Traumatizing Transitions—Meet Gratitude Notes.

I’ve gone through a lot of transitions in my life, and most of them hit me like a brick.

Moving to college, my first break-up (and second, and third…), studying abroad, my first full-time job, losing my home, etc. And then there’s moving, moving, and moving. Often moving is wrapped up in another transition, like a career change, or sometimes simply the lease is up and my dear housemates are moving on.

I remember a lot of crying and depressive feelings. Regret and doubt come easily to me, so I often tried to create a new, desirable environment while holding on to my old one. Doubting that I was moving in the best direction for myself made the effort half-hearted, and I would float in a disorganized haze of highs and lows during the weeks following the transition.

Deepak Chopra said, “Every great change is preceded by chaos” but I’m pretty sure it was the other way around for me—great change preceding chaos.

So, before I left my coastal home in Chile to move back to my childhood home in Massachusetts, I was determined to avoid the self-sabotaging chaos of transition. Returning home was something I wanted and had planned for, but leaving Chile was not. Hence the root of all my issues with change.

Despite feeling relatively calm leading up to the departure date, I reflected on how to have a peaceful transition.

First, I looked at the potential sources of negativity: I worried that I’d regret not making more of my experience in Chile and wish I’d stayed longer. And I was anxious about not having a ‘plan’ (read: job or studies) upon my return. Would I feel directionless and confused? Sensitive?

I chose to add a little activity to my daily routine starting the final month in Chile. My focus was on the first concern (regrets), but this trick managed to address both my fears around leaving and returning.

Each evening, I would write a small note about something I was grateful for in Chile. Each day naturally, no matter how mundane, sparked a new reason to feel grateful, but sometimes I’d write about the larger picture.

For me, a small rectangle of space (a quarter of a blank page) was enough to go deeply into the aspects of the one thing I was grateful for.

I didn’t only write what I was grateful for, but also why. How did it make me feel? How many different ways had I been able to enjoy it? What are the specific details that I appreciate?

I noticed the gratitude notes sparked feelings of love, compassion, awe, admiration, and plain old happiness. They helped me see how much I had been fortunate to experience in Chile, which was much more than I had realized initially. The small details of my time showed to be what I was most often grateful for—time spent alone, daily exploration, the land, and the sea.

July 4

Today I am grateful for the sea. It’s still intimidating, but I’ve grown to love it in all it’s forms–fiery, crashing, overflowing, the way it blends with the sky or carves the longest horizon I’ve ever seen from the shore, and the way–and this I love the most–it gives itself to the colors of the sky. I’m grateful for the peace it brings me and how its familiar mystery cracks open my heart each time I see its bubbly waves. I’m grateful that it’s become my compass and what home means to me. Living here, sand is an unshakeable part of my socks. I’m grateful for how the earth interacts with the sea– solid, looming, grounded but the sea returns again and again. I’m grateful for being next to such a giant almost everyday. It bears countless gifts and is constantly near. My body is nurtured here.

 

July 16

I’m grateful for exploring this little city I live in. For the hill where I’ve spent about a year of my time here. The sunsets have been a daily blessing, even when I cannot see them. I love the view from my current house, how the sky looks when the clouds are recovering after a storm, how the sun can drop into the sea in a million different ways. I’m grateful for being curious and unafraid of the aggressive house dogs. For turning new corners, and running up and up as the view gets better and better, knowing that the way home is simply down. I’m grateful for biking along the coast, especially when I’m alone. For stopping when I want to, being equally in awe of the hills and the sea. What a beautiful and honest place this is.

Additionally, the notes helped me realize how I had in fact done personal work toward finding a next step post-Chile. Although there was more than one possible path I was taking home with me, each excited me thoroughly.

Upon leaving, I let the tears fall. Yet they weren’t desperate tears, but tears of love and gratitude. And since my return, I’ve felt peaceful and grateful for this place and its people. I’m being kind to myself and appreciating these moments of being in a between place.

