Monday, July 4, 2011


So how does one go about building a life? My starting point has been what we can call fuel. The most basic component of my life is my body. I was incredibly angular and skinny until somewhere around, I dunno 30. I don’t want to go back there: not enough meat on me bones, not enough curvature (but alas, plenty of suitors). I want to remain a woman in a woman’s body. This woman’s body. But I want to feel lighter, stronger, healthier. I want to look good, but I want to feel better. Strong like I can do whatever I want to do in this borrowed body, “I’ve got on loan in between my mom and some maggots” (Ani Difranco).

And I want energy. How can I go about doing anything else if I feel tired all the time? Besides I want the way that I look to be a non-issue, something that takes up little thought space. I want to bound out of bed, grab what I am drawn to costume myself in, without contemplating whether or not it makes me look dumpy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my body more and more these days. I am amazed at how it functions, gets me where I need to go, shares itself through affection, runs slick maneuvers. So it is also out of love for my body that I want to give it the proper fuel and strengthen to function at its optimal capacity.

That said, I have had my eye on food and exercise for years, and each year it gets bumped up on the list of things that I care about. Finally it is reaching the top of my list. Over the past two years, since I moved to CO, and no longer had an in-house chef, I have had to ponder what to put in my grocery cart and I have had to confront the curious malaise that sometimes takes over when I am facing the stove. And I have had yoga and gym memberships and I have lost and then regained 20-30 pounds. And I have taken nutrition classes (ok 1 class) and talked with a couple nutritionists, and read books. And what I have ended up with is that there are some basic facts to be armed with about power foods and such, but mostly I know. I know what foods make me feel good and what foods don’t. I know what and when I should eat. I just sometimes don’t care enough or react to food from an emotional space. Right now as parts of me process the break-up in their own ways, I feel the old tendency toward the coffee and cigarette diet come a callin’. It doesn’t help that I’m also in a low-money space.

But I know that when I eat how my body deserves to be fed, I send my self a message that I deserve to be happy and healthy. That I am worth the extra effort, so not only do I feed my body, I feed my mind and spirit too. Below this, I will post the grocery list I mentally carry that seems to be working for me these days. Feel free to suggest grocery items of your own.

Grocery List

Kale (I usually throw this in a skillet with olive oil and garlic sometimes balsamic vin. or braggs amino acids)- very fast
Eggs (to boil or scramble with Spinach)
Minced garlic (tired of chopping)
Fish (Tilapia is cheap and Safeway has daily 50% off specials)
Turkey Burgers
Black Beans
Sweet Potatoes or Yams
Almonds (Costly so I only eat a handful once in a while)
Yogurt (has to be creamy )
Choc chips
Kashi Go Lean Cereal
Peanut or Almond Butter
Apples ( I like Fuji)
string cheese
For Salad:
Sunflower Seeds/Pumpkin Seeds/Hemp Seeds
Jarred Cactus (in the foreign food aisle)
Goddess Dressing

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clean House

There are many a person from many a walk of life that advocate that part of happiness is a home-space that is free from unnecessary clutter. That being said, many a year and many a garbage bag later, I still have things that I don’t know where to put, and tend to have such low energy at times that where things fall is where they stay. But what about mental & emotional clutter. It is my deep belief that I am learning the old-fashioned (i.e. hard) way that I cannot hold on to things that don’t work (that don’t have the effect they are designed for). It has been my experience that the more I try to make things work that don’t, the more frustrating and complicated my life becomes. “Mama God” seems to support me in this belief as she has made it more and more abundantly clear when I am doing something that isn’t working. Sometimes this is simple, like my vacuum cleaner that wasn’t biting the dust or anything else, and though it hit my wallet hard, I had to invest in a new one. Done.

Other times, the decision may be just as simple, but the reverberations of that decision are enough to shake a life to its core. So last week Friday, I was called to show up in my life in a way that is particularly difficult and uncomfortable for me: as a single woman. I won’t go into the untidy details of how and why and who said what of the ending of said relationship (though if you need or want to know, feel free to email me), but the last line of that story is that the relationship ceased to work. It was riddled with difficulty and carried with it a history of heartache. If the relationship were a person we could say that it was an unreliable employee. It was always late, it called in a sick a lot, it was chock-full of excuses as to why it couldn’t do what was being asked of it. I gave it pep talks, and lots of paid time off, I threatened it, and gave it both verbal and written warnings, but in the end, it wasn’t right for the job. So I had to lay it off. If I want my company to be competitive in this waning market of happiness, I have to have the best team working for me. I have to take very seriously who I hire, who gets promoted, etc. The metaphor could go on.

So if my mind and heart were a house, it would be very clean. But part of the reason for that would be because it has been laid bare. There is very little furniture or art on the walls. I have lost a lover, and have few close friends with whom I have regular contact. My social calendar is sparsely populated. My life is, for the first time since I can remember, a blank slate. I am starting from close to zero in life-building. Perfect for this particular investigation as to what one should do/be/have to find authentic happiness.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where is here?

So the blog is called "from here to there"-- and I was trying to figure out exactly how happy I am at this point so I can determine where "there" might be.

