As the (still?) New Year is a time of reflection and improvement, I sought out my ever so wise friend, Pamela Gold, to answer all my dying questions. Forever a source of knowledge, she was the perfect person to ask a series of neurotic and panicked questions! Thank you, Pamela! You are the best! And yes, her answers are novels because she has so much to share always. It is a lot of information all at once, so if I were you, read it now, save some for later, but READ IT. It is worth the length and time it takes to read it. (NO PICTURES BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE WHAT IS IMPORTANT).
The New Year is a time to reflect on a new self and to seek personal improvement. Any advice on how to accomplish this?
Think about how you want to feel and why. I think the most effective way to support growth is to focus on feelings and behaviors TOGETHER. Why do you want to get fit/lose 10 lbs> (to feel good about yourself, to feel more energetic, etc. etc.) You want to get 8 hours of sleep a night, WHY? (feel better all day, smarter, sharper, take work success to the next level) You want to have healthier relationships, why? (to feel the shared joy, connection, ease and synergy, as opposed to feeling negative energy which zaps you, etc. etc.) You want to start a meditation practice, why? (to feel more peace, strength, grace, ease and joy in your life) Research shows that people who focus on the WHY and FEELINGS of a change are much more likely to be successful in making the change. So, think about what it is that you want to feel in your life and then think about the changes that will support that. Then, it is about committing to DOING the behaviors that support your changes. There’s tons of research on how to instill new habits: schedule time in for it, focus on the process (as opposed to the destination), break down the big goals into small daily goals, keep your mindset right… Danielle LaPorte has an awesome Desire Map Daily Planner that I am committed to using this year to keep me on track. I highly recommend checking that out.
How do you concentrate on becoming a better self, without being overly self involved? Is this possible?
First of all, if you are not a healthy self you are no good to anyone else. Seriously. You know as well as I do that when we are tired, cranky, reactive, sick etc etc we are a liability. So prioritizing self care is fundamental to being of real value to others. One of my yoga teachers used the phrase “maintaining the integrity of your space” — this really resonated because I was raised in a family where if you weren’t thinking of others or focused on being of service to others, you were selfish (and, oh the shame!!). This messed me up for awhile and I didn’t know how to care for myself without feeling like I was being selfish! So this concept of maintaining the integrity of my own space gave me something positive to start to work with. There is this beautiful middle path in literally everything, and especially when it comes to our relationship with self care and service of others. Obviously if we only care about ourselves and neglect everyone else, that is narcissistic and incredibly unhealthy. We literally suck. And on the other hand, if we give all of ourselves to others and neglect ourselves, we will become overwhelmed, exhausted and eventually physically ill. Only we can know where our balance is. The way that I find mine is to be tuned in to how I am feeling. I get deep joy out of being of service to others. I can tell when I am truly *feeling* generous, and when I am feeling obligated by a request. If I feel generous, I know I am in a place where I should give. If I feel obligated (guilt/resistance), I know something is off and I need to examine it. On the other side, my heart tells me when I should skip a workout or self care session to be of service to others. I have learned how to tell the difference between guilt and generosity. Guilt feels low, generosity feels high. Whenever I feel low, I stop to examine what is going on with me. And I trust how I am feeling over what rationally makes sense. If I FEEL generous about something, even if it makes zero sense, I trust that feeling and go with it. And if I have a low feeling about something, I trust that too — I stop what I am doing and examine everything as closely as possible to get more information before taking action. I take full responsibility for how I am feeling, no blaming others for ANYTHING, so if I am feeling low, I know I have something that I need to deal with. The more I take full responsibility for EVERYTHING, the more I have to give to others. It is great how that works.
What are your tips on how to become a “stronger’ person? Someone with “thicker” skin?