What I’ve known since my first big life change is that the mind and body adjust—eventually. But I learned now that it’s not about pacifying my regrets (in an attempt to avoid transition trauma), but rather embracing my choice and recognizing that some loss is necessary to gain what I’m reaching for. It’s not a mistake to choose change, it’s the essence of life. And what helped me accept loss was knowing I had appreciated and loved the experience fully.

Looking back, in times of great change and transition, gratitude saved me from the deepest sadness. Save may not be the right word—rather, it is the light that stays bright as the sun sets.

Gratitude is a companion, a ray of light that reminds us of the flow of things. Trying to escape our current state of unease in change is a helpless cause, but recognizing that emotions flow in and out helps to buoy ourselves in a restless sea. After all, the waves give us both fear and excitement in the same crash.

The beauty lies in recognizing the unique details within the vastness of experience, and being grateful that they have once come and then may go.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie

How changing my toothpaste got me to work toward daily change

Elephant Journal submission [update: published here, as “2 Morning rituals that did something better than change my life,” with modifications]:

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Morning view from my bedroom floor

We want change, but do we want the tiny, boring, almost unperceivable steps it takes to get there?

“The discipline you learn and the character you build from setting and achieving a goal can be more valuable than the achievement of the goal itself.” ~Bo Bennett

I’ve been living in Chile for almost a year and a half, and while my Spanish skills improved immensely, I could never get pulled in to a book in Spanish. There are some incredible Latin American authors and I wanted to hear their voices in original words…but constant dictionary pauses and the slow reading pace always overcame my patience. I’m not a great reader anyway, often in the middle of multiple books at the same time without finishing any or book binging on trips and then not having time to pick up a book again for weeks. It seemed like a formidable and unenjoyable challenge to push myself through a book in a foreign language.

However, I recently finished a 350 page novel by Isabel Allende, Retrato en Sepia or Portrait in Sepia. (Go me!) I cried multiple times, I laughed, I stayed up late reading, I got myself way too carsick reading this book. Allende is one of my favorite authors (I read her other books in English), but I attribute this accomplishment to something much more simple than her captivating writing: I changed my toothpaste.

A few months ago the artificial coloring of my toothpaste (since when is mint blue?) just didn’t make me feel like I was caring for my teeth enough. I’ve had sensitive and receding gum problems, as well as a constantly tight jaw and simply my mouth didn’t feel clean after brushing. I did my research and decided to make my own with two ingredients: baking soda and coconut oil.

At the same time I adopted the modified Bass brushing method and oil pulling with my extra coconut oil. Guided by Ayurvedic morning rituals, I also incorporated tongue scraping (before brushing) and drinking warm lemon water (after brushing). These changes happened almost at once, and the ritual took hold.

The time between waking and eating breakfast quickly became a golden hour of calm, awakening sacredness.

The routine brought about quiet time with myself that didn’t lend to typical time fillers (mindlessly scrolling through my phone, messaging with others, eating…). As I sat on my bed with the warm mug in my lap, I picked up Allende’s book and a scrap of paper. I creased the cover for the first time and began to read slowly. Every few moments I searched a new word to note down on paper, until my lemon water was sipped to a finish. Then I took a small spoonful of coconut oil and began to swish for up to 20 minutes.

Slowly, the glossary paper filled up, resigned to a bookmark, and the pages turned.

Reading an entire book stopped being about one large task, and turned into a short activity that lasted as long as my cup of warm water and oil pulling. And as a side benefit (in addition to whiter teeth), my gum health routine transformed into a journey of captivating historical fiction!

The moments reading on the bus or late at night were few compared to my morning ritual, without which I never would have committed to or finished the novel. Additionally, the book was divided into three parts, so it didn’t even have the typical motivation of reaching the end of a chapter during each reading session. It was simply time to spit out the coconut oil so I’d shut the book, feeling satisfied I sat still for so long and then move on with the rest of my day.

