Choosing the Warrior’s Path…again

When times get a little rough, when we have chronic strife, we can choose to complain about another person and make them wrong, make them small in any way our brain chooses to present evidence for that – or we can choose to learn. We can choose curiosity.

I know which I choose.

I have to actively make the choice; as I sit with anger coiled like bitter fire in my belly, the anger resolves into words – it recites the wrongs to me. It recites the good things I’ve given and the wrongs I’ve perceived and received, in my imagination. As I breathe and listen, I start to hear a pattern. The self-righteous bluster is flat, like the old-time stage scenery that was painted skillfully on plywood, shaded to look like structures of depth and substance. The more I look at it, the more I see deep grief underneath. The grief of a dream tarnished, a dream I’ve rebuilt, a dream I’m afraid of losing- a dream that was created by a child, a very young me.

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The grief turns into questions. “Was it real? Am I a fool?” and flashes quickly into labels like “Betrayal.” Then it moves to list what I did wrong, where I messed up. It holds some truth, here – I could have done better. I can do better. But the self-hatred that shows up is a twisted form of the “bargaining” stage of grief. I breathe and observe.

Then anger begins again. The list starts repeating itself. I don’t do or say anything; I used to journal, but I found that writing gave the anger more substance. I am a storyteller; when I write things, I paint them in great detail in my mind, most of which are edited off the page. The world takes on life; the things I write breathe in me, and grow. I do not wish to feed and give life and substance to this bitter dragon, so I watch, and wait.

I consider compassion. Not empathy-that isn’t a road to take here – identifying and plunging in with a heart all to ready to imagine, feel, and perhaps project, is not wise in this instance. Compassion is bigger than that. Compassion breathes and says “Yes.” Yes, what you are experiencing is valid. Yes, you are held and supported. Support doesn’t mean I agree with the stories that create what I’m experiencing, or what you are experiencing – it means that beyond the stories and the pain, there is support that sees my, your, brightest light. Support can also mean taking no action at all. Compassion doesn’t seek to control. It simply IS, and I breathe it in.

I stop writing stories about what the other person is thinking, feeling, choosing. I stop trying to follow the labyrinth of “WHY” to find some way to comfort my rational mind, which seeks to understand and seeks to answer every criticism it can imagine is leveled in my direction. Trying to understand, or think I understand, is a form of control. I breathe again and feel the knot loosen.

I survey the future I had built for myself: the vision, the lovely castle in my mind and heart. I breathe in again when a knot of grief, followed by resentment, quickly followed by story (“can’t they see what I saw?”)  forms. It loosens quickly, almost sheepishly. Good.

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This is the warrior’s path. This takes patience, self-compassion, and commitment.

I have this commitment to myself, and to the life I have been given. I made this commitment years ago, when I put on boxing gloves for the first time in earnest, and chose healing instead of despair. When I chose to walk on coals far hotter than anything I’m experiencing now. When I chose every day to face violent storms again, and again, and again – choosing day after day, even though my legs would freeze up and refuse to carry me some days; even though my hands would shake and refuse to hold my pen; even though the symptoms of the war I fought sometimes showed up in humiliating ways, stripping me in public, rendering me unable to hide PTSD; even when the symptoms made each miniscule step forward an enormous effort- an effort that took everything I had. I have often made mistakes, been unskillful and emotionally irresponsible, but I showed up. I learned to deeply celebrate the smallest of victories. I fell into self-reproach when I stumbled, but I kept showing up. I got myself to the counselor. I got myself to the boxing bags. I made the healthy food. I walked away from abuse. I chose myself. I apologized and took responsibility. I suited up, wrapped my hands, allowed my tears to fall in prayer, and showed up with relentless determination.

From that time, I know a core of strength lives in me that nothing can destroy. I’ve obscured it lately with self-reproach and unkind words, self-blame. I have assaulted myself, as though if I could figure out what was wrong with me and uproot it at the source, I would finally be chosen. I would finally be seen.
I kept learning, kept taking responsibility, kept building more lesson plans for myself and seeking out what I had done wrong. thinking I was still on the warrior’s path, the path of wisdom.

