Eating Well: A Different Kind of Eating Disorder

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I’ve been struggling with food lately.

More specifically, I’ve been struggling with food choices. As a long-time allergy sufferer, I’ve been on the quest for a way to manage my allergies without the aid of any pills. I’ve been on prescription or non-prescription drugs for years—up until the last six months. While some of them helped, most often, I found the side effects to be just as uncomfortable as my allergy symptoms. I regularly had a bloody nose. I felt weak and fatigued. My nose was constantly irritated. It seemed I was trading one symptom for another.

I knew there had to be a better way.

So I started making changes to my environment. I bought an expensive vacuum to clear the allergens from my home. I clean religiously. I don’t use any products with fragrances. I use a Neti pot and follow up with Nasya twice a day. I use a humidifier. I began seeing an Ayurvedic doctor almost a year ago. Before that I began gradually eliminating things from my diet in hopes of stopping my body’s reactions before they got started.

But what started out as a journey toward health turned into an unhealthy fixation.

I started with gluten, the “gateway” allergen. From there, I spiraled into countless experiments—no sugar, no caffeine, nothing processed, nothing dry and airy (chips, popcorn), low carb, high fat.

But after my most recent appointment with the Ayurvedic doctor, I left the office feeling anxious. I had just spent $400, had a bag full of supplements and had been told to eliminate another food group from my diet. My stomach was tight and knotted.

Are there really this many things wrong with me? And if there are, is it true that I can only heal them by being 100% clean, and 100% good, 100% of the time?

Over the course of the next few days I talked it through with my trusted posse. I realized that every time I left that doctor’s office I felt the same way—anxious, worried, stressed. My stomach was clenched, my shoulders were tight. I was panicked and worried about the money I just spent.

I realized how tired I am of thinking about food all of the time. I agonize over every meal and substance that enters my body. I can fight with myself for over 30 minutes about whether to eat a piece of bread or cake. If I do have said bread or cake, I beat myself up for the rest of the day and guzzle water in hopes of flushing it out. I spend an inordinate amount of time planning and preparing meals based on what ingredients they don’t have. I almost always know what my next meal will be.

It’s a unique form of control. Though I don’t starve myself, or purge after eating, in my quest to create the cleanest body I can, I’ve created another kind of imbalance.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

Incessant worry about what we eat creates its own kind of disorder. Devoting excessive energy to any one thing doesn’t help our bodies or minds function optimally. It doesn’t matter how perfect or “clean” our diets are—if our thoughts are toxic, we might as well be eating a bucket of KFC for dinner every night.

In many ways this is a product of our society. From beauty magazines to countless, contradictory health studies we are constantly bombarded by messages of what we should or shouldn’t be eating.

While many are counting calories and fat grams, some of us are avoiding certain food groups. We’re eating only raw foods or nothing white. In essence, our relationship to food has become one of “good” vs. “bad” depending on our own definitions of each.

The problem with these judgments is that when we then ingest food from either of the categories, we are also making ourselves “good” or “bad.”

Or at least that’s what I’ve been doing. My self-worth and ability to love myself have been based on what I did or didn’t eat on any given day. If I found myself at a party or dinner where the only thing available to me was “bad” food, I was unable to enjoy said party or food because I envisioned it destroying the perfect, clean inside I had worked so tirelessly to cultivate.

Is this an eating disorder? I’m not sure.

I do know that my relationship with food, in the form described, takes a lot of joy out of my life.

One of my trusted friends recently told me that eating healthy is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to feel good. There’s that word again. But she’s right. Like most things in life, eating is supposed to be joyful. It’s supposed to feel nourishing. It’s supposed to fuel us and power us to be the bright shiny beings we are. We weren’t created to struggle. Contrary to how we’ve been brought up, we don’t need pain in order to gain.

In the most recent issue of Shambhala Sun there is an article with Pema Chodron about transformation. In it she says this: “It is a process of getting smarter about what helps and what hurts; what de-escalates suffering and what escalates it; what increases happiness what obscures it. It is about loving yourself so much that you don’t want to make yourself suffer anymore.”

I took this message to heart, and have begun applying it to my food struggle.

When I’m making food choices now, I’m not focusing on whether something is “good” or “bad,” but on whether it helps or hurts. What this means might be different for everyone. For me, what helps is what keeps me connected to Spirit, what leaves me feeling light and clear. What hurts is what dulls my sparkle—anything that makes me feel sluggish, tired and weak; anything that causes me to feel congested the following day.

In switching the focus to the subtle messages of my body, I’m able to see the act of eating from a standpoint of self-love.

If we truly love and care for ourselves, then we care about how we treat the vehicles in which we reside. And if we do that, then we naturally gravitate toward fresh, whole ingredients and away from processed anything.

If we take our cues from our bodies, and pay attention when they talk to us, we realize that we really don’t feel so amazing after that bucket of KFC, or that piece of cake. We notice that our lunch makes us crave a nap at 2:00 p.m. or that the glass of wine with dinner is causing us to veg in front of the TV instead of working on that creative project.