I realize now how I subtly broke a large goal into many mini goals, disguised as time fillers. Essentially, this is where real change happens. In the day-to-day.

It’s easy to see oneself in the future feeling accomplished and happy having achieved something big. We often imagine who and how we want to be in the future, but it’s harder to imagine what that change looks like because it’s a subtle step everyday.It’s more boring to think about than the reward, but this is exactly what can obstruct our path to our goals. We want to see big and fast change, and get frustrated when our small steps don’t seem to get there.

I’m grateful that I quickly began to enjoy the little, although slow, moments of change. The big task of reaching the last page was no longer the focus as I became enthralled with every single page.

As I open the cover to a new book (sad to say goodbye to the last one), I plan to incorporate more baby steps into my days. It’s clear to me now that writing and projects need daily care, like people or plants, not just occasional sporadic obsessiveness. I hope to link them to other self-care habits like midday stretching and cooking to facilitate more symbiotic incorporation into my life.

I wouldn’t say that my new toothpaste was life-changing, but—more importantly—it was certainly everyday-changing.


Related article (which I’ve bookmarked to remind myself again and again): You probably know to ask yourself, “What do I want?” Here’s a way better question

Making time for May

It’s the 3rd of May and I’m looking back on how my month has gone so far. On the 1st and 2nd I explored locally with my boyfriend with little to no pre-planning. We stepped out of the city noise into quiet fresh air.

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Cerro El Roble in Caleu, Chile. On the horizon is the Andes mountain range.

Yesterday I woke up at 5:40 AM and I loved it. We metro-bus-hitchhiked our way to the foot of a 2222 meter mountain in full autumn brilliance. We encouraged each other through foot pain and the uncertainty of how we would return home from this tiny valley village with no public transportation.

At the top, the snow-capped Andes stretched in the longest line from North to South that we had ever seen. To the other side we saw the blue rolling Costal mountain range and the clouds above the sea. We sat in silence, the breeze quiet and looked below and around at the varied landscape. Suddenly, a condor swept silently beneath us and I gasped in awe. I had never seen one from above before nor so close and it was moving. It circled below and then above us for a short time, never flapping it  s wings once but simply gliding over the air currents.

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The condor beneath the summit of El Roble.
I’m happy I could make room for adventure so close to home. It’s refreshing and empowering. I was able to let go and center my energy on the hike. I plan to use this experience as a guide into the task I have ahead for the next month.
Make time for what’s important. Do one thing at a time. 
For the rest of the month, I hope to continue a few simple things:
  • Waking up early (more on this later)
  • My sacred morning routine
And to start some new things:
  • Stay active everyday
  • A solid bedtime routine
  • Writing routine, publishing every Friday and Monday
Here we go!IMG_7807

No one is you…

 

No one is me and I am no one else. My transformation is personal and it will not look like anything I’ve seen before.

This is all the encouragement I need to feel ready for the Elephant Academy Apprenticeship. #gratitude #itwasofbenefit

Too afraid of failure: Why I want to back out before I’ve even started

Two very positive things happened for me this week:
  1. I was offered an interview for an internship that I’ve been eying for the last 7 months. It’s on international education in DC.
  2. I was accepted into elephant journal’s 4-month apprenticeship program for journalism, writing and editing.

At first, I felt really good upon submitting the applications. Like I was taking action rather than just talking about my interests. It was unlikely that I would be able to participate in either (and definitely not both) because of my upcoming plans, but I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.

But then I receive positive responses from both and suddenly I’m…reluctant? Uneasy? Unenthused? These feelings loomed over my excitement.

WHAT IS THIS FEELING?!
Why do I feel shitty when the good things start coming?
Am I afraid of responsibility?
Do I feel it will consume me, and I won’t have time for myself or the people I love, and that will make me unhappy with the internships?
Or am I afraid I can’t follow through with what they assign me? That I won’t be able to give my 100% because I can’t organize my time well and I’m lacking flow? That I’m not as competent as I seem on paper? That I’ll make them regret their choice and it’ll just be uncomfortable for all of us?

