Enough With the Sandpaper of Suffering!

Enough With the Sandpaper of Suffering!

I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. My physical and emotional health hasn’t been the best and most days it’s felt like I’m having to push through. I think that’s true for a lot of us — I’ve heard from friends near and far about how burned out we all are and how it’s affecting so many areas of our lives. And while I’m reaching out to my network of healers, friends and family for support, it still sucks to go through a rough patch. 

So, today I want to talk about suffering. Why do we have to suffer? And what can we do about it? 

Let’s look at suffering from a macro, spiritual POV level and then relate it to what we can do on a more micro, daily, human basis. 

Ram Dass has two quotes about suffering that seem at odds with each other at first glance, but taken together are actually one of the great esoteric secrets of enlightenment. Here are the two quotes:

“Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation. It does its work of shaping us.”

Ram Dass

“The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering.”

Ram Dass

In the first quote, Ram Dass is alluding to the rule of contrast, or the yin and yang. A classic example of this is that in order to understand the concept of darkness, you need to have experienced light. If darkness is the absence of light, then you can’t understand what darkness is without already having experienced what light is, or vice versa. In the same way, you’d find it harder to appreciate and deeply experience joy unless you’ve also experienced suffering. 

Suffering creates gratitude for times of peace and joy.  

One time, I had a particularly hard health challenge where I was basically bedridden for months. When I could finally walk again and first went outside, the sight of the trees, the sky, even the miracle of a sidewalk existing so I could walk on it (with all of the technological history and people needed to create it ) was so awe-inspiring that it brought me to tears of gratitude. I don’t think that without a few months of being inside and immobile, I would have cried at the sight of a sidewalk. The suffering shaped me into someone who appreciated things I hadn’t before. Things that we would take for granted as “normal” become a source of joy after we feel their absence. And the cool thing is, that sticks with you. I don’t cry tears of joy at every tree I see nowadays, but I remember that feeling and I can invoke levels of gratitude for things that I never would have before. That is sandpaper that has shaped me for the better. 

Suffering also helps us develop compassion for those who have gone through similar experiences

Compassion is the root of nonjudgemental love and divine action. If we can have compassion for someone, we can see suffering at the root of their actions rather than judging them for those actions. From this place, we can meet them with our common humanity. We are all learning and remembering what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience. Who we are in the world (a.k.a. how we love and care in the world) is shaped by our suffering. In a world where our culture, corporations, and even our genes encourage us to try to “otherize” those who are different from us and “find our tribe,” compassion reminds us that all humans, animals and even the planet are all “our tribe.” 

The second quote, “The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering,” is a bit more esoteric and harder to practice in the moment. I’d heard some version of this concept for years before I finally got it on a level that I could use to find peace in times of stress. I’d read the saying “desire is the root of all suffering” in many Buddhist texts and at first I thought it meant desire for material goods, people or situations that we coveted. But it’s not that kind of desire. It’s more like the desire for things to be different than they are in this moment, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant this moment may be. The key is to accept whatever is happening and not desire it to be any other way right now. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t desire things in your life. In fact, I think that intuitive, inspired desire is one of the ways we figure out our life’s purpose. This is why I like this version by Ram Dass. “The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering” means that if we can accept whatever is happening right now and not wish it to be different or better, then our suffering is greatly diminished. 

Let me give you a few examples (like I said, this one is harder to grasp as a practice). When I was going through cancer treatment, I had some of the worst days of my life. My body was so weak and damaged that I almost gave up and died. However, this is also when I first started the practice of giving up resistance to what was happening. When I would get bad news from the doctor I thought to myself “Now, this is happening” and find the calm grace of acceptance even in the face of terrible news. I started using it to mark the good things, too, like when my puppy would curl up next to me in bed I thought, “Now, this is happening.” (Side note: I got this phrase from Jack Black in the movie Anchorman, proving that you never know who your spiritual teachers will be.) As I used this mantra more and more, I started to develop a powerful mindfulness, a part of my body-mind that could observe the situation without judgement and with full acceptance of what was arising. 

