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Can I be safe here?

In many ways, I feel like I never really stopped working on my Playful Self-Discipline project. I have stopped writing about it as much, but I still work hard to apply the principles to the way I show up in the world. How can I approach self-discipline in a playful way, with lightness and compassion in one hand and firmness and consistency in the other?

One recent Playful Self-Discipline focus has been yoga. I guess it’s not all that recent, since I’ve been doing yoga on and off for at least 10-12 years. For maybe 10 of those years I was the type of yoga student who showed up for a class every single week but never practised at home. Last fall I signed up for a subscription to YogaGlo and started practising at home 3-4 times a week and suddenly – “Hey! I’m actually getting better at this!”

So, by the winter I’m practising almost every day, and starting to actually work at getting myself into asanas that I’ve never tried before. Poses that I had attempted in my previous classes but never really got due to fear and intimidation – inversions and arm balances specifically. And I found myself at an in-person yoga workshop, asking the instructor if she’d be willing to teach me how to do a headstand. And she says yes, and I find myself somehow upside down, breathing hard and almost completely disoriented and intensely focused at the same time.

“How is it?” she asked

“Strange!” I replied

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s like it takes a minute to realize that yeah, I can be safe here.”

And that phrase, “I can be safe here,” went right into my brain like a dandelion seed and started to sprout. Now I see it as a question. Balancing upside down – can I be safe here? Struggling with overwhelming feelings – can I be safe here? Staring down my irrational responses – can I be safe here? Worries about inadequacies, failures, criticisms, imperfection – can I be safe here?

It’s such a difficult question to answer because sometimes we’re not safe. Sometimes we do come crashing down and hurt ourselves. Sometimes we get hurt by the actions of others. It’s not about simply accepting any and all situations that come our way as healthy and safe.

Sometimes we need to take action to be safe. That headstand was safe for me in that moment because I had put in the work to develop the shoulder and core strength required to hold my bodyweight against the pull of gravity, and I had a knowledgeable guide to spot me. Safety from criticism, imperfection and failure requires the work of self-empathy and compassion. Want to guess which would I rather do, chaturanga after chaturanga or acceptance and compassion for my failures? It’s all hard work. Kinda painful. But it builds strength and resilience, especially if I can approach it with some warmth and lightness.

Sometimes safety requires a counter-intuitive letting go of defences. I had avoided learning how to do a headstand or a somersault all through elementary and secondary school because of a bad experience I had at 4 years old, when I hit my head on the ground while attempting to do a somersault at preschool. As an older kid I wrote it off as one of those weird things about me – I just hate being upside down. In order to actually be safe in a headstand I had to let go of that fear and that version of myself that hated being upside down. I’m not 4 years old anymore, and I might turn out to be an adult who likes doing headstand, but only if I have the discipline to actually get upside down despite the fear.

I’m still thinking about how this question applies to parenting. I am pretty sure that the process of development, in both kids and adults, is about learning to be safe in increasingly unfamiliar and challenging situations. Our job as parents is to be the supportive guide, the person spotting our kids while they test their abilities. The comforting and nourishing home base to return to after extending out into the world. The teacher who helps them practice so they actually can be safe, and the lifeguard who makes them get out of the pool during a lightning storm. It’s our job to ask that question alongside them – is this level of challenge appropriate? Can you be safe here?




you are what you read

The other day I had that familiar hankering to read something interesting. To have a little peek into someone else’s life. No facebook anymore, of course, so I dusted off my old feed reader. Remember those?

It was filled with the blogs I used to read 8-10 years ago, many of which are long gone now. The ones that are still active are about things that used to fill my days but don’t anymore: knitting, spinning, dyeing, freelance writing, breastfeeding, birth and babies, early childhood education. Even the homeschooling blogs don’t catch my interest in the same way that they used to. Perhaps now that I’m in the thick of the years that I was worried about I’m not so focused on learning about it anymore. I stopped reading Seventeen magazine by the time I was fifteen.

Clicking through those old blogs was like going to a High School reunion. This person’s still at the same job, this other person is having a baby, her second.  Everyone’s lives have moved on, of course. A few were almost exactly the same – The Yarn Harlot is still knitting socks, travelling around the place as a speaker or on book tours, visiting her nephews, riding her bike. Then I remembered the names of a few blogs I used to read even before the blogs about wool and babies. Would they still be there, 10-15 years later? To my surprise, a few were. Reading their posts was like taking a trip back to someplace I used to live.

I liked living there. I like substantial, story-like blog posts about people’s real lives, with their real thoughts and emotions there to see. I like blog posts with no pictures, just well-formed paragraphs of beautiful typography. I like reading blogs that aren’t trying to sell anything. No ads, no online courses, not even any books written by the blogger. Just one person, and their story.

Somehow I hadn’t noticed that this was gone. Like the frog in the pot that doesn’t notice the water heating up until he’s well and truly cooked, those gradual changes are hard to see. How quickly we accept that everyone has something to sell, everyone is their own brand. The commodification of our social interactions.

One thing I noticed today is that my creative voice is attuned to whatever I read. When I read tons of parenting books, my creative voice spoke to me in the language and cadence of parenting books. When I read facebook, I heard potential status updates. And after I read those lovely, long-form blog posts, the ideas for a long-form blog post of my own started bubbling up.

You are what you read? Choose well.

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Facebook Detox

Hello, my name is Michelle and I am addicted to Facebook.

I deactivated my account a month ago.

Have I really quit? Is it only temporary? Who knows. But I do know that a month without Facebook has actually made a difference in the way I think and feel. It’s certainly made a difference in the cleanliness of my kitchen.

