The physical pain of judgement

file0001394095753Judging others is woven into our society. We judge others’ religious views, appearance, parenting styles and speaking manner. We make immediate assumptions and value judgments on other people’s feelings, past experiences, or hopes for their lives. And while a certain degree of assessment is normal,  in the way we assess anything in our physical world, this act of judging is not. At its core, it reflects a deep disconnect within ourselves. It reveals a fractured self, two separate people who live in our heads, one that judges, and the other that is judged.

If you have ever been the subject of another’s judgement, you might be able to relate to the feeling of how intensely uncomfortable it is. When it has happened to me, I have wanted to shrivel up and hide away. I feel a sense of shame, for no reason at all other than someone thinks that I should. And while this is an intensely negative emotional state, it is also an overwhelming physical sensation. After all, our emotions are not just registered in our heads and hearts, they are registered in our entire bodies. In every cell. Every single beautiful cell of mine, innocently minding its own business and carrying out its duties, is judged when you judge me.

Those who are closest to us can hurt us the most with their judgements. In fact, in many families and cultures, this is a way of life. There is a spectrum of our propensity to judge others, and a spectrum of our sensitivity to being on the receiving end. Falling on the more sensitive side of things means we are acutely aware of the physical pain that judgement brings. Being judged, dismissed, or categorized is not a benign action.

If you wouldn’t walk around and punch most people you see in the face, then why judge them? Why ridicule someone for their body, race or religion? Why criticize someone for their life choices, just because they aren’t what you would choose for yourself?

The truth is, despite the physical pain that can be caused by being judged, there is a deep emotional pain at the core of the person who is doing the judging. There is a clinging to the need to be separate, which often breeds loneliness and isolation. Every judgement placed on another is like adding a brick to a growing wall whose only function is to disconnect us from each other. The reason people seek this separation is that they don’t feel secure any other way. Judgement is ultimately a preservation of self-identity.

By learning to be present and comfortable within ourselves, we can be present and comfortable with other people. We can throw out all the labels we apply to others, and instead simply see them. This does not mean we stop assessing others in circumstances that call for it (for instance, avoiding a scary person in a dark alleyway, or deciding who to do business with); what it means is that we stop making judgements about each other’s inherent worthiness as human beings. By stopping this, we stop the physical assault that judgment can be for some people. And most importantly, we can stop the assault on ourselves.

Emotional release to prevent physical disease

file0001008296057When babies cry, they put everything they’ve got into it. They wail and moan, the shed huge alligator tears and it doesn’t matter what the situational context might be. They don’t care who hears them. They don’t care what they sound like or what their crying face looks like. When things aren’t right, they cry and hold nothing back.

The same thing is true when they laugh. We all know those contagious deep belly laughs babies are capable of. Babies never lower their heads when they laugh, or move to cover their mouths. They laugh with gusto, often squealing with delight.

What is it that occurs during the normal course of growing up, that so many of us start to hold back? As adults, it’s often rare to see each other sob with grief, unless it’s with a few close friends after a catastrophic event. I’m sure most of us have experienced embarrassment, not to mention tightening of our throats, when our efforts to stifle tears failed. We are more likely to laugh with each other than to cry, but again, where is the completely unabashed squeal of delight and deep guttural laughter? There are those of us who restrain ourselves in public places for fear of offending the ears of our one-eyebrow-raised disapproving neighbor. So many of us are self-conscious about expressing these very human emotions. This is unfortunate, because weeping and laughing offer important emotional releases that as adults, we must continue to experience if we want to experience optimal physical health.

Our emotions are an important link between our psychological selves and our physical selves. The paradigm for understanding physical illness is changing, and we now know that our emotional health (of which a big part is emotional expression) is closely linked to the physical illnesses we may tend towards. Gone are the days when you were doomed to get a disease because it was “in your genes”. Now, more than our genetic susceptibility to disease, understanding our emotional susceptibility to disease may provide the most life-changing information.

What does emotional susceptibility to disease mean? This means that when unhealthy emotional patterns are continually reinforced as we age, we began to effect physical alterations in the actual tissues of our bodies. These changes accumulate if we do not address the emotional cause, until a critical threshold is reached and a “disease” can develop. Emotions are well known to create physical change in the body, such as a the rise in heartbeat before speaking before a group of people, or the relaxation of our muscles when we are held by a loved one. There is no question that each one of us has felt the physical manifestations of our emotions; indeed, it is often how we identify the emotion being felt. What has been less well understood, is how chronic emotional patterns affect tissues over time, especially when those patterns become dysfunctional.

