Getting rid of the golf ball stuck in my throat

throat chakraSometimes it feels like a golf ball is stuck in my throat – the words I want to speak don’t come out. They go back down, sometimes lodging heavily in my heart, sometimes weighing heavily on my mind.

How do I open up my throat chakra, I ask my husband. Practice everyday, he said. He doesn’t know about much about chakras, but he knows me, and he knows the answers. The only way I can unblock my throat chakra is by practicing, starting to speak. Maybe a thin voice comes out, squeezing around the golf ball stuck in my throat; thin, like a singer’s voice on the decline, but I hope it grows stronger with practice.

We were on holiday recently when I rediscovered the beauty and restorative power of music: sufi songs; old hindi songs with a word or two in urdu, maybe, just maybe, the most lyrical language on the earth; new songs, some with personality, some with a sameness that blended into each other.

I sang along as we drove through the vast majestic mountains of stone and sand and multiple colors. At first, my voice was weak and limited to a narrow band from years of being forgotten, but as I sang, it grew stronger. Maybe it was the strength of the mountains seeping into me?

I feel compassion for my voice. It has been suppressed on occasion and so it is scared.  It takes some time to make it past the golf ball stuck inside, and when it does come out, it wavers, it is shaky. I send it out, shaking courageously into the world.

I draw on the first day of art class. It is my attempt at a self portrait and after drawing what looks like a sad woman, I scribble some crosses on the neck. The teacher knows when she sees my work, that I am showing her what is inside, telling her something about me, but she does not know exactly what. Do you have a thyroid problem, she asks – she has noticed the dark squiggles? No, that’s my throat chakra – it’s blocked.

I try and open it with sodalite and lapiz lazuli, and singing in the mountains, and saying I don’t like this, and I will not be treated this way.

The throat chakra is expression and expression is creativity. With my throat chakra blocked, I fear creating, I fear making mistakes. Maybe the golf ball stuck is perfectionism?

So, I give myself, little by little, permission to not be perfect. I give myself permission to write shitty first drafts and say rambling sentences which have a seed of an idea that may take root – or may not, and that’s ok too. I give myself the permission to wreck my journal, to squirt it with lemon juice, and stitch some pages together, to doodle all over it, including the edges, to rip out pages and lose them because loss is part of life, and part of creation. I give myself the permission to break an egg and squish it, shells and yolk and all, letting the shards dig into my hands to see if it really does unblock me as it is touted to do, and find that heart does feel lighter and the censor in my hands that keeps a finger on the backspace is a little bit more relaxed, like after a few glasses of wine.

My throat chakra opens slowly in the midnight hour as I sit on laptop and go clicket-y click. I type to know what I think, what I feel, and what I must do. I type to become.

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On the blog:
Oil pastel therapy and imaginary planets, far, far away
Smashed eggs and banana bread
Letting go of perfectionism and wrecking my journal

From blogosphere: 6 tips for clearing your throat chakra
A wonderful book on chakras: Eastern Body, Western Mind


Is your aspiration wise – or unwise?

I was reading Tara Brach’s “True Refuge – Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart,” in my midnight hour of quiet reading and drifting, when I came across this passage:

In the Buddhist teachings, the conscious recognition of our heart’s deepest longing is called wise aspiration. Yours might be for spiritual realization, for loving more fully, for knowing truth, for finding peace. Whatever its flavor, the awareness of what you care about energizes and guides your practice. As Zen master Suzuki Roshi taught, “The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.”

Do you remember the most important thing? Or is it buried, somewhere deep below the buildings and the rubble of false aspirations and achievements?

The little day dreamers

bougainvilleaToday, I went for a walk to the beautiful park that I am lucky to have at walking distance. I saw a bunch children’s backpacks under the trees. The kids were there for some sort of nature appreciation project. A few were busy picking pink bougainvillea flowers that lay scattered on the grass, and dried twigs. Many ran around the park, laughing, playing games. A little day dreamer ran into me as I walked on the track, lost in his own world, clutching a twig. Another little one ran around, the branch in his hand held up as a sword, in a dreamworld of his, where maybe he was a knight.

Though it has been a long time since I was a kid, it’s not been so long since I pretended to be one. In my creative writing class last year,  we went through a workshop to help us get in touch with our free, playful, creative natural self before it was chained. One of the students who was also a dad had been tasked with bringing toys. He’d brought along little Hot Wheel cars, some bigger fancier cars, and teddy bears, and dolls.

Pretend you’re in kindergarten and play, Menon sir said. Do what you want. Don’t hold back.

