Let’s Talk About Your Problems

This week I want to talk to you about your problems.

What was your #1 problem today?

  • Did your chronic pain piss you right off?
  • Did your stomach fall over your pants too much?
  • Was your bus driver too angry, or too happy, for you?
  • Did you feel like eating everything within a 1 mile radius of you?
  • Did your cat piss you off by shedding too much hair?
  • Did people ask too much of you?

If your problem involves some sort of complaint, worry, or self-critical thought or judgement, I assure you, that THAT is NOT your REAL problem.

Let me say that again.

Whatever your #1 problem was today, or any problems you had today, or yesterday, or the day before, that problem is NOT the real issue.

The real issue is almost always something much deeper.

The real issue is almost always an emotion that needs to be felt.

When we get lost in mental activities like worrying, ruminating, thinking about the past or future, obsessing about something, criticizing ourselves or others, etc. that is the ultimate sign that we are disconnected from ourselves. We subconsciously engage in this mental behavior to disconnect from our bodies when we are trying to avoid feeling an emotion. It’s like the mind’s way of protecting us from discomfort. Unfortunately, it is actually feeling the emotion rather than avoiding it that will  lead us closer to comfort within our body and our life. Because as you all know, avoiding emotions can lead to physical pain in your body, which sure ain’t comfy! And when you are more connected to your body and emotions you become much more comfortable in your own skin.

But don’t beat yourself up about engaging in this mental behavior! You most likely picked it up from a very young age when you learned that emotions like sadness, anger, frustration and fear were, in a nutshell, no good to feel. This avoidance behavior happens on such a sub-conscious level that you don’t even realize you are doing it, so you fall for your mind’s tricks by getting sucked in to those stories about your pain, your fat thighs or stomach, and your bus driver (or insert whatever frustration YOU have here), instead of dealing with the real issue, which is an emotion that needs to be felt and released.

Come on, did you really believe you were too fat or your cat was too hairy?

Here’s my challenge for you: every time you notice yourself worrying about something, like your pain, criticizing yourself or your cat (can you tell I’m speaking from experience here? “I mean come on, Mila (my cat)! Why the f&@# do you shed so much? Who do you think you are anyways?”), worrying about your future or ruminating about your past, or anything that really just ends up being mental clutter that serves no purpose, flip your attention away from that and go inward. Ask yourself what you are feeling emotionally. Ask yourself what feeling you might be trying to avoid in this moment. Answer with a one-word emotion: mad, sad, glad, frustrated, happy, etc.?

So before you open your mouth to complain about something, or before you get lost in that mental junkyard of yours, curiously see what emotion you might be avoiding instead. If you don’t know, just guess. The more you do this, the easier it will be to pinpoint what emotion you are feeling. Not only will you be more in tune with your body and emotions (which means pain relief!!!) you will also notice yourself worrying, complaining, and self-criticizing way less! Wahoo! You won’t need it to divert your attention anymore!

Hmm…anyone else feel the need to end this post in song and dance?

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My Mind-Body Retreat and Error in Mental Code

Although I stayed at a beautiful Bed and Breakfast for my personal retreat, I did feel a bit like a traveling hobo for the majority of it. Checking in at 4pm and checking out at 11am the next day left me pretty much homeless for the majority of my two-day retreat. This wouldn’t have worked out well had Vancouver lived up to its standards of being cold and rainy, but luckily I snagged the two most gorgeous days we have yet to see this year! The Universe must have known, and I was taken care of!

At 10am on Sunday I started up the old VW to head for North Vancouver. I arrived at my destination just before 11am, which meant I had over five hours to enjoy the good old outdoors before checking into the B&B. That’s five hours of sunshine to wilt and spoil the chicken spinach salad that I packed with good intentions.

I enjoyed these hours outside in the sunshine, walking down to Lonsdale Quay and perching in a few different places to read. How relaxing it was to bask in the sunshine, listen to some live music, and watch families and birds hustle and bustle around while I lay on a bench with a captivating book and nowhere to be. I usually scoff at those lazy loiterers out of jealousy, and now I was one of them! I even had an seventy-something year old man pass by me and say, “Taking it easy, I see?” Wow, you know you are engaging in some hardcore relaxation when a retiree is jealous of YOUR lack of urgency!

I walked all 29 blocks back to the B&B when it was time to check in. After a homemade latte, a chocolate chip cookie, and a nice chat with the owner, I nestled nicely into my luxurious suite. I sat on the bed. No phone, no internet, no connection to anything or anyone but myself and the room. I stared at the walls for a few moments. Is that a Hanna Banana or a Golden Fields colour on the walls? I couldn’t decide. More staring. And then it sets in.

Heaviness. Emptiness. Loneliness. Ah, I knew you would show up. I anticipated this happening, and it was partly the reason I chose to retreat at the time I did. I started realizing just how uncomfortable I was being all by myself a few months ago just after my long-term relationship had ended and another one hadn’t begun. Now, I think of myself as a fairly independent woman, and I love to do things on my own, but I’ve always had a boyfriend that I knew was there for me when I was done being, well, independent. My patterns of jumping from long-term relationship to long-term relationship are clear, and I know now that what I need is exactly the opposite of a long-term relationship, which is extremely uncomfortable and scary for me, a girl who hasn’t really been on her own for more than 6 months at a time since she was 15. And guess what. I have now hit that 6 month mark, and instead of searching for my next beau, it’s time for me to change the typo in my mental coding and search deeper within myself.

