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A Penny for your Thoughts

an ongoing series of life reflections

Changing of Seasons 

November 21, 2016

When life feels out of control, sometimes we need to turn to nature for guidance and stability. Just like our lives, gardens are made of different soil, unique plants, and a variety of insect and animal life.  We must nourish it to keep it alive, growing, and healthy. But sometimes, we decide to stop planting or are unable to find the motivation to richen the soil. Even in times of despair, we must continue growing our garden.

The Seven Of Pentacles

Marge Piercy

Under a sky the color of pea soup

she is looking at her work growing away there

actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans

as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.

If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,

if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,

if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,

if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,

then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.

More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.

Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.

Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.

Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.

Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.

Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,

a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us

interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:

reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.

This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,

for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Self Compassion 

January 30, 2017

It can be easy to get stuck in this pattern of thinking that my suffering isn’t as bad as someone else’s. Many of us are privileged to not have to worry about our own safety and security so we feel we shouldn’t be allowed to be suffering right now. After all, so many out there have it worse than us, right? The truth is…suffering is not a competition. In times of suffering, we must use self-compassion, but it’s important to differentiate between self-compassion and self-pity.

“When individuals feel self-pity, they become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems…They ignore their interconnections with others, and instead feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering. Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows one to see the related experiences of self and other without these feelings of isolation and disconnection. In contrast, by taking the perspective of a compassionate other towards oneself, “mental space” is provided to recognize the broader human context of one’s experience and to put things in greater perspective.” –Dr. Kristin Neff

3 Myths of Self-Compassion

1. Self-compassion is a form of self-pity

2. Self-compassion is self-indulgent

3. Self-compassion is the same as self esteem


February 6, 2018

I believe one of the most powerful forms of loneliness comes in feeling as though we don't belong. After all, we're social creatures and we thrive when we are connected to others. Brené Brown defines belonging as "the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us…we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."

So why do we try so hard to fit in, to present our perfectly curated self to the world rather than channeling our energy into showing up as we are? For many of us, showing up as we are just isn't enough. Here lies the real question - how can we truly value ourselves and know our own self-worth? The answer, I believe, is in how we navigate our mistakes and tolerate the disappointments. Rather than being critical of the outcome, can we instead celebrate the hard effort that was put forth? Instead of judging what we see in the mirror, can we revel in the awesome power of our physical bodies, imperfections and all? Are we able to let go of those fears of what others think of us and instead listen to our own voice? I challenge you to be a kind friend to yourself and to remember that you are enough. You are enough no matter how much money is in that bank account, how many parties you were invited to this month (by the way, you'd be exhausted if you went to all of them), or what size pants you're wearing today (standard sizing doesn't exist anyway). 

So practice some self-acceptance and spend time with people who also accept you as you are. That, my friend, is what leads to belongingness. 

Decluttering Your Mind - A new kind of spring cleaning 

May 14, 2018

I've been on a cleaning kick lately, but I'm not just getting rid of dirt and dust. Rather, I am making a deliberate effort to reduce the amount of "stuff" cluttering my house and life. Moving from a tiny apartment (600 square feet) in the heart of an urban neighborhood to a 3 bedroom home in a residential Seattle community, I felt liberated with all the space! After a few months of settling into my new home, I looked around and realized that there wasn't quite as much space anymore. What had changed? The house didn't shrink. No, it was a common problem that many people struggle with: like gas expanding to fill a container, I had accumulated stuff to fill my house as if more things equals more happiness. We think we'll be happy if we get that right pair of shoes, the best gadget, or the perfect painting, because surely it will make us feel better, inspire creativity, or generate laughs. Instead, we end up with an overwhelming mess of belongings that clutter our homes.

The same thing can happen with our emotions, habits, and relationships. For instance, we might find ourselves spending time in relationships with people who don't build us up or respect our boundaries, or perhaps you are harshly self-critical. The feelings can compound and shape our perspective of ourselves and the world around us. It takes deliberate effort to make space for positive, compassionate thoughts.

In my house, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the volume of clothes, furniture, and knickknacks I had accumulated, so I took advice from Miss Minimalist herself, Francine Jay, after reading her book "The Joy of Less - A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify." Many of her concepts resonated with how I think about growing and changing as a person. She writes that our stuff generally falls into one of three categories: useful stuff, beautiful stuff, and emotional stuff. Francine breaks down the process of decluttering room by room and encourages you to simplify this process as much as you need. Perhaps you start with one box, rather than an entire room, but most importantly….you just start. This has a wonderful parallel to how we can think about self growth. We don't have to change everything about ourselves or form all new habits immediately. Change takes time, and it's a slow process. But it won't begin until we start.

As part of decluttering, Francine recommends bringing all of your items out of their places and taking a good, hard look at your stuff. Really bring it into the light so you can see the whole thing, and then choose each item to keep rather than pull out the few things that will be donated. It can be a mindful process that helps us appreciate our belongings. Physical items aren't the only things that we should take time to recognize and appreciate. How often do we do this with our emotional needs? How often do you take a good, hard look inside and ask yourself what you need during a moment of pain? What parts of the way you're living are bringing joy into your life that you'd like to keep and what parts are hurting you?

Francine Jay also outlines the 3 T's of decluttering: Trash, Treasure, or Transfer. I encourage you to "Trash" that which isn't serving you, like negative criticism and self shaming, "Treasure" those people or activities that bring you joy, and "Transfer" (redirect) your energy when needed. To help illustrate the concept of "Transfer" we can think about the reality that there really can be too much of a good thing. For example, if you enjoy caretaking for others, can you also transfer some of that energy and care for yourself?

Oftentimes we hold onto things "just in case" we need them someday. What starts to happen is that we stock pile stuff for all these "just in cases". What are we afraid of? And how much emotional baggage are we holding onto for "just in case", when it's really not useful in our life right now.  If you redecorate your space, you might end up with pieces that don't fit anymore. Instead of setting them free, you store them. Similarly you might store an old behavior, thinking pattern, self-perception, judgement, or critical message you heard from the past that might not fit you or in your life anymore either. Give yourself permission to let go of these too.

So what do we do with all these negative messages cluttering our mind, specifically those we want to "Trash?" Try to identify a positive affirmation and practice saying this aloud to yourself once a day. Look for evidence that contradicts that negative thought: rather than consider yourself a bad person challenge yourself to recognize ways that you are a good person. Surround yourself with people who strengthen your positive thinking rather than those who undermine your confidence. Release those behaviors, people, or judgmental thoughts that are not serving you, and celebrate your daily accomplishments rather than focusing on the outstanding to-do list.

Decluttering is ultimately about being a good gatekeeper to your space. Once a possession comes to rest in your house, it's harder to get it out. The same goes with our mental health. Be a good gate keeper to yourself by filtering out the negative thoughts, people, and energy and perhaps you'll live a little lighter along the way.