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Lifting Winter Spirits

I’ve struggled with varying degrees of winter blues since I was little. In elementary school, I remember feeling sad and crying in the winter for now reason, and after I moved out of my parents’ house to be a grown-up, winter meant crazy depression, anxiety, and emotional eating. Lots and lots of emotional eating.

I’ve learned that there’s a space in between completely dropping into that dark place and wasting my energy fighting through it. Winter is my time to slow way down and rearrange my priorities.

snow 5

Last winter I fought it and denied it. I also whined about it. The winter before that, I let it completely steamroll me. So far this year, I’ve settled into that in-between space pretty nicely and I’ve learned a few things that seem to be working well so far.

My new favorite winter survival tips, in no particular order:

  • Eat lots of colors and citrus fruits. Something about an orange or some spicy red onion in my salad really perks up my mood. Also, eating salad is good. I tend to crave heavy, carby, fatty foods that don’t make me feel good if I eat them too much, but eating wintery salads keeps me in touch with my body’s signals for hunger, fullness, and what I need to eat. Or get back in touch with those signals.
  • Happy music-keeps my energy and mood up. Christmas music is great, but I also have a happy playlist on my iPod that keeps me going. I also love calming, uplifting music like Krishna Das. It also gets me in the mood to do yoga, which is always a good thing. On the flip side, watch out for depressing music.  Sometimes we tend to “mood match” with music, but that doesn’t help a gloomy mood.
  • Keep busy, but relax too. I’ve noticed there are two sides to winter blues: gloomy moods and low energy. Staying busy helps the gloomy part, but getting enough rest is the best way to handle the fatigue. If I’m gloomy and tired, then a hot bath and early bedtime might be the best thing I can do. If I just need a mood boost but have a little steam left, I put on fun music and scrub the floor. Nothing gets me off the couch like Gangnam Style. That song is my secret happy mood weapon. Yes, it is on my happy playlist.
  •  I practice positive affirmations and gratitude every day, usually on my walk to work.
  •  Take vitamin D, drink my raw milk. Gotta get those nutrients.
  • Don’t guilt trip myself for not eating or exercising perfectly, or for being “lazy” (i.e. needing to rest).
  • Enjoy the contrast and perks of winter: Layering, hearty soups, herbal tea, cozy blankets and good books, hot baths,  snow days. I’ll miss them when it’s 95 degrees outside and all I can stand to eat is watermelon.
  •  Pamper myself by taking a hot bath as soon as I get home from work. That warms me up and calms me down, without fail. Until I get the gas bill.
  • Take a walk in the middle of the day when the sun is highest, if I can. If not, I don’t feel bad. Do what you can.

Thought this is the darkest time of the year, I’m happy to report that I’m actually doing ok. Sure, my energy is lagging and I have some gloomy days, but overall I’m enjoying myself. Above all, I found that the most important thing is to make peace with the fact that I’m not as productive this time of year. I don’t create as much, my homemaking duties tend to get neglected, but that’s ok.

It’s about enjoying life, not fighting.

 

Wide Awake

I usually experience an opening or awakening in the springtime when my soul seems to wake up after a long troubled sleep. I see things clearly again. That didn’t happen this year. It started to. I felt a few moments of wide open clarity early on when I first saw the daffodils come up or on the first warm day, but I feel like I never really woke up. I’ve never had an awakening at this time of year, in the late fall or winter. This is usually when I feel my spirit darkening like tinted glass, when I close off and hunker down inside for a long period of deliberate unconsciousness where I try my best to ignore what’s going on around me.

Instead, I feel bright. Sure, I get tired and a little gloomy in the dark, early evenings sometimes, but most of the time I feel amazing. Something about these cold, clear days; the changing color palette; and watching the trees strip down to their essence is incredibly cleansing, as if the old ideas are becoming brittle and breaking away, leaving me sharp, clear, and wide open for the cold winds to whistle though. It’s like splash of cold water to the face to wake up in the morning.

I may feel differently in a few weeks, but right now I’m going to enjoy this. Maybe winter and I can be friends. Anything is possible.

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

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I made it through another one.

Winter and I have never been on very good terms, but it feels like the last several years have been much worse. Even though I see this as a valuable challenge in my life that will ultimately help me grow stronger, I still hate winter. I hate feeling like crap in the winter. When I think of winter, I also think of lots of swear words, but I won’t write them here.

Each spring feels like a lungful of fresh air after I feel like I’ve been half-smothered for the past few months. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel when I first smell that special springy smell for the first time each year. It feels like hope, a fresh start. I feel like laughing and crying and rolling around in the grass like a maniac though the grass is still brown and there’s usually still some snow on the ground at this point.

I’m not naive enough to think that it will be all sunshine from here on out. I live in Utah, which is known for schizo weather. We might get snow, rainstorms, a tornado, who knows. It’s spring though, and that’s good enough for me.

I tend to go numb in the winter, so when spring rolls around I find it helpful to take a fresh look at my life and take stock, sort of like surveying the damage after a flood.

