At first glance, you may look at the above picture and believe that I am lost in a powerful moment of prayer, breathwork, or meditation, but I am here to assure you that this is not at all the case. In fact, when this picture was snapped unbeknownst to me, I was in the middle of the ocean on a beautiful, sunny day, skin kissed by a warm breeze, in the throes of the most terrifying and life-altering panic attack I have ever experienced in my entire existence. In fact, the story I am about to share with you was quite honestly one of the most vulnerable and powerful moments of my entire life.
My weekend adventure immersing myself in the warm, calming flow, and bold, brilliant colors of the middle of the Atlantic ocean started out amazingly well. As my best friend and I jumped into the water with our masks and snorkels, I was instantly engulfed in the beauty and mystery of the coral reef below me. I spent forty-five fascinating minutes exploring before we decided to head back to the boat, take off our gear, and go for an unencumbered swim. I removed my flippers and mask, ran to the back of the boat, and jumped right into the crystal clear water. I remember a fleeting thought entering my consciousness…”The world is SO big and I feel so small right now.” and all of a sudden I was gripped by panic. My body became instantly cold and numb as waves of fear washed from my head all the way down through my toes. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, my heart racing a million miles per minute. I couldn’t get out fast enough and when I did, it took every effort to suck in enough air to prevent me from passing out. With forty other people milling about, I’m sure you can imagine that it wasn’t exactly helping the onset of panic. As I sat on the front of the boat trying desperately to calm myself down, a realization hit me that I was completely vulnerable out here. If I was indeed dying in this moment (as my mind kept assuring me that I was), there was legitimately nothing I could do about it.
I made my way cautiously back to my seat and something of a miracle happened then. As I lifted my gaze to focus on the horizon, my eyes caught those of a woman across from me who was probably in her late 50’s, early 60’s. She mouthed, “Are you okay?” to me, and my usually stoic composure crumbled as I mouthed back, “No.” Without hesitation, this woman crossed the deck, sat down next to me, and swept me up in her arms. She softly reminded me to breathe and to close my eyes as she rocked me back and forth and wrapped me up in her towel. Another woman brought me water, and yet another encouraged me to eat a small snack. At first, my typical self-preservation kicked in and I resisted the temptation to curl into the unknown comfort of this mystery woman, but gradually, I felt myself allow her to draw me in and I rested my head on her shoulder as she continued to squeeze me close. This amazingly beautiful woman held me like this for a full 45-minute boat ride, never even knowing my name or anything about me…and I allowed myself in that moment to let go of all of my defenses and be taken care of.
As we neared shore and I began to feel more at ease, I sat up a little straighter and looked around me. One by one, every woman on the boat locked her gaze with me and nodded, almost as though they, too, were breathing easier for me. I was later informed by my best friend that the moment my body curled into this woman who had been holding me, each woman on the boat sat up straighter and closed their eyes, taking deep, methodical breaths. She said it was the most incredible thing she had ever seen. I thanked my amazing Angel Mama (who I found out was named Anne), and although she humbly accepted the gratitude, I don’t truly know if she understands what she did for me. I don’t know that any of those women do. I am notoriously a person who takes care of herself and others. Rarely do I allow myself the opportunity to be truly nurtured, particularly by strangers, but these beautiful women from all over the world who spoke probably six languages between them, came together in a stoic show of support to provide a safe container for me to experience the very real terror and weakness that I was feeling. I don’t want to exclude the men here either, all of whom tapped into their own Goddess energy and supported me by offering a smile, a squeeze as I walked off the boat, or as far as Anne’s husband goes, his wife.
When we got back to my car, I let myself cry harder than I’ve cried in a long time. We often move through life forgetting that we need others to support us in our moments of weakness, maybe even sometimes feeling like we don’t deserve to be supported. When we can cross over those self-imposed blocks, we open to possibility and allow Universal love to flow to us and even through us. The truth is, it is always there, even when we don’t see it, and the scary thing is that if we let our fear of looking weak or vulnerable become greater than our need for love and connection, we may stand to miss out on the incredible freedom and power it can bring into our lives.
