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Pain is part of life, and so is suffering. But for how long must we suffer? Yes, I had experienced painful events, but the ongoing pain was the suffering I chose to endure. Not that I raised my hand and said to the universe, “Yes, please give me suffering.” Not consciously anyway.

In hindsight, my subconscious did say yes, as I was continually caught up in the story of how hard everything was – the disease, the fighting in my marriage, the aimless feeling about trying to make my way through life. I played the lead role in my own movie of suffering. It was a silent film, a discourse of affliction in my own head between me, myself, and I.

I’m not belittling my own suicidal thoughts (Part 1/3). They were a valid reaction based on my experiences. It was a turning point for me, the awareness of being in an emotional free-fall of despair where I contemplated ending it all. The extreme thoughts and unmanageable emotions were an awakening for me to look at my behavior and habits.

I had to attend to the reckless instability inside of me.

Emotions often feel like an uncontrollable force, for good or bad, that sometimes overpower me. I am a feeler, a contemplative soul encouraged by my mom to feel into my emotions. I realized I had become a slave to the feelings, letting them command my actions with little awareness of the effects.

So what are emotions anyway? My teacher describes them as a bodily sensation with an interpretation, a signal about how we feel. This definition makes sense to me because I can literally feel the physical effects of the emotions in my body, but at the same time, there is a thought associated with the sensation. An interpretation is a thought based on our perceptions or experiences. When I was deep in suffering and considering drowning myself, my thoughts were unruly. Consequently, so were my emotions and my actions.

I turned to the mindfulness practices for help. After years of studying, it was time to put the concepts into real-life practice. Let’s just say the awareness bus ran right into me and said, “Pay attention!”

I was drowning in my suffering, unable to see what was happening. There was no peace in my heart.

Awareness crept in, and I started to realize I was allowing the unpleasant emotions of sadness, grief, and pain to run my life. The emotions were playing out in my behavior. Blinded by the suffering, I was unable to see the destructive patterns I had created until I started to pay attention to my habits.

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention. So I began to observe myself, noticing mostly the unpleasant emotions and some of the pleasant. I noted the frequency of my eruptions as well as my reactions. I was dwelling in the pain. The continual dwelling is the suffering.

Awareness shone a light on what was actually happening; my pattern was to induce catastrophic meltdowns from painful emotions resulting in continued suffering.

I realized I rarely made space to soothe my pain and find a more skillful response.

My mental health depended on how I could cultivate a new pattern for a more peaceful way of being. Of course, the caveat is that awareness is knowing, the doing is the real-life practice of changing and implementing healthier habits.

Check out, Mindful Autoimmune, my free download of mindfulness practices to help Autoimmune Friends feel grounded and centered.

March 8, 2021 0 comment
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Part 1/3

Learning how to regulate emotions is a lifelong practice. I have found that sometimes the biggest teacher is when we realize we are not being mindful. In this first article of the series, I share where I began, a place of suffering, a place far from living mindfully.

My marriage was in trouble. I was operating in fight, flight, and freeze. Dysfunction was high and the threat of divorce loomed. But how did I get here; where did it go wrong? We were so in love and used to be happy together.

Moving to Australia for Greg felt right. I felt it in my bones. After a year and a half of long-distance dating, 10K miles apart, I visualized the move for love to the other side of the world as seamless. That is until I actually made the move.

It turns out you can’t just move to another country; a visa is required—cue visa approval saga. I packed my house and bags and headed to Australia but would have to leave in three months if I didn’t have a job. Needless to say, no job secured, so back to the US, I went.

Unemployed and homeless with the future in limbo was more stress than I could handle. Of course, I wasn’t truly without a home; my bestie and family welcomed me to stay with them. But I didn’t have a job and was paying a mortgage on an empty house. I believed wholeheartedly Greg and I would persevere but there was no timeline to assure me.

My body revolted from the stress of it all.

