Happy Monday sweet friends!
i’ve been doing some really great work with my former colleague Dorothea Hrossowyc, who is an amazing Somatic Bodyworker. She is certified as a Rosen Method Practitioner and Teacher, and in various other modalities related to trauma, empowerment, and sensori-motor therapy. I recently read an article that she wrote titled “Evolving the Brain,” and was completely enamored with the scientific research around the way our brains process “wrong” or “good.” She cites Neuro-Psychologist and author Rick Hansen, who discovered through his research that although it only takes the brain a half-second or less to process something “wrong,” it takes eleven seconds for the brain to process something “good.” ELEVEN SECONDS.
This explains why, especially when life feels a little too full or intense already (which it does for most of us), it’s so EASY to be constantly focusing on potential threats, inadequacies, or dangers to our fragile sense of security, contentment, happiness, joy. Before we can notice the “good,” our brains could have already noticed 5 or 6 potential threats, or PERCEIVED threats. The fact is, most of us DON’T live in jungles, or forests, or deserts, where TRUE threats lurk: predatory animals, dangerous terrain or weather, lack of survival resources. But our brains are still HARD-WIRED all these thousands of years later in our evolution, to be on the constant look-out for danger, because there was a time when that ability FUELED our evolution; the ability to hear and sense and see and feel and taste danger literally saved our lives, and the future of humanity.
As a person who struggles with anxiety, I am a MASTER of identifying potential threats, to my own detriment. These threats include: inevitable financial failure (the loss of my beloved home), abandonment and neglect (my husband doesn’t really love me, or care, and he’s going to leave me), my lack of skill as a mother (my children don’t respect me or each other or our home), my unworthiness of love and companionship (my friends are too busy, and I”m not important enough for them to make time for me), my inability to live the life of my dreams (my domestic “duties” will always come between me and my passions or dreams), my imperfection (I’m not good enough to just be MYSELF — look at all the mistakes I make every day!), my not-enough-ness (I’ll NEVER have what I REALLY WANT). These are the pathways my brain is used to, and it can always find some kind of microscopic proof in almost any moment, that something dangerous or heartbreaking is lurking around the corner.
Until… until I stop and notice all that is “right” with the world. Like at the beginning of a session with Dorothea, when she says: “tell me about something good that’s happened,” and once I start I can’t stop, and I’m pretty sure I could spend the whole hour just telling her what’s good and completely forget to get on the table. When, despite my husband being a few minutes late to my son’s baseball game (again), I see past my own frustration (and alleged “proof” that he values his work over his family), to the tension in his face when he walks up late, that is relieved as soon as the kids bound towards him with totally open loving hearts. (maybe I should be more like that). To the moment when, after several cancelled plans, my friend and I sit in my yard, in the sun, in the grass, and watch our kids play together, as we talk about EVERYTHING, and support and listen and encourage and celebrate each other and our sisterhood (so – maybe I’m not so alone after all). To the most beautiful moment last night, when my daughter, who was horribly overtired, lay sobbing in her bed, and I lay next to her, equally exhausted, frustrated (annoyed with myself for not getting her to bed sooner), singing her “Twinkle Twinkle little star” and tickling her belly while I witnessed her transition from overtired despair, to singing through her tears, to joyfulness and contentment, to peaceful slumber… Wow. What a gift. And because I didn’t immediately believe the thoughts in my head that tried to point out my inadequacies as a mother (which often lead me to overreacting, and “giving up”), I was able to really see WHO I am, a REALLY GOOD mom, who loves her babies, and is able to hold space for them even in THEIR struggles, and gets to receive the gift of their vulnerability, and fragility and innocence and tender human struggle.
