personal essay

How to Tell if It’s Too Soon to Move on From Your Breakup

By | Food for thought, heartbreak, introspective, mindset, personal essay, relationships

Breakups are incredibly complex and necessitate many layers of healing to fully, completely move on. When relationships matter– truly, deeply matter– there’s no off switch when you agree to call it quits. Love and memories still remain.

Throw intense emotions, a restructuring of your schedule, a loss of physical intimacy, possibly the loss of your ex’s friends and family into the mix and a one-size-fits-all answer to how soon is too soon to move on becomes almost impossible to figure out.

Moving on takes time

When you’re in the eye of the storm, feeling all the feelings, it’s understandable to seek a fixed and certain time limit on the grieving process.

I get it. I know the feeling. Being with your sadness is an act of courage. It’s natural to question how long the process might take. However, my intention is not to provide solid answers or a timeframe.

Instead, I wish to share a few tips that, in my personal and professional experience, have yielded a healthy approach to moving on.

What is “moving on” after a breakup?

I’m a lucky guy. I’ve fallen in love numerous times. Yet, break-ups never get easier. However, I’ve learned that regardless of what led to the end, if I valued and cared enough to establish a consistent, intimate relationship with someone, those feelings of love wouldn’t simply go away.

Perhaps this sounds obvious. But as years have gone by, I’d attempt to sanitize my feelings, as if moving on meant feeling completely indifferent towards my ex. Naturally, framing it this way led to lots of frustration because the love still remains.

My first full relationship ended 10 years ago. I still love her. Another relationship ended four years ago. I still love her. Another ended three years ago. I still love her. Another ended just under a year ago. I still love her too. See the recurring theme?

It’s a non-linear, illogical process

The difference is although I love my exes and want the best for them, I no longer crave to be close to them or wish to rekindle a romance.

Would I like them to be involved in my life to some degree? Perhaps. But I accept that this isn’t always practical. And I accept and have gratitude for the times we shared.

If love remains then what does moving on mean?

Well, firstly, moving on is a gradual process. It isn’t linear. It doesn’t make sense. I can have days following the breakup where I feel completely fine but then, experience a rough day years after it happened.

Matters of the heart aren’t logical. They’re completely absurd. Don’t waste too much time trying to work it all out. The importance is to allow yourself to feel.

However, over time, there’s less emotional charge to the memory of an ex. The love — a calm, soothing unconditional love — remains. But there’s no giddiness, ferocious sadness or grief at the loss of what once was. Instead, I find happy memories cause positive reflection.

Consequently, I notice storylines around “what could’ve been” settle in my mind. In the aftermath of all breakups, I struggle to see the reasoning. Even when I know it’s the end, part of me wants to plead and bargain, to just find a way because surely love is enough, right?

After some time, this bargaining fades and I reach the final stage of grief, which is acceptance.

What about meeting someone new?

For many people, including myself, the process of moving on may appear to be concluded when we meet someone new. A word of caution on this topic: meeting a new person after a relationship is a tricky territory.

It isn’t always a bad decision. But when meeting someone soon after a break-up, it takes a little soul searching to uncover our motives. Does it come from a genuine, healthy place?

The most important aspect of moving on is healing.

In the past, I’ve moved into new relationships to avoid feelings of pain. I’ve tried to fill the void by meeting someone new. This is an approach that avoids processing and acknowledging pain, and will cause issues to resurface down the line.

It must be said though, that it is entirely possible to grow and heal with someone else, if your new partner is understanding and accepting, and awareness is brought into the healing process.

That’s a far cry from falling into a new relationship and denying any aspect of pain that remains from a fresh breakup, essentially using the love and attention of someone else as a mechanism to enhance self-worth.

Developing a strong sense of self

I’ve previously written about the importance of retaining independence in romance and avoiding Cupid’s Timeline. If the relationship you’re leaving was healthy, then it’s entirely possible you’ll leave with a fuller, whole sense of self. However, codependent traits can seep into any relationship, even with the best intentions.

For example, after I’d done a lot of work around codependency, I met someone whose chemistry seemed to ignite the shadow part of myself I naively assumed I had healed. But I’d done the work away from relationships.

I was aware of certain tendencies. But it was only after meeting this person that these behaviors and emotional patterns got triggered. Therefore, I needed to confront them in as they occurred in real-time and not in meditation or reflection.

Break up the pattern

I learned that if there’s conflict in a relationship, I have a tendency to project my emotions onto my partner. I expect them to take joint responsibility, as if I were entitled to it. Healthy relationships are supportive, but my emotions are my responsibility. And unless I build and strengthen my ability to process them, the pattern will repeat over and over.

For example, let’s say I feel really sad after a breakup. A reflex of mine is to project my sadness onto a partner, for them to make me feel better. After losing my partner, I struggle to process this sadness on my own. Then, I meet someone new, and all of a sudden I feel better and the sadness eases.

Without consciousness, I can move from one relationship to the next as a mechanism to handle sadness without ever confronting it. Again, mutual support is essential in loving relationships. But if I always require someone else to process my sadness, anxiety and feelings of insecurity, I will always fall into codependent relationships. 

This can lead to addictive or poor decision-making when looking for future partners.

So how soon is too soon?

To conclude, there’s no definitive timeline for moving on. But it’s important to consider the key points of healing from a heartbreak. It is a process that involves forgiveness, processing grief, acceptance, and re-building independence.

Honesty with ourselves is required to really check in with how we feel about the loss of someone who, no doubt, has had a big impact on our lives.

I know how difficult it is to be with the pain. The impulse is to run, escape, find something to soothe. However, to really grow through a break-up, and move on in a healthy way, we have to sit with the pain, and learn from it. 

I’ll leave you with these words from Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart:

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.

Breakups suck, there’s no doubt. But if you have the courage to confront your pain, the process of moving on will act as a huge catalyst for your personal growth.