First off, this past week was a particularly low one for me. As I said in my previous post, rumination was definitely a part of that. It is hard to tell what made this past week particularly hard and I dare say that I could throw a dart and hit on a myriad of logical reasons that I am not the happiest I could be. Firstly, I am in a state of transition. I am leaving my job next month to begin internship. I will be starting a new internship and then in August a new job. I will be moving also in August... So I am back to Liminal Space (I posted about this a couple of years ago, feel free to read about liminal space in that post).

Secondly, I am somewhat isolated. Two of my very good friends are out of town for extended periods of time. In a past life that would have had little impact on my social life, but these days that cuts my source of relational nourishment by more than half. When I decided to stop consuming alcohol more than eight months ago, that had an expected, but unpredictable impact on my social life, and the ramifications of that are still working themselves out. I am sure there is a thirdly and a fourthly and a list of other uglies that could go on and on, but I don't think making a list of what isn't working is as uplifting as getting back to the point of where is here so I can then get from here to there.

So I'd purchased a book called "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin several moons ago and decided to give it another go-- I could use a companion on this journey. She references the "Authentic Happiness Inventory" and so I, being the scholar that I am, googled it and found, the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, "Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions".
There are a variety of measurement instruments on there that look at happiness, well-being, depressive symptoms and much more! This seemed ideal for a way for me to measure my happiness as I go along my journey.

So I won't reveal my scores just yet, but let me tell you...they were pretty low and my score on depression symptoms were pretty high. I can say that the scores were based on feelings of the past week and as I said earlier, it was a rough week.

Let me tell you one last thing before I turn in (because it is a fact I have personally accepted that you need to go to bed at a decent hour to be happy)-- I have turned to yoga a couple times in the last week to assist with my mood and it has been a lifesaver. I am committed to going to yoga as much as possible. Tomorrow I return to meditation.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stop ruminating.

Ruminate= : to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly
2: to chew repeatedly for an extended period

A couple of days ago I found myself in quite a funk. Dwelling on the meaninglessness of all. Found myself in a state of anhedonia. The day before this particular experience of funk I had been able to shake it off with a return to yoga (after a significant relapse into non-exercise which I don’t recommend). So I thought I would do the same and ran off to hit a yoga class, but I had the schedule all confused and I missed it. Deeper into the funk. I sat with it, I smoked with it, I complained to the bf, and there was no movement. Luckily, we had tix to hear Deepak Chopra speak that evening. The talk was good, though not mind-blowing, just a gentle reminder that yes, I am a spiritual superhero and I don’t have to over-effort to manifest spiritual qualities or to tap into omnipresent joy. Hmph.

I reflected upon my prior days. Yes, there were some external events that had the texture of minor stress, some not-so-fun insights in therapy for example, but in truth what seemed most clear to me was the excessive rumination and planning. The turning and churning of thoughts over and over in my head of what I was going to do, how to plan my life, how to best navigate X, Y, Z. It created a sickly stew of future-oriented, “fix it” thoughts that eventually made me ill. But when I was actually doing the rumination, it felt important, it felt like I was creating some master plan, it felt like I had some purpose and control. And after hearing Deepak talk, it was like I woke up for a moment from my dream. I remembered that what I was looking for, that sense of “it’s all good” was in the present moment.

I probably sound spiritually "slow" to those of you who think that once you have a realization about living in the present moment, and say study it incessantly for years, then it sticks. Well truth be told, if I were meditating, that might be the case. But I’ve been slacking on my sitting practice and this is an example of what happens when you slack. You forget important truths that sustain you on your journey towards happiness. Or you may remember the what, but you can’t remember the how.

So this morning I picked up Ajan Sumedho’s The Mind and The Way and planted the seed again: “The past is only a memory in the present moment…anything you can remember…are memories. They come and go in the mind. There is no past” (p.128) and as for the future “As long as we hang onto expectation and demand, we’re also going to be pursued by its opposite” because that is the nature of attachment. But in the present, if I really just let go and come back to this very moment of existence, there is nothing to want or to push away. “There is no suffering; there is nothing to worry about; there is nothing to be frightened of”; there is nothing to control or manage because I can’t anyway. Nothing is up to me. I can surely be a vehicle for energy, but it is the divine will that is being expressed. Regardless of how much I effort, the flow is a flowing. I can either accept and flow along, or bang my head against the passing moments. Hmph.

I guess for now all I am working with is a choice not to ruminate, not to chew what I have already chewed. Not to try to control the world through cognitive self-copulation. The next time you find yourself in a funk or headed towards one, stop thinking so much. Drop into the present moment. Just this moment here. This one here, this one here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

So what is it that I want?

I want to nurture my spirituality—for me that involves connecting with my Higher Power through prayer, meditation, nature, and having conversation with other people who are connected to a higher power. I don’t care what other people call it or envision it to be, but the belief in a power greater than myself has always sustained me on my path.

I want to be healthy—that involves looking at what I eat, how it makes feel, my overall energy level, how I move my body, how I feel about my body, and my body in relationship to other bodies , i.e. sexuality.

