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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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Oh, how glorious it would be if healing looked like clouds parting and light shining to show you the path. I wish I could tell you this was my reality. I’ve since learned healing looks like a 1,000 piece puzzle that has just spilled out of the box. Where to begin? One must start somewhere.

The autoimmune disease had a best friend, her name was Anxiety.

Fear invited her to take up residency, embedding herself into my psyche and body. I didn’t like her, but she refused to leave. Ruled by fight or flight, I was reacting to life from a place of fear.

Anxiety set my heart racing accompanied by a sinking feeling in my gut. My mind was under attack, trying to recover from the trauma of the sickness and how to move forward with an autoimmune disease. Fierce mood swings from misery to panic with fearful thoughts plagued me.

The anxiety and fear infiltrated my marriage in the form of numerous bad habits. The fighter in me was wicked with my tongue, verbal violence was commonplace. When in flight mode I  was in a state of dread, battling the urge to flee. There was no peace in our home. 

And my heart, my aching heart. I had made a couple of dear friends in Melbourne but I missed the comfort of people who knew me. I desperately longed for my support system,  my loving family and best friend, Robin. The homesickness compounded with the anxiety disabled me into despondency. 

Although I was struggling I still carried on with life.  There were many good times and happy experiences as well. But eventually, the regularity of the bad spells surpassed the good.

I knew I had to find another way.

I began to inquire within, choosing to take a hard look at myself and the disease. The ulcerative colitis was inflammation. So I asked myself, “What am I doing to cause inflammation in my life?” The answer was two-fold, my lifestyle and my mind. My thoughts, self-talk and entire way of being were an inferno of despair blazing out of control.

One puzzle piece at a time I addressed everything causing me inflammation. I started with the external stimuli: foods, people, activities, my schedule. In an effort to reduce my inflamed ways I adopted a mantra, “Try new things.”

I experimented with eliminating refined sugar and gluten while adding healthy fats. Shocked by the results, my vitality rebounded. I started to surround myself with uplifting and supportive people, putting boundaries on the drama queens. Less heated dynamic yoga, more slow and restorative practices. No more HIIT classes, walking and strength training instead. Goodbye to teaching 6am yoga, hello evening classes. I felt I was doing everything in my power to aid in my recovery, to heal. 

This process took over a year to implement with beneficial results. I felt more rested and although the anxiety was still present it had subdued. The more challenging task was to look at my thoughts and behavior.

So I settled into a familiar place where I could go within, my meditation cushion.

I had been practicing mostly Kundalini and a little bit of Vedic meditation for eight years. My mantra, “Try new things”, inspired me to explore other practices: Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist and guided visualisation. I then read about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s  8-week course, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), and thought, why not give it a try? 

A weekly 2.5-hour meeting of practice and lecture, studying a thick manual along with daily meditation and mindfulness activities were the format. Week one was an eye-opener filled with rich insight and lots of practice. A 45 minute guided body scan was the longest regular daily meditation I had ever done.

The body scan is practiced lying down and the purpose is to focus on the sensations coming up in different regions of the body. When the mind wanders off to thinking, direct the attention back to the present moment. It relaxed me but it wasn’t until week two when I experienced a profound shift.

I always meditated in the morning and while in class a student said they were doing it before bed and experiencing sound sleep. Again, I tried a new thing, popping my earphones in before bed I began to melt into the meditation. The next morning I was astounded. It’s gone, I thought.

That feeling of anxiety I always had in my gut evaporated, replaced with a sense of calm. I felt nourished and anew. 

However, I knew feeling grounded and calm after a practice can happen, but the longevity is gained through sustained practice over time. Over the weeks the body scan became a tonic for my anxiety. I felt my nervous system being soothed into rest and digest mode.

Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness by paying attention. So I started to do just that, observe my habits. As I became more familiar with myself, I was noticing my negative self-talk, thought patterns and actions based on fear and how I was often in auto-pilot mode not being present.

Through this awareness, I had the power to create new healing habits. 

I also learned how to open to challenging emotions and how to attend to my suffering. As a dedicated student, I was committed to creating new patterns to support a healthier relationship with myself and Greg while learning how to respond to life with ease instead of reacting in fear.

When the course came to a close I had regained my calm, I wasn’t in my head so much and I had the tools to manage the anxiety. The practices were the missing pieces to my puzzle of healing. It was only the beginning of my mindfulness journey. 

Mindfulness was the light in my time of darkness to help guide me on the path of healing. Long-term changes are not made overnight; the integration period of establishing new patterns has been slow, it has taken years. But I keep practicing.

