The light within me…

Yoga

For better or for worse, I have consciously experienced stress since I was fourteen years old. Much of this dissonance stemmed from life as a military kid, people moving all around me, taking on massive responsibilities at a young age, identity stuff, and generally not having the ability to let things go. To be calm.

To be collected.

To just breathe. 

Around one year ago, I started experiencing painful back-spasms. My back would give out at random, and there were even times where I was unable to move. So, I went to a back specialist. When the specialist returned from checking my scans, I assured him, “I’m broken.”

“No, you’re not,” he laughed back at me. “When’s the last time you did some type of meditation or relaxation exercise?”

“Never. Yeah…never,” I quickly responded.

“You need to relax. Your back and body are too tight. There’s nothing wrong with you except that you could probably use a bit of time to de-stress.”

I was annoyed.

De-stress.

I’ve received this feedback for the past sixteen years.

And yet, you’d think, at some point I would actually listen.

A few weeks ago, I finally listened.

I have a good friend at work who encouraged me to follow her lead and buy a two-month yoga pass for a studio down the street from where we both live. After sixteen years of believing I didn’t need to actually calm or slow down (or know how, for that matter), I struggled to accept that I could or might benefit from the opportunity.

Yoga has been in or around my life for over a decade. While I have never let myself enjoy the vulnerability involved in the practice, I appreciate the friends and community members in my life who have leaned in without fear or hesitation. I have one friend who travels out of the country each year for a yoga retreat, spending several days taking care of herself, her mind, and her body. I have other friends who make their living out of selling yoga gear and teaching others how to be in sync with their mind, body, and soul. Needless to say, yoga is present.

Acknowledging the impact yoga has had on these folk’s lives, I caved. I bought the pass, and this morning was my first class.

I rolled out of bed at 6:00AM, and was walking up the steps of Shaw Yoga around 6:22AM. I will be honest, I was very nervous. I was nervous about my body, my breathing, the fact that I sweat a lot. I wondered, was I am impostor in this space? What if this was something I was not good at? What if I was uncomfortable?

At some point during the hour, all of this was true. My body didn’t move like it use to. It took some time to regulate my breathing. I sweated a ton. I was incredibly uncomfortable at times. And all of this was okay.

By the end of the class, my sweating had ceased, and my mind was clearer than it had been in a long time. My body felt loose. I felt fully present.

There was a tone of kindness in the space – a tone of being kind to yourself and others, being kind to your body, being kind to the Universe.

Over and over, I replayed my sweet partner’s charge, “We practice self-love in this house.” We practice self-love in this house.

We practice self-love in this house. 

I can easily argue for self-care, for self-love, or for putting on your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you. But it’s more than an argument – the practice of these beliefs must be lived, daily. Authentically. Today, I am practicing kindness. I am practicing self-love. I am practicing care. I hope you’ll do the same.

Here’s to the light within me, honoring the light within you.

Namaste,

Michael

 

 

You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to…

We know this old adage.

For the past five years, my desk has contained a sign that reads the following:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jeferson, and Albert Einstein.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Millennials will edit this assertion to include Beyoncé, Bill Gates, and [insert another famous person who does well financially and socially].

This sign has sat on my desk for so many years now that, unless noticed by a colleague, I have fallen numb to its offering. Yesterday, for some reason, I was drawn to reading the quotation over and over. Several hours after this revisit, I received an email from a good friend who, without conscious connection, shared the following quote with me:

“Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life.”  -Brian Andreas

Of course, I gasped.

And then I started to reflect.

While there is no way to compare my actual days to those of Michaelangelo or Beyoncé, I am now extra conscious of the most important things in my life.

I do have the capacity for those (and to evaluate them).

I have another friend whose dad says, “You should love your job and your bed – you spend the most time there” (stay with me, it’s all is in the same wheelhouse). Friends, if possible, get a comfortable bed/mattress/sleeping apparatus. Next, and more important, think about your days. Outside of sleep and work (which are critical, don’t get me wrong), how are you spending your time? 

Are you happy?
Are you taking care of yourself?
Are you prioritizing the important stuff?
Are you just trying to stay afloat?
Are you failing to stay afloat?

Sure, sometimes we don’t love going to work because, well, work. And sleep patterns come and go. But at the end of the day, how are you contributing to experiencing a happier and healthier life? Are you in a place or time where you feel good? Do you feel good? Are you filling your days with the important things in your life?

Do you know the important things in your life? 

After bills are paid and life is taken care of, where do you pour your extra energy? Do you have extra energy? Can you have extra energy?

Will you give yourself permission to have extra energy?

…the important stuff awaits.

