Steps Towards Freedom

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder of Unpolished Journey

Oh Darling, it’s just a step,Image result for holding the universe

with your eyes closed tight

and your hands tied

and your feet bound

and your faith caught up

between the what is lost

and what is found.

Oh Darling it’s just a step,

towards everything that’s right

away from darkness

and into light;

a step of courage,

a step of hope,

a step to flourish,

a new way to cope.

 

Related imageOh Darling, you must walk

away from all you know

off this cliff

towards the freedom

you deserve to hold.

 

Misconceptions About Self-Compassion

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

A lot of times when people hear the words self-compassion, they think that it means giving excuses, slacking off, a cop-out, letting yourself off the hook.  Maybe that person is you.  Maybe you read that list nodding your head up and down and internally m-hmmm-ing.  

Well, I want you to change your mind.  I want to convince you that self-compassion is the farthest thing from letting yourself off the hook or whatever other negative perception you may have had of the concept thus far.  

I’ve had similar thoughts, I’ll admit.  I thought criticizing myself was the way in which to protect myself, to make myself work harder, to improve.  Yet research by Dr. Kristen Neff shows that criticism does exactly the opposite.  Criticism discourages improvement and encourages a loss in self-worth, whereas self-compassion allows us to embrace our shortcomings in a manner that lets us continue forward.  

You’re probably still skeptical.  That’s why I want to discuss a topic I had brought up to me in a group I attend called Embracing Your Body.  In the group, we are working through The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook.  At one point, the workbook combats the misconceptions people generally have in regards to self-compassion, which I want to share with you.

The first misconception the workbook brings up is self-indulgence.  A lot of people think self-compassion is merely giving yourself an excuse to do what you want whenever you want.  Yet as the workbook points out, this reflects “an unwillingness to invest effort to make meaningful changes in yourself or the world” (Desmond, 9).  This is quite the opposite of the goal of self-compassion.  With self-compassion in mind, you desire to improve, to become a better version of yourself.  You practice self-compassion to allow yourself to make meaningful changes in your life.  Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves in realizing that we aren’t perfect and there are ways in which we can improve ourselves, whereas self-indulgence fails to admit that we need to improve ourselves at all.

The second misconception is that self-compassion equates to self-pity.  That is, we mess up, and we immediately feel sorry for ourselves and believe that the world is out to get us.  But as the workbook explains, “self-pity suggests that life is something that happens to you, that you are a victim of circumstances and have no role in shaping your experience” (Desmond, 9).  Self-compassion is a recognition that messing up and making mistakes is a part of being human.  It acknowledges the fact that sometimes we fall short and that we can strive to improve ourselves each day.  In this manner, self-compassion does not put the blame on the world but allows ourselves to take responsibility for our own flaws (pride, insensitivity, overly controlling, etc.).  And by realizing that we aren’t the only one who messes up, we are more likely to strive to become better versions of ourselves than just wallow in our own pity party.  

The third misconception is that self-compassion is passive.  In other words, it means we are not actively doing something to better the situation we are critical of (i.e. we got a bad grade, we missed a deadline, we didn’t get into the college we wanted to, etc.).  I want to point something out that one of the other individuals in the group I attend said that really stuck out to me.  She said that, if you think about it, self-criticism is the easier route.  It’s the cop-out.  It’s what we’re used to, and it comes naturally.  So, in reality, self-compassion is the harder choice – the one we have to strive more actively and consciously to achieve, thus making it exactly the opposite of passivity.  

The final misconception the workbook mentions is egotism.  Some people are convinced that self-compassion is egotistic, as the focus is on the self.  But this is entirely untrue.  By practicing self-compassion, we are able to become individuals who can be more present and supportive with others.  When we practice self-compassion, we are filled up.  We give ourselves the space needed to recharge and by doing so, we are better able to be there for others when we want/need to.  In other words, “true self-compassion enhances your compassion for others rather than undermining it” (Desmond, 10).

I hope this helped change your perspective on self-compassion in some way.  And I hope you are able to be compassionate towards yourself today and in the days to come.  