Living mindfully is an ongoing lifelong practice.  And just like healing, it never stops. We can always keep healing, cultivating healthier ways of being. 

To Practice the Body Scan follow me on the Insight Timer Appit’s FREE

July 15, 2019 4 comments
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Greg came to the US to bring me back to Melbourne. I was off the drugs due to an allergic reaction, convinced the colitis was a one-off episode. After months of fixating on the status of the work visa, as soon as I let it go, it was approved.

Living in a foreign land, immersing myself into a new culture and starting full-time work while missing my loved ones and my old life brought on a whole new kind of stress. An ongoing sinking feeling in my gut became my new baseline.

Greg and I found a healthy rhythm together. Occasional fights were exacerbated by homesickness. I desperately missed my family, my bestie, my self-employment, my community, myself.

Being homesick became a constant ache in my heart, a void of joy filled with loneliness and daily tears. I soldiered on, trying to make friends, doing my yoga and meditation practice, pretending to be happy. A flood of untruths washed over – things will get better, I’ll be okay, happiness will return.

I tried to keep my head above water while the undertow of despair sucked me down.

When Greg dropped to one knee and proposed, elation rushed through me, a dream come true. The pressures of wedding planning, expectations and my fragile mental health turned my dream into a nightmare. We spent most of our ten-month engagement in a cycle of arguments. I questioned our future, doubting we would make it to the altar.

Inside of me the storm clouds of stress rumbled into a thunderous crash, soaking me in a downpour of anxiety. My nervous system was under attack, I had never in my life felt so out of control. There was no reprieve, I just kept pushing forward to the wedding.

I limped over the wedding day finish line only to be greeted the next morning by the colitis.

It held out as long as possible, but the disease has been building over the year, patient enough to wait until after the wedding to present itself.

The disease curiously appeared and disappeared over the next few months, eventually making itself at home, an unwelcome visitor. Various treatments were unsuccessful. Eventually, oral steroids began to do their job, vanishing the symptoms. I felt I had crossed another finish line, celebrating the final day of an 8-week course of steroids when bam, it came back. This time with a vengeance, a raging inferno.

My health was going downhill then quickly progressed to an avalanche of destruction. The drugs stopped working. I had lost twenty pounds, could no longer eat, there was crippling fatigue with gripping pain.

I had lost so much iron the pigment drained from my face, I looked like a corpse.

It was a sunny winter’s day when Greg pulled the car into the patient drop-off area for the colonoscopy. I was so weak I asked myself if I could make the walk from the car to the desk. My body was running on fumes, not a drop of gas left in the tank. I told myself I could do it. One foot in front another, one step at a time. The finish line was in sight.

When I awoke from the colonoscopy my doctor’s eyes pierced through me. She placed her hand on my wrist,

“Tara, you are the worst case I have ever seen. Your colon looks like ground hamburger meat.”

Her words enveloped me, a solace to my suffering. She affirmed I had reached rock bottom.

I was admitted to the hospital. Morphine, IV steroids, a slew of IV nutrients and medication poured into me. Drugs are miraculous; the symptoms dissolved away. 

The side effects of the steroids raged a war inside of me: insomnia, leg cramps, an insatiable appetite, hot flashes and debilitating mood swings.  Not to mention, the water retention was so severe within 36 hours I had gained back all the weight. My frail skeleton swelled into a puffy marshmallow.

Over the seven days in the hospital attention was only paid to the physical symptoms, my mental and emotional health were never addressed. My nervous system was stuck in fight or flight, consumed by fear searching to find the light in the dark abyss of my own mind. 

July 8, 2019 3 comments
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There I was at Melbourne airport, another tearful goodbye. After two years of a long distance relationship, one would think I was used to it. I was saying farewell to my love, Greg, the man I was willing to move 10,000 miles away from my support system to start a new life in Australia. 

This time I was headed back to the US after three months of a relentless unsuccessful job search.  The hope of employment was dashed by work visa challenges. I needed to return home to make some money. On the bright side our love flourished, both of us fully committed to our relationship.

Sweltering humidity hugged me when I landed into the midwestern summer.

I arrived feeling emotionally depleted, physically exhausted and fearful of the unknown.

I trusted Greg and I would endure, but the rest of my life felt like a crossroads with no roadmap. 

My gameplan was to find freelance photography work and crash at my bestie’s while waiting for my visa to be processed. But the unstable feeling in my gut was fuelled by anxiety. This turned into horror on day one of my return when my upset tummy began passing bright red blood. Graphic, I know.

What started as some startling red drops in the toilet bowl shifted into massive amounts of blood loss, uncontrollable diarrhea, pain, dramatic weight loss and zero quality of life.