What I experienced this weekend was the power of love, the power of a group of women working toward a common goal, the power of the Warrior Goddess energy that exists within each of us regardless of our sex, and the power of treating others as though they are not separate. At the base of it all, we are all humans, needing, seeking, and desiring love, acceptance, and the right to be ourselves at any given moment. These women and men gave me a gift that I will work hard to pass on to others in any way that I can. We often have no idea how great of an impact our small acts of kindness might have on another person. As far as Anne and the other passengers on that boat go, they have unknowingly helped to heal some long-existing wounds that have prevented me from fully allowing myself to become close to others, females in particular. They have helped to birth a better version of myself and have encouraged me to pass that feeling along. Hopefully, this story inspires you to do the same. Let your Warrior Goddess light shine bright…the world needs it so badly right now and always.
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I have spent the majority of my life feeling like it was my job to help everybody and fix their problems, even if at my own expense. This characteristic has not only gained me many interesting, if not sarcastic, nicknames over the years, but also several wounded wild birds, a beakless parakeet named Shaq, a one-eyed cat, a hedgehog, a cross-eyed kitten, an abandoned iguana and the somewhat adorable need to peel acorns for the squirrels as a small child.
As I grew up, these tendencies followed me into most of my friendships and relationships. I refused to see peoples negativity, and instead always chose to focus on the good things hidden deep underneath of the surface. I felt, in many ways, that it was a gift that I had been given, and wore my compassion proudly, like a badge of honor. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with compassion, what I failed to realize in my youth, is that without my own boundaries in place, I was much more likely to end up hurt and confused without a clear understanding why.
Brene Brown said that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Over the past few years, I have done a lot of deep digging, not only to extricate the source of this need to save everybody but also to start to find healthier ways that I could use this gift of compassion to benefit others without beating myself up in the process. As I have looked back through the scenarios mentioned in the first paragraphs, I began to notice that in many of these instances, my compassion backfired. The birds would inevitably fly out of their shoebox nests in the middle of the night and scare the crap out of me, causing a whole-house effort to catch them and re-release them into the wild. The parakeet constantly bit at me with it’s half-beak as I tried to convince it to climb on my hand, the one-eyed cat hated me, the hedgehog was terrified of me, the iguana tore my screened-in patio without remorse (and with no intention of paying for it when my lease ended) and the squirrels were probably bored as all Hell all throughout the winter due to my odd compulsion. I began to realize that:
- The need to save everybody/thing (without them asking) began from a place of selfishness. By saving others, I was able to make myself feel better.
- 99% of the time, I was putting in my two cents where it wasn’t necessarily solicited.
- By being irrevocably there for others, no matter how many times or in what ways they hurt me, I was actually hurting us both by supporting their negative behavior and therefore, discouraging their growth.
- That there are other, more positive ways to be present for people (and animals) through their times of struggles.
- By giving my energy away to those who would rather do without it, I wasn’t saving any of that love and compassion for those around me who really did want it.
I set off to find balance, and I am just now at a place where I feel like it’s starting to settle in. Of course, I want to remain open and compassionate to others who need it, but I have also begun to put boundaries into place that are unshakeable. I’m realizing that to be supportive does not mean dealing with other people’s abuse or negativity. It means living from a place of good intention and teaching others to shine out the brightness that they have within them…IF they want to be taught.
I have made a few very hard decisions in the past months, some of which, unfortunately, have caused me to close the door on relationships that have proven to be toxic to me in this moment, with the promise that if/when they choose to get healthy in their own boundaries, I will gladly reconvene. I feel freer, lighter and more alive, not being weighed down by the energy of trying to save somebody who doesn’t want to save him/herself. I think there is a misguided, yet well-intentioned belief in Spirituality (of all faiths) that in order to be “good” you must be a doormat, but that is not true. You do good by teaching the weak to be strong, by teaching the sad to find their happiness, by teaching the poor to focus on all the things they have to feel rich about and yes, by searching for the good in everybody, even when they can’t see it for themselves. The best way you can do that is to be a living example of strength, happiness, richness, and kindness and by putting up boundaries that teach other people how to treat you, with the unspoken understanding that they can teach others how to treat them as well. It doesn’t mean that we have to turn our backs on people the first time they hurt us, but it does mean having open and honest conversations about how we are feeling when we have been hurt to avoid the same thing happening throughout the course of our relationships.