I started to pass blood. Every time I sat on the toilet, there was blood. The first time I saw it, “It can’t be,” I thought. My denial was crushed as it reappeared time after time until it was daily. The frequency increased to fifteen or more bloody stools a day. And then the urgency increased without warning; I would have the immediate need to go. I was unable to function.

A colonoscopy revealed ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. Processing the diagnosis was impossible. The instability of life showed up in the large intestine, the compass of the soul. They say to trust your gut, but what do you do when the gut is out of order?

I responded well to the medication and the symptoms quickly disappeared. In a matter of days, I went from being bedridden for weeks to moving through life. The symptoms were out of sight, out of mind.

I diverted back to denial mode with a mission: press on, get the visa and move forward. However, when I returned to Oz six months later with a visa, the ungrounded feeling remained. Now I felt even more lost; who was I now? Trying to forge a new identity without a support network and heavy with homesickness, I felt lower than low.

I became grief-stricken for my old life. Putting on a brave face while I cried in solitude day in and day out for months on end was my norm.

When Greg and I had our first argument, it began the downward spiral. What would have been your average miscommunication turned into a deadlock of silent treatment on his end and a tear-filled tyrant on mine. My nervous system was in a panic; there was no peace inside of me. I was either ready for battle, fleeing the scene, or paralyzed in fear. My unsteady emotional state did not bode well for the relationship with my then fiancé.

I had lost myself; the bottom had fallen out from beneath me. Sunken in disrepair, yet I was still attempting to rebuild a new life. There were many good times; when we were on, we were on. But it seemed all too often we were either at war or recovering from the fallout.

The fights escalated into a toxic stew of walking on eggshells and brash verbal lashings with both of us sulking in respective corners. If I wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably to Greg, I was screaming at him; I had little emotional regulation. We fought more than we didn’t.

Standard relationship issues became an inferno of fighting. I was either livid or despondent and, even worse, pretending to everyone else that everything was fine.

My emotions were manic; a single remark would set me alight. There was no space between the stimulus and my overreaction. I felt little sense of security or trust in myself or my new life.

As my emotions flared, so did the disease. It came back. My body was mirroring my inflamed thoughts. Lying in the hospital bed, I thought I couldn’t get any lower. The flare and hospitalization were reflections of my inner-turmoil.

When I felt threatened, I developed bad habits of emasculating Greg, wildly snapping at him whenever I felt cornered. I also went into complete shut- down where I would spend the day crying in bed, paralyzed by the emotions.

Life felt like a constant battle to not let the grief, sadness, anger, and insecurity get the best of me.

If I wasn’t fighting or freezing, I was in flight mode. One time the urge to flee was so great during an argument, I jumped out of the car and ran. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I knew I had to leave the situation.

At my worst, I would rage. Out of control, I felt I was starting to lose my mind. On one occasion, I had picked up a wooden cutting board and smashed it on the ground out of frustration. The next moment I was pounding my fists on my head with screaming sobs. Every fight was a war, with one of us always suggesting I move back to the US. The cycle continued for years. The physical urges to destroy objects and hurt myself continued to escalate.

I didn’t think I could get any lower, but then the pendulum of emotions swayed, and anger turned to despair. Another argument left me feeling abandoned, untrusting, and distraught.

I couldn’t get the suicidal thoughts out of my head.

I considered how I would do it. What would be the easiest and most convenient way to end the suffering? Hanging myself seemed too difficult to arrange; guns were unavailable, and no garage to put me to sleep by carbon monoxide. Drowning could work. It wouldn’t be messy. I would walk out into the water and hold my breath until I could no longer. Maybe I would pass out. It could be peaceful. Greg wouldn’t be the one to find me. I would leave a note. I saw myself doing it. I knew which beach I would choose.

I drove to the water. It was a winter’s day of cool salty air with the shining sun hanging low in the sky. I sat there in the car, looking at all the shades of blue, blurred lines where the sea met the sky through my tears. This seemed like the only solution to stop the pain. My behavior felt so rash and my emotions wild; I was scared of myself.

