Tag Archives: yoga

Is Self-Care Selfish? How Do You Show Yourself Some Love?

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” –Eleanor Brownn

Hello friend,

This week, for the first time in years, I took a yoga class. It stirred something in me, reminding me of something important that I once let slip from my grasp.

The other day I was talking with my neighbor about the types of therapy he is doing for his ailing back. He mentioned physical therapy, electronic stimulation, lifting weights, and acupuncture. Then he said, “But what has helped the most is yoga. It is healing my back, but mostly I feel it healing my SOUL.” He glowed as he talked about how this nightly, 30-minute video routine makes him feel inside. I thought to myself, “This guy has learned a secret he must never forget!” I told him how I have always been a huge proponent of yoga. I realized as I was saying it, though, that my endorsement felt a little hollow.

I first tried a yoga class about 20 years ago and fell instantly in love. It felt so good to me on so many levels. My body felt healthier than ever. My mind was calm and clear. And there was something more, something spiritual. My soul felt good. Yoga made me feel like I was caring for myself, doing something that made my life better and allowed me to show up better for the world around me. I told myself I was in it for life. There was no way I would stop.

I stopped.

I can’t even explain why. I just got out of the habit. That sounds really lame to me now, knowing that I never stopped working out over all these years. I also never stopped telling people how wonderful and important yoga is. I was like the paid endorser who doesn’t really use the product.

I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. Not a high enough one, anyway. I never seemed to make the time to add it to my schedule or trade it for one of the other things I was doing. Oh, I brought it back a few different times over the years for short stints—and I loved it each time—but it never stuck. I suppose that, subconsciously anyway, I considered it an overindulgence, like I just couldn’t give myself that much of a treat. I was not worthy of the extra hour just for personal growth or soul therapy.

It is not as though yoga is alone in this neglect. I have long been aware of the wondrous effect that reading books has on my soul, and yet I almost never allow myself dedicated reading time (I let myself do it when I am falling asleep at night or on an exercise machine). Music is the same way. Meditation, too, I have always sworn by yet rarely followed my own advice, even for just ten minutes per day. I have no excuse.

I have always tried to be so conscious of my time and not wasting it, and yet somehow in my haste to be productive, I seem to have regularly forgotten to feed my soul its fill. I haven’t taken the best care of what matters most.

Oh sure, I have done quite well on some fronts. I have kept up a fitness routine, and that has been at least as good for my peace of mind as it has for my body. And of course, my daily journaling practice has stood strong for 20 years. That is a huge pillar of my self-care. It is clarity and sanity disguised as a blank book. I also make a point of spending a ton of time with my kids. They put wind in my sails.

And that’s about it for consistent self-care for me. In other areas that feel important to me, I either make an occasional attempt or fail completely.

One of the areas that I recognize now more than ever is getting outdoors and spending some time in Nature. This never fails to help me to reconnect to myself and to the Divine. Whether it is a walk through the forest or a quiet contemplation by a lake or stream, this is my nearest approximation of a church. It makes me feel whole again. And I just don’t do it enough. I am better about it in the Summer, even if it is something as simple as laying in my hammock and listening to the birds sing and the leaves rustle. I know I do best, though, when I get out away from the paved roads and buildings, and that is something I just don’t make the time for very often.

Something that I have improved on a bit in this last year is sleeping. Starting from the time my daughter was born almost nine years ago, I have really struggled in this department. I had an excuse for a few years when the kids were little, but I became too accustomed to being raggedy. As soon as they started sleeping better, I started using that extra time for personal growth things that I had put off, like taking classes and starting these letters to you. I was running myself into the ground trying to get it all done, going on the fumes of a mere four or five hours of sleep per night, every night. As I said, just in the last year I have made a more concerted effort to bring that number up closer to seven hours. I don’t always succeed, but I feel better when I do.

Nutrition is another one that I am just getting started with. After a lifetime of pretending I could eat mostly whatever I want and still feel good, I have lately started to pay closer attention to the ways different foods affect my energy and my comfort. I am beginning to cut things out of my diet. There is a long way to go, but it feels like the right direction for my long-term health and happiness.

