Hacks for the Holidaze

If you, like me, are a sensitive sort prone to getting off-kilter this time of year (whether that’s about year-end goals, consumption of food/drink/stuff/media, family drama, past losses, expectations on the part of yourself/family/others, or any other cluster)… I give you five hard-won holiday hacks. These are good in any stressful time but especially useful this time of year.

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“Stress Elf” Photo by Dylan Tweney, via Flickr Creative Commons

  1. Switch off the sirens. Your nervous system is most likely on alarm overload, like a firetruck siren that keeps on shrieking long after the six-alarm fire is out. In the modern world, this is a widespread issue that leads to adrenal burnout—and that’s why it’s so important to develop calming practices. This video shows some calming practices derived from the energy medicine tools of Donna Eden, but you can also simply take deep slow breaths, note your surroundings and safety, come into your senses, place your hand on your heart/belly/cheek and send your nervous system some love. Especially helpful: Leaning against a tree while doing any combination of these.
  2. Strenuously commit to missing out. I skip holiday parties if my body says “no.” I tune out most media, and turn down the noise of social media in particular. I know I miss out on certain things. Whole categories of pop culture and current events pass me by. I enjoy airplane mode from time to time, even when not inflight. I figure I can take a little trip to the insides of me. This tends to give me more energy than endlessly scrolling, which is what can happen if I’m tired.
  3. Reframe your emo-pictures. This tip comes by way of creativity coach Jen Louden, who suggests renaming unwanted feeling states. The goal is not to bypass the uncomfortable emotions, but to experiment with widening out in possibility. I tried it and found that I could reframe my anxiety as alertness, my sadness as soulfulness, and my judgment (sometimes) as clarity about my boundaries. An interesting tool to play with!
  4. Give yourself a big gift. Do what you want, only and exactly what you want, for a few hours. If you worry that this is selfish, your family will hate you, etc., consider the findings of Adam Grant, a generosity researcher: People give more over the long term when they keep their own goals sacrosanct. To my mind, if I avoid burnout by giving myself this gift…I’ll be more resilient, more loving, more present, and more generous over the long haul.
  5. Watch the birdie(s). By this I basically mean: watch your emotions and sensations come and go. (We just got a bird feeder and I’ve been watching the birds come and go, like my internal states.) I’ve also heard this skill taught in terms of identifying with sky vs. weather or (Jen Louden again) observing fish in an imaginary aquarium without getting in the tank.

However we can, as soon as we remember, the idea is to separate identity from emotional state. A friend who intensively practices mindfulness will say to herself, “sadness is present in my awareness,” to put distance between her essential self and the emotion. Isn’t that so much lighter than “I am depressed” or “my life is miserable”? It’s a ninja move designed to decrease reactivity. Bottom line: The more we can observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity, the more we are able to pause in the presence of strife, confusion, or (in my case) that fudgy brownie that will jack up the nervous system for sure.

Bonus hacker tip: Look for the nourishment. When deciding what to give (yourself or others) or how to spend your time or what to consume, discern with your body what feels truly nourishing to you.

My earlier post, Tips for the Anxiety-Prone, may help too. What about you—what hacks do you have to share for holiday time?

More Tips for the Anxiety-Prone

A few weeks ago I gave a rundown of some hardwon lessons in the anxiety arena. Then a friend messaged me her experience, and I realized I left some things out of the picture. So: some more tips below.

