I’ve been busier than usual lately, and the cleanliness level of my house was beginning to reflect that fact. We care for 12 animals; although 5 of them live in outdoor shelters, we have enough animals in the house and porch to make keeping up with housework a must. I occasionally have some help for hard cleaning days; but being the control freak that I am, I usually like to do the rest myself.
I had planned to roll up my sleeves and do a thorough house cleaning last Saturday morning. Due to the fact that I have OCPD, I was already in freak out mode by Friday afternoon. As I ran the list of things I’d have to do the next morning (vacuum, mop and dust the entire house; sweep the garage; spray natural flea control in the house, including the garage; wash all pet beds and blankets; etc), I started feeling overwhelmed, which soon caused me to be overcome by a feeling of anxiety. Anxiety came laced with self-pity (“I’ve been working so hard, and now I ‘have to’ spend my whole Saturday morning cleaning…”, conveniently ignoring the fact that I didn’t really have to do it all, and by myself, at that; I chose to); that eventually led to depression, as it often does when I’m not vigilant and allow these feelings to remain unchecked and escalate. At that point, I had lost perspective of my goal, as well as how to break it down and move forward to accomplish it. I just felt confused, depressed, miserable. Then I felt bad for allowing myself to spiral down and feel that way just over house cleaning; so I added guilt and shame to the pot. End result: Total paralysis. I continued feeling like that until Saturday morning, when I was supposed to get started.
As I’m familiar with my patterns, I usually prevent things from hitting bottom; sooner or later, I manage to catch myself, stop and reverse the process. This time I had to count on higher guidance to snap out of it. As I helplessly stood in my kitchen, trying to decide what to do, how to get started and how to feel better about the whole thing, a voice popped in my head: “Forget about the list, just clean the bathrooms.” I’m used to asking for and receiving guidance, but I was surprised at the fact that they had jumped in without invitation this time, and in relation to something as mundane as house cleaning. “There’s a lesson here,” I thought; “I’m in need of a reminder.”
So I proceeded by staying in the moment as best as I could and focused only on cleaning the bathrooms. When I was done, I checked with myself and felt energized and ready for more. So I decided to proceed with the house cleaning and load the washer at the same time. I cleaned the bathrooms, the living room area, the kitchen. At that point, I checked in with myself again; I was starting to feel tired and hungry. I realized it was almost lunch time and my husband would be coming home soon, bringing groceries. So I decided that I was going to finish the second part of the cleaning (garage and flea treatment) on Monday, and start focusing on lunch.
I’m glad to confirm that I did finish the job on Monday; no further schedule adjustments were necessary. I felt satisfaction and a sense of peace and calm for what I had accomplished on both days, not to mention relief... Mostly because I had gained clarity in relation to what I needed to do, and how; my world was in order and I was in the flow again, and it had taken only one step to get things rolling.
I took this experience as a microcosmic reminder of the power of taking one small step, no matter what it is that you need to get done or how big and overwhelming the project seems to be. Although it’s tempting to try to make it more complicated than it really is, it’s actually a fairly simple process, as follows:
The Power of Taking One Step Process:
- Check in with yourself and take inspired action by choosing one small step. Sometimes it will come to you, as it happened in my case; sometimes you have to ask the question and create the space to allow your inner or higher guidance to come through by taking a quiet moment, doing breath work, meditating, praying, etc. Also, accept the fact that you might not see a clear path yet or know the next step when you take the first one. Trust and take the first step, anyway.
- Check in with yourself; take more steps. Tune in to know when to put that energy flow to good use and roll with it, to keep moving forward.
- Check in with yourself; adjust your plans as needed. While it’s important to plan a schedule that works with your circumstances (which often involve others), it’s just as important to know when to mix it up to change the routine a bit, or stop and pay attention to self-care, as well as other needs or priorities.
- Check in with yourself; follow up and follow through. Sometimes it’s easy to allow things to interfere with your intention to continue moving forward. Unless a course adjustment is really called for, as mentioned above, stick to your plans and continue taking action steps towards your goals.
- Check in with yourself; reach out for help and support, as needed. In my case, I received guidance at the right time and I chose to take care of business myself. However, it’s important to remember that delegating and asking to help often is the best next step.
- Repeat. This simple process can be applied to every situation in life!
FINAL THOUGHT: There’s no journey without steps…
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 03/31/21
Photo by Christian Chen on Unsplash
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In the last few years, I cleaned up my diet by becoming almost 100% pescetarian (someone who’s mostly vegetarian, but eats fish) and removing or drastically reducing the consumption of “usual suspects” such as gluten, sugars, dairy, etc. Although I feel healthier and more energetic due to these changes, I have to say that occasionally I sorely miss some of the foods I chose to give up.