The one thing that I haven’t tried but that consistently tugs at my thoughts is the inclusion of more art and creation in my life. Writing these letters to you is about as close as I get to that, and Writing Day is the most fulfilling day of my week. But I want more, and I want variety. Specifically, I feel music calling out to me. I mentioned earlier that even dedicated time for listening to music lifts me up, but what my soul is itching for is to learn how to play it. I own a guitar and a beginner book, but I have never given myself permission to take that time. The same goes with the piano. Even when I touch the keys briefly as I am cleaning the house, my spirit does a little dance. I know the signs are telling me to play.

These musical longings speak again to this issue I seem to have about indulgences. Somehow, somewhere along the way I seem to have confused self-care with selfishness. I allow myself time to write in my journal, and that feels like all I deserve. I give myself permission to exercise daily, but only if it is while the rest of my family is still sleeping. I offer all of my energies to my kids—which I love doing for me—because I can claim it as good for them. I can justify adjustments to my nutrition because it is not taking up any more time or directly affecting anyone else. If I let myself go to bed earlier, I have to write less.

That thing about wasting time and being inefficient—combined with these feelings of unworthiness and guilt about selfishness—is exactly why I don’t allow myself the other self-care activities that I know would do so much for me. Meditation. Nature walks. Learning the guitar and piano. Reading books. Listening to music. These are all things that require time that I seem to feel I don’t deserve. As though care for my soul is not reason enough. This realization saddens me. I want to think I am worth more than that to myself.

This is why I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself granting special permission to go to yoga class this week. You see, I think a big reason yoga left my schedule is that it usually doesn’t feel like as much of a pure workout as lifting weights or running or something like that does, so I had a hard time justifying yoga instead of one of those (my efficiency hang-up at its most glaring). So it was a big deal for me when I substituted a cardiovascular workout for the yoga class (even though I did have to get up even earlier to make it). I consciously prioritized the benefits to my mind and spirit.

Whoa! It seems really strange even to type that thought! I just don’t do that very often, apparently.

And though I felt guilty for missing the cardio workout, oh my, how good that yoga class felt! It was a genuine treat. I was working at it, but it still felt like a pampering for my soul. I can still feel the effects on my mood even days later. What a discovery! This is what self-care feels like! I think I could get used to this. Well, you know, after a few visits to the shrink, maybe!

How about you? What does self-care look like to you? Walk yourself through your weekly slate of activities. Which items on your itinerary are aimed at getting yourself feeling connected, engaged, and at your best? Which ones are, like my journaling, your most ingrained habits, things that are a normal part of your life? How long have you been practicing those things? Could you imagine letting go of those habits? Which of your self-care practices is most important to you? Why? What practices have you tried and liked at some point but never made a part of your routine? Do you envision yourself returning to them? What will it take? Which ones have you had high expectations for but turned out to be just not your thing? Do you have any, like my guitar learning, that you haven’t tried but that your soul seems to be calling out for you to try? Why have you ignored that call to this point? What will get you to begin? Are your self-care activities more often done alone (e.g. meditating or reading) or with others (e.g. coffee with a friend or a yoga class)? Do you allot a certain amount of time each day that you proclaim as “Me Time” and really own it, or are you generally unaware of when you are taking care of yourself? Are you worthy of that dedicated time just for you? Are you only good at justifying it in the flow of your everyday life (e.g. nutrition), or are you good at claiming bigger chunks of time (e.g. a spa day or girls’ weekend), too? Is self-care intertwined with self-worth, i.e. the more we value ourselves, the more we care for ourselves? If so, what does your level of self-care say about how much you value yourself? How can you move that needle more in the right direction? How does it feel to be renewed from within? What best helps you get there? Leave me a reply and let me know: What does self-care look like to you?

You are totally worth it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We are ALL worth it!

Can You Be Present With Your Mind On The Future?

dsc_0457“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” —Mother Teresa

Hello friend,

I recently finished a book in the Motivational/Self-Help genre. I liked it. All along, the author talked about how great I was going to be and how that greatness was going to come about. I was going to keep my focus on my goals and not lose sight of what I knew in my heart that I would become. I was going to do everything in my power to make that future of my dreams happen. It was a good (and necessary) kick-in-the-pants kind of reminder to keep planning and taking action toward my biggest dreams.

So, the book had me totally looking forward to my best self living my best life and generally nailing my future. I was excited! Then, near the very end of the book, I got thrown for a loop. The author was into the major instructions portion, where she lays out the exact habits and attitudes required to take those crucial steps forward to the life of my dreams. I was chomping at the bit, ready to soak up the wisdom. And there it was….

