Encouraging Thoughts on Nutrition

 

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One of my standard issue make everyday meals. Chicken hearts salad: chicken hearts stewed with butter, garlic,onion and rosemary. A salad of parsley, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.

 

Persevere.

In my personal and professional experience, I have noticed that both the effects of higher quality diet on a neglected body and of low quality diet on a healthy body, are relatively slow to show.

Why?

In many ways it’s down to cellular life span.

Your body is building new cells all the time. And it’s also repairing damaged cells and killing off old cells all the time. It’s making energy and fighting illness. Building materials? The food you eat. Repairing materials? The food you eat. The efficiency of energy production processes, immune response, brain function? The food you eat. The quality of the cells that your body manufactures, its ability to repair the cells that wear out, it’s accuracy at recognising and killing off faulty cells (cancer) are directly dependent on the quality of the food you consume.

So far so good.

Cells don’t live forever. But they do live for a long time. If they’re badly made, they’ll still limp on (unless your body is healthy enough to recognise and repair/replace them). Some cells live longer, some cells live shorter lives. But all in all, it takes about 7 years for all the cells in our body to renew.

Now, some of those cells of yours were built out of high quality food, some out of low quality food. And they will hang around in your body for, on average, 3-7 years.

So, the more high quality meals vs low quality meals you have, the more high quality cells you are building for the next 7 years of your life. And vice versa.

That’s why, after eating better for only 2 months you will be feeling MARGINALLY better, but wont be feeling as good as somebody who had been doing that for 3 years. By the same token, if you’ve been feeding your body well for years and then went on 2 months of less than good quality food, you will feel MARGINALLY worse, but won’t be feeling as crappy as somebody who has been eating poorly for years.

It’s not a ‘bad diet vs good diet’ thing either. If your diet this year is a little better than last year, you’re building a generation of cells that are a little higher quality than the previous generation.

Aging and genetics does affect your cell quality, but your can’t control that. The only thing you can control is the food you eat and your lifestyle. It’s all about either doing the best with what you’ve got or squandering whatever you’ve got. That’s why you can have 70 year olds who, despite being dealt a worse genetic card, take care of themselves and end up looking and performing better than some 30 year olds who were dealt a healthy body but destroyed it.

Persevere.

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Perfection is boring. On special occasions I try to go for the things I REALLY want rather than wasting my indulgence budget on random junk. This is my current favorite, a rare treat. (If it isn’t rare, it won’t be a treat). To some people those are nothing special, to me they’re exotic and divine. Your treat is your own, you’re not answerable to anyone but yourself for it. 
The ill effects are minimal to non-existent because it’s a rare thing, and because the body is robustly built on nourishing food. The better you eat, the easier your body will cope with occasional indulgences.

Mindfulness Doesn’t Rock – it SWINGS.

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One of our new members said the other day: ‘it is interesting that when I’m using a kettlebell, my mind has to be completely and utterly on it. There is no space for anything else, it is total focus’. I agree. In fact, kettlebells and mindfulness seem to go together like Red Caviar, Lewis Road Creamery Butter and Pumpernickel Rye bread (trust me, it’s divine).
 
Last month yours truly took part in the NZGSA Kettlebell Sport National Championships hosted by Shane Cameron Fitness in Auckland. It was a memorable experience, full of challenges and triumphs, all in the company of kindred kettlebeller spirits. My two events were 20kg One Arm Long Cycle (OALC), and Double 12kg Long Cycle (LC)
 
The kettlebell felt so heavy during the warm-up for the competition. ‘How could I possibly have imagined lifting THAT for 10 minutes straight?’ the thoughts buzzed like bees in my head. ‘What the hell were you thinking, picking that weight, are you crazy?’ ‘You’ll make a fool of yourself, going for the 5-year standing record and failing’ blah blah blah…
 
I had switched to a heavier 20kg bell for the One Arm Long Cycle event (from 16kg that I used in the North Island Champs) with only 3 weeks to go before the Nationals. I knew I had the strength from years of kettlebell lifting, but did I have the stamina and the mental focus to last under a heavier bell for 10 minutes? I stayed off training for 7 days before the comp, so picking up that 20kg bell on the competition day after a week of yoga and mobility, and feeling its weight drag my arm down, was a surprise.
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“Trust the process, Kat” I told myself “you have done everything right”.
 