The Good

OMG I can concentrate again. I have more time, and more inclination to use the time I have to actually do things. The feeling of mindless compulsion to check my phone is evaporating. I feel like I am operating from a place of intention more often, and that’s definitely a good thing. I also feel more emotionally stable, less affected by the stream of content coming at me from my Facebook feed.

The Bad

Well, not necessarily bad exactly, but more like difficult. I’m starting to notice feelings like loneliness and boredom. The awareness that I’m not fully engaged with what I am currently doing; I need to cook dinner, but I would rather read my book. That sort of thing. Thinking that there are people I am connected with on Facebook that I am not very well connected with otherwise who might be posting about things that I will be missing out on. The friend from elementary school who I am barely in touch with – has she had her baby yet?

The Ugly

The knowledge that I am unaware of important things happening in my community and in the world at large. The memorial service for a well known local cafe owner was last week, and I only heard about it because I saw some friends going home from it afterwards. I might not have heard about the attacks in Brussels unless my friend mentioned it to me when we were visiting in person. I’d like to find a cheap armchair and couch to replace our worn out furniture, and I know the best place to find a deal is on our local Facebook buy and sell page.

I know that there are alternatives to Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and current events. People have been calling or writing to their friends to keep in touch for a whole lot longer than they have been sending Facebook updates. Even if we end up buying a full price couch and armchair, is it worth it in order to be able to concentrate and act from intention instead of mindless compulsion every day?

Maybe there will be a day when I can use Facebook responsibly. But I know that if Facebook were vodka, I would be in serious trouble. Right now, I need to abstain.

(The irony, of course, is that my blog still updates to Facebook automatically. So you might be reading about my absence from Facebook because of a post I published to Facebook. Oh, modern life.)

((also, Instagram totally doesn’t count as Facebook.))

(((and another weird thing? Now I notice how much of everyday conversation is about people’s facebook activity. People talk about it a lot! Which makes sense, I guess, but I just never noticed before.)

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Penny for your thoughts…

Yesterday I was sitting at the kitchen table with a pensive look on my face, when Tom asked me, “what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about the collective unconscious,” I told him. “and how it relates to dreaming. I read that dreaming and REM sleep comes from a very ancient part of the brain, and I wonder if that means that our original state of consciousness as a species was a state of collective unconsciousness, and then a sort of individual dream state, and then there was the development of an individual consciousness?”

(For those of you who like reading about dreaming and the brain as much as I do, this is a mashup of ideas from Jaak Paanksepp [REM sleep originating from an ancient part of the brain] and Carl Jung [the existence of the collective unconscious and how mythological symbols arise in our dreams from that collective unconscious].)

“Why don’t you blog about things like that?” he asked me.

Good question.


I have deactivated my facebook account.

I am giving up on writing nice tidy SEO blog posts.

I am reclaiming my ability to concentrate and get things done.

I am going to be honest about the fact that I am going through a fairly major transitional crisis right now. Like the crisis that triggered my Playful Self-Discipline project five years ago, but cutting closer to the quick this time. How do I want to show up in the world, in my closest relationships, with myself? What can I take responsibility for? What is the responsibility of others?

There have been times that I have been doubled over with pain (emotional pain, but pain nonetheless), thinking that having a natural childbirth was easier.

This is where Practice meets Heart. And where the practice is both softening into accepting what is, and sharpening my focus on exactly where I want to go.



Feeling Better, Feeling Worse


Claire and I started the Autoimmune Paleo protocol in July 2014. One of the things that I struggled with so much in the months that followed was the heightened response that we had to foods that we used to eat with what seemed like no problem. I used to eat almonds daily, but months and months would go by and each time I tried reintroducing them I would have symptoms – restless legs, pain in my shoulder or finger joints, tweaky pain in my inner ear, skin rashes.

The reason for this is that when we eat a trigger food constantly our body tries to cover up the reaction. The reaction is still happening, but we don’t notice it as much. When we remove that trigger food and the reaction stops, the cells that are responsible for covering up the reaction are replaced with new cells that no longer know how to cover up the reaction. If we eat the food after an elimination period, we experience the full force of our body’s pain and discomfort.

I also started learning about Non-Violent Communication and Empathy about six months before starting the AIP, in November 2013. The first time I received an empathy guess that really worked, I could feel my entire body shift. There was a lightness. I could sit up straighter. I felt like the world was a little brighter, like I woke up in that moment. I started practising empathy every week with an empathy buddy, and started learning to pay attention to how my emotions showed up in my bodily sensations.

Giving and receiving empathy was the emotional equivalent of doing the AIP. I started clearing out things that were causing pain, and feeling good more and more often. But the flip side was that now I was really feeling my emotions, way more intensely than before. The mechanisms that had been suppressing them had been dismantled, and now the full force of my emotional pain and discomfort was accessible to me.

There are days when this seems like it was a bad idea. When an accidental bite of red pepper results in headaches and joint pain. When a seemingly innocent remark from someone else results in a spiral of shame, anger and self-hate that takes days to resolve. What is the value of noticing that in its full glory?

There’s a saying in Psychotherapy – you have to feel it to heal it. And I would add that you also need to feel it in the supportive presence of someone who can hold the space for you, whether that person exists beside you in real time and space, or exists in your brain as the experience of being held in that way earlier in your life.

We can’t heal triggers that we don’t know are there, whether they are food or emotional. It takes time, and self-care, and patience. The process is subtle and gradual sometimes. But eventually foods that used to be triggers are digested easily. And situations that used to cause emotional distress are navigated with ease.

I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m on my way.