And isn’t that a fine, rare bird?

Zen and the Art of Gridlocked Traffic

I’m driving and I see people flipping out around me all the time. Knuckles white, yelling at someone who can’t hear them, and banging on the wheel. I don’t get it. There’s nothing we can do, and this is beyond our control.

Yes, this traffic sucks. Yes, I’ve been going less than 10 miles per hour for over 10 miles. Yes, I’m going to be late. But somehow, it doesn’t bother me. I turn up my audiobook and delight that I have some extra time to listen to it today.

There are other times when I’m flipping out over something that’s beyond my control. Long lines at the market, for example, make me do a weird conga checkout dance from line to line, searching for the one with the fewest people, while I inwardly curse whomever scheduled so few checkers for this time of day.

The difference is that I learned to drive in LA where gridlocked traffic is as plentiful as sunshine. Miles of barely moving traffic were a daily occurrence, and I’d never known any other way.

When I got my first car at 16, it meant freedom. I could go anywhere, with anyone, anytime. I could get myself to and from school, the mall, and my boyfriend’s house. One of my favorite things to do was get in my car alone, put KROQ on the radio, and drive for hours up the winding, coastal Southern California highway. It cleared my mind, gave me perspective on whatever was whirling in my life, and allowed me to be free from all responsibilities. My time in the car was exactly that, my time. I could listen to whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and I was free.

With this attitude, any time in my car felt like a break from life. Even when I was stuck in traffic, I had the freedom of heading in the direction that I wanted to go, listening to my music, and being free from all the drama waiting for me back home.

I could be present.

Looking back now, this was one of the first consistent mindfulness practices I had. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what mindfulness was, but on some level I knew that I needed it. So, I found a space to be mindful. And that space just happened to be on the freeways of LA, in mind-boggling gridlocked traffic.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to translate the Zen of Gridlock into other areas of my life. When I find myself in a similar situation, in the checkout line at the market, for example, I remind myself that this is just like LA traffic. It doesn’t matter which lane I’m in, I can’t make this go faster. So, here I am. I give up the idea that I can control this or do anything to make it go faster. Instead, I watch the mother and her son, playing peek-a-boo in the cart ahead of me. Or I watch the elderly couple, holding each other up for support, as they place their groceries on the conveyer belt. Sometimes, I plug in my headphones and listen to music, or grab a magazine and read an article. If it’s a good article and I haven’t finished by the time I get to the front of the line, I find myself wishing the line had been longer. Then I laugh at myself because 10 minutes earlier that long line had been the last thing I’d wanted to see.

 

Sometimes I’m the a-hole.

You know what? Sometimes I’m the a-hole.

I’ve been the one driving along, thinking of the things I need to get done, and I almost miss my exit. I realize this about two seconds before the exit has passed, so I look to my right and too quickly swerve into the tiny space between two cars. If it’s a good day, maybe I had time to use my turn signal.

Yup. I’m the a-hole. I just cut someone off. I’m sure the person in the car behind me is yelling a multitude of profanities my way (I would know for sure if I weren’t doing everything in my power to avoid making eye contact with them in my rear view mirror) and I probably deserve it.

We all make mistakes. I like to think of them as lessons. Or maybe “teachable moments.” In Cherie Scott’s Ten Rules for Being Human, she states that, “You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called “life”. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or hate them, but you have designed them as part of your curriculum. Growth is a process of experimentation, a series of trials, errors, and occasional victories. The failed experiments are as much as a part of the process as the experiments that work.”

What’s the lesson in being an a-hole? It’s empathy. The next time someone cuts me off and almost causes an accident, my first reaction will be visceral and I’ll be scared and angry. But after a moment, I’ll remember that time a few weeks earlier when I was stressed, late, almost missed my exit, and I was the one who swerved into the exit lane at the last minute.

This is true for any situation where someone has made me angry. If I think back, there was most likely a time where I did something similar to someone else. It might have been because I was stressed, I wasn’t thinking of how my actions might adversely affect someone else, or because I was acting from a place of fear or self-doubt.

There have been many times when I’ve inadvertently made someone upset. At these times, I need to practice self-compassion and forgive myself for making a mistake. There have also been a few times when out of my own hurt or anger, I’ve done it on purpose. I’m not proud of that, but it’s mine and I own it. For those times, I forgive myself, too. In those moments, it’s harder to practice self-compassion, but it’s even more important. I’m human, I have feelings, and they’re not always puppies and moonbeams.

