A new year, mantras and compassion

Wow, it’s been over a month since my last post! My WordPress 2014 Year in Review report shows a definite drop in activity, from posting nearly daily last winter and spring to once month or so in the fall. I’ve missed blogging and this great community so I will try to be more active again. 🙂

With the new year, it is of course time for resolutions. But instead, I heard about another idea that I would like to try: making new year mantras. I like the idea because it’s not so absolute as a resolution — I will always do this or never do that. Instead it’s like regularly reaffirming an intention — much better for my perfectionist self, who avoids anything with the potential for failure. (And who sees the first small mistake as failure…)

I have yet to create my mantras, but it’s something I intend to put my mind to this week. A year or two ago my therapist recommended I do the same, so I think it will be a good step.

Speaking of perfectionism, I’ve been listening to an interesting e-book while doing some boring tasks. It’s called The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert. I’ll write more on this once I’ve finished it, but it looks at the following:

  • the evolution of the human brain
  • how our brains and bodies are programmed to work and their discord with modern life
  • perfectionism and criticism and how they contribute to anxiety and depression
  • what compassion is and how it can be used in daily life
  • how a compassionate approach can help those with depression and anxiety, anger and other issues.

The section on criticism, perfectionism and anxiety made me realize that I focus a lot on my depression, but not so much on the anxiety that (I think) causes it. Most of what he says really resonates and I’m interested in trying out some of the compassion exercises he recommends in order to develop compassion skills. He says it’s all about practice and exercise, just like with building physical fitness. We’ll see if I can teach this old brain some new tricks!

Have any of you read some interesting thoughts on compassion? Do you have a mantra that really works for you?

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Inspired to read on mindfulness

I’ve been really struggling with my latest episode of depression. I’ve been feeling isolated, hopeless, frustrated and apathetic.

But after sleeping way too much for the past four days and calling in sick today, I suddenly felt the need to read one of my many self-help books. So I stopped a movie about twenty minutes in and started to reread The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.

I say reread, because I bought this book about three or four years ago on the advice of my last psychiatrist. I have a bad habit of buying self-help books and only reading bits and pieces. I tried to read through this book when I bought it, but I think I was too deep in the depths of depression at the time to absorb it. I did practice some of the meditations in the CD that comes with the book, but that was it. A couple of years later I did a mindfulness-based stress reduction course that is based on many of the same teachings and experts. I took much more readily to the practice when learned this way. My later trainings in yoga helped to solidify these teachings.

But here I am, once again falling into depression and not using any of these helpful practices.

But tonight I was inspired to pick up the book again. I flipped through to see where I had left off and then decided to just start again at the beginning. I’m glad that I did.

Upon reading the introduction, it seems to me that perhaps the place I’m in right now is conducive to taking more from the book.

Already there are a lot of statements that really struck me:

…it is actually okay to stop trying to solve the problem of feeling bad. In fact it is wise because our habitual ways of solving problems almost invariably wind up making things worse. (3)

Depression, once treated, often returns–and becomes more and more likely to recur the more often it is experienced. (4)

…every time a person gets depressed, the connections in the brain between mood, thoughts, the body and behavior get stronger, making it easier for depression to be triggered again. (4)

…break the cycle of depression, in which we tend to go over and over what went wrong or how things are not the way we want them to be. (5)

We get lost in comparisons of where we are versus where we want to be, soon living almost entirely in our heads. (5)

…endless cycles of mental strategizing that increase your risk of getting depressed. (6)

… The mind, body, and emotions work together to compound and sustain depression. (6)

…we are all prey to habit-driven patterns–of thinking, feeling, and doing–that curtail the joy inherent in living and our sense of possibilities. (6-7)

…there is an unsuspected power in inhabiting the moment you’re living in right now with full awareness. (7)

We invite you to let go of the tendency we all have to try to force things to be a certain way and instead work with allowing them to be as they actually already are in each moment. (8)

I think this is a great time to reread this book, because already I’m showing so many of these tendencies and I definitely want to break the habits. It’s time to rediscover the mindfulness approach.

Personal Conflict

I’ve had a stressful few days with personal conflict hovering over me.

I am one to try and avoid conflict, to the point that I stress myself out and hide from the world.

The conflict was with a person who called my integrity into question and also had a very passive-aggressive way of doing so.

It stressed me out so much that I stayed in bed all day yesterday, trying to sleep away the day but only able to do so in fits and starts because I wasn’t tired. My jaw was permanently clenched and I developed a terrible tension headache. Not the best way to spend a national holiday!