  • Try a beta blocker. “If you find yourself too overwhelmed to practice those natural self-care techniques, you might benefit from a beta blocker such as propranolol, a drug that reduces the physical symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. It lowers your blood pressure and slows your racing heart. Finding relief from those physical symptoms can give you the space you need to recover your energy and focus on more healthful habits.” —tip from a friend
  • Go the supplement route. 5-HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid, is a serotonin precursor. B vitamins also are my go-to (I favor a high-quality combo called Thera-B). I have just restarted these myself due to some situational stress in my life.
  • Calm your nervous system down using energy work. This is so foundational for me that apparently I completely forgot to note it down last time. Here is a good video showing several ways to calm the Triple Warmer meridian, which governs fight/flight/freeze. Most of us walk around in a state of overstimulation, with our nervous systems on overdrive. Even if we don’t think we’re in fight-or-flight, chances are our Triple Warmer wants calming.
  • Take a news fast. I mentioned limiting social media and online media, but sometimes we need a break from all of it to restore our resilience. Remember that the corporate media machine is geared toward hooking you. I favor media like Yes magazine to help me see broader trends. I might not be on top of the latest tweets and twaddles, but I maintain my balance, and stay informed in my own way.
  • Speak truth to power. I mentioned taking action last time, but leaned toward the feelgood stuff. Yet sometimes the most challenging thing, the action that seems to spike our anxiety, might be exactly what we need to do to reclaim ourselves.
  • Make space for discomfort. (Only if it isn’t overwhelming.) As transformation guide Lee Harris puts it in this video:

    “We are stronger when we allow ourselves to sit with hopelessness and helplessness from time to time. As it is often our energetic undercurrents (grief, sadness, frustration) that are the very energies we need to sit and be with (or learn how to support), in order to rise into the next place we want to go…”

  • Finally, consider anxiety a call. I don’t think this perspective from novelist Walter Percy makes light of the pain of living with a mood disorder, but recognizes it as a possible gateway:

    “Anxiety is, under one frame of reference, a symptom to be gotten rid of; under the other, it may be a summons to an authentic existence, to be heeded at any cost.”

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More tips from the 14-year-old daughter of a friend who attended my Sheroes in Everywoman workshop this week.

As always, please add your thoughts and any tips of your own in the comments!

More Kinds of Beauty

I’m happy being a little bit behind-the-times when it comes to pop culture. OK, I’m really really out of it. There are times when friends’ Facebook posts completely mystify me. Most current films, shows, games, musical groups etc. are not really on my radar. I don’t have cable, or Netflix, or Spotify. I rarely go to the movies.

For entertainment we get DVDs from the library, and we watch our favorite PBS shows on the membership passport website thingy. With subtitles. I might be a little bit old in that regard, though I like to think I’m a woman in my prime.

I guess I sort of live under a rock? A rock made of writing and yoga, home life and books, plus a certain fringy kind of work that totally charges my battery. Weird kid rides again.

But now Pink. Pink is on my radar. Pink, I know and love.

Come to think of it, I know none of her latest stuff. No matter. Here she is talking (to her daughter and all of us) about courage, and art, and opening people’s eyes to more kinds of beauty. A sister Weird Kid. Have a listen if you’ve ever felt like you’re swimming upstream.

 

Microbes: A Love Story

A few years ago my (former) dentist messed up—jabbing a spinning blade into the inside of my cheek while putting the finishing touches on a filling. Yes, I yelled.

She said to her hygienist (after shoving gauze in my mouth, and sort of apologizing), “Let’s get her set up on antibiotics.”

I said (as best I could around the gauze): “No.” Shaking, stunned, but clear.

“But you know your mouth is full of bacteria, and the risk of infection…” She began to lecture.

I realized I was not afraid of my own bacteria, and that I trusted my immune system. I made her understand that I did not want to take antibiotics. No thank you.

Fairly huge moment for someone who had struggled to rebuild her health for so long, who had been subject to catching “everything going around.” I don’t know when exactly it shifted, but I didn’t mistrust my own body anymore.

Among other issues, I had battled candida overgrowth for a decade or so, and had rebuilt my gut flora by consuming vast quantities of sauerkraut. I did NOT want to wipe out the friendly little beasties who had recently recolonized my body to good effect.

At home, using a natural mouthwash that burned the gouged-out place like blazing heck, I spit blood into the sink. My cheek had already begun to blacken and swell. I spent the evening holding my Triple Warmer* meridian points to return my nervous system to its hard-won state of safety and calm.

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Actual shot of my poor swollen jowl the night of the “incident.” Later my lips turned blue at the corner. It was a good look!

