EcnaLab | Balance

Category: Thoughts

Looking for a new project?

I have some bandwidth happily free at the moment, so I asked myself, “What else in addition to directing Quantified Self would I most love to do with my time and energy?”

Here’s the insight I came up with. I’ve been wondering why so few projects I hear about are focused on mood or mental health (or other assorted keywords like empathy, neurodiversity, recovery, emotion, compassion.)

Some people have told me that “mood is too hard,” or that you need special qualifications to go near mental health.

But I see a big gap that needs to be filled. I’ve been tracking my mood and mental health intensely for the past year, and written a bit about it:

Are You Neurotypical?
The Transformative Power of Sharing Mood
What I Learned From Tourette’s
The Value of a Diagnosis of Asperger’s

What I’m looking for now is to find someone brilliant, accepting, and emotionally literate who is doing a project in the mood/mental health space that I connect with, and offer to help them build it. I’m really good at growing seeds that others plant, so I’m keeping my eyes open for fledgling seed-planters that need some garden-nurturing help.

If this triggers an idea or connection for you, I’d love to hear it! Best wishes for all your new projects too, and please let me know if I can be helpful. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Why I’m not afraid of pain

One of my favorite things to do in the world is be with someone in pain. Listening, reflecting, sharing that beautiful space of open tenderness.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much physical and emotional pain to deal with in my life. So it just feels comfortable, and grounding, and I know what to do. People feel comfortable sharing rawness with me, and I’m not afraid of it. In fact, it goes farther than that. I actually need to be with people in their pain, like it’s a life purpose or calling.

Having this insight in the last couple of weeks has been very healing and inspiring. The next question is, how do I find people in pain that want someone to listen and be there? I’m not interested in going back to school to become a therapist, and I wouldn’t like all the rules and restrictions therapists have anyway. Could it be as simple as being a good friend and parent, around when needed to listen and share? Will people just find me if I spread the seed of this new role for myself?

Of course, I never *want* people to be in pain, and I do feel genuine joy when people have passed through their pain. But I do seem to have a deep ability and desire to do this kind of emotional support work, so I feel like I want to follow this and see where it takes me.

I remember reading somewhere, probably in a Pema Chodron book, “Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.” I carry that thought with me through every day. Pain will come sometimes, pleasure will come sometimes – both are normal parts of life, both are shared human experiences, both will pass. And both can make us wiser, connected, and stronger if we let them be there and listen to what they have to tell us.

Sometimes it helps to have someone to be there and listen with you.

What I Learned From Therapy

Four months ago, I walked in to the Stanford Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Building. I was terrified. I’m not crazy, I thought to myself, am I? Only crazy people need psychiatrists, right?

But walking into that building and meeting my doc has been an unbelievable gift. Through many tears, we have talked through tics, body image, social anxiety, open relationships, childhood trauma, eating disorders, parenting struggles, and life purpose. My doc has listened, suggested, validated, and encouraged.

Together we are coming up with a framework that recognizes who I am, how I am and what I value, and gives me the tools to live more smoothly in the world.

I’ve broken down this framework into 5 lessons, or principles, and here they are – just pointers and things to remember for now, but hopefully still helpful:

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1. A Meditative Baseline

This is the foundation – daily meditation and a mindful approach to everyday life.

The work of Pema Chodron in general, and tonglen meditation practice in particular, are helpful. I learned that distress is ok. I can just sit with the pain and the craving, and see it as an opportunity for increased openness and awareness. Go inside and ask “what’s so bad about this right now?” and listen to come up with a word that best describes what I’m feeling – this is the very useful technique called Focusing.

Whatever I’m feeling at the moment, other people feel this too – I’m not alone. If I’m feeling drained, allow the stillness around all the thinking in my head to refill me.

Let situations be as they are without adding layers of emotion on top of them. Open the cage and let the restless cow in my mind run around, just watch the thoughts and give them space and let them go.

Be gentle and soft, with myself and in the world. Focus on wanting less and making my own rules. Practice imperfection and acceptance, compassion and laughing, self-care and dates. Use the consistency effect to help me: I’ve accepted the 80/20 principle in most things, so why not for my body and life too?

Set intentions but not goals, let go of outcomes, and have a less strict discipline. Everything is ok, and I don’t have to try so hard all the time. What happens when i’m not trying anything? I’m doing well if I’m working towards awareness regardless of outcome – whether I take wise action or practice acceptance, the outcome doesn’t matter, just the awareness.

