self care, self-care/self-aware

Spiritual Self Care: Meditation

Whenever the subject of self care comes up, I can’t help but think about my belief that we humans are inherently spiritual beings. Hence, I believe the effort that we put into caring for our souls is incredibly important. Our spirits are our foundation. Meanwhile, in the quest to honour our most sacred selves, I know there are a number of popular rituals.

This week I thought I’d start to share my thoughts on a few different aspects of my spiritual practice.  Although I’m not a guru, I’m definitely a regular human being with an opinion.

Since it’s Monday, why not focus on meditation?

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

I might as well begin by making my relationship with meditation clear as day: Over the years my practice has been inconsistent. Nevertheless, I believe in it as a legitimate discipline.

I don’t know what your relationship with meditation is like, but think for a minute. If you don’t meditate, but you have friends who are trying to get you on board, what do they tell you? At the start of my meditation journey, I kept reading about how important it is for us humans to spend time in silence. On one hand this seemed logical to me. Our lives are full of organic and digitally-manufactured noise. How can the Spirit speak if we don’t give it room to move?

Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know a great deal about meditation, but the little that I had heard didn’t seem to make any sense. How was I supposed to find inner peace by sitting in a room, listening to absolutely nothing? Why was it important for me to focus on my breath? In spite of my doubts, the more I researched, the more articles I found that listed the supposed benefits of meditation. Clearer thoughts? A calmer mind? I was eager to get started!

And then, I did. Or at least I tried.

Over the years, the greatest struggle for me when it comes to meditation has involved the idea of surrendering–or silencing–my thoughts. Whether a session requires focus on a particular mantra or just my breath, ignoring my brain’s constant chatter can be incredibly hard.

There are times when I find I have to reason with myself. Those thoughts that won’t go away–the ones that chase me when I’m trying to take time just to focus on me… Are they interesting? Are they positive? No. Whenever I catch myself longing for mental rest of any kind, the thoughts that rise up and march around in my brain tend to be ones of frustration, anxiety, and worry.

Are any of them helpful? Absolutely not.

To this day, if I want to meditate, there are times when I have to actively ward off negative input. Somewhere inside of my brain, I swear, there’s a version of me that’s actually had to stand up and yell at my chitter-chatter, “STOP! This is MY TIME!!”

Now, Inner Claire isn’t always successful. But once my swirling thoughts start to disperse, I tend to stay alert, ready to follow up with more phrases to get me into the zone. Sometimes something as simple as “No!” or “Not now!” is beneficial. In this world of constant distraction, it’s important to protect my “me” time at all costs.

Mind you, this doesn’t always work. While I’ve done my best to establish a regular meditation ritual, there have been days when I’ve had to throw in the towel.

In spite of my resistance, when I’ve practiced consistently, I’ve found that what they say is true. Meditation works. Overall, when I meditate regularly I feel better and less anxious. My manic mind has begun to learn the importance of surrendering to the flow of life via surrendering my thoughts.

So what if you’re interested in meditating, but you’ve never tried it out. Where do you begin?

Guides like this one from Gaiam offer some basic information on the benefits of meditation, and how you can get started.

Sites for apps like Headspace include useful articles  which explore various types of meditation.

As for useful tools, currently I use Calm. In the past, I’ve tried Headspace, and Omvana.

If you don’t want to turn to your phone, there are books and CDs available. Years ago, I downloaded one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s recordings.

And of course, there’s plenty of information available online for free. Whether you turn to YouTube, podcasts, or a variety of other resources, don’t be afraid to take time to support your mental and spiritual health. In the end your mind will thank you.

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status report

I’m BACK!

Would you like to know where I’ve been? So would I.

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Photo courtesy of CreateHER Stock Photos

After some freelancing success and a hiatus away from all things writing-related, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not I lost my mojo. Over the past few months, I’ve certainly felt as though I’d been torn away from my talent. I figured now’s as good a time as any to get to know and show who I am again.