I try to learn from the times that I’m the a-hole. Rather than get angry the next time someone does something thoughtless or mean, I try to put myself in his or her shoes. Maybe they just got fired. Or dumped. Maybe they don’t have anyone on their life that can show them how to be kind and loving and so they just don’t know how. Maybe they are just human, doing the best they can, and we stepped into a sticky moment of one of their life lessons. Whatever the reason, I do my best to forgive them. Because there will be a time when I’m the a-hole and when I am, I want you to forgive me, too.

 

 

What experiences in your life have given you greater empathy? I’d love to know and share them here! Post your story in the comments below.

 

 

Why do your friends secretly like it when you get sick?

Your friends probably enjoy it when you get sick. No, not because they have a secret streak of schadenfreude. They don’t want too see you feel badly, but they do want to help.

Studies show that helping others has a direct link to our own happiness. 

Whether it’s bringing soup to a sick friend, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, or volunteering with the homeless, helping others can have amazing effects on our happiness. Mark Snyder, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota states that, “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness.”

So, let’s get out there and make some soup!

You’ll not only be helping someone who needs you, but you’ll be helping yourself, too. How’s that for a win-win?

If you have a friend that has been feeling a bit sad lately, share this post with them and then make a date to do some volunteering! I guarantee it will lift their spirits.

How do you like to give back or volunteer? I’m always looking for new ways to volunteer or help out, so please leave a comment with your favorite way to help others. I’d love to try it out!

The one question that has saved my relationship

In every relationship, you are going to make each other angry. Through thoughtlessness, naiveté, and ignorance, we are all going to flub it up with our partners every now and again.

How do you know if you should bring it up? If you mention every little thing that irritates you, it will quickly devolve the relationship into a paranoid bickering match. But if you bottle things up, they will eventually come out in a messy, gargantuan tirade and may spell the end of the relationship.

Fortunately, I’ve found a middle ground.

When my sweetie does something that irritates me, I check in with myself using the five-year rule. I ask myself, “Will I remember this incident in five years?” If the answer is yes, then it’s something I want to address with him. If the answer is no, then I let myself be angry (on my own) for as long as I need to get it through my system and then I forget it. If it’s not something that I will even remember happened in five years, how important can it be?

The odd occasion when the dishes are left in the sink? I won’t remember that in five years. That weird, nerdy thing he said to my friend at a dinner party last week? I won’t remember that in five years. The mud tracked in when he was working in the yard? Nope, I won’t remember that in five years either.

When he said that I’m not as good about exercising as he is? Ouch. Um, yeah, I’ll remember that in five years so it’s time for a talk, buddy.

It may be that as a mental exercise, you’ll need to start with a ten-year rule or an eight-year rule. Make it however much time would have to pass before you’d look back on the incident and either laugh at it or not even remember it happened. Then test it out. How does it feel to let things go? Do they simmer for weeks inside you or do you move on faster than you would have thought?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this and how it works for you! Remember as Buddha wisely said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping at a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at somebody else; you are the one who gets burned.”

A simple way to become more loving

Self-compassion is the ability to be compassionate (kindhearted, caring and gentle) with yourself. It has been shown to increase levels of happiness, optimism, and a sense of well-being. We’re all quite skilled at being compassionate with other people like our friends, family, and children. However, we aren’t as good at doing this for ourselves.

When was the last time you were gentle and kind with yourself after you made a big, embarrassing mistake? It’s so much easier to forgive others for their mistakes then it is to forgive ourselves. We tend to beat ourselves up and rehash the failure over and over, rather than giving ourselves words of encouragement and support.

When you can learn to be as kind with yourself as you are with those friends and family you hold close to your heart, you will start to see so many aspects of your life, your happiness, and your health improve.

Self-compassion is when you accept, validate, and treat with care any and all things that happen to you. If you make a mistake at work and get called out by your boss, accept what happened, validate the truth of the situation and figure out how to fix it, and then tell yourself that you did your best at the time with the resources you had. Resources always include time, materials, emotional state, energy level, interest level and more. At any given time, you can only do your best with what resources you have at that moment. If you snap at your kids or partner after a long day, accept that you made a mistake, apologize, and give yourself the grace of knowing that you are a good person but at that moment your resources were spread thin.

We all make mistakes. It’s part of the school of life class in which we’re all currently enrolled: “Being a Human: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Be kind to yourself. It makes a huge difference in your life.