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2. Comfort in Structure

The next layer on top of the meditative foundation is creating structures in my life that reflect my values so I can relax.

If I’m anxious about a particular meeting or event, ask how much time I’ll need to adequately prepare for it, and schedule this preparation time into my calendar, so I know I’ll be ready.

Make a list of comforting things. Mine includes:

– go for a walk outside
–  meditate
– write poetry
– paint or draw something
– wear soft, colorful clothes
– wash my face
– make some tea
– smell a candle
– do a quiet set of tai chi
– have a warm soak
– organize my environment
– lie down and slow down
– snuggle
– dance

Design my overall external lifestyle to accommodate my needs, and also create open internal states so I can be flexible day-to-day when things don’t go right – in my environment, social interactions, food, and activities.

This is who I am, this is what life is like for me, ordinary things can wreak havoc on me, so I need to set up structures that help me live and function smoothly.

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3. Loving Myself Again

Stepping up another level, now it’s time to deal with the self-hatred and body image issues and learn to love myself, like I loved myself when I was a kid.

My daughters taught me that someone else being beautiful doesn’t mean I’m not. My friends taught me that meeting my own needs is ok.

Work on rebuilding my relationships with myself and my life partner – take simple steps, have no expectations, let go of fear and guilt, be open to how things unfold, be fearless and flexible. There’s no emergency or crisis or rush.

Have the intention of trading immediate gratification for long-term happiness.

Body image is independent of body shape, and by analogy feeling trapped vs. feeling free or held is independent of the situation – it’s all in my thoughts.

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4. Building My Own Model

Moving higher, now I can start building a model of my mind.

Uncover my thoughts, and with each thought, ask two questions – is it true? is it useful?

Excavate and find all these thought puzzle pieces, and build a flexible model with the most compassion and balance and the least avoidance – use focusing (emotional) and analytics (rational) to build the model.

Let the voices in my head be loud, don’t fight them and don’t act on them, channel them into writing and connecting and catalyzing. Maybe they will always be there – accommodate them, watch and be curious, then put my attention somewhere else.

Figure out how to be paid and valued for our ideas while maintaining our lifestyle, and how to help others be valued for their ideas. Network into brilliant circles. Write about the frustration of brilliant people not being heard, the feeling of mental prostitution in playing the world’s game. Be pioneers, find the gold and bring it to light.

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5. Living With Intention

This is the final level, where I get to live according to my values and practices.

Here are my intentions:

– living a healthy life
– being a kind and honest friend
– being a wonderful parent
I’m ok as I am (practice acceptance and compassion)
– it’s ok to be happy (practice happiness and rewards)
– practice imperfection and wanting less/simplicity
– there’s no such thing as a fat/fun/touch/fitness/relationship emergency
– practice being present
– be soft (in the quiet, gentle, comfortable, open, perceiving, cozy, fearless sense of the word, not weak, afraid, guarded or hard)
– make my own rules
– minimize meetings/do less
– it’s ok to say no
– it’s ok to say yes
– be aware, let go of the outcome
– move from moon to star, generating my own light, not depending on orbiting other planets or stars. Be fine on my own and in the company of others, instead of always having to serve them and then needing others to fill me up.

These are my insights for now, thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more as I wander on my path. 🙂

3 Lessons Learned from Chronic Pain

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. After a lifetime in and around chronic pain, I learned to be afraid of my own body, but I’m finally figuring out how pain has shaped my life for the better.

Here are my top 3 lessons learned from chronic pain:

1. Help People. Every day that I’m not in pain is a day that I can help someone else who is in pain. I try to help 10 people every day, in some small way. That way, no matter how frustrating my own day is, at least I’ve put some good energy out there and helped someone else. As the Dalai Lama said the other day on Twitter, “To the extent that suffering awakens our empathy and causes us to connect with others, it can serve as the basis of compassion and love.”

2. Don’t Follow Rules. Or at least, make up your own rules. Everywhere you look you’ll find rules to follow, to-do lists to live by, assumptions that no one challenges. Check in with yourself before blindly adopting someone else’s rules – do they make sense to you? Are they really necessary? Break as many as you can without violating any laws or hurting anyone. Dare to be radically yourself.

3. Live Simply. Or, get rid of all the useless stuff in your life. I live with as few things and commitments as I possibly can, and I highly recommend it! It feels wonderful to shed the heaviness and just be light. I recently wrote about our simple lifestyle here and here.

