Overthinking

I have a tendency to overthink. It’s likely the byproduct of an overactive imagination. I like to think. I like to let my mind wander and get lost in the worlds of could be’s and possibilities. It’s helpful when I really want to get the root of an issue or a problem that’s bothering me. And sometimes it can be helpful in thoroughly planning for the proper preparation of a major goal.

But it has a dark side. My overactive imagination can easily wander down dangerous dark alleys. I can often find myself certain that there’s some underlying issue to a minor problem either in myself or in a loved one. I can convince myself through overthinking that whatever excuse I’ve come up with that will keep me from doing the work I promised myself I would do is reasonable and valuable – and that I’ll certainly find time to do that work later in my schedule. I can overthink reactions and interactions and getting to action.

I overthink. A lot.

But because I’ve become aware of this trait, I’ve been able to harness it better. I can let my overthinking out to play when it comes in handy. When I’m thinking up the rules of an imaginary work I’m creating, I’ll let myself overthink. When I’m crafting a business plan for a new endeavor and want to brainstorm all the possible ways I can get myself to a new goal, I’ll let myself overthink. When I’m staring out a window on an airplane considering what I want to do with my life, I’ll let myself overthink (assuming the airplane isn’t turbulent…that’s a bad time to overthink). When I’m planning to pursue a major goal and I need to craft the foundation of a schedule that will allow for it, I’ll let myself overthink.

Part of the reason I let myself overthink is because later, when it comes time to executing all the things I’ve been thinking about, I can put my overthinking mind down and simply act. I’ll know that I already thought through all the possibilities and decided this was the best course of action. So I don’t have any more thinking to do and can devote all my time to action. Once the action is done, I can go back to the thinking and see how I feel about the action. More often than not, I’m happy I did the action and didn’t let my overthinking keep me from it.

Overthinking isn’t the same as listening to your instinct. In fact, I’ve spent much of my life trying to shut up my overthinking mind so I can get in better touch with my instinct and my intuition. I’ve spent years overthinking the “right” move rather than listening to what I wanted to do most. I’ve convinced myself multiple times that I didn’t need to do something because it didn’t make perfect sense at the time, even if I really wanted to (and visa versa). And almost every time I overthink something and don’t let my instinct have any say in the matter, I regret it.

I would say I “learn my lesson” but because I continue to do these things repeatedly, I’m not really sure I have.

The lesson I’ve really learned is that my personality and my mind enjoy tend to overthink. And once I know that, I can embrace it and watch out for it. I can start to hear the difference between simply thinking something through and overthinking myself out of something that would be good for me. Once I notice it, I can simply thank my imagination for its active work and let it take a little rest while I go ahead and do what my instinct is telling me I need to do.

This is part of the reason I meditate regularly. I appreciate guided meditations, but honestly some of my most clear moments have come with just simple music or (and often even better) silence. I’m able to let my mind just relax and know that the thoughts will pass as easily as they come. And that they’re just thoughts. The more I see them as noise, the more I can cut through to get to the more powerful instincts that will serve me better than any of the noise.

Some people don’t have an overthinking problem. I admire you. I like to be around people who just do it because they said they were going to do it, with very little judgment about the situation. I’m getting more like that, but it takes a lot of work on my end. It’s not a major shift, it’s an ongoing, small, subtle change that I’m committed to and see results of incrementally over time.

This morning while I was at the yoga sculpt class I wanted to talk myself out of going to (but didn’t), my teacher had us do a particularly difficult move at the end of a particularly difficult sequence. I hesitated and she yelled “Don’t think, just do it!” I know she wasn’t talking directly at me, but she hit the nail on the head with that direction.

To be fair, I already thought about it so I did throw my knee down for a one minute and took an extra breath. But I didn’t let myself stay down and think about it for too long before I forced myself back up to finish out the exercise.

Sometimes, it’s not about completely eradicating yourself of a certain trait or habit. That’s too much effort and asking too much of yourself. You’re setting yourself up to get frustrated, inevitably fail, and lose faith in your ability to transform in the future. Instead, as it was in this case, it’s about understanding you have a tendency to do something, recognizing it, and choosing to overcome it when it doesn’t serve the you that you want to become.

And of course when it does, let ‘er rip.

 

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The Gifts of the Random Soccer Match

I was walking back from yoga not long ago by a busy bus stop outside a pretty big apartment complex in my neighborhood when I saw a dude “dribbling” a soccer ball by himself. I put dribbling in quotes not because it’s the wrong word, but because I’m not a soccer expert at all. So while I think he was dribbling, there might be some soccer term that’s more accurate for just playing around with the ball.

Or maybe it’s just that – playing around with the ball?

Ah, it doesn’t matter. I digress.

I sort of looked over at him playing and, I guess in doing so, I accidentally invited an interaction with him.

Now, you’ve got to understand. I actually really like talking to and connecting with people. I’ve done it for years and find that connecting with humans is part of what we were put on this earth to do. Much of my goal in comedy and entertainment is for all of us to know and recognize our common shared humanity rather than constantly point out our differences.