Our strength has to do with our inner state. How safe and secure do we feel? Do we feel “enough” and worthy of love/ connected to something bigger than ourselves? When we are weak, then things get to us (trigger us) … and we go from being calm, clear and collected to feeling and acting like crap. When we are strong, it (the trigger) doesn’t have the power to “make us feel” anything other than the happiness we are radiating from the inside out. Example: my son spills his milk all over the table. If I am exhausted, overwhelmed, cranky (maybe because the day has already been a shit show of things not being easy or people not treating me with respect and appreciation), I am likely to be reactive — maybe I say “OMG Jesse! URGH ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and then Jesse feels bad (not good enough) about his accident… If on the other hand, I am calm and clearheaded, maybe I’ve had an awesome day of victories and quality time with people I love, when Jesse spills his milk I am all “it’s cool, I spill stuff all the time. Let’s grab some paper towels together and clean it up. No big deal.” Hopefully you see how this example could be *anything*: someone bumping into you on the street, your spouse leaving his socks on the floor, a co-worker not cc’ing you on an email… How we handle it has to do with our inner state. I call this “Spiritual Strength” — to be strong spiritually means that you keep your spirits “up” even when the going gets tough. The higher your spirits and the more you can take before you start to freak out, the stronger you are spiritually. Obviously by my definition this has absolutely nothing to do with religion or what your opinion on God is. It has to do with how positive your attitude is about life, and how positive it stays in the face of challenges. There are a few core components of Spiritual Strength that we can practice and get better at, so when we need the strength, it is there… and practice makes progress so if we commit to purposefully practicing this, just like we would training for a race, we will get better… and when we need it, we will find that we are stronger in our navigation of these tricky life moments.
1. Gratitude. I know, it’s like I’m a broken record. But I cannot stress enough the power of Gratitude. Gratitude is like the powerful root system of our inner strength. I promise you if you are feeling unhappy, check in and see if you are feeling grateful. I’ll bet you aren’t. So by simply getting ninja-like at being grateful your happiness quotient will go up A LOT. And so will your inner power.
2. Kindness. Being kind to yourself and being kind to others. Simply caring about the well being of others at all times, even if they are behaving in a toxic way, will raise you up out of the range of their daggers. It is like spiritual magic. (I go into this more in your asshole question)
3. Bravery: Being brave means that you are facing your fears. Our fears are the root of our inner weakness, so by committing to bravery you can get all up in that shit and clear it out. The more you let go of your fears, the stronger you will be, and the less power you will give away to people to “make you feel” anything other than the unfuckwithable light and love that you are.
4. Surrender: There is a much bigger power than you at work in this world — the power that keeps the planets orbiting around the sun, the seeds sprouting each Spring etc etc. There is a time to accept what is and surrender to what is out of your control, and it is the most liberating (and initially terrifying) thing you can do. When you stop wasting energy trying to control or fight things that are out of your control (or already have happened!) you suddenly have so much more energy to make magic happen in your life.
5. Openness/Curiosity: You can’t ever know everything. There is always something about every situation that you cannot see. Judging shuts down the flow of your power and weakens you. Stay open, stay curious, more shall be revealed. Especially when things are hard. Don’t let your brain think it knows how things will turn out. It doesn’t.
6. Forgiveness: this heals our wounds so we aren’t weighted down with trigger points. People may “feel strong” and suddenly go weak when a trigger point is hit — that means there is something they have yet to heal.
Do you have any advice on how to survive the winter blues?
Find and focus on what sparks joy. Beauty is around us all the time if we look for it. There is as much beauty in winter as there is in summer, once you commit to finding it and focusing on it. Our brain is programmed to look for issues, problems, potential sources of danger. It is obviously a survival thing, and when my brain chimes in with a potential issue, like, there isn’t enough light, or, it is too cold. I thank it for it’s help, confirm that I am, indeed, fine, and focus back on a positive. We can only hold one thought in our brain each moment, so when you brain contributes something negative, you can CHOOSE to throw it out and replace it with a positive thought. For instance, if you look outside and your first thought is, UGH, look how gray and gloomy it is. Look closer and find a beautiful pattern in the clouds or look at a bird strongly, gracefully flying throw the sky. There literally is ALWAYS something positive to focus your attention on. This works in all seasons 🙂 And also is the advice for how to talk to our kids about tragedies — look for the people helping. It is the same principle. Remember that Winter is the necessary season of earth and slowness before rebirth. In Ayurveda terms, it’s Kapha season! To stay balanced, eat warm, cooked, slightly oily, well-spiced foods… drink warm drinks… be very active especially 8-10am… you want to get your day moving! Also, try not to eat to the point of feeling full, leave your stomach a bit empty at each meal.
