How is this helping me?

Can you think of an experience in your life that at the time you were going through it, you saw no light at the end of the tunnel? In the moment it was awful but in hindsight, it was pivotal and helped you grow as a person.

I had the realization lately that things in my life happen for a reason and for my greatest benefit. When I look back, I see how once seemingly bad times in my life actually led me to decisions that served me greatly.

My first serious relationship turned into a long distance relationship when my girlfriend went away to college. While we were still dating, unbeknownst to me, she met and started a relationship with someone else. I was mortified. I couldn’t eat and laid in bed for days watching the movie ‘Ray’, a rather depressing movie, on repeat.

After two weeks of sulking, my dad suggested that I learn to meditate. I felt like I had hit my emotional rock bottom and had no reason or energy to protest. I was also fortunate that he is a Transcendental Meditation (TM) instructor. Learning TM was the beginning of the most significant phase in my life. I may have never have taken that path had it not been for the infidelity and breakup.

Sometimes we have to be brought to our lowest point to make choices that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I’ve realized that all experiences, both good and bad, are part of my path for a reason and contain teachable moments that help me grow towards my best self. Now, rather than fretting when something challenging comes my way, I remind myself to pay attention in the moment. What is this moment trying to teach me? How will this serve me?

Applying this way of thinking throughout my day to day life brings me a huge feeling of relief and a sense of peace. Even if I can't see the good in present suffering, I have faith that all things are working for good.

I am now open to whatever comes my way and don’t fight those things that bring momentary unhappiness. I simply say to myself, “All things are happening for my highest good no matter how I feel right now” and I look for the life lessons. It's not a magic bullet. I still at times feel an initial sense of frustration or worry at not knowing how things are going to work out. But I’ve noticed that the harder the challenge, the bigger the payoff when I come out the other end.

Sometimes I’ll come up with examples of how things that initially seem like they’re going “wrong” may be helping me. For example, if I’m impatiently stuck behind a slow car in traffic I might think to myself that maybe this slow driver is helping me avoid an accident. Maybe this slow driver is reminding me to slow down in general. I change that moment of frustration into something positive that I can then feel grateful for.

If a restaurant messes up my order and gives me something different I might think to myself 'maybe that’s just what my body needs at this moment' or maybe it will help me try something new that I’ll end up loving. I then practice gratitude on the heels of that. These sound like small things but these ‘small things’ add up to make the big part of our lives. The experience is something I have no control over but I can control how I respond and interpret it. Those thoughts are directly connected to my mood and feelings which in turn gauge how I act towards myself and others.

This also works for me on the big changes in life. When I lost my full-time job I thought, “Thank you for helping to move me in the direction of something that is more in line with what I love to do.” When my long-term romantic relationship ended I thought, “There must be a relationship that is beyond what I can imagine at this moment or maybe I need some time by myself to figure out who I am as an individual.”

There are inevitably times when I have trouble seeing the silver lining. In those times what I have to lean on is the track record of all those time seemingly negative circumstances ended up being the pivot point in my life. When I have no idea how anything could possibly be helping me I remind myself how all things work for good. I use those instances as an opportunity to practice faith, courage, or forgiveness. This practice has led to no longer seeing myself as a victim but as someone who is loved and faithful to the path my life is on, wherever that takes me.

If you have any similar practices or experiences or any thoughts on this topic in general I’d love to hear them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Posted on April 18, 2017 and filed under Life.

Why do I suddenly feel like crap?

On July 4th, 2014 something happened that altered how I’ve lived my life ever since. It was such a visceral experience that I remember the moment it happened like it was yesterday.

Life was dandy. I had an incredible position at Walt Disney World as a full-time musician, a great relationship, and no reason to feel badly about anything. But that afternoon sitting on the couch watching an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with my girlfriend I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my stomach. It wasn’t like anything I had ever felt before. I couldn’t tell if it was emotional pain or actual physical pain. It was similar to that feeling you get when you hear terrible news combined with the worst stomachache you can imagine. I excused myself from the comedy and went to lay down for a few minutes. I examined all possible causes and decided it must have been what I ate for lunch. I found some momentary relief in my logical assumption.

Later on that day the feeling returned. The way I described it to my bandmates at the time was, “It feels like my mind is moving faster than my body can handle.” I pasted a smile over my discomfort for the remainder of the evening as it’s all I could think to do. I was hoping that a good night's sleep would be the solution, but alas that was not the case. This whole situation had me quite perplexed. I had been on the positive thinking train for a few years at this point and had gotten pretty good at noticing how my thoughts are linked to my emotions. Why in a time of my life when I was happy and content was I suddenly feeling this intense feeling of panic?

For the first few weeks or so I tried to cover up the feeling with any noise I could insert into my surroundings that would drown it out. I buckled down on my positive thinking tactics: appreciating more, smiling more often. All of this effort just seemed to exacerbate the anxiety. After a few weeks of denial and fruitless effort, I tried the only thing I hadn’t thought of yet which was to slow down. I took more alone time at work and in my relationship. I would sit with my eyes closed and listen to music that provided a blanket of white noise while breathing as slowly and deeply as possible. I found that the pace of my breath seemed to correlate to the pace of my thoughts. This helped and I started to feel a little more sane. When the anxious feeling crept back in, I would take it as a cue to slow down.