I want to be financially secure (security means able to spend money on things that enrich my life, able to save money, not constantly worrying about money)—that involves budgeting, getting out of debt, saving, and increasing my overall sense of abundance and prosperity.

I want to enliven my connection with my creativity—that involves setting aside time to dedicate to creative acts, sharing art with the public, spending time with other artists, and seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.

I want to participate in life-affirming relationships—that involves increasing my social contact with people who exude life and are willing to share their exuberance, creating groups where like-minded folk can connect, keeping my spiritual closet clean so I can be a life-affirming friend and lover, dedicating time to connect & process & enjoy life with my friends & lover. This also involves wise discrimination—decreasing time & contact with “crazy-makers” or “energy-suckers”—I extend compassion and assistance when I can, but I have to be careful about my boundaries.

I want kindness.

I want to enjoy my life.

Those are the basics. If I have left out something you think is vital to happiness, let me know. Not only do I want these things, I think having them is not only possible, but my birthright. I think I was created to live a life beyond my wildest dreams. But I do have to dream and dream bigger and bigger every day. Do you know what you want?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happiness Set-Point

So the set-point theory basically states that we inherit our capacity for happiness and that external circumstances (such as whether or not you are objectively attractive, material success & other life events ) do not hold much weight. If you grew up with frowning parents, that’s bad news. BUT the NEW SHIT is that this set point only amounts for 50%, external events for 10%, and the other 40% we actually have some say about (at least according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California-Riverside professor of psychology, who has studied happiness for the past 18 years and has written a book about it which I will surely check out at some point on my journey). If you still have doubts about set-point theory or the ability to change it or what have you—go on and google (or wait until I have the time to post book lists, video lists, blogs, etc).

I have heard enough through my studies at Naropa, and in the underground community of rebels like myself who are on the quest, not to mention personal life experience as a seeker to believe that up until this stage on my journey, I have been swimming at a certain level of happiness and dissatisfaction. And, it is only because I have felt a slight movement towards greater happiness—a new baseline, that I find this endeavor at all worthwhile.

Based on the research, it seems not only do I need to discover happiness (which hopefully is really just lurking sleepily behind my ribcage or an eyelid) for myself, but I have to for my children and their children and maybe one day in the future the babies birthed along my bloodline will be born happy (Viva le resistance)!!!

Now people, such as SL, have studied what we should do to increase our happiness and I will dibble and dabble in what most strikes me and report back. I think the first thing I admonish is to become more attuned to your inner wisdom-intuition-God voice- higher self. You have to be able to trust yourself and be honest with yourself to undertake such a quest. Ask yourself as Rumi asks, “do you pay regular visits to yourself ?” If you don’t, start today: write a bit daily in a journal, or take a walk, or close the door, or whatever it takes to start a conversation with yourself. There are no wrong ways to do it. But one thing we must begin to ask ourselves is “what do I want?” More on that next.

Monday, May 30, 2011

From here to there: the NEW SHIT!

Two years and more than half of another master’s degree later, I am at what feels like an existential crossroads or should I say that I am wondering again, really, if happiness is possible. I think this question emerges again and again throughout one’s life. I came here (to Naropa University in Boulder CO) in search of happiness. After 10 years “living the dream” in New York (fancy writing degree, great friends, super handsome and sweet boyfriend, trendy apartment in a trendy neighborhood, teaching writing, champagne for breakfast and whiskey for dessert), I wasn’t fulfilled.

For the past two years, I have gone through a subtle yet powerful shift in worldview that has certainly increased my capacity for happiness. I can recognize my thoughts as thoughts and I am less likely to identify with them (I no longer think my thoughts and feelings = who I am). I can watch how my thoughts become stories which lead to reactions which can cause me and others suffering, and sometimes I can interrupt the chain reaction. I have a greater capacity for compassion. I can sit with greater levels of discomfort. I think that at the bottom of my recurrent sense of dissatisfaction is a) a tendency to focus on the past or the future, rather than the present and b) a deeply conditioned belief that there is an “I”—a belief in the illusion that “I” have to protect “me” or make “me happy.” Two years of Contemplative education and countless hours of meditating has begun to weaken the links of my Western “me, mine” conditioning. But I still don’t feel joyful.

I still am curious about how to raise my happiness set-point.
There is a bunch of research out there (which I will discuss in the next blog) that says that we have a happiness set-point that we’ve inherited or subconsciously settled upon—it’s our baseline. And if we don’t fiddle with it, it will stay where it is, regardless of if we win the lottery or if our lover dies. We will return to this basic place. I believed I have moved my happiness set point an inch or two, but I do think I can cultivate a higher baseline. And there is bunch of research and advice on what we should do in order to raise our setpoint (which I will also talk about). But I want to know and feel it for myself. I think that perhaps this quest for happiness depends on wise discrimination-- knowing what to cultivate and what to refrain from. I guess the question is, what really makes a difference? We get so much advice on how to be happy and what really matters: it’s what we eat, how we look, how we feel, what we’re repressing, whether or not we pray, whether it’s yoga or pilates, how much we meditate what form of meditation we do, etc etc etc. I have some ideas of my own about what I need to be doing in order to find daily enjoyment in my life and I plan to document the journey. Stay tuned.