Now, please also understand I live in a big city and have lived in big cities for over a decade. I am accustomed now-a-days to looking down or walking defensively. I still smile. I am still friendly and welcoming. But, out of survival instinct, I tend to prefer to simply walk by people unnoticed than smile constantly and risk someone taking it the wrong way and deciding I’m their new best friend and/or someone they’re going to follow home and/or someone they need to objectify and/or ask out immediately.

I like to call it soft eyes. I keep soft eyes and a soft smile but I hardened exterior for my own safety. Once everyone in the world has control over their own body parts and their own ideas of what they deserve from a stranger, we can all go back to connecting constantly. Until then, soft eyes, hardened exterior for me.

In looking up for this moment, this man must have caught glimpse of my soft eyes (and probably a smile from yoga…god I love it) and decided to pounce. Often, this is the last thing I want. In this case, it was pretty fun.

I saw him smile and say to me “One touch.” I smiled back and said “Nooooo” but, like, playfully with a big smile. It was too late anyway, he already had my friendly number and had lightly kicked his soccer ball my way. I kicked it back and he kicked it back to me. I said “I’m no good at this” and he said, “Nonsense, you’re great!” I kept watching and he didn’t kick it back to me but instead said simply “Thank you for playing!”

I walked away smiling (grateful that dude didn’t objectify, hit on me, ask me out, yell at me for existing, or follow me home…all of which have happened and are part of the reason I keep my eyes glued to the road when walking alone).

That random soccer player gave me three gifts without even knowing it.

First of all, he gave me the gift of whimsy. What’s the point in kicking the ball to stranger? There is none and I love it for that.

Secondly, he gave me the gift of connection. This is one of my favorite things in the world (see above) and by simply playing along for a moment, I got to connect with another human that I’ve never met before or since and be reminded that our shared human experience has way more in common with random strangers than different.

But finally, he gave me a gift of some self awareness. This one is way less obvious than the others, but it was the first thing on my mind and the only thing I could think about. Really, it’s what makes this story particularly interesting to me. Without it, this is just another story of a goofy stranger interaction.

When he wanted to kick the ball to me, I immediately lost my confidence. I immediately went into Adorable Dope mode, a role I’ve grown comfortable with over the years who I’ve recently started banishing from my repertoire. I said “I’m no good at this,” to a random stranger who just wanted me to kick a ball. I’ve never been excellent at soccer (it was too hard when I was younger, I didn’t like all the running so I didn’t keep up at it). So my self consciousness rears its head high when I don’t have some basic skills in something.

But how silly is that? We weren’t playing a soccer match. We weren’t picking teams. He wasn’t asking me to bend it like Beckham. He just wanted me to kick a ball in his general direction. A toddler could do it. They do it all the time.

So why, then, did Adorable Dope pop up? Why was I immediately hard on myself and less interested in playing with this guy? This is not me bashing myself further for it, it’s just being curious about it.

I was out of my comfort zone. I was interacting with someone and I, as we naturally do, wanted to please him and for him to like me. I wanted to be worthy of this moment – and that’s an absolutely crazy thing because we are all born worthy and don’t need to ever do anything to prove our worthiness. But we’re taught, groomed, and encouraged to prove our worth to others by being the best selves always. We can’t just be, we have to be awesome (#liveyourbestlife amiright?).

In that moment, out of my comfort zone, interacting with a stranger, I let Adorable Dope take over. It should be said that Adorable Dope doesn’t have a lot of confidence. She proves her worth by being, well, adorable. She’s got a great (heavily self-deprecating) sense of humor and there’s almost nothing you can say to her that she won’t have a playful or quippy way of undercutting herself.

Example: A lady on an airplane recently said to me “You have a beautiful smile.” I said thank you, then Adorable Dope took the wheel after a moment and said, “I’ve paid enough for it, I’d sure hope so.” I couldn’t let it just be a compliment. I wasn’t worthy of having a good smile without the help of dentists. I had to undercut it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love jokes. And I enjoy not taking myself all that seriously. But over the years, I’ve found that if I insult me before you insult me, I feel more powerful when really I’m covering up my own vulnerability. I won’t let myself go wholeheartedly into something because what if I’m not good enough at it? What if I care and I fail? And what if I just play a little soccer with that dude and enjoy it without insisting I shouldn’t because I can’t kick a ball?

The point is, that man gave me the gift of understanding I still have work to do on myself. I’ve been doing a lot of work over the years (especially lately). And I’m ok with being my own life-long project. But confidence and worthiness are foundational changes. They’re major shifts that, even when I think I’ve rebuilt my own personality house to my liking, a little quake like this interaction reminds me that it’s not quite as sturdy as I thought.

Man, I shouldn’t have used the quake metaphor. I live in LA and earthquakes are terrifying.

CAN WE ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT EARTHQUAKES NOW?

Needless to say, next time a guy kicks a random soccer ball at me, I’ll hopefully be a little more willing to just play along, risk being bad at it and looking like a fool, and simply enjoy myself.

