A case for wandering

Some months ago, a seed of an idea took root within me: to go traveling ~ wandering, really ~ by myself, through the West for some chunk of time.

This little idea dropped quietly into my consciousness one day last winter, and right on its heels was a cacophony of voices about why it wouldn’t work:  No, you can’t do that. You have responsibilities. You have CLIENTS. Brett (my husband) would be sad. You can’t afford it. It’s impossible. Maybe one day…

So I tucked the little idea down inside of myself, hoping that I’d be just fine without it.

IT JUST WON’T GO AWAY

Well, you probably know how these things go. Basically, the idea just wouldn’t go away. I knew in my bones that I needed to do it; I just didn’t know how it would be possible.

One day this spring, after wrestling with and still trying to ignore the disruptive seed, in a moment of desperation, I spilled my thoughts to Brett: “So, I’ve been feeling like I need to get away, on my own, for a good chunk of time… ”

Much to my amazement, he responded with, “You have to go!”

I poked and prodded him to see if I could detect any fibbing or appeasing. “Will you be sad, or feel abandoned or anything?” I asked. “I mean, I might be gone for as long as six weeks!”

“I’ll miss you for sure,” he said, “but I want you to be happy. And if that means I’m alone for a month, so be it.” (Man, do I love this guy)

Done. The deal was sealed. I would go wandering by myself for some amount of time. And soon.

LEAVING HOME

I left Los Angeles on June 1. While away, I journeyed through south-western Colorado, south-eastern Utah, northern Arizona and then eventually back to California.

I intentionally made no plans for where I was going to sleep each night, but rather just followed my intuition and curiosity as I went along.

I slept indoors a total of exactly two times. The rest of the time I slept in an array of places: in a tipi, on a rock ledge above a place called Graveyard Canyon, IN Graveyard Canyon, in my car, on dirt roads, and in established campgrounds. Most nights, I got to fall asleep under the darkly bright blanket of the Milky Way.

Beside camping alone, I hiked by myself. I journaled. I napped. I read. I painted. I talked with strangers. I watched sunsets by myself, and I rose early to watch sunrises. I had my coffee by myself in the mornings, and ate dinner with myself in the evenings.

All in all, I drove almost 2,000 miles – you guessed it – by myself. And while I ended up being away for just about two and a half weeks when all was said and done, I never felt lonely. On the contrary, I felt closer to my self than I had in a great while, and I felt fed from the inside out.

SOME OF WHAT I BROUGHT BACK IN MY BASKET

I won’t go into ALL of the details of my travels here (maybe another blog post), but I do want to share a few realizations I came home with:

  • As someone who’s more introverted by nature, I NEED alone time: time to just be with my thoughts (i.e., journaling), to really process and understand how I’m feeling and what is most authentic for me in any given moment (for my fellow introverts out there, do yourself a favor and check out Quiet by Susan Cain)
  • Life is short, and as such, I’m no longer willing to say “yes” to something unless it’s a deep, real, and full “yes!” inside of me.
  • My soul needs to be outside in nature often. Very often.
  • The Earth and her creatures are vulnerable and need our care and stewardship – now more than ever before.
  • I’m not done wandering…

 

I’ll leave you with a bit of what my teacher (Bill Plotkin) has written on the subject of wandering (in fact, in his model of soul-centric human development, he’s dedicated an entire life stage to it: Stage 4 – The Wander in the Cocoon).


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~ Bill Plotkin, Nature & the Human Soul and Soulcraft


Some photos from my wanderings ~

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Night one. Holbrook, AZ
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Bison in Cortez, CO

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Summer Aspens

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Moles Lake, Colorado

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Molas Lake watercolor

 

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Silverton, Colorado

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A dandy shadow

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Yellow-bellied marmot!

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Ice Lakes Trail, CO

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Ouray, Colorado

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Ouray (the self-proclaimed “Switzerland of USA”)

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO

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Mama and baby Black Bears

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Cimarron Ridge, CO

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Courthouse Mountain

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Courthouse watercolor

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“Newspaper Rock”, Canyonlands, Utah

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Canyonlands

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Sunset in Canyonlands

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Canyonlands campsite 

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Sunrise in Canyonlands

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Sunrise

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more Canyonlands

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Natural Bridges National Monument

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Moki Dugway, Utah

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Monument Valley

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Lake Powell, AZ

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Sunrise over Lake Powell

May Manifesto: Start Before You’re Ready

If you’ve ever felt the pangs of perfectionism or the fear of failure, this post is for you (and me!).