This process of slowing down and listening to myself helped me become aware of my habitual patterns of thought. I noticed how comparing myself to others or to a version of myself that I thought I should be was creating a sense of anxiety and panic. I had to start unwinding the habit of compulsively comparing and criticizing myself. Some examples of thoughts I would have on a daily basis: “Why don’t I have the vocal stamina of these other vocalists I’m performing with?” “Look how easily this guy seems to be handling all of these tasks. There’s no way I could do that, I’d become overwhelmed. What’s wrong with me?” Any time I was feeling less than exuberantly joyful I would look around and see how happy everyone else seemed to be and think “I should be happy right now. What reason do I have not to be happy?”

I wish I could say that becoming aware of these habits of critical self-judgement instantly cured me from them but that was not the case. It took a few months of being diligent about my thoughts and noticing when I was being critical of myself. Any time a thought of self judgement would arise and start gaining momentum I would cut the cord to that train of thought. I found that the earlier I caught a thought, the easier it was to change it. I started practicing replacing the judgmental thoughts with ones that were positive and made me feel better about myself. I became my own inner caretaker, soothing myself back from the brink of what felt like insanity at every opportunity. Saying to myself, “All is well.” “It’s okay.” “Be easy on yourself.”

I’m able now to look back at this time in my life with immense gratitude. Had it not been for this challenging phase I may never have come to the sense of independence that I now have. It freed me from the need to weigh every decision against the opinions and judgements of others. And although that voice of self-criticism still rears it’s head from time to time I now have a process to deal with it. I respond lovingly, thanking it for it’s input without allowing it to guide my decisions or to keep me in a perpetual cycle of self judgement.

I think it’s important to state that at the time when I was going through this phase of strong anxiety I had already been meditating for a number of years. This coupled with my naturally introverted and introspective nature helped me to deal with this situation by myself. Had the anxiety or panic gotten any worse or had I not found a suitable solution I very well may have needed to reach out for help. If you’re going through something similar don’t ignore the signs, they’re there for a reason. Be aware of what your body or emotions may be trying to tell you and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t feel you have someone you can turn to there are some great online resources including this one at Lifeline.org.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear anything you have to add or share in the comments section.


Helpful songs for slowing down during times of anxiety:

Be Here Now by Ray Lamontagne

The Tourist by Radiohead

Take It Easy by The Eagles

Posted on April 9, 2017 .

Farewell Veganism

Almost exactly a year ago I made the switch from vegetarian and occasionally eating fish to full on vegan. I had just given up alcohol and caffeine at the start of 2016, and following a brief experimentation with raw veganism, I decided that going vegan was the best thing at the time. It felt right and in tune with what my body was asking for. I did tons of research, and it opened me up to a whole new world of cuisine that was exciting to explore. I was pretty sure it would be a long-lasting decision. Little did I know.

For some context, it’s important to state that over time I’ve developed a strong sense of following my gut and intuition. I think it’s what people mean when they say “follow your heart.” For a while now I have given that small whisper of a voice priority over all opinions from the world around me. I was really quite surprised when about a week ago my intuition started telling me to drink milk. Not almond, soy, or coconut milk - real cow's milk. I dismissed it over and over. Surely that couldn’t be my intuition speaking - I’m VEGAN, and I was led to become vegan by following what my body wanted. After a few days of dismissal, I had this wacky dream where I was looking upwards to the sky with my mouth open, and milk was being poured down my throat in a constant stream. I woke up perplexed. At this point, I knew pretty certainly what my body wanted but still was resisting it. It took some poignant words from a friend to help me finally take the leap:


“Are you doing eyes-wide-shut on something that you know you need but you don’t want to give yourself because you think it’s not right?”


That question hit home. It’s funny how someone telling you what you already know seems to give it more validity. I started to take a look at how I had come to judge, quite harshly in some cases, certain foods as “right” and others as “wrong.” It all stemmed from a well-intentioned desire for greater health but somewhere along the way it had become more about getting it right and being perfect than honoring what my body was asking for. I finally saw the irony of what I was doing. Feeling empowered by my new realization I went straight to the closest grocery store and bought a pint of organic, unhomogenized whole milk from a local farm as well as some other things I hadn’t consumed for a year or more. You might think that a slow and gradual re-introduction would have been best but the feeling I had when drinking that first glass of milk after abstaining from dairy for a year or more was similar to how it feels when you finally get a drink of water after being severely dehydrated.

This whole experience was quite freeing. It forced me to admit how much judgement I had unintentionally placed on food and as soon as I faced those judgements they disappeared. The decision to end my vegan ways also felt challenging because I had told so many people about my dietary choices. It was almost as if I had made being vegan some noble character trait.

Needless to say I learned an important lesson that it’s best to listen to what my body is asking for and to honor those requests even if they’re contrary to what the latest study totes as the diet that is best.

A close friend helped me to put it all into perspective after I had asked her to proofread this blog post:


“No one cares if you’re vegan or now not-vegan :) They just care about you.”

 

Posted on March 31, 2017 .