Wednesday Missive: What Makes this Different (And Makes all the Difference)

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Hello darlings,

First thing: I recorded a podcast with sex and relationships coach Dalia Perez. During our conversation, we discuss: why boundaries are so important in our relationships (and yet still can feel so hard to set!), the ways motherhood can affect our desire for intimacy, intimacy self-care for those not in romantic relationships, and much more!

And now, today…

When I first began helping women with their self-care, I was scared. I didn’t know if I could really help them, was worried I might say the wrong thing, and deeper, afraid I would be exposed as the imposter I felt like. I mean who was I, someone who still struggled in taking care of herself, to tell others what to do? 

Still, I really wanted to teach people about Ayurveda because practicing it’s nature-based rhythms had helped me reclaim some part of my self-care that always felt missing. So, I pushed through the hard parts. I tried my best to ignore the sh*tty voice in my head, and continued to put self-care programs out into the world. And due to some combination of fortitude and luck, I found amazing clients who not only benefited from the work, but offered thoughtful reflections on how I could make it stronger. 

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about self-care from my clients over the years: 

  1. Emphasizing weight less as self-care is not only body negative, but it creates a lot of disturbance in an authentic self-care healing process. I’d been taught to talk about weight loss as self-care in my early programs because: 1) talking about weight loss sells; and 2) I had a lot of internalized societal fatphobia that I hadn’t yet examined when starting my programs. Introducing a body positive self-care focus not only helped my clients make much greater breakthroughs, but loving my body regardless of its size was also the personal healing I needed. 

  2. While individual efforts are necessary for self-care, the real magic of a self-care breakthrough comes from sharing our authentic selves within a supportive community. So many of our self-care blocks come from unprocessed grief and unexamined loneliness. We could go to therapy and journal about these concepts (and both of those modalities are really helpful), but I’ve found that sharing our real experiences within a compassionate group, one that can feel those feelings with us, can lead to a very profound healing (honestly, much more profound than I even understand sometimes). 

  3. Practicing 100% authentic self-care within a perfectionist culture is not only challenging, it might be impossible. As much as we can experiment with counter-cultural responses to these damaging societal influences, the dysfunction is simply in the air we breathe. The only approach that seems to work is turning our critical lens outward to society rather than internalizing it by criticizing ourselves. Further, participating in social justice efforts as a way to make much-needed structural change is a necessary form of self-care and personal healing. 

Isn’t all that amazing? How could I have known that when I began? What I love most is that I got to learn all this immense wisdom while being in community with smart, caring women who were thoroughly working their own self-care growth processes alongside mine. Thus, my own healing has been furthered by helping others heal. I was allowed to make mistakes the whole way through and this powerful self-care work has still managed to be life-changing for so many people.

This means that we don’t have to have all the answers. This means we get to be lovingly held in the tender places where we’re still developing awareness and we’re allowed to learn as we go along. Mostly, this means we don’t have to be perfect in order to be of service to others. 

My personal growth process as a self-care coach gives me so much hope because it reflects the ways I think we can approach the collective healing we so desperately need right now. We don’t have to know how it’s all going to end before we begin to make much-needed change. We’re allowed to make mistakes, repair and recenter ourselves, and begin again with new intention. Feedback doesn’t have to be damaging. Rather, we can use it to generate and move forward. 

And yet, what we really need to hold us in this growth are authentic self-care practices and a strong community to shepherd us along the way. 

For this, I created the Beautiful Life Collective. This is a community of amazing women who are examining the damaging societal influences on our self-care and exploring the ways our self-care can help heal society. It’s powerful work and I’m honored to hold space for it! Recently our community has completed one year (happy birthday to us!). 

The Beautiful Life Collective is different from other self-care coaching programs because: 

  • No one pretends to have the answers (not even me or my co-leaders!). Rather, we spend time hanging out in the immensity of the questions (usually while eating some delicious snacks) and emerge feeling more human, more resilient, and more excited to keep going in our own growth.

  • We never talk about self-improvement. There’s never a five-step plan which you never have to screw up and thus, never has to make your feel like a failure. Rather, we just share grounding practices and community support which help us grow our self-awareness and actually become our own friends and personal cheerleaders. 

  • We understand that authentic self-care is never a singular process. Most of us suffer because we are too isolated in our lives and don’t have a safe space to share what’s really happening in ourselves. Our self-care work is about breaking down the destructive myth of self-sufficiency while giving each other space to explore our own authenticity. After years of trying to do this on my own and never feeling the breakthrough I desired, finding solace and hope within a lovely community of heart-centered women has been a gift beyond all gifts.  