Just stay in the moment. Be present.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not that vexing answer! My brain began having flashbacks to this issue that I have, in all of my years and efforts to read and understand different spiritual and psychological perspectives, never quite been able to unravel the mystery of. That is, How can you keep your mind totally in the present—live a brand of “walking meditation” continually—but at the same time plan for the future and dream?  

I am a big believer in meditation and the growth that can come from simply quieting the mind and controlling the breath. And I am all in favor of stopping to smell the roses while they bloom. My kids have taught me the beauty of living in the moment.

But aren’t I supposed to be planning to improve myself and make positive change in my world? To grow, to challenge myself and others, to dream big, to plan for greatness, and to seek out the best course of action? My gut tells me that is the right thing to do. But isn’t that stuff, by definition, in the future? And isn’t the future, by definition, not the present? I am vexed!

How do I reconcile these two wonderful philosophies of life? I see the value in both, but I am just not sure they mesh as easily as the author of my recent book let on. In fact, she didn’t explain it at all. She just plopped this brilliant “stay in the moment” suggestion, which is a staple of human growth, smack in the middle of all of this talk of forward thinking, then kept right on going, expecting me not to notice the dissonance my brain started feeling immediately. Well, I noticed! And now, as Fate would have it, I really need an answer.

The owners of my day job just announced this week that we are going out of business. A few short weeks from now, I will no longer have a job. Yikes!

Amazingly, in the days since the announcement, I have not totally freaked out. I have not succumbed to the worry/fear/dread combo that I know are one of one of my options in this situation. I am pretty proud of myself for that, actually.

What has been my reaction? Basically, I have started a mad dash to get a book project and other writing stuff done as fast as possible, hoping to produce something for submission by the time I am out of work. Instead of getting bogged down by what has happened to my job or dealing directly with my shock and sadness over it, I am flinging myself headlong into the future.

But what about the present? 

That is the question that keeps haunting me. As I zip through my plans, hopes, dreams, and visualizations, I sometimes catch myself and give myself a little scolding for getting out of the present moment. That’s what the meditation and self-help books would say, right? “Just be in the moment. The precious present. There is nowhere else to be.”

But don’t they see I need a new career? In the near future! I have to plan, don’t I?

I think maybe I am trying to be too literal with the “Stay in the moment” instructions? I mean, I understand the general gist of the instruction. I have read enough books on the topic and can easily regurgitate quotes like “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present.’” The idea is not to dwell on the sorrows and regrets from your past, because you can’t do anything about the past anymore (I am pretty good with that side of it), and not to live in worry and fear for your future, because most of what we worry about is out of our hands (and often doesn’t happen anyway). Basically, regrets and fears are a waste of time and energy, and they distract you from the beauty that is right in front of you in this moment, which is the only one that exists.

So, stay present! Be here now. I get it.

I am, by nature, a rule follower. This is especially so when I agree with the rules. And I love this rule! I have reaped the benefits of it. As I said, I see the beauty of it in my children. I am a huge believer in presence and the magnificent gift that it is, both to ourselves and to the people around us. So, I try really hard to color inside the lines on this one.

This is exactly why I am so torn right now over my inclination to plan ahead for my future of joblessness. I want to follow the rule. I want to put my intentions out into the Universe and then just be present, trusting that the right thing will come my way. No worry, no fear.

Ahhhh. That is so calming even just writing the words. Present moment, wonderful moment. Om…….

But darn it, I am about to lose my job! I need income for my family! In the present moment, I have to think about my future and make plans for what comes next. I need to think about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like, specifically how my next job will mesh with my vision. My present has to be about my future! Is there a loophole for that? {That reminds me of my kids’ movie “Inside Out,” when the Sadness character glumly says about Joy’s plan, “You’ll get lost in there.” Joy responds, “C’Mon! Think positive!” Sadness, totally authentically, replies, “Okay…. I’m positive you’ll get lost in there.” The loophole!}

Seriously, in all of my years of studying personal growth, this is the one bee still in my bonnet. How do you reconcile these two animals: 1) remaining in the precious present, and 2) striving for new, better, and more in the future? I want both!