Martha Beck talks about mental misprints and correcting the code of your imagination in her newest book “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World”. She says to let your suffering, or area of lowest satisfaction, point out the errors in the code of your imagination by noticing what you think and specifically feel about this problem that is causing you to suffer. After feeling the extreme heaviness and emptiness in my heart and chest, and noticing what thoughts were racing around in my brain in regards to this feeling of loneliness, I isolated the thought that made me feel the worst, and in doing that, I isolated the typo in the computer code of my imagination. The typo that reads something like, “I’ll be alone forever if I haven’t found him yet”, which I absolutely cannot know to be true, as I have not lived forever yet to prove this thought right.

If you are reading this and are instead experiencing some sort of chronic pain in your life, and you have the thought, “I’m going to be in pain forever”, that is YOUR typo in your computer code of imagination. I once had that thought in my mental code, and it wasn’t until I corrected that code and started thinking thoughts like “My body is just out of balance right now, and it will get better” and “This pain is just here to tell me something important” that I actually got better and started living without pain. And, you tell me, which of those thoughts sounds the truest? I hope you tell me the latter two, because we cannot know if we’ll be in pain next year, next month, or even tomorrow.

So if I’m walking around and entering relationships with the fearful thought of “I’ll be alone forever if I haven’t found him yet” or “I’ll be alone forever if this one is not the one”, how am I supposed to build a healthy relationship with that thought looming around? What might that look like? Here’s a little visualization for you. Picture a toddler grabbing at her mommy’s leg and holding on for dear life in fear that her mom will get sucked into some sort of grocery store vortex and never come back. Yep. That about sums it up.

So there are two things I know deep down that I need to do next. Correct that damn code, first of all, which will allow me to get completely comfortable being on my own. And second of all, instead of focusing on building a relationship with someone else, I am going to focus on building a deeper relationship with myself. Because, after all, if I’m not even willing to enjoy my own company, how can I expect someone else to?

And you, with the physical pain, maybe the good old hoo-ha kind, check out what that thought “I’m going to be in pain forever” is creating in your life. First and foremost, it’s definitely increasing the pain by throwing you in to the fight-or-flight response. And it’s most definitely causing you to live in a way that is not conducive to your essential, authentic self and to your healing. Instead of my graspy energy I put out into relationships, maybe this thought causes fear which stops you from doing the things you love to do because you’re scared that the pain will get worse if you do them. The funny thing is, when you STOP doing the things you love, the pain DOES get worse because you aren’t letting your body and soul sing like they want to.

So, for me, I’m going to work on my computer code and get comfortable with entering my next relationship; the one with myself. Because I know in my soul that that is the work that I am meant to do right now.

And for all you Sex and the City lovers out there, Carrie Bradshaw says, “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” And I agree.

Breathing Back To Health

Back when I was being life coached for pain relief my life coach Abigail Steidley asked me how I was breathing at that moment. I stopped to take a moment to notice how I was breathing. “Oh my gosh,” I replied, “I don’t think I am!” We both laughed for a second. Holy moly! I was either not breathing at all or I was taking in the smallest little gasps of air every minute or so.

That moment was a bit of a revelation. Actually, no, it was a huge revelation. It was during that weekend that I experienced a different type of contentment I had not experienced before. A contentment so filled with love that I even cried out of pure joy a few times. And trust me, I had not felt very content or joyful for quite a while prior to this revelation. That weekend I started focusing on how I was breathing, meaning, I was making sure I was breathing. When you are paying attention to the way you are breathing it forces you to jump into the present moment because you are not all tangled up in your thoughts. You can’t be mindful of breath and caught up in worrisome thoughts at the same time. That’s the beauty of breath!

That weekend when I was so enthralled with my breathing my pain wasn’t taking up all of my attention anymore. And the result of thinking less about my pain was feeling less pain! I still had pain but it just didn’t have the same hold over me. I was too stinkin’ happy about learning how to breathe! I was excited to see where this could take me in my healing journey.

Fully breathing into my low belly has been one of the most helpful and healing tools I could have ever learned (or maybe, more accurately, re-learned). It may seem silly and completely obvious, but it’s quite astounding how many of us aren’t fully breathing. When we are “stressed out” our nervous system switches to the sympathetic response, which automatically changes our breathing from full body breaths to shallow chest breaths. The reason this happens is so that all of our energy and blood goes to our limbs so we can flee from whatever is endangering us. The problem is that today’s stress is different from our stress in the good old days. We don’t so much have to run from tigers, lions, and bears (oh my) anymore. Our stress accumulates from thoughts and fears created in our mind. Translation: fleeing really won’t help or save us anymore! We can’t run away from our thoughts like we can a tiger. There really is no escaping unless we shine a light on our thoughts and see them for what they are. If we don’t do this, and most of us don’t, our stress lingers, which means our sympathetic response keeps on firing and our breathing remains shallow and unhealthy. The oxygen isn’t able to circulate fully throughout our body, and pain is more likely say hello due a body that isn’t able to function optimally.

The amazing thing about the breath is that the minute we focus on it and pay attention to it, it will automatically switch to a fuller, deeper breath, which means it flicks the switch from the sympathetic response to the parasympathetic, rest and digest, response. The response in which healing occurs because oxygen is freely flowing throughout our entire body. Our entire body can work its magic because it’s being bathed in oxygen.

Ahhh. If that doesn’t sound peaceful, I don’t know what does. 🙂