Grace by Bandwidth

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” —Brené Brown

There are a few things that I am certain of: we are born alone, we die alone, and I could eat rice pudding until I explode. Other than that, it’s all a crap shoot. The remarkable breadth of possibility in the world is met by an equally broad range of uncertainty. And so, in order to embrace a life filled with expansion and growth, we must also be able to sit with uncertainty and the discomfort of vulnerability it brings with it.

Here are 3 ways to increase your tolerance for discomfort:

1. Play with Your Edges

I had a boyfriend once who insisted, one night, that we sleep upside down in our bed—with our feet at the top, heads at the bottom. His point was that we would never forget that night. Many years and lovers later, I can confirm that he was right. But something else happened that night. We woke up.

By definition, habits are unconscious thoughts and actions. When we begin to dismantle habitual patterns, we awaken to our experiences with a heightened state of awareness. We usually embody this wakefulness across the board, bringing new perspective to many areas of our lives—a state of enlightenment.

Rather than wait to be passively woken up out of our sleepy habits by an accident, trauma, or other existential bump in the road, practice stretching the edges of your comfort zone when life is calm and peaceful. Actively creating insignificant changes for the purpose of sitting in discomfort, will help to develop the muscles you need when life takes you on a roller coaster unexpectedly.

Some suggestions:
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Forgo one of your go-to comfort foods for a month.
Drive a different route home from work for a week.
Read before bed instead of watching television.

2. Self-Soothe

Those of us who are parents know how important it is to teach our infants to self-soothe. It is an area in which many of us are still underdeveloped, even as adults. When we are emotionally uncomfortable, it is easy to act out in ways that ultimately will contribute to an increased state of discomfort and distress.

Some suggestions:
Choose a cup of hot tea, instead of a pint of ice cream.
Take a warm, candle lit bath, instead of opening a bottle of wine.
Read a book to escape perseverating over a situation, instead of calling a friend to vent about it into the night.

3. Delay Action

As a culture, we are conditioned to focus on Doing, and not so much on Being. When faced with challenging circumstances, we usually will find ourselves saying, “I don’t know what to do about this.” Very often, the doing is something that could—or even should—come later. A better statement of inquiry would be, “I don’t know how to be with this.” By resisting the urge to take action, we afford ourselves the room to sit with our thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to have your thoughts and feelings, but at the same time, realize that your thoughts and feelings do not define you. One of my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes is: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”

Some suggestions:
Name your pain. Unpack it, spread it on the table, inventory it, write it down.
Sit with it and get to know it.
Draw distinctions between what you think and what you feel.
Breathe into the part of yourself that transcends “the weather”.

Poison Control

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” —Anonymous (often attributed to Gautama Buddha)

All yogis aspire to being peaceful, loving, compassionate people, and yet, anger and resentment are part of the human condition. Contrary to all the quotes and idioms about it, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. How we handle it makes all the difference in neutralizing its potential toxicity, and making it an agent of transformation and enlightenment.

Here are five steps to soften your anger:

1. Sit With It

The combination of egoic attachment and impulse control often has us assign false urgency to situations which raise our anger. Taking a moment of stillness with our strong emotions allows us the opportunity to get more comfortable with the discomfort of anger. It can also halt the escalation of conflict that tends to result from emotional reaction rather than intentional action.

2. Unpack It

My mantra for anger is, “I am not upset about what I think I am upset about.” In other words, there is more to your anger that meets the eye. Whatever the plot of our particular story is, there is an additional subtext that deserves our attention. To dig deeper, ask yourself these questions, “Why is this situation painful? What am I fearful of? Which of my values are being violated?”

3. Use it Wisely

Anger is our inner voice letting us know that our boundaries are being pushed. Diving deep into self-inquiry at these times affords us the opportunity to do some core spiritual detective work. What we discover about who we really are—and what we will or won’t accept in our lives—can be used to make significant and sustainable changes.

4. Disconnect from It

Being a witness to our own drama allows us the room to step back and disconnect from the emotional experience of the human condition. We are more than our feelings. Give yourself permission to feel angry, as well as, fear, pain, or anything else that lays below the anger. And then redirect your attention to the part of you that lives beyond emotion. Go for a hike, take a yoga class, feed your soul the best way you know how.

5. Hold it Gently

The expression and experiencing of strong emotions like anger can upset our status quo for quite a while. What we unearth in the intentional management of anger can shake us to the core. The stronger the anger, the bigger the change that is asking to be made, whether internal or external. Finding compassion for all parties involved cannot be rushed, but is essential to peaceful resolution. In the aftermath of inner and/or outer conflict, allow the awareness to grow, and hold it gently.

Can I Get a Witness?

 “Learn to watch your drama unfold while at the same time knowing you are more than your drama.” —Ram Dass

Suffering is part of the human condition—especially for those of us living out our dharma in the fast-paced, urban trenches of Los Angeles. Sometimes, when we are highly emotional about something, we say we are “really in it”, as if we are submerged in the suffering itself. The most powerful—and perhaps, essential— ways to navigate emotional suffering is to develop the ability to be simultaneously SUBJECTIVE and OBJECTIVE—to observe ourselves in this state without judgment. In other words, we can have our feelings, but we are not our feelings.

