What Shall We Eat? Part 5: Resources & Conclusions

Thanks for sticking around long enough to get to this last post! My goal in this was mostly to share my journey, but also to encourage others to embark on their own. Hopefully some of these resources I used along the way will help you, too.

After opening my mind to the possibility that eating meat does not, in fact, align with my values, and taking the time to do my own research, I ultimately feel confident that there exists a thoughtful, spiritual and humane way to eat meat. Husband and I initially decided to eat less, better quality meat than we used to; for us, this felt like the right place to start. We care about the environment, we care about animals, and we care about nourishing our bodies and taking good care of them.

So this begs the question: how do we do this?

Based on everything I’ve learned, I believe the answer lies in buying the highest quality local food you can find. And at the very least – making choices to eat “less than ideal” foods minimally and with awareness of what you are contributing to when you do.

One of the first places I started was a website mentioned in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat Wild. The site is organized by state and lists local farms, what they produce, some information about the farms and how to contact them. I was surprised how many there were, and how accessible they were (many will ship, some will not). This was by no means an exhaustive list, either. Atlantans: you have options. Lots of them.

Alternatively, be on the lookout for local farmer’s markets. Many cities have them every

marietta square farmers market
Borrowed from mariettasquarefarmersmarket.com

weekend (we love the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market!) and the big ones have websites that list their suppliers. This is also a great way to learn about farms in your area, read about their philosophies, and even visit/buy directly from the farm.

Husband and I tried to do this one Saturday – we drove to a farm in Powder Springs, GA – about a 30 minute drive from our house. Unfortunately, it was less a farm and more an abandoned shack that could easily be the set for a horror flick. Oh well; we’ll try again with a bigger, better-known farm some time!

I also stumbled upon a service in Atlanta called Garnish & Gather. It’s very similar to meal delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh – which both use high qualityhello fresh veggie ingredients (Husband and I are currently using Hello Fresh for 3 Vegetarian meals per week). Each week, Garnish & Gather has a menu of 5 or so meals. All ingredients to make each meal come from local or regional farms. You select which meals you want, how many people you’re feeding, and you can either pay to have all the items delivered, or you can pick them up at one of several Metro Atlanta locations. You can even grocery shop and pick up those items along with your meals! They also have all suppliers listed on their website – again, another resource to find local farmers. We haven’t tried this service yet; I have actually been moving farther and farther away from eating meat.

There is also a meal-delivery service called Purple Carrot that is 100% vegan. While I’m not necessarily advocating meal delivery services for everyone, I have found our vegetarian boxes from Hello Fresh very educational! Meaning, I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and new combinations of satisfying dishes without meat. Part of me wants to try Purple Carrot for the same reason – to try and learn how to make tasty vegan dishes!

Aside from our 3 Hello Fresh vegetarian meals per week, we are currently doing most of our grocery shopping at Harry’s or Whole Foods. What I love about shopping there (aside from the convenience) is the ability to buy local items as well as see information about the treatment of the animals that products come from.

What I’ve discovered is this: the harder it is to get information about where the product comes from or how the animals were treated, the more sure I am that I won’t like the answer. And while you’d think companies that treat animals humanely, don’t use antibiotics or don’t force their cows to eat grain would want consumers to know about it, labels can still be super confusing.

I found a website with some guides and resources to help decipher food labels and discern what in the world they mean. Does this take some effort? Yes. But I WANT to make every effort I can to understand what I am putting in my body.

As I plodded along in my research, I also discovered that as of August 2016, 35% of the chickens used by Chick Fil A are now raised with zero antibiotics. Their goal is to reach 100% by 2019. Encouraging more suppliers to raise chickens in an environment where they don’t need to be pumped full of antibiotics is at least a step in the right direction in my book.

In this age of overly-processed, industrialized food, it’s definitely tough to avoid all of it. And I’m OK with that for now because I’m still learning and changing. I said at the beginning of this series that I was not going to be rigid. Educated and thoughtful? Yes. Buy humane and local, to the best of my ability? Absolutely. Eat less meat, period? Yep – and I can honestly say I don’t miss meat during those meals at all.

In fact, I’ve actually lost my taste entirely for some meats. I’m not sure if this is just a phase or not, but I have close to zero interest in any meat that comes from cows or pigs these days. I still eat chicken from time to time, and I still eat fish regularly. But suddenly, those other meats just aren’t appealing anymore. And it didn’t happen overnight – I did not feel that way after my initial research.

