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How I Tamed My Wild, Creative, Distractible Brain (without Drugs) and Began Getting More Done

I don’t know about you, but I have had a very big case of wandering brain. So much so, that it kept me from developing into my full potential in much of my adult life.

Some might call this a case of ADD, but I never thought of it that way. I always felt it was part the celestial seasoning that peppers my brain. It’s just the way I am. Which is not to say I couldn’t use a little help.

The great news is that over the last few years I’ve learned to rein in this wild, rambling brain of mine. I attribute a lot of this to meditation, the soothing balm that helps all of us slow down, calm down, and chill out.

Once I began a regular meditation practice of only 15 minutes every day, I felt more grounded and relaxed in my body most of the time. I also discovered I could be much more present for other people. Even better, I found myself forgiving myself for little things that once caused me great stress and annoyance.

Once meditation was solidly on board, the path got even more interesting. I discovered my wandering brain could be reined in by using binaural beats in my headphones while I worked. If you’re not equated with binaural beats, they are a very cool wave technology that activates both hemispheres of the brain to work in sync more effectively.

This can be extremely helpful for insomnia, relaxation, and focusing. The beats sound like a rhythmic, slightly dramatic sort of drumming … yet they are subtle enough to hide behind a gentle rainfall, or soothing music. They are weirdly addictive once you get used to them.

A friend turned me onto a website called brain.FM that has really been revolutionary for me. (Brain.fm includes several different kinds of binaural beats that you can sign up for on an annual subscription. A pretty good coupon is available here.)

The first time I used binaural beats, I remember I was sitting in a café in Oakland. Suddenly, the world around me dimmed out. Gone were the chatting twenty-somethings, the driving café music, the endless stream of gluten free treats going by. Instead … it was just me and my work.

I dug in. Then I looked up an hour later. I had just completed something I’d been avoiding for days, and I sat there in amazement, looking over my work. Damned if it didn’t work!

Using binaural beats has been great fun for me as I now work every day with greater focus and ease. It’s just … easy! Even the hard stuff.

So I was delighted to find out that Eben Alexander, an author I highly respect, has used binaural beats to crank out his own stockpile of books. Turns out he and his collaborator, Karen Newell, have also been using and developing binaural beats in their teachings for others as well.

Notably, they use the beats for an interesting sort of everyday transcendence, claiming it helps them travel to the other side, and connect more deeply with their spiritual guidance. I love that! After all, who doesn’t want to travel to the other side on a regular basis? I sure do.

(If you want to catch last week’s podcast interview with Eben Alexander, click hereKaren Newell  is our guest on Before the Afterlife this week.) 

If you consider yourself a ‘brain adventurer’ – or even a procrastinator — why not get yourself a pair of good headphones, and start to dig into the vast and incredible world of binaural beats to sooth and work with the brain. You’ll accomplish more, feel more relaxed, and who knows where you’re going to travel?

If you have your own fun experiences or resources for binaural beats to share, please leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing what you think!

 

 

 

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How I Learned to Relax and Stop Being a Perfectionist

nervous_0This just in: we are imperfect, every last one of us. Always and forever. And here’s the great news … within that imperfection actually lies our perfection. If this sounds like a koan or a word puzzle, it’s not. It’s just a bit of gristle the Universe has given us to work on.

I say this as a recovering perfectionist. And you may have to find your way through this truth to truly get it.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen how raggedly I’ve run myself throughout my life. All, of course, in the pursuit of that invisible ghost: perfection.

But when upheaval happens, suddenly you are forced to stop and let go, and then the truth dawns. There is no book of standards you must live up to. And the only person waving that whip is … you. It wasn’t until my daughter suddenly died that I stopped trying to be a heroic superwoman. Because frankly, there didn’t seem to be much point.

That was four years ago. Now I have a different perspective. I’m back to producing my writings and other creative work, and I have decided to give myself all the time in the world — and all the permission in the world to do so.

Now I can mess up, make mistakes and not get things right. Then I can ask for help, get feedback, course correct and improve. And I can do this again and again and again.

Recently I experienced this around a book I just finished writing. I asked my partner to read the first draft, knowing her analytical mind would pick up all kinds of loose ends in my complex plot.

She came up with a long list of fixes, all of which were feasible. After the list was delivered, what I felt was pure gratitude and some relief. I knew there were missing pieces but I wasn’t sure what they were. Hallelujah!