Today was the first day I would see this person since the conflict arose and I was stressed. How would I deal with this?

While yesterday was unfortunate, I’m happy with how today went. In the morning I noticed whenever tension was coming on and told myself to breathe and relax. I kept saying it to myself as a sort of mantra. Breathe, stay calm, release your shoulders, be constructive. An angry confrontation wouldn’t solve anything.

I am proud that I managed this for the most part. And while I didn’t approach the person right away, I did so in a calm way and smoothed things over.

My second inclination was to hold a grudge. I was mad and I was tempted to let all my future interactions with that person show this. But I kept reminding myself – who is hurt by negativity and hostile feelings? Me. This was the other person’s “stuff” or issues. It wasn’t worth it for me to carry those feelings around.

This conflict was resolved peacefully, but I don’t think I will be able to trust this person anymore. But it was definitely a learning experience, and I’m glad that my mindfulness and yoga training helped me deal with the issue so constructively.

Compassion or excuses? Laziness or listening to my body?

I’ve blown my daily yoga routine. But I’ve done it consciously so.

I’ve missed three days now (non-consecutive), but only regret missing Saturday’s session.

Is it that I’m being lazy? Or is it that I’m listening to my body and its fatigue? Am I being compassionate towards myself? Or just making excuses for failures?

I actually think that I’m being compassionate.

This is my first forty-hour work week in months. And then I have 20+ hours of yoga training on the weekend. No days off until mid-March. (And I think that’s a good thing, because I do tend to have emotional dips on weekends when I do nothing…)

But with work, training, homework and trying to go to yoga every single day (and more than once a day to make up for missed days)… Well, after the sleeplessness of last night, I knew I couldn’t keep burning the candle at all ends.

I think this is an example of self-compassion because:
– I don’t feel guilty
– I’m not displaying my all-or-nothing attitude – I’ve missed three days so why even bother continuing with the daily yoga? It’s already a bust! – Instead I’m simply planning to go as often as I can, while being conscious of what my body is telling me.
– I’m really enjoying my work and the sense of accomplishment of doing my job well. I like going to work, even if I haven’t slept, and I’m really productive. But that’s not maintainable without rest. I need to take care of myself.

At times during the past few weeks, I’ve felt like a bubble of contentment is surrounding me. I’m enjoying getting out of the house each day and my hilly walks to and from the bus. The weather isn’t too cold and the fresh air is invigorating. Yesterday I became absorbed looking down at my scarf as I walked to work. The most beautiful little snowflake had settled on my scarf and it had the most intricate design! I guess that’s as close as I can get to stopping to smell the roses at this time of year. 😉

People seem more inclined to be friendly and do nice things for me. And I think it’s because my overall feeling of calm, patience and contentment is flowing out. I was pulled over for my first ever driving ticket the other day… And the officer was smiling and understanding and instead gave me warnings.

So while there can be a fine line between excuses and compassion, I think I’m currently exhibiting the latter. I’m adapting remarkably well to the workplace and I’m generally content. But I’m well aware of the dangers of doing too much, ignoring insomnia, and feeling overwhelmed.

I made the conscious decision today to take yoga off my plate and to simply relax. As such I could resist napping and I think I’m now ready to go to sleep at an appropriate time. And I’m looking forward to both work and yoga tomorrow. 🙂

Good night!

Feeling of Trepidation

I’ve started a new yoga training weekend. And my predominant feeling heading into it was trepidation.

I was thinking:

  • I already feel weak and sore. How will I be able to keep up over the weekend?
  • Should I even be here? Am I fooling myself thinking I can be a yoga teacher?
  • I had a productive day but then I needed a nap before our course. How am I going to handle the full days of training? And the full days of work next week as I rejoin the workforce?
  • I know that I need to listen to my body and it’s still getting into shape after a long time off. But am I really flaking out? Am I giving up too soon, listening to the mind rather than the body?
  • How did I switch over to fear when I’ve been having a really productive but relaxing week on the whole?

I suppose that yoga comes to the rescue as well. We talk a lot about FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. I think I can safely say that is the case for most of these thoughts. My anxiousness is stemming from me living too much in the future. With some self-doubt about the rightness of my place in the present thrown in.

We have a special trainer this weekend. So perhaps it’s also that the instructor is new to me. The goal is to learn how to assist people in opening their postures. And I’m fearful I don’t have the stamina to hold them long enough to open or the confidence to help others effectively. It’s hands on, which also means going into someone else’s space. What if I move them improperly and hurt them?

Okay, once again, I’m in a hypothetical future. Time to stay within the present.

