Getting Lost

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My family and I recently returned from a road trip up to southern Oregon and back. And I’ve noticed I’ve been feeling somewhat lost ever since we got home.

For me “lost” feels angsty—an unquenchable, restless seeking. That feeling I get in-between destinations. That desire for something more significant to be here. Now.

But, perhaps I’m confusing “in-between” with “lost.” The visual markers of having “arrived” as I’ve defined them might not be visible. But that doesn’t mean I’m not getting anywhere.

Life is moving.

Life is always moving.

I’m starting to see these in-between moments as a continuous flow of mini-destinations, unto themselves—and I’m starting to trust that the more “significant” destinations will appear whenever they arrive…

Maybe getting lost every once and a while is key in helping me find my way.

Have you ever felt “lost” in your life? Did you find these times helped you find yourself in some way?… Please share your story in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re a fan of podcasts, I invite you to check out About Meditation’s OneMind podcast, where I recently had the pleasure of sharing stories and tips with host, Morgan Dix, about my own personal journey with mindfulness. Take a listen and let us know what you think!

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.

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Time to Reframe?…

Frame

As a multi-disciplinary artist who’s constantly in one phase or another of the creative process, I’m used to the point at which fear rears it’s gnarly head and roars ferociously in my face. It tends to show up right before I’m about to share a new creation with someone outside my inner circle. And, in the past (prior to my regular mindfulness practice…) this more often than not would halt any further forward momentum. I’d either stop working on the particular project, or I’d end up sabotaging it in someway.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to mindfully persevere through challenges and keep marching my projects forward. My meditation practice has helped me build the necessary “muscles” to sit through the soul quaking fears that arise—riding them out and letting them move through me without destroying my work or myself in the process. And I’ve made it through this phase in my creative process enough times now that I didn’t think it was possible it could stop me again.

But the second I start getting cocky and stop paying close attention—I always get knocked on my ass.

Which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago…

I was deep into preparations for my solo show debut in the Hollywood Fringe Festival – 10 days away from opening night, when the fear kicked in. But this time, it wasn’t just fear. It was soul-quaking, debilitating terror. Nightmares for a week straight—all about loss of control and not knowing how to get myself out of life-threateningly dangerous situations. I’d wake up with crippling anxiety every morning, petrified of a judging audience doing nothing but seeing my every mistake and ripping both me and my show to shreds. No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to shake my fear.

And then, I had a dream in which I was faced (once again…) with the eminent threat of death. In the dream, an omniscient voice said to me “you have the power to change the way you’re experiencing what’s happening that will change everything for you.” Still panicked, I shouted back to the voice, “But I don’t know HOW!…”

When I woke up, the voice stayed with me—its’ words resonating throughout my day. Maybe there’s a way I can shift my point of view and reframe the way I’ve been seeing this upcoming solo show performance…

Later that day, I was chatting with a dear friend and fellow mindfulness geek, and it occurred to me that, instead of seeing the audience as a group of critics out to judge and scrutinize every mistake I make—I could choose to see them as a benign group of supporters happily cheering me on and wishing me success, instead.

As soon as I saw the choice I had in the situation, something immediately opened up for me. I was able to connect to my role as a creator and reframe my experience from the point of view of sharing the gift of my story—a gift the audience wants to receive.

My fear then shifted to excitement and joy. And it happened in an instant.

From that point forward—my anxiety evaporated, the nightmares ceased, and I felt genuinely excited about sharing myself and my work with the world.

I then consciously chose to focus my attention on this excitement (that part was key). Sure, my mind darted back to the terror and fear every once in a while. But I was able to catch myself, let the fear move through me—and then bring my attention back to the joy and my intention of creating a positive relationship with the audience, instead.

Looking back on it now, I can see how what I did was simply apply a variation of the mindfulness meditation “technique” to my difficult situation—consciously disengaging from the challenging thought (or negative mindset, in this case…), letting the thought/mindset dissipate, and then redirecting my attention back to a more helpful anchor (the idea of giving the gift of my story to the audience).