I’m very grateful to not be in pain every single day anymore. And if you’ve suffered in your life, see if you can derive some of your own lessons from the experience. Build your own model, be your own inspiration, and share your light!

Best Life Lessons from 3 Great Philosophers

Wisdom_PearlLife is good, the journey is easy. Reading the words of three wise minds has taught me some new lessons on how to live, and how to enjoy living.

Here are the top 3 take-away messages from Emerson, Robinson, and Seneca.

(I’m still looking for great female philosophers. Let me know in the comments if you have favorites!)

This beautiful mandala is courtesy of the amazing Richard A Waters. Happy reflecting!

1. Trust yourself, be yourself.

Source: http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm

Emerson writes a compelling essay, not only fiercely authentic but advocating fierce authenticity. Be yourself, even when others around you don’t agree. Don’t conform, he says, and don’t even worry about being consistent with yourself. Allow yourself to be in every moment, and stick to the principles that you have chosen for your life. His final words? “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

2. Find your passion.

Sources: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

and http://www.amazon.com/Element-Finding-Passion-Changes-Everything/dp/0670020478

Robinson is a modern philosopher, polio survivor, and educational reformer. His message is simple and strong: Follow what you love doing, let that be ok. Don’t try to change yourself to fit our abominable education system; learn in the way that suits you. He gives the powerful example of a “hyperactive” child who wouldn’t sit still in school. Her mother got the enlightened advice to let her go to a dance school, because she so obviously loved to move and thought by moving. She ended up being the creator of amazing dance productions like CATS.

Robinson’s work is filled with dozens of these inspiring, thought-provoking stories. One of my favorite quotes: “Often we need other people to help us recognize our real talents. Often we can help other people to discover theirs.”

3. Live for today.

Source: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/04/24/on-the-shortness-of-life-an-introduction-to-seneca/

Thanks to my friend Tim Ferriss for this one. My take on Seneca’s message is to use your life to do only what you love doing at every moment instead of sacrificing today for a potentially better but non-existent tomorrow. This one sentence sums it up: “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.”

So here’s to doing what you love, being yourself, and enjoying life! Be well and thanks for reading.

The 7 Principles that Guide My Life

Two weeks ago I went to Portland, by myself. At first I felt very out of place. I kept thinking, “What am I doing here?” “Why did I come?” I doubted my decision, but decided to stick with it.

Ten minutes into the workshop, I remembered. I knew why I was there. My whole body was washed with the bliss that floods through my body every time I do tai chi. And when they brought out the sabers, that’s when the real fun began!

I’m pretty sure it was my first time actually holding a weapon. I felt surprisingly powerful and strong, yet calm and graceful at the same time. For the first two hours my arm was killing me, until I learned how to hold it at the correct angle and not swing wildly with my wrist.

My mind was cleared by the mental and physical intensity of learning a new set of moves with a heavy object. My usual mental loops about kids, work, and worry were replaced with a singular focus on the task at hand.

Plus, I had a new set of worries – with forty people in a room cutting through the air with sabers, it’s important to stay in unison and give each other enough space. (I got whacked twice. The sabers were wood instead of metal blades, so it just hurt instead of drawing blood).

After two days of this incredible mind-clearing movement, I had a solid three-hour chunk of time at the airport before boarding my flight. I wanted to use this time to reflect, to process, to find balance. I struggled to find a set of guiding principles that fit me – Buddhism? Taoism? Zen? Minimalism? Universal Energy? Nothing felt completely right.

Then it hit me – why not come up with my own set of principles to guide my life? I started writing, and was surprised by how effortless it was!

So here are The 7 Principles that Guide My Life:

chakrapath

A 7-path labyrinth

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1. Open, honest communication.

2. Authentic self-expression.

3. Questioning authority.

4. Service to others.

5. Care of self.

6. Balance.

7. Love.

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I found this to be a tremendously helpful exercise. Taking the time to define what is important to you in your life and then crafting your life to live by those principles – this is how you can live your best life.

Give it a try! Don’t think about it. Just put “My Guiding Principles” at the top of the page. Then start writing and see what comes out. No judgment, only acceptance. And if you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear what you come up with!

With my own guide in hand, I now feel a much greater sense of self and purpose in my daily decisions. When something comes up that I need to deal with, I go back to my 7 principles and usually find the answer, or at least a sense of peace.

I don’t feel so out of place now. I know why I went to Portland. And, at least for this brief moment in time, I know how to live my life.