Am I taking myself too seriously?

I remember when I got my SAT results and then again when I got into my top choice college, I couldn’t tell anyone at first. Even though it was exactly the news I wanted to hear, I felt strange. Trapped. As if the good news meant that I had to continue pushing myself for good results, but if I couldn’t make it, that would mean I didn’t deserve it in the first place. I suddenly felt weighed down with pressure, thinking wouldn’t it be easier if I chose something more aligned with what I expect from my mediocre self?

After some time to process these feelings, the concept of “imposter syndrome” floats to my mind. Maybe that’s it. Now I’m in the position to do something new professionally and I’m afraid I won’t succeed (now…or ever). I feel uneasy because I’m not looking forward to the shame of failing or underperforming (who is?). I’m tempted to delay until I feel more prepared…more perfect.
I decided to learn more about this unfortunate phenomenon. 

The imposter phenomenon is what happens when we compare our insides with other people’s outsides: Others appear confident and capable, but I think I’m insecure and under-qualified. I’ll fail eventually and then they’ll all know the truth about me.

According to the article “Why feeling like a fraud can be a good thing” in the BBC magazine this week, “though the phenomenon was first identified in the 1970s, psychologists say it seems to be ever more relevant in today’s hyper-competitive, economically insecure world.”

This is especially true for women, although it affects everyone. The article cites Dr. Valerie Young’s book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “Despite often overwhelming evidence of their abilities, impostors dismiss them as merely a matter of luck, timing, outside help, charm – even computer error.”

How ridiculous that women often attribute their successes to luck, timing and other external factors, while at the same time they blame setbacks or failures on personal incompetencies

And unfortunately, imposterism doesn’t go away as someone accumulates successes. In fact, sometimes it magnifies because success can mean transitions, opportunities or risks that someone may have never experienced before. All the more reason to feel like a fraud.
The BBC also published a podcast on the subject. The following are some take-aways: 
  1. We often experience shame when we fail, forgetting that failure and short-comings are a part of life. Perfection as we define it doesn’t exist.
  2. We may have trouble disconnecting our work from ourselves because a lot of work today is “knowledge work” — work that relies on our minds and not on our hands — so when something happens, it feels like it’s us who are being judged and not our work.
  3. This personal and sensitive shame and preoccupation caused by feeling that others will discover you are an imposter “comes from putting too much value on other peoples opinions.”
  4. The root of this phenomenon possibly originated many years ago, with basis in Plato’s idea of the effect of liberalism; society began to replace God with other people, which turned us into slaves of public approval.
I’m feeling less alone but nowhere close to having conquered my imposter syndrome, so I created the following game plan. It includes reminders and perspective-shifting advice.
Game plan:
  • Accept and ignore the imposter thoughts. Welcome confident thoughts instead.
  • Don’t trust shame, especially the kind I feel before I’ve even started something.
  • Push on. If I see myself as a skilled writer and working my dream job in the future, that means taking risks right now. Otherwise my ideal future self will never become my present self. The best gift I can give myself is to take these daunting yet important steps.
  • I may fall flat on my face or I may succeed. But either way I’ll survive. I’ll keep breathing and I’ll learn something. One day I may laugh about it.
  • One of the best coping mechanisms I’ve learned is to step outside of myself and look at myself from someone else’s perspective. Or ask, how would I see someone in my situation? I find my feelings are a lot kinder and less extreme. This humanizes feelings that emerge from perfectionism.
  • Remember that I can’t see other people’s insides. We can misread external stimuli, and therefore mistake them for negative, judgmental feedback. It’s better to have a motive that’s higher than public approval. Ex: My higher purpose is to learn more about the career, so I can take advantage of my interviewer’s time and expertise (rather than their potential reaction taking advantage of my insecurities).
  • “You have to be self-competent to admit your weaknesses,” says neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. Don’t get hard — let others in on what you’re experiencing, and you’ll find that you’re not alone. Confiding will help you combat imposterism thoughts.