Hours later it suddenly occurred to me that my inner perfectionist hadn’t even flinched. The first draft wasn’t a glowing model of perfection — it needed work. And beautifully … that was okay! Bottom line is that the book will now be vastly improved, and so this is actually very good news.

In the old days, my perfectionist would have been appalled. It needed me to be impressive at everything I did the minute I did it. Lord, was that tedious! It was an ancient mindset locked in place when I was a child, by an encouraging father who frequently told me I’d be a star someday. So I was left with the massively huge job of delivering on that promise.

No one ever said to me, “Go ahead and be mediocre, honey. That’s just fine.” I was expected to be a star, and it was up to me to figure out how to do it.

When a therapist first delivered this news to me, I was appalled. My own father set me up for perfection-mania? I loved my dear dad, and couldn’t imagine that he meant any harm. Which, of course, he didn’t. But this is how perfectionists are born.

Somehow, somewhere in our pasts, our little survivor selves believe we must overachieve to get our basic needs met. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about.

Today I keep the following promises with myself:

  1. Good enough is just fine with me.
  2. Mistakes ultimately make things better.
  3. Ask for help the minute you need it.
  4. There’s all the time in the world to get things done.
  5. Creating is a process … so go with the flow.

I also make a practice of stopping and breathing. I allow things to unfold, and I dive into the mystery of what will happen next.

Most of all, I keep in mind that if I don’t get things perfect the first time, the sky will not fall. In fact, I know I will be just fine — as I have been through every step of the last four years.

Perfection is nothing more than the cry of a frightened soul trying to get our attention. When we stop to listen to it, and we reassure ourselves that we’re going to be okay, then we grow.

For it is our compassion towards ourselves that really unlocks our brilliance, one sweet, vulnerable step at a time.

All we have to do is be willing to see the truth.

 

 

 

 

How to Keep the Faith When All Hell is Breaking Loose

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.

               – Cynthia Occelli

seed breakDo you know this place of complete surrender? Life happens and you are swept along with it. You stand in the wind and feel nothing beneath your feet as you are buffeted here and there. Yet … if you look … you will find there is something beneath your feet.

That something is belief. — you know it in your heart . As the wind rattles everything around you, you distantly recall platitudes about ‘this too will pass’ and windows closing and doors opening.

But belief’s a slippery bugger, and it’s so hard to hang in there when life seems to threaten your very existence.

Here are some things you can do to keep the faith while your own seed is breaking open.

  1. Remember that nothing is permanent. Whatever is happening right now really will pass. In a year’s time it will be a memory, perhaps sooner. And with that remembering comes perspective. Right now is possibly the worst this experience will feel.
  1. You might as well embrace reality. Trying to duck it is basically like trying to swim upstream against an impossible current. You will eventually get pushed back to that inevitable truth. So make life easy in the end by opening that letter, making that phone call, having that conversation now. Then just let the chips to fall where they may – no matter how painful. By honoring the flow of life, you will ultimately be rewarded.
  1. Enjoy what there is to be enjoyed. There will be strange little flickers of joy (and even big ones) along the way. They are Spirit’s way of saying, ‘It’s OK, you can take a break from all of this heaviness.” I saw it all around me in that terrible week that my daughter lay dying in the hospital. At the time I couldn’t understand the joy, but now I do. There is divinity even in great pain and loss. By recognizing it and even savoring it, you give your heart a little relief.
  1. Take time for yourself. Whatever is challenging you, you can allow space and time to comfort yourself. You must if you are ever to get to the gold buried deep within the fire. (Did I mention there is gold there?) Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to soothing music, read something comforting. Close the door on the rest of the world and allow yourself to actively feel what you need to feel. Then breathe, and know in the end everything’s going to be okay. This is where the magic healing happens.
  1. Ask Spirit to show you the way. Know that this, too, is part of the divine plan, no matter how heinous or difficult your circumstance. Who said life was meant to be easy and free all the time? Where would the growth be if it was? Above all know that God has your back, now and forever, and nothing that happens is without reason. Whenever you need to understand more, or get more guidance, simply ask. The answer is there.
  1. Create a bed of support. No one says you have to cross the desert alone. It wouldn’t be in your best interest to suffer excessively. So ask for help. Call a trusted friend or five. Reach out to family. Find a good therapist. Go to a support group, like  hospice grief groups, or even 12 Step recovery groups. These are people you can learn from and support, in turn. People understand and they genuinely want to help you. They really do.
  1. Trust the process. You may feel excruciatingly alone. You may feel like you are so lost you will never recover … But here’s the thing. This is all happening for a reason, and you will never be the same again. So allow the magic of life to do its work and set you free. Your soul will thank you for it, and you will emerge stronger and better for it. You really will.

