I was listening to a guided meditation from Deepak Chopra this morning. I like to affectionately call him “Uncle Deepak.” His voice is smooth like Bill Withers and sometimes it induces me to fall back asleep. In the meditation, he prompted me to look around the room and notice five new things. All I could notice was (1) my suitcase stuffed with random items (that has been sitting there for five days), (2) a stack of clean laundry that needed to be put away, (3) a foggy window because it was a cold 61 degrees outside, (4) a messy unmade bed, and (5) the smell of freshly brewed coffee that I was not drinking because I was stuck doing this 20 minute meditation.
Does this make me a horrible and shameful person? In truth, the answer is NO.
It is a scientific fact that we are hard-wired to focus on the negative. I learned this the painful and difficult way a few years ago when I woke up one morning crying, ashamed and frustrated. I woke up wanting to disappear and die. Then, I was slapped with a diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety and depression. (You can read more about that life-changing AND life-saving experience here.) According to UC Berkeley psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, “your body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones.” On the flip side, you can actually train your brain to face this negativity and create a more positive outlook for yourself.
For me, I just let myself have those negative thoughts for a short moment. I have to ask myself what these thoughts are really about? I am hard-wired to be very hard on myself because I am a recovering achievement junkie. It’s hard to fight years and years of perfectionism and beating myself up over the most trivial things. I sit with these thoughts until I am comfortable with the impact they bring to my mind. I begin to notice these thoughts and shift away from judging myself about these thoughts. In actuality, these 5 things that I noticed are simply just thoughts. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. Those things are really there in my bedroom and in my home. It’s the reality of my space.
Then, I make the conscious choice to slow down and re-write these thoughts. And, no I am not talking about it in some naive Pollyanna annoying kind of a way. Yes, I have things that still need to be put away. Yes, it will probably take me half an hour of my day to get this done. And is it really life or death if I don’t put away my clothes today? And, that’s it. The thoughts are gone. I notice the thoughts and then I surrender them.
Easier said then done. It gets easier to do this each time we notice the negativity. And I have done about five plus years of introspective work with a mental health professional and on my own to really figure out why these negative thoughts come up. In a lot of ways, I was addicted to negativity. I was addicted to fixing so many things and addicted to picking on myself.
What I have learned is that it’s okay to have these negative thoughts. It’s what makes me a human being. Now what my reaction is to these negative thoughts is what is key. I have found the following things help me face my anxiousness and worries:
1) Develop a meditation practice. In order for me to live a more peaceful life, I have to stop drinking coffee and stop playing with my iPhone so early in the morning. I have to surrender my anxiousness to God. The more spiritually connected I am the more confidence, patience and peace I build within myself. Honestly, I am a very fidgety and anxious person, so creating a regular meditation practice is very hard. And, when I do sit down quietly and take the time to start my day off with a meditation, I do feel like it was worth my time. I heard that the average American spends 20 minutes on Facebook a day. I consider that to be ample time to work on a meditation practice.
2) Go outside and get some fresh air. My loft has floor to ceiling windows with a tiny balcony. I never realized how nice it was to have that until I spent 14 days in a room without a window to the outside. Energetically, it made me feel trapped and stifled. It’s the same feeling I get when I used to have an office without a window. That lack of connection to nature really depresses me. So I know I have to force myself to be outside. Go for a walk. Run an errand to the tienda and buy some fruit. Or just sit down on a park bench and people watch. If I have been stuck in my art studio or working in the yoga studio for long periods of time, I just know that I have to go for a walk. Having a Fitbit and planning out a time to go for a walk outside is essential to my mental well-being.
3) I always make it a priority to utilize two tools from Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Julia Cameron recommends that creative beings do morning pages DAILY and take an Artist’s Date WEEKLY. I’ve been doing the Artist’s Way in some form of another since 2009. I love doing my three pages of stream-of-counciousness writing. Surrendering my random thoughts, worries, experiences and activities onto a page has really helped me unload a lot of my burdens. Emptying out everything into a daily journal is essential to the functioning of my day. The weekly Artist’s Dates also remind me that I am worthy of having fun, wandering, and exploring. There are times when achieving these things are difficult – when I’m sick or when I’m going through an emotional hardship or when I used to work 60 plus hour weeks as an event planner. I do my best though and I know that taking the time to do these things makes me a better, happier, and more energetic person.
4) I practice mindful consumption. When I am feeling out of sorts, I choose one morning (typically Monday) to have one slow breakfast. For some reason, I have always taken the time to have a slow breakfast at least once a week. It gives me time to treat myself and really enjoy sipping my coffee and tasting a nicely well-prepared meal. When I was working long hours, I used to go to Blacksmith and get the biscuit with a flat white. Lately, I have been going to a placed called San Martin. They serve a lovely breakfast with juice, coffee, eggs, black beans and bread. It has become one of my most favorite times of the week. I focus on my meal and then I re-center my energies to what I need to accomplish for the week. It sure as hell beats going to a weekly staff meeting with boring colleagues and crappy doughnuts.