October 13, 2017

How to Be the Best You Instead of Wanting to Be Someone Else

Often, we might want to be different people. We look at others and wish we could be like them. We might even try our best to copy them.

Being inspired by others is great. It helps us see that our problems are solvable. That we can do all the things we thought we couldn't. That if others can do it, we can do it too. And that's an amazing and wonderful thing.

But one problem might arise in the process. And that is when we want to leave ourselves behind to become someone else.

We can't just adopt the feelings and attitudes of another, because they are made up of different parts than us. Some people tend to be anxious, others never experience anxiety, but carry a strange sense of emptiness.

It's individual, highly personal how a person can get from one point to the next. It doesn't make anyone lesser. It just makes us different. But different is okay.

Everyone can be strong. For one person, that means facing a fear and going forward despite of it. For another, it means not letting anger take over their actions. For the third, it means not caring about the opinions of others. They are all strong people, neither weaker than the other. Just how we get there is different.

I'm going to be honest with you, I've had my own periods when I wanted to be someone else. I didn't want my feelings, I wanted someone else's feelings. I didn't want to be anxious all the time and awkward, I wanted to be calm and fun. But that's not how it works, is it?

For a long time, I resisted my feelings. I resisted having a mental illness. I didn't want to be mentally ill, I wanted to be someone else. Even through my recovery process, this goal kept floating in front of me--the goal that one day I will be totally free of anxiety. But we can't leave our brains behind either. And even though I'm much better now, traces of anxiety will always remain.

And that's okay. The funny thing is that when I accepted that it will never disappear completely, that was when it improved drastically. Because anxiety feeds on resistance. But I didn't want to be a person without a mental illness anymore--because I could be the most badass person with a mental illness. 

I could work with my feelings instead of working against them. When I was afraid of something, I could go do that thing with shaking hands, but my head held high. Because, yes, the most everyday things were hard for me, but that just meant that I was so much more powerful than all the "normal" people--I was fighting a battle in the situations where they were bored out of their minds. And I liked that I could be that person--a warrior in training.

Other people have other things to work with, and I have mine. Finally, I accepted what I have. And it made all the difference.

So allow yourself to accept every part of you. Knowing that understanding and working with these parts is what will make you the best, greatest version of you. The person only you can be, no one else.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde

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September 29, 2017

How to Build Confidence When You Worry and Feel Small

A lot of us have low self-confidence. We don't believe we are capable of much. We don't think highly of ourselves. And we worry, because there are so many things we think we couldn't handle.

We imagine scenarios and feel we would crumble in them. So we do our best to avoid them. To stay small, unnoticeable.

When in a deep confidence hole, I even noticed carrying myself differently. My shoulders are hunched forward, my eyes look down, and everything about me says that I want to be small, I want to disappear. The thought behind it is that I don't feel like I can handle what is about to come, whatever that might be.

Accept that anything might happen, and you'll be able to handle it.

I love fiction, and my favorite characters are always the ones who go forward, no matter what. The ones who can seemingly handle anything. So what is the difference between these people and the ones who lack confidence? At different point in my life, I've been both of them. And from my experience, the difference is what you believe you can handle.

When working with anxiety, this was crucial for me. At my lowest point, I thought I couldn't deal with anything that might happen. So I was terrified of everything.

You can never be sure what is about to happen. You cannot recover by saying that nothing will happen, because that's simply not true, and you know that. But you can work on yourself so that you won't mind what happens. So that you can go forward into the unknown with confidence that you can handle whatever comes.

Be in the present, future cannot be dealt with.

We cannot deal with what we imagine, because it is not there in real life. That is what makes it feel unbearable. We can't solve what isn't happening. We cannot react to the past, nor to the future. We can only deal with what is real. In the present moment.

An imaginary dragon is the hardest to slay. What actually happens is always manageable. To the present, to reality, we can always react. There is no worry about the present moment, it is not possible.

The truth is that whatever happened to you until now, you were able to handle. You are here, in peace, you have made it. And that is enough to be proud of. There is nothing that could come that you couldn't manage.

So let your attention rest on this moment. Recognize that thoughts about the future are just thoughts. And gather confidence from the knowledge that what is in this moment, you were always able to handle. And you always will. So go forward with that sword on your back and your head held high.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here
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August 18, 2017

Overcoming Addiction with Mindfulness

I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. I also used to take highly addictive sedatives on a daily basis. I haven't smoked in 10 years and haven't taken any kind of mood altering drug in 4 years. I don't have cravings for them at all anymore. I don't even take pain medication now. Before, I wanted to run away from the uncomfortable feelings inside me. Now, I prefer to live through my experience, whatever it might be, because I learned how to do that.

Coming off of the drugs was one of the hardest things I've done. When going through withdrawal, I remember just sitting in the middle of my chaotic thoughts and feelings, not even knowing what was real and what was not, and just peacefully smiling to it all. I had gotten ready for it. There was only one thing I made myself remember: Just sit behind it all with peace.

Whatever we are addicted to makes us feel good. So we seek it out over and over again to recreate that feeling. Addictive behavior can also be a control strategy to reduce negative emotions like anxiety, anger or depression.

Addiction is the exaggeration of the basic human instinct to move away from pain and move toward pleasure instead.

But there is a way to deal with this very human instinct. Being able to sit with your thoughts knowing that you are the one in control, not them, is the most empowering and liberating thing. Change doesn't happen from one moment to the other. Mindfulness is a lifelong practice. But it will also be your greatest ally.

1. Recognize your habitual behavior by being aware of your thoughts and feelings

It's important to understand that we act out of habit. Addiction triggerssituational and emotional cuesmake us engage in addictive behavior. It's a very human response.