Unless he kicks it aggressively and at my face or something like that. Then I will throw down my yoga mat and warrior three the crap out of him (that means wishing him love and peace while working on my own balance…I think, I don’t know I just made it up right now).

Femoir the Podcast – Season 3, Episode 104: The Marathon

Hello again faithful friends!

Another Friday, another episode of Femoir the Podcast. This time we’re running with the theme of a marathon, inspired by the LA Marathon (ALL PUNS INTENDED).

I discuss auditions for a comedy show I’m part of, talk about general marathon training (mostly metaphorically), and when we face rejection we have to try, try again.

It’s a short and sweet episode, as these show notes reflect.

Subscribing and rating the show helps, but listening keeps me inspired to keep a’going so thank you!

Enjoy!

Not My Pig, Not My Farm

Not My Pig, Not My Farm

I’m a pretty big fan of the show Letterkenny. If you haven’t checked it out on Hulu yet, I suggest watching the pilot episode.

Fair warning: If the pilot episode doesn’t hook you, don’t move on. They’re all really variations on a theme so if it’s not your style in that first episode, none of the following ones will be.

Also fair warning: I enjoy the show immensely but there are times when it is very Canadian to me and I honestly don’t even understand what they’re saying because they have strong accents and are purposely using intense Canadian slang.

All that aside, I think the show is delightful and uses a lot of really fun phrases and vocabulary. One of my favorite phrases of the whole show on both a comedic and a life-lessons level is – yep, you guessed it from the title – “Not my pig, not my farm.”

When Letterkenny’s protagonist confronted about certain issues in their small town throughout the series that he’s told he needs to take care of in some way, he often says “Not my pig, not my farm” which is a much more playful and colorful way of saying “Not my problem.”

As a person who is learning (and re-learning) how to set up healthy boundaries on a lot of levels, the idea of not taking on an issue that people come to you for help with is something I want (need?) to learn. Seeing that you can say no to someone, even if they’re asking for help, is so helpful. And, hey, you can even say it in a fun way by saying “Not my pig, not my farm,” because then they’ll be like “I didn’t say anything about pigs, are you even listening?” and then you repeat yourself and they’re like “Are you ok?” and then you repeat yourself again and soon they think you have a problem and retract asking you for help because you’re obviously going through something so you’ve both not had to help out and you probably won’t get asked in the future. A win/win!

Another reason I really like the idea behind “Not my pig, not my farm” aside from basic boundaries is because I love the idea of not having an opinion about everything, especially in a world that is begging me to have opinions about every damn thing.

Go to the grocery? Rate it! Sitting in a waiting room? Share thoughts about the experience! Something random happen to someone famous? Respond with your thoughts so people think you’re clever!

Don’t get me wrong – I think sharing and having opinions is great. But boy oh boy we are inundated with opinions right now. And we’re expected to have them all the time about everything. And I honestly don’t know how much it serves us.

The most obvious place I’ve forced myself to quit opinion-ing on a regular basis is in my car. I found that I started criticizing people who have nothing to do with my own driving or who have no affect on my ride at all. And for what? So I could feel better about myself? These people can’t hear me. My opinion makes no difference in what they’re deciding to do. And as long as they don’t endanger me, what does it matter? Why even waste the energy having an opinion?

I’d rather spend the precious time I have on this earth doing literally anything else than uselessly judging people with whom I’m sure I have more in common with than difference from, even if I don’t yet know it.

I remember the first time I realized I didn’t need to have an opinion. Someone did something in a car far away from me. I started making judgments about the person and forming conclusions about their basic driving skills and, of course, their intellect. Then a little quiet voice can into my head and whispered, “Why? What’ the point of this?”. And I didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t serving anything. This person wasn’t bothering me. And rather than somehow, somewhere, somewhy (I want it to be a word so I’m keeping it) deciding I knew everything about this human, I figured I’d just leave it be. Things happen. This human made decisions. That’s all there is to it. Doesn’t need to be something I get all worried about.

Small decisions like that help me to create healthier boundaries, too. When and if people do come to me with ideas or with their problems in search of either help or opinions, I can decide if it’s something that genuinely needs my attention. And because I’ve been practicing discerning what things do or do not warrant my attention, I can hopefully do so even more effectively. But if I’ve been spending all my time judging and forming opinions about everything, I’ll think that I need to continue to care about every little thing that’s happening and continue to spread my energy and focus too thin.

I’d rather focus on my own pigs in my own farm.

And, hey, I get it. Other people’s pigs and other farms an affect mine. I’m not advocating that we all turn into little islands and pretend that we don’t live in a social construct of an ever growing community that can and should be respected and recognized. But that doesn’t mean every single person needs to get involved with – physically or even energetically – in every other person’s actions.

Plus, the times that you do actively get involved, you’ll have more energy to do so. And the times that you do have opinions, they’ll be listened to with a little more weight since you’re not constantly forming and forcing opinions upon people all the time.

That’s my opinion about opinions. I’d ask you for yours, but honestly I’ll respect you just as much if you choose not to have one (for obvious reasons).

Keep pig farming, folks. But also, consider going vegetarian.

