Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Course in Miracles

On Monday, I once again picked up my mother's old copy of A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. The cover is faded. The pages are yellowed. I've grown up with this book floating between shelves and and bedsides, and I need to read it now, to embrace inner peace and faith and calm. Anxious thoughts, judgmental thoughts--these ones swell in our minds and often overwhelm us. We look in the mirror and criticize and seek to change what we see. We plan. We look for control everywhere.
But we can't be in control. The more we try to control, the more out-of-control we feel. Trust me. I know this from experience, from trying to control what I look like, from digging holes for myself with self-imposed rules and self-limiting beliefs. Where has all this gotten me?  I'm disconnected. It's hard to connect to yourself when you're too busy worried about what's going to happen next or what's already happened. (I need to work out. I ate that, and I regret it. So-and-so is so much prettier. I have so much work to do. What if they don't like me? The list of thoughts is endless.)
The fitness industry is huge. Massive. And there's nothing bad about fitness. I think that everyone can find a way to move that is beneficial for them. Some people may like walking or swimming . . . yoga ....dancing. . . running . . . whatever works for you, that's great. But we're so busy thinking about the physical that we often neglect our minds. We focus on the parts that are tangible and work on them until we feel like they're "perfect." Often, we never reach this place of "perfection" because the standard for perfect is elusive and always changing, but we try. What about working on our spiritual and mental health, though? I know that this sort of talk won't appeal to everyone, but if the idea of spiritual work speaks to you, then maybe these thoughts will be helpful. <3
Image from Quotefancy
What I've learned from A Return to Love and A Course in Miracles so far is that we can act from a place of fear or from a place of love. Fear is where our ego leads us; fear is clinging to labels, to anxieties, to prejudices. Love, on the other hand, is releasing control, opening our minds, and freeing ourselves from our limiting beliefs. Love is having compassion for ourselves and for others. Love is participating in "the greater good." It is proactively working to make the world a better place for everyone, through actions big and small. Love is difficult, at first, because we're conditioned to act from fear, and in order to act from love, we often need to embrace vulnerability and accept the discomfort of "not knowing." 

"All healing is essentially a release from fear."
-A Course in Miracles

I'm still new to A Course in Miracles and the other spiritual readings I'm embarking on (Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle, etc.), but I'm trying to embrace this whole idea of "shifting perception from fear to love." I'm tired of living in fear, and love is, at its essence, the truth of the world, so why not pursue it? Why not act from it? Let's heal--ourselves, others, the world--and release fear to embrace compassion!

<3 Frances

Friday, April 27, 2018

Can Music Save Us? (A Playlist)

It's a loaded question to ask, I know, but I'm asking it as someone who needs to pull herself out of some spiraling habits (mostly food-/body- and control-related).
I grew up on my mother's mixed tapes, and while I was never quite musical myself (aside from writing poems, if that counts, LOL), I can attest to the profound impact that music can have on us. Even now, I see my teenage brother find respite from the stress of group projects and AP tests in songs like Arcade Fire's "Everything Now" and Patrick Watson's "Adventures in Your Own Backyard." And my freshman year of high school, when I first became swept up into the madness that is diet culture, some of the best and least anxiety-related moments involved Kate Bush with my mum. Today, feeling particularly ambivalent about my preoccupations and priorities, I put on one of alexrainbird's indie/pop/folk playlists and just allowed myself to experience it while studying for finals. It slowed me down the way yoga does and got my brain out of thinkthinkthink mode and into "Wow, this is beatiful!" mode. Being in awe is good for you (seriously--science backs this up), and music has the power to put us into a state of awe, relax our nervous systems down, and re-balance us.

These Brittle Bones: "Flecks"


George Ezra: "Hold My Girl"


First Aid Kit: "My Silver Lining"


Kate Bush: "This Woman's Work"


Cat Power: "Wonderwall"

And just for fun because I like turning this on and dancing to it when I feel sad . . . .

Selena Gomez: "Who Says"

<3 Frances


Thursday, April 26, 2018

On the Anniversary of Chernobyl

I first read Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl in fifth grade. After that, Chernobyl and the people it affected became a focus for me. Learning about the disaster and its aftermath, I found Chernobyl Children International, and the stories shared by that organization are part of what inspired me not only to write about Chernobyl but also to pursue a career in speech or occupational therapy so that I can be "a helper."  Today, on the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, I invite you to reflect on both what you are grateful for and what you can do to make the world a better, safer place for others.

We humans tend to like novelty and excitement, and we can be forgetful, assuming that, just because something happened a long time ago, it must be "over." But Chernobyl still impacts people to this day. Large parts of Belarus and Ukraine are still contaminated by radioactive matter, and the rates of thyroid disease and birth defects have skyrocketed since the disaster. If you have the time, please visit Chernobyl Children International's website here to learn more about Chernobyl and the ways that you can help those affected by it. For me, that means donating to CCI via Amazon Smile, working on becoming an OT or SLP, raising awareness, and praying.  For others, help may look different, and we all have a variety of causes that we care about and are working on.  So visit CCI's site, and if you are supporting other causes, too--from animal rights to LGBTQ rights--thank you for being a part of the love and light!