Two minutes to go before my set, I chalked myself up, sat down by my platform, closed my eyes and did my basic awareness of breath and thoughts meditation. That’s when you enter the present moment and let all the unrelated stuff go. Including any thoughts of a ‘self’ or a ‘self image’. I noticed that letting my attention get tangled up in habitual, looping self-referencing thoughts is the biggest distraction and mental block in fitness, sport and life. There is a special time to attend to those thoughts (I personally use 10-30 minutes in the evening and in the morning nowadays), but in the middle of an event is not that time. By then, all the mental and physical homework that could have been done is done.
 
My meditation by the platform only lasted 60 seconds at most, but 15 months of daily training of meditative states seems to now allow me to clear the mind more quickly than when I first started. When I started I couldn’t focus on anything for longer than 30 seconds. Now the longest I’ve achieved has been 30 minutes. Disciplined and intentional attention is an aspect of the ‘fitness of the mind’ (of which there are several) that I believe meditation helps us train.
 
When I got up, it was just clarity and purpose, there was no ‘Kat’.
 
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On the call of 3-2-1-Go, I didn’t feel any urgency to grab the bell, just a calm acceptance of reality, and when I picked up the 20 kg kettlebell, I was surprised at how light it felt. I actually had to look down and make sure it was still a 20kg bell and somebody didn’t come by and swap it for a 12kg! It felt like all my muscles just turned on, all my mental energy leaks disappeared and my entire being was channelled to one objective. You see, the thinking ‘self’ is a heavy burden to carry. It’s pointless to hang onto it when you also have a chunk of steel hanging over your head for the next 10 minutes.
 
I could feel my face splitting in a huge grin, high on the power of focus. Every time it happens it blows my mind. The flow was on, time disappeared and I was in the ‘zone’. That was how the new National Record got set, on a total high.
 
Later in the comp, another surprise was lasting the entire 10 min in a Double Kettlebell Long Cycle, an event which I haven’t directly practised for and where the very first repetition already felt terribly uncomfortable. Again, becoming ‘one’ with discomfort and removing the self really worked. And so that was a horrible, but immeasurably valuable sort of fun. The sort where you emerge on the other side with a new understanding of what ‘challenging’ truly means, plus realising that everything you thought about your limitations before was not quite true.
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So…
 
For the past 3 months, our Courage Corner kettlebell classes have been ending with a 5-15 minute guided meditation. Our current meditation series focuses on changing habits through mindfulness. Members have been reporting greater calm, clarity and awareness. Some have even taken up a meditation habit outside of class time.
 
Kettlebells and mindfulness seem to be a match made in heaven after all!

Are Kettlebells Safe?

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Short answer:

YES

Long Answer:

In my nearly 1.5 decades of mastering and coaching just about every major fitness discipline, I haven’t encountered a safer overall strength and conditioning tool. After years of coaching Powerlifting, Boxing, Bootcamp, Crossfit, Sprinting and Gymnastics, I chose to make kettlebells my ultimate specialty, because I see the results they bring and the joy and versatility they offer. I choose kettlebells every day because I continue to experience that for most people they are the best path to fitness.

In saying that, every tool (and I mean, EVERY tool, think barbell, trx, dumbbels, bodyweight etc) is only as good and as safe as its master’s skill, mindfulness, and quality of coaching.

My goal is to enable more people to safely and effectively use kettlebells, to build unshakable fitness habits and create unbreakable motivation deep into old age. So here are some safety rules that we live by at the Academy. They are not complicated, are mainly based on basic common sense, will help you make the most of your kettlebell training and prevent injury to yourself and others.

1) Keep your spine safe. Learn to use correct muscles when lifting and brace your core on every rep. There is a reason why KBA members are used to randomly getting karate chopped in the stomach in the middle of a swing or a snatch – the essential habit of bracing your midsection when moving under load will save your spine in training and in life.

Prevent hyperflexing or hyperextending your lower back. Lumber spine is not designed for independent flexion or extension under load. That’s why we get lower back pain so easily – the muscles of the lower back are not meant to move it, only to maintain it in a neutral position. Learn to keep your lower back neutral and build a habit of using other muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quads, mid/upper back) to accomplish the movement.

2) After protecting your spine, the next big item is keeping your shoulders safe. Engaging your lats, and packing the shoulders down into their sockets will serve you not only in higher power output and great posture but in healthy shoulders for life.

3) Always use progression. Know it or refer to a professional who does. Master one level before moving up to the next and regress when you must (e.g. to re-learn a skill). I recently had to do that with a Girevoy style One Arm Long Cycle. It made me a better lifter and prevented injury down the line. Life is LONG, humility is a virtue and patience is a skill.