The greater our ability be our own witness, the more adept we become at acknowledging, recognizing, understanding, accepting, and releasing our suffering.

Here are 6 ways to cultivate your witness:

1. Slow Way Down

Stillness is the prescription for bringing consciousness to anything. Rushing through the experiencing of anything, including feelings, means that we miss subtleties and nuances that feed our understanding of it. The first step in separating ourselves from our drama is to slow down and be with it. Resist the urge to DO. Simply BE.

2. Invoke Your Third Person

It may feel silly at first, but when you are in the middle of an emotional reaction, stop and say, “This is Zoë having an emotional reaction.” Or, “This is Zoë feeling angry.” Work your way through it until, “This is Zoë accepting what is and knowing that all will be okay.” If you don’t get all the way there, don’t worry. This is a practice in distinguishing yourself from your emotions, first and foremost.

3. Checkpoint: Mindfulness

Set an alarm at regular intervals four times a day. When the alarm sounds, do a brief mindfulness practice. Notice your physical presence in its environment. You might articulate it like this: “Feet on the floor. Feet on the floor…Hands on the keyboard. Hands on the keyboard…” Repeating it twice gives the mind and extra beat to become fully present and objective.” Interrupting the flow of the day with Mindfulness develops our ability to discern between emotional and physical experience.

4. Take a Nature Walk

The muscles we use to observe the world around us are the same ones we use to witness ourselves. The way the clouds drift in the sky, the palm fronds rustle in the breeze, or birds fly in formation, gives context to our suffering, by reminding us that we are one small part of something much greater than ourselves.

5. On the Arc of a Rainbow

Just as connecting with nature can set a context for a difficult moment, stepping back and considering how that moment fits into your life story can set a different, and equally powerful context. We tend to assign undue urgency or importance to our experiences—especially when they are emotionally-charged—when they are really just one small chapter in the arc of our entire story.

6. Lighten Up

There is a not-so-fine, and fairly blurry line between pain and self-pity. Denying or burying our emotions can be hazardous to our health. At the same time, so can taking ourselves too seriously. Holding things lightly can go a long way in cultivating grace in the dancing with our feelings.

The Art of a Truly Restorative Vacation

“I NEED A VACATION FROM MY VACATION.”

We’ve all said it; we’ve all felt it: the blanket of exhaustion that unfurls upon our return from what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, the disorientation tinged with melancholy that always seems to take us by surprise. Imagining and fantasizing about a trip is energizing. Researching and planning is exciting. But as months of anticipation turn into weeks and then days of preparation, the logistics of extracting ourselves from our busy lives loaded with responsibilities can be daunting and leads to a phenomenon that I have come to call, “the pre-vacay crescendo.” Work, kids, packing, dogs, mail, passport, newspaper—whatever your particular moving parts—putting them all on hold for a while takes considerable energy, and the days and hours leading up to departure inevitably feel like a mad rush to get it all done. I often find myself saying, “I’ll relax when I’m on the plane.”

But, is this scenario really inevitable? Must every vacation be bracketed by depletion? Is it possibly to have a truly restorative vacation? When a colleague handed me a press release about Rancho Bernardo Inn’s new Wellness Rooms, it sounded like a perfect laboratory for an experiment. One of Southern California’s most renowned spa resorts has taken several guest rooms near the spa and refashioned them with a focus on wellness. Each room was adorned with calming lavender scented candles, house-made body scrubs, neroli water spray, in-room yoga mats, exercise balls and fitness DVDs, plus a 15% discount on spa treatments and exclusive access to the exclusive spa pool. I booked a room, packed a bag, and headed down the coast.

The word vacation comes from the Latin root vacare— to be empty; free. As I drove the nearly two hours from Los Angeles to San Diego, I emptied myself of all the things that usually demand or capture my attention, so I was free to be present in my exploration of personal restoration. I did my little “presenting practice” of systematically taking inventory of my physicality and the accompanying sensations, repeating each observation twice, like this: “Hands on the wheel. Hands on the wheel. Wrists relaxed. Wrists relaxed. Elbows gently at sides. Elbows gently at sides. Butt in the seat. Butt in the seat.” By the time I hit the 405, I had left my life behind and was making a list of what typically gets in the way of a relaxing vacation. Here’s what I came up with:

FAILING TO DOWNSHIFT

Like it or not, most of us move at mach speed through our very busy lives. We are required to be master multi-taskers. With our devices perpetually in our hands, our attention is almost always fractured. It’s practically not a choice anymore; it’s what we must to do—who we must BE—in order to function effectively in our fast-paced, hyper-stimulating, über accessible, urban world. Without realizing it, we tend to maintain this energy level even when we could be slowing down. Vacation is a time to get off the Autobahn and take the scenic route.

FOMO

“Fear of Missing Out” is a term I only recently heard. I wasn’t late to this party; I just didn’t know what the fete was called. We are blessed to live in the Land of Opportunity and we like to make the most of every one of those opportunities. When it comes to vacations, Travel Channel and TripAdvisor have brought the world into our homes and heightened our awareness of all the extraordinary places to visit and experience on the planet. I often find that in planning a trip, I make an impossibly long list of everything I want to do and see. Self-imposed pressure to not miss a thing is a roadblock to my relaxation.

