health

Two kinds of positive.

I once thought that positive was positive, plain and simple.

One was either a positive person or not.

 

I've come to see that positivity is rich and complex.

There are basically two kinds of positive. The first is what I call fake positive. Some people spout positivity day in and day out or seem to just exude it when you hang out with them for an hour or two. They just keep throwing up memes and phrases encouraging you to "be positive". How do these people do it? you might wonder. What is wrong with me or my broken life that I can't pull that off? Do they really not have issues or struggles?

Then, there is real positive. Other people who you KNOW have it hard, because they share it, but they still seem to find silver linings in life--sometimes in places where they are least likely to appear. The positive is  real, hard-earned positive. 

More people have commented or called me positive in the past year than I can count on my fingers and toes, and I started to think about why that was. My life, in many respects, was never MORE difficult than it was this past year, so why was I coming off more positive than when I had it "easier"? 

Here's what I think: there are people who make it look like things are going well. It's often an unconscious act to fool people--namely themselves. Many people think if they are positive, they don't have to feel pain. If they act like nothing's wrong, nothing in fact IS. See what I'm saying?

Listen, I'm not judging. I'm speaking from personal experience here. I know and love people like this--a few people come to mind right away. The more you know people, the more you see how much work it takes to manage all that. And how all that work and energy to maintain often prevents them from actually overcoming it.

I've also been this person.

For many years I acted like the relationship I was in was working for me. I acted like things were fine and dandy when the whole time we were warring like enemies. I put up an image that I saw people believing, and it became more and more intolerable for me. Part of why I stayed in it for so long was because I had a lot invested in showing a positive experience to the world--but it was positivity of the wrong kind. It was fake positive. It was lying.
 

THEN, THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF POSITIVE. IT COMES FROM LIVING THROUGH THE HARDEST THINGS AND SPEAKING ABOUT IT AND FINDING A WAY OUT THROUGH CONNECTIONS WITH OTHERS. AND SHARING THE GRATITUDE THAT COMES WHEN YOU SURFACE AND SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY AGAIN AND FEEL THE WARMTH OF IT IN YOUR BONES. 
 

This past year, I didn't share every nitty, gritty detail of everything I experienced but I DID share. I was honest about leaving the relationship. I was honest about how it felt for me, including the victim part of me battling the part that needed to be responsible for not leaving sooner. I shared about the trials of rebuilding my business on the heels of a gender transition. I shared about making it through the gauntlet of grad school administration during a deep period of grief when all I wanted to do was quit. I shared about the absence of my family.

I shared all of this. Because this is my life. And in sharing, I searched for a way to frame it in ways that were positive and inspiring because it helped me wake up and put my feet on the floor another day. It helped me not lose sight of all the good when I felt overwhelmed with the "bad". It helped me to learn something from all the lessons that came my way. It helped me to nurture positivity not as a way to avoid the pain or challenging times but as a means to cope with them and work through them. 

Because the world needs neither another fake positive person nor a complainer. You don't need someone sugar-coating the incredibly challenging human experience. You don't need someone dodging the bogeymen of self-doubt and criticism that finds you no matter where you move and hide. 

You also don't need another negative, disempowered person citing thing after thing that is annoying, uncomfortable or difficult. We all get it. We all experience those things in different ways. You need the "so what" of how to get up and over that obstacle. I know you need this because I NEED IT! If I can find it, I want to pass it onto you.

During my retreat this past weekend, this really hit home for me. As someone who studies and practices Buddhism, I try to share the big picture of what that religion/spiritual path provides me: TOOLS. Tools to make sense of why I feel what I feel and WTF to do to feel differently. Tools to better understand why difficult things happen. Tools to make sense of what doesn't seem to add up. And one tool I was reminded of was the importance of being positive. Not fake positive, spouting platitudes and carefully filtering what I share and don't (in person and on social media) to avoid dealing with it but REAL positive. Like, "hey this was horrible and then I worked through it like this and here I am now and PHEW, that's better". 

Because, life is a long time. And things will continue to be horrible (and also great). And if I keep wanting life to stop being horrible and only be great, I will keep finding reasons to suffer. If I can accept the horrible, find ways to work with it (not avoid it) and frame it positively (even through gritted teeth sometimes) then I set myself up for the long game I have ahead of me.

And maybe you can do that, too.

Minimalist or scarcity mindset?

Minimalism. 

It's all the rage right now. Or at least I'm hearing about it more lately in the circles I run in.

image source  here .

image source here.

And I think it's a great concept. I began to wonder, though, the fine line between minimalism and a scarcity mindset--because I think there's some potential there. 

My Buddhist practice teaches me not to think in absolutes, but instead to find the Middle Way with anything and everything. And OH MY GOSH does it help with so many things. All the things, in fact.

So, when thinking about minimalism as a lifestyle practice or identity you can consider the aspects that work and the point at which it begins to not work. Here's how I came to think about it for myself.

I recently moved into a new and amazing and TINY apartment. I found this hidden gem studio in the middle of a great neighborhood in Somerville and I jumped at the opportunity. It's basically a tiny house within a house. To be able to move into that space, I had to consider two contrasting perspectives:

  1. it would be an increase in living expenses to live alone
  2. I had to significantly downsize all my worldly possessions

Moving into this space required me to test out my own issues around scarcity mindset (related to the cost of living alone in a city with a high cost of living) AND minimalism in one fell swoop. And it was an incredibly challenging and awesome experience. Since I had a month and a half to prepare, I painstakingly went through almost every nook, cranny, gadget, gizmo, letter, picture, book, etc. that I owned and weighed its value in my life.