The Beautiful Life Collective is open for new membership until this Friday, October 11th. We only open our doors a few times a year because most of the time we need the strong boundaries of our community to do this deeper self-care work. And because I’m due with my second child in February, I’m not sure when we’ll invite in new members again. So, this is the moment!

If you feel inspired by this different approach to self-care, I hope you’ll consider joining us! You can learn more and sign up here. And because membership is month-to-month (although you get a big discount and an amazing bonus if you sign up for a full year), you can cancel at any time if it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Plus, you get over $300 worth of self-care bonuses if you just sign up for one month! (Doesn’t that feel win-win-win?)

Do you have any questions? Please write me and let me know! I’m happy to address any concerns and open the door a little wider for your own self-care breakthrough. Because what I’ve learned is that a breakthrough for one person is a breakthrough for us all. And I believe we need all the collective healing we can get these days. 

With care,
Gracy

PS - I just want to emphasize that signing up is time-sensitive! Join our community before October 11th and move into this next season of life with a whole new approach to self-care!

Finding Intimacy that Works with Sex and Relationship Coach Dalia Perez

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Do you wish you had more intimacy in your life? Or maybe you want less? Or perhaps you just want to figure out what healthy intimacy really means?

If you struggle to find the right balance of intimacy, you're most definitely not alone! Sex and relationship coach Dalia Perez struggled with those same issues herself and in working through them, found a path for helping others in their relationships.

During our conversation, we discuss: why boundaries are so important in our relationships (and still can be so hard to set!), how motherhood can affect our desire for intimacy, intimacy self-care for those not in romantic relationships, and much more!

To learn more about Dalia's work visit her website: https://dalia-perez.com

Wednesday Missive: Self-Care and Professional Self-Doubt

Hello darlings,

A few things to begin: 

  • I’m so honored to be featured for the Washington Post Magazine’s Dream Day column! Read about my ideal DC day, including my favorite restaurants around town.

  • Calling all the DC-based ladies with Imposter Syndrome! On September 28th in Washington, DC, I'm co-teaching a breakthrough workshop with improv teacher and LCSW extraordinaire Lisa Kays. Our goal is to use the power of self-care and the genius of improv to help women stop apologizing and start trusting their values and their voice. Interested in attending? Read more here and use coupon code: "gracy" to get a $20 discount.

And now, today…

The other day I took a moment to recognize that I’ve created my own paycheck for over ten years now. Not only have I managed to support myself through my own entrepreneurial efforts, I’ve pretty much always done work that I’ve enjoyed and felt that my work has really been of service to my clients. Further, I’ve managed to transition my business ventures from their initial forms (taking photographs of people’s pets and teaching my first yoga classes) to what I currently do now (leading self-care communities of amazing women) without making any abrupt moves or hugely scary leaps. Over the years, I’ve just kept noticing what interests me and found ways to incorporate new focuses into my work.

Then, my question to myself was: Why do I still have such a hard time calling myself an entrepreneur? (Ahem, imposter syndrome!) Further, why do I still spend so much time doubting whether or not I’m making the right professional moves? Hasn’t my life has shown me by now that I can trust myself professionally?

I know that not everyone reading can relate to my journey as an entrepreneur. However, I think most of us can understand the self-doubt that comes up in our professional lives. Although we keep our outer image together quite well, inside we grapple with the ongoing thought that we aren’t doing this the way it should be done. And of course, when we’re struggling with our doubts it’s so easy to compare ourselves to our star colleague or powerhouse friend. Everyone else looks like they have it perfectly together. Why don’t we? 

From watching my own experience, listening to my friends, and sharing stories with my clients, I have a few theories about why, despite outer circumstances, we can still spend so much energy doubting ourselves professionally. I believe that examining this issue from a self-care perspective is incredibly important at this moment in time when claiming our power and changing dominant structures feels necessary for our continued well-being in this world. I don’t think we can get there without examining our part. 

The first reason we can get so lost in self-doubt is that in our culture, especially as women, we’re taught to trust outside forms of feedback more than ourselves. From early on in our education, we’re taught to gain the approval of authority figures and become motivated by extrinsic rewards, such as getting gold stars and making “A’s.” If we’re good at getting gold stars, we can base our entire self-esteem on this sense of achievement. If we don’t get the stars, we can develop a story about ourselves that we’re defective. 