The voice in my dream was right. I really do have the power to change my experiences. Now the real trick is remembering I have the power!… 😉

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of other like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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The Hidden Power of Words (Why Being Aware of What We Say Is Important)

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On May 7th, my family conducted an experiment to see how words might physically effect our bodies. Our 7 year old son had recently started developing a habit of saying mean things to himself when feeling down – like, “I’m stupid.” And “I’m the worst.” My partner and I had been trying to get through to him that saying unkind things to ourselves (as well as to others) leaves a damaging impact. But, he just wasn’t “getting it.”

And then I remembered having seen the amazing results of a fascinating experiment Danielle LaPorte conducted with her family—where they talked smack to one half of an apple for a certain period of days, and loved up the other half. Admittedly, I felt somewhat skeptical about whether or not we could achieve the same results. But we decided to go ahead and give it a try.

To start the experiment, we took a fresh apple, cut it in half, and placed each half in a separate, airtight jar. We labeled one of the halves “Good Apple” and the other “Bad Apple,” and we left both sealed jars on a dark shelf in the corner of the kitchen.

Every day we said kind, loving, encouraging things to Good Apple—and mean, nasty, discouraging things to Bad Apple.

And 20 days later…

Bad Apple was rotten.

And Good Apple was still good enough to eat.

WOW, right?!

Sticks and stones might break bones, but words can definitely hurt…

We generally don’t see the negative results of our language choices manifested in overt, physical ways—so it can be challenging to be aware of their consequences (especially when they’re directed inward)… As a mindfulness geek—and someone with a loud inner-critic—I can’t help but wonder what type of damage we must be doing to ourselves when we fall into the unconscious habitual patterns of criticizing and berating ourselves regularly, instead of loving ourselves up.

After seeing the physical results of his negative words and energy revealed in this experiment, our son is finally starting to “get it.”

I hope we all do…

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Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of other like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Shifting My Relationship to Pain

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As you might already know from reading this blog (and my memoir…), managing intense pain of some sort—both physical and psychological—is a reoccurring theme in my mindfulness practice.  I generally manage pain to some degree daily. And, based on my past experiences, when I go on silent meditation retreats—I expect to find myself managing MUCH more.

But I recently came back from a 5 day retreat (with Trudy Goodman), and something felt different this time. Sure, pain showed up (both types I mentioned above). But my relationship to pain seems to be shifting.

Up until very recently, I never understood the saying “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It didn’t make any sense to me because I always collapsed pain and suffering to mean the same thing. Any time pain showed up, my knee-jerk reactions was to do one or more of the following:

  • Clamp down and wallow in it because I needed to prove to myself (and others…) that I was tough
  • Resist it (this shouldn’t be happening!)
  • Avoid it altogether by distracting and/or numbing myself in some way (drinking, eating junk food, over-working, etc)

Spoiler alert! None of the above “coping methods” ever helped me alleviate pain in the long run… In fact, they only ever lead to MORE pain and discomfort on top of the original amount I was feeling.

In other words: my automatic reaction to pain was to make it worse by creating suffering on top of it.

But, as I mentioned earlier, something seems to be shifting. My meditation practice is helping me notice when I’m slipping into old, unhelpful patterns that cause suffering—and I’m learning how to mindfully manage pain when it arises. To hold space around it. To allow it to move through me and run its natural course with kindness and compassion—no matter how difficult that course might be…

In the container of my retreat experience, I was able to see how far my relationship to pain has evolved since I started practicing regularly back in 2010—the spotlight of my experience shining brightly on my forward progress along my path. It felt quite satisfying. Nourishing.

Healing.

What’s your relationship with pain? Do you have any mindfulness tips for managing pain? Share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

A Tip for Staying Grounded (From Sharon Salzberg)

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I recently had the pleasure of attending a half-day retreat with renown meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. Sharon is one of the foremothers of mindfulness meditation in the west (and I encourage you to explore her many books and offerings on mindfulness if positively moved to do so).

