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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

 

 

 

 

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

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?

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.