Later on in life this need for outer approval translates as getting a higher salary, better title, or bigger office. Yes, these aspects of our lives are really important. Especially as women, we need to be practicing the self-care of asking for what we’re worth and advocating for our future professional growth. However, when these outer factors become almost the entire reason that we’re pushing ourselves so hard to excel at work, it becomes very easy to lose our sense of self in the process. When this happens to an extreme we may experience burnout, anxiety, and/or depression. 

The second reason for distrusting ourselves professionally can be because our values are misaligned. If you work at an organization where there’s a culture of toxicity (poor communication, misdirected emotion, a top-heavy hierarchy, etc), you will react negatively in some way. Some of us get angry at this toxicity. To me, this feels like the healthiest option in a bad work situation. When channeled with awareness and with some openness from higher ups, I believe this kind of anger can be a powerful change agent. 

But if we aren’t in touch with our anger at others, it’s way easy to turn our frustrations in on ourselves. This happens when instead of noticing how unproductive it is when everyone talks over at each other during the team meeting, you chide yourself for not being confident enough to butt your way into the conversation. Or, instead of calling bullshit on why junior staff are expected to stay late in order to prove themselves, you get upset with yourself that you can’t be more driven like your officemate. Instead of recognizing that your workplace is the problem, you make yourself the problem. 

Finally, I think we struggle with professional distrust when we keep our work-related insecurities all to ourselves. As the ever-wonderful Brene Brown reminds us, the people with the most shame are the ones who talk about it the least. The more we try to pretend we have it all together professionally, the more we’re probably suffering inside. The less we talk about the places we struggle, the more we block ourselves from the nourishing connection that happens when someone else says: “Oh yeah. I feel that way too!” 

This is why I so appreciate adding the term “imposter syndrome” to our modern lexicon. Now with just two words we can name the ways we feel shaky in our professional lives while also adding in the essential insight that enough of us are struggling with these feelings that it warrants its own vocabulary. When we say it, we remind ourselves that we are just one of many doing the very best we can in our careers.

Which brings us to what I think is the most important point. Recognizing the commonality of professional self-doubt is essential for changing dominant work culture. Once we realize that we’re not the only ones struggling, we can become more critical of the system itself. We can speak up about toxic culture, suggest workable changes, and if we are not listened to, realize that we have the right to look for a workplace where we can be valued. 

To do this, we have to break our unspoken agreements that we’re going to be compliant at all costs. We have to be willing to risk a few gold stars in the name of true professional integrity. As hard as it may feel, we need to start listening to ourselves and trusting what we hear. From there, we gain the courage to search out the support we need and start speaking directly about the problems we see. 

I think this way of conducting ourselves is both very simple and incredibly challenging. It will require us to really face our fears. The good news is that according to the Buddihist maxim, the way we do anything is the way we do everything. Approaching our professional lives with more courage and integrity will also transform how we show up in our personal lives. We will no longer date people that always interrupt us or let our unspoken needs with our kids turn into seething resentments. We’ll even stop tolerating negative self-talk, because we’ve stopped allowing it from other people. Little by little, we’ll recognize our power to show up differently and how this kind of self-care can revolutionize our entire lives. 

As I close here, I think it’s important to remember that even if we’re practicing amazing professional self-care, we’re still going to experience moments of self-doubt, especially if we’re taking important professional risks. A year and a half ago, I decided to retire Self Care 101, the very successful group habit-change program that launched my self-care business, and begin the Beautiful Life Collective, a monthly membership program focused on the intersection between social justice and self-care. Doing this meant I would give up a sure thing that felt like it had run its course in exchange for a new opportunity that *might* someday grow into a successful venture. 

I won’t lie. Starting something new at that point in my career was a tough process for me. As the Beautiful Life Collective went through the many fits and starts of any budding new venture, I wondered many times if I made the wrong decision. Had I traded away everything I owned for a silly handful of seeds? 

But every time I checked in with myself, I reconnected with why I made the change in the first place. I believe so deeply in the socially-conscious self-care conversation we’re having and the women who were showing up to have it. In my harder moments, I reached out for support from trusted friends and other entrepreneurs. They reminded me that my vision just needed time and space to grow.

And it has grown! We’re just ready to wrap up our first year as a community and I could not be more proud of the revolutionary self-care work we’re doing together. Each day, I feel more sure of the direction that we’re going and the many ways we can continue to grow in our self-care and our ability to care for our world. 