It is not a far stretch to suggest that different emotions can be felt in different parts of the body. We can feel anxiety in the gut, love or heartache in the chest, and rage in our head and neck. The more we feel certain emotions, the more our nervous system efficiently communicates to our cells how to behave. This process is all normal and part of the intimate interaction between our tissues and our feelings. The problem arises when we reinforce dysfunctional pathways between our emotions and our cells. For instance, if someone has been mistreated by another in the past, and felt anger at that mistreatment, the body will have actively changed to accommodate the anger. There will have been a tensing of muscles, a spike in heart rate, maybe even dilation of the pupils. If this emotion is not dealt with when it occurs, then each time this memory even flirts with the conscious mind, the body will react in the same way. And the more the body becomes used to reacting to certain emotions, the more “muscle memory” is developed, making it easier to react in similar ways in the future. It therefore becomes absolutely necessary to the health of the physical body (as well as the mental, spiritual and emotional body) to process the anger, learn whatever lesson there may be to learn in the broader context of life, and then move on. This will prevent a dysfunctional pattern from settling in.

Strong negative emotions are likely the ones that may be the hardest to release, but the most necessary to do so. Becoming comfortable with emotional expression requires a state of mind free from judgement, so that a full release is possible in whatever way feels natural. Releasing negative emotions is not the same as ignoring their existence; rather, it is a full respect and acknowledgement of them, allowing the emotion to take its course. These emotions need to be felt when they arise. Negative emotions themselves are not dysfunctional; it is the reinforcing of them at later times that creates the dysfunctional pattern. If they can be fully felt, processed and then released, there is less of a chance that the intensity of that emotion will continue to play out in the tissues.

As for positive emotions, in general, their effects are favorable on tissues so the idea here would be to feel them as much as possible. This doesn’t necessarily imply that their frequency should increase, although many of us would benefit from more positive emotional experiences. But we must be in a state of mindfulness to extract the richness from the moment to get the full benefit. In an era where multi-tasking and information overload has lead to an ADD culture, this can be difficult. If we can stay present and open our hearts fully to the experience, we can know a far greater degree of satisfaction than we have known up till now. Imagine that everything that gives you joy right now could be magnified ten-fold, just by paying closer attention. It is certainly worth it to put down our camera phones when we encounter something exciting we want to remember, and to fully immerse ourselves in that experience, as this is the only way we can absorb it fully.

Even though I use the words “negative” and “positive” to describe emotions, truly no emotion itself is negative or positive. It merely is. It is a movement of energy through us, enriching our lives and allowing our soul to communicate to us in a conscious manner. So the next time you feel the urge to cry, go ahead and open your throat, open your heart, and cry. Give it everything you have, and wail like you have never wailed before. And when you want to laugh at something silly, laugh your hardest, all the way down into your toes. Grab your belly, slap your knee, and laugh until cry. Allowing yourself to feel and express your emotions physically gives others permission to do so as well. And we could all benefit from a little more emotional freedom.

How a dog’s love can help change the world

I grew up in a home with no pets. Dogs were considered “outside” pets because they were dirty and noisy. Beyond these reasons, the underlying reason my family didn’t have pets was that as immigrants who had seen human suffering and poverty, my parents couldn’t justify the expense required to own a pet when those resources could go to improving a human life. My parents have always instilled in me the sense of responsibility for doing my part to make a difference in the world. The statistics these days are staggering: half the world’s children, one billion of them, are being raised in poverty. Hundreds of millions of children die every year because they don’t have access to clean drinking water, basic health care, and food. Even though I was a child growing up in the west, my upbringing was shaped by the things my parents had seen in India. We were privileged enough to have a comfortable home, plentiful food, and money for entertainment when others had absolutely nothing…not even their own lives. There was no way that spending time, money, or love on a pet made sense when globally, humanity was in crisis.

I’m sure it seems completely normal to most people in this country to have entire stores dedicated to pets. We don’t think anything of the hundreds of dollars spent annually on vet bills, food, toys and other costs. But the way I was raised, this was an atrocity. It wasn’t that animals shouldn’t be cared for or valued, but how could the care of an animal be placed above that of a human being? To this day, even as much as I love animals, I believe that humans come first. It just makes sense. Ultimately, animals can’t be cared for if they don’t have their “person”, and our best bet for improving the conditions of animals comes by first improving the conditions of people.