This doesn’t mean we will never eat cake again, or that we will always pack only healthy lunches. It just means that we are paying attention. We are noticing what helps and what hurts. In this noticing we are sometimes able to make different choices the next time.

Whether your goal is weight loss, better health or if you just want to feel better, the most important thing (in any situation) is joy.

If counting calories or religiously avoiding flour is making you unhappy, then stop. Pay attention to what your body says. Doing this is a more gentle way of living. We don’t need rigid, strict rules around our diets. We only need to discover what really fills us up. And that’s the ultimate act of self-love.

My Abortion: Reader-Submitted Stories

What follows are reader-submitted stories about their abortions. They were shared in response to my recent call for submissions on elephant journal and were originally published there. I wanted to share them here too because this is such an important topic. In asking for the stories, I hope to open the abortion debate into more than a black and white issue about who is right and who is wrong. Rather, it’s a reminder of our shared humanity, and that the people who go through with an abortion are real people who are often times faced with an impossible choice. Thanks to those who chose to share. 

Some of the names in the stories have been changed at the request of the submitter. 

Stephanie’s Story

I was 22 and in a relationship that was on its last leg—I had finally found the courage to leave. Something wasn’t quite right and after analyzing a calendar, I realized I was late. I bought a pregnancy test, took it right away and sobbed when I saw that plus sign.

I felt cursed, scared, alone and trapped.

I scheduled my abortion at the only private clinic in a city two hours away, because abortion isn’t allowed to be performed in the hospitals in my province unless you have mental or physical reasons to abort (which goes on your permanent medical records). So off I went to the abortion clinic, where I had to dish out almost every cent I had to have the procedure done. I was in a room, scared, with about four other women who also looked scared.

None of us made eye contact.

I was asked to go into another room and told to lie down on the table. The doctor was very nice and made me feel at ease. The nurse gave me gas and told me to breathe deep. I did and she held my hand. The doctor preformed the procedure while I laid high as a kite with The Gypsy Kings playing in the background. To this day, when I hear The Gypsy Kings I am brought back to that day.

It was fast and painless. They brought me to another room where they fed me toast and orange juice and observed me for 20 minutes. I was ready to go and headed to the waiting room to meet the guy I was going to break up with the next day. We walked out of the clinic together and needed an escort to push away pro-life protesters who stood outside the clinic handing out pamphlets and calling us sinners.

This was the hardest part of the whole procedure—they made me so angry.

We drove away and after the shock of being called a sinner wore off, I put my head back and felt free, knowing I had made the right decision.

To this day, 10 years later, I feel no regrets.

Jo’s Story

I am 63 years old and got knocked up in 1968. I was 18 and abortion was not legal yet.

It was the second time I’d had sex; I was never told about anything really. That’s no excuse, but I’m just telling like it was. I had to tell my mom. She slapped me with a brush across my face. Mind you she’d never laid a hand on me, but she was pissed and upset, wondering how I could do that.

Good question ma.

I didn’t want a baby. I loved the boy who got me pregnant—he was my first love and I did ask him for money. We didn’t have a lot and he was very sweet and kind and gave me $500. I think it might have cost under a grand, but there was airfare and hotels, etc.

My mom called her sister who told us about a clinic in Juarez, Mexico.

I think we met my sister in Texas, but I can’t really remember. I do remember that we were picked up by a black limo and taken to a clinic. It seemed clean and they were nice. I wanted my sister with me and they said okay, but then they gave me that gas and my sister got all woozy and fainted. Then the doctor started the abortion.

I was under the gas and aware but unable to do anything when he started to fondle me and put his finger in me—I couldn’t do anything. It was really pretty awful.

Then it was over, I wasn’t pregnant anymore and it was pretty much never talked about.

I’ve always been an advocate of choice because I never want anyone to go through what I did.

My boyfriend ending up being killed in Nam. Once in a blue moon I think he’d be alive if we had decided to have the baby—but that’s one of those fleeting thoughts and I am pretty sure that wouldn’t have been the case.

I really never regret having had the abortion.

Michele’s Story

When I became pregnant I was 25 and engaged. The pregnancy was purely accidental; I was not wearing my diaphragm and my fiancé wouldn’t wait for me to put it in.

It was the first time I ever had sex without using birth control.

I missed my period and took a pregnancy test, which confirmed my pregnancy. My fiancé asked me to leave—to move out. He said he would pay for the abortion. I knew I was not ready for a baby and that abortion would be the best thing for me.

I was crushed by our breakup and moved back into my parents’ house. My mom took me for the abortion. I was crying so hard the doctors asked me if I needed some time to think about my decision.

I said no, but I’ll never, ever, forget the life I took.

It crushed me, literally, for many years. I couldn’t look at my cousin’s newborn without bursting into tears. I couldn’t look at a baby for two years without feeling a complete sense of loss and grief.