With patience, self-trust, and a very normal amount of anxiety, I’m happy to say that I used self-care to navigate another bump in the road of my career. It’s strengthened my resolve to share more openly on these topics and help others find the most easeful path to their own professional growth. It reminds me that even though we’re all doing such different things in our work, we are all in it together as we strive to grow in ourselves and make the world a better place.

With care,
Gracy 

PS - If the Beautiful Life Collective feels interesting to you, I highly suggest signing up for the Waitlist here. I’m opening up the Collective again for new membership later next month and have a special Waitlist discount!

Democratizing Ayurveda with Wellness Practitioner France Brunel

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Are you interested in learning more about Ayurveda, but feel like it's hard to integrate the ancient knowledge into your modern lifestyle? Ayurvedic teacher France Brunel started her wellness platform Yoom to help make Ayurveda's practices and philosophies more accessible to today's world. Her goal is to help democratize this healing tradition so that more people may benefit from its self-care wisdom.

In our conversation, we discuss: how the Ayurvedic framework can radically change your sense of self, simple ways to practice Ayurveda that don't take extra time and money, and why democratizing Ayurveda is so important for our collective well-being.

You can follow France's work here: 
https://www.liveyoom.com
@liveyoom (Instagram)

Wednesday Missive: Social Anxiety = Personal Growth Gold? (The Self-Care of Being in Community)

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Hello Darlings,

One of my earliest memories of a group social interaction gone awry happened when I was 7 years-old. It was the summer after my parents had gotten divorced and my mom had moved us to a new cul-de-sac street of suburban townhouses. I dealt with this transition by eating frozen pizzas while sitting in our cool basement watching “Sister Kate” and “Frugal Gourmet” reruns on Lifetime television. 

My mom, however, had another plan for me. She wanted me to make friends on our street. One afternoon, she told me to come upstairs because there was a group of girls my age playing outside. I don’t remember if I protested much, but I’m sure I wasn’t excited about the idea. Still, I followed her outside as she marched me toward three girls trying to set up a small tent on a patch of grass across the street. 

I remember that I let my mom do the talking. She told the girls that she used to be a Girl Scout and merrily hammered one of the tent posts into the ground. It was around this time that I got so uncomfortable that I burst into tears. My mother and the other girls stared at me as a few tears turned into uncontrollable sobbing. I didn’t stop crying until my mom walked me back to our townhouse. Once inside, I escaped again to our basement couch and began plotting out my afternoon television schedule. 

Sadly, this is not the last memory I have of a painful group interaction and the flood of emotions that came with it.  

Almost 15 years ago, I walked into a hotel conference room full of new Peace Corps pledges. Rather than be excited that these amazing people would eventually, with time and experience, become my new best friends, I focused on smoothing my new business casual outfit, drinking my coffee and flipping through paperwork. I had enough friends in my life, I told myself. I didn’t need anyone else. In reality, I didn’t want to go through the emotional effort of putting myself out there and possibly, getting rejected. 

Six years ago, I was invited by an old friend to a winter gathering of amazing women she knew in Palm Springs, CA. These were some of the smartest, funniest and most fashionable women I’d seen. The focus of our time together was to bask in a heated swimming pool, make group outings to nearby thrift stores and enjoy each other’s company.  Although I wanted to feel like I fit in with this group, I spent the majority of the weekend doubting the clothes I brought with me and feeling like I wasn’t funny enough to add a quip to the conversation. Really, I was afraid that I wasn’t cool enough to fit in with this crew, and didn’t want it to be proven right by saying something wrong. 

Four years ago, I walked into the first day of Integral Facilitation training (it was the first of three five-day intensives broken up over nine months). After hearing so much about the wonderful people that attended these seminars, I’d been expecting to feel a deep sense of belonging. Instead, I was gripped by the same desire to make myself as small as possible. Despite having lots of thoughts to share, I rarely raised my hand. When I was called up, I rushed through my words and turned red. At least by this point in my life, I could recognize the feeling for exactly what it was: just straight up fear. 

I wish I could say that with all the self-care development and personal work I’ve done over the years that I’ve figured out a way to best my ongoing social anxiety when walking into a new group situation. The truth is that I haven’t. I still get nervous when meeting new people and subsequently, upset with myself for getting nervous. The story I tell myself is that I should be over this by now—this only compounds my nerves, of course. 

(In Buddhism, this judgment of our self-judgment is called the “second arrow,” in that we further injure ourselves after the initial injury. We are taught that we have very little control over the first arrow,the initial emotional reaction. With practice, however, we do gain control over the second arrow as we learn to soften our judgments of our inevitable human imperfections.)