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Struggling With Your Mental Health During the Holidays? Try This

By | Food for thought, how-to guide, inspiring, mental health, personal essay, self

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Isn’t it?

The truth is, despite the obvious benefits, the holidays can be a stressful time. From sorting presents, endless socializing, unrestricted indulgence and sky-high expectations, it takes skill to flourish during the festive season.

Although most of us feel pressure as the end of the year draws closer, those whose mental health is already strained may particularly struggle.

I know this all too well; during my darker years of anxiety and depression, part of me dreaded Christmas.

The pressure of holiday happiness

In an attempt to fit in with the Christmas spirit, I went to great lengths to sustain a facade of happiness, which exhausted my energy. Below the surface, I felt anxious and guilty for not feeling a certain way.

Why can’t I enjoy Christmas? Everyone else is happy, what’s wrong with me?

These 4 tips have helped me flourish during the festive break; they’re applicable to everyone, but particularly those feeling a little anxious about the upcoming period.

Here’s how to handle holiday struggles:

1. Embrace imperfection

Experiencing depression or anxiety is hard any day of the year. But added pressure to be merry and socialize may make symptoms stronger. Excessively high standards around how we feel at Christmas are created by “shoulds” — statements of the way things should be.

This is emotional perfectionism. For example, you may hold beliefs such as “I should be happy on Christmas Day,” “I shouldn’t feel anxious relaxing with friends,” “I shouldn’t get annoyed during social events with family.”

Anytime we hold to such “should” statements, we deviate from our reality. Expectation creates distance from reality and resistance to how you really feel.

What’s the solution?

Simply bringing awareness to your should statements eases perfectionist tendencies.

Ask yourself: what way do I feel I should be?

In addition, many of us have perfectionist ideas of how the day will unfold. How do you feel the day should unfold? Write your answers down in a journal or talk them through with someone you trust.

Then, using cognitive rationalization techniques, challenge those should statements.

For example, “I should be happy on Christmas Day,” can be altered to “I’m not feeling too happy, and that’s okay. I’ll be with what I’m experiencing and try my best to enjoy the day.”

2. Set boundaries

Expressing and setting healthy boundaries was a massive breakthrough in my mental wellbeing, particularly around Christmas.

I live away from home, so I don’t see my family much. When I’m back, it’s an adjustment. I love my family to bits, but they’re a lot more talkative and active than I am. At one point, this used to frustrate me. A lot.

One Christmas when I was struggling in my personal life, it reached the point when I snapped.

I realized I was expecting them to just know I was struggling to keep up with conversation. I engaged in difficult conversations, but expressed that this was simply a difference in character and it didn’t mean there was a lack of love if I needed a break.

My family were great about it, respected my honesty, and things improved.

When setting boundaries, I remind myself to do so with compassion and not resentment.

The longer we go without expressing boundaries, the more we place blame, and this opens the door to resentment. Instead, we have to take responsibility and express with heart.

A note on this topic: if your loves ones encroach on your boundaries and there’s no room to express that, or your boundaries are completely disrespected, remember there is no obligation on your part.

You can leave the situation if this feels like the right thing to do for you.


3. Care for your physical health too

Do you have a sweet tooth? A recent study by the University of Kansas discovered added sugars contribute to depression. Those sweet Christmas delights trigger metabolic, inflammatory and neurobiological processes that can further decrease low mood. 

While that’s not to say treats have to be canceled, it’s worthwhile paying attention to your diet if you are prone to depression.

Be aware of how certain foods affect your mood. Adjust if necessary.

Additionally, alcohol consumption is a hot topic in relation to mental health. I quit drinking 18 months ago, and I’ve noticed an increased sense of ease around Christmas. Years before, I had become aware that I had anxiety due to the constant opportunities to drink. They felt like obligations, really, and I didn’t have enough conviction in saying no. 

As I socialized over beer and mulled wine, my mental health deteriorated, and I didn’t feel strong enough to abstain. If you’d like a break, I recommend talking to a loved one and explaining why, if you’re comfortable.

Lastly, getting in the gym when I can, even if only for a moderate session, keeps my body in check and creates more ease in my psyche.

4. Embrace impermanence

When you’re a kid, the holiday build-up seems to last forever. Every advent calendar door opened or candle lit feels like the equivalent of a few months as an adult.

With Christmas music starting mid-August and adverts incessantly invading personal space from September, the day itself can feel really significant.

While it can be, remember that, like everything in life, this too will pass. In the blink of an eye, it’ll be New Years, then January, then summer, then Christmas music in supermarkets again.

I find this a useful reminder to avoid creating “fixed” concepts in my mind.

No matter how the day unfolds, soon it’ll be yesterday, then last week, then a few years ago.

Not only does this put the magnitude of the festive period into perspective to alleviate unnecessary pressure, it will remind you to compassionate towards yourself, too.

It’s also a gateway to appreciating the days as they come– and to going into the new year stronger than ever.

Are Meditation Apps Missing the Point of Mindfulness?

By | challenging, Food for thought, personal essay, self, Spiritual Health

In the not-so-distant past, meditation was only taught at in-person classes or written instructions in a book. The rise of digital technology has opened up a world of accessible mindfulness, with guided meditation apps booming in popularity.

Learning meditation has never been easier.

There are around 500 different types of app associated with Buddhism in Apple’s App Store alone, each focusing on mindfulness. In their basic form, these apps tend to encourage focus on the breath, and becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

The industry is thriving, valued at $130 million and predicted to continue to grow as the “self-care trend” rises in popularity. Seventy percent of the market is shared between two titans of app-based meditation — Headspace and Calm.

It doesn’t take enlightenment to see the impact thee apps have. They complement the mindfulness buzz, are easy to use, and package what can be a mystifying topic into digestible chunks. All things considered, their prominence should be uniformly good news…

But that’s not the case.

Meditation apps may be missing the point of mindfulness


In an article on The Conversation, Gregory Grieve and Beverley McGuire explain how meditation apps dilute mindfulness by stripping away religious elements.