 

Soften My Brow

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

To be quite honest, lately I have had absolutely no clue how to practice self-compassion.

I have felt like a train hurtling forward into infinity, with no end-point in sight and no time to look out the window.

How could I nurture myself when I needed to make sure I was aligning one foot in front of the other in the perfect way? I was treating my relationship with myself like that of disciplining a child – one party clearly knows better than the other, demands things of the other, scolds the other when they want to act differently.

I was explaining this circle of reprimand that plays out all day in my head to my therapist, and I watched as her eyes turned sad and she told me, “That sounds like you are being awfully harsh to yourself.” That made me pause, because up to that point I hadn’t really considered that the way I was treating myself was a choice – didn’t I have to act that way, perform those things, to be the successful human that I wanted to be?

I would never, ever choose to speak the words that I speak to myself to another person; yet, they roll so easily off of my internal monologue. Once I stopped to think about this, I remembered times recently when I would be in the gym and physically burst into tears just because of the bully inside that was screaming at me.

That is powerful stuff. A clear image of an over-bearing, dominating, plain old mean voice, much like the personified “Ed” voice, emotionally beating my authentic self to a pulp. But somehow, I still couldn’t figure out how to exist any other way –  I was pulled in really deep.

I found myself wanting to yell STOP at the top of my lungs – I couldn’t keep going at this pace, this hurtling forward was unsustainable. And let me tell you, I have never believed in the Universe and the way it works out and my Creator’s plan more than I do now – after a particularly grueling weekend, I experienced a severe allergic reaction while on my Monday lunch break.

The experience of anaphylaxis is nothing if not the definition of being out of control. As my lungs closed and ambulance workers shocked my body back to life with a huge adrenaline shot, I had to just close my eyes and believe it would be alright. In tears and with a heart that felt like it was going to explode, there was no choice but to tell my body it was going to be okay. With every needle in my arm and chemical pumped into my veins, I clung so close to myself, telling my body that it was so strong, look at what it could handle!

My body has shut down the week following this reaction, from all of the chemicals and the physical trauma as well as from PTSD and intense emotional trauma and anxiety from the first time I experienced this reaction that had been triggered. I have been forced to rest, to really and truly give myself the compassion I need. My body is so in tune with the world almost on a spiritual level, and it finally put its foot down (no pun intended) and wouldn’t let me get out of bed until I did some serious reevaluation.

I came across a blog post from Mystic Mamma, who writes about wisdom, tuning in, meditations, and astrology, about the New Moon that happened this week. She wrote that this time is “a time of deep self-healing,” a time that has come where she who is dedicated to healing others “must retreat and give some of that healing to herself.” I realized amidst feelings of being paralyzed in my loneliness that I have all of the capability to mother myself within me. I needed to give myself the time and space to heal and “tune into [my] inner Mother and connect with that healing, nurturing energy.”

Once you pull yourself out of the depths of your self-hatred and expand your view, look beyond your body’s capability and into the capability of your heart and your spirit, it becomes a lot easier to pause and see the value and necessity of self-compassion. Your worries don’t all melt away; rather, they become just a thought, not all-consuming, that exists and can either be remedied or worked through.

I’m definitely not an expert at self-compassion yet, but I am getting there. This month I am going to meditate on stillness, on broadening my vision and being anchored deep in the body that knows me better than my mind knows me.

In a section of her new book “Honoring Voice,” Pixie Lighthorse writes, “Soften my brow. Help me hold my gaze.”

In my quest for self-compassion, I hope to soften my brow, to ease the deep tension that has taken up home in my body, and to focus on all of the incredible things that my body has survived and will continue to survive, and the world that is waiting for it once it has rested.

Self Compassion in Real Life

Image result for self compassion

Written by: Morgan, Founder of Unpolished

My alarm goes off. It’s 10pm and I have to leave for my overnight shift in 15 minutes. My body is sore from exhaustion and my head is pounding because I didn’t drink enough water throughout the day. It’s hard to keep track of the basics. Sleep. Water. Food is easier, but maybe because I am hyper-aware of that element. I slowly peel my eyes open, place my feet on the ground, and stand up.