As for other animal products, I still eat cheese and eggs, and I still use butter every now and then. I haven’t “banned” any products necessarily, but truthfully, a lot of it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore and I actually prefer vegan alternatives. The fun thing is, I still have SO many vegan options that I haven’t even tried yet!

Will I end up a vegan someday? I have no idea. But I can tell you that trying vegan versions of things is fun, I don’t miss meat, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything. I don’t want my food choices to hinder my health/nutrition, enjoyment of or satisfaction from eating, nor do I want to support abusive and cruel treatment of animals. This is still a journey, and I know I have more learning, growing and changing to do!

Ultimately, I want to glorify God by taking good care of the body He’s given me, and do my part to support the planet and animals He’s entrusted to our care.

And to simplify things for you, below is a list of the resources I found helpful*.

*Just remember to do your own research on some of the claims you’ll hear in these documentaries, specifically. I don’t think every resource I listed here is gospel truth – just that they all helped me in my journey and led me to ask MORE questions and do MORE research. Omnivore’s Dilemma and Intuitive Eating were the most helpful to me by a mile.

 

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 2: The Mental Aspects

For me, there were several pieces to this food journey. Of course, the first was an open mind – a willingness to challenge my own actions. Next is the mental aspect: digging in and learning.

Equipped with an open mind and the strongly worded Facebook posts of my friend, I began my journey into food re-evaluation. I wanted to know why she’d made such a drastic change in her diet, going from a meat eater to a very passionate vegan. What effect would the research have on me? Would I change my mind and become a vegan too? I was a little scared to know the answer to that, truth be told (because cheese). Nevertheless, I dug in.

First, Husband and I watched a couple documentaries she recommended: “Vegucated” and “Forks over Knives”. Both of them explore the benefits of a vegan (all plant-based) diet, and potential harmful effects of consuming animal products – for the animal as well as the person eating it.

For some people, veganism is all about a decision not to contribute to inhumane treatment and/or the killing of animals, period. Still others claim myriad health benefits: more energy, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, blood pressure issues, cancer and more.

They also argue that never before have we had the ability to purchase all types of produce year-round. In years gone by, people had to rely on seasonality of produce – only able to eat what they could grow in their climate. Now, we don’t really need meat to have a balanced diet – so why kill all those animals?

Of course, there are two sides to every story – my research into veganism proved that well.

I wanted to hear from people that had tried veganism and reverted as well. My research there led me to several blogs and accounts of people who had been vegan, but after some time, decided they didn’t really feel that great anymore and re-integrated some animal products into their diets. After awhile, some said they began to feel tired and sluggish, and some complained of always being hungry and dissatisfied.

My guess is that folks who have chosen a vegan diet because they are protesting the treatment and/or killing of animals are less likely to “convert back” to meat-eaters, although I don’t have any research to back that up!

I also watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” in which it is claimed that animal agriculture accounts for more than half of the world’s total pollution. The documentary explores this claim, and highlights the unwillingness of major environmental organizations to talk about this serious issue.

Of course, being a skeptic by nature, I also read several responses that discredit the “more than half” percentage given in the documentary. These responses claim that the documentary only relied on one study to get their numbers. Make no mistake – the pollution caused by animal agriculture is real and problematic – but many contend the magnitude is NOT as this documentary claims. There’s definitely something shady going on here, though. And it makes a lot more sense after reading the absolute best resource I found about food chain issues: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In this book, author Michael Pollan traces the entire food chain of 4 complete meals – andOmnivore's Dilemma then eats each meal. The first meal is produced in the typical “Industrial” food chain, the second by an “Industrial Organic” food chain, the third by a local organic farm operation, and the fourth he produces himself as a hunter-gatherer. I HIGHLY recommend this book as an anchor for anything else you watch or read. I was hooked pretty quickly, and learned SO much valuable, important and interesting stuff.

Suffice to say I cannot begin to sum up everything I learned, but I’m fairly certain it’s not possible to watch and read all these things and come out the other end unchanged. I cannot un-know the things I saw, heard and read. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it all, process it all and come to conclusions – but I’ll save most of that for another post.

Certainly, a lot of this stuff is difficult to read about or watch. Some of it was more sensational (worst of the worst) than others. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand about any of it, because it is REAL and it is happening. I believe it’s necessary to ask myself: how should I respond to this?

My initial response was to log into my Hello Fresh app and select the Vegetarian option instead of the option with meat. Sensational or not, the things I learned made me want to eat less meat out of sheer horror.