Do you see the disconnect, here? I only saw it this morning. The ego got fairly tricky on me, and decided to disguise itself as betterment. As “healing.” As thinking I know what someone else is choosing, and what they’re experiencing. “This person is angry at you because you are flawed and you messed up.  You messed everything up. Again.” There are so many flaws in this belief. This is all a form of control. It’s ego, thinking I know what is going on in someone else. Seeking to control someone else’s choices and the perception *I invented*, by changing myself. It’s choosing an imaginary someone else before myself, my real self.

It’s Black Panther’s brother, choosing death “instead of slavery,” when really, he was choosing death instead of the firewalk that is swallowing pride, making peace, honoring himself, and choosing to live. Choosing to learn. Choosing the fight towards freedom that comes with walking the warrior’s path. pri_66417644

Other people’s choices HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Others’ perceptions aren’t my business. And so I release it.
I return to my power by realizing my worth. By focusing on myself again, my own life, and what a deep gift it is, and has been. I return to my power by focusing on what I choose. By choosing my own life.

I ask a question: If what someone else chooses for their life has nothing to do with me, and “self-improvement” is not what I thought it was, how, then, can I transform this? I thought I had let go. Apparently, it’s a matter of letting go, then letting go again. Maybe we’re never really “done” with releasing. Maybe that’s one of the most important lessons to learn in this life.
Love and release. Love and release. Love doesn’t seek to bind. Love allows. Even when my mind doesn’t comprehend another’s choice, love says “Good. Choose. Choose for you. If you don’t choose me, it isn’t personal.” Release. Love myself.

This is what I can learn, here. Lessons and self improvement that come with a sense of self-compassion, love and curiosity, those are the lessons I will follow, now.
Because how can I be walking the warrior’s path of love, if I refuse compassion to myself? So I just gently bring myself back to the path. This time, I feel so much lighter. I feel joy – this will be a dance.

I breathe again. I hold the fluttering bird that is wounded me in this instance. Her eyes are dull with pain, and she’s thrashing around a bit, one broken wing trailing stiffly through my fingers. I can feel her heart stuttering wildly, panicked, in my palm. She’s nearly incoherent – “he was- I thought – we had- he said – he hasn’t – he chose – but I brought – I was- why can’t -” these are the words that she gasps. I just hold her, breathe, soothe her. I imagine her surrounded in warmth, safety, comfort, and also freedom- I don’t restrain her with my hand. She is free to fly at any time.

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I whisper to her, so gently, the way I’d talk softly to a child who had awakened from a nightmare – “it is all unfolding as it should. whatever you are trying to make happen, release your hold. come back, now. Come back to my heart, and when you are ready, open up again with me. believe again with me. trust again with me. love again with me. it is all unfolding as it should. You will see; the painting of this life will be a beautiful masterpiece, when we are done.”  I stroke her feathers, and feel her calm. “I know it hurts. It is okay. Let it hurt. Let go of blame. Let go of reasons. Let it hurt, accept the hurt, and let go of any thought of why or predictions of what. Just be.”

The choice I make again: what can I learn from this? What can I learn in curiosity and playfulness, without reproach to self or others; how can I expand from this, how can my life and my heart become a bigger place?

This is the warrior’s path. It is deceptively gentle at times. It seeks stillness in the midst of story, talk, jagged energies that blame and criticize, rumor, choices not made from the highest self – and, as I just learned, it also recognizes self-harm in the seductive form of self-reproach and self-blame; it walks back to center, takes responsibility, which doesn’t look like shame- it looks like a gift. The gift of learning and improving.
How wonderful, really – the opportunity to see where my aim was off, my arrow didn’t fly true, and improve my aim,

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The warrior’s path winds to the center of the labyrinth and tries again. Patiently, without pride, without carrying anything but determination and curiosity, slow step by slow step, firmly, never giving up.

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Leap

“What if I fall?
but oh, my darling…what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

When did you stop dancing?

 I once asked Baryshnikov how he leaped, so high and so free. How he broke the chains of gravity.

He said (and it’s the only thing he’s ever said to me, so listen up:) “When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”

So today in crossfit I had a crazy experience.