I’ve been wrestling for a few months with some sleep challenges. I can’t say that life has felt overtly anxiety-ridden, and I’ve been able to really function with a general level of peacefulness and contentment despite not getting super awesome sleep, but man, when you’re not just laying down at night and closing your eyes and waking up 7 or so hours later, you feel really DEPRIVED. I’ve been dedicated to various self-care techniques that are helping, including daily self-massage with a mix Banyan Botanicals Sesame Oil and Vata Oils. I’m also taking a couple Banyan Botanicals supplements: Tranquil Mind for day, and I Sleep Soundly at night, combined with a nightly does of Quantum Nutrition Labs Melatonin. If and when I wake up (anytime between 4:00AM and 6:30AM), after only 4-6 hours of sleep, I listen to the Yoga Nidra recording: Yoga Nidra: Deep Rest Meditation for the Nervous System by Maalika Shay Devi Dasi. This recording is AMAZING. It takes you through all the layers of the body/mind/soul to create a wholistic experience of deep peacefulness. There have been more than a handful of times that I become so relaxed while listening to it that I am able to fall back asleep. And, it’s on Spotify, so you can try it out, and if you like it, you can buy it on Amazon! I’m also trying to get outside and experience the natural rhythms of the day. I’m intending to get to bed relatively early (which has been difficult because the kids are up so much later in summer), and I’m reading “A Course in Miracles” at night while listening to Dr. Harry Henshaw’s album “Sleep Music for Sound Sleeping” to get my brain relaxed and ready for sleep. All these things together are helping me “keep it together” despite the fact that my sleep varies from a few hours to a pretty normal max of 5-6 with interruptions through the night.
But last night something truly magical happened. I slept for over 9 hours. OVER. NINE. HOURS. I was able to fall back asleep repeatedly, without any agitation of my mind, or stimulation of thought. And here’s why I think it happened. I had an “inner wisdom” moment this weekend, when I wondered. “What if I start retraining my brain at night, to focus on the good?” I asked myself this question while I was inches away from the bathroom mirror one night, scanning my skin for any impurity that appeared to have any potential of being eradicated (yes, I’m a nighttime face picker). I made eye contact with myself in the mirror, and I walked away and left my skin alone. So last night, I decided, that before bed, I would set my timer on my phone for 11 minutes, and I would journal for 11 minutes about “what’s good.” It turned into a list of things I’m thankful for: my beautiful home (the kind I always dreamed of having), the sweet memories of the day (doing simultaneous cannon-balls in the neighbor’s pool with my 5 year old), thankfulness for my very comfortable bed, for the friends who literally GAVE US the mattress, for the exciting bonding my husband and oldest are experiencing this week on a fishing trip, for the wonderful students who showed up for my yoga class Sunday night, and on and on and on. The timer went off, and I felt like I had just started. And yet, I closed my journal, shut off my light, and fell asleep. And slept ALL night.
In Kundalini Yoga, the number 11 has particular significance. Many mantras or breath practices (or combinations of mantra and breath) are practiced for 11 minutes. According to The Approximate Yogi (who cites the Aquarian Yogi), it takes 3 minutes of mediation to affect your electro-magnetic field and circulation; after 7 minutes, brain patterns begin to shift, and after 11 minutes of meditation, you begin to create change in your NERVOUS SYSTEM and GLANDS (which, by the way, produce hormones, which regulate MOOD). I remember a few years ago after attending the Midwest Yoga Conference, practicing the “Ek Ong Kaur” mantra for 11 minutes a day for 40 days. I had reconnected with an amazing yoga teacher/colleague named Katherine Austin that I had met in my teacher training, who blends Prana Flow yoga principles with Kundalini Yoga techniques. She inspired me to take on this mantra practice, which is known to bring positivity, to bring your deepest desires into fruition, to remove obstacles. I meditated specifically on my deep desire to have a daughter. By the end of the 40 days, I was pregnant with her. So, you know, this stuff might actually be TRUE!