4) Don’t train to failure. Or at least know why you do it if you decide to do it. From a fitness, strength, longevity, health, skill and efficiency perspective training to failure, espcially past the point of good technique, is pointless, dangerous and counter-productive. The main reason to do it is ego satisfaction and instant gratification. Go into it with your eyes wide open.

5) Just because it feels hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because it feels easy doesn’t mean it’s right. Your body only knows the movement habits that you have been repeating for years, is doesn’t recognise whether they are efficient or inefficient, safe or unsafe. New movement will always feel awkward. Persevere and use a coach.

6) The body hangs on to established habits, whether efficient or inefficient ones. It takes approx 300 repetitions to embed a movement habit. It takes approx 10,000 repetitions to un-learn it and establish a new one. Have patience. And try to learn it right the first time.

7) Do not train through joint pain. In addition to aggravating it, your body will be learning a faulty habit by subtly altering your movement pattern to protect the joint. Refer to Rule #6.

8) Maintain the skin of your hands. Your hands are the part of the body that comes into contact with the bells every time you train. Practice correct technique, pumice down any protruding calluses and use coconut oil or cream to help skin regenerate. Calluses are functional as long as they are well-maintained.

9) Learn to train in flat-soled minimalist shoes or barefoot. Running shoes with an elevated heel, shoes with cushioned or overly rigid sole do not provide biofeedback to lower legs, reduce the flexibility of the soles and toes, impair stability and can cause injuries due to incorrect alignment. Learning to train without shoes when your feet are weak is in itself a progression. Consult with your trainer if you are having trouble adjusting.

10) Have at least 1 meter of space around you in every direction when you’re training. No furniture, other people, animals or children are to be in your space while you’re holding a bell. Exception: a coach or a spotter during a TGU.

11) Pick the kettlebell up and put it down like a professional. In every set. No exceptions. No matter how tired you are, your first rep is the pick up and your last rep is the safe return of the kettlebell to the ground. Make this a firm habit. It is called integrity. If you are too fatigued to exercise integrity, see rule #4.

12) If a rep has gone wrong, instead of trying to save it by breaking form, you may drop or safely guide the kettlebell to the ground. See rule #10 for the safety of others. Try to minimize such reps, unless you are practicing juggling. See rule #13. If you have reps going wrong on a regular basis, revisit your progression, see rule #3.

13) For kettlebell juggling (which is an advanced skill that you might want to learn after mastering all the fundamentals) you will be dropping the bell a lot and that’s okay. Practice in the sand or on grass, where the kettlebell won’t roll away when dropped.

14) Dry your hands when they get sweaty and/or use chalk.

15) If you have ripped the skin on your hands, wear bandages while touching the kettlebells, both for your own safety, but also that of others who use those bells.

16) Listen to your coach or trainer at all times

Sore Hands?

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SORE HANDS?

If you are a serious lifter then chances are you have experienced sore ‘burning’ hands, cracked or ripped calluses at some point in your training. This condition makes a kettlebell handle, a pullup bar or a barbell feel like a source of pain and suffering, rather than of infinite joy and delight.

We can’t have that!

One of my students used to call this the Burning Hands Syndrome, starting balefully at her hands after every set. This condition is exceedingly common. And it’s common for the same reasons as why people would train like crazy while having poor nutrition and sleep habits – it’s all about proper recovery.

When it comes to avoiding the Burning Hand Syndrome and living to swing another day, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1. Practice CONSISTENT technique.

World champion Kettlebell Sport athlete and coach Denis Vasiliev said it right: top athletes hardly ever damage their hands because their technique isn’t just good, it’s consistently good.

What does it mean, being consistent? It means that your last rep should look and feel like your first rep. That when fatigue sets in and you feel like your technique is deteriorating, do not continue to move. Stop. Exercise some integrity. Otherwise your brain will register that you are a wishy-washy sort of person when it comes to technique and it will ingrain that wishy-washy habit. Train your mind that you don’t let a bit of fatigue make you lose your head. Strengthen your character. Most tears and intense looking calluses happen due to fatigue-induced inconsistency, not due to overall bad technique.

2. Get rid of protruding calluses.

If protruding calluses form, keep them in check by filing them down regularly. Your hand must be smooth, to discourage any catching of skin. Once you have smoothed down those mountain ranges from the top of your palms, go back to rule 1 – practice consistently good technique.

