"I need to push our appointment to next week, is that ok?"
[ok, breath, You can do it.]
I did my first elimination diet at 22. I got a rash all over my face and neck whenever I shaved, and the google gods suggested a naturopathic miracle.
I decided to give it a shot, and a few days later I started an elimination diet, prescribed by a licensed naturopath.
It was a nightmare. For 2 weeks I couldn't focus on anything else except food, and when she asked to postpone our follow-up appointment the day before the end of the 2 weeks period, I practically begged her over the phone to tell me what foods I can start adding back. She found it amusing, but finally said I can eat tomatoes again. Party.
This was my introduction to more mindful eating: not in the buddhist way of paying attention to textures and flavors, but with regards to having more knowledge and being more mindful about what I'm choosing to eat.
Since then, every few years I would give it another shot, thinking my eating habits need a little bit of a reset. Every time it felt like punishment, and by the end of the week I was usually feeling exhausted and irritable.
Things changed when a few years ago I was going through an emotional rollercoaster, and for some reason my brain went into extreme self-care mode (instead of the glorified self-destruction). I decided I'll do this diet, but also add to it other practices: meditation, journaling, yoga/stretching/exercising, etc. Nothing too complicated, but the combination worked like magic.
I resurfaced on the other side of that week feeling energized, motivated and stronger. The diet part felt a lot less challenging this time, and having that comprehensive structure helped showing up for each of the different practices regularly, every day. By the end of that week, everything felt like a familiar routine, and every time I've done it since I noticed that I'm holding on to all these practices a lot longer than just through that specific week.
I now try adding something new whenever I do my reset weeks. Last time (in last September) I went through my ‘watch next’ movie list and picked all these esoteric ones that every other day I skip, thinking I'm not in the right mood. I really enjoyed them, so this time I'm thinking of adding inspirational/motivating podcasts episodes. I have a few favorites, but which ones would you recommend?
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I'm starting my reset week next Sunday, and have a small group of friends join. If you'd like to be part of the group and go through this together, click here to learn more and join us (don't worry, you don't need to figure out anything on your own, I'm sharing all my resources with the group).
I mentioned last week how things are already feeling chaotic here, and with the upcoming trip back north I won't settle down until mid-June. I need all the grounding and energy I can muster. If you're feeling like you could use a pre-summer reset, join us!
Things haven't been going so smoothly out here. I’ve told before the story of how this opportunity to spend 5 months out in a beautiful log house in Texas came about, and that our end of the deal was to do a couple of renovation projects in the house.
We really wanted to get it all done with on the early side, so we'll get to relax and focus on other stuff for the rest of our time here. It didn't quite work out this way. The design part with the homeowners took longer than expected, and then the infamous Texas storm happened. It took another month before we could get a plumber and electrician out here, and we needed both to do prep work before we could get started with our part.
A couple of weeks ago we were finally able to move the renovation projects into high gear. We've been working around the clock, looking forward to completing the main project before our planned trip to Big Bend (which was the highest on our must-see list out here in Texas), but things took longer than expected. We packed our bags the morning of our trip and got on the road - exhausted and frustrated.
Big Bend was beautiful. The weather was in our favor, the desert was in its peak short blooming period, and our food and accommodations were great. I wish we could have enjoyed all of this more, but we were too stressed and anxious about what's waiting at home and our time starting to run out.
By the time we got back home, I had a cold sore popping out. This past week ended up being a race to catch up on everything that accumulated while we were away. I feel like I've been slowly losing grip on my self-care practices over the past few weeks, and it's time to get back on track if I don't want things to get worse. It's our last month here, there’s still a lot to day, and I don’t want to leave here completely wiped out.
What I do in times like this is a "reset week": a physical and mental balancing program. It's kind of like one of these retreats you have to fly out to for a week, I just do it at home, spending a lot less money and staying connected to whatever is happening in my life.
The last time I did one of these was last fall, and Bryan decided to join me. It made the whole thing feel much more doable, knowing that someone else is going through this rigorous schedule and program and being able to check in on each other. So I decided to offer others to join me this time too: If you feel like you could use a reset, a plan to get back on track, take a look and see if this program could be what you need.
What do you usually do when things feel "off"? How do you get back on track?
