March 9, 2011

Stress, Violent Outbursts, Insecurities: 5 Things I’m Grateful For

It’s easy to list a nearly never-ending stream of positive things in my life that I’m grateful for. I believe most people can come up with at least 10. But I’ve been thinking lately about all the things in my life that have been painful. Things that hurt, have made me feel afraid, have made me sick. And it’s been a life-altering experience–learned through yoga and meditation–to begin to see these experiences as bonuses.

5 Things I’m Grateful For

1. STRESS When I was younger, stress was this external, powerful force that dictated much of my life. During university, I waived away family and friends, didn’t exercise, and solved my mid-studying energy drops with chocolate. I was “too busy”, there was just “too much stressful activity in my life”, to have time to take care of myself.  Needless to say, I was a bit of a mess.

It’s amazing to me how our society encourages people to live this way–we’ve even gotten to the point where being “so stressed”, and announcing it to the world, has become a badge of honour. “Wow,” we think, “They must be living really important lives, if they haven’t got enough time on their hands to take care of themselves.” I call baloney on that. What was I achieving as a maxed out academic? Good grades. And as a maxed out magazine editor? A shiny, glossy, stroke to my ego. What good did that do the world?

Thankfully, being stressed taught me the power of the mind. Stress lives in our head. We create it. Each one of us will respond differently to a certain so-called “stressor”–but if we’re one of the ones who’ve labeled that activity as “stressful”, and haven’t taken care of our health so we can prevent our nervous system from being exhausted, we’ll get stressed. It’s in our head, and the results–increased cortisol and adrenaline production–come into our body. Learning this so loudly helped me begin to find that space between my authentic, peaceful, deeper self and the monkey madness of the mind.

2. ANXIETY I’m talking with more and more people lately who are either living with extreme anxiety or have at some point in their life. As I start to share my own past experiences with it–about feeling like there’s someone constantly behind you, with their hands around your thoat–they open up with theirs. It frustrates me to no end that the western medical system–as brilliant as it is–generally fails to be of any help to people with anxiety. But I’m grateful to no end that I have lived with it, that it got as bad as it did. Because sometimes we  need a real smack in the head to wake up and take care of ourselves. Luckily, the solutions are simple: love yourself, practice loving-kindness and self-acceptance, eat well, exercise, do asana, meditate, get outside. Who wouldn’t love a teacher that recommends that?

3. VIOLENT OUTBURSTS I had a boyfriend who had anger issues. He got violent–not towards me, but towards things near me. There were othere challenges that came along with being with someone with an anger-prone constitution. These I haven’t reconciled myself with yet–I’m working on it. But I remember the look of fear in his eyes as the anger took hold–his feeling of complete helplessness. I remember, and I feel compassion. This experience helps me to feel compassion for people who act out in violence all over the world. I know they still carry the light of love inside them. And for that I am forever grateful.

4. INSECURITIES My boobs are too small, my stomach’s too big, I’m too thin, my hair’s not right. I’ve had all these thoughts over the years, plus more. And thank the gods I can shake my head and smile these days–most of the time. I’ve learned that all this stuff, the junk we carry around, can teach us to love ourselves. As Pema Chodron teaches, all messy stuff is perfect meditation fuel. Feeling like beating yourself up? Dive into that, check it out, see how it feels. In that checking out process, we begin to distance ourselves from what we’re coming aware of–our own habits of taking ourselves down. And we can begin, instead, to tap into that place that takes us up.

5. COUPLES WHO FIGHT I’m talking healthy fighting: expressing, not name-calling. I grew up thinking it was a very bad, very big deal to fight with someone. But I’ve learned a fight can be healthy–much more so than jamming down frustration or pain. As Carl Jung said, “What we resist, persists.”



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