Anyway!… During the retreat, Sharon took questions from the practitioners in the audience. One woman stood up and talked about how living in the city was so challenging for her—that every time she goes out, she feels bombarded by the constant stream of energy and activity. It inevitably knocks her off-center, and she wanted to know if Sharon had any advice.

Sharon mentioned the importance of grounding ourselves in situations when we’re feeling off balance (especially important for those of us who are highly sensitive). And then she said something that I didn’t quite understand at the time, but it felt significant, so I wrote it down…

“When you’re feeling off balance, see if you can feel your feet from your feet.”

I’m a highly sensitive person and can find myself easily effected by external factors like crowded streets, bustling stores, etc… I’ve written here before about my challenges with getting out of my head and more into my body, so I found the phrase, “feel your feet from your feet” sticking with me throughout the rest of the day. I had a feeling the practice would be good for me—but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant… In search of some clarity, I approached Sharon after her closing words.

“I have a tendency to live so much in my head, and you said something earlier that caught my attention. ‘Feel your feet from your feet.’ It feels like this could be a helpful exercise for me… Can you expand on that instruction a bit?…”

Sharon went on to tell me how, when she was living in India and studying with Sayadaw U Pandita, she was, similarly, finding it challenging to stay connected with her body. She asked Sayadaw for help with this, and he simply asked her, “what did it feel like to drink your tea this morning?” Sharon tried to connect with her experience, but she couldn’t remember what it felt like.

“Okay,” Sayadaw said.  “Then go home and feel what it feels like to drink your tea.”

So the next morning, when Sharon was drinking her tea, she paid careful attention to her experience—the feeling of the warm, smooth mug in her hand, watching the steam evaporating from the surface of the liquid, the sweet smell of jasmine.

Then she went back to visit Sayadaw to report her experience.

Sayadew welcomed her, but when Sharon started to report what she’d felt when she drank her tea that morning, Sayadew interrupted her.

“Never mind that… What did washing your face feel like this morning?…”

Sharon smiled at me as she concluded her story. “I couldn’t answer because I hadn’t paid attention to the experience of washing my face. I was only focussing on the tea.”

And that’s when it clicked—I had the proverbial “aha” moment—but I wanted to make sure I was understanding her correctly…

“…Because Sayadaw was always asking you about a different experience than what you thought he was going to ask you, at some point you just started continuously checking in with your body throughout your day and started to become more aware of how ALL your experiences felt—not just what you thought about them… “

She nodded. So, I continued…

“And, what you’re saying is that if we do this regularly over time, this somatic form of gathering information through our senses starts connecting us more intimately with our experiences because we’re not filtering everything solely through our minds. And when we’re more connected to the actual experiences, as opposed to what our minds THINK about the experiences—when we’re feeling our feet FROM our feet—then we can more easily stay grounded in the experience of the moment and not get knocked off balance by what our minds might be THINKING about the experience.”

“Exactly…” She shook my hand with a smile as I thanked her and stepped aside. Feeling the pressure of the ground beneath my feet as I slowly walked back to my car in the crowded Santa Monica streets that day.

I’ve been working with this practice ever since. And, wow, has it made an impact.

Join me?…

Can you feel your feet from your feet? Do you have a tip or trick that’s helpful for connecting with your body to help you stay grounded? Share your experiences in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you!

Saying YES

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I was flipping through Jan Chosen Bays’ book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness,” the other morning, searching for inspiration to share with my Monday night meditation group. And the chapter titled, “Say Yes” jumped out at me.  As is often the case with most of the material I choose to share with the group, the title captured my attention because I probably need to be saying more of that word, myself, right now.

As I’ve shared here before, I seem to find myself continually feeling stuck these days—unable to fully expand and spread my wings. Something’s holding me back. And I’m starting to think it might have to do with the fact that I’ve been running a pattern of knee-jerk “No’s” whenever new opportunities (or new ways of being…) present themselves.