 

What is my revolution?

Day 7 LYL Start a Blog Prompt: What revolution will you lead?

My revolution will be personal (for now) because as I change myself, the world I exist in will change as well. Then, I hope to align my passions with the changes I want to see in the world.

The revolutionary idea for my blog is to speak the thoughts I haven’t wanted to say aloud and ask the questions that I’ve been afraid to ask – despite insecurities, fear, feeling lost, and failure.

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What change do I want to create?

I haven’t posted something new in over 4 days. I’ve been fiddling with the theme and formatting, saying “I’m working on my blog”, but I’ve been avoiding some big questions. By doing this, I’ve gained nothing and I’ve only hurt myself. However, I am determined not to lose the momentum I began with. The Live Your Legend Creators Guild on Facebook has been encouraging even though I haven’t yet shared my blog.

Time to dive in deeper!

LYL Day 6 Prompt: What difference do you want to make?

Speaking into my brown paper bag of honesty, my first response is “I don’t know!”

But that’s not true. I am all about change. And change is difference.

So, I ask, what change do I want to make?

  • Personal: I want to practice slow self-care, choosing quality (positive, caring homemade skin care products) over convenience (plastic bottles, un-readable ingredients, $). I want to become more loving to myself so that I can give purer love out into the world. In other words, I want to learn to believe in myself (be my biggest fan and cheerleader) so that I feel I can make a difference in the things I believe in.

Key focuses: DIY skin care, morning routine, flexibility, being honest with myself  

  • Professional: I want to develop my strong and weak skills. I want to be experimental and grateful for success and failure, without qualifying them (ex: “they chose me because they couldn’t find anyone else”, or “it’s because I’m not meant to do this work”). An individual’s 20s and 30s should be about strengthening weaknesses and then when they’re older they can play on their strengths. I’ll think of it as shading in the lighter areas of my portrait: I’m becoming more whole – not floundering in an area I don’t belong.

Key focuses: writing, organization, facilitating

  • World: Keeping in mind that the things that move me the most are what’s right in front of me, I wish for a collective concern for the environment. I wish for stronger recycling efforts in Chile. I wish for peaceful connections between people of different backgrounds. I wish for the world to feel smaller. I wish for more care and love toward animals.

Key focuses: environment, intercultural understanding

Next: What revolution will you lead? i.e. How does this all fit together?

My elevator poem

The Day 5 prompt: What’s your elevator pitch?
 ­
I’m somewhere between home and away.
I say few words but I search for big meaning.
My problems are solved by getting close to the shore, stretching on mountains, and leaping.
I sweat out what’s not in my control and I refine what is.
Sometimes I recharge by staying in my room with the window open looking up remedies to the toxins in my life,
but other times that drains me.
Sometimes it ignites me to be around other humans,
other times it picks me apart.
 ­
I may not see the lines of should and shouldn’t,
my street smarts come and go between
being too honest and not being real enough.
 ­
I am both home and away.
Because there is a world in me and I am in this world.
I feel in English and think in a foreign tongue.
I’m not even sure what language my heart speaks.
 ­
Slowly I learn I can’t validate myself to myself solely through actions,
nor can I meditate on things that have never made me happy or whole hoping suddenly it will just click.
Things don’t click,
they churn.
 ­
I think too much about what’s wrong with me and too little about what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it.
That is something I’d like to change.
 ­
I am kind and I’ll support you in the most silent of ways.
I want to get to know you by sharing intimate space with you.
Let’s share a kitchen or a walk in the hills or
that look across the table.
 ­
Most importantly, though,
is that I’m always starting and starting again and looking,
even though I’m afraid.
I’m always getting out when my comfort zone is in.
I cut loose the devils in my head so their soil grows a garden of positivity, again and again at each step between home and away.
My steps are big steps, I just don’t know it yet.
 ­
p.s. This post is part of the Start a Blog Challenge with Live Your Legend. Check it out!

