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The longing in every woman’s heart

file0001008154008Experiencing life as a woman is a gift, that I have heard many men claim they are glad not to have received. Our feminine bodies and minds flow with nature in a way, in lunar rhythms and cycles, that men just often don’t understand. Just as the moon pulls the ocean tides, so are we pulled in an ebb of flow of life. We create and build life, and we also release its potential with our very blood.

At our center, there is a longing. We are born into this world naked and alone, and spend the rest of our lives trying to find the right clothing to cover us, and the right partner to be with us. Even as our baby-girl-bodies emerge from the womb, we are longing for something, for some sense of connection to another. For some sense of connection to ourselves.

Social mores tell us that once we marry and have children, our role as women will be fulfilled. Is this what evolution had in mind for us, to be the vessel for more people? Or can becoming a mother also be a strong catalyst for another kind of birthing process?

What life are we really meant to bring forth?

Each woman has a wild, instinctive nature. There exists a part of her, no matter how tame she has become by society, that remains untouched, like a glowing white pearl hiding within a seashell. This is the gift she is born with, this gift of life, of creativity and wildness. This is what each woman struggles to protect throughout her life, whether she knows it or not. This is her true essence, a small indesctructible pearl that is born from the challenge and hardship of every woman who has come before her. The true longing in each woman’s heart is to take this pearl from deep within, caress it in her palms, and show it to the world.

We don’t long for children, for men, for material objects, as much as we long for ourselves. We don’t give birth to another human being as much as we give birth to ourselves. And we don’t nourish the life of another human being with our bodies, as much as we nourish the living planet with our very being. We are women, we are connected to the divine through our blood. We wax and wane with the moon, resting at times from depletion and then brimming full with abundance.

Only when we recognize the longing in our own hearts to be ourselves, to expose ourselves, and to birth our highest Self into being, will we be able to influence the course of humanity. Our men have done the best job they knew how to, until now. They have only known how to be men. What is necessary now are for self-realized, self-birthed women to step forward, unashamed in our femininity, and join them.

How to change your brain

brainIn my previous post, I introduced you to the concept of neuroplasticity. This means that your nervous system is “plastic”, it can change to form new, healthier neuronal connections and pathways to help you live the life you have always wanted. This idea alone can be a lot to take in for most people. It goes against what scientists have believed for decades, that essentially we are born with a fixed number of neurons, and once certain habits/pathways set in, (usually in childhood) they are very difficult to change. We have immense hope in the scientific discoveries that are showing that this just isn’t the case. We can literally change our brains, our thoughts, and our habits. We can harness this plasticity of our nervous system to change our lives for the better. But the big question is, how?

It might be a surprise to some of you, or no surprise at all to others, that the techniques to change our brains have been around for millennia. Many ancient eastern traditions have utilized tools such as mindfulness, meditation, and compassion to affect neuroplasticity. No matter what cultural terminology you would like to use, western neuroscience and eastern philosophy have come to the same conclusion. Through the conscious application of certain practices, we can begin to change our brains (and therefore our lives). What follows are a few steps that can help anyone benefit from the principles of neuroplasticity:

1. Begin a daily practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used in spiritual and non-spiritual circles alike that simply means “paying attention”. The act of paying attention is essentially just focused concentration. We consciously activate areas of our frontal lobe that are normally active when we are totally immersed in some activity. The easiest, and hardest, way to begin to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Sit for five minutes twice a day in stillness, actively concentrating on your breath as it travels in through your nose, deep into your chest, and out again through your nose. It might feel to you that you should really be paying attention to the thoughts that are flitting in and out of your mind. This is not what you want to focus on. Those thoughts are distractions. Focus on your breath instead.

2. Experience compassion. If you can do this daily, that is a plus. If not, find at least three times a week where you can sit in stillness, but rather than meditating as described above, focus on the feeling of compassion. When was a time you felt deep compassion for someone else? What was going on? What made you feel compassionate, and how did it make your body feel? End this exercise by feeling compassion for yourself. In what areas of your life do you most need compassion? How would you express compassion to yourself, if you were your own best friend?