How do you get better at being “present”?
Being present is being mindful. Meditation is hands down the most effective practice to get better at this in your day to day life. Meditation is like exercising your brain’s attention muscle — the more you practice meditation, the stronger your power of attention is and the more aware of it you will be. You will notice if you are paying attention to thoughts streaming through your head instead of being in the moment and feeling what you are feeling. Feelings are SO IMPORTANT. Once we start to tune in to how we are feeling, we can start to untangle the knot of emotions that are blocking us. Most triggers are a combination of a lot of fears in one… and, we can be aware when we start to lose our spiritual strength, and deal with it before we act in a way that makes more of a mess of things. That was the biggest meditation breakthrough — really soon after I started having a regular meditation practice I started having so much more awareness of my inner state so I can tell when I was being triggered and I could deal with it before I acted like an asshole. I remember it like it was yesterday, being in the car with Roger and having him get a text that his family was coming into town and he had to have dinner with them instead of us having our date night. I started to get really triggered, I felt it rising up from my belly and I was like, huh, I am getting really angry about this — it felt like a minute or so but it was probably just a few seconds — I looked at it for what it was, knowing that my husband didn’t want to cancel our date night and it wasn’t his fault, so why was I getting mad at him? And I could immediately see how it had to do with other insecurities I was having and I was able to just laugh at myself and let the anger go. Before I was meditating, I probably would’ve been a bitch to him for the next two days! LOL There are other mindfulness practices, literally you can practice doing *anything* mindfully… and that is great. Practice breathing mindfully, eating mindfully, walking mindfully, every moment of your life try to remember to practice! But is freaking hard! and meditating is building that mental muscle to make it easier. I also recommend wearing reminder jewelry that is a bit annoying to help you to remember to be mindful. I find that helpful too. You have known me long enough to know that I am not a jewelry person in the least, but over the last year I have started to wear a lot of jewelry consistently. Big rings, my mala beads… it reminds me to be mindful.
I like to think that people all have their issues and when someone acts out, it is because they are going through something big that I am unaware of. But sometimes, I think people are just jerks. How do I get rid of these thoughts?
People behave like assholes when they are suffering, either consciously or subconsciously. Sometimes people are aware that they are acting like assholes and they don’t care, and obviously this is even harder to accept… but it is the same thing as far as OUR world is concerned — they are spreading their toxicity out into our space. It is hard not to be triggered by it and cut off our light and love. Here is what helped me get my head and heart around all of this — we are not our behavior. We are not our mistakes. So, people who are behaving like assholes ARE NOT ASSHOLES. They are BEHAVING like assholes. There is a big difference. They are human beings. And they are suffering. And behaving like assholes. Sometimes they behave like assholes their whole lives, but we know being human is hard. Non-judgment frees US not them. Practicing non-judgment isn’t saying that the behavior is ok on any level, but it does help me get to/stay in a position of power: compassion. If we can be compassionate in the face of assholery, it literally moves us up higher than the impact of their toxicity and helps keep us from being triggered. It is 100% about putting us in a position of power, NOT about doing something FOR anyone else (it happens to be the case that it is a win-win, as is anything spiritual. it is all connected). And to be crystal clear, being compassionate doesn’t mean that we approve of the behavior. Just like we do with our kids, when they behave like assholes, we (hopefullly) let them know that we love them and their behavior isn’t acceptable. We can deal with the assholes in our life the same way — stay compassionate but speak out/ disallow the behavior. Hate the sin, love the sinner (Hamilton reference, WOOT!)
I do things for other people because I like to help others out (it also makes me feel like a good person), but sometimes I feel like I am being taken advantage of because I don’t get a thank you. Is this my problem because I am looking for some outside acknowledgment? And how do I shift out of that mode? Stop helping others out? Stop expecting a thank you (not expecting a tap dance). So question — how does one lower expectations?