I recently went through a 7-day cleanse using bentonite clay (check it out, it’s a natural and very effective way to detox your body from heavy metals and other impurities). One day during this cleanse (and maybe because of it), I felt a dire need to consume heavier animal protein and fat. When we ordered Chinese food the next day, I decided to break my pescetarian diet and have roasted duck, something I hadn’t done in 15 years. And I have to admit that I delighted myself in it…
After the meal (or rather, even during it), I felt a lot of guilt and shame, as a good (recovering) Catholic. I had a talk with my husband about it, during which I commented on the fact that I had all these high aspirations for myself in relation to my health, as well as caring for animal suffering and the environment; however, still I couldn’t keep myself from craving and enjoying a guilty pleasure such as this. I also I admired the fact that he was so steadfast in his own habits and decisions (he’s a no-exception pescaterian who doesn’t seem to ever have any trouble following through).
He answered simply: “It’s not perfect. Allow yourself this truth.” He mentioned that sometimes he feels uncomfortable with the idea of eating fish and thinks about becoming a full vegetarian (which we already do several days per week). And sometimes he thoroughly enjoys it and doesn’t feel as willing to give that up. It’s not perfect.
Somewhere along the road, a lot of us pick up this damaging belief that we have to be perfect and consistent, or else; that once we make a decision about something, we should stick to it; and if we slip, that means we’ve failed. We’re then losers who should be ashamed of ourselves and deserve punishment, which often comes in the form of behaviors that are even more self-destructive (and also destructive to others), and inevitably leads to giving up or feeling paralyzed in relation to pursuing our goals.
We know when we need to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone. And sure, we do need to cultivate strong discipline, motivation and persistence, especially when addressing soft and hard addictions (food, TV, Internet, drugs, alcohol, etc) or dealing with procrastination, so that we can continue moving forward towards our goals and dreams. On the other hand, we also need to learn acceptance of the fact that slipping and making mistakes is part of the process, and that failure paves the road to success. We need to learn how to fail epically and still keep going.
Failing is especially good for business. As a matter of fact, the current trend is to fail fast to get that part of the process out of the way and fail mindfully to acquire the necessary knowledge and successfully apply the lessons (please check out some of the awesome videos from The Failure Institute; link under References). Also, sharing our struggles is one of the most effective ways to connect with and engage our audience.
Learning how to make mistakes and fail with humility, without beating ourselves up, is one of the most courageous and self-loving choices we can make in life. And life can be much better if we stop constantly listening to our inner critic and being so hard on ourselves and others. Life has enough challenges already, without us having to make it any harder… In short: It would behoove us to just lighten the “freak” up a little.
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 11/21/2020
Photo by isabella and louisa fischer from unsplash
The Failure Institute - Videos
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Does Making Lists Really Help?
If you’re like me, you make lots of lists. In your head, on your computer, your phone, your planner, etc. Or on a bunch of post-it notes that you paste everywhere on your desk and around the house, as I do. Lists of what needs to be done; what should be done; what you’d like to see happen. Some are simple lists, such as what you need from the grocers; others include more important things, such as your life goals or the qualities you want in a new partner or job. There are daily lists, weekly lists, monthly lists, yearly list; short, mid and long term goal lists. The New Year holiday is traditionally a big one for making lists of all the resolutions you plan to commit to during that year.
It’s fun to make lists. It kind of gives us this great big sense of satisfaction, and the feeling that we’re actually accomplishing something just by writing down what we intend to accomplish. For a perfectionist like myself, it can also be pleasing to organize lists according to priority, categorize and sub-categorize it, color-coordinate it. For the control-freak in me, it creates the illusion that I can actually run my life with lists.
Making lists does give us the power to organize things and get them out of our head. As a matter of fact, for those of us who tend to have sleep trouble, it’s often recommended that we make a list of things we need to do before we go to bed, so that we won’t stress ourselves by running the list in our head as we try to fall asleep.
So what’s the problem with lists? Absolutely nothing, as long as we really manage to get the important stuff done. However, if you are like me, you probably tend to focus more on making the list and checking off the quick and easy items (which often qualify as busy-work) than going for the big, life-changing items. And we know which those are. We always know which those are.
As a matter of fact, have you ever noticed how these big-ticket items sometimes don’t even make it to a list? When you feel fed-up enough with the status quo and are ready for a change that you know will make your life better, you often just get started. You think about it, make a decision and take the first step. If you decide, however, to write that big-ticket item down on your list, that’s when it might end up by not getting done; at least, not any time soon. Certainly not until the next New Year’s resolutions list, when you might decide to include it in your list again. That’s why many of us often reach another New Year with the feeling that we didn’t really accomplish much of what we set off to do during that year, even though we kept busy and checked off many items from many lists. But the big resolutions, the ones that really have the potential to change our lives, were often left unchecked.