3. Practice change. Pick one habit this week you do regularly, automatically, that you would like to change. Is it automatically reaching for your phone to check email, Facebook,  or texts several times a day? Is it binge eating after work, late in the evenings? Is it ruminating over some thought that is disturbing you? Once you identify the habit, sit quietly and imagine yourself doing it. Visualize clearly, as if you were watching yourself on a big movie screen, what you look like as you are engaging in this habit. What is your facial expression and body posture? What is going on around you? How much time elapses? Notice how it feels to be watched while you engage in this habit. Become aware of your body in the present moment, as it is responding to the mental images of yourself. Once you can identify how your body feels in this present moment, begin to change the image. Imagine that while in the midst of engaging in the habit, you become aware of what you are doing, and stop. You either put your phone away and focus on a task that needs completing, or you put down the bag of chips and go for a walk outdoors, or you snap yourself out of obsessive thoughts and move on to something else. See yourself on the movie screen stop the habit and move onto something more productive. Stay with this image long enough until you notice your body responding to this new image. What does it feel like, and how has it changed from before? Really notice any subtle shifts in your posture, tension or relaxation of muscles, and your overall energy levels. Stay with this awareness for as long as you would like, for as long as it takes to sink in. And make the conscious effort that at least once this week, when you find yourself engaging in the habit you chose to examine for this exercise, you will follow through with your visualization of changing that behavior.

There are more techniques that can be used, but for most people, these three will be enough and can offer rich rewards when engaged in regularly. The key to all of them is consistency. You want to begin making these practices a part of your daily, or at least weekly, routine so that you give your brain the stimulation it needs to change. It is quite normal to feel an effortless commitment to these new practices during the first two weeks, only to feel your motivation taper off afterward. But stick with it, and you will find that even fifteen minutes of these pracices a few times a week is enough to start seeing change.

The change that you are seeing outwardly in your life is only possible because inwardly your brain is actually starting to change its structure. Take that as reinforcement that your hard work is paying off. You are worth the investment.

Your plastic brain

Your brain is plastic.

By that, I don’t mean that your brain is made of synthetic material that clogs up landfills. I mean that your brain is moldable. Its able to change, contrary to what most of us have thought for years. Conventional thought is that our brain is made up of more or less fixed neurons, that we can’t actually regenerate neurons and after childhood, changing our established neuronal patterns is extremely difficult. But none of these notions are actually true. Your brain is markedly fluid, it responds to its environment (your thoughts and behavior) and changes accordingly. Probably a better term is that it “adapts”. It is an organ that has evolved to respond to you and your thoughts, and this is the best possible news any of us could hope for. This means that we can literally change our brains.

You are probably wondering why you would want to change your brain. That’s a good question. The answer lies in looking at what you want to change in your life. Are you struggling with the same pattern in dysfunctional relationships? Are you overweight or dealing with a chronic illness you can’t seem to overcome? Are your finances a mess, with no way out of debt? These are all situations that can be improved by changing your brain. These are all situations that can respond to your conscious effort to change them.

Neuroplasticity is the emerging science that is showing us there is way more to our brains than what we previously thought. And, interestingly enough, it is re-affirming what ancient traditions have known for millennia. Practices such as meditation, compassion and mindfulness are the key to harnessing the plastic potential of our brains, ultimately leading to positive change and better life outcomes. Whether you choose to approach this issue from the neuroscience perspective, or from the eastern spirituality perspective, it truly doesn’t matter. What matters is that you harness the neuroplastic potential of your brain to benefit your life and achieve what you ultimately desire the most.

My guess is that the majority of us have more than one area we long to see improve, and yet we feel resistance or a block in how to accomplish that change. This is a normal experience, and while it can definitely be discouraging, there is so much to look forward to if we understand what tools we can use to help our brains change. Our brains are like radios that we have believed are fixed on one single station for our entire lives. We keep hearing the same static, chopped words or grating noise that maybe at one time in our lives sounded like music, but now keeps us feeling stuck and restless. Suddenly, someone comes by and shows us how to change the station, and not only can we change the station, but we can change it to anything we want. The only thing we have to do is pay attention to what we want to listen to the most, and change the station to that frequency. By making what seems like a small and minor adjustment, with total commitment, we can change our experience. We can begin to dance, our movements as fluid as they used to be, twirling and dipping ourselves into a new realm of health and fulfillment.

