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

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

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