As Buddhism scholars specializing in social media, they’re well positioned to understand. According to their research, meditation apps “miss the point of mindfulness.”

They highlight early Buddhist texts, such as the “Satipatthana Sutta,” as including important guidance on life and death, impermanence, and skilled and unskilled thinking.

Mindfulness apps, on the other hand, encourage people to cope with and accommodate to society.

The issue with this is overlooking the root cause of distress and suffering: “Indeed, our findings show that Buddhist meditation apps are not a cure that relieves suffering in the world, but more like an opiate that hides the real symptoms of the precarious and stressful state in which many people find themselves today.”

There’s not much research into the benefits or pitfalls of meditation apps to date. However, the authors conclude such apps may have the opposite of their desired effect and increase stress and smartphone addiction.

But wait… meditation apps changed my life

Grandiose subheading aside, I have immense gratitude for meditation apps. For years, I had the inclination to begin meditation. But I struggled with the technique, and felt overwhelmed any time I tried. So I spent a while accepting meditation wasn’t for me and pedestaling its elusive qualities. Until I tried Headspace.

It changed my life.

I built consistency with my meditation practice purely with the app and Andy’s dulcet tone. At that time, I was experiencing severe anxiety, depression, and psychosis. I wasn’t in a good way. I was caught in my thinking mind. 

Meditation (which I wouldn’t have started without the app) shifted me out from incessant loops of mental activity and provided the first “aha!” moment — distance from thought.

Headspace was a portal to my spiritual awakening.

Curious by the different “dimensions” I was sensing, I then started to explore the concepts discussed in the app in more detail, beyond their secular summary. Thus began my spiritual journey.

Mindfulness Lite?

Here’s an important counter argument: meditation apps act as a catalyst. For some, they help reduce stress and create more harmony. For others, like myself, they lead to deeper insight and a shift in worldview. 

Ultimately, anyone using meditation to improve wellbeing rather than coping mechanisms such as alcohol, food, drugs, sex, or shopping is something to be celebrated. The technique itself increases compassion, empathy, ease. The world desperately needs more of these qualities.

But there’s no denying Grieve and McGuire make a valid point. Mindfulness is diluted. And, the deeper we travel into the benefits of spiritual practice, particularly disciplines such as Buddhism and Hinduism, the more obvious this becomes. 

On some level, mindfulness is commodified and swallowed up by the capitalist system. Critics refer to this as “McMindfulness.”

As Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Full-bodied mindfulness has the potential to make meaningful change on a societal level, by elevating consciousness and addressing core triggers of burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression from a compassionate perspective.

Instead, the majority of its use is moulded to fit an already existing (and dysfunctional) system. To this degree, meditation apps are a symptom of a wider issue.

Changing ourselves to change the world

A multi-ethnic group of young school children are indoors in their classroom. They are sitting on pillows and meditating with their eyes closed and hands clasped together.

Of course, this doesn’t stop individuals from exploring further. And I don’t believe commodified or full-bodied benefits are black-and-white. My experience wasn’t ego-aggrandizing or purely self-serving.

For example, I learned the loving kindness technique through Headspace, which greatly enhanced my relationships and levels of compassion.

Still, there’s a long way to go. Change begins with ourselves, but we have to be ready. Not everyone is looking for a spiritual realization through smartphone, but a little more ease and a little less stress. If using a meditation app brings more harmony to the world, then it’s worth it.

But above all else, we must remain mindful of the source of mindfulness and its related teachings. And remember, focusing on the breath is the beginning of a much deeper and more rewarding journey — if we’re brave enough to take the leap.

How I Conquered Social Anxiety by Assuming Positive Intent

By | emotional health, empowering, Food for thought, how-to guide, mindset, personal essay, self

Did you know: only 4 percent of the universe is visible? The other 96 percent is a mystery scientists call “dark matter” and “dark energy.” This is significant; humanity goes to great lengths to understand the nature of the physical universe, yet even with advanced technology, the majority remains unseen, unknown.

This obscure nature of the cosmos is a metaphor for our subjective universe. Most of us have an inherent desire to just know, to observe, to see what is there to see. But the vast majority of our lives are mysterious — as much as our egos would like to tell us they have all the answers. 

People are mysterious in their own way, too. We never know what other people really think. We never know why they do the things they do or why events unfold as they unfold.

And without active self-inquiry, we don’t even know ourselves as well as we might think.

The analytical mind’s ties to social anxiety

This is a potential problem. The analytical part of your psyche always seeks to know, to understand. If allowed to roam free, it will attempt to make meaning of empty space and fill gaps in knowledge with assumptions.

When applied to social anxiety, your overactive analytical mind will attempt to explain people’s behavior or “true” thoughts and feelings.

It’s a double-edged sword. Because life is 96 percent mystery, there’s a broad spectrum of assumption in our understanding of it.

Consequently, the standard of our tool for understanding — the mind — becomes essential to our quality of life.

Filling the gaps is irresistible for the ego, which always attempts to self-authenticate by exploring its environment to make sense of its identity.

This is a process which affects all of us to various degrees, but the task is to ensure the process is skillful, not unskillful.

How I eased my social anxiety

When I suffered from social anxiety, my mind assumed the worst. This affected my thoughts in any given moment.

They don’t like me, I’ve upset this person, that person is judging me.

I was also plagued by ruminations after social interactions.

I made a fool of myself

Most debilitating was the latter, ruminations triggered by assumptions. A short-circuit in my analytic brain attempted to find meaning based on little evidence. This fuelled my anxiety and made it worse. In turn, I then felt more anxious about future social events!

It’s not an exaggeration to say at times, my life was unbearable due to the assumptions I was making.

The mantra that changed my life

During therapy around that time, I came across a short-but-sweet, life-enhancing motto:

Always Assume Positive Intent

I discussed this with my therapist and we both agreed how beneficial this approach was.