But overall, this has been a process rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Initially, I was very frustrated that it was so difficult to obtain food with a clear picture of where it came from. Frankly, that’s still frustrating. But for now, I’m settling into the knowledge I’ve gained and am learning what feels (and tastes!) the best for me personally.

Once I educated myself and began dealing with all this information, I of course had to grapple with the physical aspects and claims I was hearing. How does food make us feel and affect our bodies? What effect does it have on the environment and the animals we are eating?

These questions are really anything but simple – and some of them are certainly different for different people. But I’ll be exploring them a bit next time!

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 1: An Open Mind

One of the most interesting side effects of de-cluttering and exploring simplicity in all areas of life is a newfound desire to challenge myself.

I think a shifting perspective on “stuff” and all the discoveries I’ve made about myself, my assumptions and my beliefs has made me more eager to question other areas of my life. Have I been blind to other things? Why do I believe what I believe or assume what I assume in the first place?

It makes sense that we accept as normal what is happening around us when we are young; we don’t really know we have the option to question it. We grow up and realize that we do, and hopefully we do some research before we draw conclusions, but we are still largely shaped by what we’ve experienced – and my experience isn’t necessarily the same as yours.

If we’ve been positively (or negatively) impacted by our experiences, we may become very passionate, based on the intensity of that experience. And then we might want to shout what we’ve learned from the rooftops, in hopes of helping someone else gain (or avoid) something.

It’s easy to get defensive when a very passionate individual is calling into question your

cow-face
Spoiler Alert: This is not what life looks like for the vast majority of cows in the United States.

normal way of being. We might snap at that person, or dismiss them because we feel uncomfortable. But I think we sometimes forget: these folks are usually passionate for a reason – because of an intense experience – and in most cases, they ultimately want to share the knowledge they’ve gained for the benefit of others.

Likewise, it’s easy for the passionate person to vilify the one that gets defensive or is resistant to change. At the end of the day, we all must arrive at change in our own way and time. Can we agree to give each other grace in this area?

All it took was one such passionate individual and her Facebook posts to convince me to re-evaluate what I am eating (Thanks, Erica!). And now, husband and I are adjusting our eating habits. Not in a diet-y, lose-weight-y kind of way, but in a “where does food come from, how is it made and do I want to support that” kind of way.

Having an open mind is so very, very important – even if you don’t end up changing your mind. Along the way, you learn new things, engage with new people in new ways and have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the world around you.

I’m going to be writing a little bit about simplicity as it relates to food and all the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks about where our food really comes from. I’ve felt shocked, disgusted, hopeless, frustrated, sad, angry and, ultimately, hopeful as I’ve delved into this topic. The more I’ve learned, the more passionate (though not extreme nor rigid) I’ve become.

I hope that you’ll read my upcoming posts about this, and maybe somehow these words will impact your food journey for the better as well.

 

 

Why Minimalism?

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending some time with my Great Uncle Fred. Though I haven’t spent much time with him in my life, I can safely say he’s a hilarious wealth of stories, travels and a life very well lived. He also happens to read this blog from time to time, for which I am deeply honored!

When we were together at his son Brian’s lake house, he asked me why I want to live a minimalist lifestyle. I said, “Because it helps me focus on what really matters in life.” While this is a true and honest answer, I wish we would have had more time to talk about it. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that someone who isn’t a minimalist can’t focus on what’s important in life, although I think living minimally makes it easier.

I always want to make the disclaimer that minimalism means different things to different

minimalism-definition
Photo taken: The Stephanie Inn; Cannon Beach, OR

people and I believe it’s helpful to provide my definition of it before I can really flesh out it’s full appeal in my own life. I’d define minimalism as “The pursuit of simple living; keeping just enough possessions, things on my mind and things on my schedule to encourage living in and being thankful for each moment.”

Here are the reasons minimalism is attractive to me…perhaps loosely in order of least to most important.

1. Cleanliness and Order. I struggle with anxiety, people. One of the things that always makes me feel more calm is to be surrounded by clean, clear, open and well-organized spaces. I’ve always been a fairly neat/organized person, but as I began to get rid of physical possessions, I realized my time spent cleaning our house went down a good bit. Since I am the maid around here, that was highly appealing to me. The less crap I have to pick up to wipe down the surfaces in my home, the faster I can speed through cleaning. This is also one of the reasons I like the idea of a smaller home. The less time I spend cleaning these worldly possessions that cannot accompany me to the hereafter, the better, if you ask me. And of course, a less cluttered room = a calmer, more contented Sarah.