Before bed I whispered to my reflection in the mirror, to my swollen cheek, to my wise cells and crafty microbiome, “Thank you for knowing what to do. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for protecting me from infection. I trust you.”

My body responded by healing up tout suite—and further rewarded me by no longer requiring a medication I had begun tapering down.

It might sound wacky to some, but the body responds to our love and care, and I believe that respecting our microbes is critical. I’m now reading I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong, and finding all kinds of fantastic information in its pages.

It is fascinating to learn that only 100 species of bacteria can actually make us sick–the vast majority are either neutral or helpful to us. (Even assisting the immune system! “They educate our immune system, teaching it to tell friend from foe,” Yong writes.)

But there’s still this stigma.

“Microbes are now so commonly associated with dirt and disease that if you show someone the multitudes that live in their mouth, they will probably recoil in disgust,” he writes.

I remember hearing: Your mouth is the dirtiest place on your body! (Apparently the mouth was one of the earliest arenas to undergo bacterial study.)

He later points out that shifting from the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us” is…equally wrong. Bacteria are neutral and have their own agendae. Symbiosis only means “living together,” not necessarily harmonious cooperation.

I get it. There was that tiny bout with MRSA—a naturally occurring bacteria that ordinarily lives under the radar in our nasal tissues. That infection took forever to get gone, and left me with a nickel-sized scar on my leg.

Yong likens our partnership with the microbiome to a relationship that takes work.

Work and love, I say. It can’t hurt. And it might help.

So go ahead. Show your microbes some love.

*governs the adrenals and fight/flight/freeze mechanism

Weird Kid/Gone Berrying

My plan was to blog about weirdness today. Knowing my weirdness acutely and beginning to embrace it. The afternoon is fine and my neighbor’s mulberry tree beckons and it seems absolute folly to sit here much longer.

So. To make it quick: I have always felt myself to be The Weird Kid. I didn’t eat paste or anything, but I didn’t really speak to anyone either. Not if I could help it.

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Right, I’ll just leave this here, since I can’t find one with my hair in Laura Ingalls braids and my astigmatic eyes hidden behind goofy spectacles. And big buck teeth sticking out.

I’ve gotten over my shyness for the most part, which does help in navigating life. I expect a certain awkwardness at parties, is all.

But sometimes today, people look at me funny, say when I’m picking mulberries or juneberries by the roadside, or when I’m down on my knees harvesting weeds for a salad. When someone gives me That Look, I want to say, “Honey, this is the least weird thing I do all day.”

I mean, I sit at my computer and string words together for little to no remuneration.

I move energy around with my hands.

I talk to trees and bugs and plants and streams.

I ground people for a living.

On occasion a client or friend will tell me something sensitive and then ask, anxiously, “Is that weird?”

I say, No. As someone whose whole body will jerk when some invisible energetic shift takes place, I’m uniquely qualified to judge, and no.

Or rather, possibly, but with me, you can be as weird as you are. To borrow a Martha Beck maxim.

To my tribe: Embrace the weird. In weird is our strength.

Now I’m off to fill my bucket with mulberries.

Preserving Timeless Arts

Last weekend I had two encounters that felt like variations on a theme.

One was at Kheprw Institute, where we were discussing Charles Eisenstein’s book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.  Kheprw co-founder Imhotep Adisa suggested that our over-reliance on technology compromises our more intuitive ways of communicating and knowing.

“Reality is not limited to that one way of knowing,” Im said, speaking of scientific inquiry and measurable phenomena. (Besides: Who determines what’s worth being measured? Who sets up the arbiters, institutions, and gatekeepers of scientific findings?)

It’s definitely possible to communicate instantaneously without benefit of a text. Many of us have had that experience from time to time. And for those of us in the energy work arena, merging with someone else’s energy field is a skill we cultivate.

But the more we rely on texting to do the work of instantaneous communication, Im suggested, the more we atrophy our native abilities.