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Femoir the Podcast – Season 3, Episode 103: Give Yourself A Break

There are times when you can’t do everything you want to. And there are lots of times you can find reasons to beat yourself up for not doing (or being) “enough.”

But as long as you do the best you can with what you have in the moment, you are doing enough. And just by being, you’re being enough.

That’s the basics of what are explored in this episode of Femoir the Podcast. That, and…

I talk about Brian Koppelman’s Podcast: The Moment.

I mention my beloved David Goggins.

I talk again about Resistance.

I mention a specific interview on the moment with my (other beloved) Steven Pressfield.

I discuss doing what you need to do to recharge.

And why you can learn from everything, even your so-called mistakes.

All that and more on iTunes.

Subscribing and rating help the show big-time but you do you, babyboo.

How A Robot Taught Me To Be Human

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on an airplane having just watched Wall-E for the first time. I love to work on airplanes, but I love even more to take the time to relax. I rarely relax and, when there is entertainment, I like to get caught up on all the things I’ve been meaning to see for a while.

In this case, I was very behind on Wall-E. But for some reason, it was calling to me this morning.

Let me start by answering the question I know you’re going to ask: Yes, of course I cried. I cry a lot during movies. Not just during sad parts. I sob my face off the most when people show love or work together. In this case, I was quietly wiping away tears while the derelict robots helped Wall-E and EVE (EVA?) escape the police robots. Why? Because they were all working together for something bigger than themselves and damn it, that’s beautiful.

And yes, it’s embarrassing because I’m almost always sitting next to strangers on planes and so I’ve cried in front of a lot of strangers. As Wall-E would say, “Wall-Eva.” (Say like whateva in order for the joke to land. I’m not saying it will, but I do appreciate you trying.)

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✨WALL-E✨ (25×26 mm) . "WALL-E" is one of the great silent movies. Andrew Stanton (writer/director) and his team have created a classic screen character from a metal trash compactor who rides to the rescue of a planet buried in the debris. 🌎 When hope arrives in the form of a seedling, the film blossoms into one of the great screen romances as two robots remind audiences of the beating heart in all of us that yearns for humanity – and love – in the darkest of landscapes. 🌱 . This original painting + limited edition prints will be availble on "Robots Among Us" art show at @29th_street_gallery (April 20, 2019 – May 4, 2019). I will create 9 robot miniature paintings for this show. Do you have any requests? Who is your favorite robot? 😊🤖 . . . #RobotsAmongUs #Chicago #artshow #show #robot #robots #robotart #art #watercolor #watercolour #miniature #painting #tiny #tinypainting #tinyart #miniatureart #mini #miniaturepainting #closeup #walle #disney #pixar

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The crazy message that I love love loved from Wall-E was the fact that this robot was reminding humans how to be human. And the fact that part of the reason Wall-E seemed to outlast so many of his robot counterparts on Earth was because he had a mission beyond simply his directive. He had his own personality. He had a genuine curiosity for the world. And he actively studied the world around him in order to attempt to live it even more fully. He found joy in things and showed empathy for the only other living creature he could find (a creepy little cockroach they made seem like his dog and it was both cute and unnerving).

Recently, a creative peer talked about how he believed strongly in quality over quantity of life. He came to that philosophy thanks to past experiences with people who were living with debilitating diseases and his understanding of how they coped with and learned from them.

Between his comments and watching Wall-E, I’m starting to better understand how to be human. Which is strange because I do feel like I’ve been only a human for the past, well, all of my life. But in many was I’ve just been reactive and going through the motions. I think that there are times when you can be more proactive, more curious, and more genuinely committed to whatever it is you’re focusing on at the moment.

Lesson here: Be more human and less robot, even if you are actually a robot.

I hope we all learned something today. You’re welcome.

Powering off.

Sweet Sweet Silence

When I was younger and I traveled, I used to have conversations with all sorts of my seat mates. Part of it was because I didn’t know how to set boundaries with people. Part of it I’m sure was thanks to my doe-eyed friendly midwestern smile that was beckoning for people to chat with me. And part of it was simply because it seemed like the polite thing to do if you’re going to be sitting next to someone for a while.

Well, things change.

I travel quite a bit at the moment. I like it. It satiates my general curiosity about humanity and what the world has to offer. It’s nothing compared to what my buddy is doing right now, but it’s still cool. Plus, I when I’m doing it, it’s usually because I’m performing at that location, and I like to perform.

All in all, it’s a win.

When I was younger and I traveled, I used to have conversations with all sorts of my seat mates. Part of it was because I didn’t know how to set boundaries with people. Part of it I’m sure was thanks to my doe-eyed friendly midwestern smile that was beckoning for people to chat with me. And part of it was simply because it seemed like the polite thing to do if you’re going to be sitting next to someone for a while.

True story: I met a guy supposedly part of Ghana royalty on my way back to Ohio once. I have no idea if he was telling the truth. I also have no idea why I took him up on his offer to sit by him on the plane rather than staying in my own seat. Again, no boundaries and overly polite.

