Shameless is back in action!

1669672_285554028268514_2094545939_oHello beautiful people of Shameless Inspiration! It has been two years and I’m proud and excited to announce that Shameless is back in action. My first order of business is to bring you GratiTUBE. Back in 2014, with the help of my talented and shameless friends, Shameless Inspiration hit the streets of New York and Boston to see what people are grateful for and how they show it to those around them. I never posted the videos. If I’m being honest with myself, I was worried about what people would think. I convinced myself that “it just wasn’t ready yet” but it was and is ready. It has always been ready and I would like to renew my commitment, right here and now, to letting go of looking good in service of contributing to the growth of others. I promise to never hold back on sharing something that could have a positive impact on our community. So, without further ado, please check out the first installation of GratiTUBE.

 

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Birthdays: a cause for joy or anxiety?

happy birthdayYour Birthday. The day you opened your eyes to see the world for the first time. The day you took your first breath on your own, which was literally, and perhaps figuratively, the moment of your first inspiration! This day is so special that most people in society celebrate it each year, yet people can have different relationships to their birthday. Based on my observations of friends and from my own experience, I’ve seen that birthdays can even become a cause for anxiety and sadness.

As a young child, I can remember the enormous anticipation of my birthday. I have a vivid memory of myself sitting on the steps for hours before my party. I simply couldn’t wait until everyone would be there to celebrate me. Over the years, however, I developed more of an antagonistic relationship with the day. I began to worry about who would remember, who would be available and if I would really feel valued by the people in my life. So much of the anxiety about myself was poured into this single day. For many years, I would pretend I didn’t care about my birthday and prepare myself to be disappointed, which would often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I found myself focusing on who wasn’t there or what I didn’t get. The reality was that nothing could have made my birthday satisfying because of my attitude and because I wasn’t honest with myself. I love my birthday, but I felt ashamed of that. I had this idea in my head that my birthday should only be as important to me as I perceived it to be to others. Unfortunately, I didn’t perceive it to be very important to others because they couldn’t read my mind about exactly what I wanted. I was setting myself up.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that I can only enjoy my birthday when I enjoy it shamelessly. This means that, first and foremost, I allow myself to feel unbridled joy about being alive and the person that I am. I get in touch with this through writing, meditation, singing or some other more personal activity. A shameless birthday is also one where I am completely honest about how much it means to me and about what I want from others who are close to me. There still might be disappointments but I feel true to myself, and that feels good.

Finally, it’s nice to have attention on one’s birthday but gratitude is an equally important and enjoyable part of the day. This helps me to cultivate the most important ingredient to a happy birthday, which is a sense of “enough.” I focus on appreciating the people who are present instead of wasting precious birthday minutes worrying about how many people will come out for drinks. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers, especially if you’re planning an event, but I think it’s important to ask yourself why the numbers matter so much to you. Are you genuinely dealing with logistics or are you trying to prove something to yourself or others? If it’s the latter, then it might be time to have a gratitude break to feel or show appreciation for the people who are most important.  I find it’s hard not to feel loved and satisfied when I think about the few people who really help to shape and enrich my life every day in a positive way.

In the spirit of gratitude, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog and celebrating life with me on Shameless Inspiration. Thank you for helping to make this a shameless birthday. I hope you all can enjoy the same on your special day!

What’s your relationship to your birthday? How do you celebrate?

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Making decisions in a healthy frame of mind

reason_emotion-1at0lgeLife is filled with decisions. Big and small. Simple to agonizing. I tend to be either too rational or too emotional in my decision making process. The experts say that these extreme states of mind are not the best route to healthy, happy decisions. When making choices, we want to think with both the heart and the head.

Marcia Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, promotes a healthy, balanced state of mind which she calls wise mind. Wise mind is the balance of two other states of mind that she identifies as emotion mind and reasonable mind. Emotion mind is ruled by our feelings and tends to lead to impulsive, short-sighted decisions. However, this frame of mind allows us to fall in love or show immense bravery in the face of danger. Reasonable mind assesses the facts and details in order to make a calculated decision. Following instructions to build a piece of furniture or balancing your budget both require the reasonable mind. As you can see, each state of mind performs very important functions but either one can cause havoc if it is left entirely to its own devices.

The danger of living at either extreme is readily apparent when you consider relationships. A person who lives in emotion mind may snap at their partner without giving a thought to the consequences whereas an individual ruled by reasonable mind may never learn to express emotions and experience deep connection. The individual who uses wise mind develops an awareness of what they are feeling in the moment and makes an intentional decision about how to respond. To expand on my earlier example, instead of flipping out at our partners or bottling up our emotions we take a deep breath and think about what’s really going on inside and select a course of action that honors our feelings and our intentions.