Because of this perspective, I struggled with my decision to adopt a dog. But after going through four difficult years of medical school, and finishing up my first year in residency, I knew I was starting to fall down a black hole. My life was constant work and study; there was no joy. I felt isolated, overwhelmed, and overworked. I was burned out, and I hadn’t even started my career. During those long nights on-call, I had somehow found myself browsing adoptable dogs on the local shelter’s website. The furry faces and stories tugged at my heart, until finally something clicked and I just decided to jump all in. I was ready to adopt, and I was going to do it despite what anyone else said. In July of 2006, I walked into the animal shelter and found my heart.

Dogs, Rico, Love

Seeing Rico was the closest I will ever come to love at first sight. He is one of those dogs with deep, soulful, knowing eyes. He waits until you notice him, and then he looks at you with raised eyebrows and perked ears. He listens. He understands far more of what I say than I give him credit for, and he communicates with me far more than I have learned to recognize. He is completely invested in every moment, present with every ounce of his being. He trusts completely, loves unconditionally, and expects nothing in return. His favorite thing in the world is to be dried off with a towel, especially when he’s not even wet. I can’t count the number of times I have been towel drying my hair, bent over with my head toward my knees, only to find his furry face joining in. He has as many facial expressions as anyone I have ever met, and he actually smiles. Sometimes it’s a crooked grin, with his right lip hooked on top of his canine tooth. And then sometimes it’s the sweetest, saddest, smallest smile, when he is in pain. For Rico, there is no difference between physical and emotional pain. They are the same. And isn’t that the truth for all of us?

My experience with Rico has helped me broaden my perspective on being a pet owner. I see that the privilege of owning a dog is only afforded to those of us who already have our basic needs met. We have the luxury to spend extra resources on them, providing them with care and comfort. This is not a wasted experience even though, when compared to human suffering, it might seem so. It is not a wasted experience because it is a relationship in which we practice love. There is no better teacher than a dog, when it comes to loving another. In fact, it is often the only relationship in which many of us learn what it is like to be loved unconditionally. Our dogs don’t need us to be anything other than who we are. All they ask is that we be happy, because when we are happy, they are happy.

Rico has helped me understand what it means to be mindful, to forgive, and to enjoy the simple things in life. He has allowed me to practice loving, as well as practice being loved. In doing so, I feel more connected not only to other human beings, but also to the natural world and all of its organisms. I am very fortunate to live a life so comfortable that I have resources to spare on a pet, a luxury many people will never know. And I do not take this blessing lightly. I accept the responsibility, with the knowledge that all the lessons Rico has helped me learn are so that I can do my small part to help humanity at large. Experiencing love, in any form, can only move us in the right direction. Love is never wasted. I believe that the more we love anything, whether it is an animal, a career, or another person, the better people we become. And we need to become better people in order to change the world. Humans and animals alike are in this together.

Your dark side is where your beauty lives

I have written before about how powerful it can be to feel our so-called “negative” feelings. You know what I mean…there is a part of you that has probably felt rage, grief, loss or crippling self-doubt, also known as your dark side. These feelings are a part of the human experience – to be human means that we feel this way, some of the time. When we are struggling in life, trying to gain a foothold where it feels there is none, these feelings become more intense. The more intense they become, the harder they are to ignore, and the harder they are to ignore, the harder we try to ignore them by distracting ourselves with other things. Or we might break down, becoming overwhelmed by guilt that we aren’t living the happy, positive life others may think we are. We might feel ashamed, that we act out in ways we know will only lead to more pain. Whatever it is that you feel during your dark times, know that it is this place that holds the rawest expression of your inner beauty.

What is beauty, after all? Is it shiny, perfect and flawless? If that were the case, then there would be far less of it in the world today, and certainly the natural world would not hold up to this standard. My definition of beauty is a transcendental quality of raw expression, that has the potential to connect us to something greater than ourselves. Isn’t this what we all feel, when we are captivated by a compelling piece of art, or gaze upon the graceful form of a sculpted woman? Aren’t we as equally moved by those things that stir deeper, more complex feelings, that reflect an artist’s turmoil and pain? Any stimulus that so powerfully unleashes our emotional energy, whether negative or positive, allows us to access our own inner world that we are often so unaware of. Likely, the more out of balance your dark side is, the more you actively try to ignore it. It wants to be acknowledged, to be seen, to be loved for the role it plays in connecting you in emotion and experience to every other human being. It speaks to you of the beauty of life, which is like a double sided coin. With life there is always death. With pleasure, there is often pain. The day is always followed by night. By accepting your own dark side, and recognizing that it is that which makes you beautiful, you surrender to the experience of being alive.