I have to make money. I have to pay bills. I have to save if I want my year of travel to happen. But, I also go to work for deeper reasons. I go to remind all the girls there that they matter. My overnight doesn’t include much interaction, but I find ways to brighten the house. Writing notes, making homemade games to play in group. There are ways to leave traces of hope in a space where many are hopeless.

Compassion for other’s is a simple concept for me to grasp. Others deserve compassion. Others are important and worthy and beautiful because I love people. I truly do. There are very few people I find myself having issues with. But, one of those few that cause issues happens to be myself and this is, perhaps, the most problematic situation.

“How can you be compassionate for others without having any compassion for yourself?” my therapist asks me.

“It’s simple,” I respond, “You just do it. It’s second nature for me.”

But, as the years go on and time slips by, I start to realize the issues with this way of living. Living without compassion is like hiking in the desert without sunblock. Eventually you will end up burned, dehydrated, and tired. Eventually you will wear out. Eventually you will have to stop.

Maybe that’s what treatment was for me – my burn out point. It was my body, mind, and spirit saying, “hey listen lady, you need to learn to be nicer to us.” And, yet even with them screaming in my ears, I still have the hardest time listening.

Self-compassion looks a lot like the last 6 miles of a marathon. Clenched teeth, testing faith, the final stretch. It doesn’t feel good at first. Especially if you haven’t been practicing it previously in your life. For me, self-compassion is standing in the bathroom, staring at my face in the mirror while my head screams to stop and my heart screams for help. It is painting my nails when my head says it’s pointless, taking a day off work because my heart needs a nap, or painting when I haven’t cleaned. Self-compassion is a fight. It does not come easily.

But, just like training for a marathon, the more you practice the easier the fight becomes. Over time the fight will feel less like the last six miles and more like the first ten. It will still be strenuous and hard, but it will offer more reward than struggle. Keep practicing. Self-compassion is so important even if it feels unnatural.

Transforming Love

Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer here at Unpolished Journey

Hate breeds hate.

Love breeds love.

Negativity breeds more negativity.

Positive energy breeds more positive energy.

One of the most power tools that I have learned in recovery is the power of my own thoughts.  Your feelings shape your thoughts and your thoughts shape your actions and your actions shape your reality.  It wasn’t until recently that I learned that my lack of self-compassion and self-love was fueling the belief that I didn’t deserve good things.  I began to believe that I wasn’t worthy of a future full of opportunities and possibilities.  I didn’t love myself enough to want good things for my life.  In maintaining these beliefs, I denied the truth that I was a powerful force with the capability to shape my own future.  So I began to choose to believe that I was worthy.  Even when I didn’t believe it for myself, I chose to give my eyes a break and see myself through the eyes of those who love me.  I softly whispered statements like: “I am light” to myself.  I had to fake it to make it, but once I began to show myself the love and compassion that I would show to my best friend a world of possibilities opened.  I could imagine myself happy.  I could imagine myself healthy.  I could imagine myself content and I could imagine myself giving back to my community to create change.

Ok, cool, Gracie, but how? How do you just flip a switch? How long does that take? I don’t want to believe that I am loved, lovable and worthy because I’m a piece of shit.

I’ve been there.

I’ve been in that dark place.

And to be honest, I could be back there at any point in my life because that is the nature of mental illness.

But self-compassion starts from recognizing and embracing your humanity.  When you realize that you are not the first person to make mistakes and you are not alone if you feel that you have messed up, you can find the grace to see the beautiful life you deserve.  If you are a survivor of trauma, you are just that–A SURVIVOR.  It was not your fault.  Darkness tries to take our the strongest, most powerful lights.

The world has plenty of hate, it does not need yours.  The world has plenty of criticism, it does not need yours.  The world has plenty of negativity, it does not need yours.