Here’s another example. Recently, I started on a new medication that started causing anxiety attacks after a few months of use. It took a while to figure out that it was this particular medication that was the cause, so for months I was having unexplained bouts of severe anxiety attacks for hours at a time. One of the tools I used to get through was mindfulness meditation. I would lay down, close my eyes and do my best to simply observe the anxiety in my body as it was happening. At one point, I felt my consciousness almost split in two. There was the part of me that was anxious, with my heart racing, panicked thoughts, hot and cold chills and the painful feeling of adrenaline pumping through my chest, and then there was another part, a part that transcended that human experience as I had the thought, “this body is experiencing anxiety right now.” That second part of me suddenly felt so peaceful and all-knowing. I found that I could shift my awareness, or almost lean in, to that peaceful, wise part of myself. In that space there was no suffering at all, there was simply the acceptance of what was happening, which somehow dissolved the desire for it to be any other way. In that moment, acceptance was peace. Even in the face of a panic attack. 

Which brings us right back to the first quote — suffering is the sandpaper that shapes us. Without this anxiety, I wouldn’t have been able to deepen my meditation practice and wouldn’t have discovered how deeply I could find peace in acceptance. Those few months of anxiety were the sandpaper that shaped me into someone who practiced mindfulness enough to find peace and calm somewhere that I never thought it could exist, in the midst of a panic attack. 

So while I do not wish suffering on myself, you, or anyone else, I do understand a bit of why it’s part of our incarnated human experience. However, even though I know this as true, I routinely forget it and fall back into the desire for things to be different than they are. But the key is remembering at some point — if it’s 2 seconds or 2 days into the pain — that you can experience the pain without resistance, and therefore without suffering. And to become aware that this pain is shaping you into a more compassionate, loving and understanding person. As you understand pain, you will open your heart to others and take this newfound understanding and compassion with you into the world from this day forward, helping those who could use a bit of it directed their way as they make their way through their own pain and suffering. 

Xo Megan

This Email Almost Sent Me in a Tailspin

This Email Almost Sent Me in a Tailspin

The term “shadow work” has been everywhere lately. But what is it really? 

I think of shadow work in terms of healing and clearing the way for better spiritual, emotional and intuitive connections. Shadow work uses strategies or tools to look at the parts of ourselves we’d rather not look at like shame, feelings of unworthiness, or our deepest fears (You know, the stuff we’d rather have remain in the shadows if we could help it) and then find ways to heal or bring comfort to those parts. 

If you’re not sure what I mean, think of something you believe about yourself that you’d do anything to prevent from being shared on the internet. There’s a shadow, right there.  

Identifying and noticing your shadows is the first step in shadow work. Sometimes, we already know what our shadows are, like things we’d be embarrassed to admit or fears we have about how other people judge us, but sometimes they’re still in our subconscious and we have to do some work to name them and identify them. Most often, those hidden shadows will be our triggers. Someone will do something that really triggers us, to the point where our reaction seems disproportionate to what happened (“Why am I so mad/sad/terrified about this?”) and that’s often a sign that there’s subconscious shadows influencing our behavior. 

I want to share with you some real-time shadow work I did this week to illustrate both how to identify a shadow and how to work with it, aka “do shadow work.” Here’s what happened…

As part of my marketing strategy for my business, I’ve been reaching out to lots of podcasts lately to see about being booked as a guest. I usually do this by sending an email to the host telling them that I like their podcast, why I might be a good guest, naming a few topics I think could be interesting to their listeners, and linking to a few of my past podcast interviews so they can get a feel for me as an interviewee. Pretty standard stuff. Most often I get either a yes, or I don’t get a response at all. Occasionally, I’ll get a note saying “thank you for reaching out but it’s not a good fit for us.” All of which are fine and just part of the deal. 

Last week, I sent out about 10 emails to various podcasts with the usual ratio of some positive responses and some crickets. But one response I got was unlike any I’ve received before: 

[“Dear Megan,

Thank you for reaching out with your guest interview proposal.

I have visited your website and listened to one of your interviews (one link is not working at all).

While I don’t question your personal experiences or your medical intuition skills, and you can certainly talk to these topics –  when choosing my podcast guests I tune in and look at them holistically, beyond just the good fit of the topics of their professional expertise and whether they interview well.

I’m seeking the energetic resonance.  This means that if something about the potential guest bothers me, anything at all – I don’t invite them to my show, as they are ultimately not a good match at the energy level.

