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Tag: mindfulness

Equanimity

I’m obsessed with equanimity. It’s an often sought out thing, but a little used word. And it’s the word I want tattooed onto my body because I value equanimity so much.

Equanimity is a mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

For much of my life – until I entered therapy when I was 39 – I struggled with finding any bit of peace within myself. I was always in panic mode. Always dealing with low and high levels of anxiety. Always trying to control things outside of myself (impossible and so so so draining) in order to avoid feeling my troubling or scary feelings.

It took much work to find ways to nurture a sense of calm and composure no matter what comes my way. The waves of emotion did not disappear. I learned to ride them.

The less I implode or explode these feelings that I am “not allowed to feel”, the more of a moderate relationship I have with them. – Alanis Morisette

This is why I want a tattoo with the word. But where? My friend Christelle is very good at small freestyle tattoos. I will book time with her in 2017 and I’m sure she will help me find the perfect spot.

PS I wrote a blog post a while back on how nurture equanimity within myself.

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The Big Tattoo

It came to pass. It did not come to stay.

This statement lives on the right side of my torso. It was beautifully painful to get. People with large tattoos in tender spots know what I’m talking about. The experience – it’s a special kind of high.

I got it in the fall of 2011. I was about 18 months into my healing journey. I was still in a place of deep pain, but I was trying new things (like holistic nutrition classes) and reading a lot of Buddhist inspired teachings (like Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times). I was discovering who I was and what I valued. I was also drawn to toxic people and dark, dramatic situations. There was a whole lot of two steps forward one step back going on.

Forward steps included exploring impermanence – the Buddhist belief that existence is always changing, always evanescent. This brought me much relief. It helped me reframe my suffering. It allowed me to accept that how like joy is not a constant state, neither is anguish.

This tattoo is quite clear in it’s message to myself. That emotional states will change just as the material aspects of life will change. That the people in your life may come and go, live and die. My tattoo is a meditation of sorts on loss that makes me feel grounded to the reality of constant change and experience equanimity no matter what life throws at me.

A Silly Story About This Tattoo

One time I was with some new acquaintances – a couple. I clicked with her, but not so much with him. I think he was not very bright in terms of emotional intelligence or vocabulary. At one point we were talking about tattoos. He said he wanted to get one along the lines of live hard, die young. I mentioned what I had and when he heard about my larger piece he looked puzzled and said he didn’t understand what it meant. His girlfriend explained it to him and then a light went off for him and he said he would get that one too.

I wasn’t impressed before and I certainly wasn’t impressed then.

I bumped into them another time and he told me he got a tattoo saying no regrets.

PS – Here is a lovely post by Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) about impermanence because I have to leave you with some optimism not cynicism.

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Vitality

The third of my small tattoos is a V for Vitality. It’s on the back of my neck – the nape. I like that word, but I digress.I desire vitality inside and out.  I want to be vibrant in mind, body and spirit. I want to be active and strong. I think this comes from a general desire to age well, to age gracefully, to age with dignity.  And that in part is because my father died of colon cancer when he was 54 and I was 24.

He was diagnosed at age 49 and died 5 years later. He went through all kinds of treatments – traditional and experimental. He fought hard. I know he was doing it for himself and for his love for me and our family. I want to live with wellness to honour him, my family and myself.

But I saw what cancer does to the body and the mind. I want to avoid it – very badly. Prevention and early screening are my tools. Not 100% guaranteed of course.

I was already a nutrition geek (had been since I was in elementary school) and fascinated by physical wellness science. Seeing my father edge then leap towards disease and decay inspired me to have a different future.

So I embrace vitality. I seek it out. I create it. I am active in my pursuit. I use all the wellness tools available to me. I focus on getting enough sleep and eating a whole foods diet. I have never smoked and I have quit drinking. I meditate and practice loving kindness and gratitude. I surround myself with people I love and that love me.

This is my path to vitality.

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When you’re down what do you do to feel better?

The way I feel better is by acknowledging that I feel bad and I don’t try to deny it, fight it or turn it into something different.