2. Financial Freedom. Most folks pursuing minimalism are highly motivated by this one. Interestingly, the more things I give away, the less I want to bring into my home. If something is not needed, or being used, I typically consider it unnecessary clutter. I don’t buy as much stuff now because I just don’t want more stuff; it doesn’t matter to me like it used to. Personally, I have found great blessing in wanting less vs. wanting more.  I would much rather use money for things that are more important and more in line with my values as a person – like helping others, traveling and experiences.

3. Rejecting Materialism. Our culture is constantly selling us the idea that we need more, newer, bigger, better things to be happy. Yet, some of the most destitute people in our world are the most content and some of the richest people in our world are the most miserable. I’m not implying that all rich people are miserable. Just that this notion that we’d all be more content if we were richer is a lie. I honestly did not know this deeply and in my soul until I started giving things away. It was only when I consciously decided to get rid of things that I realized how much I actually already had (and how little I really need). This sounds so silly and bratty to me now, but I never considered NOT following a trajectory of bigger and better; apartment to house to bigger house to even bigger house or reasonable car to nicer car to even nicer car. I never would have called myself materialistic before I minimized my belongings; materialism would not have been on a list of my values. And yet, I used to think and behave in a decidedly materialistic way. Minimalism reminds me not to go back to that way of thinking. It teaches me how much is enough for me – and I didn’t know what was “enough” until I gave a bunch of stuff away. I could still give more and not suffer in the least, and knowing that makes me overflow with humility and gratitude.

4. A Personal Response to Global Issues. One of the very first things that led me to pursue minimalism (although I didn’t know that word at the time) was a soul-gripping awareness of how we live here in America as compared to the rest of the world. I’ve always “known” we are mighty fortunate, but after fostering a more global awareness, it finally became real to me. I found myself feeling inauthentic and restless in the face of what others around the world must endure; from extreme poverty to persecution for faith in Jesus. I know I don’t deserve the wonderful life I’m blessed with; I know I “have it better” than so many people in the world. It feels wrong not to respond to that in some way. For me, there’s a fine line between feeling guilty for all God has blessed me with, and being humbly thankful for those blessings. It’s something I must be careful about because ultimately, I desire to live in the moment with a grateful heart. But as I’ve purged belongings, events from my schedule and thoughts from my mind, the clarity I’ve found always leads me back to both generosity and gratitude. I have come to view minimalism as a first step in thoughtfully responding to global issues in my own little ways. It encourages me to continue giving and asking myself and God how else I’m meant to respond.

5. My Faith. For me, this is most important reason to pursue minimalism. I have learned that when I pursue minimalism for calm surroundings, less financial burden, and a deliberate turn from the magnetic pull of materialism, it helps me keep an eternal perspective and see Jesus more clearly. When I begin to strip away my excess, I am more free to pursue the life He wants me to live – not focused on myself or on getting MORE. While we are never in complete control of how much God decides to bless us with monetary riches, we are ALWAYS in control of what we decide to do with whatever money we have. The Bible tells us to be good stewards of what we have (be wise financially!). It tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world and live with an eternal perspective (avoid materialism!). It tells us that the love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil. It tells us that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven. My logic tells me that when I pine for bigger, better things, when I already have more than enough, I am both engaging the root of all evil, and I’m making it harder for myself to live for the Lord. In short – I believe minimalism is a way of living that helps me be consistent with the teachings in the Bible.

Does the minimalist lifestyle appeal to you? What is your own definition of minimalism, and why is it a worthy way to live (or not) in your opinion?

Comparison: The Joy Killer

Few things kill joy, rob us of peace, and promote self-centered-ness like comparing ourselves with others. What they have, what they look like, how they act…there are many areas in which we put others on a pedestal, wishing we “had it that good.”

At the heart of comparison are insecurity and an incorrect focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.

The funny thing about comparison is that it’s entirely possible for us to banish it in one area of our lives, but allow it to fester, unrealized, in another. Sometimes, comparison becomes so natural that we’ve sized someone up, decided what that says about us, and either felt better or worse because of it – all before we even notice what we’re doing.

I used to struggle with discontent from comparing my “stuff” and possessions to others’ – wishing I had more, bigger or better. But now, I’m learning to hold things loosely and finding great freedom in wanting less rather than more. I’m still tempted to think I need more than I have sometimes. But I’m so grateful that possessions no longer have the power over me they once did.