The next time you find yourself plummeting down a hole of despair, or paralyzed with fear or indecision, open yourself to fully embracing this place and seeing it as you would a work of art that deeply moves you. Not only is accepting your dark side a grounding practice, but it will exponentially increase the beauty you appreciate in everything, and everyone, around you.

Are you Breathing?

As you read this right now, pay attention to your posture and your breath. We both know you are breathing, but are you Breathing? Breathing, with a capital B, means you take full inhales deep into your belly, so that your diaphragm lowers and your lungs expand. The breath flows easily, usually in and out through your nostrils, and it is this breath that supports whatever activity you are doing. Whether you are sitting in a cozy chair with a cup of coffee reading your favorite book, stuck in your cubicle at work, or maybe even standing at your jerry rigged standing workstation that you constructed to get up off your butt, the question I want you to ask yourself is, are you Breathing?

Most likely, you are realizing your breaths are shallow. It’s your neck muscles involved in breathing, not your diaphragm. And right about now, you are taking some deeper breaths and realizing how good it feels, almost like the first stretch you take in the morning. This isn’t a far-fetched analogy. You are expanding your ribcage in a way that feels good, because it has been dormant for a long time. It feels good to Breathe.

Breathing is a focus of many ancient meditative and healing practices that has largely gone overlooked in the West. One of the first things you can do to improve your health is to Breathe. The breath fuels the rest of your life, it is the basis of everything that you do. Athletes and musicians are just a few people who actively train their breathing capacity so they can pursue their careers. But Breathing is an essential practice for all people, in all situations.

Do you hate your job? Maybe it’s because you aren’t Breathing. Who wouldn’t hate their work, when that work is being fueled by short, anxious breaths that are only relieved when the clock announces it’s 5pm and time to go home? That’s probably when you take a giant sigh of relief, and instantly feel better. If you hate your job, Breathe.

Are you in a frustrating argument with someone you care about? Maybe your frustration is so consuming because you aren’t Breathing. Dealing with a conflicting point of view, someone else’s error, or even their frank rudeness is a lot easier when your breath travels deep down into your chest, into your belly, and smoothly back out your nose. If you are in conflict with another person, Breathe.

Is illness a part of your life? Maybe you have a chronic illness, that seems to flare up at the worst times. Maybe you have an injury that is preventing you from reaching your fitness goals. No matter what it is, Breathe. Take those long, steady breaths in and out, this is when you need them the most.

Your breath is what calms your mind and eases distraction. It connects you mentally and emotionally to the present moment, where your body lives. If you are thinking about making positive changes in your life, or already embarking on that journey, know that conscious deep breathing can help carry you forward.

Meditation in Motion

file641274354480I can’t stress enough how important a meditation practice is to develop. In a world filled with deadlines, obligations and distractions, we can so easily lose sight of ourselves. We can get caught living “out there”, and become a stranger to our own thoughts and feelings. Or worse yet, we become acquainted with the thoughts of feelings from everyone around us, as if they are our own. Meditation is the one practice that I would recommend hands down, above any others, for improvement in our health.

With that said, one of the most difficult obstacles to meditating regularly is figuring out what meditation even is. I’m sure most of you imagine it involves sitting in the lotus position on your floor, maybe with a lit candle and burning incense off to the side, while closing your eyes and chanting “Om”. While that actually is a very effective practice, it might not be right of you in this moment. Part of the benefits of a meditative practice is getting to know yourself. Dusting off your intuition and putting it to use. You might find that while the idea of sitting in stillness with your eyes closed appeals to you, you just aren’t ready for that yet.

Meditation can take many forms. The key element is that in whatever form you choose, it must allow stillness of the mind so that you can bring your awareness into the present moment. You want a practice that allows you to physically relax while you mentally focus, that allows you to let go of burdens as you sharpen your mind. Any practice that facilitates this process will be the right meditation for you.