How do I know this? I was given this truth after my own seed exploded into the Universe with nary a trace left behind. It is only in complete surrender that you can know the most profound joy.

Believe it or not, there is magic here, friend. But you must let go to let it in. And so it is.

Stop, Drop and Feel – A Recipe For Moving Through Fear

crying_ladyThis morning I was being interviewed by a radio host, and he asked me a simple but critical question: What do you do to move through fear?

I am happy to say that first of all … I had an answer! Secondly, the trick I shared is something anyone can do. And it works.

But first … let’s talk about our fear. Cause we all have it, right?

I know I do.

Our fear is pretty much the shark that is always lurking just off shore. Once you wade through anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, confusion and dread, you find fear back there, driving all of it.

It’s our basic, go-to emotion when the going gets rough. My theory is that this is all about our flight or fight response. These days we are smart phone jockeys who spend our days tethered to a computer. But the problem is that we’re still wired to outrun (or outsmart) a lumbering T-Rex.

So when a stressful emergency strikes, we react as if our lives are in mortal danger. Before we know it, we are having a dinosaur-sized adrenal rush. Suddenly we are three again and in total survival mode. We feel a surge of panic and then all that other emotional intensity kicks in.

For me, fear has often driven my angry outbursts. Or my need to control and micromanage others. For years it drove a whole lot of nail-biting. Sometimes I just flaked out, put my fingers in my ears, and pretended some big scary grow up issue wasn’t happening all around me.

But then I learned a much better way to deal with it. An example …

A few years ago I got to live one of my dreams and hang out in Paris for two months. My entire adult life I’d wanted to do this. And yet, when I finally arrived after a 12-hour flight with numerous delays, I had a total lying-in- bed, sucking-my-thumb, weepy meltdown.

I could have made that retreat to infancy all about tough travel or my lost luggage (it eventually showed up) or the intense new stranger I found myself living with, courtesy of Air B’n’B.

But instead I remembered what to do in case of emergency: I checked in. I went into my bedroom, closed the door and lay down. Then I put my hand on my belly and my feet flat on the bed, and I allowed myself time to just breathe.

Pretty soon my feelings came rushing up: anger, sadness, real grief, anxiety … followed by cold, bald fear.

I realized I felt like a four-year-old who suddenly got lost at the mall. I wondered why I assumed my college French would get me around Paris — for two long months! Really? What the hell was I thinking??

The tears began and I breathed into them. And then the sheer shaking misery of the fear welled up. Oh, I was so uncomfortable! I had visions of myself getting permanently lost in Paris’s labyrinth of streets. I saw myself a stranger in a strange land, desperately lonely on a Saturday night.

The more my fear came up, the more my heart pounded. My palms began sweating and hot flash after hot flash descended. I began to feel terrified. But I remembered the advice of a therapist and I kept breathing through it.

Then suddenly, the fear began to lift. As quickly as it came upon me, my panic subsided.

And then …just like that … it was gone.

In fact, now I felt great! I got up, washed my face, put on my coat and went out to greet my new, incredible city. Five hours and a few café crèmes later, I was still at it – reborn, renewed, in bliss.

What we so seldom do in moments of crisis is relax and allow in the surge of emotions. Instead we focus on what’s happening and scramble to manage and control. Or we go hide and shame ourselves for needing to have a good cry. We do anything we can to resist that necessary upwelling of emotions.

Yet this is just the natural process the body and soul go through when an auto-correct is needed. When we do allow ourselves to honor our emotional flow and simply feel, we truly can be reborn. That, friends, really is the shortest route back to joy.

Take a moment and probe this question for yourself. How do you handle your fear? I highly recommend the ‘Stop, Drop and Feel’ approach the next time you find yourself melting down.

Try it! You might even like it …

 

Is Your Inner Four-Year-Old Running Your Life?

 

mad child

 

Who is in charge of the decisions you make?

You … or an angry, fearful child who lives in your heart?

I ask because it might be time to get to know her.

You know she’s in charge if any of the following ring true.