Speaking for myself, I know that distracting myself through technology can seriously gunk up my intuition. To be quiet and still enough to sense information differently, I have to spend time away from the addictive barrage of information and communication.

Later it struck me that Im’s words had their parallel in an earlier encounter, with a friend who’s devoted to preserving another dying art: traditional willow weaving. Viki Graber, a fourth-generation willow basket weaver, spent the weekend constructing a living sculpture at Salamonie Reservoir.

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The tunnel will grow thicker and more elaborate with time.

We drove up to see her, and she told us about the project. She received a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to build living willow structures at three parks this year.

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To make her baskets and sculptures, she grows her own willow bushes—14 different species!—on her property in northern Indiana. For this project though, she harvested wild willow shoots from along the lakeshore. She planted these in the ground about eight inches deep along the muddy bank of a pond, where they should take root. She bent the willow into a tunnel, complete with round windows.

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Me and my old friend Viki

For the next few years she will come back to weave new growth into the structure. A true collaboration.

Viki is passionate about sustaining traditional folk art in general (and willow-work in particular). She wants to keep these skills alive and pass them on to the next generation, and she loves to teach others.

As a functional artist, Viki makes beautiful objects that people want to use. Surely we all have the aptitude to create beauty for each other, whether that’s through physical creations or acutely attuned knowing.

Penney Peirce, in her book Frequency, suggests that we are all equally sensitive, with the very human ability to feel and sense and know things instantly. It’s just that some of us are consciously sensitive, and others unconsciously so.

I would add that some of us, like Viki and Im, are consciously invested in preserving useful, beautiful, timeless arts that the dominant culture tends to devalue.

What traditional, lost, or dying arts/skills call to you? Where do you make your mark in preserving ways that aren’t supported by our acquisitive go-go-go culture?

Microscopic Truth

My yoga teacher sometimes says “Feel the hum in your body,” when we are near the close of class.

Do you, ever? Feel that hum? Your energy body. It’s quietly there with you.

Someone told me recently that I have a sort of “presence” that seems to come from being fully in my body. I was honored, and told her that for many years I was NOT in my body. I wouldn’t even have known what that meant.

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Disembodied

These days I don’t always stay there 100 percent of the time, but I know what it is to feel into my body, to honor its communications. After years of dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, drifting along untethered, I have come home. It’s been a long road, but I now feel like I can trust my body.

Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk says, in this podcast:

“…if people are in a constant state of heartbreak and gut-wrench, they do everything to shut down those feelings to their body… And so a very large number of traumatized people…have very cut off relationships to their bodies. They may not feel what’s happening in their bodies… We needed to help people for them to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies, to start having a relationship with the life of their organism, as I like to call it.”

As I deepen that relationship, I’ve found myself tuning in closer and finer than ever. Exploring the microscopic truth expressed by my body. I’m noticing, sometimes in the wee hours when I wake up from an intense dream, what it feels like to resist whatever’s coming up. I don’t want to feel the old ball of dread descend on me, or the worry, or the anger, or the grief, and I can feel myself wanting to reject it. Here’s a tightening of my scalp, there’s a clench in my neck, a rigidity about the shoulders.

I’m not resisting even the resistance, but allowing it all in. Instead of shutting down with “No, no, no,” I’m reaching for the “Yes.”

The other night I actually mentally said, “Come in, come in, welcome welcome,” as I acknowledged each layer of sensation and emotion. And just in the acknowledgement, they seemed to melt away.

After all, as my mindfulness teacher used to tell me, “It is already here.” And as the poet Rumi says, “This being human is a guest house.”

I’ve lived long enough to laugh at my habitual patterns now and then. Oh yeah, that ball of dread again, there it is! Oh those worry states, stealing my sleep again! There’s that fear of something that may or may not ever happen… There’s despair, I can hold that one extra gently. There’s that contraction that could easily lead to a headache if I don’t breathe into it now.

Finding compassion for all of it—saying yes to all of it—broadens my capacity for kindness to others and to life itself. And as van der Kolk would say, I own myself fully, which makes me more resilient.