Let me begin by getting you up to speed: During the last few months of 2018 I had a day job*. Although it looked good on paper, in reality, the position truly wasn’t for me. Currently, I question whether or not I should even have it on my resume. There were signs from the beginning that things weren’t meant to be. A bad contract and horrible reviews of my workplace should have been enough to make me be cautious, but I was desperate to be employed. (Note: Desperation ALWAYS leads to bad decisions.)

As time went on, I found myself perpetually stressed. Yet through it all, I longed for a sense of normalcy. Every now and then I tried to keep up with friends and acquaintances via my social media accounts. But by the time Christmas Holidays rolled around, I was mentally and physically drained. In the end I learned that when it comes to finding work, I can afford to be cautious. 

Since then, in the wake of the new year, I tried to resurrect an old piece of writing. Last year I’d successfully pitched yet abandoned an essay. Writing articles can be a nerd’s dream, and this one was no exception. Looking back, I know that I’d conducted some amazing interviews, and I still believe in the vision behind my original concept. Therefore, when I first went back to my work, I didn’t anticipate any problems.

And yet, as I attempted to revise and refresh my article, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. There are times when you write, and your material touches you personally. You may have done an incredible amount of research, and received quotes from amazing people. You may even turn to friends for great writing advice. Yet when you try to assemble your work and and support it by adding the veil of your own perspective, you may feel as though you’re not doing it justice.

That’s the challenge that plagued me while working on my latest piece of writing. In spite of the good intentions behind my attempted revival, something just wouldn’t let my soul rest.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that I can write. But as I worked I couldn’t help but have doubts about my story’s substance. I hate the idea of being inadequate in a realm that I was born to succeed in.

Meanwhile, as I tried to sort out what was wrong, I’ve had a few epiphanies related to fear and procrastination.

A few weeks ago I thought I’d finally begun to understand where my resistance was coming from. On Twitter I’d written to a fellow writer:

Today I think I finally started to figure out how not to be afraid of writing.

The sensation didn’t last, but the reasoning behind it stuck with me.

One day I realized I was at my best when I stopped wrestling with my doubts. As an artist I’m at my best when I surrender and accept my fate. Writing is what I was meant to do. It’s all I’ve ever wanted since childhood. Yet whenever I’ve caught myself fretting over the fact that I had to write something, instead of focusing on the fact that I got to write–that’s where my internal hell began.

When it comes to your life’s mission, time spent worrying is better spent working.

And then, another revelation. One afternoon when my anxiety was at my most aggravating, it hit me:

I get it! I understand why some artists are driven to substance abuse. 

Or, at the very least, I felt as though I understood why some of them had mental health issues.

There are times when feeling the weight of your life’s calling can really mess with your head. On one hand, you’re in a position where you’re able to create and share something amazing. On the other, impostor’s syndrome is darkening your door.

You’re powerful enough to do this, but how dare you?!?

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Photo courtesy of Lenka Sluneckova on Unsplash.

So where do I go from here?

Right now, it seems as though my life is at a standstill. Whether or not it’s the calm before the storm, time will tell.

Ultimately, though, I’m convinced that when you reject what you were meant to do, you’re rejecting YOURSELF. In order to heal this rift, the first solution that comes to mind is a spiritual one. I need to give myself space daily to think intimately about how I regard myself. No matter how much I may have attempted to avoid it in the past, the fact is that I love writing–body and soul. What sense does it make for me to hate my one true love?

In the days to come I look forward to settling down to work, and genuinely embracing my reality. Let’s see what happens next.

For more on mental health and the writers’ journey, read Alicia Elliott’s essay On Burnout.

*I’m looking for a new position. If you know anyone who needs to have something written, get in touch!

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self care

Your mind matters.

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This is Mental Illness Awareness Week (#MIAW2016). I can’t speak about how this week gained its notoriety. However, what I wanted to do is speak a bit about therapy. I’ve attended sessions before. Chances are, I may go again. There’s an awful stigma surrounding it that has to change. I’ve heard people make ignorant comments about it. I also know that others have loved ones who are downright abusive when they dare discuss their weaknesses. Either way, this subject resonates with me.