I have epilepsy and was taking Dilantin for uncontrolled seizures when I became pregnant. I knew if I had a baby, the chances of birth defects were high. I was such a responsible teenager, I went alone to Planned Parenthood to get birth control pills when I was still a virgin, since I knew my boyfriend and I were ready—I was 16, he 17, when I lost my virginity. Every single time I had sex, I used birth control. Except this one time as a 25-year-old.

My heart still aches for what could have been—a son or daughter. I would have a 29-year-old today, possibly be a grandma. I have two young adult children, 23 and 24. They’ve known about my abortion since they were teens. I’ve always been pro-choice, and I can see both sides of the issue. It’s not like women want to do this!

Ariel’s Story

During the summer of last year I met a guy named Keath, while I was out with some friends. We hit it off and he took me on a few dates. He was the guy I thought I’d been looking for. He was sweet, intelligent, kind and we had a lot in common.

As the months passed, I started to realize that he didn’t like the way I did things—anything actually; I parked too crooked, I took too long in the shower, my room was never spotless. My roommates told me that he was controlling. I brushed the accusation off but the thought remained in my mind.

So when things weren’t going the way Keath wanted them to go, which was very frequent, we would get into huge arguments, leave each other alone for a day and the next day it was as if it had never happened. I tried to bring the arguments back up so they could be resolved, but he would get angry and the cycle would start again. So I stopped bringing them up so I could stop the arguing.

I can say now this was not a healthy relationship.

Around the end of August I noticed that I hadn’t started my period. My cycle had always been irregular and I just thought this was one of those months that Mother Nature decided to skip me.

One of my friends insisted that I take a pregnancy test; I brushed it off until she presented me with a two-pack pregnancy test. I sat in the bathroom stall of my workplace, took a deep breath, peed on the stick and set it on the trash can.

When I looked back at the test my heart sank down lower than it ever had. I was pregnant; immediately I started hyperventilating and crying, wondering what I should do.

I didn’t want to call my mom—I didn’t want to have to tell her, but I knew I needed to. She told me to think about it for a few days and that it was my choice whether to tell Keath. She didn’t try to sway my decision. She gave me the pros and cons of all my choices:

1. Keep the baby. You’ll have a beautiful baby, but you’ll have to finish college with a little one, which is terribly hard to do.

2. Get an abortion. You’ll be able to finish school and even go for your master’s degree, but you’ll have to live with that decision for the rest of your life.

3. Give the baby up for adoption. You’ll be able to finish school and go for your master’s degree, but you’ll have to live with the thought of your own child being raised by someone else. Also letting your baby go after you give birth is probably one of the most challenging things you’ll ever have to do in your life. You’ve been connected to that baby for over nine months, that bond is pretty tight.

For the rest of the day this was my thought process with each option:

1. I promised myself that I wouldn’t bring a child into this world without the means to support it and myself.

2. I don’t know if I could take a life away.

3. I’m too much of an emotional person to have a child and separate myself from it, so I would end up keeping it anyway. Which brings me back to number one.

I decided I needed to talk to Keath—I needed some other insight on it and hopefully an answer on what he wanted.

When I finished my telling him he laughed out loud and said, “I don’t know why you’re freaking out, we can get this taken care of…”

I decided that I should get an abortion.

I waited two weeks before I made an appointment at the women’s clinic and I cried every day. When I finally went to my first appointment, I was alone and scared. The first appointment is where they give you all the legal information, do an ultra sound and make you fill out paperwork.

When the day came my roommates came with me for support. I cried the whole way up there, the whole time during, the whole way back and then I cried myself to sleep when I got home.

For the next few weeks. I was severely depressed. I talked to a couple of counselors which helped a little bit. I had the support of my family and friends.

This all happened about 10-11 months ago. Do I still think about it? Every day. Do I regret it? Part of me thinks I should have gone the route my mom had gone, but another part of me thinks I made the right decision.

Do I still cry about it? Not as much, but when I start thinking about it heavily I have my cry sessions. Do I think that abortion is the route for everyone? No, it’s a really tough decision that I’m not sure if I could make again.

I’m not as sensitive to the subject as I was 10 months ago. I can talk about it now. I’m learning to be happy again. I admire children more and I admire mothers and fathers more as well.

Carrie’s Story

Several years ago I found myself unexpectedly pregnant in my mid 30s and decided to have an abortion. I wasn’t prepared for a child at all. In fact, the actual thought of it caused so much anxiety I felt like I was suffocating.

I knew the second I got confirmation from a pregnancy test stick what I wanted to do and have never regretted my decision. That may sound cold or heartless to some, but I knew full well that bringing the pregnancy to term was something I couldn’t handle.

Yes, I was old enough to have been more careful but accidents happen and I can’t beat myself up over that.

I had always been pro-choice and with the question of “What would you do?” no longer a hypothetical inquiry, my greatest emotion has to do with having been able to have a choice. I can’t begin to explain the thought of that choice being taken away from anyone. This is why I chose to write you with my story.

Some, I know, will judge me based on this choice without knowing one thing about me and I understand that’s their right. But people should find a little reservation with their judgment unless they themselves have been in the situation where they have to decide what to do.