This life will throw unknowns, trials and tribulations at you and what your soul needs is for you to build yourself a fortress of compassion and armor of self love.  It sounds cliche, but life will give you enough hardships that being kind to yourself is necessary and imperative.

Imagine the compassion and love that the universe has for you–enough to bring you into this world.  The fact that you are here means you have a purpose.  Do not look at the trauma and near death moments you have lived through as evidence that you should not be on this earth.  ALL of the trauma and experiences that you have lived through and survived are proof that YOU ARE STILL MEANT TO BE HERE. YOU HAVE A PURPOSE. YOU ARE A LIGHT. YOU HAVE INHERENT VALUE AND WORTH SIMPLY BECAUSE YOU ARE ALIVE.

The more you can foster self-compassion for yourself the stronger you light will shine.  Self-compassion is contagious and if you show yourself grace and compassion, those around you will begin to believe that you will show them the same compassion.  Those around you will begin to develop the same self-care and self-love.  I want to broadcast that I work to forgive myself and care for my spirit each day because I want my friends and family to know that I will treat them the same.  I speak kindly about myself so that those I love will begin to shift their focus to their gifts, talents and beauty.  Compassion for yourself creates more compassion in a world that needs transformation.  Transform the way you see and treat yourself and you transform the world.

When

By: Morgan Blair

For everyone who has ever had a bad day.

When you cry from deep in your belly,
And your sobs turn into heaving,
And your body is clenched with no hope of tasting a breath.

When you can bathe in the tears pouring from your eyes,
And the saltwater burns as it leaks onto your chapped lips,
And it tastes like a heavy, sad ocean on your dry, dry tongue.

When you lie on your bathroom floor with the lights off,
And you sob until you physically can’t anymore,
And you’re nothing more than flesh flickering in your candle’s light.

When your thoughts swim to the dialogue of too much,
And that your body is too much,
And you are too much,
And life is too much,
And hoping is too much,
And thinking is too much.

When you have that night that you don’t think you can survive,
And you fall asleep,
And when you wake up you find a way to begin again.

Ticking Heart

There’s a ticking in my head.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

It sounds like a clock but I know it’s the beat of my heart. It beats from my head, controlling all that I do. Some call it passion, some call it spontaneity, I call it ticking- a life line, a source of comfort. My heart is in my head and my head is in my chest. I am backwards, upside down, and inside out, but I like it that way. It makes me feel whole to be fragmented in a way that brings my heart into the center of everything I do.

What’s a heart? What’s a head? These words mean so little to me in the context of subjective reality. One controls the other or the other control the latter. It doesn’t matter. We function. We live. We work. We sleep. It is what humans do and yet everyone is concerned about what makes their heart work. Concern diminishes the heart’s language. It silences it. It becomes mute and the head becomes loud and demanding. Stop trying to find the heart. Just let it be.

Live. Eat. Sleep. Walk. Talk. Eat some more.

The body has a magnificent way of aligning your purpose like stepping stones for a wobbling toddler. Step across the stream. Let the body, let the energy of your spirit guide you to whatever purpose you were given.

The minute we go searching for a purpose, purpose runs away. It hides and gets shy like you have just shown a light on a star. It is meant to shine only in the dark. Bring in a flashlight and suddenly the star disappears. Have patience. Have trust. Have confidence in the energies around you to align in ways that will strengthen your spirit, that will bring out your ticking heart. That will tick and tick and tick until that tick is all you know and suddenly your heart is in your head and your head is in your chest and you are all backwards and inside out because that’s the way true passion is expressed.

Just a thought.

The Quiet Victories

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

Being able to let go is something that I struggle with daily.  There are so many things I hold onto so tightly.  So tight my knuckles turn white and my hand begins to ache.  And the white color becomes the norm.  I forget the color of my skin and the capability of my fingers as they wrap around the rope that binds me to…well many things.

To the constantly comparison I play between my body and the body of other women.

To the need to always have my apartment completely organized, down to the last pillow.

To the impulse to pick at my skin whenever my hands are free.

To the guilt I feel when I decide not to attend an event one night.