Just like everything else, our boundaries or lack thereof are a byproduct of the beliefs we have picked up along the way and what we have come to “know” about ourselves and our roles. This doesn’t mean you are destined to be the doormat forever. It means that right now, in this very moment, you are being given an opportunity to create healthier and happier boundaries within your existing relationships. Start teaching others how to treat you now, and you may be surprised to find that you begin to attract much more positivity, love, joy, and honesty into your life. Cheers to that!
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Let’s get real for a moment…there is a LOT of really scary shit going on in the world right now. No matter how much you try to avoid the news, or social media, or your doomsday neighbor, you can’t really tune out of what’s happening around us. Whether it be the myriad natural disasters occurring across the world, this crazy dude that wants to blow up the Universe, the largest security breach in American history, or whatever else is eking its way into your personal reality, let’s face it…it’s tough not to be afraid. I had a client ask me yesterday how it was possible to be so joyful in the midst of all of this chaos. Well, I don’t know if I have the answer for that, but I can certainly share my own process of staying sane.
Yoda (who in my book is the MAN and should run for president) said that “Fear is the path of the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Smart fella if you ask me. When we allow these fearful occurrences to dictate the contents of our mind, we start a downward spiraling process that is difficult to turn around. One fearful thought leads to another which leads to another. This energy shows up in the way we interact with the world, sparking more of the same in those that we encounter. YOU are the only person who can stop that fear in its tracks, and I’m hoping this little trick will help you do just that.
Our response to fear is natural, but that doesn’t mean that we have to give it control. When I notice myself getting sucked into the drama playing out on my TV or the fear being perpetuated on my Facebook feed, I take a moment first just to acknowledge it. “Shit, Jillian…you are freaking out right now! Time to shut this crap down!” I try to be compassionate with myself about it, rather than judgmental. After all…it IS scary when so many unknowns are catapulting towards you. I turn off whatever media is on or gently extract myself from the conversation at hand. I sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. I repeat out loud to myself, “The only thing I have is this moment, and in this moment I am here, I am safe and I am happy.” I try to remember that my fear will only draw more fear to me, and so being afraid is counterproductive. The best way to combat fear is joy and love, and so I begin to remind myself of all of the things in my life at this very moment that I have to be joyful about…positive relationships, my goofy children, a job that I love, my breath, my yoga practice, my favorite tree in my back yard, my dogs, my spiritual connection with my higher power, etc. I come back to my breath and typically, I notice an immediate difference. My breathing is softer, calmer and more even. I feel more centered and safe. I am reminded of the multiple reasons I have to choose to be happy rather than bind myself in fear.
So why does this work? I believe it’s because we are creating space between the trigger and the response. Rather than allowing that first negative or fearful thought to spiral out of control, we are giving it the acknowledgement that it needs and setting a new course towards a more positive orientation. The first few times you try it, it might feel fruitless, but, as with all things, practice makes perfect. Try, try and try again, and hopefully sometime very soon, you will find yourself moving into calmer waters quicker than you thought possible.
We are all in charge of the energy we give to fear, because that energy starts a ripple throughout the entire Universe that must reverberate back to us. Even taking baby steps to try to release your fear makes a huge impact on the collective whole of humankind. You are a powerful being…use that power for love, kindness and good. May the force be with you. (Yes, said that, I did. Mmm.)