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This past year has been an ongoing intense course in risk taking. Every single day we’ve had to reassess what are the risks and costs of what used to be mundane decisions: leaving the house, meeting friends and family, traveling, eating out, etc etc etc.
A year later, each of us has a better sense of what level of risk we’re comfortable taking in our everyday lives, and bigger questions and decisions are coming up, as we’re considering how to move forward.
Every one of these decisions carries a certain level of risk, and often it’s these risks that we’re thinking of that are holding us back from taking action. The truth is, it’s hard to say which of these risks will become reality, and in what exact form - there are often too many unknowns. So is it possible to make a calculated decision?
Start with seeing what worked for you in the past: what bigger risks have you taken in the past, and how did they turn out? Can you think of three times you were faced with a choice, and decided to go with the option that you had less certainty in how it would turn out?
Here are three big ones of mine:
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Our summer plans are confirmed - we're heading back north comes June, spending the summer on Fire Island (!!). It's literally a dream come true.
While we're still knee-deep in our projects and daily life out here in Texas, our brains have already begun spinning with thoughts, ideas, and a lot of questions over the possibilities and challenges that are going to come up in preparation for and during this next chapter.
There's going to be a lot of external and internal work to be done - which is both exciting and exhausting at the same time. So much work, for such a short period of time! Fire Island is a seasonal community, so our time there will be very limited: we'll only be out there for three and a half months. And then? We'll see what the universe will send our way next. Suddenly, I find myself wondering (momentarily, for the most part): is it all worth it?
Not having a permanent place of residence is challenging, in many ways. While I've fantasized about being a nomad for many years, the reality of it has presented some unexpected obstacles - practical and mental. On the other hand, I'm not ready to say yet where is it that I'd like to settle down and put roots in next.
Holding this contrast, the journey continues. I'm allowing myself to dream big for this summer with the ideas I have on how I'd like to spend my time out there, what I'd like to create in that environment, and how I'd like to show up there - for myself and for the people around me. And really, when I dust off the mundane tasks of everyday life, those are the questions that I'd like to keep at the front of my mind - so how lucky am I to be able to actively focus on them so regularly these days??
The clock is ticking. In less than 2 months, it will be time to leave Texas and move on to our next adventure. The problem is, we don't have the faintest idea what this adventure will be.
Or at least, we didn't - until last week.
A month ago, Bryan had a call with an old friend who runs a guest house during the summer in a beautiful beach town back north. His friend told him he wants to do more there this summer: offer workshops, classes, and other events for the local community. Bryan told me about his ideas, and we were talking about how cool it all sounded.
Last week, Bryan's friend asked us if we'd like to run the guesthouse and the events there this summer. How cool! This came out of nowhere, and in many ways, it couldn't be more perfect: the schedules line up, we love it out there, and one of my dreams is actually to own/run a place like that myself, so this would be a great experience.
But something has been holding me back from jumping on it and saying yes. Last week I mentioned my social anxieties, and the thought of becoming the face of one of the main social spaces of this small town is terrifying to me. At some point (specifically, in my first year in junior high), I started telling myself that I'm not cool enough to be part of the "cool kids" group (whatever that means...). I've been gathering evidence to support this narrative since (and I've been doing really well at it, mind you). This has become my "golden shadow".
When we think about our "shadow aspects", we tend to think about traits and qualities that we consider negative: being controlling, sloppy, immature, insecure, etc. We reject these qualities, but they keep showing up in our lives and sucking our energies. Surprisingly though, we also reject qualities that we think greatly of: creativity, success, strength, confidence, playfulness, etc. We surround ourselves with images and people that embody these qualities, and we stride the line between admiring and resenting them. If we dig deep inside, we know we'll be able to find these qualities in us.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure"1. The truth is, we're afraid of letting go of the stories that make up who we are today, the stories we've been telling ourselves for so long. We're afraid to take risks, to try and live out a different narrative. So instead, we keep making choices that feel "safe", but all they do is solidify our old stories, the stories that keep holding us back from living a full life.
I'm tired of my junior high story. Looking back even at the past couple of years, I can see how much energy I've spent finding evidence for this story, missing the opportunity to focus on people, places, and experiences that had a big "COOL" sign blinking over them. Like this chance to spend a summer on the beach, doing the things I’ve always been dreaming about. So I’m going to say YES.