The key to Always Assuming Positive Intent is to understand that, with so much unknown, there’s a huge, blank canvas to project assumptions.

And, with a little imagination we can drastically alter those assumptions, and get them working in our favor.

Don’t ignore the 4 percent

The key with this technique isn’t to delude ourselves or absolve responsibility from hard truths. When the observable 4 percent of the universe presents itself, we have to see it as it is.

That’s not to say we practice believing in these assumptions. It’s crucial to maintain a mindful approach, and acknowledge that assumptions are just thoughts, and not truth.

However, this mantra’s greatest utility is alleviating tension when the mind wonders and worries.

Always Assuming Positive Intent is a doorway to compassion

Compassion is a catalyst to seeking to understand from a place of love, not judging from a place of fear.

Always Assuming Positive Intent is a cognitive tool to counteract the moments when we assume the worst. It has its roots in Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which challenges unhelpful thoughts, and rationalizes them.

This approach is best complemented with acceptance of the unknown. It’s to be held lightly; mini-narratives created consciously and loosely, a buffer to fill space skilfully, a moulding of clay.

How to Always Assume Positive Intent

Practically there are two ways to apply Assuming Positive Intent.

The first is an internal application; to change the thoughts we have.

When noticing we are assuming the worst in any given situation, we can play with the assumption and ask ourselves:

What would the best possible assumption be?

This can be as outrageous as we want it to be! After all, we’re moulding the conceptual clay, without mistaking it for truth.

That person who blanked you this morning? They caught your eye, thought you were attractive, and felt self-conscious.

Your partner’s angry at you for not replying? They’ve missed you lately and want to feel intimacy and connection.

A recent study by Queen’s University Belfast discovered that people with grandiose narcissistic traits are generally happier and less stressed. I can’t help but think this is because, with a heightened sense of self-importance, narcissistic people always assume positive intent in any given situation. After all, why wouldn’t they?

Inquiring to understand

The second application is in action.

As conscious beings, we have the gift of being able to inquire. Like the Hubble Telescope peering deep into space seeking to understand what’s out there, we can peer into the souls of others by seeking to understand what they think, feel, or believe.

It’s not easy, but it is a trait that greatly benefits all relationships.

If finding yourself in conflict, or even just questioning why someone is acting in a specific way, seek to understand by opening up a conversation from a place of sincerity. By assuming positive intent, you’re more likely to master emotions and remain balanced throughout the conversation.

Transforming your universe

What are the bigger benefits of Always Assuming Positive Intent? When it becomes second-nature, the benefit for our lives is significant.

Many of us are familiar with paranoia. But we’re less familiar with pronoia — the opposite perception; a feeling that the universe is conspiring to help you.

Assuming Positive Intent is a mini-step in the direction of pronoia, a technique to get the vast unknown working in your favor, to re-balance and re-align, to stare into space and see support in the sparkle of the stars.

The 5 Stages of Grieving Your Past Self — so You Can Move Forward

By | emotional health, Food for thought, inspiring, personal essay, self

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an archaeologist. From the time I was very little I was determined. I was going to be an archaeologist for sure. There was no other option.

And then I grew up. And I am not an archaeologist.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is great– even though I am not in Greece excavating pottery shards. But when I first realized that dream was not going to become a reality, I was sad. For many reasons, but mostly because when I realized that I was not going to be an archaeologist was the day I dropped out of college.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I wouldn’t finish school. To say it was a blow is an understatement.

It was incredibly painful, but I had become a mom and I needed to provide for my kids above anything. In order to avoid feeling my sadness I pushed on to the next thing.

I found a new career and focused on that. And each time I changed companies or got a promotion or started a new endeavor, I kept up with this process: abandoning the past version of myself in order to establish a new one.

So how did I do it?

I abandoned my past self to move forward

Moving from version to version of ourselves is a common practice. When we move forward on to something that is good, why would we want to feel anything other than positivity towards it?

On top of that, everyone in our life wants to talk about how awesome the change is so it is only natural to want to dedicate yourself to that positive attitude as well.

And there are other times that we do this also, specifically after we have gone through any sort of trauma or major life change. Things like an abusive relationship, a house fire, even having a baby or getting married.

Because we are moving into a new stage of life we want to focus on the positives of it more than anything else. We try to push past the things we are giving up or that are being taken from us to create a new version of ourselves. This new version has new things and wants new dreams.

I began to lose myself

Yes, this process is fine if you need a life raft for a moment but unfortunately, is not very effective when it comes to actually resolving and healing our past. And, it also limits your ability to honor your future.

What I began to notice was, with every life change and every decision, every time I abandoned a version of myself to make a better one or to move on as fast as possible, I was actually just ignoring my needs.

It was a way of avoiding any feelings that were dense or hard to feel in favor of focusing on the positive ones that were easier to process.

Which is not positive after all.

The side-effects of ignoring grief

I started struggling emotionally because I had never taken the time to honor the past versions of myself that I had simply been leaving behind.

I had never grieved for the dreams I had given up or goals I would never reach or the communities I had lost. I realized that if I was going to truly learn how to be in alignment with myself I needed to honor who I used to be.

Grief is not typically viewed in a positive light

In fact, even the word grief conjures up images of wearing all black and death. But grief is an incredibly healthy process and something that we should all be intimately comfortable with.

First, let me say this, everyone grieves in different ways so if you want to start honoring your past by grieving the selves you used to be, you may already know how to do that based on your personal brand of grieving. But, if you are reading this thinking how the heck do I even start grieving myself, there are a few quick ways to get the process started.

The 5 stages of grieving yourself

Photo Credit: sean Kong on Unsplash

The typical model that people use to think about grief is the Kubler-Ross model, which outlines five stages of grief.

These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance — a cycle of grief. And, if you think back on a time when you went through a big life change you may have experienced some iteration of these stages, though, at the time, you may not have be conscious of why.