I want people to think: When you mock people who choose to go to therapy, you’re not demonstrating how resilient you are. You’re showing me that you don’t understand how human beings function. You’re demonstrating your insensitivity.

Just for the record: NO, a person doesn’t have to have a serious illness like schizophrenia to see a therapist. No, her decision to seek help doesn’t mean that she’s an idiot. Nothing is wrong with someone trying to find solutions to their problems by talking to somebody. People have the right to get help when they need it.

In sessions with a good therapist, there’s a sense of freedom. You should feel safe. Ideally you’ll be sharing your thoughts with someone who’s unbiased and willing to listen to your problems. In return, this person will offer you guidance. They won’t try to dictate solutions to your challenges, but help you recognize them. (I know that opinions on therapeutic outcomes vary, but these are mine.)

Let’s talk some more about reactions to mental health intervention. What would you say if a friend tells you she wants to go to counselling? If she decides to share her reasons, I hope you listen. Be open minded. A person who recognizes that they need this kind of help isn’t a fool. They’re vulnerable and brave.

On the other hand, what if someone close to you suggests that you’re the one who needs counselling? I know that you might be surprised at first. You might even be angry. But if this person truly cares about you, I hope that you won’t dismiss them or be judgemental. People who know us well can have an uncanny habit of noticing things that we may overlook. Perhaps your friends have seen changes in you. Maybe you haven’t been yourself in a while.

In the end, your mind matters.

It’s a part of you. It affects the way that you function every second of every day of your life. If you doubt what I’m saying, consider this well-worn analogy: Why is it so easy to seek medical attention if we break a bone? Meanwhile, if we feel a sadness or anger that doesn’t leave, some of us are told to do nothing, or think we’re supposed to just magically push it away.

Lastly, I think we should also pay attention to what I call behaviour blocks. (I don’t know what the proper term is.) I’ve seen situations where Person A’s attitude may affects the way he interacts with Person B. Person B may think Person A is being unreasonable. Maybe he is or isn’t. But please. Don’t be so committed to being right that you won’t listen to another person when they try to point out how they feel around you. Be open to intervention—especially if it will change your relationship for the better.

We are more than mere flesh and bone. Our thoughts really, truly have the power to hurt or heal ourselves–and others.    

Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash.

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self-care/self-aware

Your mind matters.

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Source

Today is “Let’s Talk” day. Bell Canada is giving 5 cents to mental health initiatives nationwide for–among other things–every tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Check out their campaign’s web site for further details.

Their tweets have appeared more than once in my timeline, and I’ve retweeted messages as I see fit. I’ve even tweeted a couple of my own.

Yet I’ll admit something. Even though I support the cause, I cringe over the phrase “mental illness”. (It’s a bias of mine, but it’s there.) I believe I resist mainly because of the misconceptions attached to the phrase. Furthermore, in my head there’s still a difference between a person needing help with their mental health, and them having a (serious) mental illness. Both issues obviously relate to each other. Yet I’m concerned that generally speaking, the idea of preserving a person’s mental health is overlooked.

Instead, I tend to talk about “mental health” and place it on the same plane as our physical well-being–underestimated, yet essential.

The fact is, though, that some people reject the idea of seeking therapy for the very same thing that I’m guilty of–the assumptions surrounding the word. They may believe that time in a counselor’s office belongs to folks with big-name illnesses such as schizophrenia. They might think that taking care of one’s mental health is tantamount to admitting that they’re “crazy”. However, those who subscribe to these beliefs often fail to consider people who struggle in quiet ways. Some of us may have anxiety-based issues, or may still bear scars from a tragedy that we experienced ages ago.

The expectation of invincibility needs to end. We are all vulnerable in different ways. Some more than others.

And there is nothing wrong with admitting that you might need a little help.

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