Well, things change. Though I’m sure Ghana royalty continues to rule…right? I never fact checked this dude at all. Sometimes I think I made it up but I’m certain I didn’t. As sure as anyone can be when reality is fluid, of course.

Now that we have distractible devices in the palm of our hands, it’s easy to have an excuse not to talk to the person next to you. But more importantly, I often don’t want to. And I’m usually able to show that in my short responses or body language, if it ever even comes up at all.

I struggle with this because on the one hand, I really like talking to people. I love connecting with strangers and finding out more about their life and going on a sort of treasure hunt to find out what we might have in common. But on the other, I’ve discovered over the years that setting healthy boundaries for people is absolutely necessary to my own well-being. And, perhaps most importantly, I like to do my own thing on an airplane. Often, that thing means working. And if you get between me and my work…boy oh boy…you’d better watch out.

I’ve found myself perpetually grateful that I’ve sat next to people who don’t really want or need to chat. Maybe there’s a lost art form of conversation that we’re losing in the process of becoming more disconnected from each other with our technology. Or maybe people were always this way but my big eyes and friendly smile likely invited even the shyer types to start a conversation.

I like to think I still have plenty of that friendliness. And I have been known to chat with the people next to me, though it’s usually just in short spurts. I had a whole physical conversation with a guy next to me on a recent flight after I saw an intense bolt of lightning hit the side of our airplane and felt the plane shake (and the electricity pop out for a second). I needed to confirm with someone else that what I saw and felt actually happened. And I talked for a while with a woman next to me on a recent flight because she had her dog with her. Honestly? I just wanted her to pull out the dog and let me pet it. But she slept most of the time and so did the dog, so it was all in all pretty disappointing.

Point is, I think there’s balance to be had. You can retain your friendly nature while still keeping healthy boundaries up. And if the person next to you on an airplane doesn’t want to chat, it’s not your job to make small talk. It’s okay to do your own thing. Enjoy the sweet, sweet silence.

For Brittany

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I used to be a pretty petty, jealous person. Hopefully by being self aware enough to see how much of this type of person I was in the past, I can truthfully say that I’ve grown. I’m usually able to see when these old patterns and thoughts creep back up and keep them at bay. But that skill has taken years of work and practice. It used to be second nature for me to judge and dislike people, especially those who were really similar to me.

I don’t know why. Then again, we never really know why we make the choices we do, do we? Especially when they end up making us unbalanced, unsatisfied, and unhappy. Those are always the most confusing of the choices. I heard once in a movie it’s because humans are self destructive by nature. But that movie was fiction so I refuse to believe it (even though there might have been enough truth in the statement to make me at least remember it years later).

I got thinking about how silly this pettiness is recently when I heard a girl I knew (who I used to be jealous of) took her own life.

I’ve always known life is short and precious. And I’ve usually at least attempted to keep a positive perspective and to recognize that we are all on our own paths. But when I met Brittany, I was in a much more insecure internal place and it was in an insecure external environment. I genuinely liked her. And I admired her work. I thought she was funny and talented and really nice. But I was jealous because she was younger than me and I saw her as a threat. I thought there can only be one adorable, young, funny, talented midwesterner in the room. How dare she take that throne from me. How dare she be better at some of the creative exercises we were doing. How dare she smile so much and be so friendly with everyone.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiGNXbOgCc1/
brittanybelland/Instagram

How gross this all feels to admit it later.

I got to know her throughout the course of our class and became aware that she was actually as nice as she seemed. That let some of my jealousy dissipate. Of course, it didn’t help that the class was set up as a cut-throat pass or fail style course that made you feel like everyone in the class was your competition (even though that’s not how either comedy or life actually works).

Anyway, we were Facebook friends for a while and pleasant acquaintances. As I distanced myself from the theater that had made me so competitive and worked a bit on my own perspective, I became more supportive and excited for her when I saw she was working. I’d see her in commercials or stuff would pop up on social media. I realized that I had a lot more in common with her than I ever had to criticize, and began quietly cheering on her successes.

Several years later, a group she was in hosted a comedy night and invited me to perform. It was actually a friend of hers in the group who asked me to come, but I was pleasantly surprised when Brittany was at the show. They called it a “House Party” and spent the first hour of the show pretending their parents were out of town and they needed to drink like high schoolers. I walked in on Brittany chugging beer in flip cup and laughing while cheering the rest of her team on. She gave me a hug and was as happy to see me as I was to see her.

After the show, which was a lot of fun, she gave me a ton of compliments on how my style has grown and changed and strengthened since we last saw each other.

She was a genuinely nice human being. And this past fall, she took her own life, losing an ongoing and open battle she had to depression.

Just a couple months before, she had staged a one-woman show that gave all its proceeds to suicide prevention charities.

The news hit me hard not because we were close, but because I realized that a bright light had been extinguished from the world at a time when we need all the light we can get. And I kicked myself for ever having wasted any time or energy being “jealous” of this incredible human. Every moment I spent quietly stewing could have been spent being grateful to be around someone so inspiring.