This technique has had such impact in my life. Likely my most powerful strategy for my mental and physical health.

I say physical because as I age I want to mitigate the physical consequences of stress. My body doesn’t bounce back like it used to if I feel muscles tightening in my back, shallow breathing or acid reflux. It’s never too late to address this part of our human experience!

Here is what I do:

When I feel down I take time to recognize that I’m feeling trapped by a difficult feeling or negative thought and then I acknowledge the feelings without trying to change them. Sometimes I whisper to myself “yes and this too” as a way of accepting the feelings instead of denying or fighting them. Then I investigate the feelings and where they live in my body. I often find they are more nuanced than I initially think them to be. I try to get precise with the language I use to describe the feeling. I do this examination gently and with loving kindness. I ask myself what do I need in this vulnerable moment? What am I missing? And then I answer it as best I can with nourishing statements. This process helps me centre myself and feel more at ease with myself and what is going on in the moment.

This technique is called the RAIN technique. I discovered it in the work of meditation teacher Tara Brach and it has done me a world of good.

Now this is mostly a mental exercise. I also believe in the power of changing your physical state in order to change your mental state. If I feel emotionally or intellectually stuck, I like to move around. At home that might be doing some jumping jacks, pushups or dancing like no one is watching (great because no is). Out in public it might be walking to another place in a room and looking out the window or going somewhere private to shake it all out. Sometimes I wiggle my toes in my shoes and then wiggle my hands in my lap.

 

And when all else fails there is this kitten video on YouTube. ;-)

PS For a bunch of reasons I wasn’t taught how to acknowledge my feelings and manage stress, conflict and challenges in a healthy way. When these things occurred I would deny any difficult/negative feelings and then they would resurface in weird and ugly ways. You can read a more in-depth exploration here.

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Simple Yet Glamorous?

My life is simple in that I discovered some mindful and minimalist life strategies that bring balance and serenity to my day-to-day. It’s glamorous in that I love burlesque and I adore creating dazzling, silly performances and shows. Having both in my life brings me much satisfaction and pleasure.

It also means that I find bobby-pins by the door and glitter most everywhere, but that is OK by me. They remind me I’m living the life I want to live.

Perhaps SIMPLICITY & GLAMOUR is an odd combination, but it’s my version of Yin and Yang. They help me embrace LIFE in a BIG JOYFUL way  and I think bringing both into my life is an important part of my journey.

Life is complex.

My simple living and compassionate mindset allows me to meet life’s challenges, express what’s on my mind and in my heart. It’s what keeps me grounded yet able to fly free. It’s what helps me connect to those I love.

Keeping certain things simple lets me bounce around in the complex with joy, gratitude and authenticity. Bounce around in the unpredictability, uncertainty and vulnerability knowing I have a safety net. Having a toolbox of strategies and skills makes me more resilient when sh*t hits the fan – because it will.

So, what do I simplify?

Everything involved in my everyday is structured in a simple way. This took some time. I had to reflect on what I owned and what owned me. I had to think about my possessions and my space and how they made me feel. Yes, I used the Marie Kondo Method. While I’m not a 100 item minimalist, I have downsized in a BIG way. I know each and every one of my belongings and where they live. And I love them all.

My burlesque costumes may have sequins and fancy fringe trim, but they also are chosen and made with simplicity in mind. They are easy to store, maintain and to perform in (and out of). Streamlining my burlesque life means I don’t tear through my space last minute looking for a costume piece or have to create something last minute. I have just what I need. Not more, not less. When I have a show I know I can focus on my performance, deliver as best I can and be present for the entire process.

My internal life?

I simplify that too. It’s absolutely essential in fact because there is a part of my mind that likes to tell stories  – often attaching shame, guilt and fear to them. Then there is my gut that likes to do somersaults. And of course, my heart that likes to race.

I’m betting this all sounds terribly familiar.