I feel so strongly about the pro-choice issue and am embarrassed that it’s even being discussed to reverse it or make it illegal.

Alex’s Story

My story happened when I was 17. I was pregnant, and I thought my options through. I knew I was not ready to be a mother—I was in college with my whole life ahead of me.

I had talked to my mother who said she’d support me in any way, regardless of what I chose to do. I was going to get an abortion. The boy who knocked me up ran when I told him that I was pregnant and that I was not going to keep the baby. I told him I thought that he should know, as well as have a say in the ordeal since he was the father.

One day at work, I overheard my boss and his wife talking. She was crying, and kept saying she wanted a baby. I knew that they had been trying everything and that the attempts were futile. So I, after I had made the appointment to have an abortion, I went to them and told them that I was pregnant, that I wasn’t ready and asked if they’d like to adopt the child. They were so excited and we started the adoption process.

Everything went great until, I was seven months pregnant.

I got up one night to get a glass of water and slipped in my own blood in the kitchen and knocked myself out. I was rushed to the hospital where I went into labor. I gave birth to a stillborn girl that night. The anger and the depression that followed were horrible.

Six months later, I met my husband; at 20 I got pregnant again. The doctor explained that there were risks and how my uterus was at such an angle that it wouldn’t support a child unless I was on bed rest for the whole pregnancy.

My husband, who comes from a severely religious family, looked me dead in the eyes and asked what I wanted to do. He knew my education was important to me, and that we were not ready financially or emotionally to have a child.

I told him that I wouldn’t be on bed rest, even to give it up for adoption and that an abortion was what needed to be done.

That was a hard decision to make. My husband wants nothing more than to be a father and to have a daddy’s girl or a spitting image of himself. But he understood that it was my body, and in the end, my choice.

I am now 24 and we are still married. His family hates me for the choice we made, but they didn’t have to give birth to a dead child, and they weren’t the ones that would have to give up their life to hopefully have a child. Not to mention that I carry the genes to pass on Marfan’s Syndrome.

That decision still haunts me, but I knew it was the right thing to do. They weren’t the ones that had to deal with the weight of making that choice.

I am now graduating with my fourth degree, and my husband and I are now talking about having children and planning accordingly.

 

Guest Post: Simply Leap

Recently I wrote a guest post for Simply Leap. Lauree Ostrofsky, Chief Hugger and Coach, is my coach, friend and often, my inspiration. Check out her website and her book for more. 

You can read my post here. I’ve been feeling stuck lately, and in talking to people about it, I’ve learned I’m not alone. This post is about how I’m working through it.

 

War on Women’s Rights Continues. Your Stories Are Wanted.

Photo: doctor_bob

Photo: doctor_bob

This week the war on women’s rights showed no signs of slowing down. North Carolina’s governor signed a restrictive abortion bill into law, effectively closing the state’s remaining abortion clinic, while in Texas, Democrat Eddie Lucio filed a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to take a three-hour course on adoption first.

Meanwhile, senate Republicans Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rob Portman are working on a federal ban to abortion at 20 weeks, as activists admittedly acknowledge it as the first step toward their ultimate goal of banning abortion completely.

We seem to be talking about abortion more and more lately, but our talking points are still focused on the black or white, pro-life or pro-choice arena. What’s missing from these debates are the stories and voices of those who have faced this decision and those who have had abortions.

One of the blogs I regularly follow The Dish, by Andrew Sullivan, has run a series in the last couple of years entitled “It’s So Personal.” The series features readers’ stories about their experiences facing late-term abortion. The stories are heartbreaking and reveal the layers and complications of facing this decision.

One Dish reader shared a story this week about his experience with abortion when he and his wife faced the complications of a monoamniotic twin pregnancy. In the end, they decided not to abort, but he said this about having to choose:

“We felt—and we still feel—that this is a fundamentally personal decision, and we were shocked at the politicization of this medical issue, when of course nobody else can tell you what is right for your family. It is a decision that has the potential to fundamentally alter the entire course of your life, and until you are personally faced with something like this, there is no way to know how you are going to react or what the right course of action will be.”

It’s an important point to remember in this debate—ultimately, none of us can say absolutely what is or isn’t right for another person.

Sullivan also posted reader thoughts on the new documentary, After Tiller, which is about late-term abortion providers in America. One reader expressed support for talking about the issue:

“Until we hear the stories behind life-and-death decisions, we base our judgments on abstracts and absolutes, missing the human part of the equation. We need these points of view.”

This commenter is right. We won’t be able to truly change anything until we start our conversations from a viewpoint that recognizes the men and women involved as people.

In part, this Dish series is what inspired me to first ask for your stories in July and it’s why I’m asking for more now.

It’s vital that we share our stories and begin to shift the debate from talking abstractly to talking about real people. Those who have gone through the experience and those who have faced the choice can shed some light and help us change the conversation. It’s easy to say what someone should or shouldn’t do when we are talking in abstracts, but it’s not when we realize, as Sullivan notes, “it’s so personal.”

If you’ve had an abortion or faced having to make a choice, I’d like to hear about the experience. You can share as much or as little as you’d like. Also feel free to be creative, and step outside the writing medium.