<3 Frances

Monday, April 9, 2018

Self-Care When You Don't Have Time

The April snowfall has caught me completely off-guard, and because I'm inside, I'm dressed for spring weather and have to keep reminding myself that if I go outside my legs will turn blue. Oops.

Getting ready for school and work this morning, I watched my mum rush to get out the door, off to help young children readjust to being in school after Spring Break. Because she's a teacher, her Spring Break wasn't as much of a holiday as it was a time to do all her work at home. Teachers don't get as much time off as people tend to assume they do. I'm in college studying to become a speech therapist, and I'm working as a substitute teacher in the meantime, so I get a lot of exposure to #teacherlife. Teachers are loving and dedicated, but their days are stressful. For teachers and nurses and doctors and etc, etc, etc, everyday life can be hectic and crazy, and when you're a person who cares a lot about other people and making them happy, life can get even crazier. What's really ironic is that, with the rise of the self-care industry, a lot of the people who have the easiest time incorporating self-care are the ones who might not need self-care as much as the people spending all their time serving others. I'm not at all saying that self-care is selfish--it's actually quite necessary. But it hasn't really reached the audience that I think it would be the most beneficial for because that audience is too busy sacrificing themselves for the well-being of their kids/jobs/parents/pets/etc.

Teachers will understand this question. (From Giphy)

When we try to figure out how to make "self-care" work, we hear a lot about super-complicated morning routines, cleanses, and retreats. It's easy to say, "Oh, self-care works for me!" when you've been on a one-week yoga and meditation retreat and start every morning with breathwork, self-massage, and crystal cleansing. There's nothing wrong with any of these things--they're awesome and can be very helpful--but I think that we need to figure out how people who work twelve-hour shifts and have endless homework can incorporate self-care into their lives easily and affordably.

Self-Care Ideas for Busy People (from Other Busy People):
  • Try to go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Or even 15 minutes earlier. IT MAKES SUCH A BIG DIFFERENCE SOMETIMES.
  • Find some sort of fun activity that helps you feel relaxed and centered and try to do it whenever you feel overwhelmed, even if it's just for 15 minutes. I love yoga and dancing. There are some great short yoga videos on YouTube, and all you need for dancing is music (and you).
  • Breathe. Just in, and out. Focus on it. Relax. You can do this anywhere, anytime.
  • Wear colors that make you happy. Seriously. Pink perks me up.
  • Find a power song. It can be anything. My brother loves Arcade Fire.
  • Add some fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. They're nature's happy treats, and there are so many to choose from. Avocados! Bananas! Apples! Cucumbers!
  • Plan a fun event you can do easily every week, like at-home Go Fish with your family or Netflix-ing with your cat.
  • Find a book. Don't put pressure on yourself to finish it quickly. Just read a few pages whenever you get a chance. It'll be like exercise for your brain and for your feelings.
  • Give yourself a hug. Then hug a friend. Hugs. Hugs. Hugs.
  • Pick a desktop background that includes a cute baby animal or a wildlife scene.

<3 Frances






Friday, April 6, 2018

Spring Cleaning, Bunny Yoga, and Meditating with a Cat

It actually feels like springtime today, and snow is in the forecast, so I've sort of given up on trying to figure out what's going on with the weather. I feel like Mother Nature is screaming at us that global warming is a serious issue. I mean, it's snowing in April. For this part of the world, that just isn't normal. It's a major warning sign that we need to start taking the environment seriously before the earth starts looking like it does in Bladerunner. (Speaking of which, we saw Bladerunner 2049 recently, and it was really good. So plan a movie night. And remember to recycle.)

We're cat-sitting right now, and one of the fuzzballs we're taking care of is an incredibly chill, relaxed little fellow who I'm looking to for zen-spiration. When I feel myself getting stressed out or needing to "control" everything, I try to remind myself of what this cat would do in my situation, and, even if I can't roll around on the floor, I can at least take a deep breath and center myself. Yoga has been helping with this, too. If you're anything like I am (Type A, worrier, etc.), chances are that your first attempts at yoga might leave you feeling a bit frustrated and seeking the immediate release of hardcore cardio, but for some of us, focusing on stillness, flexibility, and breathwork is way more beneficial than pushing through 100 burpees. Trust me. I've been the 100 burpees girl, and I'm still recovering from the long-term effects of overexertion. It's not worth it, friends!