Thank goodness there is a solution to this mess of stress and struggle. Mindfulness meditation – it’s the simple antidote to the busy mind poison. Sure, it’s a popular buzz word these days but there is a reason for that. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s an active way of thinking that helps calm the mind. For goodness sake, it creates new neuro-pathways! So freaking neat!

In a nutshell, it’s about observing yourself, your body, your mind’s stories, you name it and not trying to change anything. Experience them without judgement. Let all the weird, uncomfortable and painful sensations and thoughts just be. Then approaching it all – especially yourself – loving kindness. So simple yet so radical.

One of my favourite meditation resources is the work of Tara Brach. She has a wonderful weekly podcast aswell as incredible books I refer to. My therapist suggested I read Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and helped me immensely in developing some equanimity. Something I had been seeking since I was a little girl.

And of course, there is Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. His books on finding peace within the present moment are some of the most accessible and beautiful out there.

I am sure I will write more about these topics in the coming weeks and months (maybe years – who knows!). If there is something specific you would like me to write about with regards to my exploration of simplicity and glamour, let me know!

Thank you for being a part of my journey.

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Avoiding Pain

I have circled around this for a few months (actually years but very specifically more recently). Not pain but the various strategies I have used throughout my life to try to avoid pain, why I have tried to do so and why none have ever worked. It’s been interesting to unpack this deep-set of wounds. Challenging for sure, but interesting too.

Perfection

When I was a teenager and into my twenties I thought that if only I did such and such a thing I would be perfect and then I would not be in pain, that I would be happy. I thought pain was something to be avoided (more on how I came to that false conclusion below) and perfection was the best way to do that.

Of course, as a teenager I was still forming my identity and I looked to others for my idea of perfection. I looked to peers I admired – the cool kids who seemed to never mess up except to be the perfect rebels with perfect hair and skin. I looked to movie and TV stars. I looked to pop stars. I looked to fictional characters I read about in those 1980s ever-so-popular teen series about cheerleaders and beauty queens.

I have long known that this strategy was useless. It actually made pain all the more prevalent in my life because perfection is a myth and unattainable. Trying to achieve it is a struggle that takes so much time and effort. It leaves you hollow and exhausted.

Parenting

In her manifesto for Wholehearted parenting Brené Brown writes…

Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.

My parents did not teach me to sit with discomfort, pain or suffering and this led me to have many bad habits and significantly damaging strategies to deal with grief, fear, hurt and other challenging feelings.

This is not a blame game. I have come to terms with how my childhood experiences encouraged this type of thinking. I have empathy for my parents and their upbringings. For them vulnerability was not part of being resilient. They wanted to protect me from suffering (impossible). I do not think they knew there was an alternative – to learn to experience it and use it to grow and connect with myself, others and Universe ( all the energy that surrounds us, is in us and things – I suppose you could say it is what I call my higher power).

Being with these emotions is something I have learned to do in my 40s. Never too late, but I do wish I had figured it out earlier. In any case, I am much more comfortable with the uncomfortable now. I am better able to ride the waves of the hostile and scary emotions and not let them be destructive. The waves are there as always. They do not disappeared. They never will. I am just a much more competent emotional surfer.

My Answer

Now I sit with my feelings – pain with regards to this particular post but this is useful for all of my feelings. I observe the feeling. I welcome it with curiosity. I ask it questions. Where are you in my body? What are your qualities? What are you trying to tell me. I hold it. I embrace it with loving kindness. I have compassion with myself.

The less I implode or explode these feelings that I am “not allowed to feel”, the more of a moderate relationship I have with them.
– Alanis Morisette

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Gratitude Practice

I so so so love my new gratitude practice.

10 Things

Before bed I make a list of ten things I’m grateful for. Yes, I count them on my fingers. I say them over and over in my head and then drift off to sleep.

Well, not over and over as I actually fall asleep before the second round. I don’t have insomnia, but I do have a busy brain and I need routines and rituals to help ease me to sleep. Otherwise, I toss and turn. I’m very restless.

While I am glad this new gratitude practice helps me fall asleep it is actually about so much more.

This practice is good for all three parts of me – mind, body and soul.