The stories will be compiled and shared with the community (anonymously if preferred).

If you choose to share, know that it will be done in confidence and with the utmost care. You can send your submissions to vesselywriter@gmail.com by August 15th, 2013.

Originally published on elephant journal.

Chicken Found in Chicken Package: Are We Too Disconnected From Nature?

Photo: petercooperuk

Photo: petercooperuk

This week a woman in Phoenix found a chicken foot sealed into a package of chicken breasts. Appalled, she took to Twitter: “Hey, @Safeway, does this look like ‘chicken breast’ to you? I’m vomiting.” After some correspondence with Safeway she returned to the store to find the foot still there, and alerted the media. In a statement sent to Safeway she said she was “shocked” and that she “couldn’t believe” what she was seeing. She also said “I asked the man near me to look at it and agreed that it was disgusting.”

Why news organizations felt this was a story worth reporting, I have no idea. Even more confusing to me is why finding a chicken foot in a package of chicken breasts is so “disgusting.”

Isn’t a chicken foot just another part of the animal we are consuming when we buy chicken breasts?

This story is representative of the cognitive dissonance that exists when it comes to our food and how it gets to our plates. Why do we get upset by one part of an animal’s body, but not the other?

But it’s also representative of a larger issue—we are increasingly becoming more disconnected from nature. This woman in Phoenix for instance, seems to have forgotten that the chicken breasts she buys were once connected to a chicken head and to chicken feet.

It’s an easy thing for us to forget—when we buy meat it looks nothing like the animal it used to be. It’s already skinned, cleaned and packaged so that we conveniently don’t need to think about it.

And clearly, as the woman in Phoenix illustrates, that’s how we prefer it.

Last week I attended an online workshop given by Caroline Myss. During the question portion of the evening, someone asked about animals and if they are intuitive. Her answer was a resounding yes, but she went further, explaining that animals are no different than any other species. “We all breathe together,” she said.

She went on to say, “We’ve separated ourselves from nature by saying they’re animals, we’re not. We’re not part of the animal kingdom. We’re not part of nature. And that’s precisely why we see ourselves as able to abuse nature … and people don’t get that’s exactly why we no longer understand our own natures.”

We seem to have forgotten that it’s not just about us. The resources we use aren’t only for our purposes. The water, trees, animals—all of it—exists for its own sake.

Several months ago I was waiting in the security line at the airport when one of the bag inspectors stomped near me, huffed and threw several full-size bottles of shampoo in the garbage.

She was clearly annoyed that people don’t get the 3 oz. rule by now and that someone had tried to sneak something past her.

But when those bottles hit the bottom of the trash can I felt a similar thud in my gut.

What a waste.

At the very least couldn’t these bottles have been put in a recycling bin? Or even better, in a box that could be donated to a homeless shelter?

All of the resources that were used to make that shampoo and the bottle that held it were just tossed without a second thought.

These moments and others like them call to us for mindfulness. Whether it’s our dinner or what we use to wash our hair, it’s important to recognize that everything came from somewhere. Whether plant or animal, everything is connected to a living thing.

Nature isn’t just something “outside.” It’s not a thing from which we are separate. You can feel it when you’re in it—whether walking up a mountainside or floating on the water—there is something that happens to us. We feel calmer, more still. We feel more connected and grounded.

I’ve found this to be true every single time I’m in nature.

In yoga, many of us strive to live the principle of ahisma—the practice of compassionate living, and of doing no harm—to ourselves or others. It asks us to bring conscious awareness to our words, thoughts and deeds. But this type of compassion also extends to nature and animals as well.

For everything to survive, we all have to be working together and showing respect and gratitude for the gifts the earth provides. We have to stop treating everything as if it is here for only us. When we aren’t mindful of our connection to nature we forget, as Myss says, our own true nature.

We can connect more by taking time every day to spend time in nature. We may live in a city or spend our days in an office,  but that doesn’t mean we can’t find small ways to bring the natural world into our lives. Here are some helpful ways to do so. Even doing small things, like tending to a plant, or listening to the birds in the morning can be enough to help us remember who we are and our place in the bigger picture.

In doing so, we can begin to remember that our actions have consequences, and to feel once again the connection between everything. When we feel that connection we become kinder and more compassionate. And when we are kinder and more compassionate, we slowly begin to heal ourselves and our planet.

Bonus: 13 Quotes to Inspire Our Connection with Nature.

Originally published on elephant journal.

What To Do When the World’s Problems Seem Too Big.

Photo: woodleywonderworks

Photo: woodleywonderworks

This week the Bangkok Post reported a story about the recent rescue of over 70 caged dogs—the latest rescue as part of Thailand’s dog smuggling problem. The dogs were stacked on top of each other and crammed into a cage on the back of a truck. They were headed for Vietnam to be someone’s dinner.

According to a recent story on CNN, “as many as 200,000 live dogs every year are smuggled from northeast Thailand … destined for restaurants in Vietnam.”