But above all the personal stuff, the news hit me hard as a reminder that you simply don’t know what’s happening in someone’s personal life. Though Brittany was open about her struggles with depression, even championing causes to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She was smiling and seemingly happy. Yet she fought hard against her mental illness, eventually losing the battle.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have brains that don’t rebel on such a massive level on a daily basis, we can’t fathom what it must feel like to feel so low that you just want it to be over. And yet, as humans, we all need to have empathy and recognize each one of us is on our own journey, fighting our own battles, and here on this earth for a blink of an eye.

So there’s no need to waste any of that time looking at your fellow soul-travelers with envy. See them for the bright shining lights they are and know that every little bit of light can help illuminate someone else so they can see more clearly. And they, in turn, can help illuminate your path when you’re fighting your own darkness.

Brittany will be missed intensely by those who knew her well. And as for people like me who only got to know her in passing, she will continue to be a beautiful inspiration and a reminder to be kind to everyone because, seriously, you just never know.

A Bear in the Sensory Depravation Chamber

As I stared up – or was it sideways? – while floating for an undisclosed amount of time in what I can only imagine my mother’s womb probably felt like, I felt the presence of a terrifying grizzly bear I hadn’t interacted with in years. And I was absolutely trapped and unable to have any sense of what direction in might come from to attack me. For a few moments – or was it hours? – I was convinced he would finish the job he attempted to so many years before in the Smoky Mountains.

Let me give some context here.

A couple years ago, my husband and I decided to try a sensory depravation chamber. As with most experimental holistic decisions, we did so with a Groupon. You know, to make sure we were getting top-of-the-line service with the people we would soon be trusting to keep us alive in a scenario where we would have absolutely no way of calling out for help…but on a discount.

As we prepared to go in our separate chambers, I was anxious. I had heard and read about sensory depravation before. And I’ve been meditating off and on long enough to know how to breathe through some intense monkey mind complaining. But the idea of floating in an underground chamber in a small bit of water with absolutely no way to see or hear anything happening in the world around me made me, understandably, anxious.

I considered not going in. I live in LA, after all, and “The Big One” (aka a catastrophic earthquake that everyone in LA is constantly hoping will wait until after their lifetimes to hit) could happen at any time. What if there’s a terrible earthquake while I’m in the chamber and I get locked in and I’m stuck there and I suffocate and that’s how I die?

Or what if I have a heart attack or an anxiety attack and I can’t call out for help and my body rebels and I lay there and they don’t know it until they find my body two hours later?

Or what if [insert any real or imagined catastrophe] happens and I [insert any real or imagined physical ailment of any degree] and that’s how I die?

My mind was already resisting, which is why I knew I needed to press on.

I did it. I got in the chamber. I closed the doors. And I floated in my own thoughts, eventually resigning myself to the fact that anything in the external world might happen at any time – including some major catastrophe. And, as fun as it was to worry about, I am generally powerless to do anything about it anyway so I might as well live life on my own terms and choose to face my challenges whenever I can. My first little zen moment of serenity.

Of course, I didn’t count on that damn bear showing up and haunting most of my experience.

More on him in a second.

If you haven’t experienced a sensory depravation chamber, it’s a fascinating challenge for your brain. I don’t want to say it’s good or bad because those are arbitrary judgments that mean nothing anyway. And I don’t want to outright recommend it because everybody is different and what works for one brain may genuinely be awful for another.

But, assuming you’re a pretty normal human living in this loud and distraction-filled world, it’s a fascinating way of shutting it all out and getting deeply in touch with the abyss of your creative mind.

The tank is essentially set up so you float in a shallow pool of body temperature salt water (so you float easily) without the ability to see or hear any element of the outside world. And you do that for some pre-disclosed amount of time. Basically, you want to feel like a floating brain completely unaware of your external surroundings. They come in and knock on the door when you’re done and then you sort of float around to find the handle and reenter the previous world, a little more in touch (hopefully) with some truth about your own self or your own mind. Or, you just got a refreshing two hour nap in a weird underground tank. There’s no right or wrong to the experience, just that you experience it.

It took me a minute to adjust to the fact that I had basically lost my body and was more or less just a disembodied brain. It felt sort of like en episode of Black Mirror where my conscious was present but I couldn’t figure out where my body went.

And then, you guessed it, that damn bear showed up.

Okay, pause again, I want to take you even further back in time so this makes a little more sense.

When I was in fifth grade, I went on a school field trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The two most memorable parts of that field trip, for me, were the scat scarves we all got that told us how to identify all sorts of woodland creature poops and the mile-long solo walk we went on to get in touch with our own minds.

All of us in my small class would all take part in this half mile-long solo walk. It was an easy enough, clear path we were told not to stray from at all. A teacher went first and chaperones were periodically placed in the line up. They’d have someone go, you’d wait a few minutes, and then the next person went so that you couldn’t see who was ahead or behind you. It was a very awesome way to experience nature quietly with none of the usual distractions.