If you go through a big change where you are stepping into a new version of yourself, this model can be very helpful to you.

Take the time to honor the feelings that are coming up for you by journaling or talking with a friend, or even just simply crying. Allow yourself to experience what you are going through even if you don’t think you should be feeling what you are.

Your feelings are valid, and honoring them will help you to move forward

Yes, even the positive changes are a cause for grief. And that is perfectly okay.

However, if you haven’t ever taken the time to grieve the past versions of yourself and now it is years later, and, like me, you are experiencing things like anxiety, it may be hard to work through the Kubler-Ross model because you aren’t in the heart of the incident that is causing the grief.

You can still take the time to honor the person (or people) you used to be.

Embrace your grief

A good place to start is by forgiving yourself. Often we hold ourselves brutally accountable for pain that we have caused ourselves. But nothing good comes from continuing to harbor grudges towards our past.

Take time every day to look yourself in the eyes– in the mirror, of course, and forgive yourself for something.

Literally say, “I forgive you for [blank]” to the mirror

In this way your past selves can start to come forward and be heard.

Then, just simply recall those people you used to be and thank them, Journal to them or just imagine yourself as you were then and talk to you in your mind. Allow yourself to feel the things that aren’t always the most comfortable. Because you deserve to be able to truly move forward into the positive future.

My grieving gave me clarity

Once I started getting comfortable with my own grief so many blocks that I didn’t even know I had began to clear. I stopped having so much anxiety because I stopped being so absorbed in the guilt I felt I owed myself. I was able to think more clearly and feel in a way that was authentically me.

I stopped focusing on how I should feel and felt comfortable with actual feelings

Remember: grieving is not a bad thing– and neither are sadness, or anger, or any of the denser emotions. In fact, allowing yourself to feel those emotions in a healthy way is the best way to come home to yourself. Now you’re ready be all that you are and become all that you will be.

When Mindfulness Backfires: The Ego-Trap of Inauthenticity

By | challenging, Food for thought, how-to guide, mindset, personal essay, self, Spiritual Health

Mindfulness is authenticity. Through a balanced approach to inner experience and the outer world, we learn to express ourselves genuinely. We uncover deeper truths of who we are, we learn to accept the authenticity of our thoughts and emotions.

But on the spiritual path, ego-traps are never far away. And even a practice with authenticity at its core can result in inauthenticity.


The trap of intellectualization

Meditation has changed my life. The ability to create distance from my thoughts and emotions has enhanced my relationship with myself, with others, and with the wider world. Yet there have been moments where I intellectualize meditation. 

Previously, I’ve written about my surprise at taking a break from meditation. The space from the practice highlighted that I’d developed a belief that meditation would lead to a certain outcome.

Meditation can lead to authenticity, but when intellectualizing the process, there’s a risk of spiritual bypassing — a term describing the tendency to use spiritual ideas or practices to avoid unresolved issues.

It’s escapism masked as spirituality

In my early days, I’d intellectualized the idea that someone who meditates is always calm, present, focused, at ease. This became an issue for me.

I was playing the role of the meditator

Admittedly, meditation did make me calmer, more present, more at ease. However, the issue arose in the moments when I didn’t feel these qualities.

At times, I felt anxious, erratic or groggy, or was generally experiencing “negative” emotions. These are all parts of the human experience, of course.

Yet rather than experience these feelings — remember mindfulness is experiential– I ignored them, and simply acted as if I were calm. I played the role of “the meditator.”

The effects of this weren’t particularly catastrophic, but the irony was, in attempting to act mindful, I was sabotaging my mindful practice.

In these moments, I wasn’t allowing myself to experience my authentic being.

Acting mindful vs. Being mindful

Mindfulness is meant to embody authenticity, but when your ego takes over, you can fall into inauthenticity instead. Here's how to stay on the right path.

What, then, is the difference between acting mindful and being mindful?

To explore this further, it’s important to understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

When acting mindful, we allow the belief to lead:

I should be mindful, that means I should be calm, cool, collected, at ease.

Actually being mindful means applying mindful non-judgement to our current experience. We observe beliefs, sensations and feelings, and accept their presence. Our actions, then, aren’t being led unconsciously by our beliefs.

However, being mindful still allows us to act against impulses or emotional states. And our ccceptance creates space to remain calm when faced we are faced with difficult emotions.

A case study of anxiety

To provide a solid example, let’s say I am experiencing anxiety.

In the first scenario of simply acting mindful, I would resist or suppress the anxiety, and tell myself “I shouldn’t be this way.” I’d attempt to act “calm” or “cool” despite my true feels — This stifles authenticity.

When anxiety arises while we actually being mindful, we acknowledge its presence and accept it as best we can. We move freely and express as authentically as possible, even if this expression is acting in a way which feels anxious.

The motivation for the behavior in both instances is different. In the first example, we behave in a way we believe we should behave. In the second, we accept our experience and behave authentically, while trying our best not to react or become consumed by thought or emotion.

It’s not glamorous

The more we develop expectations about meditation or spiritual practice, the greater the risk of falling into ego-traps, or spiritual bypassing.

One common mistaken belief is that spiritual growth is all lightness, love, joy, and compassion

These traits are cultivated through practice, but true growth requires facing trauma, and being able to accept so-called negative emotions.

As Toko-pa Turner writes in Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home:

“True healing is an unglamorous process of living into the long lengths of pain. Forging forward in the darkness. Holding the tension between hoping to get well and the acceptance of what is happening. 

“Tendering a devotion to the impossible task of recovery, while being willing to live with the permanence of a wound; befriending it with an earnest tenacity to meet it where it lives without pushing our agenda upon it. 

“But here’s the paradox: you must accept what is happening while also keeping the heart pulsing towards your becoming, however slow and whispering it may be.”

These words are a reminder that authentic expression involves finding the balance between accepting what is, and keeping your heart pulsing towards becoming.