The dogs that don’t suffocate on the way there arrive stressed, dehydrated and injured. Then, because of the belief that stress and fear release hormones that “improve the taste of the meat … the dogs are placed in stress cages that restrict their movement. Eventually the dogs are either bludgeoned to death or have their throats cut … in some cases, they’ve been known to be skinned alive.”

Though smuggling is illegal, there are no animal cruelty laws in Thailand, and smugglers often receive very light sentencing if caught.

I’ve been mulling over this story all week, trying to find some glint of wisdom or way to explain away just how horrible people are and why it will all be okay in the end.

But this time, I’m not sure what to say. I only come up with more questions and the sinking feeling that we are just awful beings.

I’m devastated to keep learning more ways we are hurting the vulnerable among us. How many different ways are there to be cruel?

It seems to be endless. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst of it, something new shows itself.

It’s easy to collapse into stories like this and feel overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in the world. Many of us want to do something to alleviate it, but feel like no matter what we do it’s not enough.

This is the space I’m in now. All of it feels too big, and like there’s too much suffering to ever be able to alleviate even a little of it. I’m somewhere between being completely disillusioned and wanting to quit my job to go to Thailand to save those dogs.

But a few days ago I received this post from Ram Dass. In it, Dass explains how we can help heal the world when confronted with stories like this.

He says, “Our actions need to be positive statements, reminders that even in the worst of times there is a world worth struggling for … that even the worst aspects of suffering are only part of the picture.”

He says that we don’t ignore suffering, but that we treat it gently. Meaning, we don’t get angry or fall into depression, but that we allow ourselves to feel it fully without getting trapped underneath it, to the point where we can no longer act.

According to Dass, it’s at times like this—when we see this kind of suffering, whether it’s those sweet dogs or starving children—that “our equilibrium is most needed.” When we are balanced, we are able to best serve the world.

Dass says the work of our lives is to learn “to trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should” and that we each have a role to play in making things better:

“To create a caring, loving, peaceful world,” he says, “we need to act with care and love and peace.”

When we do so, we learn to “appreciate that each of us has a part in nurturing this interconnectedness whole and healing it where it is torn.”

Sometimes, after we’ve signed the petitions, shared with friends, donated money and written blog posts, the only thing left to do is the work we do with ourselves. When we don’t know what else to do to help, it’s important to remember that being kind, compassionate and loving is helping.

The world doesn’t need a bunch of tired, stressed out people. It needs strong, fully alive beings who are answering the call to serve. It’s such a small thing, but it’s easy to forget that being gentle with ourselves and with others can go a long way toward creating a better world.

We don’t always have to “go big” to make a difference. Little things add up to big things. Maybe we can only give $5 to charity or maybe our lives are too demanding to volunteer right now.

That’s okay.

None of us can do everything we wish we could. But what we can do is work on being more kind, more connected and more loving every moment of every day.

Originally published on elephant journal.

Has an Abortion Affected Your Life? A Call for Submissions.

Hi friends,

Last week I published this piece about the recent filibuster in Texas by Senator Wendy Davis and Governor Rick Perry’s subsequent reaction.

The topic got me thinking, and I recently asked the elephant journal community to share their stories with me. I’d like to extend the same invitation here.

I’ve long thought about the abortion issue and have always been saddened by how we are either shouting at each other or not talking about it at all.

There is a whole facet to the issue that we don’t address—namely, the stories of the men and women who have had direct experience with abortion.

It’s a big deal to many, and yet we almost never talk about what it really means to have one, what consequences are met, what the experience is like or how it feels to face a choice like that. And yet, it’s happening across the country every single day.

We don’t speak about the debate as if it involves real people. Instead, we say it’s right or wrong and close the door. But I think we need to keep the door open and listen to the stories of the women and men involved. If we can suspend judgement and soften, that’s where transformation happens.

The choice to have or not have an abortion is one that may affect a woman for the rest of her life. No matter what the reason behind it, just because a child isn’t wanted doesn’t mean it isn’t grieved for. And sometimes, it’s not grieved for. Either way, the story is important.

So I would like to ask you to share your stories with me. I’d like to know if you’ve had an abortion and what it’s meant to you. I’d like to know your experiences—good or bad. You can share as much or as little as you’d like. Also feel free to be creative, and step outside the writing medium.

Once I hear from you, I plan to compile the stories and share them (anonymously if preferred) with the community. Consider it an open space for us to talk about something that affects many, but which isn’t given a proper outlet.

If you choose to share, know that it will be done in confidence and with the utmost care. You can send your submissions to vesselywriter@gmail.com by August 15th, 2013.

To make a change, awareness and full examination are always the first steps. Thanks in advance for your trust and vulnerability.

~ Stephanie

The Simplicity Project {Book Review}

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I was interested in reading The Simplicity Project: A Simple, No-Nonsense Approach to Losing Weight & Changing Your Body Forever! by Jenn Pike because in the last year, I have been seeking my optimum health. The more I learn about what this means, the more I learn that everything begins and ends with what we put in our bodies.