To the dislike of the idea of the passage of time.

To the distress that comes the moment after I make a decision, as a wave of doubt nags at my mind.

To the fear that I will let down or disappoint those I let get close to me, causing me to build up barriers instead.

To the guilt of the toxic relationships I have let into my life.

To the anger I experience when I realize I let insecurity dictate so many of my actions.

To the pain behind the fact that I still have bad days – days where my depression sneaks in and my anxiety paralyzes me.

I could go on and on and on.  Although I do not know for certain, I can imagine that you may hold onto things of a similar nature.  And you know what?  It’s okay because I still hold onto a lot of stuff too.  It’s a daily fight to let go.  You have to slowly pry off each finger that surrounds the circumference of the rope and hope one day that letting go isn’t a fight but embedded within your life.

And learning to let go looks a little different for everyone.  It involves steps.  And those steps are specific to our journey.  For me, they are, at times, baby steps.  For example, the other day, I resisted the urge to flip through an entire cookbook where I had intended to choose which meals I would make my “standard” dinners throughout the week.  At the time, I was considering planning meals all the way up to when I had a family – considering kids!! I know, writing it out even sounds crazy to me.  But this reflects my desire to have every aspect of my life planned out, which to a certain point becomes an unhealthy obsession.  Or in the bigger picture, it shows my desire to have complete control, which I am learning does not exist.  So this tiny step, the moment where I took the cookbook, looked at it, and put it back in its place, was a quiet victory for me.

Why did I share this with you?  This strange moment of me in my kitchen staring at the Betty Crocker quick-prep cookbook fighting an internal battle within my mind?  I share this with you because many times I think we convince ourselves that other people can so easily let go of things in their life and embrace discomfort.  Especially within the age of social media, people can appear to let go of difficult things that impede their recovery, or their life in general, with such ease and grace.  We see people posting photos of embracing their bodies, sharing the miracles of mindfulness in their life, experiencing transformation through yoga, and on and on.  We forget to remind ourselves that the process is messy and most of the times painful.  I can guarantee the individuals behind the social media posts would agree.  The post doesn’t always share the quiet victories those individuals had to overcome to get to where they are.  They don’t show the moments in the kitchen, when the cookbook is placed back on the shelf.

I hope this reminds you that you are not the only one who struggles with letting go of things and that the quiet victories are just as powerful, if not more, than the loud ones.  The quiet victories are a sign that you’re trying.  You’re fighting.  And really, that’s all that matters in the end.

Eclipse

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey

Related image

We drove a long way. Six hours to be exact. To see it. See the eclipse. Out in the middle of no where, in the line of totality, on the highest point of the Native’s land. We set up camp, got out the hummus, and turned on some Nahko to prepare our minds and spirits.

These moments mean more to me than they might to the average person. I look out at the rolling hills, I feel the blazing sun on my skin, I taste the pita and hummus on my tongue, I hear the music, and everything- I mean everything- is amplified as if coming out of a blaring speaker somewhere off to my right. I know what it is like to be trapped in darkness, to be friend’s with death, to fantasize about fading away. I know darkness, therefore light is overwhelmingly beautiful. It is a sight I always feel I am seeing for the first time. A new friend, a new food, a song, an experience, water, life, love, hope, all these things allow me to fall in love with life all over again.

Lightness, goodness, hopefulness, these are equal to the eclipse. A sight that together the entire nation shared in its wonder. Together we stood up there on that hill under the 90 degree sun, cheering as the day turned night, as the universe took control of our attention, as we, if even for a moment, were not distracted by our differences. Unity. What a sight. The world is a magical place. So many concepts unexplained to us.

I rested on that hill, under the newly night sky, and embraced the dark. I sat in the dark, yet completely encapsulated by the light and magic of the moment.  I used to only recognize the dark, but now I am friends with the light. Now I can feel these experiences with an intensity some may see as unimaginable.  I know death, I know hopelessness, I know despair, and I am so thankful for that because in knowing these things I am able to appreciate their counterparts that much more.