In the work I’ve been doing with my dear friend, amazing life coach, and inspirer extraordinaire Meghan Neeley (The Manifestress), I’ve been challenged to really look at the REALITY of my life, and how my daily choices and habits truly reflect where my commitments actually lie. Meghan has shined a light on the truth that, we might SAY we are committed to: a happy healthy marriage, being a forgiving, loving, generous compassionate person, living a creative life, being a good parent or friend, but our REALITY will show what we’re actually committed to. Which is different sometimes. EXAMPLE. My husband started his own business almost 2 years ago. This followed some crazy drama with his old job. It’s been an intense couple of years, and I want to say that I have been COMMITTED to supporting him WHOLEHEARTEDLY, with faith that the choices he makes are based on what’s BEST for our family. I’ve fulfilled that, I’d say most of the time, but what I’ve also been committed to is a overwhelming FEAR that his WORK is more important than ME, and than our FAMILY. And so at times I am constantly on the lookout for PROOF that it’s true. Which makes me less than supportive of his work, less than trusting of his motives, less than compassionate, less than forgiving, less than understanding. And, this commitment, this pattern, gives me the freedom to BLAME him for why I’M NOT DOING WHAT I WANT. Because he’s too busy, I can’t do what I want. (excuse). So, if I want to be truly COMMITTED to living a WILDLY CREATIVE and DEEPLY SPIRITUAL life that demonstrates my innate ability to be a GREAT WIFE, a SUPER MOM, AND a TALENTED, INSPIRING yoga teacher and healer, an UBER-CREATIVE floral artist, a CONSISTENT, COMMITTED writer, and an ALL-AROUND HAPPY JOYFUL SPIRIT, as the birthright of my name suggests I am (Heather= Joyful Spirit), I better just get over the commitment that my husband’s work schedule is somehow holding me back. I better figure out how I am actually committing myself to NOT getting a good and peaceful night’s rest and continue to adapt my habits, thoughts, lifestyle and routines, until I am honoring my commitment to TAKE GOOD CARE of myself. And to think, that it might only take 11 seconds, or at most 11 minutes a day, to retrain my brain towards my greatest potential.
I live a very full life. A lot of people would call it “busy,” but I refuse to use that word, because it implies that I am being forced into maintaining the pace of my daily life by some external force. No. These are my choices. I choose it. I choose it all, and I wouldn’t trade it. I am THAT soccer mom, cheering on my son’s team until I’m hoarse; I’m THAT neat-freak who loves a clean house, I’m THAT healthy eater who LOVES to cook nutritious, delicious, wholesome food for my family; I’m THAT yogi who tries to practice (almost) every day; I’m THAT yoga teacher who strives to give and be my best; I’m THAT wife who wants to have a deeply intimate relationship with my husband that is satisfying on ALL levels; I’m THAT friend who wants to connect with and challenge and be challenged by my dear ones to live our best lives; i’m THAT BRAVE WOMAN who will stand in front of a crowd and sing even though it terrifies me, because it makes me feel alive; I’m THAT floral artist who OBSESSES about which roses will match your color scheme the best. I’m the one who wants to be on time, or even early, at least over 50% of the time. I’m the one who wants to show my friends and family how much I love them and value them by spending time with them. I’m THAT mom who wants my kids to know how DEEPLY I love them, but also teach them how to DEEPLY love and respect themselves. I want to create memories. I want to have fun. I want to feel a spiritual connection to all I do and everyone I meet. I want to change the world. These things, they take TIME. But the better care I take of myself, the more COMMITTED I am to paying attention and living in a way that honors my deepest desires, the more I get to LIVE THEM. So, I’m making a commitment to myself, to practice 11 minutes of writing down “what’s good” from July 16 to August 14. This is a new moon to new moon cycle, which is the BEST time to initiate change.
Dorothea describes the process of focusing on “what’s good” as “turning the rusty gate the other way.” She says: “To get the gate swinging the other way, we have to use it that way often. So that means turning the head and looking for what is good in you, in others, in any situation. The old habit is going to be looking for what is wrong. But you can cultivate looking instead for what is good or what went well. What if you did that with the people around you? What if you looked for what is the good in each person, as the first thing you do? What if you really paid attention to what is the good in you? What went well in that last situation? What did I do well? What went well in that meeting? What went well in the family today? You already know what is wrong; you noticed that in half a second. Now take time…at least 11 seconds, to pay attention to what went well. What if you spent time actually looking for what is good in life? How would that change your relationships? How would that change you?
“Let’s get the old rusty gate swinging the other way on a regular basis! Lets see what could happen if we got lots of human beings to that tipping point. What shift might we create in the world?”
The author Anais Nin says that “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I can only wonder how much more of my purpose and passion I’ll be able to live if I am brave enough to begin looking for “what’s good” as a daily practice. And I’m wondering dear friends, how big of a life do you want to live, and how brave are you willing to be to live it?