Thoughts drifted through me. The water would be cold. What will it be like at the very end? What if it doesn’t work? And how did I get here? This morning felt like a normal day, but now I’m here. Apprehension arrived just in time.

A moment of light appeared through the darkness.

The thoughts were overpowering, but then I remembered, they’re only thoughts, they will pass.

I had a therapy appointment scheduled in a couple of days. For now, I would go home and get in bed, wait out the coming days, then discuss the episode with my therapist.

By the time I was sitting on her couch, the thoughts had passed, but the harmful residue remained. There was an unsettled feeling inside me, and I felt I had little control over my emotions. Scared by how far my mind played out the scenario, I knew I had to make a change.

Check out, Mindful Autoimmune, my free download of mindfulness practices to help Autoimmune Friends feel grounded and centered.

January 12, 2021 0 comment
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This body of mine is compromised. Labeled as chronically ill, immunosuppressed, and incurable. All the labels still seem so foreign to believe. Nevertheless, simple things like digestion and elimination are not easy. And we all know when those things are out of whack, well, everything is off the rails. With Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), it’s more than an upset tummy and the runs. It’s a lie-down and stay close to the bathroom kind of day.

The worries of the heart and mind felt soothed as I attended to my mental and emotional health with mindfulness and therapy. But I wasn’t embracing the whole self; I was shut off from the body, the incredible vessel which moves me through life. Perhaps because being unwell with an unpredictable autoimmune disease was just too much to process.

During all the years of battling flares, I rarely offered comfort to the suffering the body was going through.

The stronger and more catastrophic the physical symptoms, the more disembodied I became. Even when experiencing smaller flares, I would take more medication and still push onward. At the time, I was unaware of the disconnection from the body; I just kept hoping it would all go away.

The fear was holding guard, separating me from the sacred temple I found difficult to inhabit. I felt embodied while meditating, practicing yoga, and exercising. But when I was unwell, I was rarely in the body; I was mostly caught up in the mind.

Living in a chronically ill body can feel like you’re trapped in a confined dungeon with a stranger breathing down your neck. With no escape in sight, the dungeon is the body, and the stranger is the disease. Trapped by fear with the wild mind running the show, I only detached more. It’s a terrible way to live.

Almost two years into battling an ongoing flare, I started studying and practicing Mindful Self-compassion.

I learned to extend the same kindness I have so generously given to others to myself.

I started to acknowledge the wars the body has been through. I no longer turn away from the suffering. I open to the physical experience of a flare and attend to the body like I would a dear friend in need of support.

During a flare, the first thing I do is recognize what is happening in the present moment to get my head out of the future. Noting the multiple symptoms, the fatigue and pain, and what a toll the disease has taken. I also appreciate how difficult all of it is. At the height of a flare I spend most of my time horizontally on the couch or in the bed with barely enough energy to make it through the day. The body is unable to digest food, absorb nutrients, or have normal bowel movements.

Then I allow the confronting reality of living with IBD to be here, just as it is. I open to what is present: the physical pain, the fear, the resistance. And as best I can, I allow the arising sensations, emotions, and thoughts to be here without moving away from them.

I tune into the sensations buried deep and low in the belly, a feeling of soreness and burning simultaneously. I listen to the gurgles and squeaks speaking to me from the depths of the bowel. I open to what is here and what is happening. I practice feeling into the body.

Instead of seeing the pain as bad, I become curious about it.

One time when a flare escalated in the middle of the night, I was awakened with explosive bloody diarrhea; the colon seemed spastic. The pain pulsing through me was so great I was grasping my belly curling on the toilet. I would say 7/10 on the pain scale. An 8 would have brought me to my knees.