We all have strategies to cope with our uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. Some people take a bath when they are stressed, some watch television. Others eat cake when they are sad. This basic desire to move away from our internal turmoil and make ourselves feel good is in all of us. In itself, this instinct is not bad or evil. We are human, after all, and always will be.

Change can happen when we realize we act out of habit. That the same process happens in us over and over again. We operate on autopilot, and these habits are in charge of what we do, because we are unaware of them. If we train the mind to concentrate on the present moment and notice the thoughts and feelings that arise in us, we can recognize our internal habits.

2. Be the non-judgmental observer of your internal mechanisms

But we can step back and take a good look at them. Not do anything, just look. At the thoughts floating in our heads, the feelings and emotions in our bodies. There's nothing inside of us that we need to push away. Look now. At the thoughts that always tell you that you need to engage in addictive behavior. Look at the emotions that make you feel like you have no other choice.

Don't judge them. Just look. They are just thoughts. Just feelings. Floating around in the human shape that is you. There's nothing to be afraid of in there. Practice sitting with them. They are just visitors.

3. Choose your action instead of automatic behavior

Now that you see your internal mechanisms, you have a choice. A choice to act on them out of habit or to move toward change. To build something new.

Thoughts are just thoughts. They are only true if you believe them. Now that you see them, you can act the way you choose to act. Whatever is happening inside of you, when you are the observer of it all, you can be who you choose to be. You can choose your response to it all. And peace is always an available choice.

Practice concentrating on the present moment. Be aware of what is happening inside you. Whatever it is, it's fine. You don't need to run. You can just observe and understand. Throughout your daily life, you can always practice being the peaceful observer behind your thoughts and feelings. You will gain a strong understanding of the fact that they can't control you. That what you do can be your choice.

Now that you see your internal mechanisms, you can notice that gap between your carvings and engaging in addictive behavior. That instinct to move away from pain and move toward pleasure will always be there, lurking somewhere in the back of your mind. But as you practice looking at it as the non-judgmental observer, it will become more and more like background noise that you can barely hear.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather." - Pema Chödrön

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August 4, 2017

What You Don't Like About Yourself Can Make You Great

Often, we might feel like we want to be more "normal." Whatever "normal" means.

We are tired of carrying all the feelings, all the thoughts around. They weigh us down like bricks. They are heavy. We want to be someone else, someone more "average," someone who fits in.

The people who surround us are likely going trough different things than us. The probability of us having someone in our lives who has a similar internal world is low. So we can easily feel alone with what we carry.

But remember this: Whatever you're feeling, thousands of other people in the world are going through the exact same thing. You might not know them, but they are out there. You are never alone.

What we have inside is like a sword--it can easily cut us if we try to push it away, unknowing what it really is. But if we learn to wield it, it can make us the greatest warriors.

The thoughts in our heads don't define us. We are not our thoughts.

The feelings in our bodies can't control us. We are not our feelings.

What matters is who we choose to be despite of them. That's what makes us great. When we are scared, but we go forward anyway. When we are angry, but we choose to be kind. When we smile to our sadness. That's when we wield the sword without cutting ourselves.

We are not the fear, the anger, the sadness and all the intrusive thoughts that come with them. We are the ones who smile with peace, who choose to be kind, the ones who go forward anyway.

The very thing we try so hard to put down, to push away, can make us something great, something that is truly and uniquely us. Inside of every one of us, there's a potential for a strong warrior.

So instead of working on pushing away what makes us uncomfortable, maybe we can try going deep into it instead. See who we will be once we come out the other side.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn't sit for even one, that's the journey of the warrior.” - Pema Chödrön

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July 28, 2017

Unlearning Harmful Mind Habits

We all have habits that are ingrained in our minds. These habits can be accompanied by emotional responses as well. We make habits out of anger, sadness and anxiety.

Habits are like folding a piece of paper--the more we fold it at the same crease, the deeper the crease will get. Naturally the paper folds at the crease we made. It's easy to not even notice our habits as we operate on autopilot.

These habits can bring feelings with them--anger, sadness, anxiety. If you pay close attention to yourself, you can notice that you always worry about the same things. You have the same thoughts that make you angry. And very similar thought patterns go through your mind when you get sad.

Our minds are predictable--they work like machines. If we spend time with them, notice our thoughts and get to know them, we can learn how we work.

I used to be anxious most of the time. There was a time when I couldn't do much because the thoughts in my head controlled everything I did--because I believed them. These thoughts were always the same. Over and over they played in my head, and again and again I listened to them. Until one day, when I learned about mindfulness and realized that I have another choice. I am not a victim and I don't have to suffer. I can stand behind my thoughts as a witness and not act out of fear.

I'm not saying it was easy and that it happened from one moment to the other. It was years of work to unlearn my harmful habits and built new ones in their stead. And there are certain things you can never completely unlearn. But I practice not going with my thoughts and reacting to them the way I want to be, not how my thoughts tell me I should be. 

Today, I live a full and peaceful life. Once, there was nothing I could do, I could barely get out of bed, and now there is nothing I can't do. Because I'm the one who decides what I can and cannot do. And I say I can do anything. Even the things that make me afraid. Especially the things that make me afraid. I chase my fears like an adventurer.

The best part is that we can step in. Create new creases in the paper. We don't have to be slaves to our minds, we can practice being their masters. We can trace back where our feelings come from and practice stepping in earlier and earlier into our thought processes.

Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are not reality. We don't have to go with them. We can choose to stay right here--outside of them. We can choose our reactions instead of being controlled by thoughts. We can practice being who we choose to be.

It's always possible to unlearn what we have learned and build new habits instead. It won't be quick neither will it be easy, but it's the best work. It's finally learning how to be free.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here

“Sometimes life isn’t about anything new that we have to learn, but about what we have to UNlearn instead.” - Timber Hawkeye (credit also goes to him for the paper folding metaphor)

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