As I am writing this, I am beginning to see that maybe what my tension around this issue is, more than anything else, is that I want permission to have both. I want some expert to tell me it’s okay, that I have, indeed, discovered the loophole. I want the guru to say, “Sure, as long as your time and energy spent focusing on the future involve planning and striving for positive things rather than worrying and fearing about what will come, go for it!” Yes, I think that is it (see what journaling can do!). I guess I just need to get over my need for permission, trust my instincts, and go out and stake my claim on the future. (And then maybe meditate for balance!)

How about you? Which tense do you live in: past, present, or future? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Where do you find yourself? How much time do you spend in your past? Are your thoughts of the past positive ones—which, I suppose, is the corresponding loophole for that tense—or are they full of regret and shame? Are even happy memories just crutches we should mostly let go of in favor of the present? How about the future? How much time do you spend looking forward? Is it more about dreaming, planning, or fearing? Are you a worrier? What is there to gain from worrying? After your thoughts of past and future, how much time is left for the present moment? How good are you about staying focused on the now? Do you have any practices or tricks—meditation, yoga, deep breathing—that help you to be more present? What works best? How aware are you of the workings of your mind and which tense you are in? Are you like me and get annoyed at yourself when you recognize your thoughts have wandered too far off, especially into fears of the future or regrets from the past? Am I crazy to need a loophole in the “rule” about presence to give myself permission to plan ahead or dream of what I wish to become? What is the right balance of tenses? What works best for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is there such a thing as dreaming while being present?  

You are bigger than you imagine,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you understand your mind better, please share it. We are complex characters who could all use a little help. Blessed be.

Your Everyday To-Do List

IMG_0930“Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately.” –Charles M. Sheldon

Hello friend,

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know what it is about them that repels me. Every time December 31st rolls around, everyone seems to be talking about their resolutions, so I give it a quick thought: “Should I be making resolutions this year?” Invariably, I decide against it.

As I think about it now, I see that it must be my lifelong aversion to limits. I cannot stand to be contained in any way. I need a big bed, loose-fitting clothes, open roads, very few rules, no supervision, and no numerical goals. That last one might seem odd to you, but that is how my mind works. When I talk to people about weight-lifting, they say they need to state exactly how many repetitions they hope to do—e.g. twelve bench presses—to push themselves to that number, otherwise they would do fewer. I am the opposite. If you told me my goal was 12 reps, I would immediately feel constrained by the number, as though it was holding me back from doing more. So it is with resolutions and me. If I give myself a resolution and a year to do it—quit chocolate or join a gym class or lose five pounds or read War and Peace or whatever—I would feel hemmed in by it, wondering what I was going to do when February came around and I had already achieved my goal for the year. Alas, resolutions and I have never quite come to terms.

Still, there I sat on the eve of 2013, wondering how I could be doing better at life. Would a resolution help? I tried to think of the one thing that I could do by the time 2014 rolled around that would make me a better, more fulfilled person. But every attempt at finding that one thing only annoyed me more, made me feel limited by it. In that annoyance, I realized that for me, I didn’t need one thing to do once and be done with it, resolution completed. No, I needed multiple assignments, and I needed to do them every day. That was it! I didn’t need a resolution. I needed HABITS.

What a realization! It brought both relief and inspiration. Immediately I set to work on my list of action items. I had a lot of ideas buzzing through my mind on ways to improve myself, as always, so the trick was finding habits that really spoke to my highest priorities, that would produce wonderful results in many different facets of my life, and that would be a huge challenge to fit into each day of the year. I turned on my computer and typed “2013 Daily To-Do List”, and under that I named seven simple tasks:

  1. Be fully in the moment. This has been a long-time priority of mine: presence. And while I knew I had it while I was with my kids—there are no better examples in all the world of being totally present than children, better than any yogi or healer I know—I had been feeling it slipping in other moments. I noticed myself lost in thought and looking at the sidewalk on my way into work rather than appreciating the sun on my face and the fresh air in my lungs. That was not okay with me. My excuse of being completely exhausted from sleep deprivation since the kids were born was wearing thin, and I knew a change was in order.
  2. The Journal Project. By that point in time, I was a few months into my enormous project, and I knew it would take several years for just the first phase if I kept on the pace I was going. It was time to turn it up a few notches. Daily action was necessary, no matter what.
  3. Meditate. I had meditated in short and infrequent spurts over the years, but each time I did it, I was reminded of its unlimited value. I wanted it on my docket.
  4. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan. This had become a frequent topic in my internal conversations of late. I was thinking of how forgiving and supportive I am toward my buddies, but how I was seemingly giving the one I had pledged my life to the least amount of leeway and applause. That was unacceptable to me.
  5. Improve efficiency/Waste no time. I am extremely ambitious when it comes to the very tiny window of time I have when I am not either at work or playing with my kids. I want to read every book in the world, do The Journal Project, write a blog, teach myself the guitar and piano, get fit, keep up the house and yard, get another degree, write a book, and on and on and on. All after 8:30 P.M.!
  6. Reduce sugar intake. I am, and always have been, addicted to sugar. I had been reading more about nutrition and the detrimental effects of sugar, and I was determined to take steps to get my addiction under control.
  7. Stretch/Yoga. This one, like meditation, is a practice that I had been recommending to anyone and everyone ever since I found yoga when I was around 24. Unfortunately for me, I had become completely out of the habit, another casualty of becoming “busy” and losing sight of my priorities. I wanted it back.