I suppose one way to deal with my anxiety is to never open myself up to new social situations, especially when I’m intimidated by the people who are involved (and thinking even more deeply, afraid that I’m not good enough to fit in). And yet, I persist. Despite knowing how hard it is for me, I keep searching for new groups to support me and help keep me growing. Over the past few years, I’ve gained community through 12-step programs, new mothers’ support groups and Jonah’s daycare community of parents. Each of these communities has fed me in important ways, and entering each one has been a challenge for me.

I used to think I was alone in feeling this kind of social anxiety. As I’ve gotten older and talked more openly with other people, I now know I’m not the only one who has a hard time opening up in new groups. Some of us deal with our anxiety by becoming more social, which probably makes them look more comfortable than they are, and some of us deal it with by retreating into shyness, which contains its own kind of challenge within our extrovert-revering culture. 

Perhaps the great irony of my life is that even though being in community is an ongoing struggle for me, I’ve based my wellness career in working with groups of women. I do this because of what I’ve learned through my own experiences with group interactions. I’ve come to understand that we can grow in amazing ways within groups not despite our fears of connection, but because of them. When we are willing to be seen by others, not just for our shiny, successful parts, but for the messier places where we struggle, we grow in exceptional ways. 

I like to think of a smaller community as a practice lab for learning to be ourselves in the world. Within a truly supportive group, we gain the courage to be ourselves, warts and all, and eventually to share our wholeness in bigger ways. During a moment in time when we are in desperate need of authenticity and empathy, engaging in this kind of transformative group work feels like service not just to ourselves, but to the world as a whole. 

Of course, we don’t have to find a formal support group in order to experience this kind of inter-relational growth. Recently, I encountered adrienne maree brown’s thoughts on “coevolution through friendship” in her delicious and revolutionary book “Emergent Strategy.” She shares her experience of growing through intentional friendship:

“I have been aware of the power of coevolution through friendship as I have been in what feels like a growth spurt. Babies do this, suddenly overnight become taller, fuller, using new words, more confident in their bodies and complex in their communications. It’s pretty incredible to watch--and to feel that the growth doesn't end even if it changes form. In this period, I have been supported, inspired, encouraged, and witnessed by a marvelous circle full of people in their own growth.” 

Despite having an uncomfortable time making friends, I’ve been lucky enough to be supported over the past decades by three strong circles of women from three different phrases of my life: high school, college and the Peace Corps. Although we don’t get together as often as we’d like these days, just knowing they are out there and ready to support me helps me make braver decisions in my life. 

In the same section, brown goes on to share about one tool of intentional growth within friendship (and I would argue, any growth-oriented community): vulnerability. She writes:  

“We reach out to each other and say things like ‘something incredible is happening,’ ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I fucked up,’ ‘I think I hurt someone,’ “I’m overwhelmed,’ ‘I’m terrified,’ ‘I think I’m hurting,’ ‘I’m lost,’ ‘Am I falling in/out of love?,’ ‘_______ happened, what should I do?,’ ‘I want something new/different/marvelous/dangerous/that feels essential to my soul--help!,’ and so on. We ask others to be mirrors for us at our most vulnerable places, so we can see what we are learning, see new possibilities in our lives.” 

Truly, I can’t say enough about the power of practicing vulnerability within groups of people who are strong enough in themselves to be vulnerable right back. Despite the discomfort of opening up and letting myself be seen, I’ve doggedly practiced this tool over the years, within old friendships and new groups, and grown into myself in such beautiful ways as a result. More than any morning routine or other lifestyle hack, learning to be wholly ourselves in community is the most important self-care tool that I know. 

With that, starting this week I’m opening up Generosity, my intimate, year-long support circle of amazing women, for new membership (and ending that open window on August 31st). This group of incredible spirits has spent the past two years sharing our stories in community, cheering each other on through the harder moments and really letting ourselves be supported. Together, we’ve experienced all kinds of birth—new jobs, new babies, new cities—and deaths—of loved ones, old relationships and dreams that were ready to be set down. We could not have done this alone.

Since almost everyone in our current Generosity groups wants to continue on for another year, I have very few open spaces. Maybe you’d like to fill one of them? If gaining this kind of group support and experiencing your own self-care growth spurt within community feels like the next right move for you, please fill out this interest survey and I'll contact you from there. 

Because, in the end, I’ve made it through each of those challenging group moments. As a child, I gained wonderful neighborhood friends whom I still keep in touch with today. Although we are dispersed around the world, my facilitation co-trainees continue to support and inspire me through our ongoing interactions. 