I like the term meditation in motion, and mostly refer to this when speaking about yoga. The form of yoga that is popular in the West involves mindful breathing while the body flows in and out of various poses. In a society focused on fitness and physical appearance, it can be easy to see yoga as merely another physical exercise. However at its core, it is a meditation. Its benefits are maximized when the mind is still, focused and in the present moment. The body moves through various poses to release any tension or stiffness, and ultimately at the completion of a practice the mind can be even more focused than it was at the beginning. This type of practice can be very beneficial for beginners who are just becoming familiar with meditation.

Other physical activities can also be meditation in motion. In fact, anything you do has the potential to be meditative, as long as you are able to commit to mindful movement. This means that your total attention is placed on what you are doing. Whether you are taking a walk, or washing the dishes, with your full awareness you can reap all the benefits of a sitting meditation practice.

If you want to meditate and don’t know how, or have tried to sit still and just couldn’t focus, why not start with an activity you already do frequently? Pick something you do daily, and start to bring your full awareness to the activity while incorporating your breath. Observe yourself consciously carrying out the motion. These little changes can go a long way in creating the foundation for a meditative practice. When you are ready, your sitting meditation practice will be waiting for you.

Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the “wood”

One of the hardest things for some of us to learn is when enough is enough. We put in so much effort to accomplish goals, and it can be frustrating when we feel that we aren’t making progress as quickly as we would like. We work and work until exhaustion, and still, when we don’t see results we assume we haven’t worked hard enough. Because we are trying to live life with accountability and responsibility, we know the outcome we want is achievable if only we commit to the process, whatever it takes. But what about those times we give it our all, commit fully, and still don’t see results?

Well….sometimes, it’s not you.

Sometimes, you really are doing everything “right”, but something else is inhibiting your progress. It’s probably something you haven’t thought of, and it might very well be something you aren’t even in control of.

I learned this the hard way. Being an over achiever and a person with healthy self-confidence, I generally feel excited by learning new things and sure that I can achieve a decent level of mastery with a bit of practice. When I moved into a small home on a homestead in Michigan, I was not daunted in the slightest by the wood-burning iron stove. In fact, this piece was my favorite in the whole house. It would be a source of warmth for me on cold winter nights. The flames would mesmerize me as I contemplated the Universe. My appreciation for natural resources would deepen, as I expressed gratitude for this gift.


Of course, this was all dependent on my learning how to start a fire in the first place.

I had stacks of wood just outside the house, and began learning how best to start a fire. Winters are cold in Michigan, and I wanted to learn how to quickly and proficiently get a roaring fire going to warm my house. I learned what kindling was best, and what type of arrangement of the logs would provide the most oxygen to keep the flames fed. But I struggled. I would wake up in the morning to a cold house, because despite my best efforts the night before, the fire had gone out while I slept. I changed the vent settings, I even stayed up as late as I could to throw an extra couple logs on the fire. But no matter what I did, short of waking up in the middle of the night to keep the fire going, the fire would go out. It was even worse during the work day. Even when I managed to get a roaring fire going in the morning before work (which if I am being honest, was rarely “roaring” and more like “purring”), I would rush home after nine hours only to find not a single ember left and a chill permeating the air. I would then spend an hour in the evenings, struggling to get a fire going while also making dinner and tending my pets. I couldn’t understand it. It must be me, I thought. So I persevered, and kept telling myself I would get the hang of it eventually. But after a few weeks, my enthusiasm died out like every fire I started. The beautiful iron stove became synonymous with my failure. I started to feel helpless, because here was something as simple and fundamental as burning wood to heat my home, and I couldn’t do it. The only heat I felt was from my tears sliding down my cheeks in frustration

After three solid weeks of this effort, I was talking to a friend who had tried to walk me through the process several times. When he came over for a visit, he offered to get the fire started for me. It was hard to accept, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it on my own, especially as a woman (a silly qualifier my mind adds to things sometimes). But I did accept his offer, knowing I could learn something from him. And indeed I did! As soon as he saw the logs I was using for my fires, he looked at me with a raised eyebrow and informed me they were significantly rotted. Rotted wood is hard to burn, and doesn’t provide as much warmth as dry, seasoned wood. Because this was my first winter using wood for heat, and the shipment of wood had been delivered to me by the homestead, I had assumed the wood was fine. It wasn’t me after all….it was the wood, all along.