It reminds me of the cardinal rule in improv—in order to keep a scene alive, one must always respond with a form of “Yes, and…” Because, the moment “no” is uttered, all action stops. End of scene.

Looking back, I’m fairly certain my auto-No’s have been a reaction to having my boundaries repeatedly trampled on again and again while I was growing up. Somewhere down the line, I later learned how to overcompensate for not saying the word when I wanted to (or for not making sure it landed firmly with whomever I was aiming it toward). And I just automatically started saying “No” to pretty much everything new and/or unknown in a constant attempt to deflect and protect.

Jan Chozen Bays, explains it well…

“People who are stuck in aversion make major life decisions based not upon moving toward a positive goal but rather on moving away from something they perceive to be negative. They are reactive rather than proactive.”

Contemplating this, I get the vision of a ball in a pinball machine, frenetically pinging off everything it touches. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Until the ball, inevitably, falls into the little black hole.

End of game.

When I feel my internal pinball thwacking every which way, bouncing off everything with automatic “No’s”… Taking a mindful pause helps me to recalibrate, to find my balance and gather my energy so I can make a conscious choice whether or not I want to say “Yes” and move something forward—instead of just reactively ending all possibilities of forward momentum.

The image that comes to mind here is of those little plastic hand mazes—you know the ones that often show up as prizes in crackerjack boxes? “Solving” the puzzle entails making slow, incremental movements and making deliberate, mindful, moves forward, toward the end “goal.”

This latter, more deliberate way of “playing” in life feels a lot more sustainable at this point in my life—and way more conducive to fostering the expansion I’m ready to experience.

YES?…

 

Finding One Another

Mysteries

I have something to admit.

All those feelings Sharon Salzberg mentions in that quote featured above—I’ve been feeling them. Big. Time. I’ve been seeing (and experiencing) lessons in impermanence left and right. And it’s got my metaphorical panties in a wad. Sure, from a philosophical standpoint, I “get” that it’s the nature of things. Change is the only constant. Yada, yada…

But I’m still struggling with accepting this fact. I constantly find myself trying to dig my heels into some semblance of firmer ground, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that it’s all just sand slipping through the hour glass. And I’ve been avoiding sharing any of this with you because there’s this little voice inside me that keeps saying,

“You’re a mindfulness facilitator. You should have a handle on managing your angst by now. The people who read your blog don’t want to hear about all the uneasiness you’re facing. Chill out, buck up—and get your act together!”…

But then there’s this other voice that eventually kicks in… This kinder, gentler one that recognizes the aforementioned voice as an old pattern of being—my “Shit” bubbling up and running its old familiar script from decades of living with little to no self compassion. This kinder, gentler, other voice is the personification of my mindfulness practice kicking into high gear. Helping me let go of the stream of self judgments. Gently guiding my attention away from all the “shoulding” I do on myself.

And reminding me that I’m a mindfulness facilitator—not a saint.

So, I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself right now. For me, this entails meditating daily, spending a good deal of time in nature, exercising my body, eating healthy foods, and exposing my mind to things I find spiritually soothing (like reading one of the myriad books on mindfulness at the public library). Of course, doing any of these things when I’m feeling off-center is usually the last thing I want to be doing…. But I do them anyway because they, inevitably, prove helpful in shifting whatever negative pattern might be messing with my mojo.

Case in point—the other day my Shit was particularly loud when I woke up. Confusion? Check!…Fear? Check!…Self-doubt? Double-check!… And getting out of the house to go for a jog seemed like an insurmountable chore.

But I did it anyway.

While I was jogging, I decided to stream a random episode of one of my favorite spiritually-minded podcasts, “On Being.” As I was cooling down (and still feeling somewhat angsty), I hear Sharon Salzberg say the quote up at the top of this post. And it literally stopped me in my tracks.