This was coming on the heels of an emotional drive there, in which I gave myself a pep talk. “It’s time for you to stop hiding,” I decided. “You thought it served you. It doesn’t. You put on weight, you slouched, you did everything you could in order to hide. You thought it would make you safe; that people wouldn’t look at you, then.
But safety isn’t going to help you rise. You’ve got to leave it behind now. Time to hold your head up. Expand. You’re afraid the scary men will come for you if you shine too brightly, aren’t you. Let them- you are strong now. You can defend yourself.”

There’s this thing called box jump. It seems a bit silly and not very difficult – you just jump onto a box. that’s it. with both feet at the same time. I couldn’t do it – I could do one foot at a time. I’d go as fast as possible; I’d alternate legs – I made it challenging for myself to make up for the fact that I was too afraid to take both feet off the ground at once.

 Now – I can jump rope, and I can do it fast. Both feet at once. But I can’t go very high, or so I told myself, which kept me from progressing to more advanced moves…

 today, my trainer Aaron Anderson said : try with both feet.

I said no, Aaron, this is a mental thing. I truly can’t .

 He said, okay, so just stack two weights on the ground. Start low. do it with both feet.

 So I did …

and I encountered a young me who used to fly. She was a dancer. She broke the chains of gravity and she really flew. She was proud of her leaps… I had forgotten all about her, and how those moments off the ground felt like the reason I was living. How flying became an obsession. How, in my pre-Juilliard days, my joy, my reason for living, was dance. I felt my spirit unleashed when I danced – I felt set free.

 and then, I fell.

It’s not the falling that is the hard part. injuries heal, though my knee will never be the same …

it’s the fear that stays with you.

 I was in a show – I had to dance, something I had choreographed myself, on a little walkway that was built around a live orchestra. The audience and orchestra were below me – and they seemed so FAR below me… and I fell one night.

 It wasn’t a big deal. After that, I was more careful. But something happened …

 I apparently wrote stories in order to protect myself.

 “you are too heavy.”

“you are a more earthy dancer. Do modern, Stick to the ground.”
“you have big, strong legs. You weren’t made lightly – you weren’t made to fly.”

 Now I know what it was that came up and choked me, when I spoke to Baryshnikov.

 That longing came up again today. So silly – so small…. jumping on to a stack of weights, and jumping off again.

 Every single jump (there were about 150 total, then I added another weight and did more)

 I was terrified. Paralyzed. Legs shaking.

 I was sobbing in crossfit; I could hear myself over the music, my breathing fast, panting like a terrified little girl.

 I kept going.

 This is a small thing….but each jump, I was taking that little girl by the hand and asking her to choose.

 Leave the ground.

Leave the ground.

Don’t think about falling.

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photo by Mark Edward Lewis

IT’s not the falling itself or the injuries – it’s the feeling of terror that shocks through your entire body when you feel the unknown, the loss of control. Unsure where you’ll land or what will happen next.

 That blind panic has kept me grounded for so many years. In trying to protect myself from ever feeling that fear again, I was actually living inside it. I was knee-locked, grounded, weighted down, my wings clipped, never to feel the joy of reaching as high as I could again…

 I had thrown stones at my own mockingbird, and I had killed her with the relentless weight of my fear.

 So, here’s the thing: a big step can look ridiculous to anyone on the outside. Those weights looked like nothing. People thought I was injured; they were kind –

They didn’t know I was forcing myself through the scariest thing I have experienced in years.

 But I did it.

 It doesn’t matter how low that leap was. I did it, over and over until the little girl inside me released her stranglehold on the ground.

 Leap. Leap. Do not think about the ground.

 We are not here in this life to be as safe and comfortable as possible until the day we die.

 Leap. For your dreams, for your crazy desire to feel free of this earth for one moment, for the thing your heart yearns for that comes up in your throat and chokes you with tears when you try to speak it aloud —

 Leap.

 And do not think about the ground.

Power of a Word

(*note: if you use this facebook app thingy, after you’re done, go right away into settings – apps – and delete it, because apparently it accesses a ridiculous amount of information.)

I did that Facebook word collage thing. My most used word was “love.” It’s a pretty nifty way to check in with the “word of the year” one-word new year resolution.

