Don’t I need anxiety to push myself and get things done?

Since I work with so many high-achievers, this question comes up a lot.  And it’s a really good question, because it shows that you’re thinking about your relationship to anxiety and stress.

My short answer is:  Anxiety can be useful from time to time.  But kindness is a better long-term strategy.

I like to think of it in fitness terms.

Let’s say you have really strong quads, because you train them every day.  But because that’s all you do, they become over-developed in relationship to the rest of your system — your hamstrings are underdeveloped and your psoas is tight — so your overall system is out of balance. Continue reading “Don’t I need anxiety to push myself and get things done?”

Turning UGHs into HUGs.

My friend Christine is a yoga teacher and international poker player.  She takes her seat at a poker table in Macau, surrounded by Hong Kong businessmen who don’t know what to make of her as she sips her chamomile tea and stretches.  Christine says, “Life, like poker, is a game of skill and chance. You get the cards you get. What matters is how you choose to handle it.”

We’ve all had a moment when it feels like Life has dealt you a sh*tty hand, and sucker-punched you in the gut for no reason. 

Well, a few weeks ago my friend Jenny, who is the photographer behind beards of san francisco, found that all of her gear had been stolen out of the trunk of her car. Thousands of dollars of equipment — gone. UGH. Jenny handled it with extraordinary grace.
Continue reading “Turning UGHs into HUGs.”

Keep breathing.

I have been getting email requests for advice.  One person in particular had a very intense challenge.  And while I hadn’t experienced the specifics of what she was going through, the emotional tone was so familiar to me.  She was in that dark place.  That hard place, where you feel alone and underneath a great sadness.

I know that place, and I shared some of my thoughts with her.  And now I want to share them with you, in case you ever find yourself there.

When things feel dark, keep breathing.   Continue reading “Keep breathing.”

All this emotion.

When I first started meditating, I thought the goal was to not feel anger, impatience, or deep sadness ever again.  And at first, it seemed to kind of work.  I became more present to beauty and joy in the moment, and being mindful made them more vivid.  It was great.

But what also began to happen was that all of my emotions became brighter.  Anxiety, insecurity, anger. . . all of those became more intense.

I thought I must be doing it wrong.  Meditation is supposed to make you peaceful, right? I thought that if I meditated hard enough, often enough, and did it just right, I would be able to live in a happy place all the time. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of those other emotions.

Now I know, and I want to tell you, that what actually happens once you begin to notice your emotions, and you allow yourself to feel them as they are, is that they all become more vivid. Continue reading “All this emotion.”

Listen to Desire.

Complaining can be a lot of fun.  I used to work with a woman who loved to complain:  her boyfriend, her parents, her commute, her workload. . . And I made the mistake of trying to help her solve one of the problems she complained about.  “What if you. . .” I started, until she shot me daggers and interrupted, “No, no, no!  You don’t understand.”

And I realized that complaining was one of her favorite things.  It gave her comfort.  It was easier than doing something about it.

And I understand this.  For years I complained about my job.  About what wasn’t right.  About how “they don’t understand,” and then I’d complain about the job market, or the economy, or whatever made me feel better about not taking action.

And one day I just got sick of hearing myself complain. Continue reading “Listen to Desire.”

I was afraid meditation would make me a slacker.

For most of my life I thought meditation was about checking out from reality, and living in this fantasy, floaty, blissed-out state where you lost all your drive and ambition to succeed. Where you become lazy and useless, staring at the sky, doing nothing.

All of which repulsed me.  As the descendant of German Lutheran farmers and Filipino plantation workers, there’s something in the core of my being that finds any wastefulness or idleness distasteful.  Even offensive.  Who’s going to get all this work done, while you’re sitting on a hill meditating?

I thought it was like that story in the Odyssey, about the island of the Lotus Eaters. These people lived on an island and ate Lotus and it sent them into this lovely, apathetic sleep. They lost all desire to do anything. When Odysseus’s crew come upon this island, they drifted into such a state that they no longer wished to continue their journey. They simply wanted to remain on the island, eating Lotus, and chilling. Odysseus had to forcibly remove them from the island, and bring them back to the ship. So they could get back to the hard work of making their way home.

If that’s what meditation is, then thanks, but I’m good.  I have work to do.

So I really appreciate when someone asks me if meditation will make them lose their edge.  Or turn them into a head-in-the-clouds, “everything’s cool, man” slacker.  I get it. Continue reading “I was afraid meditation would make me a slacker.”

Meditation loves metrics.

I love introducing people to meditation, and helping them get their own personal practice off the ground.  Yesterday I received this message and it was so great — it’s a question that comes up a lot when you start meditating — I asked and got the ok to share it here:

I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the advice and link to some of your material, I have been working to incorporate this every morning before I start my day (either pre-shower or in car before I step into work).

This has helped make some improvements to set my day off right (I am classic ADHD and very busy schedule). Some days it helps more than others, I am just trying to set the habit.

Can you suggest what the next beginner steps would be to do more here? I am assuming just spending more time doing the same exercise. What metrics do you use for a beginner to measure progress?

Before I share my reply, I want to point out that meditation loves metrics. Continue reading “Meditation loves metrics.”

Mindful goal setting.

Last year, when I decided to resign from my “safe” corporate job, I knew that I would need community and structure to help me move forward into my new life.  I’ve stumbled through enough clumsy transitions in my life to know that some kind of plan was critical for me — even if my plan was “no plan”, I still needed framework and feedback to thrive.  That’s why the timing was perfect for my InnerYoga teacher training.  It was 13-months of study and practice.  It was the perfect community and support system for me.

And now, as 2013 draws towards a close, I want to share more of what I know about mindful change.  Continue reading “Mindful goal setting.”

Let success go deep.

From time to time, it’s a good idea to ask yourself:  What does success look like?  What does it feel like?

Because the answers may change as you live and experience different flavors of success.  If you don’t check in with yourself, you could spend years of your life chasing an idea of success that you’ve outgrown.  Trying to make it fit.

And there are outside layers of success:  things people can see from your Facebook status or LinkedIn profile.  Your job title, where you live, your stuff, your vacations, all the conferences or parties you attend, or how perfect your relationship appears.

And that’s all cool.  Have that.

But also take time to become still and ask yourself how it feels underneath.  Does success live only on the surface of your life?  Or does it go deep? Continue reading “Let success go deep.”

Courage, love.

Because meditation slows you down, it lets whatever is inside become very vivid, very present.  It amplifies your existing joy, love, happiness. But it also brings the uncomfortable parts — fear, self-doubt, exhaustion — right up in your face.

This can be terrifying.  Especially if you’re in the habit of numbing, distancing, or distracting yourself by being super busy, over eating,  drinking too much, creating drama in your life and relationships, or losing yourself in TV or online (“there’s so much internet to read!”).

I know something about this. Continue reading “Courage, love.”