And on my second to last night in Palm Springs, while swimming alone under the giant Kuan Yin statue that guarded our pool, I experienced a moment of visceral self-acceptance. As I swam under the night sky, I realized that even if I was the most imperfect, least fashionable person in the world, I was still worthy of love. Even if I wasn’t funny at all, I could still like myself. 

Something changed in me during that moment. I realized that I could be my own friend, and only from that place could I let others in. Although this was a deeply personal realization, I don’t think I could have understood this without the backdrop awesome women and the intimacy of our experience together. From there, I got out of the pool, dried myself off, and enjoyed the hell out of the time I had left on that trip. 

With care,
Gracy

PS: If subjects like "Self-Care and Social Anxiety" and "Self-Care and Community" feel evocative to you, please check out my new book "selfcarefully." In it, I will teach you to use self-care as a lens to examine personal and societal struggles, as well as the tools to help you find joy within the challenges of life. Order your advanced copy here!

Wednesday Missive: What's So Hard About Doing Nothing?

Hello Darlings,

More than a decade ago, when I lived in the Andes while working for the Peace Corps, my Peruvian host family used to do something that completely unnerved me.Every day, after spending their mornings bustling through farm chores and cooking a huge lunch over wood fire, they would all sit in their open-air courtyard and DO NOTHING. 

And when I say do nothing, I mean do nothing. The static-y transistor radio would be in the background, but no one actively listened to it. People would say things now and then but they didn’t engage in any kind of ongoing conversation. Sometimes my host father would tenderly pick the gray hairs out of my host mother’s extraordinarily long hair, which always kind of melted my heart, but still, they weren’t really doing anything. 

(Just want to point out here that my Peruvian host family was completely abiding by the laws of nature as described by Ayurveda. Learn more about how we should be using our afternoons here. Hint: it's not about getting more done!)

I had arrived in Peru determined to immerse myself and try to live like the people around me.But even with this determination, I think I lasted about 20 minutes of my first afternoon of sitting with them. I sat quietly and swatted the many flies away. I commented on how hot the afternoon had become. Finally, I excused myself to go read a book. I simply couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about these strange afternoons during my two days a week caring for Jonah. Especially because during the intense heatwave of last week and a few afternoon thunderstorms we’ve had this summer, we can’t always get outside after his nap. The good news is that my toddler is mostly okay with this. He chooses to occupy himself by taking all the books off the shelf, rearranging his baby spoons, and gleefully emptying his basket of balls as many times as I regather them. 

I, on the other hand, have a very hard time with these aimless afternoons.I want to DO something! And when I can’t do anything, I want to check my email and/or social media feeds over and over in the hopes that something will entertain me or at least distract me from the ongoing nothingness of sitting around my living room on a Thursday afternoon. 

I could turn my discomfort in these situations into a problem with me and my inability to be present.However, I know I’m not the only one who has a hard time doing nothing.

I look out at our modern culture and I see the neverending pulls on our attention and how we collectively deal with it: overspending, overwatching, overscheduling, our dependence on our phones and allegiance to our emails, and our discomfort with ever having a pause in the flow of entertainment and information. 

We have an “addiction to excitement.”That’s a phrase I heard in the 12-step traditions that has helped give me vocabulary for where I see us struggling in our self-care and our lives. An addiction to excitement occurs when our early experiences of life are chaotic, disconnected, and fueled by anxiety. Although it doesn’t feel good, we become used to never-ending upset in our lives and actively seek out experiences that help us recreate this rush of brain chemicals. An addiction to excitement can help explain why our friends continue to date unreliable partners or move from one toxic work environment to another. 

(Personally, I know it was very hard for me to finally choose a partner who is stable and consistent because I was so addicted to the opposite. Thank you to everyone who helped me learn to finally commit to someone who is good for me.

Even if you had a super stable childhood experience, I think being raised in modern culture, especially in the United States (where I live), makes it almost impossible to avoid having some kind of addiction to excitement.Here in the United States, we are a nation built upon trauma after trauma as well as our denial that anything is wrong. Disconnection and anxiety are in the air we breathe and are now so fully manifested in our 24/7 media culture. Because it seems utterly normal, few of us stop to ever question whether our dedication to always tuning in is actually helping us or anything we care about. 

I recently listened to a great interview with artist and writer Jenny Odell about her book “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” In it, she talks about how our refusal to be swept away with the media-created issue of the day is a necessary step for returning to a grounded activism that creates real change. To do this, she proposes that we need to relearn how to give ourselves meaningful pauses, especially where we can connect with nature (she’s recently taken up birdwatching).