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Yes. 2015 has been about love. Finding out what love is. Learning what love feels like (dear wounded young-me: it doesn’t feel unsafe. It doesn’t feel like longing. It doesn’t feel like lack or pity or regret. It doesn’t feel like fear and danger, scrambling to prove your worth, make up for someone else’s accusations and blame. It doesn’t feel like lack or  inadequacy. You only thought it did, so you found, allowed, and created those things. Love feels like safety, peace and growing. Love feels rooted in honor. Love feels like questions and risking only in that it might be time to shift the status quo, It might be time to leap and listen to someone else’s perspective. Love feels like respect – for one’s self and one’s own needs and boundaries, and for the other and their needs and boundaries. Love feels like home. Love isn’t the games you thought you had to play in order to be interesting, or the manipulations and power plays that left you so confused, shaking and dizzy.  Love feels intrinsically interesting in simply being authentic with another, and learning their true self. Love feels like trust – and when the Demons of fear come up to tell you to distrust, love feels like completely knowing those are just fear and damage voices from your own past. Of your own creation. Love feels like being trusted, and holding your head up with shining heart, knowing your lover believes in you – love feels like choosing actions that show love and gratitude for his belief in you. love feels like abundance. Love feels like an energy flow of giving and receiving, not hanging on and holding back. Love feels like loving yourself, nurturing the relationship entity, and loving him are all in harmony and a constant flow.)

I’m so grateful to the counselors, healers, teachers, hard work, and examples in life who all helped me see completion of that particular broken place, that Groundhog Day lesson on endless repeat. Over. Finally.  2015, thank you for realizing my one-word intention in life. I taught myself how love feels through the long, slow and difficult process of becoming whole. Of loving this flawed being that I am – as I am.

look- I’m not perfect in this. I’m still struggling with the idea that I can be beautiful to him even though I’m not blonde and tall. I still struggle with perfectionism and fear. I always will, because I am human. The difference is, I am now safe to know I’ll be true to myself  I’ll walk away from anyone who tries to crumble my self-worth by telling me I’m not honorable and not trustworthy. I’ll walk away from anyone who tries to tell me I deserve unkindness and lack-mentality living. I love my life and myself enough to let go of anything that dims my light  and doesn’t appreciate my heart.

When the self-talk becomes kinder and more compassionate, what we accept and allow in our lives shifts, too.

This is how to make room for love. Teach ourselves how love feels by having the courage to practice love-in-action.

2016: I’d like to see love still infusing the collage, of course; it’s a garden that needs watering, and it’s a joy to nurture. I’d like the central word to be: writing. Completion. It’s time to see my novels, my babies finally born. I’ve worked on them so long. Time to laser focus. Love makes this possible – it’s a solid foundation from which to build. Success will be what form it needs to take. I don’t know what it looks like, but I know what it feels like: completion.

What will your collage look like in 2016? What is your central word intention?

Apparently, we don’t have to know how to do it, or what it will look like. We just have to set the intention and leap.
Loving and living into it : now. Today.

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On “Fatness” (and the Words We are Feeding Ourselves)

A little backstory: I was an actress, long, longlong ago. I constantly battled with bad body image – I got to the point where I would allow myself a little milk in my breakfast of coffee, because that was the protein for the day…
I never ever got thin; this is not a story of anorexia…it’s a story of wasting time and energy with self-hatred and REALLY bad self-talk.

I got in a car accident. I stopped acting. I was in a toxic relationship. With these factors at play, I gained 30lbs. for the first time in my life, I was not muscular or fit…and for the first time since I was 10 years old, I felt really good in my body.

…what? Yeah. I know. crazy. As soon as the toxic partner left my life, I began to cook simple meals of salmon, kale, rice. I began to make smoothies. I bought a juicer and learned about juicing. I began to simply nourish myself as a way to heal the broken emotions. I was still 30lbs heavier than my usual weight, but I felt absolutely incredible. I felt beautiful, sensual, accepting of myself.

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I began to box, which made me stronger and healed me emotionally and physically. I lost 30lbs (or some weeks, 25.) my former “thin” clothes are baggy. I am strong, which feels good.

I was asked to act again, and this time I agreed without even thinking twice about it – for sentimental reasons. It’s a show which is not a big deal in the world of performing, but it’s an awesome project and it was a big deal to me, because I’d been talking to the producer for about seven years, and it’s a return to something I said I would never do again. It turned out to be an extremely beautiful experience. Acting. I had forgotten why I loved it so much all those years. I felt very much in my power and whole, doing something that makes me come alive, and working with incredible people.