The one area in which I cannot seem to stop comparing myself to others is my weight and

comparison-kills-joy
Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

how I look. I think most women struggle with this at different times and in different ways. I’ve got a lot of scars from past experiences and my struggle is pretty constant in this area.

But let me drop some perspective on myself. (And maybe someone out there needs to do the same!) I am not sick, and I do not have injuries that render me unable to move or live life freely. I am not the weight or size I wish I was, but I work out 5-6 days a week and I do my best to eat well. I have made and met fitness goals. I continue to try new things (like scary road bike rides in the mountains!) and face fears because I can. What I need to train myself to do is focus on what my body can do rather than compare myself to skinnier people and wish I was different. If I must compare, let me compare myself to someone cannot do all the things I can do.

When I think about my body in this way, it makes all my complaining seem utterly ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that pretty much no one cares what I look like as much as I seem to! If there is someone out there who is critical of how I look, who really cares? Why do I care? God loves me and approves of me and He knows my heart; He knows that I want to take care of the body He’s given me. I have a fantastic husband who loves and respects me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. It’s only my own stubborn inability to give myself grace that pulls me downward into despair about my body.

What are the ways in which you’re most likely to compare yourself to others? Is it your weight? Is it how much money you have? Is it the kind of car you drive? Your job? Your abilities as a parent?

Let me just tell you: you are enough. As you are, right now, today. God loves you; your family and friends love you. Maybe it’s time for you to give you a little love, too.

If you’re overweight and wish you looked different, do what you can. Move, eat foods that will optimally fuel your body and celebrate what you are able to do. If you wish you had a nicer car, start focusing on the fact that you have a car that is getting you around. If you aren’t happy in your job, look for a new one, or think of ways to make the job you’re doing more meaningful and fulfilling to you. Mamas, don’t worry about being perfect or being anyone other than you: you’re doing great!

Comparison is the great joy-killer. Make an effort NOT to engage those comparative thoughts when they come; make a habit of turning them into something uplifting and positive. And whenever possible, turn your mind from your dark thoughts about yourself and reach out to help someone around you who is in need or just say some kind words to a friend. I guarantee you anyone you choose to show kindness to will appreciate it. Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself, too!

A Beautiful Glimpse of the Past

Four years ago, my grandfather passed away. Friday, a big group of us convened at his favorite place, Lake Wallenpaupack PA, and set his ashes free in the waters he loved.

I don’t see my extended family as much as I’d like. And ever since grandpa passed, it always feels a little weird to be around all of them without him. It’s been easier to feel a bit removed from the sadness of missing him since we don’t live close. (Though if I let myself, I’d probably still cry every time I thought about him!) Being in “his” place made that sadness come to the surface; bigger and more raw.

My grandfather was a BIG man. Not necessarily big in size, though he was tall, but big in personality. His booming laugh and bear hugs instantly made a room feel warm and full of life.  He was one of my absolute favorite people.

And my favorite childhood memories live at their lake house. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to write them all down – perhaps while I still remember them!

I don’t think I’ve ever lived closer than a 2 hour plane ride from my grandparents, but as a kid, I saw them at least once a year, usually around the 4th of July. We would all pile on my grandfathers boat with blankets and snacks, anchor in the middle of the lake and watch fireworks shot off a tiny island nearby.

The lake house itself felt magical as a kid. The round table off the living room was surrounded by windows overlooking the lake and usually had an unfinished puzzle or game on it. The skinny, steep, windy iron & wood stairs down to the basement revealed a wall of more games, water guns and lake toys galore. And I can still remember the smell of cinnamon raisin bagels and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings.

My brother and I had special rituals with my grandpa whenever we were there. One of our favorites was to go on long walks with him down the gravel road past the house. There, we’d pick raspberries off the endless bushes that lined the road. We’d walk over to the silent, mossy old graveyard and search for the oldest tombstones. And no walk was complete without a sturdy walking stick. My brother and I would find big sticks and hand them over to my grandpa for inspection. If it was a good stick, we’d bring it back and he’d sand down a smooth handle and chop it to “kid-sized”.

If you were awake early enough, you might get to go with Grandpa to the general store for the newspaper or Dunkin Donuts for coffee. If you were really lucky, you’d get to pick out candy sticks or get a roll of necco wafers from the general store, too. Sometimes, we’d take after-dinner boat rides and my brother and I would perch in the very front of the boat, searching for huge wake waves from other boats and begging grandpa to fly over them. Other early mornings or evenings, you’d find grandpa down on the dock fishing – and always excited if we wanted to join him.