From an interview with her in The Guardian, Odell summarizes the importance of creating intentional space:  

Obviously "doing nothing" is not activism, but I hope the book helps clear the ground for activism. I looked at the formal quality of how people have organized [in the past] – these closed spaces where people come together and encounter one another in a fuller sense than one does online, and then strategizing in slightly larger meetings, and larger meetings. It wasn’t until I came across that pattern, as I was researching these movements, that I realized how much was at stake with the attention economy.

In a way it’s destroying the frameworks that we have traditionally used for organizing, and it’s destroying the contexts that allowed people to encounter ideas in a way that’s productive. In the Veronica Barassi essay that I cite, the activists she interviewed complained about the effects of social media on time. Like, not having the time to have conversations about ideas, and that anything you say online is immediately buried.

Activism takes time, and that time is getting taken away from us.

Kelly Barrett of the wonderful Om Weekly newsletter(and who is leading the retreatI mentioned above) recently wrote a post called the “Unexpected Anxiety of Free Time,” where she shares about the anxiety she experienced during a supposedly relaxing lake vacation.I really love what she wrote at the end of her post: 

And maybe...just maybe...it's because I was being reminded of all the parts of my identity that are not at all what I do...but are who I am. Like if the paychecks stopped tomorrow, and the Internet permanently broke, I would still be a friend. I would be someone who loves nature, a person who gets completely swept up in their thoughts, the one holding up the rear because I've stopped to look at something too long. I would have flat feet and bad ankles but a strong need to walk ev-ery-where. I'd still have trouble making eye contact in a room of acquaintances, but be completely at ease for hours in a one-on-one conversation with a stranger. I'd still write poems in my head while I'm on the toilet and forget them before I wash my hands. I'd still run when the urge hits, even though I'm horribly slow, pausing to look at flowers as an excuse to catch my breath.

***

By the end of my time in Peru, after I had become more seasoned to living at a slower pace, I could stay a little longer in that courtyard with my host family. I noticed that I didn’t need to make as much small talk as I tried to fill up the blank spaces. I could sit, look up at the mountains, and just appreciate being alive for a while. 

My increased ability to just be in the moment without doing was probably more of a victory than any project I signed my name on during my service. It’s also one of the skills I call upon when I’m on my third hour of sitting around with Jonah doing absolutely nothing of mention. 

It’s in these moments I remember that it’s very healthy to give myself a break from productivity.I’m modeling for him what I most think we need in the world right now: time to pause, time to recenter ourselves, and the space we need to look at the world again with new eyes. 

With care,
Gracy

Wednesday Missive: The Way Home to Ourselves

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Hello dears,

I’ve written this self-care newsletter for the past few years and received so much of your great feedback. (Thank you for every bit you’ve ever sent. It means the world to me!) Over time, I’ve noticed a few patterns in what you respond to the most and from that, I think I’ve come to understand a few things about our collective self-care blocks.

Here’s what I observe: So many of us are living these brilliant-seeming lives. We’re getting those promotions, taking dream bucket vacations, and finally getting our home decor game to the A+ level. For the most part, we’re good at having a goal and turning it into reality. On one level, we really believe in ourselves and our capacity. 

But the inside is a different story. Underneath the outer success, I think a lot of us are struggling in subtle, but important ways. We worry a lot about what other people think of us, have difficulty asking for what we want and need in our relationships, and still feel insecure about whether we’re making good use of our lives. We wish we could better understand the anxiety that still keeps showing up in our minds and bodies.

I really understand all of this because I spent most of my life living it out. On the surface, I always seemed okay. I made great grades throughout school, lived in South American for the Peace Corps, became a yoga teacher, and have pretty much always worked for myself. Whenever someone asked me how I was doing, it was easiest to talk about what was happening on the surface. “Things are going really well!,” I’d say. 

If I had chosen to tell what was happening on the inside during this time, it would have been messier. Any one of these statements would have probably been more true:

“I don’t feel at home in my body or comfortable with eating in general. Even though in theory I’m body positive, I really wish my thighs looked better in my yoga pants and I’m still beating myself up about the brownie I ate last night.” 

“I don’t know why finding a healthy relationship feels so hard. I keep thinking about this guy I’m kind of dating. Even though I think he’s a jerk, I’m really upset that he isn’t texting me back and I’m analyzing our last conversation over and over in my head even though I know that’s stupid.” 