In that moment, I saw how tightly I’d been holding onto my struggles in an effort to protect myself from being judged for having them. But, in my effort to protect myself, I inadvertently cut myself off from what could potentially help me feel less alone in the process: other people.

And I was also reminded that the truly compassionate thing to do when I’m having a hard time is to be open and truthful about it… Because allowing myself to be vulnerable not only helps me manage my struggles—it just might help someone else feel less alone in theirs….

Tight Spots

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I recently had my first MRI (due to an infection in my arm from a kitten bite—more about that in a future post, I’m sure)… And the MRI wasn’t a fun experience. But, wow….What a great opportunity to observe my mind! Funny how things that trigger us often prove to be our biggest teachers.

In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron writes:

“When life is uncomfortable, when we’re highly agitated and don’t know where to turn, that’s the most difficult time to stay present. But that’s also the time when doing so could be the most rewarding. It’s a challenge to practice staying present when we’re despondent or distressed or overwhelmed, when our backs are against the wall. But right then, when we’re in a tight spot, we have the ideal situation for practice. We can do something radical: accept suffering as part of our home ground as human beings, and relate to it straightforwardly.”

That part about tight spots being the ideal situations for practice?… Uncomfortable, but oh-so-true. Here’s my Facebook post immediately following my MRI:

I’d like a gold star for having just survived an hour and a half in the tiny, tunnel-like MRI machine sans earplugs – even though the sound was akin to jack hammering an inch away from my ears…. AND I’m INSANELY claustrophobic.

Yes. There were tears.

Yes. It felt like torture…

BUT, I somehow managed to connect with my breath.

And then to the senses that were not feeling smothered or bombarded…

I kept hearing “make friends with the moment” in my mind…

And after telling that voice to fuck off…

I softened and allowed myself to fully be in the moment, without wanting to escape – which, I discovered, was (of course) the very root of my suffering….

I started listening to the jack hammering sounds. Really HEARING them this time….

And, instead of going apeshit about them not stopping…

I heard music in between the “beats” of the hammer.

I started humming “om” and feeling the harmonious vibrations in my chest.

Felt the cool breeze of a fan on the tip of my head.

The smooth plastic of the MRI’s “panic” button in my damp, wet palm.

The warm tickle of tears rolling down my cheeks, pooling into my ears…

And then I thought of my mother, who suffered from even worse claustrophobia than I – and who was far shorter and thicker than I….

And how she must have suffered with far more vigor than I when she had her myriad MRI’s, stuck in that long, narrow tube back when she was battling cancer.

And then GRATITUDE set in…

For my height.

For my somewhat-slender figure.

For the strength my mindfulness practice has given me.

The strength I didn’t know I had.

Until…

That. Very. Moment.

Mindfulness Mashup: Seeing

I’ve been facilitating a meditation group at the Silver Lake Public Library and recently came to realize the very act of prepping for each session is a meditation unto itself. How meta! 😉

Each week, I browse through various mindfulness books and websites and pull related quotes and/or passages on a topic that I find inspiring in some way to share with the group. We then meditate together, and I wrap our session with a relevant mindfulness exercise for those who might be interested in exploring the week’s topic further.

Last week, it occurred to me that the material I curate for the group might also be of interest to the folks reading this blog. So, I’ve decided to start sharing it here with you in a regular series called, “Mindfulness Mashups.”

The first installment of Mindfulness Mashups is on the topic of “seeing.” More topics to come…

Meditation Mashup: Seeing

 

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“The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.” -Marcel Proust

From Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“We see what we want to see, not what is actually before our eyes. We look but we may not apprehend or comprehend […]. One way or another, our minds will often obscure our capacity to see clearly. For this reason, if we wish to experience life fully, and take hold of it fully, we will need to cultivate intimacy with and train ourselves to see through or behind the appearance of things—the stream of our own thoughts, which colors everything in the sensory domain […]. We may have to tune our seeing just as we tune an instrument, to increase its sensitivity, it’s range, it’s clarity, it’s empathy. We can say the goal would be to see things as they actually are, not how we would like them to be or fear them to be, or only what we are socially conditioned to see.”