Mind – because it slows things down and makes me reflect in a positive way on the day. I do have a loop of all the things I found demanding, unsatisfying or upsetting playing in my mind. While I list in my head the things I am thankful for my busy mind stops rehashing the day in woulda-coulda-shoulda ways.

Body – My gratitude practice also helps calm my body. Being quiet and patient slows down my breathing and my heart rate. By being still and meditating on what I appreciate my body is better able to enter a sleep state. Sleep is SO IMPORTANT to health.

Soul – This one is obvious. Being thankful is good for the soul (however you define it) because it encourages empathy, reduces depression, and increases psychological resilience. All things I want and help me connect with the great unknown in a safe and inspired way.

Want to know more about the science behind the benefits of gratitude? Check out this article.

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2014 An Interesting Year

2014 has been an interesting year, that is for sure. Pretty much a game changer for me.

Sobriety

The most interesting super big thing I did? I got sober. I won’t go into the details of what drinking was like for me because it still feels rather nuanced and personal, but what I can say is that ultimately I was very unhappy because of my drinking. My health, relationships and productivity all suffered because of it. I have had phases of sobriety these past few years and decided at the end of 2013 that it was time once and for all to go for it – take booze out of my life for good. Drinking alcohol, even one drop, just isn’t worth it.

Sobriety for me has been a most humbling and life empowering gift. It has also been a heck of a lot of time consuming work. Thankfully, I have been in therapy since 2010 and immersed in exploring life skills and philosophies that make sense to me (I am a huge fan of the work of Tara Brach and Danielle LaPorte). All of it has helped me get clear on my desires and set goals.

I have created for myself a toolbox of incredible strategies to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, anger, annoyance, resentment and fear. It is not that I do not feel these things. Wow, do I ever. Now though I know how to deal with these feelings in healthy, life affirming ways. Before, not so much. I was always in a panic. I was all freeze, fight and flight. I also lived in my stories. The stuff you tell yourself about yourself, others, the world. Some people call it the trance. I still go there. It is a human quality to do so. Now I am routinely aware of when it happens and I get out of the story trance much quicker than before.

Yes, I am in the NOW in a whole new way and my toolbox has come in very handy. There is more to my experiences (isn’t there always?), but I will leave it at that for now.

Taking time and energy for this process meant putting many work related things on the back burner. My bank account certainly has suffered and the credit card companies love me, but it was very necessary and thankfully very gratifying. Because without sobriety I don’t think I could have done these other great things (or rather, done them very well)…

Making Being an Aunt a Priority

I became an aunt for the second time. I now have a wonderful nephew along with an incredible niece. I spend quite a bit of time visiting them and nurturing our relationships. I feel really blessed to have them in my life and I hope to help enrich their lives with my presence and contributions (stability! mindfulness! joy!). I love them so much. Being an aunt has also brought me closer to my sister. I am so impressed by her as a mother. I admire her so much.

Embracing Simplicity

I did some major organizing of my apartment and my belongings. I gave away many items of clothing, costumes and household goods. Having a more minimalist approach to my everyday life has been very satisfying. I highly recommend it. If it is something that interests you check out Be More With Less. The blog is great as are Courtney’s mini courses. Zen Habits is great too.

My Professional Theatre Debut

Another amazing thing I did is make my professional theatre debut at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts. A big thank you to all that helped make The Graduate such an amazing experience for me. Your belief in me was inspiring and invigorating.

The Return of Team Burlesque

Team Burlesque returned to the stage in November. There is something so powerful and delightful that happens when Elle Diabloe, Miss Sugarpuss and I collaborate. It is unique and rich with love, depth and sisterhood. I am so glad we are working together again. I think the Montreal burlesque scene is stronger and better for it.

Now I am thinking about what I want to accomplish in the next few months and years. What I have decided on is…

I am finally going to write a book. I have been scribbling away for two years and I have decided to get serious about it. The main issue is planning out my time so it gets done this year. I signed up for Your Big Beautiful Book Plan to help me. I am working with my friend who is an editor and writer herself. She gets me and my book. I am open to her critiques and suggestions. A good match I think!