To learn more about life coaching and how to start the process of turning your negative thoughts around, visit my website at http://www.jillianarenacyi.com
In Yoga Teacher Training, we are taught that opening up to grace is an integral part of our practice. It’s that moment in a yoga class where your teacher is instructing you to settle into the space around you, let go of thoughts, worries and to-do lists that might be sabotaging your relaxation, and let yourself become present and aware so that you can receive your yoga practice. In a dimly lit studio, sprawled out on your mat, with no disturbances other than the gentle sound of you and your neighbors breathing, soft music playing in the background of your thoughts, this can be a relatively easy and safe space to do just that…to completely let go. After all, that’s why you are there in the first place, right? What happens, though, when you’re not on your mat? Opening to grace feels a lot more difficult to do when you are in the throes of your day to day activities, children arguing in the background, a pile of bills arriving in the mail, stacks of paperwork to get through at the office, a lawn to mow, and the mountain of laundry spilling out of your clothes hamper staring at you every time you enter your room. However, these are the times when opening to grace is absolutely the most important.
Grace is defined by dictionary.com as “simple elegance or refinement of movement”, but to me, it is so much more than that. It is a willingness to surrender to the truth that we are each going through exactly the things that will help us to become the best versions of ourselves, even (especially) in the moments where it feels completely the opposite. It is the ability to find strength in our struggles and to participate fully and completely in all aspects of our lives, good, bad, scary, exciting, or otherwise. It is the knowledge that our perception of what is happening in our lives is so much more important than the situations themselves, because the situations are impermanent. It is the power to stand strong through the storms, holding firm to the knowledge that calmer waters are ahead of us and that there is an important lesson for our soul within each and every moment. How amazing would it feel to bring the same peace, calm and quiet that you find on your mat, or out in nature, or in your bath (or whatever it is that you do to connect to this space) into the daily situations that are a natural part of life? Well, you can, which is pretty good news.
Take a minute to inventory what’s going on in your life that’s stressing you out or causing worry or fear. Write it all down. Read it back to yourself without any judgement. Instead, maybe you can find a little curiosity. What is your soul trying to help you to learn by these difficult situations? For most of us, our difficulties often become repeating patterns, causing us to feel like something is wrong with us or that we are just destined to always have this particular issue in our lives, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. These moments that challenge us are opportunities for us to get know ourselves better. For example, if you are somebody who is constantly struggling financially and worried about how to pay the bills, this might be your soul telling you that your job is not in alignment with what you really want. It may also be an indication that you have some limiting beliefs around money that need to be acknowledged and explored so that prosperous energy feels welcome to flow into your life. If you find yourself struggling with relationship after relationship, perhaps it is your soul trying to urge you to look in a different place, or to learn to love yourself first so that you can openly receive true love back. Maybe it is an indication that you subconsciously don’t feel worthy of love and so you are inadvertently pushing it away.
Remember, we attract the energy that we put out…like attracts like. Therefore, it’s not what we WISH we believed or what we WANT to believe, but the actual beliefs stored deep, down within us, that are shaping our realities. It can be scary to dig down and unearth them, but consider for a moment, a diamond. My dear friend and colleague, Amy Lombardo, put this in such great perspective for me. Diamonds are formed way down in the Earth’s mantle (about 100 miles deep), and start as chunks of coal. It takes a tremendous amount of heat and pressure to create this sparkly gem, but once the work has occurred, the diamond is pushed to the surface naturally for all to enjoy. Your thoughts are like these diamonds. YOU have that same sparkly gem deep within in you, just waiting to be exposed to the heat so that it can emerge and shine brightly out to the world. When you can accept that knowledge and open to grace, knowing that you have a deep well of untapped potential within you and the power to change your reality, the world opens back to you. Your sparkly gems are naturally pushed to the surface and the Universe responds by shining back.
Where in this very moment can you open yourself to grace? Where can you replace fear with curiosity, and hopefully learn something about yourself through the process? Start right now. The more that you practice this the easier it becomes. Opening to grace is not something that needs to be confined to your yoga mat. It is accessible in each and every moment to help you come back to center, find your calm and elevate yourself towards all of the possibility just waiting to be discovered within you!
Jim Morrison…you’ve got to love him. Not only was he excruciatingly gorgeous with a voice and stage presence that could melt the polar ice caps, but he said some pretty brilliant shit as well. We may never know if it was the many hits of acid speaking or if it really was his Indian spirit guide, but whatever the source of his words, they were undeniably insightful and still hold impact and validity today. How many times have you caught yourself gripped in the ruthless hands of fear?