At that moment, I started practicing self-compassion. The mind was catastrophizing into the future, saying I would definitely be hospitalized. So I reigned it back into the present and asked, “What is actually happening right now? I answered, “Right now, I am on the toilet with uncontrollable urgency at 2 am. It’s bad, but I can make it through the night and call my doctor in the morning.” Saying what is actually happening helps me ground to the present moment and move from the anxious what-ifs of the future.

In the next moment, I got curious about the pain. I felt it located on the lower-left side of the abdomen. The sensations were stabbing, hot, and contracting. Then it would stop. This happened every 30 minutes for a few hours.

I would provide words of support to the body like, “You poor thing, you’re doing the best you can.” “You are so wise, striving for perfect balance even though you are unwell. I’m so proud and thankful for all you continue to do for me.” I would even visualize my colon looking healthy with everything flowing freely. Saying the words is one thing but believing and feeling into the sentiment is essential.

When I would consciously investigate the pain with curiosity, it became more manageable. I was able to navigate the flare with more ease.

Rest is also essential. My chill-time varies based on the severity of the flare. Usually, it involves a lot of lying down, keeping the schedule to a minimum, and doing as little as possible.

The practice of befriending the body has softened me and opened me to a kinder relationship with both the body and the IBD.

Connecting to the well of compassion within takes practice. I still sometimes go into panic mode, but then I remember to treat the body with the same care I would extend to a dear friend.

Check out, Mindful IBD, my free download to help you have more peace and less stress while living with Crohn’s or Colitis
December 15, 2020 2 comments
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Anyone with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can attest, IBD is pervasive, with inflammation spreading like wildfire from the bowel to the mind. While the symptoms are clearly not just in our heads, the nature of the disease leads to overthinking with fear of the future and rumination of the past. Living in the moment and being present to the goodness of life seems elusive whilst suffering from digestion and elimination issues.

IBD includes both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, which involve inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms ranging from pain, diarrhea, uncontrollable urgency, and blood, just to name a few.

The unpredictable nature of the disease causes an unsettled mind.

Throughout my IBD journey, I have found the mental torment has needed equal attention to the troubling physical symptoms.

IBD flares would sweep me away on a thought train of despair. Chronic fearful thoughts of what might happen consumed me: What if the drugs aren’t effective, what if I can’t make it to the bathroom, what if the pain returns? Most daily activities became filled with nerves projecting into the future.

I turned to my meditation practice as a means to help steady my mind. At this point, I had been meditating for nine years, but my current practice wasn’t enough. After practicing various styles of meditation, I discovered mindfulness.

I signed up for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the 8-week course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD., scientifically proven to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness includes the formal practice of meditation and the informal practice of being mindful and present in your daily activities.

Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. The essence of mindfulness is to live in the moment. When being mindful, one becomes aware of their behavior and habits, such as overthinking.

In my previous meditation practice, I could drop into a calm place during my sit and into the day. Still, there was a disconnect from integrating the steady mind into my daily activities. Mindfulness bridged the gap.

The practice helped me shift the mind from being fixated on the disease what-ifs to paying attention to the present moment.

What is the value of the present moment? It is the only time we are guaranteed; the only place we have to cultivate peace. If we are anxious and fearful in this moment, it is likely the next moment will be the same. Not to mention, we are missing out on life! We aren’t savoring all the goodness and enjoying what is here for us right now. By practicing mindfulness, we start to become aware when we’re off with the mind and learn to guide the attention back to the now.

I started to become aware of when I was spiraling away from the present. Through simple practices, I learned to pay attention to where I was (often the future or the past) and direct my focus back to the present moment. Mindfulness was the key to open the doorway to a peaceful mind.

So, how do we practice mindfulness? How can we be here now? One of the easiest ways is to connect to the senses. That’s right.

Mindfulness is innate in all humans and readily accessible by sensing into the present moment.

Let’s practice together right now. After reading each one, take a moment to pause and practice.

1.Take this moment to notice what you are seeing. Obviously, you’re reading this article but what else do you see? Let the eyes take in what is around you: objects, shapes, shadows, light, color. Look around and note what you observe.