 

 

  1. You find yourself drawn to difficult people in love or work … kind of like all those kids who bullied you in the schoolyard or your tough parent.
  1. You spend money too freely – or perhaps not often enough — getting a physical rush of satisfaction when you do so, despite any financial or personal mayhem that may ensue.
  1. You eat that last jelly donut or drink the extra martini, even though you REALLY ARE trying to stop. Because … well, it’s been a hard day.
  1. Financial, career or business chaos seems to follow you around, no matter how hard you try to shake it.
  1. On some level you feel addicted to excitement and drama, even though you ‘know’ it’s draining and debilitating and you’re sick of it.
  1. You consistently attract people who encroach on your boundaries in some basic way.
  1. You find yourself feeling mad for no reason sometimes. And really, you can’t help it.
  1. You long to do things you can’t get started with. Or finish the ones you have started. Yes, you’re scared but … why?
  2. Procrastination is second nature … though somehow things always finally happen. But not without a fair amount of adrenaline.
  1. You buy things on impulse only to return them later – or stockpile them in a room or closet filled with unused items. You don’t really know why.

Chances are some of this is true for you, it’s time to meet your inner child.

Honestly, the foot-stamping or frightened little self who lives in your heart is so entwined with your life that there is little you can do WITHOUT her involvement. And sometimes she feels completely out of control.

For most of us, our inner child operates like … well … a four-year- old. Decisions get made and impulses followed that mirror that distinct 4-year- old logic. Which is why the last jelly doughnut is impossible to resist.

Our inner child becomes the source of many of the unbreakable patterns that show up again and again in life. And it is not until we begin to work with this formidable power source that things can begin to shift.

For me, I’ve had to spend active time first of all finding my inner child … and then just plain old listening to her. I began this work in earnest after I noticed I’d attracted a string of difficult women in my life in love and friendship.

Yes, they reminded me of Mom. Point made.

I experienced a palpable gut-level fear around these women … the same fear I knew as the kid who got bullied at home and at school. But there was something deeper going on as well. Somewhere behind the annoyance and upset was anxiety ,,, as well as a strange, subtle desire to feel that feeling.

It was all incredibly familiar. So when I found one of these women it was an auto-yes to engage.

It’s this kind of recognition that can begin to break the log-jam and end the pattern. So I began calling my inner child out into the sunlight so I could get to know her, day by day.

This happens by sitting quietly, tuning in and inviting ‘Little [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE]’ to show up. When you do this, you may be surprised how she appears.

In the beginning, my inner child, Little Susie, was pissed. She was furious really, because I’d shown such a complete lack of interest in her through my entire adult life. I was taken aback.

First I had to just listen while she had a nervy tantrum. But over the weeks that followed, she began to lighten up. At the same time, I began to tune in to her more and more deeply.

In my imagination, Little Susie sits on my lap when I meditate. I stroke her head and tell her how much I appreciate her. I ask her what she needs.

Inevitably she just wants me pay a little attention to her. Or maybe take her to the beach.

My big take away is that this little girl was just plain bewildered by the circumstances of her childhood all those years ago. And so all that anger I bottled up inside has begun to finally dissolve.

I no longer auto-rant at myself for opportunities missed and mistakes made. Nor do I lose my head when I’m scared. Instead, I tune into this sweet little soul’s innocent heart. If I made a mistake, I assure Little Susie that the world will not end. If I’m afraid, we hug each other and hang on for dear life for a while.

Most of all, we now both know it’s all going to be okay.

We are all children of the Universe throughout our lives. It is when we can recognize that and feed ourselves accordingly that life becomes more and more beautiful. And so we become more and more transparent, allowing Grace to shine through us.

Take a moment right now to close your eyes and say hello to the little one who lives within. If it would help to dig out an old childhood photo, do it. Leave it somewhere where you can see it often and be reminded to check in.

Chances are she’s been waiting for you.

Soothing Thoughts for People With Anxiety

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You know what the trouble is with anxiety? You’re often stuck in the locked closet of your thoughts. Even if someone is right next to you, saying consoling things – you may not be able to hear them.

It can be that bad.

For me, it helps to have a rational thought in the house.

I wrote this list as something to keep on hand … to help you and me break the logjam of our own thoughts.

Someone else has had this problem before. You are not the only one who’s ever had this concern. Furthermore, it’s been solved before and it will be solved again … potentially by you. Worse comes to worse, you can ask for help from people with more experience.

You are not alone. Whatever your situation is, someone out there cares about you. Even if it’s someone you haven’t spoken to in a very long time. Thoughts are like bridges that connect people through time and space. So why not reach out?