“I don’t know why I can’t make my life work as well as my friends. My friends are moving up professional ladders and getting married and generally seem like they have it more together than me. I know it doesn’t help to compare, but I’m worried that I’ve gotten off track somehow and that I’m falling behind.” 

Yup, those were a lot of the thoughts that ran through my head throughout my 20’s and into my 30’s. I felt anxious more than I ever would have admitted to another person (lest my illusion of external success be shattered) and would get caught in these terrible bouts of FOMO for things both big and small. 

Keep in mind that for most of this time I was learning and teaching yoga to other people. I could talk an amazing game about seeing through the destructive ego and the benefits of spiritual empowerment. But inside, I still didn’t feel like I was walking my talk and I didn’t know what to do about that. 

Then, when I was 33, everything shifted in a big way. That was the year that I finally decided to learn more about Ayurveda. 

Every yoga teacher knows a little bit about Ayurveda. I knew enough to be fascinated and always sensed that learning more about Ayurveda would transform my life in some important way. So, I signed up for a nine-month long immersion. Just after making this commitment, my then-partner and I went through a big breakup. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I decided to just fling myself into practicing Ayurveda in my daily life. 

Thus, I started waking up early and sitting for meditation before the sun rose. For the first time in my years of teaching yoga, I developed a consistent morning home practice. I made more delicious home-cooked meals and naturally stopped snacking.  I began giving myself weekly oil massages to calm my nervous system. I stopped feeling so anxious and really began enjoying my life. 

I wouldn’t have had the words for it at the time, but this was the first time in my life that I was developing discipline. This wasn’t the discipline of pushing myself toward an outer life goal (I knew a lot about that already), but rather the discipline of making self-care a real priority. 

As I experienced the benefits of daily routine, called dinacharya in sanskrit, I noticed other parts of my life changing. I fully decluttered my living space (which to this day remains decluttered), signed up for an immersive training in Integral Facilitation, and began attending a 12-step program that helped me heal from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic household. Over time, I stopped tolerating any kind of abusive or self-destructive tendencies in relationships and faced the abandonment fears that were keeping me from committing myself to another person. (Oh, and I became a mother in the process of all this too!)

When I trace these life changes back, I always land in Ayurveda. Learning and practicing Ayurveda changed my life. As I’ve taught it to my clients, I’ve seen it transform so many other lives. The results are individual, but the overall effect is the same. Ayurveda seems to give us a pathway home to our truest selves. 

I want to recognize that Ayurveda is an ancient science that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. You may ask yourself why one has to learn a self-care practice from a completely different time and culture. Isn’t there lots of great health research and self-care ideas coming from our modern culture? Haven’t we evolved over the past 5,000 years to find better ways to take care of ourselves?

I’ve asked myself this a lot and the answer I always come back to is how hard it is to practice authentic self-care within our modern consumerist culture. In our externally-focused society, so many of us have been indoctrinated to see ourselves and our self-care as a commodity. We’ve been taught to ignore our inner lives so that the outer can shine. I think it’s very, very hard to have an authentic spiritual life when the subtle or overt messaging has always told us that we need to fix ourselves and be more perfect. For me, learning self-care from a completely different time and culture was the key for me finally learning how to take care of myself. 

(If the idea of practicing self-care within a consumerist culture is interesting to you, please order my new book “selfcarefully.” I go much deeper into these topics and offer ideas for healing through cultural critique and subversive self-care.)

So for me, it’s been a true privilege to learn from Ayurveda’s wisdom and pass the message along to others. As I’ve taught other people and witnessed the power of practicing Ayurveda in community, I’ve recently come to believe that Ayurveda is not only a wonderful personal wellness practice, but it also contains the wisdom we need to practice real community care and save our world. 

This is where it gets really exciting! Over the past few months, I’ve been analyzing what I know of Ayurveda and what I think our society needs in order to create a real collective healing. I’ve found some really exciting connections and parallels that are giving me a lot of energy and hope. And I want to spread the message!

For this, I’ve decided to host a free class called “Getting Free with Ayurveda” on Friday, July 19th from 12 to 1pm EST. I’ll share specific Ayurveda tools that will create a change in your life immediately while cultivating the tools to create a greater liberation of well-being for all. 

If you’re interested, please sign up here.

(And yes, you’ll get the recording right after the call, so sign up even if you can’t be live!

I can’t wait to share more and move a few more steps along the path of taking our self-care beyond the self. Let’s be on the path together and help each other find the way home to ourselves. 

With care,
Gracy