How to stick to the path of authenticity

Any time we find ourselves resisting elements of our experience — such as anxiety or sadness — or craving elements of experience — such as happiness or joy — we veer off the path of authenticity, towards an idea of how to be.

In these moments, it’s vital we reconnect with ourselves. Exercise forgiveness. Express self-compassion. And then we return to the moment, one breath at a time, re-establishing our desire to move towards authenticity, not to act, but to be.

These Are the Two Types of Forgiveness You Need to Move on

By | emotional health, empowering, Food for thought, heartbreak, personal essay, relationships

The post break-up period is full of intense emotions, heartache, insecurity, and a continuous loop of memories shared with your ex.

There’s no quick fix to navigating the heartache, but there are skillful ways to deal with the intensity, to avoid becoming trapped in self-pity and regret.

I don’t move on easily; I never have

Heartache comes in waves, often unexpectedly. I’ve held on to relationships for years, or found myself caught in loops of regret, longing, self-criticism. Holding on always comes with small print: what if things were different?

Over the years, though, I’ve learned to let go easier thanks to various tools I use to regulate my emotions and treat myself with increased self-compassion.

I’ve had my fair share of breakups. They’re always unpleasant. But now I handle them slightly better. I’ve moved from complete and utter despair to feels like a healthy way to process a loss. It’s victory, of sorts.

One practice has been my biggest catalyst to moving on: forgiveness

Breakups rarely go smoothly. There’s pain and grief on both sides. To move on, two types of forgiveness are needed: towards our ex and towards ourselves.

Forgiving your ex

Letting go is an overused cliche. Consequently, it runs the risk of losing meaning. To remind myself of what it feels like to let go, I bring awareness to the opposite: what does it feel like to hold on?

Holding on keeps me stuck in the past. Energetic attachments — resentment, anger, craving — prevent me from looking forward. 

These are messy, ugly emotions. Honesty is needed to acknowledge their presence. Only when I saw these energetic attachments did they start to lose their power over me.

The end of one relationship

Relationship A was a tough and intense 18 months. I fell hard and fast, and was lost in the beautiful chaos of it all. The breakdown of the relationship was gut-wrenching; my ex left me in Berlin with two weeks’ notice. We attempted long-distance until, during our anniversary celebration, I discovered she’d used Tinder regularly. Ouch.

Post-breakup, I was holding on to Relationship A through a sense of righteousness. I made myself the victim. I was bitter and resentful. How could she?

Letting go required honest reflection. I explored my bitterness, I befriended it. I cultivated compassion for my ex — I saw her as human: flawed and scared and unsure. 

The more I humanized her, the more empathy developed. As I exercised forgiveness, I felt the energetic shift. With added clarity, it became apparent I was holding on to anger towards myself, too. To heal this, I needed another form of forgiveness.

Forgiveness towards yourself

In Relationship A, I was angry at myself for letting the relationship get the better of me. I was angry about ignoring red flags. I was angry about overextending. I was angry about falling hard and fast and getting lost in the beautiful chaos.

Awareness of this self-directed anger was a huge “Aha!” moment. It opened the door to forgiving myself. A healthy dose of self-compassion was needed. I reminded myself of my human imperfection, of how easy it is to be blinded by love. I tried my best. I wanted to make the relationship work. I did no wrong.

Combined, these two types of forgiveness freed me from the shackles of Relationship A. It was a gradual process; occasionally resentment or anger resurfaced. But eventually it eased. Now, I look back on this relationship with kindness and appreciation. I wish my ex well.

The different balance

To further explain, I present Relationship B. This came before Relationship A, but letting go was more difficult because the process of forgiveness was different. To crudely place percentages on a topic that cannot be quantified:

  • Relationship A — 80 percent forgiveness towards my ex, 20 percent forgiveness towards myself. 
  • Relationship B —  10 percent forgiveness towards my ex, 90 percent forgiveness towards myself.

Relationship B came at a time of great instability. It was a grounding, nurturing relationship while I was anything but.

Throughout our three years together, I broke things off numerous times and broke her heart. The relationship ended when I left the UK and moved to Berlin. The irony of this coincidence is not lost on me, though my ego wants to point out that I gave a few years’ notice.

To move on from this relationship I had to direct much more attention, at the regret and anger I had towards myself. I felt I’d let her down, that my emotional instability was a form of weakness. Yet I was going through a personal crisis.

Forgiveness here meant being compassionate toward my 22-year-old sekf. I reminded myself I did the best I could, with the tools and coping mechanisms I had at the time.

Forgiveness isn’t always rational

You may be wondering where the 10 percent of forgiveness towards my ex comes from. I needed to forgive my ex… for moving on. As silly as this sounds, such was the dynamic, such was her level of support and forgiveness towards me, that I’d subconsciously developed a sense of entitlement towards her love (I told you breakups were messy).

Forgiveness isn’t always rational. My angst at my ex moving on was not rational — of course she was going to live her life. But I still needed to follow the process.

Forgiveness allowed me to acknowledge the way I was feeling. And, on a cognitive level, I was able to see how my entitlement wasn’t rational.

Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift to ourselves and our ex partners.

It allows us to open our hearts, to experience appreciation for what once was, and to release attachments to how things could’ve been. Most importantly, it allows us to truly move on, to let go of memories of what-once-was, return to the present, and enter future relationships with clarity.

And if what if we fall into similar traps in future relationships? Then we forgive again.

The Fear List: How I Transformed My Relationship Anxiety by Facing It

By | challenging, Food for thought, mental health, mindset, personal essay, self

Anxiety sucks — so so badly. I have had so many anxiety attacks in my life I can’t even begin to remember them all. Of course, when I first started to experience anxiety attacks — and anxiety in general — that was not the case. It was as if I kept a laundry list of things that freaked me out in my head so that I could react to them similarly again in the future. And that list just kept growing and growing. 