So how does one develop wise mind? Linehan suggests that mindfulness, which teaches us to separate thoughts and emotions, is the route to developing wise mind. Notably, the wise mind is associated with the so-called “gut feeling.” It is the intuition that comes from being deeply grounded and in touch with ourselves.

Do you tend to live in emotion mind, reasonable mind or wise mind? Share your experience in the comment section!

Also, check out the resources below to learn more about DBT, mindfulness and the cultivation of wise mind.

Citations/Resources:

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

McKay, M, Wood, J.C. & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapys skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Useful handout on wise mind and how to develop it

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Sit in a cafe like you’ve never sat before

Danforth_Coffee_ShopMy friend posted this mindfulness exercise the other day and I think it’s a great one. Take a moment to get in touch with your senses and surroundings. Watch and feel the world come alive.

“Try this exercise. Sit in a café or diner (or bus or train), perhaps one that you have been to many times before. As you sit, instead of losing yourself in your thoughts, feel the presence of your own body. Now take a moment to look around at the details of what people are wearing. Listen to the tones of their voices and to the sounds of traffic outside, and smell the slightly stale coffee and the sweetness of the doughnuts. The place itself suddenly comes alive, as if you had awakened from a dream for a moment. You are actually here; the world is actually here…

Perhaps you will discover a little sore spot on your heart, a little feeling of tenderness for yourself and your plight – your sorry state. You may feel so sad that you fall in love with yourself. It’s lonely. You can’t share yourself with anyone yet. But that sadness slows you down and makes you sensitive to your world. You start to feel the space, which is basic goodness, and you start to come alive. You start to appreciate yourself – being alone with yourself is so rich. You start to appreciate the whole world of colors and sounds – the trees, the greenery, the chipmunks and birds, even taxicab horns for that matter. These sensations can attach themselves to your senses and wake you up out of your deep sleep. The world becomes alive and bright, and the more you can open to it the more you can see. So when your sad and lonely and joyful and tender retreat is finished, you may venture back to your world a little tentatively, but you may see with new eyes – the eyes of basic goodness.”

(from Jeremy Hayward’s Sacred World: A Guide to Shambhala Warriorship in Daily Life)

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How about a round of applause for yourself

SophiaGraceIf you’ve ever seen Sophia Grace and Rosie on the Ellen DeGeneres show, then you know what it looks like when someone is having fun. These two young British girls, who always wear pink princess dresses, are on the show regularly to sing songs and just be their adorable selves. I recently caught them singing on Ellen and when they finished they were jumping up and down and clapping for themselves. Sophia Grace then exclaimed “That was so good!! I love that SO MUCH! That was really good!!” I love this because she is shamelessly proud and excited about her performance. Sophia Grace is taking the time to pat herself on the back and savor the joy she just experienced.

However, it got me thinking how it would look if Rihanna reacted this way after she sang a song. It probably wouldn’t come off so well…As adults, we’re required to be humble and cool about things but I think that we need make sure that we don’t lose that inner enthusiasm for ourselves. The little voice inside that says, “wow, that was a blast and good for me for being brave and having so much fun!” It may not be appropriate to jump up and down in every context but what about giving ourselves a round of applause on the inside? And, then, whenever we’re alone or in a context that may be more appropriate we can just go for it. Jump up and down, cheer, cry or do whatever else feels good and celebratory! I’m making a promise to myself to show myself a full blown round of applause a little more often.

What do you think? How do you savor the moment (big and small) and celebrate yourself?

Click here to check out Sophia Grace and Rosie

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Everyone is fighting a hard battle

Be-kind-for-everyone-youI like to share stories on the blog about individuals who have used their experiences of pain and struggle to make a difference. These stories are intended to be humbling and inspiring but, as with anything, it is possible to use them against ourselves. When we see what others are dealing with, our critical minds may start their negative chatter telling us that “we have been so lucky and shouldn’t be struggling so much. After all, look at this person who has been through so much and has thrived and continued to be positive. What am I doing? I am pathetic.”

A self-deprecating attitude has the ability to take an inspirational story and turn it into proof of our own perceived failure or inadequacy. In playing out this way of thinking, we are undermining our own struggles, judging ourselves as failures or unworthy of what we have and, ultimately, loosing out on an opportunity to feel connected to and inspired by another person. What happens when we respond compassionately to ourselves and the stories of others? Personally, I feel connected instead of jumping right into self-comparison. Comparing suffering is a tricky game to play in the first place. On the one hand, I think that it’s important to have some perspective and appreciate the things that we have in our lives. On the other hand, comparison can be a very toxic way of relating to oneself and others. What do you really get out of it? How much truth is there in our comparisons? For example, can you really compare the pain and suffering of losing a limb to crippling depression? Different people will have very different responses to this question and it also just seems completely absurd to even try to compare these scenarios. When I let go of self-comparison, I feel inspired and I can focus on what I share with others – pain and the ability to choose my attitudes toward it.