It’s not as bad as you think it is. Whatever is on your mind, know that minds tend to exaggerate things. Yes, things may be mighty painful right now. But remember, your perceptions often magnify the risk – especially if you suffer from anxiety. Out there in the rest of reality, life goes on. People move forward. You will, too.

This is what breakthroughs look like … before they happen. You know that old saw about things being ‘the darkest before the dawn”? Turns out to be true. Ask anyone.

You will be okay. You really, really will. This is just a moment in time, a day in your life, and not your fixed reality for the next thirty years. Even if it seems like it is. You and I both know it’s not.

Why not breathe? Why not just take 3 deep breaths right now? This will help your sympathetic nervous system – which activates your adrenaline – to slow down. You’ll notice an immediate shift.

Tomorrow actually is another day. If you’ve had a bad day – even for no particular reason – there’s always tomorrow. The good news is that you’re still here and life goes on. Your body will have another 10 to 50 trillion new cells … and so, in essence, you will be all shiny and new again.

Hang in there, my friend. Whatever is going on, you will find your way. You truly will.

Please feel free to add a few soothing thoughts of your own just below.

The Five Minute Antidote to Your Fear

wheel-of-dharmaThere came a time not long ago, when I felt like I was on top of the world. My work was going well, my relationship even better – I had a spring in my step as I climbed out of bed each morning. I simply couldn’t wait to unwrap another excellent day.

But now it’s another story.

Today I am fresh out of minor surgery, which means I’m limping around with a black plastic ‘boot’ on my foot. I feel immensely sorry for myself. I’m also battling some age-old demons in my head as I launch my first novel in 25 years.

I feel vulnerable, weak and afraid.

So when am I going to get this right, this slippery, disorganized thing called life? When am I going to finally dissolve into that place on the horizon where money and health are abundant, the weather is always  excellent, and me and my pals are relaxed AND have plenty of time to chat?

Oh yeah … that would be never.

Sometimes I just forget.

The Buddhists say this is one of the Four Noble Truths – the notion that there will be suffering. They even have a name for it: Dukkha.

Dukkha is all about craving and clinging, and wishing that things were any other way than they are at exactly this moment. And if I think long and hard enough, and listen to the sweet consolation of my love as she encourages me, I finally get the point.

Dukkha is actually a critical part of life. And why, you ask? So you and I can get over it, basically, and thus move forward. Which is another one of the Four Noble Truths; there is an end to suffering. We simply must do the work necessary to get there.

I’m not a practicing Buddhist and I’m sure I don’t have the subtleties right here. But I do know when Life presents me with one of her lessons.

The mad, deep fear in my gut comes from long ago. I had an ambitious father who wanted me to be a star, and a mother who was competitive, jealous and wanted me to stay in the background. They have been duking it out in my head for decades now. And the beautiful thing is that now I know when they’re at it again.

So of course I’m going to feel afraid about launching books and being in the spotlight. Yet, at the same time, here I am laid up and unable to move around much at all. So I have plenty of time to contemplate the blank screen, and chip away at my endless list of book promotion tasks.

They go together rather neatly, don’t you think?

It’s as if Spirit just couldn’t resist the chance the help me really live into that old fear of mine – and do something about it. Which is exactly the way I resolve such conflicts.

Where I’m heading is detachment; that divine state of nothingness in which I crave nothing more than doing the next right thing.

In such a simple, joyous place, I imagine I won’t feel beholden to any agenda at all. I’ll be in happy free-flow all day long, taking the path one step at a time. Do you know that essential place of bliss I’m talking about?

There is no second-guessing, no doubting and shame. There is no wallowing in stories, or853876 peeved fist-shaking at the past. Instead, there is a simply, gracious focus on what is, right here and right now.

Oh … wait. I can do this in this moment. And actually, so can you. All we have to do is look at our fear and get clear on what it is – a ghost from the past, here to remind us to look elsewhere. And then we have to surrender to it. It’s a fact; There will be suffering. So why try to avoid it or feel sorry for yourself about it?

When I remember this, I can forget about the saga of my Achilles tendon and get busy creating the next right thing. I can take three deep breaths and refocus my attention as I choose, very intentionally, what to do next.

I can forget all about my little dramas and let the next moment unfold, held once more  in the lovely grace of divine flow.

So what can you do right now to dissolve your own web of tension? What next right thing can you relax into?

I invite you to consider that this moment – right here and right now – is yours for the taking. So may this be your invitation to take it.

Namaste.