 

Start

Before

You

Are

Ready

 

You will never be fully ready.

Action (especially new action) is always scary, but it’s almost always way less frightening than our minds make it up to be.

So, it’s now a new month (yay for May!).

What one action could you take, TODAY, that will bring you one step closer to who you want to BE in the world?  (hint: choose that thing that makes your heart beat a little faster 😉

Here’s my challenge/invitation to you:  Do that thing!

As for me, I’m hosting a new workshop in three weeks. I’m scared. I don’t feel ready (at all). I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge. I don’t even know if anyone will come. But I’m doing it anyway. 

If this post inspires you, share what YOU will do in the comments below. I’d love to support you as you stretch into new territory, as well as have some courageous comrades along the way this month 🙂

Let’s do this!

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Learning to speak in my own voice.

“The rule says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, be it brain surgery or playing the cello, she must put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. […] But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years? […] What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world.

– Steven Pressfield

Like Steven Pressfield, I also feel like it’s the hardest thing in the world to learn to speak in my own true voice; that is, to truly become who I am (as ironic as that sounds).

And, the fact that Western culture does a fantastic job of taking us away from our inner knowings and intuitions doesn’t help much, either. With it’s hyper-focus on business (busy-ness), capitalism and productivity, is actually seems like Western culture is designed to make us forget our own unique way of being in the world…our purpose.

In speaking about purpose and Western civilization, depth psychologist, wilderness guide and cultural change agent Bill Plotkin articulates it this way:

“The near absence of attention to this most essential realm of purpose is not a coincidence or an oversight. For millennia, Western civilization, among others, has shaped itself in ways that suppress access to this realm. Today this realm of purpose is rarely experienced — or even consciously recognized as a possibility. Our educational, media, and religious systems and our mainstream parenting practices are shaped in ways that divert us from this vital domain of human experience. This suppression of human development has become a necessity for Western civilization in its current form; it would simply not be sustainable otherwise. Conversely, widespread access to this realm of purpose would be the single most potent factor in the termination of Western society in its present life-destroying iteration — and in the creation of a just, life-enhancing, and deeply imaginative culture with its roots in the genuine achievements of the Western tradition.”

(italics are mine)

Plotkin’s point –  that Western society would not be able to continue functioning in the way it has been if we all had access to this realm of purpose – is a very intriguing one. Why would Western society fail if we all turned toward our unique purpose? Because, the forces of Western culture are currently designed to influence us in ways that are best for the industrial growth machine – not for a healthy culture. The current forces support capitalism at all costs and a healthy “bottom-line,” rather than a healthy culture, planet and her people. So, if we all suddenly began to honor what was true within us (rather than bought what is “fed” to us from our consumeristic culture), the industrial growth machine would suffer. And it needs us to keep buying into it (literally and figuratively) in order to survive.

For me, Plotkin’s perspective about turning toward my unique purpose (and away from the influences of mass Western society) returns my power from “out there” to “in here,” and inspires me to keep tuning my ear to hear that still, small voice within.

While I’m still very much on the path of my own “10,000 hours,” the longer I keep walking without giving up or turning down a different road, the more rewarding my practice becomes (in my case, my practice centers around listening to the heart and soul of others as clearly as I can and helping them them live into their soul purpose).

Conversely, in those moments when I don’t listen to myself and instead pursue outward measures of what my life “should” look like or what “success” is, I can say honesty that I never feel any happier, more successful or more fulfilled. On the contrary, I wind up feeling emptier and like I’ve sold out on myself.

And while I’m still learning ALL THE TIME about listening within and really trusting what I hear, I’d like to hope that as I do so, I am slowly becoming more of who I really am.

 

To get good at anything takes a long, long, LONG time. It takes effort. It takes heart. It takes making mistakes, failing, learning, and getting back up and doing it all over again. It takes an inner commitment to whatever it is in us that drives us to pursue our longing. But if that longing is true, we can’t NOT pursue it.

So. Let’s plant our flags. Let’s speak in our true voices. Let’s follow that still, small voice within.

What else is there to do, really?

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“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement speech, 2005

Start Close In, by David Whyte

START CLOSE IN

 

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
then
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Quietly Given Gifts: The Story of My First Vision Fast (Vision Quest)

In the spring of 2014, I found myself alone and starving in the desert, completely exposed to the elements.  I hadn’t eaten for days – three days to be exact – and I was weak.

I’d paid good money for this.

I was on my vision fast.

Now, if you’re like most people, at this point you’re asking, “A vision what?”