And here’s the thing…with the acting, the body-hating has come rushing back, like an old, familiar, dysfunctional relative that I just can’t shake.

I am the same measurements as Jennifer Lawrence, whom I read is “obese” by Hollywood standards. This has made me spin out quite a bit. “Obese.”

I notice the softness of my belly when I sit up in bed, and I think, “that’s going to go.” I see photos of myself from the shoot, and I think “wow, I look fat. If I’m going to continue, I need to lose 15-20lbs.” I notice my arms when they aren’t boxing, and I think “Body, we are going to be eradicating this excess gunk.” I look at myself in the mirror at boxing class, and I think, “I am the biggest girl in here.”

These thoughts are as bad for me as a huge serving of McDonald’s.

My self-talk has become militant, grim, almost violent. This is SUCH a huge change…when I look back at my year of healing from The Most Unbelievably Awful Relationship, the energy I had back then was allowing. nurturing. forgiving. calm. serene.

So the Inner Health Coach has to step up now and coach herself…and because I want to help my clients, I’m doing this publicly.

First of all, let’s talk about Obesity. It dismays me to see an actress like Jennifer Lawrence called “Obese.” There are comments by people who say she’s “fatter,” or the supporters who seem to think they’re being very generous, saying “she’s just a little soft and feminine, that’s all.” When I look at her, I see a person who is in a very healthy place and shape for her own body. Different bodies are going to have different versions of “healthy,” and it can be a heck of a lot of work to maintain the fighting-fit, very trim version that Ms. Lawrence has, that is still somehow considered “obese” in Hollyweird.

So what concerns me is this: when I have a client who is struggling with weight gain, or wants to make a big change and is carrying around a lot of excess; when that client is needing to start small (thus building sustainable change by creating good habits!), how do they continue if they are bombarded with this crap about a very fit person being “obese”?

One of the reasons people need health coaches is that what can happen in the beginning (and sometimes creeps back in from time to time, though it gets easier to work through it) is hopelessness and giving up. Our mind “gremlins” (the harmful “voices” or self-talk) want us to stay where we are. There is a big part of us that resists change, even if that change is a huge improvement to our lives. So the self-sabotage begins.

A person may get up to go for their 15-minute walk, and say to themselves, “I just feel so tired. The weight isn’t coming off. This is useless.” …and BAM, they sit on the couch, grab the chips, and push down the feelings of hopelessness with food. They give up.

This cycle takes time to break – a little change, and sticking with it every day until it becomes a habit. That creates the positive momentum. The cycle is a powerful gravitational force, and The ONLY way to beat it is with self-talk, with affirmations.

Because before we feed our bodies, we need to feed our minds.

Every time I pick up on a flaw and say “THAT is going to go,” I am keeping myself stuck in a place of victimhood and health-lessness. I feel the energy drain, and I feel the dragging sadness set in. Without the energy, how can I prepare healthy meals? How can I exercise?

So the shift that needs to happen is this. First, a big shift in self-talk.

Notice the harmful thought, “My belly is too soft.” “I am fat.” and tell yourself, “You know what, that thought isn’t helping me.”
Then feed your body and mind a good thought to counteract it. “I am strong.” “I feel good after that workout.” Don’t use negating words or try to do something like “I am not fat,” because the focus in that statement is still on the harmful word “fat,” and you’ll just get into a pointless argument with your gremlin. Use positive language that builds. Focus on the things that feel deeply true; the things you feel grateful for.

Gratitude is a HUGE antidote to toxic self-talk poison. “I am grateful to you, body, for getting through that workout. I am grateful you are strong.”

or even start very small: “I am grateful to be able to walk.” I had a therapist tell me once to start really REALLY small…to go for a walk and start with my feet. “thanks, feet, for carrying me.”

Seriously- how much do we take for granted? Our feet…The ability to breathe…

Then it’s time to begin again, to revise the vision.

If I look too far ahead and create goals like “I need to lose 20 lbs and be thinner,” I will look at the gap between where I am and where I want to be, and I’ll just feel overwhelmed.