My secret weapon for staying balanced

Over the past 10 years I have been practicing mindfulness.  It has made a world of difference in how I interact with others and how I process all the ups and downs of life. It has helped me to remain balanced and have a perspective that I never knew I could have. Mindfulness has given me a space where I can observe myself, the situation, and my reaction and actually choose how I want to proceed before I get caught up in the whirlwind of  automatically reacting with anger, anxiety or fear.

Mindfulness is basically about keeping your thoughts and awareness on what’s going on right now. By right now, I mean at this exact moment. No, wait! That one just passed. Okay, this exact moment. D’oh! That one passed too. Okay, this exact moment.

You get the picture. Mindfulness is about only paying attention and letting your thoughts be about this exact second. Any moment that has passed or any moment in the future should not be occupying your thoughts or feelings. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction said that mindfulness is, “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”

This is harder than it would first appear because we are trying to go against what our mind has been trained to do. Our minds fill our day with all sorts of thoughts. What should I eat for lunch? Did I remember to pay my cell phone bill? I wonder if my friend is annoyed at me? I flaked on her and now I haven’t heard from her in a few days. That guy is cute, I wonder if he’s single?

Mindfulness is about having those thoughts, feelings, stressors come up… and then letting them go as the moment passes. Mindfulness isn’t about not having thoughts. Asking your mind to stop having thoughts would be like asking your heart to stop beating. That’s its job! Your mind will have thoughts, but if you let them go, if you don’t allow them to carry you on a tangent of worry or stress or guilt, then you won’t feel the emotional and physical ramifications of that tangent. You will simply have the thought, and let it go. The thoughts won’t be able to suck you down the rabbit hole of stress, fear and worry.

Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of beneficial physical effects when practiced on a regular basis. It can decrease anxiety and stress, increase focus and memory, increase creativity, and increase both self-compassion and compassion for others. That’s a lot of good stuff, isn’t it?

There are a lot of good resources on the web for starting a mindfulness practice. I want to stress here that the key word is practice. When you first start out, your mind will wander like crazy. Don’t stress out or get annoyed with yourself. Just say, “thank you, mind, for doing such a good job of thinking. However, right now, I’m trying my best to not get caught up in thoughts.” And then, gently and lovingly, bring yourself back to your mindfulness practice.

Here is a simple mindfulness practice you can do while eating. I’ve used raisins here, but you could use the same idea with any food.

Mindfulness Raisin Exercise

People often don’t notice what they are eating or whether they are still hungry. While they are eating, they may be talking on the phone or doing work or playing around on the computer. What if you just ate and did nothing else for a change? Mindful eating involves noticing how and what you eat, from one bite to an entire meal. By taking the time to eat your food, you can begin to learn what foods actually taste like and which ones you like and dislike.

To try eating mindfully, take three raisins. Look at these raisins as something you have never seen before. Set two of the raisins aside and take the third in your hand. Look at what you are about to eat. Think about how it got to you. Think about the seed that was planted to grown the plant. Imagine the roots sprouting from the seed and the leaves pushing up through the soil and to the sun. Think of the sun’s warmth and energy, feeding the grapevine as it grows. Think of the farmers who tended to this plant, watering it, feeding it and pruning it. Think of a grape, growing on this vine, becoming plump and sweet, full of juice. Think of the person who picked this grape and placed it in a basket. Think of the people who laid the grapes out in the sun for days, allowing them to become raisins. Think of the person who drove these raisins to the market, the person who stocked them on the shelves.

Give thanks for what you are about to eat. How do you feel about putting these raisins in your body? How does your body feel, knowing that you are going to eat?

Use your senses to experience this raisin. Notice what it looks like. Roll it around in your hand; what does it feel like? Hold it to your nose; what does it smell like? Place it near your ear; can you hear anything? If you move it between your fingers, can you hear something now?

Place the raisin against your lips, then lick your lips and notice the taste it has left. Put the raisin into your mouth without chewing it. Close your eyes, if you like, and let it roll around on your tongue. Put it between your teeth and feel it there, without biting into it yet. Notice any saliva that is present. Pay attention to the change in the raisin’s texture after it has been in your mouth for a bit.

Bite into the raisin, noticing any tastes you experience. Slowly chew it for as long as you can. Right before you swallow, notice what it feels like to want to swallow this raisin. When you are ready, swallow the raisin. Notice that it is now in your body.

If you notice yourself getting distracted by your thoughts, take a moment and refocus on the raisin. Repeat this process with the remaining two raisins.

You can follow these steps with any food of your choosing, from one bite to an entire meal.

What are some tools that you use to stay balanced? Share your ideas in the comments below so we can all try them out!