What IS a Vision Fast/Quest?

The ceremony of the vision fast (or more commonly called vision quest) is a physically intense, spiritually-rich ceremony that’s been enacted by people all over the world for hundreds of years.

Maddisen Krown, executive coach and fellow vision quester, wrote a wonderful article for The Huffington Post that does a great job of explaining what quests are and why one would choose to do one.  Here she describes what a vision quest is:

“The term “vision quest” was first coined by 19th-century anthropologists to describe the rite-of-passage ceremonies of certain Native American cultures. Traditionally, these rituals have been performed to mark significant life transitions or changes. Generally speaking, they are seen as both personal and collective events that are guided and witnessed within the community, and often involve the “quester” spending time alone in nature in search of a personal vision that becomes a vision to support the entire community. An important vision quest, for example, is one that marks the passage of adolescents into adulthood.”

A traditional Native American Vision Quest consists of a person spending one to four days and nights secluded in nature, typically with very minimal shelter.  The idea behind this is to make oneself as available to nature as possible.  In this way, the “quester” is fully exposed to the magnificent and mysterious forces of the natural world, and also to the whisperings of her owl soul.  The quester also goes without food, and sometimes water, as a way to empty herself out and alter her consciousness, in hopes of receiving a “vision” to bring back to her community.

My First Fast

My first vision fast was held just outside of Capitol Reef National Park (Utah), during which time I spent three days and three nights out in wild nature – and also out in wind, sleet, rain and sunshine.

And, while I intellectually knew that nothing REALLY BIG and MYSTICAL would likely happen out there (that is, White Calf Medicine Woman probably would not descend from the heavens and bestow the vision of my life upon me), I still secretly held hope that SOMETHING would happen out there; that SOMEHOW I’d find the answers to the burning questions I’d been carrying around in my heart. Questions like, What am I here to do, really?  What is my soul here to give?  What is my life for?

So, on my first day out, I sat down on a log and began to rattle.

Now – before I go on I must say this:  there is A LOT of time when you are out on the land, not eating, for three days and nights.  As such, there are many ways to pass that time:  write in your journal; fix your tarp; look at the mountains in the distance; fix your tarp again (because it’s incredibly windy up on the ridge you’re on, and you really cannot fathom what possessed you to place your camp HERE of all places. But oh well – here you are); find a good sitting spot; walk around; drink lots of water and subsequently pee a lot.  You also get creative: at one point, I was so hungry that I even drew a picture of a raspberry scone and steaming hot cup of coffee in my journal with my blue ballpoint pen, just to make myself feel better.

However, there are also moments of deeply meaningful rituals; moments when you talk with the tress and the lizards and feel them as your kin; moments when you see meaningful images in the immense star-filled sky above; moments when you feel that the mere fact of your own humanity is truly astonishing.

Back to the rattle, though:  there I was, rattling away, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move.  I turned to my left, and there, just a few feet away was a snake winding it’s way through my camp.

Now, as any good soulful vision faster would likely do, I got down on my hands and knees and attempted a conversation with it (Note: it can be seen as a real blessing when an Other comes to pay you a visit. Also, the fact that it was a snake was personally poignant, as I’d been seeing Snake almost every single time I went out in nature for the past year).

You might imagine, then, that I’d have been delighted to see this beautiful creature!  In all honesty, however, in that moment, I didn’t really make much of it.  My conversational attempts with it were short, as it slithered quickly through my camp.

After three days, the end of my solo time approached and as far as I could tell, that was the one thing that had “happened”during my time out.  As I made my way back to “the village” on the last morning, I felt a mixture of relief, joy, and also some disappointment that I didn’t get the BIG ANSWER I’d been hoping for.

The Return

The morning of my return, I crossed back over the threshold and returned to my group of fellow fasters (when one begins the vision fast ceremony, they cross a threshold of some kind to mark their departure from the “village”.  When they return, they once again cross back over a threshold. These thresholds act as psychospiritual markers and consciousness shifts for our psyches, telling a deeper part of us that we’re moving into or out of ceremony).

Once back, I was handed an avocado with salt on it (after fasting, you need a simple food to “break” your fast).  OH MY GOD was it good (to this day, it ranks as THE BEST avocado I’ve ever eaten in my entire life).

When we were all properly fed, the group then gathered together once again. It was now the moment when we’d each get to be witnessed by our human community in telling the story of our fast.