3. Practice appropriate (for your situation and goals) recovery habits.

The Burning Hand happens due to skin being rubbed against the handle (of barbell, kettlebell or pullup bar), especially when chalk is used (it dries out the skin) and then the skin NOT BEING ALLOWED TO REPAIR before jumping back into gripping moving things.

The body is smart. When it’s damaged, it puts up a ‘sign’ in the form of pain, saying ‘repairs in progress, do not use’. To enable the repair process, the skin must be moisturized and prevented from drying out. Dry skin regenerates slower and is more vulnerable to further injury and cracking. Your body knows this, so it’ll continue to ‘flash’ the sign of burning hands until the repair process is complete.

So, rub (not just apply) some coconut oil or other moisture protective and repairing substance into your hands at night after showering, while the skin is softened and wet (there is no point applying things to dry cracked skin, you might as well be applying cream to your shoes and clothes). Locking the moisture in will help skin regenerate itself.

If you want an even faster and more effective repair, for example if you want to train again tomorrow, then covering the area with a sock glove really helps (see photo) by preventing the cream/oil from rubbing off onto the sheets, pillows and significant others before it has the chance to do its noble work on your hands.

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This is not a rule set in stone. Before I hear you say ‘but this is ridiculous, I don’t want to soak then moisturize my hands every night, then put gloves on etc etc’.

I get it. Life is busy. You could be doing all sorts of fun things instead of spending those 3 extra minutes tending to your hands.

But hand care, just like anything in life is a trade off and best of all, a sliding scale.

There are degrees of intensity with hand care, and you choose your level according to your current priorities.

For example:

In my line of work I’m gripping kettlebells and pull up bars every day, if not for my own training then for demonstrating exercises to students. Because of that I can’t afford to have Burning Hand Syndrome, rips or painful calluses. At all. So I take great care of my hands. If you don’t have such demands, you can let it take longer to recover by applying cream/oil and wearing sock gloves only sometimes. Or only after an intense training session. Or before a competition. Or not at all.

You know yourself best. The more demand you’re placing on your hands, or the more important it is to you that you’re able to grip things, the more attention you might want to pay to your recovery.

If you would like to read a more detailed article on hand care, check out this fantastic post from a Strong First colleague Matt Kingstone

https://www.strongfirst.com/hand-care-101/

Nobody is perfect and we’ll all have a day of sore hands once in awhile, which is the agonizing glory of being human. I therefore simply hope that this information will help you train more joyfully and with less pesky and preventable interruptions.

If Something is Important…

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If something is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.

Dan John

 

This is my favorite quote by the philosopher coach, but it seems to be also a frequently misunderstood one.

You could say: ‘But there are some things that are important to me, yet I cannot do them every day  – there are not enough hours! For example going travelling, dance classes, date nights with my partner etc’.

However, I don’t believe ‘important things’ mean specific activities. Otherwise this quote would literally mean ‘do not do any activities that you can’t do every singe day of your life’. Which mean a very limited life indeed.

I believe the quote means ‘values’.

As a demonstration of what I mean, think about exercise. The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommendations are: Complete 30 min per day of moderate exercise. Does this mean you must brisk walk 30 min day in and day out until you die?

No!

It’s a game you see. You get to pick your exercise. You can of course stick to brisk walking most days, but you can also get creative:

Day 1: You might brisk walk for 30min

Day 2: You might jump rope for 5 min (which replaces 30 min brisk walking by the way)

Day 3: You could attend a 60min dance class

Day 4: you could perform 15 min of strength training

Day 5: You could do a 20-30min yoga session

Day 6: You could do a high intensity Tabata protocol – 4 min only, but replaces 30min of moderate activity.

Day 7: You could swim for 30min

Day 8: You could do a 2 hour hike in the bush

Day 9: A light 20min stretching session to recover from Day 8…

Some days you might do more, some days you might do less. But the piggybank of ‘exercise’ gets a daily deposit.

The same thing applies to all our values. What is important to you? Is it family? Friendship? Health? Mindfulness? Kindness? Compassion? Learning? Discovery? Courage? Relaxation?

Now think in how many ways can you practice each value in your daily life?

Let’s say friendship is important to you. Does it mean that you go out of your way to hang out with your friends daily? I think there are many more ways to exercise friendship.