If you would have asked me at the height of my anxiety attacks, when my originally relationship-based anxiety was even affecting things like my job and family, if I thought my anxiety was a blessing I would have told you to kick rocks.

But now, when my anxiety attacks only come every few months, and last for minutes not hours,  and the prickles of anxiety don’t consume my every thought, I feel differently.

I actually think of anxiety as a gift

As I mentioned before, my anxiety is mostly based in relationships. I have past relationship trauma — when it came to things like my partner getting upset about something or feeling the need to make someone else happy, I came apart. And it was bad.

My kids saw it, my mom saw it, my partner saw it, and eventually, my boss saw it too. There came a point where I knew that I needed to change or I would forever be a slave to my fear. 

I started out on a healing journey that completely transformed the way I thought about anxiety — and any dense emotion, for that matter. 

When I say dense emotions, I am referring to emotions that are not always easy to feel.

I like to think about emotions as candy

First of all, no candy is bad candy. Sure, there are some you like more than others but all candy is, in fact, candy.

Think of emotions like love and excitement as cotton candy; infinitely sweet and melting in your mouth. But emotions like fear and jealousy are akin to toffee; sticky and hard to chew, sometimes they even hurt your teeth. 

Understanding that no emotions are bad emotions is only one piece of the puzzle. The other pieces come when you start to better understand what those “toffee” emotions are trying to tell you. 

Dense emotions are a road map

They only come when you are triggered by one of three things: either a boundary, a past wound, or a value. And when you are triggered, you can actually begin to work on yourself and heal your past pain or establish solid boundaries.

When dense emotions arise, they are actually leading you towards something you can heal in your life.

If you didn’t have that dense emotion to guide you, you would not know what you needed to work on so there would be no way to continue to grow as a person.  

On the surface it can seem like everything would be better if you just never had to overcome all that pain in the first place. But that is not life. Even the people who have never suffered through the kind of massive pain that we would typically think of as “trauma” have still experienced trauma and are affected by their wounds. 

When you learn to heal you past wounds using your dense emotions to guide you, everything in your life begins to change. Not only do you grow but you also deepen your understanding of other people and their emotions. 

The war against anxiety

If you are still trapped in the war against anxiety and just want to get out, I know how you feel. And trust me, I am in no way advocating you remain caught in that infernal battle. I am simply suggesting you start thinking of anxiety in a different way.

Start listening to what you are feeling because of whatever external triggering occurred and start to address those feelings. 

The fear list

One of the quickest ways that I learned to start really exploring the blessing of anxiety is to make a list of all my fears.

You cannot slay a monster you don’t know you are fighting.

The first time I tried this I was shocked. The things that were causing me anxiety came out and I could actually name them.

Do you honestly know what you are fearing every time anxiety rears its ugly head? 

Start with the fears everyone has, like spiders or being kidnapped, then dig deeper. Pour everything out onto the paper. You may be surprised to see what starts to come out as your mind gets more comfortable. 

By doing this activity I learned that I actually feared all of my feelings. Thanks, in part, to this realization, this is no longer the case. Now when those dense emotions pop up I ask myself: where is this feeling coming from? What is the internal cause of this hurt? And then I chew the heck out of that toffee.

I Lost My Identity in My Relationship — Then I Found Myself in the Breakup

By | Food for thought, heartbreak, how-to guide, introspective, personal essay, relationships

It was a dark period of my life. The warning signs were there. I’d internalized the myth of romantic love. The idea of The One infiltrated the work I’d done on self-empowerment.

I felt I’d arrived; that this relationship was the destination. I didn’t realize I was placing my worth and emotional needs in the hands of someone else.

Then the relationship crumbled — and I crumbled too

It was a dark period, but a necessary one. This particular breakup led me on a humbling journey of self-discovery, fuelled by the question: why do I feel this bad?

It wasn’t my first breakup, and wouldn’t be my last. But I was lost.

Losing the relationship felt like losing a part of me

By the time this relationship ended, some years ago, I already had an established meditation practice. I was aware and working on taking full responsibility for my emotions, to avoid the egoic trap of seeking fulfilment in the external. But we all have blindspots, and mine was romance.

I came face-to-face with my lost identity

This was a powerful moment in my understanding of my ego and self-image. I needed to reach this point to come face-to-face with the feeling of lost identity. Through meditation and self-enquiry, I leaned into the sadness, the sense of loss. My “healthy” grief was accompanied by a sense of worthlessness.

As I reflected, it became clear I’d always looked to romance for validation. In basic terms, this translated to:

I’m worthy and loveable because my partner loves me.

I compensated for a lack of self-love by placing my sense of worth in the hands of someone else’s love. In addition, I found feelings of codependency had formed. Heart in hand, I gave responsibility for my happiness to someone else.

It doesn’t take the Dalai Lama to tell you this is a recipe for disaster

Awareness and acceptance is the first step in change. Once I’d clearly seen these traits and started to understand why I felt so bad, I was ready to transform. The journey to rediscovering identity is long, difficult, and ultimately never ends. All journeys begin with a single step.

Here are 4 steps to rediscovering identity post-breakup:

1. The honest assessment of your inner world

The very first step is an honest assessment. I needed to explore my inner-world with compassion and non-judgement; this wasn’t a time to ignite the self-critic, but time to curiously enquire. Questions I asked myself included:

  • Where am I giving my power away?
  • What expectations did I hold about emotional fulfilment in this relationship?
  • Where am I seeking fulfilment in the external?

These questions revealed that I handed responsibility for my happiness to my partner, that my self-worth was filtered through the prism of romantic relationships. Ultimately, it highlighted a painful truth: I lacked trust in my ability to love myself.

2. The honest assessment of the outer world

Emotional dependency may be invisible. It manifests in emotional and mental realms, like expectations, entitlement, or feelings of resentment, bitterness or anxiety.

Once I gained clarity on my inner world, I turned to the external. What behavioral traits and activities were powered by my loss of identity? How had I given my identity away in the physical world?