Did it make the cut or nah?

I'm talking pictures from when I was five and my high school yearbook and letters from my love interests from 20 years ago. And then I had to consider my 36" television and speaker setup----one of the things I loved most in the world. The hard truth was, they just would not fit in the new space so I had to either sell or donate them. I looked at the days remaining in the month and weighed the work of posting ads to sell things to make money (scarcity mindset) versus giving away (minimalism and abundance).

I can't say how or why it suddenly became effortless to just give everything away.

I CAN say how and why I chose to prioritize my resources on living alone after almost 10 years of living environments that didn't work for me. My mental health depended on it. All the scrimping and saving and coming from, "I don't have enough _____________" was bleeding out into my whole life.

"I don't have enough money" also showed up as I don't have enough time, love, support, balance, energy, focus, memory, integrity, etc.

Minimalism is awesome. It really shows us what is important--it allows us to release attachment to materialism or possessions that block our emotional freedom and peace. But it, like anything out of balance, can also be a way for us to deprive ourselves of things we need in name of being frugal. And that becomes scarcity mindset. And it begins as coupon clipping but can also show up as not reaching out to friends when you need help or overworking or perfectionism. If there's not enough for you to have, there's also not enough for you to give----and VICE VERSA--and it keeps repeating back and around on itself.

Tell me if you're with me?

Next time you find yourself making a decision from a well-intentioned place of minimalism, ask yourself if you're really scaling back from intentional choice or from conditioned behavior of scarcity mindset coming from deep-seated feelings of your value and worth. 

See what you discover and reach out to tell me. I'll be sipping coffee in my tiny house while not watching tv.

The Merits of Pressing Pause

I hear that answers appear when you just stand still.
— Missy Higgins

It's said that the only constant is change. We think that life is static and fixed but it is constantly expanding and unfolding before us. It happens in ways we sometimes don't like or want, and we see that there is very little we actually can control. That can be scary to think about, so as humans we keep trying to find ground under our feet, something certain that we can hang on to.

The struggle is real. I was reminded of this while attending a Buddhist retreat in the woods of Vermont. I was joined by over 300 people, all seeking wisdom and advice from the teacher of the weekend, the great Pema Chodron. Folks came from all over the world wanting to know how to get off the wheel of samsara, or constant suffering. They wanted answers to find more peace, comfort and joy in their lives.

The advice of the weekend was "learn to sit with things as they are. Stop wanting a different now."

But sitting still can be challenging, especially when we have experienced tremendous pain, loss or challenging circumstances. When we struggle with self-acceptance. When we think our shadow side is a fault instead of the balance to the light within us. Not everyone feels comfortable sitting with the painful feelings of those experiences. So instead, we fill our lives with busy-ness--constantly filling our daily existence with thing after thing, drink after drink, meal after meal, tv show after tv show, etc. to escape the reality of now. We think we can outrun the feelings but they just hide out and eventually come to the surface or show up as chronic illness, disease or something else. When we run like a hamster on a wheel, we often think we'll get closer to the solution of finding escape or refuge from whatever causes us pain or uneasiness. The paradox of pressing pause is that it actually brings us closer to the truth and relief we are seeking. It is difficult to do, because we become conditioned and habituated to the schedule and habits we've been cultivating.

A new client said to me recently when I recommended slowing down, "this just isn't me". She was right. It is a new and difficult concept for her to learn how to move more slowly, so it feels foreign and unfamiliar and hard. But new and different feels hard until we do it more often and it becomes our new normal.

The merits of pressing pause is that we can learn to be with those feelings and befriend them so we don't feel the need to run from them anymore. When we press pause, we can gain much-needed perspective. We can make time to allow answers to the questions we have in our hearts and minds. We can meet new people and hear their stories of overcoming adversity. We can give our minds and bodies a break from the constant production of cortisol and other stress hormones. Our bellies become less tight. Our headaches dissipate. Our throats soften. Pressing pause allows us to see things as they are, and as we are. 

I know how it feels to try to apply the brakes. It sometimes feels counterintuitive because I've spent many years filling my time with all the things so I can feel productive, like I'm constructively creating my future. But rest is part of achieving balance. Silence and dormant periods happen in nature alongside growth and movement. As spring emerges, we see the merits of the plants and animals pressing pause over the winter. We see that new life is possible from much-needed rest.

The merits of pressing pause is the ability to refuel our gas tanks to keep producing. The perspective gained to know which direction to take. The insight needed to make healthy choices.

As I've reached the end of some major life changes, I'm intentionally carving out space to rest, relax, recover and plan my next steps. I noticed myself feeling symptoms from the months of running on empty, so it's time to fill up my gas tank again. There's no hurry. No rush. Rushing rarely makes anything work better.

Pressing pause doesn't mean we have to stop--but it is essential for us to be able to keep going.

TIPS for pressing PAUSE:

1) put your phone on airplane mode while charging it at night

2) take 5 deep breaths when starting your computer each day

3) walk to work or school whenever possible

4) schedule days off, alone, with no plans

5) establish start and end times to your work/school day

 

 

What tips have you tried that help you press pause? Share in the comments below.