So what I do is shift the thinking. The goal is now “Today, I will drink more water, do my best in boxing class, and make some healthy meals.” I will plan the meals- miso soup, kale stir fry, isagenix shake… I have a few standbys I have learned how to make quickly, so I never get into that I-don’t-know-what-to-eat,-I-guess-I’ll-just-grab-processed-food rut.

THEN, (and here’s the huge thing that this entire article is about)
I learn once again to love myself as I am, in this moment, right NOW.

That’s the thing that concerns me about all this Hollyweird stuff people are reading. If we are comparing ourselves to someone else and reading criticisms given to that person and taking those criticisms, multiplying them by whatever our differences might be and then applying them to our own bodies,
how can we love ourselves as we are?

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this is Hilda, the first illustrated “plus-size” pinup. She’s by Baron von Lind.

Sustainable, long-term change begins with acceptance right NOW.

I have experienced this firsthand, and know it to be so so so deeply true. If I could only tell ONE thing to everyone in this world who feels they want to work their way to a more healthy body, mind, and spirit, I would say just this one thing —
First, love yourself as you are right now.

Because what happens then is that the Grim, battling, self-hating, rigid, angry determination to CHANGE goes away.

What comes in its place is peace, allowing, the feeling that you CAN, patience, and steady perseverance.

What comes in when you take deep breaths and love yourself as you are right NOW, is that the body feels safe, no longer chastised, and it’s more ready to listen.

It’s more able to release the unwanted weight when it is being treated with kindness.

This is the foundation for lasting, sustainable, non-painful, joyful change.

It takes a lot of work to love ourselves as we are right NOW and to silence the self-hating thoughts; if those thoughts have become deeply ingrained habits, carving new thought pathways will be like trying to get the deer to walk along a different track so your grass can grow back…it might feel impossible.

Just breathe deeply, and take it slow. Take it with a sense of humor and self-love. Approach it with a sense of adventure. This can actually be fun!
Think some good and loving thoughts; wake up in the morning and think of three things you are grateful for, create an affirmation for the morning or the whole day, and watch as the self-hating thoughts dwindle and eventually grow silent.

And then, do what needs to be done to feel good TODAY. learn to massage kale, and make a stir fry. Tell yourself when you prepare it and when you eat it, that you are feeding yourself nutrients because you are worth it!

Will I continue to act? I do not know. But I do know that whatever work I do, I want to have a solid foundation of self-confidence and I want to celebrate my life! Let’s do this!

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Hilda lighting the way…

One or Three Ways to Get Over Yourself (and other people): On becoming a Maggid

I found a very very silly story for the Maggid concert. I spent a few days brushing it aside, cutting it down, making fun of it…and still it hung around. I’d swing at it and it would bob away, only to come fluttering back like a gentle, idiotically persistent moth.

It’s a very silly story.

Just today while I was boxing, sweating out some frustrations and some chattering mind-gremlins, the story grew fangs. It grew arms laced into hard little boxing gloves. It hit me. It bit me. It gave me the reason I was telling it… and I had to stop, breath coming hard, and drop into some pushups and laugh. Okay, and maybe cry a little.

So. this is being a Maggid.  Wait – is this being a Maggid? It’s like I am my own court jester. A part of my mind sees my struggle (maybe a struggle I haven’t even admitted to myself yet), comes up with an analysis, sees past it to the heart of the matter, puts on a motley cap and bells and THEN- and only then- brings a story to my attention; but it doesn’t explain it. It just gives me the story so I can (maybe) figure out my own sh*t. Then it hands me the cap with bells and tells me, “Wear this, dance around, tell a story and stop being an idiot.” Also, it reminds me I don’t have to battle other people’s opinions of me..because other people’s opinions are reflections of themselves. (It usually says this while holding up a very useful fun house mirror.) 
It says other people’s actions and choices have nothing to do with me, and everything to do with themselves.
It says my own actions and choices have nothing to do with other people, so I’d best own the choices I make, (and love them, or make better choices) because those actions are reflections of who I am.

It says we can change the reflection at any time, but only when we realize that no one else is responsible for it.

Awesome.

If I were writing a Mind Body Green article right now, it would be called “5 steps to realizing that other people’s dumb behavior is not about you, and your dumb behavior is not about other people.” (because apparently more people read things if they have numbered steps.)  

 

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