I don’t know how much information on my website you have read, so I will tell you that I’m highly intuitive, and interface with people and the world at the energy level, the 6th sense. I am Reiki Master, I work with energy every day, and so the energetic resonance is the most important qualifier for me.

I could have just politely declined; however, since you have addressed your email to me personally (unlike most guest proposals I receive), I feel that you deserve to hear my feedback and the reason why I decline your proposal, for your benefit – regardless of what you choose to do with it.

When I went to your website and read the big header:

“You’re here because you had a crappy childhood and you’re done letting it affect your life” –  I was INSTANTLY put off and wanted to leave. If I were a potential client – that’s what I would have done. Why?  I didn’t have a crappy childhood (quite to the contrary) and while the heading is generic of course, I found it offensive, presumptuous, judgmental and aggressive. Like many people, I have had a fair (or unfair) share of issues and traumas in my life which happened later on. My childhood was the happiest time.

Now – I know NLP very well, all about using presumptions, embedding expectations, “mind-reading” and all that jazz.  I’m a very experienced Life Coach and use NLP in my work with clients and know-how and when to use it, but my first reaction to your homepage was “how can you know why I am here, you know NOTHING about me, and you are wrong”.

Anyway, this is not a coaching session so I’ll keep it short. 🙂

As I perused your site I found few other points that bothered me (meaning- created energetic dissonance with me, like a scratch on an old record playing lovely music), including words like “shit” and “goddamn” which I would never use in my professional setting.  Your website is peppered with negative energy which you are not even aware of. This is clearly your style, your language which is absolutely fine – for you and perhaps many other people, but not to me.

I read people very well, on many levels, and your website gave me a lot of insight into your personality and your approach. I am not saying it is wrong, right or indifferent. I’m not making any judgment. All I am saying is that as a guest you are not a good match for me and my podcast. That’s all.

Thank you for considering my podcast for your interview.

Wishing you all the best on your journey

XXXX {name redacted} ” ]

I want to take you through what happened to me step-by-step as I read this reply, both to share what a trauma response looks like and how I did shadow work to address the trauma response

  1. I felt terrible. I felt deep fear, almost a feeling of terror, that I had done something wrong (I know, I know— I hadn’t — but this was my unconscious trauma response safety system kicking in) and that I had somehow been inappropriate or overstepped my bounds. Then, I felt myself dissociate, which feels a bit like I’m looking at what’s happening from a distance, with a bit of numbness and brain fuzziness thrown in. 

 

  1. I recognized that my emotional response was BIG and that I was having overwhelming, unpleasant emotions as a response to this. My dissociation happened because the response was so overwhelming that my brain decided it was better to “go offline” than experience something so unpleasant. (Meditation and mindfulness practices have helped a ton in being able to observe and identify both my emotions and dissociation in real-time.) 

 

  1. I understood that this person’s email was inappropriate, but I second-guessed myself and wondered if I was overreacting by being so upset by it. This is a complex PTSD response that happens when, as children, we were consistently told that our reactions to abusive behavior were too much in some way like, “you’re overreacting” or “we can talk about this when you’ve calmed down” or  “don’t be such a drama queen.” When this type of gaslighting happens, we lose the ability to trust our own feelings and reactions and learn to downplay them. (Jeffrey Marsh has some amazing videos on this topic if you want to learn more.)

 

  1. I started 3rd guessing myself and realized that my self-judgement as “overreacting” was also probably a trauma response, so I reached out for help with what I call “reality testing.” I forwarded the email to someone I trust, my business coach Caroline Leon, and said, “I just got this reply to one of my podcast pitches and I’m not sure what to make of it. It seems unnecessarily harsh. I mean, I usually have a thick skin, but this is over the top, right?” She replied and said, “Oh Megan, I am so sorry that you had to receive this email. This isn’t someone you ever need to listen to or feel triggered by. This person is self-aggrandizing, judgemental, lacking in self-awareness and clearly has some personal issues.” 