Take advantage of your glorious, plastic brain. Figure out what areas of your life you have been living in a stuck, dysfunctional pattern and start changing the radio station. Your brain is there to adapt to what you ultimately want from life, and as it changes, so will you.

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I describe exercises that will help you change your brain for the better.

The one thing that will derail your New Year’s resolutions (and how to overcome it)

file4281249501933In January, most of us set some sort of resolution for what we hope to accomplish in the next twelve months. Resolutions are important, but more importantly, our intentions behind them speak volumes for who we dream of being. The difference between an intention and resolution is this: an intention reflects our deeper purpose in life, and our resolution is our decision to act upon it. The problem so many of us face when carrying out our resolutions is that we often lose the motivation or energy to stick with it, despite our intention. How is it that we can feel a deep desire and inner purpose to achieve some goal, and yet remain complacent in the status quo? I have written about the quality of grit, which is important to cultivate because it alone can make a huge difference in reaching our goals. But another piece of the puzzle is termed “resistance”, which will be the focus of this post.

In his book “The War of Art“, Steven Pressfield coins a term for that mysterious, invisible force that keeps us stuck where we are, especially when we pursue creative and self-improvement endeavors. He calls it “resistance”, and it can manifest as distraction, procrastination, anxiety or even as depression. Like gravity, resistance is a natural law. It represents the equal but opposite force in response to our efforts to elevate ourselves into higher levels of being. Said simply, resistance pulls us back when we try to push ourselves forward. It doesn’t matter what the activity is that we are engaging in either, just as long as it is something meaningful to us. It might be walking a few blocks around the neighborhood each evening, or sitting down to finish the next great American novel. Anything that we pursue in attempts to develop ourselves further than we currently are will be met with resistance. The more strongly you feel about pursuing a goal, the more you will feel resistance pulling you in the other direction.

Resistance’s purpose is to prevent you from changing. It comes from the ego, and is threatened by those things that connect you to your higher Self and calling. That is why the more you try to pursue those specific goals in the area of your gift and calling in the world, the stronger resistance will tug at you. It might seem unfair, but look at it this way: When you feel resistance, you know you are on the right track. When you start to recognize that it is becoming harder to push yourself towards your health goals or creative projects, you know without a doubt that you are on the brink of transformation. Resistance is your guide, and you will feel it more intensely the closer you get to the finish line.

Overcoming resistance is a matter of taking a strict approach with it. It requires setting a schedule, and sticking to it (there’s grit again). Pressfield writes that it’s about seeing yourself as a professional in whatever activity you are engaged in. You might pursue the activity out of love, but if it is important to you, then you must look at it like you would any other job. You show up, get the work done, and go home. It’s not a matter of doing it when you have time, or when you feel like it. It’s knowing that if you don’t do it, you aren’t living the life you truly want. You aren’t living. Ultimately, it’s a matter of life or death in the spiritual sense.

Be careful, because often resistance masks itself in perfectionism. You might feel that unless you do something perfectly, it isn’t worth doing at all. But this is what resistance wants you to believe. It knows that when you are tired, or having a bad day, that you’ll throw in the towel because you don’t feel like any effort you put forth is good enough. But it’s not about doing anything perfectly. Maybe you write a page of your book that you just end up throwing out. The goal isn’t to complete each task as you imagined you will on your absolute best day, but merely to look resistance straight in the face and get the work done anyway, even on your worst day.

Steven Pressfield doesn’t measure the day’s success by the work he accomplished. He measures it by the answer to this one question: How well did I overcome resistance? I’ve started posing this question to myself at the close of each day. The answer comes to me immediately and intuitively, and I find that keeping the concept of resistance in mind helps me stick to my creative and self-improvement endeavors the following day. If you want 2014 to be year of exponential growth, of achieving the goals you set forth in your New Year’s resolutions, become acquainted with resistance and how it shows up in your own life.