  1. Txt a friend, just one, and ask them how they’re doing – 2min
  2. Answer a message from a friend with honesty and kindness – 5min
  3. Actively listen to your friend’s concerns – 15min
  4. Call a friend who is struggling, or call a friend if you’re struggling and give them the opportunity to be a good friend. Either way is practicing friendship – the giving of love is just as important as the receiving – 30min
  5. Think of what being a good friend means to you, and be that towards your partner, your child, your coworker – 10min
  6. Do a loving kindness meditation with your friend firmly in mind – 5min
  7. Further an acquaintanship and move it closer to a friendship – 15min
  8. Help someone you care about – 5+ min
  9. Initiate an honest difficult talk that you have been avoiding with an estranged friend – 30+min
  10. Extend the hand of friendship to someone you are interested in – 10min
  11. Take a step towards terminating an unhealthy friendhsip that isn’t working, so you can give more energy to your healthy friendships – 5min
  12. Sit quietly with a friend and be present – 5+ min
  13. How can you apply friendship values to yourself? Are you a good friend to you? Do you speak kindly and honestly to yourself? Do you sit quietly and be present with yourself? Have you done so today? 5+ min

Some days you do more, some days you do just a little thing. But there is no way it’s impossible to do ‘something’ every day for the value of friendship. It requires just minimal thought and basic creativity. And the Long Game Mindset – an understanding that things are not built in a day and that consistent daily deposits into the value bank counts towards the long term growth and strength of the value in your life.

And the same minimal creativity can be applied to all the things that are important to you: health, family kindness…. But what’s even better, some actions include in themselves several values: for example, talking to an estranged friend with honesty and kindness takes courage – double tick if courage is also your value!

And you know what happens after awhile? Your days begin to be filled with the things that are meaningful to you in that time of your life, and the meaningless stuff gets crowded out, since there are only 24 hours in the day. And so your life gains more depth, more strength, and more richness, like high quality dark chocolate.

This is not an exact science, and none of us are perfect, me least of all. But I have found over the years that this principle is not only worth living by but it is both achievable and sustainable.

If something is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all. 

Thank you, Mr John.

Kat

 

 

 

 

 

Body Image vs Body Confidence

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Imagine how much energy can be freed up in the service of worthy pursuits if you swapped worrying over your body-image for cultivating body-confidence.

In our culture, we focus on creating a positive body-image, as if an image has any power. No one’s body-image has ever accomplished anything. Body image is a passive object, it is never a subject of the story. An image has no inside and no volition, it cannot do or experience anything. It cannot mature or evolve, it doesn’t die. An image is not an agent of life.

Your body is an agent of life, the life you create.

Body confidence, on the other hand, is a conscious acknowledgment of what you choose to DO with your body in light of living by your values. Body confidence is based on action, on substance and on DEPTH. What your body looks like matters ONLY in that context.

Do you prefer to inhabit your body with vigor, use it functionally, care for it, love it, and harness it in the service to your purpose?
Then every time you look in the mirror, you will be bursting with confidence, admiration, and gratitude for what you see and feel, because you’ll see and feel pure substance in every feature, reflected in its functional form.

Progression and Variety

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It’s easy to just get sick of exercise if you keep doing the same thing over and over and over. That’s why the number 1 advice from fitness pros is to change up your routine.

However, it’s also easy to lose motivation if you keep jumping from one thing to another. After all, there is a reason why variety is called ‘the spice of life’.
‘Spice’ is the operative word, as in NOT the main dish.

For the same reason we can’t live off spices, we also can’t sustain any meaningful level of motivation on variety alone. Randomness is exhausting to the mind. Our brain and body thrive on growth, discipline, and improvement, NOT on softcore entertainment.

I like to make organic progress and to effortlessly maintain the longevity of my fitness habit. Therefore I tend to avoid jumping through a huge variety of random workouts. Instead, I discipline my mind, figure out my goals, break them into milestones and create dedicated programmes to achieve them, focusing on consistency, progression and celebrating small wins from one level to the next.

Variety workouts (kettlebell juggling, anyone?) definitely do add spice, and they can be great fun.

But, it is the structured path of small victories on the journey towards a worthy goal, that sustains intrinsic motivation and brings JOY in fitness and in life.

How do YOU keep your motivation high when the going is tough?

From Discipline to Habit

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Last week I reached a personally significant milestone of 365 consecutive days of meditation. It seems like a huge number to some, but I knew I would not stop, ever, since day one.

So what was it, that got me to commit so utterly to meditation on 11th of May last year and to never skip a day from that day onwards?