 

Caroline’s response helped in two ways. First, it confirmed my suspicion that my judgment that I was overreacting was wrong, this email was really terrible. Second, it made me feel seen and heard, something I didn’t get much of growing up, and something I know I need to seek out now as I reparent myself as an adult. She then offered to hop on the phone with me, and my first instinct was to say, “I’m fine, I can handle this” but, lately, I’ve realized how much I’ve “I’m fined” my way through some pretty horrible shit in my life when, in fact, talking to someone and feeling comforted was exactly what I needed to complete the stress response cycle

 

  1. Once I felt sure that this email was in fact an attack and inappropriate, I looked at why I had such a strong reaction to it. I’ve had people be rude to me or say nasty things to me many times which did not cause a trauma response, so why did this one trigger me so much? I realized that this passive-aggressive set-up of “I’m doing this for your benefit” followed by an attack on me was exactly how my mom spoke to me as a child. She’d say things like, “I want you to know that I spoke with your friend’s mom and she only hangs out with you because her mom is forcing her to. I’m only telling you this so you can look at how you could be a better friend and think about why no one wants to be around you.” (None of this was true, by the way, she never talked to my friend’s mom, but I didn’t find that out until years later. This type of abuse is common with malignant narcissists.) 

 

  1. As I came to understand why this email had felt like such an attack, I took care to do some deep self-compassion work for myself. I meditated and brought to mind what I call my “inner caregiver”, a character in my head who is kind, supportive and stands up for me against this kind of bullying. I imagined her coming to be with me, soothe me and defend me. It felt wonderful. 

 

  1. I recognized that the person who wrote this email is likely in a lot of pain themselves. “Hurt people hurt people” as they say. When I felt calm and strong enough to do so, I sent them the Mettā prayer of compassion, “May you be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.” 

 

  1. Over the next few days, I made sure to check in with myself and make sure I was okay, much like I’d check in on a good friend who had been through something rough. I gave myself some extra leeway to take it easy if I felt off in any way. 

 

Within 2 days, I felt much better. I could even read the email and feel only compassion for this person without being triggered at all. (Note: it’s taken me almost 20 years of practicing this kind of shadow work to get to this place. Even 5 or 10 years ago, I would have been a wreck for weeks if I’d received this email and probably would have read it over and over or felt the need to reply and defend myself.) 

I’m sharing this story with you because I know when I first started trying to heal my shadow parts, it felt monumental and insurmountable and I didn’t even know where to start. So, I’m hoping that sharing my process can either give you some ideas for your own shadow work or at least can show you what’s possible if you work at it. Obviously, I’m still a work in progress and I suppose if I’d really worked through all my stuff this wouldn’t have triggered me at all. But I know that I’m in process, I’m doing the healing work of wherever I am, and that’s okay, too.

We’re all exactly where we should be (which may not be where we want to be, but that’s also okay) and I hope you know that wherever you are in your healing process is just as right, just as good, and just as perfect as where I am with mine. 

Xo Megan

You Are Only Dust, But Yet You Are Also The Creator of Worlds

You Are Only Dust, But Yet You Are Also The Creator of Worlds

One of the most challenging things on my path of spiritual awakening is figuring out how to reconcile my awareness of who I really am, an eternal source of energy from a place of pure acceptance and love, with the reality of my human-ness and its associated capacity for physical and emotional discomfort, pain and suffering. How can I exist as a being who is made of and comes from pure love, and at the same time feel abandoned, hurt or undeserving?

It’s quite a paradox. 

I was speaking with someone about my NDE the other day, and said, “Well, it isn’t like after I saw where we go after we die and who I really am, I then went to meditate on a mountaintop as an enlightened being for the next 60 years until I died. I came back to anxiety, depression, and the pain from chemo.” 

And that’s the conundrum, right? Even if we’ve had profound personal spiritual experiences, it’s not like we then spend the rest of our days in some blissed-out zen state of equanimity and joy. We’re still having the same human experience as always, only now, we have an expanded awareness of our true spiritual self. Ram Dass called this the process of waking up and falling asleep again, over and over.

So, what’s the answer? How do we balance being a human being and a spiritual being at the same time

What’s the way forward? 

I don’t claim to have all the answers to this question, I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but here are a few things I think are important. 

The first is to sit with the paradox. There’s a quote I love by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other: ‘The world was created for me.’ You are both a speck of dust, having a transient human experience AND the force of universal consciousness that has created this entire universe. So, don’t take yourself or your life too seriously and at the same time, take yourself incredibly seriously because you are the be-all and end-all of existence.  