My grandma would make giant sandwich platters for lunch and delicious home cooked meals each night. She and my mom would run off and play at antique shops while the rest of us spent our days jumping off the dock and floating around in inter tubes, or tubing and water-skiing on the lake.

When we were kids, we made what we called “treasure chests” in the rocks along the shoreline; moving rocks around to create little spaces and capping them tightly with large, flat rocks. We’d run along the slate gravel paths around the house and have water gun fights with our cousins. And when we got older, we’d take out the Sea-doos and search for big wakes to crash over on our own.

This weekend, we convened at my cousin Brian’s house on the lake. I didn’t realize it until we were out on the water, but grandma and grandpas old place was almost directly across the lake from Brian’s.

fullsizerender_1
A poor shot of the old house through the trees, but the best one I could get! I think I accidentally had a weird filter on my phone camera.

When it was time, we all piled in two boats (there were over 20 of us, including my sweet Grandma) and headed towards the old house. When I finally saw it, I just ached inside. What I wouldn’t give to be in that place one more time! To walk down to the cemetery eating fresh berries…smell the smells…hear Grandpa laughing. It’s funny how unfamiliar the lake looked as we left Brian’s, but how utterly familiar it felt as we got closer to that lifetime of precious memories. And turning around to leave from the old house was familiar, too – that view we’d seen a million times as kids – from the house, the deck, the dock.

Someone still lives there, making their own memories. It’s bittersweet. (But don’t think I didn’t stalk VRBO already on the off-chance that the new owners rent it out. It’s possible that I found the house next door, or one very close. Will update when my stalking is complete.)

My dad got this urn for grandpas ashes that would float a bit, then eventually sink and dissolve in the water. As one of us pointed out, it looked just like a buoy – how fitting. So as we turned away from the old place, my Dad and several others said some words, and then he released the “buoy” into the water. All of us hovered around it in our boats and watched grandpa bob and drift, until he found the perfect spot to rest.

It was a special day.

 

Give A Little Grace

I’m sitting here today, a few hours from boarding a flight to Pennsylvania to visit family. I’m excited to see everyone, but my peace has been missing for most of the day.

My travel phobias strike again!

This is frustrating. The flight to PA is less than 2 hours, and I did just fine a couple months ago on a 5 hour flight to OR.

My immediate reaction is to be really irritated with myself, and berate myself for not feeling peaceful and letting these dumb fears affect me in the slightest.

But today, I’m choosing to take a step back and let mindfulness lead. Step 1: WRITE. Step 2: When I can feel I’m starting to be too tough on myself I ask this question: if my best friend were describing my own feelings to me as hers, what would I say?

The short answer is: nothing close to what I am tempted to say to myself.

My usual inner dialogue snarls things like: “I can’t believe you’re letting this affect you AGAIN.” Or, “You are such a failure! I thought we conquered this fear already. You’re such a baby.” And my favorite, “You haven’t changed at all!”

What would I tell my best friend were she having the same feelings as me? I’d say things like: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You may always have this fear, but remember how many strategies you’ve learned to get through it.” And “It’s OK to feel the fear; you’re going to get on that plane anyway and conquer it.” And “Just think how good it will feel once you’ve got another travel experience under your belt.” And “You’ve done this a bunch of times before, you got this!”

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we would be on our friends? I’m actually kind of shocked at how stark a difference there is between the two for

minfulness
Photo Taken: La Jolla, CA

me. But self-hatred and perfectionism have an insidious way of creeping in until you barely even notice them. I had these negative thoughts about myself in a split second. They felt so familiar and it would have been easy to just accept them rather than grab them and throw them out.

It takes mindfulness and sometimes, retreating to a quiet place, to recognize harmful self-talk and decide to talk to yourself in a different way. Now, I have the option to re-write my bad thoughts and focus on good thoughts instead. I don’t have to accept whatever happens to pop into my head first.

We could all stand to give a little more grace. Both to others and for many of us, to ourselves. (By the way, I think this works just as well if you catch yourself having less-than-kind thoughts about others!)

Put this little exercise on the long list of reasons I love writing and learning to be mindful! I hope that someday, my immediate reaction to my own struggling or being less than perfect is more likely to be kind than cruel.

After all, I’d never dream of saying the things I tell myself to anyone else. I’m feeling calmer and more centered at that thought alone.