It is this: I realized that meditation is a habit. Exactly the SAME as basic body maintenance (daily exercise) or dental hygiene (brushing teeth). The key that people miss is that every habit starts as a discipline first.

And this is how you turn discipline into a habit:

If you want to do it – you do it.

If you don’t want to do it – you do it.

If you are full of energy – you do it.

If you are tired – you do it.

If you are happy – you do it.

If you are sad – you do it.

If you have a lot of time – you do it.

If you don’t have much time – you do it.

If you don’t have any time – you sort out your priorities and do it.

Every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 5 minutes again… The duration isn’t important, the intensity isn’t important, the ‘i just can’t switch off my mind today’ isn’t important. The REGULARITY is what’s important.

Focus, inner peace, mindfulness, awareness, confidence etc etc – those are the mere side effects of the meditation habit. Just like muscle gain, strength, energy, vitality, flexibility etc etc – are all mere side effects of the exercise habit.

The discipline is what sets you free.

Power and Namaste to you 🙂

Comparison Trap and How to Leave It.

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An air of comparison was very rife in our household when growing up. Younger siblings were compared with me, often elevating me to a higher status, and I was compared to my classmates and friends, encouraged to think I was the smartest, prettiest, best at everything. And when that was demonstrated not to be the case, because perfection doesn’t exist, there was great disappointment and recriminations. Often my classmates would be criticized by my mom (of course not to their face) for traits they couldn’t help, like crooked legs or large calves, and for being less of a quick study, anything it seemed, to make mom feel better about the kids she had. When however the classmates came ahead of me, it was a huge disappointment. No grade existed by itself. It was always: what did everyone else get? And if I got an A+, but even one other person got an A+ as well, the A+ did not count. Because I clearly wasn’t ‘the best’.

That’s how the mindset of scarcity and comparison can begin to form in our childhood. It’s punctuated by the outward focus, basing our values on what everyone else is doing. Then the real world, especially the western world infected with the Affluenza virus. The classroom competition and comparison continues into real life. Without inquiring into it’s origins and questioning it’s validity, the comparison mindset doesn’t let up and it is the most poisonous mindset you can unconsciously adopt. It leeches all joy, creativity, courage and passion out of your existence. Because instead of living a life for yourself and from your own principles, guided by your own purpose and standards, you are living it for some external authority’s approval based on your being better (by some arbitrary standard) than somebody else.

Friendships become tainted. Relationships become battlegrounds for competition, insecurity, jealousy and misery.

The story of exodus:

It was one of my relationships. It got so bad that I went into the deepest of depressions, which was punctuated by suicidal thoughts, feeling absolutely worthless and rotten, not good enough to be with the person I loved. And this is the crux of it, the most hideous agony, to keep thinking (mistakenly) that who you are is not good enough to be loved by someone you love more than anything. Of course it was an illusion. But just as the seemingly most beautiful and successful people out there can be walking around feeling like the ugliest losers, those thoughts seemed very real.

So, something had to give. In that instance, it was the relationship that gave out first.

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And then I was left with something else. That relationship woke me up, even in its dying throes it kept delivering incisive relizations. Upon beginning to practice inquiry and meditation, I noticed that the comparison thinking didn’t leave. Relationship was the trigger (harking back to childhood memories of fighting tor parental love, of Affluenza that Russia got infected with in our formative years) but it wasn’t the cause. It was unsettling, so see the thoughts latch onto my life. I could see them, seeking out aspects of my life they can compare now, positively or negatively. Seeking the approval they can fight for. I saw that even in the absence of my lover, the mindset was still operating. There were other triggers. And because the ego response was less overwhelming than what it was in the love relationship, I could observe the thoughts, instead of ‘fighting for my life’. And through gradual exposure and observation, I started to untangle myself from those beliefs.

The thing is, when we are young and our ego is barely formed, it is using the tools available to it. Ego, even though it gets a bad rap in the West, is actually the only rational [art of our mind, according to Freud. But it operates only with the rationale that is available to it at it’s level of development. As a young child the ego perceived that in that particular environment, to be loved (and therefore protected and fed) by the comparison-ridden-yet-still-vitally-important-for-survival parent, it needed to compete and be the best. It did it’s best to help me survive. And I thank it for it’s hard work.

And then I educated it in the new rationale. That the one who will give it approval is myself (or my higher self, to differentiate it from the little ego). That the standards for its performance are dictated by me. That is is LOVED no matter what it does or doesn’t do.