The second is that the awareness of these two aspects of ourselves, human and spirit, leads to the ability to have each one inform the other. As a result, I no longer feel like I am doing this human thing without any kind of guidebook or plan. Having access to the part of me that is eternal and all-knowing means that I can ask it for help and guidance. There are many ways to do this, but I primarily use intuition, emotional resonance, and meditation. Intuition usually takes the form of a strong push or pull or sometimes a direct message in the form of a thought that occurs to me over and over like, “you should ask your friend for help with your business” (even if that friend knows nothing about my biz). Emotional resonance is the experience of a pull towards something (excitement, inspiration, curiosity) or away from something (not wanting to do it, feeling apprehensive, feeling like I “should” instead of that I want to) and I have learned to listen more closely to these messages. Meditation is something that I’ve been doing for years, and now that I can reach a place of stillness and expand out past my ego, I often get direct messages from source about myself and my life while in that state. 

Lastly, we are here learning, and the lessons are supposed to be hard sometimes and easy at other times. One of the things I saw clearly from the other side was that before we incarnate, we get almost giddy at the idea of being able to be in a human body for a while. And it’s not just the things that you and I would think to be excited about, like puppies and love and chocolate, it’s also heartbreak and disappointment and grief. Weird, right? But it was so clear to me that the ability to experience emotions at all was so novel that we look forward to all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. So, when I’m going through something tough, I try to remember that this is like a trip to Costa Rica — even if I may have just fallen and skinned my knee in the jungle, I don’t get to be in Costa Rica forever and even the bad experiences are part and parcel of this once in a lifetime “trip”.

I’d love to know what are some of the ways you balance the paradox of knowing your eternal nature with the messiness of being human? 

Xo Megan

What’s the most spiritual emotion? It’s not what you think!

What’s the most spiritual emotion? It’s not what you think!

When I first started the study of energy healing, I took a course on the Chinese 5-element theory. The 5 elements represent a cyclic, spiral growth cycle that you can see everywhere around you, from the cells in your body to the creation of new galaxies. Each of the elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) has different qualities attached to it and one of those qualities is that each has a unique emotion. 

 

Graphics showing the Emotional Flow of the 5 Elements

Fire —> Joy

Earth —> Contentment 

Metal —> Grief

Water —> Fear 

Wood —> Anger

 

After we learned about this cycle, my teacher, Ka’imi, asked us, “What do you think is the most spiritual emotion?” 

As dutiful students of spiritual growth, we all answered, “Joy!” or “Contentment!” for these are what we are often (mistakenly) told are the signposts of a highly evolved life. 

Our teacher paused and said, “I disagree. The most spiritual emotion is anger.” 

We were all confused. Anger? How can that be spiritual? Wars are started by angry men. Our society is divided by people who are angry with “the other side.” How can anger be the most spiritual of all the emotions? 

He went on to explain, “Our job here as spiritual beings having a human experience is to grow. We are here to experience change over the course of a lifetime, to continue through this cycle over and over again. Anger is what we feel when something gets in our way, or blocks our path forward, and therefore it causes us to take big action. Anger has the most forward motion of any of the emotions in this cycle. Anger is what generates the most growth in the shortest amount of time.” 

I think he was right. If we take a look at how the 5-element emotional cycle works, we can get a more clear view of how this works. 

We’ll start with contentment. Let’s say you’re in a good place, and nothing in your life is really going wrong at the moment. You have a place to live, food to eat, good people in your life and a way of making money that isn’t making you feel terrible all the time. 

But then, something changes and with change, there’s always grief and loss. Maybe your best friend moves to a new town. Or you hurt your knee and can’t do your favorite activity anymore. Or maybe you get a new boss at work who starts to micromanage you. You feel the sadness of losing something that had brought you joy. Things have changed and there’s a part of you that misses the way they were before. 

In the depth of this grief, you start to feel fear. What if I never find a friend with who I can have the same type of close relationship? What if I’m stuck in this job I don’t like anymore because I need the paycheck? What if I can never do long hikes again because of my knee? We become afraid of never feeling happy again and we worry that we’ll be stuck here in this unhappy new reality forever. 