Time, ticking,

Michael

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*Photo from… pretty much everywhere on the internet

“YOU ARE MORE THAN BEAUTIFUL”

I started off my day yesterday by weighing myself.

If you know anything about me, you know that years of body image issues lead to an understanding that this was not much of a good idea. Needless to say, I weighed myself, I gasped, and I immediately texted my partner to fill up our message box with self-hate and other personal attacks.

I hopped on the elevator to head up to my office, and while waiting for a response to my inappropriate texts, I pulled up Instagram as I usually do.

When my app refreshed, I discovered the first post sitting in my feed:

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I laughed. Hard, actually.

The timing. The humbling attitude check. The universe.

Just as I was fully entrenched in the art of self-loathe, the universe tapped me on the shoulder (#IAmMoreThanMyGREScore, and all of that), and said, “Michael, stop.”

Snap out of it. You are more than beautiful.

While the signs are not always directly in front of us, sometimes it’s really just this simple. Let this post be your tap on the shoulder.

Snap out of it.

You are more than beautiful.

Pausing, beautifully,

Michael

You’ll spend your whole life waiting for the water to turn on.

A few weeks ago, I washed my hands as I usually do after going to the bathroom. I enlisted two pumps of soap, rubbed my hands together quickly, and rested them under the faucet to rinse off. My mind wandered as I stood for about ten seconds waiting for the water to turn on.

It didn’t.

With frustration and soapy hands, I walked over to the next sink and did the same gesture: hands under faucet, signaling the water to take its course. Just as I was about to pull my hands back with another fit of frustration, I realized there were two knobs sitting on both sides of the sink.

I looked up at myself in the mirror, shook my head, and turned one of the knobs with an, are-you-kidding-me, laugh.

And that’s when it hit me:

I would have spent my whole life waiting for the water to turn on.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have waited my whole life – I would have, at least, tried a few more sinks. Is this what 30 feels like?

While my current reality doesn’t feel much different than 28 or 29, I do feel more responsible. Specifically, I feel more responsible for taking care of myself – for finding inner peace; for reflecting more intentionally; for guarding my heart; for taking risks.

For turning knobs.

I think I experienced my 20s with an assumption that the water would always turn on. And it usually did for me. I was privileged enough to almost always have “clean hands.” And even in the darker times of my past decade, I still held this expectation while knowing it was not always or actually going to be the case.

And as such, I am now more aware of the work I need to do in moving forward.

I accept that the only two feet I can stand on are my own.

More than #selfcare, this is my vision of self work. Self work is hard. Self work is unconventional. Self work is the antithesis of self-help. Self work matters.

In order to become a better and more capable human being, I am aware that no one is going to do the work for me. I have to do the work myself. Sometimes, it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s complicated. Sometimes, we look into the mirror and know what and when and how we need to change. Sometimes the faucet turns on.

And sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s okay.

When I turned 30, I expected there to be some incredibly revealing moment that would help guide me into the next decade of life. I expected 30 to be a lifetime supply of “water.” I expected vulnerability and change to be expired, and a new freedom to emerge as a beacon of hope for me to cling on to.

But today, 30 feels a lot like 29. And 28. And that’s totally okay.

I’m still vulnerable. And I’m still hopeful for change.

Here’s to the introspection. Here’s to the knobs. Here’s to self work.

Faucet-forward,

Michael

“Today will have lots of sunshine… and tomorrow is just a Wednesday.”

“Thank you for your unwavering support and patience for me as I continue to live my truth.” – Me, September 16, 2014

Thanks to TimeHop, this was my, the-day-after-my-birthday-I-love-everyone-thank-you-appreciation-note, to all my Facebook friends last year.

“Unwavering.”

Such a strong word. And a continued truth in regard to birthdays. Seriously, social media has transformed the way we share and receive birthday wishes. Snail mail and mailboxes have essentially been replaced by technology and other forms of online engagement (and this is coming from someone who fundamentally believes in and will not give up on sending letters and cards via the US Post Office).

Before I scrolled through my social media, I actually woke up in somewhat of a dark place. A mixture of birthday anxiety and aging threat contributed to my generally shaky start to the day, and by 8:00 AM, I was ready to have a full-on meltdown.

But when I got to my office yesterday morning, I was greeted by a g-chat message from an important human in my life that read, “Today will have lots of sunshine…, and tomorrow is just Wednesday.” 30 starts today. 

And there is nothing like Facebook on your birthday.

Very similar to my post from one year ago, I am deep in the trenches of reflection as I have officially established the big 3-0. From people telling me what they’ve learned from me (for better or for worse), to friends providing life advice, this year was one for the books. A milestone, as many have argued.

And I agree.