That was my list. The seven things I wanted to keep front-and-center every day of the 2013. I printed two copies and taped one to my bathroom mirror and one to my desk. You may be wondering why “Write in my journal” is not there. The answer is simple.   I only wanted items on the list that were not already firmly entrenched into my day. Thus, “Write in my journal” and “Spend every possible moment absorbed in my kids” had no use on the list; they were coming along anyway. As you can see, some of the items required no extra time commitment, which, I suppose, means they should have been easiest to execute. The others were certainly achievable daily actions. Even from this distance, it looks like a pretty practical list.

So, how did I do? Hmmm. Not as well as I had hoped, but there were some positives. I was more present, which proved to be a good stress-reducer. My work on The Journal Project, which went hand-in-hand with improving efficiency/wasting no time, turned out to be the task I did far better than the rest.   I started writing it in my schedule, which really cemented the commitment. I made tremendous progress, which was extremely satisfying, both in terms of the simple joy of progress and also in the blissful pursuit of my dreams. Everything about it felt good. All the while I was cutting almost all unnecessary activities—television being the biggest—out of my day. Improve efficiency/waste no time became ingrained enough that I probably didn’t’ even need the reminder anymore. The other one I did okay with was being more supportive and forgiving of my wife. Simply having it on the list in front of me made me more mindful of our relationship and being a better friend and fan. I saw her more clearly.

I wish I could say I checked everything off my “2013 Daily To-Do List” every day, but alas, I wasn’t up to the task. I started off right with meditation, creating a dedicated space in my basement for it and allotting a meager twelve minutes per night to start. I loved it, too, but somehow it became quick to go when I got busy, and the almost-habit fizzled to nothing. The stretching/yoga went the same way. I struggled with reducing my sugar intake, too, though I definitely became much more aware of when I was eating it. Needless to say, there were definitely some “fails” on my list.

Nevertheless, when it came time to re-evaluate the list for a 2014 version, I decided to keep it exactly the same. I wanted to keep going with the good things, and I still valued my failed items enough to keep them on my daily task list for another year. Sadly, valuing them has not translated into doing them. I have yet to resume the meditation or yoga. I have actually done a tiny bit better with my sugar habit. Unfortunately, The Journal Project has fallen off my daily schedule, being replaced by its partner, “Journal of You”, which you are reading now. Though I totally love the blog-writing and see its value and place in my greater mission, it pains me that I have not kept up on The Journal Project.

What I am seeing now is that I need a new, revised “2014 Daily To-Do List” that still reflects my ambition but has some grounding in the reality of my schedule. So, starting today, here goes:

      1. Be fully in the moment.
      2. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan.
      3. Reduce sugar intake.
      4. The Journal Project/Journal of You—at least one, not always the same one. 

How about you? Are you ready to create your own “2014 Daily To-Do List”? Open your journal and start jotting ideas. Are your tasks things that you currently do sometimes but not every day? Are they things that are going to take time and require you to schedule them (e.g. my Journal Project), or are they things that require only a psychological or philosophical shift (e.g. being fully present)? Is it time to add something totally new to your life, like learning an instrument or a new language? Try to find a balance of ambition and reality; make the list a challenge but not so hard that you are dooming yourself to failure. Just make sure the list speaks to who you want to be, the version of you that you know is in there ready to come out. Leave me a reply and tell me who that person is. I want to know: what’s on your everyday to-do list?

You will come alive just past your comfort zone,

William