Everything always comes back to the same idea—eating food. And by food I mean actual, whole food.

To use Michael Pollan’s definition, food is anything our grandparents would have recognized when they were younger. This eliminates virtually anything in a package. So it was with great enthusiasm that I picked up Pike’s book, looking for ways to simplify and refine my diet.

What I found however, wasn’t very helpful.

The book started out promising enough, with Pike setting her goals in the first few pages: “I want you to become more educated and empowered by your food choices, to know a whole food from one that’s not, to know how to combine your foods for proper nourishment and balance … and to know how to make the most delicious healthy meals and snacks right at home.”

Unfortunately, if I knew any of those things when I finished the book, it wasn’t for having read it.

Pike lost me almost right away with her writing style and the tone of the book. Throughout the book, Pike uses emoticons, texting language (ex. LOL) and an abundance of exclamation points. It was distracting and took away some of Pike’s credibility.

I was also distracted by the informality of the tone, as when she wrote about food in our gut that is “building a lovely little internal bomb that will burn your butt and blow your friends away too!” I assume she is trying to be funny, but this just didn’t resonate with me.

Additionally, for a book about simplicity, I found the organization and structure confusing. The book is broken into different sections with varying areas of focus, from inflammation to the gut. However, sometimes it seemed I would go from reading about one thing, such as my thyroid, to suddenly reading about sugar, with no explanation connecting the two.

Overall, the book lacked the level of clarity that is important when discussing diet and health. For example, in one section Pike addresses eating organic foods and mentions the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” She says:

“This fantastic resource will help you navigate your way through the grocery store as a more conscious and educated shopper. Yes, we would all love to buy everything organic, but for many of us, it just isn’t possible. Fortunately, not all of your produce needs to be organic. When you are choosing conventionally grown fruits and veggies, use a good wash like Nature Clean Fruit and Veggie Soak; it’s like a bath for your produce!”

The book then lists the “Dirty Dozen” and Clean Fifteen” with no further explanation or clarification. If I were new to this concept, I wouldn’t know which was which. All I understood from that paragraph was that I’m supposed to wash some of the listed items with the noted wash product.

I found this kind of muddied language throughout.

I also disliked the repeated product recommendations, and felt a little like I was holding an advertisement for those products. Further, of the products she mentioned, I often disagreed with many. For example, she recommends keeping Luna bars on hand. But in my food philosophy a bar loaded with cane syrup, brown rice syrup and other processed ingredients doesn’t fit into a whole food lifestyle.

Maybe Pike and I just aren’t the right fit—she may speak to a different crowd. My relationship and journey with food began and has been evolving for a while now, so I think the book just didn’t find me at the right time. If you’re looking for a light, general overview of how to eat, this may be the book for you. I however was disappointed, and prefer my nutrition information without all of the “You Go Girls.”

*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for reviewing it. However, I still say what I think—good or bad.

Originally published on elephant journal.

Can We Bring Compassion to the Abortion Debate?

Photo: Chaps1

Photo: Chaps1

On Thursday Governor Rick Perry made a follow-up statement to Tuesday’s filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis. Davis stood on her feet and spoke for 11 hours, successfully stopping the vote on a controversial bill that would shut down all but five abortion clinics in Texas.

In his comments, Perry mentioned Davis’ own upbringing with a single mother and her teenage pregnancy and then questioned why she didn’t learn from her own life experiences that “every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.” Perry also said that “The ideal world is a world without abortion.”

Agreed. But it’s not an ideal world.

It’s a world in which:

>> the same people who want to stop abortion also want to stop access to birth control.

>> those same individuals don’t want to pay for the education or healthcare of the children who are born.

>> we don’t think twice about the lives of the men, women and children we take overseas every day.

>> we slaughter animals so we can have a moment of pleasure.

>> we refuse to regulate the very weapons that take the same so-called valuable life.

>> we proclaim the value of life, while simultaneously taking it. See: Rick Perry.

How is this a world in which “every life matters?” As a nation, we are a lot of things, but we aren’t pro-life.

Perry and individuals like him aren’t actually working to end abortion. Instead, they are just taking away a woman’s ability to choose her own best path. Closing clinics and making abortion illegal isn’t going to stop abortion. We already know this. It will just take it underground and will force women to take other, unsafe actions toward terminating a pregnancy. Keeping abortion clinics open does not condone abortion nor does it promote it. It simply keeps it safe for those undergoing the procedure.

So what then, can we do?

What if we arrived at this debate from a different place—one that isn’t black and white, pro-life and pro-choice—but one that reflects the vast complication that is the abortion issue?

When we realize that no one is pro-abortion, and that no one actually wants to make that kind of choice, much less go through with it, the entire argument disappears. And once that happens we realize we are all on the same side.

Living the mindful life and “waking up” means paying attention to and meeting what is. And “what is” is the fact that for a variety of reasons, some babies aren’t wanted. It’s overwhelmingly sad and awful.

But it’s the truth.

Pretending that we can change that fact does nothing to help us diminish it.