A milestone.

This year’s birthday reminded me that I am loved. And that I have a group of people out there rooting for me. This is why it is so important to share love on Facebook when you see it’s someone’s birthday. And this is something I am seriously vowing to be better about this year. “Happy Birthday,” goes a long way. “You are loved,” goes a long way.

And as one friend beautifully captured, “This is when all the wonderful begins.”

Here’s to all the wonderful.

Thriving,

Michael

Mary Prusha Art Up
*Art and photo by Mary Prusha

When Brené Brown Strikes

Like a thief hunting through my bank of emotions, Dr. Brené Brown did it again.

If you read my blog, you know this is not the first time Dr. Brown has pushed me into some heavy self-reflection. Specifically, and to no surprise, she spoke a bit of truth this past week when she visited Sixth & I while on her book tour.

“If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.”
-Dr. Brené Brown

Okay, I know. I should have prepared you for that.

If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.

Powerful stuff. I’m still processing.

While I would love to go on and on with a play-by-play of the learning that occurred, I’m going to pause here for a moment as the nuggets continue to marinate.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own” (or some variation of this)? This assertion exists in the form of thousands of memes on Pinterest and beyond, and I experienced it as a living reality while traveling on the Metro yesterday.

I boarded a sweaty Metro car full of people headed every which way, and ended up sitting next to a woman who was curled up closely to the window, holding her arm which was heavily wrapped and held by a sling.

We sat in silence for around thirty seconds when a man shouted from across the train, “You wanna have a staring contest, lady? Let’s do this!”

The guy was in his early-30s, and accompanied by 2-3 friends who were as equally obnoxious as he. Sitting in a handicap-reserved seat positioned right by the door of the Metro car, he was staring and shouting at the woman next to me.

The woman stared back at him, and with tears welling up in her eyes, yelled back, “Are you kidding me? How is this okay?”

At this point, the entire Metro car was tuned in, and the man coughed a line to his friends to provoke a bit of laughter. The woman next to me looked back out the window with emerging tears and continued frustration.

Without joining in on the confrontation (and history reminds us that I’m not the best at thinking on my feet in these kinds of situations), I leaned over to my seat-neighbor, and whispered, “People suck. I’m so sorry you experienced that.”

With tears still occupying her eyes, she looked at me and said, “I’m just tired of it. It happens all the time. And he wouldn’t even give me that seat when I couldn’t hold my bag and stand up [on the train].” She was visibly and audibly rattled.

In attempts to calm her down, I asked her how she hurt her arm. Amidst the deep breaths, she shared a scattered explanation of her dog’s leash and an encounter with a neighbor’s dog’s leash. I could feel her calming down with each sentence.

The train neared my stop and I looked over to her and said, “Be kind to yourself.”

Of course, I walked out of the Metro station feeling very unsettled. That woman was so brave to stand up to that dude on the Metro. People do suck.

Bravery is hard.

And often, the enigmas of people sucking and the provocation of bravery intersect in a heavy and raw manner – sometimes they emerge in the most confusing and unsettling depictions. People suck. Bravery is hard. And, there’s no predicting when either of these circumstances will materialize.

So much of Brené Brown’s sentiment was drenched in the challenge of pausing, and as I walked home that night from the Metro station, I couldn’t help but think that this woman was so much more than a passerby on the train – she was a coworker, a family member, a friend, a bystander, a frustrated citizen.

If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.

Still powerful. Still resonating.

What does bravery look like as we enter each new day? And new year?

What does bravery look like for you (for us, me, others)?

Is it in you?

While Brené Brown may be paying her annual visit to my head and heart, the conundrum still remains: Am I brave enough? Do I have the courage to honor curiosity, and even at the risk of getting hurt? Am I worthy?

Fully aware. Alarmingly vulnerable. Pausing patiently. Still.

Will you be brave today?

Onward,

Michael

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Check out my other Dr. Brené Brown-inspired posts:

That one time I hung out with Brené Brown (and a few thousand others)…

“Stop dress-rehearsing tragedy.”

When “vulnerability” is no longer relevant, and you just start living your truth.

Yes, ogre.

Starbucks_Birthday_Cake_Cake_Pops

I recently bought a hot tea from Starbucks, and mostly because I was embarrassed about the two cake pops my body was forcing me to purchase.

Yes, forcing.

You see, it took me twenty steps from Starbucks to remember that throwing away the hot tea wouldn’t get rid of the cake pops.

Or the cravings.

Or the guilt.

Or the ogre I see in the mirror.

Yes, ogre.

I’ve learned that no amount of therapy or counseling will erase the struggle or pain one goes through after years of hating the way they look. Or looked. Counseling did, however, help. And it does. And it’s ongoing. But moments of weakness happen.