As I sat there and listened to magnificent story after magnificent story from my fellow questers, I felt less and less eager to share.  My mind kept saying,  “But nothing happened to you out there!!! You went out and came back with nothing!  You were dreaming about scones of all things!”  In short, a part of me felt like I’d failed.

When I was called into the circle, I told my story.  I shared about Snake (no one else had seen ANY sort of creature besides me).  I shared about my unanswered questions, as well as my deep pride for having enacted this physically demanding ritual at all.  I shed tears of both grief and release.  I was witnessed.

At the end of my share, one of my guides (Bill Plotkin) selected and read a poem to me (one that has since made it’s way into my bones):

 

Beyond the Question

by May Sarton

The phoebe sits on her nest

Hour after hour,

Day after day,

Waiting for life to burst out

From under her warmth.

Can I weave a nest for silence,

Weave it out of listening,

Listening,

Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish,

No tendril of a wish

Toward anything that might happen

Or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,

Contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, the silence.

Before the answer, the silence.

 

Today

As I look back now, what “happened” on my vision fast was far more subtle and profound than I could have understood then.  That time began the initiation of the girl of me into the adult of me, which is what I’ve been living into ever since.

Since my fast I’ve also been learning the value of deep, dark, uncomfortable, sometimes agonizing patience.  The kind of patience that my soul is comfortable with, but that my mind can’t bear or even comprehend.  The kind of patience it takes to watch a plant grow, or the landscape change, or the earth move around the sun.

My next Vision Fast

I will be going on my next fast in just a few day from now.  I will again be going out with prayers in my heart, and questions.  But this time, I also go with patience.

These days, I know that I cannot demand the answers.  I cannot demand my soul to move faster than it will.

Over the past few years, I’ve often found solace in these words of Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 

As I stand at the threshold once again, I go with my heart open, my prayers offered up, and with my good friend patience at my side.

“…But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish,

No tendril of a wish

Toward anything that might happen

Or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,

Contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, the silence.

Before the answer, the silence.”

 

I think I’ll be a snail now.

I admit it.  I’m totally THAT person sometimes. You know the one: the person who’s sitting in front of the computer, eating something, watching something else, toggling through web pages researching something else, and, oh –  maybe even talking on the phone with someone about something else.

Sometimes I name this state of multitasking “being busy”, “productive” or “getting things done.”  When I’m in this mode (which, unfortunately, is more often than I’d wish) and my husband asks, “How was your day?”, I hear myself list off ALL THE THINGS I got done, as if it’s a badge of honor I wear, and the longer the list, the bigger the badge.

When I’m getting things done, crossing things off my to-do list, going a million miles an hour and BEING REALLY PRODUCTIVE, I feel, well, worthwhile and valuable, like I’m making some sort of worthy contribution to the world (and, as any self-employed individual knows, there are MANY, MANY moments of self-employdom where you’re not sure if  what you’re doing is making any iota of difference in the world at all – in fact, many days you’re actually pretty convinced that it’s not. You regularly face the fear that your business is just some delusional fantasy of one, and that the rest of the human race is DOING REALLY GREAT STUFF and MAKING A DIFFERENCE.  But I digress).

A greater part of me knows that my productivity is not what makes me valuable. I’m valuable, well, because I just am. Because we all just are. We are all inherently valuable, worthwhile beings.

So as I was vacuuming today (vacuuming is when some of my BEST ideas come), I had an awareness:  What if, just what if, my REAL work is to slow down more… to slow down so much, in fact, that it might even appear to the world as if I’m not moving, or not being productive (gasp!). And then I thought about how easy it is to NOT slow down, to just keep going BECAUSE THAT’S JUST WHAT YOU DO. However, when I keep pushing forward and try to keep up (with who? with what?), those still, small voices and wise intuitions just fade into the background, like small seeds waiting for the right conditions to sprout.

And what if I NEVER slowed down enough to really hear what those seeds were?  What if I went my whole entire life just PUSHING ONWARD, never slowing down enough to really LISTEN?  It might just be that a gift – my gift, my contribution – to the world could be lost forever, in the mix of some unimportant multitasking.

I then wondered, if instead of trying to MAKE STUFF HAPPEN all the time (which, as a small business owner, feels like one-half of the equation most days), what if my REAL, honest-to-god work right now is to get even quieter inside, to slow down even more, so that the truth of my work – the truth of me – can emerge.

Hmmmm…

It occurs to me that the harder path (for me, many times, anyway) is often the slower path.

Yet it’s the slow path which, in many ways, is the path of the soul, and is the most rewarding journey in the long run.

elayn_yscvg-erwan-hesry

Our wounds are our medicine.