I am also more formally taking all that I learned in my two careers (education and strategic thinking and doing + adult entertainment and sexuality) and creating workshops and other tools to help people navigate the often overwhelming world of sex, pleasure and wellness. Yes, it will be tied in with the book. So exciting!

The butterfly is emerging from her cocoon.

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Clearing Space, Mindfulness & Sex

I have been doing much clearing this year. Of damaging habits, old strategies that were hurting more than they were helping. It is an on going process of internal, mindful recalibrating of the way I think, perceive and respond.

I have also been doing this in a physical way. If you follow me on Twitter you will have noticed tweet about shredding and purging.

One of the other things I have been doing in this recalibration is a mix of the mind and the body. I have created a new morning routine for myself! I was inspired after reading Be More With Less‘  Courtney Carver’s mini course How To Create a Meaningful Routine. I am going to apply the principles (slowly – you gotta do it slowly) for my evening routine.

Well, what does this have to do with sexuality, you ask?

Everything.

Because nothing we experience as human beings exists in a vacuum, in isolation. It is all interconnected. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be present in the moment. Not get lost in the past and simmer in regretful thoughts. Not Worry about the future or get lost in fantasy futures. Just the here and now. It is really all we have.

Mindfulness can be a part of all of our experiences – including sexual ones. In fact, as someone who had a tendency to (over)analyze, (over)think and (over)dramatize when it comes to sex I have found mindfulness an amazing tool to get out of the stories in my head and get connected to my mind, body and spirit.

This morning I read this passage from The 7 Lively Sins: How to Enjoy Your Life, Dammit  and it seemed rather relevant to sex as mindfulness practice.

Sex is just a sweaty form of meditation. Think about it. The best lustful sex is about being in the moment, not obsessing about the past or future… or if your thighs look fat in a particular position… and so this means that orgasm is not the ONE AND ONLY big lure of lustful sex. A less obvious secondary benefit is that feeling of supreme peace that comes after sex – and this peacefulness isn’t entirely due to reaching orgasm, but ALSO due to reaching one’s metaphysical spirit, by being fully in the metaphysical moment. SO when we feel good after a lustful sex, it’s partially because we’ve emptied our cluttered brain of its chattering.

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Big Feelings

Today, I was debating if and how to write about my tendencies when it comes to sex, love and relationships. I have some new insights about them, but I am not quite ready to share them as sharing them is one of my tendencies. As I sat at my computer I was confused and hesitant (still am) so I decided to check out my Twitter feed to see what people were up to. There I found an article that piqued my interest and inspired me to write a sex-ed type commentary about it. Well, that then turned into a personal type post. I was back where I started, but looking in a different direction.

Yep, I love how writing can do that.

I came across an article by Charlie Glickman about his experience with testosterone. It’s a great personal piece on this physical aspect of being biologically male, but I got more from it than just an appreciation for how testosterone can affect the body and the mind. He ends the piece with thoughts on managing impulses and feelings. This jumped out at me.

As an example, if I see someone I find attractive, it can feel like my impulse to look at them is beyond my control. It’s no wonder that so many cultures try to manage men’s sexualities by controlling women’s behavior. After all, if I can’t control myself, then external circumstances need to be controlled so I don’t get set off. The difference, of course, is that it can feel like things are beyond my control without that actually being true. We need to hold onto both of those pieces at the same time if we’re going to make any positive changes. We need to acknowledge how things feel AND the deeper truth that our feelings don’t always reflect what’s happening outside of our heads. When we can do that, we can support learning better tools with which to respond to our feelings.

I really appreciated this comment of his. It’s about recognizing certain realities about sexuality, but also the stories we tell ourselves about it, and responding with care and compassion – not control or suppression.

These past few years have mainly been for me about learning healthy strategic ways to respond to my big strong feelings. In the past I was an escape artist. Sometimes I would literally run away when things felt intense – even good feelings would have me do that because they brought about anxiety and fear of the unknown (like when I was falling for someone new).