I’m not perfect.

I struggled on my ten block walk home, balancing the hot tea and my beloved cake pops. Starbucks’ cake pops are pretty damn good. As are the doughnuts. And the lemon loaf. And most Frappuccino drink options.

Dissonance.

I walked ten blocks back to my apartment, while scorching hot tea burned my fingers as I devoured my cake pop within the first minute of leaving Starbucks. Of course, God forbid I wait until I get home to destroy the evidence. Burning fingers: the universe’s way of saying, “Slow down, you beast!”

Cake Pop One: down.

Cake Pop Two: down.

I could barely contain myself with CP2. And in one bite, I said goodbye to my fix.

You see, if I could make it home without the cake pops, I wouldn’t be reminded that they were ever really a thing to begin with. “If a cake pop falls in the forest, did the cake pop really ever exist at all?” Furthermore, if I fell down in a forest, what was I doing in that forest to begin with? Was I looking for cake pops? I digress. Years ago, I came to terms with the reality that what I saw in the mirror did not necessarily match up to what was actually happening with my body. And, at the center of this lack of congruence, existed a world of issues with control, self-confidence, and self love.

And getting help taught me this. Several years ago, I had a very good coworker who sat down with me and had the, “Michael, the way you talk about yourself is concerning,” and, “I think you might be working out too much,” conversation. This coworker introduced me to a counselor who specialized in men’s body image stuff. I was resistant at first, and mostly because I was a 24-year old know-it-all. And while I’m an almost-thirty-year-old know-it-all these days, it’s not hard to view a cake pop stress-fest as a vehicle for emotional time-travel, back to when food and image were much more obsessive. Back to when I mastered “appearing to be confident.”

And today, reflection is learning. And while processing, I am confident that years of counseling has helped me pause and acknowledge a few key life lessons:

1.  It’s okay to admit that, “years of counseling,” is even a thing.
2.  I am not defined by the hot, fit, and athletic men who run shirtless through the city.
3.  There will be good days, and there will be days when you can barely move after a spin class.
4.  People who struggle with food or image are not all experts on food and image.
5.  I am so much more than what I see in the mirror. I am so much more than what any scale will assert.

Of course, these takeaways continue to resonate with me (and are often accompanied by the points, “You can only hold your phone up so high to get rid of a double chin,” and, “Take many seats, Michael – you are not a candidate for TLC’s, ‘My 600-lb Life'”). And I am far from a 600-lb life. And I am thankful for that. And I am thankful that the haunting voice, one who frequently interrupts a cake pop rendezvous with hate speech and fat-shaming, is now easily ignored.

It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. And, in honoring the work, it is all certainly still progress. And I have such a peace about this (remember, “A work in progress is still progress,” and all of that). And I have such a peace about cake pops. You see, in striving to be more honest, healthy, and happy, I have learned that it actually starts with cake pops. Happiness, that is. Cake pops. Sure, I can scarf down two beautifully painted pops with ease. And yes, I can destroy a large pizza in one setting. But, I can also get to the point where, more times than not, I feel fine after these moments of consumption. And I can look in the mirror, and not feel defined by an extra-slice, or second-serving, or double-patty. I can look in the mirror and not be defined by the cake pops or my, perceived, moment of weakness.

Because, we can all be weak, right?

At the core of any insecurity, I am certainly not alone. None of us are alone. For years, I felt like I was a freak, as both a male and someone who struggled with the way I looked. And the more I talked about it, and the more I opened up to other people, I realized there was a community of love and support right in front of my eyes. And this community of support still remains.

I implore you, when ready and comfortable, feel courageous enough to talk about your struggle. Be brave in a space of love and care. Be open to disclosure. Address your body and image battles outside of the walls of therapy, and outside of the confines of your diary or journal. You are so much more than what you see in the mirror.

And you deserve to use your voice.

Yes, ogre. Yes, you.

In a world where, “Nothing taste as good as skinny feels,” make the conscious decision every single morning to choose to feel good. And to feel free from the chains you place on yourself every time you look in the mirror.

And, of course, to have a love affair with cake pops.

The pain never stops, and the struggle is real. But you are beautiful. And you are right where you are supposed to be. Now go, feel the love, you beautiful, wonderful ogre.

Forward,

Michael

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*Huge thank you to a dear friend, Jenny Hainline, who inspired me to write this piece, and who constantly inspires me via her blog, “Ramblings on Recovery.”

**Photos stolen from somewhere in the interwebs, and after getting sucked into a page after page, “cake pops Shrek ogre,” google search. Oh, and… doughnuts: 

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