So, what helps to change the mindset of comparison making, and allows to unleash creativity and authenticity?

  1. Adopt a Growth mindset. Check out ‘Mindset‘ book by Carol S. Dweck. This mindset is imperative for developing an ability to stop comparing. Growth-versus-Fixed-mindset
  2. Inquiry into thoughts. You cannot go around it, thoughts need to be observed and heard. No matter how harsh and painful they might be. We might pay attention to them. Meditation helps to observe the thoughts, and Byron Katie’s The Work helps to inquire into them and demonstrate them to be false. Comparing with others normally comes from a set of false beliefs and repetitive thought patterns that, when the light of awareness is shone upon them, naturally dissolve without much struggle. The only effort is in making it a habit to regularly shine the light of awareness on stressful thoughts. They’re easy to recognize – feeling stressed. There’s always a thought behind stress, always. taking-responsibility-for-your-beliefs-and-judgments-gives-you-the-power-to-change-them
  3. Self acceptance, love of learing and curiosity – it is important that during the process of shining the light of awareness there is no judgement. This part was the toughest for me, because I’m actually insanely judgmental towards myself, when I don’t watch it. However I am also insanely curious and I like to learn. That was my salvation. The way I now think of it is this (this example isn’t mine, Byron Katie gives it in one of her books): imagine you have a child and the child, in their childish naivete, is thinking that there is a monster under their bed. The kid is certain and scared. You won’t judge the child for being stupid, would you? You also wouldn’t ignore it, because it won’t go away. It is a child, this is what they do, it’s part of their growth process and they need adults to help them grow, they need to imagine monsters, because they haven’t experienced enough of reality yet, to know better. That’s where you come in. So you gently ask the child about the monster, and then you grab a flashlight and get under the bed, and check. And you might have to do that many times while the child is young. And none of the times you would blame the child. The beautiful thing is that eventually the child itself will grab the flashlight and check whenever they are scared and fantasizing about the monster. They won’t need you. The process will become automatic, your mind (which the child is the metaphor for, by the way) will question it’s own thoughts. It is very capable, because that’s what the mind does best, it inquires and finds things out. And then eventually the child will realize there is no monster, and most likely move onto another thing (if they are a teenager by then it might be that they’re the ugliest thing on earth) and you will have the chance to help them see reality there too. It’s learning at its best. So, acceptance and curiosity are hugely important. Without them, you will be running away and dissociating from your own thoughts. And as we know, what you resist, persists. maxresdefault
  4. Be willing to be uncomfortable. As JP Sears says in his YouTube videos and Brene Brown says in her books, learning to be ok with being uncomfortable is one of the most important skills you can ever practice. As I say in my first blog post on The Cost of Truth, it is being uncomfortable and experiencing feelings that you wouldn’t normally choose to have, such as sadness, disappointment, shame, grief, disgust, insecurity etc. They are like a purifying fire you need to walk through, the price you need to pay, for growth and deeper realization. download (3)
  5. Know that it will never end. This is like showering, brushing teeth and exercise. You don’t just do it once, or for awhile, and then stop. It does get easier, but inquiry into thoughts and meditation must never stop. It is the nature of the mind that it needs to be observed, attended to and questioned to function at its best. Just like the body works best when we exercise it regularly, consistently and lovingly (not just doing it once in awhile, via a month-long punishing and horrendous Lose-10-pounds-in-4-weeks-or-die-puking bootcamp setting), the mind works best when we do the same.Habit-1
  6. Progression. Those things are better addressed bit by bit. Not all at once. And better to start small. I don’t know whether I would have been able to face those huge demons if I stayed in the relationship. Granted there were other things that contributed to it ending, but constantly battling a ton of monsters, after a lifetime of blissful ignorance was not a good environment, either for me or my partner. I am glad I spared the ex any further drama. Because without the triggers of the worst kind (at the time it was facing the thoughts of being discarded by the love of my life), I could address the smaller issues first, and with those small victories under my belt (check out Jordan Petersen’s talk on slaying dragons) I could tackle bigger and badder beliefs. I am a strong supporter of progression and baby steps. Of course life throws us curve balls and we have to just suck it up and ‘shine’ as my ex used to say. But any long term, sustainable change only happens through progression, consistency and self acceptance.200021956-001
  7. You are full of shit. And it’s okay. As JP sears teaches in his Awaken course, in the very first lesson, it is very important to know that you are imperfect, will always be imperfect and that is exactly what makes you a human and a complex evolving being. All the other people you know are ALSO full of shit. And that’s okay as well. So, stop taking yourself and others so seriously and fantasizing that you – or they –  are somehow going to ever achieve prefection, because that won’t happen. Start loving yourself for the weirdo that you are NOW and will always be. 5833ab64bd837.image
  8. And my favorite part, something that helps me every day, something taught by one of the meditation and yoga teachers, Sanghuru from India. And it is this: I am mortal and I am going to die. You are mortal. Keep that in mind, remind yourself every morning and every night, that you will die and see how much less of a fuck you will start giving to comparisons, other people’s opinions and seriousness, and how much more focused and open you will become to the present. When you know that this life is all you got, you start to spend much less time comparing your trip to someone else’s and just enjoy and make the most of your own journey. Alex_Grey_dying