Today is my little cousin’s birthday. He passed away a year and nine months ago. I still don’t know what to do with that loss. But somewhere during the eclipse I felt like I got a glimpse of his beauty once again. He was there. There was a chill in the air, a comforting blanket of hope, and he was the one covering me in it. What a thought? What a sight? What an experience?

I write them down now, these experiences. I don’t want to ever forget all the light I have felt. I don’t want the darkness to win over my mind. I set reminders for myself.

The eclipse.

Andy.

Energy of hope.

Energy of light.

I write these things down, close my notebook, and smile as I express gratitude for being healthy, alive, and hopeful enough to embrace these moments.

Embrace your own moments of light today.

Stay magical,

Morgan

The Illusion of Expectation

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

I’ve always had a lot of trouble with the concept of “letting go.” That’s probably not particularly
surprising, as giving up control is one of the major pillars in recovery. And I could probably write
multiple books on the intricacies of that process, but that’s not the kind of release I have been thinking of lately.

The struggle that I think goes unmentioned is what happens after you’ve been to battle with control – the kind of darkness that seeps in through the side of the window pane, that makes you shiver even though you are staring straight into the sun. Recovery is so much more than just maintaining a steady ship. I have spent nearly half a decade building up my armor, strengthening my defenses; yet, I still can find myself exposed and alone in the middle of the battleground with no understanding of who I am or how I got there.

I recently ran head on into major life changes, and boy was I unprepared for how triggering that would be. In the midst of extreme stress, I found myself clinging to self-expectation and the dangerous cycle of would/could/should. How do you ground yourself when everything you thought you were, everything you have prepared yourself for, everything you think you should be, has gone out the window?

Pain that I thought I had buried a long time ago was unearthed, and I found myself drowning in an ocean of toxic coping mechanisms. I realized that crushing controlling thoughts in one area probably means that they will figure out how to pop-up in another. In order to deal with a whirlwind of change, I had switched into extreme stockpiling mode – making sure I was correctly positioning myself for the future, ensuring everything (from the daily grocery run to my career objectives) was perfectly calculated and set into motion. Here I was, like an empty wind-up toy, trying to fill myself back up by performing the motions of self-improvement. I was confronted with the notion that letting go is something you must do every day, over and over.

Now, there is something to be said for preparation, but that can easily slide into the realm of all-consuming control. This is where I sometimes get stuck – I know that my genuine self is strong-willed and extremely driven, so how am I supposed to just “let go” and throw all of my cares to the wind? The key is that letting go of rigorous expectations does not mean losing ambition. In fact, in stark contrast, it means grounding deeper in order to channel your authentic goals and desires. This is more difficult – obsessive planning allows you to go on a sort of hyper-drive cruise control in which you become disconnected from where your heart actually wants to go.

My need to control outcomes had morphed into a need to control the set-up, to micro-manage the scene – leaving myself with a false sense that I was then “letting go” as soon as action was called. This begs the question – am I just performing my life? By meticulously regimenting, I am actually removing my own agency. I end up just becoming paralyzed by wanting life to happen all at once, setting up all the spinning plates perfectly but then not being able to keep them all moving at the same speed.

I must let go of obsessive preparation that is based on some internalized metric of who I think I am/should be/could be/will be. Initially, I had to learn how to feel comfortable in my body when I could no longer rely on a skeleton identity. Now, after spending a lot of time becoming incredibly self-aware, I must let go of my own meticulous agenda in order to find balance – knowing my authentic goals but also leaving room for flexibility, for serendipity. To let go of the past, you must also let go of the future.

Right now is all you have, however cliché that may seem. Putting all of that pressure on The Now to dictate outcomes in The Later is unwarranted, not to mention exhausting. We spend so much energy trying to manipulate outcomes and resist what the universe has prepared for us – imagine how much more space our minds would have if they weren’t hypnotized by the siren call of “self-improvement.”

This month, I am focusing my energy on letting go of limiting beliefs.

I am letting go of to-do’s and giving myself the space to be.