Is it just me, or does spring make anyone else feel weirdly optimistic?  I put on a spring-y blouse and shorts today to do homework, prep for the class I'm going to start teaching soon, and clean the living room, and the thought of warm breezes and flowers has me all excited even though I've got a bit of a pollen allergy and really am not looking forward to the summertime humidity. I'm sending out positive wishes to everybody and hoping that everyone is having a loving Friday <3. Because of all the sadness and tragedy in the world, I want to share some more inspirational/happy thoughts today:

  • This is the story of Ziki, a little boy in the DRC who was rescued from a life as a cobalt miner and now gets to go to school.
From CBS News
  • This is a video about Heifer International, which helps farmers in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the U.S. I listened to a podcast (link here) about Heifer and was inspired to find a video about it :).

  • This is a song that we've had on repeat recently. I hope you like it, too! :) 

<3 
Frances

Monday, March 19, 2018

Yummy Sweet Beet and Cocoa Milk

If you're looking for a quick, fun pick-me-up, extra snack, or treat, one of my new most favorite beverages is sweet beet and cocoa milk. It's easy to make, full of vitamins, frothy, and (best of all) pink! Yay!


Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons of beet powder 
  • 1 scoop of cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of hemp milk (or substitute)
  • Honey (as much as needed)
Blend all the ingredients together and you've got your drink :). It's fun and refreshing, and beets are excellent for anyone looking to give their liver or gallbladder a boost. Cocoa and honey are great for energy and for your skin, and hemp is a great source of plant protein.

<3 Frances

Thursday, March 8, 2018

March Musings: Mindfulness, Amelie, and Romanticism

We learned about the Romantic Period in my Humanities class yesterday, and I left filled with the words of John Keats and the art of Caspar David Friedrich. The Romantic perspective on life and emotion and creativity is (needless to say) quite inspiring, especially with its emphasis on the uncontrollable, terrifying, beautiful nature of the natural world, and when I got home, I took a little bit more time to really pay attention to what was going on around me. 
The birds. 
The flower leaning delicately against the edge of a vase on the kitchen counter. 
We don't notice these things as much as we should, and, while this is partly due to a lack of time (bills, work, etc.), it's also partly because we've become accustomed to the fast pace of life. I wrote about this a bit in my last post, and it's on my mind again because I was at work (substitute teaching for the win) the other day and noticed that, as soon as one activity came to an end, my students immediately needed to know what was coming next. Next. Next. Next. They were so anxious for the future that they completely missed the present, and what's sad is that one day they'll be grown up and look back on their lives and realize just how quickly time slipped away. But we've become dangerously comfortable with speed and stimulation. It bothers me how often my heart rate quickens and my jaw clenches when I'm waiting longer than I thought I'd be for something or when I'm uncertain about the future. I'm a worrier. I angst about whether or not I'll be able to control what's going to happen in my life, and little schedule changes can throw me for a loop. But I wasn't always like this. I was once much more flexible, patient, and calm, and I'm realizing that the constant bombardment of information and stimuli that we're all exposed to nowadays has a scary effect on our brains. Our attention spans are getting shorter, and today it's harder for us to focus on and appreciate things than it was forty years ago. 
The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. (Kevin McSpadden, TIME Magazine)
I keep thinking of Amelie Poulain in the movie Amelie. (You know, the beautiful Jean-Pierre Jeunet film about the quirky girl with the cute haircut and infectious optimism?) Amelie is genuinely fascinated by the simple things in life. She lives each day with love and enthusiasm and adorable uniqueness, and she's never scrolling mindlessly on the Internet searching for things to compare herself to. If she were, she wouldn't be Amelie, and the world would be such a sad place without Amelie in it! 

From http://quoteideas.com/amelie-movie-quotes/
Lately, I've been reading some books on yoga and mindfulness, and a theme I've come across is that mindfulness practitioners maintain their childlike fascination. Note that "childlike" doesn't mean immature or unworldly; it simply implies that one is open and receptive and interested. Instead of beginning each day with baited breath and angst, we could "inhale lots of love in" (as Adriene Mishler would say) and "Carpe Diem" (thank you, Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society). By living with compassion for ourselves and what's around us, we could help make the world a better place. I'm not trying to get all cliched here, but wouldn't it be nice if we all felt love for one another? Change starts from within.
One of my best tips on going "within" (from someone who's still trying to get there, LOL) is to think about the things that make your spirit happy and that make you feel connected to the world around you on a deep level. My brother, for instance, is genuinely enthusiastic about insects. He's even got a blog about it (fortheloveofinsects.blogspot.com), and his love for the environment motivates him to do his best in school and be the best version of himself because he believes that, if he tries hard enough, he can help the planet heal. So far, he's managed to convince many of his classmates not to step on stink bugs, and that's a big accomplishment for insect-lovers everywhere ;).
So what is it that inspires you to be the best version of yourself? Know that it's totally okay not to have a single defined passion! You don't have to be a die-hard super-fan of any single thing . . . just look out at the world with compassion and interest like Amelie does. Cracking creme brulee can be an amazing experience in and of itself, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a culinary aficionado.

<3 Frances