As soon as I got another shipment of wood, I could immediately see the difference. The new logs caught aflame right away, and not only that, I was able to pack the stove tightly so that I could easily get eight to ten hours of heat. I thought of how many hours I had spent trying to burn rotted wood. I thought of the effort I put into that task, again and again, without recognizing its futility. Of course, I couldn’t have known the problem was the wood because of my lack of experience, but I wonder sometimes how long I would have struggled under the belief that I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I know myself. I know that I am a hard worker, that I am bright, and pick up new skills quickly. I know that when I put my effort into things, I see results. But for some reason, I am quick to shift into a mindset that if something isn’t producing results despite my best efforts and trouble shooting, I am inadequately performing the job. I try harder and harder, losing my ability to see the situation clearly. I often think I am the problem when I perceive myself as failing.

So for all of you out there who know you are putting forth your best, committed effort: pause for a second, and think, what else could be inhibiting the results you seek.

Are you trying to start a fire with rotted wood?

Is it natural to be negative?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving a negative mindset is something those of us committed to our well-being struggle to change. We have come to understand that “being negative” is not healthy, and yet we find ourselves in situations in which negative thoughts and feelings arise quite frequently. Some of us even take our negative feelings to be the source of disease and illness in our lives, and feel even more pressure to be positive. We try to muscle that negativity into something positive, to perpetually identify the silver lining, to the point that we sometimes feel like we are at war with ourselves.

It’s not natural to feel positive all the time. Negative thoughts and feelings are just as much a part of our experience as positive ones. And in fact, our conscious minds are primed to be slightly negative. Evolutionarily, being primed toward the negative meant that we could quickly identify dangers that threatened our survival. Thinking through all the bad things that can happen in a circumstance allows us to be prepared and potentially avoid them. The problem is, while this is a mechanism that was selected for because it enhanced survival, this mechanism was never meant to be activated as often as it is in modern times. Our perspective regarding threats has changed drastically, from infrequent, intermittent threats to near constant threats (as has our situational context for dealing with those threats, as I will discuss in a later post). Our perspective determines how negatively we assess a situation. Our predisposition determines our perspective. And ultimately, while a negative predisposition does lead to a heightened level of awareness that is more likely to identify a threat to our survival, it does have the potential to lead us down the path of disease, and to leave us unfulfilled.

The issue is not to force negative thoughts and feelings into being positive. Those of us who have tried this know how hard that actually can be. Telling yourself you should see the bright side of a dark situation is like expecting the sun to rise in the middle of the night. The negative thoughts and feelings need to be included in our overall experience, and embraced for what they are. They exist as a signal to us to pay attention, not to change them. It is our nonjudgmental awareness, not our forced positivity, that illuminates those negative states and allows them to become incorporated into our overall experience. And that truly is the only way to process those thoughts and feelings so that we can continue to make progress in our lives. Being stuck in a negative thought cycle is no different than being stuck in a false positive tornado. They both can be turbulent experiences that inhibit our growth.

The next time you feel or think something “negative”, become aware of your reaction. Are you embracing it, as a part of your life experience? Are you listening for any intuitive messages that are hidden underneath? Or do you get carried away toward being miserable, only to attempt to swim upstream back towards being happy? Both actions are exhausting. Let your awareness, which is neither negative or positive, be your safe haven. It will illuminate your darkest moments, and intensify your greatest joys.

Discovering what’s true for you

There is a monstrous sea of information waiting to come crashing in on you at every moment and from every angle. Whether you are trying to improve your diet, fitness, relationships or work life, you can find almost any data to support any view with plenty of people to back it up with their testimony. Embarking on any change is scary enough, but sometimes it seems that even with the positive energy you bring to your data gathering phase, you can get swallowed up and spit out, to where you are left confused and filled with doubt.

Being confused quickly turns into being overwhelmed, which then leads to fatigue. And you may ask yourself “why bother?” because the desire to change is there, but the path to change is not. What good is desire, when it leaves you stranded in the ocean?

Life has gifted us with the amazing sense to be able to tell when something is right for us. That gift is our intuition. Our inner knowing. That guiding compass located deep within the essence of who we are, that can point us towards directions that will help us grow the most. Sometimes those directions may bring us discomfort, and sometimes it will bring ecstatic joy. We’ll find out when we get there. But the most beautiful thing about the process is that it is fine-tuned to each one of us. For no one else has your exact compass, combined with your experience in the world. Only you have access to your intuition. Most likely, there will be those around you who “know what’s best”, and make recommendations for whatever growth or change they think you need. And you may even find that some of these people are right. But they are only right when your intuition confirms they are right. They are only right when you can see into them as mirrors, and then deeper into yourself.