It began soon. “Kids” ran across the room, shouting loudly. In another group, the kids smashed the cars into each other. One broke. A little girl hung on to her stuffed toy and wouldn’t let go, It’s mine! I sat, a little away from the group of mostly boys who were busy orchestrating accidents with the little cars, with my teddy bar in my arms. I held him close for comfort and whispered little secrets into his ear. I walked sometime with him, holding him close, and then went back to my perch, hugging him tightly, glad he was around in all the loudness and excitement of cars crashing into each other that the others seemed to enjoy so much.

Why don’t you play? Do something, Menon sir cajoled. Act like you’re in kindergarten. This is how I was in kindergarten, I told him.

This is how I still am. Easily stimulated by loudness, aggression, crowds. But also dreamy, imaginative, and kind. I had real empathy for myself during that workshop, when I realized how over-stimulated I probably was as a kid, with little control over my environment.

Today, when I saw the little ones who marched to the beat of their own drum,  sensed little kindred spirits.

Enjoyed this post? You might enjoy the wonderful Susan Cain’s treatise on introversion, Quiet.

If you know someone who’d relate, do share this with them. And for more posts on self-awareness and living better, do follow the blog. Thank you!

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Learning to listen to your intuition

trust your instinctsYesterday, I shared some advice from Danielle LaPorte on trusting your intuition by paying attention to the intuitive information we receive from a person just when we meet them. Here’s some advice from Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

If you’re unfamiliar with trusting your intuition, start by setting a little quiet time to clear your mind and listen. Ignore and dismiss any habitual, self-defeating thoughts that enter your mind and pay attention only to the calm thoughts that begin to surface. If you find that unusual and loving thoughts are appearing in your mind, take note of them and take action. If, for example, you get the message to write or call someone you love, go ahead and do it. If your intuitive heart says you need to slow down or take more time to yourself, try to make it happen. If you’re reminded of a habit that needs attention, pay attention. You’ll find that when your intuition gives you messages and you respond with action, you’ll often be rewarded with positive, loving experiences. Start trusting your intuitive heart today and you’ll see a world of difference in your life.

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The pernicious effect of being around the wrong people

kafka-age5I recently came across Kafka’s letter to his abusive and narcissistic father on Maria Popova’s treasure trove, Brainpickings. Kafka writes:

I cannot recall your ever having abused me directly and in downright abusive terms. Nor was that necessary; you had so many other methods, and besides, in talk at home and particularly at business the words of abuse went flying around me in such swarms, as they were flung at other people’s heads, that as a little boy I was sometimes almost stunned and had no reason not to apply them to myself too, for the people you were abusing were certainly no worse than I was and you were certainly not more displeased with them than with me.

Kafka shines the light on the impact abusive people can have on those around them. I remember reading on Gretchen Rubin’s blog many years ago how she was always wary of a person at work after she saw him abuse someone who had made a mistake. He was always very nice to her, but she (wisely) couldn’t shake off her feelings of distrust. His, and Kafka’s father’s, abusiveness spilled into the air that people breathed, and they couldn’t breathe properly.

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Making sense of the squishy world of feelings

Making sense of the squishy world of feelings

blessingI have a love and hate relationship with my emotions. There have been times when I have distrusted my feelings, holding them guilty of taking me down a slippery slope. And there have been times when I have ignored my feelings and that has been my downfall. To feel, or not to feel, that is the question, one I grapple with as I seek to integrate my controlled, rational brain with my free yet sometimes tumultuous world of feelings.

One lesson that I am working on learning to listen to the message that each feeling is trying to give me, and recognizing that every feeling has a purpose. Here’s the wise Danielle LaPorte on the subject of feelings in her soulful book on creativity and living, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Imagine that you’re a team coach and you’re giving your emotions a pep talk before the game. “So how’s everyone feeling about the game?” you shout. Enthusiasm shouts back, “I am stoked! Can’t wait to get on the field!” and pumps the air with his fists, smiling, looking to everyone to smile. Anxiety is pacing at the back of the room, in his own world, and looks up briefly to say, “I’m so scared I could puke,” and keeps on pacing. Abandonment issues says, “Look, if we don’t score in the first quarter, we should take the ball and go home–end it before they do, you know. But, hey, I’m in!” As the coach, you’re nodding, listening to each player intently, and assessing which players to put in the lead for your best chances of victory.

Fear stands up. “Are y’ll crazy? If I lose this game, I’ll never play in this town again.” And then Fear starts picking on the other players. “Enthusiasm, it just ain’t natural to be that happy; you gotta get real. And Anxiety! Shit, if you get on the field and have a freeze attack, we all go down.”