When I was in high school, I had an eating disorder. I was a compulsive overeater; I binged as a way to help me cope with what I wasn’t able to feel or deal with emotionally.  But, I didn’t really know any of this consciously back then. I just thought I was fat and lacked discipline.

As my bingeing habit took over, I began to gain weight – which, as a teenage girl growing up in the beach-body culture of southern California, was excruciatingly painful.  I felt so much shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred.

I felt like a lazy person who just couldn’t get her act together enough to get skinny. I criticized myself constantly, telling myself that if I weren’t so undisciplined that I’d be a better person.

During this time, too, I felt totally isolated and alone. I felt like if I told anyone about my bingeing habit (problem), they’d judge me as lazy or undisciplined… exactly the way I was judging myself.

CHALKY DIET PELLETS

So, instead of talking about it, I just put my poor little body through an array of strict diets. I remember one of them very clearly:  it involved eating nothing but 20 large, dry, chalky diet “pellets” (they seriously reminded me of horse vitamins – or what I assumed horse vitamins would have been like) every other day for about two weeks . On the non-horse vitamin pellet days one could eat real food, but only stuff like rice cakes and celery (needless to say, it was a very depressing & deprived time).

However, the worse part by far of my binge-starvation-binge cycles was the über harsh, critical inner dialogue that constantly ran in a loop in my mind: “Ughhh. You’re so fat and disgusting. No one will ever like you. Why can’t you get your act together? Why can’t you just be disciplined?  What’s wrong with you?”

I remember always telling myself that while I wasn’t skinny/pretty NOW, once I achieved “skinniness”, THEN I’d be happy.

OVERCOMING OVEREATING

This self-loathing cycle went on for most of my high school experience. I hated going to school because I hated the way I looked. I even stopped wanting to hang out with my friends because I hated the way I looked and felt (inside and out). At one point, I even contemplated not existing anymore because I felt so stuck in what felt like an endless addiction — to eating (and as anyone who’s struggled with food addition knows, unlike alcohol or other vices, we can’t just give up eating).

A few months after high school ended, I was in Barnes & Noble one day looking for a book to help me with my food struggle. I happened upon an unpresuming little book that wound up being revolutionary for me, in that it introduced the concept of actually being kind to myself and accepting myself no matter what.

I remember one chapter where the authors were talking about cravings:  they said if you love chocolate milkshakes and just want a chocolate milkshake, rather than depriving yourself of them and then berating yourself for even wanting one, allow yourself to have as many chocolate milkshakes as you want – just don’t berate yourself.

HOLD UP JUST ONE MINUTE THERE, PARTNER… WHAT?!?!?!  Not criticize myself?

Now you have to understand this:  I had always criticized myself for something.

I was either telling myself I was too fat, too shy, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not popular enough, not good enough, etc. (the list was endless). And at that point in my life, I believed that the only way I’d ever change was by being strict and demanding with myself, using judgment and criticism as my motivation. But the thing was, being critical of myself NEVER got me to where I wanted to be; I only grew less motivated and more depressed the more I beat myself up.

HEALING FROM THE INSIDE OUT

So, for the first time ever, I entertained the idea of actually trying to be nice to myself.  Like consciously nice!  

At first, this was NOT easy. It felt strange and awkward, not to mention extremely fake.

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, things inside me began to shift.

I began to feel differently toward myself. I slowly started to first notice when I was being mean to myself, which was very often. Then, after noticing how mean I was to myself, I began experimenting with saying nicer things to myself (this is what felt so fake at first). But I stuck with it, and slowly began to notice a softening toward myself, from myself.  And I can’t even tell you…. this shift was huge!

In this way, inch by inch, I began to cultivate a different relationship with myself — from the inside out. And as a result of that, my eating habits and eventually my body began to change as well.

OUR WOUNDS ARE OUR MEDICINE

My journey with food has definitely been a teacher. It started me out on the 20+ year path of personal growth and inner investigation that continues to this day.

Today, I can honestly say that I feel blessed to have had this challenge as part of my “spiritual curriculum” in this lifetime, for if it wasn’t for what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, ashamed, isolated, depressed and unsure of how or if I’ll ever “get there”.  I also know what it’s like to have a very harsh inner critic, and because of this, I know how to help others embrace and overcome their own harsh self talk and self-sabotage.

We don’t have to criticize ourselves in order make changes in our lives. In fact, it’s much easier (and much more fun) when we love ourselves first!

As Lucille Ball put it, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

I agree whole-heartedly.