I meet a lot of new people in this course and it’s strange the feedback that I get from people who don’t know me.

A person in my group said they could tell it was good that I was in our small team as I would keep the others grounded. What does that mean?

A total stranger today said I radiate compassionate energy naturally so I don’t need to worry about if my teaching and assistance is reflecting that. I do it without thinking.

I think I have been generating some more positive energy this week due to my elevated moods, shift towards self-compassion and balancing goals with how I’m feeling in the present. But tonight I didn’t really want to be there and felt so inadequate in my poses that it’s interesting that I radiated something else. Unless they were just being nice!

Tomorrow I have one goal. To be. To stay in the present as much as possible and pull myself back when I start to wander to the future or the past. Genuinely listen to my body. It’s possible it was my body saying to take lots of breaks – I’d already done lunchtime yoga so my arms especially were quite tired. It’s also equally possible that at least sometimes in was just my mind pulling me out of the pose. So as I stay within the present, I’ll try to be more sensitive to this without necessarily changing anything. Just enquiring, can I hold this pose for a little longer? Am I experiencing pain? Or is it muscle fatigue? Just notice.

Is that two goals? 😉

PS: I practiced my compassion today. I met up with a friend in yoga class that I knew was having a really tough time. I invited her to coffee and just listened the whole time as she got it all off her chest. At the end she apologized for taking up all the time when I had to leave for an appointment. But I said that I was glad to listen. As someone who has always held things inside, I know you need to get it all out. I wasn’t impatient at all, just sympathetic thinking about her really tough year. I mentioned it was a really tough year for me too but that this one is shaping up to be a good one. I didn’t feel slighted not to talk about my troublesome year. I could see she was really fragile and really needed a sympathetic ear. I think I may finally be coming out of my bubble and becoming more attuned to others. It felt nice to help in the only way I could. 🙂

Being Present

I had another full day of yoga training today. The morning was great but physically exhausting when added to the workouts of yesterday and the day before. By afternoon, I had checked out. My body was in class but my mind scattered about. I was cranky, tired, and even angry too!

I guess I had reached my limit. I’m hoping as time goes by I’ll be better able to handle these intensive weekends. My plan to try to help in this regard is threefold.

  1. I need to get up each day by 8:30 am. If I really need it, I can have a nap of up to one hour in the afternoon, but more and more I need to maintain a schedule as if I had a 9 to 5 job, so that I’m ready for when I do get one.
  2. I need to go to bed at a decent hour. Wind down starting at 10:30 pm and bed by 11:30 or midnight.
  3. I need to maintain daily exercise and incorporate more cardio into the routine. I need endurance to get through these exercise-heavy weekends, so it’s time to start adding gym time to my routine as well as more energetic yoga classes.

For now, nothing I can do about today except to let it go. Deep inhale, EXHALE.

Getting Motivated: Day Two in Progress

Today I’ve had a really slow start. I was really sleepy, I think because yesterday was an action packed day (for me) that ended late, and once again I woke up at 4 am and had trouble getting back to sleep.

The result? I missed the morning yoga class I’d planned to do. I haphazardly looked for options to replace that class, and I felt no motivation whatsoever, and some anxiety to about this afternoon’s plans. I wanted to cancel it all.

So I slept some more. And then I signed into WordPress around noon. And I’m so glad I did. One blogger I follow had included a link to an interesting YouTube video about empathy. I watched it from bed. And then I thought, hey, that was ten minutes, just watch one more video and you’ve accomplished one thing on the list. So I watched another video from that organization on the dangers of positive thinking… How being optimistic to the point of delusion is dangerous. Interesting concepts.

Then I thought, hmm, it’s an hour before I can swim. Why don’t I treat myself to a bath with candles? Check, check! Out of bed and doing something nice for myself.

Within 30 minutes I had fulfilled three parts of my ten part challenge, and it was really helpful in turning things around. I think. I mean, I’m still in my bath, but now I feel alert, ready to leave the house, get some exercise, and maintain my evening commitment.

I’m going to a health and happiness workshop. My purpose is two-fold. I want to learn more about mindfulness and meditation. I also want to meet more like-minded people. I need to start breaking out of my isolation and my current friends don’t really meet my needs being so caught up with marriage, babies, etc. I don’t want to replace them, but I need more connection than they have time for. Anyways, that is the plan. I’m also thinking about taking some classes too, both for inspiration and socialization.

So, it’s midway through day two and I had a rough start, but a few small successes have helped energize me to go forward with the rest of the day. 🙂