Finally, you step in, “All right, Mc.Fearstein, we appreciate your point of view, and you’ve got some good points. Now, let’s listen to the others.” Just like all of your emotions, Fear just wants to be seen and heard.

Confidence, (who is also the team captain) says, “I’m feeling steady. If we stay focused, this win is ours. And when we win, the offers will start pouring in. Insecurity says, “If you want me on the bench, I, I understand, Coach.” Well, if that’s where you want to be, then that’s where you’ll be, you think to yourself.

Pragmatic shrugs and nods at the same time: “Odds are stacked in our favor. Anything could happen.” Love raises her hand. “Listen, you’re all fucking amazing! And I believe in everyone of you!” Woot.

Time to drop some truth bombs, Coach. Time to lead, not accommodate. You can’t let Fear steal more airtime. And Anxiety is hanging out on the edge distracting everyone. Here’s how it’s got to go down: “I echo what Love said. You’re all amazing. We’re contenders. Enthusiasm, you’re in the front; Confidence and Pragmatic have got your back. Abandonment Issues, your job is to trust your instincts. You will know when it’s the right time to pass the ball–we trust you. Anxiety, you’re alert and we need that on the team. You need to stay close to Confidence. The important thing for you to do is just stay in the game–keep playing.

Fear, thanks for looking out for us. Yep, we could fail, it’s possible. This is risky. But we’ll come out on top no matter what, because that’s who we are. You’ve done your job, and now you’ll be playing from the bench.”

Here’s another wonderful tool from Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help understand the squishy world of feelings. This tool is particularly helpful in picking up feelings when they’re still low in intensity, to listen to the whisper, which if ignored can become a wail or a roar.

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Take away the power of unhealthy comparisons

Comparison-QuoteLately, I’ve been thinking about comparisons, and how they can be the root of unhappiness. Rumi said it well, hundreds of years ago:
Envy is a poison
An illogical distress
The fact your neighbour has more
Doesn’t mean that you have less.

An illogical distress it is, but then we’re all a big mangled mess of logical thoughts and intense, primal feelings. Time and again, all of us fall into the trap of social comparisons, which Sonja Lyyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness says is a surefire way of reducing our happiness.

We are well aware of the dangers of comparing ourselves with those we view as “better-off” than us (though we often lack self-control required to stop us from making these comparisons). As Sonja notes:

“Upward” comparisons (e.g., “He’s paid a higher salary,” “She’s thinner”) may lead to feelings of inferiority, distress, and loss of self-esteem.

Though we’re more keenly aware of the unhappiness-causing power of upward comparisons, downward comparisons can be equally debilitating.Why? Sonja writes:

While “downward” comparisons (e.g., “He got laid off,” “Her cancer’s spread”) may lead to feelings of guilt, the need to cope with others’ envy and resentment, and fears of suffering the same (equally bad) fate.

For instance, in The Dance of Fear, Harriet Lerner, a psychologist, writes about how many of her patients feel guilty coming to her, because they feel their own suffering is less than than of other people who are suffering more. Their own suffering does not seem to be deserving of care.

So, what are some strategies to avoid the trap of social comparisons? Here are some that Sonja puts forward in her book (do check it out for color on each of these).

1. Distract, distract, distract:

Good bets are activities that make you feel happy, curious, peaceful, amused, or proud.

2. The “Stop” technique:

..think, say, or even shout to yourself, “Stop,” or “No!” when you find yourself resuming overthinking.

3. Put rumination on the schedule:

..set aside thirty minutes every day to do nothing but ruminate.

4. Talk to someone you trust:

…talk to a sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and troubles. [What makes a good confidante? Read here.]

5.  Act to solve problems:

 …this step jump-starts you into trying to solve the very real, concrete problems that might inspire your overthinking.

6. Dodge overthinking triggers:

…write a list of situations (places, times, and people) that appear to trigger your overthinking. If at all possible, avoid those situations or modify them just enough to thwart their ability to trigger an episode of overthinking.

7. Take in the big picture:

Ask yourself: Will this matter in a year?

Distance yourself from rumination even further by contemplating your particular problem in the context of space and time.

Finally, if you resolve that the trouble you’re enduring now is indeed significant and will matter in a year, then consider what the experience can teach you. Focusing on the lessons you can learn from a stress, irritant, or ordeal will help soften its blow. The lessons that those realities impart could be patience, perseverance, loyalty, or courage. Or perhaps you’re learning open-mindedness, forgiveness, generosity, or self-control.

Do you know anyone who’s feeling in the tight, crippling grip of comparisons? Do share this post with them. Did you feel this post will help you live better? If so, sign up for updates on the blog. Lastly, you may also like: