Brzeg: Metamorphosis (Instar number 1)

What does being happy with my body mean for me?  Am I truly happy with myself? Or, is confidence a shield I am depending on. An excuse not to commit to getting in the best shape I have ever been in my life. If I am completely honest, I think it is definitely more of the latter. Sometimes confidence overshadows my potentiality and desire to cross the line from comfortable to hard earned physical endurance. This past year’s experiences have led me to take a good hard look at the beliefs I have of myself, how I relate to others, how I’ve been living my life. All of this has informed who and where I am today. Certain recent events have made me realize that complacency is an all too easy setting for me to fall back to. One thing I kept noticing is my inability to commit to some things fully. Yes, I have taken many risks and moved a lot trying to find my way. And I will keep moving. I now understand that. I accept the challenge. Being of a nomadic character takes a certain amount of commitment. Will I stay in one place? Who knows. I embrace (and quite enjoy) the unknown.

 

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What I am referring to, is to truly dedicating my full attention and time to reshaping my body to its absolute best state. Shedding the chrysalis. The cocoon of the image I have of myself as the chubby one, always with a little something extra. I believe there is nothing wrong with that. If you love yourself the way you are, keep doing that! For me it is a different challenge. This image and feeling has always been there in the shadows. Creeping in at times when I least expect it.  More so when I am feeling the most vulnerable and open. It stops me in my tracks and prevents the true sensuous, inspired, spirited being I am from expressing itself.  Though today I can say, after some years of therapy and personal work that I truly love who I am; looking back now, I feel I should not have been that pleased with myself. I dare say, I lost myself in the comfort of it all. I was not doing my best to take care of my mind and body.  

Walking through the enchanted forest behind my apartment. I start thinking how Poland seems the oddest place to attempt a transformation such as this. But if not now, when? I’ve already seen my life and that of others flash before my eyes. This is what inspired the journey I began in August of 2018. So why waste more time? It’s quite funny that I say this, because for a whole year I would jokingly tell the friend I was traveling on and off with: “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”. (If he knew, I can imagine he would laugh too!) Well, tomorrow is here.  The goal? To reach my dream weight and get my physical and mental body to its absolute best condition. Finally releasing my self. Shedding every pound of weight that binds me to a past that no longer serves me. Embracing the wildness and fire that has always guided me. I am an Aries after all. Taking a moment to really think about what I want my life to include from now on. Surfing trips (beginner, of course), yoga, living vegan/low waste, closer to nature, a role on Netflix’s The Witcher and doing theatre across Europe. It’s time to finally step up and show up to the plate and batter the fuck up! Have my body meet up with the lifestyle I want to have for the rest of my adult life. I mean, I will still eat and enjoy cookies, chocolate and ice cream. Just maybe not in an eating my feelings kinda way.  

 

During the first week, counting calories sucked major D. For a second there the rebel in me whispered. Pfff, you can’t tell me what to do. I know how to eat well. Do I really, though? I’ve actually been paying more attention to how I am feeling when I am eating. And though I am back to a vegetarian, mostly vegan diet. Over eating can still be a problem, feelings can become unnecessary cravings. Counting calories has made me realize that. As far as an exercise regimen goes. (Sigh) After 15-20 minutes strength and abs workouts. It is good to know that small efforts are better for me than big compulsive ones. Small steps towards the joyful, fitter life I now have on my path . The plan, run and workout a little in the morning. Followed by a short strength workout at home after work. I am very happy to be on this journey and the friend who inspired it would be proud!    

 

On week three I decided to test something different. For my runs I’m guiding myself by the time not the distance. It feels better to do it this way (I reached a personal best in distance and pace). My pace keeps getting better each time. I’ve also decided to use some motivational “fuck yeah, you can do this”  internal monologues to keep the tiredness at bay (Thank you #NovemberProjectLAX for always being with me in spirit!). Which was a big hurdle, I had to overcome on week two. You can catch me giving high fives to the trees on the trails like a flying fairy now. I have never in my life thought of myself as a person with a mini pack on my abs but I have to say, the work is paying off. Though I end up like an exhausted star fish on the floor afterwards. I sometimes wonder how this would have affected me had I made the effort to get fit sooner while traveling in Mexico and Central America. 

 

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This is just the beginning of a complete metamorphosis. INSTAR number one. Instar is the development stages insects such as butterflies go through. There are five stages in total. Each stage shedding an old shell of what the original caterpillar used to be. The beginning stage of a transformation I have held back for a long time. I am excited to see where it goes. It is hard sometimes because the progress goes back and forth. The old belief of: “Oh, it’s ok if you don’t this. Stay comfortable” tries to take control. I shake it off. Keeping the end goal in sight is the most important. Turning off the comfort setting and turning the dial all the way up on trusting myself to do this. Growing into something new. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity to follow my own path, leading me to instar number two.  

Berlin: The Ego vs. The Real Self

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had on this journey to mental health has been my constant battle with the limiting loud voices and negative stories sometimes swirling in my head, that I consider to be the ego. As a yoga teacher you hear a lot of instructors or even spiritual guides say, let go of the ego. Quiet your mind, free it. Allow your true self to guide you. (Sigh) True Self? Fuck! Between true self, sense of self, self love, ego, conscious mind, self esteem. How many fucking selfs can there be?! I always get confused. Don’t we need the ego to create a base for the self? Can I remove the ego? Just like that. And how do I manage all the selfs while trying to figure out my feelings regarding the quasi relationship I was in, on and off for a year?

Well, that answer came crashing through in what I can refer to (thanks to Brenee Brown, author and teacher on shame and vulnerability) as a full on, category 5 shame shit storm. The storm started brewing in Berlin where I met my friend for a weekend rendezvous. The moment we said hello, the story in my head began. Oh, oh. I was feeling more than I was supposed to and it wasn’t reciprocated. It’s ok, I told myself. I’m just having fun. To be fair I already knew. Even before meeting up, that I was possibly setting myself up for another fall. But I made the decision to put myself out there anyways. I’m done with living scared of failure. Fuck. It. All!

That evening I was expecting a wild, sensuous night with plenty of crazy (s)excitement. Nope. I froze. I wasn’t able to express myself fully for fear of showing too much. The limiting voice in my head whispered, he doesn’t feel the same way. He may think you are some kind of sex fiend and it’s not worth it. This was the same story that played in my head almost every night during the time we were together. Waiting for him to take the lead. (Whoopsie. I guess we both messed up in that department). I am still working on speaking up for myself when it comes to sexual pleasure. It is the biggest obstacle for me on the road to complete vulnerability. At this stage the storm was about a category 2. My brain was overthinking almost everything but still from a place of love for myself and my friend. The next afternoon, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. The howling winds in my mind got a bit stronger. I could feel the storm gaining strength. By the end of the following week, I felt confused and my brain needed an answer. The response he gave me was vague so I wrote him an email to close another chapter in our story. I received his reply, a couple of hours later. That’s when it hit.

It was here. The raging, category 5 shame shit storm. He was completely honest about how he felt. I was expecting some of it. But other things took me completely by surprise and I could feel what I thought was a friendship based on trust, slowly fading into the eye of the storm. I started thinking: “ Weren’t we at least friends? I wasn’t attractive enough. Why didn’t I speak up? How did I miss all these things he wrote about!? I knew I should’ve just disappeared and left him behind first. Why did I allow myself to feel so much love!?” My chest was contracting. I could physically feel the shame, the sadness, the love, the regret. All. At. Once. This is where my Jedi training came in. First, I allowed myself the space to feel everything for a full 24 hours. Every time the feeling of despair came up, I kept repeating the phrase: Breathe, Love, Expand. I reminded myself, I am love and are loved. Unconditional love has no limits. And I love myself and him unconditionally no matter what.

Then the A-HA moment happened. Who was feeling all of this shame? All of this fear and sadness? Was it my ego or my real self? What is the difference? I started digging in and I found two very helpful answers. One by psychotherapist, Marc Epstein. And the other by English psychotherapist and child psychologist, Donald Winnicot. (This is merely my understanding of these two short explanations. I am sure there is a lot more that I need to explore and learn about.) Marc Epstein explained that we develop the ego to identify we are real. Later on the ego gets hold of the type of conditioning we had and keeps repeating itself to reinforce its own vision. Ah! So the negative voices I keep repeating to myself are the ego.

Do I need to get rid of the ego to finally free myself? Not necessarily. I think the ego serves us to identify what is not authentic within ourselves. We just have to pay close attention and control the ego’s need for validation. It’s not easy. What about the real/true self? Donald Winnicot came up with the theory that if we were not allowed to be truly ourselves when we were children, then the true self is never fully explored or developed. And the false self we need to survive in this society will always impede our quest for true happiness and love. Got it. My conditioning was, well not so good. And my true self was never allowed to fully express itself. Therefore the ego and the false self have been in control for most of my life. The result. A shit show I call my twenties with some remainder of that still hindering me today.

Now I understood. It became so much clearer. Maybe the ego will always be there. And because today, as opposed to 10 years ago. I have a better sense of who the actual me is. I understand that when people hurt and direct not so good comments towards me, it has absolutely nothing to do with the real me. The pure love and empathetic, original me. The category 5 shame shit storm was just temporary. I successfully navigated myself out of it through the understanding that, love is really all there is. I don’t want to live small anymore. I loved big and will continue to love big. Shame, ego and the false self will always present themselves to try and knock me down. And sometimes I will fall down (hard!). One day though, like any good Jedi. I will master the force in such a way that the negative thoughts will be but a mere memory of the young padawan I used to be.

PS To my gentle voyager friend. May the force be with you, always. Remember that you are not alone. I am and always will be your friend. No conditions required.

PPS I’ve included some of the resources I used below. I hope they are helpful to anyone who needs a nudge towards a path for better mental health.

Why Your Self-Image Might Be Wrong: Ego, Buddhism, and Freud | Mark Epstein: https://youtu.be/NCBiEkHSy5k

The True and the False Self: https://youtu.be/A02Ucd6monY

Brenee Brown, a call to courage: https://www.netflix.com/title/81010166

 

Hawaii: Into The Unknown

On May of 2018 I was unexpectedly let go of my job. With plans to quit in September of that year, the new found freedom felt very much like a sign. Or more like a push unto the path I was actually meant to be taking. The first few weeks were strangely soothing. I no longer had to show up at a toxic environment ruled by narcissism and unapologetic hypocrisy. That in itself felt as though I had won a lifetime supply of Häagen-Dazs (which I didn’t, but man that would be amazing!). I had a blank canvas and could paint my life anyway I wanted to from now on.

First, I needed to come up with a new career path. Yoga had been an incredible healing tool (physically and mentally) through some very rough times. So I chose to share what yoga has taught me with others and finally decided to become a teacher and possibly travel the world while teaching. Looking up retreats, the one I found in Greece called out to me. That’s where the movie Mama Mia is based, so the decision was easy. I completed my month long training and returned home to LA. Still, with no clear idea of what to do next. To earn some extra money I rented my apartment on Airbnb. The tricky thing was, where would I stay? I had one of my best friend’s wedding coming up I had to find a way to stay in LA. Gladly I figured that out. But after the wedding, what? What came next changed my life forever.

Window seat view of our initial decent into Hawaii

On October 1st, I boarded a plane to Hawaii to volunteer at an Orchid Farm for two and a half weeks. All the while not knowing what I would do after my work at the farm ended. “Flying by the seat of my pants” (as my good friend Erica calls it). I landed in the big island of Hawaii, where I met some great people. Giving myself the freedom to say yes to adventure. Diving into the unknown, trusting everything would work itself out. It’s wasn’t an easy thing to do. We are taught to have a five, ten, year plan. Expected to fall in line with the rest of the world’s (patriarchal) timetable: college, job, husband, children, retirement.

It’s ok to want those things in that order. It is also ok to not. I still may or may not want some of those things, but I’ll decide that on my schedule. Choosing your own path is less accepted sometimes. Looking back at the last year of trying my best to trust the unclear and uncertain road, I wish I had done it earlier in my life. But I would have missed out on great friendships and loves I carry with me moving forward through more of this terra incognita.

The island of Hawaii helped me understand some very important things; to be myself no matter what, to let go of the fear of being vulnerable. If it rains, ok. If it’s sunny, ok. Enjoy every second with those around you regardless of the conditions. 

Never did I expect any of that to happen. I got on a plane to spend two and a half weeks somewhere, expecting to come back to LA. I did come back. Only to travel through California. Accompanied by a wonderful traveling partner, who still holds a very special place in my heart. Both of us on our way to the unmapped road. A pilgrimage that would lead me to where I am today.

As I settle in my new temporary home of Poland (of all places!), I look back at what started a year ago today. The tears, laughs, panic attacks and amazing experiences and I think to myself, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Do I now know where I’m going? No clue. What I do know, is that I trust the unknown completely. The possibilities are endless and the details will color themselves in eventually. 

Central America: Letting Go

The time has come to close one of the most exciting and memorable chapters in my life. Traveling through Central America, (a journey I didn’t think would ever happen) allowed me the opportunity to grow and open my heart in ways I never thought possible. One of the most important lessons on this trip, as cliche as it may sound, was learning to let go. Releasing. Whether a person, thing(s) or emotion. And I had to let go of all three. You can imagine how many times I’ve sang the song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen to myself.

Somewhere along the way I read, that to love and let go can be the same thing. And letting go means diving in. But if your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice or clinging in it, it is not true love. Ex squeeze me? Wherever it is I was supposed to be diving into with letting go, I should back away right now! It sounds way too complicated. It’s much easier to just attach yourself and cling to the idea of love. Isn’t that what we’re conditioned to do? Connect ourselves to someone. Partner, parent, friend. Looking for some sort of indication that we too are loved.

I wondered. What exactly is love? And how can it be the same as letting go? Love by definition is an intense feeling of deep affection. Mmm.. it sure feels to be more than that. I decided to explore this more.

A lot of movies, songs, art and poems talk about love as a need for possessing. As if by not having it you can’t survive. Or that by admitting to love someone you admit to having a lot to lose (as one TedTalk speaker noted). I disagree. It is the complete opposite for me. By admitting you love someone knowing you may have to let them go someday, helps you obtain an unrestricted freedom. Don’t you see. By knowing and accepting that that person may not be with you tomorrow. Allows you to cherish every moment even more. You possess nothing, and gain everything.

That’s not to say letting go can’t be a sorrowful experience. Because it is and it hurts for a bit. The first time I realized the difference between attachment and non attachment. Was the first time I decided to trust someone with my whole self, the good and the bad. Allowing them in, through the process of losing everything I owned and other very emotional moments. In addition to letting them go as well. After many cookies later, ok and pie. Maybe some ice cream too. I realized that it’s not how much you trust the other person with your love. But how much you trust yourself to love unconditionally. Letting go of every attachment, discrimination, prejudice or clinging you may have for others or oneself.

Love is not just a deep affection. It is a limitless connection to and complete acceptance of myself and others. A boundless reserve of empathy. Expanding with every new experience. I now close this chapter and eagerly await the beginning of the next. The adventure continues. 

Rapture: Accepting Stillness

It’s hard sometimes to remain in one place for a longer period of time. The mind starts playing tricks on me. Whispering, “Keep moving. What if you miss something important in the next place. It could be your last chance.” So began my experiment of accepting the situation and exploring a different way to manage circumstances such as this. 

The hypothesis for the experiment? By surrendering to my external conditions and saying yes to the experience I would be able to find joy and accept the stillness. Calming the mind and momentarily pausing my travels to finish the job.

Because of certain financial necessities. (Meaning, I have to stay in one place to make money to move on to the next.) The decision that I have to remain somewhat stationary is made for me. Wanting to travel more and explore Costa Rica, before ending my Central American adventure. I took a job at Rapture SurfCamp in Avellanas Beach. The first week was rough. The restlessness took over. I began concentrating on the things I didn’t like. Saying to myself, I’m sure if I leave the next place will be better. Immediately looking for an escape. This time, I decided to stay and take a closer look at what I was going through. Instead of packing up and moving on.

These past two months have been hugely transformative. Both physically and emotionally. Certain situations altered the whispers in my brain to screams. Anxiety, tears, fear all came knocking at my door. I questioned (and almost became ashamed of) every decision I have made so far, my age, my ability to commit, my going with the flow lifestyle. One morning as I was struggling through meditation, curiosity took hold. And it interested me to find out the definition of the Surfcamp’s name, Rapture. I had heard the word used before, thinking I understood the emotion behind it. Clueless as to its actual meaning. I typed it in and the aha moment lit up my brain as I read the dictionary. Rapture: a feeling of intense pleasure and joy. I giggled. You have to be fucking kidding me. Universe, you have a wicked sense of humor. I’m in a place that in essence is supposed to be joyful. And I’m making it seem like a retreat into the underworld. Hades Surfcamp, I thought it should be called. 

Questions started coming up. How do I measure joy? What is stillness, really? What is my true motivation for wanting to move so much? All very good questions that will take more than this essay to answer. But I will share this: The moment you decide to sit with yourself and accept where you are. Little by little, things start getting clearer. Allow yourself the space to go cathartic! Release, give up on grasping that which you think might be ahead of you. I day dream about it, sure. That’s where I find the joy. To experience the wonderful feeling I will go through when my day dream becomes a reality. When it happens, is not up to me. I can only remain still and wait for the next inspired action to guide me. 

As for the reason why, I was so anxious to keep moving? I don’t have a complete answer for that yet. For now, I’ll continue working on the reasons to stay.

Avellanas: Moon Magic

The new moon in August happened last week. The sky goes dark, in preparation for the next lunar cycle. I have always been fascinated by the moon. When I was very little, we lived in a very tall apartment building on the 18th floor. On the days there was a full moon, it lit up the sky in such a way it seemed like you could just stretch out my arms and touch it. Using my brother’s telescope made it so real that If I close my eyes today, the image of my favorite crater easily comes to mind. Mare Serenitas. The Sea of Serenity.

New moons bring a sense of renewal, change, beginnings, transformation. Since I began my travels, whenever there is a new moon I try my best to take a moment. Think about where I am, where I’ve been. And where I want to go. It’s been a transformative journey. Learning things about myself I would have never had the chance to explore had I stayed in California, 10 months ago.

The adventure has guided me to Costa Rica. Where I will spend one more month before embarking on a new chapter across the ocean to Europe. I have been staying at a surf camp on the pacific coast, in Avellanas beach. As part of my new moon intention, I decided to try and get over my fear of big ocean waves (at least big for me, others would argue differently 😆). And learn how to surf. I have tried before with a couple of “almost pop ups” but haven’t had a chance to experience a wave while standing on a board. Gliding with the ocean to the shore. Today was a different story! I set a goal. I was going to pop up, and stand on the board at least two times. If the waves got big I would just stay calm and trust I could do this. Have fun. Breathe, look at the wave and say: “I am Moana of Motunui. I will board this soft top and ride the wave to shore. Restore the heart of Tafiti, and get over my fear”. Ok, Moana is one of my favorite movies. (Don’t judge.)

Yes, it was difficult. The waves were breaking hard. Even the instructor said, if you can get up in these conditions. You can do it anywhere. We got in the water. He said jump on, there’s one coming. I got ready. For one minute, everything went silent. He pushed me. I followed his instructions and popped up on the board. All of a sudden, I was standing. What?! On the first try? I couldn’t believe it. The feeling is hard to describe as I am thinking back on it. My mind went silent. The sound of the wave under me was the only background noise I heard. The happiness of accomplishment and peace I felt just for that short moment. Is something I’d like to experience again everyday. I was surfing. Drifting, on the Sea of Serenity.

I may not remember directions. Or the names of some of the cities I’ve visited. But I will always remember the time and place where I was able to stand up on a surfboard for the first time. Allowing myself to be guided by something bigger than me. Enjoying the ocean for what it is. A wise body of water that partners with the gravity of the moon. Teaching us to overcome. Challenging you to the brink of giving up. Later, allowing you to come up for a fresh breath of air. To discover how truly happy life can be.

Marbella: Naming My Fear

I can’t really remember when I became so insecure and scared of high ocean waves. Being born and raised in an island you would think I am an excellent swimmer with no fear of the big blue ocean. Well, let me tell you. I’m not. In my case, fear has been passed down generation through generation. My father lost a niece when she was about thirteen years old, a strong rip current claimed her life. I always thought that was the reason my parents decided never to take me to swim class. Maybe they’d figure, if I didn’t know how to swim then I wouldn’t try to go deep into the water? I really wasn’t asking for lessons either. I liked other sports when I was little. But the interesting thing is. As a teenager I cannonballed into pools, played in the waves (some of them relatively big) and jumped from boats into the deep. What happened? Why, as an adult have I become afraid of the high waves and deep water?

Traveling now for some time. I decided to try surfing. I love the sport. I have been following it since high school. Cutting class to go see competitions. The sea has always called me (cue the song from Moana!). If I had a choice between living in the mountains, city or ocean. I would quickly answer, ocean. Call me a romantic. But I think William Shakespeare’s Juliet was right when she said:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite (Act 2, Scene 2)

The sea feeds dreamers, in my opinion. With its immensity, it’s infiniteness, it’s mystery. Making you feel as full of possibility as the ocean is of the unknown. I have been lucky enough to have some great friends on this adventure who have tried to teach me how to surf. In Popoyo, Nicaragua and now here in Costa Rica. But every time the panic wins. Yesterday, it felt worse than ever before. I got caught in the rip current. The storm and the tide coming in, made the waves wild and choppy and over my head. I felt helpless. Trying my best to swim back out. I couldn’t. Everything became darker and I allowed the panic attack to take over. Again (trying to say that with some compassion for myself).

I hope, dear reader. You never experience one. You lose all sense of control. The throat closes up, making it hard to breathe and concentrate. Your body has a mind of it’s own. I’m still practicing how to use the breath to regain control. It’ll be a long time before I master that. 

My friend knew I was struggling. Thankfully he reached out and with a soothing tone reassured me, I would be ok. He pulled me out and helped me onto the board. As I rode the wave back to the shore, part of me wanted to go back. Face the fear. Easier said than done. I’m not giving up yet. Today I am naming my fear. No longer referring to it as something “that shall not be named”. Though it’s embarrassing sometimes. Knowing I love the sea so much but cannot fully enjoy it’s company. Naming it makes it something tangible. It is no longer stored in the unconscious. Waiting to surprise me. A wise friend once told me back in Popoyo, “you can’t let the ocean control you. You have to control the ocean.” Well, not literally. There’s no way I can control anything, really. Only my reaction to it. But that’s the point! The ocean of thought doesn’t control me anymore. I know who the fear is. It doesn’t matter where it came from. I see it now. It’s habits are predictable and I will make every attempt I can while at this Surfcamp, to calm the monster. With patience, compassion and deep breaths. This beautiful beach I call home, for now will be my training ground.

The search for the reason why I’m so afraid is less important. The main key lies in practicing empathy towards my inner being when I feel afraid. And to surround myself with courageous people who brave the ocean everyday and are caring and open to helping me when I lose it out there. A life jacket of sorts or maybe just a really cute surfer 😉.