I remember I went after John Loser. Fun fact, his younger sister would go on to marry my older brother. That has nothing to do with the solo walk, it’s just funny how life works out like that sometimes. Anyway, he plays a tiny little role in this so I figured I’d mention it and throw in that fun aside because why not. You’re still reading aren’t you? Okay, great.

So I started my solo walk and I did my best to stay calm. I was nervous. I’m an extrovert and like being around people. I’ve always been someone who enjoys having people around. Though my active imagination and general love for the outdoors combined with my brother’s introversion and preference for video games meant I often played outside by myself for hours, I generally liked to experience life with other people around. A solo walk was way outside my comfort zone.

Combine that with the fact that, as a girl, I have been reminded from a young age that if I go anywhere by myself, I will probably be hurt, robbed, or swept up into some horrible underground life, I wasn’t exactly comfortable chilling by myself.

But even in fifth grade, I understood that I was probably safe enough in the constructs they had provided for this solo walk. After all, plenty of middle schoolers before me had done it and none of them had been hurt or sold into human trafficking, so I’d probably be okay.

I tried to walk slowly but my normal pace is pretty fast. So I made a point to breathe and go way slower than felt normal just to enjoy the beautiful fall surroundings. I remember thinking how cool it was that it was so quiet and that the leaves were so bright. I remember thinking the crunch of the leaves below my feet into the muddy ground combined with the gorgeous views off the side of the mountain made me feel pretty lucky to have the experience.

All that lasted probably just a few minutes before the damn grizzly bear made his first appearance.

Let me be clear, I never actually saw the bear. But I knew he was there. All of a sudden, in my anxiety, I realized that I was alone and anything could happen and that I didn’t trust myself to know what to do if something out-of-the-ordinary happened and what if I’m going to slow or too fast and they leave me behind and I’m stuck out here lost forever and it turns to winter and I’m still out here and I freeze to death? All of those terrified, insecure thoughts rushed through me. And, though I am grateful for my imagination, I didn’t yet understand that sometimes an active imagination can work against you when combined with primal fear.

So as those thoughts began ringing through my head, replacing the gratitude and enjoyment I had been previously feeling in nature. And they manifested themselves in the form of an unseen grizzly bear I was absolutely convinced was stalking me. I knew for sure that I wasn’t safe, I shouldn’t be alone, how dare I enjoy nature on my own when there are so many dangers out to get me, and I’d better speed up so I can make sure I’m not on this journey anymore by myself or at least so someone can hear me if that grizzly decides to pounce.

I picked up my pace. My heart rate and brain terrors picked up with it. No matter what I did, that damn invisible grizzly continued to watch me from the forest above, waiting for his chance to come attack me.

Eventually, I saw John and became comforted by the fact that another human was nearby.

The immediately realized that I was no longer experiencing this immaculate nature alone and now I had to share what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience with someone else when I could have had it alone.

I may have been young, but I always held some regret about how quickly I let my anxiety take over my brain that day and how I squandered what could have been a transformative experience. And all because of being convinced of my own pending doom in the form of a stupid grizzly bear I never even saw.

Okay, now fast forward again.

Maybe the bear showing up makes a little more sense to you now. I didn’t see it again. But I felt it. I felt my anxiety start to bubble up. I became convinced – absolutely convinced – that if I didn’t get out of the chamber right then, it would attack me. It had waited all these years for the perfect moment when I was completely alone and vulnerable again. And it would finish the job it started back in the day.

But I was older now. I knew that the stupid bear only had the power I gave him. I knew that I technically could get out of the chamber at any time. I could end the experience quickly and just wait around for my husband to finish his time while I continued to be distracted by my phone or any other external distraction my brain knew and loved.

Instead, I stared that bear back in its invisible face – or maybe it’s butt? Again, I had no sense of direction in there – and I told it to back off. I told it that this time, I was going to finish this experience. I wasn’t going to rush it. And I wasn’t going to let its fear keep me from being present and breathing calmly. Eventually, it went away.

I have no idea what the end ratio was of monkey mind wild thoughts to eventual calm brain after my chamber experience. It could be that my brain was insane for an hour and 50 minutes, and crazy calm for the last 10. Or maybe it was insane for 10 and crazy calm for the rest of it. I do know that after I stared down the bear, it started a quick chain reaction that eventually led to me being so in a calm zone, I was shocked to hear the eventual knocks to let me know my time had passed. I know that when the knocks eventually came, they brought me back from somewhere between awake and sleeping that helped me better understand the nature of myself and of reality as I know it.

I loved my depravation chamber experience despite the safety failings that allowed a bear to join me for a short – or was it long? – time. I also know that the bear will be back again. He shows up whenever I’m out of my comfort zone and getting in deep touch with myself. He remind me that danger could be around every corner. But now that I beat him in the chamber using only my mind (seriously, I couldn’t find my body, I had temporarily misplaced it), I know that I can handle him whenever and wherever he shows up next. Maybe it’ll be next week, maybe it’ll be next decade. But I beat him once, I can beat him again.

Hey, but if you see a grizzly bear for real, please don’t try the stare down technique. It only works for metaphorical bears.