With this in mind, I do believe that stories about people who are struggling should inspire gratitude for what we have and a desire to help but beating ourselves with guilt or a sense of failure is another story. So if you struggle to feel connected and inspired by the stories of others, then take the time to notice those feelings and remember that we are ALL fighting a hard battle and the best way to cope is to remember this connection.

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What I learned in 10 days of meditation

meditationsunsetIn my last post, I wrote about my struggle to commit to staying at the retreat. Once that settled down, I was able to get to work. So much is still processing and really my story with Vipassana is just beginning but lets review the highlights. When I look back on the course, the two ideas and experiences that jump out at me relate to craving and impermanence.

 

Cravings, cravings, cravings

Buddha identified craving (and aversion) as the cause of suffering and during the retreat it was easy to see why. As soon as I sat down, I was flooded with all types of cravings from those for food and my loved ones to the freedom to watch Netflix! Aversions to boredom, the physical pain of sitting in meditation posture or the dry air in the meditation hall quickly followed. I could spend all day listing cravings and aversions that came up because most thoughts and sensations fall into one or the other category. This might seem natural but, according to Buddha, this habit is the root of suffering and must be unlearned because one craving typically begets another and not all of our cravings can be satisfied.

As I sat in meditation, it became easy to see that my mind is in the habit of chasing cravings and fleeing aversions. I would distract myself with story after story about what people might be doing at home, what might be offered for dinner, what I was going to do when I was done the retreat and so on. The more I engaged in these stories, the more they took on a life of their own. It became more and more difficult to refocus on the practice. The thing is that being present with myself in the meditation hall with houts ahead of me made me feel so alone. I’ve thought a lot about why this might be.

All the difficult thoughts and emotions that infiltrate one’s daily life will certainly come up during meditation. It seems like meditation might be a great relief…oh, finally, some time to myself you might say…and while that is sometimes my experience, I just as frequently feel anxiety about being apart from my life and the people I love. What is everyone else up to? Maybe they’ll stop needing me? What if something happens to one of them? I felt bored and lonely at retreat because the idea of being engaged and needed by others was more appealing than sitting and facing all my insecurities. I wanted to be out in the world doing, controlling, seeking validation, enjoying distractions and so on. I wanted to be reacting to cravings!

The beauty and (the beast) of sitting in meditation for hours at a time is that you have the opportunity to watch these cravings come and go. Even the most intense thoughts, desires, emotions are not constant and there is so much to be learned by watching their life course as they well up inside and fade away. They come and they inevitably leave. This impermanence is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddha.

Impermanence hurts and helps

Everything is impermanent yet we habitually become attached to those things we like and develop strong aversions to the things that we dislike. If we are not mindful, we can become easily consumed by these cravings and aversions. Essentially, we lose sight of the impermanence of all sensations and experiences and allow ourselves to be consumed by frustration, anger, sadness and all types of negative emotions. Because the impermanence of pleasant experiences is inevitable, if we cling too closely and become too attached to their presence, if we deny their impermanence, then we set ourselves up for suffering. Conversely, we may overreact to experiences if we get caught up feeling like difficult times will never end.

Vipassana meditation involves systematically scanning your body and “observing” sensation in each area. This practice teaches us that every sensation is impermanent and also heightens our awareness of the seeds of our reactivity (i.e. craving or aversion). The leader of Vipassana, S. N. Goenka explains,

“A sensation appears, and liking or disliking begins. This fleeting moment, if we are unaware of it, is repeated and intensified into craving and aversion, becoming a strong emotion that eventually overpowers the conscious mind… But if we are aware at the point where the process of reaction begins–that is, if we are aware of the sensation–we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify… in those moments the mind is free.”

Personally, I want to be entertained and distracted from all my sensations but, Buddha teaches us to feel everything and know that it will pass. Yes, everything shall pass and this is both the good news and the bad news. Difficult emotions will lose their intensity and fade away. So will the pleasant ones. But not only are emotions, thoughts and sensations impermanent; so are relationships, money, clothing, the seasons, life and this whole planet.

Difficult thoughts and feelings come up and they are painful, but they are easier to tolerate when I remember that they are impermanent. Sometimes they had so much force and energy that I felt heat radiating from my body. It was difficult to let the heat well up inside but empowering because it felt like my cravings and aversions were literally burning off as I sat without reacting to the sensations. In reflecting on these moments, I am reminded that moods and emotions are like weather systems. I have moments of feeling hot and anxious, cold and sad, happy and warm but it’s all just moving through me like the clouds in the sky. They are impermanent and can feel consuming but they are just passing through.

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