This summer is going to be the coolest summer ever 😎✌️
It was 84° out here on Friday, so after a long and busy week, we decided to take the day off and drive out to Hippie Hollow - one of Austin's lake beaches. We got there early enough to grab one of the few tree-shaded spots, looking forward to a quiet afternoon of reading and napping in the sun.
As more people started showing up and filling the beach I saw my relaxing dreams slowly fade away. Whenever I spotted someone surveying the area near us I noticed myself getting anxious: "great, there goes our quiet afternoon. This person's gonna blast their music/party with their friends/try to start a conversation". You can already tell, I got some social anxiety issues.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about shadow aspects: these traits and behaviors that make our jaws clench and trigger a strong visceral reaction when they're on display - by ourselves or others. Sure, people can do really hurtful things to us, so I'm not referring to that. Yet we can get really bothered when someone is acting a certain way around us, even if it has nothing to do with us directly. More ironically, we can spot these behaviors a mile away, and they can take all of our attention, regardless of what we're doing or how much we really don't want to pay attention to it. Trying to relax on the beach, just the thought of these behaviors (none of them actually happened around us) raised my anxiety level.
So what makes us have such a strong reaction in these situations? The keyword in the description of shadow is rejected. Debbie Ford, in one of the most popular books that talk about shadow aspects (The Dark Side of the Light Chasers) describes the holographic model of the universe: “every piece of the universe contains the intelligence of the whole... Each of us possess every human quality. There is nothing we can see or perceive that we are not, and the purpose of our journey is to restore ourselves to this wholeness". For one reason or another, we decided behavior x is bad, and that (often early, unconscious) decision is what's steering our conscious wheel now.
Regardless of the specific approach to the topic (and there are endless possible angles out there, from analytical psychology to new age to quantum physics to Buddhism) the starting point in addressing one's shadow aspects is identifying what they are. Triggers and projections are great signs for what your shadow aspects might be (and also advice you find yourself give others - that's probably advice you'd want to act on yourself). For me, I could definitely do some work on not feeling all charged up over casual conversations with strangers (or god forbid even enjoy them) - who knows, my beach experience might actually become relaxing...
Can you already tell what are a couple of your personal shadows? What behaviors get a (somewhat unreasonable) reaction out of you?
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Surprisingly, shadows can also cover aspects that we consider as positive. Some our of shadow aspects are where our greatest talents are buried, so next week I'm going to share more about our Golden Shadows and how they could be the key to your motivation.
Some life changes are a result of external conditions (like being offered a job somewhere new, going through a break-up, etc), and in these cases, a lot of the decisions and choices you have to make are based out of necessity to adapt to the new reality. The reality of your everyday life has changed - whether you were prepared for it or not - and certain decisions and choices are simply unavoidable.
On the other hand, there are moments in life when deciding to stay on the same course, or taking a sharp turn in a new direction are - for the most part - entirely up to you. Leaving New York at the end of last year was one of these moments for me. I've lived in NY for 12 years, 9 of which in the same garden apartment in Brooklyn (who has a garden in Brooklyn?? I did. Which is why I held on to it for so long).
2020 was a rough year in NY. Covid hit us hard first here in the U.S. in mid-March, with little to no mental preparation. All social life - one of the main perks of living in a big city like NY - came to an abrupt halt, while over time the city's social services crumbled as people were struggling the most. On a personal level, my social circle kept shrinking, my income diminished, and to top it all off, In October, my already decaying apartment had a leak for weeks before the landlady took care of it - which we then learned was a sewage leak (!!). Life was a literal shitshow 💩.
Sure, the leak was fixed and things could have just gone back to normal, but somewhere deep inside, all of the emotional currents of this past year were slowly growing in intensity, and this bursting pipe in my apartment had also burst the dam of my willingness to keep accepting reality as it were.
This led to a flood of questions and uncertainties. Where will we go? How will we pay rent, survive, make a living? Bryan and I gave our notices on our apartments, and started treading the waters of uncertainty, while practicing "trust the universe" and regularly reminding ourselves of our resourcefulness, holding on to these as our imaginary buoy.