2. And what are you feeling in the hands in this moment? Perhaps you are holding a device or the hands are resting on a table or in your lap so you feel contact with an object or the body. Are there sensations of warmth, coolness, pulsing in the hands? Can you feel into the fingers, perhaps sensing the fingers making contact with one another? Observing sensations of moisture or dryness in the palms. Feel into the hands.

3. Are there any sounds you can hear? The sound of yourself breathing. Sounds around you? Listen to any noises the building may be making. Or sounds outside.

4. What are you smelling right now? Are there any scents in the air? Perhaps there is a fragrance in the room, the smell of your soap or lotion or food? Noticing any smells.

5. How about any tastes that may be present? Maybe you are sipping a coffee or tea. Or you are eating right now. Perhaps you have just eaten and flavors are lingering. Observing any tastes that are here right now.

Take a moment here to pause, to breathe, and notice how you feel right now. Connecting to the senses helps us ground to the present moment.

This is how we can break the cycle of overthinking and tune in to what is here for us right now; this is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness has helped me intercept the IBD overdrive mind and shown me how to live in the moment. I can now be present to the joys and the mundane, navigate the overwhelming times with more ease and connect more to myself and loved ones when I lean into the now. All the little moments aren’t so little; they are the totality of our life.

Check out, Mindful IBD, my free download to help you have more peace and less stress while living with Crohn’s or Colitis.

December 2, 2020 0 comment
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“And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.” -Kahlil Gibran

Gibran’s wisdom prompted me to reflect on the times in life when I’ve let love lead the way, and the other end of the spectrum when fear replaced love. I have lived the dichotomy and know when I live with an open heart, I move without hesitation, I act from a place of intuition and trusting all will work out. When living from a place of fear, I feel stagnant with trepidation, devoid of assurance in the future, my inner-light dimmed.

Many years ago, when Greg and I decided we would be together on the same continent, I felt a sense of certainty and optimism.

My heart was open and free, scared of nothing, and willing to move to the other side of the world.

So I did – I left my business, I left my loved ones, I left my identity – all for the sake of love.

I slipped into a different career in a foreign land where nothing was familiar. With a newly diagnosed disease and without the support of family or friends nearby, I asked myself, “Who am I?” The fear had snuck in like a thief in the night, closing the door to my heart. It took up camp poisoning me with worry.

With the energy of despair, I expected the worst, walking on eggshells every day. I thought the disease would flare and doubted Greg and I would endure, all while being held captive in a soul-stealing job. My heart cloaked in fear for years; I no longer knew myself.

When only a morsel of my spirit remained, that was when my heart cracked open.

Little by little, the light of love began to shine on the darkness dissolving the angst, fear replaced with trust. It was a subtle process to open the heart, moment to moment, day by day until the days merged into weeks, months and years. Perhaps the opening is endless.

The heart’s instinct moved me to act without fear. I lived outside of my comfort zone, spoke my truth and stopped being scared to be me in all my messiness while maintaining faith in tomorrow. And today, I can say I am open to life, allowing love to direct my course.

Undoubtedly, fear does show up. I let it rise, breathe into it through my open heart and then send it on its way.

When we live from the intention of love, there is no room for fear. We have permission to fulfill our deepest dreams, to live fully and completely, to trust in the process of life. 

October 18, 2019 4 comments
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Lessons in Mindfulness from Mother Nature

Autumn had just arrived in my home state of Michigan, a lush wonderland of trees, lakes and rivers. The leaves were beginning to change, the sun was warm, the shade cool. I wanted to revel in the delights of my favorite season with a trip to the Saturday Farmer’s market to be intoxicated by scents of hot apple cider and fresh donuts.

While there, I sought out a local maker and fellow photographer, Missy. She’s one of those unicorn humans who ooze open-hearted authenticity, and you feel good just by being with her. We had worked together, and I always enjoyed stopping in to visit her when I was in town.