No matter what resolutions you have set for this year, the prerequisite to every one will be overcoming resistance. The way gravity pulls your foot back to the earth after each step, resistance wants to keep you standing still. Don’t let it.

A meditation to keep your heart open to those who have hurt you

1402529_43662915One of the biggest challenges we face in a relationship with those we love is the occasional misunderstanding or conflict that results in an emotional wound. We are wired to seek connection with others, and it feels so good when we find it. When we feel the rift of disconnection separate us from those we love, even if it is just for a moment, we can find ourselves wanting to close our hearts and retreat into ourselves. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means that we allow ourselves to get hurt. It seems like a paradox. On one hand, we work hard to treat ourselves well and expect the same from others; and yet, we know that by consciously allowing ourselves to be hurt by others, we often experience our greatest growth.

There is not a single person alive today who does not know what it is like to have their feelings hurt by someone who he or she loves. We all have various coping mechanisms when this happens, and some of us are better at moving forward than others. How we deal with it depends on the person who hurt us, the degree of hurt we feel, and the nature of the hurt. Often, our suffering comes mostly from our own minds and attachments to what we think another person’s intentions are. Our egos can use moments like this, when we feel vulnerable, to rise up and reinforce certain illusions like “I am not worthy”, “Why does everyone end up doing this to me”, or “I should have known better”. We then project intense feelings of bitterness or disappointment onto the person who has hurt us, often out of proportion to their true intention. It is so important to catch ourselves in these emotional states, because we can lash out or withdraw from the person we love to such an extent that we in turn hurt them.

So the question becomes, how do we keep our hearts open to someone we love, who has hurt our feelings?

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, the answer will come as no surprise. It is to simply breathe. It’s a hard thing to remember when we are caught up in our emotions, but becoming aware of your breath when encountering hurtful situations will help you get through them. Taking even, deep breaths during these times might even feel like you are actually breathing in the hurt, and this is ok. In fact, allowing yourself to breathe in the hurt, to feel it fully in your whole being, is the first step in letting it go. Breathe your way through the conflict, and then when you can take some time to yourself, consider the following meditative practice.

The Buddhist meditation called ‘tonglen‘ focuses on breathing in your suffering, and breathing out your happiness and blessings to others. This might feel counterintuitive at first, but it is a way of connecting yourself to anyone and everyone who might be feeling just as you are in the moment. And I can assure you, there is no hurt that you have ever felt where you have been alone. Someone, somewhere out in the world, has felt the exact same thing. In the depths of any suffering you might be experiencing, you are not alone. Ultimately, the situations that hurt us the most with others are the ones that make us feel suddenly severed from them, cut off from the warmth of their understanding and love. Whether this occurs in a new friendship, or with a spouse of fifty years, the nature of the hurt is the same. It is rooted in disconnection. While their words or actions might legitimately have caused us pain, it’s the feeling of disconnect that comes from it that creates the emotional wound. Practicing tonglen during these times is difficult, but reminds us we are not alone. We are never truly disconnected from anyone; we only perceive that we are.

Below are the steps you can use to keep your heart open during times of conflict with a loved one:

1. When you feel the familiar sting of emotional pain, acknowledge its presence.
2. Identity where you feel the pain in your body, and then take a deep breath in.
3. Breathe in the pain, deeply, visualizing it entering your heart.
4. Breathe out from your heart your blessings to everyone feeling as you are right now.
5. Allow any emotions to arise, and any physical reaction you might have to them, such as crying.
6. After several breaths, give thanks for yourself and the courage you showed in allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

As you work towards staying vulnerable and open, especially when you want to close yourself off and retreat from the world, be kind to yourself. It’s important not to judge yourself and your reactions, but to merely observe them. By practicing vulnerability in the face of emotional wounds, you are actually opening yourself up to feeling deeper levels of joy and love. This is ultimately the gift in our pain – it is the key that unlocks the hidden rooms deep in our hearts that have been empty and gathering dust, simply because we didn’t know they were there. Keeping yourself open to those who have hurt you will allow you to consciously inhabit your own heart.