We live in a society that is largely ruled by fear. From the time that we are born we are conditioned to be afraid of things. Some of it is necessary to our survival, such as not touching the stove or sticking a fork in the electrical socket, but many of the other things that we are taught to be afraid of can thwart our growth in so many ways. We are taught largely to listen to others which causes fear of our own inner voice. We are taught to follow the norms of society which can lead us to fear the decision to carve out our own authentic paths and follow our dreams. We are taught to compare ourselves to others, which births the fear of never being enough within ourselves. We are taught to fear being without material possessions, which causes feelings of greed within us. We are taught to fear the things/people/places which we do not fully understand, which can prevent us from educating ourselves about the different cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations and physical landscapes that surround us in this amazingly diverse world. In short, our fear begins to shape us from our initial breaths on this Earth and continues to shape shift as we experience the world. But what if we could change that? What if we could look closely at our fears…stare them straight in the face, stand up boldly and move bravely into them? What is the worst that would actually happen?
Take a moment to think back on all of the things you have been afraid of in your life and write them down. We’re going to use them in a minute. Yeah, I know, it’s a big list, right? When I think back on my fears what I notice is a progression. When I was in my early 20’s I had been through some terrible relationships (I mean like surrrrrrrrrrriously, abusively bad) and I swore I was done dating. Then I met Josh. I was terrified of him because I knew I really liked him. Then he asked me to marry him and I became afraid of that. What if it didn’t work out? Then we got married and decided to get pregnant…new biggest fear as my belly expanded and my whole world threatened to change. Eight and a half months pregnant, we found our first home, closing ten days prior to the birth of our son…#freakingout. Here comes Jacob…motherhood became the thing I feared the most because I had no idea how to do it. Then Josh lost his job. New mortgage, new baby, no job…does it get more terrifying? I swore we were doomed…until Josh decided to start his own business (which of course scared the crap out of us both as well). Suddenly, another baby was on the way. Jocelyn was born and I quit my job to stay at home with them…this became the scariest decision of my life, but I did it anyway. This progression continued on and on, presenting me with new fears along the way, until finally one day, I realized that it wasn’t the situations themselves that were terrifying me, but my reaction to them. I started to look back at this long laundry list of fear I had been carrying around with me and realized that as each new fear had arisen and I had moved through it, the fear for that particular event had dissipated and morphed into a new fear. It dawned on me that there will always be things to be afraid of, but it is up to me whether or not I let the fear have control. I have a choice in each situation to square up against my fear and challenge it, and so do you.
I am happy to report that moving through my personal fear has led me to a 10-year (this July) marriage to my best friend and the most amazing guy I know, 2 kick-ass little kids who challenge me to grow, expand and be a better person each day, a beautiful home that is my sanctuary, my husband and I each owning our own business and the fortitude to keep moving through fear as it shows up. That’s important to acknowledge by the way…I still get afraid. All the time actually. Life isn’t always sunshine and butterflies. My husband and I argue, my kids can act like little shits, my home needs repairs and our businesses fluctuate through good and bad times (and the bad times can be REALLY scary), but we keep on keeping on anyway, moving forward with the knowledge that this too shall pass and that we can look our fears in the face and move on anyway.
So where does fear show up for you? Go back to your list. If you didn’t write it, do it now. Take a close look at all of these places that fear has popped up in your life from as early as you can think of. First off, see if you notice any patterns. Are your fears largely based around one particular area? Money? Relationships? Your Career? Self-esteem? Now, notice any of these situations where you faced your fear and moved forward anyway? What was the outcome? If you haven’t had the opportunity to face any of these fears, guess what today is? That’s right, your opportunity. You don’t have to dive in headfirst, but think of a way that you can start to move into your fear slowly. If your fear is primarily surrounding relationships, maybe today is the day you finally make that online dating profile (don’t worry…you don’t have to go live until tomorrow). If your self-esteem is taking the hit, maybe today is the day to buy the dress you’ve always wanted, even though your head screams that you’re not feminine enough to pull it off. Tomorrow, rock it. Each day take baby steps to move into your fear. You will likely find that the further you go, the less powerful it becomes.
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