I told her I envied her kayaking adventures, which she often shared online. Her response, “We’re floating today at 3:00, wanna come?”

Surprised and excited, I instantly said yes, knowing I had nothing on the agenda for the afternoon.

“It’s not your first time kayaking is it?” she inquired with a discerning eye.

With confidence, I grinned, “Not my first, but my second.” I assured her I was game, and I could definitely keep up. I didn’t tell her my first time was on a placid lake null of challenges.

A few hours later I was tucked into the cab of her pick up truck with her partner Bailey riding shotgun. Kayaks were in the back, and we were headed on a thirty-minute drive out to the country to meet the rest of the crew.

The sky was a bright blue with puffy white clouds and rays of sunshine lighting endless fields of corn awaiting the harvest. We paused on the way to admire a dance of sandhill cranes gathered in a marshy area. It was an unexpected highlight to witness over fifty of them speckling the landscape of dried reeds and faded pond grasses.

When we arrived at the launch site, a river access point discreetly hidden off the country road, I was warmly welcomed by the strangers who outfitted me with a lifejacket, kayak and a paddle. Part of the group took off to drop cars at the end-point while I started to get to know people.

I looked and felt unprepared in my skinny jeans, tennis shoes and a fedora, but was eager to be on the river.

The group knew I was inexperienced, but in true Michigan fashion, within minutes, I felt I belonged.
When I first stepped into the kayak, I realized I was in full mindfulness mode, consumed by the present moment. Here’s what the river taught me.

1. Live in the moment

The river demanded my full presence. I could only focus on each moment at hand with a tiny bit of forethought as I looked ahead to the other paddlers. How was I holding my paddle, how could I maneuver the current, what was the easiest way to pass the obstacles of rocks and tree limbs? The experience made me feel childlike, curiously learning new things for the first time.

Missy would call out to me “Float,” a reminder to pause the paddling, to be present to the scenery.

My eyes feasted on a menagerie of wildlife -fish, birds, insects- swirling around me. The trees were a towering palette of green, yellow, orange and red. The river morphed in color from shades of green to hues of blue. At times it was so clear I could see straight to the sandy bottom, other times completely opaque. I felt the sun setting as the sky dimmed and a chill slipped over my skin. It was sacred to absorb mother nature in the place no longer my home, yet always my home.

Full appreciation for the little moments, which aren’t so little, is the reward for being present.

2. Allow people to help you

I come from a long line of those who insist, “I can do it myself.” While this is my default operating procedure most of the time, I willingly opened to the kindness of others. Missy thoughtfully guided me when to backpaddle, how to turn or whatever I needed to do to pass an obstacle. We had to portage the kayaks a couple of times, so I let the group carry me, literally and figuratively. They picked up my kayak and shifted it to the water, offered me a hand to hold as I trekked through mud, then helped me hop back in and sent me on my way.

Without the generosity of Missy and her kayak crew, I would have never had this experience. I felt taken care of by my new friends — a reminder for me to be open to receiving from others.

3. Be flexible

The river is everchanging in currents, debris and direction. There is no resisting the force of the water; one must go with the flow of what is. We navigated the ups and downs of waterfalls big and small, we squeezed under downed trees and when it was impossible to go through a section of the river, we went around. Sometimes I had to paddle fast to catch up while other times I had to slow down. At one point I found myself alone, I trusted I would reconnect with the group and I just kept paddling.

I noticed when I was inflexible, I only created more resistance. When I was furiously paddling against the force of the current, it only sucked me in further. A subtlety like holding my paddle with too tight a grip made me tire quickly. To be soft and fluid from moment to moment were essential.

The river was a mirror to my daily life; it showed me how to give way to resistance and choose the wiser path, to have faith in the future and to continue onward.

I’m thankful for Missy and the crew, who held me on my maiden kayaking voyage. I am also grateful for the river, her wisdom and for reminding me how to live mindfully.

August 30, 2019 4 comments
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