Fires and Resilience

Welcome, 2019. I’m happy to see you. I always love welcoming the new year. Just like I love celebrating birthdays. As my grandpa always said, it sure beats the alternative.

I’m not going to place any judgments on 2018. It was what it was. There were all sorts of beautiful and horrifying things happening simultaneously because that’s life and it’s full of dramatic dichotomies that we have to constantly navigate.

As a resident of Southern California, 2018 sure did get me thinking a lot about fires. Mostly because there were so many incredibly destructive fires that ravaged the region leaving ashes, confusion, and sadness in their wake.

Lives and homes were lost. There’s no getting those back. And there’s no part of me that wants to at all mitigate the genuine loss so many people affected by them felt. And we, as a global community, also felt through some of our precious natural resources being forever changed.

As the last fire of the year, the Woolsey Fire, overtook some favorite ares of my beloved Malibu – an area I have always adored visiting for its relaxed vibe and natural beauty. I found myself feeling what I can only imagine lots of humans felt…powerless and overwhelmed by sadness. Even though I understand fire is sometimes natural, I felt like we’ve done so much to hurt and destroy our gorgeous planet at this point that it always feels like we might be watching a natural disaster unfold that may be the turning point to keep us from having the balanced nature we need to survive as a species.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. But there’s some science to back up my notions.

But I’ve never been a dweller. I hate dwelling. You can stew for a minute if you need. You can let off steam occasionally. I don’t have issues with being in touch with your honest emotions. But I do have issues dwelling.

Rather than dwell, I started to think about what it could mean. What could I do to help and what does it mean to watch parts of the world I love burn down?

What I could do was start genuinely giving back to this planet in small and large ways. When I can, volunteer to help clean it up. Choose more green alternatives whenever possible with every purchase I make. Not only change elements of my lifestyle but change the companies that I support to make sure they have more environmentally conscious approaches to their output.

Say what you will about veganism and vegetarianism, but if the entire human population chose to do it for a single decade, we would give our earth a much needed reprieve from global warming. Then, maybe, when we reintroduce eating meat, we could do so in a more sustainable way. Nobody is asking for you to give up your lifestyle in any way – from what you eat to what you drive to what you choose to purchase or do.

It’s simply a matter of becoming aware that our planet has limited resources and maybe small decisions you make within the confines of those resources could help out your fellow humans so that we can continue to use those resources for longer without losing or ruining the ability to have them forever.

So there’s that. There’s small choices and lifestyle changes that could be made.

But even in embracing those and slowly weaving them into every day life, it doesn’t change the fact that, for at least a while longer, the earth will be mad at us and enacting a number of natural disasters as a result of our own manipulation of its resources. Maybe I shouldn’t say mad. That means that somehow we’ve angered it and it’s personifying something that, though I love referring to it as Mother Earth, it doesn’t need to have an human emotion attached. It’s simply reacting to years of human actions that have, at least so far, gone relatively unchecked. And, of course, none of this changes the fact that fires burned down people’s homes, livelihoods, and took lives.

That’s where it’s time to get a bit more philosophical about what it means. It’s easy – and easier to keep your heart stone and your emotions on an island away from everyone else – to say it means nothing. Nothing means anything and we’re all just feathers in the wind attempting to survive until our time floating around is done. But, at least for me, down that way lies madness. So I refuse to accept it.

Instead, I like to think of how to make it a positive thing. No, what happened isn’t inherently positive. And no, I don’t wish fire upon anyone so they can find the “meaning” behind it. But for fellow feathers still floating in the wind, I choose to see a beautiful symbolism behind the fires. There’s a chance to completely rebuild from the ground up. The old ways have been razed and it’s time we choose to rebuild them with a new perspective in mind.

I heard about these large trees who sprout seeds that often die because the roots of the trees they come from are too large and the forests they’d be sprouting in are too shaded from the massive trees. But if there’s a fire, those seeds not only survive, but need the fire to be planted into the ground. So the tree basically ensures its own survival from a fire.

Some brush needs fire in order for it to clear the old and grow new seedlings. Fire is natural and, at times, necessary. Knowing that, the question then become: What can we do to embrace it, learn from it, and grow into a culture that doesn’t become completely at its whim, but knows how to work with it for sustainable growth?

We get the chance not only to rebuild and to rethink, but to show resilience. Not to get all Batman on you, but we fall so that we may learn how to get back up. We’re creatures that are meant to be in movement. And movement means risk of failure and risk of falling. We’re not just risking failure when we choose to be in movement, we’re almost guaranteed it. But every time we get back up, we teach ourselves that we can. We remind ourselves that we can be strong and we can make new choices and we can learn, grow, and improve.

So, as Smokey the Bear would say, only you can prevent forest fires. Love nature and respect it. Let’s learn from our cumulative mistakes and agree to see the world for what it is – a community that is inherently interconnected with each other. Within that recognition and understanding, we may choose to help each other out by making small but meaningful decisions that will give the earth a chance to rebuild and give future generations a fighting chance of experiencing the beauty and balance that the world naturally wants to give us.

Oh, and more on bears next week…