Why does that happen? Because checking off the big items can feel very uncomfortable; it takes a lot of commitment and dedication, and can cause havoc in our lives, make us feel out of control, lead to a difficult transition phase, etc. So we prefer to choose the comfortable and familiar, even when that’s not making us happy; even when life could be so much better if we just took those important, life-changing steps.
But you don’t have to wait until you reach your saturation point. If you do have important items on your list, here’s my advice: Read your list once. Check it twice. Then ask yourself which items on the list feel like the biggest challenges and make you the most uncomfortable. Chances are, they are the ones you’ve been procrastinating around, and they are exactly the ones you need to pick first… and actually start working on.
So what are you going to leave unchecked this year? Or is this the year when you just do it?
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 10/27/20
Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay
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Which Wins More Often?
Fear can be all-consuming. As I sat at my desk, trying to come up with a theme for my end-of-the-month blog article (having left this task to the last minute, no less), I realized that I was having trouble thinking due to fear.
Dorian, a Category 4 hurricane, was originally expected to hit land by this Sunday evening and come straight for us (thankfully, now it seems that it won’t touch land, after all). And that brought up all kinds of fear. Fear of losing power (and staying without power for a week or more in the heat and humidity of the Florida Summer, as it happened when Irma hit us a couple of years ago). Fear of our old roof sinking in or being blown away. Fear of bodily harm. Fear of something happening to our loved ones. Fear of the TNR cats around our home being harmed or killed. Fear of the large oak trees in our front yard falling on top of our house or car. Fear of hearing about the aftermath of the hurricane, which always includes deaths and massive destruction. Fear of not finding basic necessities, including drinking water. And so on.
With fear, many physical and emotional sensations follow, such as shortness of breath and a constricted sensation on the chest; cold hands and feet; brain fog… Feeling tired and drained without knowing exactly why… Uneasiness, tension, irritability… Helplessness, hopelessness… And so forth.
Once triggered, fear breaks down into other fears: being in the wrong place at the wrong time; not being or doing enough; not being in control; feeling lost and confused, not knowing the way; making mistakes; losing those we love, including our animal companions; becoming irrelevant and disposable…
Then it expands into more-encompassing fears: going through the next economic crash, which is sure to come; not having enough to survive; the next mass shooting; the current trend of self-serving, narcissistic leaders everywhere in the world; hearing more horrible news about neglect, harm and suffering being inflicted on people, animals and other living beings, the planet; polluted earth, air, water; our self-destructiveness as a race; the end of the world as we know it…
Many years ago, I wrote a poem about the pervading presence of fear:
Fear of being seen, fear of getting involved, fear
Of the consequences, fear of the causes, fear of feeling too much,
Fear of not feeling at all, fear of letting it out, fear of keeping it in,
Fear of getting to know, fear of being in the dark, fear
Of the pain, fear of the joy, fear of life, fear of death, fear of myself,
Fear of you, fear of us together,
Overwhelming, incapacitating, powerful, raw, fear.
©2000 Gisele Marasca
How do we deal with fear? According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross: “There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It's true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it's more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They're opposites. If we're in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we're in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.”
I believe that one of the most powerful ways to live love and let go of fear is through gratitude. So I wrote the poem below around the same time I wrote Fear:
Thank you for the uncertainty
which makes me search for answers;
For the ignorance
which compels me to learn;
Thank you for the struggles
which make me grow;
For the sorrow which gives me depth;
Thank you for the doubts and indecisions
which cause me to think, choose and take action;
For the courage which drives me to take risks;
Thank you for glimpses of beauty
when ugliness surrounds me;
For light in the darkness;
For air, for earth, for water;
For trust, for beliefs, for faith;
For the friends I can be myself with;
For everything corny, mushy and over the top;
For love! Thank you for the love in me
and for the love around me;
Thank you for first times and second chances;
Thank you for fleeting moments and long pauses;
Thank you for smiles and laughs and music;
For hopes and dreams,
Thank you for me.
©2000 Gisele Marasca
As I reminded myself of how to balance fear with love, I started listing many of the things I have to be grateful for (including the fact that Dorian isn’t going to touch land anymore, and that I live in a safe and sturdy home inland). I also reminded myself of all the help and support we had from friends and family after Hurricane Irma, such as ice bags, a loaned generator for the fridge and a couple of fans, invitations to work and have meals at their homes, etc (we were also invited by several people to stay over, but we had to stay home to care for our 12 pets and rescues). And life started coming into perspective again…
FINAL THOUGHT: Every single moment of our lives, we are given the choice between love and fear. Which one are we choosing most often?
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 08/31/2019
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash
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