GUILT SHMILT

I’m not sure what it is about our society—or maybe it’s just me—but it seems like we feel guilty when we relax. Productivity is paramount, and with everyone manifesting all over the place, it can be tough to give ourselves permission to drop out of the production line. I am sure every European takes the customary month of August off without a shred of guilt. It’s time to let ourselves off the hook. Our kids, co-workers, and pets are fine without us. And if they are not, they are developing coping skills.

STAYING ONLINE

Unplug. For realz. Enough said.

 

Arriving at Rancho Bernardo Inn with my commitment to wellness at the forefront of my consciousness, I pulled up to the valet, grabbed my bag, and handed him my keys. My plan was to slow way down and evaluate every choice by it’s alignment with my wellness. After an easy check-in, I dropped my bag in the room and headed to the spa. On the wellness-scale, a “Heaven and Hops” treatment is a no-brainer. My therapist oiled me, massaged me, scrubbed me with crushed grape seed and olive oils, slathered me with barley and hops, and wrapped me like a burrito in warm towels. When my muscles were the consistency of pudding, and my mind was sufficiently empty and free, she showered me, stuck a pint of craft beer in my hand, and then led me to my own private poolside cabaña where I stayed all day. I read a book. I took a dip in the pool. I had the pool boy bring me a salad. I watched the birds. I finished the book. I drank water. I watched the butterflies. I relaxed. Here is what I didn’t do: worry about paying bills, check my email, think about the freelance gig I was trying to land, wonder if my son was having a good day at school, try to figure out what snacks to bring his soccer game that weekend, wonder why that guy I met the other night hadn’t called yet…you get the idea. I was successfully present to what was happening in the moment.

Back at my room, I unfurled the provided yoga mat and saluted the setting sun, falling into a slow yin practice and pranayama. With each inhalation, I felt the pull to go do something: to get dressed and check out the scene at the lounge, to try one of the restaurants. With each exhalation, I let the restless energy go. It’s not that going out would have been relaxing, quite the opposite. But in that moment, with the limited time I had, what served my wellness most was stillness. I ordered in, drew a bath, and ate dinner in bed with a movie.

The rest of my stay looked exactly the same. Checking out, I found myself longing for more time. The post-vacay melancholy was making an early appearance. So I used my drive home wisely by developing a strategy for a graceful reentry. It comes down to these two things:

  1. Take a day or two to fully integrate (with a longer vacation, three or four days). In other words, go easy on the productivity and manifesting. Take care of business and let the chores go. Or, do some laundry, but order in dinner for a couple of nights.
  1. Identify a peak moment of the vacation and define what made it powerful. Use that as a basis for ritual in daily life. For me it was the experience of being swaddled like a baby during my spa treatment. As a (blissfully) single woman, I rarely have the opportunity to be held. I forgot how therapeutic it can be to have the nervous system calmed by gentle constraint. Since that moment on the treatment table, I have climbed into bed under heavy blankets to get the same effect.

What I learned in my experiment is that, indeed, it is possible to have a truly restorative vacation. I’m not going to lie… I will often choose to have a whirlwind vacation filled with sightseeing by day and bar crawling by night, soaking in as much local culture as I can absorb—the kind of vacation that leaves you physically drained but even more mentally and spiritually full. But, after seeing the restorative effects of slowing down, turning in, and simply choosing wellness, I am much more likely to schedule in some downtime during such a trip with some stillness in the midst of perpetual motion. And I will always make a plan for a mindful reentry.

 

9 Essentials for a Truly Restorative Wellness Retreat

1 SLEEP  According to the CDC, sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Sufficient sleep is the foundation of wellness. Use your wellness retreat to catch up and to feel what it is like to experience a full night of sleep.

2 STILLNESS  Taking the opportunity to slow way down will disengage the sympathetic nervous system, allowing you to reprogram your brain. Meditate, soak in a hot tub, take a sauna, lie in a hammock, and let your brain unwind.

3 MOVEMENT  Just as we tend to lack mental stillness in our daily lives, we also tend not to move our bodies enough. Go for a run, play golf, take a yoga class, or swim laps. Moving your body gets the blood pumping, increasing oxygen to your organs, including your brain.

4 READ  Let your mind travel from its everyday focus, along with the rest of you. Whether you choose a novel, a magazine, or the sutras, expanding your intellectual world can offer a healthy respite from your mental chatter.

5 NATURE  Intrinsic to wellness is balance. Connecting with the world around us reminds us that we are one small part of something much greater than ourselves and puts our own struggles into perspective.

6 NURTURE  There’s a fine line between self-care and self-indulgence. Make choices that promote your wellness. Moment-by-moment presence will help connect with what you really need for your own care and restoration.

7 NOURISH  Eat clean. You know what makes you feel good and healthy. Everyone’s system is unique. Listen to your body and choose well. And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

8 GRATITUDE  “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” —Eckhart Toll