  • I’ve slipped back into some habits that don’t serve me like stressing out over trifles, some emotional eating, and not eating enough veggies.
  • I’ve put on about 10 pounds this winter due to aforementioned emotional eating. I’m not upset or anything, but I don’t think my body likes it much. I know that it will fall right off when I get my head back in a good place. It always does. At least my pants aren’t too big anymore.
  • My creativity lagged a little for awhile, mostly around the time I went back to work full time, but I feel like things are flowing again.
  • I’ve had time to think long and hard about my goals and priorities and I feel like I’m on the right path. I’m learning to balance goals with living in the moment, which is a rough lesson for me. I’m better at living in the past or future rather than the present, but here is all we have. It’s a beautiful skill.
  • I’m experiencing some food sensitivities and blood sugar issues again, which is a reminder to let food fade into the background rather than relying on it as a prime source of excitement or strength in my life.
  • I get to start all over on what little tan I managed to get last year. A tan for me, by the way, means that I don’t blend into the white walls in my apartment. Time to get my pasty bod back out in the sun!

Though my tone is quite snarky and slightly dry today, I actually feel extremely hopeful right now. I’m noticing that people around me seem to be perking up too. People seem to smile more, they have more energy. Spring is good for us.

Spring cleaning is always something I’ve enjoyed because I love to clear out the old stuff and feel fresh. I haven’t really made plans for spring cleaning yet, but I’ll be sure to do that soon.

What I have been thinking about is a Spiritual Spring Cleaning, in which I clear out some old ideas, habits, and mindsets that don’t suit me anymore. I’ve been noticing a lot of those things cropping up lately, and now I feel ready to shed them so I can grown. I’ve already started spontaneously, before I even knew what to call it. I’ve been instinctively writing a ton in my journal, reading through passages in my books that never meant anything to me before, listening to things that inspire me, etc. It’s like I heard a little voice in my ear that said “McKella, it’s time for you to grow.”

Now I’m doing what I need to do to find those stale mindsets that keep me stuck, question them, and then let them go.

I think I should make this my new yearly ritual.

How about you? Do you do spring cleaning? Do you have any old junk to clear out for your Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

Acceptance or Resignation?

 

A lot of us aren’t happy with where we are in our lives at the moment. We aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing or where we happen to be or what we are. We here so often that we need to accept ourselves as we are and where we are. Most of us fight this notion. I sure do.

I reread Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth last week (one big long string of Aha! moments. Read it.) and she mentioned that accepting is not the same as resigning yourself to a situation. It doesn’t mean that you give up and tell yourself that things will never change, or even worse, that you can’t change things. I think most of us think that acceptance involves giving up, so no wonder we resist it!

Accepting is acknowledging where you are and realizing that it’s ok for now. You may still want to change, especially if you don’t like your current situation. By all means, work hard to change if that’s what you really want, just don’t beat yourself up for where you are.

Acceptance is a change of attitude, that’s all. It’s not quitting. It took me awhile to let this sink in, but I realized that it’s something that I’ve always known on some level. I’ve never created significant change in my life until I accepted where I was first.I had to love myself the way I was and realize that I had to be where I was, because that’s where I happened to be. That situation had something to teach me. I accepted that knowledge, but I still wanted to change. Change happened pretty spontaneously after that.

Whenever I my situation and struggled against it, I got even more stuck. It’s like struggling when you’re sinking in quicksand (the movies always say that’s a bad idea) and sinking even faster.

What do you want to change in your life? What do you need to accept?

I’ll go first.

  • I accept that I need to have a job right now when I’d rather be a full-time artist and writer. Luckily, I enjoy my job, but I’d still rather do my own thing. It’s ok though. This job takes care of me, and I’m glad to have it. I’ll still work toward my goal, but I’m happy with what I’m doing right now.
  • I accept that I don’t have the money to travel the world right now, but obviously, world travel isn’t what I need at the moment or I’d have it. I can love my life anyway. I’d still like to travel and I’ll work toward that goal, but I won’t snub the joys of home.
  • I accept that I have about 10 extra pounds of “winter coat” around my hips and thighs. This is a little heavier than what I’m comfortable with, but it’s ok for now. I’ll still love and take care of my body and I’ll trust it to even things out on its own.
  • I accept that it’s still winter even though I’d really like it to be spring. We’ve had a lovely springy week and now there’s about six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures have dropped. I’ll take whatever moisture we can get for a nice green summer, and I’ll embrace a few more weeks of layers and hot soup.

I’ll accept these things, but I also expect change. I think the distinction here is simply attitude, because forcing change does not work. One cannot reach their natural weight by hating his or her body now. One can’t create a thriving career by refusing to acknowledge the starting point, where she is now.

How about you? What are you accepting right now? What does acceptance mean to you?

Signs of Spring

I visited my family this past weekend and while I was out gathering eggs from my dad’s chickens, I noticed that something in the air felt different. I recognized it.

Even though there was still snow on the ground and my ears were numb from the cold, I swear I could smell spring. Winter isn’t just about the cold or darkness, I always feel like something in the air is missing. Everything feels dead to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the air is definitely different in the spring and summer. I’ve felt it a few times over the last two weeks, and each time it fills me up with tingly, bubbly joy. I feel like laughing and crying at once. I feel like I’m getting something that I’ve been deprived of for a long time, something I didn’t realize I was starving for. I never notice when that magic in the air fades away, but I notice when it comes back.