It feels great to do things to help people because our intrinsic nature is light and love. We intrinsically are a force of life, which is a flow of positive energy. Don’t ever stop that or you literally will become ill. Not kidding. Research shows that a key component of depression is not being of authentic service in your life (caring for your children doesn’t automatically count as authentic service as I am about to explain). The key is this: knowing our inner state and when we are authentically feeling generous/creative as opposed to when we feel obligated (guilt, shame, pride etc.) to do something for someone. If you feel authentically generous/creative about doing something, do it for the sake of your generosity/creativity, with zero attachment to what comes of your good deed. If you cannot do the good deed without some attachment to something in return, whether it is a thank you, or some other form of appreciation or something coming of it, that is your issue. There is a fear of “I am not enough” being triggered — I am not respected enough, appreciated enough etc etc. And that is on you to figure out. If we feel whole, we do not need anything in return. We do it for the sake of doing it, and that is enough.
That is not to say that the person on the receiving end is in the clear for rudely not being appreciative — being appreciative/grateful as we have covered ad nauseam is super important for our spiritual strength, and if someone isn’t being grateful, it will weaken them whether they know it or not, but that is their issue, not yours. You are golden because you did a good deed, regardless of what comes of it (as long as you did it in an authentic generous spirit). Remember not to be judgmental though — the person who didn’t say thank you may have silently said a huge thank you and then got slammed by a crazy week, you know what I am saying?
Next super important point: NEVER LOWER YOUR STANDARDS. Standards are very different from expectations, think, goals that you believe are possible. I hold myself and those around me, especially my children, to very high standards when it comes to my core values: Compassion, Bravery, Humility, Appreciation, Wisdom, Authenticity, Respect etc etc..
But we are all human, right? No one will ever be perfect. And I definitely cannot expect perfection or I will be disappointed an awful lot. So my other job, while keeping my high standards (no expectations!), is to practice forgiveness. When people handle things in a way that hurts me, I need to forgive asap. That is about me healing and rising up out of the weight of the wound, not about doing anything for them. For the strength of our relationship, of course we need Trust… so if what they did (or didn’t do) impacts my ability to trust them, we need to repair. I may need them to explain what happened and show me that they understand how painful it was and that I need them to try not to do it again… maybe they can’t really do that and we can’t re-establish trust and I need to have more space in the relationship for awhile. That is another time that mindfulness comes in, so I can be in touch with how I am feeling and make sure everything is healed that needs to. Not easy or simple but there is nothing more powerful than forgiveness for our healing.
What about your marriage? How has that shifted as you have grown stronger?
Marriage isn’t easy. I have been married almost 13 years and you know how many of those were really, really tough. When I got married all those years ago, I did not have anywhere near the awareness or the skill that I have now. I fell in love with this wonderful man, and basically without realizing it, I wanted and *expected* him to make me happy, to feel safe, to feel worthy of love and part of something bigger than myself. And of course, he isn’t perfect. And, of course, I am the only person that can make me happy, feel safe, feel worthy of love… and if I am *expecting* someone else to do that for me, well, that isn’t going to work. So, my marriage wasn’t working. But then I figured out that it isn’t my husband’s job to make me happy, and if he does anything that triggers me, it is on me to figure out why I am allowing that to happen… because I KNOW he isn’t perfect. He is awesome, but definitely not perfect, so regularly he is going to do something that isn’t “ideal”, right? After all, we are juggling a lot of hard things, kids, life… so reasonably speaking, I knew he wasn’t perfect, so why was it that he could piss me off so much? It goes hand in hand with everything else we’ve talked about… I needed to figure out that I was enough and safe on my own to get my power back, and this shift from WANTING something from him in order to love him, to loving him for who he is, imperfections and all, staying calm and constructive in the face of his imperfections… it is like we both lost 5,000 pounds. I am much more flexible, reasonable, compassionate and HAPPY. And, I OWN my own happiness. It also frees up space for my husband to not feel awful in the moments when he isn’t perfect. No shame or blame. I am clear headed to problem solve and we can talk about how to make things better. No giving my power away. It is awesome.
A novel, right? She should (and will) write a book. She is so articulate, smart, wonderful, and man do I love her. I save all the newsletters I get from her blog (you should, too) and I look back on them and refer to them often. And these interviews, well, they are not just for you, they are for me, too. They help me. Make me smarter just thinking and reading her words. So I hope she has helped you, too! To follow her, sign up for her newsletter here. She is amazing. Truly.