I discovered two areas: life balance and goal setting

The way I was investing my time was imbalanced. I prioritized my relationship over my interests, activities, and friendships. I’d defaulted to seeing my ex — free time in my schedule was automatically spent with my beloved.

My goals were sacrificed too. I realized I’d disconnected from what I wanted from life, and from my inherent values. What I saw as an act of love was a way of neglecting my own dreams and desires. I put my partner first. I forgot myself.

3. Who am I?

Once I had clarity on the emotional, mental, and material, I looked into the spiritual aspect. I explored the areas in life I was not taking responsibility for self-fulfilment, self-love, and self-care. Then I asked: who am I?

This led me down the rabbit hole of unlearning beliefs I’d developed about my identity. I explored my spiritual nature beyond ego. I made a vow to myself to remain conscious and aware of the way my ego-identity forms. I reconnected with the part of me beyond all concepts. I started to feel my own power.

4. Rebuilding the relationship with your self

Understanding that my identity was not attached to the external allowed me to rebuild my image authentically. I connected with my values and cultivated self-compassion.

I took a curious attitude towards myself. I learned about my needs and authentic desires. I wanted to know myself away from all definitions, all relationships, all labels. I took this time to prioritize my relationship with myself.

Practically, this meant time alone. To flourish in future relationships, I became aware that I needed to feel whole. If placing my needs on someone else was a cause of suffering, I needed to work on caring for myself.

This didn’t mean isolating myself — I still turned to friends and family for support — but it did mean making a life-long commitment to support myself, too.

From the darkness to the light

Because I’d gone from relationship to relationship, it was important for me to detox from being a couple through this period of learning and growth. I developed a sense of self-compassion and self-love.

What started as a period of darkness has given me true independence.

Better still, taking responsibility for my emotional needs has freed me to love more authentically. It’s erased a sense of neediness. That’s not to say old habits don’t return at times. Do I slip into codependent traits? Occasionally.

But what is important is the awareness and the willingness to avoid mistaking my identity for anything that can be lost.

How I Learned To Cope With Eco-Anxiety and Climate Despair

By | empowering, Food for thought, personal essay, self, self-development

I was in attendance at a press conference recently when I first heard the term “eco-anxiety.”

The physician on stage told the stories of the Inuit communities she’s worked with, who have been witnessing, and living with, the effects of global warming and climate change for years.

I remember feeling a sense of relief — there were people out there suffering from the same worry about climate change as I was.

It is a very real thing

Turns out there are many ways to describe this condition, be it “eco-anxiety,” “climate anxiety,” or “climate despair. Whatever you want to call it, there is no denying that it is real.

No, there is no official clinical definition for it yet, but it is not surprising that the phenomenon is on the rise considering the collective, growing awareness of the environmental crisis we are facing.

Personally, my mind started imagining climate change’s worst scenarios nearly a decade ago. I remember watching Superstorm Sandy wreak havoc on New York City in 2012 like it was yesterday. 

I sat there in shock and disbelief, staring at the images of the storm’s aftermath on my television.

It hit too close to home (literally and figuratively)

At least 53 people were killed in NYC alone, as a result of the storm. Major hospitals were evacuated and shut down, hundreds of thousands of homes and vehicles were destroyed, and economic losses were registered in the billions.

A profound sense of fear and despair washed over me. Something told me that the world would be seeing a lot more of these kinds of intense storms in the future — and I was right.

At first, I was angry

I felt guilty and I felt scared. My anxiety was soaring high. 

I was angry because in my mind, too many people were actively denying that climate change was real and it felt as though no one was taking the threat seriously. I felt guilty because I was part of the problem and I felt scared of the unknown.

All these questions were coming up: Is climate change even real? If it is, how is it going to affect my future and that of my loved-ones? Is climate change a good reason not to have children? I had none of the answers to any of these questions and I felt totally hopeless.

Luckily, my late mother raised me to be a warrior

Life has taught me the importance of confronting uncomfortable issues head on, instead of ignoring them in hopes that they will go away––because they never do.

Pretending climate change is not a real threat is not an option for me. If you too have been feeling anxious about climate change, you’re not alone. There are ways to cope and to channel your worry into action.

Here are some ways to cope with eco-anxiety:

1. Acknowledge, accept, and talk about your feelings

Ignoring negative emotions is easy. Unfortunately for most of us, it has become second nature, to our detriment.

Feeling scared? Angry? Worried? Sit with it. Avoiding uncomfortable emotions only make things worse in the long-run. Instead of suppressing your fear, worry and/or anger, allow yourself to feel it. It’s normal to feel these emotions, it comes with being human.

Get curious about how you’re feeling: explore your emotions, write them out, and be open to what they’re trying to teach you. Talk about how you’re feeling with people you trust. Sharing is a good way to release tension.

2. Mourn the loss

Much like “eco-anxiety” is real, so is “ecological grief”, and with grief comes mourning. Take all the time you need to process any and all feelings of loss you may be experiencing. Whether you’ve been directly impacted and lost your home or pet, or find yourself grieving the future you envisioned for your children, grief is no joke and it needs to be embraced (rather than suppressed) so that you can move forward.

3. Empower yourself by turning negative feelings into positive action

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted your feelings and the anxiety they’ve stirred up, you can start channelling them into action. The first step here is to identify what you can do and to zero in on your interests. Yes, the fight against climate change is unprecedented, but I’m a firm believer that there is hope in action — no matter how small. 

For instance, if you love to travel, you might want to consider taking fewer planes to get around. If you love the ocean, you could volunteer to remove trash from your area’s beaches and waterways. If you’re into investing, make sure you’re putting money into companies that divest from fossil fuels.

No matter how big or small, these actions add up.

At the end of the day, I’m not encouraging you to simply get rid of the anxiety. Instead, I challenge you to make it easier to deal with by using it as motivation for change. We’re all in this together.