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From The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck:

We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes… Our looking is perfected every day – but we see less and less. Never has it been more urgent to speak of seeing… We are on-lookers, spectators….We are ‘subjects’ that look at ‘objects.’ Quickly we stick labels on all that is, labels that stick once – and then for all. By these labels we recognize everything but no longer see anything.”

Suggested Practice: The Color Blue

 

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From How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays

Become aware of the color blue wherever it appears in your environment. Look not just for the obvious instances, such as the sky, but also for subtle appearances and for all variations of blue.

You’ll notice that you start to notice blue everywhere, and it might have a certain pop to it.

Bonus “Seeing” Practice:

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For an added “seeing” practice this week, check out my found playing cards collection online…

Several years ago, a colleague of mine showed me a collection of playing cards he’d found on the streets of NYC throughout the years. And, within days after he showed me his collection—I started finding playing cards on the streets, too!

I’ve since photographed every playing card I’ve ever found (in all corners of the world)!… After reading this—maybe you’ll start finding them, too!

Do you have a topic you’d like to see as a future Mindfulness Mashup?… Leave a comment in the comments section below or drop me an email.

Feeling My Worth

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It’s probably no surprise that I’m a (recovering) control freak. My go-to impulse is to try and shape the outcome of pretty much, um… everything by inserting and/or imposing my will over the situation. It’s an assertive way of being that has served me well to an extent (especially in the “business” world)—but living this way is, well, pretty dang exhausting.

And I’m over it.

The good news is that something finally seems to be shifting for me around this. And I’m fairly certain it’s largely due to the three month long (kick-ass!) group coaching program I’ve been taking with Chela Davison.

My intention for joining the group was to work on shifting my core belief structure around my self worth. It’s tough to stand in my power when my power chord is rarely plugged in… So, the first practice Chela suggested I do was to visualize myself sometime in the future, allowing myself to open up to receiving and listening to whatever message the older, wiser, “future me” has to say.

And, I totally tried this. I swear. I gave it my all. But, no matter how hard I tried…

I just couldn’t do it.

To begin with, I couldn’t even picture my future self—which was a brow-furrowing surprise to me because I’m constantly using my mind’s eye to visualize all the time. But, not only was I unable to conjure up a picture of my future self—I kept catching my mind trying to make things up for my future self to say because my mind didn’t want to stay open to “blindly” receiving something it didn’t perceive as having created, itself (too scary!). It kinda felt like I was catching myself trying to subconsciously cheat on my homework.

Epic fail.

So, I reported my “results” back to Chela. And she suggested I try a different practice this time.

“The contraction you’re experiencing is mental, and your tendency is to exist solely up in your head… So, try accessing the feeling of receptivity through your body, instead. Make a safe place in your home that has a boundary around it where you feel protected. Then go through each body part, contracting and then relaxing it— paying close attention to the sensation of release. Then throughout your day, also practice receiving through the senses—taking in sounds, scents, tastes and sights—and feeling them coming in to you.”

OK—this is something I can do, I thought to myself…But what exactly does this have to do with helping me shift my core belief structure around my self worth? As if reading my mind (which I’m pretty sure she was!), Chela immediately piped back up.

“-And the reason I’m suggesting this exercise is because you’ll never be able to truly know your value if you’re not in the practice of being receptive and feeling your body. If you’re not open and present to what it feels like to feel and root your value in your body—then your mental idea of what your value is will only ever be a fleeting objectification. We objectify ourselves so much in this culture.”

It took a few days for that gem to sink in. But, holy heck, did it land with me. And deep.

All the body-focussed mindfulness work I’ve been intuitively drawn to doing lately has been leading me toward a more integrated way of being. On a conscious level, I had no idea my difficulties with being receptive and connecting with my body and senses had anything to do with my bouts of low self esteem. But now I can totally see it. And not only can I see it.

I can feel it.