So, you know you have a valuable resource in your intuition that will guide you along your way. Now what? What happens if you can’t feel your intuition?

The most important thing you can do, then, is to become acquainted with it. Say hi and introduce yourself. This is the friend who has been waiting for you to acknowledge her, standing quietly against the back wall of your heart, gently communicating to you through her whispers and sighs. (Okay, sometimes she gets angry and it’s more like a kick in the stomach.) Grab a cup of tea, and sit quietly, getting to know what she looks like, what her voice sounds like, what her deepest desires are. Let this introduction turn into regular meetings, as long as you turn the outside world off, and retreat inward into your soul. She will speak more clearly every time.

After a period of silence, begin to ask her how she feels about various things. Ask your intuition about your work. Be specific, and translate your question into images and feelings. Your intuition will not answer you in words. Rather, she will connect to you through visceral sensations. She will aid your body in discovering the answer, so tune into your body to figure out what she’s telling you. Sometimes, you may get a clear answer. Other times, you may just receive reassurance. And yet others, you may feel as if she hasn’t answered you at all; and with these times, know that the uncertainty that follows is a blessing in disguise, for life holds greater promise for you than what either of you could even dream.

Pick ten questions or statements you would like your intuition to speak to you specifically about. They can be anything from “Should I marry him?” to “How will I feel if I eat that bowl of ice cream?”. They can be questions you already know the answers to. But pick ten, and one by one, pose them to your intuition and wait until you have become acquainted with the response. Remember, your intuition will often communicate in soft, delicate vibrations that you feel in different parts of your body depending on the answer. If you are distracted and full of noise, you’re likely to miss them. Start learning the language that your specific intuition uses in response to these questions, and then observe how the effects of your intuition’s guidance show up in your life. You will slowly build up that trust necessary to put yourself in your intuition’s hands. You’ll begin to see that when you are confronted with choices and an overwhelming amount of information, your intuition is constantly communicating to you about which is best for you. It’s in your intuition’s best interest to keep you healthy, happy and well, after all. No one else’s.

By incorporating your intuition in all areas of your life – whether it’s what diet to follow, what event to attend, what job to choose – you begin to live a personalized life tailored to your own uniqueness. It’s as if you had the best nutritionist, trainer, coach, and lover all wrapped into one person who could help you live your best life possible because they know you. That’s your intuition, speaking to you within the recesses of your heart. Take a seat. Start listening. Discover what’s true for you.

When change is hard

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAEven though we may have a broad goal like losing weight, being healthier, living happier etc, we are in different phases of change and acceptance for the sub-components that make up those goals. For instance, losing weight requires changes in several different areas, from what we eat, to how we work out, to how much sleep we are getting and what our stress is like at work. It might be impacted by things like social situations and alcohol, or binge eating. We may accept that some of these areas will require change more readily than others; and yet, in certain areas we are still very resistant to change. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not in powering through those areas we feel resistant about, but rather learning how to acknowledge, accept and empathize with the resistance as a part of our current experience.

Most of our dissatisfaction with our current situation arises from comparing where we are in the present moment to where we were in the past, or where we want to be in the future. This is a natural way of thinking for the mind. It sacrifices present moment awareness in order to re-evaluate the past, or try and predict the future. The thing is, there is no such thing as the past or future. These are just linear constructs we use to understand the relevance of our current position in space and time. But while our current situation in some ways depended on our past to get us here, in actuality, it was just millions of tiny present moments strung together. The only thing that got you to where you are now, is where you are now. The only thing getting you to where you want to go, is where you are now. The only “you” that ever has been in existence, is the you that exists in the present moment.

Learning to accept our entire experience for where we are in the present moment, as it relates to larger goals we have set for ourselves, is the biggest challenge. Its easy to set a lofty outcome goal, and then fail because we don’t understand the process to get there. It’s even easier to fail when we don’t allow for resistance or ambivalence as a natural part of the process. When you feel a part of yourself push back against a change you want to make, gently observe with empathy and love. Understand that the resistance is related to underlying feelings and needs that are begging to be addressed. Start exploring the deeper issues without needing any particular outcome of the exploration. What you learn might be the exact missing link you needed to taking that giant leap forward towards your goals.