In early December, when time was running out and we still didn't have any concrete leads, we put up a post on facebook, asking our friends for ideas and possible opportunities across the country. 48 hours later, we got an email from a college friend of Bryan's sister, offering us to live in her weekend log-house home (with an attached pool and a pond!) for the next 5 months, in exchange for doing a couple of renovation projects. A couple of email exchanges and a phone call 3 days later we had a virtual handshake, which lifted a huge load off of our chests.
This spring equinox marks our half-way point in our stay here. Last week we finally dipped our toes in the inevitable conversation about what will be our next chapter. We're back in the water of uncertainty, but it's a lot less scary this time. While the big questions remain to be answered, so many elements that caused us stress the first time (will we be able to fit all our stuff in a trailer? will the car make it? how much money will we end up spending? etc) are practically non-issues this time. And while being in a stream of rapid waters can be stressful, if you hold on to your buoy and let the stream carry you, eventually you'll end up onshore. ⛵
For a long time, the fight for equality for the LGBT community was focused on marriage equality. An alternative (and less popular) perspective on it suggests, that while marriage equality increased our access to certain legal rights that weren't available to us prior, it simultaneously limited the validity of other types of kinship and relationships that were practiced by queer people. Prior to the marriage equality act, we had no option but to create our own familial structures. Since we didn't have access to state-mandated structures, every relationship structure we chose was equally sanctioned (or paradoxically, accepted as an equally viable alternative to the norm).
In the spring of 2013, when the marriage equality cases were discussed and decided in the US Supreme Court,I was going through my first big break up, struggling to define and create a structure for a relationship that was not following the norm. While everyone was celebrating being recognized as equals in our right to get married, I was mourning a dying 7-year long relationship that didn't even have an identifiable name.
I learned a lot of lessons from this relationship (and our breakup). The main one was that my ideal relationship structure doesn't fit in the hetero-normative model. I started looking online for resources and role models (after all, queer people have been creating their own family structures for decades, so despite their obscurity, they are out there), an effort that required to come up with some ingenious search terms. Knowing how valuable the information I found could have been before my break up, I created The Queer Relationships Project: an online resources archive. One of my favorite categories in it is the "vocabulary" resources. Terms like queerplatonic, romantic friendship, passionate friendship, and compersion, describing different structures and experiences, were suddenly available for me to describe my tendencies and desires. My lived experiences finally had words to describe them, make them "real", and explain them to others.
My personal focus has shifted since then, but I am still drawn to more obscure experiences and types of knowledge. Recently, I've been doing a lot of learning on the topic of shadow aspects, a concept in analytical psychology. Early 20th-century psychologist Carl Jung has described shadow as "the unknown dark side of the personality", referring to unconscious aspects of our personality that we reject (in ourselves and others) in response to negative reactions we've received on these traits from our environment, usually during early childhood. These shadow aspects develop to keep us safe and loved, but oftentimes we carry them into our adulthood, where instead of protecting us they now hold us back and sabotage our relationships - with ourselves and others. Limiting beliefs, inner critic, impostor syndrome: these are all related topics and concepts, that have evolved thanks to our ability to describe certain experiences and ideas.
Our lives are full of experiences that we don't always have the words to describe, yet we continue to try. Topics explored in psychology, for instance, are enjoying the stamp of approval of academia in creating models and words for us to use (much like how certain societal concepts get approved and gain recognition by legal bodies). On the other hand, ideas that are explored in areas such as spirituality, which isn't neatly fitting in our hegemonic knowledge systems, are often considered obscure and less valid. Still, as time passes and ideas keep being shared, we get to find words and concepts that can help us make sense of our experiences in the world and to become more compassionate and accepting, towards ourselves and others.
Exploring non-traditional ideas and perspectives has long provided me the tools and language that allows me to lead a life that might be non-traditional, yet one that feels more aligned with my values and dreams.
Until next Sunday --
PS - if you're curious to learn more about shadow and related topics, keep an eye out. I'm working on a workshop on the topic and will share more details next week. In the meantime, you can download my free Limiting Beliefs workbook here.