Angst consumed every moment of every day.

Thoughts fraught with agony: What should I eat, why is this happening, I have no health insurance, I’m a loser with no job and no place to live, what if I’m dying? Fear silenced me as I desperately hoped it would just disappear.

Eventually, the secret came out. I moved in with my parents, my mother caring for my bedridden body and debilitated spirit.  My bowels felt like they were being eaten alive.  A colonoscopy diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis, an incurable autoimmune disease of an ulcerated colon. I was prescribed steroids and an anti-inflammatory drug.

The despair vacated when the steroids immediately stopped the bleeding.

Relief rinsed through my cells as my body began to right itself.

With each dosage, I felt the fire in the depths of my large intestine begin to cool. I could eat again without worry, I started to gain weight while slowly regaining strength.

The diagnosis was inconceivable. I was always such a healthy person, a yogi, a vegetarian, how could this be true? After so much suffering, I was bewildered by the fact that some tiny little pills could instantly stop the symptoms. Perhaps it was just a one-off episode? Accepting the disease felt implausible; denial settled in.

Anxiety recklessly swept through the corners of my mind, obsessive thoughts of the future superseded sleep, peace was elusive.

Thanks to my brother I had managed to secure some freelance creative work, but the rest of my life was in limbo. Was I to sit and wait for a visa which could take years to come through, where would I live, what about long term employment, will Greg and I make it, what if the sickness comes back?

My yoga and meditation practices were a ghost. My only routine revolved around the drugs. During my recovery, I turned 37, but the Tara I knew and loved had died. I was defeated.

So what does this have to do with mindfulness? Everything. I had lost my mind during the sickness, a shadow of my former self. Little did I know, rock bottom was still waiting for me.

June 30, 2019 4 comments
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A Mindfulness Practice for Enjoying Life

When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses? In this day and age where we’re all multi-tasking and moving from one thing to another are we remembering to enjoy the moments? Being present to the little things is a simple way to practice mindfulness.

Pausing to soak up the sweetness of life is a practice. Although I am an avid mindfulness practitioner I realised I wasn’t stopping to smell the roses enough. Getting caught up in my to-do list, trying to achieve as much as possible in a day left me feeling burnt out and knowing it was time to live more mindfully.

I decided to start a smell the roses practice. For me, this meant living life slowly while doing more things I love and doing less of the things I don’t love.

When I find myself rushing I now take notice and tell myself to stop and slow down. My mind is racing with my to-do’s: I need to go to the gym, stop at the store, make dinner, send out that email. When I hurry through life I miss out on how much there is to appreciate in the everyday activities.

A mundane activity like making a meal has now become an opportunity to smell the roses.

I invited a friend for dinner and she commented on how mindfully I chopped the broccoli. Indeed, I did. I patiently divided the florets and neatly chopped the stalk into bite-size mouthfuls. I used to hurry through this sometimes tedious task, but now I revel in it.  Often I will take a seat at the counter as I prep, being thankful for the fresh organic produce as I slowly chop. I now appreciate my meals even more.

I pay particular attention to when I’m feeling run down. And instead of packing in one more thing I choose to do less. I evaluate my list as the day progresses and adapt as needed asking myself, what can I do tomorrow instead of trying to squeeze it into today?

Things like laundry, cleaning the house or going to the grocery store are not roses.

Making time to restore supercedes the chores. Whether it’s ten minutes or an hour, I cut out what I can to make more time for me. Enjoying a cup of tea, painting my nails, taking a nap or just resting on the couch has become part of my rose garden.

For me, smelling the roses involves going to an art gallery, connecting with a friend, taking myself out for a coffee or reading a book. These are all things I love to do but would push them to the side in order to complete the to-do list. I used to think these things were indulgent, but now realise these activities are what makes life worth living.

Thanks to this practice I am more attuned to delight in the little things in life.

A small act of mindfulness which you can start to doing right now is the true essence of this practice. When I’m out and about I literally stop to smell the roses. While walking to the train I’m sure to always pinch the neighbors lavender bush and soak up the scent. If I notice a unique blossom I pause to admire the natural beauty and give it a sniff. It’s that simple.

After five months of my smell the roses practice, I can say it feels glorious. I certainly don’t cross as many things off my list, but discovered it doesn’t matter. Spending more time savoring the little moments and doing what I love matters more than completing daily tasks. The result, a full heart.

I encourage you to start this practice by asking yourself the following:

  1. What things do I love to do?
  2. When can I slow down?
  3. How can I do less?

Once you have the answers, just start smelling the roses.

April 1, 2019 0 comment
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