If you have your own ways of working with comparison mindset, I would love to know. Let’s acknowledge that we are all full of shit, but we all can learn from each other too.

If you are still reading, that’s amazing, and thank you for sticking through this post with me 🙂

Kat

 

 

Fun vs Happiness

Happiness doesn’t always feel happy (Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project)
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When I was a child I didn’t like chocolate (note: back them in Russia we had no milk chocolate, only dark). Because it was bitter sweet. And I fixated on that bitterness because my immature palate could only take in one flavor at a time. Then I read a book where the main character, a poor village girl, was talking about the ‘sweet’ taste of sour cream, because I presume there was nothing else sweet in the middle of winter. I was very confused at first, and spent several days tasting sour cream and trying to find sweetness in it. When I finally found it, that was when my palate became more complex and I started finding pleasure in things I never imagined (like olives).
You see, dark chocolate and sour cream are complex flavors.
Kids like candy. And fun. Simple things bring them simple happiness. A child’s world is small and a child’s mind doesn’t yet handle complexity well. Not the complexity of taste (bitter sweet) nor the complexity of emotion (bitter sweet), nor the complexity of experience. Children don’t handle polyphony in music (did you notice that even classical music for kids is pretty single-toned, i.e. there is not many melodies going on at the same time).
Children have a favorite color, a favorite food (ketchup), a favorite season and a bestest friend. Their world is small so it can have one best thing, because there are not many things in it.
We make sure however to introduce kids to complexity. A good parent would let the child eat a variety of fruit and vegetables to broaden the palate, listen to classical music, to broaden the auditory perception, and so on. Because being able to handle complexity prepares the child for adult life. We want them to be capable of enjoying the difficulty of overcoming an obstacle, of relishing the effort of practice for an important skill, of appreciating the intricate rainbow of human connections, the bitter sweet combinations of feelings and experiences that make up a truly fulfilling life.
In the cartoon movie ‘Inside out’, the main character is transitioning from the simple mind of a child into the mind of a young adult, where emotions stop being simple and gain richness and depth by being mixed together and creating new ‘colors’.
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But we can have a child’s mindset even when we’re adults. We want happiness to be just that – happy. And real happiness just isn’t that simple. Instead it is rich, like chocolate.
I used to expect work to be fun, and when it was no longer fun, I changed jobs. I never let the job challenge me, really challenge me, and help me grow. Only when I embraced the fact that challenge and even failure is an integral part of growth and fullfilment, did I begin to stick with with what I was doing long enough to weather the storms and come out stronger, wiser and better….
I used to think that relationships happen easily, like a fairy tale. Anything else – when effort is needed, when conflict is rife – is not meant to be. I got scared off easily, lost faith at a drop of a hat, and ran from anything that is too hard. Now I embrace the darkness, the vulnerability, the difficult emotions, the conflict, the longing, the insecurity, the tenderness and fear… Because to run away from anything but light and breezy is to keep running (because nothing at it’s core ever is) and to trade off a deeper love and connection.
A fulfilling life isn’t about ‘enjoying’ ourselves or having fun or feeling happy all the time, or even most of the time. That’s a one dimensional experience of reality and it leaves out the best bits. The bits that make us grow and the bits that make us BIG, the bits that give us depth.
It is important to make space inside, to feel bigger than any particular emotion or experience. That’s the only way that complexity of life won’t suck you under.
A meditation I used put it this way:
If you were a glass of water and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would be pretty salty.
But if you were an ocean and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would hardly change at all.
There is an incredible complexity of life and climates that can live in the ocean, without disturbing the ocean.
There is not much going on in the glass of water.
Be like the ocean.
And enjoy your dark chocolate 🙂