I am trying to feel proud

Prompt: What’s one thing you’re proud of?

What am I flucking proud of? I shrink back in horror at this question. If I were asked this at a dinner party, I would play it off with an awkward comment about how I hitchhiked 1000 miles alone without being kidnapped and wait until someone else started talking over me…

Not surprisingly, I originally made this post private because this is an extremely vulnerable topic. I feel like there are few things I’ve accomplished well on my own. The rest has been mediocre or handed to me, or I didn’t even try.

But, between me and myself,

  • I am proud of how I learn in yoga classes – how I can challenge and be kind to myself in the same place, how I advance quickly when I practice consistently.
  • I am proud of hiking almost 200 km over 2.5 weeks and sleeping in a tent 21/30 days on my last backpacking trip.
  • I am proud of myself for being able to be alone and not feel lonely, most of the time.
  • I am proud of leaving my degree-related job to move to Chile and dedicate my time to something completely new.
  • I am proud of getting back up after being fired and then losing my house in my first year living in a foreign country.
  • I am proud of my Spanish-speaking abilities (not proud of cuanto me cuesta hablar cuando I switch back into English).
  • I am proud of using my squash skills – 12+ years of intense training and competition – as a way to make a living, even after a few years of not playing much.
  • I am proud of keeping my cool when I get absolutely lost in a foreign city.
  • I am proud of having made some close friends in college.
  • I am proud of publishing a photo narrative of my experiences in Guatemala during my senior year in high school, and later earning an award for my work.
  • I am proud of creating moments of progress for my English and squash students, seeing the change and excitement they feel from their progress.
  • I am proud of investing in myself this fall (southern hemisphere), of trying my best to make space for myself to just be.

Considering this prompt naturally gives rise to thoughts of a bunch of things I’m not proud of (losing my job last year, wasting my degree, feeling timid and undeserving all the time, losing contact with someone important from my past). But I have to live with these outcomes as they are incorporated into my life path of discovery. They’ve taught me other lessons.

The point of this blog is to be completely and rawly honest. To step away from asking myself if something is right or wrong, and to just let it be. This may be simple for other people, but it feels vulnerable and slimy for me.

So here’s to just letting it be. It’s ok. It’s ok. It. is.

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Thank you for not doing your job

Day 3 Prompt: What do people thank me for?

This is hard one for me. Luckily, today I had some big “thank yous.” They were from a single person, but it really brightened up the long day I had in front of me. She thanked me for being helpful and persistent – for going beyond my role as an English teacher and informally coaching her. This particular student is a woman in her late 40s who works at a study abroad office in Valparaiso, Chile. Last year her office went through a major turnover and she was the only employee that emerged on the other side. But suddenly her job description included a level of English she lacked. This is where I came in.

Anyway, I come to class everyday with a lesson plan, and this student comes to class everyday with a new story about her phobia of speaking English in the presence of her “superiors”. And slowly the classes have turned into coaching sessions in English. What’s the point of teaching grammar, vocabulary, and conversation skills if she can’t get the words out when it counts? I really enjoy these classes compared to my other English lessons. I feel there is a direct and applicable goal that we can work towards. There is a tangible purpose to our classes and somehow I am able to provide relevant coping and strategic methods. She has been very grateful (increasing my pay!) and I feel grateful to help. I feel completely engaged and present during these classes, plus she always brings in treats like carrot muffins and seedy bread!

p.s. Another day I’ll discuss what I would do even if I didn’t get paid, what I thank others for, and what I am grateful for.
p.p.s. This is part of the Start a Blog Challenge with Live Your Legend!