This is where a lot of people get stuck, bouncing back and forth between sadness and worry. We feel the loss of what we once had, and then get stuck in the fear of never having it again, or that things will get even worse from here and we’ll never get back to contentment again. 

But if you can harness that fear and sadness, if you can look at the parts of yourself with which you’re discontent and say, “That’s it! I’m not going to take this anymore! I don’t know how, but I’m going to make some changes so that I can get back to feeling joy!” then you, my friend, have accessed sacred anger.

For many of us, it was unsafe to express anger in our families of origin and so we check ourselves when that starts to bubble up, and revert back to fear and sadness. For others, we learned how to access the surge of energy and emotion that comes from anger but we don’t know how to do the deep shadow work to move from anger to joy, so we stay stuck bouncing between anger and fear.

So here’s how to do the hard part, friends. Here’s how to move from fear and anger to joy

Most of the elements of this cycle happen without our input — we’re coasting along (contentment) things change (loss), and then we worry that we’ll never feel safe and happy again (fear), then we feel disgruntled at this new unhappy reality (beginning of anger). Those all happen without much energy or planning on our part.

When you find yourself stuck in worry, fear or discontentment, you need to do 2 things: 

  1. Look at where you’re feeling the loss. What emotional nutrient are we lacking that’s making us sad? It may be something we had and lost, or something we never had in the first place but have always longed for. Some examples may be love, care, safety, inspiration, joy, unconditional positive regard, or zen.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel worthy of this emotional nutrient. This is where shadow work and reparenting can be particularly effective. (I teach a whole class on this If you need more strategies here!) 

Here’s a little science secret about your nervous system — you don’t actually get the most happiness from having what you want (contentment). You feel the most happiness when you are working to reach that goal (joy). This is why in the 5 element theory joy is the “fire” element— it’s the period where we’re using that inner fire to create better circumstances, develop better relationships, and allow ourselves to know through our own actions that we’re worthy of this type of abundance. 

Once we have identified the loss and given ourselves unconditional permission to have an abundance of whatever we deeply need, then we can tap into anger and joy. The anger is that unwillingness to stay in fear or sadness and the joy is the fire we use to make the changes we need to get back to place of contentment.

Okay, confession time — I really should have said there were three things you should do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment. But this is where the fire metaphor becomes complicated. 

Yes, we need fire to grow. Fire is a key component of life. But fire also destroys. And the hardest thing we must do in moving from anger to joy is realize that to get to a new level of joy, we might have to burn it all down. 

The third thing you need to do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment is to embrace Kali energy

Kali is a hindu goddess, often called “the goddess of destruction and creation.” The idea here is that nothing new can be created until the old has been destroyed to create space for the new. Just as the new leaves on a tree cannot grow in spring until the old ones have died and decomposed in autumn and winter, we cannot invite in new joy until we have destroyed the old patterns that no longer serve us. This is exactly why anger must precede joy — we have to become SO ANGRY at how things are, that we’re willing to burn it all down to find a new way of being. But burning it all down is terrifying (I mean, just look at the depictions of Kali. Yikes!) and we can’t harness that amount of courage from a place of fear, we must harness it through anger. We have to use the fire of anger to move forward, to a new more advanced way of being and accept the destruction of anything that no longer serves us in the process. 

Many of us take that anger and try to move backwards, to the last time we were content. But growth doesn’t happen backwards, and true courage isn’t about fighting for what feels familiar, it’s about fighting for what you need for your next level of evolution. 

Remember, the Phoenix only rose from the ashes after the fire had killed it. Kali only destroys things so that new paradigms and new ideas can grow in that place. Anger only works if we are willing to dive into the unknown, the darkness, and trust that our next level of joy will come from what we find after we’ve totally transformed our way of being, destroying what no longer serves us in the process. 

Remember, “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear,” and anger is the sacred fuel to get you there.

So, what’s so important to you that you’re willing to go into the shadow to get it? What circumstance, belief system, or way of being is having you become so sick that you’re willing to burn the whole thing down so you can find out what will grow there instead? What artifice of safety, security or familiarity are you willing to let go of so you can find your true self, your eternal self, in the place beyond? 

Xo Megan

 

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