I saw green things for the first time in months.

This is exactly how I feel in the spring.

The Season of Reflection

“Misunderstood” by Jude Harzer

This is my experimental winter. I’ve had winter blues since I was a child, but this year I decided to accept it and observe it rather than feel angry.

I’ve learned to accept that this is my slower time of year, that this season is for contemplating and reflecting. I do a lot of that in the summer too, but it’s different.

I’ve realized that winter is when all my inner garbage comes to the surface. Any buried fears, hurts, loneliness, anger, or pain of any sort comes out. For years I’ve stuffed it down with food and denial, and while I’ve done my fair share of emotional eating this winter, I’ve also done a lot of “cleaning.”Issues that I thought I’d resolved and pains I didn’t even know were there are floating up for me to work with. They lift their heads and say “here I am!” and even though they seem like ugly little suckers at first, they all have something valuable to teach me. When I learn, I reap the peace and freedom that comes from letting go, and enjoy it all summer long until the next round of “trash picking” arrives. It’s like rebreaking bones so they’ll set properly. It’s painful and liberating. I know that dealing with these feelings authentically is the only way to move past them.

I’ve understood this for awhile now, but I’m writing about it now because the biggest monster of all has risen to the surface, past hurts lodged deep inside. I’ve had a massive headache all day long and I feel exhausted because  haven’t taken the time to sit with him, hear what he needs me to know, and send him on his way. My deepest, slimiest, most gripping fear has come to visit. I doubt this is the last time I’ll see him, but I can feel that our relationship is about to change.

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. I think everyone does to some degree, but not many of us realize it. It’s terrifying and painful when our deep hurts rise up for us to see. We numb them out, we shut our eyes, we pretend they aren’t there, but they don’t leave until they’re acknowledged. Sometimes we call this depression, or a bad day, or getting “triggered.” These times come in all shapes and forms.

Notice when these times come to you. You’ll probably feel tense or grumpy, maybe weepy, you may feel physical discomforts, maybe all of the above like me. Don’t fear it. Meet your monsters, listen to them, and part as friends (or at least call a truce).

Enjoy the peace of letting go.

Painting: Galaxies Inside 2

My paintings always surprise me because they almost never turn out the way I plan them. I may go in with a plan or an idea that I want to express, but somewhere in the process, that idea changes. Once I finish, I realize that whatever the painting ended up saying was what I needed to express all along.

24X36 Acrylic on Canvas

This painting was no exception. We had a few springy days and I felt my soul stirring. I planned on painting something very gold, warm looking with lots of movement in energy. I wanted to paint hope and excitement. As the painting got away from me as they always do, it grew more white. It looked more calm than I’d wanted it to. It was misty and cold rather than warm and vibrant.

That’s how it had to be though.

After I realized that I needed to be sitting under that tree, I realized that this piece is about patience and faith as we allow things to pass.

Sometimes, the best thing to do it wait. Understand that things pass. Remember that spring comes each year. Observe things as they happen, but don’t let them sink into our hearts. Sometimes detachment is the healthiest thing in the world.

This is the second piece in the Galaxies Inside series. This piece is available for purchase here.

Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

Looking Forward with Hope

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Today is Groundhog Day. Today, millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere start thinking about spring if they haven’t been already.

I certainly don’t trust a rodent to predict the weather, but I’m certainly thinking about spring. It’s February. We’re well on the downhill. That means that next month is March. I’ll see daffodils next month. Even though the seasons seems to have been pushed back a month off schedule over the last few years, the days are getting longer and even though March will most likely be wintry, the flower beds will show signs of life. That special smell might even be in the air. You know the smell, that special excitement that you can’t really put your finger on. I’ve been able to trick myself into feeling that for a moment a few times this winter, when I’m high in my office at work and I can’t see the ground, only the blue sky.

I remember feeling that feeling, smelling that small for the first time after a particularly nasty winter when I was 19. I’d just moved out of my parents’ house and I was living alone. If I’d been thinking straight, I never would have done that in February. I was lonely, depressed, and stressed out about school and my upcoming wedding. There was so much snow that I couldn’t really walk around my new neighborhood because the plows had piled the snow up over the sidewalks.

Then one day in March, the sun came out. By that time, the mounds of snow on the sidewalk had melted quite a bit and I could actually walk in sneakers instead of snowboots. Mothers threw their antsy kids outside to play. Kids playing outside always sounds like summer to me. I walked outside for hours that day. I even walked to the grocery store and bought green peppers to make chicken fajitas for dinner. It was a day of hopeful joy to interrupt a winter of sliding all over icy roads and taking five classes a day in a building with no windows.

It won’t be long before that special electricity starts to spark in the air again. Six weeks, according to the rat. That isn’t long. We’ll still have snow, or at least rain for awhile. It’ll still be cold, but at least the light will come back, and the flowers will come up.

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We’re on the home stretch.