But forcing a woman to have an unwanted child doesn’t further our path toward an enlightened society either. Motherhood is difficult enough when you want to have a child. What kind of world would it be if it were full of resented children and resentful mothers, or a world with more hungry and neglected children?

Despite what some would have us believe, women who have abortions aren’t evil. They are people who are faced with an impossible choice. It doesn’t matter how they got there or what anyone else believes they should do. The point is they are there, and they have to make the choice and live with it—no matter which way it goes. Rick Perry doesn’t have to live with it, nor does anyone else.

As mindful individuals, we know that we each walk our own path, and that the magnitude and beauty of life is too vast and mysterious for us to comprehend. None of us actually knows, in the greater scheme of things, what it means to have an abortion.

Some believe it’s a one-way ticket to hell. Others think it’s a karmic debt. Others think it’s not really a big deal. But who can really say?

It’s personal and intimate and between only a woman and whomever she decides to share with. It’s not a debate that belongs in politics or something that can be decided by someone with no personal experience of it. It’s a choice that can only be made by those going through it.

If every life matters, as Perry says, then that includes the life of the mother. And only she can decide what is right for her. Perry can’t, you can’t, I can’t.

Once we acknowledge that everyone is on their own path, we can suspend judgement.

Whether we agree or disagree, these women, their partners, and the unborn are all worthy of and needing compassion. Their difficulties are our difficulties. Our connectedness ensures that.

No matter what we believe, we are supposed to love each other and support each other. It’s part of the path. We aren’t supposed to demonize an entire segment of the population for doing what they believe to be the right thing.

We are supposed to soften, and listen.

When we do, we might remember that these are actual people—our neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members—facing a difficult choice. We might see that in all of our shouting and our convictions we aren’t living from a place where “every life matters.”

We are living in fear and hate, and in platitudes of right and wrong. If we worked as hard at working with our own stuff—being kinder, more open, more compassionate—as we do trying to fix what we think is wrong with everyone else, maybe we could create a world in which every life truly does matter.

Originally published on elephant journal.

Starting a Home Practice? A Yoga Download Review.

Photo: Crystl

Photo: Crystl

I decided to try starting a home yoga practice earlier this year after a surgery left me unable to practice regularly at the yoga studio. At the time I began online classes offered by Yoga Download, I had done some videos on my own and had recently joined a different yoga streaming site.

One reason I’ve never had a home practice is because whenever I did yoga at home, I didn’t feel like I had done yoga. My muscles weren’t stretched, my mind wasn’t clear. Many of the classes I did left me feeling like I should have gotten my lazy butt to the studio instead. So, I was hopeful the classes on Yoga Download would offer the same vigor and awareness as the studio.

The first class I completed was the Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga 4 by Dave Farmar. I’ve taken Farmar’s classes in person before, and knew I could expect a good workout. This one was no exception. It’s described as an all levels class with a “You’ll Feel It” intensity level.

It was a challenging class and I did “feel” it. I also felt great after. Farmar is an excellent teacher with his own motivational style. Throughout the class he spoke about “embodying yes,” an idea that kept me holding a pose when I wanted to back out. Though it was a good class, I admit I skipped a few chatarungas, as the pace was too fast at times. Because of this, I’m not sure it should have been classified as an all levels class.

As I found later in my exploration of the site, many of the videos don’t offer the scenic, beach/forest picturesque backgrounds so often found in videos on other yoga sites. The majority of the classes I took had only a white background. At times, I appreciated the cleanliness and the simplicity of these videos, but other times it felt sterile. Adding to that sense of sterility was the fact that many of the classes featured the instruction as a voice over, rather than as a live demo from the teacher.

I also struggled with the camera angles in some of the videos. The angle was straight on the demonstrating yogis rather than at a side view. This wasn’t a huge problem for me, as I mostly listened to the cues as they came, but this may be a struggle for beginners and those without much experience with the poses. Not all of the classes were like this, however.

Les Leventhal’s “Bundle 1″ for example, offered better visuals and the poses were more easily seen. But like Farmar’s class, I’m not sure it was an all levels class as stated in the description.

The instructor used a lot of Sanskrit and didn’t walk through poses step by step until later in the class. I would have had a hard time with the flow if I were a beginner and unfamiliar with the poses. For more seasoned yogis however, the class offered great opening for the hips and hamstrings.

As I went through the classes it seemed each had its own pros and cons. Roger Martin-Pressman’s “Do It Yourself” was probably the most useful class, as it offered a lot of focus on alignment and gave lots of instruction. Additionally, the class offered insights into what it means to support oneself and how to foster that kind of connection.

There seemed to be a little bit of everything for everyone. Most classes had things I liked and things I didn’t—as is true of many classes we take at the studio.

In the end, I found myself back at the studio, mainly because I needed to be in a room, locked away from my cat, my phone and all distractions. The online classes gave me a good workout at times, but ultimately I missed the community of the studio and space to practice freely (minus coffee tables and doorknobs).

*Note: I received this item for free in exchange for reviewing it. However, I still say what I think—good or bad.

Originally published on elephant journal.