Once a week I make ice cream, and most weeks I'm in the mood to try a new flavor combination. The problem is, I hardly ever decide in advance what it will be, so I end up spending a good amount of time opening and closing every door in the kitchen until I finally make up my mind (if I'm in full paralysis mode, I turn to one of my go-to's: rosemary-pine nut or Vietnamese coffee).
Only 2nd to flavor, texture can make or break my ice cream dreams. I want my ice cream to be soft and scoop-able at the exact moment I reach for it, not a rock-hard pint (or worse, a pudding puddle). Making ice cream is science: different ingredients have different freezing points, and some interact with others in strange ways (for instance, if you add alcohol to your ice cream it will come out smoother because the alcohol prevents the tiny amounts of water in the ice cream to freeze and turn into ice. If you add too much though, the cream in the custard won't freeze and all you'll get is a gooey goop. Science!).
Do I fully know how will my chosen ingredients interact? I do not. When it comes to making ice cream, I'm claiming my artist's voice and letting my vision take the lead. About 16 hours stand between choosing the final ingredients and conducting the spoonablity test, so that moment when I finally make up my mind and start cooking is exciting, energizing, terrifying and devastating - all at the same time. I give up on all the other (brilliant, may I say) flavor ideas I have, and I put all my bets on this (superb, may I say) chosen flavor. But what if this experiment will tank?
The first time I made ice cream it didn't freeze properly. That honey-thyme goo was spectacular still, poured over pound cake. I bought an instant-thermometer since and following (some) science rules that result hadn't repeated. I still get these butterflies and knots in my stomach as I'm making ice cream, but at that point, there's no point crying over simmering milk: in 16 hours I'll have a sweet frozen custard, and one way or another, I'm gonna figure out how to eat all of it.
In September 2019, a few days before my birthday (yup, I'm a Virgo ✌️), my friend Jaiar who I haven't seen in a few years was visiting, and after a visit to the cloisters we stopped at the Christopher Street piers on our way back to Brooklyn. It was a beautiful September afternoon, mixing the last of summer's warmth with the soft light of fall. In one month, I'd be celebrating 11 years in NY, and the arrival of my long-awaited green card. Suddenly, after 3.5 years of waiting and being locked in place without any guarantees on how the process will turn out, I was able to fantasize about a future that I could actually work towards. Talking about possibilities, I had a moment of Eureka! on that pier, and a seed of an idea was born. For months it slowly germinated, until it was ready to begin sprouting in mid-March of last year.
What else happened in mid-March last year in NYC? Covid did. In full force. Within days the city went into complete shutdown, as our days were taken over by waves of paranoia and depression. In the dark days of winter, we were locked in our tiny apartments, not knowing what this new reality is all about, how it will evolve, or how long it will last before we go back to "normal".
Secretly though, I didn't want it to go back to "normal". I was all ready for a change, and this forced pause - after an initial state of shock that lasted a few weeks - turned out to be the fuel I needed to push through on my new project.
In "Radical Acceptance", Tara Brach describes taking a pause as "time limited, [after which] we resume our activities, but with increased presence and more ability to make choices... we don't know what will happen next, but by disrupting our habitual behaviors we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears."
With all its pain, grief and angst, the pause we've been forced into this past year in different domains of our lives has pushed (or perhaps allowed?) us to to reconsider our old 'normal' ways, our 'priorities' and actions, and given us a chance to consider new and creative ways to take leaps and embrace change - something our reptilian brain always tries to avoid. Though as time passes, being the highly adaptive creatures that we are, our lives are again full of commitments, obligations, errands, and plans.
What personal eureka moments have you had this past year? What new ideas did you come up with? What alternative life did you imagine and wished for, on the other side of this long, overbearing period? If we want to stay inspired, we need to keep taking time to pause.
In the final days of 2020, I packed up my Brooklyn apartment and spent 5 days driving all the way down to Texas with my partner Bryan. One thing we both felt a growing call for over the previous 9 months was to take a pause from city life and the dark New York winter. Winter down here is nothing like in the north (putting aside last week's disastrous anomaly), and the afternoon glow over the hilly views is a daily reminder that taking the leap and leaving the past behind was the right choice, even if the future is still unknown. If we just remember to keep pausing, we'll know what's the next step that will take us where we actually want to go.