Another favourite was to dull feelings with heavy carb meals. When I was  feeling overwhelmed I ate what I called my white diet – toast for breakfast, pancakes and syrup for lunch, and mashed potatoes and gravy for supper. This was comfort food gone extreme. I would end up cuddled in bed avoiding people, feelings – life.

Booze also was another part of my escape artistry. I can be very tightly wound up and booze helped me let go. I felt I deserved the alcohol induced release because I was so good at being a ‘good girl’ in my sober times. But the feeling of release was fake and short lived. When I am drunk often my emotions overwhelm me even more and this has led to unpleasant and destructive social consequences (saying things I do not truly mean, hurting friends’ feelings) – not every time but enough times to damage my image and some friendships. Part of me wishes I didn’t care but I do. I am human and I am a social creature and need to be connected to others. Plus, the negative physical stuff that happens the next day –  my body hates that I went beyond 2 drinks – have left me out of life’s activities in a different way.

It took me a while to come to terms on how all this escaping was only temporary. I would always be right back with uncomfortable feelings (inadequacy, anger, fear) plus some additional ones (shame, guilt and sadness). What an awesome cycle.

Now, being an escape artist is not my go-to strategy. Yes, my feelings are as intense as ever, but I am not so afraid of them. I can tolerate them. I can even explore them. I acknowledge them and look at them with a non-judgemental eye. By sitting with my feelings without reacting to them (even I just pause for a moment) I experience compassion for myself as well as others.

And consequently I don’t fuck things up as much as used to. definitely a much better strategy than being an escape artist.

As I was writing that last bit I took a break and checked my Twitter feed. I came across another great article from someone I follow. This time it is from a Buddhist perspective. It jumped at me because it was about the consequences of reactivity versus responsiveness. Oh! Convergence! Another thing that I love when it happens!

When we feel these negative feelings, it’s extremely difficult to respond to life because we are too busy reacting to our painful emotions. On the other hand, when we respond to life, we take the time to quiet our minds and silence the noise before we offer our words of wisdom.

Of course, we don’t set out to hurt others with our words, especially those whom we love. Hurtful words come from hurting hearts, and although we think it will feel better once it’s out, it never does.

The author of this article suggests taking a break when a strong negative emotion occurs, breathe very deeply and with the exhale letting out the all the noise and with the next inhale to replace it with a positive affirmation. I can see the beauty and power in this and I have used this kind of breathing before. However, recently I found something that seems to work even better for me. If you also deal with big strong feelings, maybe it will help you.

Its called Tonglen Meditation. I read about it in the book If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path. Briefly, Tonglen Meditation is a breathing practice where as you inhale you take in suffering and as you exhale you breathe out compassion. When I have those big strong feelings I now use this breathing technique and it helps transform my feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, sadness and hurt into care, relaxation, clarity and comfort.

So, now let me bring this back to sexuality. :-)

Sexual feelings can be strong. We can feel overpowered by them. Not only the randy ‘I want to get it on’ feelings, but those that surround sexuality – like anxiety, shame, judgement, embarrassment, and fear. Taking a moment to feel those feelings can help you manage them and change them into something more positive and satisfying. Escaping them, hiding from them or pretending they do not exist will only make things worse.

I know this seems like common sense, but from my own experience and from those of many readers who share their stories with me, it’s all too easy to get stuck in the avoidance techniques rather than the recognition ones. I am not sure why we stick with the ones that make things worse rather than better. Maybe because we are taught the harmful ones rather than the healing ones. I find now that I am learning other ways of dealing with big strong feelings and impulses, I am rather at peace with myself. I still have desires and goals. I know not everything is as I wish it to be (not by a long shot), but I am inspired and empowered.

Mindfulness has me quite excited. I think looking at how it can play a role in a satisfying sex life is very intriguing.  If you have explored mindfulness as a part of your sexuality or in your life in general, I would love to hear from you in the comments. And if you have questions, let’s explore them together.

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